Frozen chicken and Joe Gould’s Secret

Got things wrong on the food this evening. It was going to be chicken in a spicy tomato sauce with tagliatelle. This was a dish I had cooked 24 years ago on a short holiday in Tuscany and I figured that if the girls didn’t go for the chicken they would at least eat the pasta and tomato sauce. I took the chicken pieces out of the freezer this morning before going to work and of course when I got home this evening they were still more or less frozen. So we just had the pasta with tomato sauce and the girls ate happily. They will be stuck with the chicken tomorrow.

Over the coarse of the last few nights I have picked up again Joseph Mitchell’s Back in the Old Hotel.  I have been reading the last piece in it, Joe Gould’s Secret,  which is one of those pieces of writing that start to turn in on themselves and catch you up short. Joe Gould was a New York eccentric, a bohemian who carried with him the great story of the book that he was writing which was a Oral History of the conversations that he had heard, picked up, as he walked the streets during the middle decades of the last century. He said that the Oral History ran into many millions of words and he always carried round with him the notebooks into which the history was notated. Small pieces of the book were published and a myth grew of this great book that he was writing that somehow would unlock some of those secrets we hold dear.

Mitchell wrote an article on Gould for The New Yorker magazine. He got to know him in the years before and after he wrote up the story. A large part of the piece was on the efforts he made to try and get to see some of the great book that Gould was writing. But in the years that followed the publication of the article in the New Yorker it dawns on Mitchell that Gould is hoarding a great secret about his book and that is that book has never really existed. The scribbled notebooks only contain the same few small sections of the book endlessly rewritten.

As Mitchell he writes about this he muses on a book that he had planned to write, a sort of day in the life of a young man in New York city. That book was never written and as Mitchell writes about this you are pulled up short because after he finished this story Mitchell himself was struck with writers block. He had been a writer for The New Yorker and for the next 30 years he kept an office there. He continued to go to work each day and would go into the office and close the door and so far as anyone knew he never wrote another word. It was almost as if he had been defeated by the letting out of Joe Gould’s secret.

It was something to think about as I turned off the light to go to sleep.

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