Thursday, September 26, 2013


LITTLE PRICK is a little different. It did make the cut in Taking the Stairs, well, the first half anyways. I dedicate the finished version to Edward Keenan. I was working on this around the time I first met Ed at the Imperial Library Pub on Dundas Street in Toronto around 1998. I doubt he would have known that. I remember a work-in-progress novel that Ed was working on which he was reading from as well. It was cool. Maybe he has that one filed away too?

LITTLE PRICK is set in Toronto, the same era as OUR MAN JIM SWAN. It is a companion piece to TALENT (which made the cut in Taking the Stairs) and which received some kind words from Saturday Night's then fiction editor, Robert Weaver. If you have been to Toronto and walked along Bloor and peered into Holt Renfrew then you might imagine the setting. Why the film connection? From 1998-2001 I worked as a gopher on Toronto film sets. Most of this is covered in Taking the Stairs. However this story has its own setting and tone. Warning. It is quite long, almost 7000 words. (Maybe a reason why it was cut down from the novel as well?)  And it has a PG 13 rating.

Rada Fisher didn’t work in film didn’t know Kevin Derkinson from Adam and didn’t have any idea that Kevin was a lowly PA running coffees for a production company that specialized in commercials and rock videos in the city. Rada Fisher was an attractive woman of twenty-seven with long legs and penchant for playing with the ends of her hair when she changed mannequins in the windows of the Bloor Street clothing store. Kevin passed her nearly everyday as me made his way to the subway at Yonge and Bay, near the home he shared with an older man, a mathematics professor at the University of Toronto. 
If Kevin’s mother was to speak for him, she would say that Kevin had a huge crush on Rada and would talk of glowing terms of ‘this girl’ he kept talking about. Kevin’s mother would talk of boys and girls in the same slightly pleased but telling tone that said, ‘when you have suffered a great pain and you remember that pain, then you are no longer a girl but a woman.’ She would smile at Kevin and she would water the plants and the retire to the balcony after work where she would smoke a cigarette. She would then stand out there with her arms folded across her chest on the balcony, flicking ash over the city.

      Kevin asked Rada to a Chinese restaurant because he wanted to be as far away from Bloor Street and the trendy restaurants on Queen and anywhere where he might run into his mother or anyone  in film. When Rada showed up at the table she seemed a little shy but she smiled and her smile was warm and she sat down beside him in a very easy manner.
            “Chinese,” She said, running her finger down the menu. “It’s been ages since I’ve had Chinese.”
            “Me too,” said Kevin.
            “Chinese...?” Rada said the words with her eyes opening wider and wider, “Hmmm. So which dish...”
            “...grants my wish?” Smiled Kevin.
            “What?” Asked Rada.
            “Forgive me,” he said. "I have a habit of finishing people's sentences."
Rada eyed him up as if he was testing her.
Nevermind, she thought.
            “Forgiven,” said Rada. She closed the menu and replied crisply. “Do they have any Dim Sum?“
Kevin looked around.
            “Oh.” said Rada, her voice raising. “I don’t know...”
            “What to say?” said Kevin.
            “About...” Rada stood her fork up on the table and tipped it forward and leaned it back again intently. She looked at Kevin.
            “Finishing?” Finished Kevin his eyes fixed on hers.

“Oh, Rada.” Thought Kevin. 

Rada had that look in her eye which made Kevin feel like she might kiss him very hard and then get up and never come back to the table. There was a little mischief in her eyes.

“What are you thinking?” She then said leaning forwards on her elbows in a way that sounded like she was interested in him or else was not interested in him but knew of the uncertain territory in between, a mind field of the heart some might say.

“Are you OK, Kevin?”
“Absolutley fine.” Said Kevin.
“Then why are you not eating?”
“Am I not eating?”

Kevin looked down at his plate. A lot of work to do.

“I'm enjoying listening to you.”

            Sometime during the meal Kevin felt compelled to call his best friend, Mark Billings who also worked as a production assistant in the film business. Kevin was clearly caught up in the moment drunk on Rada’s beauty, drunk on the thought that she was knowledgeable about food and about the cultures of China and that she liked to read and debate and that she cared little for people who were rude or who were loud and obvious and her idols were the people, like Martin Luther King, and Anais Nin, women and men of passion who had made a difference in the world. Of course Kevin knew first impressions were lasting impressions and so he made his way to pay phone near the bathroom to call his friend, Mark Billings.

Kevin held his hand over the receiver,
Kevin found himself rushing as he spoke. “Mark,” he said, “You’ll never guess who I’m to dinner with. You’ll never guess who I asked out.”
“Who?” Replied Mark, metallically. He seemed tired to Kevin and slightly disinterested, though Kevin was feeling a little giddy and a little panic stricken and he knew that Mark had just come back from an eight day frozen food shoot.
“The window dresser! The one I always talk about all the time..!”
“Window dresser?” This time Mark’s voice picked up. ”You’re out with the window dresser? ”
“Yeah-ah” said Kevin.
“Did you get her name, Kevin. I do remember you talking about this woman but what’s the window dressers name, Kevin?”
 Kevin realized at that moment as he heard Mark yawn on the other end of the phone that there were times when he was unable to figure out whether or not his best friend was making fun of him and this thought –at this very moment –  got the better of him.

“The window dresser's name is Rada Fisher,” said Kevin smartly. ”and she is all of twenty one.”

“Rada Fisher?” Mark repeated the words just slowly enough to make Kevin feel alarmed. “Why does that name ring a bell? Rada Fisher?”

Kevin found his skin tighten at the corners of his mouth.

“It does sound familiar doesn’t it? “Rada Fisher?!!”
Mark said the name again, more slowly, more carefully.

“Hold on. I know, I know! Does this Rada Fisher have dark hair and a mole off to the side of her nose a little bit?”

Kevin thought for a moment: a mole would have been something that he would have noticed right away though he would have called it a beauty spot, rather than a mole. But still. He had detected a strange irregularity in Rada’s skin as they had been eating and though he considered this fairly bad form Kevin had made a mental note of this.

