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Voices From the Workshops: Dominic Mann-Bertrand

December 5, 2011 | Dawn | Comments (0)

A House of Ghosts by Dominic Mann-Bertrand

A man stands amidst a collection of thick, eco-friendly bags. They are full, but we can’t see what is in them. He wears what once was a very expensive long winter coat, now well worn and ragged. Though homeless, his hair and beard are rather well maintained. These are echoes of sentences spoken, for the most part, to no one person in particular:

    You know what the real problem is in this country? Too many damn people are coming here… and not enough folks recognize that as a good thing. Bigots, the lot of ’em! Bloated faces ‘n’ red necks—their ties are cuttin’ off the circulation, see? Shrinking their minds and making their asses bigger! Think I’m wrong? Just look at ’em all up there in Shitty Hall, nothing more’n a band of tyrannous twits with fat heads, if you ask me! The life of this town—its heart an’ soul—ain’t down there with the politicians, it’s right here with the people—the meat an’ bones of this melting pot. Look around here, you see this place? I mean really see it? They all end up here, the lot of ’em, the breathing beings of this machine: all walks a’ life, all skin colours, all ages—’course I could do without the packs of screechy, snot-nosed little shits who come tearing through the stacks playing hide-‘n’-go-seek, yelling their tiny pretty heads off while decent people are tryin’ to read. This ain’t no damn daycare, for Christ’s sake! (Someone shushes him, softly, as a warning.) ... Anyway, no, I’m talkin’ about—what was I talkin’ about? Ow right, all the people! The people who come to the library to study—learning English, or medicine, or lawyerin’—most of ’em ’ull probably go on to high-powered positions and be throwin’ me pennies or spittin’ at my feet in a few years, I bet. But in here, right now, we’re all equal, see? That’s the beauty. Don’t need no card to get in here, not nobody can take anything out no how. No one owns the truth—that Unbearable Lightness of Being guy said that—and everyone has a right to be understood. (Pause.) So here’s our home, together… homeless citizens of the universe travelling the world in the pages of this place. The Silent Equalizer of the marauding mass, that’s what this building is… Hey, you hear me? It’s the Great Goddamn Democratizer! (Someone shushes him, loudly.) Yeah, yeah… There goes another one, trying to shut me up ’cause I’m impartin’ the truth. That’s right, you heard me: Im-Par-Ting the truth. I went to college, buddy. I studied. I know exactly what I’m talking about. (Pause.) I even took classes from the big Bard a’ Victoria, Papa Frye himself! No joke. Me ‘n’ Peggy Atwood swapped stories an’ criticized each other’s shit, too, know what I’m sayin’? I practically launched her career, single-handed. Ain’t that a trip? (Pause.) But did I ever get a mention? A nod? Not a one. What, don’t believe me? Huh? Edible Woman, man, I came up with that! (Shhhhhhh!)

    Yep, that was my big mistake, brother, goin’ in to writing and doing the whole Rochdale thing! I mean I did all right, made a bit a’ dough working for the Communist Broadcasting Company with punks like Gzowski and frumpy Frum, then I got hung up on this chick who turned out granola lesbian and left me to go follow Jerry Garcia around; after that I got caught-up in a bunch a bad land deals, the Bay Street piggies started landing on my back, and while Mulroney was busy screwing the country I got—you guessed it—f__ked! (Shhhhh!) N’ah, well, easy come easy go they say. (Pause.) You want my advice, kid? Do what these people around here are doing and study for the big money useful stuff. I’m talkin’ ’bout the kinda things that getcha out to the suburbs and into a two-car garage, with a sweet-luck wife and 3. 27 kids. Yep, that’s what I’d do if the big-bearded dude upstairs gave me a mulligan and I had another go around. Only problem with the burbs, a’ course, is that ya gotta drive everywhere and they ain’t go no libraries, least no real decent ones like this. Down here I hand it to ’em, man, they know how a f__kin’ library’s supposed ta work. Reference! (Shhhh!) Shhhhhit, I don’t even mind the renovations, so long as they keep them puke-stained carpets been hear since the place opened back in the seventies, all those browns and beiges—it looks like one a’ them gawdawful Rothko paintings exploded over five floors! Take it from me, ya don’t need too many colours distracting you when you’re tryin’ ta study, bright colours and loud patterns’ll just send you on flashbacks and make you bad trip, man. (Pause.) The only thing is, if you ask me, this place sure knows how ta waste space. Blame that Moriyama son of a bitch for that (and for the Shoe Museum, too). I mean, just think a’ this whole middle part here, nothing but one huge gapin’ hole… Open-air concept my ass! But give the poor bastard a break, I guess, it was the 70s and maybe he was trying to say something metaphoric, you know, as in: it’s like the atrium of knowledge, drawing people in to the largest non-circulating library in the country! Ever think of that shit? No? Well, while you’re at it, think of Alexandria—hey, you listenin’ to me! (Shhhh!) All right, all right. Cool it! The Great Library at Alexandria, that’s what this place is like: the cure of the soul. It’s the whatyousay, the flagship of all the branches. And that may be a ship a’ fools, but anything you want—if it’s in the system—it’s here. Just don’t let the bureaucrats burn it down, like Caesar did to Alexandria in ’48. We’re standing in the repository of human understanding here people! (Shhhhhhhhh!) The confluence of language, in a cauldron of capacities to be cherished! (Shhhh!) I think Noam Chomsky said that, or was it his pal Richard Rorty? Ah, who cares? All this talkin’ is making me thirsty—spare a buck for a coffee? I promise I’ll go to that ex-hockey player’s place and not the Moby Dick multinational… if I make it through the security check with those bozos at the gate downstairs, that is. (He picks up his bags, on the verge of leaving.) A quarter? A dime? Nothing? Ah, forget it, I’ll just go ask some of the foreign language students down the street, they always help a brother out. (He begins to walk away, then stops for one final moment.) Whatever you people do, never forget this: we inhabit a house of ghosts here, who speak to us from the silent pages of these volumes. All you need to do is listen closely…


This monologue is reprinted with permission from the author. It was performed at the Toronto Reference Library as part of David Young's Writer-in-Residence workshop program, on November 30, 2011.


This is a work of imagination and does not reflect the opinions of the Toronto Public Library


Playwright David Young will be blogging in this space from October - November, 2011 as Toronto Reference Library's Playwright-in-Residence.