Idee Fixe

by Larry Lefkowitz

At first the idea (not yet fixed) seemed to him strange. To write a story about a pushcart. That if he wrote about a pushcart, he would have a better chance. To be nominated. To be nominated for a Pushcart Prize. To write about a pushcart was good. But how? OK, pushcarts immediately raised in his mind the association: the Lower East Side. Pushcart country. He could go there. But then he remembered. They no longer used pushcarts. Pushcarts were out. Nowadays sellers sold things from minivans. There was no Minivan Prize. He was overcome by despair. But only for a moment. Somewhere there was a pushcart. Maybe in the Smithsonian. Did they have a Lower East Side Exhibit? A New York in the Early Part of the Twentieth Century Exhibit? But he was a writer. He didn’t have to see a pushcart to write about it. He could imagine a pushcart. Maybe the Granddaddy of all pushcarts. Like the Pushcart essence that Plato claimed was reflected on the cave wall. OK, Plato was a Greek. Pushcarts were Jewish. At least as embodied in the Lower East Side. But what was Plato doing in the Lower East Side. Shopping for shmates? Tired of togas? No, no jokes. The Pushcart Prize rarely goes to humorous writing. They are serious people, the Pushcart people. Of course he could be devious. Being nominated for literary prizes is often a devious process nowadays. And beside, there were honorably devious writers. No, no names. A word from one of them—or their executors—read: finished, kaput. For the Pushcart, I mean. The Pushcart people are not fond of controversy. But I dissemble. (The careful reader will note a subtle shift from the third person to the first person form. The blending of the two has become an effective belles lettres technique. No, I won’t stoop to designating it a post-modern one.) Pushcart, pushcart, I urge myself, back on track. The thing, itself. The res. The essence. The sine qua non. No, no Latin. Latin goes with galleys (ships not proofs), not pushcarts. Maybe I could build a pushcart. A replica. But no, I’m all thumbs. And anyhow, what if I build it? And it is a replica? But—a replica of what? Of the prize? No, I doubt that the prize is a trophy in the shape of a pushcart, let alone a pushcart itself. The sad truth is that I haven’t succeeded in writing a story about a pushcart. I’ve been trying for some time now. Gornisht. At night, in my dreams, pushcarts assail me. In one dream I was run over by a pushcart. But as I lie or lay there (don’t bother me now with grammatical nitpicking: I am on a mission, to borrow from a non-literary context), bleeding, dirty, a man rushes up to me (stepping unaware on my plume at my side, Freudians . . . no, never mind), and puts something in my hand. A prize! The Pushcart Prize, handed to me by Mr. Pushcart himself! And I refuse it. Yes, in the dream— no, the nightmare, I refuse it. And not out of modesty. Out of spite. Why you ask? Ask Freud. (Forget Jung, Jung was a pisher, a puts.) Maybe I don’t really think I deserve it. Or that it would corrupt me. Or I would never be able to write again (like some who received the Nobel), or if I could, it might cramp my style. And so (in my nightmare) I refuse it. And worse, I tell the representative of the prize committee (apparently I got cold feet in the nightmare, hence the committee and not Mr. Pushcart) to put the prize you-know-where, but all of a sudden it is Mr. Pushcart I said this to!, and not the committee representative. I am so amazed by my khutspe that I wake up, in a cold sweat. I resolve to stop this mania, this obsession of mine before I go bonkers. I am not a writer of the ilk that flourishes in psychiatric institutions. My secret hope: that this, this very writing unfolding before your amazed eyes will in itself bring me a nomination. If not in the story category, the essay. A Pushcart is a Pushcart is a . . . I repeat to myself. And apparently not only to myself. The doctors here—to all appearances, I went bonkers—(N.B., they don’t like the word) try to get me off this “pushcart compulsion” or “pushcart schizophrenia.” But they’ll never succeed. They have even threatened to take my pushcart away from me. Let them try... They will learn: The pen is mightier than the ward.


Larry Lefkowitz's stories, poetry and humor have been published widely in the U.S. and abroad.