Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Mount Royal reading at The Painted Lady Mar 28/11

Share |

A few nights ago I did a reading at The Painted Lady, along with a couple of other Tightrope Books authors, Myna Wallin and Heather J. Wood. A few people who didn't make it out have asked me to post the material I'd read. So here it is, more or less recreated from this past Monday night, March 28/11...

I’m going to read from a novel I’ve written entitled Mount Royal. It’s set in Montreal, 1989, in a neighborhood called The Main, which is below the eastern face of that sweet and sinister mountain in middle of the city. I’m sure many of you know that area. While it’s been somewhat gentrified now, at one time it was the home of various ne’er do wells, musicians, alleged-artists, writers, etc - all of them booze-soaked and drug addled, happily promiscuous, few of them bothering with a job - y’know, the sort of people Montreal is so very good at creating.
At this point in the story, our protagonist, Johnny, has been appointed the neighborhood dealer by The Man after they meet at a local bar- a place called La Cabane, which some of you may know.
Once the Man leaves, Johnny goes into the men’s room to do a shot of the start-up sample he’s just received. When he comes back out, his friend and sometime paramour Slim has just arrived - in circumstances guaranteed not to make Johnny very happy...

PASSAGE 1 - SLIM

Coming back out to the front of the bar, I see Slim wander in with her latest dudeski. He’s a rebuilt musicologist gone urban cool. His name’s Bob, of all things, a vested yokel that’s grown a little phony-tail. I’ve heard he’s on a first name basis with the chief door apes at the hottest clubs. He takes Slim along as an all-access pass to private album launch parties and exclusive interviews with taciturn, ego-heavy art rockers. Bob works hard. He maneuvers to get caught in candid magazine shots with Slim on his arm.
And she does wash up well, an effortless switch from old and busted jeans to raw-edged sophistication in her little black dress - the elegant jawline, the white-blonde hair and fiery green eyes - she requires no cosmetics.
Slim sits at the bar while Bob takes a table with the rapidly ascending Dred Blanc, rag-headed leader of The Fuss. Bob will collect incisive quotes and awe-inspiring anecdotes then spiel long and earnest in Montreal’s weekly alternative paper, The Mirror.
I go over and join Slim. “So, how’s it going with Bobbo? Charity drive winding down or what?”
She gives me half a smirk. “Shut up, Johnny.”
“I’m taking over from Tony.”
“Way to go. When’s this supposed to happen?”
“Right now. I’ve got a nice sample - uncut.”
That makes her swivel round and shove a knee between my legs. Bob shoots us distracted looks. He can’t concentrate on the interview that’s supposed to turn into a scarifying indictment of the local alt-music scene. I can see the hot vein of doubt wind round his throat. He tries to ward me off with a lame glare but his whole withered way is being lashed to a gurney and wheeled out. Dred Blanc instantly picks up on it, quickly cuts off Bob’s exclusive and goes over to join his band, who sit around drinking shots and beer.
I’d seen Slim and Bob on the Main a couple days ago. Bob’s worried face had scanned over the shoppers and sidewinders. He’d peered up the street as if there was a place they could go where Slim would wear his license plate. But she’d only lanked along beside him, not doing anything to prove he was more than random.
He shuffles over to us, hang-dog, grumbles something to Slim with an aggressive whisper then goes off to try and exercise damage control with Dred and his crew.
After a minute, Slim tugs on my arm. “C’mon, let’s go.”
I’d bet serious money that once we left, Bob looked around from his intense one-on-one with The Fuss and was gutted to see the two empty bar stools. After-action reports will verify he pulled a face while Dred and his band half sung, half talked a sneering, off-key version of Slip Slidin’ Away. Bobbo’s street cred is instantly napalmed. Okay, you, back to covering the environment beat.
He eventually works up the nerve to demand answers and storms across the Main. Slim’s got my cock in her hand when we hear the door buzzer go off repeatedly with long angry bursts.
I look up. “What the fuck…”
“Just ignore him.”
Bob starts to pound. Bam Bam Bam. Then silence. He’ll scramble into the overgrown lot behind Schwartz’s Deli just in time to see Slim’s light go out. Without the sheer stupid bollocks to boot down doors or come up the fire escape, Bob returns to the bar to drink and stew and occasionally gaze up at Slim’s attic from across the road. He runs through everything he’ll tell her, all the razor sharp afterthoughts that would cut her to the quick if she actually gave a shit.
Going to the can to take a piss, Bob unzips but there’s nothing to pull out. Gone! Cock, balls, the works, even his asshole’s disappeared, all of it smooth as a Ken doll. The wily slut, he realizes, she did this to me!
Bob finds an illegal Viet Min doctor with a falsified veterinary license who rewires his plumbing. Despite a support group of similarly afflicted victims quickly forming around Bob, it all ends badly when La Cabane staff are horrified to discover him head first in a toilet, drowned. Since Bob turns out to be the scion of a prominent Anglo-Quebecois publishing family, a brass memorial plaque is mounted on the stall door.

