By: D. Kenneth Ross - 2005
The first thing that came out of Oximo’s mouth when we landed at New York City’s JFK Airport was, "Did you see all those f----n’ lights we flew over gettin’ here? It was like flying into the f----n’ Aurora Borealis, like a f----n’ neon nightmare."
Oximo wasn’t big on restraint, whether it was the niceties of human expression or social intercourse. Whatever his first impression might be, it was a sure bet he would regurgitate it to whomever was standing closest to him; which would ordinarily be me.
Rather than debate him over the decorum best suited for the people we were going to meet here in the big city, I ignored him. It was easier than the foul hale-storm which would ensue.
I looked for the tall black limo driver with the sign reading, ‘Blaine Diamond’.
I spotted the good looking Ghana immigrant almost immediately. I walked toward him lugging my travel bag with my left hand while I waved my right arm. "I’m Blaine Diamond," I said as we closed on each other. He turned, grabbed my bag without conversation and led us to the waiting limo.
At that point he said, "I am Allanda, wait on the curb while I put this in the trunk." The handsome Ghanan was all business as he settled the bags easily into the trunk and then opened the rear door of the silver-gray limo and waited as the two of us got in.
His white eyes with rainbow-like brown irises quickly appraised me before he straightened as he closed the door.
Oximo waited until he was sure the driver couldn’t hear him and blurted, "Don’t get friendly with that f----n’ spook, man, did you see the way he f----n’ looked at us. He’d kill us both for sport if he wasn’t gettin’ paid to deliver you to the f----n’ agent."
"The man is a professional driver, and he’s not a spook, he’s either an Afro or a black man if you must refer to his race. Understand?"
"Whoa, f--k yes and pardon my ass, kimosabe."
"Look, you gave me your word, Oximo. That’s the only reason I allowed you to come with me." I was getting tired of his incivility.
"Sure, sure man, I hear you."
It was true , this had been a most difficult project. There were many times during the writing I actually felt incapable of sustaining the near-insanity level of immersion required to give the recounting its veracity and still maintain my own stability.
Oximo had been my lifeline during those times. When I felt myself wavering, he was there to steer me in the right direction. His vulgarity served a specific purpose, it was unwashed and completely truthful. In a way, it was as much his story as my own.
As the limo made its way through the crowded, newly rain-washed streets of the big city, dusk had given way to dark and the lights were blinking on in endless apartments, storefronts and thousands of offices in every sort of high-rise configuration imaginable. Inside I tingled with anticipation.
It would be a while from the airport to the dazzling Fifth Avenue office of my new literary agent, Suzanne Milton, noted for her ability to spot talented, budding writers simply by reading the first ten pages of their book or novel and being one of the youngest agents to have successfully opened her own, Milton Literary Agency, some ten years ago. She was the director of an agency that now maintained the services of eight of the brightest agents handling about forty best selling or near to being best selling authors in the country.
My excitement was kept under control because I didn’t want to listen to the caustic critic, Oximo, I brought with me. He’d find some way to deflate my thoughts regardless of how I might phrase them. I didn’t need his blunt, abrasive wit.
He undoubtedly sensed my thoughts. He looked, skeptically curious out of his window with his chin tucked down to prevent any sound from emitting his thoughts, he shook his head and grimaced.
I recognized this look from the very first time we met.
I’d just lost my job with Franklin’s Restaurant chain in San Francisco. It was late October, 1960 and I was headed home early for the first time since I worked there. When they ‘promoted’ me to the job of Assistant Purchasing Agent they had hinted at the fact I was now a junior executive... I got a salary, not an hourly wage. I was only twenty four when they promoted me and a hundred thirty five bucks a week was twenty dollars more than I made as the bakery clerk, so it seemed like a good thing.
As I sat on the Greyhound bus in which I commuted to and from Rhonert Park, in Sonoma county, I pondered what the hell had happened. I never missed a day of work, I stayed late every night, I managed to do virtually all the work the purchasing department required without complaining to my boss. I was at a loss.
That’s when Oximo chose to sit down next to me. He could’ve sat anyplace in twenty vacant seats on the bus, but he chose the one next to me.
"What a boring f----n’ drive, right? He asked.
"Yeah, today," I said.
"What makes today any different than any other f----n’ day?"
"I got fired!"
"That’s f----n’ different," he said, "but not boring; unless you get f----n’ fired every time you get a new f----n’ job."
"I worked on this job for six years, I thought I’d be there for a long time." I answered.
"My name’s Oximo. What’s yours?" He stuck out his hand.
"Blaine." I grabbed his hand and gripped hard so he would know I wasn’t queer or something.
