Felix cooked for anyone that had an itch to eat something. And if they paid him, that was okay too. He was his best, according to local authority, when he cleaned out his refrigerator. That was his gumbo. But Margie was particular about her gumbo. She was proper. For her, it was either Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, or it was Seafood Gumbo. Fowl or shellfish. Never both. I imagine this particularity is to that of people not pairing cheese with fish. Or white with beef. Felix didn’t care about any of it. He put chicken in his Seafood Gumbo. He put cheese on his Barbequed Shrimp. And he drank whatever the fuck he had a taste for. The only permission he needed was from God, and God hadn’t told him he couldn’t cook or eat nothing, not once. On a fall day, a Louisiana fall day, where the trees were blowing whistles and the gulf was pitching, he had an appointment to feed Carlos Marcello and some VIP associates. Felix enlisted Margie to help him set the stage for the meal. Margie was always a little neurotic about time, so she was at Felix’s house well before he needed her.
Felix, what you doin?
I’m cleanin’ out mah refrigeratah.
Felix stirred into a huge gumbo pot on his stove. The spatter of old meals clung to the steel of the pot like an outdated family portrait hanging stubbornly in protest of time and change and circumstance. Margie watched him grab a thin filet knife and start cutting in one move. The chubby cook worked quick to cut up a chicken with purpose before he dropped it into the pot. He also put into the pot: redfish that was cut into little squares, shrimp, crab meat, sausage, bay leaves, celery, onions, and beer among other things. Margie pried with caution.
Felix, what do ya call dat?
Dat’s a Felix Special Gombo.
Felix, you know dat’s not gombo. You got a roux in der?
Steam filled the kitchen. The amalgamation of onion vapor, oil, cooking meat, and spice wafted through the kitchen air, steaming up Margie’s glasses. The smell distracted her, and she forgot, for a second, that she was the on authority of Gumbo Integrity. Felix stuck a spoon full of murky liquid into her face, shaking her from the trance.
Margie, taste dat.
Felix, I don’ wanna taste dat shit.
Just then, Carlos and his man, Jimmy Parkerson, approached Felix’s place. Grand Isle supports an open door culture, so he just walked right in. The Sicilian established his presence in the kitchen before engaging the cook and Margie, the judgmental sous chef. Carlos rubbed his belly with both hands and spoke in his thick Cajun accent – which looked surprising falling out of his sharp Sicilian features.
What chu got cookin’ today, Tiger, it smells good.
Hey, Boss. It’s a Felix Special, so I’m not tellin’ you what’s in it. Just taste it.
Each of the men grabbed a spoon, dipped it into the hot brown water, and carefully blew on the taste before shoving it into their mouths.
Goddamn, Tiger, dat tastes good – put some of dat in a dish fo’ me.
Git ya’ hands out mah pot. It’s goin’ at da camp.
Carlos Marcella may have reigned boss over organized crime throughout the Midwestern and Southern United States, but Felix was the boss of his kitchen. The Mafioso and his associate relinquished their spoons like children putting candy back onto a shelf after begging Mama for a treat. Satisfied, Felix turned his head back to Margie.
See? It’s good! Taste it.
Okay, Felix, I’ll taste your special fuckin’ gombo.
Margie took a spoon and just took some of the broth. Just the juice.
Okay, Felix. What the fuck ya want? It’s good, okay? But dat ain’t no fuckin’ gombo.
The four migrated up the road to the camp where the VIPs were gathering. Two serious-looking men were pacing seriously around the camp. The men had holsters strapped to their hips. Pistols were in the holsters. The serious men nodded as Felix, Margie, Carlos, and Mr. Parkerson ascended the wooden steps to the elevated building. Like most of the fishing camps on the island, the building sat on large pilings, holding the building above the road, cars, and threatening gulf. Once inside, Margie grabbed an armful of bowls and began to set the table that stretched along the screened back porch. Felix called to her from the kitchen.
Don’t fuck wit’ dat. Dey got a pot and a spoon and a fork. If dey can’t eat wit dat, fuck em!
So that’s what they did. The men circled around the stove and each spooned the Felix Special Gumbo into their bowl. Felix also produced a deep pan of roasted duck and potatoes and set it on the counter. As the men settled into the long table on the screened back porch, a warble of inquisition bubbled from the crew. After a moment, one of the men called out.
Hey, Tiger, what we eatin’?
Just eat and shut up, Felix barked back from the kitchen.
Another man called out, I got me some fish.
Another called out, I got crab meat.
Another called out, I got shrimp.
Another one called out, Wait – I think I got chicken.
Felix shouted back, Y’all shut up and eat!
Carlos finally raised his voice to put an end to the confusion.
What kinda gumbo you call dat, Tiger?
And Felix looked hard at his boss.
Alright, look. Dat’s a Felix Special Gombo! I took every-puckin’ ting out mah refridgerah and added it all up!
Felix’s concentrated scowl crinkled into a wide-mouthed grin that seemed too big for his face. The hungry men erupted in laughter and carried on about how the Felix Special Gumbo was the best they’d ever fuckin’ had. And then they fell silent, eating the meal with focus, so not to waste opportunity for such fine consumption. There was only the rhythmic whoosh of the gulf waves crashing against the beach just beyond the camp, punctuated by the dull clink of spoons scraping against the glass of the bowls. Margie cleaned up skeptically. Felix carried the pot onto the porch. The men wanted another round.
Margie retells the story with raised eyebrows as if she is still surprised – forty years later. “I swear it was good. It was really good. An’ it tasted like gombo.” But then her eyes narrow, “But I wadn’t about to eat dat shit.”