THE MUSE

I came
I saw
And was conquered
So many roads to choose
But they all became the same
I was driven
Before being driven mad
To seek a meaning to it all
Or at least some of it
But you clouded the issue
Appearing quite a few times in my life
In the guise of different women
Always fooling me
As I laughed into my drink
Thinking I’d seen it all
You were an exquisite distraction
To my work
But God always removed you
Leaving me with just enough pain
To be able to write about it
So there you live
Forever
In my work
Always young
Always intoxicatingly crazy
Always puzzling
To us mere mortals
Who worshipped at your throne
Thinking we had the time
To make a clean getaway
Before the fall
But it came
Like Babylon
Like Rome
Like America
And now old men
Aged before their time by you
Stand on street corners
And reminisce
While I
Being human
Take the easy way out
By writing about it
God tells me if I write it enough times
Eventually it’ll all make sense
But I have my doubts
And life is short

(C) Frank Howson 2017

MY CONVERSATION WITH GOD

My birth was a bit messy from recollection and ever since I have been flaying around like a man drowning in gasoline. People have come and gone in my life, some leaving an impression, others facial scars, but still, I wouldn’t change it even if I could shoot them.

Life is funny isn’t it?

Sometimes you win and sometimes the cards are stacked against you. Still, it keeps us occupied doesn’t it? I mean, otherwise we may turn into animals and attack each other thinking there was no purpose to it all. But the good news is, there is. I can say this with all certainty now as only a few weeks ago I was stirring my pot of porridge when I saw God’s face on the surface. He said unto me, “Listen, go forth and tell all the fucking morons that I have spent a fortune on this human experiment and have nothing to show for it. Other than one lovely Jewish boy and he doesn’t count because he is related on his mother’s side. All I ask is that you scumbags make a little effort and be nice to each other. It’s not brain surgery y’know? Oh, and your porridge is ready.”

I have since taken to the streets spreading the good news that God is alive and still loves us. And that we need to be kind to each other. In return I have been beaten, spat upon, cursed, betrayed by friends, had my sex tapes made public by Billy Bush, been blacklisted by Hollywood, been lectured by Robert DeNiro on morality, and treated by the media worse than Donald Trump. It could’ve been less kind, though. I could’ve been treated like Joan of Arc and roasted like a chicken as a public entertainment. Thank God I wasn’t a woman.

These days I keep to myself and have stopped eating porridge lest I get any more messages from you know who. I mean, I myself, even, don’t know why God chose me to be the bearer of his good news although he does have a history of choosing flawed messengers. Life is complicated enough without all that.

Father, forgive us we know not what we do.

(c) Frank Howson 2017

NO MORE VALENTINES

389289_382657621756211_1022672344_nOh what a life we had when we thought nothing of it. It was fun and sunny and we always got by. There was food to buy and things to do and by dinner time all that mattered was the scent of something delicious cooking. We watched movies and looked for the relevance in our lives. Some made us laugh, others made us cry. Sometimes we didn’t know why. Perhaps they were premonitions of things to come known only by our hearts.

It felt like home to me and I hadn’t had a home in such a long time. I was proud of our quaint apartment and comforted by the books and music that glued our lives together. Now all gone.

I worked hard to get money to keep the wheels moving but in the end you resented that I did. So everything stopped. Including me. Our small world became overcast with your moods and I couldn’t breathe without some light.

You complained that my friends didn’t speak to you enough, so I had to lose them. You couldn’t get any work so you resented mine. Every act of kindness I offered you was rejected because in your words you didn’t wish to feel beholden to me. Then you complained that I hadn’t offered. Please forgive me my confusion as to what to do in such a circumstance.

I had been at peace before you decided to crash into my life, appearing at my door every night around dinner time, with your troubled tales of how a troubadour had treated you badly – had not encouraged you – had not listened to you – had not supported you – had not helped you. I listened every night for hours and melted and let you into my heart.

But as time went by you contradicted your stories about the selfish troubadour and elevated him to a mythical status above me. But where was he when you were hungry? Where was he when you were cold? Where was he when you needed laughter? Where was he when you were offered kindness?

Now it seems, in your mind, I have become the troubled troubadour of bygone days.

You forced me out into the night by your verbal cruelty and ruined my Christmas.

I have wandered since, here and there, thinking too deep and caring too much, in an effort to harden my heart for self-preservation.

Please send no more Valentines my way, dear Lord, I have paid too many times and my heart is too weary to try again.

