“I collect writers,” Flitter told me as we sat by the window at Laszlo, the bar attached to the Foreign Cinema. “I am not an interesting person, but many writers are, and it’s great because they write me things.”
This may be the first time someone has ever told me I’m part of their collection, and I don’t quite know how to take it, but it’s not a joke. Flitter counts 14 writers of books (15, counting me) among her close friends, including four New York Times best sellers. She gives them almost as much time and attention as she does to reading: In 2017 she read 464 books. She’s trying to cut down, though; In 2018 she finished just north of 200. Her voracious reading isn’t just for pleasure, it’s a response to stress. Which is why she’s given up almost anything dark and depressing.
“In these political times, I want fun. I want happy,” she said.
I have to disagree with Flitter about not being interesting, though. This is a woman who’s traveled through Cambodia by herself. Who has toured most of Europe and much of East Asia solo. Who reads, not to put too fine a point on it, hundreds of books a year — even if she’s going through a fluff phase — and who collects authors.
She’s plenty interesting. I wonder why she doesn’t feel it. On the other hand, we all have a view of ourselves that no one else gets, and we are rarely happy about it.
Flitter likes Laszlo because, unless it’s especially crowded, it’s quiet; it has above-par cocktails for the increasingly standard price of about $13; and the second-floor balcony is neat. When it’s open (it’s rarely open). I’m with her on all that.
But she also likes the daily happy hour, which features free bowls of popcorn and chips, and $7 cocktails. I am not so impressed. The selection of cocktails for $7 is almost entirely made up of “one liquor plus one mixer plus fruit garnish” drinks. Basically they’re charging you $7 for a slightly dressy vodka tonic or whisky and soda. The happy hour isn’t giving you a discount on the interesting cocktails, it’s giving you much cheaper cocktails at the correct price.
What I am impressed by is that Laszlo, as an adjunct to a fancy movie house, hasn’t gone all out on a “foreign movie theater” theme. It has a few posters on the walls, and that’s it. By simply being a bar attached to a movie-theater-themed restaurant, and not demanding that you acknowledge just how movie-theater-like it is, they have both dodged a bullet and given themselves the opportunity to establish a potentially compelling identity.
Although … their emphasis on a (and I quote) “vast vinyl collection” does sort of squander that opportunity. Because, my God, you can’t throw a rock in the Mission without hitting a record-themed business. Why … why … would you go through all the trouble of dodging one obvious and overcooked identity only to leap into another?
Oh, well. The place is dark and has comfortable seats and is very good for a conversation. I ordered a “seven seals” (Banhez mezcal, pineapple juice, fresh lime and orange juices, coconut cream, fresh nutmeg) and it was delicious. We were having a good time.
We compared notes on places we’ve been. I haven’t been to Cambodia, and she said that I should go and see Angkor Wat, but not the killing fields or the concentration camps. “You have a good imagination … you don’t need to see that. You really don’t. Please believe me. What is interesting, though, is that I thought it would be such an angry place. But instead it was sad, a sadness so overwhelming that there wasn’t any room to get angry, it just wasn’t worth it.” I told her about the time I spent in a Buddhist monastery in rural India, and then about the strange pull that Venice once held on me.
“I don’t get that,” she said. “I barely spent a day in Venice. The city seemed to be rotting to me. In its foundations.”
“Well, it kind of is …”
“I don’t mean literally, I mean metaphorically.”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “But the flip side of that is decadence, which … some of us can find appealing, even compelling.”
“I guess so.”
“I really do think cities all have some kind of psychological effect on people; psycho-geography is weirdly real. Like Jerusalem … have you heard of the Jerusalem syndrome?”
“This is incredibly well-documented: Tourists come to visit Jerusalem, and a surprising number of them just mentally snap, and are convinced that they’re characters from the city’s history. Jesus, King David, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene … it happens often enough that there’s actually a special hospital outside Jerusalem specifically for people with this condition. They once put three Jesuses in a room and told them to work it out. It … did not go well.”
“The only thing that seems to work is to get them out of the city. Return them to their real lives, and slowly their real lives take over again. It’s bizarre.”
“Like they’re possessed by ghosts,” Flitter said. “And then they’re free.”
We had another round. I got a “first fruits” (Barmatt Equatonal gin, spiced pear liqueur, fresh Bernard Ranch lemon, seltzer, fresh rosemary, bosc pear) — also excellent. Apparently I only find their happy hour cocktails objectionable. Flitter grabbed the last of the popcorn and chips.
We started telling each ghost stories. Apparently we each have a story where something that seems physically impossible really happened to us, personally, in a place someone had identified as haunted. I don’t know what to make of that. Flitter moved her arms when she told her story, and her Apple Watch suddenly started to chime. “Huh,” she said. “Apparently if I do this enough, it thinks I’m meeting my fitness goals.” She waved her arm some more. Her watch chimed. “Oh, look at that. Another goal achieved. That … why does it think I’m standing up?”
I wonder which has more glitches, technology or reality.
I definitely know which glitches are more interesting.
So does Flitter, who prefers writers to screens.