Catalogue


The truth /
Paul Davies.
imprint
Toronto : Insomniac Press, c1999.
description
206 p.
ISBN
1895837669 :
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Toronto : Insomniac Press, c1999.
isbn
1895837669 :
general note
"A misFit book."
catalogue key
2963706
A Look Inside
First Chapter


Chapter One

1

I know the truth about Lobsang.

    We became good friends over the last seven years of his life. As much as he could have good friends -- or friends at all. We shared adventures together. As much as an urban hermit ever knows or seeks adventure.

    I lived near them -- Lobsang and his wife, whom I called Mrs. R. -- only over the last few years of his life. He died ten years ago, in 1981, at his home in Calgary. We first became acquainted by letter in 1974, while I was running an antiquarian book business in downtown Toronto. My office was on Spadina, just below Bloor. A second floor walk-up, above a used book store. There was a postal station right next door, and I looked forward to his letters with real pleasure.

    I'd just decided to write to him one day -- mistakenly to his old Fort Erie address -- but my letter was forwarded, and he wrote back.

    I thought mine was a brazen conceit. What's more, as soon as I'd mailed it I felt contrite. I didn't think I'd expressed myself very well. I had a couple hours' drive to think about it too, as I mailed the letter in Buffalo. There was a postal strike in the spring of 1974 -- shorter than the disaster in the fall of 1975, mind you -- and I somewhat obsessively drove all the way down to New York State on a Saturday to buy a stamp and mail it.

    Or, I should say, my girlfriend drove us in her car. I didn't have a permit for a car. Only for a motorcycle. I had a 1957 Norton, which at the time had been idle in the underground parking for several weeks. The first time out that spring a retainer clip came loose; it was sucked through the carburetor and into one cylinder, jamming at one of the valve seats, with disastrous results.

    Anyway, notwithstanding my expectations of disaster with Lobsang, he said in his letter to me that he'd found what I had to say interesting. And a steady correspondence emerged.

    I didn't know the truth about him until after we met. I relocated myself out there in 1978.

    Actually, moving to Calgary was a mistake, and I didn't do so with Lobsang in mind, although I looked him up soon after arriving. My career had gone through a number of twists and turns, and this move was an effort to start over.

    The two-and-a-half years before moving I'd been back in school. At the University of Toronto, in pure math. This was actually the accident preceding the mistake, as I entered the program failing to understand that pure math has no relevance to the material world. That may be hard to believe --that I could be so naïve -- but it's true. Ironically, having come to an impasse, I wanted to learn something useful. Something that might result in a new career, far away from the book business. And that happened. Even though I didn't finish my degree, I got a job as a mathematician. A research analyst, actually. In mining, out in Cowtown.

    The error within the mistake was that I sold just about everything I owned -- in particular some rare books left over from my business -- for a nickel to finance the restoration of a 1975 Gremlin to drive out there. I loved that car.

    It would have run thousands of dollars less to take the train. I might have even met a girl or something.

    As well, the train would probably have been heated -- unlike my car, which, after $6,000 in renovations, covered most of the distance with an inch of solid ice caking the inside of the windows. I made the drive in January, and it was bitterly cold. I didn't know that the heater failure was due to the thermostat quitting, or I might have stopped at the Canadian Tire in Brandon and had it fixed. To make matters worse, I left my favourite blanket in a motel room in Massey, Ontario. A thick pink pure wool blanket from Woodward's in Vancouver. My mother bought it there in 1951. Being so cold, I finished the stretch from Brandon to Calgary in one shot. Took about twenty hours. My hands were frostbitten when I finally arrived.

    The following year -- the spring of 1979 -- I drove that Gremlin over a cliff in the Rocky Mountains. A subsidence slide on the Old Trunk Road in Kananaskis. It was seventy feet down, and the car was completely destroyed. Not to mention the months it took to put Humpty back together again. I was rescued by a forest ranger -- a young woman -- who was perfectly beautiful, although only four-feet seven-inches tall.

