There were two books Parker could ever remember having paid any attention to: the Gideon Bible (stowed, as it was, in seemingly every motel nightstand across the lower 48); and the various city phone books that either had their pages leafed through, stripped, or were wielded two-handed by tough-guy cops doing their best Mickey Mantle impression against the side of Parker’s head.
So it was unusual for Parker to find himself standing in front of a table of books in an East 57th Street bookstore, holding a hand written list with twelve titles scribbled by his own hand, all by the same author: Richard Stark.
“Can I help you with something?”
Parker let the question roll around before answering.
“I’m looking for the writer of this book.”
“Richard Stark.” the clerk said. “That’s a pseudonym for Donald Westlake.”
“An alias, eh?”
“Yeah.” The clerk shrugged. “Like I said, a pseudonym.”
Stark had been following Parker’s career for years and Parker knew it, but until recently, Parker didn’t care. That was until two weeks ago when Parker was in Reno pulling up stakes and had come across a dog-eared copy of The Hunter. And it was all in there: Lynn, Mal, the Outfit… on the inside cover of the book it read University of Chicago Press, and that’s where Parker would start. Because for the first time in both of their careers, Parker had questions for Stark.
It was a Wednesday and most of Chicago was tuning in to watch their boys take on the Flyers in game 6 of the Stanley Cup final as Parker listened to the radio announce the start of the third period.
He opened his car door, walked across the street, jimmied the air conditioner out of the bookstore’s window, and pulled himself in.
His bag, left by the clerk the day before at the side of the register, contained his 12 books. Parker exited the store and returned to his car. Maybe he’d call a girl he knew, watch the rest of the game, celebrate a bit of his own before calling on Mr. Westlake.
Why she felt the need to tell me early in our relationship that she had a) been cum'd on by lottsa dudes, and b) had tons of anal sex, I-do-not-know.
I'm not a fucking priest for chrissakes, I said - when I brought it back up four years later.
Back then, after she had confessed to the whole banging-in-the-ass thing, I lied to her and said: "Oh yeah, I've been in some pretty good threesomes, myself." To which she replied, simply: "Yeah... me too." Bitch.
Needless to say, I wasn't investing very much in our relationship during those early days.
Every time we made love, I felt as if I were focusing too heavily on keeping the phantoms of her past lovers out of our bedroom - and out of her ass, and off of her face!
That, and it was the beginning of spring. Spring Fever, and everything, ya know.
I tried to meet other girls; dated a couple of times - once really. But none of, well, the other one, compared to her. Not even close.
Yes, we were now boyfriend and girlfriend. How, you may ask, does a couple commit to not having sex or kissing other people? My girlfriend explained it to me thus:
"I was at a party in the Mile-End and there was like, a whole buncha hot guys, but I didn't even want to go home with any of them."
That was nice.
*to be cont'd.
I don’t even really know how to begin this letter to you (like you’ll ever read it) but if the letter gods or at least the mailmen can indulge this ‘weirdo’s’ fantasy, I’ll begin where it almost feels right.
First, I think the water that comes out of my taps is bad. I used to buy bottled water (like you) but felt maybe I wasn’t doing the environment any favours; and perhaps the water in the bottles wasn’t so fine after all. Sure it tastes good, but who knows what bacteria is involved. But this is not what I really wanted to say. I don’t even know what I want to say.
Sometimes I smoke cigarettes. Do you smoke Heidi?
I masturbate to your picture all the time—there, I said it—now let’s forget it. I’m only being honiced? How do you spell that word?
Shit, I shouldn’t have written that thing about the ‘masturbation’. Now you’ll think I’m weird and stuff. Please forget I even said it – even tho, it’s kind of a compliment.
You wanna know the truth Heidi? I always thought I’d make a good boyfriend to a Supermodel. Seriously. Like when you (or one of your model friends) has had a particularly hard day at the photo shoots, and you just want to come home, you know, get off your feet ‘cuz you bin wearing those terrible shoes all day, and I’d be there - waiting for you!
I know models get a bad rap for being stupid and stuff, but that wouldn’t bother me. It’s mostly overrated and rehearsed b.s. anyway, talking.
The reason I mention this (dating models) is because I saw this girl at the book store the other day that looked like she could have been a model (maybe she was) and I was sooooo intimidated by her. I mean, she was like real beautiful and such; she had fancy clothes and nice shoes, styley hair, and a friendly smile... maybe I’ll wait for her to get off of work tonite – you know – I’ll make it a special surprise. Just her and me. And you Heidi, in my heart.
He walked well for an old man. He had walked most of his life, and the trick was to have good shoes — nothing made by the Chinese.
He had false teeth, a glass eye, and being just short of having a wooden leg, had an impressive attitude considering his luck.
But the children of the neighborhood were just too much sometimes. They were vulgar little bastards. A wonder where they developed such sharp tongues.
It had been part of his routine to go down to the corner store to pick up his paper instead of having it delivered, and when there, purchase a lotto ticket, and a large beer.
But back to those terrible children. Oh, they said the vilest things. And he seemed to be their only outlet for some reason. He thought maybe their parents had told them some kind of lie.
