I attended Ruth Reichl’s book launch party at the Facconable store on 5th Avenue last night. I knew it was in the opposite direction of where I needed to be, in the Bowery for the Grand Slam, but I went anyway. I wanted to hear what a fellow food-obsessed critic had to say. Besides, there had to be food and wine at this thing.
What she said had a lot to do with being erased. She hid behind elaborate costumes, trying to foil the best of the best restaurateurs, who had posted enormous photos of Ruth in their kitchens with the word REWARD beneath her head-shot. A make-up professional, wearing not a hint of make-up, erased her behind a thick layer of yellow foundation, starting with her eyebrows. Ruth became Chloe, Miriam, and Molly. Miriam is another name that’s fun to say. Say it with me: Miriam.
After Reichl read passages of her new book, Garlic and Sapphires, she opened herself to questions from the handsomely-dressed crowd. "Did you ever go as a man?" I asked, wondering how that might feel beyond just fooling the who’s who of restaurant staffs. She went as someone older, someone fatter, someone, dare I say, conservative. I ought to have asked, "how did it feel being treated so differently based on your age or your size?" I imagine if she had gone as a man, she’d say she received less attention than any woman, plump or polished. Men don’t get looked at the way women do.
I then asked her the same thing I asked Augusten Burroughs when I’d met him. "Is there anything you regret publishing?"
She regretted a review of Piccholine, condemning them for serving whole fish with "an unskilled waitstaff who couldn’t, well, they weren’t good boners." She revisited the restaurant and reviewed it again, "because it really is a good restaurant." (Burroughs, by the way, said he regretted publishing his rat in the bathtub story–where he tried to kill it with RAID.)
The Q and A session ended and formed a long twisted line through clothing racks for the book signing. Staff had handed out pens and post-its to guests. I offered a silvery woman in line behind me, who penciled in thick black brows, my pen. "What is that for dear?"
"So you can tell Ruth what you’d like written in your book."
"Oh no dear. Her name will do just fine. Anything more is just fake." She said fake the way I imagined she’d say Nazi. This, from a woman with collagen lips, years of upkeep, and a falsetto sing song voice. I imagined she sang Happy Birthday with a vibrato.
When it was my turn to hand Reichl my book I admitted, "I forgot to ask one last question. Has anyone ever given you a bad review?"
"Good God, yes!" She looked up from the post-it I’d written with my name. "And I’ll tell you what, it doesn’t get easier."
"Did you cry?" I put my hand over my heart and looked at her sympathetically. Honey, I know. I was sure my eyebrows were saying it.
"No, I didn’t cry, but it just doesn’t get easier. It always hurts."
"Yeah, rejection is a bitch, huh?"
"You sound like you know a lot about it." She looked at me, waiting.
"Yeah, I’m a writer too." And we looked at one another for a moment before I added, "Fat Camp. It’s coming out in a year or so, but more on the so side." At this point, she was signing Pencil Brow’s book. She stopped writing in it and asked, "Did you go to Camp Kingsmont?"
"Yeah, it’s one of the many."
"Yeah, we did an entire piece on that camp." I didn’t need to hear anymore. "But, you certainly don’t look like someone who…" It was enough. No one knows what it’s like unless they’ve grown up in it, even Ruthie. I had another appetizer or four before I set down my empty Sauvignon Blanc glass on a silvery tray. I’ve got places to go, namely the LES, to listen to Jewish women trash Paris Hilton with speak of her balding and pissing under A-list tables. Praise just isn’t what it used to be.