Archive April 2012
|The Cell and the Cell Phone
By Christopher G.
The idea of prison is a convicted criminal is removed from society
and locked in a facility where his freedom of movement and association is
limited. A prisoner occupies a cell. Unless he’s in solitary, the prisoner also
has access to other facilities such as dinning hall, library, exercise room, and
TV room. Punishment means removal from society. Loss of freedom. Loss of
liberty. And loss of opportunities to conduct a business or trade.
Then came the cell phone.
Given recent events in a Thai prison, it might be argued that ‘cell’ phone is a
good description of the mobile phones with cheap SIM cards that can put a drug
dealer in contact with his organization. Add the iPad, iPhone, and hard drive
for backups, being in prison doesn’t really mean the same thing as in the old
analog world where a man had to be physically present to oil the machinery on
the illegal treadmill that sent drugs in one direction and received money from
If you are going to run a
home office out of your prison cell, the first thing you need to do is find a
partner or two in authority. These are prison staff, officials, guards whose job
is to make certain the prisoner is kept out of circulation for the term of his
sentence. When most people think of prisons, if they think of them at all, the
image is a tattooed murderer, rapist, robber or pedophile. The violent,
twisted, dangerous dregs of society belong behind bars. It satisfies the human
need to avenge the harm to victims, and also protects the members of society
from suffering a similar fate at the hands of such predators.
Most prisons are filled
with people from the illegal drug trade. They are more like businessmen than the
general population. Thugs, gangster, ruthless and law-breaking businessmen to be
sure. Given the overall ethical quality of workers in the finance and banking
industry, these prisoners share more with the members of the Board of Directors
of Goldman Sachs than with the child killer waiting for his day of reckoning on
These are the kind of
prisoners who have organizational skills, employees, and who have expertise in
paying off the right people. Well, some expertise in paying off the right people
or they wouldn’t be in prison. They can develop the pay off skill with some
years in prison. They have an entire prison staff to practice on. The guards and
staff are paid peanuts. The drug lords inside are making large profits and can
offer incentives that would turn overnight an ordinary life of guarding
prisoners and getting by in near poverty into a quantum leap into a better life
of fancy houses, cars, and holidays.
You make something
millions of people want illegal and you make a small group of people willing to
break that law to reap the profits, which means you have the perfect storm
that produces a new wave of convicts who in turn rather than being punished in
prison, move their operation inside and joint venture with the officials running
the place. Think of it as renting office space with bars on the windows and your
own private security operation to protect you.
Cell phones for Cells.
That could have been the lead in the recent Bangkok
report about Nakhon Si Thammarat police chief’s statement that prisoners in his
jail were working drug deals with prisoners at Bang Khwang Central Prison. How
did the police chief figure this out? He conducted a raid last Sunday. The raid
yielded “284 mobile phones, 1,700 methamphetamine pills, or ya ba, and
50g of crystal meth, or ya ice, in prison cells.” In a second raid on
Monday, officials seized more than 10 phones and more than 100 inmates tested
positive for drugs.
The betting money is that
officials inside the prison tipped their paymasters in advance of the raid.
Meaning that what was seized was only what couldn’t be hidden or taken out of
the prison in advance of the raid. One general went on record to admit his
frustration that some prisoners had advance warning of the raid. It’s hard to be
surprised by their loyalty.
The prison officials take
a hard look at their monthly government paycheck. Then they have long look at
the revenue steam they get from convicted drug dealers inside the prison. The
choice is drawing water from a leaky old tap or dipping over the edge of Niagara
Falls. If water were money, where would you fill your bucket? All those extra
zeros are bound to tip the scale of loyalty. Follow the money, as they say, and
you can pretty much guess where a man’s loyalty lies.
It seems the men inside
the joint had been running a large drug network with the digital trail running
through the back jungle lanes in Laos and Myanmar. Meanwhile, the policy of
dealing with illegal drugs hasn’t changed. The current government has sent the
cops to arrest and if need be shoot drug ‘dealers’ (along with occasional
innocent bystanders as collateral damage) as a public show of how they are
cracking down on the illegal drug racket.
