"I can't think of
a proper title," I said to Toby.
He ruffled his
blue feathers a bit, refusing to answer.
"And you're no
help at all."
parrot won't talk, I got no title, and," I said, shuffling
through the houseboat pantry, "I'm fresh out of coffee.What do
you say about that Toby?"
answered with a bird smile, "Collette's"
"Toby, you may be
bird-brained, but you're a genius!"
I looked out the
window noting the fog.
"It's pea soup
out there Toby, but my editor's on my back.There are such
things as deadlines, my fine feathered friend, in the world of
humans.But maybe you've saved the boat."
My rent was due,
my houseboat was flooding, and I needed money and needed it
quick.Fog or no fog I would trek to Collette's.It's not that
I'm afraid of Jack the Ripper or Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde
you understand.San Francisco fog isn't London Fog, I know.A
girl doesn't like to go out alone so late at night, fog or no
fog.But obligations are obligations, and rent was due on my
floating palace, so I grabbed my warmest pea coat, put on my
sailor's hat, tucked my hair in, and was off.I'd do my best not
to get lost.
"Jeez, it's thick
out here," was my first impression, "I can't see my hand in
front of my face."
The first steps
were easy.A left turn, then a right.The fog stole in.Was it on
little cat feet?I couldn't tell. Then a right turn, then
straight.The fog snuck behind me.Then another left, then
another.I buttoned the coat up a little farther when something
made a noise.I turned around.It was only a cat, pawing through
overturned garbage.When I turned back, I finally came to a
conclusion I didn't want to reach.I was lost.
I continued to wander.Time could
not be measured.The pilings on the docks wrapped with thick
rope were all I could see.The sound of the fog horn in the
harbor was all I could hear.It could have been 1800, or 1900,
or the 2000 it was.I just couldn't tell.Finally, when I was
ready to sit down and cry, I noticed a pink glow ahead.I knew
what it was.I recognized it.It was the pink neon outline of a
"Collette's here I come!"
Collette's is a
small place run by a red-headed French woman, named, (what
else) Collette.I wasn't just going here in hopes the coffee
would give me an idea for a title.The coffee may not have been
enough.But there was more. Writers hung out here.You'd always
catch at least one.If there were more, then they'd be swapping
tales, bitching about editors, doing re-writes or proofing.They
were a literally a literal crowd.Another thing drew them as
well.Despite California law to the contrary, she'd let you
smoke in the back room.She got away with it because it was her
private property, not actually part of the restaurant.It faced
the harbor, had a view, and this part was where the writers
congregated.That's where I was headed.
Collette saw me
when I came in.
"Two I don't
know, but you I do Mon Cheri."
She gave me a two
kisses, one on each cheek.You know how the French are.
I walked back
through the door and taking a table saw two men.I didn't know
either.One was sitting smoking a pipe.The other was pacing. The
room was small, so it was easy to ear-hustle. Considering they
were talking like good friends, they were an unlikely pair. The
one pacing was a stick man, his white duck trousers were
rumpled, yet he wore a black velvet coat.
"Gee," I thought,
"I haven't seen anyone wear a black velvet coat since Stevie
Winwood was in Traffic."
The sitting man
was stocky and well built, and wore a neat safari coat from
Abercrombie and Fitch.Sitter wore a beard on his face.Stander
had a drooping moustache on his upper lip. Stander was
chain-smoking cigarettes, while Sitter smoked a pipe.You see
what I mean.They were a pair, but an unmatched pair for
I must have
caught their attention, because they welcomed me to the
"You'll like it
here kid, it's a clean, well lighted place," said
me in quill pens and India ink, Madam," said Stander, "and her
coffee is superb."
"Thank you both
gentlemen, I'm sure I'll enjoy it," I answered, not telling
them I'd been there before.
continued their conversation is when my ear-pirate set
"So what's it
about this time?" said Stander to Sitter.
"Bob, it's like
this.An old Cuban goes fishing but has no luck at
"The way you
state the matter it sounds awfully weak, almost consumptive,
one might say."
"You know me," he
answered, "I like to keep is simple."
