Issue Thirty-Six - Summer 2020

Best of Meals

By Michaelsun Stonesweat Knapp

When you got unhappy customers, best thing to do is feed’em. Shit, everyone knows that. So when the line into heaven backed up, they did the same thing and sent us to their overflow location: the buffet at Glacier Little Peaks Casino on the Blackfeet Reservation, outside Browning, Montana. They got keno there in the buffet section, so it’s a pretty good spot.

Some of the wealthy and white folks were upset at first, since the buffet area isn’t much to look at. Kinda looks like a diner but stretched over about an acre with gray carpet and off-white walls with some photos up on the walls where there weren’t red vinyl booths.

The staff there saw me coming through the pearly railings, and they sat my fat-ass over near where I had a good view of both the keno board and the buffet tables, which was also where all my buddies were hanging out at in a half-moon red vinyl booth with a half-wall, like they got at Black Angus and shit, but not so damn dark.

Plus they had some of those ferns on top of it, since it was in the middle of the room. Their leaves that draped down and were sorta all woven together. Thankfully up high enough that they didn’t tickle your head like a big-ol’ hairy spider coming down or nothing.

Bah. I’m getting down on myself for being fat. I’m dead, who gives a shit? Besides, I’m only rocking 2xl shirts, so it’s not as bad as some of the Pomos or Islanders got it, Ay! Though at IHS I still fall in under morbidly obese on the BMI chart. I tried talking to the Doc about how BMI don’t make sense for Indians, since it was made by white folks measuring white folks. Doc said if I can’t see my belt buckle, I gotta lose weight no matter who made the chart.

I told him to suck my belt buckle, and that’s why I don’t go back to IHS no more. Well, and I’m dead. But in line for heaven, so haha guess I came out on top of that one.

Anyway, My buddy Frankie saw me walking over and nodded at me with his chin and motioned me to where there was a free spot in the booth between him and Billy-Ray, who was my brother in a complicated series of marriages, divorces, walking-outs, shacking-ups that led me with my dad and him with his legal guardian lady living together for enough years we just stayed brothers, even though our parents didn’t stay together once dad got meaner than hell.

“Damn, dude,” I said, sliding into the booth, which didn’t press into my gut the way most booths do. The vinyl made almost like a sneaky-fart sound as I slid across them in my thrift-store Levis. “They serving up last meals here like at Montana State?” The maximum-security prison, not the minimum-security university. I was the only one of my buddies to finish my degree there, though we all went and gave it a shot. Shit, it felt like a prison though most days. “I’m getting me one of the five coursers then.” I rubbed my hands together, very ready.

“Courses?” Frankie snorted. “Sure.” He turned his head and shouted to one of the servers, mixed-looking dude. He could have been from any three brown countries. He had on a red base-ball cap with a white, embroidered, cursive A on it. Like, just put your wings out, dude, or try harder. Anyway, “Hey, Raffie! You guys doing any of them meals you gotta take a course on? Mister Doctor over here thinks it’s his last meal so he’s ready to study.”

Raffie nodded his chin at us, so he had to be indigenous. From somewhere. “Pft. Not even!” Raffie said. “Like you Velveeta eatin’ motherfuckers got the palette for a five-course meal. What would you even do with the other two forks, eh?” Everyone at the booth started cracking up. “Ain’t do no last meals here neither.”

Billy-Ray, who was sitting to my other side, put his arm around my shoulder and sorta hugged me and shook me as if to say: we love you, man, and also don’t go trying to fist-fight an Angel that’s about to feed you before you get into heaven, idiot. It’s all okay. Raffie loves you, too. That’s why he’s kicking you in the nuts a little bit. I touched my head to Billy-Ray’s in acknowledgment, and finally kinda let go and laughed, too.

Once the laughter died down, Raffie, who had walked towards the kitchen doors with a couple of empty metal containers from the buffet tables stacked up in his arms, punctuated his leaving with “Here, we do best meals,” and pushed his way back into the kitchen. The grey doors swung back and forth a few times before coming to rest.

“And Goddamn do they.” Juan said. He was sitting a few seats past Frankie. “They pull the best meals you ever had from your whole life, and feed them to you again — only sometimes they offer to pretty it up a little, too, so you can have the best meal you could have had.” He was rubbing his belly like they would in a cartoon.

That was Juan though. His parents had had jobs but worked all the time, so they could afford to have a TV, but then they planted Juan in front of it and that’s how he grew up, man: bathed in blue CRT light and watered with Pepsis. You kinda had to forgive him for acting like life was TV, and now — really? Who gives a shit?

