Sunday, April 18, 2021

What did RAW like to eat? Well, everything

Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash

So in following up with Rasa about the podcast I wrote about yesterday, I mentioned that he didn't get to finish a statement he began during the recent Nutopia show, and when Rasa said he was probably going to say something about Robert Anton Wilson's diet, we had this exchange:

In fact, I am very interested in food -- what did he like to eat? And I know he liked Chinese food, but did he like the usual American Chinese food, or the authentic stuff in Chinatown?

Rasa: Well, this may have been a topic that I would have mentioned in talking about Bob, the “normal” guy . . .

Christina half-joked that Bob loved eating nearly anything, and was not so discerning. The example she gave was him dreamy-eyed effusive over a greasy hamburger he once got from a rather normal diner. I know he really liked Italian food. We used to regularly eat out with him and Arlen in their favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant in Capitola. And, indeed, he did love lasagna. Once, Arlen and Bob invited us over for dinner. Arlen was serving her homemade lasagna. Arlen was an energetic person, often animated and verbal as she went through her day. As if from a surrealist novel, while Arlen was serving a piece of lasagna to Bob, a small movement in her hand caused a small piece of lasagna to go flying past Bob and onto the floor. We all paused, and I suspect we were all suppressing grins, and all thinking what no one actually said aloud, “Keep the Lasagna Flying.” I think that was a “given” in that room.

I suspect Bob was not much of a cook himself, but he was a coffee freak, which Christina confirms. He loved to try out new types of coffee and even mix different strains, brew cups for his friends and then ask for impressions. In many areas, like science, literature, music, all of the arts, really, he was a connoisseur of a high order. Maybe it had to do with his humble upbringing, or lack of "disposable" income, but for his entire life, his tastes in food were easily met and never so demanding. Marlis and I would often marvel at that. We were wondering how the guy could be such an astounding maverick in explaining and promoting brain change and conscious evolution, but he didn’t seem to apply that same sophistication to his diet. Maybe I’m just being a vegetarian snob, but honestly, I don’t care if people eat meat, in moderation. But, as all the world follows the American model, as seems to often be the case, gluttony and factory farming are disasters in the making. I don’t recall Bob ever talking about that part of the planet’s environmental challenges. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did somewhere, especially when considering models like Bucky Fuller’s World Game scenarios. I know Arlen steered him towards eating healthy foods, but when he was on his own, on the road, or after Arlen passed, he just seemed to totally appreciate whatever food came his way. 

[It sounds like if Rasa comes to see you in Texas, you don't invite him to the local barbecue ribs joint --but RAW would have gone. Compare with when I interviewed Scott Apel in 2017 and asked about food. (It's a good interview, you should read the whole thing.)]

RAWILLUMINATION.NET: I liked the Red Lobster story. Can you tell me a little more about what Robert Anton Wilson liked to eat? I know he liked Chinese restaurants, but did he like "American Chinese" food, or the sort of Chinese restaurants that mostly attract Chinese diners? Did he particularly like lasagna?

SCOTT APEL: Well, I have to admit, this question made me LOL, and for several reasons. First, in all the years I’ve done interviews and been interviewed, no one has ever asked about food, and I must admit I never thought about asking a question like that. But you can tell so much about people by what they eat and like to eat! It’s a natural question to ask, but no one ever has asked it before in my interviewing experience. Kudos to you for being original!

When it came to food, Bob was never particularly picky. Early in our association, he seemed pleased when we showed up with KFC, for instance. Briggs and I used to say that the old joke about an Irish 7-course meal (a potato and a six-pack) applied to Bob. But this is not to imply that he was without taste — he knew a great meal from junk food, and preferred the former. But I can’t recall ever hearing him complain about food.

I know he loved Guinness and Jameson’s Irish whiskey, although I rarely saw him drink to excess (a couple examples below). And man, did he love coffee! Giant cans of Trader Joe’s French Roast were a constant fixture in his homes.

Bob loved going to restaurants (as do I), and over the years he had several favorites. I mentioned Red Lobster; when he and Arlen were living in Capitola, they were within walking distance of a RL in the Capitola Mall, and he told me they went at least once a week.

There was a time in the early ‘90s when their daughter Alex was spending a lot of time with them, and the four of us went to dinner regularly. I was always very fond of Alex, who had Bob’s brain and Arlen’s boldness (as well as her red hair). Bob once took us to a pricey dinner buffet at Chaminade, a resort and restaurant in the Santa Cruz area. When they started bringing out baking sheets of crushed ice and dozens of oysters on the half shell, I was convinced I’d died and gone to heaven. Bob got quite a kick out of the fact that with all the buffet had to offer, all I went for was one plate of oysters after another — but eventually decided he was going to do exactly that next time they came.

