A friend of mine said “Would you like to meet Cochran?”
“Sure, what writer wouldn’t? But what would I say?”
“You don’t have to say anything. He’ll do most of the talking. If there’s silence, even long silences, there’s silence, but then he or I will say something or the visit will be over. Here, I’ll call him. I’m sure he’d like to meet you.”
“Why would he?”
“Because you’re my friend and a writer.”
He called Cochran from a telephone booth. Cochran said for us to meet him in the bar downstairs in the building he lives in. We went there. He wasn’t there. We ordered a glass of wine each and waited.
“I’m surprised,” my friend said. “He’s usually so prompt.”
“Maybe he meant another day or another hour.”
“No, he specifically said he’ll meet us in exactly twenty minutes in this bar and please don’t be late. Also, he could only give us half an hour.”
“That’s better than nothing. Fact is, it’s something I never expected, ever. I knew you knew him, but I didn’t know how well and didn’t want to ask because I thought you might think I was pushing for a meeting with him. Where do you know him from?”
“Oh, I get around.”
Just then Cochran came into the bar, but from the street entrance, not the one to the apartment building. He put out his hand to me and said “Cochran. It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir. I’ve been a long-time admirer of your work.”
“Please, I’m sure you haven’t read my work. It hardly gets around and there’s so little of it.”
“Take my word, son. I’ve read it. So, what are you boys drinking? Wine? Have another on me.” He ordered a glass of white wine for himself, refills for us, and some bar food for us all. “Have some,” he said. “It’s delicious.”
“What is it?” I said. “I don’t recognize it. I only ask because if it’s shrimp or anything even close to the shrimp family—langoustines, for example—I’m allergic to it.”
“It’s shrimp,” he said. “You no doubt couldn’t tell because the shells have been removed. I was also fooled the first time. I’ll order something else for you.”
“Really, I’m not hungry.”
“I insist. You’re young; you have to eat.” He ordered something else. But he spoke so rapidly to the waiter that I again didn’t make out what it was. “No [End Page 175] meat of any kind,” he said to me, “so you’re safe. Now, let’s talk about your work while we have one more drink. Or I’ll have; you two can stay here for as long as you want and drink on me. The waiter will put it on my tab.”
He went on and on about my work. What he liked, what he didn’t think particularly worked but could easily be repaired, because it was too good to toss out; what he thought was original. He’d obviously read both my books, or a lot of each of them.
“May I now say what I think about your fiction?” I said. “Especially, the short prose. What I have to say is all good, believe me. And I’m not saying that because of the kind things you said about my stuff.”
“Stuff. Oh I love that. No, my friend, I have to go, and please don’t save it for another time. I mean, we might meet again—I’ve enjoyed our brief conversation—but I get extremely uncomfortable when someone even alludes to my work in front of me, no matter how high the praise. No, I correct myself. Higher the praise, worse I feel. So.” He drank up, shook our hands, patted my shoulder, and left through the street door.
“He lives upstairs, as you know,” my friend said, “and could have got to his building’s lobby through that door there. But...