About the Author

Bill Gaston

Bill Gaston grew up in Winnipeg, Toronto, and North Vancouver. After spending a dozen years in the Maritimes, he moved to Victoria in 1998 to teach writing at the University of Victoria. He has published a collection of poetry, several plays, three story collections, and three novels, with a fourth, The Good Body, due to appear in spring 2000. "Where It Comes From, Where It Goes" won the 1998 CBC/Saturday Night Canadian Literary Award for fiction and was published in Saturday Night in May 1999.

Books by this Author
A Mariner's Guide to Self Sabotage

A Mariner's Guide to Self Sabotage

Stories
edition:Paperback
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Inviting Blindness

edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian
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Juliet Was a Surprise

Juliet Was a Surprise

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
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Just Let Me Look at You
Excerpt

After decades without, I finally bought myself a boat. My dad would approve.
Because of him I grew up on boats. When I was young I fished from them with passion. In my late teens and early twenties I lived most summers on a boat, in small marinas up the coast, starting with Egmont. On Cormorant I fished and guided. I also played lots of soli­taire, partied, and wrote my first two books on board, clunking away on the typewriter as a fluid world moved underneath.
I loved sleeping aboard, likely for what are narcotic or even return-to-the-womb reasons: a dark enclosure and softly rhythmic motion. After we met, my wife Dede, who knew none of my past, saw me fall into a trance if we happened near a marina. I’d have to study the boats, eyeing their features for those I’d like, wondering if they had a writing table or much of a galley. Lately I check to see if they have downriggers, winch-powered cables that send your cannon ball-weighted lure down to the deeps to troll for salmon.
Boats are magic. That metal or fibreglass can float is a marvel, one your life depends on. It’s not a romantic thought, I feel it in my body. It’s easy to find bygone power in the word vessel.
Sylvan is an old fibreglass tub with a big back open cockpit for fishing. Its twenty-six feet include a miniature bowsprit, a railed plat­form shooting off the bow where, if someone else steered, I could teeter onto and declare myself king of the world. It has a small cabin with V-berth, tiny sink and enclosed bathroom, or “head.”
I’ll avoid nautical terms. At marinas you run into people with boats smaller than mine who say “helm” and “starboard” and, of course, “she.” My boat’s an it. Sylvan is its brand name, painted on the stern, like a big Ford. Its navy canvas top highlights the seagull shit. It’s powered by a big, gas-gulping inboard, plus a small outboard, or “kicker,” for trolling. Both motors are old and the big one has begun burning oil. Many of the switches—for instance the horn, running lights, inside heater, windshield wipers—don’t work. I’ve duct-taped rips in the canvas.
I bought the boat on a whim, but one that felt fated. Out of the blue, after forty years, I was contacted by an old high school teacher. I’d had a crush on her, a Texan who’d moved north for political rea­sons. She had prematurely greying hair, wore serapes and went bare­foot. It was she who’d implanted the idea of writing. In any case, she apparently liked my books, and after I blamed her for inspiring them, her next envelope contained a cheque for ten thousand dollars. I tried to decline it but she insisted, explaining that it was something she did every year, sending this amount to whomever she felt like, from Patch Adams to Obama to unknown poets. She told me to use it on “some­thing missing in your life.” After I had two downriggers installed, Sylvan cost exactly ten thousand dollars.
The boat is decent in moderate waves, and once the motor gets going it tends not to quit. I keep Sylvan in Silva Bay (how fitting is that?) at the cheapest marina and the only one without a waiting list. Reportedly my berth bottoms out in extreme tides, but I’m assured it’s soft mud down there.
The transaction that brought us our place on Gabriola felt fated too. When our father and then mother died, my brother and I sold their condo and, not seeing a wiser investment, bought a place here for the exact amount, to the dollar, we got for the condo. Our two families share it. Somehow it felt right, and also practical, both of those. When I sit on the cabin’s sundeck and view the small orchard and pond, or when I walk the hushed trails through the woods, there’s a palpable sense that this is the fruit of my father’s hard work. His imagined link to this land keeps him alive in ways I can feel. Less poetically, I know I bought this place with his money, feel like a spoiled brat, and imaging him liking it here eases the guilt a bit.
 
