Friday, June 29, 2007

I got one hand in my pocket, and the other is...

I feel drunk but I'm sober
I'm young and I'm underpaid
I'm tired but I'm working,

I care but I'm restless
I'm here but I'm really gone
I'm wrong and I'm sorry
What it all comes down to
Is that everything's gonna be quite alright
I've got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is flicking a cigarette

--Alanis Morisette

Heaven forbid the talented lady should be playing with herself, but that's pretty well my mood on this full moon--got one hand in my pocket and the other is flicking a cigarette.

"Have you ever been crazy, Ms. Morrisette?" a Toronto reporter asks.

"Sure. Lots of times."

"And how do you deal with that?"

"You just walk through it."

I had intended to take a walk in the park, one hand in my pocket and the other swiggin on a cigaratte, but Larry might catch me in the bushes by the swings and treat me like an Arab would treat a woolly-robed pilgrim in a mad Crusade.
I might be ragged, bagged, yea, even shagged!

"The cops had me in for having a pee in the bushes."

"Yeah, sure, Larry. Right by the little girls."

The cops trying to egg Larry on in the cruiser.

They have a copy of Hustler, which they are waving under his nose. "Whaddya think of this, Larry?" one cop says
as he proffers a gorgeous woman having great difficulty in swallowing another woman.

They are bored. They have their prevert. It's only steps to the cop shop at the edge of the park.

Next day, Larry is busy doing something on bathroom paper towels. He appears to be doodling with an HB pencil.
He has drawn carricatures of all his captors, including the desk sergeant.
They let him go.
They'd never met a Larry before.

Meanwhile, I am walking along the old millpond in the park.
Legend has it that a hermit lives on the island, but it's probably just Larry, one hand in his pocket.

Along the Holland River there is a tableau suddenly presented for me.

The town cripple, victim of many a stroke, poor devil, is in full pursuit of a duck with a hurt foot.

Both are suffering damnably, the duck barely able to waddle and the stroke victim in hot pursuit, himself barely able to walk without a cane, which he now raises menacingly and purposefully toward the duck. The duck, uh, ducks and the procedure starts again. The duck does a little hop, he crippled guy does a little hop. There is the swing with the cane.
No one is getting anywhere fast.

"Jerry," will you leave that poor duck alone? The food bank is just down the street."

Jerry is embarrassed. He does a little pirouette, avec cane, on his specially designed Beatle boots.

This is obviously my night to meet the town's grotesques.

The woods are full of funny people.

Yet I too, am in the woods.

I decide to visi my friend Reuben.

I had met Rouben in Copenhagen where I had been stymied by a porno machine that would only give me lesbians and gays in the act known hilariously as 69. I wanted boys and girls. I noticed that Reuben was gathering up some of my rejects and he didn't like them either.
"That little old lady over there. She'll sell you some really good porn."

Porn, porn everywhere porn.
We all follow the Scandinavian model for some of our institutions, and yet at base, lovely little old ladies have kiosks set up with samples of their wares right up front. I swear Scandinavians are mad..

I also knew that Copenhagnen was the buggery capital of the world, so I was not all that axious to talk to the stranger who had been eyeing my discarded porn. Happily, I was not the one bent over.

"Relax," said the stranger who later introduced himself as Reuben. "I've got a couple of girls waiting for me in the car. Want to meet them?

Well, does a cat have a tail?

Ladies introduced. We head for the nearest tavern.

I have two beers.


I am drunk.

The beer is a least twelve per cent alcohol.
Might as well call it malt liquor.

This is certainly not the familiar campus, professor.

But we tarried the night with the girls.

Reuben and I took the same plane home, though he had to get off at Kennedy to connect with a shuttle to Philadelphia. We noticed on the plane that there was always a man in the washroom--couldn't get in.
No doubt everybody had his packet of porn. There was serious business to attend to.

I learned Reuben was a systems analyst fot the Burroughs Adding machine company.
I was a war reporter for NATO, trench coat and all.
I had left my CBC companions early as the anchor person you saw every night in those days was the weirdest, most disgusting man I'd ever met. He had brought up all over the desk clerk, went upstairs to call his cameraman a "Stupid f*cking Frog" and passed out in the hallway.

I do think the bellhop said somerthing about Dumbkopf kanadieschen.
And then he looked at me and said, : "Polish aristocracy."
I didn't know how to take that, but I had to get out of that hotel.
Meeting Ruben was great luck.

I learned Reuben, a mathematician, was visiting art galleries to give his mind a break.

I learned all about art, as Copenhagen, besides being the porn capital of the western world, also has the finest art galleries.

But now, thirty years later and Reuben back in town.

He has had a serious stroke. Doing anything "left" kind of hurts him.
Even thinking of doing anything "left" gives him pain.

This is not so good for an IT man, always on the computer and always on the make for new business.

I go to check on Reuben, see how he's feeling.

I hardly open the door before I am faced with a tirade.

"Ivan, I am a people collector. I collect people, but I use them for my own purposes. You have to have value for me.
"Right now, in your diminished state, you have no value to me, so why don't you just f*ck off and leave me alone."

I avoid the instinctive response. The man is sick.

I sort of pat him on the arm, turn away with as much grace as I can, close the door gently and leave.

I go back to my apartment to realize I'd left a pot on the stove. Smoke detectors are pinging.

Open both doors, turn on the fan. Phew. Close.

What I really need, I decide is a shower.

I clamber into the stall, turn on the taps only to hear the super banging on the door.

"Guy downstairs says there's water dripping down from his ceiling."

Who invented my life?

Ah well.

The super has just caulked the leak around the bathtub tap.

I dasn't take another shower for fear of dissolving the putty.

"You know not either where you've been in your fever nor where you're going." said Omar Khayam.

"So you might as well drink."

I did.

One hand in my pocket and the other swiggin on a cigarette.

These full moons are bloody awful.

And damn hard to walk through.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Unfinished business

No matter how old you get, there is always unfinished business.

The acts of kindness you had intended to perform, old obligations never quite met, entire apartments left to mildew while you were galavanting around the world, whole familes left without you for better or for worse, cruel things you had said and had meant to apologize for, but never did; a love partner left adrift for twenty years and you hardly know what happened afterwards; the new lives established, your sudden, inexplicable leaving--and somehow, in your mind, you never really left. You go into parallel universes where you were the head of one family, the another, then still another, where she was boss and not you.

Unfinished business.

A producer acquaintance of mine, founder of The Nature of Things, is 92 years old, but he claims to this day he has unfinished business. People involved in the actual "unfinished business" are largely dead, but to Mike, there is still unfinished business. "Unfulfilled kindnesses. Obligations. Yes, so much unfinished business. I am a man who himself will soon be dead, but there is as yet so much unfinished business!"

Perhaps this is why there are ghosts.

Ghosts to some, of Christmases past, to others, ghostly lovers who come to visit in the night.

All because of unfinished business.

I am no great practitioner of the occult, but I am fascinated by he workings of the I-Ching, that book of 64 hexagrams that can so encompass our unfinished business.
Seem old Lao Tsu had a problems about 4,000 years ago, and you can still hear him working it out.

Unfinished business.

Sometimes the road is dark and winding. There is remorse.

Other times the hexagram comes out six solid lines. High creativity. All things will now be accomplished.
...Until the next hexagam.

Just for fun, while wrapped in my thoughts of unfinished business, I tossed the I-Ching this morning, in the hottest day of the summer.

Here is what it said:

Ting very happy. Pot very full.
Creativity furthers.

Could it be, could it just be, that some of that unfinished business will come to closure?

