My old pal Peter Sagal, host of National Public Radio’s WAIT WAIT DON’T TELL ME, has been up to no damned good.
In case you missed it, Peter recently wrote a book about the human propensity for bad behavior titled “The Book of Vice.”
When I first heard the title — before I saw it written out — I was wondering why Peter had written an homage to Robert Van Winkle. Though I was relieved to learn that his tome wasn’t, in fact, offering fond analyses of lyrics such as…
- “Something grabs a hold of me tightly / Flow like a harpoon daily and nightly,”
…the reality of Peter’s book was even more alarming. But let me back up a tad…
Before Peter hit it big as someone who can actually order Carl Kassell to fetch his dog’s dry cleaning, he and I were struggling playwrights here in the Twin Cities, during that swinging decade historians have called “the 1990s.” We were punk writers, hoodlums really, and we’d barge into theater directors’ offices and demand that our stuff be produced, ’cause it would be a real shame if something happened to that nice George Bernard Shaw paperweight sitting so pretty on the desk.
Peter moved on to N.Y., then did a bank shot back to the Midwest when NPR came a-calling. He is now an NPR megastar, serving as the smart, congenial and quick-witted host of WAIT WAIT (Full disclosure: I always thought the show should have at least another three WAITs in the title, but… NPR never responded to my many letters of bitter complaint).
But here’s some honest-to-Susan Stamberg facts about Peter and myself:
— He introduced me to Korean food. I’ve never forgiven him for that.
— I once acted in a play of his, as a folksy, friendly landlord who beats the living snot out of the play’s hero with a flashlight. God help me, I enjoyed it immensely.
— The man is a fine writer, stellar radio talent and an all-around lovely guy. Korean food notwithstanding.
But now Peter has has bravely plunged into the world of naughtiosity like only a wry, self-described vanilla guy can do. THE BOOK OF VICE is a very fun read. And though most of the P.R. around the book has defaulted to the Ess-Ee-Ecks parts, some of my favorite writing in the book revolved around the “gluttony” section, where Peter and his lovely wife Beth venture into a very tony, hip Chicago restaurant. Lazy sod that I am, let me quote this review from the St. Petersburg Times, which in turn quotes the book:
One of the most hilarious chapters is about a dinner Sagal and his wife have at Alinea, a highly acclaimed Chicago restaurant. Its chef, Grant Achatz, is a practitioner of molecular gastronomy, an elaboration of culinary art cross-bred with chemistry, a rather chilly type of extreme cuisine.
As Sagal writes, a molecular chef “would look at a banana and see something to be frozen, microtomed, processed into foam or liquid, or maybe, through some magic bit of alchemy, turned into a meatball.”
The result is both strange and irresistible: “Waiters carefully place in front of us: a square of Lucite, four inches by four inches by half an inch, standing on edge. On top of the square: a sliver of metal, holding what looks like a single yellow die on which the spots were applied by a blind person with a tiny brush. This is, according to the menu: ‘Corn, with coconut, cayenne, and lime.’ It looks no more like Corn (or coconut, cayenne, or lime) than a Whopper looks like the Queen of Romania.”
But when he eats it, the result “is quite literally indescribable – as if somebody poked your brain with an electrode and all of a sudden you started tasting things nobody had invented words for.” After a couple of dozen courses and a lot of very fine wine, Sagal writes, “I paid the $750 bill and licked the glass.”
The BOOK OF VICE paperback edition is set to come out in about a month. Do check it out. It’s a very funny book.
In the meantime, here’s Peter Sagal — the King of all Public Media — a man who can, at whim, order Garrison Keillor to beat himself with a sack of oranges — addressing the tribe at Google last month: