Goodbye Spenser

It’s Tuesday night and I’m hungry again. But this time my larder’s stocked with food and the pickings are bountiful.

I throw some rice, water, pignoli nuts and a bay leaf into my roommate’s rice cooker and turn it on. Then I break out some pork chops, trim away the gristle and bone until only the medallions remain, season them with salt and pepper and put them to one side. Breaking out my cast iron skillet, I put it on high heat and add a liberal helping of olive oil. When the oil’s sizzling I brown the chops and throw in a whole glove of garlic. When the garlic’s softened I open a can of pineapple chunks and drain the heavy syrup into the pan and cover it.

After ten minutes I remove the cover and test the chops. They’re done so I put them on a plate and cover them with foil. I reduce down the pineapple syrup, mash up the garlic, toss in a handful of pineapple chunks and then slowly add heavy cream. When the sauce is at the appropriate thickness I add some mandarin orange slices, plate the rice and the chops and pour the sweet garlicky sauce all over it. Then I go into my living room and wolf the whole thing down with a vodka and tonic. Burp.

After watching the news I clean the dishes, grab a cigar and my computer and head out to my front stoop for an after dinner smoke. I’m quite pleased with myself. I like cooking dinner alone. It makes me feel self-sufficient. The recipe for tonight’s meal came from a book – Early Autumn my Robert Parker. Mr. Dawson forced me to read that book for English class back in 1985 – but I’m glad he did. The book was a revelation. The book’s protagonist, a private eye named Spenser, was a tough guy who could whip fancy meals out of thin air, quote literature, shoot a man’s eye out at 50 paces, lived by an immutable code of conduct and was a dandy lover to boot. To a seventeen-year-old boy in search of a role model Spenser became my hero. So over the years I hungrily devoured every book Parker wrote. Some were bad, some were good and a couple of them achieved greatness. But they’re all on my bookshelf and I revisit them from time to time. They’ve become old friends.

Feeling very Spenserish myself I get my cigar going, turn on my computer and surf over to the New York Times webpage. But when I tab over to the obituaries I get an unwelcome shock. Robert Parker died Monday at the age of 77. I’m not much into mysticism but I found it strange that I cooked a recipe from one of Parker’s books just before I found out he died. Coincidence? Probably. But maybe not.

I owe a great debt to Parker. Reading his books over the years not only taught me how to write but in a “small but mattering way” how to live. He taught me to treat myself like family when I was alone. He taught me it was okay to be scared. But he also taught me how to persevere – “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Parker helped make me a tough guy.

Not tough in the way Spenser was mind you. I may be a dandy lover but my left jab sucks, I’m a lousy shot and I don’t take down crime syndicates before breakfast. But tough in the only way that truly matters – to acknowledge the world’s a crazy broken place but still be able to appreciate the beauty it contains. Parker taught me only a tough person can be gentle. Only a tough person can do the right thing. And only a tough person is capable of love.

I finish my cigar and go back inside my apartment. Walking into the living room I pull my copy of Early Autumn off the bookshelf. It’s an autographed original edition my father gave me a few years ago. I run my finger across Parker’s signature and sigh.

Goodbye Robert. I will miss you.


Comments

Goodbye Spenser — 54 Comments

  1. Caramba, Waiter, looking at your headline, at first I thought your joint-custody pooch died… ’til I remembered your dog’s name was Buster,, not Spenser.

    Keep on writin’, Mesero

  2. Waiter, this is absolutely intriguing. I love your recollections of the writer and what he has given you. His contributions to your life don’t sound small at all.

    I love “treating myself like family” when I am alone. There is something special about cooking for yourself-and doing it well. The coincidence of making one of his dishes right before you learned of his crossing is quite special.

    You should know that it was YOU, sir, who taught me how to blog. And I thank you for that.

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  4. Oh wow. I love Spencer, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall. I just discovered his westerns and were looking forward to more of them. I am currently reading a biography of Wyatt Earp he wrote. I am so sad. I didn’t see this in the news, so thanks for sharing.

