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Pasha Malla

by Susan Henderson on August 31, 2006

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla
This week’s book: Ninja Secrets of Invisibility, by Ashida Kim (Citadel Press, 1983)

The other day, while reading Ashida Kim’s Ninja Secrets of Invisibility on the subway, a drunk man confronted me. He came at me swaying, the sickly smell of wine and urine and pathos pouring off him in waves, then stood before me with a finger pointed at the book, and then at my face. And then the floor. Back to my face. Book. Nervous-looking Pilipino nanny w/ Hasidic toddler in stroller two seats over. Book. Face.

“You’re not invisible!” he screamed.

“Not yet,” I explained, turning the book around to show him. “I’m only on page nine.”

But, look, now it’s like a week later and I’ve finished the rest of the book and I’m still not invisible. Not even close. And I’m not very Ninja-like, either, despite reading the “Art of Stealth” chapter twice. Why, today alone I broke two coffee cups and a wine glass, and tripped over a stapler at work! The stealthiest thing I’ve done all week was buy condoms. And even then, it was more bumbling and shameful than stealthy, more retarded yak than Ninja, more sad than anything else, at all. And six years from now, when I’m throwing out that same package of condoms, unopened and expired, I will only wish that I’d learned how to become invisible. To fade from sight, like a Ninja, to disappear”¦

Condoms. Do Ninjas wear condoms? This is something Ashida Kim fails to cover in his book. Probably not, though. A Ninja’s lovemaking is likely done at a crouch, surreptitiously, like the strike of a cobra or evil ghost …or evil ghost cobra, if such a thing exists. The Ninja’s lover says, “Hey! Did anyone else just feel a breeze through here?” But the Ninja is already gone, sated, swooning despite himself in the throes of petit mort, and the lover is impregnated with some crazy Ninja embryo who nine months later sneaks fully-formed and bandana’d out of the womb and into the world, an eight-pound/four-ounce killing machine.

Ninjas make terrible fathers. Forget bears, those bastard-makers of the wild, the Ninja is worse than an absentee: he hangs around, but vanishes from sight at the most opportune times. Will the Ninja change a diaper? No, he will be gone. Breastfeed? Unlikely. According to Ashida Kim, the Ninja appears to have no time for these sorts of trivialities, what with the “Vanishing and Evasion Methods” he practices, not to mention all those “Escapes and Reversals” …both, not so coincidentally, chapter headings in Secrets. (Do these sound like the titles of grim, adultery-themed Best American Short Stories to anyone else?)

To be fair, I’m vilifying Ninjas out of jealousy. Of Ninjas, it is said: “Through wisdom is the Ninja created, through understanding is he established, through mystery is he maintained.” I am no Ninja. I’m of a different breed of human being: writers of mediocre short stories nobody reads, occasional teachers of students who have figured out we have nothing worthwhile to say. What would our credo be? “Through an M.F.A. program is the part-time faculty member with no books or benefits created, through self-loathing is he established, through the arbitrary miracle of an arts grant and the grace of Two-For-One Draft Beer Thursdays is he maintained.”

But, you know what? Consider the Ninja enough and he does start to offer parallels and lessons to the emerging/aspiring/middling writer. As the Ninja shrouds himself with “an air of mystery,” so do we shroud ourselves in airs of our own … although, if you’re anything like me, those airs are most often the result of a diet comprising mainly Mexican food and usually require the swift opening of windows for ventilation.

The wisdom of Ashida Kim is vast, however. Also of use, to both Ninja and writer: “Lead by example, being both feared and loved,” “Cast the pebble, don’t hurl it,” “One must move swiftly as well as silently,” “Pinch your victim’s ankle,” and “Assume a relaxed horse stance.”

Perhaps most poignant of all, especially to the writer who has struggled, who has perhaps been subjected to so much rejection that he or she is tired of even typing, who wonders, “Why go on?” or, “Why buy a new ink cartridge for the Bubble Jet to print out a 6000-word story only to have the first page come back in the mail four months from now with a form letter, ironically enough, the exact size of the IRC I spent four bucks on to have it returned, and they’ll probably spell my fucking name wrong, godammit?” or, simply, “Why?” is maybe this advice: “Bear in mind the principle of riding the tiger. He cannot bite or claw you as long as you remain on his back. Getting there and staying there, however, are always somewhat risky.”

I’m being serious. Think about it.

For further reading:

Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990.

Engel, Marian. Bear. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976.

Kim, Ashida. Ninja Mind Control. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1986.

Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff. The Emperor’s Embrace: Reflections on Animal Families and Fatherhood. New York: Washington Square Press/Pocket Books, 1999.

“Real Ultimate Power”. Webpage: http://www.realultimatepower.net/

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla
This week’s book: Poet Cop, by Hans Jewinski (Simon & Schuster, 1975)

I no longer have a copy of Hans Jewinski’s Poet Cop; I returned mine a few weeks ago to the shelf at my friend Michelle’s house where I found it. But my memories of the book burn with the intensity of a thousand cops howling a thousand poems into the blackest night (i.e. passionately, w/ moustaches and drive-thru coffees and guns), and it is with those memories that I will attempt to sketch out its glory, here, in these few humble lines. (Apologies for the lack of excerpts …you’ll just have to find your own copy!)

When I first discovered Poet Cop, I thought it was a work of fiction. The cover suggests Judy Blume or one of those flyers about peer pressure that lie around high school guidance offices and nobody reads. A cop, presumably the “Poet Cop” of the title, leans over a small girl concealing …shit, I’ve forgotten what! Maybe a blade? A bottle of malt liquor? A grenade? Whatever it is, she’s looking at him very sweetly with this incriminating device hidden behind her back, and on a brick wall behind them is scrawled “Some call him ‘Pig,'” which cleverly also serves as the subtitle for the book

But open up Poet Cop and you’ll quickly discover that it’s not a work of fiction, not at all. In a delightfully postmodern, self-referential, “the author is alive and well and prowling the beat”¦of free verse!” tip of the hat, Poet Cop is actually a collection of poetry by an officer of the law (poet cop = “Poet Cop”). And, despite sounding like the sort of anti-Semitic epithet dreamed up by redneck teenagers for the new exchange student from Krakow, Hans Jewinski is the author’s real name. I mean, as far as I can tell …in my half-assed attempts at research (Google), I’ve come across little to suggest otherwise.

However, I did find this, by a certain J. Carpenter in an article posted on the Books in Canada website, and it makes me sad. “The publishers were treating [Poet Cop] as a gimmick: a policeman so sensitive he wrote poetry. When the book didn’t pan out, they returned his second manuscript unread. It was an insult to Hans, who had a poet’s eye for detail and a fine turn of phrase, and as far as I know he never published again.” I mean, even to a Poet Cop, that must have sucked.

So, I guess I should tell you if the poems are any good. They are! They’re very tight and sparse and lowercase, and best of all many of them are about my neighbourhood (well, sort of …I’m in Riverdale, just over the bridge), and it seems as though little has changed in the thirty-odd years since Jewinski roamed these here streets.

Except: Poet Cop’s beat of Regent Park, a block of subsidized housing more compound than community, is being torn down. They’re going to make it nice. In the meantime, all the residents are being shuffled off to temporary homes around the city. What would Poet Cop think of this? Something, I bet. Something poetic, but also something infused with his policeman’s sense of duty and authority, and also genuine love and sympathy for the people he serves and protects.

