Friday, July 31, 2009
When I went to spend the summer of ’66 with my best friend and walked into her bedroom, she jumped up and down and said, “I’m in love!”
Photos clipped from the latest teen magazines of all her favorite guys — John, Paul, George, Ringo, and a new group I had never heard of, Paul Revere and the Raiders — plastered the whitewashed bedroom walls.
“The Raiders are the coolest guys on Planet Earth — next to the Beatles, of course! Fang is absolutely the cutest! I adore him!”
The contagion of my best friend’s excitement swept over me. Forget the Man from Uncle. Forget Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuriyakin. They were kid’s stuff, history. Curious, I stared at the faces, my first encounter with an collage of guy's pictures cut from magazines, taped and tacked to my friend’s bedroom wall; she introduced me to the new guys — Drake Levin, Phil “Fang” Volk, Smitty Smith, Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere. “I’m in love with Fang! Oh, don’t you absolutely love Mark! Tell me you love him!” How could I not? One look into those soulful newsprint eyes left me gazing into a mirror. I was Mark Lindsay’s younger twin; surely his long lost, teenage girl soul mate! My friend and I cast aside dull ordinary her and dull ordinary me, and during the summer of ’66, she became Salty Smith and I donned the guise of Silky Revere. After I returned home, Salty and Silky kept in touch, writing adventurous letters in which we described our antics as Smitty Smith’s and Paul Revere’s kid sisters and those of our loves — as much as any small town, naive fifteen-year-olds could know about such things. We reinvented ourselves and the fantasies we spun from teenage imagination sustained me through the trenches of teenhood, family moves to new towns and new high schools, separations from childhood friends, graduation, and growing up. I look back upon those halcyon days of summer and the homemade, ice cream flavor of first love, innocence, and time spent with a dear friend who has remained true, despite separation as we each tread our life paths and the distance between the towns where she and I lived.
High school social activities sucked us into busy lives, and one day Salty Smith’s letters stopped arriving in the mailbox.
During the middle of my junior year, my family moved from our small Oklahoma town to a larger town and a larger high school than the smaller towns where we had always lived and the smaller schools that I had attended, where the kids were related to each other and most of the teachers had taught the parents, if not the grandparents of their students.
One hot July, during the drudgery of cleaning the garage, I boldly announced to my mom, “I am going to marry Mark Lindsay!”She laughed!I was crushed.But, the truly desperate never give up trying to meet their teenage heartthrobs! I had read how one could send a fan letter with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to a favorite celebrity. Okay, I could do that. Better yet, what if I sent an entire box of stationery and at least half of the envelopes stamped and addressed to me? Brilliant!
I bought a box of white stationery laced with a delicate edge. I wrote my adoring fan letter to Mark Lindsay, tucked the letter into the box of stationery and the stamped, self-addressed envelopes, and sent the package to an address I had found in a teen magazine.
As hard as it was, I went on with my life, until one day I received one of my return envelopes in the mailbox. I held the envelope to my nose and inhaled — California, sand, surf and a whiff of cologne, Sandalwood — the scent I imagined him wearing. I savored that envelope. I wanted to lick its sweetness. The letter had come from him; he had touched it! Mark Allen Lindsay! Wow!
I tore open the envelope, more excited than I could remember ever feeling — even more exciting than Christmas, birthdays, and the Fourth of July. A photo fell from the opened envelope. No letter; only a photo — a wallet-sized, black and white glossy autographed photo.I suppose that was my first disappointment, but I put his photo in my wallet and carried it everywhere. I lost count of the times I pulled out the photo and marvel at how wonderful and beautiful he was in the black and white glossy photo. Any day, I expected the arrival of another stamped, self-addressed envelope, a personal letter written on lacy white stationary and tucked inside.
The days slid into weeks, and the weeks disappeared into months.
My mom pressured me to date. I was in high school, but I was not interested in boys or dating. After all, I was in love and I was going to marry him! Whenever a boy called, I always said, “Sorry, I can’t,” or “I have to go to my Grandmother’s house this weekend.” My mom was furious when she discovered what I had done; mothers in small towns talk to other mothers.
Eventually, I dated; I even went on-and-off steady with a boy from my high school and I went to all the teen hops and movies. The feelings weren’t the same though, for I could never love anyone else as much as I already loved him. But, like youth and summer, love fades when the expected letters never arrive in the mailbox. Life drifts into tomorrow, and a teenage girl sets her gaze upon the horizon where the final year of high school and college looms. She grows up.One Saturday night, after cruising the Boulevard, I sat in the passenger’s seat of a car with my girl friends at the PowWow Drive-In. All the kids parked their cars and hung out at the PowWow, because eventually all the high school kids, and kids from nearby towns, who were cruising the Boulevard that night would make the rounds.Music crackled through buzzing speakers tucked beneath the PowWow’s tin awning that covered the parked cars — Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay. Otis Redding crooned the mood I felt that night as I watched the cars packed with teenagers circle the PowWow, and listened to boys and girls shouting to each other, their laughter raucous and carefree, car hops delivering orders, the slam of car doors, the blare of a car horn, wheels peeling out on gravel.
Sitting there, feeling the future rolling toward me upon a wave of departing summer, I knew I was never going to meet Mark Lindsay, much less marry him. I was a teenager headed toward graduation and college.
