Thursday, January 29, 2009


The Following is an excerpt from Clubbed by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Cornflower Blue Books in February 2009

The email was sent from TylerDurden22022, which meant 22021 other TylerDurens were out there.

“Oi Vey” thought Brian while opening it.

Brian thought things like 'Oi Vey' and 'Mazletov'. He was of Scottish and Norwegian descent with four generations in Canada. He stood tall enough to duck three times a day and his blonde hair took on a near invisible quality.

He could easily be cast in a high concept comedy about a lost Viking transported to modern times.

Brian was actually very short until the summer his legs grew so fast his pants transformed to Bermuda shorts overnight.

He returned to High school that fall and could have exacted revenge on his tormentors if he had not watched “Take the Money and Run” on a late night A&E Woody Allen marathon. Before that summer he was nebbish, flustered, girl crazy teen with a bend for surrealist humour and a love of books. Woody Allen immediately became his God.

While others prepared for their driver’s tests he studied wringing his hands, stammering to accentuate punch lines, dropping Yiddish words and Kierkegaard references into conversations.

“I saw you post on the forum. We must work in the same office!” read the e-mail.

Brian deleted the e-mail. He had no urge to talk to someone this desperate to contact a name seen on the internet.

The e-mail referred to a forum that Brian would look at each morning while he drank coffee and planned the day’s work.

Today’s question was “Who is your favourite panhandler in the city?” Many voted for one armed push up guy and the screaming busker with no strings on his guitar. Brian voted for the guy seated outside the front door saying things like ‘Spare change for an enema? My bowels are killing me’ or ‘I’m the greatest silent movie actor alive. How ‘bout something till the talkies blow over?”

The description placed him firmly in this office.

At the lunch break a pompadoured young man marched up to him. He wore a white dress shirt and a thin black tie but this hair was full of brylcreem, tattoos sneaked out from under his sleeves, and his index finger was stained tobacco yellow. He looked like a rockabilly juvie forced to do community service in an office.

He swaggered up and pointed at Brian.

“Philip Roth” he declared.

Brian looked at the cover of the book he was reading.

“I looked over one of your posts from last week. The question was ‘what are you reading right now?’ You said Philip Roth.” He explained

There was no mention of the fact that Brian did not respond to the e-mail nor invite him to start any sort of conversation.

“You know who else you should read?” He said like he was winding up for a long conversation. “ Read Ken Kesey. Crazy Motherfucker man! Cuckoo’s nest is some wild, punch you in the gut, kinda shit”

He talked for the remainder of the lunch break, telling him that his name was Paul; he also read Max Tucker and played in a bicycle polo league.

Brian finished his lunch at his desk as he never got a chance to eat.

The next 2 days Paul charged up to him in the lunchroom and spent 30 minutes assaulting Brian with his act outs of UFC matches and his opinions on George Jones records.

“You know what we should do? Start a fight club man!” he said

“A night club?” asked Brian.

“No man. A fight club?”

“ A what club?” asked Brian

“ A fight club, like the movie. Where men, real men, remember what real men are like, where they fight and remind themselves that they are alive!”

Brian tapped his index finger to his temple and then wrung his hands. “I prefer to remind myself that I am alive by not dying. Also I have not seen this particular movie.”

“Okay then, we meet in the parkade at 6 pm tonight, after work. This is your wakeup call! You don’t even know if you are alive or dead.”

“Are you challenging me to a fight?” asked Brian. He wondered if he should contact the HR department.

“No, I am challenging you to watch a movie.”

“But how will we watch it in a parkade?” asked Brian

“First rule of fight club: you don’t talk about fight club.” He said cryptically and walked back to his desk.

At the underground parking Paul brought a portable laptop and placed it on the trunk of his car. Two office chairs were facing it.

“We got Fight Club and to really man it up I brought Rounders and Cool Hand Luke. I have a case of beer, two $12 cigars, and some Red Bull.” Shouted Paul.

Paul pressed play. The office chairs rolled back and forth on the cement. The echoes in the parking lot made the movie louder than it should be. So far, a guy cried in a support group so Brian wasn’t sure what all the manliness was about.

“Hey! What’s going on?” Ricocheted the voice in the underground.

“This is Fight Club, motherfucker! You can ask what’s going on but I won’t answer shit” Yelled Paul.

“Sir, is that open alcohol?” The guard asked.

“And I’m on mushrooms” added Paul. Brian looked at his eyes. How did he not notice the size of them before?

“Sir, I will ask you to comply with my request to leave this parking area three times. If you do not comply I will use physical force to obtain compliance. Will you comply?”

“FUCK YOU!” Paul waved his middle fingers in the guard’s face.

“Sir, the rules state you may not consume alcohol or drugs in this building. Will you leave?”