See, the thing about Hans Jewinski is the incredible sense of honesty that he conveys in all his poems. Poet Cop cares. He cares about the crackwhores and petty thugs, the teen moms and dads, the babies. He’s tough, but he’s all heart …something increasingly hard to find these days in both poets and cops, I think. Once I got past the initial hilarity (“Check it out …Poet Cop! A poet cop!”) the poems really struck a chord with me. At first I imagined Poet Cop arresting people and, in lieu of Miranda Rights, reciting some Tennyson or Keats in a Hamlet accent. But after reading the book, that changed: I started walking around Cabbagetown, Riverdale and Regent Park trying to see people how Poet Cop might see them. Beyond snickering behind my hand at the ranting guy on the corner in sweatpants, a woman’s leather coat and one deck-shoe, I found myself wondering who he was, what brought him here, where his other shoe might be.

I’ve been being flippant here for a reason. Poet Cop has got be wondering why writers of my demographic (28, half-brown, $6 haircut) and shoe-size (10 1/2), resort so often to being glib, rather than attempting to capture anything truthful about themselves or what (very little, in my case) they know of the world. Are we just so cynical and wary of sentimentality that it’s too risky to our fragile senses of identity? Do we feel our experiences are invalid? Are we just insecure? Or do we really hold so little of value that our only options are flagrant narcissism or pointing fingers and poking fun?

I pulled Poet Cop off Michelle’s shelf smugly, ironically. But then I discovered this dude …this Jewinski, this Poet Cop …who’s obviously a great guy, and who’s brought my whole existence into question. He’s a cop in one of the roughest areas in town. He goes home every night and writes heartfelt, honest poetry about what he sees. And to think a) Some opportunist publisher got hold of his stuff and turned him into a dancing bear; and b) Some smug little turd (me) saw this all as only material for a silly bit of writing”¦well, it’s sort of heartbreaking, really.

If only I had the balls to write a poem about it.

For further reading:

Berman, Dave. Actual Air. New York: Grove/Atlantic, 2000.

Blume, Judy. Superfudge. Cheltenham, UK: Nelson Thornes, 1985.

“Books in Canada”. Website: http://www.booksincanada.com/

Doyle, Ben. Radio, Radio: Poems. Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 2000.

Garner, Hugh. Cabbagetown. Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla
This weeks book: Harraps de Poche: Dictionnaire Anglais-Francais / Francais-Anglais

Two years ago, on the train from New York City to Montreal, I sat across the aisle from a young woman of such astonishing beauty that I stared resolutely ahead for the first four hours of the trip, not daring look at her. Eventually, I took out one of the books I had bought at The Strand: Chester Himes Cotton Comes to Harlem. As I opened to the first page, I noticed in my semi-perverted peripheral vision that the girl across the aisle was doing the same. Her novel: J.M. Coetzees Life and Times of Michael K. So, not only was she pretty, but way, way smarter than me, too.

I couldnt get into the Himes. I was distracted. We were both reading, sort of. What were the chances? I had to say something. Which brought me, two hours later, to my killer opening line: Want to trade books? She shrugged; she did. And she was French. From France, even. And she was reading Coetzee IN HER SECOND LANGUAGE. But after a few minutes, she asked for her book back. This is not very good, she told me. Stuffing Cotton back into my knapsack, I promised myself at that moment I would never read another word of Himes as long as I lived. (This didnt happen The Real Cool Killers is freaking awesome!)

Anyway, we got to chatting a little bit, me trying out my pidgin French, her humoring me politely. It turned out she was a writer, and her first book would be published in the coming year a childrens book, with pictures. She asked me if wrote, and I told her, Um. Because compared to this woman, with her book deal and multilingual literacy, I didnt. And probably still dont. Would you believe me if I told you her name was Lolita?

We arrived in Montreal and discovered we lived in the same neighborhood, so we split a cab and somehow I ended up with her phone number tacked to my bulletin board. Of course, I didnt dare call. I was dating someone at the time, anyway, and besides what would I have said? Bonjour. Comment a va? Veux-tu aller la plage? I might as well have given her a copy of my fourth grade French textbook. Besides, she was moving back to France in a matter of weeks.

Fast forward to March, 2006. I notice in a bookstore a childrens picture book, in French, by a certain Lolita. Innocently enough, I email the publisher in broken French, asking that a message of congratulations be passed along, hoping it is indeed the same person. A few days later, Lolita emails me back, also in French. I dont understand half her message. I go out and buy a copy of Harraps de Poche: Dictionnaire Anglais-Franais / Franais-Anglais. It turns out she remembers me, somehow, and is back in Montreal. I have since moved to Toronto. But, still. Do you believe in serendipity? The French do. They make movies about it.

An email correspondence develops. My French messages take hours to write. I labor over every word, every verb tense, every gendered noun. I want them to be good. They never are. My spoken French, by this point, is fine but writing? To a real writer? Forget it. I read my messages and try to figure out what sort of person Im presenting. Someone who uses multiple exclamation marks and apologizes for every sentence, apparently. Someone who sucks.

But this is the thing, I find. No matter how proficient we are in a second language, we become someone else. Even if I was compltement bilingue, French Pasha would still be some make of retard. See, I open up the Sent Message folder and read his emails. The rhythm of his sentences is a gaily beaten drum made of idiocy. And all those exclamation marks! Who is he shouting at, and why? In Paris they are so dry and witty and cool, and French Pasha is a raving lunatic, screaming in a crooked beret with white froth collecting in the corners of his mouth like a rabid animal or a weird drunk.

But, check it out: April 13th. That is the day I am heading to Montreal to visit my family for Easter. And it is also on the evening of April 13th, by some miracle, that Lolita and I are (as far as I understand) meeting for une bire. Thats something, right? Sacre fucking bleu, lets hope so.

For further reading/viewing:

Before Sunrise. dir. Richard Linklater. Columbia Pictures, 1995.

Coetzee, J.M. Life and Times of Michael K. New York: Penguin Books, 1983.

Friel, Brian. Translations. London: Faber, 1981. [Editor’s note: Pasha, this is probably my favorite play ever.]

Himes, Chester. Cotton Comes to Harlem. New York: Vintage Crime, 1988.

Strangers on a Train. dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1951.

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla
This week’s book: Shame, by Salman Rushdie (Knopf, 1983)

I haven’t read this book. To be honest, I probably never will. I’ve given Rushdie a fair shake in the past, but I just can’t get into him. He strikes me as the kind of dude who might try to coax fellatio out of a lover by beating her across the face with his wang (i.e. none too subtly).

But lately I have been thinking about the emotion called “shame,” and figured a book by the same name would be a good way into it. The shame ruminations were sparked by our lovely and brilliant host, Susie, recounting the story of her caught-green-handed son. Here’s what I wrote to her after reading her post last week:

I betcha old Green-Hand Henderson remembers that for the rest of his life. I’ll never forget the time I was the only first grader not allowed to pet Kate Manson’s horse because the teacher thought I would do something weird.

