Dead skunk in the middle of the road
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
You got yer dead skunk in the middle of the road
Stinkin’ to high Heaven! —Dead Skunk, Loudon Wainwright III
Yes, I know the Islamist extremists are burning everything in sight, Iran is building a bomb, and Kim Jong Il is still crazy as the Mad Hatter, but I’m changing the channel. I have every confidence the wackos will be there when I change it back again.
I was driving home late the other night listening to talk radio. The host had no callers, but she didn’t seem bothered by it. If her expensive, toll-free line is quiet as the Sphinx, it just gives her all the more time to say what’s on her mind.
A silent audience is an opportunity to explore the back roads. She’d make a good blogger.
Somehow, she must’ve guessed I was out there listening because she started monologuing about chicken livers. And then she had me. Couldn’t have changed the dial if I’d wanted to.
Did you know that in the entire City of Angels, there isn’t a single supermarket that carries chicken livers?! All she needed was a measly pint of livers for an Italian pasta dish, and do you think she could find them? Some of the clerks in the meat departments looked at her like she was demented.
Livers?! We ain’t got no stinkin’ livers!
Add this to my long list of reasons why I’m not moving to California.
Now, let me pause to speak to those radical clerics and tin-horn dictators in the audience. In America, you can get on the radio and complain about chicken liver shortages and no one issues a fatwa or burns down your radio station or hauls you off to a labor camp. Freedom is a beautiful thing.
My love affair with chicken livers started in high school. I worked as a galley slave for Kentucky Fried Chicken in Raleigh, NC, and we sold fried chicken livers. It was a southern thing, like fried okra, but even in the South the little nuggets didn’t exactly fly out the door. At the end of the day there were plenty left for a midnight snack while we scrubbed the pressure cookers and mopped the floors.
Here in the west, chicken livers don’t get much respect. The butcher at the local Safeway hides them in a lonely and forlorn corner so as not to offend his more squeamish shoppers.
So, I was driving along salivating over an imaginary plate of succulent, tender chicken livers when POW!!!, my nostrils recoiled in disgust. Skunk. It was enough to make my eyes water.
Let me pause to offer a philosophical aside to the fascists of the world. Life is untidy. Democracy is messy. We disagree with each other, and the world keeps on spinning. Disorder is one of the consequences of the freedom God has generously granted to his created world.
In a pluralistic society like ours, I fully expect there to be some disagreement over chicken livers.
But despite our disagreements, we build coalitions to get things done. And sometimes, when it comes to the really big issues like freedom and justice and equality, we all pretty much agree with each other.
Whether Republican or Democrat, Green or Libertarian, we all agree on this: skunks stink.
Why do skunks stink? Thiols. A thiol is a highly volatile chemical that is molecularly similar to alcohol. Like alcohol, it easily disperses in the air, which is why skunk scent wafts far and wide on the slightest breeze.
Thiols differ from alcohol at a single point: instead of an oxygen atom, a thiol has an atom of sulfur. And that one tiny substitution is enough to change an odorless molecule into something really pungent.
Turn on the burner to your gas stove and take a whiff. That ugly smell is mercaptan, a thiol that’s intended to warn you that you’re about to blow up the house. Not a good time to light that cigarette.
William Wood is a chemist and skunkologist at Humboldt State University. According to his research in skunk aroma, a human nose can detect skunk scent at a mere 10 parts per billion!
Think of that percentage this way. There are about 200 million family-owned cars in the US. Pick two Ford Falcons at random and paint them lime-green. Heap all the cars up in a big pile and find the two Falcons. If the Ford Falcons were skunk scent molecules, your nose would lead you right to them.
Time to close. Our topics for today have been the culinary arts, chemistry and the blessings of freedom. Tune in next week when we’ll be talking with Mark Martin about the dangers of bump drafting Ford Falcons at Talladega. Until then, eat more liver — lots of iron, good for your blood. Ciao!
Photo credit: Chris’s Pet Skunk Page