Somewhere, beyond the PowWow Drive-In, my future waited and my future wasn’t a black and white glossy photo that I carried around in my wallet.I don’t know why I did it. Maybe I needed the liberation. I took his photo from my wallet, pinched its edge between my fingers, and gazed at his face, an unchanging face captured in time.A warm breeze, smelling of cheeseburgers and limeade sodas and whistling the late-sixties music of the PowWow Drive-In, floated through the open car windows. I leaned my arm out the window, lifted his photo to the breeze, and opened my fingers. Mark Lindsay fluttered away upon a summer wind.
“Hey! Look! A photo of Mark Lindsay!” a girl screamed to her friends. Debby. I remember her name was Debby, one of the popular girls, and I remember the joyous rapture that brightened her face when she held up the black and white glossy photo of my long-lost soul mate.And I smiled.I have often wondered whatever became of the photo. Perhaps Debbie carried him around in her wallet, and from time to time, she took out the photo, looked at him, and remembered how she found the photograph blowing across the gravel beneath the awning of the PowWow Drive-In. Did she ever wonder where the photo had come from? Someday, I may ask her.On that sweet summer’s night, I let go and never looked back.
Well, how am I going to top that for quality?
Just gonna add an awkward vignette of my own:
It is Sunday. I had decided to do nothing at all, keeping the Sabbath sort-of, even though I am not a Seventh Day Adventist...Met one in the rain forest one day. "My name is M. Dennie Mark. Very well educated. I am a Seventh Day Adventist."...Didn't know if he was going to eat me or greet me. Gave me an education. I became a candidate for MD of the rain forest. Shake, rattle and roll.
In any event, though it might be Sunday and I am idle, I hate being idle. Makes me nervous. "Keep busy or go mad," says Voltaire. I must work on a vignette.
Do you ever talk to your plants?
There is one humoungous tomato plant in my garden. It is an underachiever. Though the others are bearing fruit like crazy, it just sits there and throws fake yellow flowers, but no tomatoes. "Gimme some fruit, or you get pulled," I admonish.
I am about to pull the tall plant out, when it seems to yell
"Uncle" and shows me a little polyp just under the flower. "Aha. You're making tomatoes. Spared for a day. I won't do a bad-tempered Jesus on you."
Next come the flowers.
Marigolds fer to keep out the aphids.
And a few poppies and a little hemp I keep around for arcane purposes.
Shasta daisies which don't like to grow in late August.
My savage garden. "Grow, you bastards. Produce, or you get pulled." The daisies dance. We're doing all right, Jack. How about you?
Well, not so good. There is a full moon coming on, good for my plants, but bad for my mood. If a full moon can rais a volcano, think of what it's doing to your head?
Strange sense of impending doom, over nothing at all. Just a guy talking to his plants on a full moon. That's normal, no?
A tulip that I called Blanche.
Suddenly whispered, "Avalanche."
I knew the plants were trying to tell me something.
A tulip saved my life today.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Mama's Lavender Skirt
by Donnetta Lee
(Island Grove Press short story)
I adored playing dressup when I was a little girl. Mama gave me old jewelry, scarves, and articles of "gently used" clothing that would transform my world. I often coveted one of her skirts or dresses, waiting for the day when she might consider the piece worn enough to be passed on to me. That's how it was with her lavender skirt.
Mama looked like a princess when she topped it off with a white cotton blouse. Although I was never the beauty that my Mama was, I felt that skirt had the power to bring me up to Mama's level of pretty.
I yearned to wear that skirt knowing it would transport me to mysterious places and allow me to become someone special, someone far from common. The lavender skirt took me there.
The skirt was simple but beautiful. Made of cotton, it was gathered at the waist by a conventional waistband. The only thing remarkable about it was its lavender color. Too subtle to be called “purple,” it reminded me of the lilacs growing on the big bush behind our house. It was a pretty little girl color.
I never begged Mama for the skirt even though my mouth watered when I saw her wearing it. That would have been impolite and would not have made the waiting hurry along any more quickly. I was patient. I admired from afar knowing that someday it would be mine, shared with me in love.
As time passed with its washings and ironings, the lavender skirt eventually reached a point in its life where Mama considered it worthy of being a dress up skirt. I finally had the privilege of slipping into its lilac cotton coolness. It was heavenly.
The first time I wriggled into it, Mama had to pin it round my waist with a tiny gold safety pin. It tumbled all the way down to my ankles. I swished the cotton folds back and forth with my hands and twirled in humongous circles feeling I could fly as if I had butterfly wings. That skirt had a freedom to it. It had a freedom that let me become anything I dared to be.
On one occasion, I was a mother with a newborn baby walking in the snow, trying to save my little one from the freezing cold. I wrapped the folds of the miraculous skirt around my baby doll to save her as we trudged onward to an imaginary house in the distance, just over the hill. I saved her, of course. All because of the skirt.
Another time, I donned the skirt and became a famous singer crooning out the only verse I knew of “Claire de Lune.” The skirt swept me away to a seaside where I twittered out the haunting strains in the moonlight as the ocean accompanied me with its rhythmic heartlike pounding and the moon's reflection skittered across the waves.
The very best magic the skirt worked for me was to change me into a blithe ballet dancer floating around the living room which suddenly filled with billowing clouds. I danced the whirling dance of the dervish. I pranced like a proud prize pony. I performed almost-pirouettes. My arms were beyond graceful, and I knew with out a doubt that I was the most elegant ballerina under God's sun.
Throughout every adventure wearing the skirt, my Mama was there with her sweet smile. She was my ever patient, never complaining audience, cheering me on. Her applause was the finest encouragement a performer could hope for. And it took so little to earn it. Just to be there with her, weaving dreams with the wonderful lavender skirt.