It’s true. And I’ve never forgotten. I vividly remember sitting in the window of the classroom, gazing out into the parking lot where my classmates were taking turns stroking this magnificent, brown animal with a swooshy tail and teeth like Post-It notes. What would I have done? I recall feeling wronged, slighted, but also that the teacher knew something about me that I didn’t. Teachers were wise; they were like parents without the occasional domestic nudity.

A friend told me a similar story the other day. In this person’s ninth grade high school science class the teacher had each of the students bring in a urine sample; some sort of “experiment” was involved. So everyone showed up one day with the clear plastic receptacles they’d been given, now filled with piss and labeled with the name of their owners, and lined them up at the front of the classroom. Picture it: a row of thirty-or-so jars of what could be apple juice, maybe. Except one jar was very different. Whatever was inside looked more like a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale than anything even vaguely fruit-related; it was murky and chocolaty and stood out like a horse in an elementary school parking lot. Of course, the engineer of the weird pee was the kid in the class everyone already regarded as bizarre the kid I imagine with a glazed-over look running his hand through the flame of a Bunsen burner, painting pentagrams on his arms in Wite-Out, the usual stuff. The story spread, and the guy quickly became known around school as “Mr. Brown Pee.”

When my friend told this story we were in a bar with a bunch of people, and everyone was sort of drunk, and everyone laughed. Everyone, that is, except me, because this week all I’ve been thinking about is shame especially shame in the context of school. What make of moron teacher would fail to foresee the set-up? Jars of pee? From ninth graders? They might as well have been asked to bring in photographs of their genitals and run them up the flagpole. I’m sure the memory haunts the poor kid to this day.

For two years after finishing university I taught at an “alternative independent private school” in Toronto. This was a great place (all sorts of interesting people sent their kids there, from Margaret Atwood to Stephen Lewis), but it closed a few years ago when the husband of the couple who ran it turned gay. While the curriculum bordered on Wiccan (solstice celebrations, holding hands and the ceremonious burial of things all figured heavily), it did include an admirable effort to eliminate shame from the school-experience of the students. Punishment in the conventional sense was nonexistent; if kids farted in class, teachers would pipe up and take the blame.

On my first day, in order to learn the kids’ names, I played a game of going round and introducing each student in a ridiculous way to the others. (“Celia lives in a house made of boogers,” etc.) It was going well; the kids were laughing, and I was having fun. But in this class was a pallid, orange-haired asthmatic named Noel. My intro: “Noel’s dad is an alien, and he drives Noel to school in a spaceship.” The class roared. Noel, however, froze, and then exploded in a sudden and hysterical fit of wretched, gasping tears. “It’s not a spaceship!” he screamed between sobs. “It’s just a Volvo with a roof-rack!”

So I’ve been on both sides of school-based shame. And as a perpetrator of it upon a child, I know that I felt just as shameful as when I was deemed “too weird” to pet Kate Manson’s horse. But shame is such a limited word, one of those nouns that doesn’t have the clearly defined person/place/thing parameters of something like “rocking chair” or “Natalie Portman.” The shame you feel as a kid is more intense, because it feels as though it will never end. As adults we have perspective; we know that every emotion is ultimately fleeting “this too will pass” and all of that.

For kids, though, everything exists in a moment that seems potentially infinite. Shame, especially, is such an all-consuming emotion: it guts us, turns us inside-out, makes us question who we are and how we fit into the world. Slot that into a time in our lives when we’re just figuring out who we are, and it can be particularly devastating. Maybe that’s why these moments (and there are many, many others) from my childhood stand out the most, and become the things I’ve never forgotten.

Anyway, good luck, Green-Hand Henderson. I feel for you, brother. I really do.

For further reading/viewing:

Atwood, Margaret. Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. Toronto: House of Anansi, 1972.

Coetzee, J.M. Disgrace. New York: Penguin Books, 1983.

Dirty Three. Horse Stories (audio recording). Touch & Go, 1996.

Lewis, Stephen. The Race Against Time. Toronto: House of Anansi, 2005.

McCulloch, Bruce. Shame-Based Man (audio recording). Atlantic Recording Corporation, 1995.

[Editor’s note: Just so you know, Pasha really does know how to use accent marks, including the little polka dots over German words, but MySpace takes them out. Just so we’re clear on this.]

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla
This week’s book: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov (Vintage, 1955)

A few months ago, my friend Melissa and I did this silly translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Die Sechste Elegie”. Neither of us speak German, so we went for a purely phonetic approach, best approximating the sounds of the source text with English words. The result was total nonsense (“abgewendet schon” = “a big George Wendt schlong,” “Dann, wie verbarg ich mich gern vor der Sehnsucht” = “Damn, we were barfing like Micks gone for their sunscreen,” etc.) and likely only funny to us and, if we were to read our poem out loud to a class of sixth graders, maybe the odd 12-year-old boy.

One of the lines we came up with, which seemed like gibberish at the time, has been haunting me for the better part of the past few days. The original German, “ach, uns ruhmt es zu bluhn, und ins verspatete Innre,” we turned into: “Ach, one rum and you’ve blown it and spat up your innards.”

This is how I feel about a little rendez-vous I had last week — except replace “one rum” with “six pints of cream ale” and think of “spat up your innards” in a less literal and infinitely more humiliating sense. See, I got nervous and had friends meet me at the bar so I could suck back a few beers to “take the edge off” before the woman I was meeting showed up. Apparently somewhere in that taken-off edge was also my basic understanding of human dignity — especially when confronted with beautiful, brilliant, hilarious French strangers.

So, yeah, I totally blew it and I totally spat up my innards. My innards were everywhere — all my insecurities and personal foibles, out, out, spewing at this poor woman I barely knew, me drunk and trying some bizarre sort of Jack Kerouac stream-of-consciousness conversational technique of total, hysterical honesty: “All my relationships fail! I am emotionally repressed! I haven’t cried in six years!” Smooth, no?

I had been building this evening up for a long time. (For anyone who read a post of mine on here a few weeks ago, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) I’m not exactly sure what I expected, but I think it was something momentous. I was probably already projecting into the future a moment when we would be reminiscing with our beautiful newborn baby swaddled cooing in its crib and say, “Remember that first date we went on? Remember how WELL we got to know one another in only a few hours?” And then we would throw our heads back and laugh the rapturous, sparkling laughter of people whose lives have achieved a perfection beyond success (of which we would have plenty) and material wealth (lots of that, too), and our baby would laugh along with us and maybe even stand up in its crib and do a little dance — because any baby we would make would be JUST THAT AWESOME.

Annie Dillard talks in her amazing essay, “Aces and Eights,” about the writers tendency to project present-tense moments into the future — to create memories out of events as they happen. She says we see ourselves as, “figures in our own future memories, as focal points for some absurd, manufactured nostalgia.”

But check it out, Annie: I am one step ahead of you. I create entire narratives around events in my life before they even happen. I project a future and create a nostalgic past in one, deluded fell swoop. And then when my fantasy collides with reality, as it did on Thursday night, I panic. I try to make things true that have no grounding in the real world. And so I drink way too much and end up fulfilling a bizarre, goofily translated prophecy.

