Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sideswipe By Charles Willeford (St. Martin's Press 1987)

"It's a peculiar thing, old-timer, but a man your age can learn something from me, although it should be the other way 'round. First I'll tell you something about me, and then I'll tell you about you."

"A man can always learn something new." Stanley filled his pipe. "There's an extra pipe if you want to smoke. I don't have no cigarettes."

"I don't smoke."

"Smoking is a comfort to a man sometimes. I like to smoke a pipe sometimes after dinner, but I don't smoke during the day--"

"Smoking comforts ordinary men, but I'm not an ordinary man. There aren't many like me left." Troy drew his lips back, exposing small even teeth. "And it's a good thing for the world that there isn't. There'll always be a few of us in America, in every generation, because only a great country like America can produce men like me. I'm not a thinker, I'm a doer. I'm considered inarticulate, so I talk a lot to cover it up.

"When you look back a few years, America's produced a fair number of us at that. Sam Houston, Jack London, Stanley Ketchel, Charlie Manson--I met him in Bakersfield once--Jack Black. Did you ever read You Can't Win, Jack Black's autobiography?"

"I been a working man most of my life, Troy. I never had much time for reading books."

"You mean you never -took- the time. I've just named a few men of style, my style, although they'd all find the comparison odious. Know why? They were all individualists, that's why. They all made their own rules, the way I do. But most of us won't rate a one-line obit in a weekly newspaper. Sometimes that rankles." Troy paused, and his brow wrinkled. "There was a writer one time... funny, I can't think of his name." Troy laughed, and shook his head. "It'll come to me after a while. What I'll do is pretend I don't want to remember it, then it'll come to me. Anyway, this famous writer said that men living in cities were like a bunch of rocks in a leather bag. They're all rubbed up against each other till they're round and smooth as marbles. If they stay in the bag long enough, there'll be no rough edges left, is the idea. But I've managed to keep my rough edges, every sharpened corner.

"But you, old-timer, you're as round and polished as an agate. You've been living in that bag for seventy-one years, man. They could put you on TV as the perfect specimen of American male. You're the son of a Polish immigrant, and you've worked all your life for an indifferent capitalistic corporation. Your son's a half-assed salesman, and you've had the typical, unhappy sexless marriage. And now, glorious retirement in sunny Florida. The only thing missing is a shiny new car in the driveway for you to wash and polish on Sundays."

"I've got a car, Troy! A new Escort, but Maya took it when she left."

"I'm not running you down, Pop. I like you. But life has tricked you. You fell into the trap and didn't know you were caught. But I'm a basic instinctive man, and that's the difference between us. Instinct, Pop." Troy lowered his voice to a whisper. "Instinct. You've survived, but mere existence isn't enough. To live, you have to be aware, and then follow your inclinations wherever they lead. Don't care what others think about you. Your own life is the only important thing, and nothing else matters. Want some more coffee?"

Friday, April 12, 2013

All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen (Viking 2008)

I found the Mensheviks kind, intelligent, witty. But everything I saw convinced me that, face to face with the ruthlessness of history, they were wrong.
- Victor Serge
Mark's dissertation, in the end, was about Roman Sidorovich, 'the funny Menshevik." Lenin had called him that, menshevitskiy khakhmach, in 1911. Sidorovich was tickled, "I'd rather be menshevitskiy khakhmach" he said (to friends) "than bolshevitskiy palach." I'd rather be the Menshevik funny-man than the Bolshevik hangman. Oops.

They were all in Switzerland then, having fled the scrutiny of the tsar's secret police. In 1917, they all, Lenin and Trotsky and Sidorovich, returned home after the tsar abdicated. Or anyway Mark thought they did. The truth is, Sidorovich was too minor a figure for anyone to have noticed when exactly he returned, what exactly he was wearing, his friends and widow gave contradictory accounts, and his personal papers were confiscated in the 1930s. But Mark thought he could see him in the documentary evidence, cracking jokes. It was in fact the task of his dissertation to prove that many of the anonymously attributed humorous remarks of 1917 ("someone joked," "a wit replied") were attributable to Roman Sidorovich.

In 1920, after securing power, Lenin exiled many of the Mensheviks. The Sidoroviches found themselves in Berlin, where Roman briefly succumbed to the temptation to write humorous book reviews for Rul', the liberal paper associated with, among others, Nabokov's father. In 1926, however, Sidorovich grew bored and depressed and asked to be allowed back into the country. He was allowed. Five years later, he was arrested, and his "humorous remarks," the ones Mark spent all his time authenticating, were spat back at him during his interrogation. It turned out the Bolsheviks had a very good memory for humorous remarks.

"I confessed to the good ones right away," Sidorovich said later.

"Then they tortured me, and I confessed to the bad ones, too.

"Then they tortured me some more," he also apparently said, a few times, "and I blamed the bad ones on my friends."

The record of the interrogation had not survived. But it was known that Sidorovich received a five-year sentence in Verkhne-Udalsk. He returned to Moscow in 1936 and was rearrested in early 1941. He was on his back to Verkhne-Udalsk, or beyond, when the Germans invaded. At this point history lost track of Roman Sidorovich, and so did Mark.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

22 Dreams

March 26th 2011 Beating the Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action by Sean Birchall

March 28th 2012 Children of the Sun by Max Schaefer

April 9th 2013 Bitter Blue by Cath Staincliffe

I'm slacking. Must up the ante.

eta: Just noticed that both the Birchall and the Schaefer books concern themselves with fascism.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Bitter Blue by Cath Staincliffe (Allison and Busby 2003)

I led my new client downstairs and into the room. It was cooler in there and I switched on the convector heater, hung up our coats and offered her a drink.

