Praise for What if Manny Ramirez and AJ Burnett were best friends in High School:
“Andre, other than Bergkamp and Josh Towers we try to keep the homosexual undertones of being sports fans less obvious.”
-Anonymous commenter on Drunk Jays Fans
“That’s terrible. I don’t even understand why you made this.”
-Lori, my sister-in-law
“Yes, at least the photoshop is good.”
-Lisa, my wife
Recently Mark Teixera signed a 180-million dollar deal to play for the New York Yankees, and so they no longer have any reason to sign Manny Ramirez. Manny Ramirez and AJ Burnett will never be best friends, except in a highly implausible future. This is the worst I could have hoped for. The title of another post, conceived a week ago, was going to be “What if Manny Ramirez and AJ Burnett were best friends on a championship-winning NASCAR team”, but now that post can never exist. Impossible past and future relationships still exist as possibilities, of course, but somehow their existence holds less weight, at least in this reality. Continue reading →
Water for Elephants is Sarah Gruen’s New York Times bestseller about a Cornell-educated veterinarian joining a circus during the depression. It is also the worst book I have ever finished.
The book strays in many ways, but Gruen’s number one mistake is not being true to the characters or situation. The narrative is continuously, actively, dishonest, hiding details from you in a blatant effort to surprise you later. An example: the book opens with a chapter that seems to suggest the protagonist’s love interest kills her husband, but it’s later revealed (in a modified version of the same chapter) that the actual killer was an elephant. Oh, and that the dead husband (surprise!) was a paranoid schizophrenic who sometimes hit her. So it’s okay, everyone.
The entire book rests on the laurels of lazy gimmick: “Jacob Jankowski”, our Polish protagonist, joins the circus completely by accident. Once his parents have died in a freak car crash, his inheritance is seized by a bank, and he fails his final exams, he wanders away from town and finds himself in the middle of nowhere, walking along a set of train tracks. When the next train comes, he decides to hop it. “Decides” suggests too much in this context: the train comes, and implicitly Jacob knows that he has to jump it. Why? Because it’s a circus train, and this story is about a circus! I’m not trying to be “punchy” or “cute”; that is the literal motivation presented.
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The other night I dream a name most of you don’t know. It would be irresponsible to reproduce it. We’re in the aerie of an old, twisting castle built of elegant wood panelling, iron rails, and limestone. There are many of us: a tribe. We crouch over slate shingles and jump from one roof to the next. Balconies and corridors are blocked off, and in the passages beyond hiss spider-people making slow progress. It’s understood they are our enemies.
The name turns to me and exposes his back. It’s criss-crossed with deep cuts healed over with dried blood. “Scratch your tattoo into it,” he says, and I balk.
He’s upset. “Scratch your tattoo into it,” he says again, pressing. I have a vague idea he wants me to draw him a cartoon. The spider-men attack, and we’re seperated. All of humanity is refugee, and I, winding my own meandering path through the action (once I fire a missile, but there is no report; someone tells me I’m not to pass back into a section of the castle already lost, I go anyway), come across miserable groups huddled up in patches, spread out on old rags and laying stock-still, as if waiting for death; the fighting goes on all about them, shaking the walls.
From time to time I come across the name again, and he makes no mention of the tattoo. He only seems disappointed. This section of the dream ends. Continue reading →
AJ Burnett and Manny Ramirez were headcases. That’s why they were best friends.
At lunch, Manny slumped over the table, buried in a black parka, wearing headphones so big they covered his ears. AJ beside him, etching the letter ‘H’ with a circle around it into a spiral-bound notebook, wearing a stained white t-shirt and jeans. He had his own parka, but it was draped over the back of a nearby chair. Occasionally Manny raised his head from the desk and burst into rhyme, aping the lyrics on the CD player. AJ never joined him, but he nodded his head in appreciation. He idolized Manny and the way that he had.
