Saturday, January 28, 2006

I Thought I Was Brad Pitt The Elder

At first, the separation was amicable.

"I'm not sure how you're going to fare, head in the clouds and all. You can't seem to focus; you don't get things."

She had vintage Bob Dylan on, Idiot Wind. We Can't even Feed Ourselves. I had been a writer and a money-making writer at that, for ten years. Then I stopped. She took over the bills. Then she stopped. We Can't Even Feed Ourselves.

Now two slightly incompetent people with dwindling bank accounts.Characters in a Willie Nelson song. Two lonely people each looking like houses, where nobody lives. There was enough residual money around for the kids to get an education, for her to keep the house and even a young bricklayer, whose relationship with her I could never fathom .She was certainly no Loreena Bobbitt. And I was no Brad Pitt, not shy with my Angelina Jolies.

Ten years of rutting lust, travel, songs, guitars, Malagena Salerosa, Girl from Malaga, girl of the red room, girl from California, girl from Frank Sinatra. We'd ride in limousines their chauffeurs would drive. Girls on the spike, how massive those needles seemed to be, big as Alice, and how quickly the girls would put on the side effect of endema. Gorgeous calendar girls, legs suddenly grown elephantine. Go ask Alice When She's Ten Feet Tall. Girls with pimps away on holidays. "You've got me all to yourself"; girls into alcohol, It's all the same; only the names are changed. And every day, we're just wastin' away. All the liquor bottles piling up, fights, Charles Bokowski scenes. You ruin everybody you touch; No, you ruin everybody you touch. No matter. We ruin each other.

Parallel scenes. Again the rich banker's daughter, the supporting older sister, Can I Have This Dance for the Rest of My life?

Well no. All my relationships are now poisoned. I can neither go back to the well nor stay with the wreck. And if I am a good cocksman it is really your bounty and not mine. You are beautiful. That is what they all told you since you were a little girl. And now you've had too much assertiveness training and too much group therapy and though your memory is still good enough to remember lines on stage, you are utterly fucked. Two husbands. Snapped continuity. You got through your hell through therapy, I am doing it through fucking, drinking and fighting. No Good Boyo and all that high school play for voices. I am sitting in a lifeboat, drunk, Ginny crack corn, and I don't care..

And then the separation got nasty.

If you know how badly you hurt me after what you've done. If you knew how badly you hurt me when you joined that swingers club, and you didn't even tell me. Night school. Yeah. All those nights with me babysitting and you were out there with your randy prof in your legal house of the rising sun. Good thing the old c*ck***ker died. Served him right. "Lass, I've got you by the ass" indeed. Fucking old fraud whose poetry won't last the decade. But mine will, because I copy. Copy the best and this will last forever.

Well, I can still write, I think. It's the damn piddly-assed details that are starting to get to me. Separation makes it hard to focus. Simple things are almost impossible to do. My short story is accepted, again. The contract is sent out by fax. I have to put my signature on it and return it by fax. I have no fax. I finally get to a print shop where there is a fax. I have to glue things together. It is too robust a piece of foolscap. Hanging chads. The contract will not go through the machine. Reluctant to show helplessness and dependence, I ask the printing girl for help. Self confidence is an aphrodisiac. I am losing it. And almost losing the contract.

The story comes out. The Star gives it big play. Wine-stoned cowboy. Women on the phone. Self-confidence back. Lights in Georgia even a local success. "You are a success in your own home town, the young girl says. Chuckles editorial writer, "Jones will be given a huge California publishing contract. But Jones will protest. 'I want Hollywood, or I want nothing”.

"You are just trading on your looks, you asshole," says a friend I can trust. "You charmed the ass off that publisher's girl and that's how you got the contract." Yeh.

The separation is getting really nasty. Now there is talk of divorce.

The furor over my book has almost peaked. Forty thousand dollars is a year's income for most people.

Divorce. That hurts. But perhaps there will be a settlement say Chutzpay boy. Who can love Duddy Jones?

It's older women now. There is no sexual finickiness here. They know how to get you off, whether you're in the mood or not. "I am a nymph," she says. I think of the old poet who had riffed my wife. "Are you a wood nymph?" "No, I am just a nymph, and you know what that means." Not-so-still life. Painting with Nymph. And Satyr.

