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Fatwah / August 18, 2009


I came to extreme poverty late in life, and did very badly at it. I should have done some kind of crime. But what kind? That’s what I couldn’t figure out. What kind of crime can you actually do, if you aren’t a lawyer and don’t understand computers?

There were certainly plenty of people who could have offered me some advice on the matter. We were living on a boat, moored in a skuzzy little harbor full of small-time criminals. The one guy who went off to a job every day was a figure of awe and mockery, a freak. Everybody else scavenged or stole to buy their booze and weed.

But crime didn’t pay, at least for these guys. They were as poor as we were. Poorer, because they needed a lot of cash for their chemicals, and we stuck with free government Prozac.

They talked a good game, crime-wise, but their lives were more than just bad—they were ridiculous. Horrible, stupid things happened to them on a regular basis.  Like Chris, who failed to notice that his boat was resting lower in the water every day. It finally sank right under him. I hear he’s living in his van now. Then there was Mike, who used to ride with the Angels and still had a classic Fu Manchu, maybe the last on the continent. He was dropping prawn traps, drunk as ever, when he managed to wrap a rope around his legs and found himself zooming to the sea floor, a big screaming mass of live bait. He was proud of having cut the line and made it back to the surface, but everybody else was so sick of the story they wished he hadn’t had his knife with him when he took his dip.

Those people forced me into something like a partial revaluation of my values. There was no honor among these thieves. I mean, you think you know that already, but in the early winter months, when our murderer friend rowed over through the sea ice with a propane heater and shared it with us—with us and his pale young friend Benny—we were deeply moved. You’d have to have been through what we went through, begging the respectable people of British Columbia first for jobs, and at last simply for shelter from the first blizzard—and getting not just rejections but loathing, utter disgust that we might need help. At least Johnny-the-double-murderer, fresh from 17 years in Collins Bay, a venerable medium-security institution in Ontario, didn’t despise us for needing help. He was proud to help us, and that counted for an awful lot with me and Katherine. We still talk about the night of the first big snowstorm, when we begged for shelter at the thrift store, then the public library, and got nowhere—but when we rowed over to Johnny’s boat in desperation, he just said, “Go over to your boat, I’ll be right over!” and rowed over with his propane heater. That night Johnny and his catamite lay in their sleeping bags a few feet from us, all warmed by that blue sunflower of Propane. We wanted badly to believe that they were our friends; there were no other candidates.

We learned soon enough that even murderers can’t be trusted. We fled the boat in mid-winter, with the sea ice grinding at the hull, and by the time I made it back to collect our stuff it was all gone, pawned by Johnny. He had every intention of paying me back, he explained, and that was the last I heard of it.

In fact, that was the only crime that seemed to pay out on the boats: talking newcomers out of their money by offering to do repairs, or befriending them in a heavy-handed prison manner. That worked, at least on us, but the trouble is, you end up with what Flann O’Brien succinctly described as “paupers impoverishing each other.” There’s got to be a better, braver, more honorable form of crime than that.

We went over the possibilities many times, sitting hungry and cold on that damn boat. Not that crime was our first thought. You don’t want to know how hard and long I tried for every job in Canada. The locals have all the teaching jobs well wrapped up, though. Like Limonov said, “In America, every profession has its mafia.” Nice legal mafias. That’s the apex of the crime pyramid, and it soon became clear it was as closed to overeducated immigrants as the Sicilian original would have been.

Then we panicked and just tried for a job, any job. You can’t get “any job” these days, though. You may think you’re being very flexible, but McDonald’s doesn’t actually want a fifty-year old, slovenly, slightly crazed academic taking orders. You’d be surprised what snobs they are. Call-centers didn’t want me answering their phones with my expensively trained voice. Inuit villages hundreds of miles inside the Arctic Circle didn’t want me teaching English to their kids. It was astonishing; it seemed improbable, excessive. Until you got back to the boat in the evening with no food and no propane, sleeping two-to-a-mummy-bag for warmth.

When you’re literally out in the cold, in the middle of thousands of nice warm houses, you think about home invasion first. It must be some Pleistocene brainstem connection: Me cold…Them got warm and foodzez…beat them heads in and take foodzez.

That was the only sort of crime that came naturally to me, arising naturally from the long cold walks past rows of warm, well-stuffed houses full of smug, stupid householders. You start to wonder, how hard would it be? Just knock on the door with something, anything, a tree branch, a piece of pipe.

