Monday, June 30, 2008

Joyland.Ca: Finding New Ways To Publish Short Fiction (Not Currently Accepting Submissions)

I discovered this site through Facebook. Facebook seems to be where everything's happening. It's the dream site for every viral marketer, every as-seen-on-TV product. And it's the perfect delivery vehicle for niche clubs, pages, and online societies.

Called, the online literary journal's manifesto promises to find "a new way to publish short fiction," declaring, "rather than just start a 'web magazine' we’ve wedded a strict mandate (only short fiction) to some principles of social networking sites. We’ve chosen several editors to select and post stories by authors in a given locale. We think this is both simple and full of possibilities for authors and fans of short stories to discover work they normally wouldn’t."

Honourable. Publish short stories by young-old-new-experienced writers; post the stories on the 'Net; build a readership (or at least make the work available). And maybe make some money and get some attention. There's no reason not to like that idea. In fact, I was thinking about creating a page for unsolicited Jewish-themed fiction. And I still might. The content's out there; people'd love to send you their work.

But I had to laugh when I went to Joyland's "Toronto" page--they accept fiction from four hubs: Toronto, LA, New York, and Vancouver. A dialogue box informs readers that their [Joyland's] Toronto editor, Emily Schultz "is not currently accepting unsolicited submissions for Toronto."

So you start an online magazine/journal to rebel against the postmortem of the short story, then you tell authors not to submit their work? Not to submit unsolicited work? If the aim of the site is to provide an untraditional venue for short fiction, then create the venue and accept (or reject) the fiction. Yes, I know that I said there's plenty of content out there and that writers would love to email their work. Which could mean a lot of reading. But, realistically, this is a very small site. And short stories are short.

There's also some prestige involved in reading unsolicited submissions. It means that people are reading your site and that you're building traction.

The first "Toronto" story's entitled Clear Skies; it's by Lynn Coady, and it's not bad. It's clipped, clear, and postmodern, but just too humming for me. It's about the awful-brilliant solipsism of the creative mind; it's about the way that writers (or those who write) are physically and socially isolated within an adjunct culture. When Joyland talks about the changing form of the short story, they mean the shifting cultural inflection that makes some people say that Russell Smith is the new Alice Munro. Coady's story is very "new," and very Smithian. Neil Smith, too.

Which isn't bad. But the '50s will be back. Soon. And then we'll see what characters in (Canadian) short fiction are eating/smoking/screwing.

Coady was lucky enough to get her work onto Joyland's server, and for that I congratulate her. To the editors: Don't cheapen the project by accepting everything, but don't go New Yorker from the day the doors open.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Russell Smith's Julia Sternberg; Alfred E. Neuman The Jew

It's my opinion that Russell Smith's Muriella Pent is the best Canadian novel of the past decade. It's stiff and cloying in many places, but apparently the publishers insisted on Canadian content.

My only complaint's with Smith's Julia Sternberg. She's the naive Jewess who lives in a factory loft on Queen Street, raises stay cats, cooks Thai noodles and mews at the sunrise.

I've actually slept with a girl like Julia Sternberg. She invited me up after our first date. It was our first time being intimate (with all the windows open and the front door unlocked). We were in her apartment, rolling around on the floor, and suddenly she started whimpering. "Is something wrong?" I asked. "Am I hurting you?"

"No," she said. "Deja vu."

"But do you want me to stop?"

"No. No."

"Well, what do you want me to do?"

"Just do what you did last time."

One day we were walking past a newsstand on Front Street near the St. Lawrence Market and she saw a man reading a Mad Magazine.

"Excuse me," she said. "What are you reading?"

"What?" The guy was in his thirties. He was just an average guy.

"How can you read that anti-Semitic trash?"


"Do you know that Alfred E. Neuman is a caricature of Jewish villainy crafted from the racist lyrics of Ezra Pound?"

"...Pound wasn't a lyric poet..."

"...And that Neuman eats whitefish salad and red onions and his favourite dessert is herring?"

I stepped in. "Karen, please. Let's go."

"But this man is an anti-Semite."

"No, no, he's not. Look, he's got The Beaver under his arm. He's a history buff. Just leave him alone."

"David," she said, planting her kitten heel. "You never stand behind me."

"That's because you don't like me opening doors for you."

By this time the man with the Mad had escaped.

"What do you want from me, David?" she asked. "I'm just trying to stand up for us. Which, by the way, you never do. I can't believe you. You just let these racist morons conduct their anschluss. And you do nothing!"

A few days later we broke up. While taking the Yonge-University subway up to St. Clair East, she accused a conductor of forcing her to the back of the car. We'd just gotten on at Union Station.

"Karen," I started, "there's no back of the subway. It turns around. Please, let's just sit down."

"If it were up to you, we'd probably just ride a pushcart through the city."

"It's the TTC goddamnit! You think they're anti-Semitic? With a nice Jewish boy like Adam Giambrone?"

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Read This Blog: Cemetery Plots Now Available

Starting this blog was a friend's idea. She thought that people would enjoy my writing; she thought that I would enjoy being read. And, when it's been the case, I have enjoyed being read. But the blog's also caused a few personal problems, which I'll now relate.

1: I can't get a date
About a month ago I asked a friend to dinner. I would pay; I would drive; I'd be responsible for finding someone to look after her dog. She said that she'd think about it. I've never had someone say that to me regarding a date: I'll think about it. It's really much more of a yes/no thing. "Well, I don't really want to go, but I guess I will have to eat something that day. Soooooo...I'll get back to you."

And, like I said, I offered to pay for dinner at a restaurant with metal cutlery.

Four weeks later, nothing. I haven't heard a thing. Is it the blog's fault? Well, yes, it must be. What else? (Recently I've started to wonder if this girl has a boyfriend who either lives in Corktown, or is serving in the Peace Corps. I'm a lot of things, but I'm not a Highlander. Maybe sometime I'll tell the story of being dragged to church by my third-last girlfriend. But back to the Decliner: last time I was at her place I saw a kilt drying on the shower rod. And she doesn't wear skirts.)

2: My friends keep attempting suicide
This one's a little scary. Since starting the blog, two of my friends have attempted suicide. Another almost tried, but the rope he was carrying unravelled and he ended up tripping down the stairs. I don't know how this blog could be responsible for that, but just know that before this site started all three of those friends were volunteer clowns at Sick Kids Hospital.

3: I've been accused of being sexist and racist
The sexist one is easy: people don't like me going after Atwood. Or Munro. Or a bunch of other female Canadian writers. Well what am I supposed to joke about? The St. Lawrence Market?

About racism, I'll say this: Sometimes I wonder if I was the one on the grassy knoll.

Last week I was driving by a cemetery at Bayview/Eglinton, and I saw a sign advertising "Cemetery Plots Now Available." What's wrong, the ground too cold in the morning?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Seeing My Psychiatrist At Margaret Atwood's Psychiatrist

I've been seeing a psychiatrist for the past fourteen years. I'm twenty-four now.

The woman has not been helping me. Here's how it started: I was sent to her by my principal. She was concerned that I didn't respect my female peers. I was a misogynist. I hated women. I didn't think they were equal.

We were ten. They weren't equal. My hair was longer.

My misogyny was eventually cured. Not by my therapist, but by a guy on the street. He said, "Hey, do you see how that broad drives?"

"No," I said. "How?"

"Right over your foot."

After that I didn't hate women anymore. Women and insurance companies are now my friends.

A few days ago I was at my psychiatrist's office; the phone rang. Suddenly she was on her feet and out the door. As I was paying for the next twenty-four minutes, I followed. We went all the way down Charles Street, right through to Yonge. Right past six Starbucks and a Second Cup.

Finally she stopped at a squat brick building and looked up. There, on the roof, was a man. He was ready to jump.

"Alan," my doctor called. "What's wrong?"

Firemen were standing by with a net. Passersby were stopped on the street. Cabs drove in the right-hand lane.

"I can't listen to her anymore," Alan said from his rooftop stage.

"Listen to whom?"


"Who's 'Her'?"

"Miss Canada."

A homeless guy, passing by, stopped and asked me for change: "A couple bucks so I can buy a train ticket and go bother people somewhere else?"

