FUNNYBOOK REVIEW: HOT OFF THE PRESSES, HOPITAL BRUT DOUBLE ISSUE 5/6! EXCLUSIVE NEVER-BEFORE-PUBLISHED INTERVIEW WITH A BAND THAT HASN'T EXISTED IN 15 YEARS (BLACK FLAG)! FUNNYBOOK REVIEW: STEPHANE BLANQUET'S GHASTLY "LE FANTÔME DES AUTRES"! STORYTIME, BY ROB LABELLE OF THE AMERICAN DEVICES: "TALES OF MY OWN ENTRAPMENT"!
All contents © 2000-2001, Rick Trembles
UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION STRICTLY FORBIDDEN
June 28, 2001
FUNNYBOOK REVIEW: Hot off the presses, HOPITAL BRUT DOUBLE ISSUE #5/6! (Pictured right: Poignant scene from this week's reviewed movie, AI: Artificial Intelligence, where Kubrickian scientists make repairs on robo-boy Haley Joel Osment's head. -Just kidding! That's a real boy being sawed open from the latest Hopital Brut)!
THE SYMPTOMS: Ever feel like all that everything you ever stood for did for you was just plop you into a big fat heap o' shit you just can't crawl out of? Ever feel like things just aren't gonna be changing for you & the stigma hanging over your head like a dark cloud's gonna be stickin' 'round 'til death do you part? Whereas, in your youth, your numbskull convictions held a certain cuteness, ever come to the realization that middle-age is gonna freeze that stubborn sourpuss of yours into an anonymous caricature that ain't gonna articulate shit to nobody other than "what a sad old curmudgeon"? Ever realize all everything you ever held true did was nothing but end you up broke & alone 90% of the time & the fight's not gonna let up because the older you get, things are just gonna get tougher & even harder to clarify/justify to innocent bystanders as the gap widens to oblivion between you & any potential sympathizers? Ever sorta always have had the inkling in the back of yer head an acceptance that you knew things were never gonna be that easy as pie but fuck when you've finally gone as far as you can within your meager means & then hit a wall, did you ever not expect your poverty/isolation to be so mind-numbingly lame, repetitive & regressive? Ever carry this weight on your shoulders convinced it's so transparent that anyone & everyone can smell it coming a mile away, holding their noses as you pass 'em by? Ever wonder if you're just on autopilot since genuine responses to your work are so few & far between that you feel like you're your only goddamn audience & you don't even trust your own opinion anymore so you wallow in a counterproductive funk that stunts your growth?
THE CURE: Get a couple pages published in Hopital Brut. It's good for what ails me. Expensive medicine if time for you is money however. I've got all the time in the world. Hone your craft & over the years the fruits of your labor might catch Hopital Brut's fine-tuned eye. Contributors' copies are making their way into Montreal & I'm pleased as punch to announce that they've run two of my God's Cocksuckers "sex/violence" orgy tableaus alongside a smorgasbord of some of the most graphically compelling & confrontational doodlers, sculptors, painters, cartoonists & collagists on the planet. Perusing the pages of this new double issue, I feel as though my plight is no paltry endeavor after all. It's a noble one, in which solitary tinkerers worldwide unite in spirit with one common goal: to skullfuck each & every eyeball encountered.
Each epic Hopital Brut is one-of-a-kind, limited edition, color silk-screened on magazine-sized cardboard stock & with mini-comic inserts & (French) interviews speckled throughout. Contributors are too numerous to catalog here, but fellow Montreal cartoonists spotted in the new ish include Henriette Valium & Eric Braun. Back issues are nonexistent so hurry up & snatch up whatever's left of # 5/6 via Dernier Cri's website or snailmail 41, rue Jobin, 13003, Marseille, France for inquiries.
June 21, 2001
EXCLUSIVE NEVER-BEFORE-PUBLISHED INTERVIEW WITH A BAND THAT HASN'T EXISTED IN 15 YEARS! (Pictured right: Trembles doodle of former Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn touring solo back in '94)
Circa 1984, LA punk band BLACK FLAG made it to Montreal shortly after releasing their My War LP, (a musical departure for them featuring plodding, atypically slo-mo riffing that pummeled the noggin as opposed to the kind of supersonic hardcore that was fueling most punk bands at the time). Marcie Frank, Danny Darling & I, made it backstage, all drained out to gibberish after being supremely rocked out, to ask guitarist Greg Ginn some questions for a second issue of our Sugar Diet Magazine. But anything having to do with bands was eventually scrapped from SD in order to transform it into a comic book, so this interview was never published.
