Saturday, February 26, 2011

My chemical Lady Gaga



My intention had been to unload an entire chapter of my novel, Light Over Newmarket up on Jo's blog (Jo from Vancouver, where the bud grows) but I decided against it. The chapter is about a woman's drug experience. Jo' blog on this today sort of triggered this blog idea.
Drugs. Six years ago, I did much the same on Bernita's blog and she was, well, mad. "You could have sent a link!
I guess people don't like your unloading of your short stories or entire chapters in their comment space. Heh. Why you insecure cad! You couldn't find anybody else on whom to unload your poor stories?
Ouch! That was a hot palookis to tread upon.

In the past, people would seem to welcome my stories.
Nowadays people might take umbrage. And Umbrage, thy name is Ivan.
No more being spoiled. No more being wonderful.

This is a different time in a different medium.
The protesters may as well have said, "F*ck off, Ivan. Don't clutter my comment space with your stories. This means you!"

So I was chary of the notion of putting my "wonderful" screeds on other people's blogs, unasked.

Now, one is reduced, like a frustrated and defeated Dr. Evil in Austin Powers-- to a kind of sodomization of his Mini Me and ending up putting his chapter up on his own blog. sort of like Dr. Evil making love to himself.
Well, in the past, when it came to my work, there had been partners.

And I have had good reviews on the chapter below, notably in the Newmarket ERA. They said I had actually created a female character...Hard to do for a man...But my character had been on drugs and was now "damaged goods", at least recovered damaged goods.

So here goes Chapter Four of my Light Over Newmarket:

Valerie



Beautiful. I hate the word. It floats like a banner down there among my earliest memories, my father calling me beautiful, "my little doll", my mother showing me off to the architects and painters she was sleeping with. "Isn't she beautiful," they'd say, as if patting me on the head with the word, anxious to go into that bedroom to lock me out.

After the divorce I got to miss my father, really miss him. I would even have put up with him using the word, patronizing me as only father patronize little girls who look like they've walked straight out of a suntan lotion ad, cute, blonde, the bathing suit half pulled off by the cutest puppy, or the healthy little girl face on the jam jar. As I get older, I wonder if the affection of every father for his little girl is always totally honorable. Still, my father and I were very close. I would write him letters; we could exchange little presents. But I was always his beautiful little girl. Even now, when I see him, still trying to make a living with his blueprints and his pencils, a bottle always nearby, he still calls me his little doll, while reaching for a nip when I talk about my latest divorce. Good God, maybe it's all beauty and no brains with me. How could I have stayed with Richard for those long five years? Richard, himself a beautiful man, an actor, though unemployed most of the time and in the last two years cranked up on speed, playing that damn rocksichord day in and day out like a mad phantom in a rock opera. Should have been a musician. But he was too vain. It was his looks that he had put all his eggs in. Until one day it became plain that two Robert Redfords in one Hollywood just wouldn't do. Redford went on to being The Robert Redford and Richard hit the spike.

How is it that we are felled by the very gift that makes us stand out from other people? Puberty hit me like a witches spell. I was given to strange dreams, allergic flashes, a sensitivity that was unbearable. And all around the boys, the men (and women too), "You are so beautiful." Then I'd run off in a storm of tears. What was it with adults? What is it with people even now? How are they so certain that appearance was reality? How is it that no adult really knows what is going on with a child, and all the time the adults so self-possessed, so confident in what they seem to know of the child, and it's all subtle control, a kind of bullying. "You know, you should..." Adults and children may as well belong to different species.


Our family moved in a very fast set. My father, in those days, was a very successful architect, back then in the Bauhaus fifties, where everything worked in terms of squares, of function, before the automobile makers went bananas with their chrome fins, and, some say, masturbation fantasies. My father designed beautiful modular houses back in California. He'd probably gotten the idea from a Middle East village (he would travel far and wide to develop his concepts). California was just right for his designs, the use of open space, terracing, little gardens at various levels, the house resembling a child's Toggle set, squares heaped upon squares, but interlocking in such a way that every room had an open terrace, a view and a separate entrance from outside, so that a number of rooms could be bypassed if you wanted to reach any particular room in a hurry, or if guests wanted to sunbathe or hold a hibachi party. He was a clever man, my father, but when it came to me, when it came to loving me for something than the adman's image he had of me, he drew a complete blank.

