I just wandered off to a Chinese buffet for some self indulgent soup and fried things and noodles. Irene being too sane to accompany me on this modest bit of self-destruction, I grabbed a book at random.
I don't recall why I purchased Daniel Pinkwater's memoir Chicago Days, Hoboken Nights in the first place.
I had been mildly amused by his monologues on NPR back in the days when I had to drive a lot and when All Things Considered was still a tolerable listen, before it too fallen prey to the forces of journalistic cowardice and compulsive difference-splitting that have pretty much destroyed the American collective capacity to think about any damned thing.
Maybe it was on special. I'm a sucker for a book bargain.
I recall reading it, and being mildly amused.
But Irene has this thing, you know, being a retired OCD and hoarding treatment specialist, this thing where you shouldn't have a collection of things that is too much bigger than the capacity of the house which contains it. And we're down to 1100 square feet, no attic or basement to speak of, and just two smallish closets. (Which by human historical standards is luxurious and all, to be sure. And it is a very nice little apartment with a spectacular location; please understand I'm not complaining.)
But the thing is, there's a perpetual battle where I want more bookshelves and Irene wants to me to own no more books than I will be able to read in my remaining years, as my mind continues to dwindle to a shadow of its former self.
So there have been several rounds of collecting up hundreds of books and selling them for two cents on the dollar to a reseller. Every time, I considered giving away this mildly amusing little book, read a few random paragraphs, chuckled, and spared it from recycling.
Today I started reading it again. I can't really explain how or why I suddenly adore this book so much. Maybe there's some nostalgic sentimentality for the twentieth century that couldn't really come into bloom until the time itself really began to fade.
I'm not sure how much value this book will be to people who are younger, unless they are writing period fiction set in the sixties. But somehow, despite its themes of incompetence and poor taste and failure and greed, to me it amounts to a celebration of the human spirit.
It's all non-fiction, but written by a guy with an eye for the stranger corners of the world, and who seems to belong there. This is a slice of the comedy hidden in the tragedy of gritty urban life in the middle of the 20th century. I've been there, but somehow nothing I write is like this, chosen literally at random:
Overall, my reaction to fashion food is this: ha! You may blacken all the redfish you like - I know there is nothing apt to be discovered or invented to surpass what I have experienced long years past.
I speak of the Original Spartacus A P Pepsi Cola Oriental Restaurant - the ultimate. It was known to regulars as the Original Spartacus - the sign outside displayed the full-length enigmatic handle. ... It was a Greek restaurant. In the same sense that Praxiteles was a stonemason. Dim and dingy, lit by a few fluorescent fixtures, no one of the with more than one bulb working, it was frequented by artists, communists, and Puerto Rican cab drivers, some of whom were artists and communists.
The walls bore one of the last examples of the work of the Mad Muralist - a specialist in Levantine and Middle Eastern restaurants, whose hallmarks were stencils and silver radiator paint. In the case of the Original Spartacus, the motif was many silver Acropoles applied at various angles to the blue walls.
There was no menu as such. Jimmy, the proprietor, sized you up and served you what he thought you needed. Some of Jimmie's creations were boiled porgies, dandelion salad, incredible tender lamb with orzo, coffee to raise the dead, and a sort of custard I've never encountered again.
The price for all this was determined by Jimmy's assessment of how much you appreciated his work. If you left anything on your plate, the price went up.For page after page, Pinkwater has me somehow wishing I were there again and yet immensely glad that I'm not anymore. At the same time. Pretty much how I feel about my own time and place, except in reverse. I guess life's like that. But not everyone has the knack of reminding you.
I failed to fully appreciate Pinkwater's special knack for telling a colorful story over the years, and yet I saw it well enough to keep this odd little book while I let go of so many others.
I'm glad I kept it long enough to appreciate it for the gem that it is. And I'm glad I can recommend it to you in this day of instant gratification. You can get it on your Kindle for less than a buck.
I'm gladdest of all to note that despite being even fatter and more self-indulgent than myself, Daniel Pinkwater is alive and well enough to still be producing whatever the hell it is that he produces. I hope he'll notice this little review, and that he will accept my thanks for brightening a blazingly bright and ominously hot but otherwise spiritually gloomy Texas day.
Whaddya know, Pinkwater, you've been a Zen master all this time and didn't even know it.