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive as you or me

Tearing through these quarters in the utmost misery. I have seen the Johnny Cash movie and I too, am trashing my hotel room; she is trashing the hotel room. Rape of the Sabine Women. Paganism. We rape each other. Two passionate people. All I need is Norman Mailer's knife. Thank God we both are so weak and small.

I need a garret. I have rented a garret. She follows me. Sends me letters. "If you have better things to do, like cleaning lint off your navel or looking after that pot roast, you can stop reading this...

"Still reading? Heh. I though you would be..." I tear up the letter.

There is production in the garret, actually an industrial unit. There is work immediately outside, at furniture shop where I ply some of my father's talents. There is income, there is hope. My ex-wife visits me, looks at my circumstances, gets into her Honda and takes off. The final indissoluble antinomy had been reached. I am alone.

The sex chucks. What do you do about the sex chucks. I watch CityTV. Cycle Sluts. Going down with Moses.

All that talent and greatest success as a purveyor of soft-core pornography. Like me. He whom the gods would destroy, they first call promising.

Time. Time. Time. The professional uses time. You can not knock down a professional. The word-man. The walrus. Koo Koo Katchoo.

I am going to finish my book, read my stuff and hope to bring the house down, that house of the rising sun.

I'm already walking to New Orleans.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

I wish I had duck feet

"Did you have an unhappy childhood," asks a correspondent and I answer, "Yes I did, thank God."

The great compensation. In exchange for an unhappy childhood, the gods gave me about a zillion little gifts and all through a mainline writing career, these little abilities have popped up and there was little I could do to stop them from coming out.

One day I decided to go out and be a rock star. I found out I could fake some chords besides faking paragraphs for the Globe and Mail, but as soon as I hit centre stage, my small musical talent seemed to leave me. What is this silver-fretted Fender thing doing in my left hand? What is that big bright light, who are all these people? Who am I?

"You're a rock star, you asshole”, says the bass player. “Start rockin'."

So I closed my eyes for a second and imagined myself to be Jimi Hendrix, played some riffs I'd learned from Lightnin' Hopkins and tried to think of the tablature for a Jimi Hendrix song.

"Picks up guitar. Drops pick. Picks up pick. Drops guitar. Picks up guitar by the neck and smashes it on an amplifier. Turns to drum section. Picks up can of lighter fluid. Pours lighter fluid over smashed guitar. Looks for lighter. Can't find lighter. Rummages through tight satin pants. Plucks forth Bic lighter. Sparking now. Broken guitar now on fire. Awful feedback still there after Star Spangled Banner ending."

Oh f*ck. Wrong tablature. The tapes in my head are all scrambled up. Get the other tape in the old brain.

Thank god the sidemen are into a Jimmy Reed boogie lick and now, finally, I know what I'm doing.

You got me peepin'
You got me hidin'
You got me peep hide peep hide anyway you want
A little roll.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
You got me doin' what you want to
Baby what you want me to do.


Ah, that mothergrabbin' blue note, in between a major and minor, that flatted fifth, reaching for it now as I somehow go from an E to an E-5, hit the blue note, the bass player picks it up and we are on our way. Doesn't matter now, the backup guitar player can do the riff. Got away with it.

Then the Blues Brothers routine with the other guitar player and we somehow get applause.

After it's all over, I tell the bass player I'd better stick to writing, and he says, “Why? I wanna keep on playing with somebody good."

Where did this entire musical episode come from?

I have no idea. All those stupid tapes in my head.

I used to read a story to my children, I Wish I Had Duck Feet, a little kid wishing he had duck feet so he could walk home in the rain and a waterspout on top of his head so he could douse the playground bully and it did strike me that my small talents made me a lot like the kid with the duck feet and the waterspout on top of his head, where all the tapes were, and my son, who was turning out to be a mathematician was a lot like me, though not as crazy, as crazy as his old man who was writing for his life, spinning out fantasies that he could sell to the people. Making a living at it, but the god always demands a price. Occupational hazard. Alcohol.

"What does Daddy do up in that attic when he finishes typing?"

"Don't ask.”

