The law office

The ends send our mind reeling to beginnings, and for this reason my thoughts have returned this week to my first meeting with Gerald Owen. I had been told by a learned young wench, at some Eric McLuhan party, that I absolutely had to meet him, and in perfunctory obedience I had taken a trolley out to the farther limits of the Kingston Road. Gerald’s law office was upstairs from a very modest, recently bankrupted grocery shop. Its street sign advertised the notarization of wills, at 45 dollars a turn. Even forty years ago, this was inexpensive.

It was like the opening of a Raymond Chandler novel. Two other lawyers were listed on the cracked pane in the hallway, but it turned out that both were in gaol, or otherwise indisposed. At first I could find no sign of a third, but in searching, alarmed a rather Rubenesque, obviously blind girl, who was struggling with an electric braille typewriter. Both it and she had come with some government programme, she explained. She was startled because I might be an agent of the landlord, come to evict her.

Gerald, she added, was behind the office’s least imposing door.

And he was, as I’d been warned, dishevelled, on an oaken swivel chair, his feet in muddy hiking boots propped on an heroically disorganized desk. There was a copy on his lap of Payne-Smith’s Thesaurus Syriacus. The shelving around was groaning with books, few of them appropriate to a law office. That he was not a lawyer but an Aramaic scholar I could easily believe.

He had also a deep commanding voice that, I thought, would be convincing in a court of law, if he could get beyond the stage of writing downmarket wills.

It happened that I was about to start a literary magazine, and as the reader will guess, Gerald became my first employee — once I had found someone to pay him the very little he asked for. He was my deputy, and later my co-editor, at the Idler magazine, and always the brains of the outfit; I knew we would be needing brains. I have come to realize that, in such circumstances, God throws the necessary person in one’s way: but only fleetingly.

Alas, it would be hard to revive that publication. For you see, Gerald Owen died on Monday. … Eheu! fugaces labuntur anni!