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Archive for April, 2005

How exciting! How dull!

For the first time since September, the Dullest Blogger has managed to come up with another post!

There are plenty of boring Web logs out there, online diaries whose authors dutifully recount their thoughts and actions in excruciating detail. But Dave Walker, a 32-year-old cartoonist and Web editor from Cookham, England, has claimed the distinction of writing ''The Dullest Blog in the World.''

Mr. Walker has raised dull blogging to an art form by meticulously chronicling mundane events in his life: checking e-mail, turning his head to the right, walking past the ironing board, and thinking about making some food. His minimalist musings have attracted something of a cult following, with his blog counting about 85,000 page views a month. Seldom has dullness generated such keen interest.

(The New York Times, May 15th 2003)

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Pobrecito-Watch (2)

When I woke up this morning I could hear that horrible sound not even the most dyed-in-the-wool cat lover can stand: the baby-like howling of two cats trying to mate, or one cat trying to mate while the other complains. They at the right-hand end of the wall, which is too dark or hidden by the tree in this picture to see, a bit past the corner, in the lot around the corner. Trapped at the end of the wall was Pobrecito, his back turned to them as they stood eye-to-eye, plumed tails in the air, hair on their backs bristling. He would turn and face them briefly, nervously, wondering (as I imagined it) if it was safe for him to make a run for it. But run where? He would extend a paw, ready to climb down off the low wall, but then pull it back.

I stood on the balcony and watched. I wanted to jump down and scare them away, but it was too dangerous. Pobrecito would hear me too, get scared, and probably fall over into the parking lot below. This was enough of a danger without my intervention, if the other two started to scuffle.

He turned his back to them again, as if having decided to wait patiently till they were finished, and I went inside to make my morning coffee.

Some time later, I noticed it was quiet out. I went to see. The two cats were gone, and Pobrecito was still sitting in his corner, looking unruffled in spite of it all. A moment ago I checked, and he had gone.

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Μπήκα μες στο παρεκκλήσι, άναψα ένα κερί. Παρόλο που δεν είμαι καθόλου θρήσκος, έκανα όπως είδα να κάνουν όλοι οι άλλοι. Έκανα το σταυρό μου, έσκυψα και φίλησα το φέρετρο και μετά την εικόνα. Από σεβασμό για τους συγγενείς που κάθονταν δίπλα. Ήθελα να μείνω λίγο, αλλά ντράπηκα.

Έξω στη γωνία, από το εστιατόριο “Ιθάκη” ακουγόταν σιγά σιγά το “Δόξα τω Θεώ”.

* * * * *

Από μικρό παιδί είχα στενή προσωπική σχέση με τον Γρηγόρη Μπιθικώτση. Μόλις τριών ετών άκουγα τη μουσική του. Ήρθε ένας ανηψιός της γιαγιάς μου στον Καναδά μετανάστης. Μέχρι να βρει δουλειά και σπίτι, έμενε μαζί με τη γιαγιά και τον παππού. Τα χρόνια εκείνα δούλευε κι η μάνα μου και το πρωί μ’ άφηναν εκεί, να με φυλάει η γιαγιά. Μου σύστησαν τον ανηψιό – λεγόταν Γρηγόρης.

“Μπιθικώτσης;” είπα εγώ.

Γέλασαν και μου είπαν ναι. Και βέβαια δεν υπήρχε λόγος να το αμφιβάλλω. Έτσι για ένα διάστημα στα παιδικά μου χρόνια ζούσα δίπλα στον Γρηγόρη Μπιθικώτση. Τραγουδούσαμε μαζί το “Ρολόι-Κομπολόι”, κι όταν φτάναμε στο

να μετράω τους καημούς
και τους αναστεναγμούς

αναστέναζα κι εγώ.

