• Bridge Ladies

    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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We Could Have Had It All

You get on a plane. The person you’re sitting next to sees that you are reading a manuscript. You can feel their eyes on the page, you know they are trying to say something. They will either blurt it out or start with some small talk. But you know what they’re thinking. They have a story to tell, they survived something, or went somewhere or ate something. Or they know someone who went somewhere or ate something or survived something terrible. Then, it happens. They cross the line and ask what you do and you think about lying, about saying anything: you’re a post partum doula, you’re a designated hitter for the Tampa Bay Rays, you own a ribbon shop in Santa Barbara called Ribbons! Ribbons! Ribbons!. You ask god why he made you an agent, why people think that whatever happened to them is of interest, no matter that they have never written a word. Can’t you just hire a ghost, they ask. Isn’t that what editors are for? Please, 24B, do not tell me that your son-in-law is a writer, that your mother escaped Poland, that you love Harry Potter and always thought you could write a children’s book. Would you ask a dermatologist to look at a pimple on your ass, would you ask a banker to evaluate your portfolio? Please wannabe writer don’t sit next to me, don’t ask me what I think of electronic books, don’t tell me how much you love your Kindle. Don’t ask me how publishing works or if you can give my name to your colleague who is writing a memoir about her herb garden. Just be quiet and enjoy the in-flight magazine’s cover story about Bobby Flay and leave me the fuck alone.

59 Responses

  1. My husband is an infectious disease doctor. You should SEE what people ask him to look at…neighbors show up with odd pustules, parents of kids in my son’s class with freaky rashes on their asses ask him to take a peek, and by the way, is this NORMAL, they ask, and I wonder if they mean the pus or the offer to show us their boil-covered asses…

  2. People usually engage me on flights. Once I offered half my ice cold beer to a guy and he said, after he finished it, how mad his girlfriend was gonna be cuz he was an alcoholic. If they try to engage, I usually go along. Once I tried to and was shot down. So it’s a one way street, or flight.

    Anyway, sorry, but I am not going to leave you the fuck alone. Well, maybe on a plane.

  3. I tell people I’m a paralegal and they want legal advice. I tell people I’m a bartender and they want to know how to make the perfect Long Island Iced Tea. I tell people I’m a crack shot with a BB gun and they ask me how to file down the sear pin on an AR-15. I tell people I’m a writer and they–and we all of us probably know this one–they tell me how they’ve always wanted to be a writer too, as soon as they can find the time to get around to it.

    But if I tell them I’m an investigative agent with the Department of Homeland Security–and I put on my street face, I don’t smile, I look them straight in the eye when I’m telling them this, wait for them to flinch and look away, then I ignore them–they leave me alone.

    Try it sometime, it’s a real rush.

  4. I have 3 words for you: Noise Canceling Headphones.

  5. I have to say, that if I ended up next to you on a plane, I would not be able to sit there and not say anything. I would NOT ask you to read my manuscript (no, I really wouldn’t), but I would want to know what it’s like to be an agent and what your job is actually like and, yes, I admit it, what sorts of things I should do if I wanted to get an agent like you.

    Agents are like rock stars to us lowly, unrepresented writers. Isn’t there someone that, if you were next to them on a plane, you couldn’t help but try to talk to? Even though you know everyone tries to talk to them and it probably annoys the shit out of them? Patti Smith, maybe?

    When will you ever have that chance again? What is there to lose? Your self-esteem? Your self-respect? Certainly not. You threw that out a long time ago when you decided to try to get your book published.

  6. Sonje, I think writers deserve equal or more rock star billing. It bugs me when authors denigrate themselves–as if we haven’t already been humbled enough. We’re not going to get any respect until we think we actually deserve it and put ourselves at least on the same plane as those who help promote us.

    Betsy, my first reaction to reading your post was “Sheesh, what a snob.” A second or two later, though, I copped to having the same internal OMG dread.

    It’s funny that no one ever tells a plumber that oh, they’re a plumber too–they don’t presume that because they unclogged their own toilet once that it makes them a plumber.

    Writers hear it all the time. Everyone is a writer, from the 14 year old girl who keeps a journal to the 75 year old grandpa who started his own Tumblr blog. And I’ve heard “oh, I started writing a book once” more times than I want to remember.

    I’ve quit telling strangers that I’m a writer. I tell them I’m a plumber who dabbles in porn scripts.

  7. *runs out to get “Betsy Forever” tattooed on her ass*

  8. Oh, the forced camaraderie of the airplane. The leaning in, looking over the shoulder, the “I couldn’t help but notice…” of it all. Thank god for those little bottles of gin.

    • I’m lucky, somehow I automatically put people off, and they usually a) try not to sit next to me and b) don’t talk to me.

      But I can’t say it was my most discreet act when I pulled out my russian textbook and notes and started trying to study for an upcoming exam on a Greyhound heading west out of kansas city for denver. THAT got noticed, and then there was no escape — I was definitely trapped with those folks for a few hours.