    She called me a couple of times while I was recovering, the last time to say that she'd been transferred to Fort McMurray. I had a postcard after that, saying she'd broken her hip in a bad fall. I couldn't get out to see her while I was convalescing. Then, later, I couldn't get up to Fort McMurray to see her when she was. I felt very badly about that. Typical, isn't it: I could never get the right thing right at the right time.

    What Lobsang taught me didn't help that propensity very much. It may have made it worse, in fact. What I was able to tell him was helpful, though, I think. For him, I mean. He may have passed away with greater peace of mind because of it -- because of what I realized about him. I can't be sure.

    I do know he has been gone for ten years, and I'm at the end of my energy. I'm not eager to join him in his Heavenly Fields just yet. I mean, it's not a death wish, or an inclination to suicide, or anything like that. I'm just at the end of my energy, and don't know what could possibly come along to renew it. I'm ever more needful now, and will be critically needful soon.

   The causes go way back. I've just stopped to think when. When exactly they go back to, I mean. When things started to go wrong -- when I couldn't connect with the world. When I first, and chronically thereafter, couldn't get the right things right at the right time.

    As I think back, I can remember things, but I know they aren't the first time. They aren't the source. It wasn't the jobs I had in my twenties. It's wasn't the businesses I ran. Wasn't in adolescence, wasn't all the teenage trouble I got into, or high school, or junior high. Coming up from below, I see I had a good childhood, and things were going well. So I wasn't born with it. It wasn't when my mom died suddenly, though that was hard. Nor when Dad remarried, because she was nice enough. It wasn't for lack of intelligence. I scored in the top 1-percent in the elementary school tests. They told my dad that, and he was proud. I was put in the special advanced program and everything.

    That was certainly part of the problem, though. And it did happen in elementary school. It might have been when I didn't get out with the other boys to play winter broom ball in grade six. I missed the first game for no reason, felt immediately uninvolved (in the mysterious way children feel and perceive things), and never played again. I fell out of the culture. But I might have recovered from that. I could have.

    No, I see now the crucial event was my dad being transferred to Calgary, two months before I would finish grade six. That was it. I never recovered from that.

    We moved on March 26, 1964.

    As it happens, it was on that same date in 1978 that I first went to visit Lobsang. March 26th. A genuine coincidence.

    When I got there he didn't want to see me. Mrs. R. was gracious, though, and invited me in. I caught a glimpse of Lobsang only from behind, at the typewriter in his study, as Mrs. R. showed me into the living room.

2

You may (only) be interested to know if Lobsang's claims were authentic. So here it is.

    Yes.

    He may not have been exactly what he believed; or precisely what he thought he was, if you like. But he explained his situation as well as he could comprehend it. And was not -- absolutely not -- a fraud.

3

I learned three things in early childhood.

    First, you can accidentally put your foot in a bog of thick klondike muck -- wearing the brand new Hush Puppies your mom brought home only the day before -- and believe you are doomed. A dead man. But, by the time you've gotten home -- over hill-upon-hill and dale-upon-dale -- the suede nap will be restored, buffed clean and lustrous again.

    Second, the flexible ladders they throw down from helicopters on television are not made from iron chain. Those are your dad's tire chains, for the car -- even if out in the garage one Saturday morning he and your brother try to persuade you they are war surplus climbing equipment.

    Third, I learned that horizons are unlimited.

    Each of these observations was instructive later. The first in learning that life does not punish you for every misdemeanour. The second for the realization that not all information received -- even from loved ones -- is valid. The third for the knowledge that some realizations, once thought valid, can be, or can become, false.

    My mom bought those Hush Puppies at Woodward's also, like the blanket, but at the Westmount store in suburban Edmonton, rather than downtown Vancouver.

    We moved to Edmonton in 1958, when I was about to turn four. A good time in my life. So good that as I grew up I acquired a distorted view of the world. Edmonton had little crime, and the economy was strong, so everyone seemed prosperous and happy. The world was wholesome. Even when we got a television in 1961 that perception didn't change much. Television was wholesome. School was wholesome. Shopkeepers were polite. The neighbours were friendly, and not a single divorce among them (I didn't know of the possibility). We didn't know what the air raid drills meant during the Cuban missile crisis. There were no bombs. War was over.

