Sunday, August 31, 2008

Portrait of the Artist as a Cockroach?



Help me out here.

I have, in blog after blog, been choking on extremely sour grapes, been maintaing that some Lebanese boatman had stolen my thunder by not only beating me to my regular publisher, but getting two awards, notably the Giller, worh $80,000 and leading to sure fame.

Well, let's get real. I did win an award from House of Anansi Press, but it was only enough to keep me drunk for a week, as for the Giller, I didn't even apply. You have to be published by Anansi first; then you try for the Giller.

As it turned out, all my friends at Toronto's Anansi were suddenly gone, some women took over and the next thing I know, it's "Ivan who?" All my scripts were suddenly rejected, with a "better luck next time".

This, after twenty years of Anansi playing games with me, getting me the Ontario Arts Council grant, giving me the go-ahead for more work, and finally, with the change in ownershp, I seem to get, "F*ck-off Ivan. This means you."

Well, enter the Lebanese Boatman. The boatman, a refugee from war-torn Lebanon, succeeded grandly with his first novel though Anansi Press, something called De Niro's Game.
It was based in part on Robert DeNiro's The Deerhunter, a movie out of the past that I recall depressingly flat, and I did not want to see or read that kind of script again.. War and gambling ; people more or less out of my own background, tossing dice for life in Vietnam and gambling , almost for fun with anybody, even the Viet Cong. I had walked out of he movie, muttering, to myself, "WTF".

So that was The Deerhunter? , huh? After all the advance reviews and trailers. What a waste of film footage (except maybe for the ethnic wedding scenes, which were certainly colourful).

But gee, we suddenly have a matrix going here, a matrix for still another work of this type, and out comes The Lebanese Boatman with his "De Niro's Game", from the point of view of a Maronite Christian, escaping from the hell of Lebanon in the Eighties. Well yes. That part of the story we can sympathize with. But while imitation may be flattery, it seems more like fellatery.
It's about a gambler, but this time in war and revolution-torn Lebanon of the Eighties; but there is even no attempt to even hide my Boatman's idea, taken from The Deerhunter, and blatantly labelled, De Niros Game.

Well what happens next. Success. Not such great reviews after the book was published by Anansi, but the Giller prize for the Lebanese Boatman all the same.

I was jealous. Of course, I was jealous. The Boatman's script and my own script dealing with another theme hit House of Anansi Press at about the same time.

There was a wobble. Six months of waiting. Then the company asking for more time and patience.

Then finally, The Boatman gets in with fanfare, and I get rejected and pretty well called a prick.

Ain't life teejus?

So I ate crow, and then couldn't hold back my resentment and anger, told Anansi they hadn't seen the last of me and began to write again.

So I am in the process of once again tailoring my literature, hoping it would fit Anansi, when wham! Another novel by the
Lebanese Boatman.

Ah. Not so fast this time, Rawi.
Critics will rarely pan a first novel, but by the second, you are fair game. The Boatman has a new title out, "Cockroach", also by Anansi. And did the Toronto Star ever give it to him.
They did, unless my reading perception was off.

Reviewer Jeff Pevere begins thusly:

"The defining difference between the narrator of Rawi Hage's Cockroach and his best-known literary precursor in Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis is that the former is quite content believing he is a bug. It's his natural state, a way of existing in a world that demands a certain subterranean facility just to get by. It's always served him well:

"I was the master of the underground. I crawled under beds; camped under tables, I was even the kind of kid who crawled under cars to retrieve the ball, rescue the stranded cat, find the coins under the fridge."

If the conviction that he was a cockroach helped Hage's narrator survive a trauma-stricken childhood in war-torn Lebanon, it has proven an equally functional delusion in Montreal, where Hage's unemployed, thievery-prone, sex-obsessed protagonist spends his bone-chilled days scheming for scores, meals and retribution. As a cockroach, he can go where he pleases, take what he fancies and scuttle imperceptibly down the nearest drain. "The underground, my friend, is a world of its own. Other humans gaze at the sky, but I say unto you, the only way to pass through the world is to pass through the underground."

Cockroach, the former Montreal cab driver's second novel, following the much-awarded and justly praised De Niro's Game, is a continuation of a sort. Whereas the first book described the harrowing condition of moral oblivion necessary to childhood survival in a war zone, Hage's new book considers this state as it applies to getting on with life in a new country. And that is not an easy task, despite the comfortable mythology of renewal that countries like ours offer to people who stagger here from the smoke and ruin.
A certain crust is necessary to simply make the shift from chaos to comfort, and to accept the complacency of a culture that offers refuge but remains infuriatingly blind. It's enough to make a man angry, or to convince him that prevailing through hell has brought out the thick-shelled bug in him..."

At the beginning of the novel, Hage's narrator is more convinced than ever of his creepy-crawly destiny. Not even a suicide attempt could kill him. So on he must go, negotiating a world where living is conditional on not feeling anything beyond self-sustaining appetite. Ask for nothing; take what's necessary.

It's an absurd state, certainly, but both the comedy and creepiness of Cockroach stem from the strangely rational nature of our hero's delusion. As someone who has witnessed what he has, and who has been forced to live with his role in the death of a loved one, Hage's bug-man dwells in the vertigo zone between his past and present. While that might make a man crazy enough to think himself an insect who can crawl through drains and infiltrate the apartments and homes of anyone he chooses, it's a craziness born of an insane situation."

..............................

Well, yeah, okay. The man has suffered. And that entitles him to somehow emulate Franz Kafka.
But once again "steal" from another author, also a "Czech" like the hero of the Deerhunter?

Come on now. Stealing from the best is okay, but not so consistently.

You may think a relative pipsqueak like me has no right to criticize a Giller prize winner.
But gee, my pips and squeaks are nothing compared to critic Jeff Pevere's last paragraph in his review of "boatman" Rawi Hage's COCKROACH. To wit,

Hage's Cockroach is not an inspirational novel. But it is a perceptively funny and knowingly unsettling one, drawing us along on the churning currents of one man's hard-earned misanthropy. At once wise in his perceptions and dangerously unbalanced, the man telling this tale offers a model for surviving that has little or nothing to do with the benevolence of the country that has offered him haven, and everything to do with the insect that crawls from the corpse of deadened emotions.

................................

Well dog my cat. Or, er, cockroach?

Did Mr. Pevere describe the "cockroachesness" of a cockroach and almost condemn the author?

Anybody else interpret this last paragraph as an extermination?
Am I reading, through my green eyes, too much into this?

Oh my.
##

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Christmas in July. A novel exerpt by E. A. Monroe (who writes like a pro)


My great novel of love and loss, self discovery and untimate redempion (or funk) will have to wait.

I was going to offer a chapter or to here, but, as I'd said before, my files have become corrupt. And so have I.

And, by the way, have you ever tried writin'? It's impossible.

Genius in literature might be defined as a richness in human content.

I have had one editor say "I'm not sure if writers are really human."

The sense of detatchment when something really awful happens to us. The rush to the computer so we can get it all down. The suffering on your face. Hoping somebody else will notice....Your blindness to friends who too may be on a raft, very much like yours. Humanity on its raft; you on your raft. And it's so much easier to fire up the old Evinrude or airboat and get the hell out of there. Thing happen to writers and they seem to somehow get themselves detached from the tragedy, as if they were somewhere else.