When I close my eyes on a quiet afternoon in the spring or early summer and smell the perfume of the lilac bush, I am reminded of that whimsical skirt. I see Mama pinning me into it and sharing its beauty with me. I hear the applause and Mama telling me what a great performance I gave.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
The request was for vignettes, little nuggets off the vine, you know, sort of Reader's Digest Vignettes From Life. What came in was a crackejack of a short story, certainly a vignette from the tumultuous life of Mark C. Durfee, It would never make the Reader's Digest, of course, as Jack Kerouac could not make the Reader's Digest or the stuffy American magazines of his time with "On the Road". But what a tale was Kerouac's and what a story we have now with Island Grove Press from Mark Durfee.
As proprietor, I was first hesitant to publish much of Mark's work, for I, along with others thought his poetry, though powerful, was a little spotty, impressionistic, not yet mature. But that was my (and my editorial board's) opinion of his earlier work..
I had no idea that he would, in his own Detroit way, out-Kipple a Kipling, and fuck you.
So Island Grove Press is proud to run a story which is in not only in a Kerouac tradition, but certaihly Hunter S. Thompson way, and one which we feel proud to publish.
ALL I WANTED WAS A LITTLE WEED
I had been on the road for almost two years. How I got there is another tale for another time but suffice it to say that after two years I knew how to live outside. I was not just a hobo . Although there were elements of that. Neither was I a bum, because I would work when the feeling hit or I needed some change for tobacco.
Although I was not adverse to a handout, especially, since hand gestures seemed my major means of transportation, people not at first put off by the way I looked when they picked me up in the first place, would sometimes help with a little offering when they sensed my other hand being out.
And the walking was good and I did my fair share of that, but standing with my thumb out, contemplating whatever was before my minds eye was better. I learned a lot this way.
I learned that every "body" who needed help driving or someone to talk to or just a face to relieve the boredom of the highway, would now have a companion. Everybody had a story to tell and with a stranger the honesty flows freer. Here today dropped off on the highway and cares and troubles too.
If you were going to be any good at hitchhiking you had to learn to talk to the person who was kind enough to pick you up. Even if you are a total psycho when you are by yourself you had to be human when with your lift.
No sense making them nervous or agitated. If for no other reason they’d never pick up another road dog. And that would be a minor crime in the community. There was a traveling community in this country in the 70’s. I imagine it existed long before I got there and probably exists in some form or another to this day. Yet in order to know it’s there you have to be a part of it, which is something I left behind twenty-plus years ago.
You might meet someone named pookie in Florida during the winter and then at the first hint of a thaw they just wouldn’t be around anymore. Then you’d stumble into Banff Alberta and there’d they be just in from Sacramento. There would be camps that simply appeared for a few days or a couple of weeks and then people would just drift off till the last one picked up the last piece of litter and left out too.
We were road dogs, a breed of our own. All of us had a home on our backs. Me, I had a 1600 cubic centimeter Jansport full frame pack. A tent and a down filled sleeping bag. Two years earlier I started out with a much rougher kit but like I said, you learn.. I carried 15 pairs of socks, two changes of clothes, toilet stuff and a weeks worth of dehydrated food .
Socks are the greatest commodity among the road dogs, and the homeless in your streets. If you want to be kind to a homeless person give them socks. Guaranteed to make them happy! Dry feet overcome a whole host of other uncomfortables
Anyway I had been on the road without a break for about a month, I was heading down I-75 when I saw a sign that said Raleigh Durham and I remembered I had a sister there last time I checked so I took a left at that sign and went to North Carolina. After a day or two of wandering around aimlessly in that college town I did come across her. I might have been able to find her sooner but it is hard to ask directions to a person and it took me that long to remember she was somebody’s wife so I had been looking for the wrong last name.
Eventually though we did connect and she offered me a bed and a shower, which I am pretty sure I needed, the shower anyway.
Now this is my waaay older sister. She was the first born of the tribe and I was the fourth. So she was somewhere around five years older than me. She was ok, but she inherited that lack of culinary skills my mother displayed all her life. I don’t know what it was about the women of the tribe, they could go out and earn large amounts of money, manage offices and a hundred people but nary could a one of them flip an egg. We were junk food junkies long before there was a societal bent towards it. Hell maybe we set that trend. I do believe that White Castle was able to do a major corporate expansion on the business our tribe did there.
So I arrived and was turned loose, hell no, not in the kitchen. I would have had to start a wood fire on her stove top to do the kind of cooking I was accustomed to. I mean I was turned loose to find my own amusement and restaurants to eat at. She worked, her old man worked and I didn’t feel comfortable in their apartment after so much time outside. Just to many white walls and dime store bric-a-brac.
So I did what came naturally, I went walking around her neighborhood to see what I could find. Hmmmmm A pool hall. That’s what the sign said and believing it I went inside to find…….pool tables, about thirty of them. Now I was no good at pool and never claimed other wise but if I didn’t keep my mind off the road I would start to get itchy feet and leave before it was polite.
Inside it was a mixture of shadow and cones of light over the tables, sunlight coming through the smoky haze, half murdered as it passed through the dirty windows. This was not a hang out for college kids and from the average length of the hair I saw it really wasn’t a place for me either. Yet the war was a year or two done, the protests were over and disco was starting to rear its ugly head. So I did what I usually did and asked the counter guy if he had a couple of hours worth of work he’d trade for some table time and maybe a meal and a beer. “where you from” was the way he answered. “Here, right now, but originally Detroit” well that was enough because he had “fambly” there and they was making a living so he figured he could spare “somtin” for me.