RICK TREMBLES: Who's your favorite guitarist?
GREG GINN: Oh, I've got a lot...
MARCIE FRANK: Well, name them.
GREG: Oh, uh, well one person that would definitely be one of my favorite guitar players is the guitarist of Saccharine Trust. They played before us... he's incredible, you know? I mean, I like, you know, I'm not necessarily particularly into guitar players, I'm just into music. You know, I'm not into guitar players more than any other players you know.
RICK: You like listening to music alone?
RICK: Or do you like it when there's tons of people all over the place in a club & stuff?
GREG: Well, both. You know in a club, unless we bring tapes or something, we don't have control of it but we usually do bring tapes in clubs & stuff, but I don't know, we listen to stuff all the time traveling around & just, you know, we got these things, Walkman type things. I listen to a lot of different music, not in any one category. I like a lot of different kinds of stuff that isn't, you know, particularly obvious influences.
MARCIE: Say some other of your favorite guitarists 'cause you said you had a lot.
GREG: Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), John McLaughlin.
RICK: Mahuvishnu Orchestra?
GREG: Yeah, I like him a lot & I like the Meat Puppets guitar player Curt & a lot of different stuff.
RICK: How come they didn't come down with you this time?
GREG: The Meat Puppets? Well, you know, they're not touring with us permanently you know, other people want to play. They did a whole tour with us & now this is a different tour, with Saccharin Trust.
DANNY DARLING: It's just that the last time we saw you here we saw you with Saccharine Trust.
GREG: Yeah, that's because this gig, we were going to play in Montreal on the last tour which was two or three months ago, but, uh, it got canceled because the people didn't get the work permits. So we couldn't play, so this is like a different tour. And October Faction, which didn't play tonight, that's Chuck's band.
GREG: Chuck Dukowski.
DANNY: Oh, your bass player.
GREG: Yeah, & I play in that band. And Saccharine Trust, we all had visa problems again, & we just barely made it here. So October Faction didn't play.
DANNY: Do you feel that there's anything different on the LA scene scene days, because we're, you know...
MARCIE: Way on the east coast, here.
DANNY: Yeah, since Meat Puppets, Black Flag, you know, we haven't really heard anything that new.
GREG: Well, there's a lot of stuff as far as bands...
DANNY: Minutemen were the last to play here.
GREG: Saint Vitus, we've been playing a lot of gigs with them. Their album is real hot, & Saccharine Trust, I really like those guys a lot & they're happening.
RICK: Do you ever see anything in the audience that will make you play harder or something?
GREG: Usually, um, I mean, the basis of it all is the songs you know, & what we're trying to get across, so that's the main driving... I mean we can play hard for ourselves in practice.
RICK: But when you play old songs does it get sentimental or something?
GREG: No, if we would consider them sentimental then we wouldn't play them.
MARCIE: You're against sentimentality?
GREG: No, no, no, but being sentimental, playing songs for reasons of being sentimental about them is not a particularly... it's kind of a waste of time.
RICK: When's the time you get the most out of it (playing)?
GREG: I like to play live. You know, it's different, you get different things out of it. A lot of times you get different things out of just jamming, just like the three or four of us. When we're at home, we play a lot every day & that's a different kind of thing, maybe more explorative in a different sense than just playing live where both are real good to develop ideas but the audience is not necessary. You know, I started playing guitar for myself & I had no intention of being in a band or anything. I just started playing for my own enjoyment &, you know, if I wasn't in a band I'd play anyway, just for myself, that's what I used to do. So it's like there's different elements to it.
DANNY: How do you feel, though, about your audience's response, because basically, you were a hardcore band, like the definition of a hardcore band & then you... when you came out with your last album, My War, it was a completely different kind of tempo, different guitars… a lot of people didn't like the album because it wasn't their idea of hardcore.
GREG: They can take their idea or whatever & shove it up their ass. I mean, we're just into playing what we want to play & what we want to hear. If people like that... I mean there are a few billion people in the world that don't listen to us…
DANNY: Are you working off of influences or are you building on what you've done before?
GREG: Well, I don't know, if you're just living in isolation then you're building on what you've done, but even then you can't isolate yourself, even if you're in jail.
MARCIE: Do you think you're living in isolation though?
GREG: No, but I'm just saying of course things influence you. I feel different influences all the time. I think the way I play changes all the time.
MARCIE: Do you filter them out, like do you have a filtering process where you say this influence is something I want to use & this influence is something that I think is...