I don't know why we were forever having parties, why all those actors, actresses, other architects and painters were always hanging around the house, my mother sometimes shooing off still-drunken revelers on the day after. I guess it came with my father's success. But it was short-lived. Styles changed. Back splits became the big thing. At first my father refused to compromise, but when he eventually bit the bullet, gave up and tried to survive by appeasing all those contractors, all the beautiful people had gone. He was just another architect, virtually just another draughtsman now. He took to drinking and being abused by my mother. He was a kind, sometimes almost childlike man totally incapable of defending himself against a woman turning bad. Once his career started to slope down, my mother became very good at undermining his confidence.

Mom and apple pie. How right Philip Wylie was those many years ago, when his work was overshadowed by Pearl Harbor and all the FDR patriotism that went with it. "Momism" in America. Mom, the celebrity's wife turned clubwoman. Mom so ensconced in being the answer to the great American question, "Madam, are you a good lay?"--all this booming at you out of the television tube and all the billboards and the bright inside ads on the buses and subways. Lady, are you a good lay?

Well, my mother must have worked very hard at being a good lay; she worked very hard at developing me into a good lay. After her divorce the men would come to see Mom, but they would stay and try to flirt with me.

I had to get out of it all. At seventeen I ran off with the first sympathetic man that came along, a fortyish professor of philosophy, half-gay, I suspect, because he had this thing for giant jars of Vaseline near his shower, and always talking of backsides ("Never mind Jane Fonda, did you check the ass on that waiter?), always the protégé who would drive his car, do odd jobs for him (who knows how odd). And Nugent would always get straight A's.

He was dreamy man, really quite kind. He held three advanced degrees, Law, English and Philosophy. But it was the philosophy, That dear delight that seemed to finally corrupt him. For when you look at it, all western philosophy leads back to Plato, and Plato means systems, and in Plato's system, it's the old fogey who should ideally run things, and the way those dear Greeks would have liked their institutions to be more or less like this: "Boy, I will now explain to you in terms of a syllogism. Plato is a man. Plato is a philosopher. Therefore all men are philosophers...No? All right. We'll do it a different way...The whole is greater than the part. Right? Therefore philosophers should be kings, right? No? What the hell do you know, kid. Bend over." At least that's the way Ramsey used to joke, explaining in a footnote that this was really the way of Sophists, those sometimes false snake oil salesmen of reason.

Nevertheless, I think it was Kurt Vonnegut Jr. who said that all Greek philosophy was one large bumfuck, but I think he is oversimplifying the case. With some of Ramsey's unofficial tutoring, I'm more and more interested in philosophy these days, but I'd really like to come across a woman philosopher. No, not Hannah Arendt, certainly not Ayn Rand. Maybe more like Susan Sontag. Most philosophers have been men, and worse still, single men, and very odd. They had worked out systems, but what systems! To exclude one half of the human race is to be a monkey trying to pick fleas off itself not smart enough to snuggle against the cage next door where the female could have helped out, taught him to use his left hand. Had I been reading too much Omar Khayam? But it digress.

My philosopher's name was Ramsey Hollinger and he looked like you'd imagine a Ramsey Hollinger, the look, the pipe, the tweeds, the grey on the temples, the wise Wasp face, the horn rims. All brains and, as I found out, very little feeling save for a sense of humour. I liked his jokes, but didn't like the grosser scenes in the bedroom. He would use me to work off his tension, his stress, he told me. He could not relax and I was his tranquillizer. Sometimes all night. I guess I wasn't up to Nugent's gift and finally, after a phone call to my father, I left. There had been Ramsay and later, it was the same with Richard.

There is something wrong with California people. I didn't realize it at first because I hadn't traveled out of state too much. But the longer I stay here in Mexico the more I realize that California may be the first sign of a serious malaise in the American make-up. People have to be educated into experiencing emotion, feeling. They have lost their capacity for happiness, for passion, for love. These are not blanket phrases. It took me a long time to come to these realizations. A very long time. Drugs. Prescription and the other kind--and, I'll be honest with you, Psychoanalysis.

After the two divorces, I realized painfully that people used me. The marriages were just pieces of paper. It seemed that nobody, the men in my life or the women, really cared for what I felt, or what I wanted. Nobody listened to me. There may have been a reason for this because I am a little more sophisticated today than I was five years ago, but it was my looks that drew people to me. For my husbands and the boyfriends in between I was a showpiece, a trophy, a symbol of prestige, of wealth or taste. A Jane Fonda. Stud value.

