I was sitting at the bar of an upscale new seafood restaurant, feeling kind of poor relative to the menu prices, when who should come along but Bob and Karen Weiss, looking brown as two berries. I got up to greet them. “Hey, you two. What’s doin’?”
“Hey, Alan,” Bob answered, giving me a hug. “Not much. Heading down to Aruba in the morning for a little R and R.”
“Heading down?” I said. “Looks like you just got back.”
“This?” said Karen, running a hand down her beautifully tanned arm. “Tanning booth. We don’t like to get off the plane looking like a couple of ghosts.”
“Tanning booth? Aren’t those things supposed to be bad for you?”
“Not if you’re careful,” said Bob. “How about you? You going anywhere this winter?”
“No, I don’t think so. My work’s been going pretty well. I’m kind of afraid to break the rhythm.”
“I hear you,” said Bob. “Well listen. We better run. Early flight.” Another hug. “Try the oysters: Incredible.”
And off went the Weisses, swaying already to the beat of steel drums.
The oysters. I scanned the appetizer list. Half a dozen Poppasquash Point oysters: $15.95. Who was that first guy who picked up an oyster and said to himself: “I think I’m going to smash this thing open and eat whatever’s inside?” Or the first one to dig a snail out of its shell and think: “It looks disgusting, but with a little garlic and butter...?” $8.95.
On to the entrées. Skate wing: $27.95. Skate. When I was a kid growing up in Rhode Island we used to bait our lobster traps with skate. It cost eight cents a pound, like all the other junk fish. Now they call it “Skate Wing”, and six ounces of it, prepared very simply with a little brown butter, stands you $27.95.
Hmm … Lobster: according to market. Did you know that when people would see lobster on the beach down in Newport in the eighteenth century, they’d just kick them back into the water? Last time I looked, at my Whole Foods chicks were running $9.99. Pound and a halves were three dollars more.
Funny how people tend to value things differently at different moments in time. Take the Weisses and their suntans. It has become a goal of the upwardly mobile, for whatever their reasons, to be tan all the year around. If someone wanted to make a ton of money, he’d come up with a rotisserie for humans that would baste you with oil while turning you gradually to promote even tanning.
Even tanning. Our nineteenth-century aristocratic cousins wouldn’t have been caught dead with a tan, even or otherwise. It was the mark of the peasant to have color on one’s skin.
Me, I avoid the sun as much as possible. I don’t tan, you see; but I do turn the color of a cooked lobster, which, according to my own research, would make me worth in the neighborhood of $2,500.
I never did order anything to eat at that restaurant. The plain truth is that I was sick and tired of feeling poor. So I came home; here to my study, where I’ve been picking half-heartedly at this omelet that I made with whatever I found in the fridge. You ever have a green olive, onion and parsley omelet? I wouldn’t recommend it.
I’ve been sitting here for quite some time now, trying to think of what might presently be the world’s most undervalued thing; something that, once embraced, will skyrocket in value.
And I’ve decided that it’s me. I don’t know why, but the world places very little monetary value on my work, no matter how much of my heart and soul I pour out into each piece that I write. When I finish this one, for instance, I will be paid by my editor enough money to go out and buy about two dozen garden slugs slathered with garlic butter. Not a pretty picture.
Well all of that is about to change. No more getting kicked back into the ocean. Henceforward, Alan Handwerger is going to be entitled to as many Poppasquash Point oysters as the next guy. It’s all about attitude.
I think I’ll start with my editor...
“Tom. Alan Handwerger here. How are you?… Good. Listen, Tom, you know those columns I’ve been writing for you that you’ve been paying me next to nothing for?… Uh-huh… Thanks. Yeah; I put a lot of thought into them. Anyway, from now on, I’m going to need a little more for them… Uh-huh… I was thinking more like $1,000… Tom … Tom … Hmm.” Must have got disconnected. But he did offer me $50.
Re-dial … “Tom, hi. We must have gotten disconnected… Oh, I see. So hard that you knocked the phone off your desk. Well let’s see how funny you think this is. I’m done writing for you. You can find yourself some other crustacean to kick around. Still laughing now, Tom?” And in fact Tom was still laughing when I hung up.
Right. Well it would appear that I am now $50 an article less well off than when I started. Ex my position as a columnist for the local paper, my work is now worth absolutely nothing. Fine. Good. I think you have to find bottom when your hope is to soar. And here I am – lowlier than junk fish.
So where to?
The Big Apple, I think.
(FIFTEEN MONTHS LATER)
(The setting: the dining room of an expensive restaurant on the Upper East Side. I am seated in a plush armchair with a beautiful woman – no, two beautiful women - on each arm. On the table in front of us is an array of shellfish. In an ice bucket to my left, a bottle of Crystal.
At the next table sit four handsome, sun-bronzed young guys, discussing amongst themselves in an animated fashion.)
GUY 1: Do you know who that is?
GUY 2: No, but I wouldn’t mind being him. Who is he?
GUY 3: He’s Alan Handwerger, you idiot. How could you not recognize Alan Handwerger?
GUY 2: Sorry… So who’s Alan Handwerger?
GUY 4: Who’s Alan Handwerger. He’s only the guy who invented the RotoTanner -- that’s who he is.
GUY 2: He invented the RotoTanner. He must be a genius.
GUY 1: They say he used to be a writer; but apparently he wasn’t any good at it. And then…
Value is in the eyes of the beholder.