Boris Fishman was in town a few months ago to promote his Soviet memoir with recipes called Savage Feast. He gave a talk at Columbia College at the invitation our mutual friend, Don De Grazia, who’s taught writing there for ions. I’ve gotten to know Fishman a little since reviewing his previous book a few years back. He’s one of the few literary types I know who’s savvy about the racket he’s in without being smug. Our shared lineage probably makes him familiar as well. Though our paths through immigration and into the book biz could hardly be more different.
I finished his book a few days ago and was very moved by it. His tormented devotion to his parents and, especially, his grandfather are palpable and made me a little envious. His methodical attention to the particulars of the culinary arts made me want to make a reservation at the café he daydreamed about opening with his grandfather’s Ukrainian caretaker, Oksana. Fishman has managed to somehow honor his Soviet past and become part his American present in ways I’ve never managed to. He straddles two distinct societies—as every immigrant does–but seems to assimilate huge chunks of each.
He called me an antisemite half-jokingly after I shared my sketches of his Columbia visit, but we’ve remained in touch since. I connected him with my pal Gil and they recorded a conversation for Gil’s podcast, which i’m anxious to hear in the coming weeks. I was surprised to learn recently that he’s as despairing of his literary prospects as I am. Despite having an agent, a major publisher, and a PR machine to push his books, Fishman is considering other ways of getting by. I flippantly suggested getting into the cooking business, but he wrote back that he’s seriously been thinking along the same lines. I wish I had some other skill I cared about like he does. I bet he’ll succeed whatever he sets his mind to. He’s a hustler (in the best sense of the word.)
My connection to restaurants is a lot more tangential than Fishman’s. I bartend at a bar that serves food but have no desire to get in the kitchen. I turned off my refrigerator at home a few months back because the noise of its groaning motor bothered me and it was a waste of electricity to keep it on just to have ice cubes available and for leftovers not to spoil.
One of my favorite nearby restaurants is the Duck Inn. I’ve started going pretty regularly of late, especially for Sunday brunch. I’d noticed their collection of duck-themed art and memorabilia and thought I’d add my take. I brought in my rendition of the world’s largest rubber duck last weekend and they instantly hung it in a place of honor by the bar.
Having my pictures in bars and restaurants I love makes me feel like I’m part of a community in a way I rarely feel. It’s the same place which cooking seems to hold for Fishman. A way to belong in the world.
—RIP Roky Erickson.
—Featherproof Books is publishing the first of a two-volume set of Luc Dardenne’s film diaries and screenplays. The Dardenne brothers are among the greatest filmmakers going, so I was flattered to contribute some portrait paintings for the cover. Sharing real estate with Martin Scorsese’s blurb has to be some sort of career highlight. Order yours here.
—One of my drawings was featured in an article about Marc Fischer’s Court Residency project, in which i took part.