(Photo courtesy of Rick Stiebel)

Rickter Scale: The chicken’s ready when pigs fly

The Rickter Scale is a weekly column

Rick Stiebel/Columnist

It was a typical Friday night at 2484 Mayfair St. in Montreal, circa 1970.

We’d fulfilled our 40 hours in the salt mine, in my case co-ordinating projects for Standard Structural Steel, while my best friend Timothy (as in Leary) toiled for a chartered accounting firm where he chartered away the day.

It was well past the midnight witching hour, the stereo blasting sonic chunks of Duane Allman’s guitar at window-shaking volumes.

Despite the effects of whatever buffet of herbs and hallucinogens we’d been dining on since 7 p.m., Tim decided he had a hankering for chicken.

Although I had no appetite for any form of feathered creature, Tim was hellbent on heading to Chalet Barbecue. More concerning was his assessment that I was in better shape to drive. The fact I spent five minutes trying to fit the house key into the ignition of the ’58 Chevy Apache did not dissuade his diagnosis. We took off once the motor inched above freezing, our cackles bouncing off the metal walls of the milk truck we bought in New Jersey. We barely topped a couple of white-knuckled kilometres an hour because of the fresh carpet of snow crunching under tires as bald as Vin Diesel’s skull.

By the time we arrived, whatever combination Tim had cooked up was kicking in pretty good. For the record, Chalet Barbecue disdains the use of cutlery, their reputation built on a barbecue blend that demands dipping. If you wanted utensils, you had to beg a bleary-eyed server for them.

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The ambience that particular 2 a.m. consisted of greasy groups of bar closers tearing chicken apart with their hands. Once we sat down at the only empty table in the middle of the mayhem, the clientele began to morph into pig people, fluorescent snouts sprouting from pink pigskin faces oinking away as they wrestled pieces of steaming fowl with cloven hooves.

While I sat there praying what was on my plate didn’t start to scream, a vaguely familiar voice in the distance rose decibels above the din. “If you want to lock up the Separatists, start with the hippies over there.” A quick glance around confirmed we were the only long-hairs in the joint, kicking my paranoia up a notch and a half.

Just as the tension reached a thickness you could cut with a knife you had to ask a waitress for, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and there swayed my dad, the man behind the booming baritone, and my mother. Any worry about inquiries about my condition dissipated once I realized my parents were pleasantly plastered after an evening of banging back scotch and waters and Canadian Club with ginger at the Legion.

Fortunately, mom was more interested in talking to Tim, which swept the pressure to speak coherently off my plate. The tension lifted like a balloon filled with helium, one of the few substances we hadn’t ingested that evening. Dad picked up our bill after a few good-natured jabs and we headed home in different directions, my chicken untouched and wrapped in tin foil. Fifty years later, Tim and I still share the odd laugh about that fitful Friday night.

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.


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