On a Writers’ Lunch
I wish I got to do this more often.
Yesterday I went to lunch with Fred Irons, a man I met through trumpet playing. Several years ago he joined the Sebasticook Valley Community Band, where I was struggling along playing second trumpet, and sometimes first when they were desperate. Fred had recently retired from his position as a professor of some sort of exciting engineering at the University of Maine, and had come back to his trumpet, which he had apparently abandoned at a young age.
Fred is many things: a trumpeter (far better than I am, now he’s been taking lessons again for eight years or so), an engineer, a fisherman, and now a writer and artist and editor and bookmaker and who knows what else. He’s also very good lunch company, especially when he wants to talk writing. The thing that I love best about Fred is that he’s a quester–he’s always looking for more. More what? Anything.
Last summer, when Fred gave me his old trumpet–much newer and nicer than my 1970 Holton student model–he also sent me a CD of some of his daily writing. Yesterday we got to talk about some of it: the common strains that run through his thoughts. I really enjoyed reading what Fred had written; I had to laugh when every now and again, apparently for the fun of it, he worked out some (to me) rather complicated mathematical equations. I also had to tell him that his mind fascinated me: Fred has got to be one of the most metacognitive people I know, always thinking about the way he thinks. However, of the common strains which reappeared over the months of his daily writings, fishing was the first I picked out: fishing with his sons, with his granddaughter, with his friends; fishing rivers, lakes; fishing in any manner of watercraft, large and small. I’m not a fisherman, having been turned off at an early age by an experience with my father (another story for another time).
Yet Fred’s adventures fascinated me, because I kept getting the feeling that there was something far deeper going on there. It wasn’t until we were sitting down to our lunch that I realized Fred’s words called to mind A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, one of the loveliest books I’ve ever read, ostensibly on a subject in which I’m not interested. When I brought that up to Fred, he said he hadn’t read it. Ha! Well, you need to, Fred. Just sayin’.
I brought my notebook–after a fashion, my version of Fred’s daily writing–because I’d filled a page with questions I thought we might talk about. However, with Fred, there’s no end to the conversation–he’s got his own questions. I think I might have opened the notebook one time in the two hours we sat in the rear booth at Paddy Murphy’s, and only because he was curious as to what I had in it. One thing I did get to say is that I’d like to read more of what Fred writes.
Several years ago, when Simply Not Done, the women’s reading, writing and teaching collaborative of which I’m a founding member, was first embarking on its public reading journey, we did an afternoon gig at Sherman’s, a bookstore in Camden. It was sparsely attended, to say the least. But–imagine my surprise when Fred appeared! He had wanted, he said, to see what we were up to. I was able to introduce him to the group by telling them that Fred had done what we all aspired to do at that point: publish a book. What book, you might ask? Active Filters for Integrated-Circuit Applications. Of course.
What was for lunch? Fred had the Crabby Paddy (“crumbled crab cake, pepper jack cheese, diced tomato and pepperoncini in a grilled herb wrap with chipotle sauce on the side”). I had the chicken with dill and lemon on rye with some beer-battered onion rings. Yum. For dessert Fred chose the bread pudding with vanilla ice cream, but I had the Bailey’s cheesecake. Double yum. We both drank Newcastle Brown, which Fred informed me is the official drink of the UMaine engineering department (I almost want to be an engineer now. Almost).