Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Are the Good Times Really Over for Good?

I am exactly as old as Merle Haggard, that old "Okie" who tried, at about my age, to take a sleigh ride right back to the good old days "When a buck was still silver/Back when the country was strong/When a man would still work and still could", but:

"Are the good times really over for good?"

Haggard can be quite a social critic besides a constantly producing songwriter and singer.

"Wish a Ford or a Chevy could still last ten years as it should
Are the good times really over for good?"

For forty years, the country music legend has been kicking ass and making God laugh, and like me in an old codger mood, he don't need no stinkin’ sound check. I am hardly Merle Haggard, but I play music and write by the seat of my pants. After ten years on the road and three million words in print, I'm a lot like my sometime hero who once and again tries to be Babe Ruth, trying to repeat a great moment at the plate.

So again and again, I am trying, after a bankruptcy (like Merle Haggard’s), to relive that great moment when I got my first column, which went something like this:

"For the past ten years (after a decade of paganism), I have been clocking my fellow humans' sprint back to the dark ages..."

Well. It's been thirty years now and the dark ages have deepened.

"The captain is out to lunch and the crew has taken over," laments the great alternative comic book man, Robert Crumb, and it's certainly the case with Canada and more specifically Toronto, where seven people were gunned down in broad daylight during, of all things a Boxing Day sale, right in front of the Eaton Centre, the very heart of commercialdom. The crew is indeed taking over. The motley crew, and I'm not talking about rock.

The phenomenon goes right back to 1974, where Professor Irwin Thompson, of York University, first noticed, in an Atlantic magazine article, that in North American society, someone had shot the captain and the crew had taken over. One entire generation to see things go completely to hell not only in political Canada, but in a city once known as the world's first truly urban civilization. Marshall McLuhan's pal, Edmund Carpenter said that Toronto was the city of the future, and, sadly, we have gone the way of a Baltimore Ohio on the gangster twenties, and much later, the decaying Sixties. Small wonder that Merle Haggards "Okie from Muskogee" was such a hit.

Those of us just slightly ahead of the Baby Boomers are shaking our heads and seriously longing for the good old days of the Fifties.

But back in l985, Merle Haggard was already wondering, "Are the good timer really over for good?"

They are not really over for good in Edmonton and in Calgary, and even Saskatchewan, but they appear to be numbered here in Toronto, numbered unless we smarten up and get to the root causes of gang warfare with the same zeal we applied in the stupid war against cigarettes. Oh, that they could do, and how thoroughly they did it.

And now thoroughly hamstrung by what is surely stupidity in not realizing that Jamaica, say, has been exporting criminal gangs to Toronto for years. Chief Fantino nearly got a handle on it when he visited Kingston to get the lowdown on the gang situation in Toronto from another perspective, but he was the last smart copper.

So here we are, in dangerous Toronto, listening to old country songs on CHUM 1050, wondering, along with Merle Haggard, "Are the good times really over for good" as we try to shop, try to recover our youth, try for reentry through the wall of time, while "rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell" and wishing, along with the Ford Motor Company, "that a Ford could still last ten years as it should."

No doubt about it. The captain is out to lunch and the crew has taken over. It took two guys my age to tell the news.

And still we cannot break through the wall.

Cassandras have a way of dying.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

At night, the other me emerges

How comfortable we can get in life, the rambling Victorian house just bought, the floors you had sanded, the cool professor's job at the nearby college. And then comes the dream of the past (future?) and you know in your soft bed that this is illusion, Kafkaland, and soon, very soon you will be thrust right back into your beginnings, back in there with the kiddies and the old f-ups, starting over, again and again. Dare I come to my lover and tell her of my dream? Did I dream of Bob Dylan? Or was it of somebody else, someone long before Dylan, before LSD and heroin, from whence the best poetry seems to have sprung. The modernist form of poetry is already a hundred and sixty years old. How modern is modernism? Oh those fleurs du mal, those flowers of evil, all those Canadian novels. And T.S. Eliot. And one fantastic Ukrainian poet:

He saw today in his own eye
yesterday's tear

The day after tomorrow in his own eye
He saw again yesterday's tear

and he understood that he will never
be able to wipe it out
and he understood
that this was already the end
THEN
he kissed the face of the evening road with his soles
up to the precipice of silence a long time and with great difficulty
he undressed the last phrase nervously
unbuttoning the buttons of words a long time
he was afraid to gaze at his reflection in the note re
and then when he looked he saw no one there
THEN
a tree grew in the bell of fright
and placed on his shoulders a whole flock of rooks

That tree
passed very slowly
and when it finally passed
all suddenly saw
HOW
a black apple rolled
down a spasmodically frozen line
a black apple is rolling
stopping amidst a field
and a soul of a suicide rides up
on a grey horse of smoke
in order to find the accomplice
to that suicide
and its double stops on the other side of the apple
on a horse of green clay
and the soul turns to him with its accusations

and the double on the other side of the black apple
presents his excuses

then the double tells the soul
its very own accusations

and word by word the soul repeats
the double's very own excuses

and when the double angered
begins to repeat himself
the soul will hide behind a knife

and when the double quadruples himself
the soul will hide behind a candle

And the soul will hide behind a poppy seed
when the double tens himself
and fright exhorts all to wander aimlessly
among the signposts enthusiastically it calls to wander

for already
on that side of the apple
a thousand horses are grazing their green horses

ON THAT SIDE OF THE APPLE
A THOUSAND DOUBLES
and nowhere to hide
no it's not I not I
perhaps a flower
no it's not I
a green horse
no it's not I not I
A THOUSAND DOUBLES
and what if it's really a distant flower
that for three hundred years frightened by rumors
of the inquisition
blooms on the wall of the house

perhaps it's the flower that saw in him
the inquisitor and brought him to suicide

it's the flower's eight petals
like eight faces
that appeared to him

it's the fragrance of the flower which flew over
the tingling watery surface of the window
and he saw in the aquarium of his yesterday's tear
a goldfish gasping for air

and around there was no river
no sea lake
or stream was around
only helpless imagination surrounded itself
with uncountable suggestions
for every one of the flower's eight faces
the imagination surrounded itself and staggered
staggered and fell
and never got up and did not come
did not ask--what time
did not ask--why the door opened
did not ask--where they buried the goldfish
the sun or on the moon
and it is very frightening then there's inquisition
when one cannot remember the voice
and cannot forget the face
when for a very long time no one comes

and later still she come
and with a very accomplice body
and very accomplice lips
as as if calling the far wind
she calls herself

..............................
.............................

.............................
.............................

and the echo answers
and calls here lonely
as if a lonesome woman
she calls herself

AND THEN HE COMES
and commits suicide
there
Where West is a corner of the world
there
where grass is dream-grass
there
where today is all the special and the ordinary
days in the world
where
the shore of loneliness is too white
and the night too passing
and the road flows without the slightest splash

AND NO MATTER WHERE ONE GOES
it means to by-pass
to by-pass one's own body
to by-pass one's own children
and then to bypass all the nights of the world
and then the cross
on one's grave
and all this so simply as strangers by-pass
one another in the street
as the hand by-passes
the uncountable number of raindrops

AND TO REMAIN HERE
means to become an accomplice
indeed even to give birth to a joking gesture
there's no illusion here
but plain belonging
even if one were only to listen to
how the sand whispers in the palms
even if one were only to look into
the green eyes of chlorophyll
even the white butterfly of lilies
on the water
even
the rings of blue water
the disappearing green rings
even then
when
no one
nowhere
never

and what if really suddenly nowhere
and what if really suddenly no one
and what if really suddenly never
and only we
emphatically existing
are frightened above all else inthe world
of our own inexistence

we believe that everything some day
we believe that everything some where
and our body and our souls
and give us this day

YOU SEE
it's a door opening a door which really is
it's one of us coming and saying that
he saw today things beyond the visibility of things
and that he sees a body beyond the visibility of our
body and that very wittily we play at being alive
(but a wall knows a wall more wittily than we)
and a thousand visible tigers frighten us less than one invisible star even though it is the star that
we lack far in front in order to go to it
even though it is the star we lack far behind
in order to return to it

after a while one of us runs to ascertain if
there is still a wall and then all of us together run
each to his wall and zealously we draw up any one
of the visible stars and we also draw a road to it
past a huge white ant hill through nine violins
to the horizon and then further up the path of lightning

and having finished we hurry to fill up the space between
our walls completely with building grass ourselves
stones water chickens so that no one settle there
invisible or different from us

you curse are a ship
but we are not a harbour
and our parallel smiles
will never twist
into an angry grimace
we are much too good
and all that's left for you
is to fall dead
across our endless
parallel smiles
even if you're a ship
even if you're leaves

EVEN IF HE HIMSELF
comes there he will not find himself there
and he will be surprised and he will call fortrh
why am I not here?
I remember ver;y well
that I am to be precisely here
why is there some house standing here?
why is there some bird flying here?
I remember very well
that I am to be here precisely here

