Jim Christy, B Traven , Borges & A Hard Working BoxerMonday, April 16, 2007
Some years ago Jim Christy, an infrequent visitor to my garden, suggested I needed a new path in my back garden. "This concrete path evenly divides it into two boring parts. You need a meandering curved one." So he began to build the path. With spade in hand he would look at me and then at Rosemary's black cat (he had a tendency to blink his big black eyes) and say, "He doesn't have too much upstairs, does he?" As Christy path approached the rear gate he looked at the nearby garage door and asked me, "What now?" I replied with one word, "Borges." Christy instantly knew. After all he had read Borges' story Garden of the Forking Paths, so much nicer sounding in its Spanish title El Jardín de Senderos que se Bifurcan. For close to three months my wife Rosemary nagged me every morning, "Christy's path is too curved and the stone is too pink."
Then one morning, as she looked out of the bedroom window, she saw Mosca walking on the path and she never nagged me again. Time and moss has muted the pinkness and both of us think of Christy often and wonder where he is. We haven't seen him for years. When in town he haunts the West End and the Sylvia Hotel.
Christy, has always been secretive about his personal life. But I did meet his wife Mary Anne twice. Rosemary and I were once invited for dinner. Mary Anne had hypnotic black eyes and seemed to me to be a protagonist of a B Traven novel.
Had James Richard Christinzio not been born in Richmond, Virginia in 1945 and raised in South Philadelphia he would have been more at home in 19th century Victorian London. He and his pal Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton would have journeyed to Mecca, searched for the origin of the Nile and looked for gold in Brazil.
Christy came to Vancouver from Toronto in 1981 to promote his novel Streethearts and stayed. Some know him as the writer of offbeat articles on looking for treasure in Honduras or on the Victoria car thief who allowed Christy to watch him "work" for a week. Christy writes intelligent book reviews on such odd books as Jonathon Cott's The Search for Omm Sety. Few know that he has published at least eight books and finished six more. Few know that Christy is an artist, a gardener, an ex hobo, a dormant anarchist, an ex-American and lover of things Canadian or that he was a regular of American Bandstand and friend of the legendary jazz bassist and poet Chrlie Leeds. When Quest Magazine ceased publication in 1984 the screenwriter Norman Snider (Deadringers ) bemoaned its extinction in the Globe & Mail and wrote, "It gave a voice to a talented maverick like Jim Christy."
When Christy has not been writing or traveling, or working in a slaughterhouse ( "I did it for the money.") he usually works on his art. This could be his funny collage/sculptures he calls assemblages. "I started painting but I needed that other dimension." Many of them are about Catholic saints like his piece on St. Dominic, the patron saint of time. "I like the stories of the saints. Like St Martin of Porres, the Peruvian and first black saint and patron saint of dog lovers. I like the stories even if they are not true. I like it when orthodox Catholicism meets the pagan and the changes each undergoes." These sculptures are full of little details.
In his writings Christy cites long forgotten writers, or not so forgotten like B Traven ("I met him."), boxers and fire breathers. "I like little details." Of his art he says, "It's fun, It's funny and it shows a side of me that gets into the writing a bit. It's kind of goofy, it has a sort of askew charm to it, even if I say so myself."
In one of the chapters of one of his books on boxing, Flesh and Blood Christy writes in admiration of Vancouver boxer Jamey Ollenberger. "When I first saw him, Ollenberger was holding down three jobs: grounds keeper and gravedigger at a cemetery during the day, aerobics teacher at night, and a Saturday stint moving furniture at a department store. Somehow he managed to put in his hours at the gym, and to fight." When I asked Christy if he had ever dug graves he looked at me and smiled.