April 23, 2004
My Lowbrow Dinner with André
by David A. Zimmerman
"When you go out to dinner with an influential person, mind your manners." Proverbs 23:1 was on my mind as I drove to the House of Hoity Toity to share a meal with my boss and the editor of two recent thousand-page reference books. I was understandably anxious for a couple of reasons, not the least significant of which is the fact that I'm not the most graceful eater in the world.
I can hold my own when it comes to fast food--I've gotten to the point where I can shift gears without spilling ketchup on myself--but I'm out of my element when they only give you one napkin, particularly when that napkin is made of cloth. True to form, I dropped my steak knife on the floor five minutes into the meal (narrowly avoiding the editor's toe) and spilled my drink onto my steak. True to form, I reused the knife to eat the steak.
All this was survivable though--even charming in a goofy sort of way. The real anxiety for me surrounded the conversation more than the food. Here I was breaking bread with people each twenty years my senior, both having overseen the publication of several seminal works in religious publishing--and I was one degree removed from having my napkin tucked into my shirt collar.
Again, this isn't unfamiliar territory for me. I'm one of the only members of my family without an advanced degree. At work a colleague and I devised a word game to play during departmental meetings because we never understood what anyone was talking about. I have become, you could say, comfortably dumb.
Imagine my relief though when our conversation quickly turned to comic books. Here was sumphin' I could talk good about. We talked a while about the character-shaping influence of superheroes while I chewed with my mouth open and spoke with my mouth full. Then we moved on to discuss--you guessed it--reality television. By the time the check came, I had potato all over my shirt and we had finished a delightful conversation about professional wrestling--which, in case you were wondering, originated in Minnesota.
I can't begin to tell you what prompted such a pedestrian flow of conversation, but I do think it's an interesting commentary on the influence of contemporary mass culture--which I serve happily as priest. I feel bad, though I haven't mentioned their names, outing my boss and my reference editor friend, but in a sense I am unapologetic. If there is a purpose to religious publishing, it surely involves the exploration of meaning in a contemporary cultural context. And that means asking questions of culture. And that means being conversant enough with our culture to know which questions to ask.
I felt at this dinner the way the punk rock group The Ramones may have felt when National Public Radio counted their song "I Wanna Be Sedated" one of America's most important pieces of music: a little embarrassed, a little amused, but otherwise right at home. I've reconciled myself to being strangely dim, and it's always nice to have company.
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Check out my secret identity at www.ivpress.com.