Hm. How did one become so whimsical, so fey? Must be the heat and humidity.

You are becoming a type. Your brain is overheated.
Like those leotarded chess broads in he coffe houses of the Sixties, a copy of the I-Ching and Kahlil Gibran in their mesh purses.

I really think the 100 degree heat has gotten to me. Sure do feel like HAL 2000, the computer in the movie.

"I am falling apart, Dave.
"I can feel it. I can feel it!"

Daisy, Daisy,
Give me your answer true.
I'm half crazy
For the love of you.

Unfinished business. For those of us who, for some reason, like to keep our love(s) long-distance.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Performance anxiety

The elusive quality known as stage presence was something I somehow inherited, though I know not from whom.

Maybe it was from my grandfather, who was a town councillor in dangerous Ukraine.

Or was it from my great-uncle, the priest?

I noticed that even my father, humble carpenter-turned-realtor had it.

When the elders of my family spoke, everybody listened. They had a quality known a gravitas. Also a flair for public speaking. Life was hard in those days. You made decisions. You worked hard. And when it came wedding or festival time, you would MC like a pro and later play fiddle like Pagannini.

My father had the same gifts.

Maybe it was the plentitude of the vodka, an animal rising- to- the- occasion, a show-off tendency. My dad had it and his dad, too, though not great-great-grandfather, who was a simple farmer.

Maybe we should have all have stayed simple farmers, though the Commies loved to off independent farmers--kulaks-- of Ukraine. They offed two of my grand- uncles from my father's large family. Bad Commies!

So here I was one day, up in the klieg lights before television cameras--you could only see the lights, no faces--gesticulating, improvising, translating, presenting my big lecture on Dante Allighieri, that wanderer through hell--and I somehow got away with it.

Not for nothing the patient instructors at Ryerson U, instilling in me the discipline known as speech, elocution, which I found rather hard as my accent was plain Hamilton Ontario, which would be like Younstown, Ohio. Plain factory hand talk.
Definitely a non-Etonian! as Monty Python might quip.

"You were nervous," my girlfriend at the time said.

What the hell, I'd tell her. "I pulled it off."

I would hate to give that lecture again. I recall that I was so nervous before the presentation that I could barely talk, let alone try to influence anybody. How many circles were there in hell, exactly? How many rounds?...For the life of me I never did straighten this out in my head, though I knew Dante was something of a mathematician. He would have three lines per stanza. And his cantos always somehow made up 333.

Hm. Double that.

Egad! 666!

For some people, public speaking and public performing is pure hell.

I used to find it hard going. But if your prepare properly, preferably in front of a VTR,-- if you trust your memory, loosely constructed as it might be, you will surprise yourself by actually pulling the thing off.

Brings to mind the recalcitrant Pirate Play kid-actor.

"I didn't want to be in this play anyway."

He had been instructed, upon hearing a booming sound, to say, "Hark! Cannon!"

He did her the noise, but all he said, was, "What in F was that?"


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A black icon, an angel and surely a Tasmanian Devil

One of the nicest ladies who has ever walked down the pike seemed to walk into my blog some time ago (Probably nudged by Josie, another correspondent here).

She is Sienna (real name Pam); she lives in Victoria, Australia and she has seen it fit to start promoting a couple of my book titles there.

Do angels live in heaven?

No, they seem to live in "Birchip", Australia, and they have a veritable Noah's Ark of animals they keep on their race horse farm.

Every morning, you are very likely to see in the yard a kangaroo with a Joey almost as big as Mom Kanga, a stuck-up emu, four Hungarian hounds that might as well be people (they all have personalities) and gorgeous horses so fine you'd swear that El Greco painted them.

Veritably, a peacable kingdom.

And here we are in Canada, so busy hardscrabbling to pry a dollar out of somebody that we hardly have time to pause and smell the eucalyptus.


Recently, on the street, I met Larry Woodcock, who designed the cover for my Light Over Newmarket novella.

"Australia?" he said in an uncharacteristic appreciation (Larry is not like Will Rogers. He hates just about every person he meets, and he's down on just about any country, calling them furriners).

But today, when I told him some lady in Australia liked his cover illustration, he seemed to show great respect, even awe.

"Everybody wants to go and live in Australia," he was telling me.

"Ontario is a crap-can.

"Ten months of winter and two months of really bad skating weather."

I was glad I caught Larry in a good mood.
Two weeks ago he'd punched out a hapless optometrist saying, "This is how I ride up on you slopes. Penny-pinching bastard!
Then he accused some poor Pakistani of stealing his bike.
"You camel-****ing MoFo, you should't even be in this country. I've got half a mind to beat the crap right out of you."

Afterwards, he went to city hall and harrangued seven councillors, right up in the Chamber, calling them all scoundrels, frauds, cheats, homosexuals.

The new mayor was aghast.

Said the secretary, "I guess you hadn't met Larry before, Your Worship.

"Your Worship!" Larry mocked her. "I didn't come to worhip anybody."

And Larry gets away with it.
He is eighth-generation. Scion of pioneers who started Newmarket. To call Larry broken down aristocracy would be equating him with Lord Black. Larry is poor as a churchmouse, and extremely opinionated, to be sure.
He is also probably the best artist in town.

Ah, artistic temperament.
But he's got the chops (artistic and judo) to prove it.

I used to be a lot like Larry at eighteen, but at five-foot eight, I soon learned you can lose a mouthful of ivories really fast by being the fastest mouth in town.

So I write books and Larry does the cover illustrations.

There is some stigma.

"Who published your book--Larry?"

Well, they're all so good, and they're all so fine, but Larry has more talent in one finger than they have in all their bodies.

Why does talent hide in the strangest places.

Actually, the poor Pakistani that Larry really did punch out had earlier done some work for me as well.

He had selected a cover for my Black Icon novella.

It is reproduced above.

Hey, you can still get decent help! :)


Monday, June 18, 2007

And out came a Firestone non-skid

"I know. You're supposed to kick the tires.

--Ivan Prokopchuk
(Globe & Mail Caption Contest winner)

It was 2005.
It was a time of great insecurity.
My novel, Light Over Newmarket had long been remaindered, by my friend Aaron Braaten gave it new life by putting up links on his own blog, GRANDINITE and saying he for one, really like the book and listed me as one of his favourite authors. The list included Hemingway and Faulker and Orwell!
I wasn't getting too many reader responseson my blog, was working with a really clever guy who consistently solved the New York Times puzzle faster than I could. I was frequently asked, "if you're so smart why aren't you rich?" and generally shat upon by the farmers-turned automobile parts salesmen.

"If you're so goddamn smart, prove it."

So I did.

Entered a Globe and Mail Caption contest.

Got my entry in.

Pasted the results all over the office wall.

Heh. The killer instinct takes many forms. :)
I boasted about these small successes to BERNITA, with whom I was developing a pretty good rapport, and she gave a very gracious answer, as she had had a slump in story acceptance at the time. Said Miss B, "Holds index finger to bridge of nose..."
Nose out of joint.
I thought it was a pretty cool response.
Then I added a few bits of what I thought was humour to her blog.
"Stop showing off, " she snapped back.
Things got progressively worse from there.
Oh well. You can't win 'em all.
Gotta till our gardens. Got to cultivate our own fields.
But lately, I've been sending what I thought was pretty cool stuff to the Glob& Mail.
No response.
Wondering what happened.
Sent a note to Moira.
"We won't be using it.
"Do you want a formal rejection letter, or what?"
Says correspondent Heather Eigler.
"...Now is the time to use your ingenuity..."
I've to write another story.
Here it is, the first lines on my antique Smith-Corona:
Now is the time for
(Nope. Try again)
Now is the time
Now is the time for all good men....
Jesus, I'm coming out with some really orgiginal stuff!
I don't get mental blocks, but I think somebody, very likely another writer, has put the blocks to my stories. I have been outdone!
Moira gets 500 submissions every week, of which one is printed.
I used to be good at beating such odds.
Now it seems I just beat up myself.
I can see myself as being Melvin Mole, the little criminal in MAD Magazine.
YOU SLIPPERY LITTLE RAT! his keeper grates with some admiration.
Ah well.
It's DIG! DIG! DIG! all over again.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

But I wasn't ready!!