 
——
 
 
I have an image that catches him perfectly. Not an image really, but a mid-eighties Japanese comic book. I came upon it again a week ago, digging through his stuff. Not knowing how to read Japanese, I think of it as The Big Bob of Mystery Beer Fishing Art Book.
I’m about thirty, still living in Vancouver and over for a morning visit. My dad is late-fifties, newly retired. Morning is the best time. I find him at the dining-room table flipping through what appears to be a comic book he’s just got in the mail. Unlike our comic books, this one is thin, fragile paper, including the cover. And it’s in Japanese. My dad looks befuddled.
The captions are all Japanese characters. Every page or two has a sidebar or sometimes a full-page drawing, rough but artful, of various fish. The cartoon boxes depict a young man, an artist, on a fishing trip, sketching everything he sees.
“Hey,” I say. “This is that trip you took last year. That charter out of Egmont.”
“Right. Right.”
“I remember you telling me about some Japanese artist guy? Drawing everything? He got stung by a rock cod?”
“Right, right. Drawing everything. I remember that guy now.”
I recall it was a business perk, my dad and some other executives wooed with a freebie aboard a forty-foot aluminum houseboat. He’d come back from the weekend with stories about “this funny little Jap” who didn’t fish at all but got all excited when a fish was caught. He’d lay tracing paper on the fish and run charcoal over it.
“It was really something,” he’d said. “It showed all the scales.”
Always instructive, I said, “A ‘rubbing.’”
“He sure was a funny little guy.” My dad had sounded almost affectionate.
It’s too perfect that the comic is Japanese. He still hated them. They were sneaky, they weren’t to be trusted. I didn’t blame him for these feelings. He’d been in a war, he’d had friends die. If I occasion­ally wondered aloud that they couldn’t be all bad, that some were forced to fight, he’d turn away. Fine. I’d never been in a war. An American, my father joined up right after hearing the radio broadcast about Pearl Harbor. He tried the air force, was too tall to be a pilot, so he joined the navy.
But he hated whoever he thought was Japanese. Koreans and Chinese and Inuit were “Japs.” It was sadly funny that for decades he lived beside Layton Wing, a shy family man who was unfailingly friendly to my father, who was only reservedly friendly back. After a few beers, in private, my dad would rail against “that Jap” next door. He’d settle down when I explained again that not only was Mr. Wing Chinese, but that the Chinese hated the Japanese probably more than he did. But he’d forget, and he’d grumble about “that Jap” whenever Layton appeared to be trying to keep up with the Joneses, like when he installed a pool. I actually thought it a good thing that Layton’s pool was a bit smaller than ours. Again, I found it more funny than sad. It was the big, American stupidity, that of not learn­ing who your enemies really are.
I can’t say I believe in the more colourful kind of karma, the one that says if you’re a pickpocket you’re bound eventually to get your pocket picked, if not in this life then the next. But I have to wonder about my dad and his hatred of Japs and those he mistook for them. Near the end, when he broke a hip and suffered a stroke in surgery, he could no longer walk or talk and ended up in a facil­ity where he was tended almost exclusively by Asians. Most were Filipina, some Vietnamese. I never saw a Japanese caregiver, but I did see a certain look in my father’s eye as they spooned him his food, plumped his pillow, and all the rest, bantering in halting English. He wasn’t all there but I know his pride remained, and I can’t imagine how he felt when, chirping, “How you today Bob, you look good,” they washed him and changed his diaper. It would have been an odd hell.
And now we’re looking at the oddest comic book. It’s part graphic novel (though I don’t think they existed yet in the West), part natural science guide to Pacific Northwest fish, with those cool charcoal rub­bings. The story boxes show the artist landing at the Vancouver airport, lugging his art supplies, tongue sticking out with effort, cartoon sweat shooting off his brow. It shows a bus ride, a first meal with clumsy knife and fork, mishaps with mysterious money. Egmont scenery in the back­ground, it shows the houseboat, and him stowing his gear. A seagull wanders close, begging. Overleaf the gull is rendered, full-page and fine art. It really is bizarre. It gets more bizarre when, early the next morn­ing, he wakes up as the houseboat lurches, nearly tipping. He rushes out to encounter a giant climbing aboard. In one hand the giant clutches a beer and the other he holds out to be shaken, “I’m Bob!” emblazoned in caps on his T-shirt in such bold lettering I can hear my dad’s basso profundo voice in the letters. In the next box the artist suffers a crushing handshake and falls to his knees under the giant’s shadow.
The only English in the entire comic book is the “I’m Bob!” on his shirt. The artist has nailed my father’s likeness, though exaggerated: twice the height of everyone else, he wears a skewed cap, and loudly gets in everyone’s face. He appears to lurch like John Wayne. His nose is red. It’s hilarious.
Turning pages, my dad chuckles nervously.
The story shows the men fishing, eating, drinking. My dad is never without a beer. Now he wears the captain’s hat, a ball cap with gold braid, and the captain wears my dad’s hat and doesn’t look happy about it. One box is just my dad’s face, his eyes closed and stars and birds circling his head, passed out. But he is also helpful, showing people how to fish. Near the end he’s battling what appears to be a whopper, and then, chagrined, holds up a minnow.
My dad closes the book, snickers insincerely and flicks it so it spins and slides three feet across the dining-room table. Partly he doesn’t recognize this version of himself, this Bob the rest of us have known for years. And partly he just doesn’t remember that weekend, not a thing.

