Saturday, September 26, 2009

Meeting Bernardo the Broadway Man while in hell

Ever meet one of those guys?

Out of the blue, in a foreign country. And in Dylan's words, "Somebody thinks he's really found you."

"I am Bernardo Schoenfeldt. I have had a successful play on Broadway...And I see by the way you are, the careful ways in which you move and speak--obviously a second language, a second identity to you -- that you are a carbon copy WASP, a Pygmalion, a chameleon, a cultural hermaphrodite, a twit.

"Why did you come to San Miguel to do your Masters? You should have gone to Irvine, where the real writers are. I think you're a jerk."

...Not sure whether he was trying to fight me or f*ck never know with those Musical guys. His opening introduction left me confused.

Years later, I looked up the name Bernardo Schoenfeldt and Broadway. Nothing. Friggin' phoney.

But maybe he was just jealous at the time when someone was getting laid and he was sniffing at newly arrived novelists.

I had confessed to him in a bar at the time, that I loved two women and that I was in hell. Maybe Bernardo was thinking to himself,"He's in hell. How do I get there? When can I go? My life as a middle aged f*ck-up here is flat, boring."


"In the middle of the journey of our lives," says Master Dante, "I came to myself in a dark wood, for it seems the straight way was lost."

And what a deep and dark wood it was. Yes indeed, I was saying to myself lying beside Valerie in the dark, trying to remember the translation as well as I could, remembering the difficulty I'd had with Italian, though now it came rather easily to me through my newfound Spanish. I had needed a language to go with my electrical engineering degree and Dante was de rigueur.

I remembered as a very young man being seized by a line somewhere in the cantos: You know at this stage of the journey that what I'm setting down here are not mere words.
How right that old Florentine was. Old? Really not that old. Dante wrote the Divine Comedy at about age 43 and not 35, the age he was chronicling in that torturous book. He knew of what he spoke for he influenced our moderns so, especially Kierkegaard a favourite of my newfound playwright friend who had observed that I had not yet learned as a would-be writer, the relationship between the subjunctive and the indicative, between "as it were" and as it actually was. "Horse feathers," I had snorted. "That's just Jean-Paul Sartre trying to see the world through French grammar, Being and Nothingness and all that existential rot." "Not the same thing," Bernardo Shoenfeldt insisted. "We must learn to write the truth and the truth lies as much in individual cats and it does in the characteristic, universal 'cattiness'. Remember that."

"I do, from old philosophy classes."

Berardo's roguish Lower East side mug's face stared right into mine. "You're a twit. A Pygmalion. You might unravel sooner than you think. Remember about the subjunctive and the indicative." I would have told him to go straight to hell if I hadn't remembered his Broadway connections. A play on Broadway was nothing to sniff at.

How does it come to a man in his prime, at the height of his success, manhood, parenthood that he should chuck it all like a true believer in Kipling's IF, taken, no doubt from one of the many Buddhas born again and again in the East, and rattling Kipling's Masonic sensibilities. The Tibetan Book of the Dead did have its appeal. But would it in the end be no more than the Epic of Gilgemesh, so rich in promise and mystery to the novice writer until he sorted through the clay tablets to find nothing less than Plato's Know Thyself. Know thyself for being a horse's ass? Beware of the quest for identity. Your past might just snap back at you.

Snapping back at me now. Maybe I just needed a change. Maybe I was just horny. There is a really good blowjob scene in the Epic of Gilgemesh. Interest of science, you understand. I had to find out. Maybe I'm like Dante's sniveler, who apologizes in advance for committing an act considered wrong, but when the opportunity presents itself again and again, he will, still apologizing, go on doing that wrong. That's part of the hell of it.

Sin. Maybe that's what it is, good old-fashioned sin. The Greeks

tried to see the beauty, the sweetness and light beyond earthliness. The middle ages, the so-called dark ages contradicted this concept. What was it that always thwarted our best efforts at finding the sweetness and light? Sin. The damned snake in the garden.

Yet when the great crisis comes, you have to change. You must change or die. Even Dante himself leads you through a landscape that extends well beyond ordinary morality.

I looked at Valerie's sleeping form beside me. Wonder Woman herself, she thought, brave, talented and fucked up. She hated to be called beautiful, yes, but how that beauty could have been applied. Not as a clothes horse, not as a model but as a poet and personal inspiration to others, a real American idol. A Jewel.

How was it that she had gone from one failing man to another, toning down her looks, hating the way she looked while all the while she was a Jane Fonda in the nude and she liked it. To be beautiful and talented comprised an aristocracy of its own, an aristocracy that carries rights and privileges, an advanced degree of its own. There are no more aristocracies but you only need to think of Richard Gere, Dustin Hoffman and the real Jane Fonda to realize that here were kings and queens of no mean pedigree. Titles have disappeared but just look at the papers. Kings and queens for you.

The rest of us struggle for money.

I turned my gaze away from Valerie and stared at the ceiling, where insect life was starting to flourish in the hot Mexican night. Later would come the mosquitoes, who would first land a foot or two away from you, then would walk over to bite. You couldn't hear them until the pinch. Little pinpricks of hell. The hell Valerie had gone through. She was fucking for her life. And my life seemed to be running out of time.