Slim wriggles out of her dress, the best piece of clothing she owns, and carefully puts it on a padded hanger. Underneath she wears nothing but panties. No lacey bra or silk stockings or frilly garters or any of that shit is necessary. She looks down and examines the length of her body with a shrewd appraiser’s eye, judging the minutes that drag along the flesh, indomitable force of gravity working on anything left alive. She’d once told me her few stretch marks are from taking the pill too young.
Descended from Scottish jailbirds given a new lease on life in the colonies to go forth and build the suburbs from whence their willful daughters may emerge. She took along a memento of finding Pops alone in the midnight basement, pants around his ankles, old fleshtone magazine held at his belly; part of the collection he’d thought so well hidden in the rafters, never to realize she’d added a headless shot of her own body to his scrapbook. She would quietly close the laundry room door, leave the poor bastard with a fistful of himself and catch his eye just before the latch clicked shut.
She sat at her teenage vanity table and studied the adolescent breasts in the mirror, worried about her thin lips and limp blonde hair and regretted never seeing the desperate shadowy men her step-mother had warned were right outside the window in the empty fields across the road, the step-mom who’d forced her to use a pad instead of a tampon.
Those shadowy men must be out there, she’d thought as the Open City glimmered in the distance across the Saint Lawrence. Then go back down to the basement to coax Pops out of a wide-mouthed slumber while the CBC played the national anthem to end the night’s telecast.
Her main indictable offense was reading too much and correcting inane and erroneous statements made at the dinner table. This resulted in ultimatums that would eventually mean no more speechless meals of canned ham, rice-a-roni and re-runs of The Tommy Hunter Show, all of them living around Pop’s rotating work hours because there wasn’t a better pension plan to be had in the whole province.
There would be no more five dollars in an unsigned greeting card for coming home with straight A’s. No more grounded for six weeks at a time for crimes never even considered, to lie in her room, endlessly jerk off and wonder about those desperate shadowy men.
When she left to catch a city bound bus, step-mom watched from the front window as Pops was in the backyard, engrossed in the engine noise of his lawn-tractor. She phoned a few weeks later from a group home. They said hardly anything and their silence sounded like nothing more than relief. Now, a decade later, Slim still has no trouble coming. It’s what to do with the guy afterwards.

PASSAGE 2 - SAVVA GRUDTSYN

At this point our hero, Johnny, has been the dealer for a little while and is getting into the swing of things…

The first week after being appointed the Man’s new Kennel Keeper has been a blur. I didn’t realize how much running around was involved. No wonder Tony got lazy enough to let everyone come to his place and risk having narcs show up. It’s a logistical nightmare, this care and feeding of our pack of mutts, mongrels and just plain old rabids. Although, there is the odd purebred, like Morgan. High-strung but also supremely skilled; she’s the Type-A Border Collie of this bunch, able to efficiently corral the wallets of well-to-do wankers by the score.
After it became clear to the whole roster I do indeed begin responding to pager calls at 9 a.m. sharp, it’s been an onslaught. I am, as the Man foretold, covering my own use and making money besides. When added to my welfare cheque, I can actually relax a little.

