(The city of Lenoir played host last weekend to the first Smoking in the Foothills Barbecue Competition and Festival, a new event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Though the event overall has been called a success, it was not without its rookie-year hiccups, including a lack of lighting the first night at the tent were people were supposed to sample chicken wings and vote for their favorite.)
The first sign that I had erred was the screaming.
It seems that in the impenetrable darkness of the People’s Choice tent on the first night of the Smoking in the Foothills festival, instead of a chicken wing I had grabbed a woman’s wrist.
I apologized as quickly as I could remove my teeth from her tender flesh, which though lacking sufficient smoke lingered nicely on the palate. As I said, it was extremely dark, so I do not know whom I bit or whether she actually looked like a chicken — though by her springy texture and light flavor I would guess she was in her mid-20s and would pair nicely with a medium-bodied white wine — but I could hear quite clearly, which is how I know my apology was not only not accepted but profanely rejected, despite my also complimenting her repeatedly on her seasoning.
After that, before I bit into any piece of chicken that night I first asked it how it was enjoying the food. If it didn’t answer, I assumed it was a chicken leg.
On the third try, though, I learned I had to listen more closely because that lady was still chewing and unable to answer except by a grunt, and by then my teeth had nearly plunged in. Unable to see how close she was to being a snack, she simply pulled back her arm and moved on.
Casting my hands about in the dark, I listened for the sound of foil, which I knew from the brief glimpse before darkness fell was a sign of where the containers of wings were. “One, please,” I said, and pushed one of my 10 tickets toward a slightly darker area that looked like it perhaps was one of the trick-or-treat pumpkins that had been placed around the table for gathering tickets, though once it turned out to be a man’s rear end. If it were not so dark, that would not have ended well, but he couldn’t find me any better than I could find chicken legs in that abyss.
I stumbled away from him as quickly as I could, bouncing against others who were similarly blind in the dark like we were one large, slow-motion mosh pit, and when I got what I felt was a safe distance, I lifted my last chicken leg and bit into it. It crunched dryly, and my mouth filled with the taste of carbon.
Emerging into light cast by a street lamp, I blinked like a mole and looked in my hand, finding what more closely resembled a charcoal briquette than a piece of meat. Perhaps it had been chicken at one time.
A couple nearby came blinking toward the light, and the man looked down into his hand and said, “No, it’s the white ticket we’re supposed to use for voting, not a red ticket for another chicken wing.”
“Who should we vote for?” the woman said.
The man looked back into the dark mass of people, where amid the bumps and stumbling I could still hear the slurps of eating.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t even know how to find the table.”
A woman walked up, rubbing her wrist. She stood directly under the light and held her wrist close to her face.
“I was right!” she yelled, turning to face a large figure in the dark as I started to edge away toward the end of the street. “These are teeth marks!”