Wednesday, June 11, 2008
I dreamed I saw St. Augustine. A rake's progress?
The more I move around in my new nether-world of Guys and Dolls and other Damon-Runyon optimists, I am starting to think criminals are pretty intelligent and not without courage (it takes balls to hold up a bank) and a Russian mobster must be pretty smart to quickly grasp not only the Roman alphabet, but how to obtain a victim's pin number and accesss to his bank account. And they all very quickly learn how to talk so hip "Foxy chicks, gotta get...Get one for you.."
But hip is not really smart (or why all the drug addicts?) for it takes some acculturization and some time to get a real grasp of this country.
So when I sat at a table in a swell restaurant and met Hugo the Yugo I swear I was meeting Balzar Conehead in the flesh.
I was with my beautiful neighbour after a creative writing class which I was conducting at nearby Seneca College.
We stopped for a drink and a dance, because college teachers too can be Damon-Runyon characters and not all that smart when it comes to their personal lives.
Hugo the Yugo sat alone at a linen-covered table at the bistro and sidled up to my right shoulder. You are Slavic, no?. I can tell. Ukrainski.. Life is hard, no?" "Life is hard," I answered in Russian since he had chosent that language. (Ukies, always bilingual like most Europeans, seem for some reason, always adopt the language of the interrogator. Probably because some are Gulag alumni).
And then his shot in the dark. "How much do you want for voman?"
I was reminded of a line out of that old movies Tom Jones, where upon the highwayman's "Stand and Deliver" was answered by an aristocrat lady's "What do you take me for? A travelling midwife?"
I presumed that back in Russia it was not uncommon to take up the practice of "Hertz Rent-a-Wife".
I mean, in admiral Peary's North Pole expedition, years ago he did take up with a "country wife" and so did his black lieutenant, so it is no uncommon on Ellesmere Island Island to meet a "brother" or an Eskimo rapper.
But hell, this was whitebread Newmarket, Ontario, and though some town councillors agreed that with my late night teaching, subsequent "choir practise" in the bars and general womanizing, I should adopt my true calling of not only a raconteur of the cocktail circuit but perhaps "a pimp."
Heaven forbid that my office, with its shingle, outside, "Creative Writing, Ivan Prokopchuk. M.A." (Hey, you had to make aliving!)--should be a den of iniquity. Of course, when you were employed and had a private practice on the side, you were something of a professional man. At the colletge, they called me Doctor.
But when I went to the local bar and carried ont he way I used to do, the salutation was more anatomical.
There was also this power, and I began to understand the Spitzers and Clintons of this world.
Like in the bar, I'd ask some woman the direct question, and she'd sometimes answer, "Not until I met you, you smooth-talking bastard."
The atmosphere of class and money.
Sure can lead a po' boy to the house of the rising sun.
But when I took the young lady to the Bistro, I was still married, it was all on the up-and-up, and the Yugoslavian's offer made me do a double-take. Hey, maybe I'd suppressed my true calling.
I had always imagined myself as kind of a literrary spy, "The Scarlett Pimpernell".
He's here. He's there.
They seek him everywhere.
Those damn Frenchies.
They seek him everywhere!
The Scarlet Pimpernell!
Pimpernell all right.
I was no Norman Mailer but some critics used to say Mailre wrote just to get laid.
Good on both counts. Great writer. Great stick man.
It was up to an intelligent southern lady, Norris Church to "make a man" out of Mailer. Get him off the bottle and off the other women.
Heaven forbid that those years of self-denial led to writing for money and sex, especially sex, and as I woke up one day in a convoluted position on my cot in the studio, I realized I was no solitary reaper.
"Stop talking to my feet."
"I am Donald. I am a poet. I have dactyllic feet."
"What is it with you guys that you make jokes in bed?"
Small wonder that Leonard Cohen once wrote something callled "Beautiful Losers."
I was no Leonard Cohen, but I was certainly becoming something of a loser.
Must have been developing a rep. Why else would Hugo ask me how much I wanted for" my woman"?
Too much too soon.
And all of it by thirty.
I had a Carravaggio hanging on my wall. It had a man in it, who seemed to have given up he pen, the canvas and the lute to become Stupid Cupid.
Had the sneaking intimation that one had better get back to the draft table or become another rake.
Funny thing. Once I got back home that night, Wifey said, in her nighgown: "Look. It's Norman Rakewell."
She gave me a good inspection, even a sniffing.
"Hm. Smell like Charlie.
"You'd tell me if you were up to anything, wouldn't you?"
"Just hunting tigers under glass. Took some students out."
Ah, the roads to hell are full of good intentions....
There had been an episode of dissipation.
When I came back to the college, the dean called me a prodigal son.
"You shold be teaching at York."
I knew what he meant. Toronto's York Univesity was well known for randy profs.
...For the grace of God.
Irving Layton on his deathbed, still mumbling "Lass, I want to grab you by the ass."
Of such stuff is literary success.
And now we are all out here. Con men, doing cons on each other.
Well, we hope the poetry was good.
Even if we weren't very.