Selling Oneself

Pope Sixtus IV: Congratulations to the Sardine in resuming A Sardine on Vacation. I’m sure its ten to twenty readers really missed it the last couple years.

Sardine: Thanks, Pope, for mentioning it, but the remark about my readership was uncalled for if not unchristian.

Sixtus: I should have said one or two thousand?

Sardine: Maybe one or two hundred.

Sixtus: Not much difference than ten or twenty or even fifty.

Sardine: I never had the biggest audience. That’s the reality of Internet literary magazines. Although the column aspired to be a newspaper feature with hundreds of thousands, even millions of readers.

Sixtus: Even in a world of diminishing newspaper sales?

Sardine: The column may have eventually been relegated to a digital slot in the newspapers future Internet incarnations.

Sixtus: It wouldn’t have stopped the exodus from newspapers?

Sardine: It would have been an antidote to the lame newspaper humor propagated by Dave Barry, Erma Bombeck, Art Buchwald, and others.

Sixtus: A formidable task.

Sardine: Sample columns and a proposal were sent to every newspaper syndicate and many newspapers. No response except form-letter rejections.

Sixtus: They know what works.

Sardine: They held onto what was familiar. My columns had creative pluck.

Sixtus: Feature syndicates don’t give a pluck. How were yours different?

Sardine: Two ways, primarily. First, the column would never refer to current events and refrain from what newspaper readers expected from a featured piece, preferably located on the op-ed page.

Sixtus: Mother of God, have mercy on this naïve fish’s soul.

Sardine: Second, the columns would start in one direction, and subtly turn to another, hopefully eliciting a delightful surprise from the reader.

Sixtus: Why would you do this? What did you expect to achieve?

Sardine: I wanted the readers to realize that the Sardine feature was a sanctuary from the noise in the rest of the paper.

Sixtus: You thought that an editor was going to occupy space, near the Editorial Page no less, with a column that would alienate most newspaper readers.

Sardine: The Sardine is an alternative to the usual, obvious crap.

Sixtus: That’s like the Pope telling Christians not to obey the Ten Commandments. Where would the Church be then? In the shitter with the Gnostics and Zoroastrians.

Sardine: You didn’t follow the Commandments.

Sixtus: That’s different entirely. I broke them to maintain the Church’s strength. You would have lead newspapers even faster to the digital and destruction.

Sardine: I thought the papers could live with a dissenting voice. That’s how I framed my cover letter. The column by its very nature attacked the basis for a newspaper’s reason to exist.

Sixtus: That’s a hell of a way to sell yourself.

Sardine: The column wanted to avoid selling itself. It wasn’t asking readers to accept its view of the world.

Sixtus: An anti-salesman.

Dexter: Hey, that’s how Gerard described me in Berthcut & Sons.

Sixtus: Who’s that snot-nosed over-educated college graduate?

Sardine: He’s the trainee at the religious goods store.

Sixtus: The one who drove Gerard nuts.

Dexter: I think Gerard or someone in the shop called me the anti-Christ of salesmen.

Sixtus: You’re proud of that?

Dexter: No, your highness.

Sixtus: Your “Holiness”.

Dexter: Yeah. What it means is that the Sardine and I are cut from the same cloth.

Sardine: I wouldn’t go that far, junior.

Dexter: I’m pretty much the representative for the author in Berthcut. And you’re virtually indistinguishable from him.

Sardine: We’re way different.

Dexter: I don’t feel so bad now.

Sixtus: Well, I do. Knowing there are two of you out there who don’t know how the world works. Both of you would have been chewed up in Renaissance Italy.

Berthcut & Sons: Source Material

I am often confused with the author of Berthcut & Sons that I figured I might as well write my own blog. People will think it’s him but what’s the difference?

My name, Dexter Clatterbaugh, came from two sources. ‘Dexter’ is a nod to Lee Dexter, creator of Bertie the Bunyip, a Philadelphia children’s show running from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s. According to the”Pioneers of Broadcasting” site, a bunyip is “really an Aborigine good spirit.” They “look strange because they were at the end of the line when God created animals. They got all the leftovers – the bill of a platypus, upright ears of a kangaroo, a bubble nose and the scraggly fur of a puppy.” I have a scraggly look but that’s the end of the resemblance. As a character, I was not privileged with this memory nor the apparently blissful experience of watching Bertie, Fussie and Gussie, Winnie the Witch, Poochie the Pup, and, the show’s villain, a fox named Sir Guy de Guy.

