Free Dinners & Free Dinners

Too rich for my blood. I had a lovely free dinner last night with professors, all writers, and all excited about teaching. We decided to exchange syllabi later. The menu was prix fixe so you felt the obligation to order dessert. I did. We all did. I could have ordered more lightly, but there was much butter butter everywhere. My appetizer was two crab cakes with avocado chunks and skinny potato strings. Then I had acorn squash stuffed with risotto. Then sorbet. For some restaurants, butter is the new butter. When I went to bed I got up and threw up. I'm lucky that the chemo hasn't made me nauseated but it has mangled my digestive system. I was so afraid of nausea, because it's ever constant. So this is better than nausea. But I have to watch myself.

An example of reckless but self-conscious usage of butter: The soup of the day was cream of fennel. It was served with a tall pat of butter in the middle of a bare bowl. Then the soup was poured over it.

This defiantly lavish use of butter. I know it's defiant because we all know about animal fats and cholesterol and good fats and bad fats. Our fair city has banned foie gras and is thinking of banning trans fat, like New York (I think) has. This use of butter is a reaction to the self-satisfied substitution of olive oil. For a time there was olive oil to go with your bread everywhere. Now it's back to butter. Retro-smug. Retro-rebellious. This has something to do with the proliferation of cupcakes, and predictably, in New York, of cupcake wars. Every bakery now has cupcakes, even in our fair city. The truly retro never stopped making them. The self-consciously retro are selling them for $2+ apiece, with a wink at the past. Not your mama's cup cakes. They don't say that. But they're not. They're the wise but indulgent person's cup cakes. With real butter, not Crisco or lard (truly evil things). Natural. They're natural and pretty and we know they're bad for us but that's part of the charm. Everyone knows. This knowledge gives them a shimmery frisson of the illegal. Hey, psst, want some with pink icing?

My subsidized dinner was with Day School folks and a visiting writer, a friend of mine. I am with the Night School. The difference between Day and Night is the difference between... night and day. You saw that one coming. The Day School people have full-time contracts. The Night School people are all part time. As I told a prospective student yesterday who wanted to meet me during office hours, I don't have an office. I wrote this to him on email. He wrote back: That sure cuts down on office hours. I called him when he was in the gym and he went outside and we talked, I on my home land line. Though this isn't to say that the Day School people never teach at night. They do. Then they are Day people moonlighting.

The Day people can be tenured. The Night people are always hanging. Tenured, from the verb to hold. We are slippery, we Night people. We slither, frictionless, through the groves of academe. We can break bread with the Day people, we can partake of their largesse, and then we slink our way to another institution and then back, as if we know where we're going.