I eventually edited that down to about 85,000 . . .
Why was the first draft so long? That is a really easy question to answer — because I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to write a book. I especially didn’t know how to end a book. Just when I should have been winding things up, I started on a whole new plot. A really wacky plot.
In the original version, Lincoln used to play pinball at a lesbian bar across the street from the newspaper. (I stole that from my husband’s life. When he worked nights at our newspaper, that’s exactly how he spent his dinner breaks.) So Lincoln goes to the bar and befriends this girl, Colleen, who he assumes is gay. Of course she’s not gay. (Comedy of errors!) She’s just there with her roommate, who is.
Lincoln and Colleen make friends. He thinks he’s doing a great job coming out of his shell. She thinks they’re dating. (It’s madcap! I’m telling you!)
When I submitted this book to my agent, he said, “Whoa, Nelly, you have written two books and smashed them together. Cut an entire book from your book.” It was probably the easiest 55K words an author has ever cut — I just got rid of Colleen.
Only my sister ever missed her. Jade was the first person to ever read Attachments, and she really liked Colleen. She mourned her passing.
In honor of Colleen, may she rest in peaceful oblivion, here’s the original scene where Lincoln met her at the bar. (Also, BONUS DORIS.)
Lincoln read Beth and Jennifer’s e-mail as soon as he got to work on Monday, before the rest of his office had even left. He got there at 5:30, had read their messages by 5:36 and then considered going back home. He’d skipped the gym that day, and he still felt crappy and sluggish from the weekend.
He thought about checking out EverQuest — Dave was trying to get him to play — but Christine said the game was dangerously addictive “even for people who are able to maintain a healthy balance between their real and fantasy lives.”
Lincoln figured Christine was probably right. Instead of joining EverQuest, he played online Scrabble for a few hours, then stopped by the break room to tell Shirley that he was going to play pinball over dinner. She wasn’t there. He finally found her wiping down tables in the smokers’ break room downstairs. Lincoln had never been in there before, and he was fascinated to see that there was an entirely different selection of vending machines, including an ice cream-treat machine with a vacuum hose that moved along a tray, sucking up the treat you selected and dropping it down a chute. It reminded Lincoln of a magic-claw game.
There were a few pressmen sitting in the corner, playing cards. One of them was wearing a square cap made out of a folded newspaper page. They all had gray, metal lunch boxes, the kind Ralph Kramden used to carry on The Honeymooners.
“Hi, Doris,” Lincoln said.
“Hey there, honey, you taking up smoking?”
“No, I just wanted to tell you I’m going to play pinball over dinner. Do you have something to eat? I could bring you back something.”
The man in the newspaper hat looked up from his cards curiously. “I’ve got three turkey sandwiches sitting in the fridge,” she said. “I swear I’ve gained five pounds since your mom started feeding me. You have fun.”
Lincoln got ten dollars in quarters from the change machine and bought an ice cream sandwich. As he walked out, he heard one of the men say, “Is that your boyfriend, Doris?”
“One of them, Bill. Jealous?”
There was no one playing the Addams Family pinball machine. There never was; the regulars seemed to prefer darts. Lincoln played for forty-five minutes on his first dollar — a personal record. By the time his last ball dropped, he’d half forgotten how lonely and creepy and stupid he’d felt for the last forty-eight hours.
A woman standing by the side of the machine started clapping enthusiastically. “Wow,” she said, “that was incredible. You’re really good. Kind of a game hog, but still really good.”
None of the women at 27 Rue had ever spoken to him before. It took him a second to realize that this one was. “Oh,” he said, “I’m sorry. Were you waiting to play?”
“Actually,” she said, “yes. But I’m kind of glad I got to watch you. I didn’t know there were secret combos.”
“Oh,” he said, “yeah . . . left orbit, left ramp, swamp.”
“And I can never get the electric chair bonus . . .”
“I can usually get it if I’m not thinking about it,” he said, stepping away from the machine. “Here you go. It’s all yours.”
“You don’t have to go,” she said. “We could play two-player. I don’t mind waiting between turns.” She dropped in eight quarters and hit the two-player button. “Come on, my treat.”
He tugged the hair at the top of his head. “Um, okay, thanks.”
