Glock - Verb, TransitiveWednesday, January 12, 2011
I was in New York to interview and photograph writer Jerome Charyn. In the late 80s I had been devouring (to use one of Charyn’s favourite words) Raymond Chandler’s novels. When I had eventually run out around 1992 I noticed the name Charyn in the bookstore stacks next to Chandler. I purchased one of the novels, Blue Eyes. I could not believe that a homicide detective could be a ping-pong freak and be murdered before the novel ended. Reading Blue Eyes made it seem like I was hallucinating or living a nightmare. The language was brutal, repetitive but strangely compelling. I was hooked and purchased a second Charyn novel, Maria’s Girls. It was in Maria's Girls that I encountered a verb I had never seen before, to glock. It was about a gun, obviously, to me, an invention of the writer, that was made mostly of plastic.
To give Charyn’s quotes on glocking a meaning I will first insert here his introduction, (the book in which the introduction appears has long been out of print) from Black Box Thrillers – The Isaac Quartet by Jerome Charyn- Marilyn the Wild, Blue Eyes, The Education of Patrick Silver, Secret Isaac. Zomba Books, London 1984.
The introduction will serve to those readers here, to understand, I hope, what it is about Charyn that has made me purchase every book he ever wrote. I am not the only one. The other is Vancouver poet and former Poet Laureate George Bowering. He boasts and laughs at me when I phone him when he asks me if I have this Charyn book or that one. He has all of them!
I called him today. I interrupted the writing of this blog a few paragraphs above. I called him and I said, “I want you to tell me the first thing that comes to your head when I say the word to followed by a word, that to my knowledge has never been used as a verb except by one man. I said, “To glock.” Bowering’s instant answer was, “Jerome Charyn.” I added, "From Maria's Girls."
Here is the wonderful introduction to Charyn’s first Isaac Sidel Quartet. He wrote another set of four Isaac Sidel books, the Odessa Quartet ( The Good Policeman, Maria's Girls, Montezuma's Man, Little Angel Street) and two more, El Bronx and Citizen Sidel.. I believe that Charyn could not continue after Citizen Sidel because Sidel becomes the Vice President Elect of the United States. I wonder about a Glock-packing vice president of the United States!
By Jerome Charyn
Blue Eyes and the Barber King
I was drowning somewhere in the middle of 1973, lost in the muck of a new novel, some dinosaur of a book about a barber king and the republic of Andorra, when I discovered Ross Macdonald. I was sick of my own mythologizing and wanted something simple to read. A crime novel, why not? I happened to pick The Galton Case and it satisfied right from the start, with its lulling, neutral tone.
The book had a morphology I happened to admire - as if Ross Macdonald were in the habit of undressing bodies to find the skeleton underneath. Nothing was overwrought: landscape, language, and character were all laid bare. But this was no simpleminded accident. It was Macdonald’s particular craft, that “wild masonry of laying detail on detail to a make a structrure.”[Ross Macdonald, “Writing the Galton Case,” Self-Portrait: Ceaselessly Into the Past. Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1981]
Wild Masonry. That’s what Madonald’s work was all about: sad, strange histories the crept between the tight, closed spaces. The lost son who surfaces out of a brutal, murderous past, and then is transformed into an impostor boy whose identity is born in the act of murder itself. And in the middle of all this searching is Macdonald’s detective-narrator, Lew Archer, who is neither Marlowe nor Nick Charles, but is a kind of deadly angel, the observer with genuine feelings who only invests a portion of himself in the text. Half of him is always elsewhere. Or as Macdonald says: “Certainly my narrator Archer is not the main object of my interest, nor the character with whose fate I am most concerned. He is a deliberately narrowed version of the writing self, so narryo that when he turns sideways he almost disappears.”[Ibid]
This narrowing lens allows Ross Macdonald to deliver both a landscape and a past without the least hint of sentimentality. Macdonald is able to murder while he lulls us through the book.
