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Kiss Me, Miss Erato
Out there in
my waiting room the characters are growing
impatient again. They're such an unruly crowd at
times. There's only a thin wall between us and
their grumbling grows louder. If it wasn't for
Erato, I'm sure they would soon come to blows.
The room I write in is quiet -- like a doctor's
office -- everything in place, just the way I want
it, everything under control. I get started with
high hopes about two o'clock every afternoon, give
or take fifteen minutes or so. My pencils are
sharpened and my notebook is by my right hand and
all I have to do is call a patient in. I wonder
which of them will be the first today. Oh-Oh!
They're getting louder now! Something thudded
against the wall, and I can hear Erato's commanding
voice telling them that the author is in and will
see them shortly.
That seems to have a soothing effect, and their
excited voices soften a bit. They're just chatting
quietly now in conversational tones and even old
man Dubbelweiss begins to play his flute.
Thank God for Erato. I couldn't handle that crowd
without her. She keeps them in line and lets them
in to see me one at a time. If she didn't, they
would come shouldering their way through the
doorway together like a hungry herd of seals, each
of them clamoring for immediate attention.
Erato Popolis comes from a very large family. Her
father, (she tells me) owns a Greek restaurant in
the city. I don't know her intimately and I have
the definite feeling at times that she would prefer
I call her "Miss Popolis," at least in front of the
people in the waiting room. She is a very proper
young lady, yet firm, and without her this place
would be a madhouse.
With all the unpleasantness in the waiting room, my
lunch is starting to boomerang and I can sense the
first pangs of heartburn that will soon cut through
the lining of my stomach like a knife through
butter as the afternoon drags on. By four I'll be
into the Mylanta. I've read that Poe managed to
cope on dope, Twain smoked smelly cigars. What
would Erato do if she caught me in here smoking a
joint? What a question! I know damn well what she'd
do, she'd walk out on me, that's what!
Well, there's no sense putting it off any longer,
I've got to get down to business. I buzz for her to
"Miss Erato -- (I try as best I can to preserve
some semblance of formality even when we're alone)
whom do we have out there this afternoon?" We go
through this charade every day. I know damned well
who's out there, after all I put them out there in
the first place and they'll stay out there until
hell freezes over unless I do something about it.
She opens her spiral bound notebook with just a
touch of impatience. "There's Fred and Louise Snapp,
the couple from Upper Stepney ... the dishonest
antique dealers? Then there's Jasper Jones, the art
fraud. Herr Dubbelweiss, the flautist .... and last
but not least, an H. McVoy Macintyre."
"He's new, he called yesterday for an appointment.
Philip Roth got sick and tired of him, he thought
maybe you could do something with him."
Now there's a switch! First time in my career I've
ever gotten a referral. Imagine! A character I
didn't invent, dumped in my waiting room like an
illegitimate child by a noted author. God, he must
be a pretty helpless character if Roth passed him
on to me.
I took my first Tum. "I don't know Miss Erato, if
Philip Roth can't do anything with him, nobody
can." Reluctantly, I punched up the Snapps on the
computer's data base and there they were, just as I
left them a week ago. Two living nonentities!
Nothing I could do would ever bring them to life.
They took weekly trips to Vermont and brought back
broken butter churns, useless spinning wheels and
God knows what else. Fred Snapp would knock them
back together again and sell them at exorbitant
prices in their depressing little shop in Upper
Stepney. I was sick of the two of them. The hell
with them! Let them solve their own problems.
I took another Tum and punched up Dubbelweiss.
Another loser! A flautist with ill fitting
dentures. Serves him damn well right for having the
work done in Mexico. Now his embouchure is kaput.
Then Jasper Jones, the fraud who can paint Picassos
better than Picasso could. His pictures are hanging
in hotel lobbies, executive board rooms ....
there's even one in the Museum of Modern Art. No
one's the wiser, and even if they were, after
spending $25,000 for a phony Picasso they wouldn't
admit it. So what's your problem Jasper? Maybe you
should team up with the Snapps. We should all be so
"Tell you what, Miss Erato, send in this H. McVoy
character. I'm tired of the others, they're too far
gone for me to help anyway. Maybe Macintyre will
change my luck."
I could see she didn't approve. She's had a proper
Greek upbringing -- scruples and all that. I knew
how she felt, I had them once myself. Once a writer
creates a character it's like adopting a child,
you've got to care for it. You can't just leave it
out there in your waiting room gathering dust
forever. Well I do, I was good at that! After a
lifetime of writing I've learned to do a lot of
evil things. My waiting room looks like Grand
Central Station at times. Characters by the
hundreds, all of them waiting for a train of
thought to give them a ticket to some magical
mystery tour. Once in a while they get lucky, but
more often than not they will spend their lives out
there while I conveniently ignore them. Once a year
I get out my literary
Shop-Vac and clean the place out. I'm better off
without them, and truth to
tell they're better off without me. I know Erato
doesn't approve, but unlike her I have not sprung
from the Gods. Because of my scruffy upbringing I
can do things she'd never think of doing.
"You want me to go out there and tell the others to
wait!? Mr. Dubbelweiss has been waiting for nearly
a year!" What a woman! There was fire in her eyes
as she glared at me and riffled the pages of her
notebook. I love her when she's like that! Without
that fire I'd still be writing for Star Magazine.