But the recent prison
raid, it is arguable that the authorities have been looking in the wrong place.
This puts the spotlight on an uncomfortable thought: that the people who are
driving their pickups with a stash of drugs hidden inside are as much the
problem as the convicted drug dealers who continue to run the business from
The Justice Ministry
announced a crackdown on drug trade in prisons. If you think that is going to
work, please raise your hand. Like I thought, I see no hands raised. Doubling
the pay of prison staff and officials isn’t going to help. The illegal money is
far too much. Jam the cell phones. Someone will sell an anti-jammer device.
Conduct more frequent raids. They will be scheduled to make certain the main
business isn’t inconvenienced too much. Lock up inmates in bare cells with the
lights on 24 hours a day. Human rights organizations descend along with camera
crews and you face charges of human rights violations.
Here’s an idea. Why not
reconsider the notion of criminalization of drugs? We assess how we characterize
victimless crimes, addicts, and develop policies that reflect a difference
between treatment and incarceration. That might just put the current crop of
drug dealers in prison out of business, and return prison staff and officials to
their duties where they’d relearn the art of living on a civil servant
Otherwise, the government
can pretend, as governments do in most places, that they are cracking down on
illegal drugs and protecting society. When in reality the official policy
effectively has moved the headquarter operation of the drug business off the
streets and into a secure facility where the cops can’t ambush them and shoot
them dead and claim self-defense.
The new globalized set of
high tech savvy drug dealers who now live in prisons would be the first to
resist decriminalization. If they had a lobbyist in this capitol or another and
made large campaign contributions, they would be the first to support the
current system of extra-judicial killings (a good way to teach the non-jailed
drug dealers to stay out of their territory), occasional raids and crackdowns.
It is a great cover for their operations. It allows politicians to stay popular
by methods they insist is winning the war on drugs.
When we know that the war
has already been won. Just visit a prison and you’ll find a band of the winners
of the current policies. This elite class of prisoners is building themselves a
nice little nest egg for the day they walk out of the prison gate. No doubt once
out, they will miss the freedom they had on the inside. The outside world is far
more dangerous and expensive.
Christopher G. Moore's
latest novel is The Wisdom of
Mental test: What is the
first weapon that comes into your head when I ask you to name a murder
Chances are you’d choose a
gun, bomb, knife, sword, and a blunt instrument.
My guess is that you
wouldn’t have chosen poison.
For young readers you
might think of the band named Poison. They have shiny chrome skulls on
From 331 BC The Romans used
lace food and drink. The fad of using fatal substances over a personal, business
or political conflict ran through all classes of Romans. By medieval
times, the Arabs developed arsenic, odorless and clear substance, to kill a
rival or enemy. There was no CSI in those days so proving that someone was
poisoned as opposed to having died of natural causes was more difficult. Asia
joined the ranks of cultures where poison became a tool to eliminate
It is easy for anyone to
buy poison from a local shop. Either pesticide or disinfectant , in sufficient
doses, will kill a horse. And either product will snuff out the life of a man,
woman or child.
captured the essence of our fear in Henry VI, Part II, Act III, Scene 2. “Hide
not thy poison with such sugar’d words.” In a word, poison works by deception.
When a person pretends to offer friendship and hospitality, our guard is down.
If someone pulls a gun or knife, we have no difficulty understanding the threat.
Poison in our tea. That is hitting us in a fear region that lives way below the
Pick your poison: arsenic,
antimony, mercury, lead and thallium. All have been used to murder.
Women historically had a
number of motives to commit murder. Their civil, property, inheritance, and
marital rights were restricted in most places until the last hundred years. What
better way to end a marriage, to ensure a father’s inheritance, to cover up an
indiscretion than using a little poudre de succession or “inheritance
powder”—the name the French gave to arsenic.
Poison and women are back
in the news in Asia. And the case comes with all of the intrigue, deception,
back door financial dealings, and corruption that would have left William
Shakespeare trying to catch his breath.
