This is the story of the thirteenth turkey. It might be true. to begin:

Long ago there was a cook named, um, Tom. He was talented but had a difficult time adapting to taking orders. He had just left a job at a small, family resteraunt. the people had been nice to him but didn’t understand the frustration Tom felt when he couldn’t vent his anger when he made a mistake. He did one day and the customers were treated to a colorful, if obscene, tirade delivered at a pot of brocolli that had scorched the bottom of the stock pot and ruined the cream of brocolli soup planned for the next day. The customers complained. It seems motherfucker doesn’t go wll with a club sandwich. the owners, as was their right, fired Tom. He understood and moved on. He began a job search. He was good at it because he did it often. He went to interviews and spoke earnestly to chefs about his kitchen abilities, downplaying the fact he had little or no control over his temper. He did three to five interviews a day and was finally rewarded with a job. It was in a hotel in East Hartford. It catered to businessmen and had  busy week days and slack weekends. The money was good, the chef seemed to be willing to let Tom work as a prep cook until he was accustomed to the operation of the kitchen.

Tom went to work on a Monday afternoon. He was given a list of jobs to do and cut loose. He did the jobs in a short time and the chef told him to prepare Happy Hour snacks. Happ Hour is a misnomer. There is nothing happy about it. It should be called I’m Happy the Day Is Over and the Idiots That I Tried To Sell To Can Rot In Hell Hour. But that’s too long and would lead to drunken competition between the participants as to who had the worse day. Truthfully, it was the bartender who had to serve during the festivities. Happy Hour snacks varied from day to day. this was to allow the guests to have something to look forward to when they got back to the hotel. Monday snacks were an assortment of pre-cooked and frozen canapes that were warmed and delivered by the waitress who drew the short straw.  Tom liked Happy Hour. It had potential. He could test the limits of the victims, guests. Tuesday was Buffalo Wing Day. The idea was to serve a variety of bufflao wings to appeal to the most jaded wing fancier. Tom was able, in his first week to introduce Cajun Wings, his own creation. Wednesday was Pizza Day. They served large pizzas with toppings gleaned from the walk-in box. Thursday was Grinder Day when a six-foot sub was construcred and served. Friday was the favorite, it was Shrimp Day. the hotel cooked pound and pounds of shrimp that were too small for use in entrees and too large to be used in Shrimp Chow Mein. Tom loved it.

Time progressed and the holiday season crept in. That’s not right. The hospitality industry is aware of every blip on the calendar and is ready to exploit it. The lead in is Thanksgiving. Now one would think that most people would rush home to family and the hotel would be deserted. Nope, the hotel exploited the holiday by placing ads in the local papers announcing the Grand Thanksgiving Buffet. A buffet  was not what the Pilgrims had in mind but it was what the hotel needed. It involved a ton of prep work and serious multi-tasking on the part of the kitchen staff. Tom had settled into a weekday shift that overlapped Breakfast and Dinner shifts. He was happy because it allowed him time to sleep off the night before’s beers and let him wake at the civilized hour of noon. The week progressed. Monday he baked pies. Tuesday he ran errands and made dressing. Wednesday was Turkey Day. The kitchen was braced for 100 reservations and walk-ins. The chef planned on roasting thirteen turkeys and supplementing them with processed  turkey mixed in. The breakfast cook loaded the thirteen turkeys into the ovens. They would come out at staggered times because there were convection ovens and standard gas ovens. The chef left a detailed note that had the approximate times the turkeys were to be pulled out.

Tom spent part of his shift making pizzas for Happy Hour. The choices were pepperoni, olive and onion; sausage, mushrooms and hot peppers; anchovie, caper and bacon. If you’re thinking that these pizzas were unappetizing, you would be right. Tom experimented with various combos and these were the least offensive. Truth be known,  as Happy Hour moved along the likelihood of all three disappearing increased. Alcohol promotes bizzare tastes. As the shift went along Tom pulled and began to break down the turkeys. By six the dinner cook was finishing prep and sending out a light dinner shift. Tom was locked into carving birds. He set up an assembly line and moved from bird to bird loading parts onto sheet pans. By eight he was looking at twelve carcasses and began loading the stock pot with veggies and bones. The stock would cook overnight in a steam-jacketed kettle. It was steam heated and highly unlikely to burn the contents. He forgot the thirteenth bird. He counted corpses but the number twelve was imbedded in his brain. It was an even number, nobody bought thirteen turkeys. Nobody except the chef. He cleaned his back bench and checked the ovens. He made sure they were all shut off. He left for a preThanksgiving party at the neighborhood biker bar.

He showed up on Thursday and set up the buffet. He carved breasts and sliced pies. The turkey was tuckrd onto the steamer before it was sent out. The quick blast of moist heat made for a juicy serving. The day dragged on and the Food and Beverage Manager delivered three bottles of a good white for the staff. that was a sign that they were close to finishing. They cleaned and stood around waiting on the dish crew to deliver the pans that had been emptied on the buffet. They put together take-out containers of food for the staff and loitered by the exits. When he was sent home the chef told Tom to take an extra day, Friday, off. He was happy. He had his Thanksgiving left-overs, two six packs of Bud and a three day weekend. He planned for an afternoon date with his present girlfriend.

He woke up on Friday and spent the afternoon watching television and finishing the beer. He got a call around three. It was the chef.

“How many turkeys did you send out?”

“Twelve, why?”

“When you come in Monday, I’ve got a present for you.”

“Okay, see you Monday.”

He hung up. a present was nice. He spent the weekend not thinking about the call.

When he came in Monday there was a note attached to his work list. “Look in the walk-in.” He went in the box. On a shelf on the back wall was a beribboned dessicated turkey carcass. On it was a simple note; “Learn to count.”

Happy Thanksgiving. This is a cautionary tale. The moral: Remeber what you’ve cooked. Nothing is worse than serving dinner, basking in the adulation and finding the gourmet cranberry sauce you slaved over on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator next to the cheese log appetizer.

See you on Wednesday.