(A selection of my more tongue-in-cheek compositions)
The Sorrows of Young Werther’s Original™
By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(On a grey and frosty December morning of the year 1773, the body of the passionate and idealistic young artist Werther was discovered lying on the floor of his study with a bullet wound to the head. By his side was a pistol, along with a wrapper from a Werther’s Original™ cream candy. He had shot himself in despair over his impossible love for the married Charlotte S. , the daughter of a local estate officer. It is to his beloved Lotte, as she was known to him, that Werther addressed his dramatic and heart-wrenching suicide note, which we transcribe below:)
-Past Eleven O’Clock
All around me is so silent, and my soul is so calm. I thank Thee, God, for granting me this consolatory sweetness in my last moments.
I step to the window, dearest Lotte, and through the tempestuous clouds being driven by I can see, I can still see a few stars of the eternal heaven. Often I have gazed up at the stars, drunk with rapture, and perhaps, as now, sucking on a delicious Werther’s Original candy, the sweetness of which I had come to revere as a sacred symbol of my happiness! But oh, Lotte, what is there that does not remind me of you! In these my final moments, my thoughts are turned entirely to you, to the memories of the happy hours we once spent together.
Also, somewhat incongruously, perhaps, –Who can fathom the workings of a mind on the brink of self-annihilation?- I find myself thinking back to the very first candy given to me by my grandfather: It was Werther’s Original, and I was just a boy. I shall never forget that first taste – sweet and creamy and… just plain good!
And now, Lotte, now it is a very different candy that I must swallow. You see, Lotte, I do not flinch from taking the cold and bitter pill from which I must suck upon the sleep of death! You handed it to me, and I do not hesitate, no more than I hesitated that day –Alas! So many years ago!- when I was just four years old, and my dear grandfather first handed me that luscious, melt-in-your-mouth candy!
To think that I might have enjoyed the happiness of dying for you! Of sacrificing myself for you, Lotte! Or, failing that, to think that I might have lived to old age, and become a grandfather myself, with a grandchild of my own, to whom I would have given -what else?- Werther’s Originals, made with the freshest ingredients and loving care in manufacture, from a recipe crafted with European tradition! But all of this, I see now, is never to be.
I wish to be buried in these clothes, Lotte; you touched them and they are sacred. The pink ribbon you wore at your breast the first time I saw you amongst your children –oh, give them a thousand kisses, and tell them the fate of your wretched friend. Dear creatures! Perhaps you could give them each a Werther’s Original before you do so, to soften the blow –This ribbon is to be buried with me. Along with, I beseech you, this last golden Werther’s Original wrapper, the likes of which have enveloped so many of my sweetest memories. I have made the request of your father also.
Ah, I little thought that my path was leading me this way! Be of peaceful heart, I implore you! Be of peaceful heart! Always remember, Lotte, you are someone very special, someone very special indeed, deserving of the very best in all things, right down to the candy that you select for yourself and for your dear sweet children.
They are loaded – It is striking twelve! The last bit of indulgent creamy goodness has melted down my throat! So be it! Lotte! Grandpa! Soft and sweet and uncommonly good Werther’s Originals, adieu! Adieu!
***************************************************************************************************** The Ownanist Manifesto
Onanism: n. masturbation [After Onan, son of Judas (Genesis 38:9)]
As a young Republican, I am a strong believer in pulling yourself up by your own efforts, on not relying on handouts from anyone. The hard truth of the matter is that the key to an energetic and vigorous economy is for every man and woman to look out primarily for his or her own private interests, to focus on the pursuit of their own happiness. This approach -one that puts responsibility for the success of individuals squarely in their own hands, and makes them masters of their fate – I like to call “own-anism.” I am a firm believer that the ownanist way of doing things is the solution to the deep economic and societal frustrations currently confronting us here in America.
