I have writer’s block. I’ve run out of Copenhagen. I’m exactly thirty-five thousand eighteen words into a novel.
I found a source for Copenhagen, who ship it from Pennsylvania to a serviced P.O. box address I have rented in Sarasota, then it gets sent by air from Sarasota to Japan, somehow. In the meantime, I bought some Swedish snus, which is flavored with juniper, lavender, and bergamot. Copenhagen Wintergreen tastes like a barn floor and Vicks VapoRub.
The last time I ran out, I sent a half-Japanese girl I knew to pick it up on the base. Her dad was a Marine, and she came back with him, mostly to help chaperone her sister, who was trying out for idol groups and got picked up by one with a lukewarm following in Japan but a rabid fanbase in the Philippines. She brought me a log of Grizzly and didn’t ask to get paid back. Eventually, though, she moved back to San Diego. I have no idea what became of her sister.
The novel is about slaughterhouses. It’s set in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in the early 2000s. I’m not sure of the date, but the Union Hospital is still standing (but abandoned), you can still get a drink at the Brunswick, but the apartments across from the Snow Hut have already burned down. It’s inspired less by my own time working in slaughterhouses than stories from my friend Lao Liu, who I met when I returned to Moose Jaw for the first time in years, while I was living in my father’s attic with ******, and had managed to publish a few short stories. One of those short stories was based on Lao Liu stabbing an African guy in a fight at the beef plant. That happened before they locked out the workers and he went to work at ****** ***** Pork on South Hill. The previous owners of the pork plant were Taiwanese grifters that ran off with the city’s money, and it only got re-opened with heavy investment from the province.
I got a habit for dip in Regina, I think, when I worked with a bunch of hillbillies in a warehouse. I liked Skoal Cherry, then I switched to Skoal Mint.
Lots of the material for the first half of the novel was already written, whether or not I still had a copy of it. At first, I was simply rearranging it, then trying to drive a few plotlines through it.
I wrote about walking out on the CNR line, out over the creek on a timber bridge, fifty or sixty feet up over the water. I did that, once, when I was too old to be fucking around like that. It’s an interesting view of the city. You can see the National Light and Power building, the refinery tanks beyond, and then green hills. I wrote about the fire at the Gulf Refinery tanks, and about how the dams on the Thunder Creek and Moose Jaw Rivers had formed Wakamow, and how Wakamow had collected a century’s worth of industrial runoff. I wrote about the painted terracotta cameos of Native chiefs up on Fourth Avenue Bridge, how they came not from any local historical figures but from reimaginings of a photo by Joseph K. Dixon, who was brought along by Rodman Wanamaker, and a painting by Winold Reiss, a German immigrant who sold his portraits to the Great Northern Railway for their promotional calendars.
I used to get a tin of Copenhagen and a bottle of Mountain Dew every day at the Bun N’ Bottle on Athabasca, then walk down to the library and sit in one of the carrels and try to write what was essentially the novel I’m working on now. I’d drink the Mountain Dew, then spit into the bottle. You can get Mountain Dew here but good luck finding Cope Wintergreen outside of a BX.
I put the library in the book. Carnie funded it. The character in the novel stands, looking east down Athabasca, with the motel behind him, and reflects on it being one of the few places in the city that looks untouched by time. There’s the stone church there, with its uneven spires, Crescent Park, then the library with its brick and limestone facade. There’s a funeral parlor, over there, too, which is comparatively ancient, having been built sometime around the First World War. It’s a three story brick building put by some local burgher that lost everything in the Depression and sold it off in the ‘30s. The old stables still stand out back, converted to park the hearses in.
I saw that it was up for sale. I could move into a historic funeral parlor for probably eight hundred grand. I could go out and look at the old church every morning, walk over to the library, which, last time I went, had thrown out most of its books (or put them down in the basement?) Maybe that would be a more worthwhile use of my time. I’m not going to find the advertisement right now, but the realtor said something like: “Due to the nature of the business, carpet has been laid down to cut down on noise, but there is hardwood flooring throughout.”