Jeff Phillips: Interview with a Wild Turkey

 

Wild Turkey In Brookline
BROOKLINE, MA – OCTOBER 19: A wild turkey tom crosses the sidewalk on Beacon Street. (Photo by Mark Wilson/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

I’d like to start by mentioning how impressed I was that my guest honored our scheduled interview, which coincided with the first snow to hit Chicago this 2015/2016 winter season, breaking a pattern of unusually warm weather for this time of year. My guest arrived, albeit an hour late, trudging in wet streaks, leaving prints from city dirt collected on its reptilian looking bird feet. My guest apologized profusely. I put him at ease by pointing out how many uncontrollable factors delayed his transportation, given the weather, at which he sighed, and agreed. When I asked if I could get him anything, he immediately requested coffee, and by himself, drained the 12 prepared cups during our conversation.

Is this a scary time of year for you? Or I guess I should phrase it another way, a scary time in your life-cycle?

It doesn’t strike me that way. No. For us, this is what we live out our lives for. We take a lot of pride in how we shape a family’s time together. We know this is a damn important holiday. It’s easy to say the material things are unimportant, when trying to seem like a good person, but come on, we know what you’re looking forward to most.

How do you mean?

The food! Despite being spirited Americans, don’t forget you’re an animal, and we understand that! We’re not gonna villainize you as a predator. Eat up chumly! (Laughs)

So you’re not on a campaign, like some other birds, trying to be spared?

There’s two types of turkeys. I believe you may have even adopted the term to describe scaredy cats, pansies. You say, oh calm down you turkey! That’s one type. That’s about 50 percent of our population. They cling to life and are scared of death. They have a little more in the way cortisol and other stress hormones pumping around their blood. The other 50 percent of us are traditionalists, we take pride in the service of our flesh on the table. The highest honor one could give us is loosening their belt buckle, stating “that was a damn tasty bird” and going off to slump on the couch, drifting off to an early slumber.

You prepare your entire life to be part of a feast. Is there ever a sense of fear in that? Does your commitment ever waver?

(Laughs) We all definitely have a mid life crisis and freak out . I did. And I’m paying for it now. Oh boy, I went into party mode. I smoked like a chimney. I drank like a fish.  You get into this place in your life where you just want to live it up. You start thinking, there’s more to this existence than food, fucking food, at least in being other people’s food. I was on a snail kick. You could call me a foodie, I was a snob, got into the scene, idolized some turkeys that tended to some good mud. These snails, holy shit, were they good. That’s when I was a bit of a glutton. I gained a lot of weight. As you can see, I’m a chubby one. And of course, no bird ever stops loving a cheap worm with a basket of hickory nuts to chow down on. There were so many hangovers during that time though. I don’t miss it. Don’t miss the rock gut either.

You seem like you have some regrets?

After you get on your fun streak, you come around again. Life isn’t just about you. Tradition stabilizes you. And you come across some commercials showing a seasoned, steaming, stuffed turkey fresh out of the oven, and you just get inspired. I did. And I went from a hippy to a pretty conservative guy overnight.

With any change in one’s life cycle, there’s the potential to backslide. Did you?

Yes. Only a few times. Sometimes whiskey just looked too good. Especially those bottles that have images of us on the label. It’s like, is this our holy water? This shit is meant for us! And you drink it, and then you just want to binge all night on snails, and then you get that grasshopper craving, and you just keep going. Then you’re bloated. Shit. I feel like shit just thinking about it. Because I’ll admit, I had a backslide a few nights ago. As you get to be an older bird, recovery gets slow, and these pounds just don’t come off. (Loud sigh, which turns into a coughing fit that goes on for a minute).

You okay?

I’ll have to be. I’m coming to the end. But you know, I wish I could do it again. I wish I could do it all again, and do it right.

What would you do differently?

I’d stay away from the booze and eat reasonable portions. I’d be a health nut. Because the birds that are in good shape are the ones that people go apeshit over. These are the birds that taste amazing and burn equally amazing memories into the mind’s of dining families.

