Meat and Greet
by Jamie Todd Rubin
So there he is, Borges, returned from the dead and sitting across the table from me smelling of
dust and moldy books as if he'd spent the last quarter-century scrambling through the stacks of
an old and cavernous library. Gone from this universe and now returned, to a pitch-an-agent
event, and seated at the table representing the Billy Morrow Literary Agency. He frowns when he
sees me and then wastes precious seconds by asking for good old Morrow himself, perhaps not
realizing that the dead are not typically resurrected and that when an agent dies he has the honor
and integrity to stay dead. In death, as in everything else, authors are never that reliable.
Two more sessions of this, I think. Today. And next week. The large hall is filled with the sounds
of desperation as a thousand would-be writers give their spiel to a few dozen agents who have the
misfortune of drawing the short straw. I give the resurrected Borges a wan smile.
Flummoxed for only a moment, Borges says, "A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Vance." He extends a
gray hand. There is an empty look in his eyes. I am uncertain of the protocol in these situations,
shaking hands with the formerly dead and what have you.
"What do you have for me," I say, somewhat ashamed that I am asking this of the immortal
"Imagine if you will," he says, licking his gray lips, "the story of a famous writer, returned from
the dead and pitching his next masterpiece, which itself is the story of a famous writer, returned
from the dead." He grins awkwardly, his breath exuding decay.
The buzzer startles me. Borges' two minutes are up. "Hits too close to home," I tell him. "Try
one of the small presses." I feel compelled to offer these feeble suggestions to the great Borges.
The floor of the conference center has erupted into momentary chaos and the blind old man nods
his head and shuffles away, lost in the crowd.
His seat is filled instantly by Mark Twain. I glance quickly to my left and right. The people
sitting across from the other agents seem in no way extraordinary; or rather, they seem perfectly
ordinary and more specifically, alive. Twain has that same empty look in his eyes, that same
sallow expression in his cheeks that Borges had just a moment earlier. His hand, when he extends
it in greeting, feels like recently defrosted sirloin.
But time is wasting and I say, "Let's have your pitch, then."
Twain is an old pro and gets right to the point. "It's a reboot," Twain says, "much like me. I want
to re-imagine Tom Sawyer, tell the same story, except that Tom drowns in the river, only to come
back to life, as a kind of empty husk of person, soulless, to witness his own funeral."
Of course, now I am suspicious that this whole racket is a put up job, but there is something
about Twain and Borges, undead as they are, that is visceral. And besides, the agency is in real
trouble and despite the fact that their pitches are universally awful, their names alone might carry
us through to the next set of royalty statements.
The buzzer sounds and I ask Twain to leave his pitch with me for further consideration. I'd like
to talk to him some more, but already he is being shoved out of the way by Edgar Allen Poe, who
reeks not only of moldy flesh but of whiskey. I had no idea that the recently dead could drink.
He starts his pitch, and his breath is flammable. I already have a glimmer of where this is going.
Poe says, "A man murders another man, and to cover up the crime he buries the body under the
floorboards of the house." He speaks in a slurred monotone, his soft voice barely audible over the
din of a hundred simultaneous pitches. I have heard enough and I try to stop him, but he
continues. "But the murdered man returns to life, and he slowly chips away at his grave, scraping
and clawing at the floorboards, and driving his murderer insane in the process."
He finishes his pitch with time to spare and there is an awkward silence as the two of us face one
another. This theme is a dead-end, and fame or not, I'm not about to go in for anymore of it.
Finally the buzzer rings and I nod politely at Poe who fades into the crowd. The other agents
have stacks of manuscripts. They are handing out business cards. My table top is empty, save a
coffee cup, and the lingering odor of rotten meat and Jameson.
I feel like slipping away, like coming here was a terrible mistake, but before I can stand, a
slender, pale woman takes the seat across from me. She has striking features, is dressed in
tattered black, and is, of course, recently dead like all the rest. However, unlike the others, she
I'm having trouble placing her until she starts her pitch, which she describes in pleasant
monotones as a collection of poetry about the joy of death. And then it hits me. This is Emily
Dickinson. She glances around the auditorium, distracted.
"Isn't this wonderful?" she says. I think I see a glimmer of something writhing at the corner of
her lip. "I've never been happier. I don't really care all that much about the pitch, you know,
which by the way centers around the theme of death and rebirth. And rebirth in death."
I am relieved when the buzzer rings. There is only a single two-minute session left. I simply
cannot take this anymore. I don't understand the appeal of these stories and I will not tolerate it
And yet there is the agency to think about, old man Morrow's final legacy. I sit frozen, nerves
frayed, wondering who will be next, Kafka? Sartre?
The final buzzer jostles my very bones. The bearded man who sits across from me is easily
recognizable, despite his disheveled appearance. He nods calmly at me and begins speaking at
once with an Irish brogue, "This is an epistolary tale --"
I shudder at the words. "Mr. Stoker --" I try to interrupt, seeing at once where this is going, but
he flaps a crumbling hand at my objection.
"Think fangs," he says. "Creatures that drink blood. That require blood for their immortality.
Vampires!" He exclaims this last word with a proud force. "Very popular with teenage girls,
too," he adds, as if I needed a further angle.
And though he is right, the timing is all wrong. All is wasted. He has missed the point, has come
back for nothing. And though I hate doing it, I am forced to plant the verbal stake firmly into his
"Mr. Stoker," I say, "I'm sorry but this meet and greet is centered around zombie stories which,
for whatever reason, seem extraordinarily popular at the moment." With a sardonic smile
creeping across my lips, I add, "The vampire meet and greet is next week."