“Ya old fuck!” they would shout.
The ‘old fuck’ was always the first one thrown, but there would be more.
“Eat any old pussy today, ya old fuck?”
It was a rhetorical question of course, but these mites wouldn’t learn that word until at least their second year of high school — if they ever made it that far.
Despite the name-calling, he never once raised a hand in retaliation towards them. And besides, they never came close enough. But even they had displayed some boundaries.
In winter they would all hold ice balls in their fists ready with aim, but they never threw any — that was nice. And although they spit at their feet in some unknown contempt for the old, they never spit at him, and again, it was nice of them.
There was one month a year or so ago where they took into their minds the word ‘nigger,’ and used it frequently. He laughed because it was the first time he really understood them. Because obviously the word didn’t apply to him, and only made him smile in response, but in some way he felt they had become closer after that.
And when he thought of that, he thought of when one of the boys had come to his door on a Halloween accompanied by his mother. The boy was stunned with fright, unable to say the words as his mother smiled on.
“Say it,” she encouraged.
“Trick or treat,” said the boy.
The old man said nothing but: ‘Happy Halloween,’ and proceeded to give the boy a little extra from the plastic pumpkin. Next time he saw the boy, the child was even more vicious than before.
“Ya fuckin’ Heeb!” He bellowed.
Another derogatory remark that missed completely.
The old man's youngest sister had died from a heart attack. It had been much too long since they had last seen each other. His wife had now been gone for close to ten years, but now he felt as if he was truly alone.
He had been unable to have children of his own. He had nephews, and they had children; and there were a couple of cousins, but they didn’t know each other personally.
He had lived in this city for almost fifty years, and for the first time, he could honestly state that the feeling of homesickness was almost asphyxiating.
He went back for the funeral and was, for some reason, surprised by the warmth he was shown by his kin. They all suggested a closer relationship, and, what did he think about moving back home? But where was home? There truly wasn’t anything for him in the city anymore was there? He was old.
When he was back in the city and sitting in his small apartment he decided that he would indeed move back to the place of his birth. He would see about living in a retirement home; he could have his sister’s vacant apartment above his nephew’s in the mean time if he wanted, that was nice. So he gathered up only two suitcases and a few LP's and photographs and set them aside, and boxed up the rest. He would have professional movers come in a few days.
There was a nostalgia in purchasing his last newspaper, lotto ticket, and beer at the store. He lamented that the kid working behind the cash wasn't someone he recognized. He would have liked to tell someone that he wouldn't be coming around anymore.
Once outside, he breathing the hot air in like it were new.
And there was the kids.
A gang of spoiled children destined for jail and alcoholism, wife-battery, and welfare.
“You get your little dirty magazine fagboy?”
Yet one more rhetorical question.
“Hey old man, I got some pictures of your wife right here with my boner…”
The old man exploded onto them.
This had been the first time they had ever used his wife against him. He threw his newspaper, lotto ticket, and beer at the kid who had said it. The bottle, hidden at the bottom of the white, plastic bag caught the child just above the brow.
The kid collapsed clutching his eye.
“You fuck.” Said one of the other boys.
The boy's friends moved in to help him up. Now they could all see the blood streaming through the kid’s hands. His shirt was quickly drenched in red and he was beginning to pass out.
“I, I, I…” the old man stammered.
He tried to help the boy but the others were full of such stares that he thought he just better leave. When he turned, he saw the clerk in the store look at him in horror — a telephone in her hand.
He walked as fast as he could to his place and dialed the number for a taxi. He went through some of the boxes and gathered up more of his wife’s favorite items and dumped his clothes from his suitcase. He moved from his small washroom to the kitchen quickly two or three times without knowing why. The walls were beginning to close-in on him. He needed to sit, to flee, to hide.
The horn of the taxi called out from the street.
He escaped through the back door and rounded the house like a thief. He tossed his belongings into the backseat even though the taxi driver was stepping out to open the trunk. When the car began moving he slinked down as best as an old man could, and stared straight ahead.
At the bus terminal he paid an enormous sum for the one way ticket home. And during the twelve hour journey he could think of little more than the damage he had inflicted on the poor boy. But anyone who knew him — which were few — could attest that the children had been terrorizing him for years. Anyone would feel the need to retaliate.
He had watched them grow from kids on the skating rink to bullies on the block. He knew a few of their names — the leaders — but that made no difference. Why had they tortured him so?
The police would definitely be looking for him. An old man doing such a horrible thing to a child? Why did he have to buy that beer?
No one called the police. The boys had made up a story about how some kid that no one liked had thrown a rock and hit him in the face. That was why his eye was black.
When the still bleeding youth got home, he puked in the toilet, while the others kept telling him not to say it was the old man over and over again because he could never say anything in response.
The boy’s mother was at her Work for Welfare job so they had the place to themselves. Only three of them drank from the old man’s bottle of beer and proceeded to stumble around and bump into walls.
They decided that they would split the winnings from the lotto ticket with the boy who got hit in the head getting an extra cut. This was the only point in which the wounded boy wanted to be in concert. At first it started at only twenty where he wanted at least fifty, so they compromised and settled at a final amount. Now they just had to find someone to cash it for them.