I returned to my dinosaur novel, King Jude. But things were still rotten in the republic of Andorra. I had nowhere to go with my barber king. I couldn’t squeeze him into a narrative that made sense. Not wanting to abandon my barber kin, I decided to scribble a novel and let Jude the barber boil inside my head. But I didn’t have Ross Macdonald’s lulling sense of line. My writing was scratchy, secretive as a snake. I couldn’t undress bodies with my prose. And I didn’t love California the way Macdonald did. I’d lived in California for three years. It held no mythic properties for me. I remembered rocks and redwood trees. I’d have to find my detective hero and bring him to New York.
I’d been a bodybuilder and a ping-pong freak. My sense of the underworld came from the pool halls and street gangs of the Bronx. I was something of an extortionist at twelve, but I outgrew the habit and by fourteen I was studying French irregular verbs at the High School of Music and Art. What the hell could I write about crime? I’d have to go to the library stacks and pull out dossiers of the most memorable thieves of Manhattan and the Bronx, but I didn’t want a crime novel that stank of research. So I depended on my one bit of luck. I had a brother who was in homicide. I went out to the wilds of Brooklyn where he worked. I sat with Harvey Charyn in his station house near the beach. I saw all the cages where all the bad guys were held. I visited the back room were cops would sleep after a midnight tour. I was Charyn’s kid brother, the scribbler, and radio dispatchers flirted with me. I met a detective whose ear had been chewed off in a street fight, another who boasted of all the wives he had, a third who twitched with paranoia, but was reliable in any combat zone.
My brother drove me to the Brooklyn morgue since I needed to look at dead bodies for my novel. The morgue attendant took me and Harvey around. All the dead men looked like Indians. Their skin had turned to bark. I distanced myself from the corpses, pretended I was touring some carnival with refrigerated shelves. It was Harvey who sucked Life-Savers and seemed pale. I was only a stinking voyeur in the house of the dead.
But I had the beginning of a history of crime: the sad gleaning of a few Brooklyn homicide detectives. I traveled with them in their unmarked cars, listening to their hatred of the street. They weren’t much like the warriors I’d imagined detectives to be: they were civil servants with a gun, obsessed about the day of their retirement.
And because I had grown up with my brother, remembered his muscle tee shirts, his longing to become Mr. America, Harvey seemed the saddest of them all. He’s the one who read books at home and I became a writer. He was the artist of the family, but I got into Music and Art and Harvey never did. I’d replaced my brother somehow, bumped him out of the way. I sat scribbling at a university and he had to stare at corpses. He told me about a renegade rabbi who lay rotting in his bathtub for a month, a fourteen-year-old pros who was trampled to death by a gang of pimps because she happened to labor in their territories, the victim of a gangland murder whose arm ended up in New Jersey while his legs were buried in a potato farm somewhere on Long Island. The guy’s torso was never found.
I’d watch my brother’s face when he told his stories. There was no ghoulish delight. He was delivering the simple facts of his life as a detective. I felt like the brutal one, feeding off his homicide lists. And so I began my novel about a blue-eyed detective, Manfred Cohen. This Blue Eyes was an odd amalgam of Harvey and me, two brown-eyed boys. Coen was a ping-pong freak, like I had been. And if he didn’t have Harvey’s coloring, he did have my brother’s sad, gentle ways, a wanderer in Manhattan and the Bronx who dreamt of corpses, like Harvey did. I allowed Blue Eyes a mentor, Isaac Sidel, a honcho in the First Deputy Police Commissioner’s office who grooms Coen and later gets him killed. Isaac was a sinister chief, and Coen was his blue-eyed angel, a kind of Billy Budd.
I scribbled a good part of Blue Eyes in Barcelona. I was thirty-six and I’d never been abroad. I’d landed in Madrid, wanting to devour every balcony on every street. I saw the Goyas in the basement of the Prado and felt as if my own life was being recast on enormous blood-dark canvases: the giant who devoured his children could have been born in the Bronx. I settled in Barcelona and wrote for six weeks.
I finished Blue Eyes in New York and carried it to my agent, Hy Cohen. He looked at the title page. “Who’s Joseph da Silva?”