I don’t even know if these moments are necessarily something I want, at least explicitly. Last week seems anomalous, since I struggle so much with commitment when it comes to real relationships. I think Im probably more enamored of the idea of having a great story to tell, later — or, better, of living out a great story myself. I don’t know this girl I had drinks with, really, nor do I have any plans for the two of us. Ultimately, I shouldn’t care how a few beers went — especially since the girl has a boyfriend and is moving back to France very, very soon — but the fact is that there was enough time prior to the date to concoct a good story, and enough variables to fictionalize an outcome.

And from here I find myself reminded of a great line by Woody Allen: “Why is a play about a lovable old character named Gramps often not as interesting in the theatre as staring at the back of someone’s head and trying to make him turn around?” Why is the fallout of the life-stories I try to write for myself always more dramatic than the stories themselves? Why is Gramps never enough?

Anyway, post-date, I sent a little message saying thanks, I had fun, trying to seem light without acknowledging my embarrassment. Why make it worse? But then, the reply I received hours later from this wonderful, spectacular, patient woman: painfully succinct and ending with the words “take care.” Take care! I believe the French for “take care” is “fin”: the end, no more, talk to you never again, you Anglophone weirdo. (Although I’ve already explained how adept I am at translation, so maybe there’s hope?)

And now, you ask (if you’ve even read this far), what does all this self-pity have to do with Lolita? Well, other than the pedophilia and incest — everything, my friend. Absolutely fucking everything.

For further reading:

Allen, Woody. Complete Prose. London: Picador, 1992.

Dillard, Annie. Teaching a Stone to Talk. New York: Harper Perennial, 1988.

Kerouac, Jack. The Dharma Bums. New York: Penguin, 1972.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. The Selected Poetry. New York: Vintage, 1989.

Sechan, Lolita. Les Cendres de Maman. Montreal: Editions Les 400 Coups, 2005.

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla
This week’s book: Modern Publishing’s Unauthorized Biography of Luke Perry, by “Betsy O’Brien” (Modern Publishing, 1991)

About a month into my first year away at university, I came back home for the weekend to visit family and friends. After a quick dinner with my mom and sisters, as is still often the case when I hook up with pals from high school, I went out and got blindingly drunk. By some miracle I made it back to my mom’s house safe and sound — glasses, keys, wallet, jacket, dignity (possibly), and all.

At about four in the morning, I woke up with a desperate need to pee. Thinking I was back at school, in my dorm room, I fumbled my way in the dark to where I believed the door to be but, of course, all I found was wall. Madly searching for a doorknob or light-switch, I started calling my roommate — “Kwame, where’s the door?” — but Kwame, two hundred kilometers away in Toronto, was no help.

By this time my bladder was ready to burst. No doorknob, no light-switch — but what’s this at my feet? A wastepaper bin? It seemed as good a receptacle as any, so I dropped my boxers and thundered a mighty stream of urine into its depths, promising myself to wash it out thoroughly in the morning.

But — good morning! — when I rose at noon to the stink of ammonia and a cocktail of guilt and barf bubbling up my esophagus, I discovered that what I had mistaken for the trash was in fact a box of childhood memorabilia compiled by my family and left out for my perusal. Old report cards, photos, letters, drawings, school assignments: all soaked and now yellowing in the mid-day sunshine beaming in through my bedroom window.

What I could salvage from that box, I did, pinning anything that wasn’t completely ruined up on the clothesline in the backyard, hoping nature would take its course and do away with the stink and discoloration. “Why are your report cards hanging out with the wash?” my mom asked me. Without missing a beat, smooth as ever, I told her, “Moths.”

Remarkably, the only thing that seemed to have escaped unsaturated was a copy of Modern Publishing’s Unauthorized Biography of Luke Perry, which wasn’t mine at all (I swear). This I began thumbing through, and quickly realized that it must have belonged to one of my sisters; it had obviously ended up with my stuff by mistake.

The other day I was looking through a similar box that I now keep safely stowed away from any potential late-night mix-ups, and came across this same book. I am not sure which of my sisters (I have two: Cara, 26, and Anna . . . um . . . 9? No, wait: 22) would have owned the book. Were it Cara, she would have been 12, and might have kept it stashed away in some drawer for quiet scrutiny by flashlight. Anna would have been 8; I imagine a slumber party with Luke laid out and her and her friends lying on their stomachs encircling it, like the pajama’d petals of some giggling, pre-pubescent flower.

Sisters. Sisters are a weird thing for a brother, especially if they are multiple and you are one. It’s a bit like being stranded on a desert island with two people who occasionally humor you with English while on the hunt for coconuts, but at mealtimes mutter surreptitiously to one another on the other side of the firepit in Zulu or Esperanto. What are they saying? You will never know.

A sister’s bra, a sister’s Tampax, a sister’s birth control pills left out idly on her chest-of-drawers where you have gone to steal back your favorite t-shirt. Theirs is another language, one you’ve become comfortable with in a certain context (girlfriends), but remains within the family only something foreign and weird. Like Quebecois joual to a Frenchman. Like Pig Latin to a pig.

At the end of Modern Publishing’s Unauthorized Biography of Luke Perry is a quiz, apparently designed to gauge the reader’s love for Luke. Whichever of my sisters filled it in scored 12/20 on the True/False portion and 3/4 on the Fill-Ins that’s 62.5or those scoring at home, or a not-so-solid C. Hardly the stuff of superfans. This made me happy, for some reason. I would like to think that my sisters are better than 90210, that their reading of this book was casual at worst, ironic at best. But of course I can only speculate. Maybe they were devastated and spent days shattered and weeping at forsaking their beloved.

Do you know the song by Palace, “Riding”? As is the case with most of Will Oldham’s stuff, I’m pretty baffled as to what he’s singing about for the first few minutes — something to do with horses, as far as I can gather. But then things get lucid. For once I can make sense of the words:

Who you gonna ride with, boy?
I’m gonna bring my sister Lisa

Because I love my sister Lisa
I love my sister Lisa
I love my sister Lisa most of all

I find this brave. Expressions of brother sister love are rare — if any of you out there know any good books or movies that explore it, I’d love to hear about them. I’m doing a shitty job of articulating how I feel, both here and in real life, so I think I need some help. (One note: there was some stupid French film out last year that had the brother and sister doing it with their roommate on the kitchen floor; just so you know, this isn’t at all the sort of thing I’m interested in.)

I love my sisters very, very much. Help me tell them, please.

For further listening:

Palace Brothers. You Have No-One What Will Take Care of You (audio recording). Drag City, 1993.

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla
This week’s book: One Night Stand: Live at the Harlem Square Club, by Sam Cooke (RCA, 1963)

I’ll admit it: this isn’t a book. It’s a musical recording.

Wait, scratch that.

It’s not just “a musical recording” at all — Sam Cooke’s One Night Stand might be the best live musical recording of all time. (And by “the best” I of course only mean “my favorite,” so feel free to disagree with me if you want. I admittedly haven’t heard every concert record ever made.)

I’m also sure that someone with the proper credentials and cool framed vintage tour posters and an office with a fax machine in it has already written something illuminative and clever about this album, so I’ll apologize now if what follows is redundant and inane. But this weekend I finally found a copy on vinyl, and I’m pretty excited about it.

