Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The damned little cheat (Part 1 of 3)

(Starting another story in 3 parts. Will publish each part 2 days after the previous.)

The coffee was bitter. Yes, I know all coffee is bitter, but I had never noticed that before. That misty morning, I was sitting outside the coffee house in the cold breeze, newspaper in my left hand, the coffee on the table. I was swirling the coffee in my mouth, like wine tasters do wine.  Somehow it was as if everything in the world had added up to that moment- the breeze, the newspaper, the wine tasters in my imagination- adding up to that moment when I actually felt the bitterness of my coffee.

Well, well. I know I am rambling. I always do when I can’t find a story idea. You see, I work for the NY Times. Ya, I know. Prestigious newspaper and all that shit. I had to work my ass off before I got there. And it hasn't gotten any better- now I am working more and not even making too much. I am just one of those low ranked filler journalists- you know, the ones who work in departments that never hit the front page- but need to write so we can fill the space. Everybody here is so well-known already that even a good ex-journalist like me only gets filler jobs at first. I used to write education pieces in my previous job. My editor used to squash main pieces to give mine space. Well, at least he did that twice. But not at the NYT. No sir- I am a nobody here. To be swept onto the dustpan with all the junk. And to write dingy filler columns on Fall leaves and stray pups.

My job is really the opposite of my relationship. All prestige, no love. My girlfriend is no trophy woman but for the first time in my life I have known true love. Even though she is not even pretty- she is just beautiful in a quaint sort-of way. And that’s such a contrast to my first marriage- my wife was drop-dead gorgeous, came with a pile of inheritance money and was cold. But now I am in roses and candles love. I would say I am a has-been, but you can’t say that when you work for the NYT and have a girlfriend you truly love.

And still no ideas.

I was just looking around- trying to squeeze one tiny idea from my head. Zilch. I had got two leads this week- and both led to nothing. One was about some professor who had published a paper on Tarantino movies. I had almost done that piece when my editor decided the movies expert would do a better job covering it. And the other one was about a man who could swallow 170 serrano peppers without having anything else in between. I went to his place and found out he would only do that with peppers grown in his own home and that sounded a little fishy to me. Turns out he is growing some new hybrid variety of pepper. So that was dead. Anyway I still had to find something. Something that was important and true. But not so important that one of the front pages would snatch the piece from me.

I looked up from the newspaper- wait, what do I see? This woman sitting opposite me- so so pretty. At least SOME silver lining this morning, I thought, noticing she didn't have a ring on her finger.

“Hi” I smiled.

“Hi” She smiled back. “You don’t mind me sitting here, do you? I could leave if you want a table to yourself- sometimes people do. But I am very tired from my walk and the place is full.

“Of course not.”

I didn't know what to say next so I started sipping my coffee and thinking of ideas for my piece. Maybe I would call up Sonia. She might have some spare pieces- she reads a lot of online material, so there might be some “most popular in social media this week” thing there.

“What’s up?”, I heard a sweet voice. Had her voice been this sweet throughout? Not that I remember. Maybe it was like the bitterness of coffee- had always been there but took so long for my brain to get it.

“Oh, you know... I am just another journalist trying to think of story ideas” I said.
And thus began our casual conversation. We went on talking randomly- flitting from one topic to another like butterflies on spring flowers. But trying to avoid the serious ones. She was surprisingly interesting (yet another dawned-on-me-suddenly type discovery) and anyway I had nothing to do but wait till 11 when Sonia gets to work. So I chatted away happily.

Until she said it- “If you don’t mind, I want to talk about something that’s been disturbing me for some time now. It’s a little weird, so I hope you won’t judge me on it. I just needed to talk about it to someone when I walked in here, hadn't thought of whom to. But now that we are talking, I thought I might tell you. I hope you won’t use it for some newspaper article.”
“Of course not”, I said, while thinking to myself- ‘It depends on what your story is!’ Actually I didn't mind her saying it was weird. If it was good, I could definitely use it somewhere. Besides I was observing how perfectly beautiful she was- especially with her super sweet voice.

(To be continued...)

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