Sunday, June 08, 2008

Would you take a used story from this man?

Problems. Problems. I can't access my artwork for Blogger. And a bout with the dentist has left me frustrated and annoyed. Where is it written that a dentist can screw up your creative faculties?...and wreck your pictures?

Nevertheless, like "Clark Bent" hobbling from spitoon to spittoon in a MAD Magazine parody,
I'm just watitng for Lois Lane to lay a backhander on me an yell, "Creep!"

Hm. When a writer plagiarizes himself, he's in trouble.

I am plagiarizing myseld below. (Yeah, I've been doing that too).

When my Marjorie came out in Ryerson University's Fifth Page, a reviewer said it was a good thing that I wasn't seen around the cafeteria for a while. "What an awful story," he had said in the college's yearbook. Maybe it's a good thing that Ivan disappeared." ...Hah. Found a way to get me!
But I like to think that I had created and he had reviewed.

Women did not like the story, especially my girlfriend then, whe said I had shown a shadow side.
I had countered that unless you can kill a character in a short story, you probably will not do so well as writer. I mean, look at Dostoevky. Seems hardly a chapter goes by without a rape, an incest or a murder. "Yeah, but you write like a factory worker."
She got me on that one. I was 27 , out of the factory and trying to be a writer.

Anyway, I felt I had come alive in '65 with my first consciously crafted short story.

I thought it was good, but all the critics missed it.

Ah well. A Toronto Star editor had a peek and gave me a summer job.

So here is the story.