Although I only recently came up with the term ownanism, I feel that it perfectly encapsulates a philosophy by which I have been living my life for a very long time now. Since at least my early adolescence, when I first began to develop my political instincts, I have been an ardent devotee of the ownanist approach. While many of my peers were neglecting their studies in favour of smoking illegal narcotics and engaging in irresponsible sexual behaviour, I would close myself in my room, pull down the shades, and get to work, often into the wee hours of the night. Sure, it could be draining at times, but I came away from those all nighters with a deep sense of satisfaction that comes from a job well done. Best of all, when I achieved success, I knew that I had come by it entirely through my own efforts, that I hadn’t had to count on anyone but myself. This habit of self-reliance came in extremely handy in college as well, and has continued to service me throughout my adult life.
As I look about me today, however, I can’t but help notice that, unfortunately, not everyone is as committed as I am to such an ownanist approach in their own lives. Far from taking matters into their own hands, many Americans these days would rather make their way on the backs of others, and suck on the government teat. It’s pretty clear by now that the ultimate result of the fed continuing to inject massive loads of money into failed social programs is just to encourage people to lie back and let someone else do all the work for them. Sometimes you just want to grab them and give them a good shake! What happened to the idea of personal responsibility? To taking hold of one’s own life with a firm grasp, and working away at one’s problems until they are ultimately resolved? Sure, some people will get there more rapidly than others, but I am confident that, if they keep at it, everyone will attain a high level of personal satisfaction with the ownanist approach. Not to mention the fact that all of this ownanism would be sure to have some trickle down effect.
So come on, my fellow ownanists, it’s time to roll up our sleeves, and go to work! Let’s get America’s economy pumping again!
A Lesson in Poetry
Jack stared broodingly out the window at the falling snow, and as he did so, he reflected that he himself was like that snow, ethereal and pure, fallen down to earth only to be trampled underfoot by unfeeling, indifferent passersby, ground down into the philistine muck and cast aside in the ditch by people whose only concern was to get to work on time, or sucked up and spat out by lascivious snowblowers.
Why in all hell had he come back to this frosty, winter-desolate city? Only a week ago, he had been in New Orleans, where he had been hanging out for the last couple of months, performing spoken word poetry in sweaty, smoke-filled jazz joints, supplementing his meagre earnings by turning tricks for drunken closeted frat boys in Bourbon Street back alleys (Women he charged half price).
Everything had been going along well enough for a time, especially on the literary front. His dazzling poems of heart-ache and ecstasy, which he would come up with there and then, freely riffing on the madcap flow of the backing band playing improvisational jazz, had the audiences hollering with delight, his words sliding and swelling like liquid silver upon the tossing swoops and dives of the mad free-form cacophony of horns behind him.
“A watchawatchawatcha doin’
Tooooo my heart, baby,
Like a tweedledeedleneeeeeeeeeeeeadle
In my veins, honey
You’re like a druggadrugga
A rush! A rush!
To the head, honey,
TOOOooooo the head!
That was how he would lay it down, and the hopped-up ragamuffins in attendance just couldn’t get enough of it. The trouble came, however, when these jazz-mad cats, many of whom had come from the farthest reaches of the Mississippi delta just to bask in the glory of Jack’s honey-tongued incantations, began complaining that they couldn’t clearly make out all of the words over the blaring of the band. They demanded that the musicians turn it down a few notches, so as to permit a proper appreciation of every inspired metaphor and dizzying phonetic twist. At first the band had obliged, albeit grudgingly, but Jack soon became keenly aware of the resentment that his talent had, once again, brought down upon him. And so it was that, one star-filled Louisiana night, he had packed up his battered suitcase and begun hitchhiking his way up north, all the way to the Canadian border, where he had then jumped a freight train to Montreal.
And now here he was, staring out the window in the apartment of his long-time friend and sometimes lover Larissa, who had agreed to put him up for as long as he wanted, although she knew very well that, given Jack’s incurable wanderlust, that would probably not be for a very long time at all. Larissa was a student at McGill University, where she was majoring in English Literature. She was from a rich Westmount family, quite pretty, if not beautiful, and endowed with enough sense to have long given up on understanding Jack in his full profundity, though she recognized in him the unmistakable signs of true genius.