“I knew there was something about that girl...” Mark said and each word was like a tiny little probe being twisted under Kevin's nails.

“I’m sure that’s the same Rada Fisher who used to go with a friend at Senior Strachan – Charlie Fullerton.”
“Senior Strachan has an excellent reputation.” Replied Kevin in a slightly alarmed voice.
“Yes but schools with excellent reputations usually house students going through a very difficult time.” Said Mark, yawning again.
“Rada hasn’t been through a difficult time! She went to Strachan on a scholarship.”
“Scholars at private school are easily corrupted by rich kids going through a difficult time. I don’t know if you remember Charlie Fullerton, Kevin.”

“No, but I bet you do,” said Kevin and he could hear the bristle on his freshly shaven face, the tiny little dark points of hair on his chin causing static on the phone that he was speaking into.

“Charlie Fullerton, when he was eighteen, had a problem with women. His father was an ex-cop in the surveillance business who set up an office in Taiwan, Korea, and then Thailand when Charlie was small. Charlie was brought up by a bunch of nannies and oriental women – whom as he got older – he realized were not actually house servants but involved with his father, who divorced Charlies’ mother when Charlie was two. When Charlie came back to Toronto when he was thirteen, none of the parents wanted him near their children because he was too familar with women.”
“That sounds sad.” Said Kevin. “How old is this guy – what’s-his-face - Charlie Fullerton?”
“Mid-thirties now.” Said Mark.
“Well Rada’s no more than twenty two, twenty three. What did he do troll the nursery schools so that he could date three year olds?”
“Charlie went out with Rada four five years ago. The thing about Rada Fisher...” Kevin noticed that Mark was now whispering, “is that she looks, really, really young.”


Kevin put the receiver into his hand. As he held it he started to imagine that little pin prick mole on Rada’s face getting larger and spreading across her ‘young’ face. These were the thoughts he had at this time, this terrible time, the thought that the small red mole was one single, red, grain-sized dot in a larger red nasty syphilitic rash that could easily mutate and grow and bubble and make a goblin of his nose and moonscape of his cheeks and god know what down below to that little twisted pumpkin handle down below his plumbing.

There! It had come out, this terrible mean harsh inner ballast that he tried to hide inside what he tried never to show and in a way never admit about himself the simple truth of the fact that he was nothing but a bitter, mean, curmudgeonly little prick.

Kevin found himself staring at the receiver of the phone. “I have to go.” Said Kevin.

He let the phone hang there.
He was sure, but then he wasn’t so sure, that he had heard his friend Mark Billings say,

“Just kidding, Buddy.”

Kevin stared at the phone. The receiver swung back and forth. Back and forth. No way. No way in hell was he going to call Mark Billings back.
On the way back to the table Kevin noticed that his pager went off. He looked at the number on the display. It read 537 - 4606 - Mark Billings number. He immediately turned the pager off and put the pager in his upper breast pocket. He was immediately pleased with himself. pleased that he had not bought a pager that beeped or buzzed or would indicate in any way that there was a any person in this world that went by the name of Mark Billings.
When Kevin came back to the table, Rada had her compact in her palm. She was applying mascara meticulously an act which slightly alarmed Kevin, as when he had first met her his first impression of her had been that she looked like a natural beauty who didn’t need to cake her face with mud and paint.
“You don’t mind if I put on a little liner, do you Kevin?”

Rada put the compact back into the case. “I feel naked without a little eyeliner.”

“It doesn’t bother me," Said Kevin as he watched Rada’s eyes widen and and the lines in the corner of them crinkle a bit.

“Go ahead. Put on all the mascara you could want!”

Rada smirked at him and Kevin was suddenly consumed by the feeling that this person was now someone other than he had thought. 

“I have this spot,” Rada leaned forwards, pointing at her cheek.

 The word when Kevin heard it made his head feel light and his skin feel warm and his vision blur till all he could see were circles, growing wider slowly and spinning. When the spinning slowed he found himself in a room that smelled of Javex near stalls with creaking doors near a sink that was dripping – drip, drip, drip –  into a bluey, little spot in the basin. The mirrors near the sink were sprayed with graffitti and above them was a little rectangular box, rusted in the corners that had a red faded placard inside it inscribed with: THEY COME IN ALL SIZES. JUST CHOOSE ONE! Then a board, a dart board and it was covered in tiny white tissues. Then he imagined several dainty tiptoeing women in dresses attaching to the dartboard more little signs that read: Itchiness. Flaking. Coughing. Fever. Finally, a dark black sign posted in bright red letters this sign: THE AFFLICTED PATIENT WILL EXPERIENCE THE COMPLETE LOSS OF USE AND ULTIMATELY THE INTEGRITY OF SAID MEMBER, WHICH IN OTHER WORDS MEANS THE WATER HOSE WILL LIKELY TURN BLACK, IMPLODE AND/OR  SHATTER on CONTACT. All of this anxiety, terror, and panic from one little word. Spot.

"Spot?" Said Kevin, “I hardly noticed, Rada. I hardly noticed that you had a spot."
“A mole,” said Rada, “I think of it as a mole, a late-life mole that has come and now won’t go. “ She leaned forwards,
“Can I tell you something, Kevin?”
There it was the spinning again. Circles widening.

She was about to confess. No, No, No.... He had to ask her first.

He had to ask her about Charlie, this must be the same girl, the same Rada Fisher who had he had seen in the window months before and who had smiled at him in such a pleasant and warm and charming way and he had thought to himself: here is a girl that won’t make the same mistakes my own mother made. Here is a girl that doesn’t expect to get burned by men or that life will leave her without any money or prospects...

“Did you ever...” Started Kevin.

“See the Northern lights in the middle of the summer on a lake in northern Ontario, with the sky like charcoal and smouldering fires and little beaver damns, seen from the distance that look like the birds nests...?” finished Rada smiling. 
“I wasn’t going to ask you that.” Replied Kevin.
“Yes but wasn’t it fun?”
“Yes. It wasn’t awful," said Kevin. And as he paid the bill he began to think that everything was okay again.
They were outside in the foyer.