I’ve just serviced a flurry of midday calls when Psycho Savva Grudtsyn, the Russian Rogue pages me several times in rapid succession. Odd since he’s not the kind of no-class lowlife to go nuts bugging me. Savva takes his pound of flesh in other ways, like the endless diatribes about his vaunted Slavic roots.
Tragic Rodina! Incomparable Rodina! Ah, the mighty Steppe, Cossacks, the Gulag, Uncle Joe Stalin, exploding TVs!
It’s the bloody saga that courses through Savva’s badly scarred veins. He’ll work himself into a torrent of Russian then switch back to his broken English and greet visitors with the announcement he’s a direct descendant of the original Constructivists. Savva will gesture dramatically at a photo torn from a Costakis catalog and hung in his living room; a black and white portrait of a wild-haired animal called Kazimir Malevich. There is no resemblance.
“He is spiritual father of Madison Avenue design principles. Ironic, do you not think, Johnny?”
“Yeah, very.”
Ever since I’ve known Savva he’s kept up a writer fraud. He did pen a thin novel entitled The Return of Frol Skobeev, published by a small press outside Hogtown. But that was more than two decades ago and there hasn’t been a paragraph since. Nevertheless, even in his late 40’s, going gray and flaccid, Savva claims the writer shtick has been a boon. It’s gotten him thousands in grant money, along with countless paid trips, conferences, panels, postings, adjudications and teaching gigs. Besides, he insists it’s great for meeting women.
I’m around the corner from his spread above a shoe repair store on Duluth so I don’t bother with the call-back. And there he is on his balcony, tracking me with a pair of giant Soviet binoculars. It’s easy to imagine him in the big fur hat, the greatcoat, AK-47 slung on his back.
“Excellent capitalistic service,” he says from the top step after pulling the long cord that runs down the stairwell wall and is hooked to the street level door-latch. It’s a gizmo for those who are too lazy to go down and open up themselves. A common enough apparatus in Montreal, I’ve never seen them anywhere else.
“Johnny, you would be very good kulak.”
“Thanks. So where’s the fire, Savva? It’s not like you to abuse the pager.”
“I have excellent reason. Extremely spectacular woman is scheduled to arrive very soon. She will be here” - he checks his wall clock - “in precisely fifteen seconds. Synchronize watches please.” Savva yucks at his own joke. “I am funny, no?”
“A real scream.”
His big elastic face is lively and animated, long grayish-blonde hair strapped down in a tight ponytail. He’s clean shaven for a change and looks pretty dapper in a pressed black suit and tie.
“There is something abnormally clean about this woman,” he says, as if faced with a baffling mathematical conundrum. “I must make sure she have very intense climax.”
“Aw, Savva, you’re such a romantic.”
“Bah! Romance is for bourgeois.”
“Okay, stud. How much you want to spend?”
He pulls out a nicely folded wad of twenties and fifties, hands over a hundred bucks then reacts to my surprise with a devious grin.
“I have announcement, Johnny.”
“Lay it on me, comrade.”
“I have signed publishing contract with big house in Hogtown.”
“Get the fuck outa here.”
His hand comes down on my neck and massages it as he considers the happy implications. “Yes, Johnny, this publisher is owned by intelligent, very fashionistic Anglo-Canadian woman. She come to Montreal on business – incredible sexual tension. Unfortunately, she is with husband and I can do nothing at the exact moment. But she send me thousand dollars for royalty advance. Also she help me get more money from government propaganda apparatchiks. Then she tell me I can send many invoice – for expenses.”