"Whom do you drink with?" Wifey wanted to know.

"I was stuck," I'd answer.

"Supper!"

"Supper daddy."

Eat? I'd rather be poked in the eye.

Having a dialogue with my friend in the glass trenchcoat.

What do you do when you're young, married, rich and spoiled? Do a Kurt Cobain? Better stick with the sauce. Sensible wife is no Courtney Love.

“What do you do for a living?” somebody asks at a party.

"I'm a pig farmer," I reply in all seriousness.

"So tell me about pigs and their ways," the cocktail dress lady almost snickers. "Certainly not the usual line of work".

The tape goes on in my head: "Instances of swine urisipe are quite common. Pigs do have heart attacks..."

She was starting to believe it.

Where the hell did that come from? The drinking? The information is there all right, it's just that it's scrambled up now.

Still, much better to tell people you're a pig farmer than some other fraud, like a writer.

I decided to park the writing for a while, took a leave of absence from the Globe and went back to the music.

But it got to be a job, like anything can get to be a job. I was drinking even more and the need to go out there and be brilliant every time took a lot of alcohol. The great Gordon Lightfoot was on the same TV bill as me. Impossible act to follow. So I drank, got Lightfoot to show me more chords, and more or less faked my way through.

"Better quit your job," said my friend the bank teller. "You're starting to look really bad."

Back to the writing, back to the spinning of fantasies.

But here, after all the alcohol, a problem. Blank screen syndrome.

I can't write.

A night watchman with no flashlight? A fireman with no hose? A traffic cop with no whistle?
The damn John Barleycorn.. Now I can't write. Where are those tapes? The tapes had always been there.

Silence.

The editors are waiting. The mighty presses are poised to roll. And I can't write.

"You're blocked?" says the harried editor. Professionals don't get blocked. "I'm blocked Jerry. Real bad."

"So write about the block, you asshole. Gimme something, anything."

So I did. Wrote about the block.

And the tapes are suddenly, inexplicably, back.

The block has somehow produced a written piece. Jewel in the toad's head.

Those damned tapes again.

I think I need to see somebody.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Old Goat

Recently, very recently, H.E. Eigler issued a challenge on her site (among other sites), THE PHANTOM KEYBOARD:

"I challenge you to write a goat-related flash fiction piece.” (She was just back from BC, where she took some pictures of goats living on a rise).

She went on: Difficulty--no bestiality. I know. It does take the fun out of things.

So I immediately wrote a goat piece, with just the teeniest amount of bestiality. I mean, what's a little bestiality on a big literary operation like this? So I sent her my one-hour opus. Goes like this:

THE OLD GOAT

In an old prairie dugout, there lived a goat.

Goats seem eternally peeved, that peeved expression, but Andreas the Goat was not really peeved; quite happy, really. Did he not have what he wanted, the supply of scraps at the nearby junkyard, the good feeling he got from the Jimson weed and chicory, the late middle age which had now cooled his passion, True, the young she-goats still showed interest, though this more for his old daddy goat appeal than anything else. He was a handsome old goat.

One day, another goat passed his way. A young-old nanny. She still had a prance to her gambol, as if very young, but a little gray in her dapple showed she was almost as old as Andreas. The old goat regarded the new arrival with some interest. Meeehh, he bleated, almost out loud. There was, inexplicably, a Meeh-ing response. Andreas did a slight double-take, but he composed himself. Always be cool around females. "Hello, come closer. What's your name, little she-goat, what's your name?"

"Yasmine." she bleated. She clacked along the gravel to his hideout and came closer. He could now see her face. The cutest little snout, though he could see by the reddened blacks of her comma eyes that she had been into something. Funny weed? Perhaps a bit of fermented barley down by the sump pump. She had certainly was on something. Oh not again, the old goat thought. These kids, always grazing on those devil weeds. And the adults just as bad. She was now right up to him and went to almost pass him, though rubbing a little along his rough hide.

It had struck Andreas that it had been so long, so long since there had been a horn-to-horn. Or even close contact with a female.

But just as soon as she had come up, she suddenly turned on a cloven hoof and seemed about to run away.

But he followed and trotted beside her.

"What's your last name," he asked.

"Springbok."

