My basement excavations — the chaotic and ecstatic unpacking of dozens of boxes of cryogenically preserved books — recently produced a copy of a chapbook I haven’t thought about in decades. Pleasant Days … With Joe and Sam was privately published by rock critic John Kordosh back in 1979. That was the same year I met the legendary and legendarily cranky street-peddling self-published fiction writer Crad Kilodney, author of World Under Anaesthesia, Gainfully Employed in Limbo, I Chewed Mrs. Ewing’s Raw Guts,, and plenty more.
After Mark Laba and I had experimented a bit with doing literary performances on the street, and I had already self-published my first unstapled chapbook, He Counted His Fingers, He Counted His Toes (a twelve-pager in an ambitious edition of fifty copies, produced on the photocopier in my dad’s office), I decided to join Crad on the streets, and my first “mass market” chapbook was Bad Glamour, a collection of poetry and tiny stories, a few of which I might even stand behind today, followed by When Electrical Sockets Walked Like Men, a title suggested by Crad and taken from the last line of the poems contained therein.
Crad and I became great friends, and for a decade, during the 1980s, we sold our books on Toronto’s Yonge Street within a couple blocks — or sometimes just a couple of doorways — of each other. Crad did it full-time, and would wind up self-publishing and hawking dozens of books — about 35,000 units altogether, before he got completely fed up, quit writing, and devoted his time to penny stocks and other noble pursuits. I was just a part-timer on the street, though I did move nearly 7,000 chapbooks over that decade.
I mention Crad not just because I met him the same year Kordosh published Pleasant Days, but because it was Crad who turned me on to that perfect example of small press publishing. I had heard of Kordosh because I was an eager reader of Creem — in those days a totally over-the-top, outrageous rock mag — and Kordosh wrote for the mag regularly, along with other luminaries including Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, Robert Christgau, Patti Smith, Greil Marcus, Lisa Robinson and Nick Tosches. There was no better music publication than Creem in its first decade or so.
Pleasant Days … With Joe and Sam contains about twenty-five brilliant stories — none longer than a page — about a couple of fishing buddies. It reads a bit like an ESL book of the era. Here’s an excerpt from one of my favourites, “Joe Reads a Book”:
Joe’s good friend and neighbour, Sam, had just come over for a friendly visit.
“I’m reading a book,” said Joe.
“Books are nice,” said Sam. “Many people like to read them.”
“What would we do without books?” asked Joe.
“I don’t know. I just don’t know,” Sam answered.
John Kordosh’s chapbook is perhaps the most perfect thing I have ever read. In my own fascination with deliberate terribleness, Kordosh has been a terrific influence. I realize only now that my own 1988 chapbook Language Lessons … With Simon and Marie! was clearly modelled after the adventures of Joe and Sam. Language Lessons also appears in my story collection Buying Cigarettes for the Dog (Freehand Books, 2009). Here’s an excerpt from “Lesson Two: Shopping”:
SIMON: Pardon me, but I must pass with my shopping cart. Would you be so kind as to provide sufficient room in the aisle?
MARIE: I see no reason why that cannot be arranged!
SIMON: Why, Marie, it is you!
MARIE: And, Simon, it is you! This is certainly called a coincidence!
You can see how I was influenced by the Master.
I’m not sure what’s become of John Kordosh. There’s a fantastic interview with him online (just search his name), and also links to some of his own amazing rock journalism. As for Crad, he died on April 14, 2014. He and I hadn’t been in touch for ages. I regret not contacting him when I knew he was very sick.
That’s what happens. You fall out of touch with people and then they die. And you just want to have one more conversation with them. You just want to return one more time to those pleasant days.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.
Stuart Ross is a writer, editor, and writing teacher living in Cobourg, Ontario. The acclaimed author of 20 books of poetry, fiction, and essays, Stuart got his start selling his chapbooks on Toronto’s Yonge Street during the 1980s. His recent books include Our Days in Vaudeville (Mansfield Press, 2014), A Hamburger in a Gallery (DC Books, 2015), (Anvil Press), and A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak and Wynn, 2016). He is the co-translator or Marie-Ève Comtois’s My Planet of Kites (Mansfield Press, 2015). You Exist. Details Follow. (Anvil Press, 2012) won the sole award given to an anglophone writer by the Montreal-based l’Académie de la vie litteraire au tournant du 21e siècle; Buying Cigarettes for the Dog (Freehand Books, 2009) won the 2010 ReLit Prize for Short Fiction; and the novel Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew was co-winner of the 2012 Mona Elaine Adilman Award for Fiction on a Jewish Theme. Stuart has taught writing workshops across the country, and was the 2010 Writer-in-Residence at Queen’s University. Since 2007, he has had his own imprint at Toronto’s Mansfield Press. Stuart is currently working on several poetry and fiction projects, as well as a memoir.
You can write to Stuart throughout the month of August at firstname.lastname@example.org