I’ll have another. Liz?
Are you sure? Okay. Just one
more for me. But this
time, no salt on the rim. Thanks!
Look at that tuchis! So?
I don’t care if he’s a waiter.
Can’t I enjoy the scenery?
God, Liz, you are a
snob, aren’t you? Anyway,
where was I? Oh yeah.
Like I said, my routine Monday through Friday is pretty much
set. I wake up at about
6:30 and feed my fish and get the New
York Times from my doorstep of my apartment and make coffee and
try to wake up. It’s
been pretty empty ever since I kicked Tobias out.
God, what a name. Tobias.
Of course with a name like that he had to be handsome, a great
fuck, a poet and a cheat. Like my Pop says, “No hay rosa sin espinas.”
know, Liz: there isn’t
a rose without thorns. What? Cats? No way.
I don't have cats because I'm allergic and besides I don't want
to be a cliché: professional
single woman in her mid-thirties -- okay, thirty-nine -- living alone
in New York. With a cat.
I didn't have allergies until I left L.A. for Stanford.
That was the year California was suffering from a horrible
drought. So, for some
reason, that made the hay fever season one of the worst in sixteen
years or something like that. So,
my body suddenly says, "You're going to have allergies!"
And ever since then, I've been allergic to everything
especially cats. I
don’t really hate them but they would be a lot easier to deal with
if you could laminate them.
Oh, thank you. You’re
a doll . . . Jeremy. Give
me the check. My treat, Liz.
Oh, this tastes good. What?
Why shouldn’t I call him by his name?
That’s why they wear nametags.
Anyway, when I went home for Christmas break that year, I
couldn't even come close to our Siamese, Susie, because in about an
hour I sounded like I had the flu.
Mom wasn't so happy. She
says, "Sandra, you've got to see a doctor."
Pop, being the voice of reason, says, "¡Qué va!"
Which means, "Nonsense!"
Whenever Pop gets emotional, he reverts to Spanish.
They’re quite a combination.
Mom's second generation Irish and Pop's Mexican, born and
raised in a little town in the state of Jalisco called Ocotlán.
They met when Pop came up to L.A. looking for work back in the
‘50s. He answered an ad
for a little apartment on Pico Boulevard not too far from downtown and
Mom was the manager. Pop
says he fell in love fast and hard with that little redhead and Mom
says that Pop was handsome and kind and spoke horrible English.
The “I Love Lucy Show” was really big back then so they had
a little running joke where Pop called Mom “Lucy” and Mom called
Pop “Ricky.” Of
course, Pop isn’t Cuban, but it almost matched perfectly.
Yeah, I know. Too
cute. But I should be so
Anyway, professionally, I’ve been using my Mom's maiden name,
Olson, instead of Ramirez, because I didn't want to be pigeonholed
with any of the houses or their editors.
I didn't want them to see me and think, "Oh, she must be
pushing the next Cisneros, Villaseñor or Anaya."
If I have a good manuscript by a Latino or Latina writer, I
want to push it without any baggage like that.
Well, maybe I am being a little sensitive but I talk from a
life of experience, girlfriend. Like when I got into Stanford and Mom took me to the Bullocks
Wilshire to get a bunch of new clothes and the goddamn saleswoman says
to Mom how nice it is that she’s taking her maid
out shopping! Just
because I’m dark like Pop. But
Mom keeps her cool and calmly says that I’m her daughter and that I
got into Stanford and how I’ve been an A student all through
Immaculate Heart High and all that.
The saleswoman blushes six colors of red and that was it.
I know that sounds stupid, but the publishing business is just
like life in that way. It’s
not all that logical. Just
look at the New York Times Bestsellers List.
Does the list make
sense? Case closed.
Are you sure you don’t want a sip?
Okay. So, like I was saying, my routine is pretty much set.
After getting ready, I take the subway and get in my office by
about 9:30 or 10:00 and my three college students are already working
away reading proposals and synopses and putting all those unsolicited
manuscripts into one of three slush piles:
HOPELESS, VERY HOPELESS and FORGET-ABOUT-IT!
