Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Don't Skip the Gates!

As part of our weekend-long date while The Boy played in the Berkshires, Jim and I took the T to Harvard Square for hamburgers and a movie. Of course, when I say "hamburgers" and "Harvard Square" in the same sentence, I am referring to Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage.

The menu always overwhelms me, so I just jump to the back page with all the "named" burgers. (The names--mostly political bigwigs--occasionally change. I don't remember a Condi burger before she become Secretary of State, for instance.) The one that caught my eye this visit was the "Professor Skip Gates" burger--a teriyaki burger with a slice of grilled pineapple on top. According to the menu, Professor Gates himself gave his seal of approval to this concoction.

Although I love teriyaki sauce, what really drew me to the Professor Skip Gates (or just "SKIP, MEDIUM RARE!" in short-order cook parlance) was that I'd had the pleasure of meeting the man himself a few short weeks ago. I was at a kitchen-renovation-revelation party at my new friend Suzy's house in Framingham (beautiful kitchen, designed by Suzy herself, a real artist), when I started talking to a very trim man who was chatting about his childhood in West Virginia. Jim's mom is from Clarksburg, W.Va., so I joined in. His story was so compelling that I said, in all ignorance, "You should write a book about this!" And he said, "I have. My name is Henry Louis Gates. Please call me Henry."

Well, of course I'd heard of him for years, just didn't know him by sight. I'm not easily intimidated by titles. (Harvard professor--eh. I've learned that a certain amount of academic success is a crapshoot as much as an earned thing.) But achievement of his magnitude--that's something real.

I quickly learned why he's so successful. It's not just his intellect. I don't know whether it was the amusing conversation or his charming way of encouraging me to eat potato chips so he wouldn't have to indulge alone and guiltily, but I swiftly fell under his spell. I'm sure he's an amazing teacher (another attribute I value highly).

The deal was clinched when I learned that not only had he lived in Lexington for several years, but he had lived on my street. And not only on my street, but in "my house"--a beautiful old house I always point out to my husband and say, "That's my favorite house in the whole town!" His kids had gone to my son's school.

It was like a David Letterman "brush with greatness," but instead of some diva-ish movie star, it was with a delightful academic star. After all, the Globe did point out a few weeks ago that a Harvard professor is a star in Boston (though perhaps not quite at the level of a Sox player or Patriot). I'm starting to agree with that point of view.

So after that, how could I resist trying a Skip on my next Bartley's visit? Not surprisingly, it turned out to be very satisfying, though maybe not quite as good as meeting the real deal.


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