I found out last week that I sold rights for The Middlesteins to a publisher in Taiwan called Amygdala. It’s the first time I’ve sold foreign rights, so of course I’m thrilled. And I have a feeling the cover is going to be amazing. But beyond that, I spent a great deal of time in The Middlesteins extolling the virtues of Chinese food, so for it to be translated in Chinese is deeply satisfying to the point where it feels correct.
Speaking of food, we spend a lot of time eating and thinking about it up here. Kate is a tremendous cook, the kind who can look at a mostly empty fridge and still manage to whip up an amazing soup for lunch. Even better, though, is when that fridge is full. There is much strategizing before the weekly group outings to the grocery store, and by the time we get there, we’ve (they’ve) planned a full week of meals, and Kate and Brendan are off in the aisles. Basically I wander along by myself for a while, occasionally getting hit on by random middle-aged Mainers, and then I’ll find myself in the cheese aisle, a place I never ever want to leave so please don’t make me.
Mealtimes often involve variations of the following conversation:
“God, I love food.”
“Food’s the best.”
“I’m so happy you feel that way about it.”
“Could you imagine if I didn’t love food?”
“I don’t think you’d be here right now if you didn’t love food.”
“Would we even be friends?”
“I’m not even sure.”
On Saturday they brought home a perfect white-threaded sack of oysters and a bottle of rose for lunch. I didn’t drink the rose because I was about to drive to Waterville to celebrate Ron Currie’s birthday, but I ate the oysters, which Brendan shucked one by one, placing them carefully on ice, while Kate mixed together ketchup, Worcestershire, and Tabasco in one tiny container, and lemon juice, rice vinegar, and minced shallots in the other. When we had eaten all the oysters, I felt full of energy and delight.
Eating oysters reminds me of “Old Mr. Flood,” an essay from Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel, a book which is basically my Bible for my new novel. The essay tells the story of a ninety-three year old man who wants to live to a hundred and fifteen, and who is convinced the only way to do that is to eat a lot of fish.
I love this section from it:
Mr Flood snorted again…”Damn your doctor! I tell you what you do. You get right out of here and go over to Libby’s oyster house and tell the man you want to eat some of his big oysters. Don’t sit down. Stand up at that fine marble bar they got over there, where you can watch the man knife them open. And tell him you intend to drink the oyster liquor; he’ll knife them on the cup shell, so the liquor won’t spill. And be sure you get the big ones. Get them so big you’ll have to rear back to swallow…Ask the man for half a lemon, poke it at a time or two to free the juice, and squeeze it over the oysters. And the first one he knifes, pick it up and smell it, the way you’d smell a rose, or a shot of brandy. That briny, seaweedy fragrance will clear your head; it’ll make your blood run faster…And then leave the man a generous tip and go buy yourself a fifty-cent cigar and put your hat on the side of your head and take a walk down to Bowling Green. Look at the sky! Isn’t it blue? And look at the girls a-tap-tap-tapping past on their pretty little feet! Aren’t they just the finest girls you ever saw, the bounciest, the rumpiest, the laughingest? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for even thinking about spending good money on a damned doctor?”
See? You don’t need a doctor. You just need to eat something good.