If I only knew how this business worked when I was trying to
get an agent for my first novel -- my only novel -- I doubt I'd have
gone through the trouble. After
sending it to about sixteen agents and receiving sixteen very polite
form rejections, I decided to do a focused submission to a few small
presses and got it published. It
didn't do too badly. Well,
it didn't do so great, either. So,
I'm a literary agent now.
Anyway, once I'm in and get another cup of coffee and grab a
bagel from a huge pink box that one of my favorite students always
brings in – Celeste is her name, I just love her –
I start calling editors, leaving messages and looking into the
status of some of my "hot properties" –
I hate that term – and then it's time for lunch.
After lunch, I've got to get the submissions ready so that
requires getting the troops away from reading the mail to start
Xeroxing and set up packages to get out to Federal Express by 4:00 to
various editors. I'm out
the door by 5:30 or 6:00 and back in the subway.
I never read new proposals or manuscripts while at the office.
That's for home – at night – and on the weekends.
No, I’m not complaining.
I’m trying to tell you about Robert.
I’ll get there.
Lunch. Pop doesn't understand why I call lunch the mother's milk of
my business. "Mi
hija, lunch is for relaxing. Otherwise,
your stomach can't digest," he always says.
"But not in my business," I always answer.
"I make most of my deals at lunch." I know he'll never understand – or at least he'll always
pretend not to understand. He
works hard as a mechanic at, you know, the Rapid Transit District or
the Metro or whatever they’re calling it now.
And he knows when he has to work and when he can relax and eat. Poor Pop. And I
make three times his salary but I think I don't work as hard as he
does. But he's proud of
his only "hija" – his daughter.
It could have been worse, he knows, because my cousin Isabel
was one step away from being in a gang and her mom, my Aunt Gloria,
had to pick up and move out of L.A. to the San Fernando Valley.
And it worked, thank God.
Isabel finished high school and has been waitressing at Jerry's
Famous Deli for a few years now and is really doing okay.
But Pop is really proud of me.
So, lunch. Today, I had lunch with Robert from an imprint of one of the
major houses. My brother,
Dennis, the baby lawyer, hates that word "imprints" because,
as he says in his deep lawyer-like voice:
Why would anyone call them 'imprints'? It sounds like you’re
pressing flowers or something."
Dennis is so sincere about such things.
What do you mean he’s right?
Oh, all you lawyers stick together.
Where was I? Oh
yeah. Robert used to be
with Random but left a couple years after that horrible purging –
you know – when André
Schiffrin left. I like
André so much. A mensch!
Anyway, Robert left and there was a rumor that he was involved
in André's leaving but I don't believe it.
Robert has a lot of faults but lack of loyalty is not one of
them. But I'm torn about
all this because Random gave two of my favorite writers HUGE deals and
their books have been on the New
York Times Bestsellers List –
hey, sometimes the list makes sense – so I like André AND
Random. And those two
writers are Hispanic, too.
God, these mini-quesadillas are great!
You can have the last one.
Are you sure? Okay. But I
gotta’ get to the gym tomorrow morning.
Anyway, I hate that
It's so government-talk and sounds like antiseptic white liberal-ese.
No offense. My two
Random stars are Chicano and Chicana.
And Random signed them. ¡Bravo,
Random! But I like André
so much! My Catholic
guilt is showing.
I’m getting there.
Today was my lunch with Robert.
Sometimes he reminds me of a character from Updike, you know,
when Updike is taking his digs at the way publishing has become and
comparing it to the old days. Robert's
been in the business for almost thirty years but he keeps up with the
times and knows how to package a property and get his imprint on
board. He always sees the movie or television angle of manuscripts.
Truly goddamn amazing. Sometimes,
though, he sounds so cynical dissecting a property and trying to
figure the angle. That's when Updike is one hundred percent right on.
But I like Robert.
So, I got to the restaurant right on time, 12:15, but Robert
was already there. The maître
d’, Alejandro, is this gorgeous Puerto Rican guy who looks great in
a tux and he just loves me. Says
I look "muy triqueño" – you know, dark the way he thinks
beautiful women should look.
“How’s the novelist?” he says as I walk up to his little
“Muy bien,” I say.
He smiles and points over to Robert.
“The old man is here already.
Want me to walk you to your table?”
“No thanks,” and I head to the table as I press a twenty
into Alejandro’s waiting hand. Why not? He’s
nice and he always squeezes me in.