“You know who else followed the rules without asking questions? The Nazis!”

“Will you leave now sir?”

“Don’t you ever get sick of using the man’s rules to replace your neutered balls?”

“I will now use force.” The guard said it as relaxed as ordering a coffee. He pulled a baton from his belt.

Brian stepped forward. He raised his hand somewhere between a shrug and a wave and said “Before this turns into a typical Thursday night at my aunt’s Mah-jong tournament, maybe we should all calm down.”

As soon as he stepped forward the guard lifted his pepper stray from his belt.

“Stand down sir!”

He unleashed the aerosol defence into Brian’s eyes.

Brian fell coughing and gagging. He slowly struggled to his knees.

“Lie down Sir!” commanded the guard. Brian couldn’t hear him over the gasping and moaning.

“As you will not comply I will take further action.” He began striking Brian with the baton.

“YEAH!!!” yelped Paul.

“Hands behind your back” ordered the guard. Brian curled into a fetal ball as the baton beat down on him.

“Compliance achieved?”

“Yes, uncle, I surrender, white flag, peace, anything” Brian lay face down on the cement floor.

He didn’t even know if he was alive or dead.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

38 Degrees

The following is an excerpt from 38 Degrees by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Popganda books in February 2009

“Hello, Welcome to the North Korean Embassy.”


The Korean staff member could not gauge the age of the man. He wore denim clothing and other indulgent trappings of western fashion.

His hair was slicked into a pompadour with consumerist hair gels and other grooming products. In fact, looking closer it was obvious that his hair was chemically altered to something closer to navy blue than the natural black possessed a human being. A thin strip of grey at the roots of the hairline created the illusion of his hair floating an eighth of an inch above his scalp.

Crow’s feet wrinkles crowded around the corners of his eyes and his teeth took on a slight cigarette tinge of yellow.

“I would like to meet with the North Korean Ambassador.” He announced. He spoke in watered down German accent.

“I’m sorry but I don’t believe he would be available right now.”

“Perhaps when you explain who I am...” The man smiled a little at the end of the sentence, as if his smug grin solved these problems once and for all, no hard feelings.

“And you might be...?”

“Augustus Schmidt”

The name hung in the air like a soap bubble ready to burst with the explanation of its meaning.
“Augustus Schmidt” thought the Korean. “Should I know this name?”

Suddenly Augustus began to sing:

“No one can Rock it
Like a Republic!
No one can get kissed
Like a Socialist!”

Augustus stopped singing abruptly. He raised his eyebrows and looked to the Korean for some acknowledgement, as if his song explained everything, as if he just sang the great unifying theory.

The Korean thought that Augustus might be completely mentally collapsing in front of him.
“I’m not sure what this song means” said the Korean.

“ I guess that you don’t listen to the radio much. That was the biggest hit of East German Radio for 1984 and most of 1985 too. It was massive.”

“So you are a musician.”

“You could say that. You could say that I was one of the biggest East German musicians in history. I had 9 certified gold albums between 1981 and 1988. You know, hits like ‘Loud, Proud, Doing What’s Allowed!’ Hits like ‘We have ways of making you Rock!’ I was the first non – classical, non – polka artist to go #1 in the East German charts.” He leaned back and crossed his arms

“Alright,” said the Korean. “I’m not sure why you want to meet the Ambassador though”

Augustus leaned forward. He folded his hand together on the desk like he was praying. His eyes took on a slight pleading tone like an orphan or a door to door salesman. He spoke in slightly softer tones, a few decibels louder than what could be defined as a whisper.

“Since the wall fell, things are different. At first, with all the sudden consumerism, I thought I would have more records.......but no. The interest in the party’s music is very low so I am moving to other markets that understand the value of socialist music. I would like to work in North Korea and spread the party’s message through music.”

The Korean was uncertain how to respond. Growing up in communist country, he was without lifetime of training to fight off pushy salesman. He had no preparation, no stock excuses and prepared rejections, for such outrageous requests. He built no immunities, like the boy raised in the bubble suddenly ejected into the environment.

He hemmed and hawed.

“Well, I’m not sure if this is the right musical demographic.”

“Oh but it is!” Augustus protested “Nowhere else understands. Cuba still holds our values but Cuban music is a force of its own. It overpowers the party message.”

“Well what about China?”

“Already infected by Western rhythms. Bootlegs and piracy has overtaken the party singers” Augustus shook his head slowly and sadly.

“I’m sorry, but I’m just not certain that North Korean is right for you.”

Augustus held up his finger. A visual queue asking him to hold his speaking. He placed a small cassette recorder on the desk.

