Fried Chicken in the State of Dade

FRIED CHICKEN IN THE STATE OF DADE
Gregory Lee Sullivan
Issue No. 13 – September 2016

I was telling a story just the other day, actually—not this exact story but something similar. And one of them, one of the roommates from back in those days, had to correct me over the phone. Over the phone because I stay hidden away now, deep within my own country, away from all them and their native Georgia chicken places. And so that’s how I must communicate now with all my old friends, by phone.

You’re missing the part where Rich stands up in his man pants, the old roommate told me. His name was Winchester Henry Flykat. I knew him best when he was a short Jewish kid, but now he is a short Jewish man. This is what we both then recalled Rich had said back then, standing in our old apartment with a hand on each of his slender hips, in just his colorful “man pants” underwear: tie-dyed whitey tighties, which he claimed he wore anytime he was partying, his bony waist thrust forward like the Captain Morgan figure, in that most awkward of poses. I like Zaxby’s, Rich said long ago, because they give me quality chicken at affordable prices.

Rich might be dead now, of course. He was several years older than the rest of us anyway. Flykat and I both are unclear of any current whereabouts. Rich hadn’t gone to college for a long time even then and hadn’t come close to finishing. His Zaxby’s comment had to have happened on a weekend because my understanding is that Rich was an electrician back in those days, and we believed that he lived with his parents somewhere near Atlanta during the week. So he’d drive up to Athens every weekend in a Jeep with sweaty cash in his pockets from his forty-hour job and crash on our roach-infested apartment couch only because he’d lived in our same apartment complex several years earlier. He would sometimes draw a complex friendship tree with the names of a dozen or so former tenants of Apartment 86-B for us into the blacktop of the parking lot with a piece of chalk he carried with him. We were thus inclined to offer him weekend asylum every week so he could get out from his overbearing parents (he was at least thirty years old, while we were around twenty). Sometimes, though not usually, he would be sober enough on arrival to go to the bars with us. If he’d go, he always insisted on picking up the tab for everyone. There was a condition, however, that we could only drink Lone Star beer when he was buying. If he caught one of us ordering something else, he’d make a scene. He shattered a beer bottle once that left a hefty shard in an unsuspecting sorority girl’s foot. She didn’t make a sound, the sport she was, but her face began to change, like someone’s face does when they’re fixing to cry. You wore flip-flops into a bar, he shouted at her, as she tried as best the best she could to mask what must have been seething pain. Someone play this cunt a sad song.

I, for the record, also liked Zaxby’s. As far as I know everyone did. But I was only so-so on Lone Star.

***

The thing was Flykat or Flykitty or Flypussy, or whatever we were calling him back in those days, was quite a character himself, although you had to take him more seriously than most of the others. And he liked Zaxby’s even more than Rich did. Zaxby’s was a fried chicken chain restaurant that all ten of us from 86-B found so addictive, but Flykat was its greatest advocate.

He’d say: Man. I need a Zalad, man. Love a good Zalad. Really need a fucking Zalad. Ever since I had my first Zax Snak. Dipped my fries. Also my fingerz. And my fingers. In Zax Sauce, and licked them. Been hooked ever since that, man. When my friend Tail from Savannah goes to Zaxby’s with me, he gets a Zandwich, but not me. I stick with the Zalad. Texas Toast and Zax Sauce. (Turns out Flykat had worked at a Zaxby’s for a while down in Savannah, where he’s from, back in high school, though we didn’t know that at the time because he wasn’t huge on backstory). He’d continue: I usually get Ranch on my Zalad. And sometimes I get a Znak to take home. I mean, a snack. Zappetizers, man.

