“Order up! Joe, can you take these sungolds with cranberry chimichurri to table six?” Joe has been my righthand man in the small confines of this kitchen for as long as I can remember being the head chef. Though, to be honest, I don’t know how long that’s been. I seem to have lost track of time, already a concept rooted in elasticity as it is. I can’t recall the last time I interacted with someone who made under $100,000 a year. I can’t recall the last time I interacted with anyone at all, really. I feel as though my life is like one perpetual blackout, because in one sense, I have to leave my body in order to do my work here, and, in another, I have no idea what happens to me outside of the bounds of these (hallowed to many) restaurant walls.
When the two girls walked in that night, I could tell there was something off about them. That they didn’t quite fit into the equation of this polished establishment. They weren’t homely, more, I would say…rough-hewn. I was already feeling frazzled because Quincy, our manager, had only informed me moments before that we didn’t have a sufficient amount of Littleneck clams for the carrot crepe. Needless to say, I was endlessly stressed. The entire sauce for the crepe was contingent upon the flavor pairing of clams. Quincy was an incompetent bastard who seemed hellbent on foiling my artistic genius at every turn. But he could never beat me. I was too innovative for his frequent exercises in inventory ordering ineptitude to ever be truly foiled in showcasing my brilliance. I would improvise, it would be fine. Of course, I couldn’t risk rattling the already highly sensitive clientele with the prospect that the menu item might not be available, or had been altered in some way, so instead I sent our lowest level lackey, Juan, to enlist him to go across the street to the specialty market and find some fucking clams, and to smuggle them back in without causing a stir, any suspicion. I should have been tipped off to the idea that my night was going to go all wrong when those “weird sisters,” as Shakespeare would say, walked in. They seemed to bode ill portent, one of them ostensibly wearing a wig and the other in some sort of off-patterned argyle sweater. They were an immediate disturbance to my already fragile state after being informed of the clam setback.
Thank god Juan came through, minimal though his English is. In fact, I had severe doubts about him at first, when fucking Quincy was the one to suggest we get a “little more color in the kitchen” to cater to the liberal white guilt of our customers. The customers who loved to stuff their seven-year-old kid’s face with caviar and then talk about all the suffering and hunger in the world. But what did I care about bullshit dichotomies steeped in hypocrisy? I was getting paid more than them probably. But in their eyes, I would always be the help. A “worker.” A “server.” And yes, I served them all well. The party of five that just flounced in, for instance, swathed in furs and shining jewelry, as though we were in the Manhattan of the 1950s as opposed to the Brooklyn of the 2010s. I often had to remind myself what century it was just to stay grounded, somewhat close to what was left of reality for me. Or I suppose, reality for them, the world outside of Homestead. That was what the restaurant was called. Trying its best to achieve that ironic tinge of “approachability” with plates starting as low as forty dollars. Obviously, it was going to draw in the worst mix of rich–the kind that had little assholes for children being groomed to become the next wave of the “Brooklyn elite.” I could never tell anyone I was from Bay Ridge. Sure, it looked and sounded bourgeois now, but it would never be to the parents of Prospect Heights what it was to the newest generation of single hipsters with corporate jobs still looking to live “affordably”–that is to say, highly desirable territory.
Everything was about territory when you got right down to it, even within the limited borders of my kitchen. Arnold had been getting on my last nerve of late, but his sous-chef skills were superior to that of Joe’s despite my love for the latter being stronger. He was just so much more malleable. Pliant to perfection, like a good celery stick for a soup stock. I might need to incorporate that into the upcoming winter menu, actually. With a twist. Maybe combine it with a cayenne pepper bouillabaisse outfitted with lobster Thermidor. Just to keep them guessing. They, of course, could be convinced of liking anything if we charged enough for it.
As I oversaw Juan emptying the clams out to be washed and appropriately stripped, the weird sisters duo caught my eye again. They were seated in the corner area of the bar that faced the open area kitchen, where my staff and I were now expected to cook with them gawking at us. And it was clear they were gawking, even if trying to be subtle. I know I’m attractive. I have the long locks and well-kept beard that women have often told me they enjoy stroking (in addition to some other parts of my body). I was accustomed to being gaped at in my working environment. In truth, that’s why I made so much more money than the men who brought their wives in–their wives paid me to have sex with them. It was a classic NYC side hustle, I’ll admit. But I’m not averse to cliches. Least of all ones that can liken me to Richard Gere in American Gigolo. But there was something unsettling in their female gaze at me. Maybe because they were younger than the women I usually dealt with.