MARJORIE


I'd spent the last two days crawling from bar to bar, from dive to dive, and then when my money ran out I hit the wine. I just didn't give a damn. Blown my job, lost my wife and there didn't seem to be any point in trying anymore.
God, I'd loved my wife, Marjorie with her plump round little face and those solid hips. Now she's gone. Married to her for three years; nice home in the suburbs - and now I haven't got a damn thing. Sitting in the diploma-studded office talking to you. About all I have is this goddam hangover .
Marjorie, Marjorie. She used to treat me well. Good cook; sense of humour; a regular aphrodite in bed. Just the odd time she'd complain that I drank too much. But I told her it was only nerves and she needn't worry. What the hell, I was bringing home the bacon, thought I was keeping her pretty happy in every way and didn't see how the odd little drink was going to hurt me.
Hell just about everybody in the advertising game drinks. They just hide it well, that's all. Lot of pressure on executives and copywriters whenever a big account is at stake. I was no exception. I drank. You see my job kept getting on my nerves; took a lot of fine concentration. After a while I found myself missing little details that meant a lot in the big picture. I'd get chewed out by the Creative Director. I'd get frustrated, angry. I'd get together with a buddy and hit the bars. But after a few weeks of this the guy's wife would clamp down and I'd do a lot of drinking by myself.
I was still a pretty good ad man though. Even with the drinking, I'd sometimes hit on an idea that really sold. Like the Billing's account; netted us a quarter million. Hell, let the hacks worry about details, I told myself. When it came to big moves I could make them.
But the harder I applied myself, the more I drank. Things got to the point where a good binge gave me more satisfaction than a well-executed job. In fact, pretty soon I couldn't imagine anything better than sitting at the bar and staring at the world through whiskey-filled glasses.
"What the hell", I'd say to myself in the bar mirror, "What was I doing in the advertising game besides making a whore out of my abstract little mind? What did the whole game matter? What did anything matter? Seemed like the world was run by people not much different from myself: men not overly brilliant, but highly motivated. Only difference was a weird ability to string ideas and words together. The whole bag was a poker game with ad men dealing the cards. But then that was the way the game was played. Why should I worry about it? Nobody else with any money or position did."
I was really quite lucky, I'd say to myself. I had intelligence. I could stay on top of the heap without being a drudge like everyone else.
When I had a real load on, I'd sit on the bar stool and contemplate my success in life. Christ, I was a young god; member of the elite; a respected man in my community. I could do damn well what I pleased and probably get away with it because of my position.
I'd sit in that bar and go on for hours just telling myself what a winner I was. But as I'd get really drunk, I'd began to get sentimental and start thinking about by wife. Marjorie's face would loom out at me through the drink and I'd finish my shot and go home anticipating our warm bed all the way out to the suburbs. When I'd get home she'd be lying there like a warm puppy. God, it was like stepping into a warm bathtub.
But by degrees, things started going wrong at home. By the third year of our marriage I found her getting more and more tense and over the months I found her lovemaking becoming dutiful, unenthusiastic. Sometimes she'd become downright bitchy. One morning I woke up to find her staring at me with an expression of disgust on her face.
"What's the matter?" I asked her .
"If you only knew," she hissed, "If you only knew how much I wanted to scratch your eyes out last night when you passed out in my arms."
"Oh God, I didn't really do that?" I asked in horror.
"Yes you did," she insisted, "right in the middle."
I fought off a sick sensation in my bowels and felt my face working, demanding some direction from my panicked brain. I worked up a grin and tried to pass the whole thing off as a joke.
"Guess I was just hors de combat, hard work and all that," I said, pathetically hoping for a laugh.
"You're turning alcoholic, darling," she said seriously. "And it's showing up in your performance - your total performance."
"Oh hell, honey," I scoffed, "Me an alcoholic? Ridiculous." I told her I could handle my liquor and besides, I never drank before sundown.
"Yes, and you don't usually come home until midnight," she snapped back. Well, we argued about that for a while and finally let it hang.
But as the days went by, I kept experiencing a vague sort of feeling I'd never had bcfore, a tightening of the abdominal muscles and a sense of helplessness. Whatever pet theories a man has on sex, whatever his thought processes, it tears him up to realize he's useless to his wife.
But I rationalized the whole thing and told myself I was just working too hard. No need to worry, I told myself. Hell, I wasn't doing too badly at work. The little slip-ups I'd made didn't really matter. After all, I had settled the whole Billing's account single-handedly and felt pretty sure Art Jennings would have to move me up to Media Director pretty soon.
So I consoled myself with the thought that a busy man has to make certain sacrifices if he's to succeed. Hell, Don Juan's make poor executives, I told myself. And what if a man takes a little drink every now and again to settle his nerves? Christ, you have to settle down somehow.
But one night while I sat alone in the bar I started thinking of Marjorie and found myself wanting her like never before. Somehow I knew I could really do her justice this time. The urge to go home and make love to Marjorie was overpowering; it was even stronger than the urge for more liquor. I downed my whiskey sour and made off for home, pornographic ideas running through my mind. I was virile, young, I was Apollo, a young god in pursuit of my Daphne. Hurriedly, I phoned for a cab.
Inside the house, I started taking off my clothes even before I reached the bedroom. When I got to Marjorie she looked at me as if I were a madman, but after a while she didn't put up any resistance to my approaches. Trouble is, I wasn't much good. She began to tremble after the first time and just kept sobbing in a corner of the bed, not letting me touch her. Well, I was still half-lit and didn't let it worry me too much. I shrugged the whole thing off and went to sleep.
