'If the memory of childhood has lapsed, let this book be the antidote. A day in the life of a kid has never been so exquisitely, so magically, nor perhaps so comically, portrayed. Gazing through a child's ViewFinder, our sad world is renewed and made wondrous again, which, as Ian McGillis reminds us, is the true import of childhood.'
|Publisher:||Porcupine's Quill, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.66(w) x 8.78(h) x 0.76(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Ian McGillis was born in Hull, Quebec, grew up in Edmonton, and now lives in Montreal, within hailing distance of Fairmount Bagels. He is a regular contributor to The Gazette and co-edits the Montreal Review of Books. His journalism has also appeared in The Globe and Mail and The National Post. A Tourist's Guide to Glengarry is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
A Strange Beginning
This is weird.
That's what I was thinking, standing there in Irene's, on my last night in Glengarry.
Just being in Irene's was weird enough. It's this little place over on 82nd Street. They call it a diner, but you don't really see anybody dining in there, unless you call sucking on cigarettes and guzzling coffee dining. It's a really long, thin room, like a one-lane bowling alley, with tables down one side, and a poster by the door of an upside-down monkey with a long tail saying 'Hang in there, baby!' Being there was weird for me because it was ten whole blocks from my house, it was dark outside, and I was by myself.
Another strange thing was who I saw sitting at the table by the window. It was Mr Baldwin, a substitute teacher who taught my grade four sometimes, and Mr Nedved, one of the janitors at St Paul's, my school. You don't expect to see teachers and janitors hanging out together, especially outside school, but these guys aren't exactly your typical teacher and janitor. They didn't notice me at first, so I walked a few tables past them.
It must have looked pretty funny to see this little kid standing in the middle of a diner at night blinking from all the smoke, because almost everybody stopped smoking and yakking for a second to look up at me. I started to wish I hadn't gone in there, but it would have been chicken to just go out again. The jukebox was playing 'Maggie May', which was the number one song on the CHED countdown the week before. It's this really long song, by a singer with a croaky voice, about a guy who skips school and hangs out in poolhalls. So I was trying to hide how nervous I was by concentrating on the song when I heard a loud voice from behind me.
-- Hail, hail, the wandering bard!
It was Mr Baldwin. He was talking to me. I walked over.
-- Welcome to our bohemian enclave, he said. A cup of absinthe?
Just like in school, I didn't really know what Mr Baldwin was talking about. Half the time he'll talk to you just like he'd talk to an adult, and it's up to you to figure out what he's saying. I don't mind that, though. It's kind of neat. He just assumes you're smart. He pulled a chair over and nodded at me to sit down.
-- So, what brings our pocket Tolstoy into this disreputable den? he asked.
-- Tolstoy's this writer guy from Russia. Mr Baldwin calls me that because a few weeks before, at the start of the school year, I told him I was thinking about writing a book. It's one of those things you say and feel stupid about a minute later, but he took me seriously, and ever since then he's talked to me like I was a real writer.
-- I was just walking around, I said.
That wasn't the whole truth, but you couldn't call it a lie, either.
-- Gathering material, no doubt, Mr Baldwin said. All grist for the mill, eh?
-- Yeah. I guess.
I had no idea what he meant. Then he turned to Mr Nedved.
-- I should tell you, Jacek, that our little friend here is no ordinary gum-chewing, slingshot-shooting tyke. He's about to storm the ramparts of the literary establishment.
Mr Nedved looked like he didn't exactly understand Mr Baldwin, either, probably because he's still learning English. I could tell from the books on their table that that was why they were there, so Mr Nedved could get English lessons. He raised his eyebrows and smiled at me. That was neat, because he's not a real smiley guy. He didn't say anything, though.
The waitress came by and filled their coffee cups, and then Mr Baldwin gave me a serious look. I think it just occurred to him how unusual it was that I was there.
-- If you don't mind my saying so, you're looking a tad troubled, he said.
-- I'm okay, I said.
Actually, I wasn't so okay, but it was a long story. I'd had a really weird day, and I'd sort of wandered into Irene's without really knowing what I was doing. I didn't want to interrupt the English lesson, though, so I didn't get into it. Then Mr Baldwin stuck his finger in the air.
-- Of course! he said. Writer's block! What else could have you looking so flummoxed? The creative juices are dammed. The words just won't come. Am I right?
The funny thing was, I hadn't even started this book I told him I was going to write. I like the idea of writing a book, but I can never think of stories.
-- A word from the wise guy, said Mr Baldwin. There's a little exercise for scribblers in your spot, recommended by no less than Hemingway himself.
Finally, I thought, I knew what he meant by something. Hemingway was this writer who also went fishing a lot. At home there was this old copy of Life magazine, with a picture of him smoking a cigar and holding a giant swordfish. He also did this thing they do in Spain where you get a bull mad at you and the bull chases you around trying to gore you. Later, he shot himself.
-- What exercise is that? I asked.
I thought he meant stuff like jogging and push-ups.
-- It's a kind of plunger, if you will, for those in your predicament, he said. Simply choose a day, any day, and write down everything that happens to you.
-- What do you mean, everything? I asked.
-- The works.
-- Even going to the bathroom and stuff?
-- There's no room for squeamishness in your trade, lad. The great writer follows his characters everywhere, even to the meditation room.
There he went again, from talking about the bathroom to some other room that's not even in my house. Mr Nedved seemed confused, too. He kept drinking coffee.
-- Should I write about just what I did, or what I thought about, too? I asked.
-- My lad, these decisions are in your hands alone. Just tell it like it is. Remember Joyce. No bodily function is too low, nor any interior musing too lofty.
He'd lost me again. Who was this Joyce lady I was supposed to remember? I was starting to like his idea, though. It kind of solved my problem of not being able to make up stories. Whenever I try, it ends up sounding like I'm copying the Hardy Boys, and I don't even like them. Maybe just writing stuff down would be interesting, at least for me. It was a pretty good time to do it, too, because the day I'd just had -- October 13th, 1971 -- was a pretty weird day, like I already mentioned.
-- Okay, I'll try it, I said.
I must have taken a long time to say it, because they were back into their English lesson. Mr Baldwin didn't hear me at first.
-- What's that, young sir? he asked.
-- I'm gonna try it.
-- Excellent! Excellent! I feel honoured, indeed humbled, to have performed this small service to future centuries of readers. Take out thy quill, and may it serve thee well.
-- Sure. Thanks.
I wanted to say more, but they were starting their lesson again, Mr Baldwin explaining to Mr Nedved how to order beer in English. So I stood up and tiptoed to the door. 'Maggie May' was still playing, it's so long. Just as I was opening the door, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and it was Mr Nedved. He smiled at me and said something in Czechoslovakian. Then I left.
So now I'm back at home, sitting in the empty living room. It's about midnight, and Mum and Dad and all my brothers and sisters are in bed. I'm not supposed to be up, because there's a big day ahead of us tomorrow, but I really feel like writing this stuff down before I start forgetting everything. I've got Dad's flashlight to see with. My pen is making a giant shadow on the wall where the painting of the blue heron used to be. It's weird to think I might never see Mr Baldwin and Mr Nedved again, to show them what I've done.