“What expenses?”
He shrugs. “Pencils, fifty dollar. Paper, one hundred. Hat, one seventy five. Things I need.”
“You need a hat to write?”
“Of course. Yes… very mysterious people, these Canadians. I say to publisher woman, ‘Listen, Savva is very honest. I am big addicted narcotics guy for long time, many years.’ She only laugh, say nothing. Then she send cheque.”
I’m pretty mystified myself. “But why send all this money to some Russian loser in Montreal who hasn’t written shit in twenty years?”
“Please, Johnny. Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, he write War and Peace over fifty year period.”
“No he didn’t.”
“Okay, not so long but very long time, I am sure.”
“Anyway, Savva, you’d better enjoy the ride while you can. She must be totally hung up on you and in my experience, that doesn’t last – especially when there’s money involved.” I trade him product for cash and watch as he gets ready to cook his shot at the kitchen sink. “And go easy with this stuff. It’s stronger than the last batch.”
“So, tell me. Do you believe one fifth of gram is adequate for my present purposes?”
“I’d say half that, unless you want to nod out and drool all over this babe you’ve got coming over. That’ll charm the pants off her.”
“Ach, women,” he bitches. “I cannot believe the things I must do to make woman share my bed.” Savva pokes himself in the chest. “This degrades me, Johnny!”
“Yeah, tell me about it.”
He carefully removes his jacket, rolls up a sleeve, then flags a vein in his forearm and drives it home. He waits a few moments, as if listening to a very quiet radio broadcast.
“Is good. Yes, is definitely stronger.” His pupils f-stop down to almost nothing. Suitably high, Savva dumps his tools into a drawer, wipes blood from the puncture, does up his sleeve and continues with the tirade. “In the West, Johnny, women control everything. Men are nothing - small barking dogs. In Russia, women are women.”
“Aw, geez. Not this again.”
“What!? Is true! Russian woman expect man to be man. They want he slap them sometime. Not hard. Is more symbolic. Not beat them to the death, but show woman who is man. If he not do this, Russian woman believe guy is ridiculous homosexual.” He raises a finger. “I am going to write major political manifesto about this matter.”
“No you’re not.”
“I swear it!”
“Yeah, sure.”
“But this is secondary project. First I must complete novel for Hogtown publisher.”
“You’re not writing any novel.”
“I am! Is big indictment of current socio-political conditions with powerful historical subtext.”
“Okay then, what’s it about?”
“It is about… em… us!” he declares with a wide sweep of his arm. “All of us!”
“All of who?”
“Wake up, Johnny! Famous American poetess whose name escapes me at this moment, she say all reading is now act of subversion, that book is act of subversion.”
“‘Poetess?’ I thought that word went out ages ago.”
“Do not be trivial. She is making reference to what Western intelligentsia categorize as ‘outsider literature.’ There is great media love for all degenerate filth. But do not worry. I will alter all names, dates and location of incident. Savva is not Chekist,” he says with finality. “No.”
“I’m relieved. So what’s this opus going to be called?”
He hesitates and casts about. “Ah…” But the door bell rings before he’s forced to think up a title. His eyes open wide. “Is her!” He hustles me out the back stairs. “I am coming now!” Savva sings aloud and rushes toward his date with destiny.

