Mentor

I was living in Key West and working as a waiter the first time I saw Frank Conroy. Each January a literary seminar brought two dozen famous writers to the island. Panels featuring them took place in a large auditorium at the community college. On opening day at nine o’clock in the morning, the year’s keynote speaker addressed everyone in attendance. Given that my restaurant shift ended sometime after midnight and I invariably closed the After Deck bar, nine o’clock had a middle-of-the-night feel to me. The bar’s wooden planks, white tables, and white chairs were suspended several feet above the Atlantic’s shallow inlet and overlooked what I, as a young writer, knew to be Sam Lawrence’s house. As an editor, he’d published Kurt Vonnegut, Tim O’Brien, and Thomas McGuane, idols to me at the time. Occasionally I’d spot a cocktail party under way on his deck and wonder who was there sipping a scotch and if, someday, I might be one of them.

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