Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Lunch with Nuruddin and Rabih

Lunch yesterday was round-the-world literary fare at a dim sum restaurant on 9th Street in Oakland. Rabih Alamedinne drove me from San Francisco to join Nuruddin Farah and Pheng Cheah. [Note to self: insist on driving next time]. As the only unpublished monoglot at the table, I had a unique perspective on the conversation that I'll share with you in English.

Just to set the table, Nuruddin was in town for a couple months to visit his family and to give some talks, including a commencement speech at U.C. Berkeley where Pheng teaches. Rabih is gracing San Francisco with his divine presence [clever image of tiara and soccer boots goes here] between international speaking engagements. Rabih and Nuruddin share a literary agent, which must be how they met.

Lots of banter about other authors, difficulty eating vegetarian in Chinese restaurants, air travel horrors these days, etc. Riff on sexual rituals and sacrifices in Papua New Guinea, etc.

A bit tipsy from the tea and steamed pork buns, I slip and mention that I'm writing my first novel. Pheng is polite enough to ask what it's about. I feel as if I just had an all night orgy with Roger Federer [maybe use player who doesn't date me so much here?], watched the sun come up, and heard Roger whisper over the pillow tops in that sweet voice of his, "would you like to volley?" All excited, I give Nuruddin, Rabih, and Pheng the short description — the so-called elevator pitch — I've been practicing for my new book. They continue eating and smiling as if they're waiting for me to hit the "L" button so they can get off the elevator. After this, I feel more like I got on the court with Roger and hit my best response to his slowest ball, only to hear him say, "Oh, I forgot I have that game with Rafael."

More banter about other authors, buying goat milk from goat that eats leather shoes, cholera quarantines, etc. Riff on best times, places, and modes of travel in Africa. [Note to self: find reliable travel companion because Naruddin says certain people may take advantage].

We get to that point where the dim sum carts stop less. When the table is covered with sweet rice and bean dishes, the staff knows they'd be wasting their time. There seems to be one subject that authors save for the end.

Nuruddin Farah: How's your writing?

Rabih Alameddine: I'm having so much trouble with my new story.

NF: How long have you been writing?

RA: Oh, ten days.

NF: Ten days! I've been working on my latest novel for two and a half years. What's it about?

RA: There's a woman, of course. I haven't got much further.

NF: Well, she needs a gun.

RA: Of course. She already has a AK-47.

NF: That's good. She needs a gun.

RA: She's sleeping with it.

NF: Then she gets out of bed to check on something, and goes to the other room. When she gets back, the gun is gone.

RA: And a man is standing next to her bed with the gun over his head. "Is this what you were looking for?" he asks.

: And she's a Thai maid or something. She's got an Arab boyfriend she goes to. She gives him good sex, then says, "You have to get my things back from that horrible man."

RA: (laughs)

I was hoping the man with the gun over his head would be naked. That would be really hot. I stay quiet like I'm watching some kind of tennis match and, after this part, I feel like Roger really meant what he said, and let me stick around to watch him play Rafael. No pillow talk, of course, about who is Roger, and who is Rafael. [Note to self: use Williams sisters, instead?] But now I'm wondering if I can pre-order Rabih's new book on Amazon like, say, three years in advance. Does it have to have a price and an ISBN first?

It was all so overwhelming. I paid my portion. Would my words ever tell a great story? Would they'd even make it from the whirring disk on my desk onto bound paper. It was very nice of Pheng to ask. At least with him at lunch, I wasn't the only one at the table whose name has never been associated with the name "Pulitzer" before. [Consider the word "yet" here].

No comments:

Post a Comment