written by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, from the novel by Louis Begley
Warren Schmidt: (voice over, writing the letter) Dear Ndugu... My name is Warren R. Schmidt, and...I'm your new foster father. (stops writing; mumbles to himself) Let's see. Personal information. All right. (back to writing/voice-over) I live in Omaha, Nebraska. My older brother Harry lives in Roanoke, Virginia, with his wife Estelle. Harry lost a leg two years ago to diabetes. I am 66 years old and recently retired as Assistant Vice President and Actuary at Woodmen of the World Insurance Company. (beat; turns suddenly angry) And goddamn it if they didn't replace me with some kid who -- all right, so maybe he's got a little theory under his belt and can plug a few numbers into a computer but I could tell right off he doesn't know a damn thing about geniune real world risk assessment or managing a department for that matter, the cocky bastard! (beat; he sighs, composes himself, and crosses out 'cocky bastard' several times)
Anyway...sixty-six must sound pretty old to a young fella like yourself. The truth is, it sounds pretty old to me, too. Because when I look in the mirror and see the wrinkles around my eyes and the sagging skin on my neck and the hair in my ears and the veins on my ankles, I can't believe it's really me. When I was a kid, I used to think that maybe I was special, that somehow destiny would tap me to be a great man. Not like Henry Ford or Walt Disney, or somebody like that, but somebody, you know, semi-important. I got a degree in Business and Statistics and was planning to start my own business someday, build it up into a big corporation, watch it go public, you know, maybe make the Fortune 500. I was gonna be one of those guys you read about. But somehow...it just didn't work out that way. You gotta remember, I had a top-notch job at Woodmen and a family to support. I couldn't exactly put their security at risk. Helen -- that's my wife -- she wouldn't have allowed it.
But what about my family, you might ask. What about my wife and daughter? Don't they give me all the pride and satisfaction I could ever want? Helen and I have been married 42 years. Lately, every night, I find myself asking the same question. Who is this old woman who lives in my house? Why is it that every little thing she does irritates me? Like the way she gets the keys out of her purse long before we reach the car. And how she throws our money away on her ridiculous little collections. And tossing out perfectly good food just because the expiration date has passed. And her obsession, her obsession with trying new restaurants. And the way she cuts me off when I try to speak. And I hate the way she sits and the way she smells. For years now, she has insisted that I sit when I urinate. My promise to lift the seat and wipe the rim and put the seat back down wasn't good enough for her! No! (has to compose himself again)
But then there's...Jeannie. She's our only. I'll bet she'd like you. She gets a big kick out of different languages and cultures and so forth. She used to get by pretty good in German. She'll always be my little girl. She lives out in Denver so we don't get to see her much anymore. Oh sure, we stay in touch by phone every couple of weeks and she comes out for the holidays sometimes but not as often as we'd like. She has a position of some responsibility out there with a high-tech computer outfit so it's very hard for her to break away. Recently, she got engaged so...I suppose we'll be seeing even less of her now. The fellow's name is Randall Hertzel. He's got a sales job of some sort. Maybe Jeannie is a little past her prime but I still think she could have done a heck of a lot better. I mean, this guy's just not up to snuff, if you ask me, not for my little girl.
I'll close now and get this in the mail. Here I am rambling on and on and you probably want to hurry on down and cash that check and get yourself something to eat. So, take it easy and best of luck with all your endeavors. Yours very truly, Warren Schmidt.
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