Tamara Shopsin talks about her famous dad with old friend J.J. Abrams
The two have known each other for years. Here, they discuss her book, her childhood, and her eccentric father, Kenny.
J.J. Abrams I’ve known your family for decades and knew your parents back at the original General Store. I remember your dad would throw you kids on the back of his motorcycle and drive away. And I would think, ”This guy is insane.”
Tamara Shopsin It was the best. New York on a motorcycle — and we had this helmet where the face lid flips up, so you can just eat while you ride.
Abrams Awesome. Like being on an amusement-park ride. How would you describe this book you’ve written? It’s this great diary, but it’s also got amazing snapshots of life in various parts of the world.
Shopsin I’ve been describing it as a memoir, but of a really finite period of time. It’s really just a story that happened to me that I’m trying to tell.
Abrams Who’s the audience?
Shopsin According to my editor, a s— ton of people. According to me…I have no idea. Probably people who are sort of interested in my dad, because he shows up and makes some appearances.
Abrams He’s as much a brilliant social commentator as he is a remarkable cook. And — if you’re on his good side — he’s a wonderful guy to hang out with. But I’ve also seen his edge.
Shopsin He’s got a short temper.
Abrams I’ll say. Can you talk a little bit about growing up and what that was like?
Shopsin It was wonderful, except when it wasn’t. We didn’t have money, but it didn’t bother us. It was a really dreamy, weird, dirty, strange, vulgar childhood. Adulthood too. I mean, I’m still superclose with my dad. I love him, but I totally understand why people hate him, when they hate him.
Abrams He had hundreds and hundreds of items on that menu. I’m just curious if you had a favorite.
Shopsin Well, I normally eat the scraps. If there’s half a potato there, I’m going to have a baked potato with cheese, because I don’t want to put my dad out. But I love his chicken tortilla avocado soup. Ray’s chicken garlic angelhair soup is great too. I have him make it when I’m sick.
Abrams Your book is dramatic and shocking and scary. What does it mean to you that you are still alive?
Shopsin You stumped me. What does it mean to be alive?
Abrams Some people go through what you went through and don’t come out the other side. But some people do. For example, I had a friend who had a similar experience, and I remember her saying that she was never going to be upset about stupid things again.
Shopsin Funny. I wasn’t like that, promising not to be petty, but I know what you mean. Afterwards little moments would send me into rapture. I was on a sofa with sunlight on my feet, making my socks warm, and I was just laying there for hours shifting my feet with the sun’s movements, thinking, ”Oh my God, this is amazing.” I still feel those moments, but not as intensely. I mean, I’m really touched by the cup of blueberries you set out for me while we do this interview, but I’m not going to tear up about it.
Abram When I went to see your dad, I was actually reading the book at his restaurant. He admitted he hadn’t finished it. That he couldn’t. Do you know if he has?
Shopsin I think he has, but he might have skipped some parts. But he loved it — and is superproud.
Abrams What do you think your mom would say about the book?
Shopsin I think she’d probably say, ”Mazel tov,” which she reserved for when babies were born. By the way, I have a story related to you, but you may not like it.
Abrams I’m sure I won’t. Let’s hear it.
Shopsin Every time your name comes up, my dad mentions a Mel Gibson movie you wrote, Forever Young. I don’t know if you know this, but he loves it.
Abrams He does?
Shopsin He loves it.
Abrams Oh my God, you’re kidding me.
Shopsin So I called him.
Abrams I’ve lost respect for him.
Shopsin I haven’t seen it since I was a kid. I called him and I was like, ”Why do you love it?” and he goes, ”I don’t know. It’s just in that box — the love box.” When he thinks of you, he doesn’t think of anything else.
Abrams That’s very sweet.