"So, why’s this ride boring after getting f----n’ fired?"
"Because the interesting part comes when I have to tell my wife I got fired."
We rode in silence for another twenty minutes, I stared out the window, for the first time seeing the traffic going the other way into the city. Most of the cars held riders who were either off from work or going into work for jobs that didn’t demand an eight to five schedule.
For some reason this made me angry and sad.
"Hey, Blaine, man you look like you’re really f----n’ agitated. It’s only a f----n’ job, enjoy life for a minute or two."
"Tell that to my wife and my kids." Why did he pick me to sit near? Something about this guy was freaky... maybe his knack for unfiltered conversation... yeah right.
"Shit man, I’m just sayin’ you gotta f----n’ breathe. It took them six f----n’ years to fire you, you haven’t had time to f----n’ get mad even. You sure as hell don’t need to defend yourself."
But I was mad, I just didn’t know how to let it out. What the hell did he know... about me, I mean.
"Look friend," I said, "you don’t know me from Adam. I was brought up to respect authority, to do what I was told, to keep my opinions to myself. You don’t get ahead criticizing your boss."
"So how’d that f----n’ work for you?"
I had no reply. I’d always assumed the fact I did everything that was asked of me was what set me apart from my fellow workers. I was reliable. "Get off of my case. I need to settle down for my wife’s sake. She’s waiting at my stop to drive me home." I surprised myself, actually arguing with a stranger.
Oximo stuck his chin down on his chest and shook his head slowly as he frowned. "You need a lot of work man."
"We should be arriving at Ms. Milton’s offices in about fifteen minutes," Allanda announced, breaking into the stony silence on his intercom.
"Okay Oximo, okay," I relented. "I’m sorry. I just don’t want to present the wrong picture. I need to appear to be in charge of myself. You get it?"
"Da’aaah... I’m glad you filled me in. Who woulda’ known, you want to be in f----n’ charge."
He made it sound as though it was just one more dumb comment I’d made to him. I didn’t give him the opportunity to elaborate with his sarcasm and expletives deleted.
We slowed to a halt at the curb of the building where the agent’s offices took up the entire twentieth floor. It was completely dark outside at this point, but on Fifth Avenue in New York City, it was awash with the light from shops, from hotels, from huge office buildings, restaurants, and even ornate street lamps. Light streams reflected off of a kaleidoscope of enormous glass windows in angles that made the street, with thousands of moving people and vehicles, vibrate with a pulse of its own. Fifth Avenue lived, most particularly at night.
A man dressed in a gray silk suit, a pastel colored shirt with a dark tie, walked out jauntily from the office building and waved Allanda away from the limo door with a smile. He opened it with a flourish.
"Mr. Diamond, please follow me, Suzanne is in her office, waiting to meet you. Oh, my name is Randall, I’m her personal and executive secretary."
"Great." I said and shook his hand as I turned to Oximo who was already out of the car... and moving away. He pressed a finger to his pursed lips.
He pointed with his head to a brightly lit bar about two doors down and whispered, "I’ll be over there. Its your f----n’ show man."
He was gone before I could call him back.
Randall led the way to an elevator on the far side of the information desk, unmanned at this hour. This was one of three elevators on this side of the marble foyer, it was the only one which served the twentieth floor exclusively. Randall explained, because of some of the most famous writers in the world being clients of the Milton Literary Agency, their privacy was protected here in this building.
I had two thoughts almost simultaneously. First, I was puffed up at being deserving of this exclusive treatment. And at the same time, a thought in which I could picture Oximo laughing his butt off as he sputtered out, "What a crock, man. These people, even with all their f----n’ money, are just as easy to fake out as anybody else. Didn’t I f----n’ tell you that?"
My face flushed and I raised my chin to straighten my tie before stepping out of the elevator door. Damn it Oximo, I thought, Hey, you left. And it is my show.
I was right. Oximo hadn’t wanted to be with me there from the beginning, he just wanted to see "...all them f----n’ city lights," as he would have put it.
When I stepped onto the plush carpet of the agency office It was everything I had dreamed and then some. The receptionists desk fronted the elevator. As I stepped toward her she smiled and picked up her phone then held up her hand to me. Into the phone she said, "Randall is back with Blaine Diamond now, Ms. Milton, Yes, I’ll send them right over." She stood and shook my hand, "I’m Melanie, Ms. Milton is waiting for you, sir."
There was a large comfortable waiting room to one side of Melanie’s dark cherry desk. The chairs were all comfortable arm chairs in muted fabric colors or soft leather. There was a coffee and soda bar with crystal plates of several cookies and pastries. The large picture window fronted Fifth Avenue, the acoustics of the building muted completely the sound of the street, it was like a silent slide show of colorfully lighted activity.
