I was standing in front of the ‘Recent Arrivals’ shelf in a bookstore down a few steps from the busy sidewalk along Bloor Street, Toronto. This was more than twenty years ago now, in another lifetime it seems. Being so long ago and at a time in my life when such distinctions held little meaning I forget whether it was a weekday or weekend. No matter, the sun was shining and I had money in my pocket and time on my hands and it was very good to be alive.
Along with the Kerouacs, Burroughs, Millers and other assorted eye grabbers on the shelf was a white jacketed book titled Putrid Scum, by Crad Kilodney. Not native to the uber-urban crowd that populate the heart of large cities I thought: “Putrid Scum?! What the hell?”
Flipping through the pages I read a few random paragraphs. A strident voice inside my head was screaming “PUT IT BACK!” but it was decently written and the action took place on Toronto streets I was becoming quite familiar with.
In it, the narrator Crad recounted his adventures as an aspiring author. He rented a dark and dank basement apartment and–what truly caught my fancy–published his own books and stood out on the streets selling them with signs such as ‘Extremely Famous Author’ or ‘Margaret Atwood’ hanging from his neck. “Holy shite!” I thought, “the effrontery, the chutzpah, the balls to stand there and face the crass indifference of the million footed city!”
However, Ten bucks was more money than I wanted to spend on a book I wasn’t sure I would like, so back on the shelf it went.
In spite of all the other offerings available throughout the place I kept coming back to Putrid Scum, finally losing the battle to resist it when I read the quote from Henry Miller’s Tropic Of Capricorn on the front flyleaf.
“Alright,” I said to the man at the cash, “against my better judgement I’m buying this.”
“Crad would thank you,” replied the man.
“Sure,” he said. “He checks in quite frequently. You haven’t seen him? He’s always out there somewhere selling his books.”
It was a fast read, darkly humorous, the narrator isolated and defiant. “The audacity,” I again marveled, “The sheer in-your-face foolhardiness to take on society in such a brazen manner!”
I think it was a Sunday night when I finished Putrid Scum. It was published by Charnel House Publishers and there was a phone number, so I decided to leave a message praising it and the author. Sort of like clicking the ‘like’ button and leaving a comment in the world of blog.
The phone rang–I didn’t expect an answer.
“Hello?” said a voice.
Taken aback, I stammered, “…uh, is this Charnel House Publishing?”
Still flummoxed, I asked “are you Crad Kilodney?”
“Yes,” came the reply.
“Oh,” I soldiered on, “I’ve just finished reading Putrid Scum…”
“—Yes?” Distrust reeked in the tone of his voice.
“…and I wanted to leave a message to say how much I enjoyed it.”
That was the tenor of the interaction. Crad didn’t–maybe he couldn’t–open up. Years of selling a self published book on the street corner of a major city has to do something to a soul, either open it in a humorous way to the staggering array of human folly or close it down against the crowd’s cold malignity.
Sometime later I began to run into him on the streets, buying one or two more books which I didn’t quite enjoy as much as Putrid Scum. He was invariably standoffish in his dark coat, hat and jeans. Branching out, he also sold cassette tapes of some of his more memorable encounters with his fellow citizens.
As I said, that was more than twenty years ago now. The other day I did a search, punching in ‘Crad Kilodney’, and what did I come up with? Among other things a WordPress blog! cradkilodney.wordpress.com.
Here’s to you Crad, for fighting the good fight. Sour, bitter, or bemused?
We here in the blogosphere have it easy. It’s all at our fingertips and there’s very little price to pay for our habit or obsession.
You have earned the moniker of cultural legend, at least among a certain set of society. And thus your foolhardy courage has not been forgotten.