The Bitter Old Gen X’er’s Guide to Life

The First International Men’s Freestyle English Author’s Competition

Every young student who wants to broaden his or her world, in a broad-like manner, should know something about the background of fine literature. For this, we must study the classics and immerse ourselves in culture, in a tubfull filled with the bubble bath of the old masters, washing ourselves with the scrub brush of their timeless words.

For the 1st international men’s freestyle English author’s competition, held in scenic Vegreville, Alberta, a small group of select authors were chosen by the International Players Light English Literature Judging Committee to compete in a no-holds-barred rock-’em-sock-’em writing competition. Suitably accompanied by music from the Vegreville Tuba Sensations Polka Club, the following famous writers arrived on a sunny January morning at the Vegreville pork auction pavilion: Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allen Poe, William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck.

The task at hand for each of the contestants, in a one-hour time space, was to write a fictional sample based on the following scenario:

A young man meets a young woman in an outdoor cafe for lunch in Paris on a summer day.

The prizes in the competition ranged from a tenured faculty position in creative writing at Harvard to a Boney M CD box set, to a very generous year’s supply of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat. Each of the author’s entries has been reprinted unabridged as follows, courtesy of Ralph’s Auto Parts, and has been assigned an averaged grade based on a critical analysis of the entry’s relevant stylistic and literary qualities.

Henry James

It seemed an exceptionally appropriate afternoon for the appointment I had arranged with the charming young American lady I had been introduced to by Countess Hebergé, and as I arrived at the Chateau for a light range of refreshments and bowed an acknowledgement to the owner of the establishment, I had a brief pause to reflect on the qualities of the natural summer atmosphere around me. Below me was a quite singular stretch of grass in a somewhat faded variegation of green tints, accompanied by one perceptible blade of grass which wavered in a slight undulating pattern on the happening of a light breeze in the outdoor aura, which caused the blade, which was about three inches in length, to tilt over at about a 23 degree angle and momentarily strike a neighbouring blade of grass which was about half an inch shorter but nonetheless nearly the same tint of colour, despite a slight brown thread running through its underside, which was even in width, excepting a slight variation in the upperside of the blade approaching its partition into two quite singularly distinct cutlets—[length limit reached, sorry]

Thomas Hardy

As Tess had reached the cafe, she felt a slight unease in her meeting with the young man who had arranged with her mother to discuss the problem of her economic distress brought about by the death of her brother. How odd that the forces of chaos had conspired in a deathly callousness to unite the two together again, who might, under more fortunate circumstances, both view the meeting in a more approving light. But now that he was not to arrive, she was helpless in the uncaring, shivering universe of uncontrolled anarchy that was all of mankind’s fate in life on this god-curst soil after abandonment by the providence which had sustained her simple faith in deliverance from the dismal, treacherous reality of a world not ordered by love or grief but the bleak absence of any justification.

Edgar Allen Poe

As young Natasha viewed the squalid table at which she sat to meet Count Raoul at the stroke of noon, she viewed the black smoke and dust rising in the air from the ominous greying emissions of the factories surrounding the cafe. As a white visage appeared before her clouded in a wall of fire, she beheld Count Sidney Raoul before her in a black cloak and a deathly pallor about his face and a voice that seemed to arise from the grimly bony fragments of his very body: ‘Alas, I arise, without disguise, forever bound, without sound! And so burn higher, without desire, funeral pyre!’ As she began to scream and the echoes evaporated into the darkened skies, the shattered facade of the cafe fell down to reveal a mirror image of Count Raoul bound in bloody rags and the faint image of a glowing poker protruding from his blackened and ghoulish limbs.

William Shakespeare

[sound from without]

Epilepticies: Yea, hearken ye, dost thou not hearest, in thy timeless fervor, wherewithal the sound of the Ulyssyan sparrow boundeth for the Aeschylean realms?

