He was a curmudgeon and a misanthrope who disavowed his family and his name. He was a mostly self-published author whose literary life was conducted largely on the streets of Toronto, hawking books with titles such as Bloodsucking Monkeys from North Tonawanda, Suburban Chicken-strangling Stories and Putrid Scum to people he disdained, in an adopted city he loathed. He railed constantly against the hypocrisy and stupidity of the world.
And yet. When Crad Kilodney died of cancer on April 14 at the age of 66, he was genuinely mourned by those who knew him best.
For all of them he was a one-off, by no means a literary genius, but a unique character, an off-the-wall satirist, even a nihilist, with a streak of charitable good will toward at least a chosen few.
No one is quite sure what caused Mr. Kilodney to erase his past, or who his parents were, or whether he had any siblings. In fact, most of those who knew his real name were unwilling to reveal it, presumably to honour his wishes. But when Charlie Huisken, long-time owner of This Ain’t the Rosedale Library bookstore in Toronto, lamented on his Facebook page the passing of Crad Kilodney, he initially wrote “a.k.a. Lou Trifon.” (This last part has since been removed.)
What is known is that Crad Kilodney hailed from Jamaica, a neighbourhood in the New York borough of Queens, that he was from a Greek family, and that he had a degree in astronomy from the University of Michigan. Even then, he told his friend and chronicler, the writer Lorette C. Luzajic, man delighted not in him: “I had 15 roommates in college, and all of them disliked me. I can’t say I blame them.”
However, Mr. Kilodney hitched his wagon not to distant stars, but to the nearer ones of the publishing universe. He took a job with Exposition Press, a vanity house in Hicksvillle, N.Y., that specialized in works too personal, too esoteric or simply too ill-written for mainstream publishers. It was this exposure to weird fiction, conspiracy theories and bizarre theses that helped shape his idiosyncratic attitude to fiction. It also provided material for some of his best short stories, especially in the collection Girl on a Subway, his most restrained title and one of only a handful of books he published with mainstream houses.
According to Richard Grayson, in a 2007 post for the website Reluctant Habits, Mr. Kilodney, already a decided misanthrope, left the United States out of disgust with “Watergate and U.S. culture generally.”
Jaymz Bee, an author and on-air host at Toronto radio station JAZZ.FM91, recalls Mr. Kilodney’s explanation of how he was able to come to Canada without being drafted for the Vietnam War: “When an army psychiatrist asked him, ‘If you were in a crowded theatre and you smelled smoke, noticing a fire in the corner of the building, what would you do?’ He answered without a beat: ‘I would get up and walk out of the theatre quietly.’”
So much for the communal military impulse.
But his disposition was not much improved by life in his adopted country. Soon after arriving in Canada, Mr. Kilodney took a series of thankless jobs with a succession of publishers, from sales rep to warehouse clerk. He’d had some very modest writing success – having sold an unsolicited story to the now defunct, satirical magazine National Lampoon – and decided to try his luck selling his work on the streets of Toronto.
And so he did. From 1978 through 1995, he made a meagre living hawking more than 30 titles under his own Charnel House imprint. He became a minor Toronto landmark, a fixture at the University of Toronto, on Yonge Street and around the Toronto Stock Exchange.
He would wear a cardboard sign around his neck, reading something like Rotten Canadian Literature or Worst-selling Author. According to his long-time friend, the poet and novelist Stuart Ross, he would display only one book, in his right hand, and hold his ever-present pipe in his left. The rest of the books – Literature for the Brain-Dead, Foul Pus From Dead Dogs, The Charnel House Anthology of Bad Poetry (he was a connoisseur of terrible verse), and his most infamous title, Lightning Struck My Dick – lay in a leather satchel at his feet.
He supplemented such income as he managed by writing an advice column for the Canadian porn magazine Rustler. As Rev. Crad Kilodney (he was apparently a Universal Life minister), he answered mail from people with sexual perversions, most of them probably made up. For an alternative weekly called Only Paper Today, he reviewed, exclusively, terrible books, mostly from vanity presses.