ím a writer. I live in vicarious flashes stealing moments from the lives of people I imagine. Itís almost sad sometimes. Imagine writing yourself a love scene because youíre alone or creating a hero to compensate for your own cowardice. Sure it feels good for a moment or two, but in the long run, youíre simply reiterating over and over how banal your life is.
I work in a boring job for a boring company doing boring work for boring customers. I live in a bland little condo in a drab neighborhood in a blasé town. For us, news is when someone we know gets picked up for speeding. My neighbors, unlike myself, are all in their mid-thirties with shiny two-year-old cars and four-year-old children. In other words, I live a life so purely boring that escape into fantasy is the only viable option. Each day I come home to my empty little condo and imagine my way through another lonely night.
I watch award shows every time theyíre on, which these days seems to be almost a nightly occurrence. It doesnít even matter what show it is. Iíve spent several hours watching the International Bluegrass Music Awards Show with no knowledge of the participants, no interest in bluegrass music, and no connection to the hosts. It was just on, and I watched it. Does the knowledge that the Emerging Bluegrass Artist of the Year for 2000 was Nickel Creek in any way add depth or joy to my life? No. But when Iíve got nothing in me worth writing, something needs to fill the void.
The trouble with being a writer is that youíre great at imagining yourself in all sorts of amazing situations, but youíre terrible at actually getting yourself into them. In my head Iíve won everything from the Oscar for Best Actor to the Handy for Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year. Iíve been a strung out heroin addict, a homosexual prostitute with a heart of gold, and an angry feminist on a killing spree.
Often I will find myself behaving strangely, trying to flush out a character in my mind by being them for a while. Iíll buy groceries, but itís not me buying them. Itís David Thorton, the skinny white kid with the shotgun in his locker. David has different mannerisms, a different style of speech, and a different sense of how things go. Buying groceries as David may not get me into any trouble, but it answers some questions about David that only a writer or a method actor would care to ask.
I mention David because thatís who I was ďbeingĒ when I got home and found the notice that I was being nominated for an award. That moment was actually wasted on a character I didnít really like, and it made me more than a little angry to know that David would react so coldly to my success. At any rate, I quickly came to my senses and reveled a bit. I reread the letter and found out that I had been nominated in the short story category for the Alberta Avant Garde Literary Awards. Naturally, I was tickled.
Thereís a funny thing that happens to a person when they get some recognition for their work. We all like to pretend we are graceful and dignified, but the first thing we do is hit the phone, call our parents up, and laugh about how awesome it is. We then proceed to casually mention it to everyone we know in a ďWhat, had I forgot to mention it? It really is a trifle boringĒ sort of way. We then dismiss our chances of winning the award and listen enraptured to the people who tell us that there is no way we canít have won. I wonder if Shakespeare ever felt like this.
Whatever will I wear?
I had to buy myself a new shirt on the way to the event because my sweat had soaked through the one I was wearing in dark patches, and I ended up showing my face about half an hour later than I wanted to. By that time, the media had shown up, which basically meant a couple of local journalists and a handful of hack comedians pretending to be serious long enough to make you say something stupid. Fortunately, I managed to get through the lineup unscathed. None of them knew who I was and assumed I was someoneís moral support or something. That hurt.
I should mention briefly that the Alberta Avant Garde Literary Awards have a tremendous, lofty sounding name. The awards themselves are bowling trophies, which for the record is the intent and not a sign of their being a cheap organization. If you want a sign that they are a cheap organization, then you have to actually get into the gala and look around.
The walls of the room are yellow painted rock covered from the ground to about four feet high with paneling that has seen better days. It looks like it has had a knife taken to it, but I am assuming that is just an interesting effect of age and general misuse. The room has an acrid, uriney smell subtly hiding under about a generationís worth of nicotine buildup. Overall, one would describe the decoratorís intentions as cruel and the skill level as incompetent.
Each of the ten or so tables holds ten or so people, all of whom are here either to support loved ones or to see if they havenít won an award. Nearly everyone is dressed in their Sunday best, not really knowing what they are in for, but a few faces in the crowd have obviously been invited in years gone by. Those people were dressed in a variety of styles, always comfortable but fashionable. The woman next to me was nominated for some award for an article she wrote. Frankly, I donít care. This is not the evening of glamour and mystery that I was expecting.
When I was much younger I swore myself off of lottery tickets. I bought a ticket when the jackpot was sitting at $10 Million, which for a Canadian lottery is pretty great. I bought a ticket because I might as well. I knew I wouldnít win, that my luck didnít work that way. I knew that millions of people would be buying tickets, and all stood the same chance of winning as I.