GREG: It's mostly a lot more subconscious than that. You know, it's not like we want to be this, that's why we've kinda… our band has never fit into any things. We're called hardcore, but maybe three years after we started, people started calling us hardcore. That's their trip not ours! We never called ourselves hardcore.
RICK: What's the best response you'd ever want from an audience, like the most ultimate satisfaction from playing?
GREG: I don't know, there's no one ultimate thing. I can't answer simple like that. I mean there's no, like, one ultimate thing. I think that different gigs & different people are affected in different ways. Its not necessarily if the audience is really into it or approves of it a lot. Obviously we're not trying for maximum approval because we do things that obviously alienate a lot of people. You know, if we did that we would sound like some of the Canadian bands like Loverboy, Saga, you know that kind of thing. And Saga, you know, that's their goal, to appeal to the most people, like to exploit it. That's not our goal, we're an art band to that extent.
RICK: An art band?
GREG: Whatever you want to call that approach.
MARCIE: Do you call it an art band?
GREG: No, it's not an art band, it's a certain approach that we use, right?
MARCIE: Is that what's called "art band" out there?
GREG: I don't know, everything is an art band.
MARCIE: Everything that doesn't cultivate mass approval is an "art band"?
GREG: No, everything! Some stuff , Loverboy is bad art (Laughing and cheering in background). Saga is hilarious art, but low (laughs).
MARCIE: Okay, so it's all art & then it's a question of distinguishing good from bad.
RICK: How about Rush? The drummer from Rush is pretty fast.
GREG: Rush is the one thing that saves Canada. No, DOA. DOA & Rush make Canada worthwhile. That's not all, but those two I really like.
DANNY: Don't worry about insulting anybody.
GREG: There's a lot of other Canadian bands I like so I'm not worried about insulting anybody, to the extent that I'm not saying that those are the only bands...
MARCIE: But do you think those bands that try to exploit their popularity or whatever consider themselves art bands?
GREG: No. no, they don't consider themselves...
MARCIE: You're just calling it "art"?
GREG: Yeah, it's like… it is. It's not quote art, it's art out of the dictionary, you know, dictionary definition.
MARCIE: Oh, 'cause you think that music is art.
GREG: Yeah, well it's a form of art, whether it be Loverboy or Black Flag.
DANNY: So you're in the same league, but you just...
GREG: Yeah, well we like to think so… no (laughs). Just kidding.
MARCIE: We got you on tape. Ask another question, Rick.
RICK: I dunno, I'm trying to figure out what would be the ultimate thing to get from the audience. Like, what would be the ultimate satisfaction outta playing. Just playing for yourself, or what would you want from the audience?
MARCIE: Do you expect some kind of understanding from general audiences?
GREG: Well, yeah, I think it's based on understanding & people don't always know when they understand something. We could have an impact on them & it could be a subconscious kind of understanding. The whole audience could not like us, you know, & say, go back to LA or whatever, and feel exploited, whatever, & we could be very effective in that situation.
MARCIE: But do you think that someone who is slam-dancing understands you? I mean, how do you gauge someone who is understanding you?
GREG: Maybe. I don't take slam-dancing as a political issue, you know, I mean they can be slam-dancing & understanding & slam-dancing & not understanding.
MARCIE: So you don't care how it's manifested?
GREG: No, the audience doesn't have to do anything.
DANNY: Okay, so how do you gauge that kind of understanding? Do you look into their eyes?
GREG: Well I don't know. You're supposed to write about that.
MARCIE: If we buy the records then we understand, is that it?
GREG: Well, no, maybe you don't. Well, you know, some people take it as, like, they don't really listen to it at all. That's the frustrating audiences really, that don't want to listen to it.
RICK: Its different hearing the records & seeing it live though.
GREG: People want to hear a certain thing, that's why people don't… a lot of people don't hear My War for what it is, they hear it for what they expect out of us. That's why bands like all the old heavy metal bands & stuff, they stick to one successful style & then they milk it for years, & if people expect that out of us, that's just not happening.
RICK: When do you decide it's time to stop milking it, like when do you decide that it's time to stop playing the same songs?
GREG: Well, we don't milk it. We just play what we feel like at the time.
MARCIE: How would you characterize what it means to understand My War and what it means to not understand it? Like where would you say someone is not understanding it? I don't mean what would they be doing when they hear it…
RICK: When will you decide to stop playing it?
