“Let’s put it on the table,” says my best friend, Uzi. “Writing is a nice thing. A kind of hobby, even though it’s not healthy like mountain climbing or bike riding. But it definitely can’t hurt, either. You’ve been going at it for almost twenty years, and I respect your perseverance, but now that you have a kid to feed and a mortgage to pay, don’t you think it’s time to find yourself a job?”
Uzi and I are sitting in the hummus place near my house. I’m scooping up the hummus with pita, Uzi’s eating it with a fork. He’s on a diet now, and pita, along with chocolate, beer, and a million other things, are on his blacklist. That’s how it is when you weigh 265 pounds. When it comes time to pay for all those years gorging yourself on hamburgers and pizza, the price is high and painful. When he’s not eating the hummus, Uzi stabs it on the plate with the sharp prongs of his fork. Venting his diet rage on the poor plate.
“What you do,” Uzi begins again, “that business of tapping out words on your computer, then sending them to people and claiming they’re art, that’s—”
“Okay,” I interrupt. “Let’s say we’ve already done that bit when you insult me and say I’m a good-for-nothing who does unimportant things and pretends it’s a profession and get to the point.”
“Insulting?” Uzi says and stops stabbing the hummus in his plate as if he’s just finished confirming its death. “Calling me a bald tub of lard, for example, is insulting. But saying that up to now you’ve managed to make money from something that is the opposite of a profession, that’s the opposite of insulting. It’s a compliment.”
“Okay,” I say, “okay, you bald tub of lard, then thanks a whole lot for the compliment, and let’s get back to the point. Do you have some specific idea in your head, or are we just splashing around in this especially murky puddle of small talk for no reason?”
“I don’t believe you called me a tub of lard,” Uzi protests, “me, your best friend from kindergarten. You wounded me, that’s exactly what you just did, you wounded me. You wounded a person with a weight problem who, with tremendous courage and determination, is trying to dig a tunnel with a tiny fork through the thick wall of calories to escape to freedom from the pudgy cell he’s trapped in. You wounded me, and it’s no simple wound, it’s a fatal blow. If my diet fails now—and that’s a possibility I’m not discounting—all the responsibility, and I mean all of it, will rest on your skinny shoulders.”
“Come on, Uzi,” I say, “I know that hidden behind this whole pointless conversation is a shady business proposal, so for the sake of our beautiful, long friendship, will you stop bleeding for a minute and tell me what it’s all about?”
“A restaurant,” Uzi says, his eyes filling with light. “You and I open a restaurant together.”
“But you don’t know how to cook,” I say, “and neither do I.”
“What does that have to do with anything? My cousin Ziv has a Mazda dealership and he doesn’t even know how to drive.”
“I know Ziv,” I say, “and maybe he doesn’t drive, but he knows cars.”
“And you and I don’t know food, right? That’s what you’re trying to say?” Uzi says, getting huffy.
“Considering that before I got married I didn’t have a stove in my apartment and my kitchen utensils consisted entirely of a spoon, a can opener, and lots of Heinz beans, I think I have a case here.”
“Okay,” Uzi says, “you know what? Against my natural inclinations, I won’t even argue with you, and you know why? Because I know you’re right.”
“That never stopped you before.”
“True,” Uzi continues. “Except this time I don’t have to. Because my brain has attacked the subject of this restaurant the way a Japanese judoist attacks his opponent. And I built a concept that will turn our weakness into an advantage.”
“Of course,” Uzi says, then sips his Coke Zero and takes a deep breath. “Picture an army base mess hall. Long tables, uncomfortable plastic chairs, red and blue plastic plates that look faded from use, fluorescent lighting.”
“I’m picturing it,” I say after a short silence, when I realize that he’s waiting for my response.
“Great,” Uzi says. “So at this very moment you are picturing our restaurant. ‘Home Base: army food at civilian prices.’”
“But why would anyone want to eat in a restaurant like that? Everyone knows how awful army food is.”
“Maybe,” Uzi says, “but the memories connected to it, on the other hand, are wonderful. Think for a minute. What does army food conjure up: eighteen years old, hair on our heads, normal weight, girl soldiers willing to go out with us. Everything we don’t have now. People don’t go to a restaurant to eat food, they go to be reminded of a better time, a time when they were young. The Americans have the Hard Rock Cafe and we’ll have Home Base, complete with a sergeant walking around and yelling at anyone who isn’t shaved.”
I’m quiet for a second. When Uzi’s ideas are bad, I love to put them down, but when they’re as pathetic as this one, even the cruelest part of me only wants to kneel down and pet them or the bald head that owns them as if they were a sad little dog.
“Think about it,” Uzi says. “Semolina cereal and a hard-boiled egg for breakfast. Doesn’t that flood you with memories? You can’t imagine how much it turns me on.”
“Even so,” I say, “I think I’ll take a pass on this business opportunity.”
“But you have a kid to feed,” Uzi says. “You have to do something to support him.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll write a column, something for the Internet.”
“Okay,” Uzi says, “I personally think that this whole Internet thing is just a fad, but let’s say I go with you on the idea. What’ll you write about?”
“I don’t know,” I say with a shrug, and signal the waiter to bring the bill. “I’ll think of something.”