“It’s so cold” Shivered Rada, and Kevin smiled at her. He handed her his jacket and spread it around her shoulders. "Would you like to go for desert?”
“I’d love to go for desert?”
Tar - tu - fo.” Rada said the words slowly. “Only - if - you - go.”
Kevin looked at Rada incredulously.

“I can’t believe you said that.” He said. He smiled. “It sounded so rehearsed.”
“Believe it.” said Rada. “Believe it Kevin. A girl is entitled to a little...”
“Cheese?” Asked Kevin.
"Fun, I was thinking," said Rada eyes widening.

Kevin could smell her just then, smell the garlic and the exotic vegetables from the meal. 
“Can I ask you something?” asked Kevin.
“You can ask me anything you want,“ said Rada.
For a second Kevin was distracted by 'the mole.'
“How old are you?”
”You can ask me anything but that, “ Said Rada getting into the cab. “A girl is entitled to a little mystery surely, Kevin.”
“A lady you mean. “ Said Kevin.
“Whatever, "  said Rada.

            They took the cab all the way to College Street where everybody, nearly everybody that was anybody - worked in film. Kevin suggested the Danforth but Rada had insisted on College Street, because a new dessert shop had opened and she had been given an invitation by her hair dresser, a short sexy man, Miguel, who had visited the clothing store days before and bought from her a tight pair of black Calvins. Rada had squeezed his hand in the back of the cab. “The secret to great Tartufo,” She had smiled, “is that it is made with a little brie.”
“I see.” Said Kevin, looking at her fingers and then her eyes, slowly panning down towards that mole, that little red mole.

“Are you looking at my spot, Kevin?”

            There was something about Rada’s response that made Kevin think that this was all suddenly fun, a simple date with a pretty girl who was everything she seemed so Kevin, not thinking of the spot at all, stared past it and at the desert tray, at the little cherries on top of the black forest chocolate cake there and he smiled at her.

“I was looking at the cherries on the Black Forest cake. The maraschino cherries that cap the Black Forest cake.”
“Ewwww.” Scowled, Rada.  I hate those things – they stain your tummy red, forever.
“Forever.” Replied Kevin folding his hands in front of himself.
The reason Kevin wasn’t alarmed was because this wasn’t a popular restaurant with film types everywhere, the ‘meeds’ as he liked to call them: those poor lackeys who had had the rare wanderlust of their original dream of making great cinema sucked out of them, so that despite their achievements in commercial film and television they were simply beaten; they looked like stylish cadavers, near death anyway, like Nureyev had looked when he was nearly dead, paraded round for the world to see with strained faces, and sad defiance and the crushing cruelty of having nothing left to give; worse still,  the ‘needs’: those who were slightly nervous and self aware staring round at who just walked into the bar, because they’d just wrapped a blue cheese or American soup commercial a day or two before, and perhaps a few extras who might like to them gab with them might come in  till someone more famous or more important came in.
At the cafe Kevin ordered a mineral water for himself and a cassis for Rada who walked by the bartender slowly and laid her fingers on the top paneling of the freshly polished bar and swept a beer mat off the counter, and turned it this way and then that inspecting it; she then eyed the bartender for ever such a slight second that he was caught, frozen polishing his glass; she then glided towards the washroom, sliding the compact back out of her purse as she went along. Even though Kevin hated the way men watched after women when they passed, he still found himself watching Rada watching the backs of her legs that were so long and suddenly muscular at the calves.
"Legs like fingers." He said as he stared at his own fingers, "Legs like fingers that pointed at him and said: You are a lucky devil aren’t you?”

Or are you?

In the doorway just then Kevin caught a glimpse. It was just a glimpse but enough of an affirmation just then for him to think everything was now going to run to ruin and that the cheese in the cheesecake would spoil, the juice would sour and the coffee would be so bitter it would burn his tongue and his lips. 

            The young man - mid thirties - had a moustache, wasn’t particularly handsome, but had a wildness in his eyes, a slight tremble in his gait that made the whole room look his way,  though he wasn’t tall and the place was packed with many far better looking and interesting than him. Kevin noticed him for it not so much for the fact that he was clearly a man who liked the ladies but more because, he knew how to wear colours that suited him, and which made his cheeks glow and eyes shine and say, "I’ll charm the pants off you now while the girls still think that men are alright, before we’re off galloping down the stairs." Or something like that.

            Seeing this guy in the doorway made Kevin tense immediately. There was another thing as well, another thing besides having that damned ladies man aura. His name was Jimmy, Jimmy Tim and owned a film company, called The Jimmy Tin Can Film Company and had, numerous times directed videos and commercials on shoots on which Kevin was a production assistant. Kevin recognized two things about him when he had worked with him on set: Jim Tin didn’t like men much, was known to be a little tense when other men were around and most importantly was especially adept and making himself seem less powerful than he was. Kevin noticed when Jimmy directed he had his assistant director bully the troups while he went for chats with the agency people and when he went for a walk in the park where all the film company types went for walks after a shoot,  he took his old suffering German Shephard, not the young sleek Doberman and Kevin saw the way that people flocked to him, wearing jeans and a sweater and smiling meekly and ingratiatingly.
Kevin tried to avert his eyes, but it was no good. Jimmy Tin saw him, saw him seconds before Rada Fisher came bustling back through the bathroom door, twisting at the clasps of her purse and for a split second Jimmy had made a slight gesture towards Kevin, because he recognized Kevin, though he wasn’t exactly sure from where and so had smiled and played safe, made his way towards the bar first. But then at the bar, another glance a quick over the shoulder stare and everything changed, a cognition of sorts, a turn of the lip, a setting back down on the pint on the bar again, a quick rabble with the bartender and Jimmy Tin understood that this familar young man's face matched that of the poor devil who had once been yelled at by the second assitant director on a car commercial because his tense face could be seen in the background of the shot to all the agency people watching the shot in the video monitor.

"Get that fucking little prick out of the picture would you!" Shouted The Assistant Director.

"And tell him to put his pager back in his pants."

