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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Wages of Gin, An Anti-Memoir

The following is the opening to my new novel. If you like what you read here and you want more, I'll be happy to send you a chapter. Just ask.

"Memory believes before knowing remembers." -- William Faulkner

This book is dedicated to Dori, Vikki, Katharine, June, Wyoming Paul, Chicago Paul, Burt, Janet, Bruce, Queenie, ET, Marjorie, Gene, Barbara, Lissa, Karen, Jim, Dick, and all the other friends and colleagues who so bravely and soberly battled windmills with me. You know who you are.

The usual disclaimer: The Wages of Gin is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual people is purely coincidental. Yeah, sure. This book is not a memoir. It is meant to satirize that vicious plague that infects the published word. It is not concerned with people I have known or jobs I have held. Whatever, to use the current vernacular. Yes, I toiled away in school just like you and at newspaper reporting, magazine editing, advertising, even e-commerce during the halcyon days of the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, the no more long lunch Nineties, and the no more lunch at all Two Thousands. Still, this is a completely imagined work. My name is not Jack Collins, and I have never murdered anyone. Cheers!

Preface: I once worked for the late Jack Collins as a copywriter in his advertising agency. He was the worst boss I ever had. Before he fired an employee, a task he much enjoyed, he made him (he never fired a female worker, probably because he was sleeping with her and feared repercussions) type out his own termination letter. It was not unusual for him to throw objects at his employees. He once warned the art department about an impending storm with golf ball sized hail. He then began hurling a surprising number of golf balls at the poor artists seated at their drawing boards.

Oddly, I felt a certain affection for him. A man of average height, intelligence, and appearance, Jack was driven by two great forces: anger and the pursuit of vengeance. I used to hear him mutter, "I will carry out great vengeance on them and punish them in my wrath. Then they will know that I am the boss, when I take my vengeance on them. I do know my Bible." Yes, he was full of quotations, as you will see as you read his memoir.

Jack was completely friendless when I knew him. All his children, he had at least nine, moved away as soon as they came of age and changed their names. They meant to make sure that their father would never find them. His various ex-wives all clearly hated him just as they must have hated being married to him. Except for constant kvetching about how they abused him, he never reciprocated. No, he seemed quite afraid of each of them. Every time one of his wives would tell him how she had no respect for him, or when one would embezzle money from his business, or cheat on him with one or more of his male and female employees, he would take his misery out on those of us who were innocent.

He quoted as many facts as literary passages to us. For example, "Do you know that homicide is the second leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the United States? Nearly one thousand workers are murdered and another one point five million are assaulted in the workplace every year. What do you think of that?" We knew then that he was hinting at something perilous. But what?

At last, the mystery was solved when one day, not long ago, out of nowhere, Jack's latest wife called and asked me to hear his death bed confession to some murders he claimed to have committed. I believe he called for me because he knew that I was a published writer. He wanted to make certain that his memoir would see the light of a bookstore after his death. I knew from experience that the odds of that happening were somewhere between zero and zip.

Although he declares an intention to take his own life early on in this memoir, he actually died from a nose bleed, just like Attila the Hun, one of his great heroes. He was celebrating his fourth and, as it turned out, final wedding to a young woman named Malaysia who had been his nurse. She was just twenty-four. He was seventy something. If she believed he was well off and could take care of her, she was sadly mistaken. I could have told her that Jack had never taken care of anyone, including himself. I would also have told her that he was proud of this neglect. His personal slogan was "I can take it!"

As was his wont, he over-indulged after the wedding, downing numerous martinis and three bottles of a fine French Champagne, none of which he could afford. He was preparing to retire with his gin bottle and bride when his nose began to bleed. The drink prevented him from noticing the frightful state of his schnoz. Malaysia was repulsed. When he finally understood that he might eventually drown in his own blood, he asked Malaysia to call me. As she left the room to make the call, I'm told she announced to poor bleeding Jack that she was leaving him. Her last words to him were these: "Do you want to know my plans for us? I want you to get out the very moment your nose dries up." I arrived just as Malaysia was driving away, still wearing her bloody wedding gown. He was not able to get out, but she was.

Just before he passed on to his just desserts, Jack shoved a bloody manuscript into my shaking hands. "This is my passion. Try to get it published, I beg you. There are still some no good, rotten, living idiots out there; plus three and now four ex-wives. I want my revenge. Would you mind shaking me up a big martini? My spirits need lifting. My nose needs blowing." Those were his last words. Naturally, they were extremely difficult to make out, what with his bleeding beak and relentless gurgling. His final speech was not as moving, perhaps, as Lady Nancy Astor's question when she briefly awoke in 1964 during her final illness and discovered her family gathered around her bedside -- "Am I dying or is this my birthday?" And not nearly as memorable as Humphrey Bogart's last remark on January 14, 1957 -- "I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis."

I don't know whether Jack heard me, but I did promise to do what I could for him and his manuscript. So here it is. Thanks, Jack.

-- John Anderson, March 2010

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