it seemed German
Saturday, February 2 2008
Gretchen returned from the City today with her friend Sarah the Korean (who is actually non-Asian and has an Irish last name that sounds like "Korean"). The two had been out of touch for a few years but now they're communicating and socializing again. Who can say why these things ebb and flow? All I know is that once a friendship ebbs past a certain critical amount, it becomes a greater and greater socio-emotional effort to get things flowing again.
Since moving in with Gretchen, I've largely outsourced my social life and obligations to her, and this is why I don't have any friends in the mid-Hudson Valley that I didn't make through her. Consequently, I'm not given to making separate social plans. To the extent that I make social plans, they usually consist of deciding not to participate in some social plan Gretchen has hatched that could, if I so chose, include both of us. But this evening was different. For the first time in five years, I had my own social plans.
These plans saw me driving across the Hudson Fjord to Oblong Books in Rhinebeck to attend a reading by my old friend Jami Attenberg. Nearly ten years ago she had been part of the online journal scene, and eight years ago she'd written an article for Salon.com that, among other things, described my being fired from CollegeClub.com. From mid-2001 to late-2002 I lived in Brooklyn and would occasionally socialize with Jami, but I haven't seen her since moving upstate over five years ago. In the meantime she's had further success as a writer and now has two books in print.
Parking is always a bitch in Rhinebeck, but it's especially so around dinner time on a Saturday night. I went around two different blocks before finally settling on a space that was a bit too small for the regulation SUV, Mercedes, or Lexus normally driven by the Rhinebeck Saturday Night crowd. The spot was even a bit too small for a Honda Civic four door, and the image of my rear bumper protruding into the yellow-hatched forbidden zone of a commercial driveway haunted me through Jami's reading. As one gets older, one worries more about the risks one used to take with impunity in their younger immortal years.
I joined the small crowd (less than a dozen people) who had gathered to hear Jami read. The book was The Kept Man a novel Jami had structured around the coma plot device. (I haven't actually read the book, so I can't actually say whether or not the central coma of the book actually served as a plot device.) After Jami had read, there was a question and answer period in which we learned about her writing techniques and what one woman in the crowd characterized as the unusual rhythm of her prose, something Jami attributed to her early years as a poet.
After the reading, I attached myself to Jami's contingent (three other youngish women, a couple of whom seemed to be Oblong people) and we all went to Sabroso, a high-end Latin-fusion restaurant a block off the main drag. Inside, the dining room was bathed in a dreamy milky yellow light, the kind that can make an attractive seventy year old look forty years younger (like in those ads you see when you read your Yahoo! Mail). Like nearly all restaurants in Rhinebeck, Sabroso exists to make the Manhattanite feel comfortable when he or she chooses to venture upstate. Everything is familiar, including the exorbitant prices in the menu.
Our table ordered wine and "tapas," and most of the conversation was about reading and novels (these ladies all loved to read in a way that seemed almost anachronistic). There was also some shop talk giving me an glimpse into the back end of author signings at small independent bookstores (such as Oblong). These bookstores have loyal customers who trust the employees and their recommendations, so when an author honors the store with a reading, it's possible for the employees to return the favor by recommending (and then inevitably selling) many copies of the book being promoted. It's like the bookstore version of that subtle nod the waitress gives you when trying to get you to select the pricier option. (Something the Sabroso waitress had done successfully with Jami during the wine slection, but then it had turned out that that wine had been sold out, perhaps the result of a surfeit of nods.)
At some point Jami told a story about her visit to the pawn shop in Uptown Kingston. Intrigued by the sign on the front asking for "guns and gold," she'd gone inside, eventually finding her way to the jewelry display case. She tried on an Art Deco necklace but had been unnerved by the uncomfortably-sharp angles pressing into her collar bone. She asked the woman behind the counter about it, saying it seemed "German." The woman was Jewish and, using Jewdar, determined that Jami was as well. So she revealed that indeed Jami was right, that this jewelry was just the least-offensive of a collection that had fallen into her hands, a collection that included not only soaring eagles clutching swastikas in their talons, but also the molds for the casting of more (presumably from recycled tooth fillings).
I gave Jami a lift back to Oblong so she wouldn't have to walk that far across treacherous patches of ice atop her four inch heels.
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