[Note: This is the first in what will become a long series of dispatches Mr. Pollack will file from the road, where he will be for the foreseeable future, traveling and reading and exploiting the kindness of people coast to coast to Canada. Also note: Most names in this series are real.]
I appear in public so often, and to such extreme approbation, that at times I feel my identity fading. Cities become a cacophonous blur of publicists, taxicabs and autograph-seeking lickspittles. My performances always “kill,” as they say, and the amount of time I bestow upon my acolytes afterward is beyond generous. But when all the drinks have been emptied and the fluids exchanged, a vast emptiness manifests itself in my heart, and I feel the need to write. So to the hotel room I retreat, alone, and begin composing. This is how a master stays ahead. This is how I bring the people joy.
Last Thursday night, I appeared on the stage of the Horseshoe, the Toronto rock club where a band called The Police had once made its North American debut. My opening act was someone named, I think, Danny Eggar, a promising author who I am attempting to lift into prominence through my publishing connections. Considering his youth and lack of stage presence, he performed valiantly, but as usual, the evening was mine. As I read from my new collection, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, the audience acted as though it were gazing upon a new dawn. The stunned faces, the peals of laughter, the tearful applause, gave me mental insurance that the rest of this continent, my continent, will respond in the same way when I embark on a seven-month tour later this year.
During the question-and-answer period, a woman in the back, obscured by darkness, yelled, as is commonplace at my shows:
“Neal! Neal! My friend likes you!”
“That’s nice,” I said.
“My friend loves you!”
“Well then,” I said. “We must have a drink after the show.”
Such fans, I’ve discovered, usually don’t have the courage to introduce themselves. But this woman did approach me. Her name was Lisa, and her “friend” had been a ruse. It was really Lisa that loved me, so much. She said that she worked for a magazine called Vice, which was published in Montreal. More specifically, she had recently written an article on the proper techniques for giving oral sex. I examined the illustrations, and the positions depicted were familiar to me. Other articles discussed the rise of a rock star with the unusual name of Beck, and a phenomenon known as “Pimp Chic.” It appeared that the young people of Toronto were dressing shabbily and using heroin on purpose, which I had always wanted to try myself, but had missed the curve in the late 60s, when I was covering Vietnam. Lisa, it seemed, would be the perfect conduit to help me gain something for which I had been longing since those hoary days.
“Do you possibly know where I could garner some, how do you say it, smack?” I asked.
Lisa’s eyes narrowed. Her mouth pursed. From her bag, she pulled handcuffs.
“You’re under arrest, buddy,” she said.
This was unfair. She was a cop. And how was I supposed to know about an obscure statute, left over from days of the British occupation of Canada, which says it’s illegal for you to ask a woman who’s got a crush on you to buy you heroin?
The Canadians have such stupid laws. But they have lovely jails. Lisa drove me to the station, purring and stroking my hair all the way. She left me in the hands of the desk sergeant.
“We’re really sorry to have to do this, Mr. Pollack,” he said. “We’re all such big fans of your work. I particularly loved Secrets of the Mystery Jew.”
They took me to a cell that was about the size of my hotel room, actually a little larger, I think. There was a queen-sized bed with an eggshell mattress pad, a TV with cable reception and a Playstation, and an adjoining bathroom with whirlpool tub. On the sink sat a collection of soaps and scented candles.
“Please help yourself to this gift basket,” said an adjoining card, “courtesy of the Ontario Police Patrol.” That night, the guard brought me several delicious bottles of Upper Canada Nut-Blond Ale, and when it came time for lights-out, he provided me with a Bose white-noise wave machine.
“To drown out the snoring of the other prisoners,” he said.
In the morning, my publicist Amy showed up, looking nervous and tired. All night, she had been trying to convince the media hordes that my arrest had just been a “promotional stunt.” They believed her, because she is so good at publicity. She found me playing a game of canasta with my captors.
“Are you OK?” she asked.
“Ah, sure,” I said, using my best Canadian accent.
Outside, my most fervent fans waited; they had pooled their nearly worthless Canadian dollars together for my bail. I recognized them all. First to greet me were the makeup artist Sid Armour and her hopeful writer husband Sean, who had recently celebrated their fifth anniversary. Also present was Jonathan Carson, a political science graduate student at York University who had walked from his home in Chinatown to see to my release. He was with his friend Wendy, who mysteriously described herself as “in the workforce.”
“I have brought you something,” said another fan, who identified herself as Swith, which, I thought, had to be a pseudonym.
I sniffed the package. It was not “smack,” as they called it, but rather an ounce of that delectable weed, oregano — a local favorite. Ahhh. Sweet, sweet balm.
I smoked merrily during the limo ride to the airport, and reflected on the time I had spent in Toronto. They were among the most pleasant 20 hours of my life, despite my brief imprisonment. Torontonians, as they strangely call themselves, are well-dressed, polite, inexpensive-apartment-starved creatures with a boundless passion for reading. The people of Toronto are superior citizens of a lesser country, and as such, they need a champion in literature besides Margaret Atwood.
I will be that person. I will be that hero.
Thank you, Toronto.
I will return.