It has always amazed me that with a little bit of realatively unskilled labour, you can produce beautiful children.

Aging professional student meets Wendy Idyll on her road to hippiedom.
But a biological clock interferes.
The chemistry is perfect, the families fit and suddenly you're married, and within a year, little chubby-chucks are on the scene, the real patter of real little feet.

You had your dream-- the writer, the $100-a-day intellectual and she had hers, the champion dressage rider and painter, both of you at different times hanging around the lockers looking for a dime bag to take some pressure off from producing those essays and taking those exams.

We lived with people, we lived with each other, found the chemistry perfect.

"Marry me."
"Yes, as soon as I get my sister straightened out. Her husband is in legal hot water. I have to testify at something."
Back to the courtship, extended now.

We would walk together in the rain, visit favorite spots, trout streams upon which some budding Frank Lloyd Wright had built a house, right over the waterfall, walking through beautiful Toronto where marvellous Victorian houses would back onto park-like, treed ravines.

The entertainment district, seeing Man of La Mancha, Bob Dylan, taking part in student protests, smokind dope, bourgeois girls sitting on cold Yorkville Avenue steps waiting for the dealer, the Sixties thing.
"But I want to have your children."
Hippie chick, sort of, but a traditional girl all the same.

The honeymoon in the exotic country, the Mariachis, ageless Mexican hill towns, chasing each other up and down cobblestone hills, churches stabbing up into a very think sky at eight thousand feet..
No children yet, so we had gotten a cat who would claw at the screen dooor whenever we played the oija board or listen to Sgt. Pepper.
And then one day-- oops-- morning sickness. The honeymoon was over.

Into the work grind, by now the $175-a-week intellectual--not so easy, Bunky; the rent must be paid and all the while we're looking for a house.
Luck, luck, lots of luck. The luck persisted. We got the house, we had the children, everything hunky-dory, and then I stopped.

"Why are you stopped, Daddy?"

"Don't know. Just am. Daddy has to work something out."

Up in the attic, the literary mistress, the manuscript that would just not take life.
You had a life, but it was not the writing life. The Yippie-dippies were telling you to drop out, abandon your creeping meatball, but they weren't married, had no mortgage and for them it was all so easy to say. Then Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin too had had to grow up, had to play the stock market and they found everything wasn't going to be easy for them either.

Your original dream is now set aside; there is the house, the cottage, the job, the kids. You do not entirely avoid feeling like Dagwood Bumstead.

Ah well, that is the way the game she is played.

The move to the suburbs, getting the kids into school, coveting your neighbour's wife.

You hardly notice the people you grew up with, some of them not so lucky, the mammoth drunks, the journeys to Vancouver, where the welfare was easy, the more successful with their mind-numbing jobs at Loblaws, Steinbergs and Woolco.

Education got you out of this. You married a woman whose family was very well off, and you were something of an Alistair MaLean character, another kind of "down-easter" gone to university, gone to get an edjucation, to soon marry a rich wife; and as you grew weak with work, she would get stronger and eventually, you would depend on her.

No matter. At the age of thirty it seemed to me that you don't take things, don't force things.
Things are given to you, including your children.
The beautiful children. The perfect children.

We don't deserve our children.

We with the silver spoons in our mouths, given soon to middle-class ennui, boredom, tampering with the commandments.

Well, Daddy's ragged now, not even right, the babysitter was in there pitching for a long time and somehow the kids came to maturity.
Daddy did try his best, insofar as he was able.

Daddy never, ever, really grew up but it sure would be nice if the kids would visit.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The bluebeard of happiness: Will love find a way?

There are two things I miss after surviving a life accident.

1) My poor brain.
2) Being in love.

The brain seems to be recovering somewhat, but one is not in love, even if a formely beloved has come down to give you cuddle and the promise of more visits. You are not in love.

Friggin' drag.

How magical, how nice to be in love, the beloved seemingly winged and out of the sky, divine airline stewardess/steward
come to rescue you from this world of dross and limbo, where you know every day is the same, and unlike Murray McLachlin, you are not "washed by the whisperin' rain."

Poetic Murray McLachlin:

I will stare like a gypsy
Into the sky
And the moonlight will search into my eyes
'Til the strangest sound is my own name
All inside me is the whispering rain

All the songs that sigh among the trees
All the time that brings you to your knees
People helpless when love came
Lost in the whispering rain


In spring, an old man's fancy turns to thoughts of revenge.

You know the therapist's mantra: If you love something, let it go. If it loves you it will come back to you; if it doesn't, it was not yours in the first place.

The biker's response: If you love something, let it go. If it loves you, it will come back to you.

If it doesn't, hunt it down and kill it.

Well, being a hunter-gatherer these past thirty years, I have seen love come and go, mostly go, but it's when you lose seriously at love that the biker's way seems most attractive.

Some gorgeous blonde made a fool of me. Got married to this guy right under my nose; under the nose of her poor husband too, that poor fool so busy outfitting and servicing his mistress.

I hounded that poor couple until they were both half-mad and finally separated. Now that she is in the clear, I don't want her; don't trust her.

Back into the more distant past, I caught my wife with a lover (myself being no saint) and once I had him on the floor, proceeded to dust his timepiece...Good thing he was a little guy like me, otherwise it would have been me with the bruises.

My mother used to say: "Look at those two fools. The woman stands by, demure, while they try to kill each other."

All that gorilla chest-thumping aside, it is truly wonderful to be in love.

The universe suddenly makes sense.

Love lifts us up where we belong
Where the eagles cry
On a mountain high

....Come to think of it, there is something gorilla-like in Joe Cocker's movements.

Yet, to be in love.

One is whimsical and a little shy. You walk on a rainbow of happiness. Inexplainably, you might burst into tears.

What if the beloved were to ever leave you? What if Lucy should be dead? What if you unexpectedly get a Dear John?

Make me an angel
That flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster
Of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing
That I can hold onto
To believe in this livin'
Is such a hard way to go


Make me an angel out of that sheet of paper.
Make me a cut-out doll.
But for god's sake, don't make it a Dear John.

"The woman is a dustmop," friends say. "What do you see in her?"

But that is my dirty dustmop. That is my chunk of s..t. That is what I want.

A man will chase a woman for twenty years, without hardly getting anything from her.

Then she becomes available.
And like Flaubert with his Louise Collette, the man will run away.

Ah, echoes of Flaubert and Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky you can belive, because he had been married twice.

I do believe old Fyodor's first wife was thrown off by his trembling lips and chin and tendency to take fits.

I think my own poor wife was thrown off by my nuttiness.

Ah, but there is still in us the fuse that drives the flower.

Always searching.

There is always hope.

Even though you have been bad news for women for such a long time.

Ah, like that Mandala song.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007


I am hardly a born-again Christian, but a fundamentalist minister friend once told me that after being "born again", the Old Man will try to resurface, you know, wine, women, booze, cigarettes--all the good stuff--and next thing you know, you're on the road to hell again.