A young British
businessman Neil Heywood died suddenly last November in China. The official
cause was alcohol poisoning and heart attack. Only Neil Heywood, the father of
two, didn’t drink. Forty-one year olds don’t normally die of heart attacks. One
would have thought the British authorities might have made some inquiries. But
at the time, the British authorities accepted the
Chinese verdict. Big
mistake. The ground has shifted. The allegation made in China is that Gu Kailai,
the lawyer and wife of former Chongqing Communist party secretary, poisoned
That’s a big deal. The
theory being developed, now that Bo Xilai has been sidelined from his powerful
position, is that the couple had used Heywood to transfer money abroad. The
allegations are hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s not the official salary
for a Communist party secretary but it is a good indication of the economic
opportunities that go with that position if the office holder is so
inclined. The case is building that Heywood and Gu Kailai had a falling
out over the commission that was to be paid by Heywood.
Soap box operas, tabloid
newspapers, talk shows all embrace such sordid cases and they can also join the
ranks of the New York Times and the Guardian in allowing readers to follow the
updates on what is bound to prove to be one of the most interesting
international murder cases in 2012. A murder case with potentially profound
political implications for the Chinese Communist Party in the way it selects,
monitors and disciplines members who cross the line where greed and murder
override ideological purity. The CPC Central Committee has ordered a thorough
investigation of the case. That doesn’t happen often. In fact, old China hands
would have to be consulted the last time the Central Committee investigated the
possibility of a murder carried out by the wife of a high-ranking Party Official
Now for the noir part. The
case became so toxic in Chongqing concerning the murder that the police chief
tried to defect to the US consulate. I’d like to have been a fly at the gate to
the consulate as the police chief rolled up and explained to the 19-year-old
Marine that he was the chief of police and wanted to defect to
“A powerful woman will
have me killed,” I imagined he said. But I am a novelist and I am certain he
said something more along the lines, “I want to see the consulate.”
Wang Lijun, the police
chief, looks like an emotional mess, glancing over his shoulder, chain-smoking,
and his uniform rumpled from being on the run for a few days and nights. “Yeah,
right,” the marine must have thought. “I let this guy inside and they will be
checking my urine for drugs until I’m 100 years old.”
The American consulate
true to their creed of offering asylum to the oppressed, and those about to be
murdered by their own officials, did what you would expect. They turned Wang
Lijun over to the authorities in Beijing. Maybe the rendition planes scheduled
for Iraq were all booked up. We’ll never know.
Now that Heywood’s death
has hit the tabloids, the British government did what you’d pretty much expect
them to do: ask the Chinese to investigate the circumstances of Heywood’s death.
Questions are being raised in UK parliament and no doubt in what ever room the
Central Committee sips its tea. What does the foreign secretary William Hague
have to say according to the Guardian? “We now wish to see the conclusion
of a full investigation that observes due process, is free from political
interference, exposes the truth behind this tragic case and ensures that justice
Free from political
interference? Justice? Truth? Excuse me, exactly what alternative reality does
Hague live in? The man should have his urine checked for drugs. There must be
some substance that explains how tragedy has been converted into farce without
anyone laughing. Or noticing that farce is more likely our existential
Politics as well as
jealous and greed, share a long history with poison as a partner in crime.
This case is no exception. What makes Heywood’s case one that may go down in the
annals as a significant crime is the classic setting of court intrigue,
betrayal, greed, and power. Like the Game of Thrones, a power struggle is afoot.
In that whirlwind Gu Kailai’s guilt is what appears on the official
But what happens behind
stage is likely far more interesting as the downfall of Bo comes at a time when
there is a Chinese secretive generational shift, and new, younger faces (men
with less hair dye) will take their places at the seats of power. No doubt
taking a new oath to swear they will endeavor to instruct their wives not to
resort to poudre de succession to eliminate foreigners. And also the
wives must promise never to scare local police chiefs into defecting to America.