Somehow, it occurred to me that I would win. It was obvious. This was the first time I ever bought a ticket. The person that won the big jackpot was always some moron who had never bought a ticket before, but just wound up buying one that time on a whim. That was me. I was going to win. I knew it. I argued with myself, but I put up a pretty weak argument. Deep down, I knew. I planned out exactly what things I would buy, I figured out who I would tell off, and I even mapped out my new house. I was prepared.
You know where this is going. I didnít win squat. And as I watched those numbers roll in I somehow felt robbed, like the universe had suddenly dropped the ball. Someone was out there blowing my 10 million, and they werenít even telling off the people on my list. It wasnít fair. I grew depressed. Eventually, I realized lottery tickets and I would never end up being friends. I banned myself.
Iím sitting at this table for ten nervously counting the coffee stains on the table cloth because I donít want to stare up at the coffee stains on the drop ceiling and wonder how in the hell so much coffee wound up falling upwards. And I know that I am going to win the award. The story I wrote, the one that they nominated me for, is an incredible story. Itís my best work yet, and Iím no slouch. Now, I admit that Iím not Robertson Davies, but Iíve never wanted to be. Iím me, and that is just fine and dandy. Robertson Davies wouldnít win that award. Itís my damned award, and nobody can take it from me.
The serious and credible journalist next to me has beads of nervous sweat forming on her cleavage. I wish I could tell you that I was staring at her chest because the sweat caught my eyes, but the truth is that sheís got a nice rack. Yeah, itís not polite to say it, but I donít feel very polite right now. Man, those are fine breasts. Her dress is low cut and slinky, but still quite elegant. I canít stop myself imagining taking her to a quiet corner of the room for a little sex. I donít think the organizers would like that, but the caterers would find it pretty damn funny I bet. Of course I donít bother extending the invitation. I donít need a slap, or worse yet, a lawsuit. When was it that women became men?
Nice Rack won the award for that little article. It turns out the article was actually some pretty spectacular investigative journalism that I remembered from a few months back. Now that I know sheís not just a beautiful woman but an award winning journalist I should really avoid thinking of her as Nice Rack. When she sat down next to me I congratulated her and she gave me this incredibly strong and close hug and whispered in my ear something a little bit lewd. As we drew apart there was an inviting smile on her lips. I had to say something. ďNice rack.Ē Would you believe that worked?
When they announced the winner of my award, it was lottery tickets all over. As much as I knew I wasnít going to win I knew I was. Hell, Iíve been watching awards shows for three weeks straight trying to figure out what people say that best works the crowd. The award went to a contemporary of mine, someone that had obviously been to the show before and was already quite drunk. His speech was lifeless, but having read his story I wasnít surprised. I would have been really bitter if my darling little journalistís hand wasnít hidden inside my suit pants. Thereís something about having your genitals caressed that just takes the sting out of defeat.
The commotion started right about then, if memory serves. The drunken lout at the podium was telling us all about how inspiration had pulled him awake in the middle of the night and forced him to his typewriter. I remembered thinking that there was no way in hell that much of anything would have awakened him from a good stupor. Suddenly, there was a loud noise and we all jumped.
Who robs an awards ceremony? Well, it takes a very special sort. In this case, we have a gentleman who would later be identified as Elvin Neuwirth. Elvinís need for drug money obviously overpowered his common sense, and he decided that this little function would make for a good haul.
David Thorton, my imaginary teenaged angst character, suddenly dove for the man with the gun in true heroic fashion. Unfortunately for David, heís a figment of my imagination and has to use my body. As I stood up, Nice Rackís hand was still in my pants and the suddenness of the movement caused it to grate against my zipper on the way out. She received a superficial cut to the back of her wrist. Unfortunately, by removing her hand from my pants, she also managed to accidentally pull certain other things into the light of day with it.
Thatís when the lights started to flash. I was the hero, diving at the villain and bringing swift, hard justice to the situation. It would have made great copy. Unfortunately, the hero is never supposed to show his penis. Think about it, no matter how tight Supermanís outfit was you never knew, did you. And you looked. You know you looked.
The pictures never appeared in the paper. A few of them appeared in my mailbox, or in emails that people sent out to their friends for a chuckle. The paper made mention of the evening, and that an attending author had tackled the assailant and held him at bay with a length of pipe. I suppose I should be flattered. Nice Rack was a little on the embarrassed side. I donít think anyone knew for sure where her hand had been, but she suddenly felt the need to go home. I asked if she wanted company and she shot me quite a look.
So I didnít get the girl, I didnít win the award, and even though I saved the day I still managed to embarrass the hell out of myself and guarantee that I wouldnít be invited back. I have since sworn off of awards shows.
Jim Martin is a 28 Calgarian writer and punk rocker.
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