Monday, May 10, 2010

The Persistence of Pryvett

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I began writing about Pryvett Rawgers seven years ago with the simple line: “Pryvett is an improbable personage.”

When I submitted that first article to a magazine, the editor replied, “We don’t publish fiction.”

I assured him my piece was non-fiction; that Pryvett was very much an actual, living person.

The editor wasn’t buying it—he’d had fiction submissions in the past come in masquerading as non-fiction.

After I provided names and telephone numbers of people who could vouch for Pryvett’s existence, I received a sheepish apology from the editor, and the Pryvett story appeared in the magazine soon after.

Such is the life of an interloper.

Although Pryvett exists, I’m not entirely sure he’s from this world. My closest guess is that he’s a character from a novel I haven’t read yet, and somehow dislodged himself and now treads terra firma, rather than his place of origin, liber firmus.

Pryvett is an ordinary child of the 1960s. He works in the warehouse of Package Handling Company, Inc., where he is under-employed, over-stimulated, and from which his ire, angst, hilarity and spasms of unsociability springboard.

He studied history in university only to graduate into the Ontario marketplace of the 1980s, which embraced a practice unabashedly named “positive discrimination.” This put jobs he was well-suited for—art gallery curator, animal husbandry technician, school teacher, Towne Fool—out of reach.

So, whether it was during the eight years he spent as a door-to-door market tester, or his abortive attempts in men’s fashion retail, the beer store stockroom, or as a bagel shop sandwich artist, Pryvett lived by Samuel Johnson’s adage: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

A writer friend in Iowa suggested:
In your introduction, you could compare him to Lenny Bruce.

You could compare him to Diogenes, looking for “an honest man.”

You could frame his seemingly antisocial acts as a philosophical search for truth. Frame him as a philosopher, a Don Quixote of sorts, looking for meaning in life and occasionally stumbling along the way, but always rising and continuing the quest.

You’d have to do this lightly and gently, so as not to make it sound sarcastic, which would be wrong. You wouldn’t want to give him the idea that he’s being mocked, which we would never do. We just think he’s interesting.

Use the word “iconoclast.”

You could use Jamie’s “be always drunken” speech from Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Also Hamlet’s “rogue and peasant slave am I” speech.

Also Springsteen’s “Drivin’ all night chasin’ some mirage” from The Promised Land.

Frame him as a philosopher instead of a weirdo who likes entrails.
After reading the first Pryvett piece, my writer friend in faraway Iowa inquired frequently via email about him: “Can you give me an example of Pryvett saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time?”

Yes, I could. “At my first book release party, Pryvett turned to my father at one point and without preamble said, ‘Do you think Tom Hanks is a urine-freak?’ Pryvett had read an article about how Tom Hanks hangs a leak, at some point, in all of his movies. It’s the same sort of ‘signature’ move as Tom Cruise who manages to run in all of his movies—even the one where he’s in a wheelchair. My dad was amused and baffled by the left-field conversational gambit, but that’s the kind of question Pryvett thinks is all right to toss around.”

I once heard Pryvett say to a room filled with people: “If you watch Roots in reverse, it has a happy ending.”

When people cringe or frown or vilify him for such statements, Pryvett shrugs and utters his personal credo: “I do not court popularity.”

Pryvett, however, is more than pratfalls and ill-advised comments in the wrong company. He’s a well-read, culturally literature cinephile and Monty Python fanatic, who loves history, Celtic culture; who’s as current on world events as Bill Moyers, and who has an insatiable passion for popular culture arcana. He reads Backwash magazine, The Fortean Times and Rue Morgue to stay abreast of subjects none of the rest of us has the stomach to think about.

He’s a Renaissance man in need of a Renaissance.

With every step of his search for that renaissance, Pryvett steadfastly avoids courting popularity.

Like the time he went to a girlfriend’s summer cottage. On the drive up to cottage country, they stopped in Toronto and hit a few bookstores in Toronto for Pryvett to pick up some reading material. A few days later, when the girlfriend’s parents arrived at the cottage, they found one of those books lying around: a tome detailing in graphic color on obscenely glossy pages something known as “entrails-fetish,” in which naked people enjoy being tied to trees with the entrails of animals.

“What is the worst social faux pas Pryvett ever committed?” my Iowa friend asks.

That’s like asking “What’s the slickest riff in the Miles Davis catalog?”

I attempted to reply: “Pryvett’s most hideous gaffe was probably the entrails-fetish book found by Rotarian parents at a girlfriend’s cottage. But I do also recall Pryvett telling me of a bachelor party where he was nearly punched out by the bride’s father who overheard Pryvett gassing on about how much wanted ‘to do’ the bride-to-be.

“During the debacle, Pryvett managed to cut his hand on a roulette wheel—gambling is not uncommon at stags, in the name of raising money for the groom—causing him to bleed profusely. But even the appearance of blood is not enough to stop Pryvett when he’s hit his Bacchanalian stride. He ended the night with a combination of pasta sauce and blood in his hair, streaking his face and shirt, and himself finally being led outside to an awaiting taxi, amid a chorus of voices asking, ‘Who the fuck is that guy?’

“I think you should start taking Pryvett to church,” my Iowa friend responded. “Both of you need to start thinking about the salvation of your eternal souls. I have a hunch Pryvett’s is in trouble.”

And there was the day Pryvett visited a Christian supply store with a friend who was looking for a baptismal gift. Quickly bored by his friend’s papal-tainted quest, Pryvett asked a mousy clerk where the Christian Erotica was kept, explaining, “There’s nothing like 700 pages of blue balls where the heroine teases about showing her ankles by raising the hem of her long dress.’’

Or, while browsing in an underground video store, a surly store clerk, misunderstanding Pryvett’s worldview, took a dislike to him, and thought impugning Pryvett’s age was the best way to insult him, saying: “Jeez, man, you’re old enough to be my father.”

Unruffled, Pryvett said, “What’s your mother’s name? I might be your father.”

Among Pryvett’s heroes is Miller Magrath, a 16th century Irish priest who, upon his ordination, approached the Protestant church and essentially asked, “What’ll you give me to turn?”

Magrath went on to simultaneously hold the position of bishop in the Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland in northern Ireland.

Still a controversial figure in Ireland, nearly four centuries later, Magrath is reviled for his unvarnished corruption, but also seen as a man who possessed a true virtuosity, demonstrating enormous diabolical skill in manipulating the Roman Catholic Church and the Protest Church for his own venal gain.

My Iowa writer friend suggested several titles for this work:
A Streetcar Named Pryvett
The Naked and the Pryvett
Pryvett’s Choice
The Bridge on the River Pryvett
Stopping By Pryvett on a Snowy Evening
The Love Song of J. Alfred Pryvett
The Pryvett Code
How to Be Pryvett and Influence People
War, Peace and Pryvett
Although he also embodies Robert Frost’s three-word summation of human life—”It goes on”—Pryvett is much too singular for such cardigan wisdom.

For him, it’s The Persistence of Pryvett.

Life goes on, but Pryvett persists.

A believer in asymmetrical warfare and keenly attuned to the Morse Code messages from his reptilian brain, Pryvett plods like a tortoise, out-waits his adversaries and wins by using the greatest weapon of attrition: Time.

Pryvett has the patience of a rock lying on an untraveled slope of the Himalayas.

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