07 October 2005

Nate Cushman (part 2 of 2)

Part 1

Nate and I never did play tennis together. About a half hour after I got home, he called me. He had been at the same tennis courts with the commercial shoot, and somehow we'd missed one another. Eventually he had given up too, so he drove home to Topanga.

"Would you still like to have lunch? I totally understand if you don't want to drive back down here. I could drive up there," I offered.

"There's not really anywhere to eat around here. I don't mind driving back down. Where would you like to go?" Nate asked.

I changed into my nicer shirt in case it was a date and met him at Fred 62. We lingered, talking, at our sidewalk table for a couple of hours. For me it was intense: I was revealing too much about myself because I was nervous, he was listening attentively (or appearing to, AJ), and his smile urged me to elaborate more. He was relaxed and had insightful things to say based on his experiences which made him seem older (he was 7 or 8 years older) and much more mature than me.

I still wasn't sure if we were on a date or not. He insisted on paying for me, but kept his distance as we walked to our cars. We agreed we should try to meet up for a match another time, but left it open.

When a few days had passed and I still hadn't heard from him, Jaye was ready to concede that my outing might not have been a date after all. I was actually a little relieved because I didn't feel like I was emotionally ready for someone like him.

A week later he called to talk shop; I welcomed the return to the friendship Jaye had made me suspect of and easily slid back into the role of advisor. Film production was an arena in which I had more training and experience than him: it put me back on familiar, controllable ground. Every few months he'd call for some technical advice and we'd catch up by phone.

A year and a half went by. I'd been looking for an apartment for several months and had finally found one and started moving in. I bought a fridge and had it delivered, and then the people at the rental company changed their minds and the whole deal fell through. For that and additional reasons too lengthy and tangential to this story, I snapped and decided to leave LA the next week. I emailed everyone I knew in town that I was leaving, but I didn't have Nate's address at the time. If he hadn't called to ask me an equipment question that week, I would've missed him.

When I think of that week, I remember him as the only person who freely offered to help however he could and meant it. He drove down from Topanga to help me get the refrigerator I'd bought for the lost apartment out, and then followed me to Burbank to help me deliver it to the guy I'd sold it to. He was also very gracious when I didn't have time to hang out afterwards because I was leaving the next day and still had packing to do. We stood in the street between our double-parked vehicles to say goodbye.

"Do you think you'll have any space left in your car after you've packed it?" Nate asked.

I wasn't sure what he was getting at and said, "I'm planning to see out of my rear windshield this time."

"You can fit one more box, right?"

"I guess...why?"

"I have a going away present for you," he replied.

"Oh, thank you."

"Now if it's too big or you don't think you'll use it, tell me. Don't take it unless you're going to use it."


Nate pulled a long, narrow box out of his car. It was a long keyboard in its original box.

"Oh my god," I exclaimed. In one of our conversations I'd mentioned that one of my life's desires was to learn to play piano, and he'd remembered. "I really appreciate it, but I can't take that."

"I'm not very good, so I don't have the patience for it. It's just been sitting in the box. An instrument should be played," he coaxed. "I'm not using it, really. If you don't take it, I'll end up selling it."

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather sell it?"

"Yeah. I'd rather give it to you. IF you're going to learn to play it." He looked at me seriously and asked, "So, do you want it?"

"Yes," I exclaimed with a big grin.

"Will it fit in your car?"

"I'll make it fit," I replied quickly so he wouldn't change his mind. He laughed and smiled.

Over a week later when I opened the box in my new home, I discovered that he'd slipped in a card and piano instruction book. What he wrote there and in subsequent emails made me feel as though I was catching a glimpse of how he viewed me: far more talented, inspiring, and life changing to those I encounter than I would ever consider myself to be.

He cancelled his email address a few months later because he was leaving LA, and last fall I finally killed my old email address, the one he had, because it got nothing but spam. Maybe Nate was meant only to be a passing muse in my life, most effective because he didn't know me all that well, but I hope that's not true.

If you're reading this Nate, your box was delivered from storage yesterday. I admit I haven't played it in three years: I'm not as good as the person you thought I was. I did learn some chords and simple pieces, but I got frustrated because I missed my guitar, so I bought a replacement and focused on that for a spell. I'm still unsettled in most of the same things, but I'm not as bothered by it as I used to be.

I do feel badly that I haven't lived up to my promise, but I don't think I could give up that box because it reminds me of you and a version of myself I'd like to become. I will try again.

If you happen across this, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.


  1. He wouldn't be hard to track down. But even if you never see him again, you've created a wonderful literary snapshot here.

  2. Thanks. Strangely, I'm not sure now that I want to track him down; it seems like forcing it, and what I was looking for, I found in the act of writing about him.

    It'd be cool if he just happened across this someday and dropped me a line.

  3. Hey, I feel like I've just watched one of those fine movies that are perfect for a sunday afternoon.

    Thanks! :o)

    And I agree, this one should be left to fate...

  4. No no it's a good thing, really. I got the good feeling those films give you, without the bad feeling of having wasted two hours on it...

    Bravo is what I meant. Keep doing it!

  5. Cool. I just summoned this image of schmaltzy movies like they show on Lifetime... but you likely get totally different tv programming. Anyway, Sunday afternoon movies made me think of Lifetime movies: all the overly dramatic, women's stories starring unknown actors or actors who have fallen from popularity.

    S'all good.