Thursday, August 17, 2006
Old Beginnings 2
Five openings set in New York City, all from published novels or short stories. Would you read on?
The sources are posted at the bottom of the page.
1. In those days cheap Manhattan apartments were almost impossible to find in Manhattan, so I had to move to Brooklyn. This was in 1947, and one of the pleasant features of that summer I vividly remember was the weather, which was sunny and mild, flower fragrant, almost as if the days had been arrested in a seemingly perpetual springtime. I was grateful for that if nothing else, since my youth, I felt, was at its lowest ebb. At twenty-two, struggling to become some kind of writer, I found that the creative heat which at eighteen had nearly consumed me with its gorgeous, relentless flame had flickered out to a dim pilot light registering little more than a token glow in my breast, or wherever my hungriest aspirations once resided. It was not that I no longer wanted to write, I still yearned passionately to produce the novel which had been for so long captive in my brain.
2. THERE WERE ninety-seven New York advertising men in the hotel, and, the way they were monopolizing the long-distance lines, the girl in 507 had to wait from noon till almost two-thirty to get her call through. She used the time, though. She read an article in a women's pocket-size magazine, called "Sex Is Fun-or Hell." She washed her comb and brush. She took the spot out of the skirt of her beige suit. She moved the button on her Saks blouse. She tweezed out two freshly surfaced hairs in her mole. When the operator finally rang her room, she was sitting on the window seat and had almost finished putting lacquer on the nails of her left hand.
She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing. She looked as if her phone had been ringing continually ever since she had reached puberty.
With her little lacquer brush, while the phone was ringing, she went over the nail of her little finger, accentuating the line of the moon. She then replaced the cap on the bottle of lacquer and, standing up, passed her left--the wet--hand back and forth through the air. With her dry hand, she picked up a congested ashtray from the window seat and carried it with her over to the night table, on which the phone stood. She sat down on one of the made-up twin beds and--it was the fifth or sixth ring--picked up the phone.
3. Madness is a relative state. Who can say which of us is truly insane? And while I roam through Central Park wearing moth-eaten clothes and a surgical mask, screaming revolutionary slogans and laughing hysterically, I wonder even now if what I did was really so irrational. For, dear reader, I was not always what is popularly referred to as "a New York street crazy," pausing at trash cans to fill my shopping bags with bits of string and bottle caps. No, I was once a highly successful doctor living on the upper East Side, gadding about town in a brown Mercedes and bedecked dashingly in a varied array of Ralph Lauren tweeds. Hard to believe that I, Doctor Ossip Parkis, once a familiar face at theatre openings, Sardi's, Lincoln Center, and the Hamptons, where I boasted great wit and a formidable backhand, am sometimes seen roller skating unshaven down Broadway wearing a knapsack and a pinwheel hat.
4. A few years ago, on the east side of Manhattan, not far from Bloomingdale's, a man set up a business where he sold diet shakes, delicious chocolate milk shakes having only 77 calories. Well, I tell you, fat young girls came from near and far and lined up around the block at lunchtime. Only 77 calories, and such heaven! I was one of the ones who had two for lunch every day.
Many of the girls would ask the man what was in the drink. He just smiled and said, "A secret ingredient." The girls started to doubt that the shakes had only 77 calories. They formed a committee and went to City Hall (or wherever it is you go to complain). The man was investigated by the Food and Drug Commission (or whoever it is who does that sort of thing). There were more than 280 calories in those diet shakes. How could he? "How could he lie like that?" was the cry.
I'm committing suicide. DO YOU WANT TO LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE A MAN LIES ABOUT CALORIES?
5. The editor paid for the lunch (as editors do). He lighted his seventh cigarette and leaned back. The conversation, which had zigzagged from the war to Zuloaga, and from Rasputin the Monk to the number of miles a Darrow would go on a gallon, narrowed down to the thin, straight line of business.
"Now don't misunderstand. Please! We're not presuming to dictate. Dear me, no! We have always felt that the writer should be free to express that which is in his--ah--heart. But in the last year we've been swamped with these drab, realistic stories. Strong, relentless things, you know, about dishwashers, with a lot of fine detail about the fuzz of grease on the rim of the pan. And then those drear and hopeless ones about fallen sisters who end it all in the East River. The East River must be choked up with 'em. Now, I know that life is real, life is earnest, and I'm not demanding a happy ending, exactly. But if you could--that is--would you--do you see your way at all clear to giving us a fairly cheerful story? Not necessarily Glad, but not so darned Russian, if you get me. Not pink, but not all grey either. Say--mauve."
Old Beginnings 2
1. Sophie's Choice....William Styron
2. "A Perfect Day for Bananafish"....J. D. Salinger
3. "The Lunatic's Tale"....Woody Allen
4. Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York....Gail Parent
5. Cheerful--By Request....Edna Ferber