So I learned to use my body and my face to get what I wanted. I bleached my hair, wore push-up bras and tight skirts. I broke into the modeling business along with bit-acting and didn't care if no one listened to me, that no one talked, really talked to me.

But there was something inside me that needed expressing, a yearning, perhaps, for a conscious creative act, for my father was a Sunday painter and architects of his day still had something of the artist in them.


I became the icon that America worshipped. I was the pretty girl sipping the Coke. I was the high-stepping majorette with the frozen smile. My legs were the phantom legs in the ads.

But inside me there was a totally different person, trapped and screaming...I had, I suppose, become the very epitome of the thing I hated, and it was doing nasty things to me.

I slept with men and felt very little for them or they for me. I seemed to have no feelings at all, like Ramsey Hollinger. If you have no feelings, how can you love? I seemed incapable, even of crying. I had no sense of humor, even after Ramsay. I could not laugh out loud.

Finally Rob, a man I lived with, who, noting that I was beginning to take so long at thinking out a task out that I would never get to the task itself. He'd said, "Baby, you need a drink."

Well, from there on, it was like a cheap Hollywood novel.

The other person in me, instead of being creative and insightful was really a primal monster, who cried, laughed, made scenes. I got to like the Johnny Walker. The nice thing was I wouldn't remember too much. But Rob could. He'd cut me off the Scotch.

But without the bottle there was the pain of this other person trying to get through. Hiding bottles, in purses, closets, photographers' studios. "We'll have to do something about those bags under your eyes, dearie."

Rob finally had enough. Himself no stranger to the bottle and the odd fix, he'd had enough of me, of my fits and my hysteria.

I'd saved some money. I quit the modeling and the bit-acting job, put on jeans and beads and split for Haight-Ashbury, looking for that Summer of Love, I suppose.

It turned out more like Felix the Feline. I met a street person who gave me the crabs and a couple of tabs that took me halfway to the moon. I became dependent on drugs. They dulled the pain. The drugs weren't like liquor. The trapped person came out bubbling, giggling, laughing. She was always happy.

But one day we ran out of money, my blond street freak and I. We had borrowed and we had stolen, but there just wasn't any money to be had. (I sometimes look back with incredulousness at that period. The atmosphere around my family had always been totally amoral, which probably comes from a whole generation of unfeeling people...so deep do the roots of the American malaise go).

I remember being very depressed. Richard had somehow looked me up. There was a scene. Richard was on speed and he beat up my flower child. I took up with Richard again for a time, but he was buzzed out on his drugs and he was getting me on them again. After a while, neither of us could function very well.

One day I caught myself composing a suicide note, and it was then I realized that I was in trouble. I picked up the telephone and I got help.

Therapy from Gestalt to Jung. I learned to let the other person in me out. I learned to cry, to feel, to get angry. I tried to stay with Richard, but I finally realized that he was the coldest of people. Emotions were messy for him. I tried it his way for a while, the logic, the elaborate dances, the games. We fought. He finally moved out.

After that, I went into deep therapy and gave up drugs forever. It took a year to discover that the other person in me was the frustrated artist, experiencer of powerfully felt emotions with no outlet in the social milieu that valued only my beauty. I shudder to think of the emotional imbecility of my old self, of so many, so many of us.

When I came to Mexico I was experiencing an entire galaxy of thought, feeling, color and light. I could take a bobby pin and make a delicate figurine of it. I would get ideas for paintings that were near-vision. I had found myself and I had found Kevin.

I guess I was attracted to Kevin because he's not afraid of my emotions, my new intensity, entire ranges of feeling. He too says I'm beautiful, but he sees an attractive quality in my work, in the way I see things, in the way I feel, in my memory that seems near-photographic. I have a long way to go yet, I know. An entire world of learning, of reading, of what twenty thousand years of living means. I am from a generation that had gone totally tribal, the buzzword holistic in our approach to life. There is another, more structured and ancient code to life. It is in books. It is in paintings, it is in art. It is going to be a long road back. I look in the mirror now and see a person, a person and not an image.

Kevin is so real. He can yell, cry laugh, feel. So unusual in a man. He thinks all those qualities are negative. He's always tried to develop his logical side, his physicist's side. He thinks its effeminate to show emotion, to express untrammeled joy, happiness, grief, pain. Yet he must suspect that he is more integrated than he thinks, for he will first experience an entire range of feeling and thought in a particular reverie and then he expresses that thought, not like a scientist, but like a violinist. Paganini on the PC. Maybe his profession was too confining, the discipline of his science too much of a straightjacket, of theories that must always be be proven, always. Maybe that's what he's doing here, trying to find a final perspective towards himself and towards hose among whom he moves.