PASSAGE 3 - THE OLYMPIC TORTURE

And this is an earlier passage, when our hero Johnny, hasn’t become the neighborhood dealer yet. At this point he still mostly relies on government largesse for his survival…

Cries of ‘Hallelujah!’ can be heard from Mount Royal to Rue Saint-Denis. It’s finally cheque day and the weekend millionaires are out in force. I go to the Olympic Torch Burger Souvlaki at Rachel and Clark to meet Morgan. I owe her a few packs so I’ve already been up to see Tony and grabbed for both of us.
The Olympic Torture, as it’s known, is your traditional long and narrow spoon, famed for its grease-spill breakfast special. There’s a counter with stools along the left side and some decayed red vinyl booths opposite, a few tables scattered in the back. On the wall above the booths is an out-of-perspective mural depicting what I’ve always assumed to be the owner’s village. A big gray vent box near the ceiling has been worked into the painting as some kind of power station beside the village church. At the mural’s bottom right-hand corner in large white letters is the artist’s name, PETROS, and his phone number.
The owner is a grim-faced peasant, wide gut packed into a dirty apron. Everyone calls him Mister Jimmy. At three in the afternoon the diner’s dead empty but for a sleazy little guy perched on one of the stools. He wears a horse-blanket suit and an elaborate comb-over hairdo. He complains loudly in Greek and picks at his ear with a long pinky nail then contemplates the findings. I grab a table in the back to wait for Morgan.
“What you wanting?” Mister Jimmy asks from behind his cash register.
“Coffee.”
The comb-over dude adjusts his nuts while he spins round to glower at me. Mister Jimmy comes over and practically slams the cup and saucer onto the table.
“You no eat?”
“I’m waiting for a friend.”
He grumbles something and goes back to his post. Of course I don’t let on I speaka their lingo. No use trying to get chummy with these small business fascists who usually belong to the Hitler-Should-Have-Finished-The-Job school of Jew hating. Once they realize I’m a member of their tribe, they’ll turn on the interrogation light and demand to know surname, village of origin and political sympathies.
After the two of them return to their bitching, I unfold the sports section someone left behind and listen in.
“As I was saying,” Comb-over starts up in his fairly hickish Greek. “This was a country. Now, forget it. They let every kind of black and Mongol in. Anyone’s bound to get lost in this chaos. Remember when we came? Remember, Jimmy? The Anglos were still in command. You had to respect the police. Today, the Hebrews and Gauls are in control. It’s everywhere, my friend, disease and faggotry running loose.”
Mister Jimmy nods sadly while topping up his pal’s coffee.
“My son. Thirty three and still unmarried, spends his days driving around in that car. Powerful enough to drag away a house. Who knows what’ll become of him.”
“Be grateful you don’t have any daughters,” Comb-over confides. “We had to send our Soula to Greece to find a husband. Here, she turned into a wild beast, losing her Greek and taking up with a French hoodlum she was ashamed to bring home. Her mother nearly died of grief and worry. I had to listen to it all. ‘Your daughter! Your daughter!’ Whenever Soula behaved like a mad dog she was my daughter. What didn’t we give her? Closets full of clothes, enough shoes for an army of centipedes. We satisfied every whim. Soula wanted dancing? Bring in the Russian swindler with a painted face. Then it was antiques. We filled the house with expensive lumber. Then a car – brand new – and who made the payments? Who worked night and day like a mule? I’d get home exhausted and find them at each other’s throats - mother and daughter on the verge of murder.” Comb-over wags a finger. “Impossible. You can’t have two grown women in a single household.”
He stops and lights a smoke, sighs at the brazen infamy of it all.
“Finally, after our little doll gave up university and wanted to see a psychiatrist, I decided I don’t need another thief in my pocket. So I paid Soula off - and Jimmy, let me tell you - she responded to the treatment very well. We bought her a beautiful apartment in a respectable part of Athens. We worry less about her over there, at least she’s in Greece. In time she’ll settle down and find a suitable husband. My sister lives in the same building and she’s got a few good prospects. I don’t care what he is - as long as he’s Greek.”
“One of our Atticans wouldn’t be bad. But what if she takes up with a Macedonian, or a Spartan? Or worse, some Thracian savage?”
“What can I do? I’ll just be glad if she doesn’t end up with a Catholic - or an African.”
Mister Jimmy gazes out the window of his dive toward the mountain.
“No, Costa. It’s not like in our day. Now men are held hostage by wives and daughters, always being threatened with their infidelity and lechery if he doesn’t pay up. You lay a hand on them, they’ll find ten Jew lawyers who’ll take your last dollar and have you thrown in jail.”
They lapse into silence after their soliloquies, now somber as pallbearers. I want to say something but there’s no point in blowing my cover. Instead, I begin to read about the Canadiens unlikely playoff run. A commotion suddenly erupts on the sidewalk outside the floor to ceiling window next to my table. It’s Al, Tony and the Hen. They’re elated with our monthly good fortune, the reassuring news the regime is still solvent. Tony and Hennessy shout happy nonsense. The Tone gives me the cocksuck gesture – a fist pumping at his mouth while he sticks his tongue in and out of his cheek. Hennessy makes a V with his fingers then wags his tongue between them, international sign language for eating pussy. Al stands by and shakes his head at their sheer idiocy but does concede a slight smile. Playfully jostled, he makes with a drinking gesture to indicate they’re going to the liquor store and will stop in on the way back. With a few more noisy huzzahs, the three of them continue down Clark Street.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Basil Papademos

Basil Papademos is the author of MOUNT ROYAL: There's Nothing Harder Than Love, published in the spring of 2012 by Tightrope Books, also available as an ebook in all formats from all digital retailers. His earlier novel, The Hook of it is, was published by Emergency Press. His upcoming novel, How To **** Your Psychiatrist, will be published in the fall of 2013.

Go to Basil Papademos’s Author Page