* * * * *

Το 1987 ανακάλυψα ξανά την ελληνική μουσική, που είχα χρόνια ξεχάσει, και ξαναβρήκα τον Γρηγόρη. Σιγά σιγά, ανακάλυψα ξανά και την Ελλάδα και τη πρώτη μου γλώσσα, αν και δεν ήταν πια η μητρική μου. Έμαθα τον Ελύτη, τον Σεφέρη, τον Γκάτσο, τον Ρίτσο, τον Παπαδόπουλο, και άλλους ποιητές. Αποφάσισα και να γυρίσω στη χώρα που άφησε ο πατέρας μου στα δέκα του χρόνια. (Η μάνα μου, ελληνίδα κι αυτή, γεννήθηκε στον Καναδά.)

Μια μέρα σ’ ένα δισκοπωλείο στην ελληνική συνοικία του Τορόντο βρήκα ένα βίντεο με τη συναυλία που έδωσε το 1983 ο Γρηγόρης σαν αποχαιρετισμό. Διήθυνε ο Σταύρος Ξαρχάκος στο Ολυμπιακό Στάδιο. Η φωνή του είχε πέσει, είχε χάσει τη δύναμή της. Λυπήθηκα.

* * * * *

Το Νοέμβρη του 1991 έμαθα ότι ερχόταν στο Τορόντο να τραγουδήσει για μερικές βραδιές σ’ ένα καινούργιο μαγαζί. Είπα να παω να τον δω. Δε μ’ ένοιαζε πως δεν τραγουδούσε πια όπως παλιά. Ήθελα να πω ότι μια φορά στη ζωή μου τον είδα και τον άκουσα.

Ο πατέρας μου κάπως κατάφερε τη τελευταία στιγμή να μας βρει τραπέζι μπροστά στην πίστα. Τη στιγμή που βγήκε ο Γρηγόρης μετακομίσαμε όλοι μας στο άλλο τραπέζι. Μας φέραν τα πιάτα και τα κρασιά από εκεί που καθόμασταν πριν.

Εκείνη τη βραδιά, όμως, έγινε το απίστευτο. Βγήκε ο Μπιθικώτσης, και ίσως επειδή ήταν ο χώρος κλειστός και αρκετά μικρός, τραγούδησε πολύ ωραία. Εμείς τα χάσαμε. Τρελαθήκαμε. Μετά από κάθε τραγούδι χειροκροτούσαμε όρθιοι. Μας κοίταζε και μας ευχαριστούσε.

Κάποια στιγμή, όταν κάποιος φώναξε μια παραγγελία, σήκωσε τους ώμους του λίγο, έδειξε το λαιμό του σαν να λέει, “Δε μου βγαίνει πια.”

Όταν τελείωσε και κατέβηκε, τραβήξαμε μια φωτογραφία μαζί του εγώ με τους γονείς μου. Μετά ανέβηκα στη πίστα και πήρα το ποτήρι του σαν ενθύμιο. Το έχω ακόμα, και τη φωτογραφία.

* * * * *

Την Πέμπτη άκουγα την εκπομπή “Ποτέ απ’ τη ποταμιά δε λείπει η πρασινάδα” στο τρίτο πρόγραμμα, και παίζανε τη θρυλική συναυλία στο Κεντρικόν που έγινε το 1961. Δε πίστευα στα αυτιά μου. Δεν ήξερα ότι είχε ηχογραφηθεί.

(Κατά σύμπτωση, την Πέμπτη πέθανε, το απόγευμα, ίσως την ώρα της εκπομπής.)

Ο ίδιος διηγείται:

