It was late night Tuesday, or maybe Sunday, early—I’m a recovering alcoholic, so bear with me—when I swallowed down my last cup of coffee, picked up the phone, and dialed my agent. I said, “Babe, I’d do anything to get published. I’d buy a scented candle. I’d settle down with a nice girl, get married and pretend everything is OK. I mean anything. I’d quit drinking forever, maybe.”
And she said, “What? I couldn’t hear that first part, or the last, or the middle. I have a party going here. Who is this?”
“Listen, babe,” I pleaded. “I’m getting older, much older, still a student in this writing program, all these lung-sucking classes, these workshops of sand, all these readings where your mind’s just floating—Will they have wine at the reception? That ceiling stain looks like Greenland. My gods, look at that cleavage—Yes, I’ve put my time in, busting rocks with a typing finger, tour of fucking duty, and I’ve published squat! Not a whisper. Not even a joke on a Popsicle stick. Nothing.”
And she said, “Babe? Who you calling babe? Look, fuck and off, okay?”
“Whoa, whoa, Honey. Calm your spirits. Jesus.”
“Is this Murphy?” she shrieked. “I told you never contact me again. No more emails. No more postcards. No more calls. Never call my house! Or the office. And please, no-more-poetry. You are not a client, understand? I’m going to hang up now, I’m going to—”
“Hey,” I said, “say that again—I missed all of that. I was just making toast. Not toast but hot dogs—those ones with the cheese in the center—but I was using my toaster. It got stuck and made this sound like a cat got run over, one of those robot cats the Japanese are crazy for: sounded like KWAAARK!”
And my agent let out this yelp, like she knocked over a full can of Lowenbrau or something, and said, “Look, I’m not a baby, or a honey. I’m an adult, a human being, and how can you say what every Japanese person is crazy for? It’s talk like that that makes this country—” and so on, I’m not sure, because I put the phone in the fridge, the crisper drawer, and grabbed my chilled drinking glass (a leftover wine carafe; I’m handy that way) and mixed myself a vodka and Pepto Bismol and went into the bathroom for a cold bath. I know, I know, you’re thinking Pepto Bismol, that pink shit? But I’m sure the first guy who tried to sell water from a bottle looked pretty stupid, too. A vodka Pepto Bismol is a fine drink. Mighty fine, and one mighty fine drink later I drained the bath, toweled off, strolled naked to the kitchen, looked in the fridge, ate a handful of leftover bean dip, opened the crisper, and held the telephone to my ear. It was dead as disco. I dialed my agent and said, “Ok, it is Murphy. Sorry about earlier—I was so drunk I was sober. It wasn’t me.”
“I-am-busy! Always. Please stop calling. I am going to get the police involved. Understand? Don’t call me again.”
“But you’re my agent.”
“We’ve been through this,” she sighed. “You call my office, it doesn’t make me your agent—OK, look, I’ll get your poems published if you never, ever, ever call again. Never! We’re done.”
My heart raced up, idled high, sucking fumes of adrenaline. “Published?”
“Friend of mine lives in the Village. I’m sure he’ll take something of yours.”
“My dachshund sestinas?”
“Sure, right—dachshunds. It’s a great mag, lots of TLC'”he hand stitches the binding, with yarn, or something. He’ll be here tonight. I’ll ask him.”
“That’s right. Tonight. And I’ve got to go. I’ve got friends here, a sturgeon in the oven. I’ll call you. Never call me. Never. OK?”
“No problem,” I said. My body warmed with anxiety; the skin prickled. I drank three more V-Bismols, took another cold bath, the phone sitting like a hope grenade on the toilet lid. Seven minutes later it exploded.
She said, “He took them. Now we’re done. Annoy someone else. Goodbye.”
I exhaled, inhaled; my head a birthday balloon, those shiny ones, Mylar, full and glimmering silver. “He took them—Wow! So fast? Where should I send the bio? The photo? Should I get a photo made? Where do you get a decent headshot? Kinko’s? Should I send blurbs? Is there a contract? I won’t do it without a contract! I won’t. I mean I might not. I got copyright, you know! What about foreign rights? Hollywood? Publicity? Readings? Lots of people do readings. Big loopy signatures, velvet ropes. What would I wear? Something gray, no raven black, something shiny and European but that looks worn. Hey’¦what does it pay? Hey. Hello?” I hung up and mixed another drink, my mind aglow, the serotonin shivers, quakes of disbelief—me, a published artist mixing a beverage in a pub artist kitchen in a pub arts world, in the ol’ universe of the P.A..
Two days later I stumbled bleary-eyed into the university grad lounge and drank three cups of coffee, made a fresh pot, drank four cups, tucked in my shirt, went to teach T. S. Eliot—a British poet born in St. Louis, Missouri—and declared to my entire class: “I am officially sober!” One of the sorority girls gave me this smile—the allure of the reformed Man Of Letters, I suppose—and I’m not ashamed to say we’ve been looking at rings. And I am sober; haven’t had a drink in seventy-two hours, seven minutes, though I do allow myself a little Dexedrine in the late evenings, a smidgen of Ritalin, crushed, a thumbnail, and occasionally—rarely, rarely, really not so often—a bullet of coke. And of course always the coffee. Always the coffee. The coffee—I still haven’t found a fucking candle I like.