Which brings me to some degree of wobbling now that I have maxed out four credit cards, have fights with the andlord and have a hard time reaching Google (probably my unpaid internet bill last month...Google has a way!).

This is getting scary.

Six years ago, I was homeless, living in a parking lot and on the make.

Never did lose those, er, skills.
I am still, like the French writer Celine, very alert, vigilant after my personal Second World War, sharp as a London cabdriver and his enormous left brain--the "hippocampus" that enables you to find things.

I swear I have natural GPS, and I can find a lost $20 bill just like that, and when I find lost driver's licenses or wallets I am the silver-tongued devil in fishing for a reward.

Even now, though ensconced in a lovely apartment well fed by good-natured Anglicans who took pity on an Anglicized Uke, I go for walks knowing that each acre of asphalt, each social encounter, has its economic prospects.

When I'm out walking, my eyes sweep left and right like a cyborg's: I am programmed to search for big 25-cent returnable beer bottles, taupe-coloured ten dollar bills (that like to blow in wet against a Zeller's wall in windstorms), green-and-red glints of still usable Bic lighters, brass-and-silver twoneys and looneys rolling out of recently parked cars like Johnnycakes. Furthermore, every discarded cigarette pack on the parking lot must be lightly trod upon, because I know for sure that the fifth one will still have five good ones in it.

The old hobo is still there, even in my spanking clean apartment. I roll stiff socks across the floor, wondering what puddle I'll wash them in when the washing machines are right there on the main floor.
In the company of the Mayor of Newmarket, I may stoop down a reach for a still serviceable cigarette butt.
At the Tim Horton's I fasten an old wad of chewing gum to the soles of my sandals, just in case someone drops a twenty.
I regard all men as lucky or unlucky-- hell with the Cancer lobby. The lucky ones can smoke, drink and fornicate like crazy until seventy-plus. The unlucky are the infant mortality set, held together by tubes and doctors-- those non-smokers, dental floss surfers, the abstainers who go to work every day for thirty years only to be eaten by a deranged bear in the middle of suburbia.

It wasn't always so.

I had lost my ability to survive by having a spouse who loved me too much, by giving me a hundred dollars a day to look for work. Who was looking already! She must have loved me a lot, because it took her ten years to throw the bum out.

Every morning the Bum Also Rises, even after the Bum has seen the light.
I am dressed in the standard middleclass attire of modified polo shirt, grey slacks, black Adidas, yet I cannot resist picking up a quarter on a street or a bus. "No need for a sweeper here," the driver breezes. "We've got one in the fourth seat from the back."

When I had the executive jobs I would often be overwhelmed by my own incompetence (Yes, the Bum would rise there and confront me with his accusations: "That was no nightmare about poverty last night--it was a dream of the future, YOUR future.")
The hopeless sense of incompetence came for having a technology lag going back some thirty years (I never caught on to computers, having my secretaries handle all that), and once installed in a newspaper office, I couldn't tell calculus from cabbageheads). They found out, and I was fired.

I really missed my spouse's C-notes to look for work with.

For a long four years, I scoured the parking lot and by the time regained my job as a teacher, I was too far gone in the head from sleeping out nights and drinking Vanilla Extract. I couldn't teach because a teacher couldn't be nuts.

Eventually, I landed a job as a furnace mechanic's helper.
Inevitably, my boss heard my life story. "When you get back there, stay up there," he said wisely as we drove back in the truck after a furnace repair where he'd taken out all the fail-safe circuits instead of properly reinstalling a burner.

I looked into the rear view mirror on the passenger side an saw a little Portuguese homeowner jumping up and down, smoke pouring out of the house, the chimney spewing H-bombs. "Don't look back," my boss advised wisely.

Maybe there's something to the "old" man rising after all. Maybe he's trying to tell you something.
My boss made a whole seventy thousand dollars that year, though he was as incompetent as dog poo. Lord, I thought I was incompetent!
Soon, he stopped paying his suppliers, picked up an expensive habit and left a lot more people jumping up and down in front of belching furnaces. Was Dante trying to tell us something?
Cynical in the old days, I would say "Beware of Florentines bearing gifts", but there's something to it, why else was I always trying to fix furnaces gone amuck.

It's that Old Man again.

I visit my old boss at the Rehab Centre quite a bit. "Don't look back," he mutters.
Easy for him to say.

I am back on the street again.
But this time successful. Kinda.

But there's always that Old Man. The Succubus.

Get down you bastard!

Monday, June 11, 2007

The day Ivan thought he was Ivan Turgenev, master novelist and voyeur

A House of the Rising Sun usually has an attic entrance hidden from ordinary view. I am up in this attic. There are mirrors and surveillance cameras here as well as a goodly supply of Jack Daniels and a case of designer beer. Heineken. There are also traces of a white powdery substance on the plywood floor, where a small peephole shines a laser-like beam onto my forehead. If I chose to, I could peer down through the peephole at the goings-on downstairs, but this would stretch even my limits to being a voyeur. Well, maybe one peep downstairs.
The downstairs setting is very much out of a Turgenev short story, the gorgeous blonde with artistic aspirations, a coterie of fallen professionals, among them an executive of a now defunct Non Government Organization; a musician who once played with Gordon Lightfoot; an unpublished poet with red suspenders, and one more curious characer wearing a toga and laurels.

Lord, this has to be an SNL skit, though skit it is not.
The girl, though no longer a child, but looking for all the world like Shirley Temple, out of Wee Willie Winkie, right down to the short kilt, has completely captivated the men. She'd been doing this since the age of two because she was always the spit image of Shirley Temple, even echoes of Drew Barrymore in ET.

The whole scenario is begging for a cue. Where does the French Maid come in?
The cellphone vibrates against my jacked pocket.
Damn. They might hear me.. "Get out of there you damn fool," the sentry-friend is warning. " I just saw an unmarked cop car heading your way. "

My accomplice had parked his car in a small industrial plaza just yards ahead of the house of ill repute. He would follow me no farther. Too many bikers whizzing this way and that. And cop cars.
"I'll hang tight," I say. Where is there to go? If I try to get out I'll land right on top of the partiers.
I had originally ended up in the attic because a whorehouse has all kinds of doors leading in, but none leading out. I had been carrying on a private dalliance with the Shirley Temple when all of a sudden, there had been this crowd at the door. " Scoot," she had told me, but there was no place to scoot save bounding over the kitchen counter, lifting the trap door and hiding in a place reserved for, I suppose Peiping Tom and other strange guests of this Hotel California.
Presently in walks the town's chief of police, not regional police, but local constabulary. He greets everybody, all of them nervously standing up, picks up and examines a small vase or two on the end-tables around a C-shaped chesterfield, replaces the vases, one a loving cup, and smiles. Presently, the girl goes into an adjoining bedroom, comes back with a package, which she hands to the chief of police. He seems to almost click his heels, bows and presently he tries to go out the front door. No good. It is rigged. He does an about turn, raising incoherent grunts and "aaarghs" from the obviously doped guests. He somehow finds a door that is open, way at the back. He has to jiggle the bolts. And he is gone.
I wait for Eldonza to finish her set piece. What a way to get through college!
Sometimes I think if we stayed in our own rooms we wouldn't get into such strange situations.

How close is tragedy to comedy.

I still laugh about it.

Especially falling through the trap door, straight into the arms of the toga guy.

Jesus. Straight out of that old scene in The Magic Christian, with Zero Mostel.

Me? I was just a mildly retarded romantic, trying to be Nick Carter, Master Detective.

Those people were dead serious.
And they were so making it, and they all had steady jobs.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The night Saturday Night Live was truly funny

What follows is the funniest Saturday Night Live skit since the great days of that show in the late Seventies and early eighties.