“Just listen, I wrote something new.” He said and pressed play. A slow pre-programmed electronic drum beat sputtered from the speaker, followed by a simple keyboard rhythm. It sounded reminiscent of, if not completely plagiarized from, George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’. Augustus sang:

All I want to do is praise Kim
Ooh Ooh
All I want to do is praise Kim
Ooh Ooh

He clapped his hands twice and then crooned the chorus:

Kim Ill Jong!!
Kim Ill Jong!!

The song ended and Augustus smiled at the Korean. His eyes took on the same begging tone as before.

The Korean did not applaud. He crosses his arms and stared at him. The music was ridiculous. He couldn’t find any entertainment in its artlessness.

Yet, the message was strong. It praised the party and to deny it would be unpatriotic. It would be a failure of the struggle his brother and sisters, his comrades.

To his surprise he found himself saying “I will approve the visa application for your tour right now.”

Later that day, he wondered if East Germany had used the same subliminal suggestion teachings in their propaganda.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Little High from Shawinigan

The following is an excerpt from the Little High from Shawinigan by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Consolidated Bathurst Books in February 2009

I don't know what is marijuana, Perhaps I will try it when it will no longer be criminal. I will have my money for my fine and a joint in the other hand."
- Jean Chrétien, Oct. 2003

It sounds like a cop knocking at the door. They knock a cop knock; three short distinct raps that seem to say open up now or I’m kicking the door. Nobody else knocks that way. Not Greenpeace canvassers. Not even thieves.

They are definitely cops. The fisheye lens of the peephole eye stretches their cop moustaches across their lips and make their cop sunglasses lens look like oversized eyes of a housefly.
I open the door.

“Can I help you officer?” I say

“What made you think I was a cop?” the first one says and they both walk into the apartment. Their heavy boots clomp on the hardwood floor.

They aren't cops. They tried to look like them at the door coming but they don't try so hard now. Cops don’t use the word ‘cops’ and cops ask to come in. If they have a warrant they show it. I think. I don’t really know but they do on Law & Order. Any other time a cop entered my house he had probable cause and didn’t need a warrant.

“Sit down.” Says the other one.

I don’t want to sit down. I'm not sure if I am being robbed or what but I have enough sense to know that acting tough guy or defensive or giving up any power only makes me look scared. I sit down on the ratty Sally Anne armchair; put my feet up on the coffee table real relaxed, pick up the remote control so I can shut off The Joe Schmo Show as if I have something important to say.

“Who the hell are you?” My voice wavers and my stringy hair drops in my face and I brush it out of my eyes as I ask so the whole thing seems a lot more fey than powerful.

The one guy that never says anything remains standing but the other dude sits down and smiles at me. He seems like the friendlier of two but the smile is actually a pretty sarcastic smirk and he only seems friendlier because the other guy says nothing at all so he sort of defaults to friendliness.

“We are from CSIS.” he says and holds up some sort of I.D. It isn't a badge so I don't know what it is. It's his Driver’s licence for all I know.

I stare at him with a look as empty as my bank account. He says “It’s Canada’s spy agency.” He is used to CSIS needing some sort of explanation.

Oh yeah, this is a work of fiction. My lawyer insists on this part. So any similarities blah, blah, blah. Hopefully we are good. Besides, even when I say this is true people won’t even listen so it’s fiction okay.

So I say “Canada has a spy agency? Do people ever have paranoid delusions that CSIS is following them. You know, they way crazy people talk about the CIA or the KGB”

He takes off his sunglasses and says “yes” very coldly. I thought he was being sarcastic before but that was actually him being friendly. This is him annoyed.

“As you know,” He says not giving me time to say another dumbass thing.”The Right Honourable Jean Chretien retired about 3 days ago.” I don’t know this. I feel like he’s been retiring for so long that didn’t pay attention anymore but I appreciate that he assumed I was up on this stuff.

I just nod. My voice wavered before but now I have two government agents in my apartment, one not talking and just looking at me, and they are asking me questions about the Prime Minister. By now my voice would wavering like a Theremin in a Beach Boys song.

“You may or may not know that before retiring Mr. Chretien has made attempts to decriminalize marijuana.” He continues

I don’t know much about this. Amongst my buddies there is some confusions about the legality of pot and play it safe and assume it is still illegal. I do know that I have a previous marijuana possession charge and the direction of this conversation is unnerving.

“Mr. Chrétien would like to consider the possibility of full legalization but he needs to do a little research. He would like to try marijuana in order to reach a fully informed conclusion.”

This is the worst sting ever.

“Well Sir, I have been reformed. I have paid my debt to society and changed my ways. The narrow road sir, and no more reefers.” That summer I watched the Shawshank Redemption on TBS enough times that it informs my speech.

“Knock off that shit. We have enough statistical proof to know that one doesn’t stop consumption after a possession fine. That’s one of the reasons that we favour decriminalization. We will pay $200 to cover more than the cost of the marijuana he smokes plus we will reverse this any future possession charge you might obtain. You traffic it and you’re on your own.”