He says he's going mad, but that only proves to me that he's really sane. It takes a certain degree of sanity to suspect that you are going mad, as it takes the same degree of sanity to at least once in your life to consider the possible fact of you being a fool

...end chapter

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The February blues of a long distance lothario


February Blues.

The cliche is true.
You feel blue.

It is a dark, cold, stormy February night.

I am, as they used to say in the Air Force, lying "tits-up" on my rumpled bed with its sleeping bag for a duvet. Daydreaming.
There used to be hot and cold running women under that bed, but now in February, all I can look forward to is the semi-annual event of my erection, which, even now in this February night, will probably be the last one. Never mind finding the compatible woman. What're you gonna do when you find her? And with what?
I have a lawyer friend who used to vacation with Charles Shultz. He tells me of Mr. Schlultz' wonderful, celebrated art.
Oh how that Charles Schultz could sublimate his broken heart, his libido. And in the process, enthrall the world.
I imagine myself as a Peanuts character.

Snoopy holed up in his doghouse. Snoopy's nemesis, The Red Baron dasn't fly in today's February storm. It is snowing heavily. It is quiet in the barracks. There may as well be skis on the undercarriage of Snoopy's Sopwith Camel.

There had been a raid on the barracks in the better weather leading up to this storm. The Red Baron helemeted and long -scarved in the propwash. Richthoffen's Flying Circus. .
Snoopy had been caught lying down atop his doghouse, cutting zees.

...Strafe marks all round the doghouse. Snoopy rudely awakened. "Curse you, Red Baron!...Are those Fokkers?
Someone from he barracks answered, "No, those Fokkers are Messerchmitts!
Snoopy yawns...Wrong war!

Like Snoopy, like many another old dog now nearly reduced to chasing imaginary Fokker Triplanes, or worse-- cars-- I am now reduced to sublimating, at best, dreaming...

I am Walter Mitty, romantically unemployed. Dead Thulu liies dreaming? No, nothing as morbidly mad genius gay as that.

...More like Freud.

But my fantasies seem along the lines of aeronautical engineering, probably the result of a technical university education.

The Messserchmitt l09E had a 20mm cannon that could fire through the propeller hub, because the engine was actually hooked to a higher -ratio spider gear which left an extra driveshaft though which you could fire a cannon. The cannon was shot almost pistol-fashion, actually placing your hand on the pistol grip and blasting a Spitfire out of the sky...But because of engine heat, the cannon would often jam, and you would be ambushed by the other Spitfire behind you and peppered with eight rifle-calibre .303s from his wings...But you had steel armor behind you; the Spits had not yet acquired their 20mm cannon and it might as well have been buckshot hitting your tail.. You were at least alive to bail out.

I wanna bail out of reality on this February night.

...And what's with that 20mm cannon fantasy?
Old Freud might say, "Ach, that is not just a mere fantasy. Das is Ganz Schlecht! Psychopathia sexualis!"
.
A cannon that could drive right through a propeller hub. German technology, synchronization.
Durn. Maybe I've got occuaptional hazard. Too much specialization.

I definitely need to get out more. Certainly to find another job, not one of placing black marks on white computer screeens.

I go to the employment agencies. I fail Roscharch Inkblot tests. I keep seeing vaginas, not bats, as the personnel shrinks expect.
And yet, psychopathia sexualis.
This blocked lothario simply isn't me.

I have probably had more sex, laid end-to-end than anybody my age. This is not braggacio. But like for a character in a French novel, probably Picasso at seventy, the world has passed me by. "Get lost, creep!"

Ah, they're not making the girls the same this year.

Think I'll turn queer?

Oh godawful February. What're you going to do with an umemployed sexual acrobat, or, at least one who had thought himself so.

What's with that Messerchmitt pilot fantasy and his not alway reliable cannon which, because of engine heat, wouldn't work half the time? Oh Mr. Freud!

Seems one is I'm not just over the hill, but on top of everything else, turning gayer than Richard Simmons in a sportswear display. What is happening to the old libido?

Nothing coud be finer than to shack-up with a miner?...Worse still, a minor?