AND THEN FROM THAT HOUSE
someone will come who is very good
and another who is even better
and another who is really good
and thrice they will carry around the
one who came
his very own dead curse
so that he believe
that he himself
is not there

but he will not believe
then they will lead around him
nine times
the gray horse of smoke
on which for a long time
the rider of his soul has not ridden

but he will not believe
and his body will come

AND ALREADY THE CURSE
has been forced outside the area of the mouth
and the teeth have been firmly shut so that it
cannot return and the string has been closed into a black
case so the string will not call the curse back home

the curse
taught to simulate
a ship
water
clay
the apple of paradise
and the titmouse

the curse
taught to simulate everything simultaneously
and each seprately and equipped to search
for the accomlice to the suicide

which is under some tree
which is by some door
which is over some eye

BUT
WHEREVER THE CURSE WILL COME
only very long parallel smiles
only a large paper flower
only a small toy rifle

THERE
the shores do not run to overtake the escaping water
the eyebrows do not run to overtake the escaping eyes
the road flows through the window up to an icon
and the smoke over the burned out ruins
stands on its knees

THERE
the shores do not run to evertake the escaping water
the eyebrows do not run to overtake the escaping eyes
and the road flows through the window up to an icon
and the smoke over the burned out ruins

THERE HAVING COME
THE CURSE
WILL HEAR
you curse are a curse
but we are not ears
you curse are a tree
but we are not leaves

and it will search its own traces
and will run perplexed
around the house
and all will want to raze it
not having found any trace of itself
it will want to catch the bird
and pluck its feathers

but the body will bypass the house
the body will bypass the bird
and it will cry helplessly in the shade of a tree
and a flaming cloud will pass by it
and a hand that gives a penny will pass by it
and a hand that takes a penny will pass by it
and the city soviet of workers' deputies will pass by it
and will chase there a whole
swarm of suicides
suspected of something alive
they will sit on the grass
around his body
around the body
around the tree
around the house
around the bird
and for a long time rthey will talk about how only
the suspicion of living does not allow them to leave
this earth but also does not allow them to resurrect
themselves and forces them to be intentinally living
right here
around the body
around the house
around the tree
around the bird

THEY WILL SIT ON THE GRASS
and behind each one will sit ashes
they will listen how the water learns to cry
not yet having learned to be salty
someone will speak consoling words
someone will rock a poppy seed
and will send it rolling over the floor
all will be afraid of its frightening rumbling
all will say
it's a thousand stars coming
all will say
its a thousand women coming
all will say
it's a thousand flowers coming
and behind each one will sit ashes
but someone invisible will suddenly say
CHRIST HAS RISEN

all will turn their heads back
everyone will want to see behind him a fire
everyone saw behind him ashes
someone will suggest to halt the debates
but the invisible one will again say
CHRIST HAS RISEN
all will slowly turn their heads back
not to frighten the one who's behind
all will suddenly see on the far shore a star
which they never saw before
all will start waiting for the timy boat of the nightingale
that is to take them to that shore
the waves on the sea of black pepper
turn yellow and calm
the knotty bottom will regain sight
and someone invisible will again say
CHRIST HAS RISEN

all will slowly turn their heads back
any minute now
they are to see
behind themselves
A FIRE

--Translated by Danylo H. Struk

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Am I Courting RIGOROUS INTUITIONS?

Don't want to hear about it
Every single one's got a story to tell
From the Queen of England
To the gates of Hell

And if I catch you coming back this way
I'm gonna serve it to you
It's not what you want
But that's what I'll do

--Jack White/The White Stripes

The cultural-philosophical attitude known as nihilism vanished just after the Russian revolution of l917, only to return with a vengeance in the 21st Century, having resurfaced large in the middle of the l950's. with such magazines as MAD, Cracked, Evergreen Review and even some articles in Playboy.

Today, it's Mad Indies Rock from what appears to be Hell:

I'm going to Wichita
Far from this opera for evermore
I'm going to work the straw
Make the sweat drip
From every pore

And I'm bleeding and I'm bleeding
Right before my lord.
And the feeling coming from my bones
Says find a home

Cut to: Jorge Luis Borges quoting Pascal: "Nature is an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere." And somewhere in his Aleph story, the story about this sphere, Borges concludes that it is a false Aleph.

Add to this the hundreds of comments in Jeff Wells' blog, Rigorous Intuition, and you'll get a spooky sense of the Devil himself, and if not him, certainly the conviction that what sensitive people feel these days is not necessarily Nature, or God, but a group of sinister people who have convinced us that their very brains comprise an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. Call them Illuminate. Call them Aliens. Call them mad scientists and social engineers. Whoever they are (Are they from here? Are they real?).

Their presence is obviously felt by millions if you believe in the the monkey business of Art Bell, George Noory or a host of "moonbat" manques around the world.

But, as Russians often claim, they invented everything, the Prince Kropotkins, the Bakunins, certainly Dostoevsky in his "Devils" or "The Possessed". It is my belief, to introduce an oxymoron, that the Russians invented nihilism.

Nihilism is a condition of complete enervation. It is a loss of faith in the benignity of the cosmos, the absense of laeticia, that joy of life, a sense of futility and ultimately, the desire to throw a bomb. How far are we from Dostoevky's wild-eyed nihilist to the fanatic of the Middle East? And how well is it articulated by our own Rigorous Intuition, The Jon Stewart Show--where he for the first time had a musical act, The White Stripes singing, Get Thee Behind Me, Satan..

Am I just courting comments here? Do I seek a new audience of moonbats? I don't know, except that if life is a tragicomedy, Jon Stewart certainly has a handle on it and Jack White of The White Stripes for certain.

I'd like to take a more positive view.

There is a sense, coming from my own background, of a kind of salvation. The late Hryhory Chubai of Kiev:

and around there was no river
no sea lake
or stream was around
only helpless imagination surrounded itself
with uncountable suggestions
for every one of the flower's eight faces
the imagination surrounded itself and staggered
staggered and fell
and never got up and did not come
did not ask--what time
did not ask--why the door opened
did not ask--where they buried the goldfish
on the sun or on the moon
and it is very frightening when there's inquisition
where one cannot remember the voice
and cannot forget the face
when for a long time no one comes

But, a kind of damsel with a dulcimer finally appears, a Joni Mitchell, an accomplice, lover, Loreli. Chubai goes on:

it's a thousand flowers coming
and behind each one will sit ashes
but someone invisible will suddenly say
CHRIST HAS RISEN

all will turn their heads back
everyone will want to see behind him a fire
everyone saw behind him ashes
someone will suggest to halt the debates
but the invisible on will again say
CHRIST HAS RISEN
all will slowly turn their heads back
not to frighten the one who's behind
all will suddenly hear how on the sea of black pepper
the green waves will turn yellow
all will suddenly see on the far shore a star
which they never saw before
all will start waiting for the tiny boat of the nightingale
that is to take them to the shore
the waves on the sea of black pepper
turn yellow and calm
the knotty bottom will regain sight
and someone will again say
CHRIST HAS RISEN

all will slowly turn their head back
any minute now
they are to see
behind themselves
A FIRE

Well. From Satan, through Easter, to Chrismas. I don't know what I have done here. But Something Important has surely gone by.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Ducks Redux

Affected not a little by http://www.grandinite.com and Aaron Braaten's posting of "useless" men by way of Candace Waldron, I tried to fill out a form for Best Canadian Blog--and screwed that up too in cyberspace, leaving me with just one category: Humour.

This is going to be quite a segue, from heavy short stories to humour, but we are intrepid tricksters. What follows, hopefully is humour.

If you only got one chuckle out of it, why, vote for creative writing (Ivan's site) in the 2005 Canadian Blog Awards.

-Ivan Prokopchuk

A token male in Seneca's English department, I was eventually cashiered, stripped of epaulets, moustache and medals and sent out into the desert of Main Street like a badly behaved Legionnaire.

Ten years of teaching gives you an authoritarian complex, you've got to lecture, compare, explain.

Having no one to lecture to (my wife had had enough and had moved out) I went out to Fairy Lake there to lecture to ducks, geese and assorted racoons.

I went to Wilkinson's Studios and lectured there, and Bruce Wilkinson decided I might make a pretty good tripod for his cameras, albeit a little noisy.

What to do when you're a fallen professional?

I got into politics and they burned my house down.

Homeless, I went back to lecturing ducks. Some would shuffle notes around the grass. Others would look up with some interest, but would stop paying attention once they realized that I had eaten all the bread in my bag.

I went out to Frank Stronach's farm to lecture horses, but these were an elite breed, holding their tinted cigarettes between hooves and pasterns, adjusting their Sixties-style blinkers and commenting on my lectures with loud whinnies and horselaughs.

"Go back to ducks," seemed the message.

Unpublished horses and unskilled bongo players really piss me off.

Eventually I got a job in an auto parts department, upon which time my girlfriend at the time complained that my lovemaking had become somewhat mechanical and would I watch more Sue Johanson, that grandmother from Hell.