After school sometimes they went to the park and dicked around in the forest, lighting joints and smoking cigarettes by an old mattress that some kids had left there years before. When they were high they leaned back on the mattress and talked shit or wandered aggressively, throwing rocks and metal junk at the trees. AJ had to lie to his parents. They didn’t know he was spending so much time with Manny, who they disapproved of for many reasons. They were new to the suburbs, coming from a part of the country that didn’t have anyone who wasn’t white. Continue reading →
Two of three parts of a full year of post-secondary education are changing seasons in Toronto. So when the weather is mild, gloomy, and wet, I can’t help but be reminded of my three aborted years at the University; years, it seems to me now, which I mainly spent in quiet self-reflection shuttling myself between classes and my apartment. I don’t think I ever took public transportation for that purpose, and I can only remember taking a taxi once, or perhaps twice, when I felt the weather (rain) merited it. My coat, my usually bare hands, and my neck, I am sure, took the brunt. My legs, already strong, grew stronger. My beard turned green from moss, and my lungs tainted from pollution and smog.
Though I am, I don’t feel as if I am attending school right now, I think because I lack this physical connection. I’ve driven past (or taken a streetcar which passed nearby) the Humber College campus only once, two or three years ago, and that was when I first learned of the writing program I am enrolled in now, which I’ve since seen mentioned in the Toronto Star and advertised in Harper’s. I’m ashamed to tell you that I can’t remember where my mentor, my sole contact to the institution, lives, but I know it is not Toronto and have a vague idea it’s a small town in Ontario that begins with the letter “B”. Like me, he does not make the commute. We send pages back and forth over e-mail. I recommend the program for anyone interested in novel writing who has a stable social life and does not need school for friends, reassurance, or validation. If I’d entered the program as soon as a year and a half ago, the results, probably, would have been disastrous.
Monday I have some time (hours) after work, and I find myself at the Robarts library. In the weather, the high wet, concrete ceiling above the second floor entrance looms like that of a Gothic cathedral. Continue reading →
There is no more ringing endorsement to simple forms in storytelling than the wide dispersion (at least in the contemporary art world) of avant-garde videos which consist of overlong cuts of the everyday and mundane. It seems that I am always coming across them, whether in galleries, ART FORUM, or in other art magazines I find scattered over my parent’s coffee table. I am sure the previous statement will reveal, to the more cultured of you, my incredible naivety, and to the less interested my hopelessness. What stands is the ubiquituousness of these films.
In them the viewer is forced into direct relationship with the familiar or the unfamiliar, a relationship that, though of course biased and carefully selected, feels intense, haphazard, and natural. We are consumed by the idea that we are “there”, and the thoughts that result are accepted due to an enforced context. Sometimes the reactions are vague and unformed, emotional; sometimes they are logical and follow a conscious train of “narrative” thought. A film well presented and viewed actively will stimulate the creation of thousands of new relationships, feelings, and avenues, though most will never be fully articulated. These movies, at their best, at the viewer’s, provide raw inspiration. They succeed because the world they inhabit is self-affirming in the way that all moving images are.
To me a perfect novel or narrative is an unpretentious string of such active, intense moments –moments that are presented in a believable and rigorous context. We might not trust the narrators, the world might be out of continuity or open to interpretation, but each moment and each character must seem real. The reader must accept everything that happens as “true”. Too frequently, literary writers spend too much time on style, on thesis, but, used improperly, these both hinder expression and are even redundant. We do not need “truth” spelled out for us, as in a movie like Synecdoche, New York, if we can plainly see it. Writers of commercial fiction have a similar hang-up: they are concerned with describing specific characters and situations without letting us breathe them, they sometimes impose plot in a way that seems constrained and unnatural.
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I felt it was time for a bit of a change, but the WordPress SYSTEM seems much better to me, anyway. At least so far. I think I will keep this when I am feeling lazy and want to do a post like the last one but in all honesty I am planning to update here like once a month (it will probably be much less that that) so feel free to carpet bomb this blog from all link lists. There will eventually be a link or something up at kremvax anyway.
Sorry if some of the photographs (here and there) are bad… many of them are placeholders for when we get a digital camera, you know???