Όλα αυτά έγιναν στις 18 Μάρτη 1961, ημέρα Δευτέρα. Ο Χιώτης με τη Μαίρη Λίντα και ο Καζαντζίδης με τη Μαρινέλλα είχαν μεγαλύτερο θάρρος από μένα. Για τη συναυλία στο Κεντρικόν, κάναμε πρόβες στην πλατεία Κολοκτρώνη, πίσω από το άγαλμα. Όσο κάναμε πρόβες και μέχρι να φθάσει εκείνη η πολυπόθητη Δευτέρα για να δώσουμε τη συναυλία, εμένα δεν μ’ έπιανε ο ύπνος. Δεν μπορούσα να κλείσω μάτι. Πήγαινα στο μαγαζί, τραγουδούσα το βράδυ, πήγαινα την ημέρα κι έκανα πρόβες για τη συναυλία, έγραφαν οι εφημερίδες, έλεγαν τα ραδιόφωνα κι εγώ κόντευα να πεθάνω από την αγωνία μου. Είχα ήδη ένα τρακ, ένα σοκ, όπως θέλετε πάρτε το.Μέσα μου, κάτι μου έλεγε να μην πάω στη συναυλία. Όχι γιατί θα συμμετείχαν μαζί μου ο Χιώτης, η Λίντα, ο Καζαντζίδης και η Μαρινέλλα, αλλά μου είχε κολλήσει έτσι. Έλεγα πώς θα θυμηθώ τα λόγια, πώς θα μου έρθει η μελωδία που θα είμαι ανάμεσα στην κρατική ορχήστρα που θα διευθύνει ο Μίκης, που θα είναι ο Μάνος Χατζιδάκις, αυτός ο μεγάλος Χατζιδάκις, με το τραγούδι “Είμαι αητός χωρίς φτερά”. Ο “Αητός” ήταν καινούργιο τραγούδι. Την πρώτη εκτέλεσή του θα την έκανα με την κρατική ορχήστρα και διεύθυνση Μίκη Θεοδωράκη στο Κεντρικόν.

Τελικά, εκεί που κάναμε πρόβες – πρόβες κάναμε και σ’ ένα καφενείο δίπλα στο Μουσείο – ο Μανόλης Χιώτης με τον Στέλιο Καζαντζίδη αποφάσισαν να στρίψουν ένα νόμισμα. Αν ερχόταν κορόνα, θα έμπαιναν μπροστά στη διαφήμιση ο Μανόλης Χιώτης με τη Μαίρη Λίντα, αν ερχόταν γράμματα θα έμπαιναν τα ονόματα του Στέλιου Καζαντζίδη και της Μαρινέλλας. Εγώ, έτσι κι αλλιώς, ήμουν τρίτος. Αυτό που απασχολούσε, όμως, ήταν το τρακ που είχα. Τελικά, μια εβδομάδα πριν, δημοσιεύτηκε στις εφημερίδες ότι τη Δευτέρα θα πραγματοποιηθεί η μεγάλη συναυλία του Μίκη Θεοδωράκη με τον “Επιτάφιο” στο Κεντρικόν. Στο πιάνο ο Μάνος Χατζιδάκις. Τραγουδούν: Μανόλης Χιώτης-Μαίρη Λίντα, Στέλιος Καζαντζίδης-Μαρινέλλα και ο Γρηγόρης Μπιθικώτσης. Τι θα γίνει τώρα μέχρι να έρθει η Δευτέρα; Μέρες και νύχτες περνούσαν βασανιστικές. Τετάρτη, Πέμπτη, Παρασκευή, Σάββατο, Κυριακή. Από τα ξημερώματα της Δευτέρας, έτρεμα από αϋπνία και αγωνία. Όταν σουρούπωσε, πήγα κι εγώ στο Κεντρικόν. Μπήκα κρυφά από την πίσω πόρτα στα καμαρίνια. Είχα ιδρώσει.