Clatterbaugh was the name of the author’s friend in grade school. First name, Guy. Most remembered is a moment during the author’s trip to Florida in 1958. His family arrived in Miami by car, around eight p.m. The author looks out the car window and who is running atop a knoll in front of a hotel: Guy Clatterbaugh. The connection to the Sir Guy de Guy is serendipitous. I suspect both childhood references give me, in the author’s mind, an immature feel. The novel falls under the general literary category, bildungsroman, a coming of age novel.

The more I know about the author’s life, especially his experiences at the religious goods store, Cutherbertson’s, located, like Berthcut & Sons, at 20th and Sansom Street in Philadelphia, the better I understand his family’s reactions after reading the novel. One relative, in particular, did not separate mine from the author’s experiences at the store and got angry that the author took so much abuse from Gerard, the senior salesman. Except, there really wasn’t a Gerard, although another salesman did train the author and had come to a similar conclusion: the author was the worst salesman he’d ever encountered. Both he and Gerard wondered how the hell we got the job.

If we had known what we were in for, maybe it would have been better not to have tried so hard in the interview to give the impression that we wanted the salesman job. Five other candidates were also interviewed. Do we call it a miracle or cosmic joke?

Yet, what the author’s relative failed to notice was how I stayed on at the job and, implausibly, moved up the ranks until I was named manager. The author, whereas, quit after six months, even before he was accepted to graduate school. Never was he tempted to take a sales job ever again. In fact, he didn’t get a regular full-time job for another fifteen years.

Much of the time during those years, he worked on Berthcut & Sons. It started as a short story in a fiction writing class at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. In a few years, he tried to turn the story into a novel. In 1980-81, and later in 1983-84, he went to Italy and worked on the book. Several times he started over after getting stalled around page 100. It wasn’t until 1990 that the first full version at 380 pages was typed.

In 1982, an excerpt entitled “The Sale is Not the Most Important Thing” was published in the DeKalb Literary Arts Journal. At least eight other excepts were published in the next twenty years. In 2007, a small press publisher was interested in publishing the novel. A contract was signed but the author disagreed with the publisher over several requested changes. A year later the contract was negated.

A curious thing about the novel is that up to the time a publisher showed interest, the title was Head Nor Tail. I tend to still think of the book by that name. Live with something for so long. . . . The idea was that we in the novel could not “make head nor tail” what was happening. Even the reader would follow the events of the novel quite clearly but still have doubts about what the novel was about. He also had a ‘head’ and ‘tail’ motif throughout. The shop’s tailor, for example, is Arduino Testa, ‘testa’ being Italian for ‘head’. An author thing, I guess.

The present title is more concrete and has a sort of Dickensian flavor. Supposedly, Dickens’ style in works like The Pickwick Papers and Dombey and Son was emulated. The illustration on the front, a pencil being broken in half, is meant to encapsulate Gerard’s frustration with my unwillingness to take the job seriously.

Another influence on the novel is the writings of Raymond Queneau, author of The Bark Tree and Exercises in Style. The author characterized the novel in cover letters to editors as “Ameri-queneau” and even has a Queneau-like pun in the book. Enoch, the shipping clerk, questions whether Raymond the U.P.S. man should hang around and hear shop gossip. The manager responds: “I think Raymond can know what’s happening here.”

The novel is the first of a trilogy. The second is called At-Any-Moment-Something-Else, dealing with Berthcut & Sons, Dalmy Brothers which owns Berthcut, and the comglomerate Zeitgeist International, which owns Dalmy Brothers; the third, primarily about Gerard and myself, is The Coincidence Men. The novels have been outlined but serious attention really hasn’t been paid to them. It makes sense more people should read Berthcut & Sons before Castle embarks on the arduous task of writing two more novels, especially since the first one took so long. But I am excited to see what happens to me and my finally getting out of the religious goods business.

The Smell of the Sardine Can

The Sardine sympathizes with Mr. Pope Sixtus regarding the inscrutability of Social media like Facebook. The whole enterprise is predicated on getting followers by exciting attention through controversial topics. All of this smacks of the mass mind. Not necessarily the proliferation of ‘true believers’. Rather, we have a desire to gain acceptance of large numbers. The Sardine has found the wish to gain approval to be beneath contempt.

Echo in the Sardine mind: O Sardine! How can you be so elitist? Why do you demean the masses?

Wait, the Sardine demeans a mentality that has no sense of shame. Popular acceptance of abysmal behaviors is not new but not until recently have those behaviors advanced to the foreground of our culture. The world has become like television whence all images, events, and entertainment exist undifferentiated on the same plane.