I’d decided to use a nom de guerre after having written seven novels as Jerome Charyn, and all seven sinking into invisibility. I’d invented a tribe of marrano pickpockets in Blue Eyes called the Guzmanns. Isaac Sidel is feuding with his tribe, and the Guzmanns become the agents of Manfred Coen’s fall. Wanting my own sense of tribe, I’d picked a marrano name for myself, Joseph da Silva hoping that his books might sell better than Jerome Charyn’s.
But Hy Cohen convinced me to stay with Jerome. “Kid, you’ve had seven books. That’s something of a feat. If you go with da Silva, you’ll be starting all over again. A first novelist is a much more endangered animal that the author of seven books. They’ll kill you out there.”
So I published Blue Eyes without my nom de guerre and returned to King Jude. I scribbled on it in Paris, London, Edinburgh, Connecticut, and the upper West Side of Manhattan. The novel thickened to a thousand pages and I stil coldn’t find a home for my barber king. While I collected pages, my mind seemed to be at work on another book. I was bothered by Blue Eyes’ death and needed to revive him. So I started Marilyn the Wild, which brought Manfred Coen back to an earlier time of his life. Issac Sidel had a daughter, Marilyn, who keeps getting married and unmarried and is half in love with Coen. Isaac’s ambivalence towards his blue-eyed angel was becoming clearer to me. The old chief resented Marilyn’s attachment to Blue Eyes, though he keeps this to himself. He’s a coward when it comes to his daughter and won’t risk alienating Marilyn the Wild. We can smell the evil begin to build. Isaac is crazy about Marilyn, but he’s much too independent for a deputy chief inspector. He can find no means of manipulating her, so he manipulates Coen. And by allowing Coen to get killed, he punishes Marilyn, Blue Eyes and himself.
I still couldn’t put Coen to rest. I had to write another book, one that continued after Coen’s death. Isaac has become the chronicler of Coen. The Education of Patrick Silver is about Isaac’s own self-affliction. Isaac had inherited a tapeworm from the Guzmanns and it flares up soon as Coen dies. He blunders through the city with that worm in him and dreams that Coen is still alive. Coen’s death has taken him out of his neat little universe, hooks him with pain. Manfred and Marilyn were his only connection to feelings outside the police. They were Isaac’s history. Now he has the worm.
I was hoping I’d finished the story. I had my barber king to dream about. But the Andorran novel stayed dead. It was invention that evolved without a personal myth. I performed magnificent pirouettes on the page. I danced from line to line and was left with boring decoration.
I went back to Isaac and devoted a book utterly to him: Secret Isaac. It was the history of Isaac after his fall from grace. The sadder he becomes, the more successful he grows. The worm is eating him alive, but Isaac is the Police Commissioner of New York. A peculiar thing happens. Isaac begins to cannibalize himself, to feed on his own worm. He’s taken Blue Eyes’ ghost inside himself. He becomes Coen and barks his own song of innocence and experience.
I thought of other books, a kind of Balzacian series of adventures, with Isaac moving about the country and devouring the United States. What city was a match for him and his tapeworm? But I hadn’t learned how to be Balzac yet. When I call my brother’s precinct, the receptionists says, “Ah, you’re Jerome. How’s Blue Eyes today?”
I’m the celebrity of Brooklyn Homicide. Captains and lieutenants want me to write their stories. I’m their chronicler now. And Harvey? He begrudges the complications of the last three Isaac books. He prefers the purity of Blue Eyes. Manfred Coen came from the Bronx, like him and me. Manfred Coen went to Music and Art. I’m sure he remembers Coen as a weightlifter, but Coen was too busy being wooed by Marilyn to lift weights. Blue Eyes could have come out of Harvey’s precinct. Blue Eyes would have been one of the boys.
But I regard Manfred Coen in another way. Blue Eyes was a ghost long before he was killed. His mother and father were a pair of suicides, and Coen was the orphan from Music and Art who fell between Marilyn and Isaac and could never get up. His absence, dead and alive, seems to power the four books.
Isaac goes to Ireland in the fourth book, visits Leopold Bloom’s house on Eccles Street. He’s a police inspector who loves James Joyce, but his pilgrimage is more than literary debt. Isn’t Bloom the father that Isaac could have been? Isaac has manufactured his own Stephen Dedalus in Coen, but gave him perishable wings. He “makes” Coen, destroys him, and suffers the wounds of that destruction. And why is Blue Eyes drawn to Isaac in the first place? Is he seeking a permanent dad, one who won’t abandon him? Or does he know that all the dads are destroyers, the good ones and the bad?
