(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

An Italian restaurant in a town in northern New York State has acquired a certain local fame because of its cook, Arnold Deller. A veteran of World War II, in which he was an army cook in Europe, Deller is fascinated by the art of cooking, and though the special dishes he prepares each week for the restaurant are not elaborate, they are unusual and meticulously researched. Deller has worked in the restaurant for twenty years. He is an avid reader, something of a philosopher, and a political idealist. He has three young daughters, and his son Rinehart has been killed in the Vietnam War.

Finnegan, the narrator, belongs to a teenage motorcycle gang called the Scavengers. Beneath their braggadocio, they are a harmless bunch; their custom is to visit the Italian restaurant in the afternoon to have a beer and listen to Deller hold forth in his eccentric but literate manner while he takes a break from work.

One afternoon, he harangues the boys with his notion of “the art of living.” Also present are Joe Dellapicallo, the owner’s son, a bartender, and Joe’s daughter Angelina, a cocktail waitress in the restaurant. Although Joe seems indifferent to, and Angelina coldly irritated by, Deller’s lecture, Finnegan is nonplussed by its intensity. Deller’s argument is that the art of living is the ability to absorb rather than fight foreigners and foreign ways of thinking. His assumption is that man has always been both a social and a warlike creature. The need to have and protect children is at the root of this dual aspect of man’s nature, according to Deller. The social contract has arrived at the point, however, where a man has to accommodate those he once regarded as his...

(The entire section is 693 words.)