Frantically, I go to Google for information as to my condition. Is there hope? Could this at least be a leap year? That could explain the Richard Simmons fantasy. I check the Farmer's Almanac.

Oh-oh.

Calendar Year 2011 is a non-leap year, with 365 days [Gregorian is the date system for
this, as well as for the rest the site]. The year for the next leap is in 2012


Two thousand and Twelve?

It will take that long to get laid?
The Mayas said it'll be all over by 2012!

And even then, it might end up as February Blues, 2012.

But wait. Something already stirs.

Now, what am I going to do now with this?

Take it to my doctor.

"There isn't anything wrong with it".

I know. But isn't it a beaut?

"It's Febrary. And you're already crazier than a March hare."

Is that your diagnosis, Doc?"

"Yes."

##

Monday, February 14, 2011

Manglest thou thy novel just to make it fit for Valentine's Day?




CHAPTER THREE (From Light Over Newmarket)

She was lying face downwards on her terrycloth towel, a breeze toying with her fine blonde hair. I reached out to stroke that hair, so spanking clean, and the woman turned to face me with her full pale blue eyes, wide apart and a little crazy, the high California cheekbones and a mouth as wide and pretty as an idyll's.

We were lying in the grass before a Mexican spa, one of a dozen in the central plateau, the hot springs of Los Antes, lush and tropical in a benign late February sun. Before us steamed a pool, hot as a bathtub, fat old tourists squatting therein like latter day versions of souls being cleansed in Dante's purgatory.

What a far cry this was from frosty Canada, from the sense of hopelessness and death that comes every February, when nothing seems to break the gloom, the threatening darkness, the pallor of one's skin. Canadians are more like Finns or Norwegians, not at all in temperament like the "slow Americans" that someone had labeled them.

Like the Finn, the Canadian drinks to excess in the course of a long and oppressive winter; he entertains gloomy and destructive thoughts on the worst of the snowy or slushy days, building up slow, smoldering resentment against one's wife, one's children, one's dog.

I hope I didn't come to Mexico just to escape winters, I was thinking, my plans, my equations, my diagrams now not meaning very much at all. I was conscious again that I was in possession of a body, mine and that in the end, back there, no gain, no gain at all was worth the loss of one's health.

But how little it had taken to turn it all around. The sun. O that sun! No wonder the Aztecs had worshipped it.

"I love you, I am saying to the bikini-clad long-legged slightly knock-kneed but pert form lying beside me, and I play with her hair. I am, I know, perhaps the thirtieth. Times change. This isn't the fifties, where an entire generation seemed to have spent its life in a penal colony. Still, something of my Cabbagetown gutter language slips through the onion letters of my personality. She's lovely, but if she had as many pricks sticking out of her as she's had sticking into her, she'd be a goddamn porcupine. But that's adolescent talk that even the slum kids don't use today. Everybody's gone cosmic.

Sex was really nothing in l977. You can have sex, lots of sex in this sexy decade. But in the case of Valerie, I realized that it wasn't the sex at all. She was a sister, like a twisted sister of my own, twisted but now socialized, perhaps overly socialized. I had never been nuts, but I was listening very carefully to her take on me, getting me in touch with who I was, what I felt, where I had been and where I was going. I just loved to hear her talk and seemed to be finding out about myself and her. I was growing to love Valerie only in the space of a very few weeks.

I looked over the modern pool at Lost Antes, through the flattened, crabbed greenery of thorn and pepper trees, their roots in the warm earth, branches spreading out and threatening to drop to the ground completely, the gardeners propping up the limbs with thick deadwood tree crotches, giving the trees a surreal look, like those enormous distended brains in the Dali paintings, these too supported by their inverse slingshot crotches.

Above the pool, the grass and the distended trees, a rich sky of a very dark blue, the blue of the thin Mexican sky. Most of Mexico was about seven thousand feet in altitude. No wonder so many of the Gringos seemed to be half-intoxicated all the time. The rarified air, the instant aristocratic status afforded to any North American. This was the place to be, to finally face the thing that had bothered you for so long back there, up north.

It was all so easy. All one had to do was to leave the scene of ones misery. "Abandon you creeping meatball." That's what Jerry Rubin had been saying and it had at the time made so little sense to me, there in the late sixties, in the university, with my blackboards and my equations, seeing under my very nose a generation that was truly like no other one ever on the face of the earth. I had at first laughed. A passive generation of Christs led by a so-called youth activist hardly younger than myself. Yes, the creeping meatball. The job, the departmental politics, the killer instincts of those around me, the illness, the cancer that thrives so well back up there, cells crying out against the rigidity of their form in a culture built on speed and abstract work.

