FAUX – GRAS

21 Jul

      

 

  Dinner had been delicious, he’d eaten down at Satrianos in the Italian district near Canal Street. Jake had tried most of the restaurants in the area, but their veal and pork meatballs were to die for. The area had the ambience of old world Europe, something that had been cleverly crafted for the tourist trade. Little Italy had once covered four city blocks but now consisted of one end of Mott street, rubbing shoulders with its unlikely neighbor, China Town. Kung-Pao chicken and fried noodles versus Ziti and Chicken-Parm – a cold war relationship of culinary conflict. An uncomfortable symbiosis of two separate cultures forced to coexist in the arm pit of Manhattan, although perfect for an errant gourmet like himself. All those restaurants in one easily accessible location made for a target ,as well as a calorie rich environment. 

        He burped, tasted scaloppini, and licked his lips in delicious remembrance. A splash of gravy hung conspicuously like a military decoration, or lifetime achievement award, from his open necked shirt. Not cutting quite the figure he had earlier in the evening, he was now perspiring heavily – sweat rolling down his body, as he lurched towards the subway station. Tonight had been another unmitigated success, his prowess was unequaled. 

        Fuck! Three flights of stairs, the ticket counter and the embarrassment of not being able to get through the turnstile. The unnecessary attention that would be drawn to him, as city workers were obliged to open easy access gates. Then the wait, the stares, before the arrival of the train and the twenty-two stops back to Brooklyn Heights. He larded himself into the subway, clinging tightly to the railing. He heard the curses of passersby who attempted to squeeze around him on the stair well – the looks, the laughs, the comments. He heard and saw them all. Just because he was fat didn’t mean he was deaf or blind. 

        He hadn’t always been three hundred and sixty pounds of heaving flesh. In his youth he’d been a football star playing blocking tackle for his high school team, The Spartans. His size back then had come in handy – his contemporaries considering him butch and masculine. Kids would slap him on the back, tell him he’d done a great job – girls had shouted his name from the sidelines. 

        Nowadays, not so much. 

        It wasn’t till the car accident, followed by the steroids and months of recuperation that the weight had started to creep on. Sure he’d fought back with everything from Atkins to abstinence, but now what was the point? 

        Screw it and screw them! 

        He was what he was. Like it or lump it. Gaining weight had actually been a welcome release as he no longer had to keep up the pretense of dieting. Even if he lost twenty or thirty pounds, who would truly notice the difference? Yes, of course he would know, and yes this would help with what dieticians loved to call will power and self-esteem, but who would really care, what was the fucking point? Gone were the salads and apples in the canteen, with his ever watchful, reproachful colleagues, and hello to the welcoming embrace of his refrigerator-emptying holocaust when hidden from prying eyes. 

        He saw their stares, the way they looked at him when they thought that he wasn’t. The gestures, the nods, the knowing looks – he caught it all. He even heard what they were thinking. Just because he was fat didn’t mean that he didn’t have to eat. Like them his body needed nourishment on a daily basis. It wasn’t as though he could just break down the layers of oozing fat, metabolize his gut and consume himself. The worst were those hypocrites who were already large and yet spoke to him as though he was the one with the problem. Didn’t they ever look in the mirror at home? Didn’t they wonder when their genitals and knees had been replaced by red-rashed skin, doubling stomachs and overloaded thighs?

* 

        Tonight had been a rush – he’d managed to pull it off yet again. Another new restaurant had swallowed the bait. That was the beauty of the Big Apple there were so many different places to choose from. 

        He felt the tug and suck of wind as the train exited the tunnel coming to a spark-throwing stop at the platform. The doors opened and he watched the mad scramble as passengers fought their way out of the carriage. The train going down town was always full, however there was always more room on the up-town train. He liked the bench seats by the door as he could easily shuffle on to these, spreading his state-sized arse over two or three cushions. 