There was a blank look on Kevin's face, but he pulled it back, as quickly as he could. 
Rada sat down beside Kevin and pulled a spoon from the sleeve of his sweater, which had stuck there.           
“Thank you, “ said Kevin, removing the spoon. He scratched a bit of fluff from the edge. 
“Do you want to go someplace else?”
“No,” said Rada, slowly panning the room, “I think the place you chose is perfect.
“I feel ill.” Kevin held his stomach. He sipped some water. “I find the coffee they serve bitter.”
"Try some tea, then,” said Rada, snapping her fingers at the waiter who hovered by them, “try some herbal tea.”
“I don’t mean to sound rude, “ Kevin’s eyes were at his plate and he couldn’t seem to raise them, “But I’d really rather just go home.”


“Yes, home. It is not a disaster if I go home?” He now had Rada’s attention which is what he wanted. Rada eyed him shrewdly.
“Are you okay, Kevin?”
“Fine, “ said Kevin, “it’s just a little nausea but it’s bad enough that I want to go home.”
‘Nerves, “said Rada, holding his hand, “I sometimes have that affect on men.”
“It’s not you, Rada, it’s me.  I just tend to get a little tired sometimes.”
Kevin was still staring at his plate.

“Are you okay?”
“Are you okay, Kevin?”

A shadow, like a dark cloud passed across the table.

            When Kevin looked up he saw not Rada, but Jim Tin standing there with his thumbs in the lapels of his warm downy sweater.

            “Kevin, right? Kevin Derkison?”

            Soon they were all three of them crowded into a booth table. Kevin was holding his stomach. Rada was leaning forward and Jim tin was scratching away on the table.

‘1414 Wellington Street. Upper floor.” said Jim Tin getting up from the table, “And don’t forget Kevin, if you want to start production managing we have one guy who is moving full time into producing. Come to think of it, you should think seriously about getting, your girl, Rada into the business. Pretty girl, Kevin. Three, four months she could move from the office onto set maybe even assistant produce at Tin Can Productions the way we’re going.”

Jim Tin looked one more time at Rada. She smiled, smiled that smile. 

"Well, see you there. If you want.”

Rada was quiet for some times as Jim walked away and Kevin was sure sure as he was sure the camera man always found a pretty girl in a crowd that he saw Jim Tin reach down with his hand and pat his ass and pull his sweater up a little from his ass, and tuck it into his pants like a hockey player.

“Who was that guy?” Asked Rada. “Who was that guy Jimmy Tin?”
“A very clever businessman,” replied Kevin.
“Do you have cab fare?” Asked Rada, “I would love to go to that party.”
At that very minute when Rada had asked Kevin if he had more money a dollar or two more Kevin felt the terrible loneliness and rage and fear of being alone, an inexpressible feeling of helplessness that seeped into his bones that loneliness and terrible fear that had made his mother lonely, and bitter and had made his father leave his mother, and had made him sit sometimes for hours in his bed and stare at the walls and think, think non-stop about life slipping through fingers, his time as a small boy, the lonely times with his father, his father talking to him impatiently, his father watching to game, talking of innings and iced tea and beers, and slices of lemon and the Boston Red Sox and his father was holding the dogs nose and tweaking the dogs nose so that it cried and when Kevin sat in the middle rows of the school bus to wearing the same shirt that he had been wearing before, because his father had forgotten to do the laundry, it made him think of the lonliness of coming home and hearing his father upstairs with a woman, a woman from work whom Kevin had known as ‘my ol lady’ because there was a man on the steps of his apartment, pulling his gloves off his fingers saying harsh things to Kevin about ‘my ol lady’ how he was going to take a baseball bat to Kevin's Dad in the same way that old George Scott had taken a baseball bat to a Rollie fingers pitch in the sixth inning of that game they had been watching on the telvision between the Oakland A’s and the Boston Red Sox. There it was for Kevin, just twenty seven two decades after the fact. Suddenly Kevins breath tuned sour, his heart went hard and all the lonliness and emptiness of his life made sense why his mother was alone, and why he found it so difficult to talk to people on set and why his father was now in the states somewhere working for a man who sold factory parts to traders from Moscow and Winnipeg and Sioux City Iowa and there was blackness at the very pit of Kevin’s reason to be a blackness that said to him, no matter what, you have been burned, your past has been charred by misery and unhappiness and you have pretended that these goblins do not live in you when in fact they flourish in you, live and breed in your darkest regions and manifest themselves in yoour darkest core you little miserable prick. 

“If you will give me one minute please, “ Said Kevin, and he made his way, swiftly to the bathroom. He looked in the mirror, smoother his hair over to the side and breathed into the glass in the mirror and wrote the words: Life is hell! He then took two loonies out of his pocket, and purchased with the remaining change from the evening, a single reinforced condom. He looked at the condom, pinched it and rubbed it between his fingers as if he was worried some ointment might leak out of it and then he took the condom and put it in a little crease in his jeans, the little crease in his jeans where the pocket was, a little pocket that was the perfect size of a condom.
“I was thinking, Kevin,” said Rada as Kevin paid the waiter, “I was being inconsiderate; if you’re feeling sick, we don’t have to go. It’s just a party. I’ve been to plenty of parties.”
            “Oh no. Jim Tin doesn’t throw parties, Rada” said Kevin, “Jim Tin, throws an event.”
            “Are you sure?” asked Rada.
            “As sure a I’ll ever be.” said Kevin, pinching the condom in his jeans.

            They could hear the drone of the techno from the parking lot where they stood, under iron stairs with a woman and boy above sharing a cigarette. “What exactly is this place, Kevin?”
“A studio it looks like,“ said Kevin, “and it looks like it opens up onto the roof.”
“I love the open city at night don’t you Kevin. I love the way the colours blur into one another.”

