The Butcher of Park Ex – There is this certain rule of thumb when it comes to writers who are stuck finding a subject matter for their next book, article or screenplay: write what you know.
When it comes to Andreas Kessaris, a local book reviewer for the website Curtains Up!, one thing he does know well is the neighbourhood where he grew up: Park Extension (a.k.a. “Park Ex”). This area, which is located between the city’s east and north ends, is best known for several things, such as the birthplace of the late Habs legend Dickie Moore, the home of the studios of CFCF channel 12 and CFCF radio for five decades and the site of Jarry Park, which was the home turf of the Expos from 1969 to 1976, not to mention the high concentration of several ethnic communities like Italians, Greeks and East Indians.
This is where Kessaris spent his formative years, as the son of Greek immigrants, who was caught in the middle of the ways of life of the old country that his parents preached, and the Canadian way of life that influenced the children who fell into the second generation category, like Kessaris.
And through a lot of career hopes and dreams, epic road trips, family dilemmas, and looking for love in all the wrong places, Kessaris recalls them with a sense of fondness and painful honesty with his debut book The Butcher of Park Ex.
This is no true crime story as the title may suggest, but a collection of 24 autobiographical short stories based on his formative years in Park Ex, from Birnam Street to Stuart Avenue to L’Acadie Boulevard and everywhere in between in this multicultural mosaic district.
Many of the stories practically read like incidents that you would see on an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, with Kessaris filling the Larry David role. So whether it be a typical family Sunday shopping trip, the mystery of how his taxi cab driver dad always carried a large wad of dollars, trying to start a relationship with a female colleague at the record store where he worked, having his motorcycle fantasies dashed when he encounters two badly injured bikers, or his disdain for traditional Greek dishes that were served at a New Year’s Eve dinner, the stories that Kessaris shares in the book are filled with humour, comedy, camaraderie, and plenty of pathos that will automatically create a deep feeling of empathy for the author in his endless pursuit of personal happiness.
My favourite story in this collection is “A Souvenir of Letterman”. In it, Kessaris recounts how he pursued his show biz dream job of being a writer for Late Night with David Letterman and The Late Show with David Letterman, but instead ends up with a pair of tickets to the latter show, makes a lightning trip to New York to catch the taping of that scheduled broadcast, and takes home a rare Letterman autograph on one of the tickets.
So whether you grew up in Park Ex, Ville St. Laurent, or the Plateau; attended Outremont, Sir Winston Churchill or Wagar high school; or spent your free time with your circle of friends in the forbidden video arcades of any major suburban mall, don’t think you had a dull time growing up. Every suburb or district always has its share of stories of people spending their youth with those streets and hang outs as their playground. And The Butcher of Park Ex proves that these examples of a childhood well spent — although at first it may sound mundane — always make for good reminiscing and reading. (MiroLand Publishers, $20)
Feature image: Author Andreas Kessaris