[written late on a Thursday, 28 Sept 2007, but not posted at that time for reasons which will likely become clear enough as you read]
It had been an altogether typical Thursday: the kids had come home from school, we'd all scurried to get snacked and hydrated in prep for the crazy Thursday schedule where Child #1 has dance rehearsal from 5-8, while Child #2 has 4th grade tackle football practice from 5:30-8 (where I assist as QB coach and Special Teams Coordinator), while Child #3 has first grade flag football practice from 6:30–7:30, while child #4 has also still to be accounted for. The Wife hauled #3 kid to flag practice, I'd headed off to tackle practice with #2, and then The Wife had run #1 to dance with #4 riding shotgun, then back to watch the last half of #3's practice. She had #3 and #4 in the tub when I got home with #2 around 8:10 pm, and I was trying to get him geared down and into the shower as The Wife wrestled the two younger kids out of their bubble bath. #1 son had just been dropped off by his carpool ride home, and I was heading back upstairs when the phone rang.
I checked caller ID, and paused for a moment: "Acad of Mot Pic..." calling from the 310 area code.
"Huh," I think, and answer.
"Brett? Hey, Greg Beal here."
Most folks know Greg simply as "that name on the bottom of all those yearly 'dink' letters from the Nicholl fellowships," the hugely prestigious screenwriting competition run by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (aka, "the Oscars people"), but I recognize Greg's voice as he and I have played around together a few times annually for the last few years at the Austin Film Festival.
"Hey, Mr. Beal, wassup?"
"Well, I guess you know why I am calling."
[Let's pause for a moment as I make one thing perfectly clear: I most absolutely did not know why he was calling. Yes, I knew that this was right around the time when Nicholl finalists would be notified, and I knew that the 2007 final dink letters were going out to the semi-finalists who did not make the final round of 10, and I knew just as surely that my entry—QUEEN OF THE SKY— would be drawing its own little dink letter any day now. I knew this roughly as surely as I knew the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. I had been stunned to advance to the semi-final round and had spent the ensuing few weeks using that happy oversight on the part of the Nicholl folks to help flog my script to anyone in Hollywood who might seem willing to be impressed, and I knew that this added leverage was a ticking clock, and that midnight would soon chime and both I and my little pile of pages would soon revert to pumpkin status.
My point is simply this: I was not going to advance. I knew this. So Greg Beal calling me must surely be related to something else. Perhaps he wanted to say "hey, congrats on a good showing, pal," or "can you give me a lift from the Austin airport in a few weeks."]
"No, Greg, I'm not at all sure I do."
"Oh. Well, you know that little screenwriting contest I am involved with? You know how we have ten finalists that we announce around October 1 every year? Well, you're one of them."
There's a very uncharacteristic two or three second silence from my end of the line.
"Ya know, Greg, it's not very cool to call me and fuck around like this," I say, and he chuckles even though (again, deadly serious) i was not joking. The idea that he was calling to tell me this—and that it might be the truth—was at that moment totally inconceivable.
"No, I am very happy to inform you that you and your script are one of this year's finalist for the Nicholl Fellowships."
There then followed another pause, and then Greg chuckled. "And I have to tell you that it amuses me to no end to finally hear you incapable of making any sort of smart-assed comment."
Uh... yeah. Well... OK...
Again he chuckles.
Now, by this time The Wife is wondering where the hell I've disappeared to, as she was expecting and needing my help in getting kids out of the tubs and into clothes and headed towards bed. "What are you doing down there?" she yells from the daughter's bedroom.
"Uh... hang on... it's... uh.. hang on..."
The woman clearly knows me well enough to notice something weird in my voice, so she trots down the stairs and peeks around the corner and mouths "is everything OK?"
I wave off her concern, mouth "yeah, I'm fine" and give her an OK sign with my fingers, but as I listen to Greg try and give me some details, all I hear is a sound like rushing water barely covering the sound of my own heart thumping somewhere in the back of my throat.
I think I voice some sort of acknowledgment and understanding of whatever Greg is trying to tell me about the timing of announcements and events that will now flow from this news, and I recall him chuckling and saying "but don't worry—we've learned to repeat all of this in an email as these phone calls tend to be remembered as a weird blurry rush..."
"Uh... yeah... OK. Uh-huh..."
He laughed again. He seemed to be finding this call very amusing.
"Oh, and by the way, I need you to not say anything about this to anyone until all the letters have been sent out and we've made the formal announcement on Monday."
"Monday? I have to sit here and not tell anyone about this til MONDAY!?! You... bastard!"
"Well, you can tell your wife—I heard her yelling to you when we started this call. But don't post anything about it online or tell any of your online writing friends. We want all the new to come from our office on this announcement."
K, fine Whatever.
We blabber for another minute or two—he even asks me a few odd questions relating to the story in my script— and then he again says "again, congratulations, Brett. very well done."
And then we hang up.
And I sit there looking at my screen and I see the bookmarks to a dozen discussion boards and chat rooms and mailing lists where this silly damned contest is one of the common points of discussion and interest, and I realize that it's a week until Christmas and some crazy uncle has just come in unannounced and left a really huge heavy gift for me under the tree, and all I can do for the next week is stare at it and go mad.
I'm sitting here, my hands under my legs (probably a subconscious effort to keep my fingers from "accidentally" typing some sort of news to someone somewhere) and I'm rocking like Rain Man and grinning and feeling my pulse race, and wondering "oh sweet Jesus what have I got myself into now...", and I can't say a word to anyone.
So, damn you, Greg Beal.
And I will hug you when I see you in Austin.
confused but not entirely displeased B