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Blue-Collar Odysseus
Knight Terra Press colophon

Knight Terra Press

littera manet sed lector oraculum

est. 1995

by Quinn Tyler Jackson

Now that we’ve taken up a bit of your time to go back and forth about how you ended up sitting here in front of me, I’m going to take a chance I don’t normally take. But you seem to be trying to learn something about the world on your way between life’s many watering holes, so let me get on with it and introduce myself, because I want to tell you about someone I met a while back, and if you know where I’m coming from before I go on about him, you may better understand him the way I came to.

I’ve been pouring draft here for about twenty years. In fact, that mug you’re holding was probably brand spanking new on my first shift here. Look at it now. All that patina. I live there, in the scuffing of countless toast-clankings. Well, I live here, really. Just standing around, making sure the place is staying on course. But before coming here, I was a real walkabout, if you can just take me at my word. Electric Legs Connolly, they once called me. But we all of us sit down and stay one time or another, and here’s where I landed when I finally did.

So, what I’m sailing toward is to say that I personally am about as still as those still-waters can get. Everything I see, hear, and say, comes from a place of just getting today done and squared away. I’m happy that way. This pub will be here tomorrow, even if I am not, and if I am here tomorrow, I will be here. Not for me to know. I let go of all that push and pull before I sat down on my barstool here those decades ago.

But not this fellow. No. You see his type all the time, to some degree, doing what I do. Passing along on the way toward something nobody has any idea about except that person, but not always even then. He looked like a mechanic, a longshoreman, a fisherman, or a logger, you know what I mean? But he also looked soft. His hands were not those of any mechanic, fisherman, or logger known, near as I could fathom. They were velvet smooth. But his brow, his breath, his slope all talked of working-class stiff. I say that knowing damn well that I’m one of those myself. He was polite to all the staff; treated everyone on shift like they personally owned this place. He spoke like a radio announcer: his voice was pure Canadian CBC standard issue. But he could cuss like a lumberjack halfway through a polite sentence and then switch back to discussing Kerouac.

I know that there’s a special rule that bartenders can ask questions others ought not, but I’ve never liked being a nosy pest. Some people just want to sit in their beer foam and keep their mouths shut to anything else. That said, I could not help but ask this fellow to give me some of his story.

“I just need to put a frame around you and put you on my mental wall,” I admitted.

“Since you put it that way, my friend, I’ve been on the road. Venturing about North America.” He waved his mug for a refill and I took it from him. Once it was back in his hand, he continued. “I make my daily bread trading on the markets. Nothing much, but it gets me by and gives me wings on my feet.”

I nodded. This explained some of the things I saw in him. But I still didn’t get the Johnny Lumberjack. “So, what’s with the Canadian tuxedo? In your business, I mean. Not very common. Not sitting on that barstool, anyway. It doesn't sing day trader, you know?”

“I grew up around this. It’s who I am. I like to joke that I wouldn’t dress up for His Majesty himself. But we know I’ve no invitation coming from that lot anyway.” 

I chuckled at this. “You kept the faith, then, eh, buddy?”

“That I did.”

I reached my hand across the bar and shook his heartily. Yes, his hand was soft, but he grip was solid and practiced. He’d closed deals. I’ve shaken that hand many times on the high side of a good tip.

“Let there be two Jamesons for us, my friend, and set aside one for the angels,” he said.

I poured out the three shots, handed one, only a third full, to my assistant Jim, asking him to stand in for the angels, and when the three of us were ready, I nodded for him to make the toast.

Slán abhaile!” he called out in Gaelic.

“Safe journey home!” I called out for Jim’s benefit, so he would understand the toast.

The shots down, I cleared the glasses and started back into the conversation.

“You’re on the way home, buddy?”

“We all are,” he replied, smiling. He lit up and then realized there was no smoking allowed in the bar and put out his smoke. “But I’m heading to another home.”

“Nothing ominous, I hope,” said, looking up to Heaven and crossing myself out of instinct just having heard the words the way he said them right then.

“No. Home. I have been away, surveying, measuring, taking notes. I have seen where there is honey, where there is milk, and where there are only fouled ponds. Now I’m heading home.”

He hadn’t had as much to drink as it would take for what he’d just said to be utter nonsense, so I let myself assume that he had a very good reason for saying exactly what he’d said and in those exact words. Even so, I was confused and am not afraid to admit this. Remember, I told you that I’m still-waters without much up and down, and these words were lyrical dancing with the hill dwellers.

“Where is that home, then, buddy?” I asked.

He stood from his stool, put far more money than his tab called for on the bar, and started to walk out. About five feet away from the stool, he turned his neck and stared straight at me. “Home is the place we should not have left to fight for some other dreamer’s dream, and if we can return there in five, ten, or even twenty years, home is where we can come back to, having taken account of the larger world, and knowing truly how much it means to be there.”


* * *


And that was that. I think you might have a better idea of what this all means than I can muster. But I’ve tried to fill you in as much as I’m able.

"Blue-Collar Odysseus"

Books by this author:

Born and raised in Western Canada, Jackson grew up as a child in logging camps, where radio plays and reading were his only forms of entertainment. Upon his return to the city, he felt the call to write fiction, and approached art with a passion and fury. Rather than jump directly into authorhood, he first edited, and then promoted others’ writing as a literary agent. Eventually, he moved forward into his own art, and his first three novels were published in the United Kingdom between 2000 and 2002.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2006. He is a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada.

Jackson lives in Western Canada, where he continues to write fiction and work in scientific research.

With Lily the Aussie - 2013
Quinn Tyler Jackson
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