I did some hospital time, and when I got out had to find work. One day, I showed up at the stevedore’s union hall on Front street, near the Fraser River docks, and got posted to the E board. The same morning, I was sent to unload hundred pound bags of sugar from the hull of a ship. My boss was a cow-licked Montrealer named Simard who was on conditional after serving three out of five for manslaughter. “You any relation to Justice Fingon?” “Yea.” “He’s the man who put me away.” “Sorry to hear it.” “Don’t be. I was up on murder one. I’m lucky I got him.” “Not as lucky as me.” After that dried up, I transported oil rigs around the Alberta badlands with some more dyed-in-the-wool thugs, this time prairie variety. My boss was ex-Hitler youth. Basically, your day was divided into three shifts. Show up and haul pipe for twelve hours. Drink and fight for six hours. Sleep for five and back to hauling pipe. Your bones ached, your mind was frozen and your spirit went into hibernation. I returned to the city with some good coin, but bush-whacked. I spent my days shooting pool in the American Hotel on the Main. That was where I met Shevensky, a Doukhobour from the Kootenay back country. Shevensky had gone down south, become a Green Beret, and after he returned set up in his squatter shack on the cliffs overlooking Wreck Beach. So, I got into the habit of drinking home-made hooch with him, and exchanging tales until the sun rose. One weekend, Shevensky went on a fishing trip somewhere in Oregon, and was electrocuted in a freak accident in his hotel room. For a while, I just lost the taste for work, or for anything, and became a little unhinged. But, a brief stint with real poverty cured the condition. My thought more or less went ‘fuck Shevensky; he’s somewhere else, but I’ve got to eat’. I signed up with the law school people and decided to drop by the old man’s place to tell him about turning over a new leaf. After some prime roast beef, yorkshire pudding and philosophy, I sprang the news.
“What’s that you said?” he queried, peering over those half-moon glasses, porto in hand.
“I said I’ve been admitted to law school, pa.”
“Hurrah!” he said, then paused to consider. “Hurrah!” he repeated. We were friends again.
Law school was easy compared to hauling rigs in forty below or feeding latrine moulds into a 2000 degree kiln. There were ten thousand cases to read, but not a foreman in sight. After three years of that, the big day arrived. We all wore legal gowns and shaved. Even the women. The Chief Justice droned on about pro bono publico and not promoting suits upon frivolous pretenses. Through all the decorum and pomposity, I could feel the bile rising. I’d quaffed a few beers on an empty stomach prior to the ceremony, and it was the hunch of what lay in store that was making me churn inside.
It didn’t take long for the Chief Justice, and the benchers of the Law Society and the remainder of them to recede from the mind’s eye. But Shevensky remained, his spirit and his voice resonant long after he’d been zapped off the planet. Shevensky had read Ignatius de Loyola.He’d studied Hui-neng and he’d read Jakob Boehme aloud while we watched the dawn sunlight hit the incoming ships coming into harbour through a haze of rotgut and psilocybin. Second best Kraut who ever lived.
“Who was the first?” I had wondered during one of our nocturnes in that shack on Musqueam land.
The poet named Bukowski, to hear Shevensky, was a pock-faced German-American son-of-a-bitch who street-fought like a warthog, but listened to Beethoven from his skid row flat, and charted the life of the lowly on the loser streets of San Francisco.
“He uses the simplest words, but nobody can copy him. He’s carved everything out of his life and soul. He bleeds onto the page. He owns it.”
“What does he own?”
“The zone of no-mind.”
With Shevensky dead and gone, I set out to discover Bukowski and this thing called no-mind.