“There is an inherent talent required to do the job and do it well. Never forget that critiquing is founded on the principles of Economics; we want to maximize the number of satisfied restaurant goers by utilizing the least amount of resources. You must constantly ask yourself: What am I doing to fulfill my God-given responsibility of apprentice food sergeant?”
Uncle Sam halted his indoctrination. He ran his hands through his goatee, tobacco-stained from springs spent umpiring little league games, and placed a weathered palm on the hood of his burgundy Chevy.
He turned towards me, and I saw that his eyes—which glowed with the ferocity of a testosterone-infused teen—belied his age and suggested that he was an invincible man, that he was the lucky bastard who had found and gladly hoarded de Leon’s much evaded fountain of youth, that he was the Shepherd himself, returned to guide a flock whose sense of taste had gone awry.
Uncle Sam fumbled in his red and white striped pocket, and his fingers emerged, entwined around a set of car keys. He opened the passenger door of the beaten car and handed me a crumpled list, stained with the weariness of age: Ravenous Restaurants to Ravage.
* * * * *
Darwin’s Dollop of Divine Food towered over surrounding factories. The building, fashioned entirely out of steel, rose from the ground like the proverbial beanstalk and enticed affluent Jacks to venture inside. A stout man in his mid-sixties walked expectantly ahead of us, and as we followed him inside, Uncle Sam enlightened me on the rich history of the restaurant.
“This here is Pittsburgh’s hotspot. Damn fine location. Couldn’t have thought of a better one myself. Wealthy industrialists crowd Darwin’s with their wallets open and stomachs empty.”
“That man,” he raised a finger in the direction of our guide, “singlehandedly started America’s oil industry. Andrew Rockefeller is a genius—a self-interested, socially fit genius.”
We arrived at Rockefeller’s heels in front of a booth with a window that overlooked a long railroad. The rich executive left us momentarily and we slid into our seats. I stared at the masses that crossed the railroad: female factory workers in rags and their young companions, whose gaunt bodies suggested they were not children but manufactured automatons; the laborers’ burdens were so loud that they travelled through the transparent barrier into the booth and reverberated off the walls, shaking the framed banners that bore the embroidered phrase “natural selection.” The laborers’ apathetic eyes accused us of a great systemic apathy.
Uncle Sam pulled down the blinds.
Shortly afterwards, Rockefeller arrived with two golden platters of the house special. We tasted the filet mignon, and the corporate giant stood with his hands crossed expectantly, awaiting our reactions.
Uncle Sam deferred to me: “Let’s hear from the apprentice!”
“The flavor is superb,” I reluctantly admitted, “but I think the selection is economically unfeasible. To maximize the amount of satisfied customers, you should cater to the wide spectrum of Americans rather than a wealthy few.”
I turned towards Uncle Sam, anticipating a hearty grin—an appreciative pat on the back of an apprentice who recalled the Law of Scarcity; instead, steely blue eyes gazed back in annoyance.
“I want you to keep it up!” he told Rockefeller, “By the way, I love these gilded plates. Très chic.”
Rockefeller feigned a gracious acceptance of Uncle Sam’s feigned approval and then turned to address me.
“To rebut your argument,” he condescended, “we at Darwin’s adhere to the Laws of Supply and Demand. We utilize the best ingredients, irrespective of price, for those who are willing to spend for these ingredients. We wouldn’t want to give our customers Mother Jones’ hot cakes,” Rockefeller asserted, citing the typical mine worker’s lunch.
“To encompass the socially unfit at the expense of food quality would be an egregious error; they would occupy Darwin’s!”
Rockefeller ended his tirade with a smug smirk and an authoritative beckoning towards Uncle Sam. The kitchen’s swinging door shut behind the two men, and I engaged myself with subtle peeks through the blinds at the hapless crew on the railroad.
Looming above the workers was the construction overseer, a large giantess whose body spanned the entire horizon. The intensity of her gray eyes darkened the periwinkle sky with two long, somber streaks. At first, I thought she was John Gast’s dame, come to fulfill her expansionist destiny and proclaim progress. But there was no quesadilla in her hand, no glass of Napa Valley wine. Her colonial dress and thick braid suggested she was a prisoner of some foreign land, a City Upon a Hill where only the exceptional could gaze above and poke through clouds with their divine fingers to reach into the coveted Fridge.
The titan sighed. As her mouth opened, a blast of wind rocked a steel pillar outside. The gust swept a crinkled paper laying on the tracks, carrying it through a nook in the window and onto Uncle Sam’s plate. Next to the scraps of tenderloin was a dog-eared letter, postmarked on March 1776:
“To whomever sees muck; remember to rake.”
The banging of a frying pan on a nearby counter interrupted my uneasiness. I shoved the note into my cuisine kit and turned away from the reflection of how the other half lives.
After a series of contrived guffaws and growling coercions, Uncle Sam emerged from the doors with an oil lapel pin on his top hat: an enfeebled god, an astray Shepherd—the transaction was complete.
* * * * *
“We have to be very careful with how we treat executives. We need men like Rockefeller
on our side to uphold the business of food critiquing.”
“But you’re the food sergeant, you hold the most powerful position in the world,” I reminded Uncle Sam of the description he used to captivate the media.