SNL has since pretty well gone downhill, but it took Kristen Wiig and some brilliant writing to get the show back on speed: Here is Episode 5 from Season 32:

A Message from the Speaker-Elect of the U.S. House of Representatives Rep. Nancy Pelosi...

[ open on Seal of the speaker ]
Announcer: The following is a message from the Speaker-Elect of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
[ dissolve to Nancy Pelosi sitting stern and proper at the desk in her office ]
[ the audience applauds enthusiastically ]
Rep. Nancy Pelosi:
Good evening. I'm Nancy Pelosi. For the past nineteen years, I've been a member of Congress in the eighth District of California, proudly representing the citizens of San Francisco.
As of this January, however, I will, in a sense, represent all Americans, when I am sworn in as speaker of the House.
[ the audience cheers ]
Despite the efforts of this administration to frighten Americans about the Democratic Party, and its alleged [ makes quotes signs with her finger ] "San Francisco values", last Tuesday you went to the polls in record numbers, and you sent this White house a message:
that "stay the course in Iraq" is not a plan; that our health care system should serve ordinary citizens, not pharmaceutical companies;
that so-called rough sex can be a necessary and fulfilling adjunct to a better sex life - partiularly when it involves fantasy role-play scenarios, such as kidnapping or forced interrogation, provided, of course, that both participants are willing and disease-free, and have agreed on what we call a "safe word" - for example: "Palomino";
that an increase in minimum wage is long overdue; and, finally, that U.S. citizens do not surrender their Constitutional rights, the moment they engage in multiple partner or group sex, provided, once again, that all participants are willing, at least twelve years of age, and no peanuts, or peanut products, are used.
We Americans have always been a religious people, a member of my staff tells me.
And whatever you may have heard, the Democratic Party is not anti-religion.
Whether you're a Wiccan priestess, a Druid, tantric Buddhist, Servant of Moloch, Lord of Fire, Presbyterian, or a member of the Cult of Collie - your faith will be respected, so long as no animals are harmed during your ceremonies - except, of course, gerbils.
And when the new Democratic majority Congress convenes in January, it will truly be a Congress as diverse as the nation it serves.
[ show photo of each individual as she names them ]...They are mostly black.
Chairing the Judiciary Committee: John Conyers;
at Ways and Means: Charles Rangel;
at Homeland Secueity: Benny Thompson;
at Government Reform: Ernesto Guevara, Jr.;
and Agriculture: this naked hippie.. and his old lady;
and Small Business: yet another black dude;
and Finance: the drummer from Rage Against the Machine;
and, at Intelligence: al-Qaeda number-two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Truly, a Congress that looks like America.
[ Nancy nervously looks offscreen, as a leather-clad S&M enthusiast enters ]
What is it?
Dana: Nancy, uh, you need to okay this. [ hands her a memo ]
Rep. Nancy Pelosi: [ to the audience ] Excuse me. [ turns to her aide ]
Uh, Dana - I'm kind of in the middle of something.
Dana: I'll come back.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi: And, Dana, about your outfit - it's alright now, but, as of Jauary, you might have to go with more of a business look for the office.
Dana: [ slightly embarrassed ]
Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi: No, no - it's fine for now, but, you know, but after the transition --
Dana: Sure. No problem.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi: [ glances offscreen ]
Who's your friend?
Dana: Oh, uh, this is my slave - his name is "Filth" --
[ an S&M bondage slave, with a chokehold covering his mouth, enters the scene ] He's, uh, a human ash tray.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi:
Dana, this office is non-smoking.
Dana: Just pot.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi:
Oh. Okay! [ extends her hand to "Filth" ] How do you do?
"Filth": [ muffled ] It's a real honor to meet you, Congresswoman. Congratulations on becoming House Speaker, that's so great!
Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Thank you, I appreciate that.
"Filth": [ muffled ] You are great.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi:
Thank you.
"Filth": [ muffled ] You are great.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Dana, I'd better get back to this. [ points to the camera ]
Dana: Oh! Absolutely. Sure. [ drags "Filth" offscreen with him ]
[ Nancy returns her attention to the camera ]
Rep. Nancy Pelosi:
With your votes last Tuesday, you have offered us your trust. I promise you, we will not betray it.
[ buzzsaw sound effects suddenly blare from offscreen, as Nancy holds a nervous pose in front of the camera ]
Dana's Voice: Palomino! Palomino!
Rep. Nancy Pelosi: [ glances offscreen ]
[ to the camera ] Excuse me, I-I have to take care of something -- [ rushes offscreen ]
Palomino! He's not breathing! [ runs back onto camera, with a panicked expression on her face ]
"Live, from New York, it's Saturday Night!" [ ducks back offscreen ]
SNL Transcripts

---I am still peeing my pants laughing over this. Palomino!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Grumpy Old Bookman Proves Me Wrong

Was it only three years ago that I had an ego about the size of Prince Edward Island?

Here is what I wrote to the daughter of trhe Grumpy Old Bookman when she rose to the occasion of defending her father after I'd made some fun of his fiction writing.


I thoroughly sympathise and emphathise i with your father's labours these past forty years, myself having had a similar string of good/bad luck.

Enough that no worse person can really hurt a better and if I appear flippant and glib in my comments to the Grumpy Old Bookman then all the worse for me.

Though something of a professional tragedian without having all that much to do with theatre, I realize that I have led a rather charmed life. My family, and I with them, have been repeatedly bombed and shelled in the course of World War Two. This has given me a gallows humour when it comes to other people's tragedies. I guess I have become somewhat inured and possibly insensitive to the plight of others, certainly the sick, and those good people to whom terrible things happen for apparently no reason.

But I have had the good fortune of having had the best teachers in the world, notably at the Toronto Star, and success came rather early, when I was barely thirty at which point I published, through Ryerson Institute, Toronto, some poetry and one short story. I later wrote about my war experience as a child and somehow succeeded in serializing my Black Icon in a provincial magazine hereabouts.

But after that, I pretty well your father's luck. My last publisher was Vince Ricci, a sports bar owner in Newmarket, Ontario; that's how bad things gotten. Published by a bar owner, with RICCI'S SPORTS BAR ads all over the book.

Very recently, I have been dragged, kicking and screaming into the 21st century, whereupon I somehow "got" the knack of email anyway and some blogging technique.

Throughout my travails as a fiction writer, I have been variously employed by newspapers and magazines, notably the Canadian Star Weekly, Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail and (God help us!) The Reader's Digest.

But I have entirely missed the boat on hardcover book publishing. I have received writing awards, grants, fellowships, various kudos, including being call a "town treasure" by the mayor of Newmarket, Ontario--this after I ran against him for office! But still the dream of hardcover book publishing has eluded me completely.

So I suppose we're all in the same boat.

Still, when it comes to judging the writing of others, I am an absolute martinet and a complete perfectionistwhen I look at a writer's style. Nowhere will I tolerate the copula verb "to be" in commercial copy nor will I read any further if I sense the writing comes from the "between you and I" crowd.
Present company excluded, I hold that most literary blogs on the net are amateurish, glaringly illiterate, even though the writer may have swallowed both dictionary and thesaurus-- and there are webhosts who I swear should be hauled up on charges of imitating real, hardworking writers. It is not enought to have the desire. You need the talent, a rare, volatile and sometimes destructive thing.

So while it is so nice to imitate the actions of the tiger, you have to be that tiger, and if you're not, you face the tragedy of the little engine that thought it could, while it actually couldn't.
Of all things, this is the most difficult.

