The Mayflower Poultry Company shows up twice in Infinite Jest, on neither occasion with that name given. Instead this real-life butcher shop is referred to primarily in synecdoche, noted briefly by characters who pass its large sign out front, announcing: “LIVE POULTRY, FRESH KILLED.” But the funny thing is, it’s not called that either—and, odder still, the two passages do not agree on what the sign actually says.
The first character to encounter it is Don Gately, en route to the supermarket on the same journey that took him past The Unexamined Life. As Gately speeds through Inman Square, we learn:
Gately’s solidly pro-American, and north of Central Square’s clot and snarl Prospect St.’s a copless straight shot through eerily alien lands: billboards in Spanish, plaster madonnas in fenced front yards … A couple Canadian and Nuck-owned stores mashed in here and there, between the propinquous Spanish three-deckers, looking subjugated and exiled and etc. The street shitty with litter and holes. Indifferent drainage. Big-assed girls stuffed like stuffed sausage into cigarette jeans in always trios in the twilight with that weird blond-brown hair Portuguese girls dye their hair to. A store in good old English advertising Chickens Fresh Killed Daily.
Near the end of the novel, it appears again as Poor Tony Krause is pursued by his recent muggees, Kate Gompert and Ruth van Cleve:
The moment after the impact and the strap gave way, Tony was up on his toes and in full flight, not banking on pursuit from the other one, this black Creature screaming and just off his tail. For the first couple blocks the Creature had shouted for Help and to Stop The Bitch, and Poor Tony, then with a decent lead, had countered by also yelling Help! and For God’s Sake Stop Her, flummoxing any would-be citizens. … Their shoes’ toes formed complex and variable rhythms on the pavement; sometimes their footfalls were in sync, then they were not. The Thing stayed agonizingly just behind. Bold-print signs for FRESH-KILLED CHICKEN and COMPLETE DESTRUCTION flashed past; Antitoi Entertainment was just over two long north-south blocks distant.
The discrepancy might simply be a misremembering on Wallace’s part, but better I think to credit it to differing perceptions of characters on the move.
There is one last anomaly to account for: the “Fresh Killed” sign of Infinite Jest seems to be in Inman Square—for example, most of the chase in the second quotation occurs on Prospect Street—while the real Mayflower Poultry Company is a dozen or so blocks east on Cambridge Street, in fact in the neighborhood of East Cambridge. Here it seems most likely that Wallace simply wanted to include it and, given prior commitment to Inman Square, he had no choice but to move it up the road.
The Mayflower Poultry Company is a legitimate Boston-area landmark; although the store’s origins are in the North End, it has operated in this location since 1945. It is obviously well-known for its startling signage but also as a long-enduring specialty shop, and one with a very good reputation, if Yelp is anything to go by. Of course, the sign is why the store sells hats, shirts and (as every profile is apparently required to mention) thongs, all featuring its “bold-print” slogan. And it’s the sign as well that got the store into this novel, however imprecisely.