Wednesday, November 17, 2010
RODEO in JOLIET
Bibliophile and I ventured to Wordstock in Portland this year. A plethora of books, authors, and book accoutrements that would make you drool. (Ok, maybe that's just me...but I do run my hands over hundreds of books that have not crossed my path before)
And so it was with Rodeo in Joliet, a memoir by Glann Rockowitz. I saw the smooth white cover lying on a table at Wordstock and the book DEMANDED that I open it. I am one of those people who read the first line of a book and know if I want to read it or just keep looking. I don't read dust jackets and I don't turn the book over to see what someone ELSE thought of the book. I read the first sentence to see what I think. After all...if you sit down to write a whole gosh darn book it seems like you could write a first sentence that just might make someone want to keep reading.
And so I open the book and read:
Voices are underwater, faces are Vaseline, smells are electric, words are paint spills and I can't feel a goddamn thing.
I turn to Bibliophile and say, "I want this one". And that is how I came to read the memoir by Glenn Rockowitz, a book I had never heard of.
Glenn has just gotten a diagnosis of terminal cancer in the beginning of the book. Cancer that has advanced and left him with an estimated three months to live. Glenn has a wife who is then seven months pregnant with his son. Glenn begins the wild ride of how one spends the last three months of their life and what their priorities are.
Glenn is not necessarily a likable character and I found myself as angry at his behavior as he was at his disease. He does not sugarcoat his experience and he seems to think that good manners boil down to a waste of time and time is something he has just about run out of.
Glenn's writing style reminds me of James Frey, (A Million Little Pieces), and that is a compliment...I couldn't care less whether James fudged or changed or downright lied about things...I found his writing brilliant.
Glenn writes in the same clean honest style which is shown brilliantly in a passage about not wanting to be a "cancer patient" anymore.
I don't want to be on Oprah.
I don't want to be a feature in People Magazine and have a picture of My Family on the Beach, and a picture of My Son jumping on the Bed.
I don't want to be a story.
I don't want to be part of a support group.
I don't want to have a good cry.
I don't want ME time.
I don't want to TALK to Others Like Me.
I don't want a Coffee Klatch.
I don't want to Keep a Diary.
I don't want to do a Fun Run.
I don't want to Wear a Ribbon.
I don't want to Wear a Bonnet or a T-Shirt.
I don't want people to clap when I cross the Finish Line at some Fucking Fundraiser.
I don't want to start a Website of my Battle.
I don't want a website with a Flower Patterned Background.
I don't want to write Updates.
I don't want a Guest Book where Friends can Wish Me Well.
I don't want people to cook for me.
I don't want to write Thank You Notes.
I don't want people to be Concerned.
I don't want people to look at me THAT WAY.
I don't want my picture on the front of some Brochure.
I don't want a Foundation in My Name.
I don't want an Engraved Stone in some Goddamn Park.
I don't want to Battle Cancer with Courage.
"Battling" is Vietnam.
"Courage" is Normandy.
Cancer is just fucking unfortunate.
He maintains this sort of pragmatism throughout his memoir while he is fortunate enough to know someone who can gain him purchase into an experimental clinical trial in the UK. Glenn manages to alienate people in the US, Canada, and the UK while he obtains treatment that many are unable to receive.
I like the clean, crisp Dragnet style of prose that is "Just the facts, Ma'am" and is absent of fluff and weighty descriptions.
One of the things I love about books in general is discovering why the Author chose the title. Some are straightforward: The House at Pooh Corner, Under the Dome, or The Time Traveler's Wife...We are not left wondering what it means. With Rodeo in Joliet we have not a hint of where that might come from but are drawn to the play on words just the same. I am not going to reveal why Glenn chose this title but I think the title in itself deserves to be lauded.
Love Glenn or hate him...it doesn't matter...I think you'll appreciate his story and walk away with more of an understanding of everyone you know who doesn't want to be a cancer patient anymore.