Bobbie and I are avid readers. Though we seldom read the same books, we enjoy discussing the plots and new ideas every book engenders. Well, most of the time.
We were on the patio a few nights after the rattlesnake episode discussing ‘Sarus’ a book we’d both read. It wasn’t really a discussion, and I was losing. Bobbie closed her copy, tucked her notes between the pages, and said, “You know, it would be fun to get together with OTHER readers and —-“
Which meant more folks who thought like her and less like me. We’ve been married a while. I am not stupid. I simply nodded. A casual, husbandry, nod.
“We could start a book club,” Bobbie tapped the cover of her copy of Sarus.
“That we could,” I nodded.
“I know lots of people who would join.”
“So do I.”
“We’d need a name.”
“Of course. We need a name.” I nodded.
“We could google bookclub names.”
“But wine first?” I suggested.
“But of course,” Barb smiled. “Googling is hard work.”
Our planet is rich in book clubs. For some inexplicable reason, Goggle search took us to the book clubs of Great Britain first. The two most popular being the Ladies Lit Club and Salon of London. The latter conjured up a bizarre mental picture. My mind is an art gallery of bizarre images. I pictured a ritzy beauty parlor near Buckingham Palace. Dozens of women under hair driers, heads bent backward sinks, arms extended for manicures, feet on little pedestals for pedicures while at the same time a cacophony of loud, animated conversations about Queen’s, well now King’s, latest book of the month.
The Salon of London Book Club was immediately trumped by the Shanghai Dolls Woman’s Book Club which was obviously sexist and ageist.
We had better luck on our part of the planet. The good old U.S. of A. is rampant in book clubs. But Bobbie and I had to abandon the patio. It was mosquitoes 7 humans 0. If it’s ever mosquitoes vs rattlesnakes I’ll take the snakes, at least they give you a warning.
On the couch, IPads at the ready, we had a second glass of wine and took notes of clever book club names.
Stuck Between the Covers - a little risqué
Book Worms and Wormies - too nerdy
Sisterhood - too exclusive
“We want our book club to be fun, intellectual, and interesting. Don’t we,” Bobbie said.
I sipped wine and pointed to a list of boozy book club names.
Rusty Books with Wine - sounded like a group older
Irish Drunkards and Poets -
“Ah, my kind of folks,” I said to Bobbie. She harrumphed me. Bobbie is a very accomplished harrumpher. I wanted to Goggle book clubs in Romania to see what her gene pool offered in the way of book clubs, but I accepted the harrumph with a nod.
“We need something unique.” Bobbie hit the search icon.
Close Encounters of the Bookish Kind - too Sci-fi-ish
Plot Twist and Nail Biters - too much of a mystery bent
Therefore I Am - best so far
Oliver Twist and Turns - better yet
THE BOOK WAS BETTER
“Honey, the Book is Better is perfect,” I said.
“Someone else already thought of it,” Bobbie said.
"No one would know.”
“I would… Besides I like Viewtam.”
“Viewtam,” Bobbie exclaimed pointing out our window to Mount Tamalpias.
‘Viewtam,’ by one affirmative vote, and one abstention, became the name of our new book club. I was certain no other book club on Earth was currently using ‘ Viewtam.’
“Now all we need is to devise an invitation to entice our fellow readers to join.“
Bobbie was up. Circling our couch. Thinking aloud. “What were we offering? Where would we meet? When would we meet? How were books chosen? And who chose the book?”
Bobbie opined. I typed on my IPad.
“How often do you think we should meet?”
“Okay, we’ll start with once a month and see how that goes.”
“Where are we meeting?” I asked. I was hoping for somewhere serving alcohol.
Bobbie stopped in her tracks. “Whew, that is a tricky one. We’re inviting a lot of nice people, but -- '
“Well, they’re nice, but I don’t want them to come here month after month year after year.”
“I wouldn’t put that in your invitation,” I suggested.
Our invitation.” I was reminded.
Bobbie had great aspirations for our book club.
“How about we take turns hosting; that’s fair.”
“Fair it is.” I nodded.
Bobbie stopped pacing and sat next to me on the couch. "That way the monthly host could choose the book.”
“How do you visualize a typical book night,” I asked. “You can’t have a hungry group descend like a swarm of starving locusts into someone’s house. If people eat at home or go out to eat then get together; go through the polite ‘ how are you’s and ‘what have you been doing’s’ it’s going to be midnight. The evening might be fun but the discussion would be shot.”
“Good point,” she said.
I almost spilled my wine. I don’t have a lot of points on my side of the marriage scoreboard. But since ‘point’ was singular not plural I just waited for Bobbie’s next revelation.
“We’ll go out for dinner. Chit chat. Then discuss the book over dessert at the host’s house.”
“Sounds good.” I started to close my IPAD.
“Wait. Wait, Honey, there’s more.”
And there was. Too much. Bobbie was on a roll. My fingers failed to keep pace as she read through Goggle book club rules and regulations. Including:
Should there be dues?
At the 'WHO PAYS FOR THE BOOK' section, I called a halt. “Who would you like to invite?”
“Who would you like to include?” Bobbie countered.
“You first.” I wanted to see who she was bringing to the table before I decided on my A-Team.
We made several lists of people we knew who were intelligent, articulate and avid readers.
Then we deleted names.
• lack of humor
• to chatty
• to quiet
• past their bedtime
• would have to invite spouse / significant other
• always late / always a dramatic entrance
• drama queen or king
Bobbie ran her finger down the list and looked at me. I knew where this was going.
“Honey, suppose one of our good friends made a list about us? That would be so. . . well
so. . .
In the end, we decided to put our book club idea on hold, and instead poured a third glass of wine and sat down with a new book.