(C) Frank Howson 2017

SO THIS IS HEAVEN.

 

The hardest thing to get used to in heaven is that there’s no time. Not that much of a problem for me as having been a writer I was used to nights turning into days whilst I chiseled away at a new work. There’s not much point continuing that profession up here as no one seems to have the time to read. But here’s something for old times sake.

What’s heaven like? Well, it’s like Portsea with nicer people. No one brags about what car they own, or their penthouse in London, or how they made a killing on the market this week because of a pending war. Conversations like that seem a little facile here. Oh, and you can’t judge anyone by the cut of their clothes as birthday suits are the fashion of the day in this place.

Yes, we’re a friendly bunch. All the veils that separated us on earth have been stripped away and the fear of intimacy no longer exists. That’s probably because our leader (he hates being called that) is such a down to earth person. On arrival he told me I could call him anything so I now address him as Ted. My first request was to meet Jesus but Ted (whom I assumed was his father) just smiled and said, “Haven’t you worked that out yet? You’re all Jesus.” He really loves answering any questions with a complete mind-fuck that silences you. A bit like Bob Dylan. It may take an eternity for me to get what he means. So, I mainly sit and ponder until my head hurts.

There are some really beautiful women to gaze upon. I like to hit on Marilyn Monroe which is an exercise in futility as there’s no sex here. We seem to not need it anymore, or the expectations and responsibilities that used to accompany it. We generally just chat which consists of smiling and staring at someone while you read their thoughts.

Ted, our leader who hates to be called a leader, loves chatting about his favourite food recipes. He keeps promising to let me taste his Peach Melba but so far he hasn’t delivered. In fact, there are no meals as that’s kinda pointless too.

One day, or was it night?, I asked Ted what the point of creating the human race was, and he answered, “Well I wanted to find out what’d happen if I dumped a whole lot of ignorant people into a paradise, gave them total free will,  and waited for the result.” I prompted him for an answer, “Which was?…” And he smiled and replied, “Pointless”. I’m going to need to sit and ponder that too.

The good news for men is we don’t have to shave anymore. And ladies don’t have to pluck anything.

I play cards with Freud, who should be called Fraud as he cheats at everything, and Van Gogh (still a grumpy bastard who can’t read a thing you’re saying). If Grumpy tells me again he only sold two paintings on earth I’m going to have to clock him. Vincent and I currently owe Fraud several million dollars but again it’s kinda…pointless.

Marilyn is looking very alluring as I sit here but the cruel bitch just likes to tease me. She taunts me with tales of how good Milton Berle was in bed and the fact that he used to trip over his own cock. This has obviously left a lasting impression on her. I wish I didn’t have to read her mind, it’s painful.

The one thing we do have is music. Ted is a freak about it. I sometimes think it’s like being trapped in an elevator and having to listen to endless muzak. Wagner is a favourite of Ted’s, although he occasionally, thank God, slips in some Elvis, whom he confidentially informs me was just as chosen as Jesus. I am now pondering the conundrum that both Jesus and Elvis are in us all.

This could take several more eternities to work out before I’ll have a follow-up question that won’t embarrass me in front of Ted.

God, he demands a lot.

It just crossed my mind that, between Freud’s cheating, Van Gogh’s whining, Marilyn’s tauntings about Uncle Milty’s cock, Wagner endlessly played far too loud, and Ted’s oblique answers, this could be hell.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2017

MY FAVOURITE BOOKS LIST

A friend asked me to pick my 10 fave books of all time. The 10 best of anyting is a hard ask but here’s goes. I have chosen those 50 books that moved me the most and had the biggest influence.

1) THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

2) GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens.

3) THE DISENCHANTED by Budd Schulberg.

4) THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde.

5) NODDY IN TOYLAND by Enid Blyton

6) A LIFE by Elia Kazan.

7) CRAZY SUNDAYS – F. SCOTT FITZGERALD IN HOLLYWOOD by Aaron Latham

8) CHRONICLES by Bob Dylan.

9) THIS IS ORSON WELLES by Orson Welles & Peter Bogdanovich.

10) A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway.

11) THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

12) IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote

13) A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens

14) HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain

15) WHAT’S EXACTLY THE MATTER WITH ME by P.F. Sloan

16) DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller

17) TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

18) TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald

19) POWER WITHOUT GLORY by Frank Hardy

20) PETER PAN by James M. Barrie

21) DIARY OF AN UNKNOWN by Jean Cocteau

22) ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE by William Goldman

23) THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD by Ron Hansen

24) SCOTT & ERNEST by Matthew Bruccoli

25) THE POWER OF MYTH by Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers.

