Breakfast at The Cottage: The Right (Old) Guy

Here’s my true tale’s second Sunday installment. First, a little insight into how I’m crafting this. 

I spent two years writing the novel. Cranked through forty-seven thousand words, three drafts, and ten-billion cups of coffee. My alarm chimed every morning at 5 a.m. I promptly turned it off. My second alarm beeped at 5:45 a.m. So I stumbled out of bed, zombie walked into the kitchen, poured myself black coffee, and wrote at our table on the deck. Creativity hits me best when most are still sleeping and the sun is just peaking over the horizon. Plus I have kids. I work best before they’re awake.

I’m using the same technique and reworking all of that previous effort. Same alarms. Same early morning. Except now I sit on our front porch.  I’m even simultaneously writing two other collections – Porch Stories, which you can see at, and Seashore Stories, which is in its first draft but you can’t see unless you steal my laptop and hack my dropbox. 

Now, back to the morning that changed my life. 

Broke and dreamy, I had convinced myself I could become a writer. But I actually had no clue what the hell I was doing. So I scraped the barnacle off of rich people’s boats and waited tables so that I could use tips to feed myself. 

Then a single act changed my career’s trajectory.

The marina I hustled for covered a lot of ground. Some of the property was strictly commercial space, but a lot of the business shared space with a condo community. Wealthy folks lived in the dark blue-gray condos. They owned the condos. They owned the boats. They ate lobster. I owned nothing. I cleaned their boats. I ate 7-eleven buttered hard rolls every meal. 

I mostly ran from boat to boat. Kept me healthy. Occasionally, I sputtered through the yard on an old golf cart. So there I was loading up the golf cart and cleaning up my tools after installing zincs on trim tabs, when I noticed an older man standing behind his car in the parking lot. He stared into his open trunk and scratched his white hair. He looked perplexed. 

I watched for another second. “Need a hand?” I asked. 

He jumped. “Yes, that would be great,” he said. “I’m proud but not strong anymore. Next time say hi first. Nearly scared my pants off.” He handed me one grocery bag. I reached for the second bag in his trunk. “No, no. I can handle one bag. We’re over here on the end.”

I followed his lead. The sun shone off of his snow-white hair and his feet seemed planted on the ground, a slow, sliding gait. “Early morning shopping?” I said.

“I like to get out of there before the old folks show up.” He looked back at me trying to see if I appreciated his humor. I did. So I laughed. 

We walked up a few steps and he propped open a door and walked his bag inside. “This is where we live and where I work.” I handed him the second bag and he disappeared inside to put it down. He came back outside. 

“Work?” I asked. 

“Well, I’m retired. But I like to write every day. As much as I can.  You looked like you were heading somewhere important. Thanks for your help. I’m sure I’ll see you again,” he said. He extended his right hand. “Norman,” he said.

We shook. “Matt,” I said. “And no problem.” I turned around, hopped on the golf cart, and sputtered to the next center console.

That was it. A single act. I carried an old man’s groceries. Nothing dramatic. I didn’t save his life. I didn’t rub his feet like in Tuesday’s With Morrie. I lugged a bag of produce.

A few days later, I sat at a bench in the marina and wrote, my notebook across my lap. 

“What are you writing about?” asked a voice from behind me. 

“Jesus, you scared the crap out of me.” 

“Got you back,” said Norman. He stood behind me, dressed in his Sunday’s best, slacks and a light-green sweater. He looked like a million bucks compared to me. Silver primer caked itself into my forearm hair and holes circled the bottom of my rank t-shirt. “So what are you writing?”

“Oh nothing really,” I said, “Just an exercise I like to do.”


I pointed to the water. “The stillness of the water caught my attention, so I’m trying to describe it with just three words.” 

“Not a bad test. You write a lot?”

“I try.” 

“What are you working on right now?” 

“A screenplay,” I said. 

I had been penning a screenplay. It was my my second attempt at completing something so difficult. Why? Well, a professor said I should. In college, Professor Wine proved the most difficult to pass, especially for writing. Your A paper got a C in his class. I mostly got C’s and D’s. Then I took his scriptwriting class. He pulled me aside and said, “Matt, this is what you should be doing.” And so I tried. 

“Wow,” said Norman. 

“Not a big deal,” I said. “I have no idea what I’m going to do with it when I’m finished.” 

Norman rubbed his thin legs, so I slid over and we shared the bench. Old  man and young man sat there staring out over the boat slips and chatting. “Sell it.” 

“Not that easy,” I said.

“Never is.” We were silent for a minute. “What do you want to do?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you want to write? Do you want to be a marina mechanic? What do you want to do?” 

“I want to write,” I said, “I’m just not sure how to get there.”

He leaned over and smiled at me. His sagging skin stretched happily across his face. “Well, you helped out the right guy yesterday. If you have the passion, I can help you out. Send me your screenplay. Even just a part.” 

“I’m still editing -”

“Doesn’t matter. And meet me tomorrow morning at The Cottage. They open at five. Meet at five-thirty” 

“The Cottage?”

He stood up. “Little place in Point Beach. It’s over the bridge by the inlet.” 

I stood up. I had to head to Marlin’s Cafe for my next shift. “The Cottage.” I put out my hand out this time and we shook. “Five-thirty tomorrow morning.” I ran to my truck and left him there behind me. I was excited as hell. My first break. It wasn’t until later that night that I started to doubt the old man. What could he have to offer? Was he just a cook? 

I didn’t care. I showered off the day’s filth, fixed, a section of my screenplay, set my alarm, and passed out believing my dream was within reach.

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