The corner of 27th and Lex. Looking at his cell phone to see if Sarah had left him a phone or text message, even though he hadn’t heard from or seen her in months. Glances up at the light which just turned yellow. Knows there’s a lag between the light and the crosswalk indicator turning green and showing the Walking Man avatar. Steps off the curb.
Cab is approaching the corner of 27th and Lex. His fare is in a big hurry, promising a big tip if he gets where he’s going by 10 am. Jamal sees the light turning yellow, and makes that split second decision to gun it and slide through the intersection, knowing there’s a lag between the light and the crosswalk indicator turning green and showing that stupid Walking Man picture. Out of the corner of his eye he sees a guy looking at his phone, about to step into the intersection. Jamal guns it anyway. The walker should know to wait – if he gets hurt it’s his own fookin’ fault.
Their collision makes a sound not unlike that you’d hear if you threw an antique Meissen bowl full of boiled turnips against a steel door. Clacket and squoosh, then a loud oomph. The cab drives on. The man falls to the ground, dropping his machiado from the Starbucks on East 29th, Iphone and what’s left of his dignity into the indentation between the road and the curb. The crosswalk indicator shows the green man. The others waiting to cross the intersection walk around him, as it’s clear he isn’t bleeding profusely from any orifice, and has an extremely pissed off look on his sour face. All is still OK in the world.
The man gets up, retrieves his phone and viciously kicks his coffee cup into the storm drain. He checks his joints for any sign of damage, especially his elbow which took the brunt of the fall. A scrape, a developing purple bruise, a torn jacket. Nothing worse. “Fuck” was his only reaction to having nearly met his demise at the hands of a French/Tunisian cab driver. The man continues to cross at the next turn of the light, with a three second pause after the green Walk man appears. He continues on to 60 Madison Avenue.
The man – Evan Vance Collins, freelance writer of little renown, takes the elevator to the 10th floor and enters the glass doors of The New Republic. The receptionist waves to him, saying “She’s in her office, but she’s on the phone. Do you want to wait?” Evan, already totally pissed off because of the incident with the cab, marches into Melissa Everett’s office and sits down in front of her desk. She looks at him, frowns, puts her head down and tries to continue her conversation in muffled tones. Since it’s clear Evan – known as Van to his few friends – well, really acquaintences – isn’t taking the hint, she says, “Gotta go, sweetie…have a good day,” and hangs up. She looks at the mess in front of her, known as Evan Vance Collins. He’s 5’10”, with thinning blonde hair that he refuses to comb over (only old dudes do that). He’s thirty pounds overweight, carrying it all in his stomach, hips and thighs which makes him resemble a Weeble (weebles wobble but they don’t fall down – until this morning). Van is her least favorite contributor to TNR in her stable of four freelancers.
“What happened to your jacket?” Melissa asks. Van launches into a diatribe about NY cab drivers, detailing the incident that occurred a few minutes before, but neglecting to mention his own complicity in the collision. Melissa asks if he’s OK, and Van replies, “Other than the jacket – do you think I can get them to buy me a new one from Brooks Brothers?” Melissa shakes her head, rolls her eyes, and does not respond. Typical Van. Melissa tosses him a package of papers, open to a certain page and highlighted in the middle. She says, “Here are the click ratings for your last piece, ‘The Antidote to Ennui’. Not bad – generated enough click revenue to justify giving you another assignment.” Van responds in that irritating, nasal whine of his. Melissa has become an expert at defining geographic origins through argot – and has Van pegged to the lower parts of Minnesota. Endearing in Fargo‘s Margie – not at all in Van Collins. Van says, “Well, given how little you pay for all my hard work, I’m sure there were enough clicks to justify my new assignment.” Melissa sets her jaw, refraining from telling him that most of his clicks are from the usual set of wackos that Comment to mock his conclusions (‘anal retentive’, ‘juvenile and insipid’, ‘incredibly dumb!’). Those comments generally veer into ones from the Nuts that correlate his prose to Nazism, then go on to explain that the Holocaust was caused by a vitamin E deficiency in Josef Goebbels – rational thoughts like that. But instead, she says “I pay you the going rate for freelance work. And believe me, there are writers out there who will submit their work for nothing, just to get a national byline to kick start their career.” Van snorts, and says “You can hardly compare a newbie to my work – I’m an experienced writer.” Van’s experience consists of trying to get his senior thesis novel from Northwestern published. After both of the two biggest publishing houses in New York rejected it, one with the comment, “Nice try, but is it necessary to use the word ‘fuck’ in every other sentence?”, he gave up and turned to freelance work to keep body and soul intact. Minimally.
Melissa decides a protracted debate with Van over the merits of his writing style would be useless, so she moves on to the reason she asked him to come see her. “I do have a new assignment for you – a much plummier one than the last. “Plummier? Van thought. What the fuck is plummier?” Melissa went on. “Jason wanted to do this back in March, but the big hoopla over the Ukraine thing made it hard to get it OK’d by Chris.” Melissa paused, and Van shrugged his shoulders, nonplussed by Melissa’s last statement. “Uh, what are we talking about, here?” Melissa pursed her lips, saying, “Oh, sorry. Jason wants a 5000 word piece on Kitty Genovese. If it’s good enough, it could make the cover.” Van responded, “Who the fuck is Kitty Genovese – a mafia princess?” Melissa marveled at his lack of awareness of New York mythology. “Kitty Genovese was murdered 50 years ago last March. That’s what made Jason think of it – fifty years since…wow. Kitty Genovese’s murder became the symbol of everything that was wrong in New York in 1964.”
Van replied, “1964? I wasn’t even born ’til 1978! Why me?” Melissa quickly thought to herself, “Typical Van – always looking a gift horse in the mouth. “Jason thought your take on apathy from that last piece might give you some insight.” Melissa wasn’t being entirely straight with Van. In fact, they had assigned this piece to Jen Hawthorne, Melissa’s favorite freelancer. She did all the right pre-work, outlining everything that was available in books, articles and even providing pictures from the ‘net. But then she went to work for Marie Claire before she could start the writing. Melissa had no choice but to give it to Van, since all her other free lancers already had assignments. Jason had made it clear he wasn’t happy about the delay, and intended to hold her accountable if it wasn’t finished in the next 6 weeks.
“How much does it pay?” Melissa replied, “I think I can get you $1,500, more if the clicks are right.” Van leapt at the notion of having $1,500 to refill his meager checking account, which currently held $3.16. “Can I get an advance?” Melissa sighed, and said “Yes,” and took out her TNR checks and filled one out for $250. She handed him the check. “I need a camera ready piece no later than October 1st – can you manage that?” Van replied, “I think I can fit that into my busy schedule.” He slid the check into the inner pocket of his now-torn jacket, and walked out. Melissa went to the ladies room to wash her hands. Dealing with Van was a giant pain in the ass, but this time – for a change – she needed him as much as he needed her.