She flounced out, "Mr. Macintyre, would you step in
I took two more Tums as the growing grumble of
resentment rose from the others left behind in the
waiting room. H. McVoy Macintyre entered my office
furtively, as though someone was following him.
Erato gave me a frigid stare and coldly announced
that she would be at her desk if I needed her.
Macintyre wore very dark glasses, carried a pork
pie hat and was prissily attired in a three piece
pin-striped suit. No wonder Philip Roth would have
nothing to do with him. I mistrust men who wear
dark glasses indoors. I find it difficult to know
where they're looking and unless I know where
they're looking I don't know what they're thinking.
His voice was low, almost inaudible and he spoke
with a pronounced southern accent combined with a
disconcerting stammer. It looked as though I might
have a bigger problem with him than my old friends
out there in the waiting room. I considered
excusing myself and taking a dose of Mylanta.
Instead, I turned on the tape recorder and told him
He was born Hubert McVoy to a domineering mother
who divorced and remarried a
New Orleans MacIntyre. According to Hubert, the
name "MacIntyre" was a legend
in New Orleans. Most of the valuable property of
the "Vieux Carre" was owned
by the MacIntyres.
Like almost every writer I know, I am a pauper, and
much as I hate to admit it, I've never known anyone
with money or power. The man in my consulting chair
seemed to be a poor example of both.
He sat back and revealed that he was the president
of Cajun Industries, and as he fiddled with his
pork pie hat he recited an growing litany of
personal tragedies. His company was in Chapter 11,
and a hostile takeover had divested him of his
Lincoln town car and changed the lock on the
executive washroom door. His third wife had also
changed the lock on their Central Park South condo
and dumped his clothes in the hall. Three of his
sons from former marriages were now executives with
the newly formed company. One of them now occupied
his corner office and sat at his rosewood desk in
his very own custom built high backed swivel chair.
His frequent flyer miles had just been canceled and
.... my eyes began to glaze.
I have a great deal in common with losers. In some
ways they fascinate me. They are the leitmotif, you
might say, of my literary life (such as it is). But
I prefer losers with redeeming qualities. Hamlet,
for instance, accident prone, wishy-washy. Would
you really trust him to wear the crown of Denmark?
Would you walk across the room to chat with him at
a cocktail party? Probably not, but on the
other hand you wouldn't leave him sitting in your
waiting room either.
As I pondered my own problems, Mr. Macintyre
continued with his tale of woe. At his present
downhill pace he would soon be without any visible
means of support and would most likely take up
residence in a refrigerator crate under the
Manhattan Bridge before long. I found it difficult
to give him my full attention, after all that's
what tape recorders are for. After twenty minutes
of his tiresome tale of gloom I thought it might be
best if I cut Mr. Macintyre off.
"How do you expect me to help you, Mr. Macintyre?"
"I want a reason to go on. A happy ending! My life
is a tragic tale of adversity. Philip Roth did all
he could, but his efforts were fruitless. He
suggested I seek the advice of someone with nothing
to lose. Your name immediately came to mind."
"I'm here to help, of course." If I could have
gotten my hands around Philip Roth's neck at that
moment I'd have throttled him! "But you must
realize, Mr. Macintyre, there's just so much a
writer can do. If Mr. Roth, with his vast knowledge
and experience was unable to help you, I'm afraid
He burst into tears. "You can't leave me like this!
I'm a human being. Have you no compassion? Your
professional responsibility -- your oath to the
muse of literature!"
He stood up, glasses askew, and his pork-pie hat
fell to the floor. I am rarely swayed by such
displays of theatrics. In fact nothing would give
me greater joy than to shoo this loser back out to
the waiting room with the others, but I suddenly
realized with dismay that my tape recorder was
patched into Erato Popolis at her desk. My God! ---
she must have heard me giving the brush to another
patient! I closed my eyes and waited for the
I didn't have long to wait ....
She flung open the door violently! "Oh no you don't
Doctor Scrivener! Mr. Macintyre, calm yourself, sit
down! The author will take your case, we'll have
you on your feet in no time!" She picked up his
hat, placed it in his lap and turned to me and
hissed, "You novelist!" She stood there, arms
folded and glared at me accusingly. She walked to
the corner of my desk and took the reel out of the
tape recorder .... "I will transcribe these notes
God! She was magnificent!
The path of literature is thorny, and without
someone like Erato as a guide, a writer, great or
small will quickly find himself hung up in the
brambles. I am putty in the hands of this glorious
Grecian maiden of letters. Without her I know I
could not go on. She gives me no quarter and treats
me like the scribbler I am. She is a demanding
goddess and a stalwart defender of the unfortunate.
If I know what's good for me I shall try to put H.
McVoy Macintyre back on the road to whatever
immortality I have in my power to give him.
I only ask that now and then she might find time
for the merest hint of encouragement. A nod of
appreciation for a turn of phrase or an apt
metaphor perhaps -- and if it should please her to
look over my shoulder and discover an electrifying
phrase, coined so gracefully that improvements
could not possibly be made .... would she? ....
could she? .... kiss me Miss Erato?
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