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Midnight Hockey

Midnight Hockey

All About Beer, the Boys, and the Real Canadian Game
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Excerpt

A Few Words about This Book

One of my favourite writers is Annie Dillard, despite what she once said about writers who write books designed for specific audiences or markets, which is: “It amounts to a wasted and sad life.”

Well, I wasn’t sad, or even all that wasted, while writing this book. Though writing a book for hockey players does sound a little iffy. I mean, the suspicion is not only that hockey players don’t read, it’s that they probably can’t. But my equally strong suspicion is that this won’t deter them. So if this applies to you – that is, if you can’t read but have gotten this far – I salute you for helping me prove Annie Dillard wrong.

That rumour’s all nonsense, that hockey players are dumb. I know of several hockey players who read really well. And Eric Nesterenko, while playing with the Chicago Blackhawks, actually published a book of poems. (To my knowledge he was never beaten up for it – at least not by his own team.) During Hockey Night in Canada interviews, Ken Dryden’s lawyerlike mouth almost single-handedly succeeded in putting an end to that dumb-rumour, but it only half took hold. What I’m getting to in my roundabout way is that oldtimer hockey players only act dumb for a few hours a week, and they actually lead other lives. I’ve played oldtimers with truckers, doctors, mail carriers, chicken farmers, Buddhists, retirees, dirt hippies, preachers, dot-com millionaires, policemen, wood cutters, drug dealers, sea captains, witches, and eighteenth-century explorers. I’ve never played against an all-gay team – that I know of – but that’s probably coming. So, while as hockey players we may in fact not know how to read, in our other life we probably do.

This Season So Far
September

In life, nothing is so delicious as anticipating that next hockey game.

Well, okay, let’s not exaggerate, there’s that anticipation when, well, remember when you were nineteen and half the buttons were undone and your hands, hers too, were shaking and moving faster? That and, sure, I guess there’s also the anticipation of food, when you’re starving and the waiter slides that steaming plate of grilled garlic prawns under your face and you make an involuntary noise, and people from other tables look.

So sex, food, and maybe also shelter during a storm. But a hockey game is right up there.

Sitting in a schoolroom in Winnipeg, every Monday morning I would begin daydreaming about Saturday’s game and I would not stop. That next game was basically all I looked forward to in life. (No sex yet, and I doubt there were prawns in Winnipeg in those days.) In the meantime I would read my Hardy Boys books, and go to Cubs, and watch black-and-white TV, and hang around doing stuff, but all I was really doing was biding time. Physically inert but mentally on fire, I was scoring goal after goal in my imagination.

Same when I started playing oldtimers, I would go to work, stay interested enough to not get fired, and feel a constant pull in my gut about the game that night. Home from work, I’d bounce a kid on my knee, and he’d ask me what I was staring at, and I’d say, “Nothing, Connor,” and he’d say, “I’m not Connor, I’m Lise.” My gear would be bagged and waiting by the door an hour early. I remember once I had a game and my wife, the tardy FeeFee, was late coming home. I recall pacing, and shooting fierce glances at the clock every ten seconds. She didn’t show up with the car, didn’t show up with the car, didn’t show up with the car. She’d forgotten about my game completely and eventually it was too late for me to make the game at all. When she did finally get home, she said I looked as if someone had died.

So, after a whole summer off, anticipation of the first game of the year, well, that’s usually a pretty fine bit of excitement too.

But not this year. I’m not sure why.

I got the call from Lyle yesterday. I was at the kitchen phone, standing in the open door to the deck. Outside, the warm September sun shone and the evening birds chirped in that melody we assume has something to do with human happiness. It seemed far too early in the year for this particular phone call, but apparently we have a practice next week, then our first game the week following.

I picture the practice. It’s always the same. This single practice, which we humorously refer to as our training camp, will begin with a few three-on-twos. That’s to make it seem like a practice, which is where you do drills to “make you a better team.” Everyone will look horrible. Hardly any passes will connect, even from ten feet away. After five minutes of this ragged fiasco, Lyle will interrupt things and we’ll split in two and have a scrimmage. We won’t look any better, and passes still won’t connect, but a scrimmage is more fun. Which of course is the whole point.

So another season begins, but not for me – not yet, if at all. Which likely explains my dramatic lack of enthusiasm.

I’ll be missing this year’s training camp, and the first games. My back just doesn’t seem to be healing. I own a two-man kayak, a hog of a boat so big and stable you could probably stand up in it, throw your head all the way back and chug a beer. That information alone should explain the state of my back, but I’ll supply a bit more detail. Camping the past summer with my family, I was on the beach and the tide was coming in, and in order to keep my kayak from being swept away I had to haul it up one hundred yards of sand single-handedly. Picture a guy digging in his heels, reefing on a twenty-foot craft that is sticking to the sand like Velcro. The guy is greying and paunchy and has no discernible muscles, but he’s acting like he thinks he does.

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The Good Body

The Good Body

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary, sports
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The World

The World

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged :
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