That leaves such a bad black eye for the rest of the world to
|BIG IDEAS IN CRIME FICTION
A recent article in the
Financial Times (a must read for all crime writers who are interested
in following the flow of money between the usual suspects) carried an article
written by Jeannie Erdal under the title: What’s the
Her basic idea is that the novel,
especially the 19th century Russian novel, is one of the best way of
serving up a buffet of philosophical idea about what is meant to lead a good
What struck me about
Erdal’s article was the absence of any mention of crime fiction. Though
Crime and Punishment might be torn away from the dead fingers of the
traditionalists and placed in the crime fiction category. My point isn’t about
how best to classify this Russian novel, but to point out that perhaps Erdal has
been looking in the wrong place to find where novelists have taken their
questions about justice, fairness and the nature of society. The Guardian also
has an article written by Adkitya Chakrabortty titled Why are
English and American novels today so Gutless? The thesis not unlike Erdal’s is
that contemporary writers willing to tackle social and political issues are far
I disagree with the
conclusions reached by Erdal and Chakrabortty. They have been looking in the
wrong place for fiction addressing the larger political and philosophical
matters of our time. Bestseller lists and most literary novels might not yield
such commentary. Because novels falling into one of these two categories fail to
deliver social and political commentary means critics need to look harder and
further afield. Is it possible they’ve overlooked a class of novels that falls
under the radar?
If you read crime fiction,
you will likely have come across a number of philosopher crime authors whose
sleuths or police officers shuttle along pathways laid down by Hume, Socrates,
Plato, Mills, and Locke. There is no shortage of contemporary crime authors who
write hardboiled or noir fiction whose novels raise the existential questions
about being, whose narratives seek to resolve questions about liberty, fairness
and equality. In fact, there is a long tradition of such philosophical
examination of society by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett who were
philosopher writers as were Georges Simenon and Léo Malet.
The popularity of noir
fiction is a testament to the appetite of readers for existential narratives
that portray the powerlessness of criminals and victims over their own
destinies, and novels that raise issues about free will and authority. The
Scandinavian authors have received considerable attention for highlighting
larger philosophical questions about nature of culture and society. Peter Hoeg’s
Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow and Stieg Larsson’s The
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, were both international bestseller.
Stieg Larsson in particular captured a huge audience as he took readers on a
search for answers to crimes committed inside right wing class of capitalists
whose wealth made them all but immune for their crimes.
The idea of excesses among
the elites in Sweden started a fire that has spread to many other cultures and
countries where crime fiction authors have explored the large question of who do
the authorities and law enforcement officials hold the elites responsible for
their crimes? Peter Hoeg and Stieg Larsson are two recent examples of
political philosophy curled up like a hidden dimension inside the traditional
form of crime fiction.
That dimension of ideas
has been building for sometime in crime fiction. Reviewers and critics haven’t
been looking in this genre for veins of philosophical goal in these mines, and
that may be because crime fiction isn’t to be taken seriously as the traditional
gold mines: literary fiction. They’ve been looking in the wrong place in other
For at least the last
decade, readers have embraced hardboiled and noir novels because they connect
with a longing to have such deeper philosophical issues arise from the scene of
a crime. And that is where crime fiction starts. What happens next can take the
reader into the complexity of norms and ideas, and before anyone realizes, the
choices the characters make along the way reveal to us the kind of society,
justice system, and economic system that is under our nose.
There are several crime
fiction authors whose books have raised philosophical questions. They are
interested in more than solving a crime. They are examining the psyche of the
criminal, the victim and the society, with its structure of power and authority,
detailing the fault lines where crime occurs. The problem with this list is it
is too short. There are a number of authors who should be included. But this is
a short essay and not a book. The list below includes some of the big idea
authors currently writing hardboiled/noir crime fiction.
