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Authors: Guy Vanderhaeghe

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My Present Age

BOOK: My Present Age
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My Present Age

My Present Age
is black comedy at its intimate and subversive best.”

– Douglas Barbour,
Canadian Literature

“Very nearly unique among present-day novels of any sort: like Philip Roth and almost no one else, Vanderhaeghe has the ability to make you root for the protagonist without setting up straw men or women for the protagonist.…”

– Greil Marcus,
, Berkeley (U.S.)

“A fast, fluent and very funny novel.… This is a hilarious, bleakly realistic comedy about modern life’s conformists and casualties. Or more precisely, about what can happen when it’s finally time to grow up – and you can’t.”

Image Magazine

“[A] wonderful first novel.… Brilliantly funny and very sad.”

San Jose Mercury News

“Compassionate, humorous, and thematically important.”

Bloomsbury Review

“A deftly done novel.…
[My Present Age
is] astonishing in conception and execution.…”

San Diego Magazine

“An irresistible first novel.… An achievement.…”


“A beautifully sustained performance.”

USA Today


My Present Age
The Englishman’s Boy

Man Descending
The Trouble With Heroes
Things As They Are?

I Had a Job I Liked. Once
. (1992)
Dancock’s Dance

Copyright © 1984 by Guy Vanderhaeghe

Cloth edition published by Macmillan of Canada 1984
This trade paperback edition published 2000

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

Vanderhaeghe, Guy, 1951–
      My present age

eISBN: 978-1-55199-569-4

I. Title.

PS8593.A5386M9   2000      c813’.54      C99-933053-5
PR9199.3.V384M9 2000

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program for our publishing activities. We further acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program.

McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
75 Sherbourne Street,
Toronto, Ontario
M5A 2P9



he Beast destroyed my brief peace. Before him I could live without guilt, unwatched; for the first time in my life I found myself in the unfamiliar situation of having no one to disappoint. My wife, Victoria, had walked out on me months before, and although I wished she hadn’t, her departure meant I could do more or less as I liked. My father, recently retired, had removed himself and my mother to a mobile-home park near Brownsville, Texas, a sprawling anthill of pensioned worker ants, thousands of miles away. That meant Pop no longer had his eye on me. There was no one left to offend, no one to despair of me and my misdemeanours. After a fashion, I was free.

Free to do what? To give up selling china in a department store and to spend luxurious mornings in bed, rereading
The Last of the Mohicans, Shane, Kidnapped
, or
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
. My father, if he’d known what I was up to, would have disapproved most severely of the former, my wife of the latter. Not that they would have cared for either. It’s merely a question of emphasis. Pop’s preference is for successful and dutiful; Victoria’s for the successful and intellectual.

Which is why I’ve been such a thorough disappointment to both, and why I resent so much The Beast calling public attention to my failings. I suppose I ought to forgive him by reminding myself it isn’t his fault that he lacks the imagination to see what he is doing. But I can’t. Particularly when I look back on those glorious, innocent mornings, that
paradis perdu
, before the Great Persecution began.

Now, lying on my side, comforter tucked securely under my chin, I struggle to dampen my rage while the February morning sunshine leaks into my bedroom. The thick glaze of ice and frost on the windowpane filters this winter light of all warmth and colour. The scarred dresser with one jammed drawer, the cardboard wardrobe with Allied Van Lines stencilled on its side, the shoulder-high smudges on the wall plaster, the books heaped in the corners of the room or cracked open on the floor so that they rise in wedges, spines lifted to the ceiling, all look discoloured and neglected in this spent, tired sunshine. It is difficult to read the titles of the books from my horizontal position. Cheek pressed into the mattress, one eye narrowed in a squint, I can decipher only one.
The Heart of Midlothian

The sound of The Beast’s voice has given me a headache. Downstairs, in the apartment directly below mine, old McMurtry has his radio tuned to the local open-line show. I can imagine McMurtry seated beside the set, his angular old shoulders raised in a buzzard’s hunch, hairy ear cocked to capture every wrathful syllable spurting from The Beast’s lips. The old man’s devotion to the
homo horribilis
who “hosts” this Roman circus of the airwaves is fervent, complete. I am regularly treated to a tinny harangue rising up through my floorboards, the words fantastically distorted by the demands McMurtry’s deafness places on the speaker of his cheap transistor.