“The government is going to pay me to smoke up with the Prime Minister?”

“Yes.” He says with as much comedic timing as a tumour but I start laughing anyway.

“Sure, you bring Chretien here and I’ll get him high.”

The quite one taps his lapel and in enough time to brush your teeth there, is a knock at the door.
In person he looks less like a politician. Politicians seem desperate, begging for votes and approval ratings. But retired politicians take on a different air. Nothing says ‘vote for me’; everything says ‘You can’t fuck with me’

He wears a dark overcoat with the collar was flipped up. His hair slicked back. The wrinkles in his face seem cut in granite. He resembles a gang boss in many aspects

“You’re for real!” I say

“Yeah, I am for t’e real!” He barks. The sarcasm in this room is getting out of control.

“Okay,” I say grasping for a moment of clarity before it disappears. “I want you two guys out of here. I’m paranoid enough. I know you have a job to do but wait outside. Money up front and nobody sees where my stash is.”

They pay me and leave. I enter the kitchen and roll the joint while the Prime Minister sits on my torn futon sofa and looks at the poster of the Blues Brothers on the wall.

My rolling is always terrible and I don’t like owning a pipe since the bust as it leaves paraphernalia around the house even when I nothing else is illegal there. The joint has a tragic lump in the middle and looks like a snake trying to eat an egg.

I light it and pass it to Jean.

“What do I do whit t’is?” he asks

“You ever smoke a cigarette?” I ask

He shrugs his shoulders and says “I am from Quebec, non?”

“Okay,same thing. Just hold the smoke in as long as you can.” I demonstrate.

He inhales so deep his lung could be ripped up and he holds it. Finally a cloud of smoke bursts from the side of his mouth. “T’is is not’ing” he says.

“Everyone says that at first. Keep trying” I instruct. He huffs and puffs like the Big Bad wolf and we pass it back and forth. Ashes drop off the end like it they are knocked from a guillotine.

Finally I break the silence. “So Paul Martin’s in charge now.” I nod as if agreeing to something “That’s good.”

“Are you kiddin’ to me? He is a jack ass. You know not’ing.” And his face turns as red as the cherry on the joint.

“What? I thought you were in the same party or something?”

“Not anymore. He stab me in the back and steal t’e party. He is a devil.” He has the French Canadian ability to add historic proportions to his insults.

He takes another drag off the joint and calms. “You seriously don’t know about t’e parliament, do you?” He says

I shake my head no. I should feel embarrassed for myself but I feel more embarrassed for him and the fact that his years as leader have little relevance to many citizens.

“You should know. It is sad.” He his eyes droop. “and because of what you t’ink. Not duty but protection. You need to follow politics because you are t’e criminal” he explains

Naturally I look insulted by the expression ‘criminal’

“It t’is true,” he answers my expression. “You are a felon. You could be put in jail. By some ot’er guy. A guy like me. Why? Because you let him be t’e government. You don’t even care about t’is guy. He is not’ing. He is just like me. You only like Martin because of the Bono.” He laughs

“First” I raise a finger “ I didn’t say that I liked Paul Martin, I said I knew who he was. Two” I raise a second finger “ The whole reason I dislike him is because he hangs out with Bono.”

Chretien laughs more.

“So calm down. I don’t want to get the Shawinigan handshake like that protester did.” Then he cuts me off

“Shut t’e ‘ell up. T’at guy ‘ad it coming. Just before t’at some nut break into my ‘ouse to kill me and t’e Mountie does not’ing. I ‘ave to defend myself and everybody make fun of me. Just like my voice. Every lousy stand-up comedian in t’is country talks out the side of t’ere mout’ and act like they ‘ave an impression. I got Bells Palsey. It’s an illness. Real funny. Ha ha” He pushes the ha ha as hard as he can.

He takes another drag off the joint, holds it in his lungs and relaxes.

“Sorry I will calm down. T’is is nice.” He looks at the joint in his hand

“Maybe I’ll put on some music” I suggest.

“Do you ‘ave any Dixieland?” he asks hopefully

I shake my head. “I have Kind of Blue by Mile Davis.”

“Of course.” He laughs. “T’at is the one jazz record everyone ‘as and t’en t’ey say t’ey like jazz.”
I laugh because it’s true and then put on an Elton John CD because it’s the oldest music I can find. We sit in stoned silence and listen to Rocket Man.

“Not bad” nodds the PM, looking at the joint. “you know I won t’ree majorities. Nobody did t’at. Not even t’e Trudeau. Not even t’e Laurier.” He recites the names with reverence, the way other Canadians talk about hockey players. “Do you t’ink, after the Queen is off t’e money, maybe I will be on some money.”