26) ERROL FLYNN – A MEMOIR by Earl Conrad

27) ON THE STREET WHERE I LIVE by Alan Jay Lerner

28) DON’T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD by Eric Burdon with J. Marshall Craig

29) OLIVIER ON ACTING by Laurence Olivier

30) THE MUSIC GOES ROUND MY HEAD by David Johnston

31) FREE ASSOCIATION by Steven Berkoff

32) THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE by Robert Evans

33) MARILYN by Norman Mailer

34) HITCHCOCK BY TRUFFAUT

35) A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway

36) JOURNAL OF A NOVEL by John Steinbeck

37) PICTURE by Lillian Ross

38) HOME BEFORE DARK by Ruth Park

39) TINSEL by William Goldman

40) PORTRAITS by Helmut Newton

41) THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT by Quentin Crisp

42) THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Joseph Campbell

43) TEN GREAT PLAYS by William Shakespeare

44) FINISHING THE HAT by Stephen Sondheim

45) W. C. FIELDS – HIS FOLLIES AND FORTUNES by Robert L. Taylor

48) THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN Volume 1 by Mark Twain

49) IN HIS OWN WRITE by John Lennon

50) THE ENTERTAINER by John Osbourne

REMEMBER

Remember the days before ipods and iphones when we actually took the time to talk to each other? Really talk.

Remember when you could go out to lunch as an escape from the pressures of work and for an hour could unwind and enjoy a meal without being interrupted by a phone call about something that could obviously wait an hour?

Remember when love was something magical and special and people didn’t take each other for granted? Or for a ride. We all rejoiced when there was suddenly free love. Trouble is, like most things, people don’t value things that come too easily.

Remember when music was on vinyl and an album was big and had a beautiful cover that actually looked like a work of art and we carried those albums around with us to friends’ houses as a badge of pride? They had cover notes. They listed what musicians played on what track. What studio each track was recorded at? Who engineered? What time of day or night had it been recorded. Who had written each song? Who arranged it? Who mixed it? The lyrics. It was important to us to know all these things and to respect those who had participated on our beloved recording. It was difficult to skip tracks so it made you listen to every song and appreciate an album as a whole. Now, music has gotten smaller in so many ways. People download things in inferior sound quality and don’t give a damn about who played on it and who else contributed. Now it’s all about beats.

Remember when people used to know their neighbours? And actually care about them?

Remember when a dog was a child’s best friend and there were so many hills to climb and games to play in the open air? It taught us to use our imaginations. Without a computer screen, we could imagine we were Zorro, Davy Crockett, Robin Hood or Geronimo and play in parks for hours having the time of our life. And were safe.

Remember when the smallest gesture was appreciated and treasured?

Remember when we believed that our vote counted for something? This was in the days before the Whitlam sacking (a Prime Minister elected by the public and dismissed by one man), and Kevin Rudd (another man elected by the public but dismissed by his own party).

Remember when our innocence was lost from three bullets fired in Dallas? A reminder that the world was not a safe place for those who dreamed big dreams.

Remember when your parents took the time to read you bedtime stories?

Remember when an ice cream and a trip to the movies made you feel like the richest kid in town?

Remember when Christmas was spent with all those long gone family members and we laughed as if there would be no tomorrow?

Remember when the days seemed so long that you could easily fit into each one everything you had to do?

Remember the first time you heard the Beatles and they sounded like nothing you’d ever heard before? It’s hard for younger people to appreciate their full impact on the way things were. Music, hair, clothing, and attitudes changed overnight. Or so it seemed.

Remember when you were small and played with children with different coloured skin and didn’t even notice?

Remember the excitement of each birthday party shared with your friends?

Remember the smell of your mum’s cooking? It seemed like she was some kind of magician. She always knew what you wanted.

Remember when each day was your friend and another chance for an adventure? Where did we lose that enthusiasm for life? I lost it for a whole decade but have worked hard to regain it. Be thankful for each day no matter what you are going through. Each day is a gift. If you treat it as such it will be.