"Springbok?”

"Yes. Yasmine Springbok."

"Icelandic," he asked.

"No, South African originally."

And with that, she seemed to just spring away from him, as she had done just before, soon to disappear through silver-and-blue Russian olive bushes.

These spacey drug freak nannies, they're all the same, the old goat thought. So much into power plays, games, control. Use you as a sounding board. Tease you and run off.
But her scent, the recent nearness of a female, had awakened something in Andreas.

For some time, the old goat had noticed his thoughts were more in the past than the present. Manger scenes, back in the days when he'd had a family, kids, barns, chickens. All gone now. All grown up. Or maybe worse. He winced at the thought.

Always the new she-goat. That's how it had always been up until he grew old. Never mind, Yasmine Bleat, or whatever your name is, I will tend to my grazing, see my reflection in the old glass windshields around the garbage dump. What a fine old goat I am. I don't need anything or anybody.

But Yasmine kept coming around.

At first she seemed to ignore him as she gamboled past, but he had to admit she was raising old goat passions in him, not only the hint of an erection he was starting to feel along his scrabbly belly, but also some sort of promise that Yasmine seemed to hold.

One day she came right up to the old goat and said, "I will give you whatever you want. Anything at all. Whatever you want, real or imagined.” "Nutcase," he decided. “Off-the-wall she-goat probably Iberian. Gypsy. Best keep to myself.”

But on the third day she came back with an old soup can in her mouth, which suddenly, inexplicably, turned into a flower.

The old goat pawed at the ground, but here, suddenly was a bunch of carrots. "How you doo dat?" the old goat asked, trying to show casualness, not the sudden, strange supernatural fear.

“I am she-goat, mistress of goathood. I can make you horny. I can de-goat you if I choose. I can make you magic. I am Isis-goat. I know you better than you know yourself."

Never met a goat like her before.

They took to running around together, past the trees, past the birds, past the clucky stampeding chickens, through the yard and into a grove of Russian olives, spiky and hard to get near, let alone eat. "Got something to show you, said Yasmine. Come." Andreas followed, followed her down a glade to the hollowed-out stump of an old oak tree, ancient, thick, though the inside was rotted out, leaving a circular ruin all around. One end was open, and inside, there was space for two or three goats, as if in a pen. There, inside the old oak stump there was a nest of spiders, just babies really, scrambling for cover. Yasmine suddenly went to stomp them, and in fact, trampled a couple. The others got away. Andreas was surprised at this sudden show of atavism. Who, what was she really? Andreas had a sudden feeling of unreality as the hollowed oak stump seemed suddenly alive, all ashimmer. "Do not be afraid," said Yasmine. This is only a show of my power. I can give you anything you want. Anything at all. And then she knelt on her front legs and produced the vision of a past manger scene, the old goat's former mate, the kids, the chickens. All he had to do was walk into it and there he would be. But Andreas just stood there transfixed, wondering at the unreality of it all. And just as soon as the scene dissipated, she scrambled for a wall and was suddenly gone.

It took a long time for the old goat to return to the dugout.

He was a much changed old goat.

Seven years of rooting around the old dugout that he had lived in. And for the first time, he'd learned something. But what was it?

He yearned to see the young-old she-goat again.

One morning, he saw two goats up on the rise, a fine gray billy and along with him, Yasmine.

Son of a wanton goat! he thought. I should have known.

But the following day she was back, alone, her mysterious companion not there.

"I want you to love me," she said, rather matter-of-factly. “I want you to love me. Spiritually, like a goat-knight. I will give you anything you want." And suddenly, between them, there sprung a clump of olives. Andreas had a taste. Not at all like stale Campbell's soup. Something in those olives though. He could feel, sense the remaining baby spiders in the stump's walls. Could see them spinning their little gossamer webs, and the mother now nearby.

He made to tell Yasmine how he was feeling, but she was not there now. She was gone again.

She came back that evening, and, after some rubbing against him, unexpectedly, presented herself to him. Andreas was in goat heaven. He took her. And afterwards, without much ado, she went to run off again. "Stay," said Andreas." But she gave him a quick nuzzle and she was again gone. Seven days went by. No Yasmine.