GREG: Okay, I was starting to explain. The audience you don't have any impact on is the one that has a lot of preconceived notions & they just don't want to hear… there are a lot of people that come to performances with preconceived ideas & that kind of throws a monkey-wrench…
MARCIE: How can you tell that it's preconceived?
GREG: Well, I don't know… you can't always tell.
DANNY: How did you feel tonight? About the audience.
GREG: I don't know, I thought they were fine. It's just about like everywhere, people are different, there's different people, & we like to play to all different kinds of people.
DANNY: I'd heard that you liked Montreal audiences before. I'm just curious.
GREG: Well I've only played here one time.
DANNY: You played here twice actually… really (laughs).
BAND MEMBER: Its raining Greg. It's raining, & all our equipment's about to get soaked. Could you help us with it?
GREG: Yeah, okay.
© 1984-2001, Rick Trembles, Marcie Frank, Danny Darling
PS: I never really liked Rush, I was trying to be sarcastic. Plus I was shit-faced drunk.
June 14, 2001
Funnybook review: Stephane Blanquet's ghastly LE FANTÔME DES AUTRES (Pictured below: funhouse splash-page excerpt © 2000, Stephane Blanquet)
A while back a friend of mine had picked up a copy Le Fantôme Des Autres & while perusing it with his girlfriend late one quiet summer night, they were startled by the piercing shriek of a cat right outside their front window, followed by the mumbling of gathering passersby. They looked out & saw the twitching, moaning feline in the middle of the road, victim of a hit & run. To their horror, after going out to see if it could be helped, they recognized the exact same tortured, bulging, frozen wide-eyed expression of confused terror in the face of the mangled, bloody mess stuck to the asphalt that they'd been casually marveling at within the pages of Blanquet's book. It couldn't be saved. They'd caught the poor creature in the same transitionary state Blanquet devotes 24 gloriously gruesome pages to throughout Fantôme; the final death throes when one excretes its soul from the flesh out to the netherworld. Genuinely creeped out, they put the book aside & it was a good couple of weeks before they could work up the nerve to sneak some more peeks.
Stylistically, Blanquet's ghosts come across of the "Casper The Friendly" variety, probably due just as much to the specific technique utilized to bring them to "life" calling for simplicity, as for the fact that their innocence lends them even eerier a tone going about their grisly otherworldly routines. Run a page from Fantôme under a light after reading it & then turn the lights off. Hidden pale green phosphorescent flesh-eating ghosts emerge avenging the deaths of insects impaled by junior entomologists. The hidden glow-in-the-dark specter of a buried-alive rape victim appears protecting a tot from a murderous child molester by preparing to clamp down on bared boner with rotted teeth. An executioner's freshly hung victim's phantom soars from the flaccid body out to haunt the callused slob that did him in. The spirit of a sad little girl's vandalized Barbie doll gleefully floats over to its sadistic tormentor to strangle sense into him. A boy on a swing watches bug-eyed as mom runs out their burning suburban home on fire, her flaming superimposed ghost trailing behind her.
Beautifully silk-screened on sturdy card stock in chalky pastel colors, separate layers for the glow-in-the-dark ink had to be devised for Fantôme & come across as barely perceptible, translucent white films over the art when viewed in normal light. These are one-of-a-kind handmade artifacts with a limited print-run, they won't be around forever, but they'll forever perplex & enthrall, so seek a copy out quick. In the Montreal area try Fichtre, or order direct from the incredibly prolific French (from France) cartoonist Blanquet himself via Blanquet.com. He's an accomplished animator as well, samples of which are available on his gorgeous web site. (Back a few years ago he liked my work enough to publish translated versions of them in several issues of his comix anthology La Monstrueuse. See his site for more info).
June 7, 2001
STORYTIME! by Rob Labelle of the American Devices! (Pictured right: Rob singing in his first band The Normals, circa 1977)
TALES OF MY OWN ENTRAPMENT
The one known relic, one proof which attested to my father's existence was a grainy newspaper photo, cut out with pinking shears from the tabloid Allo Police. It was kept in Mother's hope chest and revealed only on special occasions when she'd hold it up over the table, gingerly handling the yellowed document with the tips of her fingers. What it showed was St. Jean Baptiste day celebrations on June 24, 1976, in which Yvon Latendresse -identified in the caption- stood one of a long line of Montreal police officers. His upturned face shield revealed eyes shut in a grimace, while a long-haired poncho of uncertain gender delivered a kick to the groin.