Αρχίζει η συναυλία. Παίζει ένα σόλο ο Χιώτης με την κρατική ορχήστρα που διήθυνε ο Θεοδωράκης. Έπαιξε τη “Μαργαρίτα-Μαργαρώ”. Όταν τέλειωσε αυτό, έπεσε πολύ χειροκρότημα, γιατί ο κόσμος ήταν πάρα πολύς. Ο Χιώτης έχει να πει 5-6 τραγούδια με τη Μαίρη Λίντα. Εγώ ψάχνω να βρω τον Καζαντζίδη και τον ανακαλύπτω να κάθεται κάτω από τη σκηνή. “Γιατί είσαι εδώ, Στέλιο;” τον ρωτάω. “Για ν’ ακούσω καλύτερα” μου απαντάει. Του ξαναλέω: “Φάλτσο δεν έπαιξε λιγάκι ο Μανόλης Χιώτης τη ‘Μαργαρίτα-Μαργαρώ’ με το μπουζούκι;” “Ναι” μου λέει “δεν πειράζει, δεν βαριέσαι… Χιώτης είναι αυτός.” Τον είδα και τον Στέλιο κάπως τρακαρισμένο και του λέω: “Τι έχεις; Τρακ;” Μου λέει: “Όχι. Γιατί, εσύ τι έχεις; Τρακ;” Του λέω: “Ναι, ρε γαμώτο. Δεν θέλω να τραγουδήσω.” “Δεν γίνεται” μου λέει. “Δεν ντρέπεσαι που δεν θέλεις να τραγουδήσεις; Θα τραγουδήσεις και θα τα πεις ωραία. Μήπως πρώτη φορά θα τραγουδήσεις μπροστά σε κοινό, μπροστά σε κόσμο;” Το θέατρο ήταν γεμάτο. Στις πρώτες θέσεις κάθονταν υπουργοί της τότε κυβέρνησης Καραμανλή και ο Γεώργιος Παπανδρέου, αρχηγός της Ένωσης Κέντρου, και βουλευτές της Αριστεράς. Τελειώνει ο Μανόλης Χιώτης. Το χειροκρότημα ήταν ασταμάτατο. Η Μαίρη Λίντα τα ερμήνευσε πολύ ωραία τα τραγούδια της.

Ήρθε μετά η σειρά του Στέλιου Καζαντζίδη. Ανέβηκε ο Στέλιος στη σκηνή και τραγούδησε το “Βράχο βράχο τον καημό μου”, το “Σαββατόβραδο”, το “‘Εχω μια αγάπη” και άλλα τραγούδια του Θεοδωράκη. Αποθέωση, χειροκροτήματα. Κι ύστερα η δική μου σειρά. Έπρεπε να βγω να τραγουδήσω, αλλά ένιωθα ράκος. Είχα πάθει μεγάλο τρακ. Βγήκα έξω κι άρχισαν να μου ρίχνουν λουλουδάκια, που τα είχαν κάτω από τα καθίσματα του θεάτρου. Τα λουλούδια, εκείνη τη στιγμή, ήταν κάτι εντελώς καινούργιο για τα δεδομένα της λαϊκής μουσικής με τον Μίκη Θεοδωράκη. Σκέφθηκα ότι έπρεπε να πω το “Είμαι αητός χωρίς φτερά” του Χατζιδάκι. Και άρχισαν πάλι να μου πετούν λουλούδια. Με πλημμύρισαν μέχρι το λαιμό. Γέμισαν όλη τη σκηνή και την ορχήστρα με λουλούδια. Είχα μεγάλη χαρά εκείνη την ώρα. Μέχρι να μαζέψουν τα λουλούδια μέσα σε δυο τρία λεπτά, εγώ ετοιμαζόμουν για να ξεκινήσω. Και άρχισα να τραγουδώ. Ο Μίκης σηκώνει τα χέρια ψηλά κι εγώ έβγαλα τα πρώτα λόγια από το “Ροδόσταμο”:

Στον άλλο κόσμο που θα πας,
κοίτα μη γίνεις σύννεφο…

Η ορχήστρα παίζει. Έχει δώσει σήμα ο Μίκης κουνώντας τα χέρια του: πουμ, παμ, πουμ, παμ, πουμ, παμ. Εγώ δε μπαίνω στο τραγούδι. Κάποια φορά, μπαίνω και λέω: “Στον ά…” Σταμάτησα. Έχασα τα λόγια μου και λέω: “Με συγχωρείτε, έχω τρακ, δεν μπορώ να συνεχίσω”. Χειροκροτήματα, κακό. Ιδρωμένος, γύρισα πίσω στο καμαρίνι. Ωστόσο, το πρόγραμμα συνεχίστηκε, αφού ο Μίκης Θεοδωράκης είπε ο ίδιος τα τραγούδια που επρόκειτο να τραγουδήσω εγώ.