Another place Bob loved was Aragona’s, an employee-owned restaurant in nearby Soquel. (One of the owners was the illegitimate grandson of W.C. Fields, which made the place that more attractive to us both.) We went there frequently in the late ‘90s. There was a bartender named Bear who Bob claimed made the best martini in the world. He’d usually have two and would stagger out to my car ... and when he had three, Cathy and I would nearly have to carry him out to the car, which we all thought was hilarious. We went to Aragona’s so often that one time when we were seated I said, offhand, “Well, I’m gonna have the Chicken Piccata, and Bob, you’re no doubt gonna have a couple martinis and the spaghetti and meatballs.” He just stared at me, wide-eyed, and exclaimed, “My Gawd! Am I that predictable?” (Only at Aragona’s, I assured him.)

In 1999, when Arlen was bedridden and Bob was her main caregiver, Cathy and I would drive from San Jose to Capitola every Friday night (after I got off work) and spend anywhere from 24 to 48 hours with them. Cathy tended to Arlen, giving Bob a much-needed “day off.” On Saturday afternoon I’d take Bob to The Crow’s Nest, a pier-side restaurant in Santa Cruz, for sandwiches and several pints of beer or Guinness. After Arlen passed in May of 1999, Cathy and I continued to visit Bob every Saturday. We’d cook, or bring take out, or go out to dinner. He had a couple favorite restaurants, including the Golden Buddha in Soquel. We all loved their Chinese food, and often ordered takeout to eat at Bob’s place. (It must run in the family—we ran into Christina and Rex there one night, also picking up takeout.)

I brought my homemade spaghetti sauce to his house one time and we got into a (joking) pissing contest about who made the best sauce. The next week, he cooked his spaghetti sauce, and I had to admit, it was quite good. The secret ingredient, he confided, was tiny shrimp. I never knew Bob to cook anything — he could barely make coffee — but he was proud of his spaghetti sauce. (But I can't recall ever seeing him eat lasagna ... )

One thing I know for sure is that Bob loved seafood. I mentioned Red Lobster, for instance. When we were in Seattle, we went to the restaurant at the top of the Space Needle and I watched him consume several buckets of shrimp. And when Cathy and I moved to Santa Cruz from L.A. in 2003— specifically to be near Bob, whose legs and health were failing — we re-instituted our weekly Saturday night dinners, and often went to a place on the pier near the Santa Cruz Boardwalk —Stagnaro Bros. Seafood, I believe. We’d load his collapsible wheelchair in the trunk of my vintage (i.e., old) Jaguar and take him there, where he usually got some sort of fish, or lobster. When he got too frail to take out, we’d bring him oysters from a nearby Mexican restaurant in Capitola, El Toro Bravo. He told me he’d had oysters all around the world, and El Toro Bravo made the best he’d ever tasted. (I believed him, because I knew they made the best enchiladas I’d ever had.)

Sometime around 2002 or ’03, RAW had a lot of dental work, and had all his teeth pulled. He had dentures, but rarely wore them (he said they were uncomfortable). This severely impacted his ability to eat solid foods. He was stoically resigned to a life of soups and puddings when we discovered the miracle of pureeing food. He got a high-powered food processor and we tested most of his favorite foods in it, including steak and, of course, lobster. He was extremely pleased with the result, and even told us that he now preferred his food pureed — he felt it was more flavorful, since there was more surface area exposed to the taste buds.

From that time on, we spent virtually every Saturday night with Bob. Our SOP was to drive from San Mateo to a Red Lobster in San Jose, where we’d pick up dinner for ourselves and 3 or 4 dinners (mostly lobster) for Bob, then head on to Capitola and have our feast and our evening of conversation and laughs. Cathy prep’d several days worth of meals in the food processor, so all Bob had to do was toss ‘em in the microwave and eat.

Finally, the recent passing of Carrie Fisher reminded me of this RAW restaurant anecdote: Bob was fond of telling a story (that must have taken place in the early ‘80s when he lived in L.A.) about when Dr. Leary took him out to dinner with Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. He said they were all tripping, and at one point he looked across the table and realized, “My Gawd, I’m having dinner with Princess Leia and Han Solo!”

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