“I definitely get to go first though,” she said. She was a decent player, a little timid. Her strategy was merely to keep the ball from sinking. She stayed alive for about three minutes, not bad, but didn’t accumulate many points.
“I think you could have saved that one,” he said, as the ball rolled between the flippers.
“Just give the machine a bump.”
“I don’t want to tilt it.”
“A gentle bump. Go ahead, try again.” He watched her play for a few more minutes. She was pretty. About his age. With shoulder-length, light-brown hair and a clean, friendly face. Her eyes seemed one size too big for her face, but it wasn’t a bad thing. It made her seem alert. She was wearing the bar’s virtual uniform — T-shirt and jeans. Other than that, she didn’t look gay. That’s stupid, he thought to himself, there’s no such thing as looking gay. He glanced around the bar. Well . . . maybe there was.
Her ball started to roll between the flippers. “Now,” he said. She shook the machine. Tilted it. “You’re a funny guy,” it called out in Raul Julia’s voice.
The girl laughed. “I told you,” she said.
“You were supposed to bump it,” he said, “not bruise its internal organs.”
“Your turn,” she said. They traded places. She watched him play for a few minutes. “I think I’ve seen you before.”
“Yeah, I work just across the street. I used to come here a lot.”
“I’ve seen you here,” she said. “You kind of stand out . . . But I think I’ve seen you at concerts, too. Are you a Sacajawea fan?”
“Oh,” he said, feeling caught. “Sort of. My friend is. I usually go with him. Are you? A Sacajawea fan?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I’ve been following them since college.”
Lincoln missed a shot at the graveyard, and his ball started down the middle of the flippers. He hit the machine with his right hip and caught the ball with the left flipper. Raul kept his mouth shut. “Very nice,” the girl said.
They played the game out. He’d used up most of his pinball mojo on the first game, so she didn’t have to wait too long between turns. They talked easily, mostly about the game. She was laid-back and laughed a lot. Most of her turns ended with tilts.
“You’re like the Thing,” Lincoln said. “You don’t know your own strength.”
“I know, did you see that look the bartender just gave me? I’m going to get kicked out if I break this thing.”
“Maybe you should practice on another machine. This is the last Addams Family machine east of 72nd Street.”
“I’ll just go back to playing with less machismo,” she said. “Rematch?”
“I can’t, thanks. I have to get back to work. Technically, I’m on my dinner break.”
“Wow,” she said. “That’s some dinner break.”
“Trust me, no one missed me.”
“Next time, then,” she said, smiling.
“Yeah, I owe you one … ” he started putting his coat on and stopped to hold out his hand. “I’m Lincoln, by the way.”
“Colleen,” she said, shaking his hand a little too firmly. Geez, she really was like the Thing.
Lincoln’s desk felt less depressing when he got back from dinner. He ended up playing chess online for the rest of the night.
He saw Colleen again at 27 Rue on Friday. He was hoping she’d be there. As much as he liked Doris, it was nice to get out of the building and to be with someone his own age.
Colleen waved at him when he came in, and got up from a table full of women to join him at the pinball machine. “I hope up you brought lots of quarters,” she said. “I’ve been practicing.”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” he said, “but I don’t need lots of quarters.”
They played through his dinner hour again. Colleen had been practicing. She only tilted once. She still wasn’t scoring many points, but it was a definite improvement. If Lincoln kept a ball alive for more than ten minutes, he let her take over. It was more fun that way. He liked talking to her. It was kind of like talking to another guy. (He wasn’t sure if it that was a horrible thing to think.)
“So,” she said after about an hour, “you don’t mind hanging out in a gay bar?”
“I guess I never thought of it as hanging out,” Lincoln said. “I just came in one night and saw the pinball machine.” He nailed a combo, and glanced around the bar. “Do you think anyone minds that I’m here?”
“Maybe a few people, but not really. People here are pretty low-key.”
“You must like hanging out here,” he said. “It’s okay,” she said, “my friend Jill really likes it. I just come to provide moral support, you know? This place beats The Base. She used to drag me there every weekend. It’s hard-core, have you ever been there?”
“I don’t think so. Do they have pinball?”