Months later Bobbie and I were invited to join a book club. It didn’t have a clever name. It was called Book Club. Bobbie joined. I declined and decided to write my own book. With a little bit of luck, maybe it would make book-of- the-month at Bobbie's new book club with no name.
ONE YEAR LATER
Bobbie’s book club went out for dinner. I’m not in her book. I was still writing my book. Bobbie was hosting this months after dinner, dessert and discussion, and I was invited to attend. There were eleven people in her group. We were seated at a rectangular table. A table design I hold responsible for all the problems that followed.
I have it on good authority that in 14th century China, in a restaurant outside Beijing, on a cliff overlooking the Yellow River, 朱 Zhu Rongji, a brilliant restaurateur, had an epiphany. He knew Chinese liked large families. Large families who liked to eat together. Large families who liked to laugh, talk, catch-up and reminisce. Which often led to arguments. And sometimes reconciliations, or lasting feuds. Think of Thanksgiving dinners at your place.
More important, Zhu Rongji is also credited with the introduction of the large, round, restaurant dinner table. Probably the greatest addition to Chinese Cuisine since chop sticks. No matter where you sat you could speak with anyone, everyone face to face. No shouting. You never had to miss a good joke, a bit of gossip or a rude comment. The addition of the round table made everyone’s dining experience more enjoyable. Zhu was to Chinese restaurants what Einstein was to quantum physics. A genius!
Zhu is also credited for creating his own, home-brewed 白干 baijiu which in turn was credited with multiple unwanted pregnancies, gambling debts and the elevation of a lowly concubine to Empress Dowager Cixi, a woman many historians say was a strong leader with gangster-like cunning.
American restaurants have not adopted the round table for large groups. American and most European restaurants have elected not to add to the dining experience of large groups. Therefore, members of large dinner parties are forced to raise their voices, shout, miss good jokes, gossip and rude remarks.
Bobbie and the members of her book club were in high volume. Shouting, laughing. One end of our table was loudly asking the other end of the table to repeat a recent encounter with the local police when a waiter tapped me on the shoulder. He was a new waiter. Not the one who took our order. Nor the one who was going to get a big tip.
Of the twelve at our table, I was the oldest and except for two women, the shortest. Two of the men were well over six feet. Just past their sexual prime. One of them could hold his own in ring against any member of the World Wrestling Association. But, the waiter tapped me.
I was ‘Sir.’
“We are having complaints,” he whispered.
Why me? Why was I shoulder tapped? Did I look meek? Compliant?
“COMPLAINTS?” I asked loudly. At our table all conversation dropped a notch. ‘COMPLAINTS ABOUT WHAT?”
A man of discretion, the waiter leaned in close and whispered in my ear. “We’ve several complaints about the noise from your table.”
“SEVERAL COMPLAINTS? COMPLAINTS ABOUT NOISE FROM OUT TABLE?” I asked.
Everyone at our rectangular table where it was hard to converse without raising your voice -- went silent.
At most nearby tables, conversation dropped two notches.
The waiter who was not our real waiter, a smart move in itself, why would our waiter want to alienate twelve ‘tipping” customers? The smart waiter would send in a substitute, a pitch-hitter, a pitch-waiter in this case, someone else to deliver bad news and complaints.
The waiter who was not our waiter started to say, “If you folks—"
Across the table, the Pillars of Hercules rose. Clay on the plus side of six feet six and John, one inch shorter but with more body mass stood on his left.
The waiter who wasn’t ours took a step back.
John’s voice is basso. A bit lower than Barry White or Bill Medley when they go low. “WHO COMPLAINED ABOUT OUR NOISE?” John asked in a badass, evil sounding baritone.
He who was not our waiter recoiled. Everyone knows a waiter is not supposed to rat out the complainers at any cost.
WAITERS LAW #3 a
‘Absolutely never point out the complaining customers to customers who are being complained about.’
The first law, of course, is never point out that the tip has already been included in the price of the meal.
But our waiter who wasn’t, crumbled, folded. In prison he would have been branded a fink. In a war, caught by the enemy he would have talked. To the eleven members of the book club, Book Club, he simply pointed to a nearby table, back - peddled and disappeared into the kitchen.
Of the twelve of us only four had to turn to face ‘The Complainers.’ Bobbie and I were the closest. We hadn’t heard a sound from the table of five to our right.
And no wonder.
Three of the five ‘Complainers’ were women who held cell phones in their talons and were staring at their screens.
While the two men had python like grips on their phones, their faces had a stunned, startled look. One of them, for sure, was the head ‘Complainer.’ But both men had seen Clay and
John erupt from their seats like a professional tag-team. Both men had seen the outstretched finger of our non-waiter point in their direction. When the last member of the ‘Book Club Eleven’ turned in their direction; both men buried their heads in their cell phones.
John took one giant step toward the table of complaint. “DO ANY OF YOU PEOPLE AT YOUR TABLE HAVE ANY COMPLAINTS ABOUT ANYTHING AT OUR TABLE?” John bellowed.
Five heads never lifted from their cell phone screens. But, head after head twisted left then right in a visual NO that went around their table like the tiny second hand at the bottom of a Rolex watch.
An hour later the Book Club left the Il Fornaio restaurant for dessert at our house and a heated book discussion.
The maitre’d stood behind a dais near the front door as we left. He hoped we found everything satisfactory. I thought about that comment later. If I was satisfied with satisfactory I could have stayed home.
I was the last in our procession out the door. I palmed the maitre’d a piece of paper. I think he thought it was a little cash bonus. Because at first he smiled, then gave me an odd 'what-the-hell-is-this?' look.
I patted his shoulder. “Two suggestions. You are open to suggestions, aren’t you?”
He almost came to attention. “Of course. Of course.”
I walked toward the door. Out of the corner of my eye I watched the maitre’d open the slip of paper where I had written: