You know the cycle by this point – Norman and I met at The Cottage. We ate eggs. He said words. His words doubled as lessons. He gave me assignments. I toiled on the assignments. We met at The Cottage again.
The lessons were nestled inside conversations, hidden in plain sight. At the time I heard them but didn’t absorb them. Distracted by his tasks, and by working two jobs, I didn’t have much time for deep thoughts. Even my own burning questions of – Who the hell is this guy and why is he helping me – dissipated. I focused. I barely knew him, yet I figured that would come with time.
The honest answer to those questions, though? I had no idea. I had a hunch. He was interesting. Breakfast was my favorite meal. I enjoyed the combination of sitting in a tiny diner, looking out over the docks before sunrise, talking to someone with a like mind, and hearing about how he’d gone through life. Maybe I was seeing myself in the future. But it wasn’t easy getting to that point.
Before I had sent him those script samples, my hemming and hawing went into overdrive. The internal conversation went something like this – Just hit the send button. Don’t do it. Delete that email. The scripts are junk. You put all this time into it. Click send.
Something made me do it. I don’t remember if I just finally found the guts or if Brittany saw my conflicted face and said “Just send the freaking scripts.” Either is possible. But the split second after, all doubt cleared and excitement took over. I followed my hunch.
The next morning I went to meet Norman. I got there early because I wanted to cover our meal. The old man always beat me there and dropped his credit card right away. I needed to thank him. So I woke early, left my apartment early, and walked into The Cottage early. I handed the owner cash. “Please make sure this one is on me,” I said.
“So what’s Norman helping you with?” she asked as she prepped the coffee pots.
“I’d like to write for TV. “
“Ah, she said. What kind?”
“Any,” I said. Sure I hoped to write documentaries, but I also didn’t care how I got my start. I wasn’t about to be picky. “Norman knows someone that’s involved in 60 Minutes, so I figured I’d start there.”
“What if you don’t like that kind of writing? What if you’re no good at it?”
“Nonsense,” said Norman as he walked in the door. “He’ll learn and adapt. Good morning, too.” His silent gait let him slip into the diner undetected.
“Morning, Norman,” she said. “I’ll bring your coffee right out.”
“You, know,” she said, picking up the coffee pot, “I’m not sure if you being here two days in a row is a blessing or curse. Sure we’ll take the money. But I’ll also have to put up with you.” She stood at our table. “Here’s your coffee. Two breakfasts in two days. You want to try something different? Change it up.”
“I’ll take my usual,” said Norman. “Same for me,” I said.
“Creatures of habit. They’ll be right out.” She walked away and disappeared into the back.
Norman pointed in her direction. “I’m beginning to think she likes you more than me,” he said.
“Of course I do,” she hollered. “He’s not a pain in the ass.”
“That’s fine. Just don’t talk him out of doing what he was born for.”
“How do you know I was born for it?” I asked.
Norman paused. We looked out the window. It was unusually cold. The wind blew out of the east and clouds from the west hung low and blue. The boats bobbed high in the water.
“I read your work last night,” he said. “I figured you had it before I even opened the scripts. Read a few pages. You confirmed my suspicions. There were a couple spots I’d change, but don’t worry about those.”
“What do you mean?”
“Writing is subjective. You write potato. I write spud. Doesn’t matter. Point is, your story was there. It engaged me.”
“So I’ll send them to my friend today.”
I smiled so hard I remember feeling like my face hurt. I couldn’t contain myself. “What should I expect?”
“You should expect me to talk to him today. Nothing more. Nothing less,” said Norman.
“Don’t get disappointed. See that look on your face. Keep it. I bet you’re feeling accomplished, like you’re succeeding. Those bursts of joy will keep you going in this career. At the same time, I can’t promise you anything except that I will push for you.”
“That’s good enough,” I said. “Thank you.” I raised my mug to him.
She lay down our plates and we ate and chatted. He opened up more about his own past – his working for Eisenhower, and Robert Kean, and dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. He talked about his reporter days and his own self doubts. He spilled his life’s beans for a few minutes and then paused. He only ever spoke about himself in bursts and then he quickly refocused the conversation on me.
I left that morning feeling a sense of accomplishment that I had never experienced before. I had overcome my fears and doubts because Norman and Brittany pushed me.
I hustled at the marina. The day came to a close and I swept the garage floors and prepped for the next morning. Leaning under the latest sold boat, my head fully underneath the bottom, I made sure the blocks were secure.
A pair of brown, polished loafers slid across the floor and stopped next to me.