Was Sue getting some? Any?

I tried Sue Johanson's advice but soon found that I was using up all the batteries at Radio Shack and had to go high tech.

Yep, there's a real world out here. Mechanics know more than PhD's.

At the college, they used to call me Doctor.

At the Bonanza, when I am in my cups, they call me something out of anatomy. Rhymes with Courtney Love.

I'm afraid the good old days are only beginning.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

This time I'm walking to Charleston

Someone (James Bow?) suggested bloggers should take the fifth sentence out of their 23rd blog and begin a short story with it. Here goes nothing, me as Robert Johnson impersonator.













To Charleston, to Charleston. Catchy, lively song, but I’m in Waycross, Georgia, once home of Hank Williams, and even better, all the black blues greats, some of whom ended up in Mississippi, like Robert Johnson, the father of the blues and rock'n'roll. I have lost a woman, and as in the case of all men in a flap, songs are running through my head. Johnson's (Stones?) All My Love's in Vain. Train leaving the station, blue lights behind. Followed her to the station, a suitcase in her hand. Segue to Old Fats Domino, "I'm Walkin' To New Orleans." This too, rings in my ears, but no, I'm walking to Charleston along Highway l7, to Charleston, one-time home of the Gullah people, part Cherokee and part black runaway slaves and their sad songs of chains, cruel masters, of love and loss. Robert Johnson would often play at the train station, with his own songs of love and loss, and an encyclopedic knowledge of guitar riffs that would just break your heart. Robert Johnson now in my head. Yeah. I am a white Gullah, part black and part Cherokee, and lots of Native American. A culture onto itself, like my own culture that I carry around with me, with my portable roots. I too, am a guitarist and sometime Johnny Cash impersonator. I have been halfway what they've been though. I have met the Gullahs on the road and they tell me I've got soul. Like they understand. I certainly understand. Robert Johnson, blues, the antidote for cultural oppression. Me, just like them, former slave. White man's war has messed me up. I am functionally black and a Gullah. With the woman gone, I am nothing. White bum, disinherited and disenfranchised. "You got a lot of soul," they said, when I pulled out my six-string. Also, it's probably because I'd been to Newfoundland, been to Newfoundland, where "everyman's gotta eat a tonna shit."

To Charleston. Got the sign up. Will work for food.

"You are so stupid," a girl yells at me from the SUV that is gliding by on the macadam.

If you knew half of what I've been through you'd be dead. I survived the Second World War by hiding in a hole.

I am walking along a riverbank.

Twang of a guitar.

Thrumm Thrumm Thrumm, black hands caressing a dobro the South Carolina sun. Slave song. Gullah slave song. Bottleneck, real bottle neck, made from lighting kerosene -soaked thread around neck. And maybe a banjo made out of a cigar box. Makes me think of Robert Johnson again. Father born in North Carolina. But Robert riding the Georgia Main. I'm trying to get to Charleston. Carolina, I remember you. My baby going to Carolina, blue lights behind.



I followed her to the station.
With a suitcase in her hand.


Ah the Stones and their race records lifts. Stealing from Robert Johnson. But you don't want to punch Mick Jagger in the mouth, like Chuck Berry punched Keith Richards. Jagger's too good.

I saw her at the reception
A glass of wine in her hand
I knew she was gonna make her connection
In her glass there was a footloose man.


White slavery. Diary of mad housewife. Leaves husband and kids. Ends up in a Carson McCulllers story, but with a pimp for a husband. It's all she knows now. She is going back. Back to the house of the rising sun.

And I’'m following.

To Charleston.

The pretty stud popinjay in her glass is trying to make her into his novel. Could it be, could it just be that he could well become the bleeding man in the bottom of her glass when the Ho got streetwise?

More South Carolina blues.

I ain't gonna see my baby no more.

Or, as Bon Jovi would sing later:

Sometimes I sleep
Sometimes I think for days
And people that you meet
They just go their separate ways.

Sometimes you tell the day
By the bottle that your drink
And times you're all alone
And all you do is think.


Sure, Ritchie Sambora wrote the song.

But I think it came from South Carolina. Certainly the Missisippi Delta. Where I am today, walking northeast to Charleston. To Charleston. The original song was "I ain't gonna see my baby no more." But Sambora/Bon Jovi do it justice.

I walk these streets
A loaded six-string on my back
I play for keeps 'cause I might not make it back
I been everywhere, still I'm standing tall
I've seen a lot of faces
And I've rocked them all


And yet, I don't think I'm gonna see my baby no more.

"What did I know? I was twenty, working in the city. Met Laslo. Nice guy. We got married. Then I found out.”

Evil angel
On my shoulder
Well you sure do
know your stuff.

Monkey on her back. Nice guy, Laslo. Get busy in the bedroom.

This time I'm walking to Charleston. To Charleston. Where the slaves are.

Gonna buy me out a woman.

Twenty-year installment plan.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Tagged

I have been tagged by Scott Murray of Tattered Sleeve, Montreal, to follow an intitial tag of Scott by Timmy the G to reproduce the fifth sentence of my twenty third blog. That blog, actually, was quite recent, and it followed Aaron Braaten's "Borgesian Blog Awards", where he unoficially dubbed http://www.creativewriting.ca as "the best blog written by an older dude." I had registered playful outrage at being called an "older dude" and produced a photo of me in pegged pants, chain hanging down to the floor and a porkpie hat. Sort of like a Forties Zoot Suiter. The fifth sentence of "I'm No Dinosaur" reads, "To Charleston, To Charleston."...You've never heard of the Charleston, I presume--that's a knee-brushing dance out of the Thirties(Twenties?).

That's it. To Charleston, to Charleston.

And man, that really dates me.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Clark Kent Redux

Who wouldn't like to have been Ernest Hemingway or Morley Callaghan?

As a young man, I gave it a shot, though my performance at Hemingway's (and Morley's) old home, The Toronto Star, was something less than stellar.

Oh sure, it was fun to have been the Big Man On Campus at Ryerson, to already have had a war background (refugee capacity), to have had stories published in the college's little magazines. But this was The Star. The Big Leagues. The Star was home base at different times to the likes of Hemingway and Callaghan and later to Star greats like Ralph Allen, Nathan Cohen, Robert Fulford.

Hey c'mon now, I was just an anglicized Ukrainian, long ago dropped as an infant like a doomed fighter pilot into the rye where my mother was inconvenienced to have me just ahead of advancing fascists.

My waking memories were confinement, noise, dislocation, starvation, all the good stuff that usually hammers out a writer. Thank God for the unhappy childhood!

I ended up in Deep River, Ontario where I fought mosquitoes and a tough new language aided and abetted by Norman Mailer's Naked and the Dead, Nicholas Gogol's Diary of a Madman and Dick and Jane which the teachers were now trying to impart on me.

I saved my sanity by reading the comic books.

Yes, Superman, the ultimate immigrant, Captain Marvel and Mary and the whole family, Wonder Woman, Batman and more.

But there was a transition coming, a transition to serious literature, a strange little character out of MAD #1.

Who from a minority group could not identify with Melvin Mole, this strange little apparition out of William Gaines' Humour in a Jugular Vein--Melvin Mole, file-toothed, rat-faced, pimply, whose sole (perhaps only) talent consisted of his ability to burrow underneath all obstacles, accompanying himself with obsessional mutterings: DIG! DIG! HAH! DIG! DIG! DIG!

The underground man. And when burrowing underwater, the talk balloons would have bubbles attached. GLIG! GLIG! HAH! GLIG! GLIG! GLIG!

Melvin tries to rob The Last National Bank, avoids the omniscient guards by incredible cunning and digging, at one point pulling out an automatic, which he discharges in all directions, yelling JOHN LAW! JOHN LAW! HAH! HEEH! HAH!....YOU'LL NEVER GET MELVIN MOLE...NEIN! NICHT! NEVER! Eventually, Melvin is dungeoned, and after many escapes (DIG! DIG! HAH! DIG! DIG! DIG!) redungeoned.

I developed a strange fascination with Melvin, this first nihilist, until years later it dawned on me that Kafka was born in a country just next door to my old Ukraine and there was a whole coterie of people out of my neck of the woods who were well acquainted with six-foot cockroaches and even strange space voyages. Stanislaw Lem, for example.

I sensed a tradition, but I was in the wrong country (and who wanted to be a Communist anyway?).

It dawned on me very early that there was much more to writing than just setting down words. The ideas (nightmares?) were non-verbal.

I set out on a scientific and paramilitary quest.

Good at physics, I trained as a pilot at the age of 17, blew it and ended up in ground crew, looking for Russians on a radar scope. It was becoming plain to me that I was not going to be the person I wanted to be, certainly not Top Gun.

Like many another displaced body of our war-affected time, I was looking for some sort of home. Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, which was serviceman-friendly, seemed to be the next place to go (I had already produced a really bad manuscript, and maybe Ryerson could teach me to write).

