Thank you Friday Freeflow readers for stopping in. This was written at a memorably bitter and “coming of age” time in my life. Know any thirty-somethings with no jobs and needy children?
Then please share this to lend a mental hand...
The Dubois Inn
This is my microcosm. This is my America. I don’t expect other non-entities of my neighborhood to suffer all the blame, but they should. I mean this is where we are living, and here stand piles of degradation taller than the stores of salt for the winter. It would be easier to condemn a Paris or New York. There the little masochistic poodles enjoy a sound whipping once in a while, after goose liver, or whatever it is the million monkeys are told to covet that day. No, I release my ill will into the air that I breathe. This is my home, for now. I should probably get a job.
Hopeless characters. Just got back from a drive out to Minetto. I am a cook by trade, and I heard through Oswego’s half drunk grapevine that the old Dubois Inn is looking to hire a sous chef. That is always unfortunate because I am an artist, and the best man for the job. Usually a better chef than the chef too. Which does not sit well with the chefs. For some unknown reason I feel more alive today than usual, singing almost with a fury while I drive out to Minetto. Now I’m flipping off the houses I pass by, gladly giving them back all they have given to me. I know beforehand that I am overqualified for this job. That’s a shame, because we could really use the money.
The Dubois Inn. You have to understand what’s going through my mind. It was built in 1806. I have a meeting with an Indian at an Inn along the Oswego River. Word got out that the new chef of The Dubois is in need of a sous chef. “Dubois” and “sous” are French words and I am a sucker for what is French and not American. It’s 1828 and the new proprietors, Gerard and Katherine Dubois, are rolling around in bed. The sheets are wet from sweat. It’s a hot morning. A bell rings at the door. A traveler wants breakfast and his horse needs pasturing. Gerard takes the horse and Katherine leads the traveler into the hot kitchen. She takes two eggs off a plate and cracks them into a bowl. The traveler smiles at Katherine while he taps a silver coin against a tin cup. Katherine takes a quick, nervous look out the window, walks up to the traveler and hikes her skirt up past her hips. The horse whinnies and gnashes his teeth...
What am I going to do? Yesterday the bookseller said I might be called to work in two months, right about the time we’ll have to start begging for our food. So I’m up against a wall. I have to go see the Indian. Otherwise I fear—
No, I’m not going that route. I am heading to Minetto on the grayest, ugliest road I have ever known. I am thinking of the Dubois road. I used to walk on it when my first daughter was an infant. I would sit on a log and draw a map of it and the surrounding forest. Still, nobody came out of their homes to invite me in. Not even an Indian. Maps! What the hell was I thinking?
It’s an ugly road. Every road is ugly in the American North Country. But only because of human beings. Without their input, this wild world would be paradise. I am going to see an Indian about a job. I imagine some tall, wide monster of a man who’ll break my back if I don’t start work immediately. Earlier in the day I drove to the Dubois making the same piss offs signs to the empty houses.
Nobody was home. Not at 10:00 a.m. It’s a work day, and I know well the loneliness of the statement: “Nobody’s home at 10:00 a.m. on a workday.” The Indian isn’t home. He’s not at work either. And the front door says they open for business at eleven. Oh man, I know where this is heading...
So I walk around back with my resume, cover letter, a brunch menu, and three page report on some interesting fish ideas for lent. More French words for my gracious hosts, the Dubois’. Sauce Choron, Codfish Cassoulet, Roasted Monkfish with Zinfandel Buerre Blanc. And some Portuguese dishes too—for Katherine, whose mother grew up in a fishing village south of Lisbon. Ttorro. Caldrada. Seasonal produce to use at the tail end of a miserable winter. Sauces to make the fish stink disappear. No wait, the fish are fresh. There’s an unpolluted river flowing on the other side of the road. Men and boys are leaning against the trees, fishing. Wonderful! Who do I think I am? Ron Bocuse? Holy God, I am a fool who will be offered the job and take it. I peek in through the dining room window. The glasses come from sets once sold at the end of supermarket aisles, with the bath towels and animal crackers—flower decals pressed when Jimmy Carter was president. I walk around the building and knock at the side door, No answer. Boxes of dairy products piled up against the wall. This guy is no chef. I know that much already. But damn am I a fool! I wedge my papers between the whipped margarine boxes. I’m late for another interview that must be declined before I get the opportunity to let anyone know who I am.
