Saturday, February 07, 2009

Farm living is the life for me

There's something about chuckling's particular demographic that makes people mistakenly think he's inordinately wealthy and quite possibly a patron of the arts. Due to this demographic anomaly, I'm often invited to events targeted at rich people who may be inclined to write a big check for a good cause. Normally, I politely decline, but I was recently offered the opportunity to dine with two famous authors and, on a whim, accepted.

To tell the truth, I didn't even want to meet the famous authors. Nothing against them, but I am simply not the fan boy type. I am perfectly content to let celebrities and other talented people live their lives without the benefit of my company and astute observations on the merits of their work. But in this case, I accepted. I blame my daughter Jane Bob. She's always ridiculing me for being such a hermit and encouraging me to socialize more. But that wasn't all. It's even worse than you think. I didn't accept the invitation to bask in the glow of the famous, It occurred to me that it might not be a bad idea network with the rich people on the mailing list. In these sweet economic times, knowing some hiring types may come in handy. Could be very soon.

So how did that work out for poor chuckling? I woke up early on the day of the big event, drank too much coffee and then found I had way too much time to kill. Hey, it's Saturday, chuckling is supposed to be some kind of photographer. I figured I'd just walk there and maybe add some images to one or more of my ongoing photo projects. My first mistake was not checking the weather. It's been very cold recently and we're in February, so I bundled up real good. But it turned out to be unseasonably warm and I'm sweating uncomfortably before I get two blocks from the house. And still two more miles to go. Then I choose to work on my evolving Gowanus project. The Gowanus canal is an ecological disaster, one of the filthier places in the United states. I say evolving because it didn't start out as a project. I just walk around there a lot for a variety of reasons and I've usually got cameras so over time I've accumulated quite a few photos. When I'm working I tend to forget about everything else, so I'm kneeling down in some kind of ugly green muck to get a ground level shot and I shimmy up a filthy pole to get a higher perspective. Then I realize I'm going to be late for the lunch and have to walk fast to get there. I arrive, sweat-soaked, filthy and smelling of industrial slime. The famous authors give me some kind of look, then quickly avert their eyes.

It turned out all right though.. Most of the filth was on my coat, which a nice waiter took to a back room and I eventually cooled off. I guess the organizers had figured out that I wasn't on the top of the list because I was seated at a different table from the famous authors, but that was fine with me. The people I dined with were gracious and made interesting conversation, which I've always found to be the case with people who are also on my mailing list. I've never failed to be impressed by the table manners of wealthy art patron types. As far as I can tell, they are genuinely decent people.

And lunch was excellent. We had the entire restaurant to ourselves. It was a four course meal with wine, then coffee. The famous authors read appropriate selections from their work. Personally, I've never cared for literary readings. Well, not entirely. I like doing them, but don't really see why anyone would want to go to one. I guess for most authors it's just an ego gratification thing. It's never been like that for me though. My gratification always came from providing thought provoking entertainment for my appreciative audience.

But I wasn't the star of this show. I was the sweaty guy trying to disappear into the corner. I never even said a word to the famous authors. The wine was free. I'm a real writer. The first rule of an artist is to take free drinks where you can get them. I had a glass of wine. I had another. And another. And another. Not only was I the only person in the room with the stink of Gowanus, which is kind of a sad statement considering the identity of one of the famous authors. I was the only one drinking red wine. Twenty white wine imbibers, four drinkers of sparkling Italian water, and me. That's when I relaxed. Why the fuck should I be intimidated by people who drink white wine? Why the fuck indeed? I felt like proposing a toast to red wine, black women and rot gut fucking whiskey. But somehow, I restrained myself. It was tough, but probably for the best.

Surprisingly, as the event wore on I found I really wanted to talk with Jonathan Lethem. I'd read a lot of Paul Auster's work but hadn't read anything by Lethem Although I'm a great fan of Auster (search this blog if you don't believe me), I have no desire at all to speak with him even, as it turns out, when I'm standing right next to him. But Lethem is roughly my age and we have some things in common. I'd not read any of his books when I accepted the invitation so I picked up “Fortress of Solitude.” It was slow going at first, but turned out to be, I think, a great novel. It's set in a Brooklyn neighborhood I know quite well and is like a funhouse mirror to much of my childhood. I thought he might appreciate my aroma of Gowanus and I was curious how he, a child of Gowanus, felt being in that restaurant in that situation.

Well, I guess I didn't want to speak with him badly enough to actually walk a few feet and speak with him. My rule against bothering celebrities is so strong I don't even have to fight it. But I'm hep to read his other novels. Everyone says “Motherless Brooklyn” is great. And Auster's got several new books I need to catch up on as well. Gives me something to look forward to.