You’ll never do it, at least I’d never do it, but you sort of wish you could. I had a more practical version that made a little more sense: find a house occupied by a single aged recluse, somebody who kept totally to themselves. Knock-knock, bang-bang, and spend the winter there, leave in the spring.

It was a comforting notion, no more than that. As Nietzsche said about suicide, it got me through many a long night. But it did nothing about the fact that we were utterly broke, poorer than I thought it was possible to be in North America.

So I began brooding on more practical crimes. Like burglary. It seemed so simple, conceptually: you break into houses and steal things. So far so good. Well no, actually, not when you start looking at particular houses. Who lives in that house? Do they have a dog? I dunno. How am I supposed to know? What do you do, hide in a tree all night and take notes? In theory, maybe, but I was fifty years old and even after months of cold, short rations and rowing more than a mile a day to and from our mooring, I still weighed 200 pounds and I’d look stupid getting cherrypicked down from my surveillance tree by the firemen and cops with the local tv crew taking pictures.

Say you got into a house, what would you do then? In the old days, Oh, those bastards had it easy; people kept actual cash around. They could steal actual money. The only people who keep cash now are Chinese and I was not going to rob Chinese people. So what could you take from these houses? A bunch of  “valuables”? What are “valuables” anyway? Jewelry? Suppose you manage to break into a house, get a lot of jewelry, get away with it. You still have to sell it somewhere. Even a middleclass nerd like me knows pawnbrokers are paid informers. You have to know a…I believe the word is “fence.” I could have asked around with the various creeps and sleazes on the boats, but they gossiped like old ladies about each other; not even I could imagine them keeping quiet with info like that.

It seemed to prove the same thing every attempt to find work had proved over the past year: I was unemployable. Even as a burglar. You have to network, like the brochures say—make those long-term connections with reliable, ahem, “fences” and other mainstays of the criminal economy. Without connections, you were doomed.

The only thefts anybody on the boats talked about were pitiful, like Johnny boasting about how he got chocolate-covered coffee beans from the bulk bins and managed to pass them off as chocolate-covered raisins, which were cheaper.  Or how he’d lifted a lot of firewood from a construction site by the dock where one of the smug Canucks was putting up a huge new house. It seemed shameful for a guy who’d done at least two murders to be bragging about stealing wood scraps.

And I knew I couldn’t even get away with smalltime stuff like that. There’s an age, around thirteen or fourteen, when kids try shoplifting. I knew lots of them. They never got caught until they hesitated. But I was all hesitation, even then, with the result that though I never had the nerve to steal so much as a grape, I was always getting stopped and questioned by store detectives. Guilty without a crime, that was my permanent status, and I knew the cops would pick me up if I even looked at any scrap lumber. You can’t fake that kind of crazy, the kind you need to steal. You need to feel utterly righteous as you walk off with stuff, and I felt guilty just buying things, had a bad habit of apologizing to the checker at the grocery store.

The real, sensible, practical crime that boaties talked about was growing and selling BC Bud. As one of the boaties said, “We do take pride.” Weed farming was high-profit, low-risk—there was even this legend that it was legal to grow three or less plants for your own consumption. That may have been true, for all I know; I hated the smug, stupid law-abiding Canadians so much by this time I wasn’t even going to ask.

Johnny the murderer talked about setting us up as front-people in a grow op he knew about: “I told my buddy Nate, these guys are perfect, the lady doesn’t even drink, the guy maybe has a glassa wine now and then , they don’t smoke at all….” That was true; neither of us could stand marijuana. Naturally the one drug I hate is the one that the whole country loves to be all tolerant and sweet about, the bastards.

But like all the other crime around those parts, it was just talk. These peoples’ lives fall apart too fast for them to put any of their plans into practice. Chris’s boat sank, Johnny’s ex-wife called and, last I’d heard, he’d dumped his bum-boy and was waiting for her to show. It was bound to be an exciting reunion; her version of flirting was to say, “So, when you get me on the boat, am I going in the water?”

And then he was arrested in Esquimault for picking up a hatchet that he just found on the sidewalk. At least that was his story. And then some other disaster, another buddy who didn’t pay the rent on a room where he was growing some plants. And then we lent him our car, our last possession, out of gratitude, honor among prospective thieves, and he drove it without oil till it burned out, and by the time he told me where he’d parked it they’d towed it and there was no money to get it back.

