I had lunch the other day with a someone who has been a friend since college.
Like me, Scott was a journalism major, and we worked together at the Daily Kent Stater newspaper.
My favorite memory of that time was when he introduced me to James Michener, the famous author of “Tales of the South Pacific,” “Sayonara,” “Hawaii,” and other notable works.
This was after the tragic shooting of 13 Kent State students by the Ohio National Guard. For those of you too young to remember, the Guard was on campus after some students rioted while protesting the bombing of Cambodia during the Viet Nam war. Four students were killed, and nine others wounded.
In the months after, Michener came to Kent to write a book about the tragedy. Scott had gotten a summer job helping Michener do research. When I arrived back on campus to start our senior year, Scott said I had to meet Michener. Given that I always wanted to be a novelist, I jumped at the chance.
We drove over to the Michener’s hotel and knocked on the hotel door. And waited. And waited. And waited. Michener was in the room, but not answering.
Finally, we saw the curtains move a bit. After a long moment, the door cracked open and an eye peered out. Finally, Michener, bandy-legged in his underwear, ushered us in.
“Sorry,” he said to me. “I thought you were the water guy from back home her to collect.”
At the time I was too starstruck to ask, “Water guy? Like, the guy who checks how much water you use? Uh, so, you haven’t paid your water bill and the guy tracked you down in Kent Ohio? Aaaannnddd what, James Michener can’t pay his water bill?”
Instead, I just stood there with my mouth open and said, “I really liked ‘Sayonara.'”
Anyway, Scott and I both wound up working for newspapers in Florida, him in Tampa, me in Miami. After a while, I left and bounced from one paper to another. As Scott put it the other day, “You disappeared for 17 years.”
However, we reconnected after I moved back to Ohio a few years back and have made it a point to have lunch every couple of months. The other day, we met for what’s going to be the final time for a long while. I’m moving to South Carolina soon and he to the Nashville area in the next year or so.
When he arrived at the restaurant he carried a bag with 5 copies of my new novel, “My Grave Is Deep.” He wanted me to sign all 5 so that he can gift them to various family and friends.
I did so willingly, but with a dash of unease. Whenever anyone asks me to autograph a book, a thought rushes through my head, “They really want me to sign?” As if I’m not important enough.
It’s that kind of thinking that keeps me from promoting my books the way I should. I keep wondering, “Me? Really?”
As I was signing Scott’s books, the waitress came by and wondered what I was doing. “Signing his book. He’s the author.”
“Wow,” said the waitress. “I’ve never met a real live author.”
To which I said, “There’s some question that I’m really alive.”
Again, “Me? Really?”
Still, it always warms my heart when someone likes the book enough to ask for it to be autographed.
I promise not to ask if you’re the water guy.