- From Autisms
MY PRESENT PUBLISHER
My present publisher, when I telephone him, is silent for a few seconds. Then, in a very loud voice, he says he can’t hear me. PRONTO! PRONTO! I CAN’T HEAR! he shouts, just like someone who hears very badly. Then he hangs up. When I call back, the line is busy, or the voice mail picks up.
The first few times I fell for it. Or rather, I chose to fall for it, the way one prefers to think there’s a survivor or two in an airplane smashed to pieces on the ground. The pieces scattered over the peri-urban sweep are charred and incongruous, the television coverage is cruelly explicit, but wait, there might well be some survivor, we say to ourselves. A woman with a wide floral skirt that slows her fall, or maybe some scrawny person who comes down on the fronds of a palm tree. A guy who’s adopted by a she-wolf, then writes a best seller recounting his amazing adventure, on which he’s able to live like a potentate for the rest of his life. And then dies of diabetes because, you know, he ate too much.
Now as for myself, just to be perfectly clear, if I were a pilot I’d bring along a parachute. Not a bulky one, nothing too visible. True, it’s not good form to parachute out when everyone else is about to be reduced to carbonized shreds, however one victim less is preferable to one more, and all the philosophers in the world would very likely agree on that. Go to a party and you don’t make a beeline for the potato chips head-butting the person barring your way, but in a life or death situation, it makes sense. At a party, you don’t risk being transformed into burnt scraps. Well, not often. While on a plane that’s going down, it’s all but certain. Every day we make sacrifices to save a single miserable human life trapped on a mountaintop or buried under the ruins, and nobody gives a thought to airline pilots. They’re left to kick the bucket without the slightest remorse. No television cameras, no tear-jerking remarks. Certainly, to do things properly, before sailing off on his/her parachute, the pilot will need to explain things in a frank and open dialogue, the way difficulties in a couple are faced. However on a [End Page 577] swiftly falling airplane, there are noises that make it hard to concentrate, vibrations and jolting around quite inimical to dialogue. Not to mention that someone in disaccord will very likely come forward and insist on having it his way, as never fails to happen in couples.
I CAN’T HEAR! I CAN’T HEAR! shouts my present publisher when I telephone him. In truth the line is very clear and one can distinguish the tiniest modulations in his sophisticated editor’s genial voice, and it’s perfectly obvious he’s pretending, but he says it all the same. I CAN’T HEAR! he shouts a final time, and hangs up. Pitiful.
At most, I could understand if he said he had an appointment with Barack Obama, or even if he were silent as a fish, but not this raving I CAN’T HEAR! We’re not speaking of children here, we’re speaking of adults, of respected publishers. Not large publishers, to be sure, and not middle-sized, or even medium-small, but still, esteemed publishers. Minuscule publishers appreciated for their work as minuscule publishers. Third-rate publishers who occasionally publish great authors. It happens. And so sometimes I try again. But he has the nasty habit of screening his calls. I can call and call again; he never answers. He’s there staring at the telephone, but he doesn’t pick up. It’s useless to try to call from another phone, he’s become cunning.
Once in a while, though, he’s caught unaware, and so he starts up again with his I CAN’T HEAR! I CAN’T HEAR...