A few months ago, I found myself sitting alone in a bar in New York City. As romantic as that might sound, I was actually anxious and, truth be told, a little hungover.
The bartender asked me what I wanted, and so I ordered a vodka & soda, which was weird because I’d never in my entire life ordered one of those. I have this strange glitch in my personality that causes me to panic order in bars when I’m nervous—I simply shout out the first drink that pops into my head.
As I sat there sipping my very first vodka & soda ever, I took a deep breath and tried to come to grips with two competing strands of anxiety. First, in about an hour I’d be reading from my novel at the KGB Bar in the East Village. I hadn’t done many readings at that point, and I was second-guessing the section I’d picked, which dramatizes, in graphic detail, my main character’s erectile dysfunction. Second, I was about to meet with a movie producer to discuss film rights.
I was wearing a sport coat, which seemed writerly enough, but, other than that, I felt very much over my head. I’d never met a movie producer before. In fact, short of pointing at a startled-looking Ben Affleck once and shouting, “That’s Ben Affleck!” I’d never even spoken with someone from the film industry.
When the producer arrived, I was thrown immediately by two things: he was obviously younger than me, and he was even more obviously taller than me. The latter is fairly rare, and so I was struck with this vague sense of vertigo, the way you feel when you look up for too long at a tree or a building.
“Hi, Matt,” he said.
“Hey, Matt,” I replied.
We both have the same name. As you can imagine, this happens to people named Matt a lot.
We sat down and started talking, picking up where we’d left off earlier that week over the phone. Matt ordered a drink, and he did so in such a way that led me to believe he’d actually intended to order that particular drink. I admired that about him. We chatted about books and the types of movies we like, and I couldn’t help but enjoy what was happening. Matt was there to convince me that I should entrust my novel to him, and I was there, for some reason, pretending that I needed to be convinced.
And then the entire bar started shaking.
When it stopped, Matt and I looked at each other. “What was that?” one of us asked.
“An earthquake?” said the other.
There were maybe five or six other people in the bar, and they all seemed to be having this exact same conversation. However, people in the Northeastern United States are used to inexplicable, ominous things, so, after a moment, Matt and I carried on more or less like nothing had happened. We talked about actors and directors and screenwriters. We talked about college football and how we both have relatives in the South. We talked about literary agents and my writing process.
And then the entire bar started shaking again. It shook and then stopped. And then it shook again. And then we heard frantic Spanish coming from the kitchen. And then someone swore loudly. And then we both at the exact same time saw that people outside of the bar were stopped dead in the street and were pointing up.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” said Matt.
One of the unusual phenomena of publishing your first novel is that you find yourself in situations that you’ve imagined many times before. It’s similar to your wedding or the birth of your first child. While it’s happening, you can’t help yourself from comparing it to how you thought it’d be. I’d imagined meeting with movie producers, of course, every wannabe novelist has. But five minutes later, as Matt and I stood on the curb outside holding our drinks and watching smoke billow from the top of the building we’d just scrambled from, I was aware that I’d imagined this meeting going differently.
Fire engines had arrived from every conceivable angle. Sirens were blaring and people were wandering out onto the street to watch as fireman climbed ladders and readied hoses and shouted instructions.
“So,” said Matt. “I’m really excited about this project.”
“Yeah, man,” I said. “Me, too.”