Inwardly, I was pleased Oximo had decided to go to the bar. I couldn’t even imagine what his barbed reaction would have been, especially at the cookies and coffee.
Suzanne Milton’s office entrance was at one corner of the waiting room at the far end and to one side of the magnificent picture window. The solid oak double doors were about nine feet tall and Randall knocked once and then opened them revealing a collage of beiges, browns and wood tones. The walls were lined with books, mementos and some pictures, a combination of sketches and oils from various contemporary artists.
Suzanne’s desk was a tribute to modern necessity. The wall side was a computer station with the most up to date technology to keep her in the mainstream of communications. The desk side, facing the Fifth Avenue view, was a large clean area to allow for whatever study or reading she needed at any time.
As I entered, She was in front of the large desk and in a light copper colored dress suit that complimented her svelte figure. She straightened and extended her hand and said, "It’s such a pleasure to finally meet you in person Blaine." We’d already been on a first name basis from the time we talked after she had read my book.
I had an immediate feeling of being intimidated by this highly educated woman and the opulent surroundings she commanded so nonchalantly. I choked inwardly, Did she bring me here to rip my book to shreds?
"Your offices are very impressive." I managed.
"Thank you. The best writers of our time, as I believe you are, deserve a comfortable setting from which to launch and guide their careers. Don’t you agree?" Suzanne nodded to Randall for him to group some chairs around a heavy beveled glass-topped circular table. She smiled briefly... maybe sensing my mental unease. "Would you care for a drink while we talk about how best to launch ‘The First Generation-and Its Consequences?’"
Hearing this brightly confident, auburn-haired woman take charge of what would be happening for the next hour or so, which could change the course of the rest of my life, frightened and elated me.
I gathered myself as best I could and said, "If you don’t mind, for right now I’ll need a clear head. Water would be fine."
"I’d say that’s very sensible. Randall, would you have someone bring us some water and then we can get started."
For no particular reason, my thoughts regressed to the second time I bumped into Oximo. It was 1963, late in November, actually the twenty-third, which was the day after John Kennedy was assassinated. At that time I was still a Democrat, but that wouldn’t have made any difference, like everyone else, I was devastated and mesmerized at how something like that could have happened in my country. Nobody could move away from the TV for any length of time, everything stopped and time was suspended. We all saw endless tapes of the moments before, the moment of, and the moments after the shooting... as if things before the horrible reality of the event might somehow come back to us.
I was twenty seven by that time and selling real estate, so it wasn’t unusual for me to have a beer now and then at a bar and maybe shoot some pool.
Nobody had stayed at the office in Santa Rosa, we all felt a senselessness and maybe guilt at even thinking about trying to show property or talk to customers about selling their real estate.
The bar was quiet, only a few people there and no one had an interest in shooting pool.
I sat about three chairs away from a fellow who looked vaguely familiar. He was peering into a drink and shaking his head. He looked over at me and I realized it was Oximo. The odd name had stuck with me.
"Hey, man... uh, Blaine right? How the fuck you been? Ain’t this some f----n’ mess?" He slid over to the seat next to me and stuck his hand out.
I grabbed it and said, "It sure as hell is." I wasn’t really sure I wanted to talk to him, but at least we were in a bar where his foul mouth wouldn’t be noticed so much.
"How’d everything turn out, you know, loosin’ your f----n’ job and all?"
"I’m in real estate now." I said.
"Not too good today, huh?"
"No." I didn’t know what else to say, so I asked him, "You work here in Santa Rosa?"
"I’m not f----n’ doing much of anything these days." He looked almost morose when he said this and I didn’t want to hear anymore sad stories. Fortunately, he didn’t offer anything beyond that.
I took a sip of my beer and shivered. "Where the hell did the innocense of our country go? Stuff like this isn’t supposed to happen here." I wasn’t really trying to start a conversation, my question, I thought, was rhetorical.
"I think what you mean," Oximo said, "is where the f--k did your innocence go."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because, if you’d look around, you’d see things are fuckin’ changing all the time. Change is the only f----n’ constant there is."
"Values don’t change."
"Give me a f----n’ break. You don’t believe your values have changed?"
"Only in the sense that I’m older and more realistic about them."
"There are no Knights in shining armor, right?"
"The righteous don’t always win in the end, right?"
"Good people don’t always do the right thing, right?"
"No they don’t."
"The f----n’ strong almost always win over the weak, right?"
"But what? Your older and more f----n’ realistic now, right? What that means is your f----n’ values have changed."
It really pissed me, this guy now had bludgeoned me twice with a reality check.
