Center of the Universe (20)
Sonia made lasagna. And all night people holding plates kept touching my ulna (or was it my radius?), people who’d never been to Sorellas and didn’t know from the chef sister, saying: Oh, man, that lasagna is delicious.
And certainly crowd-pleasing flavor was some of what we were after.
Sonia and her front-of-house sister Soy didn’t come because they can’t leave the restaurant. They could, but they’d be nervous, even after 13 or 14 strong years, and that’s undoubtedly why the restaurant is so good. They teased, as always, until the last minute — well, Sonia did, unable ever to say never. Offering up, instead, her non-demurral demurral, complete with tiny-ray-of-hope question mark: That sounds nice; that sounds cool; maybe?
But she didn’t and couldn’t. And through lasagna, did anyway.
Wendy came with the Company She Keeps — John on drums, Steve on standup, and Dave on that whole thing he does, which transcends the pocket trumpet he honks heroically and his swinging singing. In part, the thing in the city was built around Dave. But it’s a long way when you’re packing 86 years and been smoking 76 of them. I said as much to his wife Joan. Wendy later said it to me. So we decided to send a limo. Picked up Sonia’s lasagna on the way. Got Gary and Val to ride along to make sure there were no spills, of pasta or peeps.
Dave dug the whip, Joan reported.
Maria and Reverend Kang were supposed to come. That’s why we got a prom limo, for six to eight — the Kangs, Dave, Joan, Gary, Val, Sonia and one to grow on. But the day before, Soy texted that Daddy, the other 86-year-old, was sick. I told her to keep him home. It would have been a long way for Daddy. For Mommy, too. Fairfax to SF. Twenty-three miles, by my count, when I used to be able to pedal it.
I was disappointed — I’d made a point of putting Kang in the things I planned to say. But there are limits, I know. Once it mystified me that my Daddy, who loved being out and about as much as I do, could in his final years go to bed so early, so often. Lately, things have come clearer.
The night couldn’t have been clearer. It was October, San Francisco’s artisanal slice of summer. (Actually, it’s still October, only a couple weeks — and six-thousand miles — since.) And even for an unseasonable season, it was unseasonably warm, with darkness descending at seven amid a no less unseasonable sprinkling of celestial light.
“Astronomy,” as Blue Öyster Cult intoned. “A star.”
Albert came to the thing and, with those words and some raggedy plucking on my old Yamaha six-string, brought down the house — the raggedyness as much the ka-pow as the tune itself. Or the poignant history: Albert, who used to be in the Blue Öyster Cult, wrote “Astronomy” with Sandy, who used to be the band’s svengali.
I should say Albert brought the house down further. Or again. Because the house went down, for the first time, after Patti and Lenny covered “Eight Miles High,” in their Patti-and-Lenny way. Funereal, breathless. So it was about heaven, not drugs or airplanes. And you didn’t think the house had any place left to go after that.
When earlier I’d been putting together a mixtape for between Wendy and Patti and folks like Albert who wanted to sing or speak, I put “Eight Miles High” — the original — at the top. And that evening, in the opening minutes of the thing, Sandy’s college protegé Howie — ordinarily, a more phlegmatic sort — found himself thunderstruck. And urgently sought my ulna.
That was such an important song to Sandy, he said.
Which was more gratifying than it might otherwise have been, because it’s about as sentimental as Howie gets. But “Eight Miles High” was — so to speak — in the air, and everyone was feeling it.
I should clarify that Sandy didn’t take drugs. Not at all. Never. Didn’t drink either, except for the rare quaff of Nero when he was staying at our place and not driving. Though the only definitive example I can recall is 2011 New Year’s Eve. That’s when Sandy, Roni and I were jammed into the front room at Sorellas, burning by the wood-burning heater, and an ex Olympian and her girlfriend — the new assistant principal of Ross Valley’s middle school, it turned out — jumped up from a nearby table to ask if they could join us. We seemed to be having so much fun, they said. Sandy drank deep of the Nero then, flirting with the comely downhill racer — who’d drank pretty deep herself and kissed him at midnight — before retiring to our basement, solo. And though he was straight-edge before straight-edge, his morbid discretion about driving under the influence was, thanks to an overzealous Sausalito PD, not at all unfounded:
Because Sandy Pearlman was the only person you or anyone else has ever heard of who was locked up overnight for two cups of espresso.
Driving under the influence — of caffeine — was the charge. For real. And later, like a hot cup of drive-thru joe, it was dropped, all apologies, by an embarrassed Marin County DA. But the damage was done. Afterwards, not only did he rarely partake of the Nero, he rarely partook of the elaborate cappuccinos that Sonia liked to surprise him with for dessert, that he loved.
If he wasn’t fond of drinking, he was less fond of drinking establishments. But Sandy did like the Tip. So it only made sense to have the thing there. The Tip is our private bar, the surplus, 800-square-foot chamber, one flight up, that came with our agency’s lease on the floor below. Once some dismal company’s dismal call center, the room became, after an overzealous renovation, our many-windowed penthouse with a tufted leather bar, flocked wallpaper and a vintage upright that, according to the piano tuner, had come around the Horn. We have all sorts of things, drunken and otherwise, at the Tip. Sometime we have guest speakers — not to talk about business or, heaven forfend, advertising. Tip pundits tend toward the less practical.
Like our special guest from spring 2009, Sandy Pearlman: producer, manager, lyricist, label owner, critic, polymath professor and behind-the-scenes rock star in a permanent black hat.
No drugs for Sandy, no drink, but also, to be honest, no lasagna. He didn’t dislike it. Just wasn’t his thing. As discussed, Sandy — an expert in everything, including fish — preferred the salmon. But only when wild. When not, he’d pivot to seafood risotto, extra crab.
But the point of this thing, the thing two weeks ago, the thing a long way from Fairfax — and longer from where we are now, hiding — wasn’t the lasagna or anything so banal as the beloved’s fave food.
Lasagna — the tiers of contrasting flavors, the crispy corners, the rubbery shroud of cheese — wasn’t even the point of the lasagna.
It was just that, for Wendy, Dave, Joan, John, Steve, Gary and Val, for Albert, Patti, Lenny, Scott, Andy, Eric and Gregg, for Marc, Natasha, Roni and Myshel, for Jimmy and Jeff and Jim and the other Bob, for Dean Don and “Buck” Don and Susan, Helen, Howie and Richard, for all the orphaned, absent and present, in this fraught moment and odd thing, nothing else would do.
Sonia made lasagna.