1. Early, Happy Days
“Yeah, I’ve always dreamed of being a writer like the piano bar guy dreamt being
the piano bar guy” was the exact quote that snuck out of Fitzgerald’s lips during
our lunch meeting that made me believe he was a real, living person. The moment it
was said he began to think about how perfect he had phrased his life up to that
point. This had been happening more recently to him; the overwhelming just
feeling of saying the right thing at the precisely the right time, to anyone that
would listen. To suggest that this was a natural evolution of the man would be a
stretch if you asked any of his childhood friends or close family, he would be the
ﬁrst to say.
“Being the youngest of four children in a single parent household allowed for
more listening and watching then speaking out”, he recalls.
“I began to write at the start of my teens, after a bad thing happened to my family
and it sort of was just easy, after that.” he explained between sips of water.
The waiter has become short with him as he would constantly look over to their
direction in search of more ﬁll. He uses the ‘thank you’ sparingly and when it
suits him, it seemed. I have been sent by a distinguished national periodical to
describe to our readers who this mystery man is, in three thousand words.
Reviewing the few, broad articles on him it seemed as though he just appeared
from nowhere. Conversations of his ﬁrst novel, MINE, have been making the
rounds of the writing elite, trickling down to all those who take themselves too
seriously in the ﬂeeting, literary world. Without looking at the menu, he ordered
a steak salad, medium, with a pair of ﬁsh tacos. The chips and salsa came
promptly so I began by starting with the dull, average questions. It was the end
of summer and just a few more unbearably humid weeks before fall, in our
For being so talked about, Fitzgerald was fairly young at thirty-two and,
at times, made comments and joke references that were not speciﬁc to his
generation. Some of the jokes that made me laugh the most seemed as if he had
heard them in a private social club with some of the greats of our time. There
was something about it that did not ﬁt. The humorous wit and snappy dialogue
did not match the club security guard frame that he seemed to carry with a bit of
disdain. I did, however, notice how coordinated he seemed to be in a small space
as he explained that an adolescence ﬁlled with sports was the foundation for his
‘body conﬁdence’ he so convincingly summarized as my next line of internal
questioning, without a hint of a lead in from myself.
“I used to work as a doorman, actually, for bars in the city” he explained, “and
there was an old black man that was a regular and he would always be dressed in
cowboy attire. You know, the boots and solid colors with the same, straw gallon
hat.” he began to say as the food had arrived.
“Well, one day I caught myself just staring at him as he walked down the long
dock towards the parking lot and realized that his ‘look’ was as natural as ever.
Throughout history in this country, black men have been every man and done
every job, so, to see him as this ‘cowboy’ and to be thrown off was only the fault
of my own.. I was pretty impressed with him, after that” he ﬁnished, and looked
over to his childhood friend, who had been sitting quietly, almost to a
non-existent hush, aside from his matching broad shoulders and abnormally large
frame that would let out deep breaths and sighs.
The few noticeable differences between the two men was the full head of hair on
his friend, as Fitzgerald had been balding since his early 20’s, he revealed.
“I used to wear a lot of hats” he confessed, as he took off his vintage newsboy
cap occasionally to scratch his head.
“One day, after remembering remarks of past women who told me that they
found me attractive, I simply stopped” he stated.
“Now I have money so it’s just a fashion thing” he whispered, as he began to eat
his tacos, almost without stopping.
I had a feeling that we would be sitting for a while, as the bill for our lunch
gathering would be graciously taken up by the magazine. I had explained that to
him upon arrival, and he nodded, then shared a quick smile with his longtime
“It would be easy for all of us, for me to just say that all of this is so foreign and
unexpected and that I am grateful for all the hype and accolades” he began, “and
it is, but you always read that and it’s such a ‘good boy’ thing to say. I would
rather you just write whatever you see and interpret from this lunch, as I’m sure
you will put in the bland, biographical ﬁller as you see ﬁt.”
He stared into my face for longer than usual and put a hint of fear into me but
then quickly tried to erase the hostility he sensed by tapping me on the arm and
squeezing my bicep. I’m sure he was just messing with me, but the sting in his
grab lasted longer than expected. For a brief moment I sat there in a haze, trying
to distinguish the persona’s of Fitzgerald’s presence; the man sitting before me I
began to gather as being a real life tough guy, posing as a literary darling. I
immediately began to think of the self-inﬂicted damage that would occur if I had
shared my last thought of calling him ‘a darling’ and what might have ensued at
“Growing up, I mean, this.. you guys picking up the check for us, so you can get
a story about me, is just so funny to us.” he began to recall, as his friend let out a
perfectly timed chuckle.
“To be honest, I don’t really like to think to deeply about things like that because
it tends to bring about memories of our childhood in a darker light, as if we were
just waiting for this day” he said.
“The reality is that we always had food to eat,” he remarked, pausing with a fork
full of salad and steak, “but the difference was we always watched it being
prepared or killed.”