See, having a folder in your iTunes called “Mr. Soul” that you click on and then try, from your wheelie-chair, to “feel the feeling” of the tinny buzz that comes rattling out of your shitty computer speakers is one thing. And I’m not one of those audiophile snobs who eschews digital technology and calls songs “joints.” I like compact discs and mp3’s a lot. But there are a few albums that deserve analog treatment, and I really think One Night Stand is one of them.

I’m pretty sure all of the songs on here appear elsewhere. On the studio versions I’ve heard, Sam’s voice is clean, pristine; he plays the crooner, the soulful Sinatra, the R&B Tony Bennett . You imagine him doing a “We Are the World,” eyes closed, hands on headphones, forehead caressing a mic hanging from the ceiling sort of thing, take after take until the ponytailed engineer (work with me, here) in the sound-room gives the thumbs-up and Sam exhales and smiles in a tired, relieved way and goes out for a smoke.

But live, in front of what I’d assume is an all-black audience (I apologize for my lack of research, although I no have excuse beyond my own laziness), the songs become something else entirely. The crowd’s jumping. They sing along and hoot and holler, and Sam laughs — better, he makes himself laugh: “I want to know what is wrong with me — I ain’t got leukemia, that ain’t it Ha ha ha! Oh yeah! Let me do that one more time!” He interrupts his own singing to yell out, “Oh, I like this song!” His voice crackles and breaks; it’s raw. He offers advice to the “fellas” and he teases the “women.” If there’s a recorded performance anywhere with as much heart as this one, I’d love to hear it.

One Night Stand reminds me of a great line from a short story by Graham Greene where he talks about a certain love having “a terrible inevitability of separation because there can be no satisfaction.” The “inevitability of separation” here is Sam’s from the audience. This is a “one night stand”: he gives it because he knows soon enough it will be over; he’s going to have to go back to being the sickly sweet crooner, palatable to the mainstream, played through the radio into the suburban basements of America so the kids have something to bop around to between turns at the punchbowl. Here, though, Sam is raw, flawed, crazy with feeling, impossible to contain. His band can barely keep up. The studio engineer wouldn’t know what to do with this sound — it would blow the ponytail clear off his head. But like passengers in a bus driven through the dark by a lunatic, everyone in the Harlem Square Club, whether they were ready for it or not, is along for the ride with Sam. They go with it. What else could they do?

That the album ends with “Having a Party,” I think, is pretty significant. “I want you to remember this,” he instructs the crowd as the band kick into their last tune of the night. The studio version of “Having a Party” is fun, jumpy, a dance number. It’s the sort of song the kids in their basement sock-hop would play at 8:30, once the sugar in the punch has started to take effect. But here it’s sad, right from the start, and when things start to wind down and Sam Cooke sings, “I hate to leave you,” you know he really means it. Overtop of the crowd singing along (a real music writer might add something here about their voices being “tinged with melancholy,” but I’ll resist the urge), Sam tells them, “I don’t want to quit. But it looks like I gotta go now.” What he has to go back to is obvious. You want him to stay, you want the night to go on forever — but, obviously, it can’t. And that we know the “man who invented soul music” (that James Brown, as great as he is, even suggests he is any make of musical godfather is a bone to pick for another time) would be gunned down a year later makes his goodbye even more tragic.

I hate to be one of those people who complains that music isn’t as good as it used to be. There’s a ton of great new stuff out there. But I do have to wonder if there’s any way that this sort of concert could happen in 2006 — that someone could sing with such desperation in their voice, that one night could mean so much. I go see bands and enjoy myself, dig the music and rock-kicks and the neat things some weirdo has done with CGI playing up on the video screen. I saw Björk a few years ago, and there were fireworks! Still, there’s never that feeling of witnessing something unleashed, of this being one chance to get whatever it is out: exorcism, release, catharsis, pain.

Right before he leaves the stage, Sam Cooke has one last piece of wisdom for his fans: “When you go home, keep on having that party.” It’s a nice thought. Maybe now that I have the record to play on my turntable, instead of as a series of 0’s and 1’s that somehow my computer turns to sound through the white magic of digital technology, things will be a bit more festive in my apartment.

I’m going to go put it on now. I’ll let you know how things go.

For further listening/reading:

Björk. Debut. Elektra Records, 1993.

Cooke, Sam. Live at the Copa (reissue). Abkco, 2003.

Gillespie, Dizzy. Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac (audio recording). MCA Records, 1967.

Greene, Graham. Collected Short Stories. New York: Penguin, 1986.

Guralnick, Peter. Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke. Little, Brown, 2005.

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla
This week’s book: The Fat Man in History, by Peter Carey (Faber & Faber, 1980)

Tonight I’m going to see someone, I forget who, interview Peter Carey as part of the Harbourfront Reading Series, here in Toronto. The Series is good: this year alone I’ve caught Joan Didion, Chris Ware, Rick Moody, Jonathan Safran Foer and David Rakoff, and in March Harbourfront and the magazine I work for co-hosted an event featuring the amazing and highly underrated Barbara Gowdy reading from her novel-in-progress.

I’m a big fan of Peter Carey, and The Fat Man in History was the first book of his I ever read. This was in 1999, the year I moved to Adelaide to do a year of school at Flinders University of South Australia. Salman Rushdie has a great essay, “At the Adelaide Festival,” in which he describes The City of Churches as a quiet, pristine place as quietly, pristinely pretty as it is quietly, pristinely terrifying. Once, on a leisurely midday walk around town, Mr. Rushdie discovered a trail of blood leading up the steps of a quaint stone chapel – not an uncommon sight on Hindley Street, for anyone who’s visited.

While Salman Rushdie was in Adelaide, some moron broke into the zoo and slaughtered all the animals. While I was in Adelaide, some other morons deemed it sport to swim out into the harbor and stab dolphins to death. Also, in 1999 over thirty bodies were discovered in vats of acid in the hills just outside town. Whether morons were involved or not was never explicitly proven.

For my year in Adelaide I was housed on-campus in a townhouse with, initially, two other men. One was named Clint, a native Adelaidian (Adelite? Addy?) who enjoyed war, weaponry and female news anchors, and could identify a helicopter’s make and year by the sound of its propellers as it passed over our townhouse. (Of course, I was never able to call him on this.) Our other roommate was Eugene, a stocky ball of rage from Papua New Guinea. Eugene played on the university rugby team, rarely wore more than a pair of white briefs around the house, cooked steaks in the toaster (surprisingly effective) and spent his Saturday mornings watching music videos on TV and feigning masturbation in the air, regardless whether anyone was around to see him or not.

During the mid-semester break, I took off to Australia’s west coast to hike some of the Bibbulmun Track, a 1500-km trail that winds its way through the kari and tingle forests of Western Australia, out along the coast, and back up into the arid lands north of Perth. For six weeks, I had some adventures: I got stuck in quicksand, spent one night sleeping in a winery and three more in the back of a gas station, smoked pot with a Turkish car thief, traveled around briefly on a tour bus with a senior citizens’ big band and didn’t get bitten by a single deadly snake.

When I got back to the townhouse in Adelaide, Clint was gone and our cupboards were empty – all the plates, saucers, bowls and cups had disappeared. In Clint’s place was a giant African, just then appearing in the kitchen with the biggest pumpkin I had ever seen in my life in his arms. “I am Stephen, from Zimbabwe,” he told me, then thrust the pumpkin in my direction. “Do you know how to cook this?”