I leave the apartment at midnight. It is colder than I remember and I thrust my hands deep into my pockets. At the corner, the two teenagers still stand waiting in front of the convenience store, stepping and leaning around the shopfront tentatively, like children. Their cheeks are red and the girl’s nose drips. She is completely silent, and she scurries to and fro, crossing my path several times and never even making eye contact. Perhaps she is searching for a very specific aspect, perhaps she is only passing the time.
The boy is wearing a thick black parka with a bluish-grey bandanna tied underneath a sideways ballcap in Raiders colours. He isn’t short, but he’s thick and his features are vaguely Latin. A thin black beard describes his lower jaw. He coughs nervously and speaks out of the side of his mouth. He obviously doesn’t remember me from before.
“Hey, uh, do you want to buy us bud?”
I still don’t know what he means, but I shake my head no. I’m embarrassed for him. They’ve been here for hours. “No, sorry,” I say. My tone is polite and, I think, understanding. It’s first nature, though it feels awkward for this situation. Should I be aggressive? Condescending? Should I threaten to call the police? And what’s he asking for, anyway? Does he want me to buy him some papers, or schlep my way over to his drug dealer? The latter idea seems ridiculous, but what enterprising teenager could be so desperate over papers? Even I know there are other ways to smoke marijuana, and no shopkeeper is going to turn down a purchase of a 600ml pop bottle and a ballpoint pen. The boy looks disappointed. Broken, though because of his clothing I expect him to be belligerent. I have two hundred dollars in cash in my wallet, which feels dangerous. I make a mental note to conceal it while I’m paying, in case the shopkeeper is in league with the teenager, or the teenager is more industrious than he appears.
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The Known World by Edward P. Jones is, for the most part, too plodding and serious a book. Maybe that is too harsh criticism: the character’s suffering is worthy and deeply felt, and there is enough life to give the book a spark. But it’s slow in that contemporaneous literary way, and it was released in paperback (one year, two years after its first print?) with a selection of stodgily researched “facts” and tepid questions for the book club set, already hinting that, as a work, it is “major”. Jones is an excellent writer, but the book fails partly because it knows its audience too well; it is too finely marketed.
One and a half years later I can pick out many moments, but I cannot give you an accurate summary of the plot. It is probably impossible to resolve the idea of slavery, and Jones gives a good account of it, but the book feels incomplete. Perhaps it is only that I wish the book Jones had written were another, one that he hints at very briefly, in a single chapter.
A powerful white man loses his family to sickness and his estate to creditors. He is ruined, and sets his manor on fire. It burns to the ground. For a time the property is abandoned.
The crops would escape the fire and would thrive, tended by no one. The fields had not had such bounty in more than seven years. There would be no harvest in the usual sense, as no one came to reap what the slaves had sown. Had someone counted up what the crops the fields had to give, it would have come to more than $325 a slave.
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Construction at Queen’s Park station this morning. They’ve blocked off an escalator and gutted the bottom platform. Greasy machinery is exposed. Two men are standing in the fenced-off area, wearing work clothes and looking matter-of-factly at the passing commuters. Their aspects are sullen. One of them stands up straight as a nail, with long dirty black hair that sticks out like a lion’s mane, his hands on the escalator rails. The other is shorter and stands to his side, leaning heavily on a wall, his arm stretched out for support. He is bald and his eyes are framed by thick glasses.
The second man looks at the first and sticks a finger in his mouth, digging it into his teeth.
“I’ve got a fucking piece of pork chop stuck in there,” he says. “From last night. It won’t come out. It’s huge. It’s… the size of a cow.”
The statement strikes me as awkward: I want him to say “the size of the cow it came from,” and think of this compulsively the whole way up the stairs. The sound of children filters down from above, an anticipatory rebounding noise which leads me to believe that the whole room is filled with them, spread out on the ground and eating lunches pulled from polystyrene bags. “Children know where pork chops come from,” I think. “It’s likely that the man does too, but when you’re a child you think about origins more than anyone else.” I crest the stairwell and am surprised to see that the children only account for a thin single-filed line snaking through the turnstiles and making their way down the opposite staircase to the station below.