So? If he wants to
get into my pants, so what?
Anyway, Robert sees me and stands up to give me a too tight
hug. He says,
"Sandra, that dress looks great on you."
I like compliments but Robert always goes just a little too
"It shows off your curves wonderfully!
Been working out?"
See! So, I ignore his leer and say, "What?
This old schmatte?" Why
do you laugh when I use Yiddish?
Come on, Liz. Everyone does.
Where was I? Oh,
yeah. Robert's on wife
number two – no, wait – number three and he can't help but flirt.
He's not bad looking. Third
or fourth generation German. Thin.
Very thin. His
hair is all gray now but he has lots of it and it looks great.
He kind of reminds me of Peter O’Toole but with better skin.
He’s shorter than you’d expect.
With me standing five-foot-eight, and then add my heels, I
tower over him. And he
wears these beautiful suits. God!
You just want to rub your hands all over the fabric so badly!
Don’t give me that look, Liz.
I don’t want to sleep with him.
Jesus Christ, it’s always sex with you.
Anyway, even though I start sitting, Robert says, "Sit,
sit. I've already ordered
for the both of us. The
Shit! I think. I hate
it when he orders for me. I
had halibut once and told him I liked it so now he thinks that I must
have it every time we eat there.
All I wanted was a little salad after my splurge last night.
No comments, Liz. I’m
allowed to splurge two nights in a row.
So, Robert continues: "And
I've ordered a small mixed for you, too."
Goddamn him! But I
smile and say, "Robert, thank you.
You're so thoughtful."
Okay. So, I'm a chicken shit.
Anyway, we go through some old business and he's actually very
well behaved. Eventually
the salads come and we start to get to some new stuff.
"Robert, I have a wonderful new writer for you," I
"Oh?" he says.
"He's written a beautiful short novel."
"You mean a 'novella'?
You know nothing under 50,000 words sells.
Can it be expanded? How
many words is it now?" God,
of course I know how a novella is defined.
But he likes to lecture. So,
time to re-group. How do
I bring him in?
"It's longer than The
Old Man and the Sea. About
as long as Remembering Laughter."
His jaw literally drops. He
says, "Jeesuuus Christ, Sandy, you're getting Phi Beta Kappa on
So, I back off and think fast:
"Okay, okay. How about The House on
"All right, that's a little better but Mango
Street was a total fluke and you know that.
So, how many words?"
Did I leave that last remark stand unchallenged or did I move
on? Maybe a salad fork
shoved gently but firmly into his left eye would have been good.
I say, "It was a great book.”
Robert gives me a look that says, “Give it up, girl!”
So, he presses on.
“How many words?”
“Twenty-seven thousand plus."
know, Liz. Point of View. Oh
yeah! You lawyers are
Anyway, I answer: "First
person in the prologue and epilogue -- through the eyes of the
grandson reminiscing and then third person omniscient for the
"Title?" he asks.
"The Courtship of María Rivera Peña."
of like The Courtship of Eddy’s Father." Robert closes his eyes as he says this. The restaurant grows hotter and noisier and I notice other
agents sitting talking to other editors.
And we’re all trying to ignore each other’s presence. What a goddamn business.
Robert eventually wakes up from his trance: "Should be shorter, though.
How about, The Courtship
of María Peña?"
I say, "No, because the name 'Rivera' has symbolism to it.
Besides, that's not how Mexican names work."
"Yes. 'Rivera' means 'riverside.'"
"Go on," says Robert as he puts more food into his
mouth. For a thin man, he
sure knows how to eat.
"And her husband-to-be is named 'Isla.'"
"You know, 'riverside' and 'island.'"
Very good. Cute."
Robert always likes things like that.
Good boy, Robert.
And then he ruins it: "I
like that. And it kind of evokes Geraldo Rivera, too."
You like Geraldo, Liz? God,
why are we friends?
Anyway, he says, "Okay.
I know, I know. But
Robert can’t deal with terms like “Chicano.”
Liz, when in Rome. . . .
"Go on," Robert says.
Then the waitress comes by with our lunch.
Someone else swiped my salad before I realize what was
Anyway, I say, "Imagine a smaller Joy
Luck Club or Roots."
