A True Story

Yesterday we were at the post office, filling out delivery confirmation slips for our various packages, when we happened to look at the gentleman next to us at the supplies counter. He was quite elderly, the sort of older gentleman one sees almost exclusivelyin New York, resting quietly on park benches, or playing chess in Washington Square. He had a cap of grey wool, and a cane, and a checkered woollen scarf wrapped round his throat, and a tweedy blazer with leather patches at the elbows. He had next to him what looked suspiciously like a novel, bound in a plastic folder (don't do that!) and some overnight express forms (don't! do! that! don't! waste! your! money!!!) and was writing out, laboriously and by hand, what seemed to be a query letter.

Here, we had found him! the sort of gentleman--perhaps the very same gentleman--who authored those often-plaintive queries, written in an unstable and elliptical script that slanted uphill, for novels almost invariably about a soldier's bravery during the Great War (don't do that! vampires is what they want! VAMPIRES! there is no place for heroism in this bitter bitter world!). Here was that query-er who nearly always cracked our bitter Rejectionist heart in twain, no matter how many times we received his illegible missives, as we imagined some lonely and desperate soul hunched over a typewriter in a dingy apartment. It was always with a devastating sense of guilt that we slipped our polite but utterly meaningless form rejection into the supplied envelope and sent it off, perhaps to crush this anonymous soul for the final time. In the dingy lobby of the post office, under the flickering glare of the overhead lights, we had stumbled into a scene of tremendous pathos. Should we say something? we wondered. Should we interrupt him at his labors, suggest in the most dulcet tone we could muster (which, alas, for Rejectionists is not very dulcet) that he at least avail himself of a typewriter, so as to better his chances of someone looking at his manuscript?

And yet! he seemed so content, gazing off into space periodically to mull over what he should write next. And who knows, the world is a place of great mystery and wonder, and perhaps his work might fall into the hands of some noble young Assistant, some tiny, doubtless unpaid bastion of innocence and good faith, yet unruined by the machinations of Industry and Commerce! some foolish believer in Literature! Perhaps that crabbed and shaky hand introduced a Masterpiece, and this bright-eyed young person somewhere in New York was about to make his or her career discovering it! Who were we, anyway, to gainsay the hand of Fate? We wished him luck under our breath and got in line. When we left he was still writing.