***

A little on my homeland, the State of Dade:

The State of Dade is the country where I’m from and reside in yet again, and most people outside still don’t know it’s here. The mountains in the fall here glow a brilliant mix of orange, red, and yellow due to the brilliant foliage of our trees. I’m the first citizen in my home country to have attended college, but they still won’t accept me into the cultural elite. Alas. The only sound you’ll ever hear in Dade is that of our water gushing down slick rocks into the base of Cloudland Canyon. That is, unless the school marching band is out rehearsing for its weekly Friday game. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the blond-headed kids’ snare-drum rim shots and horn blasts of “Dixie” echoing from off the sharp edges of Alabama and Tennessee. That’s the local fight song in this magic place.

At night there is almost nothing to be heard, just the sound of an owl or small bat fluttering up into the twilight over the scattered chimney tops.

We burn our trash here, piled high and caddywhompus in a twenty-foot-tall enclosure surrounded by chicken wire. I always stay to watch it burn and the smoke drift into the night sky, and I smell the rubber burning too as the flames slowly sear all the black and white plastic trash bags of our little nation. And the smell gradually dies off. And even after you know it’s died off, you can still smell it just slightly, like how you can sometimes still feel an energy from recent laughter in a house after a good party.

Who runs this Dade? It depends who you’re asking. The United States of America often winks in our direction. I suspect there exist some federal agencies that have long known we’re here, smack in the middle of the South. Mostly that country chooses to ignore us. For instance, the US Mint left us off their Georgia quarter. Take a look at one some time. All of Dade is missing, that big isosceles triangle severed off from the northwest corner on the Georgia map, prominent and embossed, rising off the tail side of the coin.

The state of Georgia forgot the State of Dade entirely for most of its history. It left us to do our trade in Chattanooga: the closest city of importance, but in Tennessee. Our forefathers would set off to and from Chattanooga in their wagons. We were even attached somewhat to northeastern Alabama by dirt roads back in those days. But Dade wasn’t connected by road to the state of Georgia until 1939 when the state purchased the land for what would become Cloudland Canyon State Park, what outsiders call Dade County. But this same place is what we locals refer to as our State of Dade, an entirely independent nation.

The county had a state secessionist movement during the Civil War. The locals wanted to secede from the Union while the state of Georgia on the whole was initially cautious. The way the legend goes, the people of Dade were so restless to secede, they simply seceded themselves from the Union and, therefore, also from Georgia, tucked away from the larger world in the tall shadows under Lookout Mountain. The whole ordeal came further to light on Independence Day 1945 as American patriotism enjoyed its post-war boom. In an attempt to drum up regional tourism for a harvest festival, it was announced that the State of Dade would “officially” rejoin the United States. A telegram from Harry Truman was read celebrating the county’s rejoining Uncle Sam. Symbolically, at least, the event took place. Although, the majority of credible outside historians believed Dade County only officially seceded along with the State of Georgia during the Civil War, and therefore reentered the Union long ago along with it.

On paper, all that made sense, but tucked away, in absence still of the networks of roads which blanket most similar places, aside from Interstate 59 and a single, bumpy state highway, most of the county remains quite isolated. Almost no one knows what happens here under all the treetops and inside all the caves on the mountains.

Over time, our small country has experienced something thought not possible anymore to the rest of North America: quiet growth.  Each decent drifter that comes through here seems to never leave. The county’s population on the books last Census was 16,633. But there are easily 40,000 people here, hidden from view, and we are the true stewards of the State of Dade, a shadow nation of bandits and outsiders. For centuries we lived in a state of relative peace. But that was until someone who ran the new Zaxby’s in the county seat of Trenton was so intent on not paying federal taxes out of principle he exposed us all during his protests, detailing who we were and what we stood for and, in the process, led to our current showdown with the federal and state governments of the United States and Georgia, respectively—who contend that as citizens we rightfully belong to each of them. The Zaxby’s operator must not have thought through the cost of his words. And now they both are trying to root us all out and force us to resettle elsewhere. And they are clamoring for back taxes, but we won’t pay. They say the land isn’t ours, that we should stand down, that we should surrender. But I say long live the State of Dade, and Zaxby’s forever!