Are writers really human?


It is then that I uncorrupt my files by the aid of my slightly incompetent techie (my son can't help me any more; he's got his own box of riddles)--and I finally retrieve a file. Hey it's E.A. Monroe, whose writings I am particularly fond of.

Richness in human content? The Oklahoma lady sure has the human content. Certainly from her youth.

So without further conundrums (Sean Connery manque: "A conundrum is like a puzzle--Aw forget it. Your mother is a whore!)--I will set on these pages something I consider really fine from a book she is putting togfether. She complains that it's hard to pare your writing, beat up on your own child, but I certainly like this exerpt from Liz's work in progress.

SUMMER DOLDRUMS


by


e. a. Monroe


The summer doldrums come when the sun bakes the Granite Mountains into a hard boil scorcher and the wind, what little wind trickles through the dust and the heat waves, blows a breath that withers and browns the wild grasses growing in the fields and along the roadsides. It’s a wind that rushes straight out of Momma’s oven and singes the eyebrows right off my face when I open the oven door.

We have rebuilt our tree house in the old mesquite tree that grows beside the road a couple of times. Every year, as soon as school lets out for the summer, we tackle last year’s tree house and give it a remodel. The tree house isn’t much more than a frame of 2x4s nailed to the mesquite tree’s limbs and covered over with warped planks salvaged from the scrap heap left by the carpenters who are busy erecting another new house on our street. We scrape together all the nails we can find, plus a few nails confiscated from workbenches and garages.We nail boards to the rickety tree house and brag about how grand this summer’s tree house is gonna look, our voices droning like the cicadas high in the branches above us. I nail a couple of boards across a Y-branch higher up in the tree and claim my look out perch.
Tired of hammering and nailing, the gang sprawls on the floor and dangle their feet and legs over the edge. The tree house doesn’t have any walls and we figure the space between the supporting tree limbs and the bottom of the floorboards an excellent place to cram any “prisoners.”
Beneath the floor the boards bristle with nail spikes.“Hey, what do ya wanna do now?”
“Wanna ride bikes down Tin Can Hill and jump the ditch?”“Wanna ’splore Devil’s Canyon and pick up arrow heads?”“Hey, let’s climb Mount Baldy and search for your grandpa’s treasure chest!”“Naw, it’s too hot,” meets every suggestion of what to do next .
We’d done everything there was to do that summer. Thanks to ideas stolen from watching too many black and white Tarzan movies and Johnny Weissmuller swinging from tree to tree to rescue Jane and Boy, we had hacked and trampled jungle trails through a couple acres of tall Johnson grass, posted warning signs, and laid booby traps — mostly trenches covered over with cut Johnson grass.
We’d caught, tamed and released horny toads. We’d done our best to dig a hole clear to China, before we finally gave up, splashed water into our “swimming pool” from a hose stretched across the street from our house, and wallowed in the resulting mud bath.We’d made numerous trips to Lake Lugert where our dad fished and to Craterville where we rode the Ferris Wheel and the Tilt-a-Whirl, smacked into the maze of glass walls at the Fun House, and bruised our butts at the skating rink.We’d climbed all over the mountains that rimmed our small town and played dead for the turkey vultures. We’d been to the movies a couple of times. The Craig family who owned the Five & Dime store also owned the tiny movie theatre and it was only open during the summer, except for an afternoon matinee on Christmas Eve.We’d been carted off to church and revivals and church camp; spent nights on the farm at Grandma and Grandpa’s Timmons or in Guthrie with the other grandparents.
We’d played and cheated at every game we knew how to play or had invented. We’d camped out in the yard, hiked the network of bar ditches and explored all the nooks and crannies around town. We’d ridden our bikes everywhere and even played countless games of bicycle hockey with baseball bats and a baseball
.One time, Momma gave us a dollar and sent us to town to buy a loaf of Mead’s Fine Bread. We almost didn’t survive the hot mile walk home from town. By the time we hiked into the yard, our tongues dragged the dirt gravel road and I had smashed the loaf of bread flatter’n a pancake. Momma was mad about the squashed bread but we figured she wouldn’t make us walk to town for bread again any time soon.“We oughta clip some coupons from the Reader’s Digest and trade ’em for candy at Cothrum & Reeser’s Grocery Store.”The folks at the grocery store always let us trade coupons for candy; didn’t matter what kind of coupons either — 10 cents off a box of laundry detergent or 5 cents off a bar of soap.
With coupons we could fetch a bunch of 1-cent candy, 2-cent cinnamon suckers, 5-cent candy bars and divvy up the sweet loot between Robert, Susan and me and any neighborhood kids hanging out with us.“I swear it’s hotter ’n the Sahara Desert!”
“So, what are we gonna do now?
Can’t build any more on this old tree house without nails.”“I’m thinking,” I said, wondering why I always had to come up with all the ideas. I scratch my butt, fingertips scraping the patch Momma had zigzag stitched on the seat of my shorts after I ripped them taking another trip down the Devil’s Slide during one of our Girl Scout cookouts.I didn’t have to think too hard before an idea struck — a grand idea and maybe one of my best ideas all summer long.
“Here’s what we’re gonna do, see. We’re all gonna run home, make up some kinda costume and a mask, too — don’t forget a mask if you got one — and then we’ll meet back in our yard.”We all scrambled or jumped out of the tree house and everyone darted off home. “And don’t forget to bring a brown paper bag!”Robert, Susan and I dash home and root through the closets looking for costume stuff. Robert still had his Mad Hatter costume from his school play; Susan only needed to add her battered straw cowboy hat, gun holster riding low on her hips and cap pistols twirling and she was Anne Oakley.
I swiped Momma’s flouncy purple and pink lace petticoat she never wore and some costume jewelry.We met the other kids in the yard, our paper bags crinkling, costumes rustling and the summer heat a dull memory lost to the fun of a wishful plan.
We set off and make our circuit through the neighborhood, house by house, knocking on doors or pressing doorbells. Only this time we didn’t run away and hide. We wait until the lady of the house answers the door and then we shout, “Trick or treat!”After a surprised look and oh-my-gosh-don’t-ya’ll-look-cute laughter while we giggle and rattle our paper bags for a handout, she said, “Let me see what I’ve got in the house. Don’t ya’ll look so cute!”We made an unexpected haul of cookies and candy that hot summer afternoon going from house to house trick-or-treating. Later, when we sprawled around in the tree house, our feet and legs swinging over the edge of the floorboards, the torture chamber below empty of prisoners, and we feasted on our treats, we decide we’d make this an annual event — Halloween in July.We didn’t have to clip any coupons from the latest Reader’s Digest or hike to town and back. And, the best thing of all? Momma didn’t even get mad.Trick or TreatSmell my feetGive me somethingGood to eat!
Posted by EA Monroe a
Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

We're better at the geetar. Post-Olympic Funk. Guest blog by John Dowson.



