In the morning, we head back to the big house and Tom makes everyone coffee. Lorraine has tennis on the little kitchen flatscreen because “her Serena” is playing. Molly and Skip point out that, unlike many
writers hipsters who are always finding ways to tell you how they don’t have a television, Tom’s got the TV right in the middle of the kitchen counter. For sports, of course. The McGuanes love football and soccer too (Tom used to play Lorraine tells me.) “Cristina Perachio,” Rick says to me across the room, “all this talk about football and bird dogs. I’m in heaven.”
We’re all exchanging books for Tom to sign and Lorraine has their copy of Rick’s book for him to sign. We sit in the kitchen with our books and our coffees, watermelon for breakfast, and it feels like class. Tom just sort of starts talking, dropping these little gems about writing like he’s known we’ve been waiting for them. Rick sits on the floor with the dogs and his notebook, politely scribbling.
With his pretty English pointer Judy at his side he says, “Even after all these years, the thing I love about writing is when you don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s so exciting!” And he really sounds in love when he says it, giddy. “I don’t know what I’m going to say next. When you set off on a course and then something just comes from outer space.” And we all nod, yep. That’s pretty much it.
Then it’s on to who is reading who. Molly notes that it seems Tom reads a lot of contemporary writers. He says he tries to keep up but there’s just so much out there. He prefers short stories over novels — he’s putting out a new collection himself. He’s happy to have his novel writing behind him though I’m curious if he’ll ever write another. He seems content not to and talks about how folks disappear into them for years and reemerge like aliens to the real world. “Write one damn good story and then go play with the dogs, fish, hunt,” he smiles in his front yard, surveying his land.
Tom has such an amazing attitude around his work and his life. Living being the point and enjoying yourself while you do it. And writing being quite the same. Not some torturous experience but an enjoyable journey. Maybe it’s all of our expectant faces as he talks but he goes into this story about being interviewed about writing. The young journalist asked, too seriously for Tom’s taste, “What are you hoping for when you die?” Tom pauses dramatically then leans up in his chair, slapping both knees, startling Judy, “A huge surprise!”
Then everyone’s brainstorming for Rick’s book. This seems to happen often and Rick has to explain that 1. the writers must be his mentors, people whose work influenced his and 2. he can’t simply invite himself over and many writers, worn out or just too shy, decline. How about Charles Portis? What about Annie Proulx? Who said, No and Why? Cracking jokes about showing up at the houses of infamous recluse writers with a bucket of chicken and a case of beer. Everyone wants to know how Rick, a shy guy himself, is handling the stereotypical shy writer during these kitchen takeover dinner parties. It’s a strange and intimate thing, of course, to come into someone’s home, into their kitchen and make such a mess. But it means more than sending a thank you note or, as is most often the case, celebrating a writer with a big party after they’re already dead.
Everyone has had their fair share of introverted artist moments but Tom takes the cake with an awkward dinner party story where he met Michael Jackson. Tom can’t recall the exact event where they met but he does an impression of Michael’s soft falsetto. He says there was a lull in the conversation when MJ finally spoke. Now Tom stoops his shoulders, hangs his head and raises his voice a few octaves. He can barely get through the impression without laugh-crying and it’s amazing. In a whisper he says, “Y’all…y’all wanna go to my house?” The other guests nodded, shrugged whatever. He continues in his MJ falsetto, “I got a llama.” And then Tom and everyone lose it. I want to ask if he really did go back to Michael’s house because how bizarre to imagine cowboy McGuane on Neverland Ranch but the image is too perfect to disturb with reality. It’s good to realize though that even someone as shy as Michael could find the courage to be hospitable to fellow artists.