Having no clue, I bumbled with artistic ferver. Like every young person, my every anguish of the past was high drama, so if I wrote about anything I knew, I couldn’t write worth a damn. No perspective. Ralph the Cat was a kind of accident.
One time over beer, my friend Lefevre had told me some stories about a cat. Thus, one day stumped for a story, I wrote these anaecdotes, and added some of my own. It wasn’t really a story. And, translated, my teacher’s comments said: this stinks.
I rewrote it, and it was one of those days when I pondered a certain scene, and then with lots of cigarettes and coffee going, sat down to write, and suddenly the characters just started talking, and I was typing as fast as possible, recording what they said.
After a bit of hashing, I’d created some characters, some interplay, a flashback opening, and a quirky ending. I don’t know how this stuff came. It fit no particular pattern.
The Avesta, our school literary newspaper, was run by John, who now is an editor at the New Yorker magazine. In New York. At the time, we submitted stories for the contest, to see who would win cash and be printed. The actual number one winner was asked to make story changes, and being a true artiste, he righteously refused. Thus my story squeeked into third place.
I won $25, and I still have it. Do you believe that? No? Well, you’re correct. I spent it long ago, probably immediately. I was an artiste, too.
Ralph the Cat made me a hero in the tiny world of Hob Nob. Just around the corner from my cool apartment, this was a cafe catering to students, the cool cafe for us artistes. The Hob Nob was run by gruff Mr. Burns, and his son Larry, whom nothing phased. “Crazy college kids,” he’d say.
One early morning I’d been up all night, and had no money because I’d spent it on cigarettes. I saw the bread truck parked on the empty street. When the man wheeled his cart out of sight, I nipped into the open door, and ran away with a loaf of bread. Larry Burns saw me. He just chuckled. Crazy college kids.
It was great, being a famous person at the Hob Nob. We all congratulated each other.
We were artistes.