It’s rough out there for artists and writers right now, I know. There are days when you just want to throw in the towel, say fuck it, fake your own death, give insurance fraud a go, and live out of a Winnebago somewhere in remote Ontario. That’s a good plan—that’s a really good plan—but remember, you’ve got options.
You might just need a little breather, is all. Before you go permanently AWOL, consider Reuben Kadish, the artist, who died twenty-four years ago today. After World War II, when he had a family to support and couldn’t find a cheap place to live in New York or even on Long Island, Kadish decided to check out for a while: he bought a disused dairy farm in Vernon, New Jersey. Despite knowing nothing about the operation, he ran it, apparently with great success, for ten years. When he moved to the place, he was a painter; when he reemerged as an artist, he was a sculptor, his hands having imbibed the ways of farm life. This could be you.
Outside each cell at Reading Prison, there’s a small metal frame screwed into the wall. The cell number sits in the bottom section, and the top has a card that keeps track of graffiti before and after prisoners are moved: NONE, SOME, or LOADS. The most popular form of vandalism is a wryROOM SERVICE often scrawled next to the cells’ emergency buttons for calling warders. In one cell, the dated corner of a tabloid newspaper clings to a piece of chewing gum: presumably the rest of the page involved nudity. Stickily, it fossilizes a moment—July 5, 2013—in the year the prison closed.
I assumed the humiliations had ended. They began even before my book was published, when network morning shows that regularly had me on now refused my pleas for some airtime to promote it. Once the book came out in 2012, it only got worse. I read at bookstores with audiences smaller than those you might find randomly browsing on any given day, and had an Amazon ranking higher than the number of books I thought existed in the world.
In his navy suit and thin-rimmed glasses, Mr. Freedman, a professor of medieval history at Yale University, doesn’t look the part of a provocateur, either. But for his new book, “Ten Restaurants That Changed America” (W. W. Norton & Company), he set out on a brash mission: culling through hundreds of thousands of restaurants, across a span of two centuries, to produce a list of what he believes were the 10 most influential.
The list is brief, but Mr. Freedman marshals deep research to map the changes each restaurant made to American culture.
This time as we set out, my father offered us a stake in the trip: “Two dollars, girls, for every kangaroo skull you find.” Why he needed those skulls is a little hazy; I believe he was comparing the tooth enamel of these modern kangaroos to that of fossilized herbivores to determine their diets and therefore the flora of that long-ago landscape.
He probably lectured us about radiocarbon dating and the elemental composition of enamel, about paleoclimates and C3/C4 plant material, but if so, I missed it, because I was already running calculations. The Australian two-dollar coin, with its profile of an Aboriginal elder, was thick and heavy, exactly like, I imagined, a doubloon. I pictured hundreds of them clinking dully against each other in my backpack. My obsession took root.
I am never more bummed out than when I see restaurants in airports. And I’m not talking “Chili’s Too” bummed out. I’m talking places called stuff like “La Tapenade” or “Wicker Park Seafood And Sushi.” What are you thinking, eating sushi at an airport? What are you thinking, eating a caprese salad at an airport? You’re about to fly for several hours in a dirty sky bus, but you need a crepe first?