But the next day in the middle of work, I found my fright returning. I was afraid Marjorie was beginning to hate me. I kept worrying about this while I worked, and it was beginning to throw off my performance.
It was a pretty rough day. I was designing a display kit for Jennings, a rough job that I had to submit by the afternoon. I knew it was coming along pretty sloppily and a good part of the copy was full of clich├ęs, but I couldn't seem to get organized or think straight. So I just designed and typed away to get the thing out of my hair. Had a lot of misgivings about the whole business before I handed the kit to Jennings. He wasn't happy.
"God, Conlan, is this the best you can do?" he snapped. "Look at your display type - hell, I wouldn't use this in the morning paper. And the wording on that promo sheet – ‘For superior excellence’ - ?"
I just stood there and weathered the blast.
"What the hell is happening to you man - is this the Conlan who gave us 'A Galacti Goal for Glidden'?" He told me I'd better try the whole thing again, but for Christ's sake to hurry up and meet that Monday deadline.
That got me pretty upset. I picked up the display case, mumbled something, turned toward the door and slunk out of the office. I was angry; angry at myself, angry at the advertising business and sick of my mental and physical impotence.
When I got back to the projects room I found Reagan from Market Research sitting at my desk. It took me a while to realize what he was doing there, but then it dawned on me that I'd made a date with him to do a little pub crawling that night. He couldn't have come at a better time. Better boozing buddy I never had.
“Hey, you look as if you're going to chew someone's ear off," he said.
I told him that I'd just had my ass chewed off and he'd better be in a mood for serious drinking because tonight I needed a shoulder.
So we went down to that Greek's place - you know, where they have that insane guitar player.
We sat down in the red leather furniture and got down to business. I was flustered, unsettled. Everything, everyone seemed to be against me.
The waiter came and kept running up with the rounds after Reagan gave him a dollar tip and I poured out my troubles. Reagan was a good listener and made me feel a bit better. Reagan had had his run-ins with Jennings too, and after a few whiskey sours we were both cursing him out, our own inadequacies cheerfully forgotten.
We had a few more rounds and I told Reagan about the other matter, my sex problem. I told him about how Marjorie wouldn't let me touch her - and about another time when just before I reached climax she had said, "for God's sake do something to bring me on."
Reagan laughed when he heard all this. I got offended and asked him what the hell he thought was so funny. He said was pretty naive for a married man of three years and should have picked up a few tricks over that period. I asked him what he meant while the waiter brought another two whiskeys and Reagan said I was probably too orthodox in my lovemaking. "Orthodox?" I asked him, "What the hell do you mean?"
He said I ought to have kept up with my reading. When I asked him, what reading, he said reading that would open my eyes to a few sexual facts.
"Why not try a bit of de Sade?" he asked, "especially the sexual philosophy?"
I told him I thought de Sade was a madman who happened to be a writer and Reagan called me a Philistine.
"Look", he said, "1 know just what's wrong with your love life... you're just too conservative. You don't come on like a tyrant in the bedroom. That's what you should do. The reason your wife is beginning to hate you in bed is because you're too damn lovey-dovey - you're not enough of a man. Next time she cries out in the middle of the night about you not being able to satisfy her , give her a good swipe across the .ear or at least bite her somewhere where it hurts. . . No don't protest. I try it with Jean all the time and I've never been better treated."
I told him he was off his stick and all that sadist business was for college kids to kick around in pubs.
"Look bud," Reagan said, "just try it... try it tonight and see if you don't get a better time than you ever had in your life". I told him he was out of his mind as the next round hit us.
But there was no stopping Reagan. He was drunk past the point of subtlety or reason and began talking enthusiastically of whips and razors.
Then he went into Guy de Maupassant's murder and sex stories and I found myself listening with some enthusiasm. The liquor took hold while Reagan's macabre stories focused my mind on gloomy landscapes, windwashed, stormpounded beaches and bloodsoaked, murderers' hands. Murder had always held a strange fascination for me.
We kept drinking and talking till the bar closed and stumbled out for a coffee before taking a cab home. But I seemed to have blacked out and couldn't remember anything till I found myself stirring on my doorstep, Reagan and the cab driver looking anxiously down at me.
The two of them finally drew me up, found my key and took me inside. Reagan himself was weaving so badly that the cab driver was forced to look after him now.
"Think you'll be able to hack it all right?" the cabbie asked me while he kept Reagan from falling.
I said "Yes" despite the hall's merry-go-round motion.
I remember falling on the floor immediately after they had closed the door. I stumbled down the hall, opened the living room door but tripped on the rug and gave myself one hell of a crack across the head against the edge of the open door.
Anger, pain, hatred and frustration welled up in me as I entered the living room and called for Marjorie. She didn't answer. I staggered through the rooms looking for her, calling her name. Still no answer. Finally I walked into the bedroom and found her looking up, disgusted at my drunkenness.
I don't know what possessed me, but all my anger, all my frustration seemed to direct itself against Marjorie and my bottled up rage fed on her disgust.
The anger built up as I took off my clothes. She didn't say anything while I fumbled through my undressing, but only rolled over when I got into the bed.
I remember grabbing her shoulder, spinning her around and lashing out with my best backhander. She gasped and that excited me. I hit her again, feeling a righteous thrill go through me. I struck her again - just before I passed out.

