Ted A. Adams
55 West Street
Medford, MA 02155
|They said it couldn't be done.
My agent said it. My wife said it. My Chihuahua, Jack, if he could talk,
he can't, would have said it. They said I couldn't write a non-violent,
It was a dark night - the moon obscured by the concrete giants of Fifth Avenue and the street lights all extinguished by the week's rain -- the Great Flood of 46th and Fifth. We were at Harmon's. He's my agent. Minnie, she's my wife, was with me and she insisted on bringing Jack and calling him Pookie, which really grabs my goat, if you know what I mean.
"Max," Harmon said. "Max Stubbs."
"For the sake of Jesus our Christ, Lord and Saviour, cut out the drama," I said.
Minnie covered Pookie's, I mean Jack's, ears: "Max, please. There are ladies present."
"Minnie," I said, "Jack's a guy."
Jack was sitting at Minnie's feet. Minnie was on the Ottoman. I was on the Queen Anne, Harmon on a Shaker.
"Max Stubbs," Harmon said, "to get back on track. You couldn't write a story without violence if your wife depended on . . . I mean life depended on it." I looked at Minnie and she at Jack. Harmon stood up, pointed to his glass.
"I think you meant wife," I said.
I met Minnie in Mexico. Guadalajara, Mexico. She was hitchhiking to Mazatlan and I was doing research on a novel in Tequila. She was a wild young thing with a dress as red as all Valentine's Day and she spoke in a breathy way that boiled my huevos, if you know what I mean. She said she was running away from home where her father and brothers made her feed the chickens on the hacienda. We had a judge marry us and before her brothers, with pistolas in the air, could catch us, we were on a plane to New York.
But back to last night -- "Brandy?" Harmon asked. I was drinking whisky.
"Just a little," Minnie said, "and a dribble for Pookie."
"Goddamn it Minnie," I said, "what have I told you about giving the dog, brandy? He's got problems enough being a Chihuahua. He doesn't need you feeding him sissy drinks. A whisky for the dog, Harmon."
Harmon had been a good agent. I couldn't complain too much. He'd sold my novella, after every other low life agent in this town had said my style was outdated. He'd sold it and it did modestly well. It's my stories he's had a hard time with. I haven't gotten anything bigger than the three by five inch rejection slip from The New Yorker. He's tried to encourage. This one's a keeper, Max, he'd say. Nothing. But I'm sure you were wondering about that thing with my wife. I was too.
"Harmon," I said, "I don't play games. What are you proposing?"
Harmon had filled up my whisky, Jack's as well, poured Minnie her brandy and one for himself and was standing by the window. "Max, straight up, if you don't get me a story by tomorrow without all the usual Max Stubbs violence, one that's suitable for The New Yorker but one we'll settle on Esquire with, then I'm taking Pookie and your wife and we're going to Mexico."
"Minnie," I said, "is this true?" She couldn't look at me. Jack did but he didn't look good. I think she slipped him some brandy.
"It's true," Harmon said, "You're all washed up, Max. We bought the tickets two weeks ago, but Minnie wanted to give you a chance. One last chance. She said she thought you might have it in you - something non-genre, maybe about a sickly father and his adult son coming to grips, maybe about love and the ties that bind. I don't know Max. It's up to you, you're the writer. But I can't be privy to your violence any longer."
"Minnie," I said again, "is this true?"
Harmon said, "I said it was true."
"I'm not asking you, Harmon." I walked over to the Ottoman and knelt down by Minnie. "Is it true, honey? All this non-genre talk."
Minnie finished her brandy in a desperate gulp. She reached for Jack's but I stopped her. "It's true, Max. You've become too violent, too formulaic."
That hurt. In desperation I cried out, "Formulaic?!? Is not a sick dad and son formulaic? Love's tying binds? Is that not formulaic?" Jack was getting nervous, perhaps looking for a place to piddle. Harmon was still at the window, ignoring me. Minnie was looking up with eyes as sad as the Alamo, if you know what I mean. "What is it that you ask of me, Minnie?"
"Jack," she said.
"Jack's the dog. I'm Max."
"Max," she said, "How long was I expected to wait before you published something that could pay the rent? How long Max?"
"Jack London wrote thousands of stories before he got published big."
"You're no Jack London, Max, and we need money to pay the rent and feed your dog."
"Is that it?" I said. "Is it about money?"
"It's not the money, Max."
"It is the money." I laughed. I laughed confidently and went back to my chair. Jack stumbled over to lie at my feet.
"What is so funny, Max?" Minnie asked.
"Yes, what is funny?" Harmon said as he came back to join the conversation.
"Don't you see it?" I said. "It's as plain as the noses on your faces. If I'm a terrible writer with no commercial future, then Harmon must be the dumbest agent in town to represent me, and you, Minnie, you're married to me and threatening to leave for him. Ha! Well, I can't allow that."
I reached inside my coat pocket, it was always cold in Harmon's apartment, and Minnie screamed: "He's got a gun!"
I froze, my hand in my pocket. I looked at Harmon and he had his hand in his pocket. Jack was under the chair. Harmon stood up slowly. I stood up slowly. "Oh Max," Minnie cried.
"Minnie," I said, "who's got the gun?"
She said, "You do, Max."
"No, I don't, Minnie." And I pulled out my wallet. In a sigh of relief Harmon eased out a pack of gum.
"Minnie," I said, "I can't let you run off with Harmon thinking I'm a wash-up with no money. Here's fifty dollars. As far as the non-genre, nonviolent ending, you were right. It can't be done, Minnie. I write Max Stubbs stories. I'll always write Max Stubbs stories. Maybe they don't sell now, but someday..." I called Jack from under the chair, where in his excitement he had peed on Harmon's floor. We walked to the door.
"I'll never forget you, Max Stubbs," Minnie said. Harmon was silent.
"Yeah," I said and I picked up Jack and left. I never saw them again.
The following day the recalled tires on Harmon's 4X4 exploded on the L.I.E., like the Fourth of July, if you know what I mean.