“I don’t drink wine,” my meet announces once we’re seated.
It’s happy hour at my favorite waterfront spot. You can watch the sunset over the water.
“In the past year, I have completely changed my diet,” he says. “But you go ahead. Please. Order a glass.”
“Not even red wine? Red is healthy.” Do I think I can talk him into changing his newly changed lifestyle? My sister, who’s in the healthcare field, says a lifestyle change is tough.
“No red meat either. Chicken and fish only. I used to love nothing better than a thick steak. Rare.” He has a faraway look in his eyes, like a dog on a dry kibble diet.
“So, you don’t want to look at the table?” I indicate with my thumb the spread nearby. A pasta bar with three choices of sauce, plus cheese and crackers, salami slices, and an assortment of vegetables, their red and green and yellow brightening the room.
“Oh, no.” He shakes his head. “But you go.”
He has a South African accent, quite pleasant on the phone. We enjoyed two long talks before this meet. On the phone, I’d thought he must be interesting. Now I know it’s because he talked about writing a novel.
I end up skipping the happy hour fare but order a glass of Malbec. Over a dinner of grilled vegetables for two, he tells me about his father, who at age seventy-seven, met the love of his life in line at a deli.
“They got married the year they met,” he says, chewing on a particularly tough slab of eggplant. “I’m seventy-seven by the way.” Pause. “So, you believe in love at first sight?”
“I believe it can happen,” I say, and wonder if he believes love will show up before his next birthday. After all, isn’t he comparing himself to his father?
He quotes from my profile, asks questions. Flattering. But there is no playfulness and my labeling mind stamps him, Controlled Guy.
I spear a wedge of zucchini, wait for him to ask about the chapter he’s asked me to critique. Twelve pages, single-spaced, one character telling a story to another. No action. Two talking heads. Oh, the agony. Frankly, I skimmed.
He pushes his plate to the side and leans an elbow on the table. “I’m simplifying my life. I’ve only unpacked a plate, a knife, a fork, and one spoon. I’ve never lived like this. We had a huge house.” He’s been divorced a year. His third marriage.
I nod. Oh, and I’ll bet you’re fun to live with. “So do you want my thoughts on your manuscript?”
“I don’t want to presume,” he says.
“I didn’t necessarily think you’d even read it.”
“Really.” The man sent the document with instructions on how to preread (Please skim it first), where to write comments (Please write any comments in the margins in bright colors.), and exactly what not to focus on in the criticism. (Please do not focus on the grammar. I realize there is much I must tend to in perfecting the writing.)
I reach into my bag for the envelope with the manuscript. On the back of the first page, I’ve scribbled a few notes in green. “Look,” I say, “I’d break up the telling of the story with a little conversation.”
“Oh? No one else who’s read it has told me that.”
“Well, the way you’ve got it, there’s no context for the reader to––”
“She’s telling her story,” he interrupts with a look of impatience. “She must be allowed to tell it.”
He’s a know-it-all with a pleasant South African accent. I smile and listen.
“The story explains everything,” he says. “It’s her life story. I don’t know what you mean by context.”
He thanks me for reading, looks relieved as we walk to our cars.
“Let’s make a pact,” he says at the door to my car. “Whoever gets published first sends an autographed copy to the other.”
“Absolutely,” and I wave and unlock the door. I sit for a minute looking off toward the little harbor. I’m glad I didn’t bother telling him to throw a little action into his story.