Στο μεταξύ, μέσα στα καμαρίνια ήταν αρκετοί ηθοποιοί: Χορν, Βουγιουκλάκη, Αλεξανδράκης, Κοντού και η Ειρήνη Παπά. Μου λέει ο Αλεξανδράκης: “‘Ακου να δεις, κι εγώ έχω πάθει αυτό το τρακ”. Ανοίγει σπιρτόκουτο και είχε μέσα κάτι χάπια. Πήρα ένα, ήπια κι ένα ποτήρι και συνήλθα, μου πέρασε το τρακ.* Όταν ο Μίκης τελείωσε τα τραγούδια, ανέβηκα και πάλι στη σκηνή. Πρώτα πρώτα, είπα τον “Αητό” του Χατζιδάκι. Χειροκροτήματα και λουλούδια. Είπα ολόκληρο το πρόγραμμά μου, τη “Μαργαρίτα-Μαργαρώ” και τον “Επιτάφιο” του Γιάννη Ρίτσου.

Στην πραγματικότητα, κατάφερε να πει τη πρώτη στροφή ολόκληρη. Έτρεμε όμως η φωνή του. Παρολαυτά, ήταν γλυκειά όπως πάντα.

* * * * *

Τρεις φορές τον είδα – στον Καναδά, σε μια πλατεία του Ζωγράφου που τραγούδησε μια βραδιά με το γιο του, και στο αφιέρωμα που έγινε το 2002 στο Στάδιο Ειρήνης και Φιλίας.

Στο τέλος της συναυλίας ανέβηκε στη σκηνή. Του ζητήσανε να πει ένα τραγούδι απ’ το Άξιον Εστί. Ξεκίνησε η ορχήστρα. Πήρε το μικρόφωνο αλλά είπε, “Θέλω να πώ το ‘Βοτανικό’ μου!’ Είπε μια στροφή, η φωνή του ήταν αδύναμη, κι εγώ δάκρυσα. Όχι από λύπη αυτή τη φορά, αλλά από χαρά – τη χαρά που μοιραστήκαμε όλοι μας, και που ένιωθε ο ίδιος, που τιμήθηκε έτσι στα ογδόντα του. Και δάκρυσα ειδικά όταν τον είδα να δίνει το μικρόφωνο στον διπλανό του και να αρχίζει να χορεύει ένα ζεϊμπέκικο, άψογα, με τόση λεβεντιά που θά ‘λεγες ήταν ακόμα πενήντα χρόνια νεότερος.

Αντίο, Γρηγόρη.

___________________________________

*Όπως είπε ο Αλεξανδράκης, αλλά και ο ίδιος ο Μπιθικώτσης στο παρελθόν, το “χάπι” δεν ήταν παρά ένα ψίχουλο ψωμί. Ένα placebo.

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Pobrecito-Watch (1)

He‘s still around.

Actually, I have no idea if it’s a he, but I think of him as one.

At 7.30 this morning I saw him stepping across the ledge in the garden.

Where does he go?

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Crad Kilodney Ramble

When I was thirteen or fourteen and my interest in literature was awakening, I used to go to my friend Allen’s house and look at the books on his shelves. Allen was precocious in his tastes and his habits, but I’m sure many of the books he had exceeded his understanding. Can you imagine, for example, a thirteen-year-old reading James Joyce’s Ulysses?

The books were mysterious things. I loved merely holding them, especially the soft, grey or green Penguins. Allen took me down to Toronto’s Soho district on Queen Street between University and Bathurst. The area was filled with used bookshops. I can still remember some of them: About Books, Steven Temple’s, Gail Wilson’s, Abelard’s, Letters. In the mid to late 80s, this strip of Queen Street started to get trendier and trendier, and as the rents went up, the bookshops went away. I don’t know how many of the old ones are still there. When most of them had gone, the city put new street signs calling the area The Fashion District (it was part of the traditional textile district) but most people just called it “Queen West”.