“What are you brooding about over there?” she called out chidingly from where she was typing away at her macbook across the room.
“Sorry, doll”, Jack muttered, pulling out a bag of tobacco, and beginning to roll a cigarette. “I was just thinkin’…. ‘bout the snow.”
“Yeah, it’s really pretty, don’t you find?”
“Yeah, sure, real pretty, that’s what they all say… just so long as it knows its place, right?”
He made no reply, but only lit his expertly-rolled cigarette, and resumed staring out the window.
“Oh, you!” Larissa exclaimed in mock exasperation, “I give up! You and that cryptical mind of yours!”
She closed the lid of her laptop.
“I’ll tell you what! What you need is to get out of the house for a few hours. Take your mind off things. Listen, why don’t you come along to my poetry class this afternoon, Jack? I think you’d really like it. It’s being taught by Walton McCready, the famous poet, and he’s just amazing! Such a passion for poetry, and so knowledgeable! Plus I’m sure the other students in the class would love to meet you, and maybe hear you read some of your own poetry afterwards. What do you say?”
Jack was sceptical. Other than Larissa, everyone he had ever met who had been even remotely connected with McGill had been a hopeless bourgeois drone, mindlessly parroting the status-quo-upholding propaganda of their fossilized professors, whatever vitality and originality their minds had once possessed now thoroughly evacuated so as to better fit the desiccated academic style of the dusty books that lined the walls of their gloomy concrete libraries. Yes, that was it, they were just like a bunch of dull, pictureless, stylelessly-bound books, all slotted into their little place upon the university library’s endless rows of mouldering grey shelves.
“Endless, fact-filled shelves… Where no one still believes in the magic world of elves…”
Hmm! That wasn’t bad. He could feel a poem coming on. Perhaps a visit to the McGill intellectual graveyard would provide inspiration for a poetical denunciation of the ossification of young minds at the hands of the academic-industrial complex.
So it was that, twenty minutes later, Jack and Larissa were stepping through the Roddick Gates that mark the entrance to the McGill campus. It had stopped snowing, and Jack’s ruggedly-chiselled jaw flashed blindingly in the late-afternoon sunlight. Several of the passing female students stopped dead in their tracks, staring at him open-mouthed, the classes they had been rushing to a moment before now completely forgotten.
They came to Larissa’s class. The course being given was entitled “Issues of Eroticism and Auto-Eroticism in Canadian Poetry”. The teacher, Walton McCready, was a tall, lean man in his early forties, with a very long but neatly-maintained red beard and antiquated-looking spectacles set upon a small pointy nose. He was wearing the standard university-issue tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, paired on this occasion with an olive-green wool scarf, which he left nonchalantly draped about his neck, in spite of the fact that it was very warm inside of the heated classroom.
McCready began by informing his students that, subsequent to their repeated demands, he would be opening the class with a recital of one of his own poems. There came a generalized squeal of delight from the students. Jack, however, stared impassively at the ceiling.
“Do you realize how lucky we are?” Larissa whispered over to him excitedly. “We’ve been begging him to read us something since the semester began and he’s always refused until now! Oh, this is so amazing!” She clapped her hands together in gleeful anticipation.
Walton McCready waited for the bustle of excitement to die down, and then resumed speaking in his thin, nasally voice:
“This is a recent work of mine, which, I have recently had the pleasure of having been informed, is to be included in the annual publication of the prestigious Fredericton Literary Review.” He cleared his throat. “The piece is entitled ‘Communion’:”
“What age-old, solemn rite is this,
Enacted now upon our lovers’ bed?
Weaving together the separate strands
Of our bodies’ amorous recountings,
Reconfiguring our lustful memories
In a joint historiography of the flesh.
