A Short Story by David Galef

Sorry if I bumped into you. Excuse me. My name is Greg. Gregory R. Santoro. Resourceful inventor of gadgets and gear. Live in Nutley. I don’t really—hey! Okay. Catch you later.

Pardon my elbow. Didn’t see you coming. Now don’t give me that look. Don’t give me that. Let’s begin again. My name’s Greg. Gregory R. Santoro, inventor—all right, no harm done, right? Why would you say that? Not going to say sorry twice. You, too.

Oops, sorry about that. Let me help you pick everything up. Greg, Gregory R. Santoro. The R. is for Ronald. I’m an inventor, actually. My home’s in Nutley. Pleased to meet you, Jim. Funny you should ask that. Sure. Let me buy you a cup of coffee to replace the one I made you spill. No, I’ve got some time.

Here’s a Starbucks. They know me here. Park yourself at that table over there, and I’ll be back with the coffee in a minute.

As I said, I’m an inventor. Gadgets and gear. I tell that to everyone I meet. You wanna know why, Jim?

When I was a kid, my mother bought me this dorky wool cap that smelled like a sheep whenever it got wet. Useless. Flash forward fifteen years, one cold winter when I was traveling light. I had this concept for a travel hat that could be worn three different ways, depending on the weather: sun, rain, cold. The Santoro Three-Way. Catchy, huh? Didn’t know how to take it further. Got no connections in the garment industry. I’m not even much of a draftsman. I work for the post office in Nutley. There’s a business that could use some new ideas.

Last year, I heard about this agency, BizAid, that helps jumpstart people with products they wanna push. They were handing out flyers across from the post office. Had to fill out a form, and then they explained the arrangement. A little odd, I thought, but why not?

Want a cookie? My treat. I recommend the chocolate chunk.

So. There’s a place called Claude’s Café in Hackensack, and they tell me someone’ll be there to discuss my idea. Gave me his name, Fishbein, and a description: guy in his sixties with a spade beard, wearing a blue parka. I show up on time, look around. It’s an elegant place, but practically empty. Just a gentleman at a corner table—I say “gentleman” because he’s wearing a tailored suit, with the kind of haircut he got from a salon I’ll never get to. Out of my league. But he’s there and I’m there, and since my guy hasn’t shown up—I waited half an hour—I start talking to him.Turns out he’s a promoter looking for promising ideas to push. Who’d have thought? And he’s interested in my ideas. My ideas! I’ve also got a couple of gadgets for the disabled, like an expander ring to hold open a sock so you can slide your foot in it. The Sock-It-to-Me! Anyway, I talk to him—I’ve got time—and he asks some intelligent questions. Talks in a debonair voice, sorta like James Bond. I leave the café with the guy’s card in my pocket and an agreement to follow up.

BizAid contacts me to see how it went. They need me to fill out another form: how long I spent there, whether anything unexpected happened, and some other stuff. I could be annoyed at them, considering how I was stood up, but now I’ve got a story to tell them, almost too good to be true.

That’s right. It wasn’t true. He was a plant! Some actor they hired for a social psychology experiment. With me as the guinea pig. I should be mad! Do I sound mad? Wasn’t just me. There were plenty of other marks—okay, subjects. But unlike the determined entrepreneur that I am, they just waited a while, and when the right person didn’t show up, they got out of there.

They said I was the only one who stayed.

They gave me a debriefing. When I told them I was disappointed, no one to invest in my ideas, they said that’s not the point. That it could’ve been real. You never know. That people make their own luck. That I was right to reach out, to talk to strangers.

You’ve got no money, I get that, but it was worth a shot, right? You try again and again, and maybe the seventh time it’ll work. Or the seventieth or seven hundredth. You have no idea how many times I’ve done this, and I’ve sorta lost count. Am I nuts? I live in Nutley, ha ha.

But I keep on trying. You make your own luck.

Nice meeting you, too. Here’s my card, anyway. Now excuse me while I go bump into someone else.

David Galef is a shameless eclectic, with over a dozen books in two dozen directions, including the novels Flesh, Turning Japanese, and How to Cope with Suburban Stress (a Book Sense choice, listed by Kirkus as one of the Best 30 Books of 2006); the short-story collections Laugh Track and My Date with Neanderthal Woman (winner of Dzanc Books’ Short Story Collection Award); and the co-edited anthology of fiction 20 over 40. His latest volume is Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, from Columbia University Press. A co-founder of the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Mississippi, he is now a professor of English and creative writing program director at Montclair State University.

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