"Sure," I said, and gave him a fifty.

Alan wasn't done talking. "She's in there right now."

"In where?"

"My office."

"Miss Canada?"

"She won't come out."

"Did you ask her to leave?"

"I pushed her."


"And my wedding ring froze."

"Alan," I said, looking up. "What are you doing up there? Have a little too much wine?"

"Who's he?" Alan asked.

"That's my patient," my psychiatrist said.

"Oh, yeah? What's wrong with him?"

The assembled crowd cupped their ears.

"A latent homosexual with severe neurotic tendencies."

"Latent?!" Alan yelled.

"Could you please shut the fuck up?" I asked. Both of them.

"Alan, we've got to get you down from there."

"Not until she's gone."

"Who's gone? Alan, just tell for me crissakes!"

"Atwood. Atwood!"

A firefighter, who'd been inside the building, walked out and spoke to a guy who looked like his superior. He had a nicer helmet, and his jacket was a spotless yellow. He picked up a megaphone and pointed it at Alan.

"Alan! Alan, we were in your office. Fireman MacKay was in your office. Alan, there's no one there. There's no sign there's ever been anyone there. Alan, your office is empty."


"But we felt the chair. The chair's cold. No one was sitting in that chair. Son, you're making this all up!"

Alan came down, walked outside, went back inside, then came out again. "I don't understand," he said. "I was sure..."

There was a breeze, a breath of warmed air rushing from the concrete vault of the subway grate. Chills ran down spines.

"Alan," I said. "Join the club, buddy."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Woody Allen's Lost Screenplay: Re-Making "Inherit the Wind" As A Comedy?

This comes to me through the usual chain of custody--it was stolen. Jack Rollins's granddaughter picked up a hitchhiker on the Pacific Coast Highway. He impressed her with his in-depth knowledge of Mavis Gallant; so much so that she took him back to her place for lunch--a bagel with lox, all-dressed potato chips, and ginger tea. As it was Passover, he also had some chocolate chip-walnut-raisin mandelbroit. (I prefer plain chocolate chip.)

As Rollins's granddaughter was washing the dishes, the hitchhiker decided to look around her home. He entered the master bedroom, admiring the olympic-sized limestone bathtub/lye vat, the huge marble-lined shower stall with four individual steam-shower heads, and the dining room. Finally he came to a locked door.

"What's inside there?" he asked, yelling down the walnut-floored hall.

"Oh, that's just my office," she called from the kitchen.

"Right." The bent paperclip twisting in the lock, the mechanism turned and released with a neat click. "I'm just going to wash my hands," he yelled, entering the room and closing the door behind him.

Inside he found the contents of a typical office: table, computer, printer, fax machine, filing cabinet, and reams of paper.

He took a second look at the filing cabinet, a big black aluminum box in the corner of the room. "Woody Stuff" was printed on a small white card lodged into a plastic clip near the handle of the bottom drawer.

He opened the drawer. Loose papers, old contracts, bills, and circulars were stuffed into a space about a third too small for the contents. Reaching inside, the hitchhiker grabbed a handful of paper, resting it on his knee. Nothing, nothing, nothing, and a screenplay.

He stuffed the script down his pants, then went back to open a jar of pickles.

When he got back to Canada, he called me to his house. "David," he said, producing the screenplay, "you'll never believe what I've found."

"A screenplay?" It was resting on his table.

"Yes! A Woody Allen screenplay. And unproduced Woody Allen screenplay!"

"And where did you get it?"

"I stole it!"

"You stole it? From whom?"

"Fuck that. It's mine."

"Jesus Christ," I said, turning to look out the kitchen window. "It's a good thing you've got tenure."

Entitled Play the Men, the movie is the story of an involuntarily retired (because of quirks and chronic anxiety) comic actor who's inveigled into working on a re-make of Inherit the Wind--which is being re-shot as a comedy. The Woody Allen character plays the Spencer Tracy/Clarence Darrow part. It's a farce with a good deal of commentary on the state of contemporary, filmmaking, and it's actually quite funny.

It's a kind of return-to-vaudeville movie, with a set-up, gag, set-up, gag formula.

Here's a bit of dialogue as an example. (Allen plays the Benjamin character. His friend Lorne is a thrice-divorced director who's just broken up with his newest (young) wife. He's desperate for money, and trying to convince Benjamin to agree to do the film. Shelly is the producer heading the film.)

But you’ve read the Bible many times, sir. You’ve studied it for fifty years. You said so yourself. I know that if I studied something for fifty years, I would know it very well indeed. Any person--especially a person like you--who studies a subject for that long must know everything about it; must know its...intricacies...its secrets even. I’ve been seeing my analyst since 1875; he knows me so well he’ll only shake my left hand.

Snippet 1:

I broke up with Denise. Actually, she broke up with me.
Denise? You mean the girl you were dating?
We were married.
Denise? I don’t think I ever saw her.
Yeah, you did. Remember, I stopped by to drop off the check.
You mean the kid in the car? The one with the lollipop?
I didn’t know that was her. Wow, really, so you broke up. How’s she gonna get to school?

Snippet 2:

Ben, shouldn’t John be here?
Is that your agent?
Was. He died.
I’m sorry to hear that.
He choked to death on a hard-boiled egg. He was trying to see how many he could fit in his mouth. It was awful; they had to postpone the seder. The afikoman, still, to this day, has not been found. I do all my own deals now.
When did he die? I never heard anything.
Last year.
But you haven’t worked in almost twenty years.
That’s right. This is my first deal. Just pay me whatever you want. How am I doing?

Snippet 3: (Sarah is Benjamin's co-star in the film.)

Hello. Yes, it’s nice to meet you, too.
This is Duncan Chesney. I guess you don’t know him. He’s an actor.
Yes. I could tell by the chin.

Snippet 4:

Lorne’s car is parked in the driveway, the trunk open. He and Benjamin are milling around as Lorne extinguishes a cigarette. He removes a suitcase, and slams the door.
Benjamin and Lorne start walking up the front steps.
I can’t believe you smoke those things.
It keeps my head clear. Don’t worry, I don’t smoke in the house. So what have you been doing the past two months?
I went camping.
Oh, yeah? Where?
My backyard. I got lost. A kid looking for his frisbee found me; just in time. I was this close to starting The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
Haven't you read that a hundred times?
Yeah, but I can never remember how it ends. Do you know that the Nazis made a Jew-flavoured hard candy? Yeah, but it didn't sell 'cause you always felt guilty eating it. They tried to make it fat-free, but, you know, they needed soap.
What do you think I’ve been doing? Worrying about this movie. I can’t eat; half-the-day I don’t even sleep.
Benjamin is about to move in. Lorne drops his luggage by the front door.
I can’t believe this is all you brought.
What else do I need?
You’re going to be here for ten weeks. Some shirts, some pants. Socks and underwear.
I’m fine.
Did you bring towels?
What, do you not have towels?
I have towels, but they’re my towels.
I didn’t bring any towels.
Did you bring toothpaste?
Did I bring toothpaste? This whole thing is a favour to you. And you’re asking me if I brought toothpaste.
I have sensitive teeth. I order each tube from a catalogue...I don’t have any to give you. And you wouldn’t like it, anyway. It’s grape-flavored. You hate grape.
So you won’t let me use your disgusting grape-flavored toothpaste?
What about your comb? You got a special comb I can’t use?
You didn’t bring a comb?
I told you, I pack light.
I’ll drive you to the drugstore.
Good. Because it looks like I probably need a toothbrush, too.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Joel Levy Speaks: The Story of Bob Hope's "Toronto" Joke Writer

A friend of mine, Joel Levy, has been reading this site. He's a Renaissance Lit. specialist who, recently, attempted suicide. As a kind of therapy, his girlfriend had been encouraging him to write his autobiography. Joel listened. He wrote.

After the ensuing suicide attempt, he was confined to a hospital bed. All he could do was read and write, and the doctors ordered that he not touch a book. So he started scribbling, and, yesterday, when I visited him at Mount Sinai, he handed me the following story. "It's about my grandfather," he said. "Murray Levine. He wrote jokes for Bob Hope. If I have to write another word about myself, I'm eating crushed glass.