Remember when radio stations played any and every style of music as long as they thought it was a hit? It was such a weird and exciting mix of Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Louis Armstrong, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, Anthony Newley, The Shadows, Bob Dylan, The Seekers, Bobby Darin, Paul Mauriat, The Kinks, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey,  Janis Joplin, etc., etc., etc.

Remember when people read books and writers became celebrities?

Remember when Bing Crosby was the voice of Christmas?

Remember romance?

Remember Muhammad Ali in his prime when he glided like a proud eagle in flight?

Remember reading the Old Testament and being scared because God seemed so pissed off all the time? In the New Testament He had, like us all, mellowed by time.

Remember crying over the loss of your first love?

Remember when people took the time to write and post Christmas cards?

Remember Noddy in Toyland?

Remember when the circus came to town?

Remember watching man set foot on the moon and knowing nothing would be the same again? It was scary and exciting all at the same time. In the words of Bob Dylan, “Man has invented his doom, first step was touching the moon…”

Remember when it wasn’t painful to remember?

 

(c) Frank Howson 2014

THE ST. KILDA OF MY YOUTH

Growing up in Fawkner Street, St. Kilda, was an adventure, as I have written of in the past.

My earliest recollections were of the Barkly Hotel on our street corner. In those days a rough and tumble pub, not helped by the archaic 6pm closing times of the day. That meant that all pubs had to stop serving alcohol by 6pm (can you believe it?) and so men, and women, would rush there from their day jobs and with less than thirty minutes or so would order six or seven or eight pints, line them up and down them in record time. All this did was ensure that there’d be a blood bath outside the pub most nights giving the poor, who couldn’t afford to go to Festival Hall and see professional boxing, free front row seats as unhappy drunk patrons settled their imagined differences with their fists. It looked quote poetic on reflection. A kind of slow motion, weird, drunkards dance.

Everywhere there seemed to be street theatre happening.

People falling out of pubs, or pushing to get in before closing time. Children, crying in strollers, waiting for dad or mum to drink their fill and return to responsibility. Maybe.

Mr. and Mrs. Kilpatrick’s Milk Bar was a few doors down and I’d be sent to get supplies for the dinner meal most nights, so I always got a first hand look at the action. Who needed to read “Treasure Island” for thrills when all this was happening outside your door?

My mum never did a shopping list. She was an improve artist when she cooked. My dad, who was jockey size, used to joke that he’d have been 6’4″ if my mum hadn’t sent him on so many errands. It usually went something like this…

“Hey Jack, can you walk up to the Kilpatrick’s and get some milk?”

“Is that all you need?” Dad would ask.

“Yes. That’ll do.”

So off he’d go.

Upon his return he’d be met with…

“Oh. And I need some butter.”

At this point he’d look at me with the greatest look of exasperation seen since the great Oliver Hardy.

He’d put the milk down, loudly, on the kitchen table and through tight lips and clenched teeth would again enquire, “Now…is that all you need?”

“Yes, that’ll do me, Jacky,” my mum would assure him. So, off he’d go again. Dutifully walking up the street to ensure we finally got something to eat as our in-house masterchef toiled away.

No sooner would he get in the door when he’d hear, “Oh and I could use some more flour too.”

I can’t repeat what my father’s response would be to this. But he certainly made it clear to my mum what she could do with the dinner.

Who needed television? Every night at my place we had a live comedy sketch worthy of anything Laural & Hardy, Buster Keaton or Chaplin ever did. Maybe that’s why it was easy to develop a sense of humour. You had to look at the funny side of things or go mad. Or kill someone. To be totally honest some nights the two of them did attempt the latter but that’s a whole other chapter and darker in tone.

Looking back, my upbringing destined me for the theatre. Franz Kafka would’ve felt right at home at our table. The bizarre was normal to us.

Both my parents were originals. Characters. I have not found their like in anyone else in all my years. Perhaps that’s why they were so well loved. They made people laugh, either intentionally or not. When my father died, the crowd couldn’t squeeze into St. Colman’s Church on Carlisle Street and overflowed onto the pavement outside. Tough men who’d worked with him sobbed like children and tried to explain to me how much he’d meant to them. Didn’t they think I knew?

My mother outlived my dad by over twenty so her funeral didn’t achieve the same standing room only crowd but that was only for the simple fact that so many of her friends and family were already gone by then. But the outpouring of grief was just as intense. Many couldn’t contemplate a world without Pearl. I must confess that this writer still struggles with it himself.

Being originals meant both of them were irreplaceable.