All one had to do was leave. Or was that all there was to it?

I stroked the woman's hair again, moving my hand to her deeply tanned back, hot now in the sun. This morning I had made love to her twice and she had risen from the bed like a thing young and free and I told her to wait, not to leave, and I'd love her once again.

Valerie, from Santa Barbara, drying out from her drugs, her past life, her divorce. As in my own case, it seemed to take the Mexican sun no time at all to restore her to a brown, healthy vitality, to take her mind off herself and to restore it to the world. My world.

Had I been a younger man, I would have been content to merely gape at Valerie in mute reverence. She was lovelier than any dream. And she was attracted to me, who was balding and carrying a spare tire, me who was supposed to be the mad scientist gone over the hill, at least in my wife's estimation, and in the estimation of my doctor, far worse.


I'd met her shortly after arriving in Mexico. She was everything and she was nothing. Tall, stunning a traffic stopper, she was indeed beautiful, yet the simplest in psychology and makeup. She tended to talk like a hairdresser or a commentator on those eye-on-entertainment television shows, something of a bimbo, but what a bimbo! She had been an actress and a good one. I could tell. She had a memory. Could read two pages, close the book and relate it all to you. Then tell you that words were mere traps for fools and emotions was where she lived. You could see what happened to her. Somewhere, because of her divorces, she had lost the snap between logic and emotion and some therapist had spotted it. Yet she was still the empath the gorgeous Lorelei. And I was so lonely that I would do anything, anywhere just so as not to be alone. And it was my luck to end up with a Candice Bergen.


How does it come to a man that he adopts a strange bed in a move that seems congruent with some failure in his life, the failure of a scientific project, a creative project or a whole life wrong from the start?

I had decided on a town called Manuel Hidalgo in Mexico, a lovely hill community recommended to me again and again by some of my fellow professors who had gone there on sabbaticals to work on private projects or just to rest up and re-evaluate their lives and careers.

I had arrived at the town square, triumphant and exhilarated at first, exhilarated by the palms, aches, porticos, blue hills and the sense of having nothing to do for the rest of one's life. Lordships are still so easy to buy in this upside-down century.

Yet, by about the fourth day, I felt very self-conscious and very alone, there among the arches and the palms. Try to come in cold into a culture of strange customs, strange 17th Century churches, strange casual people, and you will feel yourself diminished, a nobody.

I had been somebody back home, the professor, the hundred-dollar-a-day intellectual. But here in the terraced restaurants, in the flowered Jardine, the flowered town square, with its boat-tailed grackles and rubber trees, I was nobody, still one more middle-aged fuckup who had had the sense to avoid ultimate embarrassment and failure by leaving my immediate surroundings. Kevin Logan talking to all the aging expatriate hippies, some hardly younger than himself, Kevin Logan talking to anybody and everybody, spreading himself thin (this was not the familiar university, professor), nervous, vulnerable, alienating himself and finally reduced to drinking in the cheapest and easiest spots to talk with the people, for you needed no social skills down in the pulque bars and dives. The tequila and the smoke usually carries you to a lower order of existence than you had anticipated, the scary Lost Weekend feeling, and after a while, as long as you were drunk, you really didn't care.

I sat with old men, American and Mexican, finding them congenial. The younger ones were dangerous, many of them, frontier-fashion, carrying guns. The old Americans of Manuel Hidalgo were an unusually approachable breed, younger in spirit than their counterparts back home in the old age lockups and the VA hospitals. The old men of Manueal Hedalgo had, many of them, come to Mexico to escape the bedpans and the smell of urine and death. These were men who were still really young enough to even undertake new projects, who resented the cult of youth back home, the cult that would not recognize healthy seventy-year-olds who could be as puzzled over existence as men of thirty-two, as sensitive as adolescents and as scared of the future as the youngest intellectual in the increasingly tight patriarchy that is Latin America.

In my loneliness and my drunkenness, I poured out my troubles to the old men, taking my turn, after they had poured out their troubles to me. Men, young and old, are indeed strangers on this planet. It is the business culture of work and competition that keeps men away from the real issues. In Mexico, with these elements absent for the visitor, people tend to talk about ultimate concerns: "Who, what, where am I and what is the meaning of my life?" People frequently huddle together when they ask such questions of themselves and others. So I huddled with the old men. And the old men were offering their observations.

