Sunday, March 08, 2009

Lemon Hound on Jon Paul Fiorentino

Cashier: Jonny.
Store: 157
Did employee express a warm and friendly Hypermart greeting?
Did employee ask if you had a Hypermart credit card?
Did employee mention the Hypermart points promotion?
Did employee mention any pertinent cross promotions?
Was employee helpful?
Was employee polite?
Did employee display signs of functional intelligence?
Was employee well-groomed?
Did employee have his shirt tucked in?
Did employee wish you “a hyper day?”
Additional notes:
This cashier was extremely rude and asked to have sexual intercourse with me and/or to abuse drugs. He gave me his phone number and I felt personally threatened by his insistence. He told me I would have dreams of him and that he would grow on me “like a fungus.”
Final mark:
Recommendation: Immediate dismissal.
At first I wasn’t sure who the mystery shopper was, because I tended to make such offers frequently, but the “like a fungus” line was the tip-off. I save my A material for people I truly care about.

“So, Jonny? What do you have to say for yourself?” Mr. Hardman asked.

“Oh shit, Mr. Hardman. I know who this mystery shopper is! This is a setup! I can prove it!”


“Yeah, Mr. Hardman. I would bet my life that this mystery shopper is a young woman, around my age, and her name is Chastity.”

Hardman paused. “How did you know that?”

“Well she was my first love. And I broke her heart. Like seriously broke the fuck out of it! You know, Mr. Hardman, I’m like Captain Kirk when he beams down to some planet and starts making out with a hot alien lady and the alien lady is all ‘Why are you pressing your lips against mine?’ And Captain Kirk is all, ‘It’s a custom from Earth.’ And the alien lady says, ‘Please, custom me again.’ I’m like that. So anyways, we were dating and she got all clingy, and you know me, I like to ramble and stuff so it wasn’t a match for me. I had to cut her loose. Now she’s trying to exact revenge! Don’t let her jilted heart ruin my Hypermart career, Mr. Hardman!”

Mr. Hardman was silent. Then after a few tumbleweed moments, I was told to stay away from Hypermart for a couple of weeks. A kind of unpaid probation. I swore to myself that I would take the opportunity to hunt Chastity down and ruin her life, unless she called me and wanted to screw around or something.

I always had wanted to fit in – everywhere, with everyone, in every situation. But Hypermart changed things. I was simply too disgusted with what had happened to my strip mall and to my life. It was like I had been demoted from person to Hypermart employee. I had never done a great job in any capacity, but I worked extra hard to be the ultimate slacker when it came to my Hypermart duties. I know this resulted in a string of horrible evaluations, and conclusions about my intelligence or sanity. But I discovered something by having to listen to these constant claims that I would never succeed. It turned out that I did possess one very important quality: defiance. Whenever faced with the cruel judgments of people like Chastity Neufeld or Mr. Hardman, I would remember the following mantra: I do not want to thrive in YOUR world.

(excerpt from Stripmalling originally appeared on Joyland.)

I worry about Jonny. He is so tender. So flutterish and vulnerable to the winds of market, public opinion and climate change. He pours his all into everything he does. Then he drains it. It's a simple formula but it works for him. We on the sidelines can only watch in wonder and worry. I know he really wants this book to work so it wasn't without enthusiasm that I read it when he thrust it upon me in the halls at Concordia. I admit I had it out for him for a while. He often snarls at me. I know he means well, but it's hard not to be offended. And when we read together the first time back in 2006 he wrote in my book, Keep writing, you show promise.

Not that I would hold a grudge. But what will he do if the book fails to be everything he wants it to be? What will he do if it's a success? It was with all of this anxiety that I made a cup of tea and sat down on my sofa and cracked the spine of Jonny's book. The novel opens with a warm-hearted account of Johnny Carson, shag, a sad alcoholic grandparent, failed dreams and immigrant anxiety--in other words, it's a Winnipeg tale, and a familiar one. Not in the literary sense of familiar because we rarely see these lives depicted in fiction (At least not until they've been well-groomed into more respectable southern Ontario kinds of characters with grit and resolve), but in the, hey, I recognize that shag sort of familiarity.

It's a classic tale too. And very compelling. How does one get out of the world of the strip mall? The never ending cycle of teen pregnancy and lost youth? And where, in the many dead end towns in Canada, does one find dreams? In fact my tea was cold before I realized I was half way through the novel and I'm not proud of that fact. I have a lot of serious reading to do and this felt like I was cheating on my own standards, but the truth is I wanted more. I thought about the book affectionately after setting it down. There is a lot going on in this novel and much of it disturbingly familiar. This made me feel slightly less old than I feel these days (being around 20 somethings takes it toll), but it also reminded me of so much wasted youth, the small town and/or suburban dramas of skimming cash from the till, trying to find a bottle, and trying to maintain one's dignity in a world with so few options, and fewer still with a one-size fits all label.

But then I had a wave of panic: should I really be identifying with such a loser?

Now that's the difficult part because there are so many kinds of losers and not all of them real losers. There is the faux loser, the poser loser, the louche loser, the locusious loser--okay, I made that last word up and I'm sticking to it because it sort of fits the big-hearted and yet narcissistic character at the center of the center of all the Jonny's that make up this book, each of which has the great, great, skill of being able to laugh at himself. And that's another thing about reading this book, everything seems a little hysterical and prickly. Suddenly I recall the dried pine needles in the shag months after Christmas that lodged themselves into your back as you rolled around, laughing about nothing because you were either a/ high on sugar, or b/ high on pot or c/ high on being high. Say what you want about the wasted youth of suburbs and strip malls, but they can get inventive about getting high and finding places to have sex.

I don't know what I was expecting with this novel, but I have to say that it took me by surprise. I had to reluctantly put it down half way through, but I finished it off the next night, and with a good deal of ensuing laughter. Oh, that Jonny, I found myself saying, and not just because he's the kind of guy you want to pinch the cheeks of if you're an older, she-dog like me, but because it's a wacky and very well-meaning portrait of the loser in us all. It's not Slum-dog Millionaire, it's Made it to the Main. It's a Canadian triumph. It's not pretty, but it's a great romp. A funny, funny romp.

Lemon Hound's bite is apparently worse than her bark. Opinionated, but not without charm, she is a regular blogger for Lemon Hound, and is sometimes unleashed, and sometimes stopped short. She currently lives and works in Montreal under the ever present shadow of Jonny. She will attend his launch tonight, and she will try not to giggle at inappropriate moments.

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