Beat your personal best
By
John Dowson August 23, 2008


When did win and success become dirty words? Only in Canada is winning a dirty word and Canadians who become successful are viewed with disdain. No one knows for certain where this attitude came from or why we continue to maintain it into the 21st century, but there it is, pervasive through the Canadian mindset. Like many Canadians I watched the TV coverage of the Beijing Olympics on CBC TV, sometimes live in the wee hours of the morning and like most of us during the first week of competition I was sadden not only by the lack of a medal, but where the team member placed. But our wonderfully up beat Canadian TV sports announcers and their colour commentators, made us feel good when over and over they emphasized the winning spirit of the true north strong and free. Even though a Canadian competitor had finished dead last in the race the announcer would proclaim to the world “she/he has just beaten their Personal Best”. That phase was later shorted by the print media to PB, perhaps because after a week of competition it was over worked. The TV commentators soon picked up on this and they also began to use “PB”. To highlight this point when a Canadian athlete, who had just lost a race was interviewed at pool side or on their way to the dressing room they, mouth the now familiar phrase “I was pleased with my performance and I beat my personal best”. The other insufferable comment we kept hearing was “ even though she/he finished seventh out of a field of eight she/he beat the Canadian record” If a Canadian record is the measure of success of a Canadian athlete why send them to the Olympics to compete against the best in the world.

For centuries successive Canadian governments have given slipshod support to their athlete’s endeavors. They have failed to provide them with world class sports facilities, and coaches. The Olympics is the most prestigious sporting event in the world, a once in a lifetime achievement for an athlete and for Canada to send an under achieving team of over 200 athletes to the worlds premier sporting event is not only an embarrassment to the country it’s a humiliating experience for the athletes. I cannot for a minute imagine Canada sending an under achieving hockey team to the world cup to “beat their personal best”, how would Canadians react?

Oh, Canada did win some medals during the second week of competition, and we crowed about that, but compared to Australia, a country with less population, with world class sports facilities that hires the best coaches in the world, Canada’s performance was pretty uninspiring. Will Canada send a team to the next summer Olympics in London to win, (there’s that dirty word again), or to just go there to beat their personal best? Canada must decide if summer sports are important enough to provide the national facilities and coaching necessary to “win”, or don’t send a team at all. In Prime Minister Stephen Harpers parlance “it’s time to fish or cut bait”.
##
John,
My picture file is corrupt, and so am I.
Early shot at me and pal Neil Campbell in the music business....Unconscious grandstanding, I guess.
Ivan

Saturday, August 23, 2008

They shoot dogs. (Don't they?) Guest short story by e.a. Monroe.




I was nine when the sheriff shot the Collie dog dead.

School was over for the day. The school buses and kids had all left and gone home, except for me. I was standing on the steps of the west portico waiting for my mother to pick me up.

She was late. Normally, she didn’t pick me up after school. I always rode my bike home. I don’t even remember what the reason was, only that I had to wait for her.

I was loitering at the west end of the school building and the sun was hot when I saw the collie and the sheriff in his Western gear tromping toward the stray dog. The sheriff looked one of those cowboys on television. He wore a Colt holstered on his hip, a red bandana tied around his neck and a ten-gallon hat mashed down on his head.

He must’ve come for the dog, summoned by a teacher to remove the collie from the school grounds. I never wondered which teacher, only that the collie must’ve hung around waiting for one of the kids.

But, the kids had all left and my mom was late picking me up from school. I never liked waiting much.

Our school was made from huge granite blocks quarried from the mountains that cracked through the earth along the north and curled around our town like the protective spines of some slumbering dragon. The beast guarded the treasure chest stashed on Mount Baldy. At least, that was my grandpa’s story.

The entrances of the school were inset "pigeon holes" wrapped in granite blocks and it was inside the niche of the lair that I stood spying on the sheriff trying to coax the wary collie to come to him.

But, the collie wouldn’t come. Instead, the dog crawled beneath one of the teacher’s parked cars and tried to hide.

The sheriff got down on his hands and knees in the gravel and dirt. I peeked a little further around the edge of the granite blocks and watched. After more coaxing from the sheriff, the collie still refused to crawl out from beneath the parked car.

That was when the sheriff leaned back on his boot heels and looked around. I didn’t think he was looking out for bad guys — just kids, I suspected, or teachers — anyone who might see what he was doing. He didn’t see me and even so I was just an insignificant kid and not worth his bother to notice.

The sheriff was careful about looking around and taking his time, and after deciding the coast was clear, he leaned back down in the gravel and dirt and looked at the collie hiding beneath the car.

He pulled his Colt from his holster and shot the collie. A single shot. Then stillness as blood pooled in the dirt beneath the dog’s head.

I fell back into the inside niche and hid in the shadows for everything I was worth. Terrified. He might come for me. Shoot me in the head like a collie dog for what I had witnessed.

That was when my mom drove up and parked in a vacant slot where all the teachers parked, a few spaces down from the parked car and the sheriff and the dog he had killed.

I dashed down the porch steps, my legs pumping as hard as my heart. I yanked open the passenger door and dove into the safety of my mom’s old blue and white Plymouth. I don’t know what she thought or if she even noticed.

I sat rigid in the car seat, unable to speak much less breathe and I wanted to scream at her for being late. Why was she late? She never picked me up after school. I don’t even remember why she had decided to change the routine for that one particular day that nailed its memory into my head forever.

“What’s the matter?” she said.

“Nothing.” I stared straight ahead. I didn’t want to look at the sheriff who was tromping over to my mom’s car.

“Sorry, I’m late,” she said.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hurry up and wait--Guest blog by John Dowson


A lot of good stuff comes into this space. I was just thinking of E A. Monroe's sketches about childhood in Oklahoma, and on re-reading, I was still charmed.


Meanwhile, I have been getting stuff from one John Dowson whom I have inveigled to read some works of another, Alfred Warkertin, an old publisher turned writer. John, unsertandably is very busy as he has an insurance business to attend to while not writing for a local magazine.


Myself I have not always been a very good editor. You gotta finangle, finesse, sometimes manipulate to have your publication look good. I am kind of a simple guy whose tangled webs can be seen right through, but I really am trying to lean on John Dowson a bit to get him to edit Mr.
Warkertin's stories.


So partially, I am putting up John's blog here to perhaps score brownie points so Alfred Warkertin's submissions can be edited by John.


Egad. The word transparency is improperly used in politics.


To me, transparency is just a peek at the other guy's simplemindedness.


Never lay your cards on the table, I say, though, heh, with this act I am laying my cards on the table.

The way out of tragedy says Dr. Lionel Trilling, is intelligence and right intention.


I am not sure if I have intelligence, but I think my intention is right to put the works of both John Dowson and Alfred Warkertin forward.


I identify with Afred Warkertin. He is just a few years older than me, but, as in the case of Norman Mailer, Alfred, (I opine anyway) has come across "The Great Bitch", which Mailerl calls ones unattainable novel. The Great Bitch tends to elude and stymie us.

Well, I once got a piece out of The "Great Bitch" and I wish both John Dowson and Alfred Warkertin all the luck in the world when it comes to novel writing.

I know what it feels like to have ones novel "go to naught"; been there and it takes a lot of fixing to get back on track, to get that feeling of artistic power back.

Thank God I went to a technical university and I knew some of the ways...Like disguising a short story within an editorial. What the hell

The Tragicall Hip: "Don't worry what the poets are doing".


Do your stuff. You might even get paid.