You see, I can’t be mad at Zaxby’s, despite their outing of our existence and what might ultimately wind up meaning the death of my home country. So I eat my words. The chicken is far too good. As is its Zax Sauce and fries, which are perfectly seasoned. For a long time, all our country had was its Hardee’s. And I do love Hardee’s’ breakfast biscuits. I fear they are still lost to many out in the world at large, but we have them here in abundance. There is Hardee’s breakfast for every good man. Regardless, I’m grateful as a citizen of Dade to have another local dining option, and a good one. I agree with how Rich put it back when I was out seeing the world in Athens: Zaxby’s bestows upon us quality chicken at affordable prices. And thank God for it, and more jobs, too, for us locals.

***

And guess who opened the first Zaxby’s restaurant in the State of Dade? Winchester Henry Flykat. He’s the one who got us in this mess. I’d visited him in Savannah once after college. I’d like to think we’ve remained fairly close. Turns out, he was a natural entrepreneur.

I’ll always remember that visit right after college. I’d always enjoyed Savannah. I really liked how you were allowed to have an open container down on the riverfront. My girlfriend and I drove back to Athens from Savannah on the back road you had to take. It was nighttime and not a single gas station was open on the two-lane road. My truck burned three-quarters a tank of gas without passing a thing, and I remember I nearly prayed when I was on empty, and right then a gas station that was open appeared in this one town I can’t even remember. One never knows when something will materialize out of thin air. It often works like that, I’ve found. When you least expect it.

They still fly the old state flag outside the courthouse in Trenton. The one with Confederate battle flag on it that cost Governor Roy Barnes the election in the early 2000’s when he had it pulled down in Atlanta. And Georgia, in retaliation, seemed to have completely shifted to the Republican Party forever, although the flag removal was to some of us the right thing. It’s the official flag of the county now. The State of Dade, however, doesn’t yet have a national flag. See, we are two different things, the county and the nation. We never needed a flag. But now that we’re out in the open, we should get one. I’m thinking it could have a Zaxby’s logo with a white chicken with the red crest and golden feet, and that beady-eyed sun logo of Hardee’s taking a siesta in one of the flag’s corners, with its legs and arms contorted in a way that folds its body up into the perfect shape of Dade. Showcase our strengths. We could lure McDonald’s too, but I’m talking about business now and not just flags. Perhaps we could have a small mall of fast food places out here like they have at some truck stops now out on the highways not too far from our borders where you can get any kind of food you want.

The new Zaxby’s here in Dade is okay. It’s not like the one in Athens near our old college apartment, one of several they had over there, with all its pretty young women who smelled of fresh chicken and citrus shampoos and hangovers when you’d go in on Sunday mornings. And I say that conceding the view at the one here in Dade now that my old friend Flykat has recently opened can only be described as majestic, with the face of Lookout Mountain jutting out the back end of the parking lot in a cloud of mist, making me feel miniscule in the eyes of our benevolent God.

My slight sorrow with this Zaxby’s, I can tell you, is probably due just to me not being the same as I was because I’ve aged. Sadly. So it’s not quite the same anymore. But I can still get a Zandwich or a Zalad or a Big Zax Snak. That hasn’t changed. Flykat says it never will as long as he’s around. No way, man.

And thank God Flykat is still around. He comes up now and then to check on the new franchise. He tells me about how a former University of Georgia head football coach also is involved with some franchises around the area. We usually don’t talk about the Dade Revolution. We got in a conversation recently about what all some of the other old SEC football coaches have gotten into career-wise since coaching. One who was head coach at Vanderbilt worked in a tollbooth down on the Florida Panhandle after he was fired. Another who was head coach at Florida works at a small bank branch. There was another from Georgia who got busted on allegations of a Ponzi scheme, and he was accused of having preyed on some notable former star players. These guys, these former big-school football coaches, were some of the biggest celebrities in the South in their times. They were gods. But you’ve got to go on and do something. You’ve just got to suck it up and go on. You must persist.