I will probably give up blogging, but not before posting my Black Icon, my original novella. It is the book I started out with, and quite frankly, I have wasted three million (sic) words of commercial print to try to match that very first effort. Better, I think, to have tried the lottery or some brainless job in a factory.

The daemon is still there. It will always be there. It is never really over.

But as with sensitive people who are intelligent, it is really hard to fail and somehow still keep oneself in the game. The agony of professional failure!
The sensitive ones who are not intelligent face the greatest tragedy, for they know not what they attempt --those who digest miles of not-very-good historical fiction to feed a talent that is not really there --and ending up baying at the wind.

I have some Newfoundland friends and they say amusing things like "If at first you don't succeed, give up; no use making a fool of yourself." I frankly wish a lot of literary bloggers would do just that: give up. It is my feeling that
a lot of scripts are rejected because of plain incompetence and all the creative writing classes in the world will not help.

Creators create.

Doers do.

And shame on you if, after forty years, you have not learned the shorthand, the insider's method, had not learned in plain, how to write.

It takes some time, but you should be a writer by forty. If you hadn't learned your trade properly, have had bad teachers, well it just gets more difficult.

Meanwhile, I strongly respect bloggers who have actually taken the time, the years to learn how to write.

But poseurs (present company again excepted) drive me to paroxysms. Unskilled violinists at a symphony, and what could be more embarrasssing than that.


Well, lookee here: The Grumpy Old Bookman is writing really well these days.

Here is what he has to say about The Angry Young Men, a group of British writers I have long admired, from a very early age.

Angry young men and a bitter old one
Ooh. Ooh. It makes you wince, even to observe from a distance.
Once upon a time, back in the 1950s, there was a media construct in the UK known as the Angry Young Men. This was a label stuck on to a group of writers by some newspaper columnist or critic, or both, and the AYMs became, briefly, the talk of the town. (The US equivalent was, I suppose, the Beat Generation.)
These young Englishmen (they were all young, and men) had virtually nothing in common, beyond the fact that they wrote stuff, and disliked -- nay, hated and despised -- many aspects of England as it then was. And with good reason. Their number included John Osborne, John Wain, John Braine, and Colin Wilson. (And, apparently, a good few more -- I had forgotten. Time is merciful in many respects, and growing old does have hidden benefits.)
The angries hardly knew each other, much less formed a deliberate movement to achieve something or other. And they were all, I suspect, deeply jealous of each other's success.
Now the first three of the ones I named are dead. So are most of the others. And Colin Wilson, at the end of a career for which the word chequered might have been invented, has written a book about them. Roger Lewis reviews it in the Telegraph, and the review makes painful reading.
The various angries all came to unpleasant ends, cheered on their way, it seems, by Wilson. And Roger Lewis seems to feel a deep-seated contempt for the author of this summary of a long-dead age (which was barely alive at the time, if truth be told). As I say, it makes you wince just to read about both the age and the book, not to mention Wilson's feelings as he discovers what the Telegraph really thinks of him. Wilson, by the way, says of himself that 'I had taken it for granted that I was a man of genius since I was about 13.' And he made no secret of that in the '50s. My, how we all laughed. But it's painful to contemplate such silliness and delusion.
I found all this, by the way, courtesy of Savannah, who left a comment on one of last week's posts, and led me to Dick Headley, where there's a staggering piece of video about beautiful women. Stunners, Mr Swinburne used to call them. And they are. Every one.

Well, in blog form anyway, Grumpy Old Bookman writes very well.

Here is what is on top of his blog.

Grumpy Old Bookman
A blog about books and publishing, aimed at both readers and writers. Listed by the Guardian in 2005 as one of the top ten literary blogs.
--And here I was, disparaging Grumpy's work!
Come on Manchester Guardian!
I am feeling very insecure these days.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sermon on the Mound

Friends, Romans and assorted Pakistanis,

For the past thirty years, I have been clocking my fellow-humans' sprint back to the dark ages.

Brethren, it's with a heavy heart and a leaden soul that you see me standing before you today. For my eyes have borne witness to the coming of that which is known as the beast; Beelzebub.
Oh the signs have been building for a long time my friends, but they have been subtle and insidious. He and his many minions have wormed their way in amongst us with all the guile of their breed.

These succubae of spirit, these debasers of all things sacred and holy, harbingers of doom and destruction have been amongst us nigh on thirty years; twisting, tantalizing, taunting, and tormenting us until we can no longer tell right from wrong. They are a plague upon this land unlike any seen since the days of the Pharaohs.

Numbering less than the locusts of old, what they lack for in numbers they make up for in distribution. Ubiquitous! That's what they are. Jennifer Lopez, Justin Timberlake impersonators, Brad Pitt, Angela Jolie. You can't escape their adulterous presence, not for one minute. No matter how hard you try and how far you travel, everywhere in this great land of ours they will have got there before you, waiting with their seductive ways to entice you, lure you, until finally they have you when you least expect it.

I'm sure you've seen their victims; those blank faced millions with their faces creased with simple smiles, their heads nodding vacantly, and their toes tapping incessantly. Those hapless, hopeless individuals who have been rendered incompetent from exposure to the beast and his minions can be seen everywhere. From all walks of life, all backgrounds; the beast knows no boundaries, cares nothing for religion, creed, or colour. He just wants your soul!

But, thou shalt not cover they neightbours goods, nor his wife, nor his ass! The pansy who brays "sexual orientation," the pretty Ho of Babylon on Entertainment Tonight.

My Brethren, we must face up to the truth of this matter, for it can no longer be denied, the time of the reality show is upon us. The forces of homogenization and cheap sentimentality are on the rise everywhere, threatening to swamp us in a flood of stupid Marxism whose aim ist to turn us into the Chinese garbagemen/garbagewomen. It is so much like the evil Communism, an anti-Bush posture that in its own nihilistic way, is Bushier than Bush.

Everywhere there is an upheaval of body and spirit. We smell the acrid smoke of assassins, people get blown up. People get blown. And on television. The Dow-Jones goes up.

Wasn't it better in the waning days of Rome when three hundred Christians would be put to the torch (nobody takes Christians seriously today), when tribes of crazed baboons woud fight two or three lonely, pious gladiators, when thousands would be crucified or put to the torch in a single day?

I am afraid the good old days are gone forever while the forces of darkness and idiocy slouch out of Hollywood and into our living rooms.
It is not we who need to repent!

...end sermon.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Prayers for Madeleine McCann

Please pray for this little one. Please read this message and pass it on!!!!!!!!!
As you are aware my niece, Madeleine, is still missing and I am askingeveryone I know to send this as a chain letter i.e . you send it toeveryone you know and ask them to do the same, as the story is only beingcovered in Britain, Eire and Portugal.
We don't believe that she is in Portugal anymore and need to get her picture and the story across Europe as quickly as possible. Suggestions are welcome.
--Phil McCann
Please Pass this email on to everyone in your address book and they reckon it could cover 80% of the world's inboxes in 2 weeks.
Madeleine's Eye Holds Vital Clue
(Updated: 18:00 , Saturday May 12, 2007)
Madeleine McCann's family believe a new picture of the missingfour-year-old could play a vital role in the search for her. The photo of the youngster shows clearly the her distinctive right eye, where the pupil runs into the blue-green iris.
The new poster of Madeleine: It is this distinguishing mark that will identify Madeleine to those onthe lookout for her, according to aunt and uncle John and Diane McCann.
The Glasgow couple aim to distribute the appeal poster, which features the Crimestoppers telephone number, as far afield as they can. Family friend Andrew Renwick told Sky News that support for the search hadbeen "overwhelming" and her family were extremely grateful.
Her right eye, Mrs McCann said: "The purpose of the poster is to highlight the distinction in Madeleine's eye. "We want to make the most of it, because we know her hair could potentially be cut or dyed."
Mr. McCann added: "The poster was designed by a friend of the family and I've begun Emailing it to acquaintances in different parts of the world."I'm asking people to circulate it the best they can and make it be seen." Madeleine's Eye Holds Vital Clue. Our home website is

"There is no one so good that he can save himself; Neither is there any so bad that God cannot save him." Thanks be unto God for His wonderful gift: Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God is the object of our faith; the only faith that saves is faith in Him. "

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Gods, Goddesses--and David Bowie

Snapped continuity.