"You think that you have left your wife for just a little while," one of the old men was saying. "That's what you think. You have left her for good. You are on a rollercoaster, boy, and it's going to take you some distance by the time you decide to get off.

"No, you're never going back. Never."

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The hopeful worthiness of the long-distance runner




As the only white guy in an all-black maintenance crew at the old Prince Hotel, Toronto, I didn't know what to expect.
Me the only Hunky around?
Jesus. I was the token?

How life turns around.
I had decided to take a job working with my hands for therapy. I was separating from my wife, had a girlfriend, tried to hold onto the kids over weekends, and was trying to hang onto my sanity by making spare keys and fixing TV's.

Yet the madness would not abate.
There were these strange dreams at night of Egyptian corridors leading to somewhere down there in the Styx. I would wake up worried, convinced for sure that my life was going down into the sewer of the Universe.

I was working with Island folk, though not Jamaican--Grenada, Aruba and the like. Seems they had never met a more inept man as a maintenance type. "What a guy", they would laugh when I didn't have the sense of applying the bit of an electric Philips screwdriver at an angle first in order to gain purchase and drive the screw home. "We'll call you "challenged Ivan."
But it was good-natured ribbing not the kind you get from
some white hicks from the sticks who become foremen and make life miserable for everybody. We were all in the same boat, we needed to float, and there seemed no tension at all between anybody. At first fearful, I realized that I had nothing to fear. I was becoming at the very least a token Guyanese, even if I thought a Makita power tool was an old Russian Communist.
But they did wonder what was wrong with me, so I told them.
Don Juan had had his comeuppance. F*cking around.
And what was good for the gander was now good for the goose.
She may well be singing an old Carolina song of her own: "Nothing could be finer than to shack up with a (...miner?) in the m-o-o-r-n-ing..."

I wanted to kill that bastard, headlight and all.
But Goosy Gander too, had been something of a black swan. Hooka tooka, soda cracker. Jeff Bridges in the making. Too much too fast. Noveau riche excesses. Doing a Spitzer before that well-known governor. Doesn't everybody?

But it seems marital separation was pretty average, it seems, with the Island People. "Don't kill the miner....Give here everything. Give her money. Give her everything you got. You were at fault."

I got to be better at setting screws. I learned how to work live on outlets and switches without turning off the main power. "You only live once!" they had cheerfully told me. No one died.

And by the time I left the crew, they seemed happy with my progress.

"I think he's going to make it now. He's going to be like us. Watch his smoke.
"He's gonna be a long distance runner."

##

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The loneliness of the long distance bastard



While a young reporter, arts critic and general bum-boy around a small funky newspaper (Chores! Chores! Chores!), I once took a poke at some of the subjects of my stories to task, using such descriptions as
"Surfing dolt from California", or "writes like I f*ck--badly", and "Why can't that garbagemouth shut up--Can't he see I'm busy?

It was a good thing I had a mature editor. "Look, Trapper, you can't use libellous depictions of people like that. That's just plain ignorance. I'm starting to think you're becoming and expert on the hatchet job. To be sure, it seems of late you've been sharpening a miniature hatchet for just about anybody you write about. One of the people wrote in and said anybody who uses the monicker 'dolt' for some film maker shouldn't be in this business.

It was agood, think, to get my knuckles rapped.
For example,
to describe some top Canadian writers as Skanky Whores was probably not going to do much for my own literary endeavors. Better form, I suppose, was to take the SNL route of forty years ago, where Bill Murray really pushed the envelope by saying to Jane Curtin, (after a vapid mock -interview on one programme), "Jane, you ignorant slut!"

That was so off-the wall that it was actually funny!
But I was not Bill Murray.
More like the late John Belushi, I suppose.

Ah, blame it on my childhood....That's what all the miscreants say. "I was my mudda dat dunnit to me."

Fact was, I was just out of the Service (a constraining life for five years) and I guess I was abusing my newfound freedom and empowerment by telling the whole world to suck a hotchee.

So I toned things down, became a nice guy--as nice as a formerly well-known S.O.B could be-- and sought style more than insult.

