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    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again

When I was an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster, there was a very rich and ambitious editorial assistant who used to take out agents and pay with her own credit card, pretending to have an expense account. My friends and I, over dollar pitchers of beer, debated which was worse, the fraudulence or spending your own money. When I finally got promoted to editor and got my first company credit card, it was incredibly exciting. Taking out agents, however, turned out to be a little more stressful than I bargained for. I surveyed some top editors around town and asked them to share their worst lunch dates ever. There was no shortage or replies:

“Hm, oh god, worse lunch date ever, but there are so many to choose from! Probably my first one. I was a baby editor on my first expense account lunch and the agent was 20 minutes late, then proceeded to order a 3 course insanely expensive meal with wine, and spent the entire time talking about much she loved my previous boss who was a notorious sadist and the worst person I’ve ever worked for in publishing.”

Nobody puts Baby in the corner!

Another editor, and a sharp one at that, thought he’d teach an old dog new tricks, “My worst lunch ever was with a literary agent who abruptly suggested we end our meal, even though the food had just arrived. I had been giving her the third degree about her policy of refusing to take editorial factors into consideration and selling her projects only to the highest bidder. She took offense. We did ultimately make it to the end of the lunch. No dessert, though. And I never received any further submissions from her.”

Damn, that creme brulee looked good.

Let’s give the agents a rest: “I was having lunch with an author and his wife, also a writer, on the eve of his publication. At the beginning they let me know they felt nothing but disdain for our corporate parent company. Then to alleviate their liberal guilt over taking money from such monsters, they ordered everything on the menu and stuck me with a $300 bill for lunch.”

Including tip?

Another newbie bought her first big book. The moment the deal was made, the agent insisted the editor take her out to celebrate. “It was my first sign of things to come. The agent chose the restaurant, the date, the time, and believe it or not the table…you can imagine my surprise when the agent was not only there ahead of me, but seated with a drink already sweating on the table, half-way finished.” DANGER WILL ROBINSON! Agent proceeded to dress down the waitress in “epic proportions” for slow service, needed each dish to be specially prepared,  sent food back when it wasn’t hot enough, and  ordered coffee and dessert. “Needless to say, after the agent scraped the final bits of frosting from the plate, shook out the napkin from his collar, patted his stomach over the too-tightly belted high-waisted pants, I was ready to sprint back to the office. I left the poor waitress at 50% tip…It was 3:30. We never lunched again.”

There’s no excuse for high-waisted pants. Not then, not now.

Another editor in her youth went nearly 100 blocks to meet an esteemed agent. (An unspoken rule of lunching: the younger or more junior person always travels to a restaurant convenient to the senior person.) So, our intrepid editor hopped the subway and nearly an hour later arrived at the lunch spot chosen by the agent. “The agent was there when I arrived, her head in her hands. I sat down and asked if everything was alright. She replied that she would kill herself if she had to have the Cobb salad again. When I suggested she try the Chef salad, she started weeping”

Clearly, this was a lunch date prior to the invention of SSRI’s.

For me, the worst lunch date is when the young editor across from me starts to blend into every other lunch date I’ve ever had, when I no longer remember her name or which publishing house she works for, when I start to time travel and remember all my nervous lunch dates taking agents out for the first time, skittish as a blind date, how I felt like a fraud yammering on about how much I loved books or thought the house I was working at was swell. It was all true enough, but it always felt false like too much make-up. It was the “Showtime” feeling from All That Jazz, being on like that, a trained circus animal. Sometimes I’d go to the restroom in the middle of the lunch just to get a look at myself in the mirror and make sure I was still there. Not exactly an existential moment worthy of Sartre, but still my little reverie.

19 Responses

  1. Wow. Maybe I’m glad I toil away in obscurity here in what the locals call the mid-West.

  2. This was hilarious! And a sad statement on the human race. Somehow those two things often go together ;).

  3. Love, love, love the inside dish.

  4. You oughtta include some more basic information for writers. My first agent told me, ‘A writer never pays.’ Which I hadn’t known. But now I happy sit back and watch the agent/editor pay for lunch.

    I’m actually heading for the city for a round of lunches in a few weeks. As an author, is it better to be a) blandly agreeable and professional or b) memorably off-kilter and honest?

    I’m considering b), which involves just being myself, but my wife says that’s a bad idea. Sometimes the kilter is a bit -too- far off.

  5. Betsy, I adored your book “The Forest for the Trees” when I read it a few years ago. I can’t believe I just now stumbled upon your blog. It’s great, honest stuff and so different from the same old “how to write a query” stuff found on some (just some) other agent and/or editor blogs.

    I could feel the pain of these lunches. Crawl under the table or order more wine (or something harder) Years ago, I was taken out to dinner by a potential employer and his wife. It was one of those stiff, uncomfortable affairs where you’re terrified of crunching your salad too loudly. During the meal, his pregnant, hormonal wife turned to him and said, “I dreamed you had an affair with that cute girl at your office.” Hmm, thinking back, I couldn’t have been more than twenty-four at the time. Maybe she was trying to tell me something…

  6. This blog brings back memories of my stint in pharmaceutical sales. I catered lunch at one doctor’s office and over his sandwich he asked if I had children. “One,” I replied. “Did you have it cesarean because I only sleep with women who’ve had babies by cesarean.” I nearly choked. When I got home, I looked him up on the Sate Licensing website, and sure enough, he was under investigation for “improper and unprofessional conduct.”

  7. Just found this blog via Tweet from Ginger Clark. Hilarious. Out here in the wild west, we don’t realize what dark dramas are unfolding back there in the Hungry City.

  8. This is both informative and hilarious. Thanks for dishing ;)!

  9. Oh, my – now look who’s Captain Awkward. I’m headed for the Poop Deck.

  10. Thanks! It makes me feel less cheated for living out West where the only decision to be made over lunch is whether or not to go back to work. Hah!

  11. […] When editors and agents sit down for the requisite lunch date, things rarely go as planned. […]

  12. Dear Betsy,

    That was hilarious and oh so true! I wish you much success with your new book.

    Lisa Hagan
    Paraview Literary Agency

  13. I’ll be glad when the lunch thing is no more. Why? Because I’m jealous at being a Midwest agent and not ever had the opportunity. Our assistant, however, used to participate and told us about one lunch date where the editor, a young male twenty-something, was 30 minutes late for a midtown lunch (probably 10 minutes from his office). When he finally arrived, he seemed mightily shocked that she was middle-aged instead of 25. From his attire, he left the impression that he wasn’t as interested in books as in…other things. The lunch lasted 20 minutes.

  14. I too am an admirer of yours, Betsy, from your appearances on Writers on Writing, which led me to your book The Forest for the Trees. Laughed my way through this entry and will be back for more!

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