Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Conversation in the Late Evening

Last night, at about 8:30, you returned home to find all the lights on and, despite the blustery chill of the late evening, the front door wide open.  Your first thought was the wind being the culprit; your studio apartment is more often than not blessed with a cross draft. But then you saw an individual, sitting in your customary chair before the computer. 

From his demeanor, he might well have been Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise, greeting a subordinate. He might also have been another captain of another vessel, Ahab of the Pequod.  

You were all curiosity at this intervention. "Who are you, and what are you doing here?"  Waiting for his answer, you began to sense a certain familiarity about the individual. Not quite your size. More hair on top, tending toward the cowlicky curly tangle once resident on your scalp.

"Ah," he said, turning away from the computer screen. "Taking a bit of time off, were we? Perhaps refreshing the old creative vision, restoring the creative juices, eh?"

You told him in no uncertain terms, meaning you used the word "fucking" that those questions were none of his business.

Once again, he began with "Ah."  "Ah, but you see, it is my fucking business, isn't it?"

At this point, you were certain of his identity; in one way or another, he'd been on your mind these past few days.  "Well," you said, which is something you are at great pains never to have any of your characters use as an introduction of a line of dialogue. Well equals one wasted word.  "Shall I make coffee?" You said, thinking it the exact amount of irony and sang froid.

"I couldn't help noticing you have some English breakfast tea," he said.

"Oh, please," you said. "Spare me that.  You'll take coffee and like it." You were approaching a return to your game, neither intimidated by him nor at pains to show him the door which, you reckoned after a glance, was still open. He, in fact, had willingly accepted coffee before. This English breakfast tea ploy was a shot fired over your bow, reminding you of your seat friend, Digby Wolfe, and how, in so many ways, Wolfe's career was so astronomically different than yours to the point where you often wondered at the origins of the chemistry of your friendship.

He rose from his seat, extended you a courtly bow.  "It was," he said, "fun while it lasted."

"Stop it, will you," you said, "Just get your ass into the kitchen and be of some help." You were used to his stratagems and sarcasms, in many ways being close to admiring them.  His last remark, fun while it lasted, was actually a clever shot.  Rendered in italic and appropriate capital letters, Fun While it Lasted is the title of a memoir, written by another great friend, Barnaby Conrad. Again an individual whose career was so markedly different from yours that you had cause to wonder at the chemistry of your friendship. Nevertheless, you were editor of six of his last seven books and had hands on the early drafts of the seventh.  You could say the key word here was drafts; Conrad did not like to "do" the drafts you sent him back to. He did them, but he did not like doing them until he saw the printed book in hand.

This individual, with whom you are having a late coffee and, amazingly, a few desiccated biscotti dipping cookies discovered toward the rear of the cupboard, is a first cousin of your inner editor. He is important to you as a continuing source of discovery. The name printed on his diploma is yours, the subtitle being The Writer Nobody Wants to Read or Care About. His goal is to remind you how awful you are, how any publication of yours was because, at the critical moment, the publisher had a blank space that needed to be filled. He can remind you of time, date, and place of things you wrote because there was a hole that needed filling; the thing you wrote for that occasion would never, under more conventional circumstances, seen the light of print, much less day.

This is not to say he regards you as an enemy, rather that he is stuck with you and wants you to be aware of the fact that he earns his keep by bringing a note of reality to your image of salf and writer. He is, he reminds you, the boat on which you pilot your course as a writer. "Stick to the small publications," he tells you, "the places where the monthly submissions are low, insuring that your work will be read all the way through here."

Over the years, your relationship has progressed beyond the Kissinger-style detente to an actual conversation-style cordiality, reflected by his freedom to enter your studio while you're out, fire up your computer, and pull up on the screen your latest project, which, by the way, he shakes his head at. "You call this a book?  Why, tell me why anyone would want to read such a project? How could you, with your experiences as an editor and actual designer of books, consider this misbegotten project a book?"

You push the remaining biscotti at him, take a sip of your own coffee, then smile. "It is enough," you tell him, "that I like and care about it."

You let that sink in, finish your coffee, then rise.  "Be sure to shut the door on your way out," you tell him.

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