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Charles Alverson

Charles Alverson: An Unauthorized Autobiography

Charles Alverson was born.  That much we know.  Where, we also know: Los Angeles, California.  When: Though it is really tempting the mists of time, we can hazard a guess: October 13, 1935.  You gasp with amazement.  Well you might.  That is a long time ago.   Why?  We have not a clue.  A caprice of nature; a broken projector at the local movie palace; a malfunctioning condom?  Who knows?  Who cares?

But he was, indubitably born, please do not try to deny that.  And for nearly 18 reasonably carefree years he and his family lived a gypsy-like existence in and around Los Angeles County.  Usually one step ahead of the sheriff or a greedy landlord, they moved often, so that Alverson (as we shall call him) after the age of 12 changed schools with alarming regularity.  Thus, virtually every school year he was faced with making a new group of enemies.  For some this would be difficult, for Chuck (as he was then called for reasons best glossed over) it was no problem.  With the personality of a doped ferret, Coke-bottle glasses and absolutely no talent, he was the Invisible Boy. Despite this, he graduated from Redondo Beach non-Union High School (their football team, for which he warmed the bench, were called the Scabs) in 1953 and joined the Army, just missing the Korean war.  No sane person would have done this.  He spent three years in the army, climbing to the dizzy depths of Specialist 3rd Class, qualifying as a rifle Marksman (recognition of his ability to avoid hitting his own foot) and--you will not believe this--becoming a paratrooper.  A paratrooper is a soldier so deficient in judgement, self-esteem and sexual technique that he throws himself from airplanes way up in the air hoping that his parachute will not open and that he will land on a naked blonde.

Fifteen times Alverson parachuted and fifteen times his parachute opened, so in August, 1960, he was still alive to be discharged (honorably, and you can’t prove differently) and immediately enter college.  Over the next four years (continuing his hereditary gypsy ways) he went to three more colleges and universities in California, finally graduating from San Francisco State College with a BA in something called Language Arts, sort of a cheapjack English degree.  The only thing he accomplished at college level was to found a humor magazine that died in the humorless but exciting 1960’s. 

After six months doing nothing for a San Francisco ad agency, Alverson traveled (via New Orleans) to New York City and, through sheer luck, became assistant editor to the legendary Harvey Kurtzman on HELP! Magazine.  Then a year and a half he became un-assistant editor of HELP! because he libeled the publisher, deservingly it must be admitted.  He then took a series of mock-journalistic jobs in NYC before graduating from Columbia University with an M.Sc in Journalism.  This was a mistake.

Back in San Francisco, now married to a young girl who did not know any better, Alverson joined the Wall Street Journal.  Competent if not showy, he spent five years quitting and unquitting the Journal (and getting divorced) before finally quitting the WSJ in early 1969.  He was not sorely missed.  In between time he lived for six months in an institute for drug addicts and got to know the Oakland Hell’s Angels.  You can draw your own conclusions about these facts.

After bouncing around the West Indies for four months allegedly researching real estate development, Alverson washed up in London where he had a friend.  Well, sort of a friend.  This was Terry Gilliam, a flash-in-the pan film director who sadly has not been heard of for years.  After five happy years living in mid-Wales (with his second wife (English, educated working class, hated the country) with whom he had three children) stringing for Rolling Stone, rebuilding ruins and beginning to write fiction (two novels) Alverson moved to Cambridge, England.  There he continued to write novels (two of which were published over nearly 15 years, which ain’t much of a record) and wrote two films (‘Jabberwocky’ and ‘Brazil’) with Gilliam.  Actually, he wrote only the first draft of ‘Brazil’.  He also got divorced again but moved only across the street into a cemetery lodge.

Alverson also did a lot of hack writing in Cambridge, ending up with a well-paid job editing a technical magazine.  As soon as that got boring (20 months) he quit and moved to Serbia, where he married his third wife, a Serbian, strangely enough.  He lived in Belgrade, doing hack journalism, teaching high school and doing damn-all writing.  In 1998, he moved to rural Vojvodina in north Serbia and, very early in the year 2000, strangely enough started writing fiction again.  You will find some of this on this website.  He has two small terriers and only the slimmest grasp of the Serbian language and reality.

How can we sum up this erratic but ultimately uninteresting eccentric?  God only knows.