So we were as hopeless at finding a crime as at finding lawful employment. It made you want to sue the movies. Who wouldn’t want Travolta’s hitman job in Pulp Fiction? Cruising around high on the best heroin, shooting skate rats. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. We knew somebody who’d been an enforcer, and he didn’t have a dime. None of them did. You end up vaguely aware that there must be a higher form of crime, something with computers and real estate, but that the people you think of as criminals are in no position to access it. You’d have to start young, get in with all those legal networks, teachers’ unions or nurses’, something with a pension plan and accounts. The horrible snobbery of the world, that’s what we left with. Everybody a miserable snob, every door closed, every membership list already full with a waiting list.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Dolan would like to thank the English Department of the University of Victoria, British Columbia, “…for getting rid of me because I dared to teach first-year comp students to disagree with the sanctimonious Monbiot articles they were assigned to paraphrase, thus allowing me to experience the sensual extravaganza of extreme poverty.”


Buy John Dolan’s novel “Pleasant Hell” (Capricorn Press).

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Add your own

  • 1. BlottoBonVismarck  |  August 23rd, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    46, @ Karl

    First sentence
    > I should have done some kind of crime. But what kind? That’s what I couldn’t figure out. What kind of crime can you actually do, if you aren’t a lawyer and don’t understand computers?

    As a typical Exiled reader I reserve the right not to read beyond the first sentence before rushing to assist my hero. Short attention span? Who? Moi?

  • 2. Spikey  |  August 24th, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Dolan – you dumbass. LeVine is living in a MacMansion, and you’re freezing your ass in BC? Dude, ask LeVine, or use eXile money, to fly to LAX and join LeVine.

  • 3. Spikey  |  August 24th, 2009 at 1:24 am

    “But how will he get from LAX to Victorville” – geez, it’s a fucking two hour drive, I’ll drive his ass.

  • 4. Nicolai Ceske  |  August 25th, 2009 at 4:01 am

    Google “daves esl cafe” and find yourself a job teaching in nearly any country in the world.

    Private teachers in Siberia make $100/hr. In Slovakia I made $35/hr to talk about movies and traveling with already fluent students. In Bangkok they hire any a-hole that speaks English, even as a second language.

    You can probably get a paid plane ticket to Korea or Japan and an apartment if you do a one year contract.

    Then again, I got the feeling that this was fictional writing anyways. If thats true then I take all my advice back and say good job in creating a believable story.

  • 5. Osho Honjaku  |  August 26th, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    What is this? As usual Dr Dolan’s story serves as a lesson to younger folk. But it is hard to take this particular story very seriously.

    The problem is that people have far too many choices. Unless you have some ability to handle them more choices won’t make you happy, they just give more ways to be miserable. Everyone wants only the good parts of anything, no one is prepared to accept things in their entirety. Today you are here you like this but you don’t like that. So naturally it must be better there, so you go there where you again like this but dont like that and so on and so forth.

    What is Dr Dolan doing still looking for positions in academia? Has he not written of the appalling squalor that is the academic world? But is he not also looking to sneak in himself? What does he expect? A profession where everyone sneaks in and gets jobs for life and yet one where there is firesome honest debate, integrity, brilliant work and grand recognition for everyone? How is this possible? And when you get your sneaky academic job you insist on wrecking it in order to prove you are ‘right’? This is destructiveness at its worst. Your employers hired you to do a particular job, why should they be interested in what you think is ‘right’, that you think Monbiot is a sanctimonious twit? To bite the hand that feeds you is just dumb.

    Night must follow day: everything has its positives and negatives. Yet there are things that fit our natural temperament better than others. Has not Dr Dolan written about being an anglophone? Then what is he doing in British Columbia of all places, the most anglo of anglo lands? Is he a masochist? You want warmer people, go somewhere where there are some. Even there you will have to work, do some job, and there will be things you dont like. You hate anglo lands and academia, yet you want a position in academia in an anglo land? Where are you lost?

    This too is the human experience. We make patterns of behavior and repeat them even if they cause us misery. But what one sees here seems to be a strong sense of privilege: why didn’t life go exactly as I want it, why are my words not the center of everyone’s attention and why isn’t everyone completely preoccupied with my problems? Some of this comes out of people going to schools like Berkeley and the ivy league. People who graduate from these places simply cannot countenance that they are in the end just like everyone else and will suffer all the problems that others suffer too. They can’t countenance that others may be as ‘right’ as they are; everyone must have the same opinion they do, and everyone must know they are right. This is lame.