Hell, John Dowson. If you can find the time to fix Alfred's work...you might even get paid.


So without forther perigrination, here is John's column, originally publishedby York North News, Newmarket ON.





Hurry up and wait
By John Dowson January, 22 2008

In January I fell and injured myself so I went to the Emergency Ward at Southlake Regional Health centre for treatment. The building is no longer called a hospital it’s a “Health centre”, yet everyone still calls it a hospital and to everybody the emergency ward is in the hospital not the health centre. No one says “I’m going to the Health centre”, it just doesn’t sound serious. If you said ‘I’m in the hospital” then it must be serious, but if you said “I’m in the health centre” it just doesn’t sound serious, it could mean you’re in a sanitarium or rest home it’s just not the same as being in a hospital. People who are seriously ill or injured people don’t stay overnight in a” health Centre” they stay overnight in a “hospital”, but I digress more about that later.

It was late in the evening when I fell so we decided to go to the Emergency ward to see if any bones had been broken. I expected the usual 8 or 12 hour wait and was going to bring a 1000 page book to read, but I was in to much pain to think of it. We got to the “hospital” at 10.40 pm. I was quickly interviewed and x-rayed and the diagnosis was two broken ribs. I was discharged at 12.10 am two and a half hours after I arrived. My wife had paid the $12 maximum parking fee in anticipation of the long wait and we just couldn’t believe it took only two and a half hours. Three days after the accident my doctor suggested I return to the emergency ward, where my records were, to find out if there was air between my lung and ribcage. During the admittance process another patient told the nurse that she had been referred to the emergency ward by her doctor. I discovered that many of the emergency ward patients, and there were a lot of us, had also been referred to the emergency ward by their doctor or medical clinic. I was told that this is standard practice. It’s no wonder the emergency wards are so crowded and the waiting times are long. This time my wait time was up to standard. I was discharged seven and a half hours after I arrived. The staff was very considerate though, and every two hours we were called to admittance for blood pressure and pulse readings, which we compared between ourselves. In addition, to my surprise, a week after my release I was contacted at home by an emergency ward staff member who inquired about my condition. My major concern with long wait times in the emergency ward is the lack of good reading material. I noticed that old hands who were use to emergency ward waits had brought books to read.

All this was in stark contrast to the private health clinic where my wife had her colonoscopy, which is a pain in the rear end. Calming music was piped into a reception area doted with comfortable recliners, free coffee/tea and plenty of good reading material. Unfortunately her procedure did not go well. In spite of the medication she suffered extreme pain which we later found out was a medical condition she was unaware of. During her recovery none of the doctors, attendants or staff offered her any sympathy or concern for her condition and we didn’t discover the medical condition until we forced the clinic to read the results of her medical report to her. You see the clinic only tested for cancer, polyps and bowel conditions, nothing else. That’s like getting a lube job for your car, and then the front end falls off after you leave the shop and they say “oh we saw that problem, but we only do lube jobs not front ends, so we didn’t tell you” I’ve seen the face of private medicine and all I can say is that it’s pretty ugly.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Getting the creeps and wearing garlic at Wilno, Ontario


As you get older there is always the nagging feeling of :"If only I'd", or :"Damn, I blew it there and "If I'd only invested there."

The feeling is immediately countered by the fact of ones own death, and does is really matter.

Speaking of hoary death, I swear I just got an email from from a dead editor of the National Enquirer who long ago had hired me as a psychic researcher for the National Enguirer, specifically to look for vampires at Wilno, Ontario, near Barry's Bay in Renfrew County

Strange revelations at the tail end of the full moon. Howl!

Maury Breecher, in l978, had said the natives of this Polish related community near Ottawa, here for l50 years, were walking around with garlands of garlic around their necks and carrying staves with which to double-impale the bodies of already-staked known vampires in the local graveyard. Or at least cut off the heads of the sleeping immortals.

I was chary of the whole notion of the story. "Maury, there are no vampires. I"m going to punk out on the story.

Back comes the telegram from Breecher: "Of course there are no vampires. But this is the Enquirer. Go find some."

Well, I walkd atound the village of Wilno, talked to the Parish priest, one Father Kajolka, he assured me it was all superstion.

Villagers were not helpful. "You know what a vampire is? A sawed-off little f*cker like you."

Well, what was a poor paparazzo to do?

We talked to everybody, the head of the cultural community--Amazing that for four generations, a micro culture of Polish people kept a hermeridcally sealed culture intact here!--the town drunk and the local witch. Nothing.
No one would talk of vampires.

Finally, I gave up, relayed the assignment to my pal John Simpson and he took over the project, himself finally giving up looking for the vampires and concluding that these guys were really superstious people and there was nothing there.

I myself had failed as a psychic researcher, but John had gone on to merelyt point to the alleged superstion of the villagers.. We got some kind of story out of it for the Enquirer.

But thirty years later, I went back to Barry's Bay and Wilno.

To the local gaveyard at Wilno.

Somebody told me there were bodies there with their heads cut off. That was to really make sure the vampires would not resurface.

Backtracked to "Mysteries of Ontario." on the web. Holy cow! There were such mutilated bodies.

Thirty years past the story and I seem to have blown it again as a journalist. Did not reach the centre of the edifice, did not connect. F*cked up. That was the story. Not the vampires. The graves of the alleged vampires.

The Equirer had paid me a thousand dollars of today's money to find the vampire. I had not. Good thing I had a sideman to finish the job. Gave him some of the money.

Eerie email from the dead editor:

"Baby, you f*cked up."

Well, who's to say.

A Dr. Jan Perkowski, working for the Museum of Man, in Ottawa did submit that there were vampires in Wilno, Ontario.

Then ten years ago admitted that it was a hoax. "I was just bored."

Dr. Perkowski. I should have gone the way of bullshit.

Bullshit baffles brains, they say.

Sure baffled mine.

And yet how did I get that psychic email from a dead editor?

"You f*cked up."

"You got to find it an stake it, or cut its head off if it's alredy a corpse."

I am getting the creeps.

Shakespeare:

"There are things under heaven and hell that were not even dreamed of in your philosophy."

Gad, I'll be glad when this full moon is over.

Getting some garlic from the Farmer's market.

A body can't be too careful.


##

Monday, August 18, 2008

What would Conan do?


Help me out here.

Through my travels in the underworld, I have met a character very much like Beetlejuice from the old Eighties movie.
Remember him? He was sunken--eyed, hair spiked up like an Alice Cooper rocker, and sraight out of hell.

Yep. Betelgeuse The Bio Exorcist.

As in the movie, he may as well have put an ad out:

Troubled by the living? Is death the problem and not the solution?
Unhappy with eternity? Having dificulties in adjusting?

Call Betelgeuse,
Betelgeuse,
Betelgeuse,
Betelgeuse.

Well, there are characters like that in real life, certainly, in all irreverrance, like Deepak Chopra, but those franetic, hirsute, sunken-eyed freaks seem to abound everywhere, especially in the homeless shelters and out in the street.

I met my Beetlejuice while living in an old car in a parking lot. He was parked next to me in a red 1980 Toyota pickup,
His vehiccle could still go. Mine couldn't . This gave him an edge, something like control.
Though he was abviously mad, he seemed intelligent if you kept him off the drugs. We made a contract.
Since we had so much time on our hands, I would now write my book right out of the car. He would edit.

