A Drink After Work At The Silver Dollar (Chapter Four, Lou Grant)

31 07 2009


A Drink After Work At The Silver Dollar

MURRAY:  “Let me get this straight, Lou. You’re having nightmares.”

LOU GRANT:  “Yes.”

MURRAY: “About what? What are these nightmares about?”

LOU GRANT: “What difference does that make?”

MURRAY: “They’re about sex, eh Lou?”


LOU GRANT: “Did you hear that?”

MURRAY: “Hear what?”

Murray has this startled look about him. Like a kid in a tent on a camping trip who hears something outside. At night. Afraid at first. Then after a few moments he becomes suspicious.

LOU GRANT: “Nothing.”

MURRAY: “You’re starting to scare me, Lou.”

LOU GRANT: “I am not having nightmares about sex, Murray. They’re dreams about the low life of the city. Scumbags. Drug dealers, winos, hookers…”


Murray feigns belief. That’s how relationship works. We treat each other like equals. But Murray remembers who’s boss.


LOU GRANT: “I don’t want to have them anymore but I can’t seem to stop them. They have a life of their own. Have you ever had recurring nightmares, Murray?”

MURRAY: “Only when my mother-in-law shows up for the weekend.”


I can’t help looking around. For the source of the laugh track. It’s like a constant buzz in my ear. But more malicious.

MURRAY: “What? Something wrong, Lou? Look, Lou, if its really bothering you, maybe you should seek out some professional help.”

LOU GRANT: “I’m not nuts, Murray!”

MURRAY: “You don’t have to be crazy to seek out counseling from a psychiatrist. You don’t think Mary is crazy, do you?”

LOU GRANT: “Mary is seeing a shrink?”

I couldn’t bare it if Mary was ill. Mentally ill. God, she’s so… healthy looking.

MURRAY: “Ya, Lou. She’s dating him.”


MURRAY: “Sorry, Lou. I couldn’t resist it. No, Mary is seeing a psychiatrist. Remember, she had that problem with an eating disorder. Well, she went to a counselor and I think it’s really helped her.”

LOU GRANT: “I think I’ll stick to scotch.”

I didn’t know that Mary had an eating disorder. She hangs around that Jewish princess, Rhoda. Who knows what she might pick up.

MURRAY: “Does it help?”

LOU GRANT: “No, but I like the buzz I get off it.”

I’ve always enjoyed the playful dialogue between characters. Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man series. Nick the loveable drunk. Nora, his rich beautiful and sarcastic wife. The banter in all the guy films of the last 30 years. There was an innocence about all of this dialogue. But now with Lou’s nightmares. Where was this heading? Nobody discussed alcoholism with Nick Charles. So why was mental health becoming an issue with me. Lou Grant. I didn’t want this. I just wanted a little harmless escapism.

Panic Attack (Chapter Three, Lou Grant)

31 07 2009


Panic Attack

The sun was lying on my forehead. My shirt collar felt too tight. It felt gritty. My belt was too tight. I was panting like a dog in the midday sun. Warmth filled my crotch. Jesus, I think I pissed my pants. I kept listening for an ambulance siren hoping that someone had found me out here in the yard slipping in and out of consciousness, in and out of the dreams of Lou Grant. Sweat sizzled on my forehead. Tree branches overhead creaked like a rusty gate. A thought flashed across my mind. How much of modern psychosis is a result of overcrowding? Claustrophobia. Not the fear of being closed in but the revulsion, like motion sickness, of too many bodies, too many minds, too much hate, love, jealousy, lust, greed, too much sympathy, too much of everything, too much of us. I felt like my chest was caving in. I wanted to be back in the newsroom with Murray and Mary and the gang.

The Staff (Chapter Two, Lou Grant)

30 07 2009


The Staff

Perhaps you have guessed it. I am not the Lou Grant. The Ed Asner character. But I am a Lou Grant. I work at the Corporation as we called the CBC. Even though I operated a camera on several prestigious programs, I lived in another world. My world. (Canadian programming was so dull in those days.) Dreaming each day as the forty seven year old, bald, fat, grumpy, Lou Grant. Dreaming through all the episodes of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. God, I loved Mary. I would… well, that’s for another time. I dreamed until I had exhausted all the scripts. And then I began to create stories of my own. They were innocent enough. At least in the beginning. In my stories I had the same staff members, the same offices as WGM of Minnesota. But my characters began to evolve, to become something more than they had been imprisoned in the original show.