Until I came across the following article in Vanity Fair, by way of The Wicked Witch of Publishing:

His buck teeth give the impression of puerility. He listens impatiently and impulsively interrupts. He makes stabs at humor. He is long winded, affected, fussily articulate, eager to impress, insubstantial and slightly glib. He exaggerates. He has hit-and-miss witticism. He’s arrogant, not especially intellectual and a Star Trek Fan. His mind wanders. He’s a prince-in-waiting. He has the personality of a 24-year old geek. He’s provincial, sarcastic, uses poor judgment and lacks conviction. He’s condemned to stand apart from others. His career has progressed in prodigious and unearned ways. He’s timid. His efforts are half-hearted. He’s a light-weight. He’s out of his depth, fails to impress and elicits pity. He doesn’t always wear shoes in the office. He promotes people based on how “fun” they are. As a reporter, he was competent if unspectacular. He hides behind barbs. No weight seems to adhere to him. He has no radiance (power). He’s not deeply respected. He’s a lightweight cheerleader. He has a high-pitched and zany laugh. He’s overmatched. He looks dismayingly small. He’s shrinking. He’s childish. He’s goofy. He’s steered his inheritance into the ditch. He’s squandered billions. He’s the wrong person at the helm. He’s an unappealing and stereotypical figure. He’s weak and pampered. He’s a diluted strain of the hardy founding stock. He’s a man who sees himself as both journalist and business manager, but who, in fact, is fully neither.

Wow. A hatchet job on probably the most powerful print media figure in America, Arthur Sulzberger
--By some guy named Mark Bowden.

Reader responses were not slow in coming.

Sample:

Bowden’s article is long-winded and full of poorly weighted contradictions. (Whoever edited his article at Vanity Fair: You’re FIRED!) On the one hand, he portrays Sulzberger as a failure-in-waiting for making bad decisions, even though, according to Bowden, everyone felt those decisions seemed smart at the time. On the other hand Bowden reluctantly agrees that poor, dumb bastard Sulzberger had the foresight to create what is now “the best newspaper Web site in the country.”



Seriously,

Mr. Bowden should have had an editor like I had.

...Who told me "if you come on like that, you shouldn't be in this business."

...And yet and yet, doesn't this Mark Bowdon write like a devil? The style is hilarious!
You gotta be a devil to earn your halo?

Just wonderin'.

##

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The arrogance of hitting the big leagues while still twenty-something





"You write too well for us.
"Zippy writers are shat upon at the Globe & Mail."

Well, I must admit the copyeditor knew how to decline the verb "shit."

You've got to pay respect where respect is due.

A big league copy editor, or Slot Man, is a rare specimen in the newsaper business. He is the poet of typography. It is under his supervision that
copy is checked and double checked, the headline produced in a jiffy in the sparse space left by all the ads and photos. He is neither Wordworth nor the Dirty Old Man of poetry but he knows what fits, fits into the designated blank.... Subject, verb, object.

Oh how many poets, thinking they were hot stuff, looking for a creative job--have been shat upon by the Slot man, the poet of typography-- for being too zippy, too creative to be content with the tabula rasa of subject-verb-object when composing a headline. There could be no variations to the rule. Dog Is Bitten by Man. Period. You can't be cute with headlines at the Globe.

Says the Slot Man.
"We back into headlines around here, no matter how strange the even. You go 'Dog Bitten by Man.' If you want to be zippy, go across the street to the SUN."

Ah, the SUN was a honey for zippy headline writing.

Imagine if Dr. Suzuki were to air a documantary about Peoria, Wis., and the rurals didn't like what he had done and the headline writer only had one column inch of white space and four lines down vertically to describe
the rural folks' distaste.

The SUN would prbably do

Hix
Nix
Stix
Pix

But not the Globe....Subject, verb, object:

"Peorians unhappy with documentary on rural life."

Ah, backing into headlines.

On the day I got laid off, I suggested they all back up into lighbulbs.

Maybe with a scrappy Twentiish personality like that, It was no wonder.


Well, laterr, as a Toronto SUN man, I was still full or rancor.

I composed a letter to the Globe, each paragraph starting with the letters below:.

F
U
C
K

O
F
F

E
V
E
R
Y
B
O
D
Y

T
H
I
S

M
E
A
N
S

Y
O
U


Lucky for me, I tore that rant up.


But lookie here: As of this year, The Globe has just taken on a Tabloid format!

New generation.

New paper.

"Man Bites Dog."


Well, dog my cat!

Christ, I want back in!

Eve if I look like Yoda now.