I was surprised that the endlessly talking, cajoling, drug-addled Beetlejuice could actually edit. Preacher's son. Fond of standing on the corner, just for laughs, telling all they would be saved by the Blood of the Lamb, and "Repent!" Aping his father.

But the witch's brew of chemicals in his brain led him to more chemicals and the tranquil, intellectual side of him would give way.

I had no one else to turn to for company or editing, so was forced to hang around with Beetlejuice.

Soon I got something like a life story. Preacher's son. Into the drug scene of the Sixties and Seventies. He met a woman one night, said she wanted to make love, he said he did not, and they made love anyway and as it turned out, they produced a child. A little girl.
Who knows what happened next. There was a separation. Visiting rights and ll that. There was trouble with family court, over visitation rights, and again trouble with Family Court. His daugher had turned six, and there were serious accusations of molesting by this errant father. Damn ugly actually.

It was this fact that made me keep a certain distance between me an Beetlejuice.

But he was entertaining, always talking, always manic, always frenetic, some kind of neo-Hippie who thought it was still cool to have Jesus Chirst haira nd beard at the age of 50, and truly believingin Timothy's motto of " Tune in, Turn on, Drop out. "

Yet it was l989. He was still in the Sixties and proud of it. I called him something of an anachronism and he was insulted. He kept still for an entire five minutes.

I went on to finally get my own house. Beetlejuice stayed in the parking lot, fuming, toking and dropping. He's stll in the parking lot.

I got the call last night. Beetlejuice was " f*cked-up, lonesome", and though now employed as a house wrecker, still homeless. And then a rare moment of candor:" What in fuck is wrong with me?".

I offered that the way out of a midlife crisis was visual, phychological, fraternal. It's almost done with mirrors.

"Fraternal? My brother won't even talk to me. None of my family will. They think I'm an asshole."

I avoided to comment, even in an inversion. "If the foo shits..."

Well damn. What am I going to do now?

Now Beetlejuice wants to reenter my life.

I now have clothes, home, family, car.

I know that Beetlejuice is seriously going to cramp my style, but he knows my ways, all about me, and is still complimenting me on my recent achievements. He'd been keeping track in the papers. He was, after all the editor of some of my books, he knows who and what I am, and I fear he has my number.

But at the same time, I know the guy is sinking I may be the only "friend" he's got, and if I don't give him some sort of leg up, hes going to either do something classy like choke on his own vomit--or worse--off himself.

Oh Jesus. What would Conan do?

I am a sucker for these fast-talking, drug-addle people.
I just got over an affair with a female of the species.
F*cked me up for twenty years. Giving me company and the other guy all the B.J.'s.

Ended up doing a Jupiter and Semele number (I can do those things) and searing the two of them. Outraged ego. You say you love me and your blow the doorman.

Lost hair and teeth getting to the heart of the matter, who was Italian. And a pimp.
How did a nice Ukrainian boy get into such a triangle, which was really a rectangle?

But she loved the pimp, even though they are no longer together. My Samson trick, getting between the pillars and wrecking the temple.

But now my head aches, right between the pillars, and now a male version is coming over to wreck my head all over again.
There is a psychic connection because of my writiting which he had helped process; the work was eventually published and reviwed in the local paper. He flatters me by citing my accomplishments and connections.

And yet the guy is a stoner a loser and he doesn't know it.

Jesus. I am only part-way back and out of the maze.

Jakob the foot-gripper is yet going to pull me down.

Yet what if he suicides and me having to live with that, the one time I refused to lend a hand?

Something I head in the hole-in-the wall bar where I was in his position and somebody had to drag me back out.

"Everybody has to support an asshole."

And yet, as these thing go, I know Beetlejuice a better writer than I am.

But I have the connections and the publishing credits. He was unlucky. And drug-addled.

Never mind Conan or Jesus.

What would Ivan do?

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Olympic Topless-Bottomless Figure Skating Fellatio Championships.


WARNING:

Children and nice ladies should not read the blog that follows.

The blog was composed on the side of a paper bag on a full moon, when the author got drunk with a homeless person.

Admittedly, it is in bad taste and nowhere near politically correct.

So the author clears now his throat and goes on:.



A fat policeman caught me lying on a discared Salvation Army couch and the homeless guy relaxing in a grocery cart.

I couldn't help pointing at the homeles guy remarking, to the cop: "Is my bum bigger than yours?"

"You one of those gay guys?" The fat cop asked, shining his flashlight in my face?

"It's the brutality of the motorcycle boots," I giggled.

The result was a night in the drunk tank and the explanation,
"We had to get you and your disgusting friend off the streets."

"Well. It's summer and the young folks are gay."
"Into the back of the cruiser, asshole."

Well, here is me and the homeless guy. They conficcated his cell phone, bicycle and grocery cart "RV".


What made me share a bottle of vintage Bright's Catawba winne with the drunk in the first place was his comments on how to
resuscitate Canadas almost non-exitent medal record in the current Olypics.

"What we should have, said the bum, wiping his chin from where the Catawba had spilled,
"Is the Olympic Old Bboys' figure skating fellatio championships
"I mean, we've failed at almost every otherr Olympic event.

"I mean, how aboutTopless- Bottomless Figure Skating Fellatio Championships?"

Imagine Pelvis Stoko in full 69 with the aging Taller Bannister, gliding along under a mauve spotlight, singing show tunes.
And a disgraced Bare Naked Laddie playing backround music."


What is the matter with your brain?" I asked the homeless guy.

"Nothing wrong with my brain, I've got an IQ of l40 and the prison psychlogical assessment to prove it.
"But I failed the Minneapolis Mult-PhasialPersonality Assessment.

"Well, I guess!"

"Seriously," he said, taking another slug from his flat wine bottle, "We had become so politically correct in Canada that ineptitude and weakness have become virtues. Our athletes don't suck, but the process and the country somehow does.
We go back to their childhood years, find that they smoked pot at some time, and we cull the best from the field, leaving just the squeaky clean guys who don't always make scratch. You got to have been a bad guy somewhere, but Dick Poundoff doesn't see it that way."

"So that's why you recommend the male figure skating fellatio championships?" I was humouring him.

"Why not. On rollerblades, even.
"I mean it is no longer a secret that Canada mistakes degeneracy for virtue-- and no virtue at all in the Olympics.
You got to be good at something to be in the Olympics. Canada aims for being good at nothin'.. .Only here and there is there
real competition. Like the last time they featured Bowling for Welfare. Top scorer gets fist month's welfare cheque right up front.

"So if we're going to have a Fall of Rome and not Pride of Rome, why not the figure skating and fellatio championships. Then we can have real gay pride.

We can find out once and for all wheter Toller is smaller or Pelvis is stoked.
....................

It is small wonder that we both spent the night in the drunk tank.

I think my friend sobered up in the middle of the night.

"What kind of a place did you take me to? I saw Fitzgerald and Fitzjohn in the can. Disgusting.

"Or maybe Olympic material for the new championships?

"Hey. Build it. They'll come.

##







Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ragged Dick the Match Boy


Horatio Alger department.

