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.


Anonymous said...

Feh! Who wants to be considered "normal" when you can use your most powerful organ, your mind. Imagine getting to whatever stage in one's life without some unique memories...and maybe some experiences one does not remember? Life was created for my amusement, and I am constantly amused. Bah! on the benchmarks of others, I march to the beat of a different drummer, and I expect that you do too, Ivan. An interesting life is always a work in progress; what is next?

Doubting Thomas

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Doubting Tomas,
Thanks for the moral support.
Actually, I started out quite
conventional, but then I read about all those artists who coldn't pay their rent or support their families and like a schlemiel, I began to long for the bohemian life. Tried it once in Mexico among the scorpions and the mague plants and was surprised that I survived.
"This will be the last time," I told myself. "Stop playing with your life."
Life had other plans. I fell into a million bucks and threw half of it away just out of idiocy. Pissed off the wife: "It's not a fool and his money that gets separated, it's a fool and his MOMMY," she said, slamming the door. Me a kept man? Me, God's chosen? Why, I'll show her.
I had quite a bit of ego at the time.Led to sexual acrobatics and ultimate disaster. Whatever you do, don't search for another mommy. You wanna really fall off the surfboard, you do that.
Whee! Rollercoaster.
I may have survived with my fa-faculties intact, but I'm not sure.
Now all I want is the same as a down-home Newfoundlander. A package of tailor-made cigarettes and a two-four of Moosehead.
Yet there is stil this itch, something you obviously know something ahout.
Get another ship. Get another crew.
The life of a pot-bellied Odysseus is for slatterns.
Put a little flamenc0 in your life.
Malagena Sale Rosa,
The girl of the red room.
When all else collapses, there will always be flamenco.
Thanks, pal.

Scott in Montreal said...

And you accuse me of "doing some living"? Uncle!

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Ah, you're just letting the
old man win:)

Freya West said...

Interesting piece of writing, just loved to read this.
Thank you,
Freya, UK