Julie Gets Cooking

All my life I've been looking for drama. College in New Orleans might have yielded a Southern Gothic novel brewing inside me, but I was too busy binge dieting and typing papers for some grad student (who went on to run The Simpsons and stopped returning my calls) to feel very inspired. Chasing some fuzzy notion of becoming a significant writer, I was asked after graduation to house sit for a gay millionaire in Key West. The words were sure to flow as naturally as my next breath, if only I'd had something to say.

I took an office job in the travel section of the local newspaper and accidentally became a journalist -- which only sounds dramatic on paper. Imagine my breakthrough reportage around another honeymoon-for-one on some idyllic tropical island while battling mosquitos with a travel-sized can of Off.

Eloping didn't pack the dramatic potential I'd hoped for -- not even when the groom was a Croatian cruise ship waiter I'd been with for seventeen days. Feeling desperately short on time, I was almost thirty! -- the same age as Lucille Ball when she ran off with a Cuban bandleader who later invented the modern sitcom, filmed in front of a live audience. She didn't deliver their first child for another ten years -- making her ancient, by the standards of the day -- though it was carefully timed to coincide with network sweeps. Supposedly all of it was part of a grand scheme to get him to stop running around on her and put down some roots in Hollywood.

Hollywood! By the time it occurred to me that this place is as dramatic as it gets, I was roughly the same age as a certain aimless spinster at the outset of World War II. She boarded a boat to China to become a spy, meet and marry a mysterious OSS officer and become Julia Child. According to a PBS documentary I happened upon last night, she couldn't make a biscuit out of a box before settling in post-War Paris to study French gastronomy. By the time she debuted the TV show that made her a national treasure, she was forty-nine years old.

Unseating Lucy as my favorite late bloomer of all time, the bored heiress had been born Julia and quickly dubbed Julie  -- just as I had. She carefully recorded the seemingly uneventful details of her early life for later re-telling, somehow confident such a thing would become necessary. While food became her medium, it was the painstaking writing at the core of the best selling cookbook in history that made it so accessible. Once an aspiring novelist, she, too, had been rejected in literary circles before discovering the value of her own story -- the one jumping through the screen in TV clips, photographs, and early interviews by, with and about her. It's as if she knew all along that her entire life, and not just her kitchen, would have to be properly preserved for display at The Smithsonian.

It occurred me that regardless of how my own tale might end, there may actually be some merit to it either way. Today I'm waiting for another call about another big script, another big day job and another smaller one that would pay the bills for another month. Whether all of that happens or none of it does, I'm creating a legacy simply by virtue of living one. Croatian waiters and Cuban bandleaders come and go, as do heartaches, rejections and cheese souffles that didn't quite work out as planned.

As for that missing element that only seemed to elude me?  "Drama is very important in life," that other Julie said in her later years. "You have to come on with a bang. You never want to go out with a whimper. Everything can have drama if it's done right. Even a pancake."


  1. Steve Mielczarek4:42 PM

    Maybe you should be a Hollywood Gossip Columnist. Or something. Kim Kardashian should be a stripper.