Popular writer two generations ago in the "Every Good Boy Does Fine" school.

He believed, at the turn of the last century that every American boy could do well, and hard work, no matter how lowly at times, would lead to riches and happiness. The American dream. "I'll give you a bully shine, Sir!
And "There goes Dick, on his wheel, delivering the paper in the morning."
Stories with titles that would make you giggle today. "Ragged Dick the Match Boy"


Hey, I'll bet that would fly in San Francisco.

But its really about the shoeblack kid who made good.

F. Scott Fitzgerald made huge mileage with his "The Great Gatsby" where a Horatio Alger-style characer was the very model of this kind of person, even got to Oxford while still shining the shoes of his classmates in the morning, still had something of a British accent and would address those around him in America as "old chap."

But face it. Fitzgerald doesn't say it, but Gatsby was something of a bootlegger, a common occupation in the Roaring Twenties and certainly very much a part of the American dream--or nightmare. For this was the era of the Chicago gangsters, Valentine's Day massacres and organization charts that seemed eerily precient when it came to the lately crooked corporations of today. And politicians who wake up sniffing coke from a hooker's derierre.


But back in Chicago ganngster days, it was all up front. These were bad dudes. The real organizatio charts perfectly described the CEO positions and those under them.

To wit:

CEO:
Al Capone

Treasurer
"Frank "the enforcer" Nitti.

Chief Triggerman
Machine Gun Jack Mcgurn

Second Triggerman
"Three Fingered William White.

Robbery Expert
Murray "The Camel" Humphries

Business Manager
Jack, "Greasy thiumb" Guzik

Whoremaster
MIKE "de Pike" Heitler

Certainly a more honest organization chart than the three-million-dollar -a -title CEO's and underlings today, who ride companies into the ground , rob old folks of their savings, bankrupt stockholders --nd still get away clean with tens of millions in back salaries.

So if Fitzgerald romanticized the Horation Alger character, The Great Gatsby, he was likely glorifying a gangster, the underside of the American Dream, but he transmuted it all to wonderfull art, and The Great Gatsby is on every second year university English course.

American literature stood alone in the Twenties, and for a time was he best in the world.

And three generations later came da Godfather and all the gangsers and crooks of films, that for some reason (at least to me) were elevated to high art.

But how many of us, even here in Canada, follow the Horatio Alger dream?

Mostly everybody.

Lower East End background, rising to writer, movie mogul, baseball star.

One for the Gipper.

I was brought up in what may as well have been the Lower East Side, North End --Hamilton, Ontario, where recess at at school was a brick- and- stick- throwing ring and you had to fight the Irish and the Italian, especially the Sicilians to prove yourself and many a day you'd be sporting a black eye while the nuns tried to keep order.
So "school of hard knocks" was almost cliche.


I escaped it all by joining the Air Force, which at times seemed another kind of trap, but at least it got me out of Hamilton.
People seemed somehow oppressed and under the actual thumgb of JACK, "greasy thumb" Guzik, for at any given time, there were four Mafia families operating in Hamilton, with connection to Buffalo and New York. Gambinis were known on both sides of the border.
So under the veneer of propriety and all the golden steel mills, The swell McMaster Univrsity and the tony homes in the West End and on The Mountain,Hamilton's glorious, sometimes tragic military tradition, the Protestant Ethic-- there was an underside of graft and corruption that goes on to this day. Consider all the attempts at urban renewal ;stone facades of City Hall , made of inferior materials, falling down from the building, threatening pedestrians. Walk down King or James Street doday and it looks like a war zone. Heaven forbid if "Greasy Thumb" Guzik walked away with all the money.

So yeah. I was a sort of Horatio Alger clone. "Give you a bully shine, Sir", and" matches!" and Hamilton Spectaror! Get it here!

But the Air Force got you to travel, to know what it was like to be in an elite, got you into univerity and you were doing the Horatio Alger thing big time.

Immigrant kid. Lessons in elocution, radio and TV speech, all of English literature, history, economics.
This could be too heady for old Ivan. I mean, my father was just a contractor.
Later a try at Northwestern University. Ivy League. Tough Luck, Henry Muck. "Contractor, huh?"

But there was the Univesity of Toronto, the equal of Northwestern and those intelligent "Chicago Gangsters" could, for me, go to hell.
I was rich, and very nearly retired by 32.

And then I did a Great Gatsby. It was not the aristocratic Daisy that I'd lost; I'd gotten Daisy, but like any another foolish immigrant who became noveau riche, like many a novelist who couldn't handle success and went on to physical and chemical excesses, that lead straight to the gutter, like talk show host Craig Ferguson had done( and for a very long time, till he beat out Conan O'Brien on ratings and became a successs again.Privately-- and I think -he can handle this--I think he's still Norman Rakewell, but he did 'er).

I didn't pull out of the spin, like Craig Ferguson.

I have lost a lot of teeth. I could not possibly go on the air now, either televison or radio. I sound like Daffy Duck.
I write like I make love: Everything goes in but the skill.
The alcohol has gotten to me.
My penis droops.

But wasn't it all grand? To have been Ragged Dick the Match Boy. And to have taken on Toronto. (Didn't say nothin' about winning).

And still today, for some reason, I am still saluted on the street in my own home town.

There is a letter in the mail, nestled in between some gaudy flyers.

"Sancho! There are windmills!"

Sancho Panza. "I kind of stay with the guy because he's such an asshole."


##

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Satanic Purses


Arguments. Fights.

Hit me, says the masochist. No, says the sadist.


We like to keep a positive image of ourselves, but deep down, when provoked, we can turn Neadert(h)al Perhaps like Peter Sellers in the old movie, A Shot in the Dark. Get all flustered and go off into "a fit of realous Jage."


(Quite a mouthful, hey?)

Anyway, we seem the worst when in love, and even out of love. When in love, we make mountains out of molehills, young girls get so high on estrogen that they could faint. When men get thwarted in love, they want to yell, kill. Nature of the beast, I suppose. Conan the Barbarian, sentient but violent.

The somewhat dipsy Dane, Kierkegaard said that is the way you are when in love; you're supposed to make mountains out of molehills; you're caught between the subjunctive and the indicative--will she, or won't she?; you're caught between the "as it is" and the copula verb to be--as in" to be" for all time.

Why am I writing like a sausage?


All this philosophy and grammar.


One is certainly not in love, though I miss the feeling. Miss it terribly.


While in San Miguel de Allende, where I was a prof in nonfiction, I was dating the prettiest co-ed at the Instituto, everything was feeding my ego, but the big published fiction writers who were also profs, decided they would take over the creative writing program, even after they were fired by the owner of the enfranchised school; they were accused of coming on to some of the male "student bodies" and suddenly, two of the big star profs were canned.


This was before the days of political correctness. But sexual harrasssment from the same sex , especially by an instructor, was well, sort of tacky.


So there was this fight, instigated by the straight students. " Hey .... J, when you and B get together, who plays the female part, you or B?" The head of the fiction department figuratively hit one male student with his purse, and said, "There will be nothing for you "C", if you side with this homophobia going around at the school.