    (Sunny Randall and Spencer books are great to listen to on tape when you are on long trips.)

  5. I spotted Spenser in your writing long before I realized that you, too, are a man who found a role model in him.

    I learned of Parker’s death through your site. I can’t think of anyplace else I would’ve rather found this sad information.

    I hope Pearl is faring well.

  6. What a good-sounding recipe, thanks for sharing. On the cigar-smoking entry, I get very different reactions from people with my pipe-smoking. They say, that smells like my grandpa, etc. Used to when I had a corncob pipe there would be snickers from those old enough to remember the old granny in the comic strip “Lil Abner”.

  7. Steve, funny how us men idolize these perfect men that shoot well, cook well, have the perfect thing to say at every moment, charm ladies, etc. etc. For me, this person is every character Robert Mitchum has played in any of his movies.

  8. I think Early Autumn was Parker’s best work so I’d start with that one. And it’s Spenser with an “S” people! Like the poet! :)

  9. Amazingly, I’ve never read a Spenser book and it’s my favorite genre. How did I miss all that?
    Better hit the library today!

  10. Pingback: Goodbye, Mr. Segal « What’s in my head

  11. No wonder I like your writing so much. I discovered Parker at the library while looking for detective stories. I had never watched the TV show but I fell in love with the books. So sad to hear that he passed away but it looks like I still have many pages to read.

  12. Thank you for the great post. I have enjoyed Robert Parker’s work for years – my grandfather gave me my first Spenser novel more than 15 years ago and I have enjoyed every book and character since then. Mr. Parker will be missed.

  13. “…only a tough person can be gentle. Only a tough person can do the right thing. And only a tough person is capable of love.”

    So absolute. So judgmental. Yeesh.

  14. You know, I recognized that recipe instantly. Would have, even without your blog title. I felt absolutely devastated on finding out Robert B. Parker had died yesterday–I have all his books, and they’re my old friends too, so I know what you mean. One of the funniest things he ever wrote was in his non-series novel, All Our Yesterdays. In it, one character asks another, “Did you ever read Finnegan’s Wake?” They answer, “Not all the way through.” The response: “James JOYCE didn’t read it all the way through.” Which made me laugh my ass off. You know, I feel like in addition to raising Paul Giacomin, in a way I think Spenser raised me too… Any part of my moral code I didn’t get from Hammett and Chandler, I probably got from RBP. Sigh. Farewell, Mr. Parker, wherever you are. I raise a glass of single-malt to you.

  15. After reading the above comments, I think I will check out a few of his books. I’ve enjoyed your style of writing for quite a few years now. I’m not a daily vistor, but check in every few weeks, and whatever post is up, it feels like an old friend talking to me.
    Thx Waiter

    Also
    A “Glove” of Garlic? That’s alot of garlic, wouldn’t u say?

  16. Spenser was one of a kind, no question. Parker had such great characters..nice to know someone else is carrying the torch (so to speak).

  17. Thank you, Waiter.

    You’ve given me a whole new author to read.
    I watched the ‘Spencer for Hire’ TV show when I was younger, and a quick hit on the Wiki told me it was based off of Mr Parker’s writing.

    Already asked my library for the first few books.

  18. I’m so sorry for your loss, Waiter.

    You took me back to when I heaerd Richard Brautigan was dead. Just sucked the air outta me. It HURTS, selfishly, to know you’re not gonna get anything else…like, you’re never gonna hear their voice again.

    Hate it.

  19. Found out about his death last night right after I had finished reading “Night and Day”. Stunned me.

    What Robert Parker did for me was help me understand my dad. My dad is a lot like Spenser – self contained, golden gloves, former cop, and so certain of himself that he never felt the need to explain why he felt the way he did. Parker was a way that I was able to see inside his head.

    God bless him and his wife Joan.

  20. I just finished your book about 5 minutes ago. I purchased it at the college bookstore where I’m currently enrolled, after “just” being a high school grad for 14 years. Helluva coincidence to read about you discovering yourself so late in life. I also recently realized how truly unhappy I had become. Congrats on your success!!!!

