Friday, October 3, 2008

Drinking Kerosene With Chuck Klosterman; Hearing Stories About When He Lived In An Elevator

Last week I went camping with Chuck Klosterman. Actually, we climbed a mountain--Silver Peak, in Killarney Provincial Park. Chuck was in Toronto doing research for a new book, but he wouldn't tell me what the book's about.

"Homelessness?" I asked, knowing that Toronto streets are year-round sleeping porches.

"No, nothing to do with that," he said.

"So it's not homelessness?"


"You're not going to live on the street, then write about it?"

"Yes, I'm going to do that."

"So, it's about homelessness?"


"Then what's it about?"


In the canoe, paddling to our campsite he kept asking if the rumours about me and J.D. Salinger were true. I ignored him for as long as I could. It didn't even bother me that he was paddling with one of those brown plastic stir sticks that we'd picked up at McDonald's.

"What rumours?" I finally said.

"That you don't know him."

That's the kind of person Klosterman is. So, while it may seem like fun to sleep with him in a tent, you have to understand that there is a downside.

"Get some wood," I told him, when we'd finally beached our canoe and set up camp.

"Okay." And he wandered off into the woods. Three hours later he was back with one birch stick.

"Where's the rest?"

"I told it to follow me."

"Didn't work?"

"No, no. They're coming."

A pause. "Why'd you carry that one?"

"It's a white one."


He spent the rest of the day trying to convince me that you can drink kerosene--that, in many cultures, it's a substitute for alcohol.

"What cultures would those be?" I asked.

"Very remote African and Eurasian. Where the climate doesn't allow them to ferment sugar."

"But they've got plenty of kerosene?"

"Oh, they can make that."

"They can make it, you say? From what?"

"From love."

He drank the kerosene, got quite incoherent, and started to tell me a story about how, as a student, he'd spent four months living in an elevator.

"I didn't mind the up and down," he said, "but the doors would always open. They'd let in the cold air. Sometimes I'd leave to use the washroom, and when I got back there'd be a different car in my shaft. 'I've been robbed!' I would say. Of course, I hadn't. Until one time I was. But even then I was wrong. I didn't have much in there; only a sleeping bag, some books, some cutlery, and a lot of porno."

We drove back to Toronto, Klosterman telling me how much he'd enjoyed himself. "We should do this again, David. It was lots of fun."

"I'm glad. I had a good time, too. Give me a call the next time you're up here. I guess you're pretty busy in the States, but I'd be glad to show you the Roots plant."

"That's terrific. I like communing with nature. But it's so cold up here."

"It is, but it's fall. You should come in the summer."

"In the summer I'm in a lunar capsule."

Two days later I saw him panhandling on the corner of Bloor and Avenue Road. "This is funny," I said.


"Bloor and Avenue Road."

"This isn't a good place?"

"You've got to go south and east. You're in Yorkville."

"Yeah, but you get great stuff here. For example, someone just gave me an icy stare."

That's Chuck.

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