He saw the mysterious he-goat again, alone this time, up high on the knoll. Soon another goat joined the handsome Sean Connery goat. It was Yasmine. Andreas could see by the familiarity displayed between them that they were, it seemed, still in love. "And me, what about me?"

She showed up alone the following evening. He was half-mad with jealousy and woe. "Explain."

"You can't get everything from just one goat," she asserted. “I am with him, but I love you."

"Yeh."

And she was gone again.

Nights were now spent in fits of jealousy and discontent. He would do this, he would do that. He would butt heads with the mysterious lover.

And one day he did. He saw the two of them up on the rise again and ran right up. "You got a problem?” said handsome Sean Connery goat. "Yeah, I've got a problem." And with that, he gave the handsome stranger a pretty good grazing. The stranger did not fight back. "Leave him alone," Yasmine bleated. "Leave my husband alone." Oohh.
Andreas walked back down the hill, to his shed. He had a sense of clairvoyance. He thought, as he had run away that he heard Yasmine say, "There is a reason for everything. I had come to you for a reason."

He sulked in his "apartment." So that was it. They are married. Well, he had his pen, he had his food and he had his certainties. It was an episode, a learning experience, old as he was. I will be a rock. I will be a hill. I will keep to myself.

Yasmine did not come around again. He grew to be his old self again, his certainties, the "key" his pen.

One morning, something compelled him to leave his pen, and leave fast. There was the sound of heavy machinery just above. He was out just before a massive bulldozer razed his home.

And high up on the knoll, again, he saw Yasmine. Alone. She was making moves to go back down to the other side of the knoll. She had almost disappeared now. He had no idea why, or what he would do, and could he do it. But he suddenly made to follow. Soon, he was up on the rise, with Yasmine still in sight down below.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Bringing it all back home

Like many another vain, empty, and bullying body of our time, I have been running for President these last ten years in the privacy of my mind, and it occurs to me that I am less close now than when I began. Defeat has left my nature divided, my sense of timing is eccentric, and I contain within myself the bitter exhaustions of an old man, and the cocky arguments of a bright boy. So I am everything by my proper age of thirty-six, and anger has brought me to the edge of the brutal.

So begins Norman Mailer in his Advertisements for Myself.

Gotta watch what you say about Norman Mailer, or, for that matter, Bob Dylan. Say the wrong thing and you'll find both these adepts have a karma that'll just come down the blogsphere and getcha. So what I have to say next will come through a prism of candles and fasting.

Like many a young fool, I have been absolutely fascinated by the workings of Mailer's mind, so fascinated that I almost felt that his journalistic (and novelistic) work was my own. I began to emulate, copy, admire. But Mailer, like God, is doing his own thing, oblivious to your anthropological or creative makeup.

But hold. Norman Mailer has the Second World War behind him. So do I. And that makes all the difference.

Any serious novelist who has the Second World War behind him usually makes it, and makes it big, Gore Vidal, Herman Wouk, Terry Southern, Jerzy Kosinski, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.--the list is nearly endless with the aristocracy of war. I guess I'm um, broken-down aristocracy.

So with an eye half out to Mr. Mailer's Advertisments for Myself, I began my own novel, and here is how my lead-in went:

So I quit my job, leave my wife and son, get myself set up in this Spadina Road loft and tell myself I'm going to write the Great Canadian Novel.

And on the second day, i get up, stare at the debauched Slavic face in the cracked mirror, and it tells me...You're wrong. Go back. Go back over your life.

And when your return, be jealous of no man's accomplishment. Love your wife; enjoy your fatherhood...because each breath that you take has been purchased at great expense.

Want more?

Here is Chapter One of The Black Icon.

Bright July sunlight etched out the shapes of dun and green fields stretching eastward from the gloomy Carpathians. The Prut River wound through rectangles of wheat that skipped checker-fashion across squares of yellow-tufted potato fields. Above, the sun shone in summer heat.
Below, in a potato tract, Sophia Podolska, nine months pregnant, looked up at the sky and wiped her face with the tails of her babushka. Not a cloud in sight. Another hot one.

With a sigh, she bent back towards her work. Work kept her busy, kept her from thinking of the loss of two infant boys before the arrival of Katerina, a healthy, bright girl child now six years of age.

