Eating Authors: Tom Doyle

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Categories: Plugs
Tom Doyle

It’s May, and as often happens when I prepare one of my first blog posts in May, I have Julie Andrews and Vanessa Redgrave dancing and singing in my head. You know, the number from Camelot. Or maybe you don’t. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there as they say. I’m just glad it’s May and I can have a greater expectation of reasonable weather patterns.

None of which has anything to do with this week’s EATING AUTHOR guest, Tom Doyle, unless of course you want to make a stretch and conflate seasonal rebirth with tomorrow’s release of American Craftsmen, Tom’s first novel. Sure, that will work.

I have to tell you up front that I’m especially happy to see Tom’s novel coming out because I had the privilege to publish his first collection a couple years ago. And I had no choice. I had to publish him. I’d attended a reading he’d done at Capclave (a D.C. area convention that I heartily endorse) and the sheer intensity of his reading demanded that I do all within my meager powers to get his stories out into the world in a book. Tom packs more raw stuff into a short story than any other author I know, and I’m eager to see what he does with the greater elbow room a novel affords.

What more can I tell you about him? He’s won the WSFA Small Press Award, as well as the Writers of the Future Award. He can tell you anything you want to know about premillennialist apocalyptic fiction. And as you’ll garner from his remarks below, he’s been a lawyer. Best of all, I get to call him my friend.

LMS: Welcome, Tom. I know you’re something of a world-traveler, so I’m especially eager to have you talk about your most memorable meal. What was it and where did it happen?

TD: My most memorable meal will always be the time I ate fugu. Fugu is the notorious and extremely poisonous blowfish that’s enjoyed in Japan as a delicacy, probably as much for the sense of danger as for its flavor. The actual risk of restaurant fugu is small, as nearly all of the rare deaths from fugu poisoning are due to unlicensed preparers. So the morale is, “Don’t try this at home.”

American Craftsmen

In 1994, I worked in the Tokyo branch office of a major New York law firm. I was living well beyond my station–not Wolf of Wall Street debauchery, but for a Midwestern boy, pretty decadent. That winter, I learned that the office Christmas party would be at a fugu specialty restaurant on Thursday, December 15th. In an e-mail back to the States, I promised that “I will be careful, and watch for anyone who drops their chopsticks.” Loss of motor control in the hands was supposedly one of the first signs of fugu-induced paralysis, which at a meal might be signaled by dropping one’s hashi.

In a later e-mail, I included the subject line of “LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT” and began the message with, “If, Buddha forbid, the dreaded fugu says ‘fu you’ and I drop my hashi forever…” Further down, I wrote, “BUT SERIOUSLY, DON’T WORRY.” I certainly wasn’t worried. By this point in my expat existence, I was eating and drinking anything and everything.

As I recall, the fugu restaurant was on a wooded elevation just fifteen minutes or so from downtown. Its buildings were traditional in appearance, with a little stream running between them. The restaurant seemed to serve every part of the fish, every possible little morsel of meat, skin, and roe. But this didn’t include the organs such as the liver, which were the most poisonous parts.

The Wizard of Macatawa

The waiter brought us sake. Most of the sake I had been drinking in Japan was room temperature or slightly chilled. This sake was piping hot in a ceramic that appeared more designed for tea than the usual small sake cup. That was because it was hirezake: it had a dried fin of the blowfish in it. Though it was mouth-burning hot, it was a bad idea to wait too long for it to cool, as the fin flavor would only become more prominent. One of the office paralegals commented that “Sake with a fugu fin is like drinking a nice wine through an old sock.”

As the meal progressed, I felt a tingle. Was it, as some Japanese said, a touch of the poison, or a psychosomatic reaction combined with sake?

The day after the meal, I wrote the following assessment: “Fugu is strange stuff–don’t think I want to put anymore of that into my body anytime soon.” This, despite all the other strange and unhealthy things I ate and drank while in Japan.

Eating fugu would not be the closest I ever came to being poisoned in Tokyo. My law firm’s office was in the area that was the focus of sarin gas attack by Aum Shinrikyo on March 20, 1995. Fortunately, I went to work a little late that morning–probably too much fin-less sake the night before.

Thanks, Tom. This is why I never drink wine at home; I don’t have any old socks.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!



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