  9. I lie about what I do for a living. And every time I don’t, the questions follow, the hunger for advice.

    Really, it doesn’t matter what the field is anymore. People are so starved for knowledge because they’re surrounded by information.

    If I sat next to you on a plane, I’d offer to buy you a drink and then buy you one anyway. Then I’d thank you for taking the time to write this blog because if it wasn’t for this I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met. And that dear Betsy, is priceless.

    I may also fangirl a bit about your books, but that is completely dependent on how much I’ve had to drink.

  10. Act deaf – problem solved.

  11. Headphones go in. World goes away.

  12. I’m sorry but I wouldn’t be able to resist you.

    (But I do have an English accent so at least my annoying questions would sound slightly cute.)


  13. Oh I hear this one. Try “I’m a psychiatrist” for a couple of decades. Everything from unrestrained weeping in the grocery store to expectations of clairvoyance at cocktail parties. I once told a guy I was a snake charming stripper just to see if I’d get a milder reaction. And it worked.

    • You have my attention.

    • Maybe you and I should fly together: try traveling quietly when you admit to the person next to you that you are an interior designer! On one memorable trip I did, though, lie and told the pesky, exuberant seat neighbor (in hushed tones) that I was in the witness protection program. They were terrified.

  14. For next time: You’re confusing me with someone who gives a shit. My kids usually get the PG version: You’re confusing me with someone who cares. I can’t wait for them to grow up just a bit. The first one clearly packs more punch.

  15. So, you like to read, huh? I read a book once. Actually it was a magazine, Field and Stream. Ever hear of it? Took me awhile to get through it all, mostly read it while I was sitting on the john, but, you know, it was alright. Mostly I watch movies. They’re just as good as books, don’t you think? You look pretty busy, hope I’m not boring you. Can I buy you a drink? Hey, I got this great idea for a book. There’s this guy on a plane, see, and he meets this writer and… Aw, jeez, are you asleep? The same thing happens with my wife all of the time.

  16. I feel a little sorry for 24B.

  17. Macon Leary didn’t include this one in his book.

    Here’s a possibility:

    Nosy person: Are you an editor?
    You: No
    NP: An agent?
    You: No. I’m a writer.
    NP: Are you published?
    You: No
    Nosy person puts on headphones.

  18. You’re missing a fine opportunity here, Betsy, to crush this dream in its embryonic state and save yourself a query down the line. In fact, a chatterbox like 24B could surely be counted on to spread the word about why it doesn’t pay to be a writer, how hard it is to secure an agent and get published, how pointless it is even to try. How, once the manuscript is penned in blood and printed in gilt letters and offered, pages quivering like aspen leaves at the gnawed ends of 24B’s once-oval fingertips, there is an entire community of Radcliffe cardholders sneering like Billy-fucking-Idol, waiting to use the darlings within for Charmin.

    Cocktails for 24A, and let it roll.

    • Hmm. I just re-read this and realized that my hostility may have seemed directed toward you, Betsy. I didn’t intend it that way. I can’t imagine you sneering like Billy-fucking-anybody.

  19. Now, see, your problem here is the audience for which you are writing this. Of course we’d be itching to show you our writerly boils, our literary pustules–we’re writers, you’re an agent we admire (most of us, anyway) . You might as well ask gin not to be poured over rocks, batman not to be attracted to robin, yin not to balance yang. It isn’t natural. Not for this audience. Now, joe the plumber might be a different story. That dude sees you reading, and he bends over and makes a crack. The rest is in-flight torture.

  20. I’m an FAA aircrash special investigator. We’re trying to determine what makes seat 24B the death seat on this model aircraft. Can I check your seatbelt ?

  21. Think of it this way: If your seat were about twenty rows up, first class “4A”, and you found yourself sitting beside someone famous–someone with a guaranteed best seller in their future–what are the chances you’d somehow initiate conversation and, oh, maybe mention that you’re a literary agent and, hey, maybe they should write a book. Here’s my card….

    Of, what if Dave Eggers were sitting in “4B” and you noticed him perusing the back pages of the Village Voice, looking for anonymous sex. Clearly, he wants the sex. He is focused intently upon finding the sex. And you think, “Hey, this is providence. I have, like, totally been willing to have the sex with Dave Eggers forever.” And then you lean over and mention this. Because fate put you in that seat. Just like it did ol “24B”.

    Everyone’s a nuisance. Everyone’s a genius.

  22. Um, it’s doula not doola. Just for the record. Do you want to hear my story about being a doula for a friend during childbirth? Should I write a book about it? Would you read the manuscript? Just kidding, Betsy, take a deep breath. I’m in agreement with many of the comments above. Drink more on airplanes. And next time try mumbling your responses. And cough a little. People don’t want to talk to someone who’s coughing on them.

  23. I’m talking about people who DON’T write but believe they have a book in them. If anyone who reads this blog has a non-fiction proposal, please try me: betsy@dclagency.com
    I’m not really taking on fiction, though there are always exceptions.

