Yesterday’s news: Egging on ‘Chicken Man’ in Philly

Tom Hoffarth /

A nervous chatter came from the outer region of the local Costco on Sunday afternoon. It started near the display of inflatable rafts, drifted past the frozen meat aisle, circled around the 10-pound jugs of nutmeg and, by the time he made its way around the bakery, it might as well have been the store’s soundtrack.

All the $4.99 rotisserie chickens were gone. And at least a couple dozen oversized shopping carts converged from all corners as if a magnetic force drew them to the empty stainless steel shelving display.

The heat lamps had nothing to heat. There was a chill in the air.

When and where might the new brood arrive? And what is the correct collective noun for a group of these featherless domesticated junglefowl? Flock? Gaggle? Did someone say murder?

A guy in a hairnet (and beardnet) behind the glass kept assembling the toasted birds and the containers, plopping on lids, trying not to notice all eyes fixed on him.

“How many can we get at a time?” a woman in amongst the crowd, who appeared to have no stones to throw, asked aloud to no one.

“Forty” I decidedly blurted out.

A couple near me with a cart already overloaded with cat litter and 100-liter vodka bottles turned to look at what idiot offered the information, and then began devising a plan.

In biblical terms, 40 is big deal. It is mostly meant to metaphorically represent not just a long period of time, but also a test, a trial or a probation.

Why did two chickens cross the road to get onto the ark?

Forty just popped into our head because we just finished reading about this guy in Philly named Tominsky.

The other day, he polished off a run of eating 40 rotisserie chickens. One a day for 40 days and nights.

Holy hotwings.

The New York Times and Newsweek and the Washington Post covered it amidst all the other chaos that is leading up to these midterm elections because, well, in the bigger picture, it makes as much sense as anything else these days. Even the UK had its tabloidal coverage.

What would Noah do with this flood of notoriety? And can this Tominsky use these new powers to start a write-in campaign to run for the Pennsylvania senate seat?

Or at least a trip to Oz.

So which came first, the chicken or the challenge to eat 40 of anything heated to perfection on a twirling stick?

There were all sorts of appetizing entry-points to this story and his … modern-day, social-media acclaimed accomplishment?

Because of how it seemed to play out as some Joey Chestnut-type feat, it somehow got slotted a sports story in the New York Times news feed. Defector called it a sports highlight on a day when the Philadelphia Phillies exhausted their fortunes in an improbable World Series run and the Philadelphia Union lost in a dramatic shootout at the MLS Cup.

And for the record: Whatever happened to the San Diego Chicken? If not for him, Philly doesn’t have its Phanatic, or Gritty or whatever other shitty thing that Tominsky had now become: The city’s new sports hero and local mascot.

This was also a story about how to lose weight. Tominsky said he dropped about 15 pounds in this endeavor — eating a whole two-pound, store-bought bird each day. It sounded like something foul enough for a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode.

But there was one key piece of information missing: Where did the chickens come from?

If not from Costco, they why even bother?

These loss-leaders come with plenty of pluck, likely genetically altered to taste far better than what one can find at a Smart & Final or Ralphs or even a Gelsons or Whole Foods. A photo in one series of social media posts shows him laboring over a bag with the Signature logo — a tipoff it’s from a local Vons/Albertsons/Safeway. Which adds to the sadness.

A Costco chicken — three-pounds in size — has become an American staple, the greatest food-aligned bargain anywhere when comparing edible product per penny. All it takes is a $50 annual Costco entry fee to have endless supply of them.

While they last.

It’s factory farming at its ugly best. It violates all kinds of animal welfare laws. It’s good business. It’s not going away.

It’s the only true comfort food we can depend on.

Truth be told, I may have even once consumed an entire Costco chicken in one fell swoop between the time in line at checkout, the receipt verification interrogation, in winding line to get a gas fillup and the additional car wash. The ride home was trying to a find a place to dump the carcass-driven evidence.

Could I do a stretch of 40, once an afternoon, between now and Christmas? Hold that thought.

A local story had more juicy details: Tominsky may be a South Philly resident, but he just moved to the city from Los Angeles eight months ago. He got a text from his sister in California about the social media buzz that he was creating. For the grand finale, he created posters, and made it an event to behold on that Saturday afternoon on an empty pier behind a Walmart.

“Philly’s got a sense of identity that feels very different from like a large city,” he said. “I’ve lived in New York and L.A., and I think there’s like a sort of underdog element to this city and then I think also to this event … I think people will kind of expect this from Philly.”

Cue “Eye of the Tiger.”

At last, the Costco rotisserie chicken assembly line was moving again. Yet it seemed the customers who moments earlier were indiscriminate about inhaling pieces of reheated frozen waffles, small chunks of bacon-wrapped jalapenos or cups of urine-flavored kombucha samples were now getting picky over which chicken they would accept.

Pass. Pass. Excuse my reach, but gimme that one.

“Good color,” one said. At least she wasn’t fat shaming it.

It may have taken another 10 minutes before there was chicken famine again. Another gaggle of customers started to dreadfully gather, apparently in no hurry to get back home to see the end of another meaningless NFL game.

There was a brief moment where, stepping out of the role of observer, I was about to grab my own rotisserie reward for patiently waiting. But the moment passed. I moved onto to neat display of overpriced poke containers.

What would Moses do with this 40-Sacerdotal-Something Challenge? Check the tablets. Does this act break any sort of commandment? Taking God’s name in vain — on the Sabbath Day no less — against the person who took the last chicken everyone seemed to covet felt like pure evil. Where’s the Costco confessional?

I’m sure if properly in the wrong frame of mind, I could attempt this feat of demoralization, in the name of entertaining the people.

On this day, I chickened out.

Tominsky remains the good egg in this story. Let him eat up all the attention. At least, do the Chicken Dance in his honor.

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