    Only meditation can save you. You will become aware of the patterns you are engaging in and learn how not to repeat them, to make new ones. You will understand that the grand opinions you have, what you think is ‘right’, is really just the noise of your silly ego. And you will learn acceptance and the sense of wholeness that comes with that; taking the good and the bad without reservation. Ordinarily for anything we do we get used to what is good and only notice what is bad. But this is not hard and fast, we can learn how to accept the bad and be aware of the good.

    This of course depends on whether you want to heal. If you have no desire to heal, if you have a death wish then no one can help you. Look carefully and you will see that entitlement and death wish are two extremes of the same thing. Entitlement turns into death wish when the title does not come or does not fulfill. It does appear that this sad sack has something of a death wish, some bad destructive streak. He doesn’t want to do well, he doesn’t want to he happy. After all if he is happy what will he have to complain about? How will he live if he is not hating something or the other? Or perhaps he is happy hating.

    The death wish is a strange thing. We tend to see the world through our childhood patterns and this destructiveness often manifests itself unconsciously then: for children with unhappy family lives or the adolescent who is not on the top of the social totem pole and experiences the great let down that sex love and relationships initially are, who knows that his fantasies will have to be adjusted, that they may never be fulfilled.

    Please go find that meditation center.

  • 6. Whatever666  |  August 27th, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Dr. Dolan – Couldn’t all of this have been avoided, if you’d simply been an enthusiastic supporter of Monbiot when you taught your first-year comp classes?

  • 7. Thuggin  |  August 29th, 2009 at 11:49 am

    it’s fucking ludicrous that people try their luck, homeless in the frozen tundra. 90% of the world’s bums, freeloaders, tramps, and scumbags head south for the winter.

    really, tho, I’m surprised it took you this long to find out how most people are. maybe that’s what happens when you are forced outta the pseudo-Berkley hole that is BC. people with money and needs met, can afford to pretend.

  • 8. russ  |  August 30th, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    From having a car, I would assume you had a driver’s licence.

    If you a have a driver’s license, you can work as a cab driver.

    I know it sounds outrageously downmarket for a college professor. But hear me out. In every city in the world they are ALWAYS hiring cab drivers.

    It is job that is open everywhere no matter what your immigration status.

    The reason is the way the cab companies set up the job. They lease the cabs for 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. You pay the lease in advance.

    This works out to having to pay to take a day off, so drivers don’t. They quickly become burnt out and quit.

    Huge turnover, that’s why they are always hiring.

    But for me it is a blessing, because I can gut out 40 or 50 days in a row, then cruise, and when my $$ runs down I just buy back into a cab lease and gut out another run.

    You don’t even have to know the city you drive in. 95% of your customers know where they are going and are happy to direct you. After a while you get it down and end up knowing the city better than the locals.

    Just a tip.

  • 9. Thuggin  |  August 31st, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    dolan’s a ratty bum, he’d nevr work a gig lik that.

  • 10. o-ren ishii  |  September 2nd, 2009 at 10:29 am

    First rule is “don’t shit where you eat”. Dolan made his employers wrong, they returned the favor by making him very wrong. Dolan wasn’t prepared to take this all the way to its reductio ad absurdum.
    Second rule is not to hang around lowlifes.
    Third rule is not to loan to lowlifes (or even leave accessible) any stuff you don’t wish to see broken or disappeared. He violated this one repeatedly.
    Since he had the boat, I’m wondering if he knew how to properly sail, since pulling up away from loser-land would be first on my list of priorities.
    In any event, I think the best out would be to teach ESL classes. A change of culture is always refreshing.

  • 11. Otis Driftwood  |  September 7th, 2009 at 10:43 am

    When I was a kid (16), I could hit more than $300 bucks working my confrontational “spare change?” shakedown on Hennipen avenue in MN on lunch hour.
    Back then 200 bux a week was good money, I did over a thousand a week and didn’t have to change clothes or take a bath.
    It was a great job.
    After I had a stake I headed back down south and became a Straight John small business owner.
    But I guarentee you if you can’t make more bumming than working you should just buy that last big shot and die, cause you are too goddamned stupid to live.

