They Pay You to Do This?

Scene: Italian cafe, near-empty on a Sunday afternoon. I sit alone at a table near the window.

Elderly busboy with unidentifiable (though most certainly not Italian) accent approaches when I ask for the check. The waiter will be just a moment, he tells me.

Then, motioning down at the stack of manuscript pages I am reading, he says: What is that, work? You do work today?

Me: Yes. I work every day.

Busboy: What is this you do for work?

Me: I work in an office all week and then I write on weekends.

Busboy: You are a writer?

Me: Yes, I am a writer.

Busboy backs away, giving me two thumbs up.

Then, thinking better of it, he returns to the table, to ask a question.

Busboy: What do you write, stories or novels?

Me: Both. But right now a novel.

Busboy: And let me ask, they pay you to do this? People pay you money?

A pause while I realize how to answer.

Me (with honest surprise): Yes, they actually do. Can you believe that?

The busboy gives one last thumbs-up, then walks away quickly before I can ask him if he writes too. And to tell him it’s not about the money, really, it never was, it never will be. To tell him I’d be here with these pages, scribbling these scribbles either way. For not a penny. For no readers. For a boxful of rejections. For no reason, and for every reason. It’s what I want to do every day.

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