Saturday, May 22, 2010

Book #5: Imagining the Old Neighbourhood through Joyce's Dubliners

Tinsel-shot scarves floated by. Men with jutting bellies swaggered past. I bumped into a shoulder and a face spun around, scrunching up like a bulldog. Swearing at me in some language I didn't understand.

But beneath the show of arrogance: a small, hard kernel of disappointment. I could see it glowing through the lines etched into his face.

As I turned onto St. Clarens, I was thinking about my grandfather, Kaz. I was thinking of him tripping on the cement cracks, whiskey bottle in hand, laughing into the empty air.

By the time he'd moved here in the 50s, he'd reached the end of the line. He'd dropped out of dental school, messed up as a bookkeeper, and had the wrong temperament for managing a dry-cleaning shop. After a while, he stopped trying in favour of strolling up and down the street. That was when he started hearing the voices in his head.

As my own career prospects narrowed, I feared that I had a similar self-destructive impulse ticking away.

And I kept walking. The sidewalk flowed into the distance, an endless white line.

Earlier that morning, I'd been reading "The Boarding House," a short story by James Joyce in Dubliners. I love how Joyce brings to life all the oddballs of Dublin - their funny, sad lives. Take, for instance, this description of Mr. Mooney, the man who owns the boarding house:

"He drank, plundered the till, ran headlong into debt. It was no use making him take the pledge: he was sure to break out again a few days after. By fighting his wife in the presence of customers and by buying bad meat he ruined his business. One night he went for his wife with the cleaver and she had to sleep in a neighbour's house."

My grandfather had been a Mr. Mooney. Strange things that no one wanted to talk about had happened on this street.

Photo from: here


Mimi said...

I feel so sorry for the way you imagine your grandfather, isolated and not understood by others. Too bad he couldn't have written his own memoir.

Bushpig.vrc said...

First, I am bummed that you can't see the shark tail on my avatar - will work on that. Second, after reading the Dubliners I have made it a habit to order peas with malt vinegar and a beer for lunch whenever the opportunity arises. Third, more about the hunched men with jutting bellies - but not too much more since that is the focus of *my* memoir.

Leslie Shimotakahara said...

Mimi, I am also sad that my grandfather couldn't have written his own memoir. Alas, I never even got to meet him!
Bushpig, I look forward to reading your memoir.... Sounds like you have excellent taste in fiction & pub fare.


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Toronto, ON, Canada
Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.