"David," he added, "I can't take many more days."

So, as a favour to my friend, I'm going to serialize his work. This is the story of his grandfather, and I post it here in hopes of keeping him alive long enough to write the conclusion.

I guess this is the shallow pit that separates comedy and tragedy. But Joel is my friend.

He calls this work, "It's Sad."

It's Sad
By Joel Levy
Part 1

Born in Toronto, I fleshed out my identity through stories. It was a difficult thing to do, my older, more experienced models formed in the late-1940s of post-War New York and Montreal. No one had ever come where I came from. And in a city of five million-—Canada’s economic hub, the centre of the world-—that was strange. It was as if, walking the battlements of the new old Fort York, nothing had happened here. No one had been born here, had risen from here. It was a city accessible only through paper. Everything had been built over, paved over; whole streets had been torn down. Land had attained such a value that people had been purged from the city, some staying to be squeezed into the small spaces of Yonge Street condominiums. So I cloistered myself in old stories, tunnelling into the past, exposing and creating the past through the telling and retelling of things that, as I later came to believe, had never actually happened.
My grandfather’s favourite story—-and one that probably had the largest influence on my own life—-was about Murray Levine. Levine, as my grandfather told it, was a joke writer for Bob Hope. The best. No one could touch him.
My grandfather's name was Murray Levine.
This was in the early-late ‘50s when Hope was travelling the world doing command performances for royalty, prime ministers, presidents, and GIs. Working hundreds of nights a year, Hope tore through material. He wasted jokes, wadded and burned jokes, spit out jokes with such rapidity that a whole congregation of writers was enlisted to churn out gags for his stops in Oakland, on campus at Penn State, or in a club down the road from Royal Albert Hall. Hope’s network was like an underground cell of resistance fighters. No one writer knew who Hope’s other writers were. They sat—-some of them literally in the dark-—waiting for Hope’s call. Many of them had binders of jokes, file folders of jokes. Indexed, colour-coded tabs organized punchlines into alphabetical order. Some arranged their material by subject. B: Books (cross-indexed with W: Writers); E: Eskimos; F: Food, Ford (Cross-indexed with W: Women Drivers), Foreplay. Thousands—tens of thousands of jokes sitting in bottom drawers all over the world.
Murray Levine was Hope’s Toronto writer. His specialty was writing C’s—California, Canada, Cancer, Candy. Those were jokes no one else could do. He’d been to Hollywood once, and had hated it. The experience left such an impression that he spent the entire flight back filling a legal pad with shaggy dog stories, one-liners, finely tuned stories that doubled back and kicked its subject in the testes. When the plane landed by an enormous Quonset hut in the west end nowhere—just outside of Toronto—Levine had enough material for three nightclub acts. Finding an agent in the person of Jilly Goldstein, who brought acts like Jan Murray and Pat Cooper to little steakhouse-nightclubs at King and Jarvis, Levine managed to sell off the jokes in ten-gag blocks. Eddie Cantor took ten, Jack Benny, who broadcast out of Anaheim, took twenty—and wanted more. Goldstein begged him, taking him for a hot dog in the stink and sweat of Kensington Market, where Levine lived with his mother-in-law, wife, and young daughter.
“Murray,” Goldstein started, wiping his brow with a ketchup-stained brown paper napkin, “they’re offering fifty dollars a joke. Fifty dollars. How’re you gonna turn down forty dollars?”
Levine pivoted on his heel, taking in Goldstein. Jilly was an exceptionally thin man, a flat sheet of rolled aluminum whose nervous energy manifested itself in extended one-fingered scratching of the nape of his neck, just where the ropy muscles of his shoulders met the raised tendons that bordered his Adam’s Apple. He should have been enormously fat, a balloon of a man with a gut from which to draw his arcing nervous energy. Goldstein, who otherwise had a full head of combed brown hair, had a small bald spot on the right side of his scalp, just above his ear, about the size of a nickel, where the roots had been dug out by a perspiring index finger, its nail sharp and unfiled. Hair could never grow there. When people asked, he told them he’d been burned as a child.
“Forty dollars?” Levine asked. “I thought you said fifty.”
“Minus my commission.”
“I’ve gotta make a living too.”
“Look, Jilly,” Levine said. “No more California jokes. I don’t want to think about California. I don’t want to write about California. No more California.” He paused. “I’m from Toronto! Aside from a couple weeks ago, I’ve never even been to the West Coast.”
“What happened in LA?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“What were you there for? Al Finewax told me you were trying to sell a script?”
Levine laughed. “Nothing like that.”
“You were auditioning for a part?”
“So what? Is this suddenly a secret? It’s such a big deal that you can’t tell me?” He looked at Levine, at the small creases around his mouth. “Forget it. I don’t want to know.”
“I was looking at a citrus grove.”
“A citrus grove? Like lemons? You wanna farm lemons?”
“Grow them.”
Goldstein took off his hat, waving it in the air. A cab pulled over, Goldstein waving him off. “You’re a comic, Murray. What do you want with this farming bullshit?”
“Don’t you think it would be nice to go outside in the morning, pick an orange off the tree—a tree that belongs to you—and eat it?”
“I buy an orange down the street, Murray. It costs three cents.”
“Helen and her mother don’t like the city.”
“She doesn’t like the noise.”
“And LA. That’s where it happens. So you move there and work. Great.”
“She doesn’t like the business. She wants something more steady.” Levine smiled.
“How old are you, Murray?”
Levine had served in the RCAF, flying sorties over Munich, having his pitching shoulder forever ruined by a two-inch bottle cap of fuselage sent rocketing by a flak burst. Never in his life had he considered himself young, but he knew Goldstein would try to convince him that he was just a kid. Don’t get too down, he’d say. It takes time. Success takes time. You’ve got years ahead of you. Just slow down and let’s do some good work. Together.
Death had not happened to Jilly Goldstein as it had to Murray Levine. Neither man was sentimental. Goldstein’s parents, two Greenies, had died five days apart. His father had gone first, falling on an icy stoop, hitting his head against a limestone step. His mother, seeing her husband fall, hearing the crack of his bare scalp against rock, had suffered a small stroke. A capillary burst and closed; a small clot formed, travelling up the sealed tube. Lodging in her brain, it cut all electrical impulses to her heart. She died on a Tuesday night. Saturday, just after Ace Bailey had tripped in the neutral zone, allowing Red Kelly to arc around his prone body, flipping the puck into the waxed twine of visitor’s net, Morris Goldstein wheezed, coughed, clenched his fist, and died.
Goldstein lifted his father’s hands, kissing their smooth knuckles. As a paper hanger, he’d used those knuckles to smooth out creases, to encourage air bubbles to the tops, bottoms, and sides of huge broad sheets of adhesive-backed print. The fine hairs of his hands had been polished off, their roots dying, killed or plugged by a combination of glue and sweat. It was like a trail through the park where the kids walked their bikes, where the grass would never again grow.
He had kissed those hands, touching them for the first time in thirty-five years. The tubes and beeping, humming devices of the hospital room were miles away from his childhood. It wasn’t his father who was lying there, dead. It was someone else. Someone in a different world. Where were the too-small shoes, their one pot, the broken cutlery? What an incredible distance. “My father was not a warm man. The last time he shook my hand was when I was a bar mitzvah. I forgot what he felt like. These hands…” He laid them on his father’s chest and turned to his wife, catching himself. “Don’t be stupid, Jilly.”
“No,” she said, “that was nice.”
“He was a prick.”
“He was your father.”
“Yeah, well…I’m hungry.”

To Be Continued...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mordecai Richler's Lost/Unpublished Book! Page One

A friend of mine has a father who installs carpets. He's not a particularly honest man. And, if you count his criminal record, I guess you could say that he's had his problems with the law.

A few weeks ago my friend's dad was called out to Rosedale. He was supposed to help install a rug in the home of a wealthy WASP. Apparently the woman had decided to cover up her hardwood floors. "As an incentive to stop drinking," she said. WASPs, as we all know, are all terrific drunks. Previous to the new rug she'd been spilling martinis and sopping up the mess with Wonder Bread.

