By Mark Axelrod
Publication Date: 3/7/2023
A Gogolian nightmare from the point of view of a small-town English professor.
The Mad Diary of Malcolm Malarkey is a kind of post-modern May-December black comedy about the 60ish, cancer-stricken Oxford educated, Irish English literature professor, Malcolm Malarkey who falls in love with the beautiful, 30ish Italian returning graduate student, Liliana Liliano, who, by then, has tragically lost her husband in an auto accident. Malarkey has no respect for things that are politically correct and often runs into problems with the administration if not the local police, while Liliana, after years of trying to crack the glass ceiling, quits the corporate world and returns to university to pursue her passion: literature.
After a relatively quick relationship, they fall in love. Though they have much in common and they truly love each other, the potential stumbling block for them is her desperation to get pregnant, especially since she has already had a miscarriage not long before her husband died. Malarkey has already raised a family, and is still ceaselessly harassed by his Brazilian ex and her bevy of blood-sucking barristers, and the thought of starting a family again and potentially leaving Liliana a widow for a second time with a young child, is a major dilemma for him. Try as he might to salvage the relationship, Malarkey eventually loses Liliana because of his multiple impotencies. Though Malarkey loves Liliana deeply, madly, she eventually breaks it off. True love may last forever, but eggs do not.
Months after her separation, Liliana meets and marries a Florentine who, in rapid succession, impregnates her with the children she most desires. Though Malarkey realizes the break was the best for her, it wasn’t for him and he tries in earnest to move on with his feckless existence, but not before telling her he’ll love her forever.
“An innovative writer, with a postmodern inclination for exotic linguistic labyrinths of the mind into which he loves to encapsulate his own tormented fantasies.”—World Literature Today
“A different voice in North American Writing … a very special, poignant sense of humor.”—Luisa Valenzuela
WHO I AM, WHY THE FUCK SHOULD YOU CARE & WHY IS THIS CHAPTER TITLE TYPED IN COURIER?*
My name is Malcolm Malarkey. My father was Leopold Bloom. My mother was Molly Bloom. (Metaphorically speaking) I changed my name from Bloom to Malarkey because Bloom changed his name from Malarkey to Bloom and I didn't want to be associated with my father. Couldn’t deal with his slovenliness. His eating with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. His keenness for thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slicesfried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys, which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine. If the Reader gets the allusion, an “A” for you; if not, read on. Malarkey used to smoke too much, drink too much and fuck too much. Malarkey still doesn’t take vitamins, eats dollops of butter, extra slices of bread: three, four, maybe an entire baguette: right, and pisses in public if he has to since it doesn't make any difference anymore. You see, Malarkey suffers from that most fatal of all diseases: birth.
This mad diary begins on Carmel Beach just before sunset. If you can’t imagine Carmel Beach just before sunset then google the fucking place. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no, nor woman neither, well, maybe not women; though by your smiling, dear Reader, you seem to say so. Imagine that you see Malarkey from behind as he stares out to sea. The shot looks almost like a postcard with Malarkey standing as a lone figure on the deserted white Carmel sands as the sun slowly sets on the horizon. The only sound you can hear is that of the sea breaking onto the shore. Now imagine your eyes as if they were a camera lens that slowly approaches Malarkey and begins to circle him 180 degrees until you see him from the front: his gray shaggy hair cut closely to the scalp, his gray eyebrows, a scruffy gray beard; he’s dressed somewhat shabbily, carelessly, a faded-green corduroy sport coat with patched elbows, a fading blue work shirt, with missing buttons, faded jeans. He’s pondering whatever needs to be pondered. More than likely: Weltschmerz, but not necessarily. Weltschmerz can be confused with mere pondering and confusing the two can lead to world woe.
Let’s cut from the beach and now imagine the neo-classical Greek pediment of a college building that bears the name etched in peeling plaster: Citrus City College with the letters Cit-Ci dangling precariously before falling off leaving only the name: Rusty College. That’s where Malarkey works. It is early September at Citrus City College, and classes have begun a few weeks earlier. Now imagine a panoramic view of a bucolic, Southern California college campus beautifully and meticulously landscaped with dozens of Latino gardeners dressed in Armani suits and ties (furnished by the administration) pruning what always needs constant pruning in order to give students and/or potential parents of potential students the unmitigated perception that the campus is fraught with the diligence of beauty and perfection, a testament to the outrageous tuition that parents of future students or students of the future will have to pay. That is, about $200K for four years of privileged learning.
Imagine, too, dozens of students mingling on the campus green, tossing Frisbees as others ride penny skateboards in an attempt not to avoid hitting other students oftentimes unsuccessfully; still other students walk silently from class to class, heads bent, ear buds in place, attending to their mobile phones as they bump into each other, like dodgems, but without the slightest reaction: bump and move on, bump again, move more. Imagine too several professors lying prostrate on the pavement after being nailed by said students on penny skateboard. Some, unconscious, some, barely conscious, attempting to lift themselves before being pummeled to the ground once again by said penny skateboarders. Just a sign of the times.
Now imagine a classroom building sign that reads: Morbittity Hall named after one of the major college donors, Uriah Morbittity, who made his Orange County millions as an entrepreneur on the cutting edge of automatic urinal flushers (the Uriah Automatic Urinal Flusher) and then imagine that you slowly elevate from the ground floor of that white neo-classical building up to and stop at a second floor window before peering into a class already in session. There you will see Professor Malcolm Malarkey standing, now without a scruffy beard, but still dressed somewhat shabbily, carelessly, in a green corduroy sport coat with patched elbows, fading blue work shirt, with missing buttons, faded jeans, and a pair of well-worn Boston Celtics' green Converse basketball shoes. Imagine too that Malarkey speaks with an Irish accent, that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly and, after teaching for decades, that he rarely minces words. As Malarkey turns from a whiteboard to a lectern imagine that Malarkey is clearly agitated.