Where was Clint? And where were all our dishes? I found Eugene in his underwear in front of the TV, practicing his five-knuckle chuckle to Brittany Spears dancing around a high school hallway and singing about being hit. I asked Eugene what had happened to Clint. “Clint is gone.” Gone? “Gone. He left.” And our dishes? Did Clint take them, wherever he went? “No. They were dirty.” So? “So I fucking smashed them.”

A few days later I ran into Clint on campus. He looked shaken. I asked him what had happened. “There was a fight about the dishes. Eugene started choking me.” How terrible, I said, picturing Eugene in his briefs lifting Clint off the ground with one hand, flies buzzing around the apartment, blackened steak everywhere. Clint’s eyes narrowed, “He’s just lucky I didn’t have my berretta on me.”

Stephen turned out to be a great guy – very easy-going, well-read, a huge sports fan – and also a Christian of alarming, occasionally disquieting piety. Often, Stephen had his equally cool girlfriend, a beautiful, smiling woman from Botswana named Onami, over for dinner (steak, cooked Eugene-style, and the occasional boiled pumpkin, all served on cocktail napkins and eaten with plastic forks).

Together Stephen and Onami must have easily weighed 500 pounds. Once I came home in the middle of the day to the sound of elephants body-slamming one another upstairs; a few minutes later Onami came trundling down the stairs in a sexy negligee and blindfold, with Stephen following soon after in his boxer shorts. He stopped short, grabbed Onami and hid her behind the door. I stood in the middle of the living room, backpack in hand, waiting to see what would happen next. “We were praying,” Stephen explained, then lifted the cross around his neck to his lips for a kiss. “Praise God.”

If you’ve read the title story from The Fat Man in History, some of this might make sense. If not, I apologize if I’ve seemed off-topic. The story has all these strange men sharing a house together, and one of the men is really fat . . . and then he gets eaten by the others. Anyway, the rest of the collection is just as good, and I recommend it highly.

Okay, to try and salvage something here, last minute: I knew one really fat man in Australia. His name was Scott. He was in my creative writing class and wrote first-person rape fantasies and wore a length of rope for a belt. Man, was that guy ever fat! And now, like everything from that time in my life, he’s history.

For further reading:

Didion, Joan. The White Album. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1979.

Gowdy, Barbara. We So Seldom Look On Love. Toronto: HarperCollins, 1992

Rakoff, David. Fraud. New York: Broadway, 1992.

Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands. New York: Penguin, 1992.

KGB PHOTOS!

And now for some photos. Monday, I read with some great friends slash tremendous writers at The Back Room in NYC. It was like an old speakeasy with bookcases that were really doors and led to other rooms, and they served my scotch in a teacup. I don’t have pictures from that night. If you do, please email me any good ones.

But I do have photos (all taken by Mr. Henderson) from Roy Kesey’s reading the night before at KGB:

L to R: Susan Henderson, Lindsay Brandon Hunter, Darlin’ Neal, Pia Z. Ehrhardt, Gail Siegel

Kevin Dolgin, Lindsay Brandon Hunter

Pasha Malla, Darlin’ Neal

Roy Kesey, Pasha Malla, Grant Bailie, Darlin’ Neal, Susan Henderson, Kevin Dolgin

Claudia Smith, Lindsay Brandon Hunter, Grant Bailie

Roy Kesey

Jim Nichols, Roy Kesey

Grant Bailie, Jim Nichols, Roy Kesey, Elizabeth Koch, Todd Zuniga, Kevin Dolgin, Susan Henderson

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla
This week’s book: Nothing in the World, by Roy Kesey (Bullfight Media, 2006)

Is Roy Kesey my “friend”? I like Roy, and a photograph exists of him kissing my forehead, so I am going to say yes. If he feels otherwise: tough! BFF, Kesey! Best friends, forever . . .

Roy’s Nothing in the World won the Bullfight Review’s Little Book Prize. It is a great little book – or novella, specifically. On May 14th Roy read from Nothing in the World at the KGB Bar in New York City with some guy called Peter Carey and a large, funny Englishman named after a Bob Dylan album. I was there! I drank two Brooklyn Lagers because it is the only palatable beer I know how to order in America, and afterward I went out with Roy and a bunch of other people and everyone drank more Brooklyn Lagers until our conversation devolved into an argument about which is more bizarre: a dildo made of frozen human feces, or a dildo made of frozen human feces with arms.

Friends’ books are weird. You start reading and you think, “Hey, so-and-so wrote this!” You imagine them at their computer, typing the sentences. You picture them pushing away from the screen in disgust and lighting a cigarette, weeping with shame. Or pushing away from the screen in triumph and lighting a cigarette, weeping with glory. You are holding a little piece of your pal in your hands – and not a creepy piece, either, like a lopped-off ear.

I have to admit feeling jealous holding and reading and shelving books by friends. I know these people; they are my peers, whether, like Roy, they are infinitely more talented than me or not. I always experience a weird mix of happiness, pride and envy when writing successes befall people I know, especially people I like. “Good,” I think, “they are doing well.” They deserve it; they are nice and work hard and their work is invariably more deserving of accolades than, say, some nasty plagiarist or the children’s author, Madonna. But part of me – that green, grumbling, petty part of me – also thinks, “Okay, where’s the love for Malla?” Is this horribly small of me? I’m just trying to be honest.

I went out for a beer last week with a young woman who recently published a collection of stories here in Canada. She is very nice, and her book (released, somewhat remarkably, in hardcover) is doing well. But my feelings of resentment for this woman I found clouding any chance at friendship or making out. We are about the same age, have had similar “career” paths, but write vastly different stories; most importantly, she has a book out with the same publisher who, despite initial interest, recently rejected my collection. I have been telling myself that her stuff is marketable, while mine is not – in reality, I’m sure hers is probably just better. But it’s comforting to make up these excuses.

Friends of mine have been awarded the Best First Book Prize in Quebec over each of the past two years. They are good guys, and their books are wonderful and completely deserving. Still, I found that before the announcements were made, that awful, jealous part of me reared up its ugly little green demon-head and half-wished they wouldn’t win. I wanted to be able to wallow in rejection with them. “I am bookless, but your book is a loser,” I wanted to be able to say. “We are the same, brother. Now let’s get wasted!”

Where this competitiveness comes from is probably insecurity: I have always imagined real authors as these faraway figures living in mountaintop estates drinking port wine on a throne while stroking two mastiffs at their sides. (Or something.) But certainly never, never my pals. That’s too close! What’s wrong with me that I can’t be more like them and get a damn book out there and win some awards? We shop at the same grocery stores. I’ve barfed in their toilets and peed in their bathtubs. And that one time when they said it was the chair squeaking when we met those girls in that bar with the ostrich heads on the walls, it was totally a fart! Everyone knew it, asshole.

Ultimately, I want everyone I know and like to do well. It would just be nice if I was doing a little bit better. Ideally I would be able to look down on my friends from my number four or five (let’s be realistic) spot on the bestseller list and pat them on the heads in a not-too-condescending way and say, “Good for you, there’s no shame in a small press publication. Before my stories went up for auction, at my darkest hour, I had also considered going that route.” But I would totally fly them out to my villa on a mountain in Switzerland for the weekend, leave free autographed copies of my book on their pillows, let them pet the mastiffs, have my cook prepare a meal of succulent lobster and maybe even blurb their own books for them on my amazing Frank Lloyd Wright-designed website, briefly. I wouldn’t be above that. They’re my pals, after all.