The one noticeable characteristic of Fitzgerald that was immediate was his lack
of mobile technology on his person. He did not have a registered cell phone and
explained that he wrote his novel on a Underwood typewriter that had been
collecting dust at his sister’s apartment. It had been stored there since she
attended college, some two decades earlier and he said that he felt more
connected to the process and the old fashioned typewriter, with all of its errors
“For some reason I always remembered that name, Underwood, and quickly
associated it with Blair Underwood, the actor, as L.A. Law was a hit show during
the time I ﬁrst noticed the typewriter” he paused, as if to relish in that bit of
“We grew up taking keyboarding classes in school and I was fortunate to have a
computer on my desk at home, so I can’t fully explain my fascination with the
typewriter” he said between bites.
“I guess it was just something I thought I should do, or have, you know.”
His childhood friend was the bearer and sole proprietor of an assortment of smart
phones and one tablet that, collectively, took up most of the table space between
us. As he began to explain about why he does not have a phone, he noticed me
looking at the plethora of devices in his friends corner and laughed.
“You think I am some sort of divided tongue, don’t you?” he said, pointing the
questioning in my direction.
I gave a quick, almost unnoticeable eyebrow raise and matching head nod that
changed his current demeanor. He seemed to be in good spirits and was smiling a
lot. One could assume that he had every reason to smile, as few writers get the
chance to do, at the start of a budding career. Upon closer glance, I took extra
time noticing how his smile did not fade as quickly as others, or even, myself.
This made for the ﬁrst awkward moment of the luncheon and I immediately
broke the silence by asking about his siblings.
“Next line of questions, pal.” he replied, just as quickly.
“I’m not that comfortable with you yet.” he said and looked at his friend in a way
that evoked some hidden message.
My ﬁrst instinct was a message of violence, naturally being dwarfed by these
men, but then that unnerving feeling was subsided by a round of tequila that was
ordered by Fitzgerald, after his water glass was ﬁlled for the umpteenth time.
The tequila arrived almost too quickly as the restaurant was bare, except for a
few patrons, with more staff standing around than there were seats ﬁlled. The
cool breeze from the open doors and windows hit us just as we had downed our
“Something tells me that this will not be the last shot we do today” his friend
spoke out, with a cluttered grumbling in the ﬁrst few words, as people tend to do,
when joining a conversation in progress for the ﬁrst time.
Fitzgerald let out an agreeable laugh and proceeded to drink his entire glass of
water. Just then, as if I had choreographed the next sequence of events in my
head, milli seconds before, he raised his hand and yelled to the bored waitstaff to
reﬁll his water, and our tequila, in that order. Another noticeable occurrence was
that all of the mobile devices did not make a sound throughout our entire meal.
“I don’t like to be interrupted with phone calls during meals, now that I have the
money to avoid people, by choice” he stated, almost at the exact moment that I
had noticed the silence.
This young man, was someone that I had not encountered before; a man whose
conversation followed an internal cadence that was tuned and perfected,
seemingly, with each person that he encountered. There was an immediate
easiness about him that I am sure all around him were aware of, even as I began
to think he may or may not fully be aware of, himself. The waiter came around
again asking if we would like to see a dessert menu, while ﬁlling up the water
glasses at the table. The friends looked at each other with that same childhood
amazement from before and afﬁrmed the waiter’s suggestion. Fitzgerald ordered
three chocolate pudding tarts for us and explained his routine and lifelong
relationship with sweets. He now only splurged on one dessert a month.
“I was a fat boy, growing up, yeah” he said, as he looked more at his friend with
a smile and look of conﬁrmation.
“I always told people, with pride, that I was not allergic to any foods. Thinking
back now, I may have been but ate it all anyway and made due, after the fact.. I
mean, I don’t know… Jesus, that sounded like something completely fabricated
and ﬁtting for your article, don’t you think?” he asked, as the waiter came back
now with a pleasant demeanor, and full tray as if he had just realized that these
huge men were some people of some sort of importance.
Fitzgerald sensed this waiver in attitude and did not change his temperament
towards the staff, but did give me a chilling glare, almost perfectly timed, as all
things had been since we had sat down that afternoon.
“The one thing I will reveal to you about my family is that my parents were both
in the customer service industry and I learned, ﬁrst hand, the importance of
putting priority in kindness and the immediate recognition and disposal of small-
minded bitterness and petty, mental gaming.”
I was now feeling the effects of the alcohol and asked to be excused to use the
restroom and have a cigarette.
3. Meat and small potatoes
I had arrived back at the table at the same time as our waiter and overheard
Fitzgerald state that he would like to repeat his order of what they both had
eaten, without the dessert, but that they would like for it to be prepared to-go. As
I gathered myself in my seat, I smiled.
“I heard the famous dinner story Mel Brooks told about Alfred Hitchcock” he
told me, as he smiled back, looking directly into my eyes.