  • 12. ldhf  |  September 7th, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    crazy. I live in Vancouver, and read the eXile until Putin shut it down. lot’s of people I knew read it regularly. Didn’t know John Dolan was teaching at Uvic let alone living with hobos in Victoria. Commerical Dr in Van is full of anarchist nutbar academics who have private library’s or bookstores they would’ve let you live in temporarily until you got a job.

    I bet any of the private english schools around Seymour St in Vancouver with all asian students would’ve hired you in a flash to teach english. Not exactly huge money, but enough to cover the bills while you write a book, or apply to other universities.

    Craigslist and the canada job bank are also full of building manager jobs. they are always looking for older responsible couples just to take rent and perform very light maintenance. this is a shitty job, but you do maybe 3hrs work a day and get a huge discount on rent in exchange to a salary. Then use your spare time to write/whatever. Idk

  • 13. more  |  September 8th, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    In soviet Canada we have things called welfare, employment insurance, GST refunds, emergency ‘hardship’ cheques and other handouts you can easily get. Even an American that just moved here can still get a hardship cheque. We all pay into it so there’s no shame in collecting. This is what you talk about with the local junkies living around the beach: how to use the system to get money. I’m sure they’re pros at it by now.

    get food/money, find jerbs:

    – go to money mart and get a loan. I used to make up paystubs in windows paint and print them out. I even edited my bank account information easily by saving the web page to online banking and adjusting everything. Receive $300-1,000 instantly (pay it back whenever, who cares they’re loan shark scum)

    – has a ton of writing jobs that pay immediately for blog work.

    – scour craigslist for one day jobs, like being somebody’s personal assistant, being paid $50 to wait in line at the passport office, editing something, ect.

    – walk into an employment head hunting company and show them your freaking PHD. Walk out with job teaching english to Koreans on student visas for $40k/yr plus benefits. Mon-Fri 10am – 3pm easy work, your hot wife could do it too and you’d both pull in near 80k. Then you can spend time finding a position you want to do instead of being desperate and taking anything (like this ESL job)

    – The Vancouver Olympics need anybody who can speak a second language. I assume you speak Russian, and probably French. This guarantees you a job right now.

    – Sikh temples have free food for anybody. No mandatory preaching first, just walk in and eat. There’s also the food bank, countless shelters serving actual food and you can receive food credit slips from any of them to buy your own food.

    – Dozens of homeless advocacy job placement, residences and lawyers exist. Use them for $0.00 (also if you were supposedly fired, you can sue in Canada and get at least a 3yr settlement. Talk to an employment lawyer).

    – The farther north you go, the more desperate they are for teachers. John Ralston Saul sometimes teaches in Iqaluit while writing his books. He always writes them up north for some reason.

    I just spent all of 3mins searching for faculty jobs in British Columbia and found over 300 of them. UNBC is hiring P/T instructors right now for the English dept, History, everything. Yeah Prince George sucks, but cost of living is nothing and you can rant endlessly from your fortress of solitude on this site and in print in your spare time. Ignore all this if you already found a job and no longer live in a van down by the river.

  • 14. Paul Perkins  |  September 29th, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    To give you an idea of the character of John Dolan, I offered to send him five hundred dollars several months ago — based entirely on my enjoyment of PLEASANT HELL, but he politely declined it.

    I read “Hunger” by Knut Hamsun, when I was a kid, and I remember the starving writer who refused to pawn his friend’s blanket to buy food.

    John Dolan is that character — alive still.

  • 15. Charles brooks  |  December 17th, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Often we forget the little guy, the SMB, in our discussions of the comings and goings of the Internet marketing industry. Sure there are times like this when a report surfaces talking about their issues and concerns but, for the most part, we like to talk about big brands and how they do the Internet marketing thing well or not so well.

  • 16. Allen  |  December 31st, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    What kind of English department assigns students to read George fucking Monbiot articles?

    I nearly ended up at UVic once upon a time as a student; I’m glad I dodged that bullet.

  • 17. fuck you #27  |  January 3rd, 2013 at 12:38 am


    Really? Screw those crack/methheads, their need isn’t real? A fine benevolent citizen like you only gives to the “deserving” poor?

    Fuck you. Fuck you a thousand times and a thousand ways you sanctimonious piece of fucking shit. I hope to fucking God you end up homeless, jobless, and huffing the most life-shortening vile shit imaginable to make the hell of your existence marginally less horrific.

    You are a stupid, ignorant cunt.

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