Cotterill has two crime fiction series that lock onto larger issues of
political and economic oppression in Southeast Asia. His Dr. Siri Paiboun, an
old chief medical officer, a communist, is set during the 1970s in Laos. The
contradictions of communism, friendship, local culture, and mysticism are
blended into insightful narratives that bring to life the larger question of how
best to live in society. His second series staring Jimm Juree, a Thai
ex-journalist, who has moved to the southern part of Thailand with her family
has gone deep into the subject of Thai fishing boats using slave Burmese
Hallinan’s The Queen of Patpong is a gripping portrayal of
young girls and women from upcountry villages and whose lives have been shaped
by society to enter Thailand’s nighttime entertainment industry. His
investigator, an American travel writer named Poke Rafferty is a reliable guide
to the world that creates the perfectly exploited woman. In this compelling
examination of not only how we should live but also what the consequences of
living a life where money obtained at any cost is the driving value
Vulture Peak is part of a continuing series beginning with
Bangkok 8 to feature luk krueng Thai police detective Sonchai
Jitpleecheep. As a former Buddhist monk and someone who works as a policeman,
Sonchai is constantly confronting contradiction between the tenets of faith and
the workings of the justice system. From corruption to profiteering, Burdett’s
crime fiction gets down to business on the value and meaning of life where
powerful interest can do pretty much what they wish. Burdett’s fiction tunnels
deep into the psyche where dreams, religion, mysticism and desire mingle,
touching the core of how meaning defines life in Thailand and how the powerful
use their authority inside a society to keep themselves in control.
Matt Beynon Rees’s
has a series set in Gaza. The first book in the series Collaborator
of Bethlehem introducing a middle-aged school
teacher named Omar Yussef who leads the reader into violent, broken world inside
the Dehaisha Palestinian refugee camp is a gripping commentary on the politics
of the Middle East. If you want to understand the passion of true believers, the
way injustice and power corrupt communities, you won’t find a better series. As
an example of a writer who is a philosopher at heart, Matt Rees’s crime fiction
is Exhibit A in any discussion of how crime fiction can deliver content to the
discussion of what makes for a fair, and justice society and what struggling
people must endure to achieve it.
Thompson’s Finland based Inspector Vaara series is a philosopher’s
feast. Snow Angels is in the best tradition of fiction that uses
cultural issues such as racism to go under the surface of a society and work
through the consequences of tolerating levels of injustice based on race. You
come away from a book like Snow Angels with a new perspective on how
our prejudices create a wormhole of hatred in the human heart, and that is bad
enough, but when that hatred and fear becomes collective mentality, hanging like
an invisible veil over many of the political and cultural institution. Thompson
fiction is a preparatory course for examining how and why our attitudes and
opinions of others can’t ever be disconnected from the scene of a crime where
the victim is designated as an ‘other’ by society. And we know where that road
I edited a collection of
short stories titled Bangkok
Noir. Half of the proceeds from the publisher and dozen
authors have gone to support three charities that support the education of
stateless children in Thailand. It’s a small step. The money is small. The point
is a dozen crime fiction authors wrote some very fine stories about the
hardscrabble world a lot of people occupy, and agreed that giving back was part
of what any author should do. We have in the pipeline two additional
collections: Phnom Penh Noir and The Orwell Brigade, involving
more established authors from around the world, and more money will be channeled
to social causes in Southeast Asia. What I’d say to those who say authors aren’t
socially or politically engaged, or ignore philosophy in their work, please look
The old line between
philosophy and fiction may still be there for sometime. Abstract ideas have one
kind of audience, while narratives found in novels often have a different turn
of mind, and different demands. While philosophy appeals to our intellect,
novels touch our emotions. And it is inside the boiler room of emotions that the
fires burn the hottest and the passions cooked inside are from the recipe of
political and cultural ingredients handed down by our ancestors. There is
more than one way to make a loaf of bread, and more than one way to share the
loaf that is made. If you want to see how bread is made, horded, handed out,
fought over and killed for, buy one of the books from the authors I mentioned
above. You’ll never look at a loaf of cultural bread the same way after
you’ve read them.
