Sweeping his table bare of the lore and lure of journalism as typified in the bulky, black-faced editions, he set out clean paper, cleansed his fountain pen, and stared at the ceiling. What should he write about? His mental retina teemed with impressions. But they were confused, unresolved, distorted for all that he knew, since he lacked experience and knowledge of the environment, and therefore perspective. Groping, he recalled a saying of Gardner’s as that wearied enthusiast descanted upon the glories of past great names in metropolitan journalism.
“They used to say of Julian Ralph that he was always discovering City Hall Park and getting excited over it; and when he got excited enough, he wrote about it so that the public just ate it up.”
Well, he, Banneker, hadn’t discovered City Hall Park; not consciously. But he had gleaned wonder and delight from other and more remote spots, and now one of them began to stand forth upon the blank ceiling at which he stared, seeking guidance. A crowded corner of Essex Street, stewing in the hard sunshine. The teeming, shrill crowd. The stench and gleam of a fish-stall offering bargains. The eager games of the children, snatched between onsets of imminent peril as cart or truck came whirling through and scattering the players. Finally the episode of the trade fracas over the remains of a small and dubious weakfish, terminating when the dissatisfied customer cast the delicacy at the head of the stall-man and missed him, the corpus delicti falling into the gutter where it was at once appropriated and rapt away by an incredulous, delighted, and mangy cat. A crude, commonplace, malodorous little street row, the sort of thing that happens, in varying phases, on a dozen East-Side corners seven days in the week.
Banneker approached and treated the matter from the viewpoint of the cat, predatory, philosophic, ecstatic. One o’clock in the morning saw the final revision, for he had become enthralled with the handling of his subject. It was only a scant five pages; less than a thousand words. But as he wrote and rewrote, other schemata rose to the surface of his consciousness, and he made brief notes of them on random ends of paper; half a dozen of them, one crowding upon another. Some day, perhaps, when there were enough of them, when he had become known, had achieved the distinction of a signature like Gardner, there might be a real series.... His vague expectancies were dimmed in weariness.
Such was the genesis of the “Local Vagrancies” which later were to set Park Row speculating upon the signature “Eban.”