I explained that I was familiar with the story of when Hitchcock ordered a full
meal of steak and potatoes, dessert and coffee, ﬁnished it all, then summoned to
have it all again, in the same order.
“What a fat fuck!” his friend chimed in.
Fitzgerald gave him a side smile that acknowledged his light humor, with a look
of resonating depth of respect they both had for the man and his art. I was late to
arrive at this conclusion, as they both began to make more light of the man and
quote some of their most memorable Hitchcock ﬁlms and television programs,
almost simultaneously. I suggested to stay in the restaurant and relax for a few
more hours, and they both agreed, ordering another round of tequila that would
serve as exclamation points to our change of plan.
“I’m going to take it easy after this one” he shouted out.
“You should be helping me not get too fucked up, man” he said to the table with
a hand up covering his face, letting out a loud belch.
I knew that he had directed that last remark to his friend, but somehow felt it was
intended for both of us, as we had started to get past a few more layers. Just as I
had made that assumption, in my head, his friend looked at me with a sort of
playful, mocking grin.
“You don’t have to be afraid of saying whatever you want now” his friend let up.
“If you pass out he can just label you an alcoholic writer, and you will be
inaugurated in the elite club of… elites.”
“Like Tom Cruise returning to his home town on the 4th of July?” Fitzgerald
“Ha. Yeah, just like that” his friend ﬁnished, “with Faulkner narrating the whole
I immediately suggested to myself that better narration could be serviced by
William S. Burroughs, but would never have said that out loud, even if given a
numerous amount of attempts.
“You know who you remind me of?” Fitzgerald said to me in almost a mocking
tone, shortly thereafter.
He let out a big laugh, as his childhood friend followed suit. I had to admit, later
on to friends, that crack had me smiling on the inside. Just then the waiter had
arrived again, ﬁlled our glasses, brought our second meals and explained that his
shift was over, asking us to close our tab and restart it with the beautiful east
Asian waitress, who happily introduced herself and walked away.
A lighting quick remark of approval was the last thing I heard from Fitzgerald, as
he continued to stare at the bottle-shaped waitress. Excusing myself once again,
but not before meeting eyes with the man of the hour.
“You smoke too many of those and the lungs may give out tomorrow, buddy” his
friend belted out to me.
“Smoke one for me” Fitzgerald replied to him and me and all that were within
ear shot of our lunch turned soiree.
Just as I got out to the patio and lit up, I get a phone call from my editor. I
continued to let the phone ring a few more times while I decided to neglect the
call and wait until a more reasonable state of being. I’ve noticed about myself,
most recently, that in conversations I have, when intoxicated, lean more towards
the chatty, and I was in no position of coming of as unprofessional. The prior
strikes against me had sobered me up enough to make the decision to ignore the
ofﬁce and continue back to ‘my friends’. As I smoked the last few drags I began
to also ignore my freeing thoughts of telling Fitzgerald of the non-actions that
took place. I was slowly circulating to understanding this man, or so I thought,
and noticed myself immediately impulsing to seek his approval. I promised
myself to also keep the drinking to a minimum for the rest of our interview.
“We ordered you a shot” the friend said, almost on cue when I returned.
I began to decline, but then turned to Fitzgerald, who already had his glass in the
air pointed towards me, and took the shot. I followed that up by calling over the
waitress to ﬁll our water glasses, which created a big grin that Fitzgerald and I
“Thank you” his friend said to her, almost in a volume that could be inferred as
“Max” Fitzgerald began to shout, before a hearty laugh stopped him dead.
“Max, you are.. I am sorry, James… James you are not a bad guy after all” he
blurted out. I returned the compliment and we downed another round of shots
that were brought to us by surprise, courtesy of the establishment.
“We gotta do this more often” his friend spoke, almost out of turn.
Just as quickly, Fitzgerald gathered our attention and lifted his glass, meeting us
at the top of our raised arms and sound of the clash to make a toast.
“Bro, that was cheesy. You’re better than that. Cheersy” he said, conﬁdently and
without a hint of malice.
“Cheersy” we both replied.
Just a few moments after our last shot, the restaurant began to start ﬁlling up
with patrons. Where it had been comfortably empty, now people began to gather
and observe us, listening intently and almost sync repeating the same broad facts
of Fitzgerald’s biography that I had raced to ﬁnd. I immediately got the attention
of the staff and closed our tab. The waitress, sensing our retreat, advised us that
the pub a few doors down had just opened and would be comfortably desolate.
Fitzgerald thanked her for the suggestion and began to ﬂirt with her all the way
to the door, leaving with her phone number on the lunch receipt, of which he
handed to his friend who began to program her into one of the mobile devices.
Just then, he noticed the stunned look of admiration on my face as he took me by
“I probably won’t ever speak to her again. I am so lazy when it comes to that
stuff” he said, as he wink at me and marched on.