         The doors shut, the train moved, the carriages entered the tunnel. The pitch blackness acted like a mirror on the glass, the stark lighting of the interior reflecting his image. It wasn’t pretty. Staring back at him was a thirty-five year old ball of mush. A man who should have been in his prime and yet who was nearly breaking the four hundred pound barrier. He had it all, back ache, knee strain, constipation, hemorrhoids. He was a walking medical wonder and encyclopedia of human malfunction. He took the pills but ignored the doctor’s advice. Life was pretty shitty as it was, but to imagine it without food was unthinkable. 

* 

        Gone were the days of cheap chocolate, gallon cartons of ice-cream and jars of peanut butter spread thickly over Oreo cookies. No longer the boxes of cereal washed down with gallons of milk. His gargantuan appetite had taken him to greater heights. If he was going to eat, he was going to eat the best. If he was creating fat then he was determined to generate Royal Jelly. 

        Once he’d taken his addiction to the local pushers and hoods that lived in his neighborhood to get his daily fix, attempting to scratch the never ending itch. The pimps and pushers were well known. The southern bearded gentleman flaunting his fantastic Kentucky gold, who resided on the corner of every other block. Or the King on the opposite side of the street who tempted young children with his indoor playground and his free samples of flame broiled ecstasy. The worst was the clown. His golden arches spread all over the city, like yawning bosoms, pumping out the warm, slick smell of fry oil and burger grease. 

        His in particular was a high crime neighborhood. Product could be had at any hour, of any day, complete with easy drive-through access. He’d watched as cop cars had pulled up outside heavy push zones, had seen protectors and servers with illicit merchandise in their hands. Didn’t they understand that the people of New York needed their protection? Was there no caped-crusader to champion their cause and fight these hamburglars of death? He saw it happen every day from his mother’s bedroom window. The young addicts with their free balloons and made-up faces. Hoards of miniature clowns running around laughing, unsuspecting, whilst the devil, dressed in red and yellow stripes sat cross legged in oversized shoes, eyeing up the latest batch of doomed youth. 

        The first sample was always free – it was all those other moments of weakness where the money would be made. A pound of flesh was not the price exacted, rather the result in the quixotic world of fast-food syndication. 

        Sure heroine was still pushed and X could still be found, but it was the insidious nature of fast-food that had permeated all levels of society.Church days paid for by pizza joints. School literacy sponsored by fries and chicken nuggets. Diabetes driven to school playgrounds in Wiener-mobiles or in the black-and-white eat-more-chicken trucks. 

        There was no escape. 

        He understood, witnessed and bowed down to neon-indoctrination, worshiped at the altar of calorific excess, celebrated the polytheism of grease. Who was he to deny his cravings? He was sick, it was a disease, it was something he had inherited from his average sized parents. People who had grown up with smaller plates, regular cup sizes, home cooked meals and the joy of the fresh air. He wasn’t to blame – it was society- the pushers. 

        Somebody needed to do something. 

Time had marched on, his anger turning to acceptance, disgust to complacency. If he was going to eat then he was going to eat the best. He had exhausted his savings on the delicacies of caviar and aged steak. Drank his way through golden vintages, raped buffets, taking more from them than they could ever have taken from him. But savings had run dry, credit cards morphed into pieces of plastic. There wasn’t any more money. Social security and disability were forcing him back to the pushers but being the stubborn bastard that he was, he wasn’t ready to end his crusade of cuisine. 

        No longer being able to work because of his size meant that he had to give up his apartment and move back in with his mother. It wasn’t ideal but she was getting on in years and glad of the company, although the quality of company was debatable – quantity never having been a measure of quality. She’d turned the formal room into a bedroom, the stairs were just too much to navigate, and placed the mattress on the ground so that he wouldn’t have to endure the Himalayan climb. Luckily the shower was next door and he could use that. The house had been built back in the fifties and wasn’t designed for the size of the new millennium. Population growth had taken on a whole new meaning and Malthusian studies would have been corrupted by the present increase in world population – albeit in size rather than in cipher. 