Anyway, the man installed the rug. He installed it in the living room, the dining room, the foyer, and the downstairs library/office. It was in the office, while moving a cabinet, that he found something interesting: a manuscript, apparently written by Mordecai Richler, that had gone unpublished. For whatever reason, this was a book that Richler couldn't sell. Or didn't want to sell.

My friend's dad, being a great reader, did the only thing he could think of doing: he stole the book. Then he offered to sell it to me.

"This is stolen," I said. "I can't buy it from you."

"Why not?" he asked.

"Because it's illegal."

"So's taking a shit at the corner of Richmond and John."

"Yeah, but I don't do that."

"Oh. Well...from the back it looked like you."

I eventually did buy the book. I bargained him down to $85 dollars. "Well, you really Jewed me down on that one," he said.

"Damn right."

So, here, for the first time, is an excerpt from Richler's lost work. The manuscript is entitled Adler for Adler, and, if there's any interest, I'd be more than happy to serialize it on this site.

[Note: Although it may seem incredibly co-incidental, one of Adler for Adler's protagonists is named David Adler. Considering how Richler used the name Adler in Son of a Smaller Hero, I guess it's no so incredible.]

I've used text-recognition software to convert the scanned pages to electronic text.

Adler for Adler
Page One

David’s accountant, a Forest Hill Jew who, a year earlier, had committed his only child to the toil and trouble of Branksome’s instructors and clergy, delighted in the stories her exile produced. “They’ve got a picture of Him in every room, and the teachers all wear these short sweater-things with their shirts tucked in, so you can see their cocks. If anything starts moving, that guy’s out of there.”
David had agreed to the volunteer role under one condition. “When I get up there, are they going to perform any kind of ceremony?”
“Well, I guess they’ll introduce you.”
“Isn’t there any kind of protocol for calling an assembly to order?”
“You’re just talking to a bunch of kids. I think it’s pretty informal.”
“What about the anthem?” Adler asked.
“It won’t be first-thing in the morning. I think they’ll probably have sung it already.”
“I’ll do it on one condition: they sing O Canada before they introduce me.”
“And then we sing Hatikvah.”
“Fuck off.”
“That’s my final offer. Take it or leave it.”
So he had shepherded himself onto the stage, drink in hand, surrounded by the headmaster and three English teachers with first period spares.
“As you entered,” the headmaster, a white-haired, argyle-sweatered man in his late-50s, began, “you all were given sheets of paper. They contain the lyrics to the Jewish national song, which, today, as a sign of commitment to a policy of brotherhood between the Hebrew and Christian nations--symbolized by Mr. Adler’s visit--we will all sing together.” He paused to glimpse at Adler, who smiled above his raised glass. “Um, you will notice that the words have been spelled in both phonetic English and in Hebrew for anyone who wishes to read in the original language.”
“Don’t forget to tell them,” Adler called, “that the Jewish words are right-to-left.”
“Yes. Mr. Adler reminds me that the Hebrew words can be read from the right to the left. Would everyone please stand.”
A nun, in full habit, sat down at the organ, sight-reading the sheet-music that Adler had so graciously provided.
“Coal odd bale valve” Collins sang, his voice a deep, rich Dennis Day tenor, “pa nigh mah, knee fish Ye hud dee ho me yah.” Adler watched, lips pursed, as the singers stumbled through their lines. “Hat ick vah bat shnot [Dear God] alp ay im,” Collins muttered, staggering to the end of the final verse, cheeks red, eyes seemingly begging the ceiling’s forgiveness. As the organ hummed to an even silence, Adler could see the man's hand trembling. The organ-playing nun clutched her left arm. A divine infarction? He smiled.
The singing portion of the morning over, everyone was once again seated.
“Thank you for that kind gesture,” Adler said, taking the podium. “You’ve really made me feel at home today.”
What would he do for his visit? Alone in the shower he’d considered his options. Had he written anything lately that prominently featured the word penis? Surely, but would that be adventurous enough? It was almost banal. Philip Roth had ruined him for realistic satire. Now everything had to shoot or expel something. These were teenaged girls, nipples pierced below starched white blouses and ties, hymens certainly rent beneath folds of tartan. “Not to mention,” he thought, stepping under the uneven spray, “white cotton panties. Ha!” What would the Jew among them say? The question was settled one night at dinner as he and Nancy discussed Joan’s increasing isolation in her attic room. She had only recently revealed to them that she was seeing someone—-a boy, sixteen, a defensive back on the varsity squad (the Blue and White King Collegiate Eagles). Having met him once, by accident, while scanning a rack of porno mags in a downtown convenience store, David sensed this was a boy with not a small amount of clinical expertise. “Is your name Elliott?” he’d asked, eying the stripling youth’s bulging denim-covered crotch, replacing a butcher-paper wrapped magazine behind a stray copy of Life’s Year in Picture’s.
Now he sat at the kitchen table with his wife, a woman who, despite her own sexless experience as an adolescent girl, seemed increasingly concerned about their children’s chastity.
“Have you noticed Virginia going in and out of the kitchen?” Nancy asked, chopping lettuce for a salad.
“No. She hardly ever eats at all.”
“Yes. But late at night, do you hear anything?”
“You know I’m out by ten o’clock.”
She washed a handful of radishes in the sink, dropping them on the cutting board.
“I’m concerned about her behaviour.”
“So she’s been a little withdrawn lately. All teenagers are like that.”
“I think one of us should talk to her.”
“About what?” Nancy shot him a look, gripping the handle of the knife so that her knuckles showed white. “She’s too young,” he thought, fighting his own instincts, “you’re worried about nothing.”
“And I suppose,” Nancy said, holding up a large, thick, and still intact Ontario-raised cucumber, “these are your teeth marks?”

More to follow? Only if you ask.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Gentile Girls and Jewish Boys: Why Catholic Girls Hate Saturday

I have a Jewish friend who's dating a Catholic girl. She's originally from one of those Germanic European countries. A place where the women are tall with nice hair and thin lips. My friend's grandfather was born near a pushcart. His mother, who was selling apples, parked at the curb, delivered, and was cooking shmaltz herring later that night. (Shmaltz, for those who don't know, is a kind of Jewish fat. It's creamed off cooked chickens, then spread on rye bread for a quick meal.)

How he got this girl is a mystery, but he seems determined to keep her.

"I can't let her go," he keeps telling me. "Do you see how fast we get a table at Harbour 60?"

But this woman hates him, hates his reformed Judaism. One night, a couple weeks ago, we were all at an all-night coffee place. A guy walked by and dropped a penny. "Aren't you going to pick that up?" she asked, looking at my friend.

"Why?" he shot back. "Is that what you're charging?"

My own experience with Gentile girls has been mixed. Traditionally such girls like to take you to meet their fathers. Ordinarily that would be fine, but their fathers, without exception, live in Kenora or Whitby or Sarnia or Foster's Falls. Why? Because they like chopping their own wood.

Jewish girls tend to hate Gentile girls. A Gentile girl never has to worry about getting pregnant. All she has to do is be clean, pure, and untainted. God will take care of the rest.

One of my ex-girlfriends, a Catholic from Ajax, wanted to know why she'd decided to date me. "I don't know why I'm with you, David," she'd say. "Please tell me. Why?"

"I don't know," I said. "Better eat a wafer, drink some grape juice, kneel on a pillow and figure that one out."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bob Hope's Dirty Jokes: Taking Peter to Toyland

Bob Hope's considered one of the cleanest comics ever to work a room. In his Hope biography Bob Hope: A Life in Comedy William Faith describes Hope's aversion to blue material. Hope, in that sense, was like Groucho Marx, who lamented the post-Lenny Bruce surge in dirty/taboo jokes.

But just because Hope didn't like off-colour comedy doesn't mean that he wasn't capable of getting off a joke. Hope was of the generation of the double-entendre, and most of his dirty stuff--well, all of his dirty stuff--was the product of what would now be considered cheap or kitschy.

The most famous Hope double-entendre had him cavorting with a beautiful ingenue. She reached into his pocket--ostensibly to retrieve something that Hope was childishly withholding--and said, "I feel a little silly."