  24. 24B is exactly the reason I always ask for a window seat. I do hate disrupting 24A when I need to get up, but it is negated by the ability to turn toward the wall and leave no doubt to my seatmate that I have zero interest in conversation. Can’t do that from the aisle, no way. Maybe next time try the train? Get your own little compartment, bring your own booze, shut the door, nobody knows you are even there. Heaven.

  25. The last time I flew, I told my seat partner I was a librarian, thinking it would be safe.

    I ended up taking an pop quiz on the Dewey Decimal system and participating in an impromptu debate about the future of libraries in the face of the Internet — I was assigned the “Yes, they have one” side, which was good, as I wasn’t prepared for the other. Then again, he had the advantage of arguing from a position of abject ignorance.

    I haven’t flown since the advent of eBooks. This is not a coincidence.

  26. My main thing is to avoid telling neighbors and casual acquaintances I work for the Embassy, because that ALWAYS evokes a need for help with a visa. People you would never think of want to come to the States. My standard response is that I work in a lawyers’ office — that is boring enough that they don’t ask anything more.

  27. When I was the Faberge expert for a fancy English auction house I used to get cornered by people who wanted to know how much their great-great-great grandmother’s spining wheel was worth. It was always a spinning wheel (they are about as valuable as kindling, people: BURN THEM UP ASAP).

    Also worth much, much, much, less than most people think: grandfather clocks, Mickey Mouse watches, Australian sapphires,and any piece of jade that does not have the color and gloss of a Colombian emerald.

    At one of my very first author events, a young woman in her 30s informed me that she used to be a writer in high school, “but more on the poetry side of things,” which is why she had no intention of reading my travel memoir.

    Since then, I have tried to stay as far as possible from the poetry side of things.

  28. I’m Whitey Bulger’s other girlfriend and would love to tell my story to someone but don’t know where to go.

  29. I tell people I am an artist. They tell me about their nephew who is also an artist. I find out more, I encourage them to encourage their nephew. Then they love me and want to be my patron and give me lots of money so I can do my artwork without worrying about anything. Really.
    Oh, and I did sit next to some really talkative lady once from England who told me she had a kids book about wizarding school. She was such a bore. I wonder what ever happened to her. Probably an alcoholic meter maid now I bet.

  30. It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are, people want to tell you their story. Or show you their ass. I think I’d rather hear the story than look at the ass, but I guess it depends on the ass and the length of the story. I’d have to do a careful calculation if it ever came up; a cost-benefit analysis of wasted time vs. gross out factor.

    But Betsy, I promise if I’m sitting next to you on the plane, I won’t show you my book but maybe I would have before I had an agent because hell, AN AGENT AS CAPTIVE AUDIENCE is sort of awesome when you are looking for an agent, almost better when the cashier at Starbucks gives you too much change.

    But I can’t promise I won’t show you a pustule if I happen to have one. I mean, I probably won’t, I just can’t promise.

    I’m actually seriously considering making up fake careers every time someone asks so I can see just how revealing people will be if they think it’s my job to know the intimate details of their genitals, say. It might be more fun than hearing about their picture book. I DON’T EVEN WRITE PICTURE BOOKS.

  31. Today, an hour ago, in advance of my trip, I got a manicure and the manicurist asked me what I did. I told her. The woman next to me then asked me for my card. She told me she has a dream of writing a children’s book someday. I have a dream of weighing 110.

  32. That was me – Betsy

  33. All is usually good unless a) someone’s kid stands up with that look on their face just before projectile vomiting over 3 rows of passengers, b) the guy sitting next to me drank too much the night before and is omitting noxious gases, or c) the neighbor hasn’t showered recently or has sprayed odious amounts of perfume to mask the stink.

    My disclaimer is none of you has actually heard me refer to tourist class as the pig section.

  34. I would be grateful for more ideas of what to tell people to shut them down. I like the FAA crash investigator (and my friend really is one) but I don’t see pulling that off with a straight face.

    I dust. I’m a duster. I go places and if they need dusting, I dust.

    Would that work?

  35. Holy shit, Betsy, that is hilarious. Not for you of course, but at least I got to take some pleasure in your suffering. Isn’t that what writing is all about, anyway?

  36. We all just crave to leave a legacy — a permanent story — but most of us will only make footsteps on a sandy dune that get blown away with the next strong wind. If you draw a deep enough breath and purse your lips ….

    I just tell people I am a professional hobo. And I got stories so if they don’t pull away, I start telling them… At least they’ll have a story to tell about a chatty hobo they met on a plane when they meet their next literary agent.

    You’re welcome 🙂

  37. Was once trapped on a nine hour train ride from NYC to Pittsburgh, the guy next to me pitching me for eight hours of that time after listening in on my cell phone conversation with an editor wrapping up a deal.

    I still have PTSD about that trip…..

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