Yesterday I applied for a line cook’s job at a southern barbecue and bar. I’m so easy to hire. Just confide in me that you are an ass, and I’ll work like a dog for you. No way. People are too proud of their spit pit, food stains, cardboard beer signs, dirty floors, even their snotty waitress who, “don’t tell no bad news to the boss” for anyone. But she’ll kiss the greasy ass of a customer for a dollar ninety tip. Jesus, I can’t work here. Not even if I were starving. A place like Poorboy’s restaurant in Oswego is a spit in my eye. Of course I am delicate. It’s obvious to me that God prefers despair. What sensitive, puppy loving, leper-caregiver would not run amok immediately after stepping into such a hole for dinner? I cannot imagine the food any better than what a sweaty tenant farmer would rub under his armpit with cornbread.
But here I am talking with the owner in my pre-interview. I am dressed as good as it gets in Oswego. My hair is cut, my neck and face shaved. I am tall, clean, and pleasant looking enough not to scare children away. I have a resume and cover letter that would get me hired at any big city American restaurant, and eyes that might land me a carrot-peeling prep position in some obscure, country restaurant in France, (but only if I begged). Truthfully, I believe I must be well-shaven and give the overall appearance of clean. A glance at the resume. Then one should say, “Cut that potato and cook it with salt.” I get hired if he likes the dish. Very easy. It’s a line cook’s position in Oswego at a filthy pit of a place to eat, and I am being pre-interviewed in my best clothes. Here’s a piece of the conversation, exactly as it transpired:
“Well, it says here in your cover letter that you’re looking for a well-managed place to work. I’ll tell you right now, we are not where we want to be. We are far from well-managed.”
“Oh, that’s fine. I’m looking to make my life more miserable.”
“What would you do if you had a confrontation with a waitress?”
“I’d pee in her salad.”
“Okay. You should know that I have two jobs beside this one. I work full time as a Human Resource Manager at the power plant, and I am also an adjunct professor in the Business Department at the college. This makes it impossible for me to run my business properly.”
“Oh well, that’s okay. I am just another human being. Is there anything else you’d like to put into my ass?”
“Yes, one more thing. I don’t believe in cooks not doing their own dishes. Not to mention I can’t afford dishwashers and busboys and stuff like that. Friends would come over for dinner and tell me that my food was great, and that I should open up a restaurant. I have no experience. Tell me, how would you put away 200 pounds of hot pulled pork?”
“I’d cut open my gut and hide it in there.”
“Wonderful. Let me just call up my associate to set up another interview.”
And that is where I am heading now, on my way back to Oswego, to decline the opportunity to be a cook at Poorboy’s Barbecue. I would never go back to that humiliation even if I were starving again in this new world. But Marie just had our baby, and we can count in our heads all the money we’ll have over the next three months. It’s not enough. So I go back to Poorboy’s for her and the children. But I just go back to tell them to piss off with a smile. That has always been Ron in Oswego. Piss off with a smile!
I get home and there’s been a call from the crazy Indian. He wants me to come back for an interview. Back at the Dubois Inn again, sitting in a metal chair, waiting to meet the chef whom I already disrespect...
Why “crazy Indian”?
Jesus, he’s a man isn’t he? He has allowed this to happen to himself and therefore lower the expectations for all men, has he not? He of all people has a desire to serve cut pieces of cow to old Caucasian widows, all of whom can trace their roots back to the wanton slaughter of his grandfather’s race? There is a genocide outside of America, where the fanatics of the world murder their own kind. And then there is American genocide, tremendously more advanced because it culls from hiding, like in a sinister future world. Does he know that? There should be a voice screaming from inside his soul. But it’s as quiet as death in there as it is out here. It’s his restaurant. His game. I cannot blame him yet. I sit here and play by its awful rules too. I want money. Indians want money. This Indian will be no exception. How queer though, to make his money cooking chicken cacciatore for great great grandchildren of the men most responsible for his ancestor’s premature dissolution.
Here I am, sitting on a folding chair, property of The Dubois Inn, looking out at the gray afternoon through a smudged window. The river flows another shade of gray. I could be more happy at the bottom of the river. I want it to be 1806 or 18065. We need sixteen thousand and sixty plus years to reestablish our kingly ties. We can’t go back. We won’t go forward. I am waiting for my Indian to approach the table with a wild stare, and fling me like a stone into his kitchen. “You get to work you son of a bitch. I’m gonna make your life a living hell!” Oh how I wish he had the guts to try me!
But Geez, just look at this place! A thick brown carpet saturated with twenty-five winters of wet mud on the boots. Never been cleaned. The floors themselves were warped by river floods and snow melt. They creak louder than any dinner music ever could. Speaking of which, this crazy Indian has an old department store turn-table stereo with paneled speakers set up against the window. If I was two inches taller, my head would scrape the false veneer beams on the ceiling. The table and chairs are all set crooked over the warped floor. And the smell! God, I can’t believe this guy is open for business! It’s like he unlocked the front door for the first time in ten years, taped the hours onto the glass, reached around the wall to turn on the lights, walked into the kitchen and started to cook. After ten years or more of rat infestation and other wild animals spraying their piss in an abandoned Dubois, this crazy Indian wouldn’t dream of wiping down walls, mopping a floor, fixing the ten slow leaks staining the ceiling tiles brown. Damn! This place is worse than the joint George Orwell wrote about in his dishwasher book about Paris kitchens.