Hope, quick on the deadpan, shot back: "Well, reach a little deeper and you'll feel a little dick."

The scene was excised from the broadcast, and was supposedly burned by producers who feared a huge fine.

But Hope's best line was spoken during an episode of The Bob Hope Show that aired on December 12, 1939. The episode, entitled Taking Peter to Toyland, follows Hope as he travels through a "Santa's workshop" kind of toy store/factory.

If you listen to the show, you'll notice that it opens with a huge laugh. But what are they laughing at? Well, a friend doing research in the Library of Congress had occasion to hear the original tape. The pre-cut tape. (The episode that aired was censored, and the line never went out on air.)

Here's the joke:

"I took my little nephew Frank and my little niece Cindy to Toyland. Frank's a smart kid. I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, and he said he didn't know. 'What about a pogo stick, just like dad's?' I asked him. 'Wouldn't you like to play with that?' 'OK,' he said, 'but I'm not sharing mine with sis'.'"

That's 1939 for you, folks.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Two Graduate Students In English Meet On A Bench

Two graduate students in English met on a bench. One was drinking a coffee, the other eating a saltine. The coffee-drinker looked at the saltine-eater. He wondered what her bedroom looked like. Were her sheets stained? what did she keep in her night-table drawer? where were the batteries? how many bookshelves did she have.

The saltine-eater looked at the coffee-drinker. She wondered whether he could lift her over his head; wondered whether she needed to buy more crackers.

Both were Foucauldian but didn’t know it yet.

“Have you ever read The Awakening? By Kate Chopin.”
“No. Have you ever read Peace Shall Destroy Many? Rudy Wiebe.”
“No. Have you ever read Flush?”
“No. Read Barometer Rising?”
“No. You ever read any Pynchon?”
“No. Ever read any Findley?”
“No. I’m reading Mailer right now.”
"You a virgin?"
"I wish."
“Never read him. I’ve got Ernest Buckler on my night table.”
“Nope. I’m still stuck on Ford Madox Ford.”
“Well, I’m reading a lot of criticism now. You know Frank Davey?”
“No. I just finished Henry Nash Smith.”
“Not my thing. What about Henry Kreisel?”
“Never heard of him. Frances Newman is a great writer.”
“He’s not Canadian, is he?”
“No, I think she was from Georgia.”
“You’re interested in Canadian writing?”
“Yeah. A little bit.”
“I’m a modernist. And a post-modernist, I guess.”
“Findley’s post-modern.”
“Isn’t he Canadian.”
“I know. Oh. I’m a Canadianist.”
“What era are you focussing on?”
“Contemporary writing.”
“So, what, the past twenty years?”
“Sixty. Seventy. Eighty.”
“Very nice.”
“You? Oh, you’re a modernist slash post-modernist. Sorry.”
“Canadian contemporary writing. That must be interesting.”
“Some times are better than others.”
“What are you reading now?”
“Abinger Harvest. E.M. Forster.”
“The Borders of Nightmare. Michael Hurley.”
“Well, nice to meet you.”
“Oh, you too. Take care.”

And they went their separate ways.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hard At Work On The Ellis-Martin Case

Saturday morning there was a story in the Star regarding the Ellis-Martin murder of Friday night. A cop was interviewed, and he was asked whether the killing was "random." His response was interesting:

Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux will not accept that Toronto has become a place where citizens are gunned down in random, unprovoked attacks.

"I don't believe it," he said yesterday standing metres from a flower memorial marking the site of the latest shootings to shake a city used to gun violence.

No, Toronto's not a place where a thing like that would ever happen. Giroux went on to say that "These people were the intended targets...And there's going to be a motive. I've done this for almost 12 years and there always is one. There's going to be a catalyst for it."

And when you read that quote, you think about possible motives: drugs, robbery, carjacking, etc. All reasons why someone might be targeted for eight bullets on a city street.

But here's the latest development: Cops are sticking with this "targeted" story. But now it's not a carjacking that precipitated the shooting; rather it's a...wait for it...a look. Or a perceived slight.

No, it's not a random killing at all. They were looking at the shooter. They might have turned away from him. He felt wronged in some way. Maybe they even sneezed while looking at him. Or scratched a chin.

So if that's the case--if being looked at is now a legitimate motive for committing homicide--then maybe Detective Giroux ought to reconsider his high opinion of this city's character.

But this grasping-for-a-motive stuff is terribly pathetic. It's even at the point where they're saying that the shooter could have been angered by the expensive SUV they were driving. And that was it. That set him off.

That's not a motive. You can't kill someone because you hate wedge heels, then have some glassy-eyed political hack say, "Random killings...No, not in Toronto. Just make sure you wear sensible shoes. Don't invite trouble."

This reminds me of a day a few months ago when I was walking up Yonge Street at College. A couple guys walked toward me--they were young, wearing huge gold-plated belts--and one spit at my feet. No reason. He just spit at me.

Now I'm thinking: Was my jacket dirty. I know, I should've got that stain cleaned. That must've angered him. "See this guy walking? See that stain on his jacket? What's he eating, jam? I'm so...I'm so angry. [Spit]."

I don't understand why the incoherent pillars of Toronto's media being allowed past the velvet rope for this one. This is a story. And they're treating it like a Grade 3creative writing assignment.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Getting Killed In Toronto

I spent a year at journalism school. A good journalism school. The first day we were asked to pick a classmate, shake hands, introduce ourselves, then write that person's obituary. It was a writing exercise and an interviewing exercise. I was eighteen and high-minded; my partner was a girl from Mississauga who liked dancing and singing, and who had acted in an amateur production of The Fantasticks. Her name was Stephanie, and, after lying about the body of my life's achievements, I sat down to write her obit. It went something like this: "Stephanie passed away after choking on a cherry pit; Coke developing seedless drink."

"No good," the teacher said. Her name was Shelley Robertson; she was the Lou Grant of Gould Street. And she taught me a lesson in good writing: "No one passes away or expires or is extinguished or bites the dust or kicks the can--Everyone dies."

It's harsh, but it's true. Your heart stops beating, you're dead. You don't get stabbed after a tiff with your wife; you get stabbed after an argument. You don't get burned in a conflagration; you get burned in a fire.

I won't rant about Toronto, but I will say this: Woolf named each stone in her pocket after an east-west street south of Bloor. This city is dirty, broke, it reeks of decaying garbage and human filth, it's dangerous, it's a 9-5 traffic jam, its infrastructure is cracking, snapping, and falling in concrete chunks, and its politicians are offensively stupid. (See Kyle Rae talking about the new condo. at 1 Bloor St. East; "The intersection of Yonge and Bloor is an important Canadian crossroads." And the water main leak at Dufferin and Keele is an important Canadian trout hatchery.)

But this story about Oliver Martin and Dylan Ellis really bothers me. Two innocent men shot and killed; the story all over the news; the writing pithy and factitious. In 450 words it highlights everything (that I believe is) wrong with print journalism.

City shocked by attack is the headline. Then, halfway down the page, there's an embedded story: Neighbours puzzled by slayings.

The city's shocked, but the neighbours are puzzled. I guess shock takes precedence over being puzzled. But why isn't the city shocked and puzzled? Why are neighbours puzzled but not shocked? Are their brows furrowed? Are they looking for a missing piece?

Are there really people who are "puzzled" that two people were murdered on a Toronto street? A Toronto street near their home? Headline after an 800-point drop in the TSE: "People wind-blown after huge fall."

But that's not what really bothers me. This is:

A quote from the Michele Henry article: "Witnesses told police they saw a man racing away on a bicycle, but other than that, leads are slim."

Witnesses saw a man racing away on a bicycle. Here's where you start to realize there's a problem. They saw more than a man racing away on a bicycle. There was an adjective in the original sentence. But the Star's not allowed to print that word. It's taboo in that particular newsroom.

Here's the Globe and Mail line that corresponds--in content and placement (see: inverted pyramid)--to the Henry excerpt:

"One witness report said a young black male in a white shirt was seen fleeing the crime scene on a bicycle."

