Somewhere a Hadada quietly weeps.
It’s been a rough two weeks on the diamond for The Paris Review, culminating in an extra-inning loss to a venerable (cough) Harper’s side—a loss that had the ghost of George Plimpton clucking in disapproval. As the calendar flips to July and a once promising season slowly turns to shit, it has become apparent that we are simply not to be trusted. The talent is there, but it’s mercurial, slave to whim and whimsy. As a team we’ve adapted an identity that is generously enigmatic: although capable of lighting up any softball scoreboard in greater Manhattan, lately it seems that we are just trying to get our jerseys on.
But the reason I was telling this story was because I was reminded of that night in St. Petersburg when I saw Annie Baker’s adaptation of Uncle Vanya. Like Vanya and Astrov, I am middle-aged, a drunk, often despondent—perhaps I am having a midlife crisis—and yes, I am an adulterer. (Vanya and Astrov are only would-be adulterers.) At the time I was trying to pick up this Russian waitress—sitting drunk in the snow-covered park, watching a bear dance at the end of a short rope—I was already an adulterer. Two years before, I had left my first wife for my assistant, who worked in my jewelry store. I drank my way into that affair, and I would drink my way through the divorce.
But the sad fact was I did not get to sleep with the Russian waitress. This is what actually happened.
The man with the bear would not leave me alone. Read More
The local Junior League cookbook is the culinary bible of the Southern home. Every kitchen of my Alabama childhood had at least one well-worn copy of Magic, the Junior League of Birmingham’s 1983 recipe collection, with an enticing yellow-spiral binding and entries on everything from shrimp salad to banana pudding. Some would also have a copy of Palates, Platters, and Other Such Matters, the JLB’s 1950 edition, notable for its more liberal inclusion of lard and mayonnaise. Like every Junior League cookbook, the recipes were sourced from the community and thus varied wildly both in quality and in method of preparation. Still, the hand-me-down wisdom from Birmingham’s residents on how to properly prepare venison skewers or pimiento-cheese eggs had an authority that no celebrity chef or French instructor could muster. They were part of the trusted pantheon that my parents, whose taste ran more to grilled fish and apple pies than deep-fried catfish and layer cakes, would consult whenever a dish needed some extra flair. When I moved up to New York for college, my mother bequeathed me the most useful items she could think of for the journey: a ceramic teapot, a CD of Thin Lizzy’s greatest hits, and a copy of the newest JLB cookbook, Food for Thought.
It was part homesickness, part tiring of the endless meal-plan tuna melts that caused me to leaf through Food for Thought for more than just the pictures and familiar contributor names. (In scanning the index of recipes, certain contributors jumped out: the mother of a junior high crush, the organizer of the reception of my first and only debutante event, the family for whom my high school auditorium was named.) Sandwiched between essays waxing nostalgic about grits and poking fun at California cuisine were the dishes that taught me how to cook in earnest. After teenage years full of longing for escape from my muggy Southern home, I began, in my little dorm on 116th Street, clumsily making vats of overly spiced gumbo and punch bowls of mint juleps for my bewildered but grateful roommates. Read More
But how I got to thinking about my drunken love affair, years ago in Saint Petersburg, is Sam Gold’s new production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, playing now at the Soho Rep.
It’s ninety-nine-cent Sunday, and the line of sweaty New Yorkers edging for shade outside the eighty-seat theater is long. They are bored and tired. It’s a muggy ninety degrees. “We’re never going to get in,” I hear one complain to another; later, outside the bathroom, where they sell vodka shots for three dollars a piece, I hear an excited woman say to her date: “I can’t believe we made it!” Most of the people who stood or sat in line (many since two P.M.) did not see the show. My own guests, who had driven in from the Bronx for the production, were turned away.
“I’m the reviewer,” I tried to convince the guy at the door.
“Man, we don’t get lines like this, even for the Sunday show. I’ll have a revolt. It wouldn’t be fair.”
My friends went to see a movie, and my date and I went to our corner seats, right by the couch where the Professor would later be shot (and not).