What does an author know? For me the four books comprise a vast confusion of fathers and sons. My own dad was a furrier who never spoke. He grunted some primitive language that was more like the call of a disappointed wolf. But I had Harvey to interpret that wolf’s call. He led me out of whatever Bronx wilderness I happened to be in. He was father and older brother and a bit of a mum, though he abandoned me before I was twelve, beat me up in front of his latest girlfriend. He had his muscle tee shirts to worry about. He didn’t need a skinny kid on his tail.
And so Isaac’s worm had been sleeping in me a long time. It grew out of a rift between Harvey and myself, more than thirty years ago. Forget Brooklyn Homicide. You need Sherlock Holmes to uncover the roots of any fiction. I’d come to Harvey to gather material for an uncomplicated crime novel and ended up scribbling four books about him and me and a meticulous tapeworm.
I finally let go of my barber king. Andorra wasn’t that magic place where boys and kings can heal themselves. I’d invented a thousand years of history for Jude, a chronology that was filled with wondrous details, but it was spun out of avoidance, a need to hide. King Jude is a cold book, mythology without a worm.
Perhaps I’d used more of Ross Macdonald than I’d allowed myself to admit. Macdonald rocks back into his past in The Galton Case, weaves a narrative around his own wound, a gnawing sense of illegitimacy. The impostor boy who pretends to be the lost son of Anthony Galton bears a resemblance to Macdonald himself, or, I should say, Kenneth Millar, since Ross Macdonald was Millar’s nom de guerre. “My mind had been haunted for years by an imaginary boy whom I recognized as the dark side of my own remembered boyhood. By his sixteenth year he had lived in fifty houses and committed the sin of poverty in each of them. I couldn’t think of him without anger and guilt.”[Ibid]
Like any fiction writer, Macdonald is “a false claimant, a poor-house graduate trying to lie his way into the castle.”[Ibid] I’m another “claimant”, hoping to get into the castle with Isaac Sidel and Manfred Coen.
© Jerome Charyn, 1984
The above might explain my confusion in reading about Isaac Sidel’s tapeworm and wondering if this was some sort of figurative literary device.
And now from Maria’s Girls, by Jerome Charyn, 1992:
“Sweets, can’t our lads eve get a make of the gun?”
“I’d say you were stopped with a nine-millimeter cannon. That’s only an educated guess. The impact was terrific. Crime Scene says you fell like a moose. You left craters in the ground. You had five holes in you Isaac. The bullets went in and out like a whistle. You shouldn’t be alive…
“You think I could have been Glocked?”
“With my own gun?”
“No. Your gun was clean. It hadn’t been touched.”
The Glock was a 9mm semiautomatic. The Austrians had introduced it. Most of it was made of plastic. The Glock wouldn’t rust. It looked like a space gun from Star Wars. Skyjackers were fond of the Glock, because they could smuggle mos of it through a metal detector. Drug lords liked to use it. The Glock had incredible firepower for such a light gun. Iti had been given to elite squads of the NYPD. And sometimes, during a firefight, a cop might get glocked with his own gun…
“And you glocked Maria near the Park Avenue trestle to make it look like it was the same hitter who glocked me....”
" I had no style Isaac. I glocked you."
"Glocked me against a wall. Picked up the shells. Erased yourself from the crime scene."
In an effort to lighten up I am placing here two faxes that I received from Charyn before I flew to New York City. In one he writes of the scarcity of ping-pong clubs in New York. In the first Charyn fax I am invited to a book jacket exhibition at New York University. It was there that I met Bascove who has been the illustrator of most of Charyn's Isaac Sidel novels. You can see many of them here (all except the four novel compilation). I expected Bascove to be some sort of man. I was wrong Bascove was an attractive and extremely short woman.
In Maria's Girls, Charyn writes about an imaginary precinct based in Central Park which is affectionately called Sherwood Forest.
