Wednesday, August 26, 2009
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Swine
By C. Sanchez-Garcia
Genie's always arrive in magic lamps or exotic bottles. In my case , it was a box of Ho-Ho crackers I found in a dumpster on the beach. I opened the lid because I was hungry and out came a genie who looked remarkably like Barbara Eden.
"Master," she said, "because of my crimes in ancient times I am bound to give you three wishes."
I was excited, for maybe two seconds. “Do I have to?” I said.
“The hell’s wrong with you mister? Most people would be happy to get three wishes.”
"I guess." I said. "Okay. Well, let's see. I wish for world peace and no more war. That's one. Aw shit, I don’t know. No more global warming and save the earth I guess. That’s two. I don’t know. Maybe there should be no more hunger and suffering and evil shit in the world. Well, that's it. Am I done? Can I go?"
She looked at me like she wanted to kill me. "I've got some good news for you, kid. I'm not Jesus Christ, alright? I'm just a lousy genie. Wish small."
"I can wish for myself?" I yelled, perking up.
"And don’t feel bad about it."
"Oh - that's great!" Then I remembered this old story called "The Monkey's Paw. "No, wait. You’re going to turn my wishes around into something ironically nasty."
She shrugged. A little smirk.
"Okay," I said. "Let's do this. I'll use one wish and keep the others back in case I need them. This is what I want - I want a red door."
I would guess for the first time in maybe a few thousand years she looked surprised. "A red what?"
I sat down on the sand and looked around to see if anyone was nearby. "Here's the deal, okay. There's this door see? But it’s like this magic door. I make it like this." I held up my hands, forefingers out and made the sign of a large square. "Now, dig. When you open it, whatever I say is on the other side is on the other side, but only in that world, not in this one. Its another world on the other side, you follow?"
She nodded, interested.
" Now I can leave that world and come back to this one anytime by just thinking about it. That's all. If I think about it, the door appears and I go through back to this world, like waking up from a dream. But when I make this red door appear, I can sit in front of it each time and describe what will happen on the other side, what kind of world it is, who I'm going to meet. Then I can explore that world and meet people and do anything I want and it won’t hurt anybody here. It'll be my world. Can you do that? Or is that too hard? I should just wish for a lottery ticket or something?"
"You think I can’t do that?"
"I don’t know." I said. "You said you weren’t Jesus Christ or anything. Maybe you’re not that good."
"Watch this." said the genie. She waved her hand and closed her eyes. Her lips moved. She opened her eyes and nothing had changed. "Done."
I looked around. "Where is it?"
"It's your door," she said. "Its there when you want it. Inside your head. Try it out."
"Where are you going?"
"I'll be around.” she said. She was gone and I was alone.
My first thought was relief that I had gotten through this without destroying myself in some poetically ironic way. But was there a red door?
I held up my fingers and made the sign of the box. As my fingers moved through the air the Red Door appeared. It was an antique wooden door, such as you might see on an old shed. It was painted thickly, sloppily red. It had a brass door knob and old skeleton keyhole. A kind of Hobbit door. I looked around at the space behind it and it seemed to vanish. It would only be visible to me and only from one side. And on the other side, another world. My world.
I should have wished for money I thought. If I'm rich, I'll only be rich over there. Over here I'll still have bills to pay. Dreaming won’t do me any good. If I could make money by selling stories, that would be something. What if I was the world's greatest writer? The soul of Shakespeare and the commercial storytelling of Stephen King? But I want it to come from me, no tricks. No magic. But I want the money too.
I thought about the novel I'd been muddling through. What if I could write the greatest novel of the 21st century and make a pile of money too? That would be the ultimate. But I needed guidance.
I said out loud to the red Door - "I'm in Ireland, I’m in Dublin. There's a bar, we'll call it the White Horse. I'm going to go inside and buy a beer and wait. James Joyce will appear and he'll tell me how to be the greatest writer in the world."