Looking at Rada, her smile and her clear blue eyes, Kevin wanted to explain to Rada that he felt jaded by the city and pretty much everything that was supposed to be fun and that he got great joy from simple things like walking down quiet alleyways and staring at the architecture from the back and from doing crossword puzzles on Sunday afternoon and from watching people in the subway, but he rather felt that this would be lost on Rada and now that he knew her better she would like say something like “totally, Kevin, I totally know what you mean!” while she made her way up the stairs. That would just placate him while she rushed ahead to get closer to the party.
“I guess,” said Kevin instead following her up the stairs.
They all look like snakes, thought Kevin, they all look like snakes in a room in room for snakes, just laying there watching everything glazed eyes, tongues flickering, slithering here and there. Kevin felt the poison of the place as he walked in though there were a few revellers still enjoying the nights spoils but the parts was dying now, the smell of the party was stale chips and booze and the music on the CD had probably played a few times before. “Go your own way,” played over and over and over n the stereo.

“It seems like the party is dead," said Kevin.

“Dead?” Asked Rada, “How can you say dead. We’re here. How can the party be dead?” Rada went forwards pushing doors open, and tittering at people in rooms making out till she opened a couple of doors and she stumbled on...The Sweater.

“Come in.” Said Jim Tin lying back on the bed, he patted a couple of pillows and released an admirer from his lap. “Why don’t you come it take a hit on the one hitter?”
“I don’t smoke, “ said Kevin tensely.
“What kind of smoke is it?”  Asked Rada.
“Easy smoke.” Said Jim Tin.

Rada lay back on Jim Tin’s bed. Pinched the toke between her fingers.
She looked up pouting. “Are you sure Kevin?”
“I’m sure, “ said Kevin.
Rada closed her eyes. Inhaled. “Oh Yah.” She said as she lay back on the bed and looked at the ceiling. 
“Well.” said Jim Tin putting his hands on the edge of the bed... “I’m up to change the music.”

            Kevin lay beside Rada for some time. There was music now, other music, newer music, softer music.
“Why don’t you smoke, Kevin.” Rada lay on the bar her eyes widening.

“Smoking nauseates me, “ said Kevin.
“Food, smoking. Everything seems to nauseate you, Kevin.”
“It is because of the film business. Because of the film busines everything nauseates me. It’s not a nice business, Rada.”
“Whats not nice about it?

"Its like a war. The producer has all the fire power and the director is the cunt who acts on his orders and mows everybody down. Everybody is a casualty. Even the writer is a causalty in film. And he's the one who comes up with the ideas.”
“I don’t get you Kevin.” said Rada. “You earn your living from film, don’t you?”
“I make money from film but I’m basically owned.” said Kevin. ‘While I’m on set, I’m basically owned.”
“When I window dress, I’m owned,” Countered Rada.
“It’s different,” said Kevin.
“How so?”
“You don’t have a pager, “ said Kevin.
“Nevermind.” said Kevin.
He looked at his own pager. It read: 537-4606. His pager meant on thing to him just then. His pager meant to him: Mark Billings.
Kevin had another thought. Kevin thought about that word again. Spot. He couldn’t get it out of his head. Spot.

Jim Tin was in the doorway. There was smoke there. Smoky music.
“Kevin, can I show you something?” Said Jim Tin, smiling though in a distracted way. Kevin looked at Rada leaning back on the bed saw the look, the glint of desire that flickered there.
Kevin got right up off the bed.
“You can show me whatever you want,” said Kevin.

They were both in the kitchen.
“Are you getting enough work, Kevin?”
“I work constantly,” replied Kevin, “Too much actually.”
“What direction are you going in?” Jim Tin glanced over Kevin’s shoulder, kept his tone sedate, “Camera, sound, production managing?”
Kevin knew this was going to sound bad, but he said it anyway.
“Writing and Directing, actually.”
“You want to write – and direct, Kevin?” Jim Tin’s eyes widened.
“Just small stuff, “ replied Kevin, “Personal projects, documentaries, that type of thing.”
“Do you have a crew, Kevin? Do you have a crew lined up?”
“I’m working on it,” replied Kevin.
“I could help you...” Jim Tins voice went lower and they walked into the hallway.
 “Really?" Kevin Replied. “How so?”
“Are you guys actually, you know?”
“Not really,” Replied Kevin, absently (as if this too, was rehearsed) “No!”

“Would you mind if I,” Jimmy Tin made side to side movement with his hands  “You know, move in? ”
“I don’t mind at all,” Kevin replied, “Why would I mind? I hardly know the girl.”
“Actually she looks like a kind of serious bitch,”  Jim Tin added, “I like a challenge.”
 “I'll bet.”
“Is she really your type?”
“Actually, no she’s not.” Added Kevin.
“Think of this as thanks.” Said Jimmy.
Kevin looked in his palm.
“Who knows she might tell me to go fuck myself, later on.”
“She’s doesn’t swear much.” Said Kevin.  Looking at his hand.

Kevin looked at the little pin that Jim Tin gave him. It read. IN THE CAN PRODUCTIONS. CALL ME!

“Keep me in mind,” Winked Jim Kevin, "This new company is going to really take off.”

Kevin was in the bathroom. He looked in the mirror, saw himself as two people really, a decent lad, a good son to his lonely mother, a responsible hardworking, reasonably likeable chap but also saw himself as the sour, bitter little, man who did only what was required of him and had a palour about him that was all gloom and doom. He liked that about himself.

Kevin pulled out the package, pulled out the package and then put it back again, out in out in out in over and over again.

Finally he took the condom package and took the pin that Jim tin had given him, the pin that read: IN THE CAN. He took that pin and pulled the sharp point of it outwards and stuck it into the condom package. He did it once, twice, and then a third time, lad dee dah. 

“Deal, Jim, “ Said Kevin as he came out of the bathroom and shook Jim's hand and exchanged the condom with him.

“What are you doing,” Rada asked him as he leaned past her on the bed.
“Collecting my things and calling a cab,” Said Kevin.

“What about us?"

“You're in good hands." Kevin smiled and he hopped down the stairs.

“But I like you Kevin!”

“Then prove it!”  Replied Kevin, turning.

Rada just watched him.

In the cab, Kevin sat in the back seat and chewed gum in his mouth. He then inhaled sharply, smiled and watched the cabbie eyeing him and popped that bubble with a pin.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013


(Another, earlier unpublished short story. It was written in 1994 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was the fourth short story I ever wrote. It was inspired by Catcher in The Rye. I can imagine you might roll your eyes at that one. I used to show these stories to fellow wait staff at The Keg Halifax where I worked as a waiter. I was experimenting with the 'first person' voice. I remember this story, I found it in some old files. I liked the flow of it but I didn't have a place for it to go. I remember some of those waiters liked the story enough to quote the "Have since I can remember part." This was before I moved up to Toronto.