        He would stand with half his body in the shower and half out, first washing one side then the other. He’d heard every crude jokes about cleaning yourself after using the bathroom and he’d often wondered what the mystery was? It was simple enough. You shit before you showered and then undid the nozzle and pushed the hose between your cheeks. Why deal with paper? Good god, hadn’t the French developed the bidet for this very purpose! Sure it was an exercise in exertion but a necessary evil if one was going to live the lifestyle. He’d found that by powdering his body after showering the perspiration could be held back, like a Dutch dyke holding back a tsunami. He looked in the corner and stared at the unused scales which only registered weight below two hundred pounds. He smiled wryly, he was in a different league. Now he was definitely playing with the big boys. 

* 

        The scam was simple. He called ahead to the restaurant. It always seemed to impress if he made a reservation, something which implied intent. Then he made an entrance at the appointed time, making sure to assume and air of natural authority and easy confidence. There was something about a fat man in a well-fitting designer suit which screamed gourmet rather than glutton. Small talk with the waiter – a shared knowledge of food adding to the trust, and then a brief interlude with the sommelier for a discussion on Sonoman reds and a verbal comparison of the new-world wines from Australia and South Africa. The glad smiles and shared knowledge created a common ground, an intimacy, a feeling of brotherhood. No longer was there a fat man sitting at table number twelve, but a gentleman, a man of taste, an initiate of the culinary craft. Trust had been established, bridges built, foundations laid. The food treaty had been signed all that remained now was to tear it up into little pieces and set it on fire. 

        There were several methods of attack and he’d perfected them all. From the classic to the mundane, he was a past-master, his methodology erudite in its execution. First he’d enjoy the hors d’oeuvres, accompanied perhaps by a bottle or two of the wine-waiters recommendation and then towards the last mouthfuls of the main course he’d pretend to choke. 

        An act worthy of an Oscar, he’d been an inspiration and shining light to all who had taken the Hymlic-course in the hope they’d never have to use it. He would begin with a gut wrenching cough, followed by a fountain of gargled phlegm, his arms gesticulating wildly in the air followed by meat- greased hands clutching at his throat. He’d watch his fellow diners staring at him, trying to decide whether they should dash from first dates, abandoning expensive dinners and come to his assistance. Sometimes it was full minute before anybody reacted, but nearly always within thirty seconds there was the arrival of some do-gooder to spin him around, no easy task, and pump on his chest. It was almost an erotic experience with a stranger thrusting their crotch into his back as they tried to gain purchase on his formidable chest. He would cough, not immediately, and food would fly across the table to resounding restaurant applause. He’d hear the murmurs of hushed concern and anticipate the arrival of the frightened restaurant manager or head waiter. 

        “Was Monsieur ok, and did sir require an ambulance?” Naturally the meal was on them, and they hoped all would be well. “Please come again and accept our apologies,” before slowly, but politely pushing him out of the door with grudging smiles of contrition and concern. As the door closed to the restaurant and he stood there in the cold night air he’d watch the restaurant return to the oasis of dining excellence it had been before his near death experience. He would keep his shambling, disheveled act up until the first street corner, and then break into a broad smile and laugh out loud as he thought how he’d duped them again. The calamari had been terrific, the bottle of Chianti above expectation and the half eaten veal scaloppini delicious. He’d been loath to go into choke mode, as the beans-haricot had been exceptionally fine. But it was all part of the game and the following evening he would trundle his way to the next restaurant and complete the process. It never failed, and he never paid. 

        It hadn’t come easy though, he’d broken his teeth on inept attempts at feigning forgotten wallets, or eaten half his food and then complained that there was something wrong. A myriad excuses – nervous protestations that the milk was off, the wine was bitter, the steak too gamey. This had achieved limited satisfactory results that invariably ended with replenishment of whatever the offending article was, and ultimately a payment. 

        The trick was to stay away from the cheap restaurants. He didn’t go where the tourists ate as the wait-staff had seen it all before and were wary of freeloading half-steak-eaters. The best thing was to patronize the unaffordable restaurants, the eateries of the rich and famous, the exclusive haunts in the theatre district. Here he was an apex hunter – the thrill of the hunt, the chase and the kill. The exhilaration of being carried outside and placed in an ambulance, before being driven to a local hospital where he would invariably escape via a taxi or the ubiquitous subway. The city was his. Access to the dining table of the rich and famous open exclusively to him – his palate massaged with the finest that his money didn’t buy. 