The one wearing the wig didn’t seem to understand that there was no room for anything other than literalism in this environment as Camille, one of my least favorite servers on the waitstaff, asked if they had any food allergies or aversions. The wig-wearer tried to quip, “I have plenty of aversions.” Camille seemed genuinely concerned, returning, “Oh, okay, what are they?” I couldn’t help but chortle at that. It was the closest thing I’d heard to a joke in years of working here. Joe, too, looked up from his hand-cutting of the rutabaga tagliatelle to flash me a look that said, “Wow.” The wig-wearer gave up on penetrating Camille’s steely exterior (god knows I had tried a bit less figuratively a few times in my day), simply asking for a bottle of the Hobo wine–another touch of irony on Quincy’s part.
A few glasses more guzzled by them, and I could barely concentrate on my work. Their lips had been loosened, and the argyle sweater one was talking about what a “Fertile Myrtle” she was, gladly wishing for the day, roughly five years from now, when her womb would probably be too dried out to inseminate anymore. I couldn’t tell how old she was based on that statement, for I know women like to position themselves as being more crone-like than they really are, what with this idea that twenty-three was the final age of feminine desirability in a society dominated by the tastes of New York and L.A. media outlets. I looked away as she caught me staring at her in simultaneous horror and fascination. I couldn’t be tempted to regard them again tonight, lest I be coerced into sex without compensation.
He was particularly frazzled, even for a chef. That made him all the more deliciously attractive to me, and I knew I had to have him for my dessert by the end of dinner. His sinewy frame and full head of hair were what made that stringy beard forgivable. God, like, was I supposed to want to eat from that kitchen when I knew it was inevitable there was going to be a hair of some sort embedded in my food? To be honest, I only came here with Shelly because my mother had given me a gift card for this place last year for Christmas. I’d never heard of it before. But it was in typical keeping with Grace’s passive aggressive behavior toward me to give me a gift certificate to a place that would make me feel ill at ease rather than one that would give me a pleasant dining experience. I had been bamboozled by her, once again. She really was a master, that one. Anyway, I didn’t have a date and Shelly had this tendency to make me look better with her subtle frumpiness. It wasn’t “embarrassing frumpy,” but just enough of the quality to make men overlook her when they viewed us at the same time.
Rork, as I heard one of his minions call him when they asked him for advice on how much longer to simmer the vegetables for the duck confit, was doing just that right now, staring at me as I made deliberately salacious comments for his listening pleasure. It was one of those kitchens that must have made the staff feel like they were in a fishbowl. I guess a place like Homestead didn’t take that into consideration though, preferring to treat its hired help like a spectacle for the added enjoyment of the clientele. I suppose I was just one such member of that type of clientele. I had to corner him alone somewhere–I just knew if we could get some one-on-one time, he would see things my way.
The opportunity came when I took the expected risk of vaping, and was told to go into the heated backyard to do so. Of course, I conceded to our ramrod postured waitress, who clearly needed to be rammed by a rod. Knowing full well that none of this ilk would deign to go outside in the thirty-degree weather, thereby giving me the chance to wink and nod at Rork as an invitation, I ventured into the manicured patio and waited. If he didn’t show up in ten minutes, I would give up. Because it’s not in my nature to be rejected twice, let alone once.
Just as I predicted, he materialized. And it only took him seven minutes to get away from his high-pressure duties in the kitchen. It turned me on all the more that he had taken such a gamble in not so secretly secreting away to smoke a real cigarette next to me. “How’s your food tasting tonight?” he offered, giving me the perfect opportunity for innuendo.
“Well, there’s a few ways it might be better,” I shrugged. He smiled. Unlike that damned waitress, he could pick up on a joke.
“I see. Well, if there’s anything you can suggest…”
And then, as though the energy of Homestead as a whole cast some sort of spell on us, we were suddenly prostrate on the ground tearing off each other’s clothes and going at it like the rabbits that were being cooked at that very moment for someone’s order. As we grinded and gyrated, the smell of smoke closed in all around us, yet we were both too obsessed with our own respective ecstasy to pay attention to it. It was only after we both had our way with one another that we realized we had been responsible for burning down Homestead, a combination of his prematurely dropped to the ground cigarette and leaving the kitchen staff unattended too long resulting in the crisped bodies of Brooklyn’s bourgeoisie. For they were all so enraptured by their self-congratulatoriness for being at Homestead in the first place as they stuffed their maws with food even more grossly rich than their bank accounts that they could scarcely process that spontaneous disaster could ever genuinely strike upon their already inherently disastrous existence.
By the time the blaze was put out, the only trace of any patrons left were a few jewels, some charred furs, a few flame-retardant chef’s hats and a blonde wig so synthetic it couldn’t be destroyed. At least the same couldn’t be said about the upper class.