Robert Parker used to come in about once a month for lunch and the first time I saw his name on the reservation sheet the day before I freaked out and stayed at work all night changing the list. Literally all night. I remember 3am came around and I got so hungry I was like screw it, maybe there is something to eat in the walk-in. Of course it was a restaurant walk-in, not an apartment refrigerator, so there wasn't really anything in there already prepared to eat, except for the gallon tubs of plain yogurt. Everything was portioned out raw beef and thin prepped tuiles under plastic wrap. Probably that was the moment that I actually realized what cooks do. Oh, I see. They turn all of this stuff into food. Got it.
Anyway, there wasn't anything to eat so I ended up calling it a night, going home, laying awake, taking a shower, pulling out the nicer of the two ties that I owned at that time, and going back to work. I wasn't scheduled for lunch but I would be there. They were going to need my help. Parker was going to order a lot of wine. The waitstaff wouldn't be able to handle it. I brought out two corkscrews, one with a longer blade and one with a longer worm, I polished glasses, and I folded extra serviettes. I was ready to go.
Parker came in. He wore a blue blazer, a black turtleneck, and grey trousers. With brown penny loafers, the same kind as my dad used to wear. He was heavyset, but not as big of a giant as I had heard. Of course I'd never met him before. I'd never even seen him before. This wasn't New York, this was Boston. We didn't get the regular Parker visits from Monkton, we just knew him from the black business typeface and the bound, 3 hole punched tan paper stock. His wife was quite chic in all black heels, hose, and leather jacket, not at all what I had imagined, but very 1990s. They were going to have a great lunch. I was going to see to it. Parker was going to look at my list and he was going to ask for the sommelier and I would be there and we were going to be friends. This was it.
"He ordered ice tea, extra Splenda" said Sal, the waiter. He ordered ice tea? What was this, the kind of preparation that they do in sophisticated wine circles in Paris? Priming the palate for all the wine to come? I asked Sal how I should help. What should I do? "Could you get some extra Splenda?" he said, "That would be great." This was not what I had imagined I'd be doing. But I waited. Surely Parker would look over the list thoroughly. I had reprinted every page of every list in the house that morning, all 15 wine lists, even the one we kept at the hostess stand, just so there wouldn't be any stains, any misspellings, any torn pages that might possibly find their way to his table, the only table that mattered on this day. "He doesn't want the list. He just gave it back to me" Sal informed me curtly. WHAT?? What was this? Some kind of heinous joke? Was Parker trying to insult me personally? Our wine program wasn't good enough for him? This was outrageous!
"I don't think it's him" Sal told me after a few minutes. What do you mean it isn't him? This was Robert Parker. Like I had said in the pre-service meeting. I had told everybody. Even the porters in the kitchen hauling trash knew about him. "No, this is somebody else. This guy writes mysteries. I talked to him. He said he writes mysteries." I wouldn't stand for this nonsense for a second. I went right up to the table. Excuse me? Aren't you Robert Parker? I just want to say that it is very special that you are here. Thank you for coming. It is really great. Really great. Parker shot me a glance. "Sure kid, thanks for reading my stories. You like Spenser?" Stories? Spenser? And that was how I met Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser novels and a resident of Cambridge, right across the river from Boston.
Like I said, he came in about once a month. Ice tea and extra Splenda every time. There would be big piles of torn open Splenda packets on the table. Never any wine though. Parker didn't drink.
A lot has changed since then.