Last week I was at a
gathering, which included an American from Kentucky who was passing through
Bangkok. He had stories about George Clooney and other famous people from his
State. The conversation turned to what young people in the United States aspired
to in life. The answer from the American guest was simple: “They want to be
In a celebrity driven
culture that should come as no surprise. Fame is associated with the good
life—wealth, status, prestige, and glory. The world is your oysters. You are
mobbed in public by admiring strangers.
In the old days, fame was
limited to movie stars or superstars in the sports world, but fame has
metastasized into many new areas including authors in the world of
There have been famous
contemporary writers since Charles Dickens. Authors like Georges Simenon and his
reputed bedtime with ten thousand women. Martin Amis and his reputed dental
surgery. Salman Rushdie whose Midnight’s Children saw him go into hiding from
the mullahs for a decade. James Patterson multimillion-dollar making fiction
factory. J.K. Rowling, a welfare mother turning words into a billion dollars.
These authors are recent examples of the rewards and punishment of the literary
famous. They have set the goal post for the wannabe literary famous.
There is a new class of
writers looking to join their elite status. Self-published ebook authors. With
the changes in the publishing, globalization, the internet and ebooks, the
possibility of fame appears within the grasp of people who self-publish a book.
Some of these new ebook authors have used the new digital channel to become
wealthy. Have they also become famous? Not unless you confuse being well off
with being famous. Most of the ebook self-published authors remain obscure and
as poor as when they started their book. But dreams are hard to kill despite the
reality fame rarely settles on the shoulders of most of us. And when it does,
choosing to live with Simeon’s prostrate or Amis’ teeth, we’d be hard pressed to
make a decision knowing it was going to be very public.
With millions chasing the
holy grail of celebrity status, it is interesting when an author decides to take
his or her career in just the opposite direction: to become invisible, a cipher,
a shadow without substance except the body of work. There are the famous
recluses like J.D. Salinger who wrote The Catcher in the Rye, whose
fame rested on that book and his decision to shut himself away from the
Timothy Mo, another
reclusive author, appears as if hatched fresh from a mysterious cobwebbed
warehouse lined with coffins either in Hong Kong or Manila once a decade or so
to launch a book before retreating back into the shadows. Pure, Mo’s
latest book set in Thailand is already making noises in London. For me, the
recluse author is a game plan to maintain fame in another more perverse way.
There is no halfway house in the invisible author racket. An author either
disappears or he doesn’t. That is how ‘pure’ works. Living underground like a
Cicada and emerging with a loud song that drowns out the other insects every
decade isn’t disappearing. That is clever advertising.
It is said that the
Gone with the Wind, which won the author Margret Mitchell the Pulitzer
Price in 1936, was the only novel ever written by Mitchell as the rest of her
life was spent answering fan mail. That is one price to pay for fame—work to
answer every inquiry from readers, reviewers, and journalists until they lower
your cold, blue body into the grave.
What I find far more
interesting is someone who was famous or near famous, erasing themselves from
the public; no images, no email, no Facebook or Twitter account, and becoming
anonymous. Fame isn’t for everyone. Having total strangers write you, stop you
on the street, phone you, and write you with questions and advice is a great way
to see the entire day of writing being put off until tomorrow.
I recently tried to look
up an old friend in Vancouver who was a well-known screenwriter for TV, wrote
some movies, a successful play, and had been activity in the affairs of the
writing community, serving on a number of boards and committees. I’d known
Michael for years but had lost contact. All I could find on Google was that he
had died in Vancouver mid-year 2010. There was one small obit. I clicked on
Google images. Zero. How could that be possible?
Michael wasn’t an obscure
wannabe writer but a sought after, successful professional writer with many
credits to his name. He was someone well known in Canada. He would have attended
parties, conferences, been around on movie sets—all the places where people take
pictures. I saw him at such events. In all of my moves, I am certain my
photographs of him have long ago vanished. I last saw him and his wife in
Vancouver in about 1985.
This is the digital age, I
told myself. He’s bound to have enough photographs to fill a moving van. Wrong.