Anyway, Juan described this meal he had when he was like 17 where he went to a cousin’s wedding and those cousins had their other cousins from their other side cater it with home-made buttermilk fried chicken, and Juan ate so much of it that when they counted up the bones after — since each member of his family had snuck bones home in Great Value baggies stuffed in their pockets to make free chicken stock with at home — they went to that wedding with a friggin’ plan and a vision — anyway, when they counted the bones, they realized Juan ate two whole chickens. And they brought out that exact same chicken, made the same way, just like he remembered — which meant it had to have been even better than it really had been.

I sorta drifted in and out of his story, though — which I heard about when it happened, and heard about every damn time we went to KFC — I was scoping out a table behind Juan with some women at it I was pretty damn sure I recognized, but just could not for the life of me figure out where I knew them from or who they were.

Anyway, once Juan had finished his story, I said “Man, but I know I don’t have it in me to eat like that anymore. There was a time, you know, there was a time, but I just get full too fast now — and I hate it. I miss putting away a whole large pizza instead of tapping out half-way through a medium now. Fucking coward metabolism.”

“I heard they got pills for that now, ay!” Frankie said sending us all laughing again since no matter how old or dead we dudes get — we will always also be twelve, giggling away at fart and dick jokes, even ones that are stupid and lazy as a suggestion of mishearing and misunderstanding anatomy that somehow like something boner pills would solve. It doesn’t have to make sense, I suppose. We just recognize and laugh about our youth and the knowledge of the so-far-off-it-might-as-well-be-never impending mechanical failure of our bodies, or whatever.

Shit, even when our bodies do break down. You see these old-timers cracking jokes about that shit.

Anyway, Raffie came back out of the kitchen holding these monster-sized steel buffet trays. Tray sounds like what you, the customer, would put your food on —but these are what they, the proprietors, put food in for you, the customer, to take from. I guess I’m walking around the word trough, which sounds piggish. But I sincerely do not know what these things are called. Well, it’s a buffet, so trough it is, I guess.

So, while Raffie was setting out the steel troughs of food, another staff member, this guy was white and had a clean short business haircut with a three-quarter part, a mid-fade, started handing out keno cards and pencils. Guy had a sweet face and a nice smile, but you could tell looking in his eyes, there wasn’t much work going on upstairs beyond being eager to do whatever was needed and help out. Like the look a dog gives you when you go grab their leash, they don’t know any of the terrors or horrors of the world. “Hiya folks, my name’s Uriel, and I’ll be taking care of the keno cards and game. Would anyone like some cards or a pencil?”

I fucking love keno. “I’ll take a couple cards and a pencil if you got one.” A few of the other guys already had pencils and took a couple cards as well.

Awesome!” Uriel said, and fist-bumped me, and then handed me my cards and pencil. I scribbled down some the good numbers that I figured might come up here — it being almost heaven and all.

I made my way up through seventy-seven, when Raffie came by and said it was our table’s turn to load up on food. It was breakfast. I got crisp waffles the size of a dinner plate that have soaked up so much real strawberry sauce they get some give to them. Bacon crispy enough to use as a level if you hold it on one edge, with just a touch of that strawberry sauce on it —j ust a touch. Wafflehouse-style hash browns with a fried egg on top, with a little bottle of Heinz Ketchup and Tapatio.

I ate that over the course of a few hours. I kept thinking about my pops the whole time. It was this meal we’d have during summertime when he needed me to come help him at work — he did drywall and tile for bathroom remodels. He’d go big on breakfast so we could skip lunch, finish early, and either bug home or get started on another job with the big-time foreman he worked for.

That was before he lost a couple fingers and messed up his leg something awful, working the wet tile saw. Some new guy the foreman had hired came to work sober, got loaded on the job, and bumped pops into the saw and then knocked them both over. Table landed on pop’s thigh. Reattachment didn’t take for his fingers, and his leg never really recovered.

He stayed sober, which was good, but he couldn’t get work since he couldn’t move the way he needed to, so he just stayed home on disability, and got meaner than a bull in rut.

No one ever called pops an idiot — well, not twice — but no one ever really saw how fucking smart that guy was. I think that’s what got him so mean, not the injustice of living a good life and it getting fucked out from under him, well yeah, that, but more that he didn’t have anything he could do that he thought he was any good at, could use his smarts in a way he knew how.

Good fucking years though when we went to that breakfast joint and got those huge ass waffles and real strawberry sauce. Damned if I didn’t let a tear fall like glycerin down the cheek of an Italian.

Finished my plate, which I would never thought I had the space to put it all any more. Then we played Keno for a couple hours, shooting shit.