        Tonight would be no exception. Tonight it was Grimaldies, the new steak house on the Upper East Side. A mix fusion of northern and southern French flavors with a hint of Mediterranean thrown in – at least that’s what the write-up said. 

Reservations recommeneded. Dress appropriately. Dinner from five-thirty to ten-thirty. 

        He checked himself in the mirror. His dark suit struggled to hide his girth and the striped tie wrapped around his thick neck vainly attempted to narrow his gut as it cascaded down his shirtfront like a waterfall – crashing down the ripple of his stomachs, pointing like an arrow to that which he hadn’t seen in a very long time. 

        His shoes were shone, his cufflinks gleamed, and his tie pin was positioned perfectly. He carried a boss of keys with a Mercedes logo and his Lagerfeld pocket piece popped up from his breast pocket. He was every inch the well to do, self-made man. Clearly a man of substance and standing – someone who personified money. He was every waiter’s wet-dream, a show piece for any restaurant, that any owner would be proud to have. He would undoubtedly be seated in prominence as the owner embellished his premises with its well-heeled clientele. Pride as well as greed was numbered in the seven deadly sins and tonight one of the guilty would pay. 

* 

His mother had driven him to the station where he’d caught the subway Downtown. Arriving at the restaurant a couple of minutes late, he’d smiled to himself as he watched the hostess, through the glass, checking her wrist watch, staring at the reservations in her book. He loved this moment, he was in total control. 

        The little black dress in too high heels greeted him warmly as he pushed his way through the door. As if welcoming a long lost lover, the girl’s smile spread across her face, revealing perfect teeth. The affected welcome, the ingratiating hug, the whiff of perfume, embellished the moment as she took him by the hand and led him to his table. Like a reviewing five-star general he passed through the column of pristine dinner-jacketed waiters before being seated for all to see and admire. His moment in the sun – the white table cloth foiling his worth. 

        He glanced around the restaurant, undressing the women with his eyes. Dragging them out of their Prada dresses and leaving them exposed in their lingerie and pearls. He could smell their expensive perfume and felt the familiar twitch of arousal that accompanied the occasion. Of course he was there for the food, however the sexual energy released by the power he wielded was intoxicating and he enjoyed every second of it. The expensive foods, the fine wines, the gorgeous dinner partners, the lavish surroundings and of course the fawning attention. Not bad for a man without a penny to his name. 

        Let the games begin, let the buyer beware and let every man, woman, child fend for themselves. It was on. The bell at the side of the ring belted out the first round as the girl in the swim-suit climbed through the ropes with her enlarged sign to proclaim the first round. 

        “Good evening sir. Is this your first time at Grimaldies? Asked a serious looking waiter.

        “Yes it is. I’ve heard a lot of good things. Thought I would try you out for myself.” Jake said. 

        The usual cards were played, the old jokes made. There were no specials, everything was special. “Would Monsignor care for a drink or like to see the wine card.” 

        He opted for a stiff brandy and the wine card. No pressure, everything at his own pace, after all he was the ring master. It was his show and it would run to his time table. He wasn’t going be rushed. Didn’t they know who he was? He glanced back at the front desk and fired off his most expensive smile at the hostess. She coyly waved back. She knew money when she saw it and was clearly a participant in a game all off her own. Why should he feel bad? It was dog eat dog. Although he’d never tried that particular dish, in a city there was no first place for nice guys, it was fuck or be fucked. 

        The candle light bounced around the room and the waiter returned with the leather bound listings. They had them all. California, Argentinian, South African, even champagne from England. He’d read something about the ground in the South West of Britain being geologically linked with the Champagne region of northern France in one of the connoisseur magazines in his doctor’s waiting room. 

        “I bet that pissed the frogs off,” he thought. English champagne it was. “Yes, please another bottle.” 

        “For starters? Oh the pate, and the frog legs and possibly some goat cheese. Yes, I know it’s a lot, but I’d like to try a little of everything.” 

        “Perfect Monsieur we will have this directly. Would Monsieur care to order perhaps ? Not just yet?” 

