You might have thought you’d heard the last of Stanley Crouch’s assault on Dale Peck — God knows I hadn’t planned on harping on it the way I have — but it turns out that one of my favorite writers, ZZ Packer, was Crouch’s lunch companion that afternoon. She emailed me her recollection of the day’s events (and I post her account with permission):
I was outside Tartine waiting for Mr. Crouch to arrive. When I was back in Cali, he’d called me because he was going to include an essay he’d written about Drinking Coffee Elsewhere in an anthology he’d been working on. (He’s also a friend of James Alan McPherson, one of my greatest friends and mentors.) Since I was going to be in NYC, we decided to meet for lunch.
Anyway, he finally came, we went inside, and sat down. After a few minutes he said, “Is that Dale Peck, behind you?”
And for a second I thought he was talking about someone else (admittedly, I’m slow about these things), and I said, “Oh, we should say hello.”
And then, when Stanley got up, I suddenly remembered “Dale Peck” and his new book, “Hatchet Jobs” and “Dale Peck” who’d written a rather unkind review of Stanley’s book, Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome in the New Republic, and that Heidi Julavits had written about him in the inaugural edition of the Believer. And finally, I remembered Stanley had mentioned Dale Peck in the phone conversation we’d had when I was back in California (about a week before the incident).
Stanley went over to Peck’s table and said, “Are you Dale Peck?”
Now, Yablonsky [Peck’s lunch companion] says Dale Peck said, “So what?” but I thought I heard him say, “Yes, I’m Dale Peck.”
And Stanley said, “Stanley Crouch. I just wanted to meet you . . . ” (I didn’t hear the rest.)
Then Stanley, who was still holding Peck’s hand in a frozen handshake, slapped Peck with his other hand, TWICE, on both cheeks, and said, “Don’t you ever do that again. If you do you’ll get much worse.” Stanley let loose Peck’s hand and pointed at him, “I should spit on you. Now, we can settle this outside . . . ”
Dale Peck said, “I don’t want anything to do with that.”
No one in the restaurant knew what to do. I just wasn’t believing what was happening was happening, and just sat there, as did everyone else.
Stanley stood there for a moment, then backed away, saying, to Peck, and, I guess, everyone else in the place (only about five other people, including staff) “I shouldn’t have done that.”
Then he came back over to our table which was, max, five feet away from Peck’s and his friend (Yablonsky) and said, to me, “I’m really sorry you had to see that.”
I told him (rather lamely) that everyone got bad reviews and that a review as vitrolic as Peck’s said more about the reviewer than the book being reviewed, and that bad reviews were a sign that his fiction was being taken seriously, yada yada, but he kept repeating, “I shouldn’t have done that, I’m sorry you had to see that.”
He was honestly distraught over what he’d done, and that he let his temper get the best of him, though he didn’t go back to Peck’s table and apologize. Peck and his friend (Yablonsky) stayed at their table for at least ten minutes while Stanley and I stayed at ours. . . .
Addendum: Interestingly, Crouch once took a steamboat trip up the Mississippi River with Richard Ford, who infamously spat on Colson Whitehead in retaliation for a negative review. They were sent on the jaunt to talk with each other about race.