Where else do they start you but the toilets? I have seen worse shitters than that one but it did rank near the bottom. But what the hell you got to start somewhere right and I didn’t figure to be running the joint anytime soon so I worked at it for a couple hours and then he turned me loose with a four beer credit all the table time I wanted for that day and his endorsement to the locals that I was all right for a “girly lookin hippie”
Drinking my beers and moving balls around the felt. I was ok. I was occupied. I was about to find out the meaning of southern hospitality.
Two fellas approached me and asked if I’d play them a game or two. Seeing as I had the table for as long as I wanted and it wasn’t costing me anything more than I already invested, I said sure. Now these two guys appearance didn’t really put me off. They were what I would call back woods typical, Flannel shirts with the sleeves cut off, sunburned on every exposed surface. A bit on the grimy side, but what the hell I was only a day or two out of the shower myself. We understood each other completely. After 5 minutes we turned the talk to weed. Reefer, gange, smoke, toke and boo. None of us had any and all of us wouldn’t have minded some. I had learned in the navy that southern boys had been smoking the stuff for a hundred years. Ever since hemp had been a cash crop. So I was nonplussed.
We laid our cards on the table and they consisted of about 18 dollars. So off we went in search of reefer madness.
The car was a Ford wagon that was beat and crumpled looking but I had recently been in enough cars to know it was a sleeper. The guy put his time and cash into the parts you couldn’t see. This car was built for speed not for comfort. Once off the main highway is where this car excelled. The roads kept getting smaller and smaller and the numbers on the speedometer kept getting higher and higher until we were so far out in the North Carolina woods doing 60 miles an hour down a dirt deer run I was no longer sure if I was still in the state I started in.. The trees were such that they were scraping the roof as he bounced this car through every hole he could find. I was seriously impressed with his skill as a driver. This cat knew where every single hole was and he didn’t miss even one of them. So here’s the scene. Pitch dark, rolling like madmen down this two track dirt road in a ford, in search of marijuana. These fellas said they knew where to get some weed and by God they were going to hell and gone to get us there.
Then it appeared, a shack, not a house, not a double wide but a gray weather-beaten shack. Tin roof, hunting dog, on the porch, chicken leavings in the front yard shack. Old cars on blocks, old tires and appliances long dead strewn about property. It was a good thing I had not seen the movie Deliverance, because I might have made an offensive joke and that would not have been good. We were deeep in the woods here.
The driver and buddy left the car and SERIOUSLY TOLD me to wait in the car.
Sure enough the patch of light that filled the door as it opened was framing a man with a shotgun yelling “who’s that!” It turned out they were cousins (naturally) and after a few minutes of palaver, one of my companions returned to the car and said it was “cool….come on in”
I swear as I stepped on the porch I felt it sway, not as bad as a ship at sea but that whole shack swayed. Good thing I had lost weight on the road because I could just imagine a groan and a tumbling down if much more weight had been added to the structure.
I was led inside and introduced: After the once over and an instant judgment. The gun was set down by the door which was closed. Inside this place was no better than the outside, some tattered chairs with the stuffing coming out, papers all over the floor and a picnic table in the center of the front room. Then I saw it.
A huge monster of an oak cabinet; a cabinet worthy of any Newport cottage.
This cabinet was polished to a dull shine in the weak light. Spotless clean glass panels in the oak door. This cabinet sat to within 6 inches of the ceiling and was papered inside with Klan posters and a literal arsenal of guns and ninja stars; swords knives and more guns boxes of ammunition and even more guns.
Needless to say this one item was intentionally set up to be the focal point and make a statement at the same time. Click…….message received.
Don’t discuss politics or the civil war.
The transaction was done and a fair amount of smoke was procured. Like smokers everywhere we had to try it out right then and there, so we sat at the picnic table and proceeded to roll away. Now that job fell to me because most people can’t roll a joint to save their life, and I think I was being tested. I did have skill in this area though as I rolled my own cigarettes when on the road. It was natural to me, clean the sticks and seeds out, fold the bugler paper, roll, lick and light.
Oh yeah we were smoking now and to be honest it was good weed. The three fellas and I commingled the smoke of friendship. After a minute or two of absorbing the delirious toxins we were high. The kind owner of this homestead in the forest rose from the table leaving the room with a chuckle.
Laughing, he returned set the mason jar in front of me and implied that no Northerner could handle it. Well I am here to tell you that nobody could tell this sailor he couldn’t handle his booze. So he pours one out, down it goes. He did one our companions did one. He did another; I did another, my two friends declined.
He did yet another, with a look of challenge on his face, he set a full shot glass in front of me. Down it went. He did another………..then the gun cabinet appeared to move and the posters from the Klan loomed large in my sight, the light of the room was glinting off some metal in there. Then it occurred to me, that maybe the south should win this war. After all, all I wanted was a little weed.
Wow. Some "vignette". A little long, but this one certainly fills the bill.
More Vignettes are coming from Island Grove Press authors, including Donnetta Lee, E. A. Monroe, Ginger, and, hopefully, Jo.
Keep 'em coming!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
When I was in grad school, Vance Packard, guest lecturer,used to tell us, "Don't waste you time writing an artcicle. Don't write an article. Write a book."
So every time I feel that the apocalypse is surely upon me and that "Whoo Dat Callin'" feeling haunts me for days, I tell myself I must not write a an article or a blog, but a book
(Speaking of books, I am hoping E. A. Monroe will soon send me an exceprt from her own book on post-deression childhood in Oklahoma)
But I digress.
I write apocalyptic novels, Biblical or personal.