So little time, or, as my mother might say, too much time. My mother seemed to be against all western thought. Whatever the philosophers posed and I would repeat, she'd just say "Not for all. Not always." It ain't necessarily so.

We discover, or begin to discover who and what we are but we do not immediately apprehend the conspiratorial circles that guide us all, and after we do, then come the little breakdowns, the little lapses physical and mental that remind you that you are turning thirty-nine and then forty and then the glorious or maybe sad age of fifty with its great intellectual realizations, not so great when you consider that a hundred and fifty years ago a man named George Boole was already considering downloading what was in each person's mind, some downloads long, others short. Then sixty and seventy, and poof! Or even poofta. Who gives a damn about you when you're seventy-five? George Balshevis Singer? The sterile white of Florida condos. The stench of old men. And yet it somehow made sense, a world where God and man have adapted to the nightmarish and the unpredictable, for the world of quantum mechanics could be brought down to the world of men and women existing in an insecure and spooky place whose meaning, if ever apprehended fully, would, as McLuhan noted, "drive you insane." You are coming to a quantum leap, professor, or is it just the event horizon of your first black hole?

You have broken down before, professor, and you didn't know it, saved by your money, dreaming every night of going down the vast sewer pipe of the universe, down the river Styx, you thought, in your nightmare of the future, hieroglyphics on each side of the narrow passage down which you floated, later looked up in the National Geographic as the exact layout of the pyramid of Cheops. Racial memory? No. Egyptian culture was African. You were just going down the sewer pipe of the universe, following some wonky ancestor who wasn't all that sane either, mercifully bumped off early, before thinking of turning a gun on yourself. But maybe Grand Dad may have been a Coleville. The seascape. The white hotel. The gun.

It may all be a dream, yet to walk through life as if asleep (or just avoiding the nightmare) would be to place oneself in an even worse dream state, a Borgesian world where the dreamers dreams another dreamer and so on, Elsie the Cow holding a can with Elsie the Cow on it, holding a can with Elsie the Cow on it into infinity, backward and forward.

Life can only be as it is. With all options considered, man is in the best possible situation. How could it be otherwise? Man tries to make sense of things but the universe makes no sense. It appears to have neither beginning middle or end. The Big Bang is there, of course, and so we have the hydrogen bomb.

Divine Intervention the only way out? In the end, one's education is ones own. You have to go through the inferno by yourself, suffer what it is that you have to suffer and come out through the upside-down mountain. There is light at the end of the journey and even the promise of paradise. You end up born again (Jesus, you great wise teacher!) and you regard your old self with disbelief, and often with disgust.

Who was the old Kevin? Who am I?

I've always been, I suppose, a spoiled brat, though spoiled by other people and not in my own family. The teachers always made a fuss over me, nearly all of them women. I was very bright and that gave me rights and privileges that the much maligned Irish in Canada don't always get. But I was, and am, crazy drunken Irish. I think it really does run through families. Mother, that day she bloodied me with the straightened coat hanger, making me tell the police that I'd gotten into a fight with a school bully (I'd already dispatched the bully with a well-aimed brick). No picnic in Cabbagetown. She had spattered my blood once, and again, and once again. Dear Father, you had your failings, but you never bloodied me. Mother, mother, that day I said there was no God and you were boiling up that wash in the cauldron back there in Northern Ontario and you picked up your heavy ladle and nearly broke my shoulder with it. It still hurts on rainy nights and my feet hurt from the burn.

And Dad, dear old Dad, never really admitting my existence. You had once ran off on the family and then when you came back you accused Mother of all sorts of things. You had called me a son of a whore at every opportunity, not a nice thing to call a seven-year-old. You never knew how to love me. I know that you really do. And I love you. Whore's son that I am. Whore's son who will never amount to anything.

Only now, My Father, can I consider that you may have been a fool, with your garbage cans and your mop and that pride that will never leave you.

Is it because of you, Mother and Father, that I sought certainty in the world, myself from a family that had no certainty, a family that seemed to be always operating on Murphy's Law--If something can go wrong it will, and where it will do the most damage.

Certainty is what I sought, the certainty in science, the serenity in mathematics, where your could only be right or wrong, the grace and Cartesian clarity of essays, the proving of a theory. Logic. Brainwork. That is what you respected, dear old Dad, and that is what I have developed. Maybe there is a lesson in all this. Maybe in your strange way you have succeeded in hammering out a scientist. But at what cost?

Logic. Logic and no emotion, no soul. Were you secretly a Mason dear old Dad? Is that why you told me every man has a secret? And how have these goat-grabbing Satanists really helped you? A crime, all this great architecture, a damn Protestant crime. North America, the key society in the world, suddenly shedding its logic to become a barbaric new world order. Dressed in logic like a uniform while the furies were ripping you apart.

They are certainly ripping me apart.

One way out of madness is to write. I gave Valerie a nuzzle while she slept, rose up to the raised ceramic table on which we usually ate, pulled up a heavy chair and let the Fury who was tearing at me have her way with the ballpoint.

