My name is Victoria and I wrote a book with a taxi cab driver I met at an all-night diner.
It was March 7th, 1994 at an all-night Greek diner called The Silver Star at 65th and Second Ave. in NYC around 1 a.m.
I had just seen Schindler’s List and was craving bourbon – Maker’s Mark to be exact. The owner was tending bar that night, Gus aka Kostas, and I asked him in Greek what the story was on the guy at the end of the bar, who strangely enough was also drinking Maker’s Mark neat.
Gus warned me off, saying that the guy was a regular and seemed harmless but that he was a cab driver so you never knew the back story. Sometimes, though, you can just tell that there is a lot more to someone than meets the eye. It might be a comment they toss out under their breath, but the light of intellect is there, burning behind the facade.
When he finally agreed to accept the drink I offered and moved out of the shadows to sit with one empty stool between us, we discovered that he literally lived right across the street from my aunt in the East 60’s, in whose building I happened to be staying at the time. Our relationship was not erotic, although it became a love story. We met three days before I was scheduled to board the Amtrak and head west on my pilgrimage to seek out old friends and family. After 5 years of self-imposed exile in Greece I was a tourist in my home land. I boarded at Penn Station, Ameri-pass in hand, and was going to make the most of it! Philly, Chicago, Kansas City, Albuquerque, Phoenix, LA, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle… I sent him postcards from all my stops, and once back in Greece we shared weekly snail-mail correspondence until 2001.
Donald and I had collaborated on several scripts, all still residing in my file cabinet, but Georg Elser’s story was his particular obsession. The Führer Must Die evolved from an 88 page script that couldn’t generate any production interest. I suggested developing it into a novel and it was then he revealed one of his secrets: he had never been able to pull his doctorate together because he was manic depressive and suffered from ADD. After inglorious attempts at working in engineering and advertising he had become a taxi driver because that was the only profession where his employers had no expectations, he had comparative flexibility in his schedule, and would never be obliged to be civil to his customers.
He seemed incapable of patience because he could see the whole story or the whole film in his head. He simply couldn’t force himself to sit and write in the details. When he learned he was ill he officially passed the buck to me – he had told me he was scheduled for a colonoscopy and that his doctor wanted to rule out cancer. When I asked him how the tests had gone, however, he blew it off, said it was just old age and a bad diet catching up with him. Unbeknownst to me he had started submitting the first 50 pages to agents. When he got a bite and was in a panic he told me I had ten days to complete the manuscript.
My greatest writing challenge in completing the story Don had started was that, I had to generate about 200 pages of original text to weave around his dialogues in the voice of a man (of a certain age) writing about the quirks and deeds of men (of a certain time). I feel my greatest triumph in this collaboration is that no one who has read the manuscript, not even my own mother, has been able detect where Don leaves off and I begin.
Our agent summed it up pretty well: “Don has the chops as a writer and a thinker when he sticks with it, but you have the talent and determination to follow it through.” Using techniques learned during my dramatic arts studies, I filled out the characters sufficiently through action to justify his dialogues and create a very rough first draft novel. Don’s lack of social skills kept us on edge though. I had to constantly run damage control because he would send irate e-mails to the agent. In retrospect his impatience made perfect sense, but at the time all the others just thought he was acting like an irrational and unreasonable Jewish mother.
Donald’s biggest compliment to me came after he finally read my edit of his flash fiction piece, Faulkner’s Ghost, that I had put up for him on a writing blog. He wrote me: “We actually are co-authors! Now I get it – a passage here, an expression there… you complete me.” That was the last e-mail I received from him.
After alerting the NYPD that I hadn’t heard from him in three days and why that was important (Don lived alone and didn’t have a phone, he checked in by e-mail every day the NYPL was open) I was finally notified that they had found him in his apartment and that he had passed away on August 23rd 2012.
Since then I have had the time to re-edit and enhance the manuscript, and it has finally be released in hard cover on November 8th, 2016 by Yucca Publications, an imprint of Sky Horse Publishing NYC.
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