A few media outlets are doing this now, and it's absolutely wrong. If a person commits a violent crime, and the police are asking for help locating said person, then it is both obscene and irresponsible that a newspaper or television station would censor the suspect's race. A couple days ago cops were looking for a rapist who'd attacked someone in Etobicoke. The description tabbed someone with a "dark complexion." The next day they released a composite sketch: The person was black. Dark complexion?

So what would you say if an Asian person had committed a crime? Huh? What's the politically correct, incoherent description of an Asian criminal? Or a Jewish criminal? I'm a Jew, so I feel comfortable spinning this ethnic stereotype. "Suspect is described as having curly hair, brown eyes, and a slight overbite."

Nope. No way they'd say that. You can't mention the nose, can't mention the chin. It's height, weight, clothing, and that's it. Myron Gottlieb is standing trial for his role in the Livent insurance fire. Most news outlets won't even write Gottlieb, won't even say the word. Because Gottlieb is unmistakably Jewish. They don't want to offend Jews like my grandfather who see the story, shake their head, and shout derisively, "So now it's send-the-Jews-to-jail time, huh?!"

But, really, what's the illusion here? That the police don't know or care if their suspect's black or white? Or you can't say that a Jew embezzled money--because that affirms an ethnic stereotype. God, it's true: we're really that stupid. This is a multi-cultural city, so we can't discriminate against any particular group by naming a suspect's skin colour? Is this like a libel-slander argument? Is this because of those brilliantly useful Human Rights Courts? You know the truth is a defence. But this Mark Steyn trial must be scaring the hell out of everyone.

I know this is a product of political correctness. And, goddamn it, the stupidity of big-L Liberalism is getting up there with death and taxes.

Friday, June 13, 2008

James Reaney: Dead

James Reaney died last night. He was eighty-one.

Here's an excerpt from a story that ran in the London Free Press:

Born on a Stratford-area farm in 1926, Reaney was an acclaimed poet,
playwright, author, opera librettist and University of Western Ontario English professor. He won three Governor-General's Awards for poetry and drama, and a 1974 Chalmers Award for best Canadian play.

"He was so great," said Nancy Poole, a former Museum London director
who met Reaney at UWO.

"He was a gentleman, an intellectual, an artistic giant in the
Canadian scene."

Reaney won his first Governor-General's Award in 1949 at age 23 for a collection of poetry, The Red Heart. In 1960, he began teaching at UWO and started publishing Alphabet, a semi-annual periodical devoted "to the iconography of the imagination."

In 1966, he founded the Listener's Workshop and began working with child and adult actors in choral ensemble works. Reaney, whose play Colours in the Dark premiered in Stratford in 1967, received the Order of Canada in 1975. His best known dramatic work may be a trilogy of plays about the 1880 massacre of the Donnelly family in Lucan.

I think my favourite Reaney story comes through the usual hearsay pipeline. It was 1979 and Reaney had just finished work on his collective creation Wacousta: A Melodrama in Three Acts. At a party for Wacousta Reaney met the noted Canadian (or Quebecois--whichever you prefer) recluse Rejean Ducharme. Ducharme, out of rye, had been forced from his house to go shopping. Half-way to the A&P, Ducharme's car broke down and he decided to call Malcolm Frost--a literature professor at UWO--for a lift. Frost was at Reaney's party, and so Ducharme walked over to see about a ride.

When Reaney saw Ducharme he offered him his hand. Reaney was carrying a giant novelty bottle of Cockspur rum, which he grasped between his left index finger and thumb. Reaney was an extremely nice, open man who always enjoyed meeting Canadian artists and writers. Ducharme refused to shake. "What's wrong?" Reaney asked, "Did I do something to offend you?"

"No," Ducharme said, "I'm just waiting for the other one." And he pointed to Reaney's left hand, which held the bottle of rum.

"I can get you a drink," Reaney said. "Just one minute."

"No, no," Ducharme said, taking the bottle. "Why dirty a glass."

"Aren't you going to congratulate James on his play?" someone asked.

"Why?" Ducharme said. "Did Elliott Gould agree to direct?"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Studying For A Comprehensive Exam With Stacey Kent

There's a commercial on TV that uses the lyrics from Cole Porter's You're the Top. I think the lyric in the commercial is, "You're the Coliseum...You're the Louvre Museum." Then, "You're Mahatma Ghandi...You're Napoleon Brandy."

The words, at least for me, are now playing on a 24-hour spin cycle. I found the song--a version by Stacey Kent--and listened to it. "You're a melody from a symphony by Strauss...You're a Shakespeare sonnet, a Bendel bonnet...You're Mickey Mouse."

This morning I studied for a comprehensive exam with You're the Top playing on repeat. I read W.H. New's Articulating West with "You're're a turkey dinner...You're the time...of the derby winner," playing over and over and over again.

It took me seven hours to read the book. The song is two-and-a-half minutes long. I listened to it 168 times. I didn't even know that it was playing. It was just me, Henry Kreisel, New, and the song.

I think Stacey Kent lives on a diet of refined sugar.

But I am no longer sane and balanced. Contemporary Canadian Fiction is getting me, is turning me into a near-sighted, low-key machine. Only Stacey Kent can save me. She can take me to Connecticut. Maine. Any of the New England states. Away from George Grant and George Woodcock. Why is every Canadian writer Protestant?

I know another PhD student who broke down during the oral portion of his field exams. An examiner had asked him a question about the representation of women in Canadian urban fiction. The student started talking about a Polish sausage he'd eaten for lunch. He described the way the sausage was cut, the way the bun was toasted. This lasted for about ten minutes. When he was done, the examiner said, "That's fine, but what about the question?"

The student looked at him, looked at the other two examiners, and said, "I'm blind!"

He actually experienced hysterical blindness.

"Don't worry," one of the examiners assured him, "you'll be fine."

"But I need these eyes. I need them to read M. Nourbese J. Fox."

That's why I laugh when people say that the academy is one easy ride. Short hours, etc.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Mother-Daughter Relationship At Bathurst And Ava Road

My cousin and her mother have an interesting relationship. They seem to instruct each other, one teaching the other how things ought to be. It's not so much parent-child as it is professor vs. professor. My cousin is eighteen and a freshman at Princeton. She lives in Toronto, but she goes to school in New Jersey. She wants to be a paediatric oncologist; not because she wants to help kids, but because she thinks it's a great way to meet married men. (Her favourite writer is Arthur Koestler--she likes the way he ended it "just in time.") Her mother is forty-four and a dermatologist. I love watching them argue. It's like being in an Elaine May movie.

Last week was my grandfather's eighty-fifth birthday. The party was at my cousin's house, and I walked into their oak-lined living room looking to be entertained.

They were fighting about sex.

My cousin is an attractive girl, about 5'7", slim, with black hair and a nice figure. In terms of sexual experience, she's slightly below the cast of Jarvis Street: A Musical. She comes from a very attractive, rich strain of Jewish, western-European blood. I look like I should be fiddling on someone's roof.

But there they were, these Germanic women, fighting about handjobs.

"I can't believe," my aunt said, "you can be so passionless about this."

"All I said," my cousin countered, "is that I was tired. I wanted to go to sleep."

"So you jerked him off?"

"He takes forever any other way." She paused, looking at the doorway, then at her father. "Old men are all like that."

My grandfather, a second-generation Jew who'd spent his life selling dresses, walked into the room. "What are you talking about?" he asked.

"Nothing, dad. Don't worry about it."

"I was talking about sex at college," my cousin said.

"Maybe I should go into the other room."

"No, stay. We're just having fun. I'm telling mom how the right thing to do when a boy wants to sleep with you is to give in just as little as possible. I've done it hundreds of times. But your daughter-in-law is a prude. She thinks she can lecture me on the ethics and aesthetics of love. Should I tell her about Schiller? You know how I wind down after an Organic Chem final? Well, we have these unisex showers in our dorm--"

"I don't want to hear this talk."

"So you're saying," my aunt said, "that you allow the boy to have what he wants? And this is what Bella Abzug's taught you?"

"Yes. Physically, mentally, it's the best thing for both of you."

"It's my experience that such a thing takes forever," my aunt said.