Unfinished business

Parallel universes, dimensions you'd vacated, too soon and too early. It takes forever for you soul to rejoin your body while you're Major Tom trying to reach ground control.

Social scenes you'd run from. Your paramour giving a birthday party in your asence-- scotched by your sudden running off to go somewhere to rescue your marriage. The notes to you sent later."Happy Birthady! There is a lot of love going out your way, Prof."
And, from a student, prone to outrageous behaviour, whose polarity you were never sure of.. "Always go toward the centre of the edifice." Profound. But was he talking about something else?
You recall on the road that a truckdriver had said it better. "You ain't at the front gate yet."

Notes, mememtos from the friends and students you'd abandoned at the Mexican university to run back to Toronto, maddened by that Dear John letter from your wife. The gap you'd left in your faculty as other teachers had tried, like the top branches of a lopped pine, to seek for a crest again. You had violated the conditions of your fellowship, your contract. You had told the dean you would not run off no matter what. And you had run off.

The girfriend, whom you had first perceived as having all the brains of a hairdresser, had turned out to be the more assessful one. "Wind things down like an adult, like a person. Have some ceremony. Don't just run off."

But you had run off and left an entire universe of associations, people, half-marked papers, manuscripts, run off with just your typewriter and your flight bag.

In transit.

Major Tom to Ground Control:

This is major tom to ground control
Im stepping through the door
And Im floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
Floating in space.
You didn't know that Home base was destroyed. Destroyed by your mistress, making love to you and your family. Her intentions were honest enough. She wanted a man. Wanted a husband. She didn't take into account that you were already a married man, used to being married, used to lots of sex.
Used to home and hearth, auguring for a temporaty hearth.
Used to taking care of children.

She had caught you in a transitional state, where you were vulnerable. Christ in another dimension, not yet properly out of the tomb-- who shouldn't have been touched at all.
Now a law of nature had been violated. The world-squirm now, after the sin.

"Adam, where are you? Why are you hiding from me?"

"Because I am naked."

"Are you, my Major Tom?"

Though Im past one hundred thousand miles
Im feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell me wife I love her very much she knows

"She knows.

"There is no redemption among Us Three."

"It is like that?"

"It is like that. An antichrist will come, but he will be false."

Now the Dante Alleghieri Fan Club.

All the stages. All the circles.

"In the middle of the journey of out lives, I came to myself upon a dark wood.
For it seemed that the straight way was lost."

And earlier writings, perhaps Demetriades, who had said, at about the time of the satirist Juvenal, that a writer's words should be like crouching lions.

"You call yourself a man of letter, Adulterer.
"You have transgressed every contract of law and civilization. Man of letters indeed! You are now no better than a worm, a Vulcan. Black. Like Dante."

And what a dark and terrible wood it has been.

Finally rescued by a woman, herself black.

She understood.


Friday, June 01, 2007


A good "web buddy" has been going through a lot of trauma.

Her daughter, apparently, is quite mad and has been verbally and physically abusive to her children, her husband, and her mother, who is my web buddy.

Screams. Punching holes in drywall, calling my web buddy at all hours just to hurl abuse at her.

Don't some of us remember our own "psychotic" episodes in times of great stress, when a marriage is falling apart, where it seems that you will just explode from all the stress and woe.

And looking back at it all, perhaps thirty years back, it was all so "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

And wouldn't it have been better to have done nothing at all?

What happens during a time of great family stress, especially when it dawns on you that you were actually the guilty party--is that you develop a condition, a condition of fight or flight. The adrenaline has coursed through your sytem and it is the adrenaline that speaks, takes you right over.

I can't say that what I describe below in a book chapter of mine is a parallel situation to my web buddy's, Josie's
plight, but it would seem that Josie now has a condition brought about by a nutty relative.
The natural reaction is, "I will do this, I will do that, I will do this."
But it seems better to do nothing at all until the evil time passes.

Here then is my Chapter Twelve of LIGHT OVER NEWMARKET.

It may be instructive, or it may not be instructive.


Chapter Twelve

I finished eating, still stunned, when Valerie walked in, bright and confident. "Hi. Whatcha doin'?"
I said nothing for a while, then finally announced that it was all over between me and my wife. "She just wrote me a Dear John, but the maddening part is that she was so goddamn intellectual over it, not a hint of feeling. Just changes her men like that, says rather breezily that it's 'all over and that's that.'"

There was a sly look on Valerie' face. "Show me the letter."

"I can't show you the letter. It's personal. You know."

But eventually I did show her the letter and we both talked about how coldly logical it was, how almost flippant. And at the same time a great rush of feeling, outrage, anger, hate was coming upon me. The nerve of the broad! I began pacing the tiled floor, Valerie beginning to pace alongside me, empathizing with my motions, agreeing with me over the outrageous way Loren had treated the separation, how she had not made any move at all to try to save the marriage, how open, how communicative I myself had been. How shallow of her!

That night I drank coffee until all hours, not daring to touch alcohol, knowing that that was the mark of the failure, the separated husband, the skid row alcoholic.

Three days later, I was still pacing the floor, alternately in my own apartment and at Valerie's. Yet there was so much practical stuff for me and Valerie to do.

It neared time to make Valerie's (and my own) border trip, the six-month mark at which we both had to renew our visas in order to stay in Mexico.

Something was upon me. I thought of nothing else but the goodbye letter. The nerve. The ho-hum tone Loren had used in her Dear John after a marriage of almost eleven years. We took the train to Laredo and on that rickety ride I could not take my mind off the letter.
At Laredo we went to the border point and did all the things we had to do there, then we went shopping at Woolworth's of all places, because we had so little money. I was becoming abstracted more and more. I had trouble concentrating on anything. While picking out jeans at Woolworth's Valerie said something about the fact that she and I were the only poor people in the artists' colony of Manuel Hidalgo, and I began to feel all my wealth leaving me, another separation anxiety. We took our joint pictures at the booth at Woolworth's, a quarter for each set of prints and I had the first rush (it was written all over my face) of what it was going to be like in the future, the poverty, the discount store shopping, the menial jobs, the decline into bumhood. I knew the future well and the future was beginning to scare me.
Valerie wanted to travel when we were in Texas Motion was somehow life to her. We took the bus to Corpus Christi and booked into a hotel there, replete with swimming pool and all the amenities. I could not keep my mind off Loren, posh surroundings or not. Loren, why that dumb woman! She...

Late at night, twelve Corona de Barils later, with Valerie doing all she could to love me, I decided to call Loren's sister on the telephone. Maybe the letter and the sentiments in it (what sentiments!) were just a dodge. Maybe Loren still loved me. "Don't phone the sister," Valerie is saying in between the lovemaking through which she was trying to bring me to myself. "She's Loren's sister after all and you won't get any info out of her."

I called Saint Jack, my friend, who said, "Are you having a good time there? Yes? Maybe you should stay there."

