Hey, VM readers! Here’s another non-Gil treat for you! My buddy Elayne is up at her farm-house in New Hampshire this summer, finishing up her book, and sent me a lengthy missive yesterday. She’s a pretty funny story-teller, so I asked if it’d be okay to run this piece. I’m hoping that this involves into a weekly ramble/dispatch from NH. She starts out with an anecdote about a chance meeting with Philip Roth, which arose because of Ron Rosenbaum’s great new column about Roth’s new novel, The Plot Against America. I’d like to Ron’s piece, but it’s a temporary link at the New York Observer site, so it’ll be inactive in a few days. Without further ado:
Elayne and Chip “meet” Philip Roth
Last fall, Chip [Samuel R. Delany] and I are going to meet for Lunch at Luisa’s (sp?)–an Iberian place that Chip likes, but Dennis won’t go to because one of the waiters “looks at him funny.” Being anal, I get there early. It is kind of a late lunch though, maybe two or three o’clock in the afternoon, so none of the tables are set any longer. The place is small, and seating is tight; you almost feel you are eating lunch with the folks seated at the next table. I take a table near three older guys. The waiter looks at me–with a distinctly non-funny gaze–and brings water, utensils, napkins, etc. I notice that one of the men–seated practically on top of me–looks just like Philip Roth. I say to myself “I wonder if that guy is Philip Roth?” (I simultaneously say something to myself like “I sooooo fucking rock if I am ‘lunching’ with Philip Roth!”)
So the guys talk and I sit down and eavesdrop. Not in a super-nosey, starfucker way, more in an I-am-all-alone-and-sitting-really-close-to-you way. Then (gah!) the Roth guy mildly misquotes Lolita (a line from Quilty) and I smile. In a good-natured tone, he asks me why I am smiling. So I tell him Lolita is my favorite novel and then gently correct his quote. At this point, the ‘Rothman’ asks me if I would like to join their table, but I demure (in part because I am not quite sure he really means it, and in part because I would probably ask stupid, lowbrow questions like, “Was it YOU who decided to cast Richard Benjamin in the movie version of Goodbye Columbus?”).
Enter Chip, who sits down. Now we are even more crowded-in than before. I can hear every word the Rothman and his buddies are saying (they are discussing how scrawny Nicole Kidman is). Since I knew she was starring in the then up-coming film of The Human Stain, I was even more confident in my identification of Roth and treating it pretty much like a fideism.
But to be sure, and to alert Chip to the potential increase in lunch-cool-factor, I wrote on a paper napkin. What I wrote was “Hey! Isn’t that guy Philip Roth?” It took a minute for Chip to do the let-me-perform-a-subtle-head-swivel thing. It took another minute for him to work his “gaydar” on the conversation about Nicole, which had now shifted to the topic Tom Cruise’s body. So Chip wasn’t entirely without reason when he took the napkin back and wrote, “I doubt it, because all of those men are GAY.” Then I wrote (and yes, now we looked like either lovers or retards), “Well, that might be. But one of those gay guys is Philip Roth!”
I flip the napkin over, (so the Portuguese waiter can’t read it, dammit!) and we proceed to have lunch. Chip excuses himself to use the bathroom. I am alone . . . again. Roth and his friends have ordered some really messy appetizers, like baked queso with chorizo or something. Roth leans over to me and politely asks if they can have one of our clean napkins, because, as I mentioned, none of the other tables are set. But the only clean napkin we have is the one where Chip tried to “out” Philip Roth AND both his friends as, in my friend Susan’s phrasing, “the Gay.” So, because I am a freakin’ social genius, I say nothing and just shake my head “no”. Roth gives me a “You clearly HAVE an extra, clean napkin. Why won’t you give it to us, you eavesdropping, nosey, Nabokov-obsessed, girl-freak?” sort of look. I then try to use the napkin in a way that looks nonchalant, but I only manage some super-spazoid, napkin-as-hot-potato maneuver.
Chip comes back and writes on the crumpled napkin, that he and Roth’s papers are both stored at Boston University. He doesn’t introduce himself though, for obvious reasons.
Before you read this, please do a Google Image search of Harrisville, NH and then an image search of Chesham, NH. Ok. So the first couple images you see on the screen? That is where I am.
I go to the Harrisville General Store today to get milk and some other stuff. I notice that outside, sitting on the bench, are two big and ugly biker dudes. There is a Harley Davidson “conference” thing up in northern NH this week, so I figure they are stragglers from that. They are all leathered up, and tattooed with things like “Kill All Towelheads,” “Americans: Dumb And Lovin’ It,” “If You Can Read This, You are a Communist Whore,” and various snake patterns. Anyway, as I am coming out of the store and gazing out peacefully at the beautiful, gently undulating lake that forms the town’s visual backdrop, one of them approaches me, opens his mouth, and asks:
“Where’s the closest Hooters?”