So, Mr. Pope Sixtus, your followers can both ‘like’ you and ‘not buy’ your books. I bet when you confronted them about it, no one rushed to Amazon to buy Pope Sixtus the Fourth. Then, again, as was noted by the sage of the coffee shop, no one reads your blog

The Sardine describes how the world is and cannot possibly change. He accepts it as he might a street of architecturally deficient building. That is, he won’t destroy them – blow them up – nor will he kill those living in them. But he will do all in his power to disassociate from them. But even that’s not good enough.

The smell of the sardine can sticks to the Sardine. He might not smell it himself, just as he would not think it so awful when he resided inside the unopened sardine can. But the world always seems to sniff him out and call him a traitor to his kind. An ex-Catholic is often treated similarly by Catholics.

Perhaps the Sardine believes that his permanent vacation from the sardine can will ultimately redeem him.

Echo: You know it won’t, Sardine. Why do you even try? Why be something that you cannot be?

Is he trying to something he’s not? He associates with people, generally, who don’t mind the can. It’s also true that it is difficult to meet other sardines on vacation. It is as if – knowing this from his own experience – that he finds it annoying to be around his own ilk. Sardines on vacation seem to be programmed to avoid meeting people, even those who might be less aggravating and may share many intellectual interests and tastes.

This Sardine’s situation being thus explains, too, why he accepts the world given to him and doesn’t complain that he has to deal with mass-minded folk. He feels that he can manage the intake of such company by gently sliding into reading a book or sneaking off alone to a movie.

Echo: Sardine, the social media seems perfect for the person who wants as little intimate contact with people as possible.

One might think so. Fortunately, the Sardine wishes to share nothing personal to anyone online and would prove quite unsuitable in that forum. To keep from learning anything personal, he must absolutely stay away from the byways of Facebook, Twitter, etc.

A Vacation from A Sardine on Vacation


[Note: The Sardine’s propensity to talk about himself in the third person stems from an undiagnosed literary malady. One symptom or tic of this is his occasion to refer to himself in the first person for no reason.]

The Sardine doesn’t know how he’ll operate in this new venue without the Logged-in Public (LIP), as well Joe Tragedy, Frank Weathers, McNulty and Honey, Wal-terr, and Benny McSelf. I’m glad to have this distance from them but not happily glad.

The one thing the Sardine will not do, however, is comment on current events. A Sardine on Vacation meticulously avoided the flotsam and jetsam of what everyone thinks is so damn important. This fish lives by the tenet: what is presented in newspapers, television, the Internet, and radio is irrelevant. When the Sardine is held up to be important someday, then I have become officially irrelevant and not worth anyone’s, including his own, time.

The majority is always wrong!

Only when the majority believes this will that statement be nullified. Until then, you have the Sardine against the World.

Some might find this attitude abrasive if not anti-social. The Sardine understands that a judgmental world would label him misanthropic. Why fight it? He’d just be giving credence to the accusation by acknowledging it. Maybe you don’t understand how well this attitude protects one from the most irritating percentage of humans.

People like Frank Weathers and Wal-terr often complain to the Sardine that are often stuck going places and doing things with people they can’t stand. Why? They are not forceful enough – that is, shield themselves – by projecting a loathing and tolerance for the types of people that are around them. The Sardine doesn’t get invited to weddings and parties because he’s believed to be a “bring down” and a not-so-fun guy. This may be true, but it is more true that the Sardine prefers not to go to weddings and parties.

When you tell people that you A) don’t celebrate birthdays; B) Christmas is an intolerable season; C) their taste in movies is pitiful; D) take a political position is the exact opposite of those around you at that moment; and E) you hope that an asteroid will hit the Earth sooner rather than later; you aren’t going to be included as part of “the gang”.

The Sardine has both always been this way and has sharpened his distaste for many socially acceptable things in the past decade (since he left the sardine can of regular existence many years ago).

One might ask: hey Sard, you’re never going to be a success if you continue with this attitude.

This attitude, I must add, is routinely called “negative”.

My response to this allegedly constructive criticism is as off-putting as most of my statements. First, I don’t want to be measured by the value of “success”. Like happiness, success is ephemeral and not a solid long-term goal. Second, the Sardine rejects the positive-negative, success-failure (and other black-and-white) dichotomies. Third, I don’t go around telling people how to live their lives – the Sardine is not asking anyone to be a Sardine.

Often the Sardine is beseeched to declare whether something is a good or bad thing, like stamping out cholera or polio.

I don’t know. Does it have to a good or bad thing? Those who got polio injections and got polio might have had a strong opinion on this. Even then, it helped but why reduce the effects of some medical or technological breakthrough to two possibilities?

