neville brand ate all the flies | the five gates to hell

The fly had been following the end of my brush for close to two days, flitting from room to room like a ball of lint on rotor blades.

I do not care for flies. Houseflies; blowflies; bluebottles. Calliphoridae. Like something decaying off the coast.

Where I might nudge a spider gently on its way – to scuttle under the bed, or abseil behind a door – I have little patience for the fly. The karmic goodwill runs thin. The stingiest dribble of undercoat.

So. After experimenting overnight with a dose of Quick Dry Satin – the ninth configuration of synthetic finishes – I observed enough shredding around the jambs to prompt me to opt instead for an oil-based eggshell. The drying time is a killer, 18 to 24 hours over an offending battleship grey, and all of it an unsightly stippled gloss.

The antichrist of painting and decorating.

I was on the second coat, having walked on down the hall, to where the ghost of a toy tugboat floated face down in the bathtub, when the insect which had been tailing me hovered up and alighted right of frame. I did not miss a beat. Anchored in the greasy slick, the brush caught up with it easily. Swept straight over it. Airbrushed out with a bubblegum pop; a napalm kiss on celulloid.

And what became of Neville Brand ? Lee Marvin’s thuggier twin.

I would not mention the incident with the fly if it did not bother me. Just a little.

Slow witted and lazily sculpted, Brand bristled with the neanderthal menace of the faintly retarded or simply psychotic. A slack jawed insouciance melting into bulging eye and pit bull leer on the turn of a sixpence. Or the onset of a stroke.

Neville Brand wore sharp suits and Brylcreemed hair. His face hewn blunt. Liver lipped. Itching to be cut by a cornerman with trembling hands between the 6th and 7th round.

In truth, I planted both feet heavy in the schoolyard bully’s shoes when I flattened that fly. Smeared on the door with the cigarette fastened between my teeth. I was irritable. Tired. Bitten by self-pity.

In bad need of a slave.

But wait. Killer Kane. Boyd, not Arthur. And several times removed from Stacy’s Colonel.

Neville Brand was no simple bad boy bum. Weighing in for a preliminary bout in Griswold, Iowa, and cremated in Sacramento, his nine times decorated army grunt was D.O.A. from the first. Painted into a corner, I contest, as the result of Dutch and Celtic ancestry. The white heat of Illinois steel.

Typecast by villainous hacks – the revolving door of misplaced mediocrity – the former shoe salesman turned Warner Bros. stooge traded bleeding out by the Weser River for an afterlife of two bit parts.

Sometimes shiny as a quarter in the gutter. Often overlooked.

“I’m a loser! I’m a loser!” he cried, but the truth was far from that.

Scant regard is given the 30,000 books reportedly amassed between petulant acts of cruelty; teased out of acting classes paid for through the G.I. Bill. The raging thirst to distance himself from understudy. Shadow.

“Let me out! Let me out!” he sang.

And all the while the whiskey and remorse. The inability to rearrange at sub molecular level: to set the atoms dancing; to walk – as Captain Fairbanks yearned to – between and through the impenetrable. Walls and floors.


I have no idea if Neville Brand ever flirted with Buddhism. Perhaps. I suspect not. Myself, I have only used the term emphatically when laid up in a hospital bed. Just to see the charge nurse stiffen.

The closer I peer into cracks and examine those hairline fissures tumbling off into chasms, the weaker my resolve becomes. An endless cycle of filling and painting. Sanding. Immersing bristle and forearm in litre upon litre of turpentine substitute. It was emphysema which did for him in the end. And the library all up in flames. Still. The fly is my concern alone. All this chatter of Neville Brand and Hollywood is just so much passing the buck.

Well. It could be worse. Don\’t ever get me started on the time I aimed a .22 at a crow on the lamb and missed.


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