A guy sitting at the end of the bar morphed into a hawk. Perched on his strategically placed bar stool, the guy's hair molted into a hawk's sweptback feathers. His bright eyes leapt from person to person as if he was looking for prey. At any moment he might spread his wings, swoop across the room and land on a cheeseburger or the tender shoulder of a tank-topped damsel.
The author looked away. Take a deep breath, he muttered. Act natural. He ordered another beer. From his perch, the hawk darted a black-eyed glance at the author. He could feel talons sink into his own neck.
The birdlike apparition made the author feel woozy. He swallowed the last of the draft, paid up, and left without waiting for change.
Back on the avenue, he cruised past a line of kids waiting to file inside an improv club. Five bucks a show, fifty minutes of raunchy laughter, grab a stack of three-buck sushi to go from the joint next door and tear off into the Saturday night. Kids have all the fun. The author remembered youthful misery and corrected: No, kids do not have all the fun.
The author edged past the comedy queue snaking along the sidewalk. Elephant trunks, tails, and other fleshy appendages mushroomed out of young faces and torsos. A slim, bearded kid turned simian. The features on a grinning, red-faced boy melted into a pig snout. Maybe it's the heat, he thought, but the air was perfect.
One transmogrifying hawk he could understand but — as when the second airplane flew into the second tower — similar events unfolding in sequence demand analysis. First the hawk, now the rows of kids sporting rhino horns and elephant trunks? No. There are no coincidences. Bob Dylan wisecracked in his ear. "There's something happening here, but you don't know what it is / Do you, Mr. Jones…"
Leaving the grotesque crowd behind, the author fled down the sidewalk to familiar territory, a used book and record store. No one else was taking notice of hawks on bar stools or elephants in a ticket line. Why am I seeing this way? Who's doing this to me?
The author pushed through the bookstore doors and proceeded straight to the vinyl rack full of old albums. Neil Young, Martha and the Vandellas, Creedence Clearwater, Lightnin' Hopkins and Jimi Hendrix stared up at him from worn record covers — his music, his rebellion, his reason to write. But the world is very different from what it was then. Current circumstances smothered any notion of writing about the past.
Nobody must suspect I'm freaking out, the author thought, struggling to measure his paranoia. Weird. Usually disorders run along genetic lines. His old man had suffered from deadly depression, but the author's current state was surreal, not depressed. Still, there are no coincidences. So who — or what — had dispatched that barroom hawk to drive the author into this bizarre wilderness?
Stabilized by the vinyl and his clever ruse as a browser, the author dared lift his head. Long, straight lines of bookshelves curved along walls, warped under the weight of their payload — books, books, thousands of books. Books, all shapes and sizes, thicknesses, books written, rewritten, published, and reviewed or not. Books from the millennia, books from now.
Hardcover tomes leaned against paperbacks in undulating rows of titles, authors, words, so many words, so much effort… for what?
Too many books.
For five thousand years, authorial voices have flowed through fingers to sand, stone, paper, keyboard. They been collected, revised, proofread and corrected, published, purchased, read, stacked to gather dust on brick-and-board shelves, thrown into cardboard boxes, and brought to this book store to languish or illuminate.
Why would he want to contribute his fragile work to this painful bookseller's ritual, stained by hope and frustration? Yeah, the idea that he'd never write again did cross his mind but this stalemate extended beyond the cliché of writer's block. Over the years, through prolific and empty times, he had changed. His back, shoulders, and knees ached. His writing now embraced deeper realms. Had his psyche and spirit grown stiff along with his knees? Who knew? Despite his growing alarm, despite his savvy politicized take, despite his efforts to sound the alarm, the world had undergone a paradigm shift.
*Excerpted from a work in progress