        He had to play the time card. No point rushing what was shaping up to be, probably one of his best experiences to date. He wanted the foreplay. This wasn’t going to be a knee-trembler this was going to be gratuitous, name screaming, back scratching, sheet braiding ecstasy. Bring it on! 

The dishes arrived. 

        As he powered his way through dish after dish he couldn’t help but notice a couple of the waiters with their heads together looking in his direction. He looked up and they quickly looked away. Probably nothing as he was once again lunged into the succulenve before him. The pristine table cloth was awash in slivered cutlery and cristaled glass. An altar to excess, where the sacrificial lamb had been marinated in red wine and doused in fine spice. Spittle rolled down his chin, his eyes ablaze with the taste and texture of the food. 

        “Is everything to your liking Monsieur?” Asked the waiter. 

        He showed his teeth and grunted. “Bloody fantastic. My compliments to the chef.” The waiter nodded and strode away, leaving his guest to the delights of his dish.

        The time was nearly upon him, zero-hour was fast approaching, he’d reached the point in the meal where his distraction had to be performed – where he simulated gastro-repugnance and lavishly bowed out. Bringing  down the culinary curtain to the applaused ovation of inner satisfaction. He slurped at his glass one more time and dabbed his chin with his napkin. 

* 

        The other diners looked up from their plates, horrified as the rasping choke of a man struggling for breath bounced of polished glass and expensive drapes, towards where he’d started his one-man performance. A loud guttural gasp, he’d found, was always a good way to begin quickly followed by a heavy, sweating, panting, hunting for air – as if each gasp were his last. He fumbled with his top button and struggled with his jacket. His face was wide with faux fear and he sought to lock eyes with somebody, anybody, who might come to his assistance. Time was off the essence. The sooner they noticed his distress the sooner he’d be outside. It never failed. A few grunts and gasps followed by a little corporal intervention and he’d be walking off his free dinner in the cool night air. 

        A waiter stepped up to the table. Jake supplicated with his hands, gestured to his throat, and beseeched him for help, but the waiter stood his ground. He didn’t understand. What was going on? By now several English second-language speakers should be manhandling him, trying to save him from center-cut asphyxiation. 

        Another waiter came to the table and then another. Jake could see the flashing lights of the ambulance reflected in the restaurant window and noticed the hostess replacing the hand set of the telephone. Help was at hand, he was minutes from salvation, and yet nobody reached out to help him. 

        He was struggling to maintain his act and his short sharp gasps were becoming more labored. Nobody moved and the waiters continued to stare. He pleaded with his eyes, but the waiters ignored him. He saw one of the other guests get up from his seat, only to be urged to reseat himself by one of the bus boys. 

        Suddenly it dawned on Jake – they were on to him. He didn’t understand, he’d never eaten here before and it’d been some time since he’d eaten on the Upper East Side. Still there was something afoot. Unable to keep up the act he placed both hands on the table and looked up at his accusers. 

        The head waiter pushed his way through the ring of disconcern and placed a leather bound case in front of Jake. “Perhaps Monsieur would like to pay now? Perhaps Monsieur remembers me? Before I worked at Grimaldis I was a waiter in Little Italy. It’s always a great honor to welcome back such a distinguished and generous guest.” 

        Jake stared at the man not recognizing him. He looked passed the waiter and saw the police officers standing at the restaurant door talking to the hostess. The ambulance lights he’d seen on the window where obviously from the patrol car that even now was waiting to escort him away from the restaurant. The dance was up, the race was run, he understood perfectly what had happened. He’d pushed his luck a little too far and an employee from a former victim of his had clearly recognized him. He reached for the wine glass and looked his accuser in the eye. 

        “Could I possibly see a desert menu?” He asked casually. 

        The head waiter physically flinched as if he’d been hit on the nose and gestured to the police officers who started to walk towards the table. 

        Jake felt their hands reach beneath his arms, heard their heavy labored breathing as they struggled to lift him up from his chair. 

        Jake resigned himself to his fate. He could go without dessert. It wouldn’t kill him to lose a few pounds. Now was as good a time as any to start on the diet!  

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