The Sardine is a neither-nor creature who, to make things slightly more tense socially, will not offer happy birthday wishes or even say “God bless you” when you sneeze.

A column absent those who often bother me is not necessarily a good thing for the Sardine or bad. It’s different. I must adjust. There seems a bit more freedom in this blog. But is freedom everything?

My Name Nearly Taken In Vain

Inevitably, I must comment on the novel that bears my illustrious name.

It appears as if it’s an honor.

Yet, I was appalled by my Gothic-like visage on the front cover. I wouldn’t mind hitting Lou Pecsi, the illustrator, over the head with my crozier. Then I actually started to read it. I nearly read half the novel before I made my entrance – that’s one hundred and eighty more pages than I planned to read.

The title refers, really, to the high school and not the great Renaissance Pope. I detected the author’s sardonic take on my Papacy since, I’m certain, there are no schools in the United States and Europe which bear my name. The Catholics want my legacy buried deeply.

I admit I enjoyed the touch of having Sixtus IV High’s rival school named Alexander VI. That’s verisimilitude. Placing two mad dogs in a cage. An epic battle and lots of blood and bad feelings.

Less exciting was the presence of Pope John Paul II, who gets a major role in the plot. He’s coming to Sixtus High to celebrate the 500th anniversary of my death and, on the occasion, makes a major announcement. I’m not tickled by the substance of his declaration – but no spoilers!

Very mixed feelings filled me when I read the chapter dealing directly with my Papacy. What does the author choose: the conspiracy to kill the Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano. I’m depicted like a Mafia don, who is being asked by a pair of Cardinals (nephews), to sanction the hit. I don’t dispute the historical accuracy, down to the point that I was very reluctant to give my blessing.

And wasn’t I right about that?

The job gets farmed out to the Urbino mercenary, Federico da Montefeltro, who farms it out to a rival Florentine family, Pazzi, who balled up the plan by killing only Giuliano. I confess that a part of me was pleased when the Medici killed every last Pazzi over the next few years.

The lessons from this disaster. Don’t listen to your friggin’ nephews’ bright ideas. You want somebody killed, plan and execute it yourself. And don’t mess with the Medici.

I suppose some readers are going to think that I must have been a pretty awful pope. See the first blog, ‘Indulge Me’, to digest my response to such lame criticism.

I read the rest of the book for no better reason than I don’t have much else to do. I’ll write some reviews on the Amazon website under various aliases, just to get a little payback.

Indulge Me Again

A short term good: the selling of indulgences to pay the expenses for constructing the Sistine Chapel.

Long term bad: selling indulgences cause the Protestant Reformation.

But was the reformation such a bad thing? Yes, Martin Luther seized upon indulgences – particularly after Johann Tetzel’s intense sales pitch – and wrote the 95 Theses in 1517.

Look at it more closely. Luther disliked indulgences on principle whether you got them through good actions or paid for them. People wanted a way to get partial remission for their temporal wrongs. He couldn’t stand the idea.

One was saved, in Luther’s view, by Faith, not Works. He rejected nearly the entire structure of the Catholic Church. Get rid of works, streamline the communication with God, and you arrive at his grand conclusion: what do we need a Pope for?

The facts were that malcontents against the Papacy went back to the 1200s, starting with the Albigensian Crusade in France. Then John Wycliff’s followers, the Lollards made noise in the 1300s. Finally, the Hussites in Bohemia were bitching about the same things Luther attacked (Luther admitted this, by the way).

Top it off with the Germans. They hated the Papacy because it was Italian, not German.

A revolution – or reformation – was inevitable. Indulgences were the least of the Church’s worries.

It got worse when Calvin wrote about predestination. Then Henry the Eighth wanted a male heir so badly he opted out of the Roman Church. His actions indicate how much the so-called Reformation was carried forward by princes and kings, not religious men.

And look what Calvin sawed: evangelicalism and apocalyptic craziness. The Catholic Church has meant to prepare the people for the Judgment Day but is not trying to hasten Armageddon. Leave that to the neurotic fundamentalists.

I digress.

I really wanted to mention my nephew, Giuliano, Pope Julius II. How comical is it that he gets the historical glory for hiring Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Giuliano is portrayed as some king of art patron with aesthetic sensibilities.

Not quite. He was, as Cardinal, and later Pope, a brutal powermonger. His aesthetic chops rivaled the likes of John C. Calhoun and Sean Hannity. And then to have him portrayed by Rex Harrison (Dr. Doolittle himself) in The Agony and the Ecstasy (agony for the Sixtus pope) – I just can’t deal with it.

Ciao, my followers, and bless you.