Today though, all these years later, was a another, newer, more exciting reality for me.
I had finally finished my memoir, The First Generation-and It’s Consequences. It was about a generation of people (mine), growing up from the depression, through multiple wars, assassinations, and incredible technological advances. It dealt with the assault on our values and our belief’s and the struggle to make sense of it all.
Suzanne shuffled her notes in front of her, shifted her gaze to the window also, and said, "It’s an exciting view, with all the lights and activity bubbling. You know, I can never fully calm that excitement. I don’t want to."
"That’s funny, I was just thinking about how my own reality now includes some of that excitement."
Suzanne looked at me directly and asked, "Does that frighten you?"
"I suppose some, well... actually a lot. As much as I dreamed of writing a definitive story, I never gave much thought to the complexity of actually bringing the finished product to fruition. I hope I’m up to it."
"In many ways, that’s why you need me or someone like me, Blaine. Because we know the steps from where you are now to where you need to go next, I’m your guide and it helps that I’m as excited about your work as you are."
The salesman in me knew some of what Suzanne was saying was her spiel, yet, I was impressed with her sincerity. I needed a strong person to keep reminding me of the two sides of writing books and novels.
My expertise was the creative part, Suzanne, hopefully was the business executive with the connections to make the commercial part a success.
"Okay," I said, "let’s get started."
"Good. We’ll begin by my asking some questions to help me see what kind of promotion you’ll need. Tell me what your motivation was to write The First Generation," she said.
"At first it was only a tool for me to analyze all the things I felt were lacking with the way my life had turned out."
"You were unhappy?" She asked.
"Not completely, but enough to know I was capable of much more."
"In what way?"
"My answer would have been different then, but now its clear to me I really didn’t feel I had control of my life."
"What would your answer have been at first?" Suzanne asked.
"It was that I wasn’t doing something meaningful with my life. I was reacting to things happening around me instead of taking charge and determining what I wanted to happen."
"Was it Oximo who forced you to see that."
It didn’t surprise me when Suzanne said this, but a quick pain in my side, as though an elbow had been jabbed into it, made me think letting Oximo go down there was a mistake.
On the other hand, he may have shattered the whole interview with a typical selection of one of his caustic homey aphorisms. Like, ‘Are we here to talk about the book or are you a f----n’ shrink?’
"Oximo always gave me his opinion whether I asked for it or not," I said. "He helped me look at a lot of things from a more realistic point of view. Some times it was beneficial, other times it just pissed me off."
"Do you believe The First Generation is a book people should read to see how members of your generation were able to bring meaning to what was chaos in so many ways?"
"What The First Generation does is to point out, for almost everyone, I believe, chaos is part of the world reality. My generation dealt with it as best they could in conditions which would change greatly from one year to the next. As different as the world is today from our beginnings, it will change as much for succeeding generations, maybe even more so. That is the proverbial truth."
"Would you say First Generations is a message of warning to younger generations or one of inevitability?" she asked.
"I believe it’s a message of reality and, at the same time, of hope. Oximo preached to me that change is the only real constant. He believes this isn’t necessarily a positive, since values learned early in life aren’t operative at a later point simply because maturity brings a new reality.
"To me, change means positive progress. Because we have expanded our awareness, our understanding has to make our values more flexible," I said.
"I’m not sure I follow. The idea of flexible values seems an easy cop-out for permissive attitude."
"If you look at things in a liberal sense, yes. The attitude would be that general acceptance of change is a must and therefore inevitable, so it’s not worthy of our concern. But suppose you take a more conservative approach?"
"Wouldn’t that be extraordinarily limiting?" Suzanne asked.
I replied, "Not so. Values don’t have to change, but our application of values must. If change is inevitable, and I believe that’s true , then our responsibility must be the obligation to recognize which values are affected and in what ways we will allow them to be changed.
"Freedom, for example, is a priceless commodity for which our obligation is to nurture and ensure that it is understood as something of true value. Constant change cannot be permitted to lessen our resolve to be the world’s advocate of freedom.
"The reality of today’s world doesn’t make freedom less of a value, it makes it a fundamental necessity. If we truly believe freedom is for everyone- or not to be denied to anyone- we should be willing to fight for it."
Suzanne smiled again, as if reassured I was, myself, at least real. "So, have you told Oximo of your new reality, how fundamental necessities must relate to change?"
I thought about this for a minute and finally answered, "I have a hunch, right now Oximo’s sitting in a bar forcing some poor guy who just lost his job to ‘Get real, man, it’s not the f-----n’ end of the world. Let yourself live a f-----n’ few minutes to get used to the idea.’"
Whether or not the guy will write a book is another story