Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I am the crosswalk avenger! antiheroes and books

Motorists of Vancouver be warned!

I will no longer tolerate your attempts at assassination. If you fail to show me the basic respect afforded me by the laws of BC, you will face my wrath. Earlier tonight, on my way to work, I was crossing Main Street eastward with the light on the north side of Broadway. As I approached the curb, a black SUV roughly the size of Manitoba squealed into my path, making a right turn off Broadway. I leaned back to avoid being clipped by the side rearview mirror. Then I smacked the back window with the palm of my hand. THWACK!

The truck screeched to a stop as I hit the corner and began walking north to the bus stop. The driver put down his cell phone and motioned vaguely toward me. I stopped and looked him in the eyes as he rolled down the window.
"What's your problem?"
"You almost ran me down is my problem! I was in the crosswalk. I had the right of way."
"It's not like I hit you--"
"It's not like you were watching the road, either."
"I wasn't trying to hit you!"
"Oh, maybe you can deliver the eulogy at my funeral, next time, asshole."
"Fuck you. Get a life."
"I'm working on it!"

Nicole worries about my pedestrian acts of vigilantism, and rightly so. Vancouver has its share of violent thugs, and they're probably among those who could care less about crosswalks. Once I spit on a car as it narrowly missed running me down. I coulda been shot.

Jack Kerouac never drove, so he never drove alone (and he never almost ran me down in a crosswalk!). At least that's what Richard Meltzer told Robert Pollard. In some ways, it's the last word on Kerouac, really. At least I thought it would be for me. But Canadian writer Ray Robertson wrote a book called What Happened Later, and I read it. Robertson wrote a pretty okay book called Moody Food about a reclusive country singer and we seem to like a lot of the same music. Once I saw him on one of those atrocious BOOK TV shows where the cut a bunch of interviews with Canadian writers together and try to make them seem interesting. The most interesting thing (I should note here that I was watching with the volume off) about the Robertson clips was the sweet leather chair he was sitting in. I had never desired a leather before, and now, it's all I want. I have decided that only once I have a leather chair like Ray Robertson, only then will I really and truly be a novelist.
Robertson also wrote a pretty excellent book called Mental Hygiene: Essays on Writers and Writing. Well, in truth, he didn't so much write as he had it collected, since it's mostly book reviews from his sideline as one of Canada's most prolific broadsheet book reviewist. I mean, sure, he wrote it first, and he says he rewrote most of the essays/reviews, but all the same, it's a collection of writing, y'know.
So, there we go, I'm, like, mostly predisposed to liking Ray Robertson. And I'm certainly predisposed to liking Jack Kerouac and What Happened Later is halfway about Kerouac, and halfway about a young Robertson trying to get his greasy teenaged hands on On The Road, on the recommendation of one Jim Morrison, or rather one Jim Morrison biog. So, hey, how do I like What Happened Later?

'Salright. I thought, going in, that I'd be more into the Kerouac parts and just sorta skim over the young Ray parts. But just the opposite! The Kerouac stuff is sorta boring old retreads of previous Keraouac biogs and is probably just as thunderingly dull as it musta been to hang out with Jack during the last few years of his life. Like an all-day red wine hangover. The young Ray stuff, about the kids at his school who were rewarded socially for playing hockey and about spilling donut jelly on the upholstery of his dad's car, that stuff is interesting in a Wonder Years sorta way. That's the fun stuff. The Kerouac slowly boozing himself to death is an old story, often told. While the parallel narratives serve their purpose, sometimes it feels like Robertson is just writing Kerouac fan-fiction to pad out his own memoirs.
You probably can't read it on the above image, but the cover of What Happened Later features a blurb from Chuck Kinder that reads: "Ray Robertson is the Jerry Lee Lewis of North American letters." I don't really know what that means, but it ain't no how true. Robertson's prose is way too polite (Canadian much?). He's not even the Buddy Holly of NAL. Maybe more like the Tom Petty of NAL, not doing anything new, but plays the old sound as if he might've been there when it was new.

mp3: "Corduroy" by Richard Meltzer, Robert Pollard, Smegma + Antler
mp3: "Hard Hearted Old Farmer" by Jack Kerouac, feat. Al Cohn & Zoot Sims

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