Leaky Ceiling


Steve Bernstein

It took one year to write my manuscript, Stories from the Stoop. Next step: get an agent. Should be a cinch, I thought.

I got myself to a writer’s conference and signed up for fifteen minutes to pitch my book to an agent. A week before the conference, I sent the agent a short excerpt of my book and a brief overview. She loved it, she said. Can’t wait to meet you, she said. With that I was psyched. Slam dunk, I thought.

I arrived early for my appointment. I was optimistic. Why wouldn’t I be? She loved the manuscript. She couldn’t wait to meet me.

She was very nice, albeit she needed a little reminder about what my name was, what my book was, what it was about, details that I thought I sent her a week earlier. No prob, she’s a busy agent and maybe it slipped her mind.

Five minutes into my appointment, while I was basically reminding her who I was and what I wrote and what it’s about, her cell phone rang.

“Oh no, Jim. How much water? Gallons? From the ceiling?”

She looked over at me and mouthed, “Sorry, I’m so sorry….”

Four minutes later, nine minutes into my appointment, she said, “Jim, should you call the fire department?”

“Enough,” I said. I motioned to her to give me the phone. Perplexed, she did as I commanded.

“Hey Jim. Steve here. I’m sitting next to Helen. Okay, okay try to calm down. I’m a master plumber. Tell me what’s happening. . . . Got it. Jim, this is what I want you to do. Go downstairs to the basement to the front wall of the house. Look for a small copper pipe coming through the front wall. . . . No, no, not the big black one. It’s much smaller, and copper. . . . Found it? . . . Good. Follow that pipe a few feet and it will connect to a big brass round thing with a dial on it. . . . Good. You found the water meter. Okay, there’s a shut-off valve right next to the meter. . . . Exactly Jim, it has a round handle. Turn it clockwise. . . . The water stopped, right? . . . Glad I could help.”

I handed the phone back to Helen. Fourteen minutes in.

For the rest of the appointment, one whole minute, Helen both thanked me profusely and apologized. She told me that I saved the day, saved her house, saved her a ton of money. She promised to contact me next week for a new appointment.

“Least I could do,” she said. Never heard from her again.

I wasn’t done with agents, yet. But it was close.

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