My younger brother’s a tall guy with glasses, big ears, a funny way a walkin that makes it look like he got no ass. I guess you could say he slouches. I hang out with my brother as much as I can. I always hope some of what he got’ll rub off on me. Some of his brains. I always have wanted some a that. Have since I can remember.

Most times, if you ask me a question I can come up with a snappy answer. If you give me enough time, that is. That’s not to say I’m some kind of smartass, cause I’m not. It is just that most times I say what I want. And I hate tellin lies. I’ve always been that way I guess. Have since I can remember.

Me and my father, we don’t get along too good. But that’s no big deal. He don’t drink or nothin like that. He just likes his food on the table at twenty past five and likes tellin my mother what his buddies been up to at the lumber yard. He thinks he’s smarter than them boys at work the way he goes on about their antics. Sometimes I think if I walked in there, to visit him, I’d see him sittin by himself eatin his nice sandwiches that my mother made for him special and then I’d see the rest of the boys carrying on playin cards, jokin with each other laughing at him and the way he thinks he’s better than all them. Of course, I can’t really say for sure what goes on at the lumberyard. I ain’t ever visited my father. And he’s worked there a long time.

I see my brother a coupla times a week. He got some kinda new stereo system that he taught me how to use. I like to play the music he hates. It gets him real mad. He listens most times to Classical Jazz , shit like that. I’ll always love my Whitney Houston records. O, yeah I guess I should mention my brother sniffs a lot and his nose is always running like its winter outside. I always bring over a box a tissue when I come. My mother sends it with me. She thinks he got a cold. Still I don’t tell her otherwise. My brother’d kill me if I said anything. And I always have loved my brother. Have since I can remember.

The dog my brother lives with shits too much indoors. Usually when I come over I gotta clean it up before I can do too much else. The stink is just too much. Shit is shit no matter how old it gets. Stinks till it goes all mouldy. The dog’s name is Dyon – short for Dyon-is-i-us. Smart name for a stupid dog that always hides when I come inside. Still I don’t hit it or nothin like that. But I don’t pet it either. I tried that once and it was a mistake. The goddamn dog wagged its tail and leaked piss all over the place. And piss stinks just as bad as shit except piss don’t stink till it gets old. And then it stinks worse.

My brother got a scholarship at McGill to study classics. He never went though. My father said my mother would do something crazy if he left.

“Yah.” I said onetime to my father, “Like go an visit him on Saturdays.”

My father just gave me the look. I laughed at him and stared back at him. It made him get even more mad. My brother says you got to understand my father.

“He’s just angry” my brother says.

Lots of people are angry I’d say. Even them people my brother is with are angry. Of course, they’re smiling when they’re with him. But afterwards they just seem angry.

One girl named Sally my brother likes more than the rest. She got some kinda skinny ass body. Sometimes she writes a little poetry on paper she finds laying around the house. Sometimes she waits with me for my brother to come in if he’s out. Sometimes she helps me clean up the house. She told me I was cute a couple of times. I didn’t take it too serious though. Specially when she passed out right afterwards with a magazine open. One time she drooled onto the carpet and the dog came by and licked it up. She got all pasty white on me. And she didn’t wake up for awhile. Still I like Sally more than the rest a’ those girls that come around. Yep. Have since I can remember.

We got high class cousins up in Toronto. I met them once when my uncle Maury died back in the late eighties. They held a funeral for him in a place called Rosedale. There were a lot of people at that funeral and lotsa nice cars parked outside. I almost didn’t make it into the service cause I was checking out all the cars with them bright, shiny Mercedes logos on them. Musta been eight or nine of ‘em in the parcade. Red ones. Blue ones. Pretty well every colour except black. There was a Cadillac that was black, though. I started to check it out too. My father told me he was embarrassed of what I was doing. Said people might think I was a car thief. So my father pulled me back into the Church. I was kinda yelling at him. Best part was everyone stared at him and made him right embarrassed. He told my mother later it was me made him embarrassed. But I know different. He didn’t look nice like them rick folk, dressed in his dark grey suit.

My cousin Molly was the best. She told me about a school she goes to where everyone understands. She said she didn’t know why but it was better going there than staying at home. I always hated school I told her. She just kinda smiled at me. I did tell her after that I felt kinda hot for her. She just laughed and reminded me we were cousins. She did kiss me though before we came home. Afterwards my brother told me that Molly kisses everyone. Still sometimes I can’t stop thinking about her.

I learned a lot of big words from my brother. Sometimes I read his poems he got lying around. He sure is smart I guess. Sometimes I get sad when I read some of his poems. One time I read a poem and started crying. It started like this:

Please, the man
beams from
shrouded curtains?

Anyways, I stopped reading it half way through. I was cryin real hard. Thing is - everyone keeps tellin’ me I got a low IQ. My father especially. One time he told me they shoulda stole some a’ my brothers brains and gave em to me. Them maybe both me and my brother wouldn’t have such a hard time.

Tonight I gotta go back home. I don’t really want to go cause I lose some a my freedom. I got to eat at exactly the same time everyday. Not watch too much T.V. and wait for when my father comes home. Worst part is he’s gonna ask me how my brother is doin. And I’m gonna have to lie. I’m gonna have to say my brother got his shit together, except I gotta say that without swearin’. My father says he hates swearing though he does it himself sometimes. Y’see I’ve always hated lyin. Have since I can remember.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

(from a story set in TO that didn't make the final cut of Taking the Stairs)
By John Stiles circa 1998
3700 wds
Each morning Jim Swan woke at six, lay back and stared at the ceiling of his room and recited a scene from a favourite play, Romeo and Juliet. Jim recited the part four times, end to beginning the first two times, beginning to end, the second, annunciating each syllable carefully. When Jim finished the recitation – delivered exactly as he had intended – he switched on his bedside light, stepped into the legs of his trousers which he folded neatly the night before and in the one or two minutes grace he gave himself each morning, he lit a smoke. Sitting on the edge of the bed, with the cigarette dangling from his lip, he pulled on his socks right foot then left, stretched his arms through a white vest and then selected from his fridge a carton of orange juice which he poured into a small rocks glass an equal measure of orange juice and an equal measure of vodka.

