Wednesday, June 15, 2005


There has been a shit storm of remarkable proportions since the magazine came out on Monday with my article about dinner with a certain performer. The article was a disaster in the making. I wrote the long version for diary purposes. Then I cut out the parts I thought make life miserable for me here in Bratislava. I sent it to the magazine editor fully expecting that it would bounce back to me again for revisions as it was, among other things, more than twice as long as he had asked for.

But next thing I knew, the magazine was on the stands. I never even saw the page proofs. But, again, this is because I don’t spend enough time in the magazine office to be as involved as I ought to be.

I knew that the photo credit was wrong (it had my name). And when I saw the article, which had been cut to fit, I was uncomfortable about how it portrayed the subject.

Monday afternoon my mobile phone had been ringing a lot, but I had missed the calls. So when I got home, I sat down to return what I thought was one call to my friend (let’s call him Geoffrey). Geoffrey and I have been, along with a group of people, organizing an event. I was sure it had been Geoffrey calling me from his office.

Imagine my surprise when I hit REDIAL and the voice that answered was not Geoffrey’s, but that of an acquaintance. Let’s call her Olympia.

I don’t know her well, but my previous interactions had been nothing short of delightful. She and her husband (let’s call him Alexi) had been instrumental in bringing the above mentioned performer to Bratislava. She was not happy about the article. Not happy at all. And neither was Alexi. I could hear him ranting in the background. And Alexi, while a man of feeling, is not what I would call a man with a short fuse. He is, like his wife, the dictionary definition of “dignified.”

Every line I wrote was apparently in error, she exclaimed. There was more, it went on for a while, but I have blocked it. Alexi got on the phone and gave me what for. I explained that the article had been cut and that it was never my intention to create something hurtful. I had enjoyed the experience profoundly. I was sorry. Further, I had been tickled to be invited into their circle of friends. But mostly I listened to them being upset with me.

I felt just awful. Feedback on the diary version had been extremely positive. But none of those reviewers knew the parties in question. I called my editor and explained that there was a very unhappy and upset couple seeking redress. What was the appropriate course of action under the circumstances?

Editor was supportive and reassuring. He told me to have Olympia call him directly. He would listen to her concerns, but would not allow her to direct her frustrations at me. He later sent me a long, supportive email in which he shared an incident from his writing past in which he caused an even bigger stink.

I felt better.

In the meantime, I called Geoffrey because I knew he had been one of the missed calls earlier. Now I was sure his call had something to do with the upset mutual friends.

Turned out Geoffrey didn’t know anything about that. He hadn’t even seen the magazine yet. “I saw what you originally submitted,” he reminded me. “On the whole, it’s balanced,” he declared. “I don’t know what got cut, but this was okay. It’s got sort of an odd tone . . . like you were having a bad day, perhaps?”

I think he has never seen my more personal writings. And this was definitely more of something I write for friends. Okay, so he didn’t think it was a good piece, but he didn’t think what I had submitted was libelous.

I was feeling better all around until The Spouse came home. He had run into Geoffrey and, while he didn’t elaborate, I got the feeling the two of them had come to some sort of agreement that this article was not my best work.

That’s when I really got depressed. For a few months now I was starting to feel as though there might be some promise in some of the things I had written. That maybe I could call myself a writer. But with this debacle, I felt like a fraud. I wrote to a girlfriend that it was “another failure in my long list of mediocrity.” I was a housewife who plays at writing, but shouldn’t. I should quit the magazine and stay away from the computer.

What made me feel even worse was that The Spouse had had a difficult day himself. A more seriously difficult professional day. I wanted to be supportive and reassuring to him since, really, his day amounted to something more than “So-and-so doesn’t like me right now.” But here I was, wallowing in my housewifey pity party about something that no one really cared about. Other than the two very upset people who had called me. And here he was being extremely kind and affectionate. I felt even worse.

That was Monday.

Tuesday morning the editor-in-chief of the newspaper called me.

“There is nothing wrong with the article,” she said. “It is a fine article. This will blow over and faster than you think. Believe me. I have done research. Three days, I tell you, and it will be forgotten.

She made me laugh and gave me hope. But I was wondering what I would do the next time I ran into Olympia and Alexi. Now that we were on the outs, it was sure to happen. And soon. Should I smile from across the room? Look chagrined? Make a point of apologizing, again, in person?