As the rules of the ancient, primal liturgy demand,
We set about our urgent task;
You kneel down over me
In a kind of silent prayer
Or pagan idol worship,
A vestal virgin divested of all virginity
Tending to her sacred flame.
And presently I am within you,
And your modulated moans
Recall a convulsive litany of “Our Fathers”
Before erupting into the triumphant hallelujah.
Like a soaring one-woman choir, you…”
But at this point, McCready’s reedy monotone was interrupted by a loud interjection from Jack, his clear voice ringing out like a gunshot from across the classroom:
“I just hope you realize she’s faking it!”
“What?! Who… Who dares?” Spluttered McCready in shock and indignation, his little pointy nose colouring a deep red between his wire spectacles. Among the students, too, several voices now rose up against Jack in strident protestation.
“Not surprising, really, if you’re as much of a bore in bed as you are on paper!” Jack continued with a sneer. “If we fake some applause now, will you get this poem over with sooner too, Professor?”
“Why of all the impudent…” began McCready, striding along the main aisle towards Jack in a seething rage, but Larissa now shot up from her seat and cried out to her teacher imploringly.
“Wait, Professor! I’m so, so sorry, Professor McCready, sir, he doesn’t mean to offend, I’m sure of it! It’s just that, you see, Jack is a poet too, and he has very strong opinions where poetry is concerned. I think what he was trying to say is…”
“O-ho!” snorted McCready in a mirthless laugh, fixing Jack with a venomous stare. “So, we’re a poet, are we?”
“That’s what they tell me,” replied Jack impassively, leaning backwards on the two hind legs of his chair.
“Unpublished, I presume?”
“Unsubmitted”, Jack shot back cooly. “My poems aren’t a bunch of dried up flowers, to be pressed flat and forgotten between the pages of some dusty book!”
The class, which had been loudly inveighing against Jack, now quieted down somewhat as they absorbed the significance and power of his metaphor.
“Ha!” scoffed McCready, “The truth of the matter is you’re afraid, aren’t you, my poor fellow? Because deep down, I think you realize only too well that your so-called poems are nothing but the idle scribblings of a piddling poetaster!”
At this Jack’s jet-black eyes flashed with burning indignation, and he leapt to his feet.
“Alright, that’s it! You fuckin’ asked for it!” he shouted, and reaching into the pocket of his beat-up duffel coat, he extracted a crumpled piece of paper, completely covered on both sides with reams of thickly scrawled writing. “Now, everyone just shut your mouths, open your damn fuckin’ ears, and try to listen! You want poetry, well I’ll give you some damn poetry!”
McCready signalled for the class to be silent. “No, no, let him, let him. This ought to be quite amusing”, he told them with a snigger, leaning back against his desk with his arms folded, already savouring his coming vindication.
Sweeping back his dark locks from in front of his piercing eyes, and clearing his throat with a mock theatricality that drew another snort from McCready, Jack launched into his poem. It was one of his most recent creations, in which his earlier Beat and French Symbolist influences were infused with a new energy derived from the stream-of-consciousness improvisational style he had honed in the New Orleans jazz holes. It was an explosive combination, the full powers of which Jack had only just begun to suspect.
“This is called ‘Garden of Eden Blues’:”
“’I y’am what I y’am’,
Said Popeye to the serpent,
As Adam and Eve
Were fucking God’s brains out.
Bingo bango bongo
Tintin’s in his snowy Congo
Licking the Captain’s heart of darkness.
Buckets of eyeballs
‘The better to see you with, my dear’
‘The better to ball you with’,
Said the Big Bad Wolf,
Between puffs of imperialist tobacco,
As he fingered Bo Peep’s little red riding hood.
I want to be the poisoned fruit
I want to be the razorblade
In the candy-coated apple of your life,
Shred up all your innards,
Just to make you feel.