Ryerson did teach me to write. And it fleshed out all my confused MAD magazine reading. A man named Jack Jones was writing in Explorations Magazine that MAD was DADA IN THE DRUGSTORE, that Melvin Mole was a nihilist figure, and Marshall McLuhan was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to serious intellectual pursuits of what was then Toronto, the first truly modern urban civilization. The philosophy prof at Ryerson was doddering and incompetent, but wow, did he ever get me to meet some people! It was the best Western Thought course I could have taken.

Nevertheless, I knew in my heart of hearts that I should have been a Victoria College, where all the writers seem to have come from, but it was too late. I was already in my middle Twenties, and in any event, immigrant kids didn't usually end up at Victoria College. They went elsewhere.

I tried some SAT's, and though impressive, I wasn't going to be the next Canadian genius. I had to settle for the raffish, glamorous way of the newspaperman-novelist, the Hemingway route, the Callaghan route. Very early, I got to the Toronto Star.

It was certainly a thrill to take the same shining brass elevator upstairs to the newsroom where Beland Honderich "lived", my first memory of that great man now a sharp image of a well-suited, confident presence who undertook to empty the ashtray in front of my rewrite typewriter and call me a good fellow, and hopefully, a "Liberal" fellow. I became a Liberal at once.

And there was more. Where had I achieved the image of great competence? Did I get my sense of power out of good and great Beland Honderich or was it my early success (after hard military discipline) as an editor, short-story writer and poet?

Nevertheless, people were feeding me stuff. Pat Williams and Bill McVicar, all of them somehow assuring me that I would be a great writer. "Talent hides in the strangest places," Bill McVicar would assure, adding that it was a damn lonely profession nevertheless, but worth it.

Pat Williams, another reporter, would offer me good novels to read, as well as an autobiography of E. W. Scripps, the big American publisher immediately before William Randolph Hearst.

The real truth is that I was probably a token ethnic. Society was sane and generous enough not to produce another Melvin Mole, not a nihilist, but a novelist, albeit a newspaperman as well.

Bill McVicar, and Pat Williams, and Rae Corelli--all succeeded. And so did The Star.

Still, I have not made a serious dent into journalism, nor have I cracked the tough nut of Canlit, passe as it seems to be right now.

My first novel, THE BLACK ICON was handled like a piece of fish by Robert Fulford (who later told his secretary that I'd made all the mistakes a first novelist can make).

I have written some major stories for The Star, certainly Starweek Magazine when it still had some news space. I have had my own column. I have won small awards. I got my master's degree even though it was done just before the boom fell on Instituto Allende and the University of California withdrew its accreditarion. Yeah, good. Adequate.

And yet, forty-plus years later, I am still haunted by that strange, repulsive little character, Melvin Mole, a Man Out Of Control.

The immigrant isn't really at home anywhere, especially a nasty immigrant. The Star was smart and benevolent enough to have given me a home.

But I kept burrowing under buildings and water courses GLIG! HAH! GLIG! GLIG! GLIG!...JOHN LAW! JOHN LAW! HEEH! JOHN LAW!

Not all that competent as a newspaperman, and fiction being too hard for me, I became an artiste, angry young man, very near the brink of becoming Melvin Mole.

I was saved again by a good society and the Newmarket Era, owned by--you guessed it--The Toronto Star.

Somebody out there had faith in me, all the great Star people. I struggled and I faltered (was also fired a few times), and have finally produced four novels.

You have stayed with me so far in this space.

If you stick around, you'll be able to read all five.

The work (probably like yours) has to come out. Just has to.

Otherwise, it's the Underground Man, and look at what's going on in the world!

Thank you Ryerson. Thank you U. of T. Thank you Instituto Allende and writing instructor Tom Mayer.

And most of all, thank you Toronto Star.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Cultural Hermaphrodite

First there was the trick of the FW 190 "Butcher Birds" that I'd seen in the skies over Europe, one flying high to get the attention of the B17 gunners and the other coming in low under the Flying Fortress, blasting the belly with cannon fire, leaving holes big enough for a man to fall through. And some did, little cotton puffs of parachutes falling into the rye.

Then the inevitable political discussion with pitchfork-yielding Bauers.

"Roosevelt ist ein Jude.“

"Roosevelt ist nicht ein Jude."

The American airman would usually lose the political discussion, to be marched at pitchfork-point to the nearest Wernacht outpost. Like my father, who had tried to run away. "First them, and then you guys."

Sure would destroy your sense of security. Gives your son a sense of misplaced schizophrenia.

In Quebec, I'm a Frenchman. In Mexico, I'm a blue-eyed Campasino and In Copenhagen, I'm a great Dane.

In Ontario, I'm a FOOF (Fine Old Ontario family that I'd married into). In Texas, I'm a good ole boy.

A cultural hermaphrodite, I love overseas assignments as a journalist, though I don't think I'm ready for Iraq just yet.

It's only in the last thirty years that I've come to realize that in Toronto, anyway, most everybody is like me, a cultural hermaphrodite, using English as a Lingua Franca while happily chattering on in two, maybe three languages to a third or fourth person. I wore the Cultural Hermaphrodite mantle a bit thin when I thought I knew enough Cantonese to swear in it, yelling Kai-Ai-Maka-Ho in Chinatown, soon to be chased by young meat cutters yelling at me in ideogram talk balloons. Foreign devil! I tried to assure them that I had no interest at all in their aunt's pussy.

Smart ass.

The flair for languages got me into some trouble later, when I fell into the rye at a Sept Iles bar, swearing in French, which I thought was cute, the references to articles of church worship, the Host, the Tabernacle. "You are, how you say, de UFO, Ukrainian From Ontario? I would say to you in plain Eengleesh. Vache! Tabernac!." I tried to do damage control by offering that I was parachuted into this job. J'ai été parachuté dans ce travail.

"Me too," said the Frenchman. "I am Metis."

We spent the night in the same bed, the Metchif, his wife and me. Quebec hospitality. And it was all on the up-and-up.

I live in Ontario, a culture a little British still, of understatement, tone, nuance, local idiom thrown in as spice. And yet try to explain to a Mac's Milk vendor what mayonnaise is. From carbon-copy Brit to wild-eyed sign language, like a New Guinean, though New-Guineans at least, know some pidgin English. "You take egg-whites, mix them up..."

"Egg foo yung?"

"Fuc Duk," I finally blurt out in exasperated Vietnamese.

I guess I was spoiled rotten as the token ethnic at the Toronto Star and later the old Star Weekly. Everybody was so nice. Pat Williams would give me books to read about E.W. Scripps, the other American publisher besides William Randolph Hearst. Bill McVicar would say, observing some of my kinks, my tendency to prance in the hallways, past Robert Fulfords office, singing madrigals along with girl reporters from Toronto, "Talent hides in the strangest places. But by and by, you will be lonely..."

Some of the reporters were former W.W.II airmen. I had a lot in common, as I'd seen so many of them in action. Pat McNenly would relate how as a Typhoon pilot, he would let loose a brace of 20mm cannon fire right into the back of German Tiger tank, making sure that since the cannon were in the wings, he had to concentrate the fire so that a number of shells would hit at once.

Man, did I catch a brace when I decided to switch from journalist to novelist. Usually, you get rejected the first eight times. No money. Nothing in the fridge. Bucket's got a hole in it. Can't find no beer. Just at the point when there is nothing to eat at all, in come the relatives. And they are hungry.

My poor wife finally had enough and we split.

Bill McVicar: "You will be lonely."

Effing right Bill, and crazy as a loon on top of that.

Well, like in The Old Man and the Sea, I did come back with the fish. Fish all chewed by sharks, but secured all the same. I had completed a novel, but I seemed to be all chewed up by sharks. One blogger on GRANDINITE, a terrific site hosted by Aaron Braaten: "When we grow up, are we going to turn out like Ivan? If the world is our oyster, do we not forget that oysters are bottom-feeders? Ivan is sort of, uh, scraping it."

Fyodor Dostoevsky: Most of us should have stayed what we had been, engineers, workers, husbands.

...But we chose to be writers, an odd thing to be.

"Ibnbatuta, you are odd."

I fall down more rabbit holes.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Bum Also Rises

Even now, though ensconced in a lovely apartment, well-fed and nearly middleclass again, I go for walks, like in the old bummy days, endless seas of black asphalt and white divider, the shiny new cars that squeak when the owner comes, the little mounds of McDonalds garbage, the horizontal wall on which this old spider walks.

Hallelujah, I'm a bum.

Hallelujah I'm a bum again.

Sure, I have the apartment. But the income is slight. The apartment is subsidized. I tried to turn respectable by actually working. Didn't tell anyone. They found out. "Thief! Fraud-artist! Ne-er-do- well. You actually worked. WORKED. Lazy bastard! And you didn't tell us. You now pay regular rent!"

Law of diminishing returns.

Hallelujah, I'm a bum again.

