What a Table, What a Night

Had a lovely evening at the California Club the other night, where my pals Blaine and Lynda gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen, all gleaming, all prepped to woooooosh out 250 meals in 15 minutes, which I don’t believe is humanly possible, yet time after time I see it at banquets and bar mitzvahs, ball games and weddings.

There’s a potential fund-raising idea, by the way: Tours and tastings in L.A.’s great kitchens.

Anyway, props to the people who bump butts and elbows in madhouse professional kitchens. Props to the cooks, the servers, the support staff, the fishwashers.

Fishwashers, FYI, are the people who rinse the fish before cooking. It’s a very specialized field. Getting behind their little ears would seem easy. Yet, it takes years to master. Think of the sand and slime.

In college, I worked part time as a fishwasher. Walleye mostly. The occasional bass. Mackerel were the worst.

By the way, Suzanne says I take too many liberties with the truth, stretch a fact to fit the moment, overplay the details, embellish, buff, spin, enhance and stuff.

“Didn’t Twain?” I ask. “Didn’t Shakespeare? Didn’t every slimy politician you ever heard?”

“That’s not exactly an excuse,” she says.

She also says I tend to overtip restaurant servers, and I think that’s spot-on. She also notes how overtipping goes against my frugal nature. I don’t splurge on the finest brands of stuffed olives, or trade in my car every other year. I rarely make an impulse purchase, unless it’s for chicken wings or meatballs. I coddle every hard-earned buck.

Look, no one understands human struggle the way I do. It takes me three days to read the Sunday paper … a week to finish the crossword. So, when I see waiters whisking multiple meals to boozy arts patrons, I see an air show of well-choreographed professionals with tailback reflexes.

I see pureness of purpose. I see poetry.

My dad was a terror on bad waiters. It was cringy the way he treated someone delivering a salad five minutes late, or who brought the soup with the main course. Lord help the person who made a mistake on the check.

In Dad’s mind, he was making them better.

Maybe he was.

Yet, I am here to make amends for that, to honor my father’s hard-working victims.

Meanwhile, we had two glorious dinners last weekend while celebrating L.A. libraries at the California Club, then at Eric and Mary Ann’s house in the Palidades — raising a few bucks, serenading our incredible town’s love for the written word.

The Library Council held a banquet on Saturday, then what they call “literary feasts” on Sunday. The feasts featured 50 different authors at 50 different homes across Los Angeles. Not just any homes. Nobody ate on TV trays, as you would at my place, where I would serve takeout pizza with paper napkins and Hawaiian Punch.

No, this was even nicer than that. Library patrons opened their swanky homes to beautiful dinner parties, with authors Susan Orlean, Conan O’Brien, A. Scott Berg, Bari Weiss, Jon Favreau, Douglas Brinkley, Nancy Silverton, among others, holding court.

Me, I talked about bears and children. I also explained my writing process, which is a lot like going over a waterfall on a motorcycle.

I write in my own blood. I use too much punctuation. Most of my sentences aren’t even sentences. Some sentences have two predicates … no subject … no point. I break every rule they taught me in 10th-grade English class.

And just look at me now.

OK, don’t.

 “Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does,” explained Truman Copote. “If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.”

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass,” said Chekhov, which is the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever read.

In any case, these literary feasts are a fascinating concept for a fund-raiser. Like something they might’ve done in Old London with platters of blood oranges and elk.

Honored to be part of it.

By the end of the night, $2.3 million went into the kitty, adding to the $31 million raised over the years.

“It was good to walk into a library again,” Elizabeth Kostova once wrote.

“It smelled like home.”

Speaking of books, the second printing of “What the Bears Know” is in bookstores now. Look for it at Flintridge Books in La Canada, where I’ll be signing from 1-3 p.m. on Nov. 18. Also, pick up signed copies at {Pages} in Manhattan Beach, which has supported our book like no one else. Also, Amazon, of course, which saw the magic in this uncommon memoir and ordered half the first printing. Order online here. FYI, Steve and I have some slots still open the week of Dec. 4. If your book club would like to have us in to drink your wine and discuss our book, please email Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. Cheers

Coming Saturday: Cakes’ favorite doll is missing.

9 thoughts on “What a Table, What a Night

  1. You have worked your magic, as usual, turning the everyday into the sublime. From fish washers to writing advice from literary royalty. And thank you for speaking up for servers (and everyone involved in delivering delicious meals we too often take for granted). I was in event production for a few years and I can attest nobody works harder than the folks who create and deliver our food. My Win The Lottery fantasy is to be able to tip 100 times the check amount. Bless you and bless libraries (and their fundraisers and supporters)!

  2. I have no idea how you do it- constructing sentences and paragraphs into art that brightens our minds and warms our hearts. Now that you are famous, if you are available next March 7, we would love to have you at our school for the annual Read Aloud. More details to come but we would be honored to have you here.

  3. I’m with Capote and Chekov and Erskine (kindred souls): you learn what is straight and narrow, then open it up, stroke and shape it, and eventually explode it to fill the world as you find it; which it never quite does, the lines limning endless question marks. Perhaps that superbly sinuous silver splinter with the shiny seminal center you hang with these days just needs to dream a little more in the midday coastal light, let a little November L.A. haze slip beneath those glistening palisades eyelids, to see the art in the periphery of her lambent gaze. Me? That periphery is where I live; so maybe I’m often invisible in ambient light. Sometimes…you too. The libraries are churches, the bookstores missionaries, and the writing manna from heaven. The banquets are religious services. Rock on, oh Priest Of Proust and Don Of Domestica…

  4. The vote is in. Shakespeare and relevance win again. What lovely weather for banquets and baskets, with Thanksgiving’s annual gathering on the horizon.

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