The rest of the afternoon was spent thinking of how they would spend their fortunes. One boy had a plan that he would give another boy’s sister half of his loot if he could see her boobs, and another boy brought the joke too far by saying that he’d give it all to fuck her.
A fight broke out.
It's full of lies.
Lizard men and volcanoes, sharks battling amongst the stars - come off it kid.
Lightning swords cut swathes through Angel Wings. She sings. Blurry-eyed, the child sinks to the sidewalk and melts into the drain. Mother's tears mix with dust and rust the pipes. Rats give-up in the thousands.
A Man on a Horse going by the name of Desperado: hat tucked down, stained with oil, rises in his saddle to look over the concrete jungle. Old, the road, cracked and blistering; vapor escapes from its pockmarked face like a ghost.
Desperado extracts his rifle from its weather-beaten, leather scabbard. The horse shudders, bucks. Desperado goes down, the butt of the rifle strikes the hard earth, and the barrel explodes... a round enters Desperado's cheek, his eye melts against the heat of the blast. His brains are scrambled.
The child runs to its mother. Dinner time.
Turns out I'm not a fan of that ending (or the sequels), but anytime a true Horror film breaks through to the mainstream and goes on to make a buncha (shitty) sequels, you gotta give it some love. And how about that poster art from Tim Palen?
I'm so jealous that those effing guys who wrote FEAST have made a career out of writing the SAW series (also wrote & directed The Collector) and my sorry ass can't even get a read! They better be buying Matt Damon and Ben Affleck cars every Christmas, because without Project Greenlight..?
AND IN #4 WE HAVE A TIE:
HIGH TENSION (2005)
Prolly the most talked about, argued about, frustrating film of the decade for Horror Fans... because of that goddamn ending. Ahhh. But if you watched it a second time and paid close attention and didn't miss the first 30 seconds! It all made sense. She was lying! The whole movie was her bullshit story of the events that took place that eerie eve in the French sticks... And in the end?! They bust her with the gas station security camera showing her 'axe' the attendant.
Thank God for France and Alexandre Aja. Gregory Levasseur, too. And, I've since learned this having watched Haute Tension's special features; music by Francois Eudes (see my #1 on the list - he provided the music for that film too).
NOW TO OUR OTHER #4:
CABIN FEVER (2002)
The first post-9/11 horror film to bring the funny. And boy did we need to try and get back to normal.
Eli Roth knows how to direct a fucking movie... writing one, on the other hand... me thinks my bud Randy Pearlstein didn't get enough cred for the hilarious characters. Not that Eli didn't try, however. If anyone out there is AS generous with sharing the creative process as Eli, I don't know who that person is.
#3 ANOTHER G'DAMN TIE?!
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004)
Zombies are made scary again. And enough of this hub-bub about running zombies, Dan O'Bannon (R.I.P) broke the mold long ago with the most excellent THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Which brings us to:
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2003)
Funny, funny, funny. What can you say? Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright started a whole industry of taking the piss out of horror. Well done you cheeky bastad's.
I saw this at the Fantasia Film Festival and out of the 700-odd people in attendance, I don't think there was a person in the place who DID NOT have their nails entrenched in the arm rests of their neighbours for the entire film.
Haven't been that scared since I was a kid.
AND THE #1 FUCKING HORROR FILM OF THE PAST DECADE IS:
Wow! How awesome is this film? I mean like Jeezus-Charist this movie is sick and twisted in its awesome-ness. I'm still twitching from having seen it. A great example of contained terror and WTF moments of what-are-they-gonna-go-with-this-next?
SPECIAL MENTION GOES TO:
Because it seems the rest of the world (almost) has been represented up top...
Props to New Zealand for BLACK SHEEP. Weta did a great job of making the were-sheep believable and frightening. A tight script and competent directing makes Black Sheep one for the shelf.
The Norwegians for COLD PREY (FRIT VIT), a stylish slasher set in a mini Overlook Hotel/Hostel-like chalet.
Australia for allowing Greg Mclean (WOLF CREEK, ROGUE) to continue to make genre pictures in your fine land. I used to live there you know? And for what looks like a killer picture, DAYBREAKERS -- coming soon to a theater near you.
Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and all those other Asia Pacific countries for bringing all that whacked-out, ghostly shit.
And finally the fucking Canadians of whom I am one, for seemingly coming around to support the genre with new 'acceptance' at the funding agency's (Telefilm, SODEC, etc). Providing support for little films like Bruce McDonald's recent PONTYPOOL, and early 2000's GINGER SNAPS and her sequels.
I'd also like to share the HATE I have for the following films: HATCHET (80's classic horror was NEVER about the funny, and that's all Hatchet had to offer - other than rip-offs of MADMAN, JASON LIVES, and that ending); LAID TO REST (great practical FX; everything, and I mean everything else sucked); and finally to all those filmmakers that refused to hire a professional screenwriter (when they really, really needed to) with a god-honest love for our genre, to Hell with ya!
Bring on 2010, baby!