There is a story of the Great Pinspotter in the Sky, the god who always places you where he thinks you belong--in the gutter.

I suppose we all subconsciously follow our fathers. This is too good for me, this life. I don't deserve it.

My father spent two years in a German concentration camp.

I guess subconsciously, I am following him, hard as I try to work everyway but loose. But then my father nearly made a million after coming to Canada. No backward progress for him. Myself, I pretty well wrote the book on backward progress, just like in the movie, "The Jerk".

Rags. To riches. Back to rags.

Place to live, but rent- poor. Rags again.

Hallelujah, a bum again.

Out in the parking lot, thoughtful masturbator that one is. It is a good time to test your philosophy, your zen, your I-Ching,your Plato. And Kierkegaard, especially Kierkegaard, Either-Or. It gets darkest before the light. There is great power in a vacuum. It all hangs, like a guy hanging off a big junkyard magnet by his steel belt buckle--on the subjunctive.. You will certainly be subjunctive once the power is turned off. Actually, you will be in the indicative, your Adidas sticking up out of all that junk. With Wittgenstein, you will surely become aware of the case.

Most people are no great shakes. Automatons. They seek money, goods, power, sex. The bum seeks these things too, but he's under some sort of spell. The disease of denial.

This is too good for me. I am shit. The vacuum.

What did the bum have for breakfast today? Well, actually, it was pretty good. Over at the Dominion, there were four packages of shaved roast beef, a little green, yes, but then what country boy doesn't know that a steak is only good when broiled while a trifle green? You hang the Mother up for a day or two.

The bum is more oriented by the mother than the father. The bum can sew, understand computers, cook like a chef. Play chess.

Father always away. The war. The concentration camp.

Father's pain leading to alcoholism. Kicks you in the ass, calls you a bum. Love the bastard though. Builds and sells three houses in ten years. Not bad, even by Forest Hill standards.Yet there is this gap. The bum had chosen to get an education.Turned into a cliche. Educated bum.

Education is a drawing out, to turn all those gestures and motions towards the self, turn them outward. You become articulate, your motions and moves are deliberate, like an actor's. Educated, you are put out into the world, but like Supertramp, you find out. Sensible. Logical. And Lord, won't somebody tell me who I am?

But...Leonard Cohen: You have to walk carefully. The game is rigged. The clear illusions of young adulthood. Hah. Slaughterhouse coming.

Stupid Catholic in a Masonic world. This they do not teach you in school. Leave politics to the politicians. Stay in the middle where you belong.

It is getting into the late afternoon. There is this success/failure feeling, the empty feeling. The vacuum.

I am shit.

Then something taupe-coloured rises unnaturally out of the black ashpalt. Wittgenstein: Figure and Foreground. A sentence is a word picture, all that. And for all of that, you have the brain of a squirrel, and a squirrel is wittier than you, knows what he's doing. There is an unnatural blotch on the black pavement, the green piece of paper, just before you come to a footbridge along a brook. It is stark and out of place. It is a twenty-dollar bill, the gold embossing shining in the afternoon sun.

He who tries to deconstruct the great dead men for being fools is really at an ass's bridge. But what a lucky ass.

I pluck forth the greenback.

Naked Came the Ukrainian


Not to be outdone by Jeff Wells, whose novel, Anxious Gravity (left) is published by Dundurn Press, I have taken it unto myself to produce an erotic book cover too, but not quite as starkers (or homoerotic?) as Jeff Well's' . You can bet your leaf it's going to be effective.

Here then, is the cover of my next novel, Naked Came the Ukrainian (right), though admittedly I am a fan of Sean Connery's.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Rumors that Andrew Krystal has a Christ complex are greatly exaggerated



My phone in radio pal, Andrew Krystal, has left CFRB Toronto to work in Halifax.

Halifax? Is that where they sent the founder of the Krystal Nation? Surely it wasn't because he may have pee-ohed the Pope.

Gotta say Andrew has a graphic sense.

I ain't no dinosaur

Recently, Aaron Braaten's terrific site, Grandinite has unoficially awarded my blog as "best blog written by an older dude".

Older dude?

I'd like you to know that I'm far from over the hill.

I am hep. I am the bee's knees. Twenty-three Skiddoo.
To Charleston, to Charleston! Amscray! Potrzebie!

I am so hep, any one of you young guys look like a friggin' frame.

You don't believe me?

Here's me and my Little Chickadee on a recent rave.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Politics and danger

Like many another whacko politician, I have been running for Mayor of Newmarket, not so much in the privacy of my mind, but, like a psychotic, actually doing it, with terrible results. So far, I have had three attempts on my life, have lost my position as a privat-docent at Seneca College, have had my campaign office burned to the ground and was nearly killed while trying to see Bill Clinton in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Some guys have all the luck.

All of this changes your world view. I think Norman Mailer says somewhere that when you are bright and about twenty-seven, you start off being parnoid. Then as you mature and become a force in the world, paranoia turns into reality. They really are out to get you.

Reinforced by that knowledge, and the recent resignation of Ontario's finance minister under a cloud of allegations, I'd like to posit to you that Regional Councils in Ontario are the children of the province. And if the province and the Cosa Nostra are in cahoots, boy, are we in trouble.

What follows is an organization chart of York Region's Council.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

RUFF TIMES


There is a story by Howard J. Ruff, the wildly successful author of How to Profit During the Coming Bad Times where the great Main Street financial guru actually went broke to the point of using up everything in the fridge as his stocks tumbled and tumbled.

This will not do, said Ruff. You need stress reducing food, like roast beef, preserves, pickles.

So he sat down at his desk and invented Ruff Times, the most successful financial newsletter ever, along with two best sellers to follow in coming decades. He got into a pickle and ended up buying lots of pickles, millions of them.

Ruff times here too.

You can still buy pickles at the dollar store, but I'm really tired of smoking my own butts, drinking Listerine (don't worry about the skull and crossbones) and generally known around writing circles as a mooch.

My former wife, who had for years subsidized the aforesaid mooch while he worked on the great Canadian novel, soon told me that she was harboring a grudge, and that grudge was me. "Paint some furniture, Grudge, make yourself useful."

I am probably the most widely published author in Canada (counting internet). And also the poorest.

I know where it all comes from, a life that would make the philandering St. Augustine blush and a thirst that's crying out to God.

"No water-drinker ever wrote anything decent," says old Ovid. I make sure that I write good.

Art. All for art. You're a hell of a guy, Art. First you help me set the Toronto Star on fire and then as a reward you throw me in with a bunch of dumpster diving bums who are so stupid and bored that they make sexual advances toward old Ivan. Boy, they must be really bored. And if I'm not careful, so will I be.

Charles Bukowski, bum poet, with his cry of "Liquor!" and not "arsepeck" as some old vicar was yelling out in a now-dead television series.

Liquor, gotta get. And hookers. Must get hookers, now that it looks like I'll be able to get them through OHIP. I mean, I've been crazy for some time. It's a disability. Disabled Danes are trying for government-subsidized hookers. Why shouldn't I?

Poverty can make you crazy. It's making my friends crazy.

"How much is the touch for this time, Bunky?"

I have been rich. Richer, probably, than you'll ever be. A cool million.

But then I said to myself, "doesn't everybody?" and took off with a hooker that sent me half way to the moon. I narrowly avoided the AIDS. Who wants to spend a million just to get AIDS?

The feminists are right. Men think with their lower heads.

Yet there is this Hemingway quest for truth, "The upper head is hungry for truth, while the lower head will seek out any conquest possible. It would be noblest for a man to cut off his lower head and put a gun to his upper head."

Yeah, noble as hell.

A story is told about a brilliant American writer, Pietro di Donato who went to Hemingway with his book, Christ in Concrete.

"What do you know, you Wop? Immigrant writers never make it. They only record their crudities and show their awkwardness."

Ouch. Pietro di Donato wrote even better than Rosie di Manno.

But poverty, what can be said about poverty?

I went to James Polk when he was editor of ANANSI in Toronto. "Lend me twenty, Jim."

He answered, more or less, "Don't Jim me. We are not such good friends."

Ouch again. Much later, he was more generous and expansive. "Look at your you have an exciting life, you are involved in a ménage a troix, you drink to your heart's content and you've actually published a book. My life is full of dross and it is boring."

Oh well, now is the time to pay for all those superiorities.

Small wonder that I only got a 49 in Economics at Ryerson.

Upper head in the stars, lower head caught in a sling.

And I'm not that good at plucking stars.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Grandinite Dream Meme

What is a meme, you ask. I suppose it's one mind resonating, causing another to resonate. Favourite device of Aaron Braaten at http://www.grandinite.com ...Fart smucker, what? I didn't know half the things he knews at 27. Anyway, here's what he's laid out in his meme. I will try to provide some answers, as invited to.




1. If money were no object, what would you be doing with your life?

Nothing. I've already had money.