Then the sitter
relit his pipe.The man pacing stubbed out his butt, lit another
Sitter took a
silver flask out of his back pocket and emptied something into
his coffee.Stander took a puff of his cigarette and started
"Bob, you gotta
watch that stuff, it'll kill ya."
"I'm not spitting
blood quite yet Papa. Yet I could say the same to you."
telling me not to drink Irish coffee could only happen in
Sausalito," he said, taking a sip.
"So what kind of
a fish does he catch, your fisherman?" said Stander.
"Well, I dunno
yet, but it's gotta be something big."
"How about a
record breaking tuna, I like tuna."
"Naw, not enough
class. I need a bigger battle, something more dangerous. I want
him catching this fish to be real tough, like it's some kind of
duel or something."
"Duels are fought
by dukes and princes with swords Papa, not fish."
"I'll make it a
sword fish then, a fricken marlin."
"Sounds good to
"At any rate,
what is your intent for a proper title?"
"How's about something catchy,
like maybe Swordfish?"
"That would be
much too short.You need something longer, it's not descriptive
"Longer, with you
it's always longer!Your sentences are too long, your titles too
long, my God man look at your skinny self," he said looking up
at him, "Even you're too long."
"Being long is
just my style. Your problem is, Papa, you're too short.Your
sentences irritate my sensitive soul with their extreme
brevity.They're too short, too simple, and in the end, I put it
to you old man, much too declarative."
"Can it Slim.
That's my signature style.So what's your newest about?"
"It's about a boy
who gets kidnapped by his own miserly uncle."
wander over the Scottish highlands in the rain, Papa, in the
"Do they go on a
boat?I like it when they go on boats."
"Yes, as a matter
of fact, they do, at times, go on a boat."
"Do they fish?I
like it when they fish."
"Well I don't
"Well, do they
bullfight?I like it when they bullfight."
"No, they most
definitely do not bullfight.The story occurs the highlands of
Scotland Papa, now how can I have them bullfight?"
"Oh yeah, I
forgot.So what are you gonna call it?"
"I was thinking
of using The Marvelous Adventures of David Balfour, who, in
the Dangerous Highlands of Scotland, was
"Too long Bob,
This is the point
where Collette stepped in.
"Mes amis," she
announced, "you must place a bet.Let fate decide. I flip a
coin. Whoever wins decides the other's title and he must make
do with that." (she pronounced it zat, you know how the French
hesitated, "if it lands on my side of the coin, I
Then I spoke
"Since there are
only two sides to a coin, let her.Besides, it's her
at me and winked.
"It's a deal."
"I would be more
than happy to accede to the lady's wishes," Bob said, with a
bow and flourish.
into her bosom and produced a twenty dollar gold piece, and
tossed it in the air.
"Heads," but it really didn't matter who.
It flipped and
flipped and flipped. It went up to the rafters then down to the
wooden floor.But when it hit, it bounced, landed on its edge,
rolled a bit, then became wedged in a crack in the floor, and
stood firmly, edge up, on its side.
Although the two
were ill-matched as a pair they were twins finally in one
thing, they now both had eyes the size of plates, not
squealed, "I shall have my way!You Monsieur, will choose his
title, and you monsieur, his!"
It was then that
both of them, being men of the world, knew they were
Sitter said, "What's it gonna be?"
"Make it The
Old Man and the Sea, since that is what it's primarily
But that's the
longest title I've ever used!'' he wined, "It'll never
"You have only to
try Papa, so try."
"Now, how about
you?" said Collette to Sitter, "It is your turn to
"You make it
Kidnapped, Bob, just plain, Kidnapped, that's
"But that will be
my shortest title yet," he sobbed.Will my readers know it's
"That's for you
to find out Bob."
My coffee was
finished.I pushed the cup away from me and slid out of the
chair.I turned to Bob.
"I'm taking my
leave Bob, thank you ever so much."
"I was a pleasure
to meet so charming a girl, but if you must leave, fair lady,
Then I turned to
"See ya' Pops,
I'm outa here."
Collette, "don't you need a title too?"
"I'm fine now," I
answered, "I've finally got it."
"What's that Mon
Collette's Coffee of course, what else?"