The Athenaeum
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The Athenaeum

The Editor Calls Me to Lunch 2017

he office is almost in full operation. Today I was busy entering free verse into the “publishing calendar” for the upcoming season… things like “a post about salt” and “Interview with a mole, the skin kind, not the rodent”… when the sound of a car’s honking drifted through an open window that previously had only admitted the scent of lilacs.

“What the fuck is that honking?” I asked Pee Wee, who was busy tearing last year’s Keurig machine out of the wall.

“I don’t know. It’s probably Sam Hughes come to pick you up for lunch,” He said.

“Why would you think that?” I asked.

“Because he said he would be here at one when he called yesterday, and it is exactly one right now.”

This is Pee Wee’s way of telling me that he answered the phone and forgot to take a message. Pee Wee is my flunky, and, as I have told him thousands of times before, flunkies don’t answer the phone… interns answer the phone. We don’t have an intern yet because I said, “I like your ass pants” to the first kid who applied from the Mushamaguntic Normal School’s “Digitial Media” program. Apparently, social media allows that kind of comment to be widely distributed even without the consent of the author. I should have known that when she asked me to repeat it and then held up her phone to record me it was a bad idea to “double down” on the statement, but I have to admit that when Teio, the woman in charge of buildings and grounds, showed me the Instagram video of me saying “I like your ass pants” with a pig’s nose superimposed on my face, it was kind of funny.

Without an intern, the phone, which is an old rotary landline that sits on my desk, is supposed to just go unanswered unless I’m in the office, but Pee Wee hates the ringing. He says that anyone who can’t send a text shouldn’t be listened to, so he picks up the phone and says, “yeah, yeah, yeah,” and then hangs up.

I don’t want to turn this into a four post bore-a-thon like last year, so I won’t bother to tell you what I said to Pee Wee about the Keurig machine in the moments between screaming “HUGHES!” and putting my hat on as I walked out the door to the car.

He was waiting in the passengers seat of a old Volvo station wagon. I saw him reach over and punch the horn while I was coming out. He did it without violence or emotion. I think he would have sat there all afternoon honking that horn and smoking if I hadn’t come out.

When he heard the door to the office slam, he turned his head and shouted “Gutbloom! Get in” though the open driver’s side window.

“You want me to drive?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said, “That way I can smoke and text and drink more at lunch.”

“How will you get home after we come back?” I asked.

“You drop me off at the boat, drive back here, and then have one of the painters drive the car back to old man Guhundson.”

It’s amazing how annoying things that make sense can be. I got in the car and started the engine.

“How much is old man Guhundson charging you to rent his car?” I asked.

“Who cares?” He said, “It’s on the expense account.”

I’ve described Hughes before. He is a giant of a man. Large pumpkin head, big hands, ample girth, and white, white skin. Today he was in leisurely attire, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him in before. Usually we meet in more formal circumstances. He was wearing a white, short-sleeved barong and a large pair of Nantucket red shorts. He had on black dress socks pulled up almost to his knees and was wearing his ever-present hard shoes. I think they must be orthopedics. He was smoking, but he had the courtesy to hold the cigarette outside the open window.

“Where to?” I asked.

“Let’s go to the Clam Shack and eat the tide,” he said.

Usually Hughes takes me to a very good lunch, and you might think I would be bummed to go to a take-out place like the Clam Shack, but the shack is incredibly expensive. They even charge you for the tartar sauce!

Again, I won’t bore you with the details. Hughes won’t talk business unless it is over a meal, so there was no point in trying to suss out the purpose of the meeting while in the car. I had to content myself with listening to him talk about the book The Boys in the Boat and his own recollections of rowing at St. Marks and Harvard.

When we were standing on line to order at the Clam Shack we were only halfway through the Quinsigamond regatta of his sixth form year of high school, and by the time I returned with four extra containers of tartar sauce for my cod cheeks he was had just started talking about the race at Henley that same year.

The good news is that any meal with Hughes is expansive. When I couldn’t decide between New England and Manhattan clam chowder, he asked, “Why not both?” so we both had a bowl of New England clam chowder and then he poured half of a Manhattan clam chowder into my paper cup when I was finished.

Hughes makes a great mess when he eats. When pouring from a flask into his ginger ale, he had trouble getting the plastic top off the cup and spilled all over. He mopped up the liquid with a set of napkins and then left them in a heap at the center of the table. While he was eating a bag of steamers, he sprayed all over the table, scattering dots of clam juice and butter at his place and on his barong. Then he sloppily ate a lobster roll while explaining seat races and his prowess on the ergometer. His rowing stories began to wind down while he was halfway through a fried fisherman’s plate. Given the break in the conversation, I ventured to ask him what this visit was all about.

The Purpose of the Meeting

ou seem to be in a happy mood,” I said, “Can I infer from your good cheer that you have positive news to share?”

He laughed a big hearty laugh, “Crude!” he said in a big voice. “Crude as always, Gutbloom.” He laughed again, “Yes, I have good news.”

He leaned over his food and looked through the tops of his glasses at me.

“Remember when you rolled over for the Russians after they bought LiveJournal?”

“Yes,” I said, “I had almost forgotten that.”

“Well,” he said, “They haven’t forgotten you, and the Russians right now are everything. Did you know that? That Russians are hot right now?”

“I had no idea,” I said.

“Neither did I,” said Hughes, “But they are, and they have tons of money. Take a look at what was docked next to me in Newport last fall.” He took out his phone and pointed it at me.

“That’s the ‘sailing yacht’ of Andrey Melnichenko. That monstrosity cost almost half a billion dollars!” He laughed another open-mouthed laugh as he put his phone away. “It is any wonder that people with so much money and so little taste would be enamored by you and Donald Trump?”

“They are?” I asked.

“Yes, some group of Oligarchs using a Panamanian shell corporation inked a deal with the Gray Sisters to underwrite your entire season.”

“Why would they do that?” I asked.

“I don’t know, it beats the fuck out of me.” He said, “They said that they love your pointless, factless dreck and called you ‘Mr. Maskirovka’. I guess they just want you to keep doing what you are doing and maybe put in a few plugs for the trans-Siberian railroad or something. Are you game?”

Da,” I said, “I like working with Gopniks. I still have my old Adidas suit and my cossack boots.”

“Excellent,” said Hughes, “I knew you would be game.”

“Does this mean I have a budget for the summer?” I asked.

“Of course!” He said, pouring out the rest of his flask on top of the ice in his soda cup. “We have a healthy budget.”

“What do you mean, ‘we’?” I asked.

“The Gray sisters have moved me into your budgetary ‘unit’,” he said, “I’ve already told your bean counters.”

Having Sam Hughes in your financial unit is like sharing a room full of wood shavings with a pyromaniac.

“Do you want to get ice cream?” He asked.

“Is it coming out of the budget?”

“This is a business meeting, isn’t it?” He said.

I put my head on the table. The tide was suddenly coming in. Many things were starting to make sense.

“Pee Wee was pulling out the Keurig machine not because it was broken but because….”

“He’s installing an electric samovar.” He said.

And the work those guys are doing on the Oakum Shed?

“They’re building a squash court.”

“Russians play squash?” I asked.

“I guess,” said Hughes. “I do.”

“I knew that,” I said. “Gde tualet?”

“Right behind you, Gutbloom.”

With that, he got up to stand on the line for ice cream.



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Tribune of Medium. Mayor Emeritus of LiveJournal. Third Pharaoh of the Elusive Order of St. John the Dwarf. I am to Medium what bratwurst is to food.