“I don’t care” I say “So long as they never make a $5 coin!” and smoke signal of laughter smoke billow out of our mouths.

“You are okay,” He says rising from the sofa. “ I t’ink I am going out to get t’e pizza now. It taste so good.”

I smile as he leaves. He craves pizza after inhaling the sweet smell of burnt oregano. That delicious spice just earned me $200 and a get out of jail free card.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Remembrance of Logos Past

The following excerpt is from Remembrance of Logos Past by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Ollendorf Press in October, 2009

Marcel needed food for his hypoglycaemia.

He scanned the menu for something equal to the cash on him.

“I’ll have a happy meal” he said.

Biting into the meat, the salt, the grease, the imported German onions, Marcel was flooded with 7 volumes of memories.

He recalled his first Happy Meal. It was an identical MacDonald’s except maybe Constable Big Mac still existed but that detail wasn’t as powerful as the involuntary recall of Ketchup scraped off cardboard cartons.

The memory invoked others:

Final episodes of Cheers and Seinfeld. His first walkman, then Diskman, then iPod, then cellphone, then blackberry, and then wanting something next. The grunge, rave, gangsta rap, swing kid, indie beard fashions he had rotated through.

Reminiscences rushed past so quickly he saw his television size grow, its thickness shrink, while his SUV’s volume doubled like a Pillsbury oven croissant.

Marcel saddened. His memories were decided by various marketing teams. Had he ever made a choice freely?

But then the final taste of sweet white hamburger bun lifted from his tongue. He decided to order a sundae and see the new movie based on the cartoon that was based on a toy he once got for Christmas.

Afternote: this excerpt was also entered in Canada Writes on CBC Radio's Go with Brent Bambury. It's a fun contest and if you want to enter here is the link

Thursday, January 15, 2009

How To Get a Head of Advertising

The following is an excerpt from How To Get a Head of Advertising by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Age of Persuasion Press in February, 2009

She was too attractive ride on the sky train.

Ricky looked around at the other passengers, squeezed into the box car that slid along the center rail leaving the Commercial and Grandview station. They looked like the black and white pictures of boat loads of mutli-cultured immigrants arriving in the harbour.

They were the people that actually bought fast food. Fat and greasy, eating fries by the fist full off a plastic tray.

She was the people in the fast food commercials. Thin with shining blonde hair - blonde all the way down the roots unlike the graffiti style streaks that ran across the other heads on the train.
She wore sweat pants to work out. The others actually wore sweat pants to work.

The thing Ricky found most beautiful though, was her skin. It was clean and soft and free of advertisements.

The train, the train station, the fast food restaurants, the crosswalks, every section of the world was now equipped with projectors sending messages of consumption across people’s bodies. Even the appliances in your home would spray brandings across your skin. An evening meal or an intimate undressing contained images developed and tested by a marketing team.

There were objections to the earliest of these FAMS; these facial spams as they were referred to then. Industry poured millions into the defence. Industry was no longer about profit but principle and any attempt to curb FAMing was an attempt to rip the wings off free speech and democracy.

The courts protected the right to advertise. People could choose not to receive it. The antivuris industry was created.

The public could purchase a new antivirus and wear it, notifying projectors they did not wish to receive the FAMS. Every week a new antivirus was needed to block out the new ads. If you couldn’t afford the antivirus you could receive one for free that blocked other ads in exchange for displaying that company's ads.

Most of the commuters on the train chose this. Their faces glistened and blinked with tales of improving lifestyle and appearance.

But she was ad free. Ricky wasn’t even sure if he ever saw an ad free face before. He had no children so he never seen one pure from advertising. Even the few newborns he saw at the maternity ward had already been exposed to advertising with images of formula and cartoon characters endorsing diapers projected into their cribs.

The very rich could afford expensive shields but none that left them unblemished. Even the wealthiest celebrities were exposed to ads in the warfare like tactics used to project associations on them. There were even cases of the famous being paid to take on a facial endorsement. The wildest rumours were of the founder of the projection system living in an island compound free of ads.

She brushed her hair back from her face. There it was. On her forehead was a single logo; the curled childish letters of the latest Disney film. Her forehead announced simultaneous release dates on May 9th with versions for children and an expanded R rated cut full of dirty jokes for adults.

Why was she on the train? Did her car break down? If she could afford that kind of protection she could afford to call a cab? She could afford the insurance to have a tow and a lift come get her.

“Maybe she’s like me” thought Ricky. Ricky was between jobs and heading to his next job interview. Like most people in the current workforce Ricky was laid off every three to six months. Most employers developed projects and launches rather than long term employees. In the week or so he spent looking for work Ricky took the train while he lived entirely off his credit card.

“Are you heading to the hiring fair down at Hornby street?” He asked her.

