Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pomegranate Surprise

The invitation bore the gracious ease and urbanity of the host, reminding you that your agent was in town and hoping you'd be available for drinks at five to visit and chat. You were already a chum of the host, anticipated the presence of at least one other long-time chum, and even imagined you might just ask for and get something a bit exotic or out of the ordinary for drinks. Of course you responded, with alacrity and celerity, thoughts of Pisco punches or Sazeracs or even a Ramos gin fizz lolling over your tongue.


As you entered, you were handed without being asked a tall, pleasingly frosty glass containing a dark red fluid which you soon divined to be a combination of pomegranate juice, vodka, and a splash of San Pellagrino water. Not bad.

Your agent noticed you from across the room, detached herself from a conversation, and bore in. "We've got work to do. Sometime tomorrow, after six. Pick a coffee shop." A quick calculation led you to readjust watching "Treme" until a rerun later in the week. You picked a spot near where she is staying, confirmed the time, then allowed her to retreat to her conversation.

As time bore on and you were well into your second pomegranate surprise, as you called it, the room filled with individuals, approximately ninety percent of whom you knew from long experience, the remainder were those such as Alan Folsom, whom you'd known from having read. The one surprise was the appearance of the actor John Beck, whom you greeted with affection and he you with warmth; you'd not expected him to have known the host, although it appears to you that the host is well traveled and one of those amazing phenomena in American letters, a truly versatile and gifted writer in book, stage play, and screen play who remains largely unknown outside the tent.

Time and pomegranate surprises bore on to the point where a group of you began exchanging reminiscences. It came to you that this was a lovely type of bonding. Your agent, referring to
your host, spoke of having delivered him to a former sales manager of a large paperback house as a million-copy seller, to which the sales manager said expansively, well, if you want to talk about million-copy sales--at which point he nudged you--this one sold us a two-million title he'd actually pulled out of a slush pile. Anyone remember "The Harrad Experiment"? Of course he quickly undercut that with another nudge, recalling the time when you'd worked for a competitor and had presented a project for which you estimated sales of at least a hundred thousand, only to be told, quite archly, here at Dell we like to think in millions. We do not like to acknowledge lesser figures. More stories, more elaborate schemes and speculations, all of which caused you to realize a significant factor to the group ambiance. It was literally afloat with casual good cheer and fellowship; there was none of the tension, competitive edge, nor defensiveness you often feel when the demographic is overrun with wannabes.

Everyone in the room had been at one time a wannabe; you feel comfortable in saying that none of them had settled into a condition of well-fed or, indeed, well-read smugness. Long after the tingle of the pomegranate surprises had abated, you were nevertheless talking about a project in which you'd thought to take on D.H. Lawrence in your plan to write volume two of his "Classic Studies in American Literature," which could surely be taken as some form of hubris, except that the former sales manager squeezed your arm in chiropractic affection. "It has always amazed me that there has been no trace of the kind of thing you're talking about. Even if you fail, you'll have given yourself a gift."

While debating the wisdom of another pomegranate surprise, you actively pushed the work of two wannabes, one a student, the other a client, realizing this, too, was a part of that inside-the-tent ambiance so many wannabes regard with the suspicion that the entire publishing/reading tent is a vast conspiracy--until they are, as Alan Folsom was, and indeed you, and Gayle Lynds were, snatched in.

Just before taking your leave, your agent reminded you, "Tomorrow is a work day, and maybe you should think about coming to my Tuesday night at Borders in Thousand Oaks." One way or another, you reflected, every day is a work day. A gifted client of yours, with one book, a hardcover, from SOHO Press, is having a torturous time getting representation for a worthwhile project. Close to two hundred demurrals from agents. Tomorrow is a work day for him, too. Walking to your car, where Sally awaited you, you realized what you'd just experienced at the gathering was a form of alchemy wherein some of the known rules of the universe had been bent. Somehow, perhaps in just such a gathering, your agent, before she'd become your agent, had heard of you enough times that her curiosity drove her to Google and a search of you.

Sally had been napping when you approached the car. Seeing you, she sniffed for the tell-tale signs of what long experience in such things had taught her, the rumpled cocktail withdrawn from the jacket pocket, the unwrapping, the revelation. Look, Sally, chicken teryiaki. And what's this? Italian salami. And this? Aha, munster cheese. Eat up, old girl. Tomorrow's a work day.

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