Used bookshops are what I miss most about Toronto, especially all those ones where I made so many discoveries and acquaintances. Shops of that kind are practically non-existent here in Athens. The few I’ve seen are more like junk shops with stacks of mouldy pulp. When I was preparing to leave Canada, I sold all the books I didn’t want to bring with me and bought anything I could find that I thought I’d want Some people we knew were sending a container with furniture to Greece, and we put all my books, at the time at least 1,200 of them, in 26 boxes and shipped them over.

Three books from Allen’s shelves caught my attention and have stayed in my mind. They represented the shocking, subversive quality that books had for me then. They were typed on a typewriter and cheaply printed.

 

 

 

Allen told me they had been published by the author himself, who also sold them on the street. His name was Crad Kilodney.

* * * * *

I don’t remember the first time I saw Kilodney himself. The earliest book I have is The Blue Book (1985).

Kilodney would stand on the busiest streets in Toronto with a small cardboard sign hanging from his neck. They would read

Pleasant Bedtime Reading
Putrid Scum
Slimy Degenerate Literature
Dull Stories for Average Canadians
Literature for the Brain-Dead
Worst Selling Author — Buy My Books
Rotten Canadian Literature
Albanian Chicken Stories

Crad Kilodney was born in 1948 in the borough of Queens, New York. He studied astronomy in Michigan and moved to Canada in the early 70s. In 1978 he set up his own imprint, Charnel House, and began selling his books on the street as his sole occupation.

His face was serious, even forbidding to some people who passed by and happened to make eye contact with him. I don’t remember ever feeling intimidated by him or if I spoke to him much the first time I saw him. Soon enough, however, I knew him well enough to stand around and chat with him whenever I saw him. He would complain about how bad business was and gape stupidly at passers-by who ignored him. I remember him once droning, “Hockey books. Hockey books. Get your hockey books.”

Once, a tough-looking teenager passed by as we were talking and shot him a glance.

“You know,” I said when the kid was about five paces away, “I don’t think he’s going to mention to his friends that he saw you today.”

“Are you kidding?” Crad said. “He’s forgotten me already.”

* * * * *

“If things go bad for me on the street, my mood deteriorates quickly. I’m apt to be simultaneously angry and depressed. My anger goes right to my stomach. I may make fierce eye contact with passers-by, which makes them even less likely to stop. I choose my most provocative or insulting signs to wear when I’m in the most aggressive moods because deep down I want to strangle these people. Most days I make less than $15 on the street. After paying for subway fares, snacks, and groceries, I may return home poorer than when I left the house. I wallow in self-pity. I have very confused ideas about success and failure, which I can’t sort out rationally. I look at the cartons of books at the foot of my bed and wonder how I will ever sell them. I wonder whether it’s worth continuing this way, year after year. Even if I were selling the greatest book ever written my immediate situation wouldn’t change. No book can change the world. No book can change these people. But these people can grind me down by their insensate banality, their stupidity, even their outright hostility. Man looks for hope wherever he can. I have a little hope left, just enough to let me face the street another day. But at this time in my life, hope is fading…”

Crad Kilodney, Excrement, 1988

* * * * *

Standing on the street all day exposed Crad to all kinds of abusive weirdos. At some point he began to wear a tiny microphone under his shirt collar so that he could record his encounters. I have the first two cassettes. (I think there was a third) On one of them he went to the business district and asked people why the earth has seasons. The answers are astounding.

Crad did not hide the fact that he liked to seek revenge when he felt he had been unjustly treated. In 1988 he published a story called “Who Is John Copping?” in which Kilodney claims to have been hearing the name John Copping everywhere he goes. A teenage girl tells her boyfriend that she is pregnant with John Copping’s child; a mother tells her child to do his homework so he won’t grow up stupid like John Copping; the owner of a strip club tells the bouncer never to let John Copping back in. One day he’s walking past City Hall when he hears the following exchange between two of Toronto’s most illustrious lawyers:

“As you know, Clay, I’m categorically opposed to capital punishment… With one exception.

“What’s that?” asked Ruby.

“John Copping!” said Greenspan vehemently. “He should be put to death!”