'Coffee would be nice.' Her manner softened a little. 'Just milk please.'

'I forgot to ask you on the phone, how did you hear about me?' It's useful to find out how clients arrive.

'Yellow Pages, you were the nearest to me.'

Word of mouth counted for the bulk of my enquiries, the rest came via the phone book as this one had.

'Where are you?'

'Levenshulme,' she smiled.

I guessed she was in her late twenties. She was slightly built with glossy brown hair which she had drawn back and clasped in a leather barrette. She wore small gold teardrop earrings and an engagement ring on her left hand. Her eyes were almond shaped, blue like faded denim, her mouth small, the lips coloured a high gloss carmine shade. She wore a tailored red suit and court shoes, which, along with the polished make-up, made me think of an air-stewardess or a beautician. Someone whose job description included the words well-groomed. Elegant not flash.

I handed her coffee and sat down opposite her at my desk. As yet I'd no idea why she required the services of a private investigator. She had booked an appointment without disclosing her problem. A lot of people do that; they prefer to speak face to face.

Blowing on my coffee I took a cautious sip. Then pulled pen and paper towards me. 'What can I do for you?'

'It's this.' She opened the black leather handbag on her knee and drew out a sheet of paper. 'Came through my door.' It was folded in half. Plain paper, A4. She slid it across me. Nodded that I should open it.

I did.

YoU arE DEAd BITch

I flinched: an instinctive reaction. A death threat. 

Four words. The letters taken from different sources, newsprint, magazines, stuck side by side.

I met her gaze.

She pulled a face, her shoulders joining in the shrug. 'I want you to find out who sent it.

Monday, April 08, 2013

She's Gone

I'm afraid I wont be gloating over the death of someone in their eighties. Hated her government and all that she stood for . . . and she certainly doesn't merit a state funeral . . . but the bastards are still in charge.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Musclebound by Liza Cody (The Mysterious Press 1997)

I was going to have it out with the driver of the Carlton. I was going to pick him up by the armpits and say, "Oy, pus-bottom, watch where you're going." But by the time I got up off the floor and kicked the chain for tripping me up, I saw the driver wasn't in the Carlton no more. He'd gone inside the booth, and he'd left the driver's door open and his motor running. Which is exactly the same as saying, "C'Mon, Eva, here's a nice red Carlton all warm and ready to take you home."

So I said, "Ta, very much. Sorry I called you a pus-bottom." I jumped in and shoved the stick in first.

At the same time, the driver struck his head out of the booth and shouted something. I didn't catch the exact words because I was too busy revving up and moving out. But what happened next was very weird. As I swung past the booth, the passenger door slammed shut. I hadn't noticed a passenger. And then another man, who I hadn't seen before, walked out from the booth and pointed a stick at me.

I thought. "Why's that dink pointing a stick at me?" And I'd hardly finished thinking that when the passenger-side window shattered. Kerash-kerunch. Glass everywhere. I was so startled I nearly whacked into one of the petrol pumps.

I went nought to sixty, out of the forecourt, right under the nose of a Safeway truck. I was sweating but, do you know, I was half a mile up the road before I realised what shattered the windows.

The dink wasn't pointing a stick at me. He was pointing a sawn-off shotgun. The windows didn't shatter. The dink shot them out.

Can you believe that? Some bastard shot at me. Me. Just for borrowing a Carlton. Who the hell'd do a thing like that?

If he didn't want his motor borrowed, why didn't he just remove the keys like a sensible person?

Shit. He could of killed me. Fancy that. Ex-Wrestler Shot. What a headline that'd make.

Friday, April 05, 2013

A Very Profitable War by Didier Daeninckx (Melville International Crime 1984)

Sorinet and Goyon were first in the pile, followed by a show-case of militant anarchism: men with bald heads, with beards, with glasses, with the expression of hallucinating poets, hair sweeping their shoulders, civil servants in evening dress with bow ties and top hats  . . . the owner of the Carden was hiding at the bottom of the pile between a young woman who specialized in revolutionary abortions and a forger.

My Sorinet-Goyon was in fact called Francis Ménard, born at Ivry-sur-Seine, a librarian by profession. He wasn't wanted for much before '17: a few illegal occupations of private property, taking part ina few demonstrations that ended badly . . . Now they were looking for him for 'desertion in the face of the enemy in May '17'.

Nowadays the penalty wouldn't be much more than three to five years in prison near Toulon; before the armistice, he would have faced the firing squad.

He could count himself lucky, he'd managed to save his skin. Those who were no longer here to say the same thing could be counted in platoons.

Walking back to the car, I decided to follow the trail leading to the appropriation of apartments. Francis Ménard and the friends whose identity he had taken over were at the time part of the 'Tenants' Trade Union', an anarchist group that had had its moments of glory in the two years preceding the war.

The whole of Paris used to follow the exploits of their spokesman, Georges Cochon, and his confrontations, which always included a large dose of humour, for the rehousing of working-class families.

Paris high society followed as well, although its laughter was nervous.

I remembered certain episodes such as the day of action 'Against the Tyranny of the Concierges' during which the Cochonnards' commandos put fleas, bugs and cockroaches through the keyholes of the concierges' doors! One day, I had also come across a procession of the 'badly housed' who were going up to take over the barracks at Château d'Eau from the soldiers. They were marching in serried ranks behind their band, 'The Cacophony of Saint Copy-Cat', a heterogeneous group with music scored for saucepans, ladles, billy-cans, tins . . . 

The Socialist Party flags fluttered in the middle of the procession, mixed in with the black standards, and it wasn't unusual to come across the happy face of a Member of Parliament from that party. The party paper gave inflammatory accounts of the events and blamed everything on their bête noire, the Prefect Lépine.