I always lose money on my apocalyptic novels.. Like a Jehovah' s Witness at the stipulated end of days, I mount the rise, wait for this certain end of days--but am so disappointed to see that the sun still shining, and the birds unawaredly twittering. Someting must surely be wrong. I decide I have somewere miscalculated in my charts and augurings.
Ah well. Back to he drawing board. The Four Horsemen ain't gonna show at the track today.
Anyway, I'll offer here Chapter One of my apocalyptic novel, The Hat Peoplle
The year was rife with signs, entire series of strange occurrences and unlucky portents, events so ominous that the superstitious in Toronto's great European community took immediate alarm and even the less skittish native Protestants began to entertain secret misgivings.
On the westward commute, on the QEW to Hamilton, a new object had appeared in the heavens, an L-shaped chunk of what appeared to be a Corinthian column, larger than the moon and out of all proportion to earthly size. Hardly anyone noticed, in the lengthening days of February that an eclipse had occurred at about the same time, appearing to have the sun setting at five-thirty p.m. instead of a quarter to six. Only on the eleven o'clock news did our commuters learn that the fiery column, replete with its lower chunk of plinth, was an unexplained phenomenon by the local observatory and someone must have been sleeping at the switch, since the accompanying eclipse hadn't been predicted either. A satellite did pick up the torus, and all agreed, that from some angles, it did look like a hat. Torontonians shrugged and waited for other events.
Something was happening to the money. The paper banknote seemed to change colour every day, while at the Royal Canadian Mint, die makers were already tooling up to turn old American-style quarters and dimes into huge coins resembling Mexican pesos.
Three Conservative political campaigns fell as they rose, giving Bay Street a shudder, and in one Ukrainian Catholic Church, the very pillar of a conservative people, a priest went mad. In the midst of high mass, when the great onion-topped cathedral was crowded to its very doors, the Reverend Moisei Papryka, leaped to the altar, and shouting blasphemies, proceeded to lay violent hands on the Sacred Host, understood by all to be the body and blood of Christ.
There was a Ukrainian-Canadian reporter at the mass whose news sense superceded his ethnic pride and he wrote up the story in the Toronto Star, along with all the other strange things that were going to and soon the radio and television reports were full of it. The reporter's name was John Lazarowych and he had noted for some time that the icons, holy images of not only his own church, but that of Bulgarian and Serbian and Macedonian denominations had taken to weeping, great globular tears wiped away by clucking abbots, some having to use mops to dry wet naves. "Why has everything gone topsy-turvy", John Lazarowych wanted to know in a Starweek magazine article which he was editing at the time. "All of our society's icons are flipping over. I've been to Marshall McLuhan's lectures. I was in Copenhagen, just after his conference with the Bildebergers, that group of billionaires who think they run the world. There is no doubt as to what's going on. Rapid social change and the breakup of Canada”.
For which he was soon fired from his job, ostensibly because of a campaign of complaints from the Ukrainian community but more properly because his writing had taken on a lunatic quality and a lunatic with a powerful typewriter was dangerous indeed in a newspaper known for its rose-coloured glasses view of things. And so, while the city appeared to go to the Devil, John Lazarowych left Toronto in confusion and disgrace, taken to wandering around southern Ontario looking for God, or, for that matter, anyone who would dissuade him from believing that there was apocalypse just around the corner, if not for his city and his country, then certainly for him. His lovely raven haired Jewish wife had known for years that he was quietly going mad. He hardly drew a response from Laura at his announcement that he was leaving, and from his children, who did not understand yet, a bare shrug and a hug.
Well. Wordy, ain't it?
I show a chapter or two to the late Susan Sontag. She sniffed.
"No wonder everybody turned it down. Your book has no plot."
She got up and left the table.
Felt like a guy leaving a quarter tip in a good restaurant, which in fact I had done once that New York intellectual lady had gone.
She didn't say it, but that was certainly the message.
Not only can you not compose, but you're an asshole.
Other writers in New York tell similar stories about lunch witht the thorny Susan Sontag, top intellectual in the Sixties.
Seems I'm not the only condom- head in that Woody Allen galaxy.
But she was right. In spite of the apocalyptic feel to my novel, it really had no plot, save for death and destruction and the end of days. All lightnin' and no tellin'.
Well, Well, Well. Hoo dat callin'
It was almost an apocalypse for me as a budding novelist. Told to f*ck off by Susan Sontag. Not the first guy. Either she hated men, or I couldn't find a plot. Other authors, male and female, say she hated men.
I had to find a plot, couldn't, and finally used myself as grist for my own mill. How you doo dat?
Tampered with a commandment, that's what. Danger here. God'll get ya for that.
I finally had a plot. Adultery.
Thou shalt not covet thy neigbour's wife, nor his goods, nor his ass.
Well, I didn' especially covet his ass, but I certainly coveted hers.
Now there was a plot!
Oh -oh, here come the apocalyptic cowboys.
Those aren't Riders of the Purple Stage.
Them's for real. Ever been reamed by a scythe?
That'll teach you to try and write Anna Karenina, male version.
And somebody had already don Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo.
I got nothin'.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Star Light, Star Bright…
I was sitting on my patio, on my birthday, drinking my 2nd bourbon and enjoying the view of my backyard as darkness settled and the mosquitoes were effectively repelled by citronella candles (one placed directly between my feet – the little bloodsuckers always go for my feet and ankles). The first star of evening appeared, and that childhood bit of magic came to mind:
I wish I may
I wish I might
Have this wish
I wish tonight
I can’t remember what I wished for as a child – and childhood seems a blurry memory with the occasional sharp photo or screen clip. But, as an adult, on my second bout of what looks like long-term unemployment, with a failed marriage 10 years behind me, and some failed relationships less than that – I know what I wish for.
