“You should come back to our place for dinner,” Jane said. “David Bottoms is coming.”
Jane was the chair of the Department of English at West Georgia, where I was then interviewing. Friday, and the three-day process had pretty much concluded. I thought I had done well, but, really, who ever knows? Besides, why would she, the chair of the damn department, invite me to her own house for dinner, with David Bottoms, after the entire interview process was essentially over? I felt good. I said yes.
“You’re going to love Jane,” a friend of mine had told me a week before. Having worked with her husband Bob at Kennesaw State before moving on to the next academic job (ever thus for us itinerant English professors), he had grown extremely close with both of them, said I’d be fortunate to land that gig. “Jane’s super cool,” he said, “And Bob? Bob’s the man.”
So after I threw my bag in Jane’s Volvo, after we chatted all the way to Marietta (about an hour away), when I first met Bob in their house and he asked me what I’d like to drink, I asked instead what he was drinking.
“Bombay Sapphire Martini,” he said, with a wry smile.
I should stop here and say that 1) every self-respecting dissertation director, job coach, mindful parent or spouse, and—hell—any moron on the street will tell you: do not get drunk on a job interview. To which I might append the following:
1a.) do not get drunk after the interview, while still in the presence of those who might potentially hire you;
1b.) do not get drunk in the presence of the Poet Laureate of the state in which you find yourself presently applying for a job (as a poet); and, perhaps most crucially,
1c.) do not get drunk in the presence of the Poet Laureate of the state in which you find yourself presently applying for a job (as a poet), while also in the presence of both your potential boss and her husband (who is also a poet).
Thing is, my wife Gwen and I had recently taken to Martinis. I wanted one. I had one.
I had one after that. I had wine with dinner. If memory serves (and it doesn’t serve much), Grand Marnier post-prandial. All the while the conversation scintillated. I remember talking to David Bottoms—David Freaking Bottoms—about William Carlos Williams. I remember we spoke of James Dickey and the massive tumblers of bourbon he’d pour when Bob—who wrote the damn book on Dickey—visited him for interviews. I remember that night—the night I met David Bottoms—as perhaps one of the best, most literary, most imaginatively charged, and surely one of the most embarrassing of my life.
No, I didn’t spill Bordeaux down David’s shirt. I didn’t strip off my pants to show some war wound. I didn’t slur (not much anyway) or anything so explicit. I was drunk, though, and drunk also on possibility: the idea that I might be hired into this milieu, that I could—if I didn’t completely blow it (say, for example, by getting loaded on the interview, at the boss’s house)—potentially be the pick and, hence get to hang with Jane and Bob Hill and, of course, David Freaking Bottoms.
Turns out I did get the job. Jane and Bob—despite my antics that night, my second and maybe third Martini—are some of my dearest friends. David Bottoms? He’s David Freaking Bottoms. I ran into him many more times after that—at Jane and Bob’s house, while he was giving readings at West Georgia, or at points afield in Atlanta. Every time I saw him, too, every time we shook hands (these were pre-covid days), he’d say the same thing: “How ya doin’, bud?”
I wondered each time, though, if he remembered that first night, when an overly enthusiastic and—let’s face it—drunk, young poet, a bit star-struck and drunk on the enormous possibilities in that room, shared a table and conversation with him and will forever link him to all the good things in this world.