The helicopters drowned out the barking police dogs as I slowly made my way up 14th Street to the Current's office. Having just returned from vacation, I wanted to drop off my analysis of "Waterfront Development in Quasi-Urban Upwardly Mobile Milieu as Pertains to View Blockage and Quality of Life Issues," my 16 part series for said paper. The crowd had to be in the hundreds, shoving me sideways, roughly shouting incomprehensible slogans, holding up signs which were so poorly scribbled, I couldn't understand a word. Police seemed impotent.
"This is the worst one I've seen in all my years here."
I turned slightly, confronted by Ralphie, a veteran local poet who'd been through all the various Hoboken wars of the late 20th century.
I asked what was happening.
"Spontaneous explosion of rage!" he spat out. "Longing for equality and justice. Writers in heat."
He explained these demonstrations had been ongoing since Current writer Al Sullivan declared in a recent piece that he was the "most prolific writer he knew." Ralphie ducked a water balloon aimed at barricaded staffers. "It got on the Internet. Next thing you know, buses and cars full of angry, insulted writers began arriving from all over. Police clear out one group, within minutes another forms, all protesting that statement, demanding an apology."
"Why doesn't he just come out and admit an overstatement?"
"Evidently he's at a writer's conference in Malibu. He faxed a response refusing to backtrack, asserting he'd qualified his statement by limiting it to writers he knew."
"Baloney!" a fierce middle-aged man with graying mushroom hair announced, overhearing Ralphie. "He never heard of Isaac Asimov? That man wrote every day for 65 years, over 300 books published. Isaac is king!"
"And what about Wouk?" screamed a woman in her sixties with a sign saying, "Al Sullivan Couldn't Carry Herman Wouk's Penholder." "Herman Wouk has 12 unpublished novels about every war ever fought. His published work barely taps the surface of this man's genius. Get out here and apologize like a man, Sullivan," she yelled.
I asked how she knew this. "I've been in touch with the family, bub. You're not Sullivan, are you? Hey everybody, I think we got the blasphemer right here!"
"No, no, I'm just passing through," I pleaded as they surged toward me. Luckily a blast from the fire hose dispersed them. I just managed to throw myself atop my manuscript. Ralphie scooted away in fear. I felt an arm pulling me to my feet. It was a man in his early forties, short, composed, smiling.
"Vlad Trynin," he said, sticking out his hand. "I am without question the most prolific writer on the planet. Over 400 novels, 67 plays, 2,000-plus poems, reams of essays, articles on every conceivable subject." He actually did a little bow.
"Anything published?" I asked.
"Getting published is a trap set by middle-brow businessmen who view art as commodity and soul as stock options," he answered proudly. "All that really counts is the writing, squeezing it out, pumping those keys, emptying the well only to let it refill. I can see you understand."
I was about to respond when I heard a familiar voice squealing for help. I looked up to the second floor and thought I was seeing Megan from The Exorcist. A head, pale, hollow-eyed, with scraggly, unwashed hair popped out a window. I refocused and again heard the voice pleading for assistance, barely audible above the news choppers.
"Caren?" I shouted, upon seeing the editor of the Hudson Reporter chain.
"Please, I need food! We're starving! We haven't bathed in five days! We're trapped up here! Can you get us food and Evian?"
"How will I get it up to you?"
"I'll lower a bucket and you can drop it in. We'll tie our clothes together to form a rope." She was getting weaker by the moment.
"Okay, put the money in that bucket at nightfall when it must calm down a bit. I'll return and get you guys Chinese."
I felt pleased with my plan.
"We don't have any money!" she sobbed. "This is a weekly, remember?"
"Well, put your ATM card in the bucket."
"I left it home. Don't you have any money?"
"Caren," I gently reminded her, "I'm a freelance writer, remember?" I have some Gummy Bears I could try to toss up."
At that point, police charged with billyclubs. We scattered temporarily, and as I scrambled back up 14th Street, I could hear muffled hunger-moans coming from the second floor. If Al were here, I thought, he'd get at least a novella out of this. - Joe Del Priore