I was still trying to figure out who those women were at the other table. The only thing I knew was that I did know them, but that was it. Nobody wants to be the one to start their journey into heaven with a “don’t I know you from somewhere?” even if you did know them. I was determined, so I kept working it over while we kept playing keno and shooting shit.

Lunch was cold wet cans of Pepsi from a cooler that had someone’s name written on the top and kinda rubbed out, I couldn’t quite tell what name, Raffie opened the lid so quick. I caught an S in the middle of a shortish name. And they had Indian Tacos made by—and I-swear-on-my-extracted-gallbladder—Lucy Hale’s family. I didn’t see them anywhere, but damn it had to be them. I didn’t even have to ask for them without the lettuce—motherfuck iceberg lettuce. Frybread is perfectly crunchy on its own. Plus, iceberg is basically just water that’s green and a solid — which in my book just makes it ice. I don’t need no ice on my frybread.

Anyway, I ate those until I was sure I was gonna puke. Then I went back and thought I’d eat a bougie Indian Taco, the kind where the ingredients alone cost the same as an Algebra textbook.

There was this frail grandma back there, so loaded up with silver and turquoise that if a breeze came through they’d be the only things keeping her from flying off to the Skyworld, which I guess we were in, too. I didn’t think terribly hard about it. Anyway she had one of those 80-year-old cast iron skillets — the kinda skillet that has magic healing powers — and she scooped out what looked like butter, but it was cloudy instead of solid. “This, grandchild, is duck fat.”

“Fuck me,” I said in awe. I’d heard about duck fat, but they don’t got that at any Wal-Mart I’ve ever been to, that shit is way too expensive.

“You keep sweet-talkin’ me and I just might,” she said, and snapped her teeth at me — she still had enough left to make a clear clack when her teeth came together. The look on my face must have been a sight because it sent her howling.

I watched as she explained the rest to me. The bread itself she kept a secret. But in the skillet with the duck fat she ground up some 75/25 ground chuck, and it cooked medium rare, and set it aside. In a cast-iron Dutch oven she put a whole liter of grapeseed oil to fry the dough. It bubbled away and smelled just magnificent.

She hand-shredded aged munster and pepper jack and a few other cheeses I’d never heard of. She kept asking me if I wanted this or that and explaining it to me — I just kept saying “Yes, ma’am. Load it up.” She put some of them dark green and purple lettuces and sprouts on there, some of her secret salsa on it — which got me tearing up from the other side of the table-thing, it was so powerful.

She set the Indian taco down in front of me, and then lit some braided sweetgrass, closed her eyes, her lips moving slowly, blowing smoke over the plate, praying on it in that old way.

I had it with a whiskey and coke except it was Cherry Pepsi and Lagavulin 16. I should have asked her to marry me, it was so flakey and warm. The meat and cheese and salsa filled my mouth and the different flavors and textures — it was like looking at the Starry Night, but with my mouth.

After cleaning my face up in the bathrooms which were nicer than even the ones at Home Depot, we played more Keno, shot more shit. It was so much food, I had to talk at the Creator and my body to keep it together.

Once it didn’t feel like my body was going to slough open like a paper bag with too many oranges in it, I snacked on some whole jumbo black olives, and since there was nowhere to sleep so I just took a nap on the vinyl booth for twenty or ninety minutes.

When I woke up, we played some more keno and shot more shit. It was five bucks a card at this point, and somehow, I always had enough in my wallet to keep buying cards. I was managing to stay a little up overall, too, which was cool.

Dinner was moose meat stew that had started simmering that morning made by some Ojibwe aunties. I didn’t know what half the shit in there was, I’m not Ojibwe, and I didn’t give a good goddamn was in there. It went from the pot, to my bowl, to my face. I ate that with a dry crusty oaty bread and some Kings Hawaiian Rolls to soak up that broth. Whoo, that shit will trickle down your insides and warm you up like a fire!

I kissed the hands of the auntie who was ladeling it out, too. Wasn’t gonna make the same mistake to let an indigenous woman who could cook get away from me twice. Goddamn, that strew was good. I had it with some ice water — you know, you gotta stay hydrated.

Dessert was strawberry rhubarb pie with a vanilla bean ice cream. Not Vanilla. Fuck you and fuck vanilla. Vanilla Bean.

Second Dessert is a Chocolate Oreo milk shake and like two pounds fucking salty-ass French fries, like steak frites: you dip the fries in the milk shake and you eat’em both together.

You get the idea. Between all of this we just kept shooting shit, playing keno until they started bringing out the breakfast food again, and I was like “oh shit! It’s morning? Well, I might as well,” and I waddled my ass back over to where the food was at.