The present whereabouts of this law-enforcing father were as mysterious as the strange, menacing photo. Apart from the name tacked on to that of Mother's, giving me the ridiculous moniker, Fielding-Latendresse, I had very little to go on. My question, "Where's Daddy?" garnered from Mother only serene smiles and a shy, lowering of the eyes -an expression of sorrowful and barely endured disappointment. No concrete information was forthcoming, only the one sacred photo and Mother's liturgical, mythic stories. These usually involved long police chases with inevitable victorious finishes at "the tip of the island," making me believe that if it were not for the fact Montreal was surrounded by water, every speedy criminal would escape justice.
When I was nearly twelve, Mother plotted our own escape from my grandparents house, a three-story Victorian perched on Rosalyn Crescent in Montreal's highest echelon, Westmount. Unfortunately, her bid for independence -an attempt to finish her art school degree "free of family hindrance"- sent us on a theatrical slide down the real and economic slope of Westmount to the row housing of Welfare-class St. Henri.
Excursions around our new neighborhood brought Mother in contact with grocery store-owners and other tradespeople, all of whom responded to her gallant, unearthly French with silent stares and barely disguised animosity. Standing by during these awkward exchanges, I would look up and smile at these new adversaries, feeling a mixture of complicity and awe at their ability to thwart Mother's attempts to "slip through cultural barriers."
It isn't surprising that one of the more successful encounters on these mean streets was not with a living person at all, but with one of St.Henri's only examples of public art, a statue of a local nineteenth-century strong man named Louis Cyr. As wide as he was tall, this enormous, well-rounded creature cast in charcoal-colored iron and sheathed in an old style tank-top bathing suit, stood waiting for a challenger, his great ham arms folded, a huge ball and chain holding him in check. The thing about this monster that added special interest to us was the fact that in addition to being "the strongest man on Earth," as the plaque in front of the monument read, Cyr had also been a Montreal policeman. Thus, a much-needed new dimension to my father's history was discovered. Feats of strength similar to those cited on the plaque were compared to those of my errant father. The waters of the St. Lawrence were no longer the sole strategy in Montreal policing techniques. "One time he lifted the back end of a covered van in which several criminals were hiding," Mother would say, and as to whether the "he" in her stories referred to Louis Cyr or Yvon Latendresse soon became as blurred as her prized photo. In our numerous turns around the statue, I would look up in wonder, and Mother would smile approvingly. I don't think, however, that she realized my fascinated gaze was due not to visions of Louis Cyr and my father in action, but to the eternally hard bulge poised between the statue's vast iron thighs. Perfectly round, like the ball chained to the ankle, it seemed either an additional binding weight or the secret centre of his power.
The facade of our new home -as was the case with all the others on St Ferdinand Street -lacked even the smallest pretense of a front garden, and the ubiquitous red brick crumbled directly onto the narrow, treeless street. And like the pieces of the crumbling buildings, it was on the street that the children of the neighborhood gathered. I mostly hid indoors, in my tiny room with its dangerous loft bed -an unfinished experiment of one of Mother's art school cronies. Sometimes, though, she'd cruelly jettison me outside to "make friends." Just being who I was, one would think I'd have been tormented senseless. Dressed in a mixture of Westmount quality and Mother's attempts at hand-crafted clothing designs, my wardrobe included several "medieval tunics" with puffy sleeves and cuffs that tapered into long points down to the knuckles. It had been a struggle to dissuade her from attaching tiny bells to these, but it must be said that my own choice as a replacement had been white velveteen flowers. The one thing that saved me from the other children was that, like a film or television image shown to a primitive tribe, my appearance was so unusual, so foreign that it was incomprehensible, and when they looked in my direction, all that could be distinguished were flickering patches of light and shadow.
Not that I was a completely disinterested shadow. There was one boy who caught my attention. Everyone called him Jocko, even his presumed mother, the disembodied low-feminine voice that each night bellowed his name from one of the upper flats. He, of all the other boys, best feigned undefeatable toughness -their take on the adult male and the primary modus operandi of most of the children on the street. As with any actor, the voice is what convinces, and Jocko's -perhaps inherited from his mother -was remarkably mellowed to several tones below that of a twelve-year-old's tenor. In addition, his upper lip sported a crop of coarse, black hair, which signaled the existence of more below the belt.
