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My Cancer, My Friend's Cancer, and a Stadium's Worth of Meat

Toasting the World Cup (and Much More) at a Brazilian Steakhouse

Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Christopher eats meats; I do sports, so we decided to head to a Brazilian restaurant to see if we could combine the two. It’s the first game of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil—hosts vs Croatia—and we're at Churrascaria Plataforma in Midtown Manhattan.

As he sits down, Christopher announces, "Welcome to my 2022 heart attack!" I have been through this meat thing with him before. On St. Stephen's Day, 2010, he and his partner Augusten joined me and mine, Elizabeth, to celebrate the end of a horrible year. Christopher's close friend had died in September; a month before, I had awoken from a cancer operation, and the second face I had seen had been Christopher's. Through the blur of inadequate pain medication and guilty relief that I'd survived, apparently I had told Christopher simply and clearly to "f*** off." He, in turn, turned to the first face I'd seen, and said, "Liz, he's fine."

Fine enough to end up at Churrascaria Plataforma a few months later, the day after Christmas. If you've never had the pleasure, here's what happens at this restaurant: once you’re settled, taciturn Brazilian waiters bring to the table endless varieties of tasty dead things hung up on long spikes. Each diner is handed a small plastic disc, green on one side, red on the other. If you're displaying green, the waiter slices off a chunk of whatever his spike contains and you, the willing victim, grab the viand with a little pair of tongs, and drop it on to your plate. Then you eat it. This process goes on indefinitely; I'm not even sure the restaurant displays a closing time. If you're full—as I usually am after about six minutes—you turn the little circle over to show red, as in, "Please, no more, I may burst." There's scant in the way of sides. There are fine wines, and if your circle shows green, there's meat.

Back on Christmas in 2010, Christopher showed solid green for two hours. In all that time, I honestly never saw him turn down anything. He must have eaten ten or eleven pounds of meat; actually, I don't know—30 pounds, 45? To be clear, Christopher is not a large man, nor is he in any way obese. And the joy with which he muttered, "ummm . . . yes" to every offering was so pure and so infectious—his appetite never showed as gluttony, not once—that in the end I stopped even trying to eat and watched him, and his joy, and a blizzard, as it ran back and forth beyond the Christmas window. The little modest nod of his beautiful head. The charging swirl of winter. The shine in his kind, unknowable eye. Scatterings of ice against the glass. The comic pause as though this time he'd demur (he never did). The self-possession of a man who had learned how to enjoy things both simple and profoundly magical, near the end of a terrible year.

This day, June 12, 2014, there is no snow, and Plataforma has a rare energy. Great tables of Brazilians shake rattles and blow little horns, cheering at every tackle won, each half chance, good defensive blocks. There are hundreds of yellow shirts, including one I purchased for Christopher so he'd feel more at home (it's a medium—told you he isn't a big man—and he insisted on describing it as being "yellow with green piping."). But I needn't have been concerned. Churrascaria Plataforma is home, of sorts, to him, because Christopher eats meats—lots of meats, and he's seldom happier than when he's here.

Filet mignon wrapped in bacon, sirloin, ribeye steak, filet mignon parmesan, leg of lamb, flank steak, prime rib, parmesan pork loin, lamb chop, top sirloin, flank steak redux, more lamb, another mignon in bacon. This is what Christopher ate in the first ten minutes of the game. By then, Marcelo had scored his own goal to the sound of a collective gasp, a sound which I imagine resembles the noise produced daily in the heaving abattoirs that have enabled today's feast. Then we're told that service is suspended "for this special event." Undaunted, Christopher concentrates on the game, and celebrates more passionately than anyone when Neymar equalizes. Then, as if from nowhere, a different waiter brings Christopher his own personal plate of victuals, a heaving mess of prime rib and sirloin.

The regular meat service resumes at half time, thank god, because Christopher is quite hungry. As the second half gets going, Christopher notes the beauty of the "Busby Berkeley overhead camera," and screams at some Croat for rolling around on the ground, "Hey, Joan Crawford! Stand up!" Then he laughs because this makes him "sound gay." The game compels him almost more than the meal to the point where the second forty-five minutes features merely more sirloin, prime rib (rare, by command), chicken sausage, flank steak again, top sirloin again, prime rib encore, filet mignon parmesan redux ("yes," Christopher says, "lovely!"). Brazil get their fake penalty, and Christopher screams with joy. There is one more lamb chop and one last plate of sirloin ("rare, rare, rare!" he instructs the waiter), and then Oscar breaks away to toe-poke Brazil's third. Christopher is on his feet screaming, and then once again a few minutes later when he doesn't realize the Oscar goal has just been shown on replay.

I am learning today that my friend Christopher is incredibly passionate about Brazilian soccer, just as he is about meat. A brief menu of what I had managed to ascertain of him before yesterday would have added that he is literary agent; he plays piano expertly, and knows all music as though a savant; that he had once lost a great love in a terrible time, and that he was now in love once again.

One last thing I knew. Many Thursdays in 2008 he lay on a gurney at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Comprehensive Cancer Center. He had non-non Hodgkins, and as he sat there each week, he was surrounded by a small army of people who—for want of a better phrase—worship him. There was the writer David Rakoff, sitting at Christopher's feet doing funny monologues and being kindly. David baked every time, cookies that the staff, and the rest of us, ate, while Christopher lay being gently poisoned back to health. Singer Alice Ripley would croon a song to Christopher while we all tried to blubber quietly so as to not upset the rest of the ward. And Christopher's "Sister Wives"—a devoted gang of female friends from across the city—would come by, too, as obsessed with him and his recovery as the rest of us.

Christopher recovered, though Rakoff, by then stoically cancer-challenged himself, did not. Alice went on to win a Tony, and the Sister Wives gave thanks for Christopher's recovery. I managed to get cancer, too, had an operation, swore with guilt, got better. Once in a while, Christopher fasts, then eats meats. He married Augusten on April Fool's Day, 2013. A New York artist, and staunch vegan, Pamela Talese, bought a sirloin and painted it, still life style, as a gift for Christopher's 50th birthday that same year.

Once done, Pamela Talese flung the offending cut into the East River, where it remains.