  21. Heavy Cream and Pineapple in Heavy Syrup, Chain-smoking cigars in manhattan while yuppies curse at you, crying at a gun range….good lord Waiter!

    Someday, when Rainn Wilson is playing you in the movie-version of your life, your recent posts will be compiled into the “rock-bottom” montage.

    I’m curious as to what will bring you out of this funk. You will either meet an awesome woman, with whom you will marry and make little Waiterlets, or return to seminary and make the story come full-circle.

  22. You`re a good writer but the present tense is just too narcissistic. We don`t want to be looking over your shoulder as you peel every banana.

  23. I’m reading your book right now and thought I’d visit this blog for the first time and I see this post.

    Robert B. Parker was one of my favorites ever since I read Looking for Rachel Wallace in a college class at Boston University. In the early 90′s Parker did a book reading at the Boston Public Library that I had the pleasure of attending. After years of trying to shove Robert Urich’s image into the character, I realized HE was Spenser. He was humorous, outgoing, and pretty forthright about his writing. I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to see him. Thanks for your blog post.

  24. Pineapple syrup reduction with heavy cream!? I just threw up in my mouth reading that. Why didn’t you just throw the whole thing in the blender with some rum and you could have had a warm pork colada. mmmmm hits the spot on a cold winter night. c’mon man. I don’t think Mr. Parker worked with a recipe tester.

  25. You know, I got to the point where you poured in the pineapple syrup and thought, “This is just like a recipe in a Spenser book.” Then when you added the cream I realized I was right.

    Parker is one of my favoritist mystery writers on the planet (another being Dana Stabenow). I can’t believe he’s gone. I’m really going to miss his stuff, the man was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

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  27. I had no idea he had passed away. My husband and I were just taking about him yesterday, about how his daugher (my step) loves his books and I responed that I read them years ago and what I remember most was his ability to cook these fantastic meals.

  28. As another huge fan of Robert B Parker, I have to admit that one of the things I loved most about him was that he was a technical writer, as I was, before he started writing Spenser. And best of all, he and his wife Joan lived in a 2-family house, he in one apartment, she in another. They had plenty of alone time, but could dine together if they wanted to. My idea of the perfect marriage!

    So who will be your Hawk if you become Spenser?

  29. Awesome, Steve… love the writing.

    Maybe you meant “strong” here instead of “tough”?

    And only a tough person is capable of love.

    I just think strong is a better word… that’s just me!

    Lakshmi

  30. You know, we hear about celebrities dying all the time, and to be honest, it really never bothers me much. I didn’t know them and I guess in essence I can’t say they really touched my life. The only time a death of someone I didn’t know really caused any (personal) mourning to me was when I read a few years back about Paul Zindel dying. He was a great author, and wrote a lot of “coming of age” novels that I read when I was growing up.

    I understand the mourning that one has at the death of a favorite author.

  31. I thought the recipe sounded familiar. But I had no idea that Robert Parker had died. Early Autumn was one of my favorites of his, as well.

    Thank you for this essay.

  32. Waiter, love your stuff. I too learned about men cooking from Spenser, I was introduced to the “Godwulf Manuscript” by my aunt a few weeks after it came out, and I was hooked.

    Over the years, RBP spread the word about men cookin more than just about any fictional book author in history, and in SUCH and accessible way, as a PART of manhood, instead of a SUBSITUTE for it.

    Goodbye Robert B. Parker, those of us with troubled childhoods and a passion for cooking salute you.

  33. Pingback: Meals for one « the new f.i.x.

  34. Good News! Robert B. Parker’s estate has contracted with Ace Atkins to continue the Spenser novels! So we don’t really have to say goodbye Spenser. The estate has also hired Michael Brandman, a friend and collaborator of RBP, to take over the Jesse Stone series. I realize they won’t be “the same” as if RBP were still writing them, but at least the characters will live on!

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