She looked at him and smiled with perfect white teeth that were as free from ads as a blank canvas. “This is actually my stop.”

She stepped off the train and moved into another car without even trying to conceal her lie.

As the door closed behind her Ricky saw himself in the window reflection. Scrawled on his forehead like a tabloid headline was “LOSE 30 POUNDS IN 30 DAYS “Over his chin it read “MAKE YOUR LOVE TOOL BIGGER!”

Ricky used the antivirus provided by his last employer. It ran ads for his company but it kept out most of the others. It ran out just then and now he had no protection. He was covered in the basest forms of ads. The desperate bulk send outs for porn, sex enhancers, credit aid, and unaccredited online universities.

He failed the interview miserably and blamed the sleazy triple xxx shout outs that were tattooed all over him.

That night he sold his stocks and maxxed out his credit cards.

The brochure guaranteed only one to two ads would slip onto his head a day and they could often be covered with large sunglasses or even a tilted hat visor.

He stood on the train the next day, needing to nail this interview and start paying off this antivirus, when he saw her again.

“Excuse me” He said to her. He held up his cup of coffee and gestured to the machine. “Can I buy you a cup?”

She ignored him.

“Excuse me” he asked again “I’m sorry, excuse me.”

She turned, dropped a coin in his cup and walked away fast and frightened.

Laughing came from the corner of the skytrain station.

Ricky looked at the homeless man, the bum, mocking him. He was the lowest level of this society. Entirely ignored and voiceless. No one, not even the saddest commuter on the train, associated with him.

As a result, he was the one person that the ad men left alone. His grizzled face was free of ads. His physical endorsement was actually a negative.

Ricky just spent his life savings to look just like him.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Hipster of Dorian Grey

The following is an excerpt from The Hipster of Dorian Grey by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Lipincott’s Press in February 2009.

Adrian took the edge of his two hands and squeezed them together across his scalp. His gelled hair forced up between the two hands into a faux hawk the way that a mountain range is created when two of the earth’s plates press together.

Guys at the office couldn’t pull this off. They tried too hard. Even at the gym, only one guy near Adrian’s age rocked a faux hawk. At first, Adrian thought they were the same age but the other dude was actually 7 year younger. Adrian laughed at that. He felt so much younger then he was.

Adrian took pride in how much younger he looked. He styled his hair. He worked out. He dressed in current fashion unlike the old guys at work. They clung to their fading concert t-shirts. The logos fading along with the memory of the last time they were fun. When Adrian wore a cardigan he looked like Cobain. When they wore one, they looked like their Grandfather.

It wasn’t just looks that kept someone young. It was how young they felt. The cliché was true. Adrian felt very young. He acted very young. He still went to concerts. He still took in the big movies every opening weekend. He still did drugs in bathroom stalls and spent a large amount of his income on comic books.

He had everything he wanted when he was 15. He owned a great car with a sound system of greater value. He had a television screen larger than any window in his house. He had anonymous sex and saw 12 hockey games a year. Most of all, he had the sketch.

The picture made everything possible. It was hidden in his attic behind stacks of Johnny Cash LPs from the year he was really into country and vinyl. It was sketch of Adrian. When he was younger the sketch looked like another simplistic, heavy -lined Chester Brown knockoff.

But the sketch aged. Just as Adrian never grew older the sketch aged with dusty deterioration. After the years of all nighters, hangovers, gravied poutine, and hard drugs, the sketch no longer looked like a Chester Brown. All the wrinkles and baggy eyes were too detailed and accentuated. It was more like portrait of Keith Richards drawn by Robert Crumb. If Adrian kept it up the sketch would soon be a Nick Nolte mug shot by way of Lucien Freud.

That wasn’t something Adrian thought about though. The sketch was safe and he had no other worries. He didn’t have to think about a career. He ate out every night and never jogged or opened an RRSP. When he got married it was so that he could have the coolest wedding ever – Nashville theme and the sketch kept him looking good for the photos. When he cheated on his wife it was because she was getting old while the sketch kept him attractive. When he had a boy it was so he could see how good looking his kid would be. He could give him an odd name like Marmaduke or Ganges and pull his hair into a tiny Hollywood baby faux hawk. The sketch meant he would be the coolest Dad ever.

That day, in the gym shower Adrian got strange looks. It was probably his faux hawk wilting in the shower. It hung in his eyes when it got wet.

He dried it in front of the mirror, combed the hair out of his face then sculpted it into his faux hawk. In the mirror his saw the attack on his face, like a very centralized target of graffiti smart bomb.

On his lip was an exaggerated curly line. It was the drawing of moustache on a silent movie villain, twirling it while he tried a damsel to a train track. It was the kind of thing that you drew on a frat boy’s mouth with permanent marker when he passed out first.

