Weekly writing challenge: Gonzo journalism. “My Dinner with Elsa”

I once saw a movie called ‘My Dinner with André,’ starring Wallace Shawn and André Gregory.  The whole movie consisted of nothing but a conversation over dinner in a restaurant.  You don’t need a snake-tongued Voldemort to pump the action when you have a dinner conversation that’s come alive.

Elsa’s 82, a literary agent and TV producer, long retired, still plugging books.  She has black hair that bobs down in a short pageboy; she looks like she stole a wig from Agent 99 of CONTROL.  Everyone she knows would know who that was.  She probably knew Barbara Whoever, Agent 99.  She knew everyone in publishing, television and film.  They all came to drink at her house.  Now she knows me, and I come to drink at her house.  Right now, though, we’re at a Vietnamese restaurant in Toronto.  Her Jewish atheist roots have led her to a deep conviction that eating pork and shrimp in Asian restaurants is the right thing to do.  She’s flexible – today she’s after some cow, or phò, as they call it.  You say it ‘feuh.’  It’s soup of rare sliced beef with vegetables.  I’m having vermicelli with sugar cane stalks bearing balls of minced shrimp.  I bite the shrimp mince off the stalks, chew the sugar out of the cane and put the remnants in a discard dish.

“I never eat broccoli in restaurants,” she says, forking up a startlingly emerald-green bouquet out of her broth, “except in Asian restaurants.  They’re the only ones who don’t overcook it.  Everyone else makes it mush.  Thank God for Asian restaurants.”  Her eyes sparkle as she nibbles a lobe off the vivid vegetable.  I wince slightly.

“I know, I know,” she says, looking at the stainless steel fork embedded in the greenery.  “I just can’t get used to chopsticks no matter how hard my daughter tries to teach me.”

In Toronto, we’re semi-civilized.  We know that eating East Asian food with ‘doe cha’ – knife and fork – is like trying to play a Stradivarius with a comb.  All those metal things piercing the delectables.  There’s an air of medieval torture about it all. Elsa knows my views.  But she’s not afraid to be different.

“What about that partner of yours?” she asks, getting back to what’s really on her mind.  “Don’t you think he needs help of some kind?  Is he going crazy?”

My same-sex partner of 35 years has become increasingly eccentric, and is now officially an unemployed genius, spending much of his time in his bathrobe, hair frizzled, sitting at the computer revising Wikipedia articles on particle physics and modern math.

“I should put him in a show.  I know he’s brilliant and he’s certainly articulate, but what would he like to talk about?   He could talk about anything, but we need something he’s interested in.  And why is he working all night and then sleeping on the couch?  His hair looks like it has no luster, I’m worried about him. What can we DO for him? Don’t you ever tell him he should find a job?  He’s a creative person.  Why don’t you tell him that he needs to find something to accomplish with the rest of his life before it’s too late, which will be soon enough?”

“He’d find that a depressing thought.  Sure, I’ve tried to talk about those things with him, but he’s very touchy about them.  Doesn’t want to discuss them with me.”

“Doesn’t he have any friends he could talk things over with?  Someone he could talk with about his strengths, his weaknesses, what he really wants?”

She’s a friend of us both, but clearly she means someone closer to the proverbial bosom of companionship, whatever that is.

“He’s not really a ‘friend’ person,” I say.  “He has one friend, Valerie, but he doesn’t see her very often.  And my theory is that he never introspects, on principle.  I think he feels that if he did – if he started questioning in there – he’d look too deeply and make everything fall apart.”

“I know, that’s a problem, I can see it.  Well, maybe he needs to have an affair.  That’s an idea.  What do you think?  Would it be good for him to have an affair?”

I look at her.  She knows perfectly well she’s raised up this conversational tidbit with a big metal fork.  She looks back without a trace of tease.  The true literary person does the outrageous with grace.

I pick up her tidbit with my verbal chopsticks and ever so delicately put it into my discard dish.

“That wouldn’t really be his style,” I say.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Weekly writing challenge: Gonzo journalism. “My Dinner with Elsa”

  1. This is wonderful. I don’t know about gonzo, but I love this. I could read much more of it and die happy.

    • My sci-fi epic is just one level of metaphor beyond this, if you want to try it (for link to a free copy, just wordsearch on ‘rapidshare’ on my blog home page). I sense the beginning of a new kind of humour, which I call post-irony – it has the salt of irony and yet everything is sincere and full of true feeling. I don’t really understand how it works but it’s a little mine of gold and I’m dedicated to working it. It also involves nothing being quite as it seems and everything having a dual purpose that is necessary, not frivolous. Somehow, life is really like that. The buttons of outrage appear to be pushed and yet what emerges is loving and respectful. And vice-versa, perhaps. That’s as close as I can come to expressing this feeling. Thanks very much for your comment.

      • It IS irony. But subtle. I hear it as such, but the irony is stylistic — tone and texture of writing rather — than specific wording. Elegant. I don’t suppose you have a mobi file by any chance? I would love to read it.

  2. Pingback: Weekly Writing Challenge – Gonzo Journalism | Joe's Musings

  3. I’ve asked FriesenPress where I might be able to get a .mobi file. The book has been uploaded to some commercial suppliers – who is selling .mobi these days?

  4. Pingback: Weekly Writing Challenge: Wheels of misfortune | ThE cRaZy NiGeRiAn

  5. Here’s the first part of an email I just sent you with the .mobi file attached.

    “I was able to acquire a .mobi file from FriesenPress by telling them I’d been talking to a potential reviewer. They warned me not to resell it without buying a license. I had no idea that one’s copyright-unrestricting vanity press would demand a licensing fee for their e-files, but in any case, I can send this to you gratis because it’s considered promotional.”

    More info in the email, sent to the puppy-count address listed along with your comment.

    • I sent it to my Kindle.After dinner, I’ll try opening it … if it got there. I assume it will becasue it always has in the past. This is how I usually get booksto review. Sent you a cc so you can test it too.

  6. The copy you forwarded back to me behaved like a proper Kindle file. Thanks!

  7. Reblogged this on eastjoycreativearts and commented:
    An excellent piece !

  8. Pingback: Weekly writing challenge: Gonzo journalism. “My Dinner with Elsa” | eastjoycreativearts

  9. Very interesting. Not weird enough though.

  10. Thank you for reblogging this. My capacity for weirdness is infinite, so the challenge lies in the extent to which to restrain it. As they say in the latest language I’ve got interested in, Mixtec, “kani ka’vi ini o naxe kokuu o kivi ki’on” – “one must think on how to live in the future.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s