"A handjob?" asked my cousin.

"Goodbye!" my grandfather said, and left the room.

"Well, mom, maybe you're not doing it right."

"Please, Melanie. I went to medical school."

"I'm going to teach you."

"You're going to teach me?"

"Show me how you start."

"What would Marcuse say about your morality?"

"Marcuse was not a moral philosopher," my uncle said.

"Shut up, Alan."

"You probably hold it like a baseball bat."

My grandfather poked his head back into the room. "That's no good."

"Don't tell me how to hold a penis," my aunt said. "You don't know the things I saw during my residency."

"The first thing you have to do," started my cousin, "is cut your nails."

"I just got them done at Gee's."

"Mom, do you want me to teach you, or not?"

"Why don't we finish that discussion on Bernard Kops."

"You're so Forest Hill."

"It's zaida's birthday!"

"So zaida doesn't want to talk about handjobs? Mom, please. You're worse than the admissions advisor."

The cake had vanilla frosting. It was delicious.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Taking My Ex To The CNE; Spending My SSHRC Grant At Holt's; Ferragamo Heels

A couple years ago my ex came to visit me in Toronto. It was August, and the Canadian National Exhibition was two weeks into its run. For those not from Toronto, the CNE signals the official end of summer. As soon as the Conklin trucks start packing away their ferris wheels, funhouse mirrors, and bumper cars, the leaves turn brown and it's back to school.

My great-grandfather owned a few concessions at the Ex, and was actually Showman of the Year in 1967. My grandfather worked there, my father worked there, and I worked there. I sold hats, plastic horns, pennants, and other cheap kitsch. Working under my grandfather's motto: Nobody pays the same price.

So it was only natural that, when my ex flew in from New York in mid-August, that one of our stops would be past the Princess Gates (only New Yorkers call them the Princes' Gates).

She didn't like it. She hated it. In fact, she demanded that we leave.

"But we've only been here fifteen minutes," I said.

"I don't care. I want to go. It smells like a barnyard."

"That's just the Horse Palace."

"David, I'm wearing Eau d'Hadrien. Do you have any idea how expensive that is?"

"Really? You smell like a harness."

"Do you want to take that back?"

"All right. I'm sorry. Well, you shouldn't have worn perfume to a carnival. What can I tell you."

She glared at me. "It was a gift from my grandmother."

"A five-thousand-dollar bottle of perfume?"

"It was my birthday."

"You know what my grandmother gave me last year? Some Old Navy pyjama bottoms that were 85% off."

"Oh, I want those."

"You can have them." We were walking past a guy selling cotton candy and sno-cones. "Do you want something?"

"What flavours do they have?"

"Lemon, cherry, grape, orange."

"Get me a red one."

So I bought her a cherry sno-cone. I should have known better. I really should have. But I got a red one, too--it's my favourite flavour. Within five minutes she'd spilled cherry syrup all over her Chanel blouse.

"No!" she screamed.

A young Jamaican couple looked at us. "Look," I said, "she has the same bag as you."

"David, get me a napkin."

"It's too late," I said, crunching cubes of shaved ice.

"Just get me one!" So I did. "This shirt cost five-hundred dollars."

"I thought it was a present for finding the afikoman."

"Fuck you."

I was mad. "Where did you think we were going, Canal Street? I told you, it's outside. It's a fair."

"Does that mean I can't look nice? So I'm going to dress like a homeless person because we're going to a fair." She was hysterical, setting the stain deep into the silk threads. Then, just as her finger was poised for the seventh time to poke me in the chest, there was a loud cracking sound, and she fell down. "My heel!"

She'd broken a heel on a sewer grate. I knew I was about to die. But, instead, I helped her up.

"Don't say anything," she said.

So I didn't. But I was thinking, "Who wears lambskin pumps to the Ex?" And it was such a good question. I wanted to ask. I wanted to needle her. So, I figured, What the hell.

"Well, at least they were Goodwill buys," I said. "Double-C. That's not a name-brand."

"I'm going to kill you."

"That's a short heel, though. The shorter the heel, the cheaper the shoe."

"Shut up."

"You can wear them on the beach now. Hanlan's Point."

"If you think you're sleeping in bed tonight..."

"Wait a second. I saw those last week. A guy was selling them at Bloor and College. Five bucks for three pairs, or four for seven."

"I bought these at Sak's."

"Yeah, he was selling them from a sack."

Then she kicked me. But at least it was a bare foot.

The rest of our day was great. I carried her back to the car. "I don't know what they do on the ground in Toronto," she said. Then we went to Holt Renfrew, and I bought her two early Thanksgiving presents. She wore them home. "You know you're wearing a tenth of my SSHRC grant," I told her.

"Fuck your SSHRC grant," she said.

We were a happy couple, I'll tell you that.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Reading The Cider House Rules In Iran

A friend of mine is from Iran. He calls it Persia. A few months ago he went back to visit his grandparents. In his carry-on bag he'd packed a notebook, a few CDs, and a copy of John Irving's The Cider House Rules. When the plane landed the book was almost confiscated. Then it was confiscated. (I thought I'd do this chronologically.)

A customs agent asked to search his bag. The book was sitting on top of the CDs--he'd been reading it on the plane. "What's this?" the agent asked.

"It's something I'm reading," my friend said.

"John Irving. Never heard of him."

"He's a very famous Amer...he's a famous Egyptian writer."



"I'm going to have to take this." And he picked up the book and slipped it into his jacket.


"This book is not allowed."

"But a minute ago you didn't even know what book it was."

"What do you do for a living?"

"I'm a plastic surgeon."

"I will have to read this book."

And that was it. The agent urged him on, and my friend found a cab that took him to his grandparents' house.

Luckily he'd brought a second copy of the book. He'd hidden it under the CDs, knowing that the first one could be confiscated. And he really wanted to know what happened to Homer. Did he bang Mary Agnes? He was excited to find out. He was sitting on the balcony, reading, when his grandmother walked by. "What are you reading?" she asked.

"The Cider House Rules."


"What do you mean, 'No!'?"

"You cannot read that book."

"Why not?"

"What if someone sees you?"

"What's the problem? What's wrong with this book?"

"It's banned."

"It is? Why?"

"Dr Larch is an abortionist; an ether addict. There is sex and violence."

"Well I have to read something. I'm bored. The Nuremberg Rally recreation's not 'til seven."

"Here. One minute." And she disappeared into the house, coming back with a new novel. "Take this," she said, thrusting it at my friend.

"What is this?"

"Tempest Tost. By Robertson Davies. You'll like it. It's got actors."

My friend took the book, but, secretly, he continued to read The Cider House Rules. Everyone was worried. The whole block came out, trying to convince him to put away the novel. "This John Irving," they said. "He is a bad, bad man. You cannot read his books. Burn them!"

"And ruin my carbon footprint?"

They screamed slogans at him. "Bounty! The quicker-picker-upper! Have you had your break today? It's the soap that floats."

Educated men stopped by, their eyes watering. "That book is dangerous. You must get rid of it."

"I'm almost done."

"We can't wait that long!"

"You'll have to."

Finally the book went missing. He was fifteen pages away from the end. He'd fallen asleep with the novel on his night table; when he woke up it was gone.

"Where's the table?" he shouted.

His grandfather rushed in. "What?"

"Someone stole the table with the book on it."

His grandfather looked; sure enough the table was gone. "I told you: Never sleep with the window open!"

At the airport, on the way home, he was stopped by the same customs agent who'd taken his first copy.

"I've got to ask you," my friend asked, "how it ended."

"I didn't read it."

"I don't believe you."

"Believe what you want. Even believe that Homer leaves the apple orchard, comes back to the orphanage, becomes an obstetrician with his fake degrees, and forgets about the lobster girl. You can even believe that. I don't care."

My friend paused. "So you won't tell me?"

It was a long flight home.

Friday, June 6, 2008

My Literary Blind Date (Note: David Bergen Was Involved)

Last night I went on a blind date. It's not the sort of thing I'm into, but a friend knew a friend who knew a woman who read books. And was single--or almost single. Or just about to end a relationship. Or just getting out of the hospital after giving birth.

