When I was a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College, I had a literature professor that I believed was pure genius. He wasn’t. He was just extremely charismatic and well read. At 18, I mistook this passion for prodigy. Which isn’t to say he wasn’t a smart man. He was. And is. But moreover, he was (and is) absolutely crackers.
One Tuesday afternoon, all of us students piled in for his lecture. For some reason, there was a piano in the room and he was playing Mozart’s Sonata Number 11 in A major. When he finished, we all applauded expecting him to stand and start teaching. He did not. Instead, he began playing some Rachmaninoff and left us feeling like gauche opera viewers who made the faux pas of clapping without realizing the act wasn’t actually over. This recital went on for half an hour more. Finally he stood.
He walked to his podium, took a swig of water then said, “I think Nabakov is luxuriously unimpressive. Except for Lolita. Which gets funnier and funnier each time I read it.” We all looked at each other and tacitly agreed this man was barking. Luxuriously unimpressive? That pairing of words doesn’t mean anything. Granted, there are tons of oxymorons we’ve co-opted for everyday use. Jumbo shrimp and silent scream being the most obvious. But luxuriously unimpressive? I didn’t understand.
Cut to: Me. Age 31. An American ex-pat in London, a child of Hollywood, a talented failure in the acting world, a would-be writer if I could vanquish my self-diagnosed inertia problems. The contents of Chagrinnamon Toast are my story. But if you asked me to describe the last decade of my life, I’d probably say it’s been luxuriously unimpressive. And just like Lolita was for Professor Peanuts, everything gets funnier and funnier the longer I ruminate on it. My hope is that you find it the same.