Sep 11, 2009

His Name Was Dan (But Mine Is Not Andrew)

What’s First Is Prologue

“A man’s home is his castle, but a man’s garage is his sanctuary”. So proclaims the plaque proudly displayed in Dan’s serene garage retreat. But for our September session, his home was transformed into a literary salon, serving the finest in insight-inducing cuisine. There was something about those mushrooms….

First, wild mushroom crostini (and thin-sliced salami and cheeses), beers, and wines to get both our conversation and salivary glands going. Pre-dinner talk touched on many topics, including a detailed discussion of the many ways that high school sports can cause leg injuries (IT ligaments, knee screws, you name it), various and sundry ways to intimidate your dog into respecting you (ask not how President Obama might make an example of Joe Biden in front of his puppy Bo, ask what you can do to your puppy), and how Garth’s golf cart mysteriously mowed down John, like something straight out of Stephen King’s Christine. I am glad to report that all athletes, pets, pet owners, and tractor babysitters are expected to make full recoveries, much as did our book’s hero, William Shakespeare, after his brief turn on the rack.

Dan nobly sacrificed part of his Labor Day to labor over the preparation of succulent haunches of venison (coincidentally, each was approximately the size of his lovable dogs, Buzz and Tink), imported from a gourmet meat purveyor somewhere to the east, which he then marinated and rounded off with a truly delicious sauce - a combination of Madeira wine and ….. more mushrooms. Fungh-tastic! Not to be overlooked were terrific rosemary garlic mashed potatoes and a bountiful tossed salad.

As always, several gentlemen contributed memorable beverages:
  • Armando - Tequila Chamuco (his “current favorite”, but you know, there are just so many to get through)
  • Paul - Bunratty Meade (somehow we managed to connect this with pouring pots of boiling oil on people, but you’ll just have to trust me on this one)
  • John - Stone IPA
  • Roy - his brandy-of-the-week (or the day?)
And so we dined.
The Text’s the Thing
Our book this month was Jess Winfield’s My Name is Will, a two-pronged narrative that follows both William Shakespeare and Willie Greenberg, his crisis-ridden 1980’s graduate student doppelganger. Although most of us agreed with Dan that the book was great fun and presented both historical periods well (yes, gentlemen, we’re old enough that our college and post-college years are “history”), many of us also agreed with Doug that the two stories, despite coalescing during what seemed to be a shared hallucination, didn’t really come together, and with George that the “coming of age” moments for both characters sprang up a bit too abruptly as the book hurtled towards its anticlimactic end (ironically, since most of the book was downright chock-full of climaxes). And yes, for those keeping score at home, Paul once again played the “misogynistic, angst-ridden, male protagonist” card.
But for most of the group, the book’s high point was its poignant evocation of places and times from their lost youth - in Berkeley, in Santa Cruz, and even in Fresno (“When you live in Fresno, if you get a chance to go to the coast, you go!”). Because so much of the book took place in the Bay area, many of us could recall personal episodes at specific places it describes. Armando vividly remembered dropping his then-girlfriend / now-wife in the mud at the Renaissance Faire and confirmed that psilocybin mushrooms do indeed grow in manure, sometimes even in national seashore visitor center parking lots. Larry wistfully recalled riding the Davis-to-Berkeley library jitney (while Tom J. and Paul had to settle for wistfully recalling the jitney scene in the book). Paul waxed nostalgic about the Hate Guy and the Piano Guy in Sproul Plaza. John, just to be different, tenderly reminisced about his Mac Se and the Dark Castle computer game (described in the book as “a little warrior man with a pageboy haircut, throwing rocks at bats”).
John and Roy also took us back to chemistry and undergraduate – graduate student relations in the 80’s. (Insert your own details here.)
Dean read the book on a beach near the Navarro River, and just as he got to the scene with Kate and Dashka, who should walk up but a woman who introduced herself as “Pashka”? Thinking fast, Dean passed the book, strategically opened to said scene, to his wife. Subsequent developments were not conveyed to the group.
Which bring us, at last, to Stan, who used the book as a device to expound on the following themes, in ascending order of digressiveness:
  1. the Shakespeare “authorship” question,
  2. “history is bunk”, and we really don’t know anything about the past, and
  3. the 80’s and the years that have followed ought to be compared not to the Renaissance, but rather to Rome in its decline, and oh, by the way, we are now living during the Apocalypse.
In the words of the immortal Shaggy, “Zoinks!”. Having seen Marin Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar the prior weekend, Larry leapt to the defense of the written word: “The play’s [or in this case, the book] the thing.” Paul found the sections of the book that dealt with power, politics, and religion especially interesting, and appreciated the historical background, clearly believing it to be unbunklike. Plus he ranked the secret Catholic mass scene right up there with the hot library jitney episode.
Talking about where we’ve been and who we were eventually turned our thoughts to who we are now, and, in our own version of parallel storylines, the experiences our kids are and will be going through. Despite the book’s mostly non-serious tone, we ended the night with a pretty serious discussion about how kids experiment and find their way in the world, our place in their journey, and what we should or shouldn’t tell them.

“Good Company, Good Wine, Good Welcome, Can Make Good People”(Henry VIII, Act I, scene iv)
Or not.

For next month, a large majority of the group chose Judgment of Paris, the book on which the movie “Bottle Shock” was based. Even now, plans are being hatched to fetch the finest bottles from our respective wine cellars, bring in prestigious guest speakers, and generally engage in some pretty over-the-top wine behavior. Stay tuned.