Suddenly, I get the old reliable urge to run away. I stand up to leave. But oh no, here he comes! A big goofy looking Indian for sure. Long black hair, big grin, big hands... Okay, the place is a hole. I’ll work for you. Just say something French, or Indian at least. Wild turkey throat wrapped in corn husk, stewed in English fat... Perfect! I’d stay with you until the end of time cooking a hundred of those a night. Just speak some French! Anything. Merde en croûte with Pee-pee Allemande. Tell me with your first words that your hobby is food. That after a night of sweat and madness, after the long, drawn out illusion of tricking them to believe thirty dollars a head was a very fine way to spend a Friday night in Oswego, you pedal your bike over two steep hills, out to a small farm behind dirty and damned Minetto, lean the bike against a fat maple, walk into the barn, feel under a chicken’s ass for the morning’s egg, skim cream off the top of this afternoon’s milking, and fall down into a pile of hay using Gastronomique for your pillow. Say, “Ragout” you wild fool and I’ll be your slave all the way, over many, many moons time.
“Hey-hey Ron. Howayoú?”
Oh no. An Indian from Utica. Worse. An Italian accented Indian from Utica. Please, oh Cold River Spirit... Please set me free.
“Look, I’ll be up fron-wid jew. Jew gotta a great lookin’ resume. Yer cover letta really catches da eye, juno whatta mean. But jew gotta prove to me how good jew is. I hired dis guy last week, said he bin cookin’ in dis bizniss 22 years. Jesusmuddermary, he didn’t know hodda make a club saindwich! Juno, dis paper is nice and stuff, but it doan mean crap to me. Look, we do hundred-fifty a night on da weekends. Whattya think?”
“No, Jesus, it ain’t great! I gotta do it all by myself. My son’s in da Boces culinary arts program. He comes up on Fridays to help. But dat ain’t enough. Jewed be my right hand man. Jew cook, just stay on da line, so I could move-bout freely, juno?
“Have you been cooking long?”
“I bin in dis bizniss fur yearz.”
“Are you an Indian?”
And then to myself, already in the process of getting my lips to form their polite “piss off!” smile... “I bet your kitchen is a stinking mess! I bet you can’t hold a piece of meat in your hands and love it for the life of your son. I bet you never gave him a god-damn bit of wisdom, either, Indian. Wipe your face clean you dirty fake. I’m an Indian. I am the new Indian. I am more Indian than your mother was Indian. I was born here. I will die here. And in the between time I am going to bury this waste ball of human misery in a hole, fertilize it with fillets of trout, and wait for it to grow tall so I can eat it with salt.”
Yea, I’m all messed up. I am thinking French when I should be sorting out the best way to murder him and keep his body put at the bottom of the river. Oneida Indian. Phooey! He’s from Bleeker Street in Utica. French cooking? Oneida cooking? Listen here, I am the new Indian. At five a.m. on a hot August morning, this fool’s naked ghostly ancestor could dive screaming through my window, knock me out with an iron spoon, and drag my wobbly ass to the center of some huge cornfield. And Dammit, I don’t care if I ever come out. I’ll walk around and eat bugs and corn all day and night. I would live out the rest of my life in the sun and tan. I am the new Indian. This is the menu he planned? Prime rib, Porterhouse steak, Chicken Cacciatore?
At first I felt sorry for him—an Italian Indian out of Utica, into Oswego, better off floating in the clouds, or burnt to ash to live eternity with the fire ants and worms. But when he shot off bragging about the huge bakery in the works, the beer and wine bar, the party he booked for 250 sober Easter Christians next month, and he being the only employee... No dishwasher, no prep person for lunch or dinner, the broken equipment, those pathetic tiny tongs, the toaster grill, and finally the funny talk about the modest wage I should accept until we got the ball rolling... Wow, that was all I needed to offer up my blessing to his body and soul. The same blessing I give to all eager entrepreneurs. I prayed that he will grow rich and fat in Oswego living out the rest of his life in this dilapidated food factory, lying and cheating people out of their money, infecting their hopes, and dreams.