For further reading:

Ali, Anar. Baby Khaki’s Wings. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2006.

Kaslik, Ibi. Skinny. Toronto: HarperCollins Canada, 2004.

Nasrallah, Dimitri. Blackbodying. Montreal: DC Books, 2005.

Singh, Jaspreet. Seventeen Tomatoes. Montreal: Signal Editions, 2004.

Tausch, Julia. Another Book About Another Broken Heart. Montreal: Conundrum, 2004.

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla
This week’s book: Swimming to Cambodia: The Collected Works of Spalding Gray

I’ve been visiting my mum the past few days. All there is to read in her house is Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood – both admittedly talented writers, but not exactly the sorts of things I’d pick up by choice, or without prompting from someone with a syringe full of AIDS held to my throat.

But in the bedroom I used to inhabit, and where I now sleep when I stay, are a few books I’ve left over the years. These include plays, novels and poetry collections I’ve had to read for school, the odd book I’ve bought while visiting, and books I’ve brought with me and either abandoned (Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version) or finished, loved and shelved (the book I’ve just re-read and I’m going to talk about today).

Okay, so let’s talk about Spalding Gray. But first, let’s let Sam Shepard talk about Spalding Gray: “He has accomplished the most difficult task for a writer – to speak of himself with no frills and no pretense.” I’m not sure if this is really “the most difficult task for a writer” (I’d imagine writing a novel-in-sonnets in the electric eel-filled belly of a shark would be pretty hard, too), but this still gets at something that I think is paramount to anyone who attempts autobiography or memoir in any form: honesty.

I’m going to resist bringing up a certain recent Oprah-approved-then-shat upon “non-fiction author,” but I do think that what a reader expects from writing that purports to be truth, above everything else, is honesty. And I certainly don’t think that honesty is limited to facts. Spalding Gray’s emotional honesty supercedes the details of his monologues, or stories, or essays, or whatever you want to call them. Who cares whether or not he really had any of the wild adventures he claims to have had, or whether the amount of time he spent in Thailand was three hours or eighty-seven days? With every sentence, like the witch-doctor disembowelling patients in Gray’s Anatomy, the guy gutted himself. He opened his life up to the world and said, “Here I am, in all my beautiful, ugly, goopy glory.” And to me, he did what (sorry, Sam Shepard) might be most difficult of all in autobiography: he wrote about himself in a way that made you feel like he was writing about you.

One of my favourite lines of Spalding Gray’s comes from “Terrors of Pleasure: The House,” one of the monologues included in The Collected Works. While auditioning for a role in a romantic comedy, Spald has one of his requisite existential crises: “Wasn’t acting like you were in love to a certain extent being in love? I mean, I often act like I’m in love with Renee, so what’s the difference? If I act like I’m in love with Sandy won’t that, in fact, put me there?” That his relationship with Renee became such a fixture of his work brings up a whole whack of other issues I don’t have time or space or brains enough to get into here, not to mention the meta-narrative of fiction intersecting with life, blah blah blah – but let’s get back to that line! Man, isn’t it true? And isn’t it a brave and almost horrifyingly honest thing to say?

A few months ago I saw Jonathan Ames do his one-man show, Oedipussy, in Toronto. I didn’t know Ames’ work prior to that night, and I thought he was pretty awesome. There was more than a little of Spalding Gray in his performance, from his intonations and flailing neuroses to the “perfect moment” he described at the end. But what struck me most of all was Ames’ honesty. If Spalding Gray has shown writers anything, I hope it’s that memoir is more an undressing of the self than a gussying-up. Ames’ was brutal, almost self-flagellating in his sincerity, with absolutely, Sam Shepard, “no frills and no pretense.” He talked about being molested as a child with an unvarnished openness that was at once hilarious and terribly, terribly sad. He used his pinky finger to illustrate the size of his penis. He was, above all things, really fucking great.

I have on cd Spalding Gray’s last completed monologue before he died, A Slippery Slope. It’s about adultery, parenthood, fear, love, death and skiing, among other things. It also seems like a long, beautiful, tragic suicide note. A couple of months ago my friend Kate and I drove north from Toronto in search of a sugar shack. We wanted maple syrup dripped on snow, and bacon, and maybe even sausages. Instead of music for the car-ride, we took along A Slippery Slope. Our trip failed: all of the sugar shacks were closed, and we had a weird experience in the middle of a forest with a woman in leopard-print telling us to “ignore the dogs,” when there were no dogs anywhere to be seen. Anyway, on our drive home we just let Spalding talk to us, and we sat there in silence making our way back to the city listening and wondering what the other person was thinking about.

I realized about twenty minutes in, with the snowy countryside whizzing by outside, that I was about to have a perfect moment. I had listened to this monologue a few times before; I knew what was coming. And when Spalding Gray describes holding his newborn son in his arms for the first time – the newborn son he fathered in an adulterous, extra-marital affair, the newborn son he avoided for months out of fear and self-loathing – and he looks into the baby’s eyes and talks about what he sees, which I won’t ruin for you by quoting it here, like an icy whoosh blasting up from the floor of the car and through my body and out the top of my head, my perfect moment came.

For further reading:

Ames, Jonathan. I Pass Like Night. New York: Washington Square Press, 1999 (reprint).

Atwood, Margaret. The Robber Bride. Toronto: McClelland & Steward, 1993.

Munro, Alice. Who Do You Think You Are? Toronto: Signet, 1978.

Richler, Mordecai. Barney’s Version. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1997.

Shepard, Sam. Seven Plays. New York: Dial Press, 1984 (reissue).

It’s Wednesday, but where is Pasha?

I know, I know. Yesterday I said today would be the second half of my interview with Scott Snyder. But what was I thinking? Wednesday’s my Pasha Malla day. Only Pasha’s taking a sick day, so now it’s just me.

And that’s why I’m going to tell you about the coolest date ever.

Saturday, both of our boys went to a slumber party so Mr. Henderson and I went on a rare date with no babysitter on the clock.

We ate a guacamole dinner.

Some people have fajitas or something with their guacamole, but I find all that steak and shredded cheese drowns out what I’m really after. So we just stuck to the good stuff.

We do this for dessert, too. No need to lose the impact of whipped cream by jamming some pie or ice cream underneath it.

Our boys call this dessert “snow mountain” but they were not part of our date, and we did not have whipped cream for dessert.

If you know me really really well, you can probably guess what the ultimate dessert for me is.

Right. Football!

This is where Aurelio and Josh will probably stop reading because I know they’re not football fans.

I don’t get it – how someone wouldn’t love football, but some people don’t get it – how I don’t love chocolate.

Even on a year when we won the Super Bowl (you know “we” means the Steelers”), I go through a little off-season depression.

I miss the buzz I feel on weekends.

I miss Troy Polamalu and Joey Porter.

I still miss Carnell Lake and Greg Lloyd.

So after our all-guacamole dinner came Mr. Henderson’s surprise for me.

We watched Super Bowl IX (1974).

