I was talking to Dickey the Cock last night. Don’t get any smirk-inducing ideas. Richard’s totem animal is a rooster. He has one tattooed onto each of this chiseled deltoids. The are inked in a strutting position. When he wants to impress a certain kind of lady, Dickey makes the roosters dance. Everyone tangentially connected to the restaurant industry in the French Quarter is familiar with his face. His friends call him Dickey. His acquaintances, and people just being introduced who have less prestige than he does, refer to him by his title: Mr. Cock.
Dickey likes to think of himself as a modern day, New Orleans-based, Eugene Debs. Through manipulations I cannot begin to fathom, Dickey serves as a kind of informal union boss and hiring office for the city’s unorganized, but professional, dishwashers. He collects regular dues from the dishwashers in return for keeping an eye on the market and bargaining on their behalf for better working conditions, higher wages, and increased benefits. He is a vocal, if sometimes inelegant, advocate for dishwashers‘ rights. “The voiceless need to be heard,” he says.
I bumped into The Cock on the steps of the Supreme Court Building on the Royal Street side. He offered me a swig from his can of Bud Light, but I had just had a glass of ice water not five minutes before. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked Dickey about a rumor I had heard, something about a backed up drain in the kitchen of a rather pricey eatery on St. Ann Street.
“That was on Saint Peter, not Saint Anne,” Dickey the Cock said. “I cannot say that the dishwasher was involved, mind you, and I don’t believe he was. All I can tell you about the matter is that a foreign object, one that does not belong in any restaurant kitchen drain, was discovered within the plumbing of the premises about which we are discussing.” Dickey once considered becoming an attorney. He even had a slogan prepared for his television, radio, and billboard advertisements: “Put The Cock On ‘Em!” Instead, he found his true calling.
From what I heard, it was indeed a very foreign object. I heard that a diamond ring worth $40,000.00 was found wrapped in a napkin and lodged into the U-bend under a sink at one of New Orleans‘ swankiest public dining halls. According to Dickey, it is improbable to the point of impossible that the dishwasher could have wrapped a napkin around a valuable ring, and disposed of it down the drain. “Why wouldn’t the fool just put it in his pocket? He could have hid it in the remoulade, since the remoulade is terrible there and nobody orders it, and then he could have swallowed it during his dinner break. Heck, he could have put it on his finger if he was stealing it. He wouldn’t commit to the bowels of the Sewer and Water Board.”
As it turns out, no charges have been filed against the dishwasher, nor is his further employment in question. According to Dickey, the dishwasher has earned a two percent raise based on his dedication to duty, demonstrated by turning off the water when he noted the drain was clogged. “It takes a sharp man with a keen sense of responsibility to be a dishwasher,” Dickey says. “You can’t just pluck a man out of the unemployment line and expect him to be a dishwasher. It takes years of practice, and familiarity with the traditions of the craft. Most people don’t realize that. That’s why I’m here to fight for the dishwashers.”
We chatted a bit more, mostly about the weather and how Lucky Dog’s hot dog carts are not required to have three sinks like every other culinary establishment in New Orleans.
When it was time for me to go, Dickey had about a tenth of a tall boy of Bud Light left. Remembering a past conversation about his efforts to complete his state quarter collection, I handed him the four loose quarters that jangled in my pocket when I stood up.
“Refuse to rest while fellow men go hungry,” were Dickey’s parting words to me as he shook my hand and looked me squarely in the eye.
I told him I am an insomniac, and bid him a good rest of the night.