I had done everything he asked and had broken through every mental barrier in my way. After he had sent my script samples and had shown confidence in my writing, I had started picturing my name scrolling up a screen after a 60 Minutes episode, telling my parents “Look there I am!”.
That day at the marina was like no other. I normally enjoyed the job. But that day I jogged around the boatyard like it was my last. The afternoon rolled around and I finished cleaning inside the garage as my colleagues closed up the shop and the office. Fully under a sold, used boat, my attention was on the hull and then…
A pair of brown, polished loafers slid across the floor and stopped next to me.
“What are you doing?” asked Norman.
“My job. Owner and mechanic keep a tight ship. No pun intended.”
“Bigger space than I thought in here. You working on these boats?”
“This one,” I said pointing to a sporty twenty-eight-footer. “The mechanic fixed it up this morning, so I cleaned out the bilge and deck this afternoon. Put fresh paint on the bottom and zincs on the tabs. I’ll wax her first thing tomorrow morning. Then we’ll drop her into the water. Pretty excited actually. They’re letting me drive the tractor with her on the trailer for the first time.”
“Oh wow. That’s a sharp turn past the garage door,” said Norman.
“Yeah. I’m terrified. There’s a good chance the boat’ll be split in half and I’ll be fired before the end of the day.”
Norman laughed. He paused. And then he sighed. I had never seen him like this. He always walked slowly and his shoulders always drooped a bit, but never his whole body. He sighed. “I’m just going to get to it.”
I pulled two, five-gallon buckets from under a workbench, put one underneath myself, and slid him the other. We sat and faced one another. “I figured you weren’t here to learn about trim tabs,” I said.
“I talked to my friend last night. He liked your work. Said it was solid.”
Doubt returned and so I stood up and grabbed a push-broom and turned away from him. I didn’t doubt my work. Not this time. I went back to my original question – who is this old guy? I doubted him. I assumed I was wrong. Maybe he was just some quack who wondered the marina looking for friends. “But?” I asked.
“But there’s nothing for you. They just made cuts and probably won’t be hiring any time soon. And he doesn’t have the pull that he used to. New guard there. And -”
“It’s okay, Norman.”
“No it’s not okay.”
“I’m fine. Thick skin, right.”
“I told you I’d get you a job.
“And you can’t. It’s not a big deal.” The rejection bothered him. He couldn’t live up to his own advice. I laughed and walked into a small hallway that separated two garages. I grabbed a sheet of paper , walked back to Norman, and handed him the printout. “Came across this last night on an industry website. A local production company needs a production assistant. I’m thinking of applying.”
Norman looked up at me and his face shifted from wrinkly and down to wrinkly and excited. “So I did get through to you,” he said.
“Of course you did.”
“There’s something else. Elizabeth needs me more. Breakfasts can only be once a week. She needs me at home.”
Life assaulted Norman’s armor on two fronts and I hadn’t thought of it because I was too damn focused on my own career. “Norman, let’s get breakfast. An entire meal about you.”
“Maybe,” he said. “First get your application to that production company. You have to try.” He stood up, stretched, and rubbed his knees. “Getting old is the pits. Let’s grab breakfast next week. Tuesday.”
“Sounds good, Norman. And thanks.”
“Don’t thank me. Just keep doing what you’re doing,” he said. He disappeared around the corner of the garage.
I remember listening to Richie Havens that afternoon and humming and sweeping, but not thinking about anything except getting the dirt into a pile. I cleared my mind.
Later that night I sat in front of my laptop and banged out a cover letter and sent the letter and my new resume to the production company. Typing and sending felt easy, as if for some strange reason the outcome didn’t matter as much as the act of applying itself. Screw it, I figured. A rejection would be the worst that could happen. I’d look for something else and apply for that. And so I did. I applied for a couple of jobs each night before bed.
Tuesday rolled around. The Cottage awaited. In the novel, I took some liberty with this entire time period. Because Norman and I kept our personal lives separate, I didn’t know what was going on with Elizabeth. In the novel I imaged how his life was from his point of view. And in the novel I set it up so that my character was more upset with Norman than I truly was. For effect. And I had my character stand him up for the next breakfast. That’ not how it really happened.
Tuesday rolled around and I headed to The Cottage. I paid the owner ahead of time – the bill was always the same – and I sat at our table and waited. I drank my coffee and listened to a few fisherman banter at the counter. I waited. My breakfast came and I ate. It was time to head to the marina. I leaned over the table and looked out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of Norman’s Mercedes. Nothing. Getting stood-up didn’t bother me. I had been stood-up for a senior soirée. That pissed me off. This saddened me.
I thanked the owner. “He’ll be okay,” she said. “I know,” I said. “I hope so.” I left and drove to the marina and thought about stopping at his condo first. That’d be crossing the line, I thought. One of his kids will answer the door and ask “who the hell are you?” I decided against it but drove by the condo to observe from afar. His parking spot sat empty.
It went on like that for a while. No contact. No breakfast. I missed the coffees, the omelettes, and the conversations. And then one afternoon while waiting tables, my phone rang.
“Hi, is this Matt?” said a woman’s voice.