Pause. I had NO IDEA what the biker-guy said. None. I kind of thought he said, “Where are the most shooters?” Or something, and had a “guns or tequila?” moment. But then:
A little louder, he asks again:
“Do you know where the closest Hooters might be?”
Now, a bunch of synapses have to fire and pretty quickly. I do a quick calculation based on the fashion, the tattoos, the Harleys, the fact that they are asking a woman to direct them to a tit-bar, and several fairly hackneyed stereotypes, and I ask myself, “What are the odds these guys are not total assclowns?” I look at the Edenic surroundings, do the math, and decide “zilch.”
I say, “Sorry guys. You are in a Hooters-free zone.”
They think for a minute and the one is able to formulate:
“This zone. How far does it extend (he probably really said ‘how far does it go,’ but it is my story, darn it!)?”
(Sit back. Here comes the genius part . . .)
I reply, “Boston.”
See, Boston is an hour and a half away. I am pretty sure Manchester, NH has a Hooters, and Manchester is only 40 minutes away, but there is just no way in God’s heaven I am sending them somewhere so dangerously, disastrously close. Plus, tee hee hee, along the main “road” to Boston, they have been having all of these manhole covers blow off and fly into the air. I have no propensity for killing bikers. I’m not a killer at all, generally (OK, there was that baby bird. Once.) But because of the exploding manholes, the traffic is WAY SLOW on that road right now. Then the second biker inquires,
No Einstein: Boston, Maryland.
“Yeah. Sorry . . . but I do hear the food at that one is excellent, and that it is kind of a ‘lesbian’ Hooters. There are lots of female customers there.”
This titillates/confuses them a little. They half-grumble, drool a bit, get on their bikes and ride off. In the direction of Boston.
They are probably still waiting. . . .
Yesterday, Katie (the barn cat) came to the living room window to say “hello” to me and to show me the near-dead chipmunk she had in her mouth. I was at the end of the Elayne-confronts-animals-in-pain movie, after the wounded bluejay incident, and was in no mood for more dead shit. I just hoped she killed it sooner than later, didn’t bat the poor thing around too much, and that someday chipmunks would evolve into T-Rex-sized predators who would follow cats around, catch them, and slowly nibble them to death.
I just kinda went “Eeeew” and turned back to my History of the Spartans.
This morning, I let Benifer (“Benifer” is my moniker for the puppy that lives here, because he is the unlikely lovechild of “Benji” and “Lucifer”) out to play in the fenced-in back yard. About half an hour later, I go out to get him. Something brown hangs from his mouth.
Now I have to figure out how to get Benifer to release the (now dead) chipmunk. Then I have to figure out how to remove it from the yard. Katie, of course, is nowhere to be found. I run inside, get some dog food, and look for a shovel or something to scoop the chipmunk up and fling it into the woods. Meanwhile, I am fluttering my arms around like a gay man meeting Liza Minelli and muttering “gross, gross, gross” to my freaked-out self.
My complicated (but ingenious) plan is to distract Benifer with the dog food, scoop the chipmunk up with the shovel, and quickly dispense with it. Trouble is, I can’t find a fucking shovel. Anywhere. I run to the BARN (which is where everyone KEEPS SHOVELS!) and there is a car, but no shovels. The dog is still “eating” the chipmunk. I panic and run into the kitchen and get the tool that any intelligent person would use to remove a six-inch-long, dead chipmunk: a spatula.
I know, Gil. But this is not the time for your pity.
I grab a handful of dry dog food, run outside and throw it on the ground. As I had predicted in the complicated-but-ingenious plan, Benifer momentarily drops his “prey” in order to investigate the food. I then spend ten minutes trying to balance the dead chipmunk on the spatula and run up the bank and throw the chipmunk over. But the chipmunk isn’t yet experiencing full rigor mortis, so he is all floppy and his weight keeps shifting and he keeps falling off the spatula and I keep screaming. And see, one of the benefits of the shovel would have been avoiding the close-up view I keep getting of the poor, dead thing. The image of a dead chipmunk on a kitchen spatula is a dismal image indeed. I remember thinking, “If someone were watching me from a distance, they would think I was some pent-up housewife gone mad.”
After about ten minutes I finally manage to fling the beast over the fence.
Along with the spatula (in case you were wondering).
One Last Thing
As I mentioned, sometimes the television is on here, but in the other room. During the day, I occasionally get to hear a snippet of some lame soap opera. Sometimes I even hear lame things George Bush is saying, or lame commercials. But the soap opera on today, when I went in to grab a dictionary, was far from lame.
The scene (I have NO idea of the context) is this attractive middle-age black woman, talking to an older woman, also black, who is seated in a wheelchair. The older woman seems to be in some kind of nursing home. The younger woman says to the older woman:
“How could your own daughter do this to you?” (I presume she means putting the old lady in a home).
The older woman replies (as the camera closes in on her face):
“Because she is an atheist, thieving, crack-addict whore.”
I swear to you.