Will the Real Sydney Harbour Please Stand Up, David Baboulene

I suppose it isn’t fair to write about a book that you have absolutely no chance at the present to read, but dem’s de breaks. I met David Baboulene during a short stint when both of us subscribed to the Internet Writer’s Workshop (the “studguppies” list–don’t ask, ’cause I don’t know). The list was kind of a wash for both of us, excepting that we met each other. We’ve both long since signed off the list, but keep up an intermittent correspondence. I send David my latest short story as they come from my fingers, and up until now, I’ve only been able to listen to the saga of his book. The saga: the time spent slaving over it, how he finally finished it, the initial response from publishers, the landing of the agent, and the initial bite from someone with money. As a Christmas present, David sent me my own copy of the manuscript to chortle over with glee.

Let me state right here that I’m a tough guy. I don’t find it necessary to lavish my friends and acquaintances with false praise. And, I’ll readily admit, as I grow to know more writers, and as I write more myself, I find it harder to do. I have no desire to hurt anyone’s feelings by an impression that I write, yet I also know how sensitive a writer can be, and how they can linger over simple statements in a brief comment. In the end, it comes down to honesty. My tastes are my own, and just because I don’t necessarily like something isn’t to say it is without merit or quality (and vice versa, of course). When I hate something, I try to back it up with reasons, but sometimes it comes down to the single reason that it didn’t suit me. Conversely, when I find something I genuinely like, I can wax effusive about it, and not feel like a brown-nosing toady, but a real worshipper.

With that kind of lead in, let me spare David and the rest of you the stress and say right off the bat that I loved it. David’s book is a semi-autobiographical account of his experience as a seventeen-year- old Merchant Marine. What it reminded me most of was the Ted Conover book that I read last year about traveling the U.S. railroad system with hoboes, crossed with the style of Jerome K. Jerome and a touch of Wodehouse, yet also with a dash of Redmond O’Hanlon.

Let’s pause here and wait for David to stop blushing.

Not to dwell on the low humor, for the book contains a wide variety of fun from the self-depreciating, look-what-a-stupid-twit-I-was type to the sly trickster, but the chapter on masturbation at sea alone sent me into gales of laughter. In an airport terminal, nonetheless. Laughing in public places is fine when you’re with a group, but starts to make people nervous when you’re alone. By the appointment of painful clamps to my earlobes–which I am sure worried my fellow travellers even more–I was able to counteract the inducement of mirth physically while continuing to enjoy it mentally. Think of it: you’re a young kid, truly adrift at sea, with only a group of guys around you. While this would be heaven for some men, if you’re a confirmed heterosexual, the situation calls for desperate measures. Add this to a tradition at sea that if you catch someone wanking, they owe you a case of beer, the possibility for trouble is just magnified.

If there’s anything about the book that I didn’t think quite worked, it was the title. Although it matches with a section of the book, it doesn’t quite capture the full book, but simply that section. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a better title, either.

Word from David is that the publisher with the money isn’t ready for the book at this time (I think that’s what he told me), but all is not lost. David’s looking to shop it overseas, and has started his next while doing so. I can’t see why this book wouldn’t make a fine Vintage Departure–yes, I think it’s that good. And I sincerely hope the rest of you get a chance to judge my opinion of it someday.

[Finished 3 May 1994]

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