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I chose the topic this week, and I asked the ladies to write about two people with whom you would love to sit down and have a meal. One must be living, and one must not. To make it easier, do not write about any family members.
This topic came to me this summer while reading a book. Indeed, one of my chosen meal mates is an author (though he is better known for his other, non-literary work), and one of my runners-up was also an author. The “winners” are both entertainers. I’m sure this says something about me, but I’m not sure what, exactly.
I had a tough time narrowing the list down to one living and one deceased person, because there are so many interesting people with whom I would love to have a conversation; people I know I am not likely to cross paths with at any time. When I sat down to write this, I had two specific names in my head, but as I began typing, I changed my mind. Twice. (I’ll mention a few of the runners’ up as I go along, ‘cuz a girl can dream.) So, here we go:
First, I’ll just get this out of the way and tell you who the person isn’t. I’m sure some of you are thinking, Oh, she will for sure choose Jon Bon Jovi! Alas, no. There are several reasons for this. One is the fact there is no way I could ever possible consume a meal in the presence of Jon Bon Jovi, what will all the crying and passing out and general pawing and likely security intervention. Then, too, as much as I’ve dreamed of meeting Jon, part of me enjoys the mystique inherent in our current relationship; the rock-star/adoring fan dynamic I’ve enjoyed for more than three decades, where I worship him from afar and he has no idea I exist. Who am I to mess with the fragile balance of the Universe?
No, the living person I would love to sit down with is . . . Penn Jillette. Most of you know him as the tall, talking member of Penn & Teller, and this is exactly who I first knew him to be, too. But many years ago, I came across Penn’s radio show, broadcast from Nevada onto my radio in Chicago. He worked with a Chicago artist named Tony Fitzpatrick, and their show played on The Loop, as I recall (it’s been more than 20 years, so I might have this wrong). I’d always thought of Penn as a magician, an illusionist, but through those radio shows, I discovered him to be an extremely well-read, razor sharp, foul-mouthed, hilarious commentator. I just love him.
Penn won me over with a single sentence. I don’t remember the context – maybe someone had called in to disagree with him – but Penn said (I’m paraphrasing): “My favorite arguments are the ones I lose, because that means I learned something.” Those words stuck with me as I moved on with my life, particularly when, soon after, I enrolled in law school, the training ground for skilled arguers. When I feel myself getting caught up in winning versus losing, I remind myself that, as Penn said, success doesn’t always mean crushing one’s opponent. I remind myself of the bigger picture and the “win” attached to the loss.
I don’t know when Penn wrote his first book (he’s written several), but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I stumbled across his written works. I’ve read three: God, No!; Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!: and his most recent, Presto! I loved them all. Each book made me laugh, made me cringe, and – most importantly – made me think.
And it is for this reason I would love to sit down and have a meal with Penn Jillette.
Over the years of my life, I’ve met and spent time with a few “celebrities,” including two comedians. Both were whip smart and incredibly funny. But neither was particularly interesting. I absolutely doubt Penn would similarly suffer. I can easily think of a dozen topics I would love to discuss with Penn, ranging from religion to politics to raising kids to healthy eating to music. (Interestingly, the one subject I would not want to discuss is illusion. I love the Penn & Teller show – so I wouldn’t ask and he wouldn’t tell.)
Funny enough, I have met Penn, once. My husband and I saw the Penn & Teller show when it came through Indiana, and we stayed after to meet both men. We stood for the better part of an hour in a crushing crowd, waiting for our turn to say hello and to take a photo. I clutched my copy of Every Day is an Atheist Holiday! for Penn to sign and the entire time, I wondered wondered wondered what I would say to this man. Should I remind him of my favorite quote about arguments? Or mention that I used to listen to him and Tony Fitzpatrick on my little radio all those years ago? Dare I try to have anything resembling a conversation, given the hordes of people pressing against me? I wasn’t sure. But I was intimidated – I believed I couldn’t hold his attention for more than the 30 seconds it would take to sign my book and snap a photo. And, so, when my turn came, Penn waved his pen across my page (it looks like he tested his marker) and I mentioned Tony Fitzpatrick. He smiled and said, “I spent the day with him. He’s a very dear friend.” And then my husband snapped a photo and we moved over to the Teller line, my shot at witty repartee gone, at least in that moment.
I don’t know that I would fare much better if given a longer period of time to talk to Penn, and I would probably stress myself out trying to think of interesting and smart things to say (I will say this: I would not worry that I would have the filthiest mouth at the table). But I sure would like to try.
Runners’ Up: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter; Former U.S. President Bill Clinton; British actor Tom Baker; actor/comedian Mike Myers; actor/comedian/author/playwright Steve Martin.
Not Living Person
I sat down with one person in mind – F. Scott Fitzgerald – and ended up somewhere else completely. There are similarities between the men I juggled in my mind: both were wordsmiths, both drank a lot, both are often regarded as the best in their respective fields. But the similarities might stop there. Because, in the end, I did not choose Fitzgerald; I chose Freddie Mercury.
I hope I don’t have to tell anyone that Freddie Mercury was the flamboyant, incredibly talented lead singer of the group Queen, one of my all-time favorite bands. I grew up liking Queen, but it is now, in my old age, that I have truly learned to love Queen – and Freddie. I wish I’d fully appreciated the band when I was younger, but I suppose it took the wisdom that comes with age to see what I missed. I will say, in my defense, I was quite young when Queen stopped touring in the U.S., much too young to see them live. I liked what songs I heard on the radio, all the classics – and Queen recorded many. But I knew little about the band members themselves, other than suspecting that Freddie was gay (a fact confirmed the day before he died of complications from AIDS almost 25 years ago). Thanks to my love of ‘80s hair bands, I didn’t pay much attention beyond that.
What triggered my recent interest in Queen, I cannot say (the ubiquitous PetSmart commercial?) One day, for whatever reason, I googled Freddie, and I found his bio info fascinating, and so I ordered a few books and I quickly read them all. I watched documentaries – Behind the Music and several BBC productions, to name a few. I learned so much, and all of it made me wish I could actually meet Freddie – or, at the very least, see him perform live.
From what I’ve read, the “on-stage” Freddie was quite different from the “real-life” Freddie. The former was lively, cocky, larger-than-life. But real Freddie was more reserved; almost shy. He hated doing interviews (which is readily apparent in said interviews). He could party like F. Scott, but he also spent a great deal of time quietly decorating his traditional English home and dining with friends. He even wrote a song for his favorite cat: Delilah. He was also hilarious.
Freddie is said to have been extremely witty, like Penn, which means I would sit down to a meal just as anxious. But it would be worth it just to hear him call me “Dah-ling” (the term he used to address everyone) in that lilting British accent. I don’t know that I would have an agenda, necessarily; I would just want to listen. Hell, I wouldn’t even ask him the meaning of the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody – he’d just roll his eyes, anyway, and tell me to figure it out for myself. Fair enough.
Runners’ up: F. Scott Fitzgerald; Ernest Hemingway; singer Davy Jones; Johnny Carson; Prince; actor/comedian Phil Hartman.