So we weren’t in France but we could’ve been. Chez Maman is a perfect little 12 seat counter with two deuces in the front window. The setting reeks fabulously of a tiny little bistro somewhere in the vicinity of Aix, save the pervasiveness of the English language and a pair of Spanish-speaking cooks who have been very well trained in the art and science of cooking practically anything with an egg perched on top of it.
The two deuces up front are perfect for a bout of casual elitism, a condition to which Sherman strives and, as you will notice the first time you ever sit down at table with him, achieves with vociferous ease.
“What do you think?” he said of the two open deuces. He immediately thrust himself towards the one further away from the door and sat down with his back to the window, thus casting his vote. I sat down in agreement across from him, my eyes taking in the view of sleepy Potrero sidewalks during the pleasant descendant hours of a work week.
The waiter approached and greeted us. He’s a convivial man, always in a bit of a French hurry, though (no doubt because has to run the place by himself during the in-between hours). His inquiry: “Something to drink?”
My response was swift: “A bottle of côtes du provence.” Arvin and I shared a bottle of it on one utterly lazy and delicious rainy afternoon at the counter a few weeks prior and its casual floridity was a blessed indictment of the high art of doing very little.
The wine arrived and my toast with Sherman was swift and efficient: “Happy Friday.”
Sherman took a swig and nodded approvingly. “We can only have one bottle today,” he said. “Unfortunately I have to go back to work after this.”
“Likewise,” I replied.
There followed the standard bit of weekly summarizing and bitchery. Far be it for either of us to bite the hands that feed us, especially in an economy as sour as this, but it can be helpful sometimes, necessary even to kvetch.
About a third of the way through the côtes we came to the conclusion that we live our lives in micro-bits, he and I and those of us who bill by the hour. We track our work in fifteen minute increments. Some designers I work with use what is essentially a stopwatch, tracking to the 8/100ths of an hour. If you track your work you realize how much time it actually takes to get something morbidly mundane accomplished these days and that your every 15 minutes are indeed worthy of being counted, even if they lead you nowhere close to fame. You also realize that with all the freebies you throw in – the myriad hours of incidentals scattered across multiple projects, difficult to track for their instantaneous and fleeting qualities – we give up a chunk of our lives doing some truly unmemorable bullshit.
Moreover – and this is not just for boozy luncheoners who bill by the hour, this is the trend in society in general – phone calls with friends have been replaced by 6-second Facebook updates or tiny Twitter bits scattered throughout the day or week. Email is an antiquated business-only device which everyone receives too much of these days to effectively deal with. Phone calls are answered in Costco, on the freeway, in between other phone calls…We end up piecing together the lives of those we care about via digital streams and data bits zinging along invisible wavelengths at 64 megabits per second.
All the more reason to sit down with a friend for a long boozy luncheon.
“Even news,” I complained, “is a series of streaming titillations whose understory often delivers less than promised and usually takes the form of the same rote details served up by every other news media.”
“Don’t start on the news media,” Sherman warned. He’s a media consultant and he counts among his clients various noteworthy news organizations. He isn’t a visionary, by the way; he’s an adapter: he adapts to changes and guides others through similar confrontation. “If you start harping on the media I’m going to have to ask you when your book is going to be available on Amazon.”
“Touché.” (I myself have had to adapt as well. Just as I began to write well the rug of publishing tradition was yanked out from under my feet and tossed over the rail. I’m struggling with a rapid adaptation to new ways of marketing my work, new ways of stealing some exposure. Sherman calls it a “just penance” for having spent so much of my life devoted to my consulting work – what I refer to as “paying the rent.” Had I been willing to cede my earthly desires to the loftier throne of the written word I might have years earlier found my voice – and likely a cabin in the woods, and a myriad of internal voices to have lively conversations with, a love of collecting animals and a set of ragged, dog-eared and eccentrically annotated James Joyce editions that I recited aloud in the trees and masturbated to at night.)
“Then again–” he intoned, his fingers turning jittery as a heaping steaming bowl of moules marinieres was set down before him…
Titles have value. Names of things have meaning. Nowhere is this truer than in the restaurant industry, where a single name can evoke an eternal memory.
Chez Maman and its food and its easy, familial setting evoke – for me – the notion of comfort. I grew up in a woodsy, green suburb. Sherman grew up on a farm. For both of us there’s a comfort associated with the recall of home. For him it was an actuality – his childhood home was bliss; mine was more complicated but I nevertheless forged a sliver of memory that I cling to as my own private bliss. Neither of us is French.
Nevertheless…Mom’s place. The tangents on this title could be endless. It’s simply good cooking in a seemingly impromptu setting that evokes all those intangible, indescribable, wonderful associations one has with food. Home. Mother. Spring turning into summer. Associations of recall. Associations of new discovery.
It is Friday. It has been a long week. Sherman and I both have work to return to before we can declare the week ended. (Is it equally as harmful to carve one’s life into 15 minute bits as it is to carve it into 5-day weeks, at the end of which is an urgent need to purge and rest? Just wondering…) Sated for the moment, we suppress our longing for that leisurely nothingness of childhood, of mother’s cooking in the kitchen, the scent of fruit blossoms and hyacinth and the flickering noises of summer ascendant…
There is work to be done. Rent to be earned. Bits of life to be surrendered.
All photos are from the Chez Maman website: http://www.chezmamansf.com