After performing at a comedy festival on the University of North Carolina campus last friday night, we thought we'd try to catch a late-night burlesque show or poetry reading, or perhaps just curl up with a large, warm bowl of Korean Kimchi Bokkeumbap. Unfortunately, this was North Carolina, so instead we just drank one thousand gallons of American alcohol, and then shouted and stumbled our way to Time-Out, one of Chapel Hill's more notorious all-night food venues.
My friend, Bryan, a UNC alum, told us about Time-Out as we made our way over, and I don't think I realized at the time that he was giving me all the reason I needed to turn around and practice a tiny bit of self-love. But you know how someone will tell you about something that sounds too unbelievably horrible that your sense of curiosity gets the best of you and you tell yourself, "I have to know if this place is really as disgusting as it has just been described, and the only way to know for sure is to see it for myself and then fill my bourbon-soaked belly with its hateful, hateful food?" You know?
Bryan told us two particularly improbably stories about Time-Out that I've since verified. The first was about the original late-shift operator of this "restaurant." (I am placing that word in quotes because to call Time-Out a restaurant requires seriously embracing irony. Kind of like saying Anna Nicole Smith was an American "icon" or Idi Amin had a "temper.") His name was Billy Ray Penny and before he died at 49 of completely unsurprising heart problems, Bryan explained that he'd gained a reputation for insulting his drunk, Tarheel customers. According to Bryan, Penny's favorite retort to slurry, demanding customers was, "I'd slap your face but shit splatters." Besides being awesome, this was true; so true that Penny even owned a t-shirt bearing that very same expression.
The other piece of Time-Out lore that I absolutely refused to believe was the "Box of Bones." (Bryan called it a bucket of bones, but I don't blame him for trying to suppress his memory in this case.) When you walk into Time-Out, weave your way past the numerous police officers stationed inside, and then scream at someone Mexican to give you a "Chicken Cheese Biscuit," here's what that Mexican guy will do. First, he'll use a pair of barbecue tongs to reach into a large metal bin filled with on-the-bone fried chicken breasts. Then he'll pull out a breast and, with a quick tug on the tongs, quickly remove the slab of white meat and plop it unceremoniously on to a butterflied, cheesed biscuit. Finally, still using the tongs, he'll pick up the bony carcass, with its few remaining scraps of meat clinging to it, then wheel around 180 degrees, and drop the bones into another metal bin.
After a while that bone bin will fill up (can you see where this is going) and, when it does, it officially goes on the menu as a "BOX OF BONES." For two dollars, less discriminating customers with two dollars may purchase a large box filled with about two dozen greasy chicken breastplates. "They must be for a dog," you might think, but you'd be crazy to think that because it's very dangerous for a dog to eat chicken bones. Fortunately, human beings can eat them all they want. And what kind of human being would pay $2 to strip the last, desperate morsels of meat off two dozen chicken bones? I think that kind of diner falls into one of five categories:
3. bowery bum
4. frat pledge
5. young ironist*
Eating at Time-Out (and, on the following night, Hector's) is kind of like unwittingly taking part in a hate crime against yourself. Of course that did nothing to keep it anything but packed to its slick, greasy walls with college students still capable of sleeping off their almost-nightly mistakes. I envy their elastic skin and short attention spans.
*this last category is the only one who won't finish eating the box, yet the only one who will talk about eating it afterwards. often. with eye-rolling, sarcastic pride.