2. Money is just that - an object, so why aren’t you doing it?

I'd do an object? I'd do a totem pole? I'd do a chicken? Foul.

3. What’s better: horses or cows?

Not too fond of rural pursuits. "Hi there, Mr. Cow!" I do know a guy in Queensville who writes Valentines to Daisy and I've always been intrigued by the name of an old Hollywood actor, Forrest Tucker.

4. What do you think the secret to happiness is?

Achievement

5. When was the last time you had a dream that you either remember well or did not want to awake from? Can you share a bit?

I am not like those four guys from California who watch a guy replacing a lightbulb so they can "share" the experience, but I'll lay a nightmare on you. I am, awake or asleep, pursued by The Hat People, the subject of a novel I have up on my web. The Hat People represent officialdom.

I guess I'm still one more asshole from Toronto who thinks he's Franz Kafka.

6. When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Pilot. Damm near made it too. Went solo. Nothing like it.
Took the damn thing up all by myself with old Hank Snow
(I swear) through my earphones:

That big eight- wheeler rolling down the track
Means your true-lovin' daddy ain't comin' back
I'm rolling on

But I ended up just getting the Polish scholarship.
They found out I was born in the U.S.S.R. during a cold war.

7. Complete this statement: Love is . . .

Pierre Pettigrew says, as a representative of his government, that there is nothing wrong with that. It's accepted.

Love is a pain in the ass?

8. Can you tell a good story? (write one!)

You're not supposed to, as an artist, a cultivated person, write anything ugly, but here goes anyway:

My tapeworm left me this morning.

Now I'll have to walk alone.

The parting was far from amicable, downright traumatic, as the silvery nematode undulated somewhat gracefully this way and that in his bowl, the squarish head, light sensor on each side, seeming to say, "All right, wise guy, it was bad
enough not getting any mustard on that last dog, but now you';ve really pissed me off."

I knew something was wrong for weeks. The little bastard liked to roam around a lot at night, and sometimes he'd forget the way home and end up sleeping on my scrotum. Then, before I could say, "gotcha, you little bastard", he'd disapear faster than you can say "Tally ho! The Fox!."

The fox hunt went on for quite some time until, as an old Air Force guy, I thought of Agent Orange and where it could be gotten. Sure enough, down at Camp Petawawa, I saw some denuded trees (along with at least one denuded Warrant Officer). I plucked forth the nearest branch, rotten apple and all. I can't believe I ate the whole thing.

That was the night before I gave the eviction notice to my
tapeworm. He ignored it to his peril.

There he is, splashing around in his bowl. Aggressive bastard, really. Didn't realize tapeworms were fully equipped with scuba gear. They are aquatic. And they like to roam around at night sometimes. Creepy, what?

"This is hurting me more than you. Parasites are supposed to clean out the intestines. Too much bowel cancer around."

"Fuck off," said the tapeworm.

9. Can you remember your last daydream? What was it about?

I had a hardcover copy of a novel about the same size as John Updike's Borzoi book, with my name on the cover.

Damn it, I will yet write like John Updike even if I become Ivan Prokopchuk, author of Roger's Version.

10. If you were to thank someone today, who would you thank?

Goodnight, Mrs. Kalabash, wherever you are.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

GERARD JONES REDUX

Not content with finally getting his Ginny Good published by Monkfish Book Publishers after 50,000 rejections (sic) Gerard is now putting his GINNY GOOD out in audio at his own expense. Some writers never give up.



At first the narrator seems to be a sad little character with a huge grudge:

I'm gonna fight em all
A seven nation army couldn't hold me back
They're going to rip it off
Taking their time behind my back


Gerard Jones and I are in a golf cart just outside Ashland Oregon and listening to the local rock station.

White Stripes/Seven Nations Army is talking about the recording industry, its hype and money-oriented manipulation, but as far as Gerard Jones in concerned, it might as well be the American book publishing industry.

"They're money grubbers all. Tin ears when it comes to judging good literature. When it comes to real writin' those dumb kids just out of college wouldn't know a good manuscript from a Dr. Phil show."

For forty years and more, Gerard Jones was that sad little character with a big grudge. He had been rejected 5,000 times by agents and publishers in the U.S., U.K and Canada.

He strongly identifies with the White Stripes song that has once again broken into our conversation.

And I'm talking to myself at night
Because I can't forget
Back and forth through my mind
Behind a cigarette
And a message from behind my eyes
Says leave it alone...

"Yeah, it was a tough time, years and years of it. I just had to have my beautiful novel published. GINNY GOOD. It's the greatest book not only of the last, but of this century." He says this in all sincerity. "I kick everybody's ass he says. "I kick Kurt Vonnegut's ass. I kick Bob Dylan's ass. I'm the greatest writer since Nabokov."

That was his attitude through the last 40 years of his publishing go-round. He simply had to find a home for his GINNY GOOD. Five thousand rejections. Six thousand.

I am about to turn the radio down, but something of the near-apocalyptic tone of the song and it's inner sanctum bassline holds me back. The song is exactly what we're talking about.

Don't want to hear about it
Every single one's got a story to tell
Everybody knows about it
From the Queen of England to the hounds of hell
And if I catch you coming back my way
I'm going to serve it to you
And that ain't what your wanna hear
But that'swhat I'll do
And the feeling coming from my bones
Says find a home.

It took Gerard Jones at least twenty years to find a home for his GINNY GOOD but find it he did after he invented a website, EVERYONE WHO'S ANYONE IN ADULT TRADE PUBLISHING. On the website he lists every last agent and publishing house who had rejected him and added comments about those folks, some of them verging on the obscene and scatological. But list them he did, all six thousand of them. The result was not only an overground publishing for Gerard Jones, but a treasure trove of addresses and references for budding authors. In the space of just a few weeks, EVERYONE WHO'S ANYONE IN ADULT TRADE PUBLISHING--AND TINSELTOWN TOO received six thousand hits and five years later the hits keep on coming, especially after Monkfish Book Publishing Company finally issued Ginny Good to good reviews. Sample:

"Months after reading GINNY GOOD I still see the vivid images author Gerard Jones shared with his readers...Jones brings about a careless insouciance to GINNY GOOD. An early hippie devil-may-care effem-if-they-can't-take-a-joke attitude that pretends to mask deeper feelings. Pretends, of course, because it's clear that Jones cares deeply about everything that befalls him and Ginny and the others we meet in GINNY GOOD. And he wants us to know he cares, but he wants us to find our own way to that conclusion. It is this intelligent respect for the intelligence of of his readers that makes GINNY GOOD work at several levels...GINNY GOOD is an excruciating coming of age at a time when the world was falling apart."

"Like it is now," says sharp-faced tufted-haired Gerard Jones as he turns up the radio. (I had been about to remark on a book by Margaret MacMillan in this self- same issue of January magazine and Linda L. Richards' comments on "Rideau Hall, History and Current Occupants," but it seemed tamer fare than the Ginny Good review). Jones is a little tired of America and wants a way out. He does insist that he may be too talented and too hip for America. He claims he was Haight-Ashbury's original hippie. He's still extremely hip. Neo Haight-Ashbury. Like The White Stripes.

I'm going the Wichita
Far from this opera for evermore
I'm going to work the straw
Make the sweat drip out of every pore
And I'm bleeding and i'm bleeding
Right before the Lord
All the words are gonna bleed from me
And I will think no more
And the stains coming from my blood
Tell me go back home.

Too talented for America, Gerard Jones insists. "Too hip for America, like those musicians.

"The critics haven't missed my books, but sales are down. At least I got it published the way I wanted it published. I can just pick it up and stare at it." A little wind whips up and plants a dry read oakleaf just under his chin. He wipes the red wire-consistent mesh away from his Adidas hoodie. "I love Ashland. But there's something wrong with America. We knew that right through the sixties and it hasn't ended. He points his putter toward a distant mountain, whose other side is California. Yeah, Haight Ashbury. Now full of the new Bohemians, all money, all bling-bling, all credit cards and no talent. The Bohos are all gone. But I'm still here. Where we gonna go to?

"Maybe like White Stripes, I might end up going to Wichita."

He stops the cart and turns off the radio.

"Right now, I'm playing golf. A hole for every stroke. Bring 'em all on. Bring on Mike Weir. Bring on Tiger Woods. I can whip his ass too."

There is something of Willie Nelson about Gerard Jones. Brash on the outside. Deep on the inside.

Something is happening here.

--Ivan Prokopchuk

Friday, September 16, 2005

A teacher can't be crazy

Some twenty years ago, on the coldest January on record, I decided to stop teaching. I decided that I had to be a writer, because a teacher can't be crazy.

The decision was not hard to make. I had worked an entire trimester with no vacation. I was drinking too much and the Canadian history majors for whom I was conducting a writing workshop felt it was beneath them to actually write stuff for me, to be read out loud and criticized by the other students.

"We will not do your assignments. They are too revealing, and it would be an affront to our dignity."