I couldn’t find a single photograph of him on the internet. Knowing Michael, I
can only think he worked to achieve this goal. He must have planned to
‘disappear’ from the planet, leaving no trace of his image in the public domain.
I have asked a number of people and still haven’t found anyone who can explain
to me how Michael could have erased his images from every website on the
internet. He lived well into the digital age. But in Michael’s case, there
isn’t even an image on IMDB though all of his TV and movie credits are
disappearance into a visual blank screen is an accomplishment. I smile when I
think of him vanishing like a magician. Fame wasn’t anything that ever concerned
him. He didn’t drink from that well of public recognition; he never got drunk on
that strong brew of being a public figure. That drink which nourishes the
narcissistic personality disorder never passed his lips. I admired Michael years
ago, and I admire his way of leaving the stage empty except for his
His way of going isn’t
mainstream. The current obsession with fame is further evidence of something
more disturbing. The desire for fame is another symptom to be added to long list
of symptoms that define the narcissistic
- Reacts to criticism with
anger, shame, or humiliation
- May take advantage of
others to reach his or her own goal
- Tends to exaggerate their own importance,
achievements, and talents
- Imagines unrealistic
fantasies of success, beauty, power,
intelligence, or romance
- Requires constant
attention and positive
- Easily becomes jealous
- Lacks empathy and disregards the feelings of
- Obsessed with
- Mainly pursues selfish goals
- Trouble keeping healthy
- Is easily hurt and
- Sets unrealistic
- Wants “the best” of
- Appears as tough-minded
My personal literary hero
is H.F. Saint, the author of Memoirs of
an Invisible Man. The author had worked on Wall
Street. The novel was his first and only. He must have written it at night after
selling crappy bonds to people who wanted to become rich and famous. Everyone
has the dream of going home and writing the novel that makes them rich. And
Saint not only finished
his novel; he hit big time, like a walk on to the New York Yankees who hits a
homerun with the bases loaded his first time at the plate. The crowd roars.
Memoirs of an Invisible Man was made into a successful movie and H.F.
Saint received a large amount of money—the Fuck You Amount—from the movie deal
that allowed him to become invisible. And that’s what happened. Saint resigned
from his Wall Street job, left New York and moved to France, and as far as
anyone knows, he never wrote another book.
He had hit that freak home
run, ran the bases and kept on running out of the stadium and disappeared
through the parking lot never to be seen again. Like Michael, my friend from
Vancouver, you’ll find very little about H.F. Saint, who became the invisible
man. No photographs. No interviews or profiles. No life as a famous
recluse railing against the publishing industry. Just a long silence.
The author of Memoirs
of an Invisible Man chose to cast aside fame for the luxury of an anonymous
life, one without strangers stopping him on the street, writing him, or inviting
him to this party or a talking engagement. H.F. Saint escaped all of that
because he chose to do so. On Wikipedia, in the place reserved for the
author’s photograph, is a painting of a suit and tie with no head. A perfect
testament to the book and author.
My fear is that one-day a
reality film crew flush with cash and a broadcast contract will ambush Saint on
some country lane in France and will have footage of the author, dragging him
back into the public domain. I hope that these filmmakers fail. H.F. Saint who
is the D.B.
Cooper of the literary world should continue to remain an enigma. We
should preserve his mystery for the same reason we preserve historical
buildings. The past without a mystery or two isn’t a foreign country worth
We need our invisible men
to stay invisible as the whole world is already rendering everyone far too
visible. They are our small reserve of mystery against the day when everyone’s
information is accessible to anyone else. That’s not exactly the same as
becoming famous. But it blurs the line between what we now think of public and
While the American from
Kentucky who talked about the American youths embracing of fame as their goal, I
would offer an alternative role model. The one H.F. Saint showed was possible.
The one my friend Michael opted for as well. The best life is lived beneath the
radar. They must have known in their bones that the fame seekers carried the
very symptoms that are anti-life, that destroy the creative process, the
psychological damage that no amount of been celebrated can repair. In being
invisible they found something far more important than fame, they found freedom.
That is hitting the ball out of the park.