In his career to date, Isaac Fitzgerald has been a dishwasher, a bartender, a porn performer, the “world’s worst sushi chef,” and a humanitarian-aid worker at the Thai-Myanmar border as well as a writer, editor, talk-show host, and general “books cheerleader on the internet.” On Tuesday, he’ll add memoirist to the list with the publication of Dirtbag, Massachusetts. “It’s about a family kind of blowing apart but then coming back together in a new and interesting shape,” he explains. It’s also about finding refuge in unexpected places, which — with publication looming — Fitzgerald did this week at an Irish pub in midtown.
Thursday, July 7
At the beginning of every week, I usually boil a dozen eggs. That way I always have food in a pinch if I need it. This habit started during the pandemic, a bowl of hard-boiled eggs sitting in my fridge at all times. Sometimes I peel ’em and sprinkle ’em with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. If I have time, I’ll warm the egg up and mix it with salt, pepper, hot sauce, and butter.
This morning, I was running late, so I peeled an egg as quickly as I could and headed out the door, but not before I popped two more hard-boiled eggs into a Ziploc and slipped ’em into my bag. I was headed into Manhattan from my apartment in Brooklyn to sign copies of my book, Dirtbag, Massachusetts, at my publisher, Bloomsbury. I prefer to walk into Manhattan — another habit I picked up during the pandemic — but as I said, I was running late, so I took the train.
They gave me coffee at Bloomsbury. I let it cool as I wrote my signature over and over again. I wish I could say I’m someone who enjoys a big, hot black coffee, but the truth is I prefer my coffee tepid to room temperature so it doesn’t burn my little baby mouth. This morning — with my cooling coffee on my right-hand side — was probably the most I’ve ever signed my name in a row in my entire life. It doesn’t help that my handwriting is atrocious, so to me it feels as if every time I sign a book I’m bringing its value down, not up. But the generous folks at Bloomsbury assured me it was fine, and by 10 a.m. I’d finished and was out the door.
While I was at Bloomsbury, Esquire published an essay I wrote about choosing not to have children and the joys of being an uncle. When I looked down at my phone, I saw that it was flooded with notifications, most of them positive. For whatever reason, though, attention of any kind, good or bad, makes me anxious — a fact that is perplexing given the line of work I’ve chosen to pursue, but that’s a conversation for my therapist, not the Grub Street Diet. All you need to know is that at 10:15 a.m., feeling slightly overwhelmed, I found the nearest Irish bar in midtown Manhattan — which in this case was a place called John Sullivan’s — where I ordered a string of cold Bud bottles throughout the morning and into the early afternoon.
Bars have always been spaces where I find community. I know the rules of a bar. There’s a little bit of routine. And so when I feel unmoored, that’s a place where I can go and get my bearings. They’re like these little escape hatches, especially in midtown Manhattan: Right there in the middle of one of the busiest parts of one of the busiest cities in all the country, if not the world, you can usually find a little dark room where you get to hide out and collect your thoughts, and that’s what I just absolutely love.
Around one, I decided to walk home, taking in the view of the city skyline from the Manhattan Bridge as I enjoyed an al fresco lunch of two hard-boiled eggs. That evening, I forgot to eat dinner, instead electing to watch YouTube clips of the movie Moneyball while having a few more Bud bottles in the comfort of my own home. Something about every actor besides Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill looking exactly the same — to the point that I have a hard time telling who is who as they spout off baseball statistics I don’t understand at all — was soothing to my brain.
Friday, July 8
I woke up ravenous, having consumed only three eggs and too many Buds the day before. I took my dog, Zorra, out for a walk in Prospect Park. She’s like a mythical creature. She looks like … not to use video-game language, but if you ran into her on the street and she was like, “I have a side quest for you,” you’d just think, Yep, that sounds right.
On the way home, we stopped by Winner in Park Slope. I got an iced coffee and what I can only describe as the best breakfast sandwich on the planet. Oh my gosh, the cheese is gooey. You feel as if you’re in a commercial for pizza in the ’80s, the way you bite into it and the cheese kind of stretches out. And the eggs … I don’t know how they get their eggs to be the way they are. I mean, I’m sure it’s simple (they just whisk them a lot or something), but they feel so incredibly fluffy. Like, we live in New York City. This is the land of the egg sandwich — there are so many great ones and so many delis and bodegas — but Winner’s really feels like if it were served to me on a silver platter and a waiter was to do the reveal, that would be right. It deserves that level of presentation. Zorra got a dog treat from the woman working the window, and we both walked home content.
I was behind on pieces I was writing in support of the book, and spending the day before in a bar and then watching an underdog baseball movie via YouTube clips didn’t help. I worked through the morning and into the afternoon, ordering $100 worth of Chinese food from Authentic Szechuan Tofu of 5th Avenue (formerly Authentic Szechuan Tofu of 7th Avenue), my favorite delivery spot in the neighborhood.
I ordered wonton soup, wontons in chile sauce, crabmeat-and-pork-soup dumplings, salt-and-pepper shrimp, Chongqing chicken, cold sesame noodles, and pork lo mein, all of which were incredible. I also ordered an egg roll, extra packages of crispy noodles and homemade duck sauce to snack on throughout the day, and crab cheese wontons because sometimes you simply want to be a trash person who eats trash things. It was getting close to noon, so I tossed a Sapporo in the order as well.