At a supermarket, he sees a sign in the meat-cutting room that says SAVE TAINTED MEAT FOR JOHN COPPING.

When he can stand it no longer, he asks a friend who this John Copping is, and is given a piece of paper. On it, and fully reproduced in Kilodney’s book, is a bad review someone named John Copping had written of three of Crad’s books.

In 1989, after having one of his stories, “Girl on the Subway”, rejected in the first round of a CBC short story competition, he submitted six stories, under pseudonyms and typed up on different typewriters, by writers such as Kafka, Faulkner and O. Henry. He went public with his hoax when every story was rejected.

Around that time he also typed up a manuscript of poems by Irving Layton, one of Canada’s most respected poets, and submitted them, again under a pseudonym, to publishers all over the country. They were rejected by everyone, including McClelland & Stewart, Layton’s own publisher.

* * * * *

As for Crad’s books, it’s difficult for me to discuss or assess them. I have a sentimental blind spot for some of them.

His style is very simple and draws no attention to itself, a sign that he cared about the writing and worked at it. The humour, for the most part, might strike people as immature. Certainly, it’s uneven, especially the later stuff. But there were times when he was brilliant. One of my favourites was “The Man Who Died Of His Opinions”, in Blood-Sucking Monkeys From North Tonawanda (1989), about two psychologists who are studying whether the human brain actually has a limit to its capacity for storing facts. They have a patient, an incredibly annoying bigot and philistine who cannot distinguish between fact and opinion. He has opinions on every conceivable subject, and rants all day long. Eventually, he overloads his brain, and dies. What makes this story so good is the discussions between the two doctors and the perfectly-captured voice of the patient.

Sometimes the humour was very satirical, as in “No Chekhov at Yorkdale”, in which he relates his findings after searching through one of Toronto’s biggest shopping malls for a book of stories by Chekhov:

You can buy an assortment of fruit-flavoured bubble baths at The Body Shop for only $17.65. You can spend $99.99 for a skateboard or $24.99 for an anti-theft device for your skis at Collegiate Sports. At Club Monaco you can buy authentic Club Monaco jeans for a mere $49. And at Classic China you can get a lovely bone china chipmunk for $95. But nowere in this Mecca of Mass Merchandising can you acquire a book of stories by the great Russian author Anton Chekhov, the greatest writer of stories who ever lived.

“I Chewed Mrs Ewing’s Raw Guts” seems autobiographical (except for its grizzly ending, to be sure). It details his dealings with a landlady so obnoxious you’re glad he’s killed her off in the end. There’s a febrile quality to the story that reminds you of Dostoevsky.

But his best works were his serious ones, which also tended to be autobiographical. Cathy (1985), is perhaps my favourite. It’s the story of a girl who comes to rent the basement of his parents’ house, and his doomed love for her. Excrement is based on his journals and his experiences on the street. It’s a nakedly honest, fascinating document. There was a follow-up, Putrid Scum, but by that time, Kilodney’s books had ceased to be enjoyable. The bitterness had got the best of him.

* * * * *

Although one wouldn’t know it from just looking at his books, but one of Kilodney’s biggest influences, by his own admission, was Henry Miller. He has none of Miller’s messy, vacuous philosophising. But he had Miller’s pessimism, and he had a sense of mission as a writer. Writing was very important to Kilodney, and he seems to have been very idealistic about it in the early days. Despite the underground feel of his work, he genuinely wanted acceptance and recognition and to make a difference in the world. But perhaps he also had fallen for the notion of the writer as a tortured, suffering soul. He was a glutton for punishment.

I remember him telling me once about having gone to Calgary for a few days. He had sold far more books on the streets there than he ever managed to in Toronto. Toronto was the worst place for him, and he chose the worst places to stand and sell his books: Yonge Street, with its hordes of consumers and suburban teenagers, and Bay Street, the city’s equivalent of Wall Street. It was precisely because Toronto was the least hospitable place for him that he stayed there for so many years.