There was this TV show I used to watch with my dad when I was a little kid, called "Rocky and Bullwinkle". One of the shorts was "Peabody and his boy Sherman". Mr. Peabody was this dog with big glasses who spoke English like a Harvard professor and he had a time machine and would announce where he was taking Sherman and who they were going to visit. I felt like Sherman must have felt. Except of course, there was no wise dog to keep an eye on me. I took the old brass knob and turned it and the door opened towards the inside. On the outside was the dumpster on the beach on a summer's day. On the inside was old Dublin at night. I stood up and walked through.
The door vanished behind me. There were sounds and smells of horses, gas lights on the corner, men standing around. I didn’t see any women anywhere. Not a proper time for a lady to be out, unless she was a working girl. In front of me was a dingy dive with a sign above the door with a painted White Horse. There were coins in my pocket, something gold with a queen's head on it. I figured it would be enough. Why would I need money in a world I'd created anyway? Couldn’t I just wish?
I went into the bar. There were the sounds of talking and laughter, the chink of glasses, the smoke of pipes from old men huddled in corner tables, the acidy cigars of young men throwing darts at a board on the wall. Men insulting each other and laughing. Behind the bar a radio broadcast a soccer game and some men leaned in close to hear. There was an empty booth in a corner, I didn’t see any waitresses and realized how unprepared I was for all this. I went to the bar and put my little gold coin on the counter.
The chunky man behind the bar glowered at me. I'd have to learn these details. "You a yank then, are ya?"
Its weird how people in other countries can just tell that right away. Except kids. Kids never know, but grown ups pick you out. "Yes sir, I'm waiting for someone."
"Well, how are you?"
“Are ya bein' thick now? I mane - what’ll ya have?”
"Black and Tan? Guinness?"
"Yeah, two pints Guinness." What the hell was Black and Tan? I pushed the coin towards him. A moment later I had two tall glasses and some silver coins.
I carried them to the little corner booth and the great man himself was waiting for me, made to order. He looked like a timid bank clerk with a little tooth brush mustache and a rakish pirate patch over his left eye. His clothes weren’t that great, even in the dim light. There were worn out little holes in the collar of his knit pullover vest. His white shirt, with the little string tie was dingy and a little yellow. "Mr. Joyce?"
"Spare the weight from your legs, boy-o. Is that a drop there for me?"
"That’s yours." I put the glasses down in front of him and held out my hand. "I'm Sanchez-Garcia". He took it gently and let it go. I sat down.
"I've been reading your book "Ulysses".
"You poor aul fella." He nodded, taking up his pint glass. "Bit of a slog, eh?'
"Yeah. But I hear it’s a great book."
"Oh aye. It was hell to write. Hell to publish. Hell to get through. What can I do for you on this soft auld summer's evening?"
"Well sir," I cleared my throat. "I want to be a writer - '
"Ah no. Do you now, ya poor maniac. You’ve bought into the great madness then have ya? Were you hit in the head and now fancy yourself a man of letters?"
"Yes sir, and I want to be able to make money with my writing."
"Have you ever yet received money for your book?"
"I sold a story once."
"Jaysus, son, stop acting the maggot with me. Have you received a bleedin' copper for a one of your books or have ya not?"
"No, actually I never have. I don't know if I've ever actually sold a book or not."
"Ah no. I'll have to light a candle for your benighted soul, so I will. Well, there's no harm in the trying. Let's investigate. Do you have some of this excellent nonsense with you?"
"Yes sir - "
"Stop calling me sir. I'm not your bloody priest."
I shoved a manuscript across to him. It was pretty short; I didn’t want to keep him long. He scanned over the first page. "Crap." He mumbled. My heart fell. He flipped to the next page. "Crap." The next. His lips moved one syllable. The next. The next. The next. He passed it back. "You're not touchin' your drink, son."
I picked up my glass and choked down a little. I didn’t feel like having it anymore.