Robert’s face lights up like my computer screen.
"There's that kicking fetus of a mind that I know and
Damn! That's a test! Who
wrote 'kicking fetus of a mind'?
I couldn’t remember. Woolf?
Hemingway? No, not
Hem. Stein? Who was
it? Oh, yeah!
"You shouldn't steal from Fitzgerald especially from an
I know I’m good, Liz.
"Now, that's my Stanford Phi Beta Kappa talking," he
Yup. Don't mess with my bad ass.
Anyway, he’s interested now.
"Movie potential," Robert continues.
"Could Edward James Olmos play the lead?
I like him. He made
Maybe a fork in each eye would have been appropriate.
What? You agree
with him? That’s not
the point, Liz. Oh, never
So, I go along for the ride because he’s interested and I
say, "Yes, Olmos probably could play the lead when the
protagonist is a little older. After
he's married. And Los
Lobos could do the soundtrack."
As I say this, I scrape at the halibut with my fork pretending
I was trying to get under one of Robert’s eyelids.
Yeah, I know I’m a little sick but that’s how you avoid
doing things like that in real life.
Anyway, then there’s silence.
Just the sound of Robert chewing on his duck intermingled with
the din of the lunch crowd. He
always orders duck. Then
he startles me.
"Can't think about it.
I'm on a self-imposed moratorium on ethnic writers."
As he says this, he lifts his glass of
ice tea to his lips but doesn’t drink.
He just holds it there, suspended like it was hemlock and he
knew that it would be his last drink.
I didn't know what to say!
A hot property was a hot property!
Robert didn't care who wrote the book as long as it was good
and could sell well.
"What do you mean?" was all I could manage to say.
I felt deflated.
"I'm getting a reputation."
"What?" I sputter.
Then he starts: "I'm
getting a reputation with some people-on-high as a promoter of ethnic
writers and that's not the rep I want.
Too limiting. It
also makes me look too liberal. Someone
like Rush would never come to me.
Remember what happened to André?
That’s why he was shown the door."
I swear to God he said it.
And he puts another piece of duck in his mouth.
I tell you, I could've shat right there.
So, I say, "So, what?
You're a success. Your books sell. What
more do they want?"
Robert starts to smile. Slowly
at first. Then a full-faced, goofy grin and then laughter.
I think, what the hell’s going on?
Did he finally lose it completely?
“Gotcha’!" he says as he lets out an uncharacteristic
I think, that little son of a bitch!
And then I say, "Robert, you son of bitch!"
He wipes a tear from his eye because he’s been laughing so
hard. "Sandy, you've
got to lighten up a bit,” he says.
“You've brought me wonderful projects and almost a quarter of
them are ethnic. They've
done pretty well. And,
even though you're nothin' but a white girl, you're my best source for
that kind of work."
What did I say? I
said, "Half white." No
shit. Guess I was just
"What?" he stammers.
"My father is Mexican.
Born in Mexico. Mom's Irish." And
I let out a big breath.
Robert froze for about twenty seconds.
At first he realizes that his little joke hit closer to home
than he planned. Then I could see him searching his memory for any racist
remark he might have said. Did
he ever use the word "spik”?
I think he couldn’t remember anything so he looks relieved.
Then he searches my features to see if he could discern my hot
Aztec blood. His face
suddenly lights up.
"I should have known!
I see it now! That's why you're so beautiful in that exotic way.
Not quite white, not quite ethnic."
Oh, God, I think. Not
this shit. Hey, Liz, you don’t get this stuff. It gets old after awhile.
Robert then says, "Why do you go by 'Olson'?"
And I explain. And
the more I explain, the madder he gets.
Finally, he says, "Sandy – if that's really your name. . . ."
Ouch! He knows how to throw ‘em.
"Sandy, do you know how many Hispanic agents there are in
New York? Huh?
Do you? You could
be one of a handful and you go by 'Olson'!
That's plain stupid! By
the way, what is your father's name?"
I say, "Ramirez."
"Beautiful!" he almost yells.
Then there’s silence, which is very unusual for Robert and
"Look," he begins slowly.
"I'll read that novella.
I feel exhausted. It's
very strange to know someone for eight years and find out she's really
Robert can be so dramatic sometimes.