He buried his face in the sink and scrubbed with the cheap pink liquid soap. He looked up and the moustache line was still there. Now it was accompanied by three sharp lines on his chin: A Satanic Van Dyke.

Adrian thought about the picture for the first time since returning to the attic to see if his new Ying Yang shoulder tattoo appeared on the sketch. (It did not) Someone was drawing on the sketch.

He forced his wet skin into the clinging legs of his skinny jeans. It was enough make him decent as he ran shirtless and shoeless to the car. In the review mirror he could see that his face was now marked with crude glasses and two devil horns sprouting from his forehead.

He climbed into the attic. He was out of breath for the first time in years. He heart felt like mouse being suffocated by a constrictor. His knees crackled like fire works on each stair.

“Ganges!” He yelled.

The boy looked up from the pile of paper shredding around him. He looked like he lived in a hamster’s nest of newspaper. It was the final remains of the sketch.

Arian looked at the mirror on the wall. Ganges had suddenly made him a very old man.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Her Secret Service's Majesty

The following is an excerpt from Her Secret Service’s Majesty by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Jim Hatfield Press in February 2009

The first thing to alert the Brigadier when entering the room was the overpowering scent of Axe Body Spray.

His nose wrinkled and contracted like an accordion before he sneezed.

“Excuse me” He said

“You’re soooo good looking!” Said Prince Harry. “That’s from Seinfeld, right? Ha!” He stood before the brigadier shirtless, with one arm raised and the offensive can still billowing fumes into his red underarm hair.

“The stuff stinks like shite but the birds are mad for it” his Highness said.

Stinks is right thought the Brigadier. It could be a chemical warfare creation developed by R&D. When I first asked him what it was he answered fast and it sounded like Ass spray and not Axe spray. The former is more apt.

“Grab a seat.” Harry pointed to a chair over in the corner covered in Lad Mags. The Brigadier hesitated. “Just sit down anywhere. I’m not going to make you bow so long as you don’t make me salute”

The Brigadier suddenly decided not to sit. It made what he had to say more urgent. Besides, he could not find himself comfortable in Harry’s wing. It was a disorienting mix of antique furniture, historical gifts, and oil portraits mashed with video game consoles, dirty laundry piles, and page three pin up girls.

“You don’t have to salute sir, but I do want to discuss you military career” He tried to sound authoritative yet approachable.

“Oh Bloody hell!” said Harry. He threw himself on the bed in disgust. “What do you want me to do? I can’t go. I’m not allowed in Afghanistan. I’m not allowed in Iraq. I’m a bloody risk”

“I know sir,” said the Brigadier. This time he tried to sound authoritative yet sympathetic. “It’s not fair.”

“Damn right, it’s not fair. I trained. I’m as ready as any solider and now I’m a threat to the unit. Well, I’m a threat to Iraq! That’s what I am.” He rolled on the bed in fits of self pity.

“Sir, I may be out of line here but you make a terrible soldier”

Harry stopped rolling about. He glared. He said nothing. His face moved through several deeper tones of red and into a royal purple.

The silence slightly disturbed The Brigadier. He expected a protest but not an intense stare down. He knew Harry couldn’t behead him but he was also unsure what the Prince was entitled to.

He cleared his throat and continued. “You are undisciplined. You cannot stay out of trouble. You enjoy confrontation. You indulge in various intoxications. You enjoy the company of woman. You like to travel but seem to have little respect for other cultures. "

As the Brigadier spoke he opened a file and withdrew pictures of Harry. Harry fighting on a Polo field. Harry smoking marijuana. Harry punching paparazzi. Harry approaching a topless dancer in Calgary. Harry dressed as a Nazi at a Colonials and Natives party. For this one the Brigadier felt the need to wince as he held it up.

“Furthermore,” said the Brigadier'“you will never be King.”

Harry opened his mouth to protest but was shut down by the Brigadier's eyes. “Face it. Your Father may not even become King. The British public are hell bent on William. They love him. They would elect him King if the Royal family weren’t the direct opposite of what democracy and voting was all about. You have no job advancement opportunities. Whatever you are now is what you will be until you die. However, there is one thing that you can do. One thing that will make you elite within the most elite family in the world and serve the greater good.”

Harry’s head jolted up. “I’m listening”

The Brigadier spoke slowly as if unwrapping a present “All these traits make a terrible soldier but they also make a great British Spy!”

“Like James Bond!” Harry almost shouted the words.

“But better than James Bond. Better than any member of MI-5. You would be James Bond with complete diplomatic immunity in every country of the world. A James Bond that would be invited by heads of states to their offices and governments and never questioned or searched.” The Brigadier was excited too and almost shouted along with Harry.

“That plan is so crazy it might just work.” Harry heard someone say that in a movie once and wanted to say it since.

“Oh, it will work. It worked before” The Brigadier shouted now.