In my encounters with Jocko and his gang, my wallflower street identity would just stand and watch as he ordered his little soldiers around, amassing campaigns of local vandalism. In my memory, these criminal escapades seem to culminate with the most dramatic offense. One of their repeated victims was a tiny tabagie at the other end of the block, run by an ancient Monsieur Bourbonnière. This local entrepreneur gazed at customers through mother-of-pearl cataracts, compensating his near-blindness with a barking voice which greeted the children who ventured in to choose from his array of dusty, old candy. His stock was pilfered regularly with simple diversion tactics, but it seemed on this summer evening, Jocko and his friends had attempted a real break-in. I had somehow missed the initial attack, but near eight o'clock, just as it was getting dark, a ringing howl of pain echoed down our little street. I followed the sound up to Bourbonnière's door, where Jocko, encircled by his crew, lay at street level. One leg was inside the broken window of the crawl space below the stairs. After a moment, I realized he wasn't just stuck but was being held on the other side.
His face was a grimace of pain, flushed and tearful, eyes shut tight. "Lâche-moi!" he said. Let me go! The voice betrayed fear but was still defiant and heroically low. Both hands gripped his spoils: a random assortment of bubble gum, St. Catherine's toffee, a couple of packs of cigarettes, and even a shredded box of Tampax. With another twist of his leg and a muffled "En voyer!" -meaning illogically, 'get out' -coming from behind him, Jocko released his bounty onto the sidewalk. Everything was quickly snapped up by the other children who then ran off, leaving him stranded with me and the old man, a ghostly silhouette on the other side of the grimy window. It was then that I noticed the stream of blood dribbling down the broken glass where it cut just below the crotch of the boy's pants. Jocko looked up at me, or rather, looked up at the place where I stood. For even in this moment of crisis, I felt quite sure I was just as invisible to him as always. I turned at that point and ran dizzily back down the street, thinking if only he could see me as a real boy, like the other boys, I could help him. I pictured myself kicking the offending glass away from Jocko's leg, and freeing him from Monsieur Bourbonnière's grasp.
Several days later, in one of the back sheds facing the alley, there was a viewing of the scar. I followed Jocko's troop into the dark, tin-covered shack. In an ever-ascending auction of gruesome hyperbole, whispered reports assessed the number of stitches administered to Jocko's leg. "Sixteen!" "No! Twenty-three!" "I heard thirty-five!"
Tires and other assorted junk had been cleared off a large wooden shelf, and it was here that Jocko lay, propped up on one elbow, his pants pulled down past his knees. A pocket flashlight, held by one of his cohorts, illuminated the celebrated injury. Jocko kept his eyes closed during the whole seance, as if to indicate that he himself was incommunicado; it was only his body that was here, the lying-in-state of a great leader. We filed past him, each of us granted a close look at the nasty centipede that curved along his inner thigh. In spite of my continued invisibility, I felt that if I had reached out to him and touched the scar, as some of the others had done, I would certainly have been revealed as a kind of impostor, a dangerous intruder to be pounced on and torn to pieces.
About six years later, just prior to my eighteenth birthday, I disembarked from a little blue and white bus shuttling new recruits from the station in the town of Nicolet to l'Academie Policière du Quebec. The gray stone characteristic of 19th-century Quebec institutions -mostly implying the Catholic church- formed the center of this spiralling concrete complexe which kept the province in supply of policemen and women. As I disembarked the bus and headed towards my new home, I once again felt that sense of alienation setting me apart from my peers; they with their sleek athletic carry bags, me with Mother's cast-off Louis Vuitton case.
The fates that had conspired to bring me here included my grandfather's insistence that my inheritance would depend on "some solid grounding in a trade." Mother's quest for the paternal approbation in absentia of Yvon Latendresse also played a role, but perhaps it was the opportunity of trading Mother's prêt-à-porter clothing designs for shiny black shoes and a gun that above all persuaded me to go along with the plan.
I soon realized, however, as I read the name of my new roommate on the sheet taped to my door, that Nicolet was not so far from St. Ferdinand Street. Marcel Potvin was a name I recognized from the echoing shouts of the familiar brick and pavement I'd reluctantly call home. Could this be the same street urchin? Mother had said, in an effort to comfort, that the Academie tried to bunk junior cadets with people they knew, but I somehow didn't expect to be so summarily linked to one of Jocko's tribe.
"Potvin," he said when he arrived, holding out his hand. Not surprisingly, he didn't know me. I was, after all, invisible to him as a child, and this kid, as I remembered, had the additional debilitating habit of barely ever looking up from the ground in front of his feet. This idiosyncrasy, it seemed, had followed him to manhood, and rather than presenting to the world the countenance of a self-assured young cadet, all one tended to notice of Potvin was an unusually large forehead, blossoming with a spectacular array of acne.