“Exactly. That means I have to condone establishing kinships with corporations. Just think, if Rockefeller is dissatisfied with my criticism, then the whole oil industry is displeased. Economically speaking, Rockefeller and his cronies constitute a majority because they hold the most influence. Never forget: critiquing relies on the Law of Gravity: what goes up must come down. It’s our job to prolong the inevitable. Like Henry Clay, that Great Compromiser, we maintain the status quo.”
Uncle Sam filled the ensuing silence with his off-tune bass; “This Land is Your Land” consoled us all the way to the City on a Hill.
* * * * *
Rosie’s Smoking Hot Guns was a formidable yet strangely alluring presence; Uncle Sam confirmed its prominence when he murmured that the Edible Esquire deemed it the budding Athens in America.
A riveting glass ceiling formed a crystal canopy above the restaurant, and when Uncle Sam voiced his concern with the ceiling’s eighteen million cracks (each seemed ready to render a collapsed building and an expired food sergeant), Rosie, the proud owner, beamed.
“Yes. We’re expecting another seven million cracks this year.”
As she escorted us through tables filled with Georgetown law students preparing opening statements for a Senate hearing regarding corruption in the food business, my eyes fell on a television festooned to the wall; a sonorous voice boomed forth and its lamentation of the rise of contraceptive-shaped spatulas suggested that Dick Limbo’s Confessions of a Conservative Punk was live on air. Before I could confirm my assumption, an irate student threw a fluke and the blade exacerbated the underlying crack in the picture tube, distorting the reporter’s features.
After Rosie left to bring us the restaurant’s signature Liberty Legs, Uncle Sam warned me not to talk economics with the “ladies.”
“They’re ambitious and incensed—a perilous duo. They earn eighty-six cents for every dollar their male counterparts make and apparently those fourteen cents are as oppressive as the North’s Coercive Acts. Yes. Rosie’s is worse than the taverns that boisterous Adams used to bar-hop to; it is a fermentation of rebellion. I may not see it in my lifetime, but you will. To protract such a revolt, we must remain vigilant of acceding to the restaurant’s whims.”
Rosie returned with the lobster, and we sunk our teeth into the juicy meat.
“Love the tenderness!” I exclaimed, praising Rosie for the fine meal.
Uncle Sam’s eyes burned with the self-satisfied flame of a food sergeant; he was inebriated with refurbished authority.
“I want you to lighten up on the salt; otherwise you might give your male customers hypertension. Aunt Samantha knows to watch out when I get too… hyper.”
Rosie offered a Viagra. Then she excused herself to join the indignant law students in their assertion: “no male domination in a pro-Hillary nation!”
I was appalled at the Sergeant’s ill-borne comments: “The salt added to the —!”
Uncle Sam halted my opposition with a raise of his creased palm.
“Never forget: Napoleon’s Law of Mendacity trumps all else. Liberty Legs are the first steps toward market equality. If Rosie emerges as a competitor to Rockefeller and infiltrates the Food Network, we’ll have a disgruntled male regime. It’s our job to ensure years pass before Rosie’s guns are capable of producing ripped sirloins like that of Darwin’s. We lead Rosie away from the truth for the betterment of this nation.”
Excusing myself to the restroom, I grabbed my cuisine kit. The bathroom was situated on the opposite end of the restaurant; devoid of dissidents and pickets, the area was a mute labyrinth of the forgotten. Remnants of Liberty Legs and bits of crystals garnished the floor.
Leaning against the lone stall in the lavatory was a large, obsolete rake; twenty-six feet tall and nut-brown, its protruding teeth were fit for more than gathering leaves. I grabbed the contraption, speculating that a frantic customer had misplaced a family relic whose existence predated even Uncle Sam. Grasping the rake in my hands, I searched for Rosie. Yet exiting the maze proved more difficult than entering: after climbing multiple staircases and opening various doors, I emerged on top of the restaurant.
Standing at the ceiling’s edge, I raised my head and found two gray specks welcome me with their gentle approval.
The titan nodded her head in the direction of my hands. The horizon followed suit.
Silence; then a ringing bell as the rake cut through the steel beanstalk’s roots, past the City Upon a Hill’s valley, and arrived at the insufferable blockade.
A pixie-haired woman assembling parts of an aircraft carrier watched from below.
She flexed her bicep in approval.
Arriving back at the dining hall, I found Uncle Sam with his hands covering his ears.
“What is Rosie trying to do?! Give me hearing aids?”
He asked for a pen and scribbled black, indecipherable script onto a small, rectangular sheet.
“We’ve never before had to pay for our services! This is a breach in the maintenance of traditional history! Today is a day that will live in infamy.”
Before we left the restaurant, Uncle Sam ordered an apple pie ‘to go’, claiming that male chauvinists liked to sleep on full stomachs. Rosie slipped the paper on our table into her pocket, charged an extra two dollars for the Sergeant’s insatiable appetite, and patted my shoulder.
It wasn’t until we stepped outside into the whipping Washington winds, exuberant cheers and flying spatulas following our exit, that I realized Uncle Sam had not signed a check.
* * * * *
That night, Limbo tearfully reported the passage of the Equal Culinary Rights Amendment.
That night, the economy soared, sirloins became readily available commodities, and the socially unfit assumed control of the food industry.
That night, Sinclair smiled in his grave as he heard the pattering footsteps of the capitalist chimpanzees in their exodus from the Jungle.
That night, an oil lapel pin was seen on the brink of the Golden Gate Bridge; authorities have yet to locate its owner.
Image credit: Flickr user James Vaughan