What do you do with a bunch of people who already have their B.A.s but somehow found themselves on welfare, going back to take my course to satisfy requirements for the dole?

Too much assertiveness training, I suppose. Control, control, you gotta have control.

Dostoevsky:

The illusion of possessing and controlling everything is a powerful one, and its charms are not readily surrendered even in adulthood (The Department Head here?) So we encounter in theoreticians of self-referential art both the puzzling contempt for "real" worlds and the sentimental hope for a forcible remaking of the universe as if there were not already a universe to be acknowledged. The Impulse for such creation--Faustian in its aspirations--must spring from a sense of insignificance; for even the infant's delusion of omnipotence is compensatory for its actual helplessness.

BA's on welfare, going back to a kind of Kindergarten so they could collect their welfare cheques, going back to me for specialized writing skills, to write with a purpose. But they weren't doing any writing. And it was all my fault, they said, much as the killer instinct of their department head was also my fault, as it were. He wanted my job. Or he wanted a promotion to be over me at my job.

There was no small amount of paranoia here, as any marginal employee knows. I was untenured and rather low on the food chain.

My students were starting to drive me crazy.

There were two ways to go. One was Plan A, which was all testosterone, confronting the under-producing students and their department head who wanted my job in the first place, or Plan B.
Plan B wasn't too good. I could be found most afternoons absorbing the amber haze of a local pub, constructing great sprawling novels in the smoky air, impressing, I thought, my l920's-style flapper girlfriend, blonde hair abob, who was affecting artist's berets and silk stocking, the date of a published writer, the local Nicholas Gogol who somehow happened to be her teacher of English.

Married, thirty-something, bored and not yet decided between an academic nunnery down there at York or the house of the rising sun.

Scott and Zelda, Ivan and Celia.

Yet the untrammeled killer instinct of my enemy at the College was showing some of its force. What thugs academics are. Build an empire. Screw the students. Manipulate the students to your purpose. Become department head and course director, then Dean.

Someone was looking for a deanship and he had set his homeroom on a children's crusade to get old Ivan.

Enough that I'd quit, quit even though they offered me some plum. I surrendered the vows and took off with my glamorous girlfriend for Mexico. I would be Gaugin in Tahiti. I would come back with my marvelous sprawling novels, meet some Don Juan up on some mesa and know at last the meaning of life.

The hell of it was that it worked.

I came back from Mexico with the novel. The girlfriend I'd somehow lost in transit.

Back in Newmarket, manuscript tucked under one arm, I came across the department head. He seemed shaken and not altogether sure of himself. He had just gone through his second divorce and had had a negative experience with his psychiatrist.

"So how have you been?" he had asked.

"I did well," I answered. "Came back with a manuscript and a new degree."

And that's where the department head revealed himself.

"You know, I haven't seen you for some time, but now I already feel I have seen too much of you."

Why you little prick.

Academics are slime.

I fussed and fumed over this for some time, then I had a coffee with Chief Armand LaBarge, local cop and a personal friend. Armand has a sense of humour: "But you're an academic too."

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Difficult Kind

My first impulse on seeing Sheryl Crow in a gold lamé minidress was to, uh, eat crow.

There she was at the Grammys a couple of years ago, when I still played the guitar and imagined myself a Grammy recipient (twenty years on the road and I still can't write a song), Sheryl Crow, Lance Armstrong's partner (how I hate him for taking my chick!), Sheryl Crow all Ho'd up like everybody else with no sign of the little genius that hides within.

This was no AM station fodder from back in the old days when most AM stations played rock instead of talk, vintage songs all a-bubbly with Budweiser beer buzzes, of following the sun, stuff out of Sheryl's Planet album of love and loss, especially The Difficult Kind, a heart-wrencher to this day.

Sheryl Crow seeming diminutive in her Dolce&Gabbana pants and way over- the- top heels, accompanied by Shelby Lynn, herself beautiful as an Appalachian stream. Two women with two guitars, unplugged, but electric all the same in a sound like two angels coming on a melodically tight line. This is what the best of American talent sounded like before the horror of Sept. 11. And this was what American talent would sound like too, just after the tragedy, all the best musicians, pop and country, standing up to support the country to show beauty and grace under incredible pressure.

Do not give up on America. The best songs come ouf of the Mississippi Delta, now so awash, bodies floating in the streets, people begging and dying while officials lie like sidewalks. And yet all that debris and detritus, those tin shacks stuck against the trees were the spawning grounds of the best music out of modern times.

Have you seen today's Mississippi? It is not a river, it is nearly an ocean, a Lake Erie down there in Louisianna, Lake Ponchatrain joined with the river , the city a lake too, all of it forming Atlantis as in Plato's vision, years before Christ.

Yes, the beautiful "Ho's" with their stunning talents will be back, back to rouse the nation and offer hope, all the Gwen Stefanis and Shelby Lynns and Sheryl Crows and Faith Hills. I will wager that even Avril Lavigne, who sounds French, will be there.

Mark my words. The beautiful ladies of song will yet reverse this tragedy. You'll hear angels singing.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Winner: Globe and Mail Caption Contest



"I know. You're supposed to kick the tires."
Ivan Prokopchuk, Newmarket, Ont.
Friday, April 29, 2005

Sunday, April 10, 2005

RAKE'S PROGRESS

My friend Gogol (of Google) had been a hotshot computer whiz and ethnic writer with string of published books in English, a Joseph Conrad who one day fell into the Rye long before he realized that what he had been drinking and smoking was neither soda pop nor Vicks.

Occupational hazard. Success brings anxiety. There is an impossibility to relax. With alcoholic achievers, it usually leads to a woman or a bottle. Gogol was married, but he took both. This, of course, led to violent protest from his wife, who told this budding Felix Unger to get the hell out, and that he was no odd guy. Just a little too high on the testosterone scale, the result, no doubt of getting calculus mixed up with cabbageheads and all too frequent "love relations" with his computer. "Your lovemaking has gone from the mechanical to the electronic. I've always been here. Have you noticed?"

Out in the street, like Robert Crumb's Felix the Cat, Gogol the Google was beginning to notice. Pawning his laptop and down to his last vial of Aqua Velva, he took the standard step.

Starving, he joined the "between you and I" and "please-and-thank-you crowd" and "sign this for me" group of happy, ambitious illiterates who ran the food bank, secretly humming to themselves about how the mighty had fallen.

Now Gogol of Google was a a natural phenom who had risen so far as to teach Boolean algebra at the local university. His published novels gave him such stature that when talking to the dean in the halls, everybody knew who the important person was. People would say, "There goes Gogol of Google." That's how big he was.

Now, fresh from the food bank with his matched set of Price Chopper shopping bags in his hand, people would say, "Gogol-eyed fraud. And "Get a job, Gogol!"

He tried to re-establish his reputation by writing a play with which he had hoped to make some money, but the local theatre company had been adjudicated and found No Good, like the rejected manuscript of the same play he'd sent to a publisher. It had been, in fact marked by some fuzzy-eared slave, "NG".

No Good Boyo. Under Milkwood and all that.

All because of a Vodka habit and an inability to relax. He'd had a worm in him for some time, not a computer worm, but,he feared, a real one, the same worm that had goaded his ambition. The worm, had seemed to set set up residence in Gogols tummy, with full amenities, the DVD player, plasma TV --the entire entertainment unit. "Hey wise guy, splash a little vodka down this way." Whether the worm was real or virtual, Gogol did not know, ave to realize that for some time, something had been eating away at him.Getting the girlfriend didn't seem to help. Gogol's biggest problem was turning forty.

"It was a mistake," thought Gogol. I shouldn't have done that. If I had it to do all over again, I'd never turn forty.

"Who wants to live with a forty-year-old vodka sniffer and gin-sock," his wife, still a hysterical thirty -two had said. So she divorced him just when he got fired by the college. "Boy," said Gogol," this is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Now I can drink."

"Not so fast," said the worm. "Where's my toke?" on many occasions.

So now there was only Gogol and his little pal the worm. Both were thirsty as hell. No money.
Gogol's girlfriend lived out in Georgina, something of a beauty, but careless about her personal habits, a real ditch pig, actually, a Moonbeam McSwine and homeless too. They were made for each other.

Pooling their Canada Pension cheques, bottles in hand, they would chase each other up and down hillsides, past garbage cans and into town, where Irene never said goodnight. She was a nonstop two-four guzzler, always complaining it was too hot at the Bonanza tavern, where she would attempt to take her clothes off. Like Zelda, and sully the owner's beer. This was great entertainment for the men, but disgusting for the women. She would dance on tabletops, knock drinks over with her high heels and generally make a fool of herself. Like Gogol.

Soon, they were disinvited.Thrown out. Professor and Blue Angel from Keswick. The last thing they heard before the door slammed on them was White Stripes singing "Seven Nations Army."

But in fact, the following morning, broke and hungover, they hit the Salvation Army. There had been some trepidation over the decision. Just before they'd been thrown out of the Bonanza, the White Stripes had sung:

"And the feeling from my bones says find a home..."