He finished reading, and in the silence that followed, there could be heard in the audience a number of suppressed feminine moans. Such had been the power of Jack’s inspired words, and such the virile intensity of his delivery, that a few of the girls in attendance had been brought to spontaneous orgasm in their seats.
A few seconds later, as the audience recovered from its stunned rapture, the classroom suddenly exploded into a roaring cataract of delirious applause. Never before in all of the university’s hallowed history had the halls of the McGill English Lit Department rung out with such earth-shatteringly powerful words of devastating beauty and truth, and now professor and students alike began prostrating themselves upon the floor in wild, ecstatic veneration.
“F-forgive me, m-my… m-master…,” was all Walton McCready could stammer out, as he huddled on the floor, clutching manically to a leg of his desk, like a drowning man clinging to some passing driftwood. Many of the students then commenced ripping out the pages from what they now saw as their hopelessly inadequate textbooks, or hurling them against the windows, shattering the glass. A number of the girls began tearing off their clothes in an effort to outbid one another for Jack’s attention.
A few of the students, however, had managed to gather their senses together well enough to think to run and spread the news to the rest of the department. Moments later, practically the entire English Literature faculty and student body were crowding into McCready’s classroom, cramming one another against the walls like sardines in their efforts just to get a good look at the dark-eyed poet messiah. A number of the students had begun frenziedly clamouring for the piece of paper on which Jack’s poem was written, and Jack obligingly threw it out into the grasping fray, which immediately tore it to shreds in the eagerness of each one of them to appropriate it for his or herself. They then began crying out for Jack to empty the entire contents of his pockets, in the hopes that there might be more life-altering poems inside. Their eyes flashed with a mad gleam that suggested they would stop at nothing until they had rifled through every inch of Jack’s person in search of even the smallest scrap of writing, be it only a shopping list or the washing instructions label on the inside of his shirt.
“Jack!” Larissa yelled out, “They’ll tear you apart! We’ve got to get you out of here!”
With Larissa flinging her laptop bag against the crazed horde and Jack trusting to his fists, the two of them managed to cut a path for themselves towards the exit.
In the meantime, some of the students, in the throes of poetry-induced delirium, had begun setting fire to the curtains with their pocket lighters, and soon the whole of McCready’s classroom was engulfed in flames.
In a mad dash, Jack and Larissa raced out into the corridor and out the front door of the Arts Building, and then across the campus towards the Roddick Gates. Only when they had safely mingled in with the crowd that was forming on Sherbrooke Street did they dare to take a look backwards, and when they did, it was to see the whole of the Arts Building lit up in a blazing, towering inferno. There then came a huge rumbling noise, and Jack and Larissa watched as the whole of the venerable old building suddenly collapsed upon itself in a great billowing cloud of fire.
Oh my God! Oh my God!” Larissa was sobbing, “This is so terrible! And to think I was on my way to getting an ‘A’ in that class… What am I going to do?! … And what are you going to do, Jack?” She grabbed him urgently by the sleeve of his duffel coat. “When the police get wind of how this all went down, they’ll come hunting for you for sure! They’ll try to stop you from ever reciting your poetry again. Your writing is just too powerful!”
“Fine by me,” Jack replied, lighting a cigarette, “I write poetry for me, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if other people hear it or not.”
“Yes, but Jack, don’t you see? They’ll lock you up and throw away the key! Oh Jack! You’ve just got to leave town, and right away!”
Jack took a long, meditative drag, staring out at the smouldering pile of rubble that had been the centrepiece of the university campus.
“An enjoyable reading,” he said to himself, “But I guess I won’t be sticking around for the wine and cheese.”
He turned to her.
“So long, doll. I figure we have time for one last tongue down.”
He gave her a long, smouldering kiss, lingering deliciously for several moments, and then finally pulling away.
“Got to go, babe!” he said, returning his cigarette to his lips.
He had been about to suggest they go back to her place for a more proper goodbye, but he decided against it. He wouldn’t want her to her to read too much into it, and besides, he had a boxcar to catch.