“My family are spies? I mean, I know that Uncle Albert was Jack the Ripper, but we hid that.” Harry’s face was even redder from the shock. He looked like one large freckle.

“No, Prince Albert was not a serial killer. He was part of a long proud tradition of Royal espionage and those women were his assigned targets.”

“They were spies?” asked Harry

“Ya, spies, unionists, whatever. Prince Edward was another. Blowing off military training to work as a West End actor. Pfft!” The Brigadier waved his hand, dismissing the idea. “It was a carefully crafted cover.”

Harry shook his head “He seemed like a poof.”

“Yes, exactly, that was his cover. He was instrumental in the destroying the threat of Khadafy.” explained the Brigadier.

“Well, I don’t want a cover like that.”

“It’s okay. The public has already dismissed you. You don’t need a cover. Now, Next month you will be travelling to Italy. Would be able to leave this transmitter in the Prime Minister’s washroom?”

“Can I meet Q?” Harry asked.

The Brigadier paused for a moment to check if he was joking and then said yes. If an old reservist needed to dress in a lab coat for an afternoon to make this work, so be it.

On the bookshelf, holding several DVDs in place sat a small marble statue. Pope Pius XII presented it to King George. Harry moved it to his room because it was a nude and would rub his hands on the smooth marble breasts and smile. It broadcast the entire conversation to the Vatican where the Pope listened and giggled.

“Get ready” He said to the Swiss guards, “Prince Harry is about to find out what counter espionage is like among the rich and diplomatically immune.” He burst out in deep, deep cackle and stroked the cat sitting in his lap.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Jesus Christ, C-List Star

The following is an excerpt from Jesus Christ, C – List Star by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Manna Books in February, 2009

After choosing the comedian that made all the sound effects, the television star that had attempted to make the leap to film and was tossed back to television like an undersized fish, and the black guy that nobody could recall what he was even famous for, the contestant chose the bottom right square.

"I’ll take Jesus Christ to block." said the Bail Bondsman from Idaho.

"Jesus Christ to block!" announced the host.

"Jesus Christ!" thought Jesus Christ. "To block. He didn’t even want to choose me. He had to choose it for the block"

“Alright Jesus.” Said the host. His hair looked like a piece of Tupperware attached to his head with an interlocking plastic groove. "Here’s your question" He sounded as if was going to actually physically throw the question at him "After boarding the Ark, What did Noah leave?"

Jesus leaned forward. There was a prepared answer for him to recite from a cue card but he couldn’t read it from there. "Uhhh" he said leaning a bit more forward "The tap running?"
He read each word aloud as his eyes moved across the script. The timing on the punch line was poor. Jesus knew it would be. Jokes weren’t his speciality. He was more inclined towards parables but it still got a good chuckle from the rest of the squares.

"Uhhm...seriously though" he said. This was much more effective. He was much better at sounding sombre and serene. "He left behind a unicorn."

"A unicorn" said the host "A unicorn" He repeated it one more time, more slowly and in a lower register, to establish that this was the real answer and not a prepared joke.

"Do you agree or disagree?" He asked the Bail Bondsman from Idaho.

The producers asked each player to explain out loud why they made the choice they did in order to increase to drama of the game. The Bail Bondsman from Idaho tried his best to comply. "Well Guy" He explained "I know that Jesus is a very honest man and there is no way that he would lie to me."

The camera cut to a close up of Jesus who shook his head back and forth and mouthed the word No in an exaggerated fashion. His halo scraped the roof of the square above him.

"So that is why I will have to agree."

Wha! Wha! Two sharp blasts of the buzzer indicated that he was wrong.

"I’m sorry" said the host. "The answer was sinners....Sinners" He repeated the word again. This time signify the sincerity he felt about the contestant getting the answer wrong.

The contestant locked eyes with Jesus. It was a rare show emotion on the game. "Did you just lie to me Jesus?!?" He asked.

"Ya, I lied to you", thought Jesus.

"Just like I lied when I said I didn’t care if I got the cruddy lower square. Just like they lied to me when they said that lots of people chose it. I’ve been lied to more in the past 6 months than in all the drunken or pre final exam prayers I’ve received in the past 10 years. 6 months is all it takes for the media hoist you up, announce the 2nd coming, and then backlash you out of sight and mind before they move on to the next media cycle. I can’t believe that alien landed on Earth completely fluent in English. Well, it might be the hot shit media darling right now but in 6 months that alien is going to be right here on Hollywood squares. I wonder if it will get center square? Better not. So ya, I lied to you." Thought Jesus.

Jesus looked at the Bail Bondsman and shrugged his shoulders. "Hey, I work in strange ways"

The studio audience laughed and the comedian that made all the sound effects punctuated it will the sound a of a rim shot.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.