Please Mr. Oneida Indian, please take their dirty money, your money, take all the money there is in the universe, sell ten slaughtered cows a day, cut three different ways, to be cut down even further by their false teeth, rotten intestines, and clogged arteries. You are my partner in crime. Your efforts combined with those of the other restaurateurs in Oswego, are pushing me further towards France. And France is release, restitution, freedom and paradise. I am not working for you. I will continue to cook alone these grand meals and memorable feasts for the one horse traveler, the thirsty Indian, the merchant’s daughters stepping off the canal boat into the brilliant July sun. Their eyes are sparkling gray like the river water. You poor sorry Indian! I know that after a busy summer’s night, Katherine Dubois won’t appear in your kitchen bearing her soft loins and wet mouth. I know you’re more of the living dead than Gerard’s great great grandson placing an order for sole meunière in Oswego NY. Some psychotic Irish culinary grad will decorate the dish with basmati rice and raw pieces of triangular-cut zucchinis, even on the coldest night in February! No, I feel the greatest pity for you and any living Indian ghost haunting today’s America. Sure I pity you, but I also hate passionately your standing before me. I was hoping for a real Indian to teach me how to cook. I wanted to see and hear the ghosts in your stories, to watch them hover above us, dangling their strings of lake fish and hearing some wise laughter to mock and befriend me. After five hundred years of suffering casual oppression from the white man, I would hope that any Indian wanting to open up a French restaurant, would at least know a thing or two about porcupine butter, raccoon con fit, venison a la birch wood fire, Bitter tart of bear gut and crabapple...
No. Nada. Nothing but Prime rib and Chicken Cacciatore. An Italian Indian from Utica, although he says Oneida. Probably employed a few years at the Casino. Now we should fear the Indian mafia. English deck of cards, German beer, and French chef. It is well-known that money bad medicine. Me want Porche and slutty white woman for wife or two. First drink white man’s fire water. Get mad and fight children. Then gamble white man’s money. Get rich like white man. Eat rich food. Drink fire water. Next, sell drugs and sex to Oneida farm boys. Buy Utica. Buy Rome. Buy mayor’s daughters. Watch movies. Go to sleep.
Oh go skin a buck on a truck! I think it’s about time the American 86’s all lands held by the Indian. Take them away. He is no longer worthy. Is anyone? Tuck that wasted, spent culture safely into a museum box where it has belonged ever since Ozzie the Onondaga pedaled a bicycle for a good time. A big box crate for each tribe. Not much to toss in, I’m afraid. Three arrowheads. A sweat stained deer hide. Some smooth, brightly colored stone a little brave hid in his ass two hundred years ago out of fear that his grandfather would find it and chastise him for coveting things like the white man. The Mohawk box. Oneida box. What, five, six, ninety-six boxes in a room? Stacked one on top of the other beside more pieces of ca-ca humans leave around for a thousand years, for wanting to keep some semblance of rational continuation to steer the races toward an exploding finish line. Bunk and bull! The Indian culture is gone. Dead. Long ago vanished. Spirit remains but not to be possessed by any human who respects it with Proctor and Gamble toothpaste. Babylonians, Semites, Cretians, Vikings, Romans, Iroquois, Sioux, Navajo, and nincompooop! Holy, holy turtle earth, sister sun... Stop the preservation of death! The Indian goes to Walmart. Get the picture? The Oneida uses American money to pay for milk and cream from American cows. Anything useful an American gets in return is born from a dream of the eighteenth century. The clash of cultures, when men had real choices and living opportunities. Before New York could develop into the butt hole that crapped out Philadelphia. And what of it, if Mr. Oneida Indian chef can privately possess a trace of beauty? Well, dammit, so can I! I have English and Italian blood. But where is my Stonehenge to lean up against and wonder about the stars? What Vatican shelters me from these frequent internal storms? What forest surrounds my home that I may get lost in it freely? What wild creatures are left for me to respect, to follow, to hunt? I was born. The Indian sitting across from me... He was born. Why is he rewarded land rights and the opportunity to believe in anything without cement sidewalks? Why are deer left alone to romp and run in his forest, until one of his brothers is hungry enough to kill it with his bare hands? I have to watch pot-bellied middle management kiss-asses waddle into the woods carrying the firepower equivalent of some African nations to bag their two or three girl deer, whichever the government tags happen to allow. The Indian is granted eternal rights to a lush green paradise in summer and a quiet empty, meditative winter stillness. He can also order strip steaks and ranch dressing from Sysco Inc. Yes, and perishable dairy products to lie in the sun rotting as I write this. Mr. Oneida is stopped at a convenient mart pumping gas into his ‘94 Toyota pick-up truck. No chef worth his hat would leave sour cream in the sun. No Indian in my dreams would open a French restaurant for money.
The Dubois Inn. What a joyless creature a man is.