One of my favorite things to do on a cold, slow night, when the temps fall and the rest of the city opts to stay indoors, is find a dark pub. I go alone. I bring a book, and sit as far away from anyone as I can without drawing suspicion. I usually order a heavy beer or big glass of red wine and I read. It's one of the few times when I can read without distraction. I don't have my apartment to clean, or dinner to cook, or Facebook, or TV, or email, or the ever present pressure to draw... I just read.
Tonight I was well into a new favorite genre, the cookbook, or more accurately biographical cookbooks that are restaurant/chef specific. The kind that is more than a recipe list, but not entirely a nonfiction life story. Hardcover, pictures, recipes, and most intriguingly a hidden story of artistic success.
As is often the case in these types of establishments, where I'm often reading like the outcast not dancing at the family wedding, there is a few small congregations of well intentioned young service industry folk. Drinking fucking Fernet. Fresh from a boring Monday night shift, cut early, and trying to impress each other with stories of their unusually well manicured palettes for such young ages. They tend to be the only other patrons in these dark pubs I like to search for focus and solitude. Socializing is why they come, and what I'm there to avoid. They're riding the adrenaline of a shift that wasn't busy by any real standards, but almost certainly understaffed, and they need to talk about it. It's the post game press conference attention... I'm merely the asshole stuck under a TV with the cooks version of Sportscenter being stuffed into my ears as I read with my eyes. And tonight, tonight I fucked up. Tonight I'm reading a goddamn cookbook in my secret pub where I go to focus. Tonight I fucked up with my choice of genre. Tonight there will be no focus amidst the press conference of cooks as they notice my literature.
All it took was one sentence and I knew I was done focusing. "I love that restaurant.", presumably reading the cover of the obnoxiously large, inconspicuous, hardcover book I was reading at the bar. My own fault, admittedly. I closed it, slowly, deliberately. I looked up and asked the question he knew I had no choice but to ask, "Have you you ever eaten there?". This is where I'm confident I'm done reading the book for the night...
"No. Have you?"
Him, "You should try his Kimchi recipe."
Me, "I'm not really reading his recipes."
Him, "It's a cookbook dude."
Me, "kind of."
Him, "Where do you work?"
Me, "At home."
Him, "You're not a chef?"
Him, "Why are you reading a restaurant cookbook?"
Me, "I'm not, I'm reading a story, more of a biography."
I've never been too interested in fractions. In the math of a thing. I've always wanted to know why the math problem became a problem to begin with. This young man saw that I was reading a cookbook. I felt what I was reading was an explanation into a successful artists' successful business. It was never about how much flour in the breading, or what his secret to the succulent crispy skin was on the duck, it was about how he became the author of the book I was reading and paid for. How he made is his passion, desire, and inspiration, the admiration of so many? As I tried to explain this to the perplexed cook I was unnerved that we aren't viewing the path to success as the important ingredient that it is. He and I were talking about two different things. I was reading the story of an artist, an entrepreneur, a person's life. He was looking at a cookbook.
No one has ever read a book about Vincent Van Gogh with the hopes of learning how he mixed his oils. We read about Vincent with the hopes of learning what made him an artist.