by Dylan Brody

When I go to pitch meetings, I strive to give the impression that I am doing so very well as a writer that I don't need to make a sale. I put on a Jhane Barnes shirt the color of old money. I put on my Concord watch.

Concords aren't obvious like Rolexes. The only people who recognize the expense of a Concord are people who can afford a Concord. I am not a person who can afford a Concord. I had never heard of a Concord watch until this one was given to me.

I worked as a transcriptionist in Steve Allen's office in 1994. Mr. Allen, like many creative folk, could be moody at times. On one occasion he yelled at me inappropriately for a problem in the office that was not really my fault at all, but rather entirely that of the San Andreas Fault, a crack the runs down the state of California and occasionally causes all of the books in a person's office - say, Steve Allen's - to be on the floor when he comes into work. That fault had caused similar problems in many people's offices and homes, not just Mr. Allen's. Still, in a moment of frustration and post-quake adrenaline-induced irrationality, he yelled at me. A day or two later, he called me into his office. He offered some gruff words that hinted at an apology and then said, "Here. Why don't you take this?" He gave me this watch.

I thanked him for it and accepted it. Later I discovered that it did not work. I also discovered that it was engraved to Red Buttons from the Friars Club. I asked Mr. Allen's personal assistant what the hell that was all about. She told me that Mr. Allen was the current Abbot of the club and had decided that it would be less of a hassle to get a new watch for Red Buttons than to get this one fixed.

I took the watch to a jeweler who told me it would cost about a hundred and eighty bucks to fix. I pointed out that I could get a new watch for that much money and he chuckled and said, "Not like this one." That's when I found out that Steve Allen, by way of a half-assed apology, had given me an eighteen-hundred dollar watch in need of repair.

I got the watch fixed. I wear it when I want to look more successful than I feel, when I want to feel more successful than I am, when I want to give the impression that I do not need to make a sale.

I've been dressing deceptively for big meetings for a long time.

When I was a kid, I very much wanted to go to prep school. My family wasn't the kind of wealthy family that generally sends its kids to prep school, but my parents are both well educated and they certainly understand the desire of kids to get out of the house and on with their lives. I think because my father worked as a college professor there may have been some kind of professional courtesy discount involved, but mostly they found ways to borrow money to make it possible for me to go away to the boarding school of my British Young-Adult Fiction fantasies.

I'd chosen the school I wanted to attend. My grades had always been good in public school. The last remaining hurdle was an interview with the Dean of Admissions, an interview to which my parents were to accompany me.

My mom took me out and had me fitted for my first suit. I chose a brown corduroy three-piece. It had suede patches on the elbows. I thought it was very academic chic, though the vocabulary I had for that was, "collegey and smart." The suit was ready in time for us to make the five hour drive from New York to Massachusetts.

We sat in the Dean's office, me in the middle, Mom to my right, Dad to my left. I tried to look casually comfortable in the three piece suit. I tried to be off-handedly witty. I tried to be delightfully charming. He asked me questions about my academic work and my goals. I tried to seem naturally elegant.

I glanced to my right in the midst of the conversation and noticed my mother gazing at me adoringly. I stuttered mid-sentence and stopped talking, confused for a moment, my focus broken. To fill what she imagined to be an awkward and difficult silence, my mother blurted out the very thing she had been thinking at the moment. She held out her hand toward the Dean as if she were cupping the globe of a large wine glass and said, "I remember when his whole tushy could fit right in my hand like that."

I became acutely aware of the sensation of my pulse just below my jaw line. The skin on my face tightened in horror and embarrassment as though it was trying to pull backward and hide behind my cheekbones. Frantic for salvation, I turned to my left. Certainly Dad would have some wry and urbane comment to diffuse the terrible, long-burning moment.

Dad did not come to my rescue. Dad was entirely oblivious to the conversation. Dad was fully absorbed, very busy. Dad was flossing with the edge of a matchbook.

I saw my future at the school turning to ash in a blaze of shame. Surely now the Dean would see that I was not the right sort of person to attend a school like this. The illusion of the suit would be shattered and I would be sent back to the public school in upstate New York. I would go to a community college. My life would not play out at all the way I'd dreamed it might. I would never again have a reason to wear my corduroy costume.

As it turned out, the Dean of Admissions had seen many bright, articulate kids humiliated by their parents over the years. He witnessed these events and knew just how important it was that I be allowed to come stay with the other bright articulate kids who were just learning how to fasten cufflinks and put on airs of elegance.

I shook the hand of the young man who might or might not buy a screenplay from me and engaged in the opening small talk that comes at the start of all such meetings. He complimented me on my watch.

I said, "Thanks. Steve Allen gave this to me." I did not tell him that he'd given it to me as a half-assed broken apology. I did not tell him that I'd been a transcriptionist. I wanted him to wonder how I had known Steve Allen well enough for him to have given me an eighteen hundred dollar watch.

After a while we got down to talking about my screenplay. From the young man's comments it became apparent that he was faking it. He had not read the screenplay. He had read a synopsis, probably put together by his assistant who had read the script but not very carefully.

As he sat there, enthusiastically expounding on his ideas for changes that might be made to a script that sounded only vaguely like the one I'd written, I became aware of a discomfort. A small bit of something had become lodged between two of my bottom teeth.

In an eighteen hundred dollar watch and a shirt the color of old money, I reached for a matchbook on the young man's desk.