This morning, Wednesday, my phone rang as I was driving the children to school. I was going to go to Austria to do some shopping for The Spouse’s birthday. I answered and there was Alexi. My stomach immediately began churning and adrenaline shot through my arms and legs.

In his gracious way, Alexi explained that he had consulted with his business advisors and the damage was minimal. I think whomever he talked to had explained that there was little harm done by any inaccuracies I may or may not have written. Or, perhaps given some time to cool off, he may have decided there wasn’t so much to be angry about.

“I believe the sum total of the experience comes to nine hundred and ninety crowns,” he said.

I didn’t understand him and thought perhaps this was what he wanted for the use of the photos. Fine by me. He was talking about less than $30. Clearly, this was symbolic.

“Can I meet you in front of the Reduta?” he asked. “I’ll give you a kiss and we will put this behind us.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” I was willing to do just about anything to make this go away.

“Um, better make it half an hour,” he said. And hung up.

I was willing to personally pay the 990 skk, but thought there might be releases to sign and, really, this was a matter between him and the publication. I called the editor and explained that, if I understood this correctly, the whole thing would go away for 990 skk.

“That’s fine,” said Editor, “Except he doesn’t get to set the prices for photos. He can get 300 skk each for the two.”

Argh. So now we were going to get into some sort of debate over 390 crowns? We agreed that I would direct any invoices to editor, who would cheerfully explain what the magazine’s policy was on prices.

That’s when I started wondering why Alexi wanted to meet me in person. Surely he was going to slap me with a glove. Or worse. Process. He was planning to serve me with process. I was going to be sued personally over this.

I sent a text message back to Editor: “Do you think he’s going to sue me?”

“Nah,” Editor wrote back. “Do you have reason to think he would?”

“Don’t know him well,” I replied. “Lawyer’s wife. Perhaps I watch too much TV.”

I parked the car and found Alexi sitting on a park bench in front of the Reduta, which is the home of the Slovak Philharmonic.

“I’m afraid we are an hour too early, Samantha” he apologized. “None of these offices and shops are open before ten o’clock.”

My heart sank. He was planning to take me to a lawyer or notary before he slapped me with process.

“I have been thinking about how we can settle this,” he continued. “Between us. Like two professionals. I mean, if we weren’t friends with friends in common, then I’d say bring on the lawyers. But we are friends and we are professionals. So I decided there has to be a creative way. Olympia says I’m conniving. But I told her Samantha is a friend. ”

I was feeling worse and worse.

“And I have decided that you can buy me a little birthday present,” he announced.


“A present. A used camera. It’s now down to 990 skk. I’ve been, how do you say it, visiting it for months,” Alexi started to smile at me. “It’s become like a mistress to me. Something I can’t really justify for myself, but it would make a terrific birthday present.” He winked.

“You want me to buy you a camera?” I was very confused.

“That’s right, Samantha. For my birthday.”

“And then the matter between us is resolved?” I was still unsure about this.

“We are friends. It is already forgotten.”

Alexi is a photographer.

“So you are a Gemini?” I’m still not really getting this.

“Of course not. My birthday was in April,” Alexi is pragmatic. “But you missed it. Or it is tomorrow. It doesn’t matter.”

“No. It doesn’t.” I’m beginning to get the feeling back in my legs. “And it is nine hundred crowns,” I say. “Not euros.”

“Nine hundred and ninety crowns,” Alexi is practically dancing, hopping from one foot to the other, unable to control his delight at having found such a civilized way to resolve the situation. “It’s in the original package still,” he went on. “It’s the finest model of it’s type. From the point-and-shoot era. It’s a 1993 model.”

So we went to have coffee in Geoffrey’s restaurant while we waited for the camera shop to open.

“I am sorry I am not better prepared,” he said, “But when you said fifteen minutes . . . . well, Samantha, I don’t like to keep a woman waiting.”

“You?” I started to laugh. “When Alexi, who was upset with me, calls and requests my presence in front of the Reduta so we can make this matter go away, I want to get there right now!”

He laughs. “What were you doing when I called?”

“I was on my way to Austria to do some shopping for my husband’s birthday,” I said.

“So he’s a Gemini?” Alexi can barely contain himself. “You interrupted that to meet me? At least someone really has a birthday this week.”

And then I bought Alexi a 1993 camera and a package of AA batteries.

I believe the matter is closed.


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