Thursday, July 20, 2006

Life Imitates Arts (and Dr. Laura)

from James

I found a new favorite restaurant in Miami. I would tell you the name, but they haven’t named it yet. So let’s call it _________. It’s in a gas station. I’m not kidding. Right off of U.S. on 17th Avenue, next to a place called Casola’s (which, by the way, is the best pizza pie in south Florida). There’s a gas station right on the corner, which expanded to include a mini mart. You now walk through the mini mart to get to a charming little restaurant with bench seats and an impressive selection of wines (French, Australian, Chilean, Italian, Californian, Argentinian, Spanish). The food is Spanish, which means you eat tapas (shared appetizer-sized portions). The best part about _______, however, is the wine. They price their wines very cheap, and no matter how good the bottle is, the corkage fee is ten dollars. Wines that would normally sell for over $100 in even a medium-priced restaurant sell for $40 here. And you can get antacids and a lube job on your way out. Beat that.

I like ________, too, because it is a little bit of life imitating art for me. I write a series “featuring Miami criminal defense lawyer Jack Swyteck and his colorful sidekick, Theo Knight.” (I put that language in quotes because that’s literally what it says in my contract. I wonder how much some lawyer billed HarperCollins to come up with that.) Anyway, Theo Knight owns a bar called Sparky’s, which is a sentimental name for him, since he was once on death row, and in Florida the electric chair used to be called “Old Sparky”. Here’s how I described it in Beyond Suspicion: “Sparky’s was on U.S. 1 south of Homestead, one of the last watering holes before a landscape that still bore the scars of a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 gave way to the splendor of the Florida Keys. It was a converted old gas station with floors so stained from tipped drinks that not even the Environmental Protection Agency could have determined if more flammable liquids had spilled before or after the conversion. The grease-pit was gone but the garage doors were still in place. There was a long, wooden bar, a TV permanently tuned to ESPN, and a never-ending stack of quarters on the pool table. Beer was served in cans, and the empties were crushed in true Sparky’s style at the old tire vice that still sat on the work bench. It was the kind of dive that Jack would have visited if it were in his own neighborhood, but he made the forty-minute trip for one reason only: the bartender was Theo Knight.”

So, I’m guessing that Jack would also make the drive to ______. I know I will—again and again. Any suggestions on a name? Help these guys out, folks. Something catchy. I really want them to make it!
Page Two. (That’s my Paul Harvey imitation). A friend of mine (tenured law professor, Colombia grad, publishes “thought pieces” in the Yale Law Journal—a brilliant guy married to an even more brilliant woman) reads the kind of magazines that won’t even accept me as a subscriber, let alone review my books. I saw Tony swimming laps the other day (oh, by the way, he and his brilliant wife have not an ounce of fat on their forty-something-year-old bodies). He pops out of the pool and says, “Hey, Jim, did you know you’re in the summer issue of Atlantic Monthly?” I told him no, I didn’t, and that it must be another James Grippando. He insists I’m in there, so I go buy the thing ($5.95, almost as much as one of my books, by the way). The first thing I discover is that it’s no longer called Atlantic Monthly. It’s just Atlantic. I’m no Einstein, but I’m figuring that the name change has something to do with the fact that this is the July/August issue. I see that the cover story is “Inside the Jihad,” and I figure my smart friend Tony has a very strange sense of humor. But then I also notice that there is a feature called “Summer Reading: What Some Notables are Stacking on their Beach Blankets this Year.” It includes everyone from Allan Gurganus (“Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All”) to Lynda Obst (Paramount Pictures) and Tom Ford (Gucci’s former creative director) and several others. I read on . . . then I get to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who says that she will be reading a book on sailing, a biology book called Genome by Matt Ridley, “and I also intend to read every book by James Grippando (I already have two under my belt.)”

I thought this was very cool and sent her signed first editions of all my books. Thank you Dr. Laura (not just for being a fan, but for getting my name in a magazine that even my most highbrow friends read).

James Grippando


  1. You'll appreciate this. There used to be a sign outside a cafe/gas station on the drive from Yakima to Ellensburg that said, "Eat here and get gas." That provided my sister and me with a few giggles on those long, boring road trips. Do you suppose the restaurant owners are fans of your novels and decided to cash in on the Sparky's similarities? Maybe they should name the restaurant after one of your books.

    And congrats on the Atlantic/Dr. Laura nod. Miss Snark, the literary agent is also a fan and recently posted "Got the Look" as a recent favorite read on her Web site. GO TEAM!

  2. Does this mean that you are required to read "The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands" by Dr. Laura?

    Even 7 years removed from Miami, I know that intersection well -- 17th Avenue and South Dixie. It's where traffic backs up because the clever planners stopped I-95 just where all the major residential sections begin.

    Used to be the wonderful Daily Bread Middle Eastern bakery moved a few blocks south. Always stop there on visits.

    And yes, get them to call the place "Sparky's."