__________


The next day I woke up with a hangover that screamed to God. I reached for Marjorie… was going to wake her up and tell her to get me a Bromo. But I only found myself groping in an empty bed. I raised my head and looked around the room. The drawers were disarranged; nylons and towels were strewn all over the place.
I peered at the vanity and found a piece of paper. Marjorie had typed out a "goodbye" and said she was leaving for good.
A shock like fire went through me when I read the note. The thought of losing Marjorie was unbearable. I read the note over and over again.
I wondered why she had typed rather than written it out. I couldn't recall her ever typing anything before. But the shock of her absence obscured any attempt at thought. My life was going to pieces. My wife was gone, I was an alcoholic and my job was probably the next thing to go. What the hell was the point in trying anything anymore? There was only one thing to do: get drunk and stay that way as long as my money held out. After that, nothing would matter. Let them put me in the tank.
I put on my clothes and rushed out of the house, fighting off the realization of what I had actually done to Marjorie during the night. But I told myself there was only one important thing to consider and that was if I had enough money to drink myself into a limbo. I hit the nearest bar and waited shakily while that damnably slow bartender poured the drink.

Well, you know the rest. After I came back from my two-day bender I found the house guarded by two plainclothes men who asked me my name and then arrested me.
Doctor, I realize I was Drunk, but do you think I really killed her after that drinking bout with Reagan? Do you really think I hid her body? I couldn't have. I love Marjorie.

12 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

Have you ever read a story called "Hangover" by John D. MacDonald? It's in a collection called "The End of the Tiger." It's an excellent story and this one has some similar elements.

I really got hooked on this tale. An excellent read.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Thanks, Charles.

I'm not sure if John D. MacDonald was current in l965.
But Alfred Hichcock was.

Another msster.

I think I had gone to a priest for exorcism as a younger man. Some of those themes can really work on your nerves.
The ideas can sort of sear you with their passage.
Thanks for the appreciation.

Monique said...

The ending came as a bit of a shock. Good story.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Thanks Monique.

Seems that when one submits story to a magazine, one thinks that he's finished. But he is only half-finished.
Thank God I had a good editor, who went to school with Leonard Cohen, but never achieved Mr. Cohen's stature.
"Hm. I thought Lennie was just a regular guy."
Well.
Maybe something rubbed off.

Mr. Hersh was an excelent editor.

Josie said...

Ivan, dental woes can affect your computer. Just ask me.

"All I want for Chrithmath is my two front teeth, my two front teeth, oh my two front teeth..." *heh*

Actually, mine are okay now. Have you ever broken a tooth and swallowed it? *sigh*

ivan@creativewritng.ca said...

Yes, but never swallowed.

Agh.

But you look great in the new avatar. Va-va-vavoom!

Donnetta Lee said...

Ivan, I think I like this best of all I've read of yours. Going back to read it again. Of course, I enjoy short stories. I think you did a great job.
Donnetta

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Why, thank you Donnetta!

If the story worked it was probably because of the good editor that Professor Jack Hersh was.

Don't know if Jack is still alive, but he wrote an introduction
to the l967 Fifth Page that makes him masterful in his own right as he descibed our literary and poetic efforts. To wit:

An old home...horses on a merry-go-round...the quiet beauty of a rose bush in bloom--seemingly simple subjects in which our interest has become dulled though long familiarity.

And yet some Ryerson students have been able to see these and other commonplace objects and situations from a different viewpoint--to add the brilliance of imagination and reflection through which they take on a new meaning and significance. Other students have managed, through the subtle use of satire, the creation of imaginary situations, or the contemplation of circumstances known to all of us, to underline the depression and irony that is that is often implicit in the human existence.

The final results, then,of their insights and efforts have been collected in this year's Fifth Page...

Yep. I thought I had finished my story, but it was up to Prof. Jack
to give it good dusting.

the walking man said...

I enjoyed this Ivan. You say it was your first short? It's easy to see how your talent bloomed from here.

I wonder if instead of plagiarizing yourself would a good exercise be rewriting in the third person, play with the narration some?

BUT...I found the first person telling to be very compelling. A good read for the wee hours of the day.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Hey man.

ivan@creativewritng.ca said...

Mark,

Something out of your blog today:

The first thing left by the wayside during troubled time is always the thing that is needed the most…art. Paints lose their color, music its tone and, word their meaning. The one thing that can lift a soul to the heights of freedom is forgotten for the need to struggle, never knowing that it is the creativity of thought that allows the struggle to be won.

Jeesus, that's good.

Certainly reminds me of a time I came back from Mexico, crazy as a loon, carrying a tattered manuscript and accompanied by a floozie and two goats.
Well, at least I had gotten the novel done.
But the goal seemed wrong.
I sent the book to the biggest publisher in Canada, Maclellan and Stewart, and got a form rejection.

Oh the effort we put in, the life-and deathstruggle and then some fuzzy- eared clerk had to remind you of something called the "selection process" and this process trumping ones submisssion.
Ah, the agony when the goal is suddenly wrong.
Didn't see that one coming.

Put in the time, the effort, the tequila, the mistress, the divorce, the goats that were so cute as they clattered over the cobblestones-- all of that and to be greeted back in Canada with a clerk's "f*ck off...This means you!"
I finally got a job with a magazine and force-fed my novel, chapter by chapter, for about 23 chapters, causing an accountant to remark: "We are paying this guy $175 a week to publish this shit?"

Well, I hope that you're right in saying that it is the creativity of thought that allows the struggle to be won.
Ah but that sruggle. I hope that the "win" is not just in our heads.

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