Remember, in the fairy tales, where we can still see “reports” of magic in action, wishing is fraught with peril. One may wish for riches, and find oneself rich, but miserable. One may wish for love, and find that the loved one is an ass (sometimes literally, as fairy tales go). One may wish for brains, and find that they were there already. But to wish for happiness? What’s the worst that could happen?
I could become the village idiot, drooling, laughing, and…happy. Not that that’s the way I’d like it to turn out, but once it happened, well, I’d just be happy.
I’d prefer that happy meant a career that challenged and excited me, a family that was healthy and happy as well, and a group of friends that allowed me to be me – and liked me that way.
As I thought about it, and as dusk turned to night, I realized that I already had two out of three. All I need is the career. Happy birthday to me, as I enjoy two out of three, and thank you for making part of my wish come true.
"Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance."
I used to get in your frame of mind when living in a neat white cottage on Lake Sincoe hereabouts, retired at 32 with already enough to live on, a loving family and not a care in the world, save for not a failed marriage but a failed novel!
I had made the mistake upon successfully publishing some fragments of a work which I had somehow sutured together to make up something titled The Black Icon, and thinking I was a real novelist, I went on to do a second "book".
As is almost always the case, we have only one book in us.The first is usually quite good, but really just a fragment. of what you had hoped to write; the second book is bound to be a failure.
But good people had given me the cottage and enough to live on for a very long time. All I had to do was produce this second book.
Hah. ..."Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party."--that was about all I could do after 240 pages. Stuck. And very likely, for a long time. I was written out. I was out of gas.
But there were emoluments, or perks, as you would say today.
Like you, I would
"(sit) on my patio, on my birthday, drinking my 2nd bourbon and enjoying the view of my backyard as darkness settled ", slapping at mosquitoes --and think of Dostoevsky.
Out across my acre of field, there were lightning bugs, glow worms winking on and off, and high above the cedars, the pearly Milky Way glowing in the rural night, undimmed by city lights. Stars that jumped right out at you through the milk.. How grand would it be, I sighed, as I had my third drink, If I had been Dostoevsky.
No matter. I was happy was I not? The children were sleeping peacefully upsairs, there was someone beside me, eyes aglow, like mine through the drink and firelight..
Later that night there would be love as the the glow worms flashed on and off throgh the windows of our attic bedroom in the 2 1/2 storey classic frame farmouse
But this was a condition of happiness, not achievement.
I had achieved paradise not with accomplishment, but somehow by default. The reward coming before the actual project completion, the book. The question was, what was life for?... For happiness or achievement?
No matter. There had been new family and love.
So I had a fourth drink and swore I saw, in a Dali dream-- right there in my back yard-- Dostoevsky's ghost rolling in a cloud through my high cedars, emitting thunder flashes here and there. It could have been me rolling by.. For one day there would be the book, and there would be success and applause.
Well, it turned out almost like that, but all things like this take time, years and years, and now 35 years later, I still have the same glorious Dostoevsky fantasy as I look out my balcony window out of my new home, also near some woods, and swear I still see that wandering, powerful CB cloud just outside my balcony, about to flash fire. That cloud of my dreams.
Ginger, you peering up into the hemlocks, craving love and me into the heavy cumulus of a Dostoevskian fantasy.
It is amazing that through sme parallel world you and I are somehow tonight on the same frequency.
I like very much your musings.
I would like to reproduce them, somewhere, though all I have of late as a former small publisher is my blog.
I do not know if it will be this third thing you seek, but I do feel it very near.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Heaven forbid I should read a Canadian Conservative blog, but somettimes I do. I find "ChuckerCanuck 2.O" one hell of an intellect, and he is even funny, something lacking, I think in Canadian Conservatives. He is also highly entertaining. To wit,
I married a Calgarian. She is a nutball. The other day, I caught her tossing an aluminum can into the garbage bin. "Fuck the planet," she sneered at me and then scurried under a couch where I could not reach her. She, like all Calgarians, hates queers and science. She loves the military and frequently prays that the military will take over the country to put a real leader in charge.
My in-laws, Calgarians all, make her look like a Quebec communist by comparison. They don't pay taxes and shoot at any tax collector who comes knocking. They started up a Museum of Intelligent Design in their garage and carbon-dated a dinosaur fossil that turned out to be - so they claim - only 5,000 years old. When they couldn't afford to support my wife's grandma, they put her in a crate and shipped her to "socialist Toronto where they give a crap about the old and infirm."
Things you take for granted in the rest of Canada simply don't exist in Calgary. Like traffic lights. Who the hell is a light to tell you whether to stop or proceed. Organic products are banned from city stores: you cannot purchase food unless that food has been genetically modified. Also, children are forced to take steroids in hopes of creating a master race that will one day take over the world.
Calgarians, as we all know, are the biggest proponents of targeted assasinations in Canada. Oh wait, targeted assasinations is a Michael Ignatieff policy, not a radically conservative idea! Scrub that.
Labels: Iggy would be a fine PM, Oh yes
To which I add on Chucker's blog:
As an epsilon- mini artist, I so identify with your wife and her anti-everything.
Hasn't it been cry "fraud" with all artists and writers for the past 100, years, that science is propaganda and a society of reason is hokum. that the Gaia hypothesis is Druidism? Artist know more than those scuba artists in the Calgary think tanks.