Diarheacies: Prithee, I pray thee, wouldest thou partakest of such Mercurian¹ delicacies if thou knewest of thine impending fate as foretold by the weird divinations?

Epilepticies: Thy countenance is of a forebode state. I must speak of thy aesthetic protestation.

Diarheacies: Ho! Such is the material of a catholic sense in as much as the sarcophagus of Creon. Wherefore dost thou seest thus in such a epicurean tone? Is this a thought held lately² by thee?

¹ Referring to the Mercurian school of didactic analysis, a lay movement of Aristotelian inquiry in which empirical consequences of emitting frog noises were considered, which enjoyed popularity under the restored duke of Freubump of Winchestle (1543?-1604) in the Elizabethan court.

² Shakespeare is punning here by the use of lately in iambic juxtaposition with the Sanskrit translation of forebode.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Whilom, yt bifel him on a somers day, why as it tofore a-said, ne no langer inne the cruelist monthe, i gesse, that a ladie moste fyne go upon for her lunche, sothe y saye, in that frenchye tun—whereat the genteelmen, lordynges, awaiteth heer, sweet benedicite! was rigt lothe in lust to her a-meet. Such as thise wise was priamus that kynge of troye, faling upon his repaste in so similare a straite, ne carethe not a turde for thise facte that the suppe of that daye were not leke or fyne turnippe, butte infernale crème of musheroome, pardieux! Wherewithon i praye the, o blesed mayde, spede usse alle of som gode fine wine, for thisse accursed diet spryte thyse quaynte cheape diners serveth nowadaye ne worthe not a duckes farte. Explicit primer parte.

Ernest Hemingway

It had been a bad time, of it all, as we expatriates sat in the Pancho y Villa cafe and had another dark rum with Brett and Arthur. We were all quite tight by then. Then Tara arrived in the room, ordered a rum with a light brandy aperitif, and took a seat and began the inquisition with Conch, who attempted to be diplomatic.

’I’ve ordered the quiche.’
‘Well, thank you, darling. I had hoped for something more... more manly,’ she retorted, sipping her vodka and Chaceau wine.
‘What’s all that supposed to mean?’ he shrunk back.
‘Oh, nothing at all, honey,’ she shot back sweetly.
I felt sorry for him. He had it bad. The claws were sinking in. He sat there quietly with a whiskey sour and a scotch.

The evening wore on and we began to all get tight as the music became louder and the lights dimmed. One of the mariachis from the Cabana del Cuisinart was dancing close to us when he lost his balance, falling on us and spilling the bourbon. A fight soon broke out and I ducked for cover. Tara and Brett merely looked on at us, smiling sweetly with daggers in their eyes, as they malevolently began another glass of Sedgewick Chardonnay and crème de menthe with a chaser of lime gin.

John Steinbeck

There is a waste here beyond words. There is a calamity beyond expression. The two waste the most poignant moments of their earthly existence for the want of a purpose, of a direction. The hungry wait nearby; they will not be spending their days in the cafe with the two. They will go home to their fried dough and their Diet Mountain Dew. The sadness of this is beyond comprehension. But the monster cannot be stopped. How could we control it, ask the faceless men.

It’s bigger than us. We don’t know how.

But where is there to turn for those without direction or expression when those who control the means do not share the means? Two men have nothing; but three men have nothing and one man more. But it continues to grow and the loss of hope and life and expression continues as the pain of the loss and the waste of the men who experience the loss and pain of the days that go on without meaning continue in the waste of the pain and the loss of the monster growing within the hope that the loss and the hope and the pain will someday cease from hoping that the loss of the days and the waste of the hope will not be entirely wasted.


In the judgment of the English Author’s Composition grading committee, it was felt that there was not a sufficient agreement of opinion to concur that any of the entries had exposited in a significant manner the intricacies of the compositional integrities of the writing sample. Therefore, the first prize in the 1st International Men’s Freestyle English Author’s Competition was awarded to the Pet Shop Boys.


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