The other day, while talking to a good friend – you know who you are – he mentioned reading one of my posts but not being able to follow it. I realized he was right. Unless you’ve read all 16 or so installments, you likely won’t understand what the hell is going on.
So I figured I’d sum it all up to this point.
First and foremost, this story is real. I shield a couple of names for privacy reasons. But everything else is true.
I had just graduated college, worked a few crazy jobs, and then landed a job scraping barnacles and painting boats at a marina. Because my salary put me below the poverty line, I also waited tables at a local restaurant called Marlins Cafe. I worked my ass off so that I could pay rent and eat. But I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a television writer. That’s what I had majored in.
One day while hustling at the marina, I helped an older man carry his groceries from his car to his condo – a nice complex that shared space with the marina. We got to chatting. I told him I wanted to write for a living and he told me I had met the right guy. His name was Norman Wolfson. “Meet me at The Cottage for breakfast tomorrow morning,” he said.
Over the course of a couple months Norman and I met at least once a week at The Cottage – a tiny place on the Manasquan Inlet. We ate eggs, drank coffee, and plotted my entry into the writing life. Each breakfast, Norman shared tidbits about his own life. He had been a New York City PR man. He’d worked for CEOs and Governors and Presidents. He also shared advice, wisdom he’d gained over decades of working and living. Some of it writing advice, some of it business advice, and some of it life advice.
Our plot worked. He, along with my wife, provided me the motivation to go after my dream and I landed a gig as a production assistant for a television production company. After only a few weeks, I was asked to write. I hadn’t proven myself yet. They just needed more writers and I was a body. They threw me in to sink or swim. It challenged me. So I continued meeting Norman for breakfast and he helped me through.
Now we’re caught up.
Over the course of another few months, I kept living my dream career and meeting Norman for early breakfasts. Then one morning I ran into The Cottage excited to show Norman positive feedback the executive producer wrote on my latest script. We ate our usual.
Norman leaned forward and reached into a thin briefcase. He pulled out a manilla envelop and lay it in front of me. “The Gamblers“, I said, reading the black writing scrolled across the front. “What’s this?”
“Open it up,” said Norman. He balanced on the edge of his seat and stared at me. He was more excited than I’d seen him in a while.
I laughed at him. “Settle down, man.” I pulled a thin paperback book out of the envelop and held it up to Norman, presenting it. “Is this a gift?”
“No. Well, that one is for you specifically, but as a whole, it’s not a gift.”
“Is this your final piece? What you’ve been working on?”
“You got it,” said Norman. He smiled uncontrollably. “My last baby.”
“Don’t think I’ll be alive long enough to write another book.”
“That’s the truth. But it’s my best work.”
“So what’s it about?” The cover had a picture of a faceless man standing with his pocket lining out and empty.
“Poker players. Real poker players and how they’re all a set of characters from all walks. Yet they all have a draw to a sport where they have less control. They’re all real people in that book. I asked if I could pen a piece about them. Mostly friends. Some of them are so good they could quit their jobs and just gamble. Others are so good they did quit their jobs. Poker is their job. It’s their way of life.”
“Thanks, Norman. So I get my own copy.”
“Of course. I even wrote a silly note for you in the front. But ignore that for now. Yes, I’m jubilant because I finished. I want you to consider something.”
“This would make great television. It would be an interesting sitcom, but there’s no reason to fictionalize these people. They’re engaging enough. Audiences would connect with them and watch episode after episode, wanting to know how their lives unfold. Poker, is part protagonist, part antagonist.”
“I bet you’re right. And each person said you could use their real name.”
“Of course. They’re proud.”
“So what do you want to do with it?”
Norman pulled his chair in and he leaned into me. “Let’s pitch it to your boss. Reality TV is getting bigger. There’s not much poker on yet, but I have a feeling that’s going to change. I also frequent those tables. Over the past few months, they’ve gotten more and more crowded. Sometimes you have to wait for a spot to open up. Last year, when I noticed the increased interest in playing, I said to myself, my friends will wring these novices dry. My friends don’t play for the money. They play for psychology. They play because it’s fun sitting at a table with strangers, reading them, and testing that skill. That was about a year ago. The wait times are longer now. I’ve had to change my schedule for playing, figure out when it’s a bit quieter. I’ve not noticed anyone else catching onto this growing trend. That’s where the television show comes in. Why not get ahead of it?”
He spoke with a passion, as if he was watching the show play out in his head. He moved around his chair, spinning, leaning, arms swinging. It was as excited as I’d ever seen him.
“So you want to pitch it? I’m sure she’d hear you out.”
“No, no. She’ll hear us out. I had the idea and wrote the book. But I picture us working on the show side by side. You have a talent for screenwriting that I just don’t have in my old bones.”
“So?” asked Norman.
“Let me think about it. She always says she’s looking for more content. But I’ve never seen her talk about reality shows before.”
“That’s not it. It’s just she’s my boss and I’m still pretty new. I don’t want her laughing at me.”
“Why would she laugh at you?”
“What if I bring her a bad idea?”
“No such thing.”
“There are plenty of bad ideas.”
“There are ideas. Some are executed at the wrong time. Others executed poorly.”
“So you want to do what?” I asked.
“Read the book,” said Norman. “Then we’ll put together a television series synopsis and write the first episode, maybe the second. Then we’ll bring those and the book to your boss. What do you think?”
“Okay. Let me read the book.
“Sure,” said Norman. “You should go.”
I packed my things and zippered The Gamblers inside my briefcase. “I’ll let you know,” I said and left The Cottage.
Norman had one last goal, one final mission. And while I wanted to partner with him, part of me felt used. I wondered if he had always intended to help me so that he could then help himself. But he was too nice. He was a gentle, old, smart man. I was also terrified of bringing a bad idea to my boss. At this point, I didn’t know if The Gamblers was good or bad. But I was still a rookie and my boss had decades of experience. I was afraid she’d laugh at me.
I had a decision to make.