My main writer, Murray Slaughter, was an odd fellow. Like myself, Murray had a reclining hairline, but unlike myself, Murray wore a toupee. He wore it shifted slightly on his head to one side like a French beret. Murray was quite the lady’s man and was not beyond boasting about his recent conquests, keeping a record of his girls, as he called them, in an album of raw Polaroid snapshots. This is somewhat at odds with the Murray Slaughter of the television series, but then, all of my colleagues had more of an edge to their personalities than was apparent on the tube. Murray and I got along. I made Murray laugh, especially when I insisted that he was not being true to his nature, which was as a devoted husband and father. Not that Murray didn’t love his wife, Marie. Murray had vices. The ladies was one: the ponies was another. They were related. Murray followed anything with a tail. It was never difficult to find Murray when he wasn’t at work. The Chez Moi, a small bar tucked into a side street near the corner of Bloor and Yonge in Toronto, was filled every evening with gamblers and low life drifters and Murray was always in attendance. I don’t know why Marie put up with him but I guess there are women who can’t live without some abuse, not that Murray ever hit his wife, not that I know of, not that it would have been any of my business. I make it a rule — never get involved with the private lives of anyone on staff. I hate personal stuff. I was not against someone having a vice; I have several of my own and cherish them as I do my own children. Everyone has their vices and it’s better that they are out front and not in hiding where they can suddenly rise up in moments of stress like relatives who only show up at funerals. But personal intimate discussions made my skin crawl.

Gordie was my weatherman. He was coloured, though he claimed he was Italian. I hate that word coloured. No one calls Italians brown, or Swedes beige, or Irish poke-a-dot. On several occasions Gordie was ready to bust my chops because I made some reference to his ancestry. “Nothing to be ashamed of Gordo,” I would say. “There’s no one I respect more than Martin Luther King.” This was before Dr. King was assassinated. Not that Dr. King’s assassination ever came up on the show. Generally speaking. Murder puts a damper on humor. Gordie was in denial. We wanted to put him in sports but Gordo had no interest at all in football, or baseball, or hockey. The only sport he showed any interest at all was the Tour de France and no one thought that our market share would increase with Gordo’s analysis of the flying Belgians. Gordie did the weather. He loved it. Said the weather was the sound of God’s bodily functions.

Ted Baxter was our news anchorman. Although he was a few inches too tall and had a little bit too much black in his hair (which I attributed to the use of Grecian Formula), Ted had the same bumbling bluster as his television counterpart. (In the original show, Ted’s hair was silver grey. Not in mine.) It was great having Ted around the newsroom, like having a portable and moving dartboard. Ted came to us directly from the movie industry where he had been doing promotional projects for various products. One that he was exceptionally proud of was a film done for the plumbing industry on industrial attire.

Although everything else was in place, our office had no Mary Richards. The newsroom lacked a certain sweetness and innocence. And until Mary showed up, I could still return to the real world, to my job as a cameraman at the Corporation, to paying my bills, to driving home to my wife and children each evening. Each world was separate from the other but all that would change the day she walked into my office.

It was a slow news day in mid-August. I think the Pope was praying for peace some place. Murray’s tongue was hanging out the side of his mouth as he opened the door to my office and stuck his head in.

“Guess whose here, Lou?”

I looked up impatiently. I hated being interrupted especially by chirpiness.

“You gotta guess, Lou!”

I let out a low animal growl.

LAUGH TRACK. Did you hear that? I hate laugh tracks but I cannot separate it from the show. It’s embedded in my head like some indelible character. Maybe it’s the devil gargling.

Murray stepped to one side and a lovely young woman stepped in. Murray smiled at me with those adult rated eyebrows. Murray introduced us. For a moment I was stunned and said nothing. I dismissed Murray and reached over my desk to shake that small trembling hand. Mary smiled nervously. Mary always seemed to be nervous around me as if she thought I might suddenly lunge for her throat. She’d just graduated from journalism, and was hoping that she might get a job in our newsroom, making copies, making coffee, and running errands. And then she started to cry. God, it happened so suddenly. I wasn’t prepared.

“Don’t…” I barked.

Mary wept harder.

LAUGH TRACK. You see what I mean. I hate that. This should have been a dramatic scene. My first meeting with the lovely young princess of our story, but the laugh track change it into farce.

Mary reached into her purse and pulled out a tissue. I would have used the name of a commercial product but these things were still being negotiated.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grant. I don’t know what’s come over me. Oh this is…”

“Please. Miss Richards,” I muttered turning away. I can’t stand to see a woman cry. I never know what to do with my hands.

“You don’t know how difficult it is to find work, Mr. Grant. You can’t get a job because you don’t have enough experience and you can’t get experience unless you get a job. It’s a catch 32.”



“Excuse me, Mr. Grant?”

“Catch 22.”

“Are you sure? My eye makeup is running. I must look awful. It’s just been one thing after another. Mildred died last night. Well, not really died. She was eaten by Jack. Rhoda warned me about Jack but I thought they’d work things out. I guess I turned a blind eye. I woke up to find Mildred’s sweet little head and feathers in the sugar bowl.”


“Jack ate Mildred?” I turned back to Mary who was dabbing her eyes with the tissues. She looked like a raccoon.

“Jack is my cat,” Mary explained.

“And Mildred is…”

“My cock-a-too.”


“I really need a job, Mr. Grant. I’ll work free for the first month if you’ll just give me a chance.”

“Whose Rhoda?”

“My best friend.”

“Thank God!”


I thought for a moment. Dramatic effect. “Look. Miss Richards. We don’t need a gopher. We have Ted.”


