From the book
Terry's the spur. The splinter under my fingernail. To come clean, I'm starting on this shambles that is the true story of my wasted life (violating a solemn pledge, scribbling a first book at my advanced age), as a riposte to the scurrilous charges Terry McIver has made in his forthcoming autobiography: about me, my three wives, a.k.a. Barney Panofsky's troika, the nature of my friendship with Boogie, and, of course, the scandal I will carry to my grave like a humpback. Terry's sound of two hands clapping, Of Time and Fevers, will shortly be launched by The Group (sorry, the group), a government-subsidized small press, rooted in Toronto, that also publishes a monthly journal, the good earth, printed on recycled paper, you bet your life.
Terry McIver and I, both Montrealers born and bred, were in Paris together in the early fifties. Poor Terry was no more than tolerated by my bunch, a pride of impecunious, horny young writers awash in rejection slips, yet ostensibly confident that everything was possible -- fame, adoring bimbos, and fortune lying in wait around the corner, just like that legendary Wrigley's shill of my boyhood. The shill, according to report, would surprise you on the street to reward you with a crisp new dollar bill, provided you had a Wrigley's chewing-gum wrapper in your pocket. Mr. Wrigley's big giver never caught up with me. But fame did find several of my bunch: the driven Leo Bishinsky; Cedric Richardson, albeit under another name; and, of course, Clara. Clara, who now enjoys posthumous fame as a feminist icon, beaten on the anvil of male-chauvinist insentience. My anvil, so they say.
I was an anomaly. No, an anomie. A natural-born entrepreneur. I hadn't won awards at McGill, like Terry, or been to Harvard or Columbia, like some of the others. I had barely squeezed through high school, having invested more time at the tables of the Mount Royal Billiards Academy than in classes, playing snooker with Duddy Kravitz. Couldn't write. Didn't paint. Had no artistic pretensions whatsoever, unless you count my fantasy of becoming a music-hall song-and-dance man, tipping my straw boater to the good folks in the balcony as I fluttered off stage in my taps, yielding to Peaches, Ann Corio, Lili St. Cyr, or some other exotic dancer, who would bring her act to a drum-throbbing climax with a thrilling flash of bare tit, in days long before lap-dancers had become the norm in Montreal.
I was a voracious reader, but you would be mistaken if you took that as evidence of my quality. Or sensibility. At bottom, I am obliged to acknowledge, with a nod to Clara, the baseness of my soul. My ugly competitive nature. What got me started was not Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich, or Conrad's The Secret Agent, but the old Liberty magazine, which prefaced each of its articles with a headnote saying how long it would take to read it: say, five minutes and thirty-five seconds. Setting my Mickey Mouse wristwatch on our kitchen table with the checkered oilcloth, I would zip through the piece in question in, say, four minutes and three seconds, and consider myself an intellectual. From Liberty, I graduated to a paperback John Marquand "Mr. Moto" novel, selling for twenty-five cents at the time in Jack and Moe's Barbershop, corner of Park Avenue and Laurier in the heart of Montreal's old working-class Jewish quarter, where I was raised. A neighbourhood that had elected the only Communist (Fred Rose) ever to serve as a member of Parliament, produced a couple of decent club fighters Louis Alter, Maxie Berger), the obligatory number of doctors and dentists, a celebrated gambler--cum--casino owner, more...