The Dadaists painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa, the Ludddites (me?)
Cubists, Symbolists, Marcel Duchamp's Nude descending a Staircase looking in her distortion for all the world like Newt Gingrich descending the staircase of the capitol!
Your wife must surely be a painter or poetess.
Yeah. Overload your wiring. Undeprivilege an African child, Put all the gays on Vancouver Island,say no to Dr. Suzuki, call Elizabeth May somebody's crazy aunt.
I think your wife might be an artist, and more power to her. :)
Friday, July 10, 2009
It is one of these nights when you walk around town like a somnabulist; You may as well be in a surreal ballad out of Bob Dylan.
You hand in your ticket
And you go watch the geek
Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak
And says, "How does it feel
To be such a freak ?"
And you say, "Impossible"
As he hands you a bone.
And something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones ?
Dylan was probably talking about his half-confessed gay side. Ah if only things were that simple.
Seems that just around the corner, Somebody dressed in black just handed me a bone, and the dude was carrying something else. It looked exactly like a scythe.
Ah, those half-hungover states on a full moon. You swear your can see around corners and realizations spin all around you---parallel worlds dangerously careening, spilling out of half-completed novels, poems, songs... You long to suture together all the perceptions, for you know you will not be in this state again, and it is certain that this incredible reality -unreality will be gone by tomorrow.
My editor says, You should write when you get like that.
Write? I can't tie shoelaces on this full moon. The simplest task is like, my, sailor friend says, "Like trying to insert a strand of spaghetti up wildcat's ass.
Ones age doesn't help either. You're halfway in the past as you approache what might be laughingly referred to as your future. You are in London, you are in Mexico Cilty, you are in Seven Islands, Quebec, chasing seals...You are in the Air Force, and swear, as you take a drink our of the flask you now caary , that you buddies are still all around you and you are rejoining them at the Airmens Club for that final drink. It is thirty years later, and you are picking up the conversation where you had left it.
Parallel universes. Oh that time of the first solo. Flying high and singing Hank Snow...That big eightwheelr comin' down the track...
A younger,, better looking Ivan walking away from the old one who had gotten lost in the hilbilly mountains of Pennsylvania.
Old Ivan walking down the hillside. There are mountain folk in the valley, cooking something over an open fire. "We see you guys, guys like you, walking or rolling down the mountain all the time. Last night, we found a Chinaman. Were going to eat him. They are so clean."
How is it that everybody gets lost coming out of Harrisburg PA?
...Because the road goes around and around the same mountain, and you always end up back at Harrisburg, after even a hundred miles and unless you find the Interstate you'll be like the man in the MTA song, "He will ride forever in the streets of Boston, he's a man who never returned."
Lots of time to review your life when lost in Appalachia.
Oh, what a fine old, better looking self had left me and gone downt the mountain first. The leisure suit with elbow patches, the full head of hair, the Wallabee shoes, the sure gait. We need some class around here, the barmaid had said at a watering hole I'd checked out in Newmarket, Ontario.
Now too long in the States. Yerassisgrass. You ain't got no class. You got pimples on your ass.
Ah, Pennsylvania on a full moon. Past the places where they had lit the fires on the road, past a depresed dog, past a Sycamore tree. Picking up a hitchhiker. Pick up any hitchhiker!
"For God's sake, tell me how to find the Freeway!
Monday, July 06, 2009
In January of 1950, Heinrich Böll, a promising young German author yet to publish his first novel, was nearly in despair. To his friend, Paul Schaaf, he conddided how close he was to giving up all hope for a literary life.
If I were to describe my situation during the past three months, you would hardly be able to believe it;it's totally impossible for things to go on this way. My wife can't take it any more--things have gone so far that novels and shorts stories mean nothilng to me measured against a single tear shed by my wife:that is how things are...up to now, I've been unbable to work freelance, nor do I earn enough to buy shoes for my children. I've simply undertaken something impossible, and I have to confess I've reached a dead end.
Well, if it happened to an eventual Novel prize winner, it was small wonder that it once happened to me in the same situation.
Here is Chapter 16 of my second novel, THE HAT PEOPLE.
Quitting work suddenly with 200 dollars in the bank and a wife and child to feed was no easy matter. John thought that he would now keep up some sort of income by freelancing magazine pieces while working on his novel, one he had tentatively called The Climbers. It was to deal with people in the system, and what the system did to them. He had great plans when he started. Here at last was an escape, a way out of a regular newspaper or magazine job, the bloodsucking bane of every serious writer for a hundred years. Well, he had beaten it he thought. Laura did not take the news of his quitting well. You'll be sorry honey. A 200 a week job thrown over just like that.
He got up every day with the intention of writing. But Laura and young David were always around. Without an extra room it was almost impossible to write. He tried freelancing pieces, and he sold a few, but he was panicked to find that it was almost impossible to write from home. No privacy, too much going on. And they were starting to starve. Weeks would go by without anything in the fridge. Finally, no food for the family at all. The lean freelance cheque would be spent before John got them. And in a panic, he found he was losing his ability to write. He began to get rejections from his few contacts. The landlord hounded him. The Becker's Manager sneered at him when he would pay for a few badly needed things with, say fifty two pennies found in the piggy bank and around the house. After two months of being out of work and trying to make it freelancing, John and Laura faced leaner days than they could remember. Leaner even than those periods in Mexico, when their monthly cheques would get held up by the slow, confused Mexican mails. During those desperate days, in San Miguel, they would survive on potato pancakes and cheap fried sausage of dubious origin. Now, here in Downsview, Ontario they could not even count on such staples.
