Chicken Parmesan for dinner. My wife and kids seemed to enjoy my rendition of this old family recipe, until my son Bart spoke up.
“What’s this?” he said, holding his fork over his plate. I looked across the table. Something odd, dripping with tomato sauce, dangled from his tines.
“I don’t know,” I said. “What does it look like?”
Bart placed it on the side of his plate and prodded. “It looks like a piece of plastic,” he said.
I was silent, concentrating on my chicken.
“It’s a label,” he said, scraping away the cheese. “Net weight 28 ounces. Hormone-enhanced spineless chicken with added water, vitamins, and steroids. $2.89 a pound.”
I quietly prayed that he would shut up. I raised my eyes a bit. He was staring at me.
“Dad, what’s this all about?”
I eased into minimization mode. “Oh that,” I said, leaning back and offhandedly waving my napkin. “That’s the label from the plastic wrapper around the chicken. I always freeze my chicken with the label so I remember what I’m cooking.”
“But do you have to cook the label, too?”
“Not usually,” I said. I glanced at my wife, hoping for some help. “Sometimes.”
My wife was silent.
My daughter pushed her plate away. “I’m not eating this,” she said.
“Neither am I,” said Bart.
“Are you serious?” I asked, looking around the table. “It’s just a little plastic! It’s an oversight!”
“Let’s go out for Chinese,” said my other son Biff.
I became incensed. “What’s wrong with you kids? I slaved for 20 minutes dumping that ready-made sauce on this frozen lump. And now you won’t eat it just because of a plastic cooked sticker?”
“Dad,” said Bart. “Don’t you know that plastic decals, when heated and melted, release all kinds of toxic chemicals and noxious polypropylene gas and slurry? Didn’t you wonder why your chicken smelled like NASCAR?”
“You kids are just wimps. When I was in college my friend used to eat packets of saltine crackers with the cellophane still on them!”
“That’s disgusting,” said my daughter. “What happened to him?”
“He died,” I told them.
“Well, I ain’t eating this,” said Bart.
“Me neither,” said Biff.
“I’m out,” said my daughter.
They pushed back their chairs and filed out of the house. My wife followed, looking back at me apologetically. I was left with the dishes.
“Mollycoddled kids,” I muttered. “They probably have to wear bicycle helmets when they drink from the garden hose.”
I dumped a piece of chicken into Blackie’s dog dish, but he barfed.
I scraped the rest of the chicken into my lunchbox for the next day. For dinner that night, I ate caramel-coated Cajun trail mix and Monster Drizzle in front of the TV. My favorite survivalist cooking show was on.