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Hawthorne Hemingway Samuels—Sammy to his friends—was stuck for an idea, inspiration, some damned thing, to spark a new story. So, he hit the streets. His senses were in receiver mode, though a keen sense of smell was sometimes regrettable in lower Manhattan among mountains of bulging garbage bags piled high on tight streets. Overheard sidewalk stories abounded—some intelligible, most not—spattered with pathos, humor, or absurdity. Banter hard to ignore, each its own mini-drama.

Little details, embellished and exaggerated, would push him through his impasse, he felt sure.

He had fooled himself before. “Sure, it’ll just write itself,” he had thought too many times.

Maiden Lane; a grizzled beard under tattered blankets, no shoes, sitting in a bagel store doorway with his shopping cart of treasures.

“Got a cig’rette, boss?”

Sammy’s half-sincere reply, “Wish I did.”

They danced a second time and the admonition resonated: “Well stop wishin’ an’ GIT you some!”

Sammy contemplated the instruction. On paper, he darted into a drug store and delivered a pack of Lucky Strikes to Bagel Store Guy, keeping one for himself. In reality, he giggled as he negotiated the crosswalk, taxi-asses hanging haphazardly. The story had acquired a sympathetic comedic character.

The thirty-something clutched a parchment paper package under her arm—Sammy got a whiff of fish—and toted her Burberry bag, a bottle of wine poking out the top. She sobbed into her iPhone.

“He’s sleeping with my sister. I hate him…”

A jagged inhalation and, “I hate HER!”

He needed a device—was he clever enough?—to move the yarn from homeless smoker to a privileged Karen with a love life crumbling in real time. Burberry Karen and Bagel Store Guy swigging Chardonnay and smoking Luckys on a lower Manhattan street.

Outside The Malt House, he heard the driver’s half of a phone conversation through an open Prius window.

“Dude, she pregnant, jus’ man up an’ marry her… all there is to it.”

Who was the driver prompting toward chivalry? His brother? Karen’s boyfriend? What would the reader want? Duh… a story, for fuck’s sake! Sammy tried to be kind to himself but he sensed the fiction he was considering was shaping up as shit: disjointed, discursive, discontinuous.

The tale remained embryonic and he moved uptown on Broadway, perambulating (note to self: do NOT use that word) his home turf. What was the thread? He shoved at the blockage; his writer’s mind engaged. A story about writing a story? Good or bad, most editors might be disinclined toward risky experimentation. Still, could THIS be the key to ending his writer’s block?

He mulled and considered giving himself permission to type KAREN and GRIZZLED in ALL CAPS. To hell with the editor.

He reached Bleecker Street, hipsters vaping and yakking.

“No shit—airlifted 30 rhinos, Africa to Australia last Thursday, set up a rhino colony.”

That was a remark that could carry a whole novella; suet to bind the story.

He turned on MacDougal. A sinewy man wearing a lime green do-rag and gleaming white kicks peered at a gorgeous Brazilian couple, each wearing a tight, black “NEW YORK FUCKIN’ CITY” t-shirt and distractedly picking at a shared gyro. Edgy and annoyed, he boomed, “STOP nibblin’. Take a BIG bite!”

His scolding voice traversed an octave between “big” and “bite.” He turned downtown, disgusted at the hesitant diners.

The next corner, a fit, legless, man raised his wiry frame in his wheelchair on well-muscled arms and rapped out a lilting falsetto.

“I need some ex..uh..ciiize…”

Whether invested for small change or the thrill of performing, one could not say. Singing, smiling; his attitude was well-adjusted.

Sammy crumpled a single and tossed it at the overturned, filthy Knicks cap between the wheelchair and the goofy-looking mutt, dirty and smiling. New Yorkers were suckers for dogs; if they didn’t want to pay the beggar they did want to feed the dog. Sammy’s single joined quarters, several fives, and a twenty.

Washington Square Park, cut off by a 70-ish woman with a shocking-pink cockatoo perched on her shoulder, working an orange wedge with one foot and his Swiss Army Knife beak.

(He weaved the story in his head: Karen, Bagel Store Guy, Prius Guy, vaping hipsters, the gyro couple’s loud interlocutor, the legless man’s pup, the woman and her bird.)

Character development: from crest to tail tip, Major Mitchell extended 18 inches. If any bratty kid got too close to Miss Magritte, his crest fanned out in a quarter circle from the top of his head and he’d puff out, as if to warn, “back off kid… I’m wahlkin’ heah!” He seldom squawked, but when the need arose, the sound was gigantic; Mitch making himself well understood.

Miss Magritte’s bounce belied her deteriorating posture. 

Arthritis made turning her head to the left painful, don’cha know, so Major Mitchell always parked on her right shoulder to ease the passage of offerings straight from her mouth; pineapple slices, his favorite.

They depended on (loved?) each other for companionship and fruit. Park regulars knew to approach gently and with respect.

Catalyzed by the bird, the tale splayed out like an unfurling sail. He imagined something vast; a tale of rhinos, a crumbling love affair, the lovable pooch. But the journal he was targeting capped subs at 1,000 words and so Faulknerian caution rose up in his head: “Murder your darlings.” So, he did, aiming for the bird, not the dog.

Inventing… Prius Guy at an outdoor bistro table, taking a long pull from an ice-cold Corona. In time, his chicken empanadas were served.

Miss Magritte and Major Mitchell turn onto Thompson.

Just before his first bite, Prius guy shoots a hand toward his backpack. He glares at the bespoke suited gentleman, red carnation in his lapel, who has grabbed the table’s other chair, inviting himself to lunch.

“What the fuck!”

Mr. D. Evil Redflower grabs the situation by the balls.

Miss Magritte is passing at that particular instant.

“How fortuitous.” Redflower grins.

Major Mitchell seizes, goes rigid, and falls stock-still from Miss Magritte’s shoulder, stone-cold dead into the empanadas.

“Chicken and cockatoo, oddly complementary,” Redflower mused.

Miss Magritte screeches. The dead cockatoo is drizzled in Corona.

Sammy pushes away from the keyboard, smiling at yet another of his stories about Satan. Unblocked, he has fashioned a tale of devilish shenanigans that stretch from the Village to the Outback.

Thirteen months later: “Thanks for the opportunity to consider Writer’s Block. Your submission is not right for our journal at this time. Good luck placing this elsewhere.”


Dan Farkas

Dr. Daniel H. Farkas is a molecular pathologist who has published extensively and spoken on the topic internationally. Dan Farkas, on the other hand, is an itinerant New Yorker living just outside The D. His joys in life come from creative writing, photography, the music of his youth, his wife and kids, and sometimes the NY Rangers. #LGM

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