Testing to see if I could really be seen -and heard- by one of the children of my street, I whispered a terrible insult. "Feux sauvage." Wild fire is what the French call herpes blisters around the mouth. Wild in the sense of being uncivilized, giving the phrase a mean, judgmental flavor. Potvin lifted his head slightly to reveal beautiful, solemn eyes.
"C'est juste une petite farce," I said. Just a joke. But a certain, immediate damage had been done, and I could see the decision forming in that rare glimpse of his full face that meant he would somewhere, sometime have it in for me.
As was the case with all roommates, or 'partenaires,' Potvin and I were obliged to team up in the same compulsory sports activities -a daily humiliation for both of us. Over and over, I was forced to drag him down to my own level of ineptitude. I urged choices of less competitive endeavors, such as running and calisthenics. In running, at least, I had the sensation of escape as we circled the school buildings and viewed the nearby highway. He, however, signed both of us up for football and hockey. The scrimmages and confusion which mark both of these blood sports forced me into a kind of acting role -that of an underpaid extra- in which I would keep to the background fringes, feigning involvement and maintaining a safe distance to prevent harm to both myself and my team's chances.
As for the more studious part of my training, the only class that held any form of respite was Marques et Cicatrices, presided over by the aging Detective Charneau. Here, I was able to slump in the back of a darkened room and sleep through hours of slides of human skin decorated with tattoos, scars and other "identifying marks." Be it the pink clouds of birth marks or the jagged lines of an encounter with a broken bottle, the first step in retaining the shape and color of these marks, Charneau would say, is to recognize their origins. The measure of violence behind a scar, he said, told much of the story behind a confrontation, and could be more revealing of a suspect than an entire police dossier. Along with finding out the scar's origins, he added, the best way to commit its shape to memory is to trace it with one's finger; and this he would do, casting the shadow of a long digit against the colored shape on the screen.
Detective Charneau was also Director Charneau, in charge of the progress of first-year cadets. After a miserable session of exams, I was called into his office."You're not really police material, Fielding," he said, the second half of my name having been dropped in the interests of brevity since my start at the Academie. He then asked me to say something in my defense, something that might reverse his almost certain decision to throw me out.
It is to this day one of the mysteries of my own psyche as to why I chose the following words by way of reply. "What about my father?" I asked. The question was simple, but in that instant it represented a whole lifetime of inquiry and mystery.
The detective raised his bushy, late middle-aged eyebrows. "Your father? A detective Fielding?"
"Yvon Latendresse," I said meekly, feeling myself wanting to backtrack, as if caught in a lie.
"Yvon Latendresse," Charneau thundered. I jumped in my chair. "That's a famous name!" He paused to put on his glasses, then plunged deeper into my file. Slowly and as with as much solemnity as during one of Mother's displays, he lifted up the famous yellowed sheet of newsprint that Mother had, unbeknownst to me, attached like an original birth certificate to my application. He checked the date of the paper, just visible, I knew, along the upper fringe of the cut edge.
"This can't be Yvon Latendresse." He laughed. "Those journalists always get it wrong. They don't even care. They have a list of names and just use and reuse them any which way." He carefully set the sheet back into the file, and looked up at me. "You see, Detective Latendresse died in the Bluebird night club fire back in the fifties -way before this picture was taken. He was decorated posthumously for heroism. I'm sorry, my boy, but I don't see how you could be Latendresse's son."
"Couldn't there be another one?" A strange kind of panic was setting in.
"Shh." he said, waving his hand as if to fan me and cool me down. "Quite possibly."
As I walked up to the door of the flat on St. Ferdinand Street, I felt like a young, unwed mother coming home to scandal. What I carried wasn't a baby, however, but some heavy, mercurial liquid that would eventually leak and poison me from inside. That I couldn't bring myself to tell Mother of Detective Charneau's findings wasn't so much due to a respect for her illusions, but a fear that her reaction would cause my bloated innards to explode. Instead, I presented to her the sealed, white envelope that had been given to me just before I left Nicolet. "A letter of recommendation!" she exclaimed. She was thrilled. Charneau had told me the letter and posting would "get me through the summer." His decision to give me a chance to redeem myself with a cadet job was, I could now see, a consolation for my pauvre mère.
