I wrote A Chicken Box and a Hug awhile ago but after reading Brittany Britto’s recent piece, Unpacking the chicken box: The story behind Baltimore’s carryout staple, I had to repost. Plus my girl Nicole, the villian in this story, will be starting a new jobbie and so—in honor of her moving on—I thought a little flashback to our lunch breaks was in order.
It’s 1 pm sharp, time for lunch at the 9-5. I’m posted up at my favorite table in the cafeteria second back from the main thoroughfare facing the elevators. From that perch I can indulge my nosiness and have just enough distance not to be eyeballed or hovered over by every passerby. While dining on an overpriced turkey sandwich from Whole Foods, my partners, Keisha and Nicole sit down and we get into a discussion about chicken boxes.
What is a chicken box you may ask? It is a fried delicacy that is legend in Baltimore. It is also cheap. This box is comprised of fried hard chicken wings (two for me) and french fries tucked in a box if you’re being literal, or styrofoam if you’re not. It can be found in a hood near you. Typically there’s Plexiglas involved, so you gotta shout your order through the mouth level circle of holes punched in the glass, Can I get a chicken box? Salt, pepper, ketchup! …and a half-n- half! I always decline ketchup because whoever’s serving up the grub is always heavy handed, to the point that ketchup covers the wings. I’m a salt and pepper girl, hold the ketchup.
While Keisha and I wax poetic about our various chicken box experiences, Nicole twists up her face, “Chicken box,” she says with disgust, nostrils flaring indignantly. We look at her like she just shook a can of soda and sprayed it on us.
“What’s wrong with you?” I ask, “Why do you hate chicken boxes? I mean its chicken and fries, what’s not to like?”
“I know, with a good half-n-half too” says Keisha adrift with the memory of a particularly tasty batch.
“It’s the words, chicken box, it makes me think about a box made of chicken,” retorts Nicole.
This comment is met with a round of laughter at her expense. We taunt her Yankee by way of Rhode Island snobbery, especially her inability to make peace with our Baltimore vernacular.
We ask if she even knows what half-n-half is, we’re met with a glare. For those not in the know, a half-n-half is a wonderful, tooth disintegrating, sweet drink that is a mix of lemonade and iced tea. Done well it can be a magical thing. The suburban term for this drink would be the Arnold Palmer, named after the golf legend. None of this moves her, though she seems more open to the half-n-half.
Just as Keisha and I are pinpointing the best places to get a stellar half-n-half a new character enters the scene, Los. He saunters over to the fridge grabs his lunch, and then regards us warily as he preps his food at the counter. As usual, he shakes his head the whole time, not saying a word just waiting for the onslaught. He already knows the routine and expects harassment but today I decide to do things a little differently. Instead of turning on Los, Nicole becomes the target. I reveal her disdain for the chicken box.
“What,” exclaims Los, “You can’t be serious?” She tries to look at him defiantly but he’s having none of it. “Come on, you’ve been in Baltimore, for what…” Then he stops and just shakes his head again, “that’s what I thought, if a number doesn’t come to mind, it’s been long enough.” Nicole feigns hurt feelings but quickly recovers standing firm in her anti-chicken box sentiment. “We’re gonna work on that,” said Los.
We all cackled and somehow the conversation wended its way to Tupac and Biggie. In fact I think I’m the one that took us there. I can’t recall how we transitioned from chicken box to Tupac and Biggie but we did. Some random stream of consciousness trickled into my brain and next thing I know I’m spewing fury that their killers still haven’t been brought to justice. Any hip hop head in the 30 and up club has had this same conversation. While I’m rhapsodizing about the whole thing Los points to me and says, “You need a hug,” and then turning to Nicole, “and you need a chicken box.”