Notes from Underground
Today’s Feature: Youth by Tim Beckett
She was striking, with high Indian cheekbones and olive skin and long brown hair she’d tied back in a ponytail with an Indian braid, and an athletic dancer’s figure which she’d wrapped in a ankle-length leather greatcoat. As she said hello in turn to everyone on the porch, I noticed that, unusually amongst Bill’s friends, she was French.
She’d noticed me as well, because she stopped right in front of me, taking me in with amazing diamond eyes. Up close, she looked familiar though that didn’t mean much: in the month I’d been back in Montreal, every street, face or overheard conversation – whether in French or English – contained some association with a set of vaguely remembered persons or memories. For this and other reasons, I didn’t like to go out much, but that afternoon was special: Bill and his wife Sarah were having a baby shower for their daughter Gisele, who had just turned one.
Sarah, just two years off heroin. Continue Reading
A scorpion flicking its stinger inside his anus, his face bloated and red, Billy grunted on the bowl. His wife Maggie shrieked in the cell, demanding he fork a hundred bucks for the girls. Where the hell was he going to get a hundred bucks? After paying rent for this dinky hellhole of an apartment and buying hamburger and beans, he had only a few dollars left for smokes and beer. His job paid shit which he’d give a cool hundred to do at this very moment. Just let it break free of the dam and splat out. Everything blocked, bowels constricted, nothing moved except for that frigging scorpion. He had left the door ajar, giving him a good view of Isaac grunting and banging the woman on the bed. Continue Reading
The other night I heard Paul Mauriat’s 1968 hit “Love Is Blue.” It’s forever associated with my childhood bedroom where I’d notate the weekly Top 40 while building model cars like this one, the purple Manta Ray, the only one I ever photographed.
My friend Paul’s father, who worked at the Ford plant just down US 1, always wore neatly ironed, striped linen shirts & combed his hair after his shower like he was in a rockabilly band, & maybe he had been. Like a young Frank Gorshin, with a smile sharp as a blade & stinking of a brisk splash of Aqua Velva, exhaling onto the couch after his shift, feet up on the coffee table, a bottle of Country Club – it’s called malt liquor because it’s a totally different kind of drink – in his right hand. Continue Reading
Why Jolene picked this rusty little town was something she had given more thought to than she let on. She would say that she liked the antique shops and the lake, that she had an uncle (not the blood kind, the family friend kind) who had lived here when she was young. It was the nature of the place and the quiet way of living that made it so special. It was a good place to get away from a city life that had turned rancid, she thought, but she didn’t say that. Continue Reading
The rules were that you had to give your name and occupation before reciting your first poem. Naturally, I tried to evade this unnecessary formality which to me seemed akin to a rooftop sniper announcing his name and address before firing upon the crowd below. But before I could begin they started yelling, “What’s your name?” Continue Reading
Following the rules really is so easy, military style; yes drill sergeant, no drill sergeant, all the while thinking: fuck you, drill sergeant. Once you learn how to effectively internalize your response, put on the required face, you have essentially won. I learn this the hard way, in the service, but more importantly is how I unlearn it.
Upon my return from basic training, I am emboldened, straight and taut from 300 sit-ups a day for eight weeks. I have a thoroughly unappealing arrogance about me, an arrogance I mistake for confidence. I am thrilled to see my father again — thrilled but cautious. I did not wear my dress greens or even my BDU’s, but a vintage Chanel dress bought at a Salvation Army in Columbia, South Carolina while on leave…
The Beer Mystic is Furman Pivo, a dreamer inhabiting the NYC of 1987. One night, like many other nights, Furman is drinking to slow the world down. He discovers himself drunk under a streetlight when suddenly this streetlight goes out, on the blink, extinguished – Poof! – it’s dark. In the ensuing weeks the same phenomenon occurs again, then again and again until the unusual becomes the uncanny, and perceived synchronicity is interpreted mystically – he begins to believe that he is the cause of these streetlight outages. And somewhere in the psychic seam between identity and delusion the Beer Mystic is born. Furman Pivo is inauspiciously called upon to become the Beer Mystic and beer does battle with light – beer vs. light, him vs. cars…. Continue Reading
I hadn’t been back to Edmonton in nearly 20 years, not since I’d passed through with my parents at age 15 on my way back to Vancouver. I took the airport shuttle downtown to the bus station then checked in at the Grand Hotel across the street. The hotel looked rundown, but the wooden awning out front and the cowboy bar on the ground floor lent it a frontier feel, made it an apt jumping off point for the journey that would take me to Fort McMurray and beyond to a North I hadn’t seen since just before I’d last seen Edmonton. Continue Reading
Four o’clock in the morning. I’m out again with strange men. Three this time. Gerald, Tyler and Mark. No, Mike. No, Alan. Shit, shit, shit. Mark. I’m sticking with Mark. I haven’t kissed him. He just moved to Toronto from Saskatchewan. He had a book of short stories published last year. No one noticed. Short stories, I told him. Fuck off. Why bother? Don’t you want to hunt the big beast? Don’t you want to rumble with the real men? The poets? he asked. Ha, ha. I sort of like him, but I’m drunk. Of course, I’m drunk. Gerald and Tyler both want to take me home. They’ve both had some success with me, and since the other side of midnight they’ve been competing to make me laugh.