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Kiss Me, Miss Erato


Harry Buschman

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 come in.

"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."

"Who's he?"

"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 lucky!

"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 please?"

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 to begin.

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 fireworks.

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 immediately."

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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