Well, I had sided with the straights. And in fact it was the straight professors who had the beautiful women, while the others had to content themselves with shaggy room mates and considered themselve brave. I was there to learn, not to fight, even if they had made me into a teacher, since so many of the regular profs were siding with the gay profs and quitting as well in support of the accused purse-swingers.

I was promoted from student to professor by default, even though I had Canadian prof credentials.

The situation was like Swift's Battle of the Books, where Scaliger yells, "Curse thee for a foul-son of a whore". Umbrellas were raised "en garde" and vyiing artists got smacked by tri-squares and pallets.


I don't know what happened at the Instituto in l978, but it was sheer chaos. The upshot was that the University of California withdrew its accreditation and our adavanced degrees would now come from the University of Guanajato. Mexican paper, but still accredited in the U.S. and Canada.


There must have been a sunspot-- or the rarified air at eight thousand feed in the montains must have made us all mad but the Instituto seemed to go to hell for a while--precisely when my wife back in Canada decided she wanted to divorce me; who could blame her. I was leading a totally bohemian life in an exotic country. This, of course, she resented.

So now it wasn't just the Instituto Allende factulty that had gone mad. So had I.


Something happens when you live for a long time at eight thousand feet up in the air. You could see what happenes to a roll of tightly wrapped film you had bought in Texas.

By the time you get to San Miguel de Allende, it begins to take on the shape of a silver balloon, so light is the air. Imagine what could be happening to your brain.

I see the old American Legion alcoholics wandering about in the streets-- Verduras, --vegetables the Mexicans would call them. Heads made of straw. Heads made of straw!

Talk about hollow men.


One, a dentist, came back to Canada not able to use his hands. Another caught something that no antibiotic could cure. This was the tropics, or sub-tropics. And a strain of malaria thatwas hard to treat.

Well, I ended up maddened by love, sick of love, sick with love, actually out of energy all of a sudden and I had to visit the local apothecary.


He said, "Either the sand fleas have kicked you nearly to death or you have something from some American lady. You know the phrase. 'Since I met your daughter Venus, I've had trouble with ---"

Ah, the great Dr. Olsina, probably the most famous apothecary in local literature for he was often a model for a character in many a novel about San Miguel by us expatriates and a hell of a professor himself. He taught Latin American history and he scored big points with the Vietnam draft dodgers in town when he posited tha even the Aztecs were kind compared to the war mongers in Washington.

I think I am having a San Miguel flashback from those turbulent days.

And it is small wonder; Lord, we used to ingest everything, even shaved spiky cactus leaves if we thought it would give us a high, show us the Yaqui Way of Knowledge or something like that. Some went to the blue hills to apprentice themselves to sorcerers. And the Federales had gone after a famous Canadian author when he ran off with not some Ontario maiden, but the maiden's brother.

Yep. You (had to) Hide Your Love Away.

So I am at a very advanced age, have experienced too much as a young fool to argue with new fools, and there is the grinding sense that there is not too much time left to do what I have to do, and I am growing impatient, even intolerant.


I am starting to argue with people if I don't get my way, and this will not do.


Started with a bus driver with a busted computer who said my transfer was no good. He lectured me for eight minutes on being a "a piker and a cheat." Even after I threw in the offending amount.

I lost it. "You've got an attitude problem."

"So what of it, Big Shot?"

"Youre hassling seniors. Thia could get into the local paper."

"Yeah, yeah said the little old bald guy with the SkaterBoi driving gloves. "I work for a newspaper too." Upbraid a fool; Do not upbraid a fool

The flash of anger. The words were out before I could vet them.

I offered that I would be surprised that with that thick accent, he could even write, in English or his own language.


Oh to be noble, like Herodotus.


"Never let it be said," wrote the antique historian, "That Herodotus was vain, vindictive or even petty."


Heh. The answer always seems to be supplied by humour.

What I couldn't see in my anger was that the little old grizzled guy with the Skater Boy gloves was probably coming on to me.

Hey. Shades of San Miguel.

Who's going to play the female part, Luigi?

##



Thursday, August 07, 2008

Ahab the Arab stole my thunder. Sourness in the vinyards. Thank God for the Newmarket Public Library


Fingernail-upon- blackboard feeling. One is a raw nerve. And my right ear just ballooned out.


Something is rotten in the state of Denmark--I certainly was when I bought some soft-core porn in Copenhagen, the pornograpy capital of the world. Nice little old ladies selling schmutlissche phototografischen to the tourists.
And it was my luck to get two nuns having at it. Wrong pictures."Got other pictures?"
Terrible habit.

I have been smarting over rejections of late. Bad for the ego. I needed a success. Any success.

Blogger The Walking man says
Simply put Ivan old man, is what side of the window do you prefer to stand on?The one where you are housed and comfortable and climate controlled or the one that is outside where you can feel the breeze and still step off the porch to run with the big dogs?

Well yeah. I have run with the big cats before but that was when I was younger and smarter.and on a roll as a big-time columnist. But lately, like a groundhog hitting stone, I have developed a very sensitive snout and I think I'd better learn to start going around. This came at the time of a startling realization that books in Canada are not "sold" for their quality but on their local political blandness and recent lack of , face it, imagination--just enough to get the government grant and not tick off anybody in Ottawa.

And I see preening Giller prize authors, their books shot through with actual mistakes, as if they were translating from another language--which in this case, they were. I don't mind foreign content, but it makes it sort of hard for us home boys. Hey, I've been at this game for a long time, and I think I can write as well as Akbar.

Well, arguing with published work, even if shot through with mistakes and typos--doesn't count.
But this guy, before he got the Giller, was reviewed here in Toronto and I quote, "Some people make a virtue out of flat writing."
Well, he went on from an old House of mine to get the Giller anyway.
It seems the book doesn't matter at all. It's the understanding of the granting process and whom you know...

But Akbar didn't know anybody here. Aye, there's the rub.

I guess my work is inferior to anybody writing in Arabic and then having a bad translation made of it here.
Nevertheles, Akbar certainly knew he way around once he got off the boat.

I think I have been Eschered. Stairways leading to mazes. The Arab cats are good at mazes.

White hog most unhappy.

So it was someting like a small miracle that a bus driver happened upon my Light Over Newmarket in a Korean variety store-- of all places! recognized a local author, liked the book and returned to buy another copy for a friend.

What was my novel doing in a convenience store? "Dunno.," said Lian the Korean. It came with the stock in the store when I bought it."

Serendip book distributing. I do recall selling a whole load of my titles when I ran for mayor( Hey a man need funding!). Maybe some of the recipients at my political stump speeches went on to re-sell the book.

Serendip. Go with the flow.

So when the bus driver asked if I had any other books out, I said, "Yeah. The Black Icon. It's in the Newmarket Public
Library."
So when I got on the bus Monday, he said, "Whatcha doin' McLuhan? They won't let me take the book out. It's under Canadiana and the book has to stay in the reading room. They won't let me take it out."
I go to the library and they tell me the book had been on regular loaning shelves, but they got tattered as people took them out. "We were reduced to one copy and we put it under "Canadiana" so we could at least save one copy.
"So why didn' t you ask for replacements?
"Well, you're here now."

So I have made a sale of sorts. Two books for the Newmarket Public library, one a little tattered.
Well, I guess a sale is a sale, even if by the author. Not awfully good form, but it's a kind of success.
Right now, I'll take any success.