....end chapter



ea monroe said...

Ivan, I hope you get this novel published. You are a philosopher!

I don't know about anyone else, only myself -- but I was never good enough for my parents or their expectations even though they had/have their own imperfections. They probably didn't intend it by what they said, and heard it from their parents and so on down through the generations. Habits and patterns are like a virus lodged in our minds.

I write to know myself. How else does one become a writer, if they don't know themselves in and out, good and bad?

Hope you're having a great weekend. It's sunny here after weeks of clouds and rain.


Charles Gramlich said...

I really like the last line. Says much for what the feeling is like. I noticed many more literary references in this chapter than in previous ones. Why is that do you think?

ivan said...


An insight and a good question:
How else does one become a writer, if they don't know themselves in and out, good and bad?

We do write, I guess, to find out what in tarnation is wrong with us.
I must say that over the years of drinking, writing,fornicating, thinking --that one is sort of incorrigible and that is that.
I was once interviewed on radio about this and the truth sort of hit me in the face. Betty Kennedy, The radio host didn't have to say it on, even if she did. I was productive, but selfish!... Had to do it "all on my tod", as the British might say. Do it on your own; take no prisoners. Is that the way writers really are?
Is that the way they have to be-- not really interested in anybody or their projects but ones own supposedly beautiful words?
I think of that old, old song by Gale Garnett:

"It's strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack."
And: "It's all very interesting the weay you describe
But I'd like to see the world through my own eyes."
Oh the talent one has, or thinks one has.
I went to a fine college with too good an English program, I think.
I published way too early and this, I think, gave me a hubris that would affect me and all those around me for life. "The mystique of the great Canadian writer," my wife would complain.
She soon got tired of marking my student papers at the college I worked for--and also the clippings she had to cut-- all my magazine stories for the scrap book.
The local god had feet of clay.

I notice Donnetta has a Friday 55 piece on her blog about a guy falling out of a plane with no parachute.
Well, yeah. Sort of Brewster McCloud here and his collapsible wings.
Heh. I'd spent some years in the Air force, whose motto was,
Per Ardua ad Astra--through difficulties to the stars.

I guess with me it was more like per ardua ad terra!
Oh Brewster!

ivan said...


As a writer yourself, I knew you would identify with the feeling.

As for all those literary references, I was in the middle of the novel and almost clutching at straws, the miniature lifeboats of all the writers I'd read.
I am stil not sure whether plot is superior to the seat of ones pants.
Artifice or autobiography?
I seem to have chosen the latter.

Donnetta Lee said...

"Good old fashioned sin." Sure makes for a good story.

Hubby used to tell me that most psychologists get into psychology in order to figure themselves out. So maybe we writers are on the same mission, different path to get there.

Ah, those imperfections. Gotta love 'em. Keeps the story moving, interesting. Wonder what OUR children are saying about their parents imperfections!

Oh, well. Our sagas continue. Wish I could express them one iota as well as you do! D

ivan said...


Apposite things to say. Right on.

And thanks for the remarks.

I swear my children have had a peek at the book.

Wonder if that's why they don't come around any more. :->

TomCat said...

One way out of madness is to write.

or to blog. :-)

lakeviewer said...

I came, I read. I pondered. You've got quite a stream-of-consciousness piece here. I only read this chapter, and it slapped me down and made me pay attention. I shall be back to read more.

ivan said...


Play Dough's universal, I suppose.

To take all the world's cats. And narrow it down to just one tabby. :)

ivan said...

Hi again, Lakeviewer.
And thanks.

Long time no see.

ivan said...

...the "Yep" comment was meant for TomCat.

Mona said...

This is one of the best stream of consciousness piece I read. & the references are very enriching to the entire piece. I will have to look up for some though. Reminds me of O Henry ( he was fond of references to) but then they add so much to the meaning with mere suggestions!

I love this piece!

"We discover, or begin to discover who and what we are but we do not immediately apprehend the conspiratorial circles that guide us all, and after we do, then come the little breakdowns.." This is so true!

Mona said...

this is like writing for the intelligentsia !

I love the surreal dream sequence & the who am I reflection is poignant and throbbing!

ivan said...

You are so kind.

Yes, as a former prof, I suppose I'm writing for the intelligentsia... And lady Dr. Rahman picked it up.

the walking man said...

GRRRRR sleep past 4am for a couple of days and get behind by a month.

ivan said...


From another insomniac, it's good to sleep, innit?

Middle Ditch said...

I like TomCat's response. And Charles. And Liz. And ... Oh well all of them.

ivan said...

Thanks, Monique.

I'll get over to your site as soon as I get over this full moon and all my technical problems.

TomCat said...


ivan said...

Well, dog my cat.

Midnight said...

Like in the scene when they're in the car in Up in Smoke:

Cheech: (Inhales) 'Bu, bu, bu, b, b, b....'

Chong: 'Kinda grabs ya by the boo-boo, don't it?'

Haven't been around in awhile, but you always leave me speechless, Ivan (my past ramblin's notwithstandin').

ivan said...