The Age of the Feuilleton

a story by J. Orlin Grabbe

The restaurant is called Orfeo. It was named for the Greek superman of music and song. Live music appears nightly at Orfeo.

Orpheus was ripped to pieces by the Maenad followers of Dionysus. Howard, Orfeo's impresario, does not wish to suffer the same fate. He serves wine as a propitiation to Dionysus. It is not known if either Orpheus or Dionysus ever ate in a public restaurant.

The curved metal roof gives the room perfect acoustics. You can eavesdrop on every conversation. But if everyone speaks at once you need to do Fourier analysis. Fourier analysis gives a way of separating individual signals from their chaotic summation. Charles Fourier was an Egyptologist who accompanied Napoleon in his invasion of that third-world country. Don't try to keep any secrets at Orfeo.

"Once people get a taste for flowers, they can't stop eating them." Chef Michael stands just inside the kitchen, aplombly staring into the TV camera. His experiences as a chef in Miami and his boyhood in Brooklyn were formative ingredients for his neo-American creations in this Manhattan restaurant. Brooklyn is connected to Manhattan by an eponymous bridge. Miami is the capital of Florida where many New Yorkers spend their winters.

The crowd is wishing Michael would shut up and bring out the salads. Will they like eating flowers? They can't be sure until they see themselves smiling in gustatory satisfaction on Channel 11. Channel 11 is a rival news organization. I am here to spy on their coverage of this event. I shouldn't be telling you this, but it is impossible to keep secrets at Orfeo.

Randy, in front with the guitar, is starting the second verse of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Randy is a friend of Pete Seeger. Pete Seeger played many folk songs, including the popular "Little Boxes," about take-out food. Randy seems concerned the camera is back in the kitchen. No. Here comes the camera now. The cameraman positions himself directly in front of Randy, blocking our view. The lens hovers in Randy's face. He doesn't mind. Peering around the blockage I can see him smiling sweetly. The crowd gets revenge by singing along slightly off-key.

A photographer is taking pictures of the vase of flowers on the piano. Perhaps she expects someone to eat them also. Our newspaper would never make that mistake. Howard watches all this from behind the bar. He smokes to keep alertly calm. Nicotine is an acetylcholine agonist and stimulates the central nervous system. If they interview him, he has confided to me, he will play Hodding Carter. Howard likes to watch Hodding chastise the media.

But the media senses this and does not talk to him. They are here to film the flower power chef. Howard has worn his Great White Hunter outfit. He should have put a flower on the lapel.

Billy comes in in Levis. He does not look at my face. He cannot see me because I am wearing a suit. In my overt role I am Mr. Luncheoning Businessman. Billy sometimes plays the blues here on an old beat-up guitar. He's not going to mess with me, because he thinks I am a TV executive. He has never owned a suit.

Now Michael and Franecheska emerge from the open kitchen with plates of flowers. Fish swim on some of the plates. They are called fish in the garden. The fish like edible flowers too. Michael and Franecheska stop so the cameraman can get a shot of them holding a plate in each hand. They smile until the corners of their mouths strain from the tension. I turn and look out the window so my face will not appear on tape. It is a clear, warm day without much chance of rain.

The cameraman needs a culinary close up. He sticks the camera right into one girl's salad. Can you get AIDS from a TV camera? The Center for Disease Control later informs me they have no statistics on this. Now the cameraman pans back to her attractive face as she masticates petals. Will they edit out the dental work?

I am hoping they will soon run out of tape. I want to eat my own free salad in peace. Once you get a taste for flowers, you have no time for TV. Can we all change channels now?

The editor is looking at me, having read the story thus far. "Is that the best you can do for an ending: Can we all change channels now? And why do you want to call it `Fop Food and the Fourth Estate'?" The editor has two children and likes the Mets.

"I thought it sounded clever."

"Sometimes being clever can get in the way of reporting the news." He rings for an assistant. "For tomorrow's edition," he tells her. "And have them check that bit about Miami."

J. Orlin Grabbe 's homepage is located at .


from The Laissez Faire City Times, Vol 3, No 42, October 25, 1999