When I handed the letter over to the captain at the desk of my new posting, however, it became obvious the report inside was far from glowing. He opened and read it in front of me, and I watched the thin-lipped line of his mouth curve downward, an imitation of Detective Charneau's bad-news smile. Sector 32, at the summit of Mount Royal, the city's huge mountain park, was for the most part patrolled on horseback. My new captain assigned me duties that were essentially those of a stable boy: feeding the horses when they were returned at the end of the day, clearing out the shit the following morning. Oddly enough, I liked the job. The horses' powerful but ultimately delicate nature, their forced labor -symbolized by the bridle and saddle- all evoked my sympathy and ultimately reminded me of myself.
Appearing at the same post after my first week on the job, was, much to my shock and dismay, Marcel Potvin. Having been posted with his "partner," he was once again being dragged down to a level lower than what he obviously deemed was his due. Given his inability to look another human being in the eye, and a sulkiness from being posted to a 'playground', his job at the public reception desk seemed an even greater anomaly than my own. I smiled to think of visitors wandering into the station, perhaps lost in their day of hiking the mountain, to be greeted by this fringe of red acne blisters visible above the wide oak molding of the desk, a sight that was surely reminiscent of the clusters of poisonous red berries found on the wild vegetation throughout the park.
So, while Potvin was chained to a desk, I was free most afternoons between my duties at the stables to "patrol" the paths and trails. For these outings, I was told to make note of any event that was dérangeant ou suspect, and was given reports to fill out. However, wandering about and seeing nothing but happy people in couples or groups, I would feel as if I was the suspicious one. I was like a Frankenstein monster left to roam the countryside accompanied only by the sense of bloated otherness I'd carried with me since my discharge from the Academie. I began to equate this hollow but heavy weight with the emptiness of my reports. I felt that if only I could fill them up and release them, I would be rid of at least a part of my own personal burden. But with nothing to report, I hung on to them from day to day, week to week.
Some time toward the end of the summer, I was called upon to attend the morning meeting, something to which, until then, I had been uninvited. Gathered around the little room at the back of the station, the older mounted police, Potvin and myself were told about an increasing number of reports of grossière indécence in the more hidden areas of the park. Since it was difficult, almost impossible to get a conviction without witnesses, the force had been directed to become not only vigilant but proactive in its methods of tracking down these criminals. Perhaps because we were the youngest and the most agile, or perhaps simply because the older cops deemed the nature of such tactics unbecoming of their stature as mounted police, Potvin and I were chosen for this mission of témoignage. We were given 'undercover' costumes of ordinary-looking t-shirts and jogging shorts, but I was also presented with a flashy pink knapsack, garnering applause of laughter from everyone at the meeting.
The plan, as we set out that morning, was for each of us to patrol separately the paths that passed through the thicker areas of bush, playing a game of cache-cache with each other. If either of us made contact with a perpetrator, the other would stay hidden and watch, and fill in a citation that would then be presented much like a parking ticket. To discourage the perpetrator from simply turning and running or failing to provide identification, we were to inform him -falsely- that his movements were being tracked by other police in the area. As we marched out that morning, I didn't realize that this little walk down a city park pathway -my first real policing assignment- would be my last.
He appeared as Satan must have to Eve -reclining against a large tree in the sun. I almost didn't recognize him out of the context of St. Ferdinand Street. Jocko. Manhood had made him heavier and sterner, but the same air of rebelliousness remained. I paused and circled, just as I was told to do when encountering a suspicious character, glancing back to feign half-cloaked interest.
His hands went to his sides and pulled down loose grey sweat pants. A great hooded snake loped into the air. Without hesitation, I approached, as if he were sending out an international sign, a kind of SOS, and I, the nearest stranger, was duty-bound to intervene. He stepped one foot out of his pants and spread his legs further apart, displaying a curving pink scar on the inner thigh. Here was my proof, that indelible trail left by that ugly centipede of sown-up skin. Standing just before him, I made use of Detective Charneau's training and reached forward to run my finger along the scar. Later, Potvin would testify that I "molested the suspect." I still don't know if this was what he saw -if indeed he was looking up at all- or if he used the event as his chance to get even with me for our unjust partnership and the ruining of his career. Then again, perhaps he was protecting his old master, for the fact that I'd touched Jocko in such a way would free him from any charge.
As for myself, the loss of my job, my career, and the black mark on my record, was a small price to pay for the experience of that moment. With my trembling, pseudo-professional touch, the weight inside me, my father's tender absence, deflated and lifted like the ashes of a newspaper clipping, floating and feathering up out of a fire. For in that moment, Jocko looked at me and gave me a cheerful, open smile. An undeniable smile of recognition.
© 2001, Rob Labelle