Despite having lived in New York City for close to nine years, I’ve never mastered the art of ordering just one meal for delivery. I feel that by ordering more food, I am making the trip more worth the delivery person’s while — and my own. As if by ordering a ridiculous amount of food, I’m saving them multiple trips and myself multiple orders. Which is all to say I am an irrational person. After making a small dent in my tremendous order, I put the leftovers in the fridge next to my bowl of hard-boiled eggs like some demented, unhealthy squirrel preparing for winter despite it being July.
That afternoon, I grabbed a margarita with my friend Kathryn before making my way down to St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, where I interviewed the author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Nana is incredible, and I loved watching the students connect with him. Afterward, I walked back to Park Slope for a date with my girlfriend, Kelly, at my favorite restaurant in all of New York City: Haenyeo. Chef Jenny Kwak and her husband, Terrence Segura, who own the restaurant, are always so kind and welcoming, and one member of the waitstaff, Audrey, has become an acquaintance based solely on how much I eat there. Audrey wrote an essay for Catapult, “Dreaming of Writing While Waiting Tables,” which resonated with me deeply as a former industry worker who also had literary ambitions. Audrey was excited and told us she was recently accepted into a local writing workshop, Crit, and is absolutely loving it.
Maybe it was Audrey’s enthusiasm or the students at St. Francis clearly loving what Nana had to say or the fact that John Turturro was also eating at Haenyeo that night, but the anxieties of the day before started to melt away as Kelly and I enjoyed a couple of cocktails (I recommend the Smoking Uncle) while feasting on Kwak’s signature dukboki fundido, yache pajeon (dip ’em in the dukboki fundido sauce), japchae, jalapeño chicken (a new item on the menu that is perhaps now my favorite), and bibimbop. The night ended with Kelly enjoying a bourbon while I drank a cold beer and polished off a plate of piping-hot sugar-dusted beignets. Walking home, the weather was warm and our stomachs were full.
Saturday, July 9
It was a day for eating leftovers and catching up on deadlines. I binge-worked while stuffing my mouth with cold noodles and cold wontons and, yes, the occasional hard-boiled egg. It ain’t pretty, but it’s how I get work done.
That night, Kelly and I had dinner at Leland Eating and Drinking House in Prospect Heights with our friends Kevin and Naomi. We drank a bottle of chilled Sicilian red wine while eating sourdough bread and focaccia, tightly wound circles of raw mackerel with esquites, a half chicken, and a whole fried fish. It was a wonderful meal, and I was grateful that the stresses of Thursday had fully subsided, though when the bill came, I made a note that I’d have to balance my budget with a few more hard-boiled-egg meals the following week.
I have a weird relationship to money for all sorts of different reasons. I didn’t grow up with a lot of it. But I worked in restaurants from a very young age, and because of that, I’ve always had this feeling that money comes in, I’d make my tips, and then I’d go out to other restaurants or bars and spend that money there. And as you get to know the people who work at different spots, it’s almost as if you’re all just sharing money. Like, I’m gonna hand you this giant tip, and when you come to my place, you’ll hand it back, and we all get our bills paid. It’s almost like a communal thing.
For a few years before the pandemic, I was making more money than I ever expected to — not megabucks but more than my parents had ever made — but then I left that. I’ve started thinking of myself as what I call a time millionaire: I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have a lot of time, and it turns out that is actually more valuable to me. Don’t get me wrong: This was a celebratory week. It’s not as if I’m eating at restaurants that fancy all the time. But I do like to go out, and when I do it, it feels good to have that supportive-of-the-industry mentality I had when I worked in it.
Sunday, July 10
Kelly, it’s worth mentioning, hates hard-boiled eggs, which is why I made scrambled eggs with avocado, English muffins, and fruit for breakfast. As I’m sure you’ve already surmised by now, I ain’t much of a cook, but morning meals I can do.
The rest of the day was much like the day before as I sustained myself on my stores of leftovers in the fridge while doing my best to catch up on work.
That evening, Kelly made an absolutely exquisite meal, and our friend Scaachi came over. We enjoyed a cherry kale salad with honey-lime vinaigrette and Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce over some fresh pasta courtesy of the kind people at Pasta Louise — another local favorite — with Marian Burros’s incredible plum torte for dessert. The torte was so good that, among the three of us, we ate the entire thing. Scaachi even caught me eating a few crumbs off her plate. She proceeded to yell at me.
Monday, July 11
It was Monday morning, so I ate an egg. I had multiple interviews in support of the book, so I did my best to get through them without saying anything too dumb — did I succeed or not? Only time will tell.
I walked over to Brancaccio’s Food Shop in Windsor Terrace to grab lunch. During the pandemic, I practically lived off Joe’s rotisserie chicken, picking the bones clean with my hands while drinking a bottle of red wine. The sandwiches and meatballs are also phenomenal. Listen, everything at Brancaccio’s is good, which is why I was devastated to arrive and find the place closed. Some loyal customer I’ve turned out to be. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. I always forget.
Luckily, I had a hard-boiled egg in my bag. After I ate, I strolled through Green-Wood Cemetery for a bit before cutting back across Brooklyn to meet up with Morgan Talty at Güeros in Crown Heights. We were both scheduled to take part in the Franklin Park Reading Series that night. I’m such a fan of Morgan’s new book, Night of the Living Rez, that I reached out to see if he’d be interested in meeting up beforehand. We — and by “we,” I really mean mostly me — split a basket of nachos while eating brisket, fish, and pork tacos.
We finished our meal and headed over to Franklin Park for whatever would come next.