"What kind of books?" I asked.

I met her at a restaurant on the Danforth. Crossing the Bloor St. Viaduct is always fun. I look at the fence--the mesh screen they've put up to keep people from jumping into the Don Valley. There was a guy there last night looking over the edge. He had on old army fatigues and a really faded Scorpions t-shirt.

"Hey," I said.

He looked at me. "Goddamn fence."

"You're not thinking of..."

"That's what I came for, man."

"Then get up there. Come on."

"It's not worth it. Maybe I'll just hang around Adelaide and John. It's Friday."

"It's Thursday," I said.

"Well, maybe I'll get a haircut."

The date went well. She was tall, with black hair, green eyes, and a slight limp.

"How'd you get that?" I asked.


She ordered a couple bottles of wine; I had a glass of water. "Ron tells me you're an English student," she said.

"I am."

"Who's your favourite writer?"

"David Bergen."

"Really? I've never heard of him."

"He's big between Jarvis and Yonge--from Bloor to a little south of College."

"Oh. What's he written?"

"Uh, he's tried to do a few things."

"So do you do any writing?"

"Me? No, I can't stand writers. God, I hate writers."

"And what do your parents do?"

"They write."

There'll be no second date. But it was nice to get away from the thesis for a night. It was nice to get some of that fresh downtown air. (We went for a long walk after dinner. I walked her home; she invited me to go jogging.) And, when my clothes come back from the drycleaners, I'll always have the receipt to remember it by.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Overheard at the University of Ottawa's Canadian Literature Symposium

For three days in May the University of Ottawa hosted their annual Canadian literature symposium. This one focussed on The Postmodern. Featured speakers included Frank Davey, Linda Hutcheon, Robert Kroetsch, and Susan Rudy. I was there looking around, listening to presentations.

I've always liked the postmodern. Actually, as a kid, my parents threw me great postmodern birthday parties. I'd wake up the day of the party, and all the furniture would be gone from the house. Or, once, I rushed to the fridge to point to the calendar, showing my mother that it was the big day. They'd had a trick calendar printed; every day was April 1. It was June 12. "Here's your present," my father said. He handed me a carton of milk. I opened it and took a sip, spitting it out in the sink. I looked at the bottom; it'd expired in March. "April Fool's!"

Here are a few snippets of conversations that I overheard at the Ottawa conference:

Conversation 1:

Man 1: How were your courses this year?
Man 2: Good. I just got my evaluations back.
Man 1: And how were they?
Man 2: They said I was too boring.
Man 1: Why would they say that?
Man 2: I don't know. I brought in props.
Man 1: What'd you bring?
Man 2: My birth certificate, my driver's licence, my OHIP card--the one with the new picture on the front.
Man 1: That sounds like your wallet.
Man 2: ...
Man 1: What? What's wrong?
Man 2: Nothing. Nothing. I just realized why they kicked me out of the passport office.

Conversation 2:

Woman 1: What were you teaching this year?
Woman 2: Canadian Jewish Writers.
Woman 1: Oh, that sounds interesting. I've never heard of that being taught before.
Woman 2: I know. This was the first time.
Woman 1: So how did it go?
Woman 2: Great. We talked about everyone. We had a great time.
Woman 1: And then what?
Woman 2: Then a student pointed out that Robertson Davies wasn't Jewish. And Carol Shields. And Mavis Gallant. And all our best writers.
Woman 1: You thought they were Jewish?
Woman 2: Nope. He just thought that he'd point that out.

Conversation 3:

Woman 1: Have you seen Linda Hutcheon?
Man 1: Yes, just a second ago. Why?
Woman 1: Did you see what she's wearing?
Man 1: Yes. I thought it was nice. It doesn't match her skirt, though.
Woman 1: The Donna Karan jacket with the little loose thread running from the right pocket? The small tear in the lapel. The little white stain right around the waist.
Man 1: How do you know so much about it?
Woman 1: Because fifteen minutes ago I left it in the bathroom.

I had a great time.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Missed Party; Rudy Wiebe's Favourite Song; Rudy Wiebe's Favourite Joke

Friday night I was supposed to go to a party. It was the annual end-of-the-year celebration hosted by the English department of my university. They're usually fun. Where else can you listen to Night Ranger in a group setting?

I got lost.

The directions were simple. 921 Brant Road. I wrote it down: 921 Brant Road. I put the slip of paper in my pocket. Then I drove down to Brant Road. I stood outside of 121 Brant Road--an arts-and-crafts-style house. The place was dark; all the windows were blacked out. I figured the party was in the backyard. But there was no one there. So maybe it was in the basement.

Since no one knocks at a party, I tried to open the door. It seemed like it was locked--the handle would not turn. So I tried again. Again, no luck. I jiggled it. Nothing.

So I got in my car, ready to go back home. Pulling off Brant Road, I noticed a sign for Brant Road Crescent. Could they be two different streets? Yes. Or at least that's what I was told by the man whom I stopped and asked. So down to 121 Brant Road Crescent, a home similar to 121 Brant Road, except that it was split into flats.

I opened the door, walked up the stairs, and tried the door of Apartment 3. It was locked. I looked under the door--nothing. It was dark; no sounds from inside. A guy walked up beside me; he was going into Apartment 4--all 250 square feet of it. "Take your shoes off," he said.

We were standing in a hallway. "I'm just leaving," I told him.

"Well, take them off on the way out."

So I got back in my car, ready to go back home. And as I was turning off Brant Road Crescent, there was Brant Avenue. 121 Brant Avenue was a family home; there was a tricycle on the lawn. As I stood on their porch, peering through the window, I said, "Fuck this." And I left. Unfortunately they could read lips.

But, really wanting to go to this party, I drove around all three streets, hoping to see someone I'd recognize. That didn't happen.

So I didn't get to go to the party. I'd picked up my drycleaning, I'd shined my shoes, and I'd bought a Dufflet chocolate fudge cake. English students have notoriously poor taste in food and drink. A typical graduate party would be catered by the slightly-damaged section of No Frills. I know a PhD student who once told me that, on special occasions, her father would break out a box of Breton crackers.

Anyway, it seemed like a ruined night. But since I was in an artsy section of the city I decided to walk around and see if anything was happening in the neighbourhood. I found a SLAM poetry reading, which I figured would be good for my back. The woman performing her poem was just finishing up as I walked through the door, and in another minute she was taking questions from the audience.

"Where did you get your training," a man asked.

"In Manitoba. I went to school there."

"Oh. Did you have a mentor."

"Actually, I did. Rudy Wiebe."

"The writer?"

"Does he write?"

"I think so."

"I knew him mostly as a banjo player. He was a very musical man."

"We're talking about a Mennonite with glasses, about seventy-years-old. Grey, thinning hair."

"That's him. He taught at the university. Now that I think of it, he did write. But he was really into music. And telling jokes. He loved to tell jokes."

"What kind of music did he like?" someone else asked.

"He loved the Four Tops. He told me many, many times that, 'David Ruffin was it.'"

"Interesting. You know Levi Stubbs was the lead singer of The Four Tops. Ruffin was The Temptations."

"Yeah! That was the one."

"The one what?"

"Do you want to hear his favourite joke?"

Almost everyone clapped Yes.

"Let's see if I can remember it." She paused. "Okay, here it goes. 'Mrs Horowitz and Mr Horowitz are down on their luck. They're having trouble paying their bills. So one day Mrs Horowitz decides to go out and be a streetwalker. A prostitute. After her first night on the job she comes home exhausted and hands her husband her earnings--ten dollars and ten cents. 'Who the hell gave you a dime?!?' her husband asks?' 'Everybody!' she says.'"

That was an old one. Maybe it's just getting out West.

So it wasn't a wasted night. I even bought the poet's SLAM chapbook. It's small, and it's self-published, but it's a good read. Krafft-Ebing My Diaphragm Is A Colander it's called.
All Posts On This Site Are Intended As Juvenalian Satire. If They Veer Into Horatian Satire, That's OK Too. Just, Please, Don't Take Them Too Seriously. PhD Students Can't Afford Libel Suits. CUPE Doesn't Cover Court Costs.
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