"C' mere now. You'll not be a terror for the drink are you?" he said.
"There’s your first homily then." he said and took a long pull on his beer. "Listen, son, drinking and writing, that's rubbish now. A man who writes when he's seein' triple, well he's just a drunk with talent and no other thing. Amen."
"Will you stop being so bloody worshipful. I'm not Jesus Christ."
"You’re the second person to say that to me today. But my story. Jim, its not really all crap is it?"
"Well, it’s a biteen loud, id-n’t it? Sure and it’s a right deadly bit of trash you’ve scribbled off here, all this horned up wanking and wailing, and such grand aul fecking and snogging of the poor ladies so. And they're quick to lift their skirts right up, aren't they now? Jeannie mac, son, it's bloody savage is what it is, but you’ve got some style, I’ll give you that. Don’t be disturbed if no one will publish it. I couldn’t get me Dubliner stories published, the bloody printer wanted to burn them, and they’ve nary a tit to be seen there, sure as you’re born." He slapped the paper with his fingertips. "Not like this stiffy stuff."
"But sir - "
"I am going to hit you so hard in your fecking head, I am."
"Jim! Sorry. My time is different. This stuff is popular. Women too, they like it."
"Well bless your little heart then, go and sin no more says I."
"Listen." I said. "Can't you give me some kind of advice?"
"I like your style well enough. There's a wee bit of truth in it. You got your heart right, I think. But if it’s making a living you’re supposing off this sorry stuff, well then, you're as daft as a Sunday morning so ya are. The publishing house you see, they’ll see you burn in hell first before you squeeze a shilling out of them. Not a fecking comrade of a shilling. And then there's the mother church. You'd best hide your name son, or they'll burn you alive. If you want to hear the truth, you can do this one of two ways. You can be a real man of the pen, give up your job and do this proper and bugger all and starve. Now that's a young man's game. If you have a family, you're done for and all. That's the end of it then. You'll need a proper job for the baby and the missus and call yourself a writer if it pleases you, but its not the same don’t you see. You’re only walking the wire with a net. Don’t feel shame, son, I couldn’t make a go of it. I was a teacher. I opened a movie theater, and so did bloody Shakespeare if you’re dying to know. I did a million things, and I wrote just five books to save me sorry life and there's an end to it you see."
He slammed his glass down hard on the table. I jumped.
"I'm ten times your curd as a writer I am! I'm James Fecking Joyce, better than any dozen you can name by Jesus Mary and Joseph and all the Holy Martyrs, and I couldn’t make a go of it. But you know something, boy-o, I wrote what I bloody pleased. I did! So should you. Thus endeth the sermon."
"I think I get that. I think your stuff is still around, people are still reading it because you tried to tell the truth. At least you fought the good fight. Not everybody is going to get the stuff you write though. But when I hear you say it, it seems all right. I guess I needed to hear that from someone."
"Did you now? Come here. Take it this way, son. If you’re not making enough to be worth knicking - then be a foolish chancer and go your way with your head up. You'll be much happier. You'll sleep at night. And you can tell the truth so, because you’re not beholding. Do what you fecking want. Sleep till noon and screw 'em all. But you must tell the truth. If you write just for the cutter you’re a fecking monkey." He took a pull on his drink, and sloshed the remains around while he stared glumly into his glass. "There I've said it now."
"Woah? A fecking silly monkey with a honey flavored arsehole and a tin cup to boot." For the first time he smiled.
"Okay," I said. "Well, this has been great. But its time now, I think I'm going to push off."
"Fancy a biteen game of darts?"
"I'll come back when I have something good to show you. We'll get together. It’s getting late. If this blog thing gets too long people might stop reading it."
"Like poor aul Ulysses. Everybody knows the first chapter. No one makes the second." He looked sad again, a little defeated. I wanted to turn back and say something to him about that feeling, but coming from me it seemed like he’d just get mad.