They had borrowed from anyone and everyone, losing almost all the few friends they had left, because of non-repayment. Pride kept them from going to either set of parents.
Desperation, panic. No gas in the sagging Austin. The last Mac's milk jar, which originally brought in 45 cents when returned, had been cashed. Something had to be done, John decided.
On a rainy morning, John got into the car, drove the Austin three blocks to the service station, praying all the while that the fumes he was running on would not give out, and produced a silver dollar to pay the attendant. The silver dollar was supposed to have been little David's to keep for life, a gift gotten in better, more optimistic times.
John, in his suit, clutching a scrapbook full of clippings of his old magazine and newspaper stories, felt like a bag of dung taking little David's money. Laura softened the feeling by saying, I think David will understand, don't you?"
I wonder if he will, John mused, wondering if he had a real plan for the future, pulling up to the offices of the Toronto Sketch, a new paper he had heard on the journalistic grapevine that the Sketch was now hiring.
Well, I had better luck than poor Henry Boll. I actually got the job. Journalism, yes, but shoes for the baby. Eventually I got a column as a rock critic and hey, having been in bands, I was practically in my medium, rock music, though the novel I was supposed to write was stuck somewhere on page 100.
....So good on the journalistic jackrabbit stuff. So disappointed when the editor threw up his hands at my first few chapters and had said, "Man, this isn't fiction. Travel, exotic settings, adventure. But you can' write, you can't fucking write fiction!"
Great to have the job, but what a let-down to do with the fiction project.
Tradest thou another ten years of poverty for a hope in learning fiction?
Well, I quit my job again and sort of did that.
Janitor by day novelist at night.
Got tired of the farting sounds and whoosh of urinals as I made my rounds. I was an artist, Martha! Not a klosetputzer.
Finally chucking everything , including the Stanislaw Dupa job and the mop, heading for my own personal Tahiti, where I would "paint".
Well, I am not Gaugin, but I think I hear a publisher knocking at my front door, apparently interested in my storyof Wahines and other women of exotic beauty.
I hope this isn't an illusion.
Probably is, as the last thirty years appear to have been.
I hear my Newfie friend wondering at my quest at authorship,
"Will he? Will he? Will he?
"Will he? F*cking asshole!"
Saturday, July 04, 2009
I used to pride myself on having the immune system of a starfish, chewing on rocks during the hard times--and still dumpster diving to this day just to keep my hand in.
Can't kill the habit, especially if I find a not- yet- stale- dated sirloin tip roast, all ten pounds of it spewed out of the maw of an automatic and ordinarily sealed dumpster.
Champion seagull figher. I can hear them squeaking, "F*ck-off! F*ck off!
Atavism. Never leave a tern unstoned. "Me f*c k off? You F*ck- off, you over-protected varmints. A man's gotta eat. Don't hang an albatross on me! You guys swarming the Swiss Chalet and Harveys eat better than I do. And Peerless Percy, the parking lot pigeon just shat on me..
It is still two weeks till payday and I won't take shit from anybody. Pigeons to base...you'd better!
Bird Man of Parking Lot. Jesus, a delivery truck just dropped four twine-bound roasts on the asphalt and the meat is so tightly wrapped that the seagulls can't get a beak in. food for a month!...And you guys aren't equipped by heredity to get at it!
Ah the gutter and other warm places.
But not so much now.
I think I've finally got it. Swine flu.
Impervious me? The digestive system of a starfish?
Yes you. What do you think you are, a starfish, a sea cucumber a sea urchin? Scientists have jerked off sea cucumbers for years trying to get at the DNA that makes them able to eat just about anything. Ask Dr. Suzuki, at one time, as a scientist, he had to jerk off many a sea urchin. Maybe hope for a cucumber of the sea!.. Sea urchins and sea cucombers. Fer their DNA.
Migod. Jacques Custeau aquatic child porn! Hope they were of age! Ever try to jerk off a plankton? They exhibit avoidance signs, some of them. Downright choosy!
In any event, I will dumpster dive no more, nor fight with seagulls.
I have developed a cought that will not go away.
Swine flu? I hope not.
Must have been those cigarette butts.
Lord, I gotta sell something as a writer. Gotta stop sarving. Maybe sell this, but who would take it?
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Late night funnyman Stephen Colbert always aims a zinger at Canada
"I celebrated Canada Day today by not going to Canada."
He probably forgot the last time he slagged Canada, specifically the Oshawa Generals hockey team--and then when his team finally lost to Oshawa, he had to make good on a bet with the mayor of Oshawa. Colber wore the Generals' jersey on that show.
In that second-last game, when Michigan won, Colbert had said, "in the spirit of good sportsmanship I have decided, in spite of the Spirit victory, to wear an Oshawa Generals jersey tonight."
He then unbuckled and dropped his pants to unveil a pair custom made of boxer shorts – complete with the Generals logo on his posterior.
Well, he is mooning Canada again.
Hard to imagine our uptight Prime Minster Harper dropping his pants in retaliation to Colbert, but I'm sure it would have made a great skit for the now defunct Royal Canadian Air Farce.
Hell, I think I'll send it in as an idea to "This Hour has 22 Minutes", the equally funny satirical show run largely by Newfies, probably the funniest people on the planet. Certainly in Canada.
Oh damn it all, Saul.
I have spent thirty years as a novelist and have finally realized I'm a frustrated gag writer.
And it has just struck me that in background, Colbert is Acadian, about nine generations back..
Hey, that's close to Newfoundland. No wonder the guy is hilarious.