And then for breakfast the next day, we watched Super Bowl X. (Football for breakfast was my idea. It felt like Christmas morning.)

Super Bowl X is still a gut-wrenching game, even when you know your team is going to win.

Besides its nail-biter ending, Super Bowl X also featured my old gym teacher, Reggie Harrison.

Reggie, though he was drafted as a RB, was better known as a special teams player.

He was always in the shadow of this guy:

If you don’t know that’s Franco, you probably stopped reading along with Aurelio and Josh.

But Reggie made one of the first big plays of Super Bowl X when he blocked a punt that the Steelers recovered in the endzone for a safety.

I don’t suspect many NFL players with multiple Super Bowl rings have to teach high school gym after they retire anymore.

I spent a good bit of time with Reggie, and I wish I had a photo of this to share.

Some of you know this story.

When I was in high school, I worked out obsessively in the weight room at school and also at the Pentagon.

My high school sports were crew and shotput.

I was not terribly great at either, but I was great at lifting because I like being the different one. And when I worked out at the high school, Reggie would work out with me.

This was after school.

Sometimes I also watched the boys wrestling team after school because I had a crush on Tony Jolivet.

Don’t you love it when you Google someone, and there they are? (Didn’t happen in this case, so we’ll go with the yearbook photo.)

I used to have a copy of that photo blown up to the size of a poster.

When I was 16, Reggie and my other gym teacher (but not Tony Jolivet) watched me compete in a bodybuilding contest.

I flexed to the song “Cutie Pie” by One Way. (Please click and listen – it’s worth it!)

I actually stood on stage in a bikini and dance-flexed to that song.

If it sounds like I’m copying Brad Listi’s blog style today, I am.

I have to keep the reason why a secret for now, but maybe Brad will stop by one of these days to share.

So, for now, just think of this as an ode to Brad.

And to the Steelers.

And to Mr. Henderson.

And to Pasha (get well, bunny).

The Susan Henderson Weblog Wednesday Book Club, with Pasha Malla
This week’s book: N/A

Reading? Are you kidding? The World Cup is on! Who’s got time for books when there are three games of soccer a day that require watching and then re-watching when they’re broadcast again every evening?

Reading – yeah, right, suckers. No thanks!

So we’re three days in as I type this. As the Canadian team is largely made up of drunks, lepers, public school teachers, the otherwise-unemployable, prison inmates, blind guys with no legs who boot about on planks fitted with castors and Quebeckers, they once again didn’t make the Finals, so by default I’ve found myself just cheering for underdogs.

The boys of Team Canada got their asses kicked by Trinidad and Tobago in qualifying, so I was happy to see the Soca Warriors (best name ever?) draw 0-0 with Sweden. I love any team that loses its shit despite not scoring any goals. “We were totally futile! But so were the other guys! Hooray!” And how cool was it that their backup goaltender came in and played so ridiculously well? (Very.)

As for my other early favorites: I’m not sure why everyone insists on calling the Ivory Coast by their French name, but I do like their speed and creativity and orange kit, and I was disappointed that in the end they didn’t give Argentina more of a run for their money. I missed seeing Angola today, or Iran, but when I checked the scores I felt a sinking “Aw, that’s too bad” feeling when I saw they’d both lost.

I used to play soccer. Quite a lot, actually. I was a goaltender on a team that got invited to tournaments all over the place – Italy, England, coast-to-coast across Canada and the United States. Our coach was a former goaltender on the Antiguan national team, a detail that might excite most aspiring young athletes. Me, not so much.

See, my coach was a madman. While we did sit-ups at practice, he used to walk around with his cock flipped up over the waistband of his jogging pants, then come and stand over someone, usually me, and scream, “If you slow down I’ll piss my pee into your goddamn mouth!”

Once, at a tournament in Denver, he called a few of us into his motel room. He was sitting on the bed with his wife, who was breastfeeding their newborn child. “You boys ever get your hands on titties like those?” he asked. I had – my girlfriend in the ninth grade was a freak of human anatomy known around school as “Community Chest” – but I thought it better not to bring that up, and shook my head. Our coach removed the baby from his wife’s bosom and began kneading her breasts like some sort of pathological, drooling baker. “Oh, boys!” he moaned. “Them’s some fine titties!”

We lost our game that afternoon 1-0 to a team from Denmark, and the goal I let in was weak. I blame being distracted – haunted, maybe – by images of lactating nipples and white-knuckled lust and knowing that I had witnessed something horribly, horribly wrong. But also, at fourteen, kind of awesome?

My soccer career came to an end in the summer of 1993. It was April, the Thursday before Easter Weekend, and I was fifteen years old. My coach liked to come up with drills that placed my life in peril, and we opened our first outdoor practice of the year with one of these: he would roll a ball across the top of the eighteen yard box, and with an attacker barreling in from half-field, I had to come off my line and do my best to get to the ball first to stop the breakaway.

So we started: the ball came bouncing out from the touch-line, I went shooting toward it and, from the opposite direction, so did one of my teammates. Quick goalie lesson: the proper technique for this sort of thing is to slide in on your side and sweep the ball away, cradling it to your chest. The improper technique would be to come in face-first, which is what I did. What the attacking player believed to be the ball turned out to be my skull, and he connected with a mighty kick. There was a crack, and the next thing I knew I was sitting in an X-Ray room with a lead apron over my privates and a radiologist lamenting, “Oh geez, oh geez” in the next room.

Have you ever seen someone with a caved-in head? It is weird. I mean, I imagine it would be. I was pretty out of it for a few days, hepped up on whatever until the surgeons came back from Easter break and could fix my face. To this day I have three titanium plates holding together the orbital bone around my left eye, and a weird piece of metal that looks like a fish spine wired through my cheek and across my upper jaw.

I miss soccer, sort of. I’ve played intramurals, been in a few rec leagues, dropped by pick-up at the park with the Lebanese guys whose enthusiasm to go shirts-and-skins borders on creepy. For a couple of years in Montreal I was a participant in “Punk Rock Soccer”: the punks wore Doc Martin’s and leather jackets and occasionally would smoke cigarettes while they played. But really playing – out there on a team with uniforms and a sociopathic coach screeching at your from the sidelines – that’s something I have to get vicariously from watching the pros on TV.

Anyway, I’m picking Brazil to win it all. I know they haven’t even played yet, but none of the other “big” teams has impressed me so far. I guess that’s all I can do just watch and enjoy and drink beer and develop arbitrary affinities for countries about which I otherwise know nothing. (Go, Ghana!) Every four years, it sucks a little bit to be Canadian. But, keep in mind, for all our on-pitch failings, we do have among the best universal health care systems in the world.

For further reading:

Nothing. Go watch some games on TV.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance Reynald September 7, 2006 at 7:37 am

Love this stuff, reading it again now that it’s moved just has me laughing away.

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Susan Henderson September 7, 2006 at 1:39 pm

I miss Pasha.

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lolita December 29, 2006 at 4:53 pm

I’ve never read this before…..So strange to realise that you wrote about our story. I like that I think.
Peut-être que maintenant c’est toi qui ne lira jamais ce message…Life!

Lolita

Reply

Kristan January 7, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Omigosh, I’m new to the Pasha Malla camp, but he is hysterical!

And thoughtful, if you read his op-ed on being racist.

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