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THEY SAY THAT WHAT YOU do obsessively in your spare time is what you should really be doing with your life.
What I’ve been doing with my life, as it turns out, and what has been at once my solitary comfort, talk therapy and sweet revenge, is writing.
Writing is the wide-eyed, undernourished waif with the sickly pallor and coal-smudged cheeks who tugged at the hem of my greatcoat as I set about doing more important things (playing the piano, taking photographs, and consorting with all the wrong people); the little nagging presence whom I absent-mindedly swatted away, because it simply never occurred to me that what I should really be doing was something that came naturally, that was pleasurable nearly all the time, that didn’t really cost anything if you don’t count the vodka, and that I was good at.
You know, and can I just say, seriously. Who knew?
Now bear with me as I stride through the revolving door, the film gives a little hiccup, and I stride out of the revolving door again; which would be a lovely, if low-tech, special effect were I not now wearing just a different version of the t-shirt and jeans I was wearing on the way in.
It’s a transition, alright? Could you not, just for one second, be so high-maintenance?
Imagine, then, that I’ve revolved out of the door onto the streets of Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, a General Motors working-class town on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, and my birthplace—because if my life is going to be a never-ending freak show of incongruous mash-ups, me and Oshawa make a dandy start.
In practical terms, it happened that way because my actual home town, nearby Whitby, Ontario, had no general hospital; and, in fact, the only game in town, the institution known locally as “Whitby Hospital,” was officially styled the Ontario Hospital for the Insane.
The official name reminds us that in Whitby, at least in the 1950’s, we are in the company of down-home, no-nonsense mental health professionals, uninterested in even the slightest kind of beating around the bush, and whose rejection of snowflakey over-sensitivity would nowadays satisfy even the most curmudgeonly whiner about “political correctness.”
However, Ontario Hospital for the Insane is, at eleven syllables, not engineered for everyday conversation; has a rather discouraging white-gloves-and-teacups formality when you just want a good gossip; and, let’s face it, tends, like any mention of “the insane,” to evoke that Titus Groan/Rebecca/there’s something in the attic vibe, so thrilling at the Public Library, and so inconvenient in the middle of the night, when you hear the floorboards creaking.
And so the brisk, stage-whispered, Orwellian-but-fooling-no-one euphemism “Whitby Hospital” was almost instantly and universally adopted.
Apparently the Whitby town planners—including my Great Uncle Herb Pringle, Head of the Public Utilities Commission or PUC (and if you think the local wags could resist making PUC the acronym for “Pringle’s Useless Crew” then you underestimate the sharp wit of country folk)—these high-minded men, after establishing the measurements of Centennial Park with reference to The Golden Mean and limning the classical perfection of the Four Corners Dairy Bar, had decided that the citizens of Whitby, gradually becoming unhinged as the years passed, would get more bang for their tax bucks from an institution into whose maw they could quietly disappear, and without arousing too much comment.
This disappearance, being unlike a regular hospital stay and understood as more or less permanent, would demand only the occasional visit by resentful kin bearing potted begonias.
Because, you know.
“Bob Hegadorn?” (stage-whisper:) “Whitby Hospital…”
Even from the get-go I was a subscriber to the “family romance” theory: The enduring delusion that, although I was clearly destined to reside in a stately home in Croton-on-Hudson as the only child of wealthy, cultured, upper-crust parents, the stork had become disoriented somewhere above the Canadian Shield and dropped me, like a hot, boiled new potato, over the Roddis bungalow and into the well-meaning, perpetually mystified care of my family.
Well, hello there and pleased as punch to make yer acquaintance! Just to let you know: It’s all mushy bananas, bilious resentment and original cast recordings of Broadway musicals from here on in. Now, make with the diaper change, dudes.
In a similarly cataclysmic, life-altering shake-down, you’re left for good without your crossword puzzle and Ann Landers on that terrible Monday when your unenthusiastic paper delivery boy finally achieves the puberty that’s been eluding him, chucks the morning edition in a ditch and joins his friends to smoke a spliff behind the recycling bins.
But, that’s life for ya! Be it gnomic prophecies on the palace wall or black, billowing smoke in the once-sunny sky, the message is clear: The banquet’s over, Dorothy. Surrender!
As a sensitive child and a voracious reader, I was considered “artistic,” which in Whitby, in the sixties, was code for either “weird” or “gay,” or, inevitably, both.
More or less on cue, and establishing my undeniable “artistry,” came the première of my first full-length play, running seven minutes without intermission, which took place in our backyard during the 1961 season. As I was on a strict budget, the characters were my sister, my sister’s boyfriend and a garden hose.
Safe to say, then, that comedy, always informed by a sense of delicious irony, is in my blood.
Due to my mother’s chronic inability to sit still, we moved in 1969 to Toronto, where they kept the homosexuality locked up in a big cupboard but would sometimes leave the key lying around; and where I “continued musical studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto Faculty of Music.”
Doesn’t it just totally sound like there’s a pickle somewhere deep inside me that rarely sees the light when I present, as the whole truth, that prim resumé?
As we’re about to become very good friends, I might as well drop the pretense and confess that in the big city, musical studies be damned, I offered up my luscious, glowing young body on the casting couch of life, and, more often than not, nailed the job.
Truth: It all depends on your perspective.
I’m so happy you’re here. And I’m sure you’re going to have serious fun, because relatives of the people who look at my fine-art photography and say, “This would make a lovely placemat!” have been unanimous in assuring me that this little doorstopper is made to order for every bathroom in Muskoka.
Consider this collection of my work, some of which first appeared in very different form on my blog of the same name, to be an amusing, or invigorating, and certainly undemanding form of recreation that invites you to use it however you like; a child’s inflatable swimming pool, as it were, into which you can dip a wary toe, or belly flop, according to your personal style—or in which you can simply wallow, glass of Tia Maria in one hand, Craven A in the other, while you count the dead wasps floating on the surface and secretly have a pee.
(Which reminds me: If you’re reading this, David Milligan, can I just say, it may have happened way back in ’65, but I need closure and I know it was you.)
See which scenario works for you, buddy, but promise me one thing.
If you feel, while reading, that you’re about to laugh in one of the right places—
— call me?
From: “A Slow, Painful Death Would Be Too Good For You, (and Other Observations): A Pillow Book for Dyspeptics,” by David Roddis. ©2018, by David Roddis. All Rights Reserved.
published by SlowPainful Dot Com