Sometimes, instead of eating alone, I pretend I'm having lunch with American literary legends. Today's pretend guest was Cormac McCarthy.
ME: Hey Cormac, nice to meet you, I'm so happy you came!
CORMAC: All men are one man and their meetings or lack of meetings come about unbidden though they may be.
ME: Did you have any trouble finding the place?
CORMAC: From the city of Boston I came north across the Tobin Bridge, passing there the channel, and following thereafter the course of Route 16 until it met Beach, and there I turned north and followed that road until it led to the place where I was to noon.
ME: Great, yeah, I usually just walk. So, I gotta ask, what're you in town for?
CORMAC: Covering a Celtics game for my NBA blog.
ME: Really? Wow, that's not the sorta thing I figured you'd be interested in.
CORMAC: The tale of a warrior tribe once begun makes certain claims on the teller, claims not easily acknowledged nor repaid, raising questions not easily answered if even such answers should be, and once begun the teller soon finds that he must follow it to completion though such completion may render his soul forfeit, a thing washed of all meaning, hanging limp in the window of a shambles for the grim examination of passersby.
(LONG PAUSE. I POINT AT A MAN WALKING IN THE DOOR)
ME: Look at this guy. Johnny T-shirt over here.
CORMAC: Through these doors walk a cavalcade of figures, tribades and viragos of all description, grim harridans their faces painted to hide some nameless deformity, madmen in buffoons' motley, camp followers to a crusade abandoned, forlorn potentates of vast empires of worthlessness, dressed in absurd regalia marked complete with symbols unreadable in forgotten cuneiforms.
(SOME HIPSTERS ENTER)
CORMAC: Now appears a column of tired wanderers, pilgrims to a vanished shrine, their shirts like a procession of tattered flags leading forth some doomed campaign against a foe unseen of strength unperceived which can only end in the shedding of blood.
ME: Cool. (LOOKING UP AT MENU, PRINTED ABOVE THE COUNTER) So what're you thinking of having?
CORMAC: Don't worry about what I'm thinking.
ME: Oh, uh -
CORMAC: When I've thought it I'll say it.
ME: Sorry, it's just, you know, an express-
CORMAC: Clam chowder.
ME: I . . I think I'm gonna have a roast beef.
GIRL AT THE COUNTER: Hey guys, how's it going?
CORMAC: No man can tell his own tale, and in attempts thereto soon finds himself foundered, retreating into silence lest further telling make of it a deeper lie.
ME: I'm okay, thanks. I think I'll have a roast beef.
WAITRESS: Want anything on it?
ME: Um . . little horseradish?
CORMAC: Clam strips.
(THE COUNTER GIRL ENTERS ALL THIS)
COUNTER GIRL: Cool, number 61.
ME: So . . . do you watch Mad Men?
ME: You should check it out, it's really good, it's this show about these advertising guys -
CORMAC: The people who lived here were called Pawtucket, and their trade such as it was lay in the gathering of shellfish and the making of baskets. In time there came enemies of greater strength, reducing their numbers and enslaving those who remained until their race was washed away like silt along a riverbed, and of them nothing remains save the dust of their bones crushed to powder and laid beneath the roads.
COUNTER GIRL: Sixty-one!
(WE TAKE OUR FOOD)
ME: How's . . . how's your clam strips
CORMAC: It is like the remains of some desiccated thing extracted from a tomb.
ME: Oh. This . . . this is pretty good.
(SILENCE. FINALLY CORMAC STANDS UP TO LEAVE.)
ME: Well, thanks for meeting me, anyway. I . . . I really enjoyed our lunch.
CORMAC: A dumbshow enacted for a God insensate.
ME: Where are you headed?
CORMAC: The Squire.
Denis Johnson (1949-2017)
4 hours ago