BY Lynne Tillman in One Takes | 23 SEP 19

One of Lynne Tillman’s Earliest Short Stories Was a Menu

Our lives – like menus – are an assortment of so-called ‘choices’

BY Lynne Tillman in One Takes | 23 SEP 19

Lynne Tillman, Myself as a Menu, 1975. Courtesy: Lynne Tillman

At the end of 1975 or the beginning of 1976, artist Susan Hiller and writer David Coxhead asked me to contribute to art and literary magazine, Wallpaper, whose cover was, of course, wall paper. It was the first time I was asked – commissioned – to make a work for a publication.  

I wanted to write a story and fit it all on a menu and call it ‘Myself as a Menu’. This way I would have a structure and humorously author ‘a self’ as an assortment of so-called ‘choices’, while representing a text as arbitrary, like a menu of disparate dishes and tastes. 

Longchamps, an old New York restaurant, lived at the base of the Empire State Building. It was an upscale joint for businessmen and well-to-do women. Three-martini lunches lubricated deals and sent suburban wives home besotted and happy, until morning. 

Lynne Tillman, Myself as a Menu, 1975. Courtesy: Lynne Tillman

Longchamps’s menu was big and detailed. A life is made of details, though usually it’s not big. I felt ludicrous asking for a menu, but I do many things counter-phobically, and walked up to the maître d’ in his smart tuxedo, starched, white shirt, black bow-tie and announced: ‘I’m an artist, making an artwork. I’d like to use a Longchamps menu. May I have one, please?’ The maître d’, nonplussed – good ones are – said: ‘Lunch or dinner?’

‘Dinner,’ I said, because it would be more elaborate. 

He handed me the menu, and asked no questions about what would I use it for; was I going to write obscene messages to the president and disgrace their brand?  

Which is an example of why it’s always said of the past, ‘It was a simpler time.’ It wasn’t, really. But some things weren’t yet on the menu.

Lynne Tillman is a writer. Her most recent title is Mothercare (Soft Skull Press, 2022). In 2025, Soft Skull Press is publishing a book of her selected stories titled Thrilled to Death.