Not to humiliate an extremely responsible, respectable, humane, dedicated husband and father who spends the daylight being an important human-rights activist, but the first time I met Graeme was his birthday, and he was unutterably drunk. “Shooollmeetyouflunch,” he said, which, roughly translated, was “Sure, I’ll meet you for lunch.” Thankfully, at the time I was speaking the same language.
It didn't stop our first meeting from getting canceled. Graeme, mysteriously, was under quarantine for smallpox. It was such an improbable excuse that I believed it—how could anyone ever get away with making that up? Happily, he never succumbed, and we met, finally, at a tavern on Wall Street that’s supposedly existed since 1656. It looked like what the interior decorator of Cheesecake Factory would come up with, given a snifter of brandy and a bottle of Valium: damask banquettes, a plaster ceiling meant to simulate pressed tin, and a plastified menu offering Maryland crab cakes, Cuban sandwiches, penne pomodoro, and tuna melts. The service was straight Cheesecake: a big glass of ice water, ridged for easy stacking, arrived immediately and never went empty. The table of suits lunching at the next table was having a spirited discussion about immigration. From one particularly eloquent fatass: “I’m thinking about crossing Mexico and coming back illegal so that I can collect checks too.”
Graeme showed up, the color of metal. He wore a lucent white cambric shirt with a flat, Nehru-style collar, close-cropped curls colored pepper with a hint of salt, a plain, flat silver men’s watch and a wedding ring. Even his face had a hint of silver to it, like salmon skin.