If my mum wanted to go and see a romantic film at the classy Victory Theatre my dad would convince her that, while she was enjoying Grace Kelly and Cary Grant act in a story that must’ve seemed almost science fiction to the world she knew, he’d take me and go see a man’s movie at the nearby Memo Theatre. The once beautiful art deco Memo had fallen into disrepair in my youth and I remember my dad affectionately calling it “the Flea Pit.” The first such movie outing between us men was “The Creature From The Black Lagoon.” I was three years old. I had nightmares for years. Child psychology wasn’t a concept in those days. No one ever thought about how things might harm or unnerve a child. You either coped with it…or harden the fuck up!

Another place I’ll always remember was Candy Corner. It was a sublime lolly shop and was situated across the road from Luna Park and the Palais Theatre. When my mum got a part time job there I thought I was the luckiest kid in the world and was so proud of her. I used to brag about it to my friends. Suddenly I had influence. I was somebody once removed from a somebody. Yep, I learned how powerful it was to have connections. Kids would beg me to accompany them into the shop while they ordered in the hope that my mum would think they were my pals and give them a very generous serving of their favourites. And she always did.

When she lost her job there, perhaps for being over generous, I lost a few friends too. Another life lesson. More grounding for a future in showbiz.

My dad had been a hurdle jockey, as were his two brothers. One of them, William (Bill) Howson is in the history books for winning several Grand National Steeple Chase races. But my dad gave it all away when he married so he could get a more reliable job. Did the frustration of that lead to his drinking? Watching his brother go on and become famous and wealthy? Who would know? This was the era when men didn’t talk about their problems. Nor acknowledge them. And went to their graves with the secrets of their inner feelings.

He got a job on the St. Kilda Foreshore Council and became a gardener, and a damn fine one. There was nothing he didn’t know about plants. He’d walk through a garden and pick various flowers or plants and eat them to impress you. He knew which ones you could eat and which ones would poison you. He was in charge of the O’Donnell Gardens next to Luna Park.

The head of Luna Park in those days was Mr. Keith Marshall, a man I remember looking up to, literally, and being so impressed with the fact that he always wore a suit, collar, tie, and a fedora hat. He dressed like Melvyn Douglas in the movies. Immaculate.

After my mum’s tragic demise from a career at Candy Corner, I had a revival in popularity when Mr. Keith Marshall became friends with my dad. It was impossible not to like my father – when he was sober.

I remember Mr. Keith Marshall looking down at me and saying, “Whenever you want free tickets to Luna Park you just go to the front office and tell them you’re Jack Howson’s son – and that I personally okay however many you want. Alright my boy?”

Oh my God. Now I was bursting with pride about my dad. He had sent me to the top of the popularity charts again. For a kid this was really something. And God aka Mr. Keith Marshall had personally authorized it! I was so happy I could’ve cried, but I was a St. Kilda kid and possibly still in trauma due to the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Almost overnight a lot of my friends returned with fanciful excuses for their absence and why they’d dropped me off their birthday party invitations. I must admit, I was becoming a bit cynical about it all.

I spent a lot of my childhood in the O’Donnell Gardens playing Robin Hood, Davy Crockett and Zorro. And rolling down those green hills until I was so dizzy I couldn’t stand. It was cheap entertainment. You had to develop an imagination and use it. I always dreamed that oneday I’d become so famous and rich that I’d have the powers that be change the name of the O’Donnell Gardens to the Henry (Jack) Howson Gardens in tribute to my dear ol’ dad. That dream still gets me to sleep.

Eventually my dad got promoted to boss of the St. Kilda Foreshore, and my mum always maintained that was his downfall. Now he had no one to answer to and the drinking escalated. It got so bad that my mum would go and sit in the gardens and watch him in order to cramp his style. This must’ve humiliated him with his workmates but there you have it. It was a situation that lasted many years and led to World War 3 being fought every night in our living room.

Most times just verbal brutality, sometimes physical. All I know is I overheard a lot of horrible nasty things that no child has a right to hear. A frightened kid standing at his half opened bedroom door watching and listening to your two heroes destroy each other’s ego and pride. And your innocence. So the little boy ran away and hid somewhere inside me.

Some people have remarked that when I laugh or am filled with joy they can actually see the little boy. Maybe it’s on those occasions he feels safe enough to come out.

He’s still very proud that his mother worked at Candy Corner, and for a time his father was friends with God – the man who ran Luna Park.

(c) Frank Howson 2014