A Lesson on Book Signing from James Beard

I may have told this story before on the blog, but in response to a special request from Paul on the forums to hear some personal stories about Julia Child and James Beard, I'm telling it again. 42 years ago, I worked as a secretary in the public relations department of Reynolds Metals Company. I held the key to the storage closet that contained a huge quantity of aluminum foil and plastic wrap, and it was part of my job to send them out to the press. As a special bonus, my boss gave me the present of a series of cooking classes at James Beard. Of course I was ecstatic and made sure to add Jim to the list of recipients of the foil and plastic wrap. About a decade later I became one of the founders of the New York Association of Cook School Teachers. Jim had just written another book, so we decided to hold a meeting and book signing at his home. Some of us sat in chairs; I remember sitting on the floor at his feet. We were encouraged to ask questions -- I remember mine was pertaining to my dislike of ultra-pasteurized cream. Then we formed a line to have him sign our books that we had just purchased. I was very anxious to see what he would write in mine since we had a more personal relationship than most (all that foil and plastic wrap). There were so many of us, I had to wait about 20 minutes but was rewarded with a very lengthy scrawl. I went to the side of the room to enjoy it in private. To my amazement, I couldn't make out a single word of the scribble! I brought it over to Richard Nemo, who was his assistant. (I used to be able to read my boss's handwriting better than he could read his own.) But Richard said: "You'll have to ask Mr. Beard; I can't read it either." So I stood back in line for another 15 minutes, opened the book to the inscription, and said to Jim: "What did you write here?" He studied it for a few seconds, looked up, and with a half smile said: "Damned if I know!" Lesson learned.