published in Epoch, Cornell literary magazine, fall 1975

I wrote this story for a creative writing class at the New School in New York, taught by Sidney Offit. He called it a “tour de force,” read it aloud in class, and told me he would try and find me an agent. After I turned in my next two stories, however, he thought better of it, and thought I should take some time to polish my craft, which I never did, really. My craft remains as unpolished as ever. Offit’s change of heart helped put off my literary career for about 30 years.

I no longer have those other stories, but I remember their titles and opening lines. It must have been the start of my habit of writing primarily about Jewish men, for the stories were entitled FINKELSTEIN and BLUMENSTYK. Offit loved the name Blumenstyk, and thought I had a real talent for coming up with the perfect, humorous Jewish names. The fact was, the name belonged to a close friend from my childhood, Sammy Blumenstyk, who lived just behind our house and off to the left — you could get to his house by cutting through the neighbor’s hedges and hopping a wire fence.

The opening lines of those two stories were:

“Harry Finkelstein was dead.”

And,

“Blumenstyk had no grace.”

My brother had provided me with that last one. A former English major-turned psychologist, the best he could muster in terms of writing fiction in the wake of the November Under my Sole fiasco, was to supply me with what he considered to be fantastic opening lines for books and stories. “Blumenstyk had no grace” was one of his favorites, along with, “It all started when the pea soup exploded in the blender.”

The opening line of Schildtkraut was my own: “If Schildtkraut had any aspirations, any goals at all, it would be to stay home from school.” Followed by, “In some big, permanent sense.” Nearly 30 years later, I still share those aspirations. I became a writer not because I was bursting with things to express, but because it enabled me to stay home; and work in my pajamas.

In any case, one day, riding a wave of youthful over-confidence and sheer chutzpah, I showed up at Donald Barthelme’s creative writing class at CCNY, and asked if I could sit in. Toward the end of the class, he asked if any one else wanted to read; when none of his students raised their hands, I raised mine, and he allowed me to read Schildtkraut, after which he made a few very dismissive remarks that I found completely shattering, and then added, “But ‘chewing scotch tape’ — that’s pretty good, that’s an original idea.”

I submitted Schildtkraut to several literary journals, and it was accepted and published by Cornell’s Epoch in their Fall 1975 issue.

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“If Schildtkraut had any aspirations, any goals at all, it would be to stay home from school.”