Later, the movies in downtown Corpus Christi, one a really bad remake of King Kong, the town somehow darkened, few folk seeming to be on the dingy industrial streets.
I could not sit still for five minutes. I was always going to the foyer to smoke. Loren. I can't relax. I can't stay inside my own skin.

On the way back to Manuel Hidalgo on the train--we had paid for a Pullman of an old 1940's style--Valerie slept while I stayed up and smoked package after package of Delicados, the sweet-smelling Mexican cigarettes. Who was the young man? Who was the 23-year-old Loren had talked of? Who was the son-of-a-bitch?

At about three in the morning a face came. I was the face of Red Stassen, a protégé of the Artist back in Newmarket. Why the little bastard! Alouicious "Call me Red" Stassen, the sharp-mouthed tall drink of water who had once come along with the Artist on invitation to my house, myself very tired during that period from all the teaching and writing, worn out and vulnerable from the work. And the little twerp of a car salesman, after sampling my standard Black Tower wine had said, "Don't you know your wines?" And then after an evening of talking about himself, his hopes, dreams, fears, he had dazed me with a parting remark just before leaving my house. "You think you're so important. You're not."
Feeling a rush of prediction, I had mumbled something like "I just had a sense of deja vu.
"No such thing as deja vu," Stassen had hissed. "It is only the realization that you are in contact with an intelligence equal to or greater than your own."
And with that he had left, gone with the Artist, leaving me with the feeling that something had been taken from me, that somehow the young man had gained power over me and I had liked the feeling not at all. Later, in future meetings with the Artist, I said I did not like the company of untrained and undersocialized twenty-two-year-olds and would the artist mind not bringing Red Stassen around again.

I did not know how I perceived so suddenly and with such certainty that it was Red Stassen who had taken my wife, but I knew :(and not like Captain Queeg) with geometric logic that Stassen was the man. I tried to sleep a little through the remaining day as we neared the Manuel Hidalgo railroad siding, the same one where Jack Kerouac's pal, Neal Cassady was said to have died quite alone along the tracks.

We disembarked. I found the street urchins I had met earlier, on our embarkation, before we had left on our border trip--got them to get a cab to take Valerie and me back to Manuel Hidalgo. The craziness generated by the letter was still upon me.
Once at Val's apartment, I made some excuse and made for my own digs. Valerie would not let me off so lightly. There was an argument. She said that she did not want to be alone, that I was somehow at fault, that all I thought of was Loren and all the time.
Somehow, I extricated myself and went home. Loren was on my mind forever and I could think of nothing else.
I had, within the first few days of getting Loren's letter, really changed, changed from the relatively worry-free and somehow pathetically innocent boy into something worried, addled, someone who had no peace of mind. Yet it was my mind that was holding off the inevitable stress. I had up until the time of the letter, been reading a piece by Adam Smith, the smart new financial writer turned New York Magazine general interest journalist. He'd just put a book out, The Powers of Mind. The section on est, or Eberhard Seminar Training was so startling the I actually at one point began to get into serious est as a mind-relaxer. I did meet, in Manuel Hidalgo one or two practitioners of the exotic new discipline, one of them an actual instructor, and what they did seemed to work. There was a meditation exercise titled The Wise Thing in the Cave. The subject was to close his eyes, think of some numinous wise thing in a cave, who would, presumably utter the very thing that the seeker was questing after. In the case of Smith himself, the writer had visualized, of all people, Walter Cronkite, who told Smith all he wanted to know about a complex situation Smith had been in. Cronkite was somehow the voice of supreme and manifest authority.
Now I would have to concentrate. Now I would have to conjure my own Wise Thing in the Cave; now I had to reach into the depths of myself to find an ultimate answer. Does Loren still love me? Constant thinking and worrying, in this crazed state of mind, simply would not do.

There was something on the wall of one of my two bedrooms, the room that I had used to play my guitar, my music room where I had so often played Malaguena Sale Rosa, not Girl From Malaga, but Girl of the Red Room, more like Valerie of the Red Room, the red queen herself. The Moody Blues' Knights in White Satin had been another favourite, but save for one or two stanzas, I hardly remembered the bridge. I had hung something on the wall, a kind of painting, reminiscent of the Group of Seven, perhaps Emily Carr. A stark mountain. It was the last thing I looked at before I closed my eyes for the est exercise. I closed my eyes to conjure The Wise Thing in the Cave, but it was not a person that appeared, not Walter Cronkite, but the upside-down image of a snowcapped mountain, wrong-way up.

There was no soothing voice from within the cave, just the upside-down mountain, obvious symbol, I supposed, for God, but God was now upside-down. The Devil? The upside-down mountain had a powerful Dolby Stereo voice now and it was telling me to leave Mexico, leave this place, leave immediately and go back home to where Loren was, to Canada, the sooner the better, or I would lose everything, mind, money, sanity hearth, home, mother.

I began to gather up my things, began to pack. The next morning I would leave for Toronto. I would go home or hope to go home.

During all this time, I did not dare drink, though before getting Loren's letter, I had averaged about a half a quart of tequila cut with some nice tasting apple soda, Manzanilla. I would sit on the roof of my apartment with its wide-circling balcony and stare up at the stars which in Mexico jumped right out at you, constellations larger than the moon, The Big Dipper, Orion's belt (Orion's belt indeed!) and the outpointing blue and red giants, Betelguese and Bellartrix. My trained eye could spot a nebula in Orion's belt, but I was content not to be a scientist, just a drunk intoxicated with a Danteesque sense of myself soon to be among those very stars.
I was packing my flight bag. I had intended to leave the guitar with Valerie, the guitar I had bought during or visit, a kind of honeymoon back there in Guadalajara.

She walked in breezily, as she was wont to do.
"You've packed. You're going back home?"
There was a pause.
She fixed here brown eyes on mine.
"Listen to me. Listen carefully. You're crazed. The letter has crazed you.
"You are crazed. What you are doing does not make any sense. You're not thinking clearly. You are maddened."
"Crazed, am I? It's the only sane thing I should be doing."
"Listen to me. You are crazed. You don't know what you're doing."
"Crazed, am I" I repeated, gathering up my flight bag and typewriter case and my notes on particle acceleration. I picked up the guitar, out of a mound of I had made of my belongings. I offered Valerie the guitar. "Take this. It means something. Malaguena Sale Rosa. The guitar, the song. It's really about you."
She just looked at me as she took the black, wooden-fretted instrument.
"I have to leave. I've arranged for Mrs. Vega to call me a taxi."

The taxi arrived and I made for it, Valerie training behind, holding the guitar, trying to convince me not to leave.

The taxi rolled down the cobblestoned street--always the cobblestones--and turned toward the dirt road leading to the railroad station, past the rows of Australian pines, bumping over potholes along the ochre-coloured dirt.
We reached the landing, the same one at which Dean Moriarty or Neal Cassady had died. All this time, Valerie had been in the back of the cab, holding our guitar.

The train to Nuevo Laredo was unexpectedly right there. Valerie was furious.
"You're an asshole," she shouted as I was mumbling my goodbyes and telling her that she should keep the guitar.
"You're an asshole."
"Yes, you're probably right."
"You're an asshole. Listen to me. You think you're so intelligent, so talented. You're simple. Simple. The key to you is your ego.
I mumbled some more goodbyes and tried to kiss her.
"You asshole...aren't you even going to pay the cab driver?
I produced the pesos and gave her some, but she threw the money in my face
"You're an asshole. Simple!"

The train was gathering steam. I rushed up to the nearest black Pullman and disappeared with one last look at Valerie in her frustration and anger.
....end chapter