In the late 80s and 90s, his bitter resentment had found its way into the writing and most of his later books made even some of his most loyal fans uncomfortable. (“I Chewed Mrs Ewing’s Raw Guts” was, despite its title, a successful story because he had let his material speak for itself. In the later ones, Kilodney is lashing out, often very offensively. There’s a strong undercurrent of racism in these stories, as well.)

In the end, you can’t help but wonder, if Kilodney had such a strong sense of mission, and took his art and his calling so seriously, why this seriousness wasn’t reflected more in his writing. Most of it was funny, but in an adolscent way, wanting more than anything else, to shock the reader with its outrageousness. No matter how funny it was, it never affected you the way Cathy and Excrement did.

* * * * *

In 1991 Kilodney was charged with “exposing goods for sale without authority” and later that year (ironically during Arts Week in Toronto), he was convicted in by-law court. Of course, there was no license available for what he was doing. He took the city to court, and lost. He appealed several times. In the mean time, he continued to sell on the street. It had been, after all, his sole occupation for thirteen years.

Then in 1995, Crad told me that his father back in New York had died, and that he had come into an inheritance. He gradually became more and more scarce, and then, without any fanfare, when no one was even paying attention, he was gone. He dropped out. He stopped publishing and stopped selling his books.

There were odd rumours. I read this totally inaccurate account on usenet:

I liked Crad Kilodney’s four-year experiment in Toronto of selling his books on the street. Of course he immediately became homeless. It gave his work a certain edge, let’s say. He had great placards: “Canadian Literature, Cheap. $4.” He was often highly rated and has a cult following, but darn it wasn’t enough to keep him out of the shrubbery.

In fact, Crad still writes from time to time, I think. He’s told me that he has a lot of stuff sitting around that he could still publish. Some of it can be found at his blog.

Since he gave up writing for a living, Crad has been playing the stock market. He enjoys it and it has become a passion. He does quite well. He’s given me tips from time to time, which have always been good. He also likes to compose logic puzzles. He remains very disillusioned with writing. When I was trying to get my first novel published, he told me that trying to get published was like buying a raffle ticket for a microwave; even if you win, your life won’t change much.

* * * * *

Postscript (15 April 2014)

Nine years have passed since I wrote the above post. I have cleaned up some of the out-of-date additions from over the years and adding what will most likely be the last bit.

Yesterday, after his third bout with cancer, Crad Kilodney died at the age of 66. I wrote to him last October, and he told me that he was seriously ill. I occasionally checked up on him to see how he was doing, and in my last email to him, I mentioned a very successful dichloroaceteate treatment a friend of mine in Toronto was undertaking. Crad’s response was characteristic of him:

I’m not going to hunt for some miracle like a million other desperate people who want to avoid death.  If my doctors had any useful ideas, they would have told me.  I’m 66 and have finished the important work of my life.  I’m not afraid to die.

Thank you for thinking of me.
My one thought about him now was that, since he had no family in Toronto, there might not be anyone to take care of him. Fortunately, he had a friend by his side throughout the weeks he spent at the hospice, the writer and artist Lorette Luzajic. She has written on the Facebook page she set up for him:
I have been with him every day; he is in and out of consciousness, disoriented, and weak. He is peaceful, in relatively little pain, and wants to go. We thank you for your well wishes and Crad thanks all his readers.

A few hours before he died, she added:

Crad has been more or less unconscious and I am surprised each day that he is still ticking. His wonderful nurses assure me that he is still comfortable and not conscious of the minimal amount of pain he might be feeling; he is still receiving pain management just in case. Crad continually expressed his gratitude for your well wishes up until he was no longer able to speak at all, and I know he wishes to repeat this now.

* * * * *

Crad told me in a letter once that he had given all his papers and his diaries to some university library, or perhaps to the National Library in Ottawa, I can’t remember which. The archive is not to be opened till after his death. I predict that they will be his greatest legacy. I have no doubt that, aside from their literary value, they will prove to be a fascinating document of what was a very unusual life.

* * * * *

Please go to Crad’s blog and read his final published work. It is beautiful.

 

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