I’ve been a big fan of Earl Bronsteen’s since August of 2005 when I first discovered his first art book, How to be a Famous Contemporary Artist. If you haven’t already you should go buy it now.
Then in 2009, I interviewed him with Sabrina Santucci and Liz Pieries about his second book, “Contemporary Art Appreciation 101:
How to Understand What’s Contemporary Art and What’s Snot / Everything You Always Wanted to Ask About Contemporary Art But Were Afraid to Know”
Well now he’s back with a third book. “The Adventures Of A Free Lunch Junkie.” For a variety of reasons I’m late to the party with this review. I’m sorry and I promise it won’t happen again.
Clocking in at a robust 278 pages, in short, it’s a very nice read. If you prefer the longer version, continue scrolling down.
In case you’ve been under a rock for a while, there’s been a serious pandemic of greed that has been going around the United States for the past decade or so. One of the more particularly egregious forms of it was (is, it still happens to this day, as far as I know) when some slick Gordon Gekko type invites a bunch of golden-agers to have a lunch on his dime while he puts on a very impressive presentation based mostly on smoke and mirrors about how the golden-agers can become fabulously wealthy if they just invest their money with the Gordon Gekko wannabe.
The unfortunate truth is that the golden-agers don’t become fabulously wealthy, but the Gordon Gekko clone does.
Mr. Bronsteen launched himself freely and of his own volition into this morass for a variety of reasons in between May 2010 and February 2011 in order to partake in 50 of these bonanza buffets. The result will not leave you with that overstuffed feeling, and is perfect for most diets. (C’mon! I couldn’t resist, once I had typed the words “bonanza buffets” the rest was a foregone conclusion, thanks for understanding).
Reading between the lines, I got a sense that he might have become bored (or disenchanted) with the art world, and was looking around for something else. But as I have stated previously, I’ve been wrong before, and am likely to be wrong again – or if you prefer in the spirit of the book “Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Results.”
First off, as he is octogenarian, I would have presumed he knew that a fork always goes on the left side. But there he is bold as life on the front cover of his book with a big steak knife in his left hand and the fork in his right. I’d chalk this up as a mere reversal of the original photo, but in the book he does mention how he parts his hair on the right side, which is where the part in his hair is in this picture. But then again blame might be assignable to one of the staff at the restaurant where the picture was taken, because while the glass of red wine is in its proper place on the right hand side of the setting, the cake fork and spoon for desert are not facing in opposite directions.
Although now that I mention it, the whole photo could be a large and elaborate ruse, and not an actual picture from one of the free lunches that Mr. Bronsteen ate. Some dastardly combo of Photoshop and Food Styling. Because as he also clearly states a couple of times in the book, he does not drink alcohol! Why would there be a picture of him with a full glass of red wine in front of him, unless it was the fabrication of some nameless Food Stylist who overcharges to take pictures of things people eat. Or perhaps it was taken at one of those tourist traps where they try to get you to pay $20 for a Polaroid picture in a paper frame so you never forget the memory. I have one of those from a dinner cruise that I took about 20 years ago, and believe you me I will never forget it, ever.
However, do not let this dissuade you in any way about the book. As I have said numerous times, you cannot judge a book by its cover.
But back to the book itself, for whatever reasons, and place settings aside, Mr. Bronsteen writes about the 50 meals he ate where someone else was buying the food and then pitching him on something. I discovered that these free lunches aren’t only for investments. They can also be given by retirement homes, doctors and funeral homes among others. Just about anyplace where someone thinks that they might be able to separate the checkbook from the checkbook writer.
Mr. Bronsteen’s descriptions of the meals are sometimes sparse, but I imagine that the food itself wasn’t anything to write home about, and if it’s not worth writing home about, it sure as shooting isn’t worth writing in a book about. However as he labels the book satire, the descriptions of the hows, whats, whys and whens of the free lunch circuit are very frequently hilarious.
I was surprised to find out that an awful lot of the lunches not only happen at breakfast and dinner, but also in the same restaurants and in certain cases the pitchmen/women are in fact the same. Mr. Bronsteen describes a couple of times where he almost has to put on a disguise in order to eat – and the other ‘incident’ that I’ll remember for a while is when he gets carded and then told he can’t have the free lunch because he is too old.
I’m not certain that I would have been able to go back to Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris all that often. Although at some point I gotta get me to a Morton’s and a Ruth’s Chris (or get a Morton’s and a Ruth’s Chris to me) because my grandmother was named Ruth, and I am fairly confident that at sometime in my formative years someone called me “Ruth’s Chris” when my mom wasn’t around. And on the other side of the family my grandfather’s name was Morton. Go figure, I guess that’s why I like steak.
I also know that free lunch seminars designed to separate you from your money (no matter how old or young you are) are illegal here in Canada. One of many significant differences between the United States and Canada. As a consequence even if I was able to get a Morton’s and a Ruth’s Chris to me I wouldn’t be able to write a similar book.
Actually, given what I know of Mr. Bronsteen’s life, I can only hope and wish that I am as capable, interesting and entertaining as he is when I am his age. I am fortunate to share birthdays with him (only 37 years apart) and if I squint hard enough I can see some other similarities as well. But it is still a stretch, heck, actually just getting to 80 would be great, everything else would be gravy.
In speaking with him, he has not divulged what his next project is going to be, but if it is half as good as The Adventures Of A Free Lunch Junkie I can’t wait.