The 60-second novelist: 'It was a cloudy night in Chicago . . .'

Last spring, Dan Hurley hit the streets of Chicago . . . with a typewriter and director's chair. He had a goal: to become the poet of the pavement, the minstrel of Michigan Avenue, and perhaps the world's first 60-second novelist.

''This is the strangest thing I've ever done, for sure,'' admits the affable Mr. Hurley, who is an editor with the American Bar Association during regular business hours. ''To take a chair and typewriter and sit down on the street and expect people to pay you for it is insane.'' Perhaps, but it seems to be catching on.

Usually, an adventurous passerby will order up a novel. Hurley asks a few questions and then taps away furiously on his old Royal typewriter. Since May, Hurley has churned out some 600 of these curb-side creations. Donations are $2 each.

The money is pretty good, too. Hurley says it's a rare occasion when he makes less than $10 an hour.

There are drawbacks. Most people ignore him. Others laugh. But Hurley accepts this as the risk of being a reformer. He aims to kick ''the literary establishment in the knees,'' he says. And 60-second novels are his first step to turn writing back into something that has an impact on people's lives.

What does a 60-second novel look like? This is an example:

It happened one cloudy night. They had been walking along Lake Michigan, George and Mitzy, when suddenly they became . . . ALIVE.

It couldn't have ever been expected. The first thing that Mitzy noticed was that she was breathing, that her heart was beating, that she was walking on Lake Michigan. She suddenly realized that for all the years that the world had been going on, all the billions of eons, she had been dead. And now suddenly, for a spark of a moment, she was alive.

George was devastated by the knowledge that this was his life, his one and only life, that he was living right now. He could feel his skin sweating. He could hear the sound of his breathing in his own ears. He could actually SEE things. He could actually HEAR things. Yes, it was the most unusual thing in the world, to be alive. Because so many people are dead. So many. They live in the past. They dwell on tomorrow. They think angry thoughts about other people. They try to get somewhere. They lose themselves. They forget the crucial fact that they are alive. And when you forget it, you are dead. And so to suddenly be alive, that is the strangest, the most unusual, the most bizarre thing in the world. To really live. To really be alive. To be fully alive. Living. Hooray, life. Hooray for living people.

They're so extremely unusual.m

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.