Thursday, May 4, 2006

Who we were and what we've come to

Agent: Mr. B. Trout?

BT: The same.

Agent: Lana Landreaux…from the Williams, Carlos & Williams Agency. New York…

BT: Of course. Pleasure.

Agent: It’s my pleasure Mr. Trout. Listen, I just finished your partial and I wanted to talk to you…

BT: [ ears perk, tail wags, thinks to self: delightful young lady, and smart, too ] That’s wonderful.

Agent: Is now a good time?

BT: No, of course. By all means.

Agent: It was very good. You’re an amazing writer. I don’t receive many pieces that are so polished. Well crafted language.

BT: Thank you.

Agent: Have you published before?

BT: [ hesitates ] Why yes.

Agent: I expected as much…by the quality of your work. I wasn’t sure, though, because I didn’t recognize the name.

Allow me to interject here: I’ve never claimed celebrity, though I have dined with Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Jesse Jackson, Jimmy Carter (at the Little White House in Key West). I claim a number of fine writers among my close friends. I’ve been to all of the cocktail parties. I’ve overturned tables in all the right restaurants. My exploits, more affectation, I admit, than actual expressions of my personality, have brought notoriety in literary circles, if not actual respect or fame. But when Ms. Landreaux claimed to not know my name…this young woman who makes her living in the world of editors, writers and publishers…I was taken aback. After all, at my age, who we used to be makes up a large part of what we have left. I’m beginning to learn that who I used to be has all but dried up. A ghost in the vacuum. A stack of unread books in a storage locker outside D.C.

BT: [ smiles to self ] It was some time ago…when I last published.

Agent: I see. Well, your experience shows in your work. It’s very good.

BT: Thank you.

Agent: And that’s why I wanted to call instead of send a form letter. To offer you some words of encouragement.

BT: [sits down on kitchen table]

Agent: Because you’re destined to find a publisher. Maybe not for this manuscript, but sooner or later. It’s inevitable. It’s that good.

BT: May I ask?

Agent: Of course…this novel is just not for me. I mean…I’ve got a tight list. I can only afford to take on something that I’m passionate about. Very passionate. I mean…let’s say they got me in one of those East European torture centers, and a CIA thug offers me a choice between burning the only copy of my client’s manuscript or hacking off my own arm with a Ginsu--I would actually consider hacking off my arm. That’s how strongly I have to love a client’s book.

BT: Heavens…that’s pretty passionate.

Agent: Yes. I mean…I liked the first two threads in your novel, the old woman from Veracruz and the single mother from…where was it?...Mississippi. A mixture of composure and desperation. Mirror images in many ways. And the small town lawyer character with big ambitions…intriguing guy. But the other character…Michael Tuck…didn’t groove with him. Didn’t see where that whole thread was leading. He was a little weak.

BT: Wishy-washy is probably a better adjective…sure. His story braids with the others later…you’d have to read another hundred pages or so.

Agent: Well the writing was good. I see, peripherally, how he fits in. It’s just…I only loved 2/3rds of the book, so…

BT: You wouldn’t hack off your arm. I understand.

Agent: But I liked it enough to want to tell you to keep writing. I think it’s important. The issues you take on…illegal immigration, globalization…I mean they’re big issues. Heavy stuff. Unfortunately it’s sometimes hard to find readers for that real heavy stuff.

BT [ feeling the desperation of the telemarketer loosing his mark, the all-expenses-paid bonus trip to Waikiki slipping away ] But the demonstrations…the immigrant rising, millions in the street, people talking about these issues…seems like my material might be timely...

Agent: That’s news…we’re talking fiction here. It’ll be two years before this novel comes out…something else will be in the news. Hopefully the impeachment hearings of Our Great Leader.

BT: I’m with you there. But I’ve another manuscript that I’m finishing. And then there’s my memoir…

Send me partials. I’d be happy to take a look. But I just wanted to call. I usually don’t do this after rejecting a partial--but I thought the writing was that good.

BT: Appreciated.

Agent: Good luck Mr. Trout.

BT: Same to you, my dear.

Agent: Bye.

BT: Bye.

At this point BT hangs up the phone. Sighs. He’s been through it all before, but there was a time when it came easy to him.

He’s got one lonely bottle of San Giminiano Vernacca in the cupboard. He chills it in the fridge. Fires up the charcoal grill. It’s only nine in the morning but he defrosts a farm-raised hen in a sink full of cool water. He rubs it inside and out with sea salt. Fresh ground pepper. In the dooryard he gathers two dozen sage leaves. Chops them. Makes a paste with olive oil, more pepper, some parsley leaves. Splits the chicken along the breast bone and opens it like a book. Flattens it. Smears paste. Grills fifteen minutes per side. Pollo Diavolo, they call it in Toscana. He devours the bird like a barbarian, no side dishes, just meat, bone, bottle of Vernacca, gristle, skin, sage. His beard is greasy. Thumbprints on his glasses. Wine buzz, full belly, sitting on the back porch in a splash of sunlight. He’s got a notebook open. Uncapped pen lying across the page. He thinks about writing but hesitates, just soaking in the sun, the heat still damp from an overnight rain shower.

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