When Jim arrived at his place of employment, an Insurance building, a fifteen story Toronto landmark near Queen Street, he walked straight through the scattered groups of secretaries and insurance men eating breakfast in the cafeteria and proceeded directly to the dish pit, where he put on his apron, tied the strings tight, pulled on his gloves and began scrubbing the soaking pots and pans. He never smoked in the cafeteria because he didn’t like the defeated stare that smokers wore so he rationed his cigarettes carefully so that when he went to the John he could steal a smoke and savour the smell of the smoke.

When break time came, Jim folded his apron neatly and placed it between two cardboard napkin boxes and walked out into the quiet part of the cafeteria where he ate sparingly his usual lunch of antipasto, mains and a bagel. Sitting alone he stared hard at the dining room clock until it was exactly half past twelve and then he put his dirty tray on the conveyor belt and walked back through the kitchen and deposited the newspaper into the box in a curtsying fashion as if he was laying a wreath at a funeral. When the end of his shift arrived, Jim folded his apron neatly and tucked it away under the counter and strode through the large polished corridors and into the a crowd of noisy Insurance men from the offices upstairs who pulled their arms around his shoulders and stated: “Here he is, the company man himself: Our man Jim Swan.”

In a different time Jim had been a different man. In a different time, Jim had worked the account books for Welland Transport up in Northern Ontario. But after ten years of staring at prefabricated walls and the same parking lot filled up with eighteen wheelers and pick-up trucks, Welland Trucking Caps and jean jackets and dusty clothing, Jim returned home, one day, to his bachelor apartment with a feeling of complete and utter helplessness. He wasn’t married, he never gambled, he didn’t chase women, had no friends to speak of and had never taken a risk in his life to save his soul. He was bored, boring, living an uninspired empty life in a world of people who lived the same. A week or so later Jim walked past the Baptist Church in his hometown and past a sign that read: DO YOU FEEL EMPTY? CASTING CALL FOR BORED YOUNG MAN.

Answering the advertisement and sitting in a small church basement amongst a crowd of high school kids and divorced men, Jim so impressed the young director with the focus that he brought to his part that he secured a minor role in the much talked about new local production: Lives of Working Men. Jim spent an hour every day talking in a loud voice and then a soft voice, mimicking some of the raspy-voiced blue collar men with whom he had worked, telling himself that he had what it takes to make it in show business.

So, buoyed by the success of LOWM he made a rash move: he quit his job at Wellands and moved in with a spinster aunt, in town, to pursue his new career. Despite the doubt and uncertainty that this move presented, the constant querying from his aunt at mealtime, the dour tones, and long looks, Jim surprised everybody with his limited but immediate success. One year became two, more parts, a lead, a few newspaper reviews, and a murmur, a distant murmur, of potential fame. Then in his third season Jim was offered his biggest break: he was selected to understudy Steven Brice, a Stratford trained actor who was being paid a great sum to perform the role of Mercutio in the Welland Summer Festival production of Romeo and Juliet.

However, despite the burst of pride that welled in Jim at securing an understudy position, Jim had disappointed in his lone Mercutio performance and the newspaper reviews the next day were unkind. ‘Wooden, Forced and Uncomfortable…’ read the Daily Globe. ‘Hitting one note too many times…’ ran another of the local dailies. Add to this the outrage he felt when, he was replaced by a younger and more ambitious man, a terrible loneliness at not really fitting in with any of the other actors in his troupe and an unsettling paranoia that friends from the trucking company were laughing behind his back, Jim, crashed emotionally and realized suddenly: the likelihood of him ever making it big was small.

"You don’t want to be old and broke, Jim," a friend had said to him in a grave tone after seeing one of his last performances. However, instead of going back to Wellands and a life staring at figures in accounts, Jim reservedly packed his belongings into two old hockey bags and took the Greyhound to Toronto where, after a month of flopping in a Sherbourne Street rooming house, he settled into a small one bedroom apartment and secured a cafeteria job for a respectable food services company which paid handsome health benefits, gave him three weeks paid vacation and paid the substantial wage of thirteen dollars an hour.

When the weekend came, Jim followed his usual early morning routine. He stepped into the clothes he had laid out the night before, he poured himself a small glass of orange juice, topped it up with the Vodka, then patted his hair against his scalp, and pulled on his `weekender’ white shirt. Then he descended the old wooden staircase, stared into the hallway mirror for several minutes and because it was the weekend, made the face of a sad clown, a happy child, a angry man, an old scared pensioner and proceeded down the stairs and out the door and walked along the street towards his favourite peeler bar.

Walking through the neighbourhood park as he usually did on Saturday afternoons, Jim was relieved to see that spring had finally come and that the leaves had begun to flare out from the tips of the Maple trees in the park. The crocuses had broken through the soil along the pathway and under the trees, and on the main quarter as far out as the tennis courts, the grass had begun to green. There were people walking their dogs, and there were couples cuddling in the park benches, faces turned towards the sun and Jim was faintly pleased seeing these things until he came upon a homeless man sitting at the exit of the park near Queen Street. The man, a gaunt fellow, with dark yellowish brownish circles under his eyes, wore a baseball cap and sat nodding and nodding like he was counting something. Jim walked past him not looking back, but he couldn’t get the image out of his mind, the man just sitting there nodding and nodding, arguing and arguing, counting and recounting something.

Jim liked the way that the women at the strip bar came up to him and flirted with him. He liked the idle banter and that fact that whatever he said they laughed, and he was having such a good time laughing and joking with everyone, that a couple of drinks were gone before he remembered that he had come there to see a young girl who had once worked in a neighbouring coffee shop, a girl who had once confessed to him her dream of being a ballerina.

"Is there a new dancer working here," he asked, "a dancer by the name of Manuela?"

