My America, by David Cross

How can you allow yourself to be bored when you’ve got rare, delicious foods being brought to your lips by effeminate Frenchmen?

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Dec 1 2003, 10:00am

Photo courtesy of the author

Recently I was lucky enough to have dinner at a really good, really expensive four-star restaurant in New York City. It was at the base of the Trump Tower just off Central Park. I still feel a little guilty, in a white-liberal way. I'll tell you a little bit about the restaurant and then get to the meat and potatoes of this story. It's called Jean-George (the French name of the French chef/owner) and it is extremely fancy-pants. I thought it would be fun to take my white-trash girlfriend out for a fancy meal. To show her how the other half lives (although in reality it's more like one-half of one percent), and to observe and be entertained by her hilariously unsophisticated fumblings amongst the highly cultured. Have you ever seen The Beverly Hillbillies? It would be like that. Hey, that gets me thinking, why doesn't someone make a $40 million Beverly Hillbillies movie? It would be awesome, just like all the other sitcoms from the late 60s and early 70s that have been given the big-screen treatment! Yeah, you could get Freddie Prinze Jr. and Ashley Judd, and Dame Judi Dench could be the uptight lesbian bank-lady, and you could CGI the "Granny" character. That would be wonderful entertainment worth at least $10. Sorry, I got off-track for a second...OK, fancy restaurants. It has been my observation that within all fancy, expensive places, you simply find a better class of people. In fact, forget class, they're just better all around. They smell nicer (richer), have better jackets, and often their eyeballs are a prettier shade of blue. The night we went, it was, unbeknownst to me, "All White Night." I guess I'm just lucky. Every single patron that night (in the time we were there) was white. Lily-white. Powerfully white, if you will. White power in its purest and most perfectly subtle example. There were plenty of people of varying degrees of brown running around, and to the credit of their race, they where right there to decrumb our table when the inevitable crumb emergency arose. They were on top of that shit, pronto.You may guess that I have always felt slightly self-conscious when I find myself at a restaurant like that, or when I fly first class or stay at an expensive hotel where I might share an elevator with Alan Cranston (which happened when I stayed at the Ritz Plaza in NYC once. I tried desperately to squeeze one out, but I bailed at the last minute because it felt like it was gonna be a dump), but I am getting better about it. Still, I have always felt like everyone looks at me thinking that the reason I'm there is that I must've won a prize. Who knows? I don't look like the scratch-off ticket kind of guy, so maybe they thought that I was being sponsored by the Make A Wish Foundation. "Look at that poor bastard. What a loser, and he's dying, too. Oh well, more for me."

Anyway, so there we were. All dressed up and feeling like children who snuck into the grownups room unseen.

The meal itself was good, if uneventful. There were the obligatory awkward moments, like when the maître'd came up to us at the bar to inform us that our table was ready. He stood there holding up a small silver tray, about 3x5." I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. I stood there smiling and nodding at him like a retarded foreigner who doesn't speak English. It turned out that I was to put my glass of wine on it, where it would accompany me as he walked us the 15 feet to our table. You see what I'm talking about? This is one restaurant where you won't be burdened with lugging a three-ounce container over to your table. No. In fact, it gets to take a little silver ride all by itself. That's class, people.

OK, wait, there is one more thing I want to mention before I go further, and that is the most depressing aspect to the whole evening, and I am not exaggerating when I say this: There was a very palpable lack of joy in the room. Not that people were angry or anything, but they were indifferent, bored even. That seems so unfair! How can you allow yourself to be bored when you've got rare, delicious foods being brought to your lips by effeminate Frenchmen? I saw whole families eating in silence, devoid of anything resembling a smile or a laugh. This is true. It was all just so much mechanical fuel-insertion. They were approaching the meal with the same excitement I reserve for shoveling a Denny's omelette in my mouth at four in the morning trying to stave off tomorrow's pounding hangover. The biggest difference, of course, is the Denny's omelette only costs about six bucks. That wouldn't even pay for the sel de mer (salt, you ignorant fucks) on my table. This is another item I want to mention: About halfway through the meal, I reached an epiphany. I realized suddenly, as if I was the butt of a well-meaning, harmless prank, "Wait a second, you guys––this isn't worth $500! Ha-ha, come on!"

But an unnecessary tray and bored people isn't what this is all about. I'm just trying to set the scene, a super-fancy place filled with rich white people joylessly eating expensive dinners. The food was interesting, but I found it to be condescending. I think on a number of occasions it was making fun of me. But it's what happened at the end of the meal that was the inspiration for this particular column. We had eaten all of our sweetbreads with crème fraîche reductions atop a bed of tulip bean soup, and only had dessert to go before it was all over. The parade of Guatemalans carrying plates started up again, and a series of desserts was placed in front of us. But the very last dessert, the pièce de résistance, was a pyramid-shaped, chocolate sculpture-thing with real live gold shaved onto the top of it. Gold. You know the pretty metal that has no discernible taste to it? There it was, on top of our candy. Mocking all who had labored to bring it forth from whatever underground cave, in whatever shithole country where it originated. (I'm talking to you, Australia and South Africa!) This, it occurs to me, might be the ultimate "fuck you" to the poor of the world. Let's see...it's tasteless, odorless, and the nutritional benefits are nil. In other words, the only pleasure one might receive from the gold shaving (visual) is nullified as soon as it's eaten. Hmmm…it's kind of fun to wonder, though, how many people got injured, or maimed, or even killed getting that piece of gold to your table and into your stomach. Picture Ngodo crawling underground with blasting caps in one hand and a bottle of acid in the other, risking life and limb for the two cents a year he earns in order to buy little SooSoo her diphtheria medicine. It travels on, trucked through dangerous routes lined with desperate petty-criminals, and on to the dockyards, where the precious cargo is ever-so-safely ("Safety is Job No. 1 at MegaCorps Shipping Inc!") loaded onto freighters, where it continues its brave journey.

Then at last, months later, it arrives at your table, where you eat it. Man, how much more karmically fucked can you get? "What's that, Sahib? You got a problem with this? I'm from America, bitch. If you don't like your situation, then why don't you overthrow your government, asshole! If I want to eat gold, or snort platinum, or surgically embed diamonds under my skin, that's my business. Hey, guess what? I didn't even enjoy that piece of gold. Ha-ha! The joke's on you, Sambo! Here's another beautifully ironic twist: Your kids need medicine, and I'm in the pharmaceutical business! What are the odds? You know what? This meal inspired me. I'm gonna start eating money from now on. Just hundred-dollar bills. Sure, they taste awful, but flavor isn't exactly the point, is it?