When I first started writing, at age 32, I was truly impressed at how bad I was as a writer. I wasn’t merely not good, I was not only a poor writer, I was quite possibly writing at the same level of children being home schooled by parents who were heroin addicted dyslectic cucumbers in the first grade. Try this at home: Open a book, no, open a great book, something you really love, and just read a random sentence. Out of context of its entirety, the sentence may or may not be a great sentence, but taken as a whole, it makes up a great book, or at a minimum, one you enjoy. I had just finished a short story made entirely of poor sentences. Each and every one of them resembled a cathedral built by beavers with dentures. Worse, I knew nothing at all about editing, or grammar, or for that matter, writing. I was a virgin trying to make a living being a 1-900 operator talking dirty to losers at zero dollars a day.
What made matters worse, and much worse, I lived right next door to the world’s richest vein of untapped stories about people. I lived in downtown Tifton Georgia, and on the third floor of an apartment building most people didn’t know existed. The entrance to the apartment building looked like a regular office door. It was a remuddled hotel, and from the third floor, I could hear people speaking if there were standing directly below me, and better yet, the buildings across the street had huge plate glass windows, so I could see the reflections of the people speaking.
Now, most of what I did in the manner of eavesdropping came late at night, when couples would stop at the traffic light right outside one of my windows, and just below it, and either talk or make out. It’s a minute long red light, people, can’t you wait? But some couldn’t, and late at night people would sit there and kiss through the cycle of the traffic light two or three minutes long. One pair began so engrossed in their activity the man actually got the woman’s shirt unbuttoned and because they were in a convertible, it was clear she wasn’t wearing a bra.
“Get your hand off that woman’s tit!” I bellowed from above, and they nearly collided with a car coming through the intersection as they took off.
But generally speaking, it was a dismal era for a writer who was just starting out, and who was broke, too. Most of my time was spent smoking hand rolled cigarettes, and wondering why the hell I was even bothering to write. There was a gym down the block and across the street, and this one truly good looking woman always worked out in the same spot, where I could see her but I realized that life was such I would never meet her, and she began to be a Muse of sorts, the ideal that I could not reach, and I tried to write about that, and failed as surely as using an opening line at a bar like, “I don’t have AIDS but I would sleep with you even if you did.”
It was that bad.
One morning I took a day off to try to fix my writing. It was the first day, ever, I had taken off to write, and it felt weird. I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell anyone this, but if I was ever going to make that short story look like anything other than something out of a “How not to write” made for television movie, I had to do something. There was a lawyer’s office directly below my window, and on occasion I could hear people talking about this case or that case, and normally it was boring but this morning there was a couple there before the lawyer opened up, and they were fighting.
“Look bitch, you’re the one who moved back in with your mother.”
“ I don’t give a shit what she said, you were gone, bitch.”
“I can do whatever the hell I want to, bitch.”
“Shut up bitch.”
“Just shut the hell up bitch.”
The man couldn’t speak to the woman, his soon to be ex, without using that word. He made it a point to begin or end every sentence like that, and I wondered if she had ever said anything to him about it, and that was why he did it. I thought about every time I had ever gotten mad at a woman, and used that word, and I wondered if it made me sound as ugly as he sounded to me, and I wondered if it made some woman I was speaking to feel like it sounded like she felt. I could see the reflections of the couple in the windows across the street but there were not clear reflections, they never really were, but it seemed a haze of hatred clouded the two. To this day, I haven’t used that word when speaking to a woman. I don’t like the sound of it.
I couldn’t hear the woman clearly, and he cut her off every time she started to speak, but she was trying to ask him about the kids, and what about the woman living with him now, and what was he going to do about one of the kids needing something, but it didn’t matter. He had to say something, anything, with the word “bitch” in it somewhere, and that was all that mattered to him.
He came out an hour or so later, screamed, “FUCK YOU BITCH!” and walked down the street and out of sight. In a real and just universe, a truck would have hit him. She left the lawyer’s office and stood leaning against building, staring out into space, and wondering what to do next.
She was smoking a cigarette, and drinking coffee out of one of those travel mugs, and I have no idea why I did it, but I walked downstairs with my coffee pot, went around the corner, and walked up to her.
“Here,” I said, “you have to try this, it’s called Blue Nile and it’s the best coffee on earth.”
“Okay” she said, and I could tell she had started crying. She lifted the top of her mug and I poured it full.
“I spiked it with honey, and I’ve mixed in a little milk in it, but not much, because it’s really good coffee.” I said.
“Yeah, you’re right, this is really good!” she took a sip, then another, and smiled at me. “Thanks.”
I turned around and walked back to the doorway to my apartment, went in, and left her standing there with great coffee in her cup. When I got back upstairs I could see her looking around, wondering where in the hell I had just come from, and where in the hell did I go? But she clearly liked the coffee, and when she got in the POS car she was driving, she looked a little more determined, and she was smiling.