A young sultry woman with her hair tied up in a bun, stared at him with a kind of disappointed expression and looked towards the stage. She pointed with her long thin fingers,

"You just listen for Dog and Butterfly because Dog and Butterfly is Manuela’s song."

So Jim took a seat at the front of the stage and sipped his vodka and orange juice through a straw. He sat there for some time and tried not to stare at the naked women but he did anyway because he noticed after a while that the women didn’t seem to be embarrassed at what they were doing. Eventually Manuela came on stage, twirled on her blanket, and shimmied up and swung on the pole, and then crawled over on all fours towards him. Jim had a sense that she hadn’t expected to see him there and because he wasn’t sure exactly what to say, he announced in a theatrical voice:

“Dido a dowdy,
Cleopatra a gypsy,
hildings and harlots,
Thisby a grey eye or so...”

“The name is Manuela,” she said in a cold voice, her eyes flashing. And when the song was over she took her blanket and covered herself with it and walked off stage.

Traipsing back through the park, drunk, Jim found himself collapsing into a park bench halfway through, trying not to think too much about what had passed. But two images tormented him. The high booted shuffle step that Manuela had done, a one-step forward, two-steps backwards shuffle strut that seemed to him vulgar and the way that Manuela had covered up afterwards, with her blanket draped down over her naked front and had walked down off the stage looking past everyone. There was nothing refined or remotely graceful or beautiful about her actions, they seemed careless in a way, slovenly in a way, and there was something of permanence in them.

When the next Saturday came Jim looked in the mirror. He ruffled his white linen shirt and shaved his neck hair that he noticed was getting long. Then he took out a small pencil and traced, ever so carefully across the tops and bottoms of his eyelashes, four dark lines, an outline. He blinked a couple of times in the mirror and thought that this new appearance, this sexy dark-eyed Egyptian appearance was an improvement. Then he puckered his lips and drew just over the tips of his lips a thin red line, and then pressed at it with his fingers smudging it and smoothing it in. He hadn’t intended for the lips to be so smudged, but he left the marks there anyway and he put the pencil and the crayon the back in his case and walked out.

So Jim was at the strip bar, sipping vodka and orange, and waiting, in his patient way, for Manuela to come on stage. But after exhausting most of the money that he had brought with him, he realized that she wasn’t coming on because he had waited near an hour and a half.

“Is Manuela working today?” He had asked the bouncer at the door.

“Moved up north,” the bouncer replied looking past him, “Works at Ralph’s place now. Yonge and Finch.”

Walking back into the entrance of the park, Jim saw to his dismay, the man with the baseball cap rocking back and forth on the wooden park bench. The sight irritated Jim and he was drunk and so he stopped there beside the skinny man, shouted at him.

“Did you ever think for once someone else might like to sit there?” And the skinny man with the dark circles around his eyes glanced back up at him, a sad, sorrowful expression. And Jim grabbed his shoulders and started shaking him and then slapping him with the backs of his hands until he realized that the man’s mouth was gashed and swelling and there was his blood on his hand, slashed across Jim’s knuckles, dripping down the corners of the skinny man’s mouth. Jim looked around sheepishly.

“Well, look what you’ve made me do,” he said wiping his hands on his pants.

Ralph’s was worse than Vinny`s place; it was larger and more cavernous, most of the women were from the Eastern block, Rumania, the Ukraine, and they had harsher, more direct ways about them. Manuela was there though, and she seemed to Jim, happier than he had ever seen her before.

“Jim,” she collapsed with her arms draped around his shoulders,” and whispered into his ear, “thirty dollars and we can go into the room, the private room if you want, upstairs.”

“I just came to see you Manuela. I felt like I needed to see you, Manuela.”

“Do you have thirty dollars, Jim,” she was pulling at the lapels of his jacket, “It’s just a few dollars, Jim. I promise you I’ll pay you back.”

Suddenly Jim seized upon the idea that there was some trouble about her, that she needed the money rather than wanted the money and so he gave her the thirty dollars and began walking out; but Manuela pulled him towards the stairs and he didn’t resist her because he couldn’t. So he walked up the stairs with her, wanting, suddenly, to ask her what sort of trouble she might be in. But each time he looked at her he saw in her eyes, a tension, and a fear concealed behind a forced smile.

“Just stay with me for ten minutes, Jim,” she said, “just lay back here and we’ll just wait and see what happens,” She went towards the door and peeked out. Then she came back sat on the bed. Jim found his hands stretching out towards her nipples and circling them.

“Don’t Jim,” she caught them between her hands and squeezed them, “please don’t.” Jim looked at her hands, suddenly speaking as if he couldn’t get the sentences out of his mouth fast enough. What he said was:

“Don’t you ever feel like you’re a different character, Manuela? I mean don’t you ever feel like you’re someone completely else?”

Manuela played with the lapels of his jacket and stared at Jim blankly.

“You know I used to be an actor Manuela, out in Welland. I used to act in the local theatre community and people used to tell me I had the talent.” Manuela pushed his hair away from his face saying in a calming voice, “But that’s just the thing Jim, if you had the talent you would have known, that’s the whole thing. If you’d had the talent you’d be actin now wouldn’t you Jim, wouldn’t you Jim?”

“But I do have the talent.” Jim was just saying it all so hopelessly, pitifully, emptily, over and over again. And Manuela stood in the background, in her negligee and lifted her leg up over her head, and then pointed her toes towards him.

“Just because I can dance doesn’t mean that I’m a ballerina you know.”

When Jim arrived at his job on Monday morning he was sure he detected in his co-workers a pall of ill humour and gloom. When he went into the office and took out a hair net and put it on, one of the women said, “you don’t have to wear that, you know,” and Jim turned right around and stared at them.

When break time came at the cafeteria Jim sat where he usually sat, near the clock so that he could watch the time ticking past and, snapping the hair net against his head, he listened to the conversations of the insurance people around him. And he noticed for the first time that mostly they just talked of themselves and the things that interested them. And there was hysteria in their voices, rather a lack of certainty in their voices as if they had no confidence in what they were saying.

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