Obviously the female NYP's finest I met up with at St. Pat's had never read any of Charyn's Isaac Sidel novels.
Most of the books below are part of George Bowering's collection. Bowering confessed, apologetically, "I bought Charyn's book on Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn: The Last Goddess [an illustrated biography of Marilyn Monroe], Abrams, 2008 by ordering through Amazon!
Once upon a Droshky, McGraw-Hill, 1964
On the Darkening Green, McGraw-Hill, 1965
The Man Who Grew Younger, Harper & Row, 1967
Going To Jerusalem, Viking, 1967
American Scrapbook, Viking, 1969
Eisenhower, My Eisenhower, Holt, 1971
The Tar Baby, Holt, 1973
Blue Eyes, Simon & Schuster, 1975
Marilyn the Wild, Arbor House, 1976
The Education of Patrick Silver, Arbor House, 1976
The Franklin Scare, Arbor House, 1977
Secret Isaac, Arbor House, 1978
The Seventh Babe, Arbor House, 1979
The Catfish Man, Arbor House, 1980
Darlin’ Bill, Arbor House, 1980
Panna Maria, Arbor House, 1982
Pinocchio’s Nose, Arbor House, 1983
War Cries Over Avenue C, Donald I. Fine, 1985
Paradise Man, Donald I. Fine, 1987
The Good Policeman, Mysterious Press, 1990
Elsinore, Warner Books, 1991
Maria’s Girls, Warner Books, 1992
Back to Bataan, Farrar, Straus (for younger readers), 1993
Montezuma’s Man, Warner Books, 1993
Little Angel Street, Warner Books, 1995
El Bronx, Warner Books, 1997
Death of a Tango King, New York University Press, 1998
Captain Kidd, St. Martin’s Press, 1999
Hurricane Lady, Warner Books, 2001
The Isaac Quartet, Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002
The Green Lantern, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2004
Johnny One-Eye: A Tale of the American Revolution, Norton, 2008
The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, Norton, 2010
Short stories and collections (selected)
The Man Who Grew Younger and Other Stories, Harper, 1967
Family Man, art by Joe Staton, lettering by Ken Bruzenak, Paradox Press, 1995
"The Blue Book of Crime,” in The New Black Mask, Harcourt Brace, 1986 "Fantomas in New York", in A Matter of Crime, Harcourt Brace, 1988
“Young Isaac,” in The Armchair Detective, 1990
“Lorelei” in Atlantic Monthly Summer Fiction Issue, Summer, 2010
“Silk & Silk” Narrative Magazine's Story of the Week, October, 2010
“Adonis” in The American Scholar, Winter, 2011 Issue
Metropolis: New York as Myth, Marketplace and Magical Land, Putnam’s, 1986
Movieland: Hollywood and the Great American Dream Culture, Putnam’s, 1989, New York University Press, 1996
The Dark Lady from Belorusse, St. Martin’s Press, 1997
The Black Swan, St. Martin’s Press, 2000
Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins: Ping-Pong and the Art of Staying Alive, Four Walls Eight Windows, 2001
Bronx Boy, St. Martin’s Press, 2002
Gangsters & Gold Diggers: Old New York, the Jazz Age, and the Birth of Broadway, Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003
Savage Shorthand: The Life and Death of Isaac Babel, Random House, 2005
Inside the Hornet’s Head: an anthology of Jewish American Writing, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005 Raised by Wolves: The Turbulent Art and Times of Quentin Tarantino, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005
Marilyn: The Last Goddess [an illustrated biography of Marilyn Monroe], Abrams, 2008
Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil, published by Yale University Press, American Icon series, due out in March, 2011
Selected plays and documentaries
George (three-act play) developed at the Actors Studio, under Arthur Penn, staged readings at La Maison des Ecrivains (Paris 1988) and Ubu Repertory Theater (NY 1990)
Empire State Building, co-writer, semi-fictional documentary broadcast by Canal Plus, (France 2008)
Editor, The Single Voice: An Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. New York, Collier, 1969
Editor, The Troubled Vision: An Anthology of Contemporary Short Novels and Passages. New York, Collier, 1970
Editor, The New Mystery. New York, Dutton, 1993