he chewed on a blueberry muffin. it was 7pm.
century city at night is a beautiful place. if you’re a lawyer. if you have a mercedes waiting for you. if you have a receptionist in pressed pants right outside your door. if you’re on the phone hearing good news. if you’re on the other side of the desk. if your name is larry.
century city at night is a scary place if your name is tony and you’re not sure which bus you should take home.
he hung up the phone, lowered his glasses down his nose and looked at me.
“how many pre-orders did we get.”
“ten? that’s bad.”
i thought to myself that ten was awesome. a hundred bucks plus shipping in my account just cuz i typed some words in a software program promising something that everyone knew didn’t exist yet. ten was incredible.
“the book is going to fail, tony. it’s not even a book if all you have is ten on the first day. deepak chopra had thousands of presales in his first day.”
larry had financed the new age doctor’s self published book way back when.
i considered asking the publisher to show me the web page that deepak used, but i passed. i also passed on signing the papers in front of me.
“don’t be an asshole tony.”
larry wanted to “front” me $1,000 and make a book that actually looked like a book. then he wanted to take that book to a real publisher. then he wanted 30% of whatever i would make out of the busblog book.
i told him he had a blueberry in his tooth.
“nobody makes any money publishing themselves. how many books have you published? i’ve published 30 just this year.”
a diamond sparkled in his earlobe under a tuft of gray hair. he threw around that word like it meant something. i had never read any of the books he talked about. i hadn’t even heard of the authors. plus most of his titles were non fiction. the rest were porn. dull porn. who writes dull porn?
i took a piece of paper from the waste basket.
i wrote: I, Larry S., will give Tony Pierce $1,000. Tony will put my name on the back of the book. Tony will consider this an advertisement. Larry can call himself the publisher of the book that is currently titled “The Busblog Book.” Larry will receive no monetary benefits from this book and there is no agreement currently for any future earnings on this book or any others written by Tony.”
then i signed it and i slid it over to him.
he read it and balled it up.
“why do you want to be an asshole?”
i wanted to be an asshole because i couldnt believe i had found myself in this position. i knew better than this.
“you think you’re an artist. you’re not an artist. you know how many artists there are? five. and they’re all broke.”
larry had his opinions about things and he kept his door cracked so the skinny redhead right outside could be impressed with his theories. he spoke past me to her. he treated me like a kid. that part i didn’t mind. i counted how many times he called me an asshole and i tried to get the number up. i would take a shot of rum later for each good one.
we were up to ten.
“nobody in the world would accept this sort of bullshit deal.” he told me.
i wished i had known which import he was driving so i could take the elevator downstairs and let the air out of his tires.
i thought about the redhead. how could i get a date with her. surely she had hit bad times if she worked for this guy for more than a day.
i had seen her there each visit that i made there. sad sad blue eyes. pale skin. she stood when i came in. she remembered that i didn’t drink coffee or tea and always had a water with no lemon with ice waiting for me when i arrived for these meetings of two amateurs salivating over the hundred pages.
“i don’t need your advertising. i don’t even need you, quite frankly. you need me. my brother does your taxes i know exactly how little money you make. you cannot finance this yourself. and if you do it will look shoddy and cheap and you will never find a big time publisher like what i got for deepak.”
i wondered what the woman looked like who got naked for him. everyone has someone who loved them.
i thought about who loved me.
about the people who got naked for me.
about the girls who did stuff and seemed to like doing stuff.
i thought about the times when i was being joe businessman and talking shit and the times when i was being an asshole and how they weren’t that different of characters. but both were not tony. sweet tony. happy tony. happy tony could make magical things happen too.
larry flipped through the manuscript and looked at me and leaned back and said, “you’re not even that great of a writer.”
every single teacher who had ever given me a C minus came to my consciousness.
larry hadn’t realized it but he relaxed me with that comment. i was in familiar territory. suddenly i knew how i would get out of this room.
i know im not a great writer, larry. i said softly.
he chuckled thinking he had broken me. but it was a nervous chuckle.
if i was a great writer i wouldnt be sitting here, i said and reached into the garbage can and picked up the balled up piece of paper from the wastebasket.
i ironed out the big wrinkles from the paper with my flattened hand and i said, this piece of paper alone is worth a thousand dollars because this you can eBay in a few years for a grand. and if you sign it you will get your name on the back of a book that is nothing if not genuine despite being full of lies. and it is good and it is funny and it will sell and it is the first of its kind and it was written before and after 9/11 and somepeople find interest in those sorts of things.
it is a love story and a spy story and a hollywood story and a bachelor story of a guy who rides a bus and gets laid way more than he should. your porn guys wished they had these sorts of plotlines. it’s the best book you’ll ever get your name on and it’s just the beginning. the sequel has already been written and by saying no to this youre saying no to your one shot at art. i am the fifth artist alive. and regardless what your brother thinks he knows, im not broke.
“you are so delusional.”
not an asshole, no drink.
if you had your name on the back of every Catcher in the Rye you’d be on a tropical island right now and not trying to break the balls of the best thing to walk into this office since your receptionist out there.
“we have an agreement, tony.”
we have nothing. i signed nothing. i didn’t even shake your hand.
“we have a verbal agreement.”
says you, a guy with crumbs in your beard and lies on your tongue. your brother cheats the irs and you cheat your wife. we have no agreement and now i’m going to rip up this deal in three seconds if you don’t sign it and i will never come back here again.
i had my pointy finger on the scrap piece of paper.
was it worth a grand?
i do have a kickass autograph.
it was quiet.
red had stopped fake typing in the waiting room.
“you are a hardheaded asshole.”
“you have no idea what you’re walking away from. you don’t have to do anything and you will have books with your name on the spine. books you don’t even have to pay for. books you can give your precious friends.”
oh, i’ll pay, all right.
“asshole asshole asshole.”
could he read my mind?!
two and a half.
and i yanked the paper away. stood up and ripped it into quarters and then eighths. i wondered if he would tape it together one day and sell it anyhow. doubt it. i woulda. thompson shot a book with a .33 as an autograph, this woulda been ten times cooler. a ripped up pierce “contract” of his first publishing deal? shit.
i took a square of contract and put my number on it.
left larry calling me names. shut the door and handed the young lady nine numbers that would change her life.
thanks for the water, i whispered in her ear.
dior? i asked.
rode the elevator downstairs to the garage.
2KJA012 was scribbled on my hand. larry shouldn’t leave his parking tickets on his shiny redwood desk.
some asshole might spy it and find his car and let the air out of his volvo.
six days left to pre-order the book