    The last war, at least; that every dad in the neighbourhood had come back from. There might have been another war, that Grampa came back from. But I never once wondered if there would be a war for me to come back from. War was concluded. I wasn't even aware of death, until JFK. That was the first I heard of death, but that death was far away.

    My mom died two years before JFK, but I did not understand this event as the finality of death. I knew she was coming home again. I'd seen it in my dreams, many times. Driving up to the house in her green Hillman sedan. The one with the turn signals that popped out of the side door frames like broad orange windshield wipers with nothing to wipe.

    The day my dad came back from the hospital I was informed that I'd be missing three days of school. My brother told me from the top of the stairs. I think I was supposed to figure out what had happened, but I didn't.

    And then we had housekeepers in.

    When my dad remarried, she was just like another housekeeper, except with expectations of greater permanence. But I'm afraid I probably treated her like a housekeeper anyway. It just hadn't sunk in Mom wasn't coming home.

    It never sank in. It just drifted away. Drifted back in time.

    I went up to visit Edmonton, shortly after moving back to Calgary, about two weeks after first visiting Lobsang.

4

In case I haven't been clear: it was Vancouver first, then Edmonton until I was ten, then the transfer to Calgary. I went to high school in Calgary. Right after finishing high school in 1971, I moved out to Toronto. Then back to Calgary in 1978. Then back to Toronto in 1985.

    The last time I wanted to go to Montana instead. Just a romantic idea. I love Montana. I went down there often on weekends while I was back in Calgary in the early eighties. I'd buy some Coors -- still the original one-brewery brew back then -- and hang around Glacier Park.

    Sublime.

5

The first thing I did on that return visit to Edmonton was go to the old neighbourhood. I drove up to our house in the Gremlin, and parked in front. I was moved to be there. An attractive young woman about my age came out of the front door to greet me.

    Turned out the house was for sale, and she thought the realtor had sent me. She'd been living there the whole time I was away! I was amazed. The house was still the same colour, turquoise. She said they'd just had it painted. I never found out what colour it was during the years in between.

    "Did you find the pudding?" I asked, with no preface. Without a moment's hesitation she answered, "Yes. But it was petrified. Like a rock." Her early memories were strong, too. Durable. Fixed.

    My life of crime began in 1958 with the theft of a Christmas pudding, left to cool in the kitchen. I hid it, grew afraid of being caught, and never once touched it. It turned to stone, whole, still in the baking bowl.

    We had lots of good hiding places. The house was a split level, with a spacious half-floor empty space below the two bedrooms forming the next-to-bottom level. My brother and I -- in truth, my brother -- built a cluster of little rooms from construction scraps left by the builder, all carpeted, wired for light, and outfitted with primitive furniture from discards and Japanese orange boxes.

    My brother was quite resourceful.

    The girl commented on this, saying when they first moved in she marvelled at the labyrinth under the floor. We had a nice chat. I pointed to the back garden, observing they'd cut down my pine tree. When we finished grade one everyone was given a pine tree, the size of your thumb. Mine had grown to about three feet tall when we made the move to Calgary.

    "It got too big for the back garden," she said. "But we didn't cut it down. We moved it -- there." And she pointed to a huge pine tree to one side of us in the front garden.

    It was forty feet high!

    Once again I was visibly amazed -- stunned -- and she smiled brightly at me. I could see she liked me. Lobsang had already taught me how to see people's colour. I could also see she was healthy and fit.

    But she was distant as well, and I couldn't understand why. I wanted to propose to her right on the spot, buy the house for us, and live happily ever after. Just like that. But I could see she wouldn't have it. I could tell by the colour in the air about her. But I didn't understand why. The right thing seemed clear; but I didn't understand there were other connected things -- related things -- that had to precede the right thing at the right time. Things that mattered to attractive young women like her.

    Like, that I'd love Mustangs or Lincolns rather than Gremlins. That I would wear clean, pressed cotton trousers and a sports jacket rather than tired blue jeans (stained with a dozen oil changes and blood from torn knuckles) and a dirty, ill-fitting, thermal-lined denim jacket. That I might trouble to shower in the morning every day.

    I couldn't see any of these things.

