Chapter Thirty-five

   The scene: High above Madison Avenue, New York City, the reception area outside the executive offices of Random House, Inc., a division of Heinz. (Since when? -- Ed.) Maureen MacNamara (her last name for the time being) is waiting patiently to see Anna Matopeia, Random House's Assistant Editor-in-Charge-of New Fiction, and one of the hottest young editors in town. Matopeia, a dark, sultry leggy type with brains that don't quit, had discovered Coover, Carver, Carter, Cooper, Coolidge -- she had never, however, discovered anyone whose last name did not begin with the letter "C" -- and yet there was always a first time, Maureen believed, ever the optimist. Besides, when one of the hottest young editors in town agrees to appear as a fictional character in a book she's being pitched, well, that just doesn't happen every day.
   "Ms. Matopeia will see you now, if you'll follow me." Maureen straightened her dress and followed Matopeia's assistant into the very elegant but tasteful office.
   "Hi, I'm Anna Matopeia -- no jokes, please -- sit down, sit down." Maureen sank herself into a big comfortable sofa.
   "You have the next James Joyce for us? What's his name?"
   "James M. Reynolds. I think."
   "You think?"
   "Well, you really have to read his book to understand."
   "I'm sorry, but I have heard that so many times. 'Just read it, just read it.' And then, eight Excedrins later -- "
   "But Jim is different. This, for example. This scene. It's all his doing. This was his idea."
   "This scene right now? This? Me talking to you -- right now you mean?"
   "Aha.... " Matopeia crossed and uncrossed and then crossed her long, shapely legs. "What else has he written?"
   "What else has he written?" Maureen parroted back, not knowing the answer.
   "Is this his first novel, or his fifty-first? Because I get that a lot, and I'll tell you -- if it doesn't work the first time out, forget it. There aren't too many George Bernard Shaws out there, although there are a few who look like him."
   Maureen decided to try a new tack.
   "Ow!" screamed Ms. Matopeia as Maureen stuck her with a new tack. "Why did you do that?"
   "I'm sorry, a little wordplay that got out of hand -- but that's part of Jim's charm! Really, give him a look. Give him a read. Give him a chance. You must."
   "You're begging, Ms. MacNamara, and that's not going to sell this book."
   "He could make you famous." Now that gave Anna Matopeia pause. Maureen had definitely struck a chord, a nerve, a vein -- the vainest of veins.
   "Uh, make me famous? How so?" The long-stemmed editor was intrigued.
   "Well, here you are," Maureen explained, "an increasingly interesting fictional character in a new novel that you can choose to publish, and in so doing, become a legend in the publishing world. Remember -- out of sight, out of mind. If no one hears the hottest new editor fall in the forest, well, you might as well be on a train traveling at the speed of light, going nowhere."
   Matopeia wrinkled her brow, leaned way back in her chair, and pretended to think about it, while -- as a favor to her old pal Jim -- Maureen sneaked a look up her dress.
   "Where is the manuscript?"
   "Where? Oh, uh, here." Maureen was nervous as she handed these very pages over to her. She knew that the next few moments, the next few seconds, the next split second, would determine whether or not Jim (me) would become a famous author and his (this) book a cause célèbre, or whether she'd have to go schlepping over to Harcourt after lunch.
   After reading less than one page Anna Matopeia threw this manuscript back down on her desk.
   "I don't think so. I'm sorry. It was nice meeting you, Ms., uh, MacNamara." Suddenly cold and steely, she stood up, offered Maureen an icy handshake and then, without the slightest warning, and most uncharacteristically, opened the window behind her and jumped out. Fortunately, even though it was the fifty-ninth floor, she used the revolutionary mind control technique introduced back in Chapter Two, and landed safely.
   It was on to Harcourt, Maureen realized, but not before she had some lunch -- and boy, was she famished. And then, out of the blue, a tremendous break!
   ("Took me by surprise... A wonderful new voice... Buy this book!" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   "Wow!" Maureen was exultant. I was exuberant. What a great quote! What a great blurb! This could do it! This could really do it! But how? How did it happen? (Yeah, how? -- Ed.)
   ("I'm not exactly sure myself" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   But, Mr. Vonnegut --
   ("Call me Kurt" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   Okay, Kurt. How did you -- when did you -- how -- when...
   ("Calm down, calm down. First of all, let me just say that I don't mind saying that I don't mind your making me say what I just said" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   Well, thanks, but don't tell anyone that I had anything to do with your quote, because, you know, with the legal climate these days, with writers' rights being trimmed around the world and all...
   ("Relax. Besides, we always have an out" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   An out?
   ("Of course. Look at those three dots between the quotes -- I could have said anything in there. Like, 'Took me by surprise, I thought it was the instruction manual for a Japanese microwave oven!' Or, 'A wonderful new voice should tell this guy to get a job!' Or, 'Buy this book! And then burn it!' You see?" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   Yeah, well, sure, we could do that if we had to but, but -- you do actually like it so far, don't you?
   ("Absolutely!" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   Because that means more to me than any money or success that could come from this, although I am horny as hell.
   ("That's obvious. By the way, where's Maureen? I think you've done a good job with her" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   Thank you.
   ("In fact, I'll throw out another quote for you, see what you think: 'Maureen MacNamara is the brightest new fictional character -- male or female -- to grace the pages of a novel since Voltaire. She's a triumph!'" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   Gee, Mr. Vonnegut, you don't have to do this, really, I mean...
   "Nonsense! Let him continue!"
   ("Ah, Maureen, so glad you're here. I was just telling him how much I admired your character" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   "Well, thank you, thank you, uh -- "
   ("Kurt!" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   "Thank you, Kurt."
   ("You're a couple of nice kids, you are. I wish I could do more for you, but, like you said, it's a legal minefield out there and a well-meaning guy like me could get his tongue cut off just for trying to help a friend. Oh, well" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   That's all right. You've done more than enough! Thanks!
   "Yes, thank you, and, I wondered, Kurt -- would you mind if, would you happen to know -- J.D. Salinger's phone number?"
   Maureen! Are you crazy? He's not going to give you that, assuming he even had it.
   ("Now, now, don't get yourself in a lather, Jim. No one has that phone number, Maureen. But, if I did have it, the only person who could ever pry it away from me would be you" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   "Thank you. What about Norman Mailer?"
   That's enough, Maureen.
   ("Gotta go. Oh, here's one more for you, 'Couldn't put it down! Hypnotic! I've read it ten times!'" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
   "Yeah, wow. Nice guy."
   Yeah. Real nice guy. (Yeah, wow -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: Wow.)

(This ends Chapter Thirty-five. Wow.)

Chapter Thirty-six