What I Like About Drinking

Kathryn Scanlan

What I like about drinking is that after one or two drinks I will eat chips from a bag at the counter in my kitchen and enjoy them without worrying about what might be on my hands and whether I should’ve washed them first. I’ll think about how, an hour earlier, I used my right hand—the same hand with which I am now putting a chip into my mouth—to pull off my boot after a walk around the lake, and how dusted that boot was with dirt from the path, and how much dog shit—human, too—has been shit onto the path and mixed up in it like a dough. There are geese at the lake, too, and we all know how much a goose will shit—it is unbelievable until you see it for yourself. I once walked the perimeter of a concrete pond with my father in winter and though it was a small pond, it took us an hour to circumnavigate because each step was a calculation—the pavement was a long, green, lumpy smear. This is but one human consequence of human omnipresence—shit on a shoe. I’ll think about that, and about what might be—likely is—on my hand and how I should’ve washed it, but it won’t interrupt my eating of chips or my enjoyment of them as it would if I were sober, and in fact it might encourage me to eat faster and to lick my fingers when I’ve finished.

Then, too, a little later—when I think I should eat something in addition to chips for dinner—the filthiness of the egg I take from the carton in the refrigerator will not bother me as much as it does when I haven’t been drinking. We get our eggs from a farmer who lets his chickens run wild. Due to all the bugs, grubs, lizards, small snakes, and young mice eaten by the egg layers in their natural habitat, the yolks are huge, orange, delicious—we pay a lot for them. But the farmer can’t be bothered with washing his eggs, and in every dozen we buy there will be five, six, seven, even eight eggs with brown or green shit on them, with little pieces of straw stuck to the shit. We’ll reach for the clean eggs until the clean eggs are gone, and then we’ll wash the shitty ones—but washing an egg is harder than it sounds, and sometimes we end up with a goopy handful of shell shards.

I didn’t know much about the mechanics of eggs until several years ago, when I watched a woman’s chickens for a few weeks. I didn’t know, for example, that a chicken’s egg emerges from the same chute as her shit and piss which, as it turns out, get mixed together en route, which is why bird shit is so runny. I didn’t know that a chicken egg is molded in the exact shape of a chicken’s womb. I didn’t know how it would feel to enter a chicken coop in the morning and hunt out where the hens’d hidden their pretty pink and blue eggs—and take them. I didn’t know that when the hens came back to roost at night they’d look for their eggs and seem confused—forlorn, even—when they couldn’t find them.

The woman’s house was down a dirt road in the desert. I had no car while I was there and the nearest town was too far to walk, so when I got dropped off I made sure I had enough food to last, but towards the end of my stay I would often be hungry with little else to eat, waiting for an egg to appear—and when one did, I would thank the chicken and thank the egg and break it open.

Like an adult with money and restraint, this chicken woman kept a beautifully stocked liquor cabinet. Each night at dusk I’d sit outside with a bottle and a glass and talk to the chickens until it was time to lock them up. Then, alone, I’d return to the bottle, which gave me a large, grand, hopeful feeling—like I might go out looking for whatever I wanted and find it under a clump of straw like a sunset-colored gift.

Kathryn Scanlan is the author of Aug 9—Fog and The Dominant Animal. She lives in Los Angeles.

‘What I Like About Drinking’ was originally published in Five Dials in 2020.