    Nobody could teach me, either. Not seeing doesn't mean neglecting. It means not seeing. Invisible. Never entering the mind. Anything said about it is not comprehended.

    Lobsang especially couldn't help, even with the inside line he had to my understanding. Next to him, I was a model of style, grace, and fashionability. He didn't see much of those things either.

    He had a few other blank spots, too. The bad ones were connected to the manner in which he came to the knowledge he had.

    In a single stroke, the worst of those shortcomings completely undermined his credibility for many people.

    I knew how it'd happened, the first time I looked into his eyes, the first day we met. You could never have known this from his books. If you could tell at all, you had to look into his eyes.

Continues...

Copyright © 1999 Paul Davies. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1999-08-02:
From a well-traveled, much-published (nine books) Canadian writer, who has tried his hand at a bewildering number of careers, comes a candid, intelligent and splendidly droll little autobiographical novel. In 108 short chapters, or "thoughts," the nameless protagonist recounts his meandering life from birth in 1954 to middle-age, assuming the roles of, variously, a musician, book designer, motorcycle racer and mathematician. In his mid-20s, after abandoning his first successful incarnation as an antiquarian bookseller, he embarks on a quest to find meaning in his life, and in 1978 begins a friendship with cult figure Lobsang, an English plumber miraculously transformed into a self-styled Tibetan mystic. The narrator's subsequent travels include stops all over Canada, odysseys to the U.K. and the U.S. and an expedition near Baffin Bay in the High Arctic, but his culminating adventure is his quest for his great love, Gabrielle, a dancer in musical theater, which goes tantalizingly unrealized until the novel's bittersweet denouement. Davies's hero, a modern-day hybrid of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, jousts at scores of life's windmills, but he pokes fun at himself along the way, almost always avoiding the spiritual sponginess that is the hazard of the book's theme. In short, sharp sentences, Davies gives an ironic yet affectionate account of a nomadic, self-searching life. Readers will be left wondering what this New Age Renaissance man will come up with next. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
Review Quotes
A highly accomplished and subtle book ... Davies has really found his voice. - W.J. Keith
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, August 1999
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Summaries
Main Description
A prototypical new age guru, a fraud, or a god. An inscrutable bombshell in gold. A near death experience in an AMC Gremlin. Another on bad drugs. Eventually, even an epitaph. The record business, book business, oil business and other bizarre jobs -- a square peg in the round hole of the maelstrom, the elusive toehold peace might be. Grand Theft Christmas pudding and an ex who takes everything -- even the kitchen sink. Zero, less than zero, in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Cleveland and Buffalo. This is the story of an uneasy détente, the persistence of one man's awkward rapport with fate. It is about giving up on the idea of trying to resolve your problems. About laughing at them because they are going to be funny to someone, someday, anyway. About finding the thread that connects everything and pulling it, once and for all. About when savouring the truth, as unpleasant as it may be, is the only thing that gets you through the night. Maybe. Or, maybe not. This is the kind of fiction that is so strange it could be somebody's biography: it hurts, haunts, and laughs its ass off, and who knows, it just might even be true.
Main Description
The coming-of-age story of a thirty something, eccentric man
Main Description
A prototypical new age guru, a fraud, or a god. An inscrutable bombshell in gold. A near death experience in an AMC Gremlin. Another on bad drugs. Eventually, even an epitaph.The record biz, book biz, oil biz and other bizarre jobs - a square peg in the round hole of the maelstrom, the elusive toehold peace might be.Grand Theft Christmas pudding and an ex who takes everything - even the kitchen sink. Zero, less than zero, in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Cleveland and Buffalo.The Truth is the story of an uneasy détente, the persistence of one man's awkward rapport with fate. It's about giving up on the idea of trying to resolve your problems. About laughing at them because they're going to be funny to someone, someday, anyway. About finding the thread that connects everything and pulling it, once and for all. About when savouring the truth, as unpleasant as it may be, is the only thing that gets you through the night. Maybe. Or, maybe not.The Truth is the kind of fiction that's so strange it could be somebody's biography: it hurts, haunts, and laughs its ass off, and who knows, it just might even be true.

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