Eating with Jan: or, The Evening Redness in the West

By Jan-Erik Asplund '14

The mother dead these fourteen years did incubate in her own bosom the creature who would carry her off. The father never speaks her name, the child does not know it. At fourteen he runs away. He will not see again the freezing kitchenhouse in the predawn dark. He wanders east, a solitary migrant upon that flat and pastoral landscape. A year later he is in Bennington, Vermont. He can neither read nor write and in him already there broods a taste for mindless violence.

After running the power cord across the road we turned on the saw and cut through the cables that kept us from our giant red prize. The eponymous Chili was free. Almost immediately the sirens went off. “This is a terrible place to die in,” she said. I cut the cord and slipped the Chili down the chute. It landed in the bed of the truck with a thump. “Where’s a good one?” I asked.

Chili in tow we sped out of the parking lot to the sound of Merle Haggard’s searing 1968 hit “Mama Tried” before slowing up and cruising down 67A until we reached the Rattlesnake Café (230 North St, Bennington). Why? The road has its reasons. Merle was a sinning man but in 1972 Ronald Reagan officially pardoned him for his past crimes and so of course this was on my mind.

See the waiter. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. His father was a schoolmaster, he lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. Night of your birth. God how did the stars did fall.

We are asked, offhand, if we would submit to chips and salsa. We accept. The chips are warm yet underwhelming, and the salsa tastes like tomatoes and oregano (no other flavor notes). We are later charged a dollar for this mistake, further cementing our understanding of the dangerous game that we have consented to play by visiting this restaurant. The chicken quesadilla ($11.95) tastes primarily of chicken. The cheese ($5.95) tastes like cheese. There are a variety of herbs and spices listed on the Wikipedia page for “Mexican cuisine” and none of them seem to have a place in this house.

At one point a man entered the dining room, naked save for his breeches, crammed into his own person. He looked at us. “Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent,” he said. The side of guacamole ($4.00) we ordered was by no means distasteful, but it was expensive for a dollop of something that might have been had at the Subway across the street. “Would you like to see my scalps?” he said as he walked away.

There are a few conditions under which I would recommend a visit to the Rattlesnake Café. Say you work for the College and have unlimited use of discretionary funds to go on large group outings. In this case the extreme prices ($19.95 for a shrimp quesadilla?) would not seem to present a burden. Say you have a primal, impossibly strong desire for a full liter of Rattlesnake Sangria, complete with fruit, red wine, and a “few secrets” (rattlesnakes?). Or say you are a collector of small, kitschy fake cacti. These are all acceptable conditions.

Why such a variety of visitors were present the evening that we dined was a mystery both to me and my dining companion. For dessert we packed up the cactus and left. This is a game but it is the only game we know how to play. I ate the entire cheese quesadilla I was served. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze. . .

Photo by Emma Del Valle '13

Photo by Emma Del Valle '13

The year after Ronald Reagan got himself elected president a lovesick Merle Haggard bought $2,000 worth of cocaine and retired to his houseboat for a five-month party. “The Lord knows all about it,” he said later, “and I’m sure that I’ll have to pay for it all”. “Do you like peach pie?” Merle asks me, “Let’s have some peach pie”.