“A Seared Life of Jen Nettles”

by Tia Ja’nae

Jen Nettles, the irascible local lunch lady turned cable access television chef who was known for routinely food poisoning people with subpar ingredients and bad hygiene, passed away yesterday doing what she loved to do best without washing her hands first. Sources confirmed she lingered like an old batch of collard greens after sampling chocolate sauce prepared with imported brown water from an unidentified third world country at the slice and dice age of 57.

Former co-workers despairingly memorialize her as a horrible minimum wage line cook who iconically epitomized the sentimental phrase scratch and sniff. Students enshrine her as the lunch lady from hell with the magic touch of making washed grapes inedible. For fans that had the pleasure of her culinary delights, choking the chicken on cascara sagrada tasting dishes merely took the garbage out for the competition.

Sources say Nettles started at the bottom of the culinary industry; her first soiree in the kitchen was cleaning up roach carcasses at Crun-Chee’s, a rancid Asian buffet chain infamously known for bribing their way to a passed health inspection. After a year on the job and a promotion picking the cook’s cigarette ashes out of the entrees she realized her calling on the cutting board, absorbing herself in the cooking culture her employment allowed her.

Soon she was offered an apprenticeship as a sous-chef, after the former position holder contracted tetanus during a kitchen fight with a rusty can opener. A fortuitous trash digging expedition collecting recyclable items for soup stock turned her on to an unaccredited certificate by mail culinary institute, of which she enrolled. Fellow classmates say professors hurriedly passed Nettles with honors, after a runny nose incident over a pot of dumplings served to alumni led to a mononucleosis outbreak.

Graduation came with a fair share of odd jobs in unlicensed grease traps. Nettles took full advantage, engaging line cook positions without quality control and the board of health objecting to her occasional use of wet dog food for meat, dry cat food for flour, rice made from plastic, and cardboard for pie crusts. She thrived preparing scraps from parts unknown, earning a hardnosed reputation for preparing questionable food with mysterious fillers.

On the suggestion of co-workers who would have eaten their own kidney to get her out of the kitchen, Nettles segued briefly into catering. Pay was barely supplemental but rewarding; skimming off the top brought her culinary creativity into inquisitive investigation. A low calorie dish of white meat derived from chicken testicles left members of the church league with spastic colons, indefinitely ending her catering services. Her cheapness paid off and offers poured in, with Nettles landing a tenured cook position at a juvenile detention center for troubled children. 

The next twenty years brought her steady paychecks and the mediocre challenge of upping her culinary game to fit younger taste buds. New signature dishes were crafted from her own genetic material and hunting skills while enjoyed by no one. Administrative officials say her cafeteria cuisine was illegally experimental but saved thousands on pest control. Nettles’ rat gumbo, possum pot pie, deep fried silverfish, and squirrel tail stew with a hair or two thrown in for flavor solidified her place in history as her dishes pioneered the organic fresh food movement within the modern juvenile detention system. 

Strained acquaintances close to Nettles say her work was a tactless job, inevitably bringing her more media attention the masses largely ignored than she bartered for. Periodic battles with the health department over scaly shedding skin on her arms and hands led to fines and citations affecting her work. A standoff protest over refusing to remove maggots from hand mixed oatmeal brought her to the radar of a sinking cable access channel desperate to exploit her plight for ratings.

“That lady was a cooking weirdo.” says Laura Lynn Hardy, director of operations of the cable access channel that hosted Nettles’ show. “First time we met I asked her could she burn. Got insulted straight away; stormed outside and came back with a pigeon. Snapped the thing’s neck and tore into its chest with her bare hands and pulled its insides out. Next thing I know she’s taking lip balm out of her bra and frying up something she named pigeon chitterlings in my microwave. Stunk up the joint for weeks. I gave her the show so she’d get the rabies out of my office.”

In relieving trepidation, she took early retirement to focus more on bringing her inedibles to the masses. For the internees she contemptuously fed, her departure was a loss for chemistry classes, who’d taken a liking to using her month old cornbread as e. coli spores and her ranch dressing as an adequate Danish blue substitute. Forging ahead with a complete loss of income for doing a free show, Jen Nettles’ Crotch Pot Cooking was put into a Tuesday 2 a.m. time slot against public broadcast reruns of Julia Child and Bob Ross. 

Hosting a late-night dud fueled her fire to venture out her culinary comfort zone. A culturally insensitive Cinco de Mayo episode propelled the final act of her selfish career as she embarked on making her version of authentic Mexican mole. Gallantly destroying the recipe due to cost constraints, she bravely combined the off brand chocolate laxatives, moldy bell pepper, and rotten eggplant with a collection of unregulated spices and a half gallon of crimson colored water ordered from an e-commerce shop on the dark web. Cringing studio audience members gagged on noxious aromas as Nettles swallowed a spoonful of the last meal she’d ever partake of again. 

Jen Nettles offed herself from complications of anaphylactic shock with a pinch of listeria; a contaminated collection of ingredients unknowingly cultivated in fecal matter helped her expire faster than yogurt lost in the desert. Convulsing to the end, the audience enthusiastically erupted in what would be the show’s only standing ovation. Her dashed departure is a staunch testament that you get what you pay for.

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Tia Ja’nae is a Creative Writer and Master Propagandist. In her spare time she is a Trekkie, classified by the order of your government. A 2022 Chinaski Winner, 2023 Pushcart Prize Nominee, 2022 Pulitzer Nominee In Fiction, her previous short stories have been featured in Pulp Modern, Pulp Modern Flash, Shogun Honey, Tough Magazine, 45th Parallel Magazine, 365 Tomorrows, Flashback Fiction Magazine in print and online media. Her full length novel Ghosts On The Block Never Sleep as well as other works are currently published by Uncle B. Publications LLC.