Now they had to find a home. Hard to do when you're down and out in whitebread Newmarket.

"People jut don't behave this way."

It took the Salvation Army two years and six thousand dollars to finally straighten out Google and his Moonbeam.

And would you believe it? Gogol got his computer back. One of his novels became a local bestseller, especially one aided in creativity not by "Seven Nations Army", but by the Salvation Army. Good story.

And Moonbeam got an unexpected inheritance from a developer relative. Moonbeam and Gogol moved in together and lived happily afterward. There are worse stories.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Joining the broken circle

For ten long years the circle looped
And he knew for another twenty years
The circle would loop.
And he knew that he would never break the circles
And he knew this was already the end.

So he kissed the face of the evening wife
And said hello to a precipice of silence
A precipice of silence
For his twenty years of loving.

And when he looked
He saw no one there
On the path
Past the tree
Past the dog
Past the ornamental horses of green clay.

And then someone behind him said someone is coming
A thousand lonesome women are approaching
Bearing the faces of those he'd seen on the road to here.
Past the dog
Past the bird
Down this way
Past the horses of green clay.

And he heard the voices of those thousand women approaching
And behind them
A great poppy seed that shook the earth with its rumbling
Rumbling down the path of the horses of green clay. the path now before him.

And he turned around
As if to ask someone behind him
An accomplice
But he smelled smoke, perhaps a fire.
There was a fire behind him now.

And someone invisible answered, "Christ is coming".
And all the figures of the landscape of the future turned
To see behind them too,
Where the monster
Poppy seed
Had stopped rolling.
A fire
And again, someone invisible said
Christ is coming.
All could see behind themselves a fire.

--A Neladoir's dream response
to a story by Tony MacGregor
(Ivan Prokopchuk, 50,000 years removed from the Celt).

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Ginny Good, Chapter One

I’m using everyone’s real name. They can all sue me. I hope they do. I could use the excitement. It gets kind of boring living up here with my eighty-year-old mother in Ashland, Oregon. She likes having me around, though. She was sick of being by herself. My dad died…wow, a while ago…going on something like nine years now. Sometimes it feels like yesterday; other times it feels like he’s still alive. We keep finding scribbled notes in his ninth-grade handwriting here and there—like when I change a fuse in the fuse box or my mother digs through the glove compartment looking for a map. Plenty of other people seem to think he’s still alive too. They keep sending him mail—brochures from hearing aid companies and long letters on good bond paper explaining to him how he might want to consolidate his debt. Hey, his debt’s as consolidated as it gets. It’s paid, paid in full—going on nine years now.

I do the things my father used to do: mow the lawn, get the car fixed, put in new light bulbs, change the furnace filters, take the lids off jars that are on too tight for my mother’s arthritis. I play golf every day, rain or shine. The rainier, the better—wind, sleet, hail, snow, I don’t care. Sometimes I get to feeling a little like King Lear out there, talking to thunder, flipping off gusts of wind. Ha! The other day I held my putter up like a lightening rod, daring the elements to do their worst, but usually I just play golf.

I play golf with anyone who shows up. Ford. Wallace. Bergeron. Johnny Pelosi. Felix. Knapp. Tyrone. Tyrone’s a black guy from the Shakespeare Festival. He was the King of France last year. We all play golf at a cheap, hilly little municipal golf course called Oak Knoll. It’s out of town a ways, south on Highway 66, toward Emigrant Lake. Standing on the ninth tee, you can see everything for miles around. Pilot Rock’s directly in front of you, off in the distance toward California. Mt. Ashland’s a little to the right; Grizzly Peak and Pompadour Bluff are to the left.

The golf course is home to five families of Canadian Geese. Nobody fucks with them. They poo on the greens with impunity. Even the feisty mallards and wood ducks and the seagulls that fly over from Klamath Lake stay out of their way. The five families of Canadian Geese correspond roughly with the five families of the New York Mafia. Well, according to Johnny Pelosi, anyway. He knows all about that sort of thing. Johnny Pelosi isn’t his real name. I don’t know for a fact that he got it as part of a witness protection program; all I know is you don't want to beat him out of more than a couple of bucks a round unless you want to wake up with your parakeet’s head in your bed.

It's an eclectic group. Wallace drives a Winnebago. He's also a direct descendent of William Wallace, that Braveheart guy, so you want to watch how much money you beat him out of too. Ford has trouble keeping his trousers on. Bergeron has a twinkle in his eye. Knapp carries beer in a blue cooler in the summer and drinks whisky in the winter. Felix hangs drywall and thinks he’s Lee Trevino. We all make up Mexican sounding things to say to him. Felix was one of my dad’s buddies at the Elks. My dad used to make up Mexican sounding things to say to him, too.

Besides the five families of Canadian Geese and a few pesticide-resistant burrowing animals, there are flowering bushes and white birches and yellow birches and oak trees with mistletoe in their branches and willow trees. The groundskeepers prune them down to bare nubs in the fall but they always grow back into huge weeping willows by the time summer rolls around again. Then, on top of all that, there’s the sky—all different kinds of sky, changing from one minute to the next; dark clouds, white clouds, mist, rainbows, double rainbows, you name it—anything you’d ever want to see in the way of weather.

If none of the guys I usually play golf with shows up, I play golf all by myself. Nor do I play golf well. I play golf badly. I’ve been playing golf badly every day for the last two and a half years. I shot a 76 once, but that was a gigantic fluke. The wind kept changing direction. It was with me on every hole. Calm zephyrs gently guided my 90 compression Titleist straight toward the pin every time I hit the thing. If I’d been any good it would have been a 66. But I’m not any good. That’s part of the reason I quit playing golf and decided to write this book, instead—well, that and just to get it the hell over and done with once and for all.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Duo Dynamic...blog-review

An old prof of mine once said about my work, "Two things are certain: You're going to get you book published and you're going to get laid."

Sitting here on the slope end of sixty, I have serious doubts about the veracity of that two-headed proposition.

I can certainly say this about some visitors to this site, one, in fact, who just only recently got his book published after twenty years of writing and very nearly another ten years of flogging. Rejected by every last agent in New York, the West Coast and Canada, my new friend finally scored with Monkfish publishers, a small house out of New York.

Thirty years and more in the wilderness and final success. What tenacity. Had my writer friend known my professor, there would be no doubt in his mind at all about the certitude of eventually getting his book published. As for getting laid, well, that's another story.

The man is an absolute fanatic and even after some five thousand rejections and more, he has absolute faith in his work and absolute contempt for agents and publishers, whom he considers stupid money-grubbers who wouldn't know a good book from a Dr. Phil show.

To talk to my writer friend one would be convinced that this is one more no-talent punk whose ego is about the size of Prince Edward Island and what appears to be a whole lot of hubris to go with it. Enough hubris for the classical Greek aphorism: Pride goeth before a fall.

But he has not fallen not, neither has he flinched. He has succeeded.

The story of my correspondent's publishing travail easily equals any number of British and American boys' books of the early part of the last century, the ones about lame kids with names like Archibald Arbuthnott and their eventual success in a cricket or baseball team against all odds, puny frame, incongruous name and all. Sort of Horatio Alger with an athletic bent. Or an idiot with a mechanical bent.

In an age of extreme cynicism, hardly anyone believes in heroes anymore, save perhaps for Spiderman, and Harry Potter, but how else are talented homosexuals going to communicate with each other?

We'll call the book GG. Who the hell wants to get sued?

When I first chanced on my writer's website, I saw a very angry man, who, in revenge for the rejection (I swear) by six thousand agents and publishers, listed every last one of them and called them fools, morons, dunderheads who only knew how to grub for money and just didn't have the intelligence or sensitivity to know when a work really had the snap once known as genius. "The more I was rejected, the more I was convinced that I had the talent and they had dick," my friend more or less says. And then he lists every one of his antagonists, a boon, really, for writers who need to know real publishers and agents.

Myself, I really had doubts about anyone publishing my Light over Newmarket; I had doubts about getting laid.

But now, having had a google at "Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing", I know that the job can be done.

But six thousand rejections? Thank god for technology. My friend had his novel up on a private website and he caught a fish, Monkfish.

In my own sneaky way, I was able to access the book known as GG.

Carramba! What the hell am I doing writing?

Yeah, yeah, I'll probably get my poor book published. But all I've got is high-tech typing, it seems.

GG is Writin' .

I wrote the author, telling him how good the book was, how I'd loved what he had written in the few first chapters that I'd read, and with characteristic disdain, he seemed to tell me that he didn't need any money-grubbing sycophants to tell him how good he was. He knew.

Ouch.

Well, at least after coming in contact with this author, a real author (the rest of us grub for money), I now know for sure that I am going to get my newer novel published. And even getting laid, but I'm sure my friend wouldn't want to talk about that.

Publishing miracles happen only once or twice in a decade.

You will get your book published. And you will be laid.

Happy New Year

Ivan