Percy and Rosalie by Crad Kilodney
Percy and Rosalie are in their fifties now, as I am. I’ve bumped into them downtown for nearly twenty years, since the early days when I was selling my own books on the street. Nothing much has changed with them in all that time. Percy was on welfare for the longest time, then took an accounting course and worked briefly as a bookkeeper, and then got laid off. Now he’s on a disability pension for a chronic back problem and scavenges deposit bottles (something I did occasionally myself when I was poor). He’s not a bad fellow but has never amounted to anything. The same with his girlfriend Rosalie, who is a perpetual student.
Percy used to talk to me on the street about his novel in progress. It started out as a story, which underwent countless revisions, then it had to be expanded to a novel because of the “multiple levels” that required elaboration. It’s an epic novel of action, political intrigue, romance, and “social philosophy.” First it was set in Canada, then in England, and most recently in South Africa. Percy says this is for marketing reasons, to keep it as timely as possible. The main characters are based on real people, although they have been altered for dramatic interest and to protect Percy from legal consequences. Various incidents have been added, deleted, or changed because of all the new ideas piling up in Percy’s brain. There is no completion date as such. Percy doesn’t want to make the fatal mistake of submitting a manuscript that is less than perfect because he expects it to be a blockbuster, provided that he connects with the right publisher.
Percy has never published anything anywhere. When I suggested to him once that he try to publish short works in small magazines that are open to unknown writers, he grimaced and shook his head. “It would be a waste of time.” That was many years ago, and he still hasn’t got one single publication credit to confirm his own opinion of his talent. It’s obvious to me — but I say it for your benefit anyway — that Percy’s problem is that he fears rejection. Therefore, he can never submit any manuscript anywhere. Nor, for that matter, can he ever finish one.
When Percy talks — and he loves to talk — he has the most annoying conversational style of anyone I have ever known. He speaks in analogies that are totally inapposite. One time we were talking about the law of supply and demand, and he used an analogy about three drunken French aristocrats in a restaurant arguing over the last trout in France. This led him on a long, tortuous divagation about social apathy, the prison system, political corruption, and how inventors have their inventions stolen, and by the time he reached a conclusion, I no longer remembered what we were talking about and didn’t want to return to it in any case. I thought, if this is indicative of Percy’s writing style, he has no hope of publishing anything.
Rosalie has never worked at what you’d call a normal, steady job, so far as I know. She is taking courses to become a social worker or social work administrator. She has been taking these courses for most of the time that I’ve known her — at least fifteen years. At one point she was planning to go to England to seek work because they were hiring more there. A year later, that plan was dropped. I forget the reason. Whenever I bump into Rosalie in the food court in the mall, she’s writing in a notebook, looking seriously studious. There is apparently no end to the courses required for qualification, to say nothing about those that are highly desirable even if not strictly required. When will she be through with all this school work? “God only knows!” (When I was in college in the Sixties, I knew the exact date I’d be finished and had it marked on my calendar.)
Rosalie looks so shabby. She can’t afford clothes. Her only income is from an inheritance she received, which she put into a bank certificate to earn interest, and she just rolls that over year after year. Now, with interest rates at rock bottom, her income is next to nothing. You’d think she’d look for alternatives, but she doesn’t know the first thing about financial matters. I tried to explain a few things to her about investing, and although she seemed interested, it was clear to me that she just didn’t get it. Now I mind my own business. Rosalie would be a disaster as an investor. “It would take many years of study,” she assured me.
Why is Rosalie a perpetual student? Perhaps you’ve already figured her out. She lacks self-confidence. She doesn’t think she’s smart enough. In fact, she doesn’t think she’s smart at all. She’s afraid to go out in the working world and be tested. She’s afraid she will fail and be exposed as an incompetent. If Rosalie had really wanted to be a social worker — or anything else — she would have qualified long ago. Her endless preparation for a career she will never have is a device for avoiding the world until she’s old enough to collect an old age pension. Nobody’s going to hire a new social work graduate in her fifties, so why do her teachers encourage her? Well, that’s another story.
The city has many Percys and Rosalies — born losers who pair up and limp along through life toward some mirage on the horizon that will never get any closer, and who will never rise above the level of marginal poverty they occupy. Separately, they would die; together, they can muddle along indefinitely with their weaknesses and illusions. It would be unkind of me to tell them bluntly what I’m telling you, so I don’t. After all, they’ve never said an unkind thing to me, so why should I hurt their feelings? Let them live their lives the only way they know how, and may God have mercy on their poor, pathetic so
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Crad Kilodney, P.O. Box 72577, 345 Bloor St. East, Unit 7, Toronto, ON, M4W 3S9
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