Between the two of them, The Beast and McMurtry, I have almost been driven from my apartment. I would have been gone long ago if this building weren’t old enough to fall under rent
controls. There is nowhere else I could find to live as cheaply, and given my circumstances, living cheaply is necessary.

So, one might ask, why not make the best of it? Why should I desire to deny a gentleman in his declining years the grisly pleasure of feasting on the carrion The Beast serves up to his audience as Food For Thought? I have never considered myself a particularly illiberal man, a man who would wish to dim the joy of a fellow adrift in the sunset days of a long and blissfully cantankerous life.

Because The Beast and McMurtry
talk about me
on the radio. That’s why.

It’s an old joke. The madman is informed by the psychiatrist that he is paranoid. “That may be,” he replies, “but that doesn’t stop people from plotting against me.” My point exactly.

heard them. To be specific, on six occasions in the last two months. They started slandering me some time after I quit my job as a salesman in the china department of Eaton’s. No, not delusions. I

The first time was at breakfast. There I was, hung over but still manfully shovelling home the Cocoa Puffs, my radio blaring away keeping me company, when the intro music for The Beast’s program began. Even at that early date I had a pronounced loathing for The Beast and all his works, a loathing so strong that the mere sound of those gruesome strains would have ordinarily sent me clattering and clawing my way to the radio to switch stations before The Beast began to bay. But that morning I was so dolefully and deeply sunk in the post-alcoholic whim-whams that I just kept mechanically spooning home my sodden puffies while the dirge played on.

There was to be no guest that day, The Beast informed us. Instead, we were to be treated to two hours of “Brickbats and Bouquets.” From his description of this dark festival I gathered that anyone with a compliment to hand out or a grievance to vent was being encouraged to phone in. Human nature being what it is, one could be sure that the air would be thick with brickbats, and
not at all fragrant with flowers. The Beast, of course, was counting on this. Oh, he knew he would have to put up with the common run of do-gooder: some dear mom arguing in the face of all experience and evidence that
most teenagers are pretty good kids
. That sort. But that was a small yet necessary risk one ran to land the real bona fide carpet-chewers, foamers at the mouth, and public breast-beaters. Yes sir, it was from their ranks that one got real entertainment value. Give The Beast a crusading lacto-vegetarian, a One World Governmenter, a British Israelite, a bimetallist, or a confirmed pothole-watcher and his heart is glad. He knew he had a show. The reservoir of unarticulated misery, craziness, and loneliness out there is inexhaustible. No matter how many times The Beast goes to these particular wells the bucket never comes up dry.

The very first caller captured my complete attention.

“ ‘Brickbats and Bouquets,’ Tom Rollins here,” trumpeted The Beast. “Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

“Hello? Hello?”

“Sir, you’ll have to turn your radio down.”

“Hello? Tom?”

“Sir, you’ll have to turn your radio down. We have a ten-second delay. That’s what’s causing your confusion. Just turn your radio down.”


“Turn your radio down!”

An earlier instruction must have penetrated. I heard a clunk, as if a phone had been dropped to dangle. Nothing. The Beast began to scold into the sudden silence. Dead air was anathema. “Please, folks, if you want to call in, turn your radios down first. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it. It’s very important. Especially for you seniors out there who might be a little hard of—”

“Hello, Tom? Is that you?”

“None other. In the flesh, sir. We hear you loud and clear. Fire away. We’re all ears, I assure you.”

“Am I on?”

“Indeed you are. Let ’er rip.”

There was a pause, then, “You know what really gets me, Tom?”

BOOK: My Present Age
2.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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