GOTOWSKI AND ME AND THE CANADIAN
“I know he’s very popular but what’s nice about this guy? You want me to tell you what’s nice about him? He’s dead, that’s what’s nice about him.” So said Gotowski.
Gotowski never pulled punches. He was an unpleasant piece of work. He was the kinda guy that if the law ever put him on the guillotine block , and the blade got stuck and refused to come down, he would turn around, look up and snicker. His motto was, “everyone’s a sucker for the taking”. What graced Gotowski was his extrovert glad-handing manner. He could put up a mask of friendliness like no one else, masterfully masquerading his meanness and paranoia. Unlike others who had no filter between their mouths and their brains, he was, when needed, in complete control.
I,on the other hand was an introvert, though nasty in my own way. I was too busy in my own little world to be otherwise. I was an industrious ant, a manual labourer of words and meaning. I was a writer with 50 ideas in my head per minute, but with no mastery or discipline when I opened my trap, if ever I did open it.
Whenever Gotowski and I visited Montmartre, I had to keep in mind he was a pickpocket and kleptomaniac. I sewed up my trouser pockets to remind him not to bother. He was a thief from inside out. But Gotowski knew all the starving artists living in squalor and it was he who introduced me. From them I bought paintings for a pittance, which I later resold for a price 10 times over. I guess that’s what brought Gotowski and me together – avidity, greed, exploiting the weak – two parasites from the same rusty can.
That was how I made a living. Gotowski was a card playing rag picker, whose successful crooked gambling paid for food and shelter. He would con people who hung around The Eiffel Tower, that iron spider’s web of an edifice they built last year. And that’s where he met Conrad, the Canadian guy on the run who’d swindled Indians out of their land and then poisoned it with a lot of mining so they couldn’t survive there anymore and were forced to move to the city, and then there would be more land to be had and lay to ruin.
We were a triumvirate of sorts, until Lucie, the self-proclaimed publisher came into our lives. We had moved into her mammoth apartment where she rented rooms over an all night greasy spoon bistro, surrounded by whore houses.. Sometimes sailors banged frenziedly on the front door in a drunken hell, mistaking it for a cat house.
Maybe it was also that Lucie promised to publish my writings. Anyhow, I fell for her and so did the others. One night, while we were enjoying tea together, she let out, “We have a sense that we can’t live without love, but this arena we are compelled to enter to find it, we also sense is a dangerous one…full of the possibilities of humiliation and failure.” We sat only staring at her long raven black hair and heart-stopping blue eyes, enthralled and in complete silence.
I tried to communicate with her but I was in a shell that refused to open. I was a shipwreck of introversion, unable to let out a word radiating any kind of intimacy, unable to confide, having nothing to say, afraid to disclose mediocrity, afraid that Gotowski with his big insincere mouth would get close to her. My disgusting little mind began to think of hacking Gotowski to little pieces, to get him out of the way. Would I do it? Could I do it? I couldn’t stop the obsessive thinking especially whenever Gotowski got her laughing and giggling with his stupid jokes.
The Canadian could read it in my dark impish little heart. He was carving on an apple at the kitchen table one night, when he broke out a cynical smile. ” I can tell you want him out “. And then he beamed and farted at the same time. I turned around fuming, riddled with self-doubt, feeling crippled by life, feeling that a secret gun was being held against my head. I looked up and on a piece of fabric art , hanging on the wall were sewn the accusing words, “Depart from evil, and do good”.
One day, quietly, I handed her a painting, a radiant, smiling, lush painting. She looked at it with shining eyes, kissed me and then left with it, without saying a word.
Some mornings later I was sharpening the axe, in hiding, when a huge roar disgorged in the apartment. It was Gotowski. “All my money, it’s gone..it’s gone ..all of it”. Soon Conrad was bellowing every curse known to man. His money too had vanished. Intuitively I comprehended that my paintings had disappeared, and so it was. Lucie’s room was thoroughly devoid of any sign of occupancy.
At the bistro below, the old guy with whiskers covering half his face, seated at the bar, was fueling himself with bad wine when we entered in a fury. He seemed inured to our barking and wailing, all fire, all flame a hundred miles high. How dare she, how dare she wrong us we screeched to the heavens.
Sighting Saddam Hussein and Elvis Presley In Mosul
Made me happy.
They were laughing together
Enjoying a beer
Listening to Elvis’ old 45s
In an alley not far
From the Suk.
I swear ….I swear!!
But mostly I meet old acquaintances
I would prefer not to criss-cross
In the streets of Ottawa.
Puny and anemic, with nothing to say.
As thick as a brick wall.
I tell you… in comparison sightings are
A great gob of gaiety.
I converse with distant relatives on the phone
Disquieting for the nerves
Or exchange e-mails with them, stuff of bad dreams
Arduous, piddling and without meaning
How much fluff, and sheer frivolity
How much frippery in our discourse
In short, what an effing waste of time.
So I seek out sightings
In Beijing I sighted the great
Canadian doctor Bethune
Chatting with Lenin at
A cocktail party.
Bethune asked me
How my vasectomy
I thanked him for his
In France I sighted
Van Gogh teaching
How to water colour
In the fields of Arles.
Van Gogh told me
He felt bad about
Slicing my ear off.
Now that was sweet.
In Spain, in a sailboat,
I sighted the great
Bullfighter Mario Cabre making love
To that great American actress, Ava Gardner
He asked me to pass the lubricant
But first he inquired about my
I thought that was nice.
On the streets of Ottawa
There are no sightings
Only tiresome, inconsequential meetings
With people with whom I once
But back on those streets of Mosul
Elvis Presley is giving a giggling Saddam Hussein
A back massage while singing
“Lover Man Come Home”
Perhaps this a sign
To once more start loving my fellows
Oh, did I tell you about
My sighting of Mahatma Gandhi
And Jesus Christ giving each other
Tips on stain removal in
A parking lot in Manhattan?