Saul Bellow, mostly known for his award-winning novels, but also a gifted short-story writer (“Mosby’s Memoirs & Other Stories,” for example) would have loved this one (Bellow passed away this week). It’s a true story, but it has the makings of a great Bellow or John Cheever short story, or even Stephen King with a little twist.
Put yourself in Ming Kuang Chen’s shoes for a few minutes. What would you do? Ming is an illegal immigrant living in New York City, safely (it seems) blended into the populace. He delivers Chinese food by bicycle. One evening he makes a delivery at an apartment complex in the Bronx. He locks his bike to a lamppost outside the building. And disappears.
The police smash down an apartment door on the 34th floor. The police notice that the apartment owner has a red stain on his shirt. He’s cuffed and brought to the police station. DNA samples are run on the stain. Lives are turned upside down. Meanwhile, the police and apartment security continue to search for Ming. Guns, flap jackets and helmets are everywhere, like something out of “Law & Order.”
Two days later there’s still no Ming. But the DNA results come back and the stain was BBQ sauce from a meal a few days before Ming disappeared (why is it that no one washes/changes their dirty shirts and underwear?). I’m guessing the police were disappointed it wasn’t Ming’s blood.
All seemed lost. Then, 81 hours after Ming went missing, his voice could be barely heard coming from an elevator emergency telephone. Sure enough, Ming was trapped in an elevator between the third and fourth floors.
Guards claim they watched the live feeds from the elevator car and never saw anyone. They later discovered there is a blind spot in the elevator car. It appears a clever Mr. Ming discovered this blind spot quickly, although he claims he tried to call for help, but there’s no record of it.
First minutes, then hours, then days passed by, Ming presumably crouched in the corner of Car No. 2, desperately waiting for the jolt that informed him the elevator was working again and he could slip away into the night. Meanwhile, swat teams were “invading” the building, the detectives were trying to make a case against an innocent apartment dweller, and Ming’s family had probably given up hope that he was still alive.
Amazingly, no one checked the elevators.
The short-story mix is this: inner stream of consciousness narration by Ming (a la Virginia Woolf) as we learn about his entire life – how his predicament reminded him of when he was a stowaway in a container on a freighter from China (for example); a dash of Cheever (“The Enormous Radio”); a sprinkle of Bellow (“Looking for Mr. Green”), some King for fun (“The Langoliers”) and so on.
So, to salute two great writers who passed away this week, Saul Bellow and Frank Conroy, I’d like to give this short story a title and I’m looking for your help. The best title will be selected by the Toner Mishap judges and the winner will be posted next Friday.