One of the many self-destructive things I've done in my life was read a significant chunk of Henry Miller in high school. You might expect that this bad influence would be primarily in terms of giving me stupid 1920's tough guy attitudes about sex. No. That didn't happen. Nor did it make my prose style any more affected and incoherent than it already was. The real damage was when I read the part about how Miller managed to eat in Paris even though he had zero money. What he did was contrive to be such a great conversationalist that each of his carefully cultivated friends could be counted on to buy him one meal a week. This actually worked for him for a couple of years I think.
Somehow that entered my psyche and as a result I had a period where I endeavored to eat dinner with my three best friends' families as much as possible. Luckily, this was in the late 1980's, after the television had completely ravaged American culture (and before the Internet, video games, professional wrestling, and non-hair rock rock restored our Republic to her former glory). As a result all three of my best friends' families tended to eat dinner on trays in front of the television while watching shows like "Family Ties" or maybe spinoffs from the "Cosby Show."
In each case I did manage to wrangle invitations to actual sit-at-the-table dinners, but it was always a disaster. I blame Henry Miller.
In the first, my friend's father read the newspaper the entire time, and it freaked me out. I was trying to have entertaining conversation like Henry Miller (obviously, since this was 1980's Alabama and not 1920's Paris the conversation was without reference to either writing or all the body parts and various movements and fluids apparently endlessly discussed by artists in Miller's coterie). But the voice of my friend's Dad kept emanating behind the paper with cryptic comments about what he was reading, usually of the "Damn Democrats. . . always up to something" variety. And we'd all have to quiet down and eat after he said that, even though nothing else was forthcoming. It was agonizing.
My second friend was slightly better. The Dad was not behind a newspaper, but after he said the prayer nobody talked the whole time. We just ate the hideously bland 1980's middle-class American fare (flavorless soup, microwaved vegetables, a roll, and some kind of meat with no sauce) in silence. I couldn't do the Henry Miller trick of making entertaining conversation in those circumstances, and I didn't want to. But then, fifteen minutes into the meal, my friend's Dad looked up at the ceiling and ponderously intoned, "Mother. You've outdone yourself." He called his wife "Mother." And I wanted to say, "No she hasn't. Look at this tasteless garbage we're eating. If Julia Child was dead she'd rise up out of the grave as a super-zombie and come do a Hannibal Lecter number on all of our brains for eating this crap. And you know what, our brains would taste a lot better than this." But of course I didn't. Instead, I looked at the calender on their refridgerator, and saw that each month had a different Georgia O Keefe flower painting. And my then teenaged brain (thoroughly warped as it was by an unbearable combination of adolescent pulchritude, school, and television) had a rare moment of clarity. I realized that nobody in my friend's family saw O Keefe's phallic and vulvic (is that a word? is there an antonym for phallic?) images as remotely sexual. The were just pretty flowers. As much as I loved my friend, I could not eat there any more.
My third best friend invited me to dinner after a day we'd spent watching Woody Allen movies in his house. We were on the last one while his Mom was cooking. It was "Love and Death," Allen's fantastic early send-up of 19th century Russian novels. I was in the bathroom during the scene where Allen's character has hung himself (he gets better) and starts to think of all the things he is going to miss. He gives all sorts of characteristic romantic reasons (e.g. the beauty of the tundra, discussing philosophy into the late hours of the morning, etc.), but in the middle of this, one of the things he lists is "oral sex." It's very funny. Unfortunately my friend's mom (a devout evangelical) heard those words coming out of her T.V. set and literally started screaming as if someone was assaulting her. As soon as I could extricate myself from the bathroom (and its suffocating presence of "pot pourri" spray, plug in air-freshener, and bowl of dried flowers) my friend and I ran out of the house to the nearest Burger King. Not only did I not get a free meal, but I never got my tape of "Love and Death" back.
So ended my career as a Milleresque con man, like so many things in my life virtuous only due to the manifest incompetence with which I play the part.