Do you think you’ll live up to that?

Look at me! It’s too late for that. I’m going to be in an oven in just a few days. I’m worried I’m gonna taste like shit. My meat’s gonna be fatty and gooey. My gizzards are probably pretty black. Some grandmother is going to toss mine right away. No one in their right mind will make a broth out of me. There goes the afterglow of my dignity right down the toilet. I’m pretty sure I have colon cancer. Can tell just by the way it feels. Good luck cutting around that gigantic tumor when you try to stuff me.

This is the point in the interview when I can see he’s about to have an emotional breakdown. Tears fill his eyes and with a wing he covers his face. There’s a long gap in the conversation. When his crying subsides, and he picks up his cup of coffee again, I feel like I should break the silence. So I give him some encouragement.

You’re too hard on yourself. I’d eat you.

Thanks man. You don’t have to say that.

No, I mean it. I’d have seconds, thirds even.

(Smiles) I appreciate that. You’re really kind.

No problem. I’m not blowing smoke up your ass either.

I hope that means I’m getting cooked up in a propane BBQ smoker.

I’ll see what I can arrange.

Arrange that. That’d be good.

Unfortunately I was given information that he’s actually slated to be deli meat for Roundy’s lunch brands, but I don’t have the heart to tell him this after he’s perked up again, riding high on his dreams.

Being a few days away from the big event, what’s going through your head right now?

I probably feel more anxious than an Olympic athlete of your species feels before a big-ass competition. I don’t think I’ll sleep again until I’m gone and resting in the big sleep. Last night may have been the last sleep of my life. Wow. I wish I would have realized that. Would’ve went to bed earlier, savored that snooze.

Do you listen to music? Is there a particular album or playlist that has special meaning for you at this pivotal stage?

I’ve been listening to a lot of The Cranberries lately. In particular, the opening track off of No Need to Argue. “Ode to My Family” is pretty much on repeat. I daydream about my meat touching a little of the cranberry sauce, a little bit of it wedged underneath me, like a red pillow. Singing “Do you notice.” I picture this. And I picture the meat of my ancestors, lying on a similar cranberry pillow on Thanksgivings past. As I sing “does anyone care?” I look up and see the spirits of my departed family members looking down, smiling, and I start to think: yes. Someone does care. Someone does notice.

Do you have any last words prepared? Any that you may want immortalized in this interview? Or are you saving them, for your real last moments, to be said in the true inspiration of the moment?

Not really. Nothing I’ve thought of yet.  I don’t think I’ll be capable of processing words in my final moment. I think it will be more about visuals. I think I’ll probably think about the time I got into a fight with a rafter of wild turkeys. They puffed up their feathers and looked pretty big. I got scraped up pretty bad. I thought I was going to die right then and there. I’m glad I made it out alive though so I could make it to this point. I’m glad I didn’t rot in the woods. Maybe those will be my last words. “I’m glad I didn’t rot in the woods, that would be a waste.” That’s pretty good. I’m gonna try and remember those. Write those down. You can print them.

I’d be glad to. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to you. Thank you for speaking with me.

Thank you for having me. This was great coffee. Is there a bathroom I can use before I go? This french roast may be the cleanse I was looking for! Get some of them toxins out, oh boy, haha, hope your water pressure is good.

Water pressure is good. I’ll show you where it is on the way out.

You’re a good host. Please tell me you’re hosting Thanksgiving.

Not this year.

Well, then next year you should. I’ll haunt your food! Make it extra delicious!

I tell him I’ll hold him to this and we share a hearty laugh. The wild turkey takes a little while in the bathroom, but when he comes out, he gives me a big hug. Squeezes me pretty hard. I tell him “good luck” and he says he won’t need it.

 

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9 Comments

  1. This was so much fun haha. Not only a great idea because of turkey day, but also because I’m sick of reading so many interviews with the same questions and trains of thought.

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