But I like that about him.
Anyway, as we finish our lunch, we talk about our lives instead
of projects. Though he's
a flirt, he suddenly becomes more relaxed, more serious.
No, Liz, it wasn’t just an act.
He got real. So, I learned
that his daughter from his first marriage was just finishing at Brown
and was interning for one of the houses.
His son was doing great in high school.
Very athletic. Football,
for Christ's sake! His
current wife, Marilyn, started writing short stories and one of them
was just accepted by Glimmer
Train Stories. It’s
one of those literary journals that are piled all over my apartment.
Anyway, Robert looks so full of pride as he tells me how it was
her very first submission. And
– I couldn't believe it! – Robert has a 60,000-word novel on his
hard drive at home but he's never submitted it to anyone!
It's loosely based on HIS great grandparents’ trek to the
United States from Germany and their settling in the Midwest.
So, I encourage him to submit it to André and he laughs and
says that I shouldn't think that he hasn't thought of it.
When we finish our lunch, he looks at me with eyes more like my
father's than that of a fifty-five year old sex maniac.
So, we eventually get up to go and Alejandro gives me a little
wink as Robert and I walk out. Robert
flags a taxi for me even though I’m quite capable of doing it myself
but he’s just that way. We
hug, without a word, and I hop in and Robert closes the door with a
quick flick of his wrist. And
I head back to my office to make my West Coast calls before those
folks went to their lunches. But first, I went to talk to my secretary.
I’m getting there, Liz.
I know it’s late.
Anyway, I say, "Ray, could you order some new cards and
Ray looks up from his daily Swiss on Rye with lettuce and lots
and lots of tomatoes. He always has little treats waiting by his sandwich.
Today, he’s lined up six miniature Mounds Bars to the right
of the telephone looking like little parked cars.
A can of Diet Coke stood watch over it all.
He gives me a mournful look that’s hard to take seriously
especially with his shaved head and very chic goatee.
When he interviewed with me two years ago, he had nicely
trimmed blond hair with a part on the side and absolutely no facial
He says, "Why, Sandy?
I just ordered them."
"I want my name to be changed."
No shit, Liz.
And he looks bewildered. "To
what?" As he says
this, Ray puts his sandwich down for emphasis.
"To 'Sandra Olson Ramirez.'"
Suddenly, Ray perks up. "You're
I know. I laughed, too. But
you know Ray. Always
hopeful. Always old
So, I say, "No. I'll
explain later." Then
I reach down to Ray’s desk and pick-up some manuscripts that had
been delivered during lunch – while slyly swiping one of his Mounds
Bars – and head to my office to start making my West Coast calls.
Okay, that’s what happened today.
All right, all right. It’s
not such a big deal to you, but to me it is.
Hold on. Let me
put a nice tip here for, what’s his name?
it’s my money. Besides,
Jeremy did a great
Let’s go, Liz. I’ve
gotta’ get up early to get to the gym.
Hey, you know who just joined?
I saw him last week on the StairMaster.
You know, the guy from what’s that show?
The one you like. Yeah. That’s him. No
shit. But he looks better
© 2002 Daniel A. Olivas
A Olivas’ first short fiction collection, Assumption and Other
Stories, is forthcoming from Arizona State University's Bilingual
Press. With this collection, he was one of ten finalists in the
2000 Willa Cather Fiction Contest sponsored by Helicon Nine Editions.
He is also the author of the novella, The Courtship of María Rivera
Peña (Silver Lake Publishing, 2000). His fiction, non-fiction
and poetry are appearing or forthcoming in dozens of journals
including Southern Cross Review, Exquisite Corpse, THEMA, The Pacific
Review, The Raven Chronicles, Red River Review, to name but a few.
His fiction and poetry are featured in several anthologies including
Fantasmas: Supernatural Stories by Mexican American Writers, edited by
Rob Johnson (Bilingual Press, 2001), that includes his story,
The Plumed Serpent of Los Angeles, which first appeared in
Southern Cross Review. He received his degree in English
literature from Stanford University and his law degree from the
University of California at Los Angeles. He practices law with
the California Department of Justice specializing in land use and
environmental enforcement and makes his home in the San Fernando
Valley with his wife and son.