"Dear God, if you could only make his baby inside me just as whole and healthy."
Sophia's prayer was suddenly cut off. A dizziness seized her and she found it hard to catch her breath. A sharp pain came into her abdomen, causing her to drip the hoe and clutch her middle. "It's coming, Sophia's brain warned.

She hurried off in the direction of her home. The pain and the swimming sensation told her shoe would be lucky to make the house, let alone the midwife who was a good mile away.
She stumbled on, now approaching the woodshed some paces from the house.

A sudden wet leakage running down her thighs told her the woodshed would be the place. She opened the leather-hinged door and sank down heavily on the chip-littered floor.

"Michael," she called her husband's name as the pain increased to a pitch she could no bear. "Michael...Help...The ensuing blackness was the last thing she remembered.

* * * * * * * *

She awoke to find the baby's head protruding from her groins. Without a second thought, she grasped the head with her open palms and gave a yank that sent a fresh spasm of pain through her, causing her to faint once more just as the infant was drawn clear.

Consciousness. But now a strange, high-pitched sound came from a red, appendaged creature beside Sophia. A thrashing entrail snaked around its neck. Again, by some Neolithic instinct, the pinched the umbilical cord with her nails, tied it and began wiping the baby off with the upper part of her shirt, the only part not soaked by the birth fluids. The infant, by this time, made a shrill, breathless sound.

"Cry, my little one," she thought, cry for both of us."

Having cleaned the child and herself as well as she could, Sophia held the infant to her, giving him her breast, which the boy bit impulsively with his toothless gums, but apparently without success. The cry again. She, realizing what was happening, took her other breast between her teeth until the blood and milk ran free. She then offered the breast to the grasping baby. No sooner had she done this, than a brilliant shaft of sunlight caused her to squint as someone opened the shed door. Michael's suntanned face appeared through the crack, bright brown eyes focusing on the mother and child.

"Sophia," he rasped as he came down on one linen-clad knee to stoop over the woman and infant.

Sophia said nothing as she cuddled the suckling child.
___________

Well, that's how The Black Icon started. I had some success with the book in the United States, but precious little in Canada. Perhaps in my lead-in I shouldn't have mentioned that I had set myself up in a Spadina Avenue loft to write my book. Seems the Canadian publisher I first sent the book to me was doing just that, House of Anansi setting itself up on a Spadina Road loft. In my lead in, I showed superiority to Sixties Canadian literature. I was unhip. Or too hip. They were into modernism, I was into myself and my family’s trek through Europe, shelled and bombed, starving and abject. My American success came when I won two tuition scholarships with a satellite campus of the University of California in Mexico. This was in the days of great philanthropy for writers from rich Americans. No Canadian success in hardcover, or even softcover. I had to serialize the book in a provincial magazine.

Well. The Black Icon is hardly The Naked and the Dead.

But Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead fascinated me long before I wrote The Black Icon, fascinated me because it had echoes of Tolstoy, Gogol, James T. Farrell, Hemingway.

Fascinated me because it was American, and what immigrant kid didn't want to be an American. I had to be an American at once, especially after reading The Naked and the Dead. "Carlos, now you make love to your hand. When you grow a little, you will make love to a girl."-- or something like that in one of the flashbacks out of Mailer's terrific atoll war scene.

And then came Advertisements for Myself and I was hooked. What immigrant kid in his twenties hadn't felt rejection, failure, pain? It happened to Norman Mailer at the height of his incredible success. But it seemed to happen to me before it actually happened.

Yet there was Mailer's transcendence. Where Norman Mailer "failed" with The Deer Park, he succeeded--wildly succeeded with his Advertisments for Myself. He did it. Broke the Big Bitch. And went on to the Pulitzer Prize and more. But, as you get older, the critical faculty tends to set in, and he never again (to my mind) wrote a satisfactory novel.

So I guess what I'm setting down here is my own Advertisements for Myself. The approach worked for near-genius Norman Mailer. Imitation is flattery. I am no genius.

But I can write. Can always write. Or try.

Hope you didn't find all this mawkish, Mr. Mailer.

But then you did try to court Hemingway once.