“Do any of you read? I’m sure you remember the drill. You start from the upper left hand side of the page, move to the upper right hand side of the page. When the line ends skip to the next line and repeat onandonandonandon until the bottom of the page, then turn the page and repeat until there are no more pages to turn unless you’re reading Hebrew in which case you’d have to reverse the process. But given the fact few of you can fucking read English the possibility you can read Hebrew would be unlikely.”
One nineteen-year old student, named Matthew, Malarkey’s best student and if one were going to stereotype people could, by appearance and manner alone, be considered gay, raises his hand in answer to Malarkey’s query.
“Thank you, Matthew, I appreciate your help, but it was a rhetorical question.”
Matthew smiles and lowers his hand.
“Are you all so fucking lazy even a novella renders you hapless if not helpless? We’re studying Franny and Zoey for God's sake, not Finnegans Wake or Giles Goat-Boy! Salinger couldn’t write anything more than Catcher in the fucking Rye and Franny and Zoey or that patently stupid “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” whatever the fuck that is, so don’t make this superb creation of fiction out to be something more than it is!”
The students are bored, they appear to have heard it all before, and look anywhere, but at Malarkey. Some are enraptured with their cell phones, fondling them, rubbing them against their cheeks, thighs, nuzzling them, gazing wantonly at them as if they were a potential sexual partner; some are texting someone somewhere, perhaps someone in the same classroom with some life-sustaining message about an upcoming festival at Coachella or if they’ve tweeted recently or have they seen what J-Lo was wearing on Instagram and whether there was a side-boob shot or not; one student picks his nose and looks at it as if it were a sculpture by Boccioni; another rearranges her halter top making sure her cleavage is appropriately exposed, but no one other than Matthew pays attention to Malarkey. Imagine, too, a muscular young man named Wilson wearing a too tight, Property of Citrus City College Football t-shirt, leaning back in his desk, arms behind his head flexing his bulging biceps as if in training for Mr. Olympia or attempting to impress the student with the halter-top making sure her cleavage is appropriately exposed.
“Why are you even here?” Malarkey asks.
Matthew again raises his hand.
“Thank you, Matthew; once again, it's rhetorical.”
Matthew smiles and lowers his hand.
“Don't waste your parents' money. If you don't want to be here, become plumbers, electricians, masons, even pimps, but be bloody good at it.”
Malarkey shakes his head and looks up at the clock, which reads 10:50, and at that precise moment, a bell rings.
“Class dismissed, go skateboard or whatever the fuck you do with your lives,” he mumbles to himself.
Malarkey turns back to the white board on which something has been written, but can't quite be made out. He picks up an eraser as if to erase the board as the students file out in relative silence, some stifling a laugh, some making faces at him behind his back, as Too-Tight Wilson cockily approaches Malarkey with a rolled up essay in hand slapping it on his fist almost as if an homage to John Wooden.
“Yo, prof,” Wilson begins.
Now Malarkey doesn't acknowledge Wilson immediately, but cringes at the lack of respect. It’s another reminder that students are considered “customers” and faculty are “employees” and, as a former dean once admonished Malarkey, “The customer is always right.” But it’s better than the time a student screamed at him across campus, “Hey, Malarkey, how they hanging!” as he grabbed his genitals. He glances over his shoulder with the slightest smirk on his face since he anticipates what's to follow.
“Yes, Wilson. What can I do for you?”
“I was wondering why I got such a low mark on this paper.”
Wilson taps the paper on his fist again.
“Were you now?”
“Yes, I was wondering. Looked good to me.”
“Right. Well, let me clarify your wonder, Wilson. Your paper is, well, how can I put it succinctly and in a way a post-Millennial will understand…it’s shit. Yes, that’s the word…shit. Have I sufficiently satisfied your wonderment?” Malarkey smiles and raises his eyebrows.
“There are no buts, Wilson! You don't know the difference between a Pindaric ode and a nematode! Your grammar and syntax are deplorable and your proofreading skills are abysmal! Even your dog wouldn't eat that paper!”
Malarkey smiles and raises his eyebrows once again. Taken aback, his cockiness gone, Wilson storms out of the classroom noticeably angry. Malarkey starts to erase the whiteboard, stops again and looks directly into the eyes of you, the Reader.
“Right. You're probably saying to yourself what a horrible professor. Where's his understanding? His compassion? His interest in his students’ welfare? What an unconscionable thing to say. These young adults are the hope of our future, the leaders of tomorrow, the intellects of a brighter Utopia. But that's not the question you should be asking. No, the question you should be asking is this: If you’re a parent, you should be asking, What was I doing when my child learned how to be functionally illiterate and academically and socially irresponsible. If you’re a student, you should be asking, Since when was there a plague on the art of reading? Milton may have been blind when he wrote, ‘A good book is the precious life blood of a master spirit,’ but he wasn’t demented.”
Malarkey raises his eyebrows, shrugs, turns back to the whiteboard to erase it, changes his mind and tosses the eraser on the floor as he leaves. On the white board one reads in bold caps:
"WHAT'S IT GOING TO BE THEN, EH?"
*The reason the chapter title is typed in Courier New is to let you, the Reader, know Malarkey is using the painfully old metonymical cliché that by using such a font, which is an old-fashioned typewriter font, it implies he’s a writer. Though Malarkey does use a typewriter, he also uses a computer, but since everyone likes to think writers don’t use computers, but still use typewriters, Malarkey typed the chapter title in Courier New to lead you to believe that it’s the only writerly tool he ever uses. That’s bullshit and it will not happen again except in the briefest of circumstances so Malarkey begs for the Reader’s indulgence.