For a heavenly bureaucracy to be keeping us in overflow for a full day, the thought occurred to me — what is taking them so long? What happened?

But Second Breakfast was water-glasses of Mango juice and vodka, and that was my whole world then. There was a whole salmon the size of a sleeping bag you could just walk up to and pull meat off it with a fork, some light stoneground mustard, some homemade mayo. Sliced cold pears. Yukon potatoes au gratin. Bacon.

Second Lunch was sushi and just plate after plate of rolls and sashimi, but at a slow pace, because Second Lunch was also Second Dinner. I was just eating some tasty ass fish and rice and other shit, too for like seven hours! The spicy scallops that they have at the Sushi place on Central in Montclair south of The Ten in California had to be in there, too.

Never lived my whole life in Montana. Dad lived in SoCal for a couple years until it got too expensive and the economy crashed — which somehow didn’t make shit cheaper — so it was just too much money to live, and there was no where to get money either. So, Montana.

I drank Sapporo until I couldn’t stand up well into the next day.

Second First Dessert was just a scoop of dark chocolate ice cream chopped and mixed with a dark chocolate fudgy brownie, with two shots of dark spiced rum poured over it. Second Second Dessert was a slice or two of warm triple berry pie with vanilla, but that cheap fake vanilla. I want it with that yellow-tinted vanilla ice cream.

Third Breakfast is a fried egg sandwich on wonderful rye bread, with pepperjack and provolone, with hot sauce and mayo and stoneground mustard. I’m telling you guys, I don’t know where stoneground mustard has been all my life, but French’s can get fucked. And the sandwich had two slices of bacon. The plate also had strawberries and breakfast pork sausages with a drizzle of maple syrup.

I wanted to snack afterwards, of course, but Raffie said I had to save myself —for lunch. I kept trying not raise questions, but some of these meals I’d never had before. Was I eating from someone else’s best meals?

Third Lunch was lamb tikka marsala, medium spicy, on yellow basmati rice with garlic naan. I’d eat that with a dark cold beer and a prayer. The prayer was for my butt’s hole.

Third Dinner came late. It was this medium-rare, inch-and-a-half-thick, 20-odd ounce, butter-basted porterhouse crusted with minced garlic, mushrooms, a baked potato that’s just got butter, salt, and pepper on it — but with some sour cream for when I ate all that inside stuff and went for the skin.

I felt like this should have had a wine pairing, but I just don’t know wine well enough to feel like it would make a difference to me. It’s all just angry grape juice to me, and doesn’t make a difference if it comes out a box or a bottle. So I decided to have it with a nice fruit cider, like pineapple or pear or blueberry-lime, something. They had all three, so I took all three.

First Third Dessert was some tums and a towel for me for the meat-and-beer sweats.

That’s when I saw the woman at the other table second to the left from the center. She was having a milkshake that was just chocolate ice cream and mint-chocolate-chip ice cream with a little whole milk that had been blended together in an honest-to-god 10-dollar blender being poured into a big coffee mug.

My blender, my coffee mug — which meant that there was some nutmeg in that milkshake, too, because that was my secret recipe for my secret milkshake — I didn’t tell anyone about either. Who was this lady?

That was it. The questions were too much. I got up — which was an effort, let me tell you — and walked over to their booth. “That was my blender, and that was my secret milkshake recipe. Who are you?” As soon as the words left my mouth, I probably should have phrased it all better since this was clearly an important meal to this person.

It didn’t seem to phase her. “Ladies,” she gestured to me, “this is my grandpa.” What the fuck? “He’s kind of a bull moose, and um younger than I ever knew him to be, but he’s the one who made this for me back when I ran away from my parents’ house in Madison when they had that epic fight that ended with mom trying to run dad over with their old Prius, and hitting a street light a block away — anyway, I went to his place in Pahrump, Nevada, and to help me feel better he made me this milkshake, and taught me how to make it.” She smiled to me, but stayed where she was.

That was fine. I needed to sit down. I had grandkids? Impossible. I was thirty —w ell, I mean I technically could have been a grandfather, but I wasn’t! “I don’t understand. And if I’m your grandfather and I gave you this great meal memory — then, then why aren’t you coming over and hugging me? What — what happened?”

No one said anything.

Raffie came over and patted my shoulder “Come on, huh? Let’s get you back to your table.” He put a hand at my elbow and helped me stand up.

The Second Third Dessert was three slices of Black Tie Moose Cake, this chocolate cheese cake they have at Olive Garden – the best thing on their menu by a country mile.

Copyright Knapp 2020