299.0: I stepped on Mark Bittman’s foot.
There is no sufficient answer to the question: where can I get fried chicken at ten o’clock on a Tuesday night? Certainly it is not something that any responsible 30-year old should be asking. And I claim to be a marathon runner.
I had been stricken by a whim that I didn’t think anyone would take seriously. It is the question that I asked at exactly that time when I got off the train from work tonight. The last time I had checked the score, it was still the top of the ninth but you guys had a comfortable lead anyway. I spent the train ride staring at the floor.
Sometimes I just don’t want to read, even if I have a very good book to read. Sometimes I’m too tired to do anything after work except sit on the train waiting to get off again. For the last few days I’ve been engrossed in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. But I was too tired from work to focus my eyes on the page and force my brain into the exercise of reading, and forget about mustering up passion — that’s what it’s all about, really. It’s always all or nothing with me. The only way I ever seem to manage finishing a book is if I am instantly sucked in. There is a very good book by Elaine Pagels called Revelations that I was in a hurry to check out from the library. I have renewed the due date, which just passed, but it sits on my desk untouched and loved through only a handful of pages. I don’t know why I don’t feel like reading an analysis about the Bible’s most controversial book even though in the past I have always been interested in that sort of thing. I don’t know why Kavalier and Clay is the one I’m just that into.
Let me tell you something about Kavalier and Clay. It took me ten years to read that book. I had heard about it when it first came out; the thing was a smash sensation and went on to win the Pulitzer. Even though I heard about it, I didn’t pick it up. I would just stare at it when I was at Borders — remember that place? — and note it with vague interest. Years passed. Readers have long memories but mercurial desires. Kavalier and Clay may be a Pulitzer prize winner but then I saw that book at used bookstores instead of Borders, which by that time was on life support. I picked up a worn copy, which sagged like a molding dish rag. It was on my “to read” list. It sat on a bookshelf until I moved and got rid of the bookshelf. And that book.
I am telling myself that maybe I just wasn’t ready for it yet. I don’t know why, exactly, I am ready now. But here I am, breezing through it ten years later.
Except for when I was on the train tonight. It had been a long day at work. My job as events coordinator has gone beyond going full swing. It is a roller coaster and every day I am battling not to make it a train wreck. I have already written about the differences between in-store events and CAL events. Today I dealt with both. Part of my day at work was spent coordinating several upcoming in-store events, one of which was being pitched to me by a peppy author who meant to orchestrate it like the invasion of Normandy. The other part of my day at work was dedicated to CAL. In theory, the second should have been easier than the first. When it comes to work, less is better, right? But though singular, CAL tonight was a lot of work.
I live in fear that the next author is going to be an asshole. If this happens to me at an in-store event, I will still feel bad about it but it is also OK. At least the assholiness is happening on familiar territory, with coworkers whom I have learned to trust and work well with. CAL is a different story. I never know what’s going to happen. So far, there have only been two events this season. I got very lucky that Michael Chabon was such a nice fellow. After his event was over and I went home, I wiped my forehead and said, “Whew.” Well, I didn’t do this literally. But you get the idea.
I was told that Mark Bittman was going to be unpleasant. Tonight during a break I couldn’t even distract myself by reading Kavalier and Clay. All or nothing, Linc. What was the point of immersing myself in that wonderful world when I would end up having to shut the book on it the moment the audience inside the auditorium burst into its goodbye applause and it was time for me to go backstage and meet the scary famous person who wrote a book?
(Across the city at that moment, you were also at work and possibly not nearly as anxious. Or maybe you were.)
To my great surprise, Mark Bittman was very kind to me. There was a snafu that entailed logistics of book signing — yes, there are logistics; ask Tony La Russa — that I won’t explain as the whole subject would probably bore you. The point is that I thought that I was going to get bitched out for this snafu. But I did what I could do to get through it and Mr. Bittman seemed to appreciate the effort even though I also ended up stepping on his foot quite by accident. I was doing a million things that events people do at big events like this and I didn’t notice where I was going. Suddenly my shoe was on top of his and as I recoiled I also gasped, “I’m so sorry.”
Later he shocked me with a signed copy of this famous cookbook that he wrote ten years ago. All I know about it is that it is supposed to be the successor to Joy of Cooking. And that it is large and red.
“Thank you, Mr. Bittman,” I said. With one hand, I shook his and with the other I maneuvered the book into the crook of my arm. “I am a terrible cook but perhaps this will change things.”
He smiled. I don’t know if it was out of sincere appreciation, clinical politeness, or amusement that I used the word “perhaps” in conversation. Who does that, Linc? Who says “perhaps” when they are not writing a paper or giving a speech? Apparently I do, and perhaps he thought that was hilarious.
Instead of going home to Clara, I went from the train and deviated from my normal route home, instead strolling a circuitous route. After you work hard enough, you don’t always want to do the usual. I called Spencer.
“Where can I get fried chicken at ten o’clock on a Tuesday night?” I asked her. She picked up me about ten minutes later. Her husband didn’t mind. He sleeps very soundly and she stays up late no matter how early she has to get up the next day.
It was midnight when her kitchen was crackling with the popping sounds that could only come from oil dancing in a pan of chicken. My hands were gooey from the batter of egg yolk and Dixie Fry. I haven’t been up late like this on a weeknight and eating bad food since I was in college. There’s a whole chapter in Mark Bittman’s cookbook dedicated to chicken but I didn’t bring this up to Spencer. That was our time. I didn’t want to talk about work.