Briefing for a Descent into Hell
Born on September 11th. Your birthdate “humanity’s other calamity”. For the first eighteen months, you behave impeccably, little mewling, random puking. Then the colic hits with a vengeance and when kin and progenitor declare war, you hit them back with air-raid volume, eardrum-shattering vengeance. You sense the presence of intruders in your pristine space-time continuum, and even then your inchoate faculties declare the invasion a desecration of the altar of your life. At age four, you discover the liquor cabinet. After downing four shots of BC Liquor Board blended Scotch, you have a vision. In the vision, you are in a longboat, containing a magical piece of timber from the sacred forest of Dodona. You are strapped to the keel, on your own instructions. Sixty oarsmen, Argonauts slash through the water, and you are shrieking at the shore of a nearby island, because a group of mermaids are enticing you with a music so sublime and sensual, that you would gladly give up your entire rich life for a minute with any of them. The vision ends when you are shipped to emergency, reeking of cheap Blended Scotch.
You have survived punching your Grade 2 teacher in the chin. To satisfy a quiescent warp within the soul, you shall become a priest, a bishop, an archbishop, a cardinal and then you will be a Pope. This is inevitable, but you will die at age eleven as well. That is a certainty.
September 11th 1965. You are still alive, but your future as a clergyman is not. You are sent to learn drums at a studio nearby the docks. Your one-armed teacher wears a beret, shaves weekly, and his breath stinks of cheap red plonk and the Drum tobacco he smokes while you bash at the snare drum. He growls that rhythm is impossible unless you listen to real music and learn to smoke. He one-hand rolls you a cigarette and pours out a glass of Black Label beer, and begins to play his 78 rpm record collection: John Coltrane, Errol Garner, Chet Baker, then drummers doing solos – Buddy Rich, Ginger Baker, Keith Moon, Mel Taylor of The Ventures doing Wipe Out, Baby Doods. You are corrupt, and one day Mel – your teacher – asks you over beer and cigarettes whether you believe in God and you answer, “Sure, but I don’t believe in the Church anymore.” That day, Mel is arrested and your lessons come to an end.
As an altar boy, you clean up weddings, and gather up the remaining wine. You and your cronies drink your thirst dry in the Church hall, and stumble around in the savage streets of the Fraser river port. Life has become tolerable.
School is a place where thugs in black skirts expunge the misery of their forlorn Belfast childhoods by beating the hell and the virginity out of the unwary. You learn that revenge is a plate best served cold, and that no bad deed, especially by a Christian Brother, should go unpunished.
Down by the River
At age 16, Bannerton steals his mother’s car and you tour the red-light districts of Vancouver – Davie Street, the Main and East Hastings, and the rich tundra of human suffering – aboriginal and white mixing together a powder of death and sex – and the stink of the terrain so strong you cannot resist it. You return home by 5 am, to more punishment and retribution.
The Caribooster – a local pervert – is your first bootlegger.
Books, aye, books. First you acquire books, and they seem to fly at you directly from the sky –messages from the cosmos – the sensuality of Caravaggio, Dante and Cellini the antidote to the dry, black-and-white monotony of the sterile rages of the nuns and brothers. Like an unexpected miracle, Dostoievsky emerging from the firmament and revealing the first of a hundred thousand truths. The starets illumaniti showing the way to the dark winters of the soul. Then the mad genius of the word magicians – Perec who wrote a whole novel without the letter “e”, the wizard Queneau, Oulipo. And other matters proceeding apace, strip poker with the bad girls down in the storage room while Grandma is off playing bingo, and the Crow instinctively knowing better what to do. Which is nothing, be cool and act like you don’t give a shit and the girl will shed her garb sooner rather than later.
You have learned nothing of use, save resistance. Despite your acquisition of knowledge you are becoming less useful and more resistant to society. You will become a writer, or you will become nothing.
Into the Zinc
At nineteen, you tour Great Britain with a Canadian rugby side, then on the last day, jump on a train going south from Victoria station and leave solo for the continent on a night ferry from Dover. Initially enrolled at the University of Strasbourg, you relocate to Louvain, city of Erasmus, shortly after the Walloon-Flemish riots which bisected the country and the city into street warfare while you pursue studies of the Visigoths and the Carolingiens at the Université de Louvain. More rugby, gigs as a bartender in West Flanders and as roadie for a Flemish rock n’roll band.
Read history under the direction of Pierre Chaunu, at Paris IV-Sorbonne. Work as interpreter for a California-born Vietnam veteran purchasing vintage Citroens in the French and Italian Riviera. Arrested and interrogated at sub-machine gunpoint by trigger-happy carabinieri.during the kidnapping of the Christian-Democrat President Aldo Moro by the Brigade Rosso, later assassinated.
Work the Alberta oilfields during the boom of the late ’70s, moving oil rigs and working on the pipelines. After a barroom brawl, chased out of Drayton Valley, Alberta by a family of seven brothers.
Read and practice law for a decade or so.
Work as the only “anglo” in the world’s largest francophone law firm. Defence trial work on behalf of three public-owned asbestos companies facing over 12,000 pending lawsuits. Quit to establish the Montreal offices for a Quebec City law firm in the midst of an economic recession.
Leave Quebec for China and Hong Kong looking for opportunities. In southern China during Tiananmen Square massacre. Nearly murdered in Wanchai district strip club by Croatian bastard in the employ of HK’s finest. When business partner proposes smuggling and slavery scheme , return to Canada.
Trek Paris to Chartres several times, following in the steps of the French writers Charles Péguy and Alain Fournier. Trek a thousand year old pilgrimage route from the Pyrenees to Santiago de la Compostella in Northwest Spain. Drift into the extreme Southern Highlands of Madagascar – a region controlled by Betsileo outlaws and ex-slaves. Year of living dangerously during last days of the reign of Dictator Ratsiraka in late 2001. Return home 36 hours prior to the September 11 attacks.
In 2004, expelled from the Seychelles as persona non grata for writing on corruption and price-fixing. In 2016, direct the Long March to Rome, a march of indigenous leaders and hereditary chiefs on the Vatican to force the repeal of three fifteenth century Papal Bulls that provided the legal and moral underpinnings for the Age of Discovery.
Favourite writers are Blaise Cendrars, Jean Giono, Curzio Malaparte, Boccaccio, Rabelais, Raymond Queneau, Henry Miller, Dostoievsky, Turgenev, Knut Hamsun, Boehme, Nietszche, Rimbaud, W.B. Yeats, Rétif de la Bretonne, de Nerval, Ambrose Bierce, Isak Dinesen, Honoré de Balzac.
Eight novels and several more in the pipes. The Eel, a historical thriller, was published by Guernica Editions in June 2016. Leper Tango, (Guernica Editions) named Joe Hartlaub’s (Book Reporter) favourite book of 2012 and nominated for a Bouchercon Anthony award in 2013. In 2004, Franck Robinson monte au paradis published by Editions Denoel, the Paris publisher of Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Blaise Cendrars and Céline. The Flagship of Eternal Stupidity published in 2008 by Invisible Hand Legacy Books in Canada.
Cendrars speaks (Ekstasis Editions), a translation of a series of 1950 radio interviews with the French vagabond poet, Blaise Cendrars.
Book of Crazy (Guernica Editions).
Currently working on three novels and a non-fiction work.