Flykat is still so salt of the earth. He rubs his hands through his wild black hair and eats at his Zalad with a plastic fork. We talk about our old friends from 86-B, like John, Tex, Fat Tasker, the Bunny, and of course Rich, and all the others and their many stories, their successful marriages and failed music careers. Their eventful and uneventful arrests, their lengthy and haphazard careers in cinema and pornography, and then the one of us, Balboa, who according to the internet became a Catholic archbishop in a country where most, we’d been fairly sure, still worship demons. And always the disappearances of us from the map, which were the worst because it’s like you just die. We’re sitting together in a booth by a window, Flykat and I, talking about how things are changing in Dade now. How an Indian family opened up our first Dairy Queen franchise a few months after 9-11, and some guys stood outside and protested Muslims, even though the family in question were Hindus.

I didn’t tell Flykat this, but one time, back when I used to leave the country more often, I drove up to Nashville in my truck. I drove by a synagogue and there were people outside it protesting the fact that people, Jews, were practicing a religion other than Christianity. They could do it outside Planned Parenthood places too, and be men with big cocks.

I love fingerz. I swirl one in an orange puddle of Zax sauce, like a little orange lake I’ve created upon my tray. I lick salt off a fry, eat it, and wash it down with cold tea, and chew on some of those perfect ice cubes from the bottom of my Styrofoam cup.

Flykat looks at me and laughs. What’d I tell ya, man. In reality, he’s told me a shit-ton over the years. A breeze picks up outside and the county’s official flag blows in the wind, and I think I hear the band playing “Dixie” again. On a Saturday? I eat another of my fingerz, thinking it’s a dream, and all I can think in my brain is how what I’m chewing is so different than anything from Chick-fil-A (which we’re due to get soon, the paper said), and there is that zing of extra flavor to the chicken, and I’m not talking about the new Cajun Zandwich either. Flykat munches on his Zalad, and I don’t think about all that has changed so much for a bit. I don’t think of the girls in Athens, either.

Just then, a man walks in the restaurant wearing a blue jean coat. I don’t recognize his face. He could be anyone. “What do you want?” I ask. He doesn’t answer, so I ask him again, “What do you want?” He turns and walks out the door and doesn’t say anything. I didn’t get a good look at him, and we never found out what he’d wanted. We’re going to lose the revolution eventually.

When Flykat asks what I know, I know that’s his way of saying he’s leaving for a while and I chew the last of my fingerz. Think of the fate of the hog that’s growing fat, I want to tell him, leaving him with a last slice of my musing on the entire state of things for him to take out to the road with him. But I realize he could easily say almost the very same thing, looking at me, because I’ve grown somewhat chubby over the past few years. Think of the fate of the hog that’s growing fat, man. Instead, I ask him about his old friend Tail from Savannah who used to suck royally at guitar. I don’t listen to what he says back to me. Instead, I’m in a deep internal debate on whether or not to grab some of the fries he’s left on his tray that he doesn’t seem like he’s going to finish off.

On shaking my hand goodbye, Flykat walks out of the restaurant. There are at least a million Zaxby’s from here and where he’s got to be by sundown, and he’s got to check in on all of them. But I can see in his eyes my friend misses me almost as much as I miss him. In his sports car, he revs up his engine at the parking lot exit as a joke, watching me for my reaction and seeing me wave. For a minute, I miss living with him again in our old college apartment, and I see him head off far beyond that invisible border into what’s now become a storm, with his exhaust smoke mixing, at least temporarily, with the burning trash from our secret villages. And, to me, it’s beautiful.


Gregory Lee Sullivan’s writing appears in the Washington Post, The Guardian, Barely South ReviewThe Nervous Breakdown, and other places. Before completing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Rutgers University, he worked as a newspaper reporter and editor in Georgia and Tennessee.





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