Not long ago, I was goofing around on YouTube, and I landed on an interview with a particular musician. One of the interview questions was: “If you could have dinner with any three people, whom would you invite?”
I think the interviewer was a high school student (probably on assignment for the school paper). My first reaction was “This is cute, but kinda silly.” Then I thought about it. “Hmm, that’s actually a pretty good question. It’s a fun way to identify a person’s root influences, especially if the interview subject decides to elaborate.” But I was a little shocked at one of the musician’s choices for dinner guest.
His first choice was John Lennon. OK, I can agree with that one. Songwriting genius, witty, well-informed, candid, gift of gab. If Lennon was my guest, I could easily see us (once I stopped trembling) enjoying our marshmallow pie while trading views on Brexit and sarcastic jibes about Sir Paul.
His second choice was someone I know nothing about. But the third choice had me scratching my head: Miles Davis.
For those unfamiliar, Miles Davis was a legendary jazz trumpeter. He was a gifted composer and improviser who broke musical barriers and influenced a generation of jazz musicians. But despite being the king of “cool jazz,” he was reputedly as unpredictable as a white cop with a hemorrhoid.
Why would you invite a ticking time bomb to a dinner party, an occasion that’s supposed to be about relaxation and light repartee? I can envision the exchange:
“Mr. Davis, I’m a big fan of yours. In fact, ‘Kind of Blue’ is my all-time favorite album.”
Then the sound of soup being slurped, with a few droplets splattered onto Davis’s oversized sunglasses, followed by a string of raspy, mumbled curse words.
I mean, come on. He’s a superb musician, yes, but isn’t this a waste of a dinner choice? Then, of course, I thought about whom yours truly would invite. And I have to admit: one of my choices would make Miles Davis look like Martha Stewart.
I wouldn’t hesitate to invite Herman Melville (author of “Moby-Dick” and a bunch of other heavy shit). He’s my favorite writer. I’d love to probe Melville’s oceanic mind about the whiteness of the whale and Captain Ahab’s maniacal obsessions. Maybe I could conveniently work into the conversation Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
I’d also invite Billy the Kid. Even though he was a cold-blooded killer, the Kid was also a party animal with a great sense of humor. He loved a good game of faro, and had an eye for the ladies. And there’s only one authenticated photograph of him, so I’d like to see if he’s as buck-toothed and scatterbrained as he looks in the photo.
But my third choice might send Herman and the Kid scurrying toward the door long before dessert is served: Crazy Horse.
Crazy Horse (aka Tasunke Witko) was a war leader of the Oglala Lakota Sioux. He was at the Battle of the Little Bighorn and helped fertilize the Montana hills with the bodies of Custer and the 7th Cavalry. He was one of the last Plains Indians to surrender to the U.S. Army, and only did so because his people were starving. Very spiritual, he experienced visions, and refused to allow his photograph to be taken. He died in 1877, bayoneted in the back while being led to an army jail on a trumped-up charge.
Crazy Horse, for me, was a person of great integrity. After all, he died for his people’s survival. And since no one knows what he looked like, our dinner together would give me the opportunity to stare at him a lot. Does he look like Rafael Nadal? Or more like Ed Ames? I can almost guarantee whom he doesn’t look like: smiling Chief Wahoo, the controversial cartoon mascot for the Cleveland Indians.
But how would our conversation go? Assuming he understands and speaks English – and Herman and the Kid approve of his presence at the table – it would probably be very stilted.
So while my ever-tolerant wife serves the cocktails… whiskey for the Kid, rum for Herman, cold spring water for Crazy Horse, and Dogfish Head Midas Touch Golden Elixir ale for me… I begin to live out a longtime fantasy:
“Mr. Horse… I mean Mr. Witko… uh, sir… it’s truly an honor to sit with you.”
“I don’t have any Indian pipe tobacco, but maybe after dinner we could dip into my humidor. I think I still have a couple Cohibas from my excursion to Nogales a few years ago.”
More silence, as he gulps his water from a bison-hide flask.
“Ya know, I’ve heard that you have visions. That’s really cool. I don’t have any pharmaceuticals on hand, but my son lives in Colorado, and he might be able to parcel post a special package – ha-ha, if you know what I mean – for our next get-together.”
He glares at me, expressionless, without responding. I feel a drop of perspiration roll from my armpit.
“Sir, I know you don’t like having your picture taken. But my squaw has this gadget called an I-phone, and if I take your photo and you don’t like it, I can immediately delete it.”
He turns his head and gazes out the window at our autumn blaze maple.
Desperate for some assistance, I glance toward the Kid. But his face is bright red, and his shoulders are shaking, as if he’s stifling laughter – and doing a poor job of stifling.
Then I pivot in my chair and glance toward Herman. But Herman’s sitting erect, stroking his massive beard, and he appears buried in deep thought.
So before Herman has a chance to excuse himself to return to his kerosene lamp and his notes for “Billy Budd,” and before the Kid embarrasses me by doubling up with laughter and accidentally firing his Colt single-action revolver, I decide to divert attention from Crazy Horse.
“Hey, guys,” I carefully and surreptitiously maneuver. “Whaddaya say we head into the den to check out my baseball card collection?”
But I quickly decide that this, too, is a bad idea. I never imagined that entertaining my heroes for dinner could be so stressful.
“Honey, could you bring us another round of drinks… please??”