Mary’s lip began to tremble. Tears welled up in her eyes once again.

“No, not again,” I pleaded.

“I can’t help it, Mr. Grant. You must think I’m just a foolish young girl. I really am quite bright. Graduated with straight A’s.” Mary rambled on for some time in this manner, swinging from a detailed account of all her academic accomplishments to bouts of uncontrolled weeping.

“Miss Richards!” I interjected when there was a pause in the action. “We have a position as a junior writer and if you would be willing to go through a period of…”

“Oh, Mr. Grant!” Mary cried, a broad smile sweeping across her face. I stared at her, amazed. I think I might have smiled. And laughed. I have this ridiculous laugh like Goofy, the Disney character. Mary smiled. I thought I heard wedding bells. I was falling in love with her. Everyone fell in love with Mary.

I Am A Corpse (Chapter One, Lou Grant)

29 07 2009

This is the first chapter of a small novel. I’m not sure how long this is going to be. Its a canabalized story from a larger novel called The Tale of Two Cities. We’ll see how it goes. As I get older I notice that I have a natural affection for shorter pieces of fiction. Not short stories. But stories that are interesting enough and short enough to read more than once. So many of the books I see in Chapters are bloated. They should give you a pump when you buy them so you can pump them back up when they start to drag and loose their air. And I think that the new medias really prefer smaller books. Books you can play with.


I Am A Corpse

I am a corpse.

In a lounge chair.

On the outskirts of the American Empire.

On the ledge of a small blue planet.

In the suburbs of the Milky Way.

During the first days of the third Millennium.

There is a cat above me, walking along the telephone wire like a trapeze artist. Its tail like a balance bar. I wish I had a camera. Never seen a cat do that. Maybe she thinks she is a squirrel.

There is a lawnmower two houses down. Blasting out music. I swear. It sounds like a new Bob Dylan song. One I’ve never heard. There is no mistaking the great bards vocal tones. Now, that is a sweet treat. I love that boy. Can’t think of him as a grown man. When you think of it, he’s like me. An invention.

Sweat is rolling off my forehead. Into my eyes. I can’t move. It burns.

I shouldn’t have bothered to mow the lawn. Perhaps that brought on my stroke. But the grass was so long.  I hope they don’t manicure my face before they place me on public display. I was never a handsome and was proud of it. I don’t want to be painted up. To look like one of Picasso’s blue women.

My fingers tingle. The muscles on my arms and legs are flaccid. I have a craving for bacon. And scrambled eggs and sausage. On toast. The American kitchen invented the stroke.

The machinery of my existence is breaking down. Like the sound of that. Machinery of existence. You think maybe that God was Henry Ford. Weren’t we all born on the assembly line. History.

My bowels are relaxing. A pool is spreading out from my crotch. There is no feeling in my legs. The muscles on my arms are twitching. By themselves. Like something is trying to get out. Throat has dried up. My tongue races around in my mouth like some creature caught in the jaws of a steel trap. My arteries are expanding like inner tubes ready to burst. My veins turning brittle. Popping like lights on a Christmas tree. The panic of stillness.

My Absolute Moment is coming to fruition. Think about that. I’m going to see my maker. A group of writers at Warner Brothers. Most of them are dead. Or the next closest thing. Unknown.

I’m not ready. This is not a good time. I still have payments to make on the house. I was losing weight. I stopped drinking. Not all at once. And I was trying not to think about sex every five minutes. My voting habits were becoming more conservative. I voted for Mayor Anderson and his recent crusade against pornography. I supported the movement to have cats put on leashes and bicycle helmets made mandatory equipment for cyclists. And a women’s rights to choose. I can’t seem to stop talking. Inside my head. Jesus, its like a town counsel meeting.

I’m laying here looking at God straight in the eyes. God has a receding chin. No wonder he’s always wearing a beard. And he has very little personality. God is a chartered accountant. He keeps two sets of books. (He works for the mob as an enforcer. God is the original Murder Incorporated.)

God is a publisher with a musty smelling manuscript getting wet in his lap. Sitting in an Adirondack chair at his cottage. In the rain. The ink is starting to run. And he has to read quickly. I am looking my creator straight in the eyes and I have a story.

Paint the kitchen!

24 07 2009

Went up to a friend’s cottage for a few days. He tortured fish while I sat in a chair staring at some ducks on the lake. They did not move all the time I was there. It was a great mystery to me and one I was determined to figure out. The next day I learned that they were wooden ducks anchored to rocks to warn boaters. I’ve been doing so much visual work that I haven’t spent much time doing any writing and there are several projects that I promised myself to work on this summer. And my wife wants me to paint the kitchen. And God, I’d like to get drunk on scotch again and watch Casablanca again. Its great to be as drunk as Bogart in that famous scene when he asks his buddy to play As Time Goes By. ‘If she can take it…’


18 07 2009

Time for a new look as I begin to reworkshop some old pieces that I would like to get a better feel for. See my book Trash at http://trashpoems.wordpress.com/

Biography of X (illustration)

17 07 2009