Walked out with this feelig that the gods may be kind again.

On the way home, I tripped.
##

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Portrait of the artist as a young drunk.


Hoarding my energy like a miser, like an anal-rentive.
Ain't much left after the mammoth drunks, sexual excesses, and (dare one confess it?) a little slug of Listerine when the liquor runs out.

So it is small wonder that at the old liver seems shot, my left thigh is seized and I am like Leonard Cohen watching loons go insane in the middle of the lake. Three score and ten, and I keep scoring cigraretttes, with the sure knowledge that most people don"t smoke enough.

Jaysus. I have been living like a young gaffer all these years and here at the biblical age where it should all stop, I can't seem to stop anything. Friend once described me as a basically dull guy, but cranked up on these drugs, legal and illegal, one is like a balloon with the end undone. Whoosh. Excitement.

This, of course, can't go on.

There is a heaviness from the gin. A trembling of the hands unless a drink is forhcoming. Sitting in restaurants, drinking all alone, the staff wondering what the hell you're doing there. Never mind that you are waiting to meet sombody. He's lush too.

It all started in the Air Force where alcoholism is a high calling and you could whistle down a whole pint before even burping.
Spoiled we were in a co-ed setting where air controllers were apalled to find airmen and airwomen having sex atop the heigh-finder console and worse. Radar rooms were dark and all sorts of shenanigans would go on there.

I exaggerate. (Well, just a little). You could be charged for having sex atop the height-finder console. "Conduct unbecoming of an airman".--Well I guess so!

So it is small wonder that I refuse to mellow with age; youth had been too much fun and it's hard to slow down, even though
the old bones creak and there is now a drip to one's whisle and the liver a bit loggy. Peter Pan but in the worst way.
Airborne in a different way. And no stranger to Captain Hook (Women's Division).

There was a period of settling down, of marriage, children, mortgage.
Ah, poor Dagwood Bumstead.
I would chide my seven-year-old son: "You are so immature."

But it was the old man who never grew up and the practice of writing made one even more child-like to the point of childishness.
My own childhood was quite horrible (Oliver Twist scale) and this is probably why I had resfused to mature, but there comes a time when the excesses have to stop, your body tells you to stop and yout know for sure that you are in the cliche of "death is nature's way of telling you to slow down."

So when the old heart starts to palpitate, when the stomach is constantly upset and and the teeth start going awol one by one, it does signal a red light, red lights all over the place, telling you to slow down or else.

So now as the literary opportunities come up, I say "Well, there goes another opportunity", and when the drinking buddy calls you tell him or her that you are soggy and hard to light and could he take a rain check..

Oh how hard to keep up with Flaubert's motto: "Live quiet and bourgeois so you can write like a lion at night."

Well, I've been living "quiet and bourgeous" but writing is hard.

You ever try it? It's impossible.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Patched-up Airplane, Landing up a Slope.


For the past forty years (after a decade of paganism) I have been writing for my life.

It began in San Miguel Allende, Mexico, where I just had to do the novel. It was that or inauthenticity, of not putting my ability where my mouth was. But hell, this was writing. And it was hard. And to fail at this was to fail in any future project.

It was fine to be the hotshot editorial page editor of the Daily Ryeronian probably the only college with a daily newspaper centered around Ryerson Polytechnic. Oh you could get away with stuff there. Comment on campus events was one thing, but you could sneak in your short stories, sometimes disguised as editorials, other times run as actual fiction on the editorial page. Who was to stop you? You were the boss and you could print whatever pleased.

So there was an inflated sense of being the big writer on campus, and who was to challenge you as this was a technical university and all the really good writers were really over at Victoria College, U. of T, over at the Varsity, from where they'd go on to cut deep furrows into Maclean's magazine, the CBC and into serious Canadian literature. Well, I went to Ryerson and Margaret Atwood went to Victoria College. I sure learned soon as to what was what in Canadian status colleges.

Passing hello's here and there as I knew Graham Gibson, Ms. Atwood's husband, as he had been an insructor at Ryerson and in my opinion, the best writer in Canada at the time. Support from Ms. Atwood here and there.
But the lady outhor shot up into the stratosphere upon graduation and I headed for the blue hills of Mexico.
Never mind Survival and Surfacing. It was my opinion that these were trendy, somehow political novels. Writing in Canada seemed the same as politics.

My aim was to be Dostoevsky. Yeah. Old shaky Fyodor throwing a lot of people off with his stutter and strange facial mannerisms, addling his first wife with his grand mals, but he was the real thing all the same. Genius. Talking to future generations.

I had acqired a wife, a typewriter and a balalaika by graduation day and soon we were off to Mexico to do at the very least, the Malcolm Lowry thing. Yeah. Under the Volcano. Who couldn't dig it? Life in the substratum of our consciousness.

We rented a house, nights were for fun, but every day, it was the novel.

Oh-oh.

Have you ever attempted to write a novel? I was impossible. It was so heady to write all that crap for the Daily Ryersonian, but this was serious business.

My poor wife, seeing me struggle with this from day-to-day, hitting a snag in the middle of the book, drinking a fifth of rum to get over the sense of impending failure, said "You picked a hard thing to be, baby." And: "You should have put in more time honing your craft instead of those editorials you cranked out every day." "And you gotta learn how to do hands."

Stuck in the middle with you. Meaning manuscript, and not today's singer Sam Roberts.

Stuck in the middle. Three hundred and sixty pages, I am merely at the middle and I had no idea where I was going with the book.
Oh there were palliatives, The wonderful fiestas, Mariachis. Living in he sixteenth centuy like a Spanish grandee. Rum at a dollar a bottle. High Spanish culture for pennies. Rent for pennies. And the Mariachis following you everywhere.

But the book, the book.
To spend a year in Mexico and come back with nothing was unthinkable. What would my friends say, Big Man on Campus?
"He worked mightily, and produced not even a mouse."
My ego keened like a trapped hare.


There was was a university nearby for english-speaking students. They had a creative writing program, one of the best at the time at, the Instituto Allende.
I submitted my half-finished manuscrijpt.

Holy cow.

"You have a scholarship. The book reminds us of Jerzy Kosinski or Romain Gary. ..In the wartime European traditijon.
Welcome to the University of Guanajuato."

I was very hard to live with for a while.

Where I thought I'd hit a snag was the actual artistic ending of the book. I had written too much.

That, or the instructor was feeding me candy, just so as not to lose a more or less experienced writer in the programme.
Most students were divorcees and older women. "Bunch of incompetents," the insructor would mutter later, over a drink.

There was still much work to do on the book. When you think you're finished, you are only half-finished. And that's just on the typewriter. When it's in front of a publisher, you are still only half-finished.

Half-finished indeed. My insructor and I sent the manuscript to Wallace Stegner at Stanford Univerity. Answer was, : "Good, but he is not an American, and more a journalist than a novelist."
I had missed a scholarship for life.
Don't life kick you in the face, and so early. Hot- Shot is shot down.


Instructor Tom Mayer and I went flying that afternoon. San Miguel is in the high mountains. We had to land up a slope.
For sure the airplane is a symbol of the spirit.
How many times up the mountain slope.
Writing, flying for your life.