Mike Slope died yesterday.
I phoned him this morning, hoping to meet him for carrot cake, but his sister said he had died. It didn’t come as too great a surprise seeing his condition had been deteriorating rapidly since August.
When I first met him, at Launceston’s Happy Chef Restaurant in 2000, Mike was a smooth waiter, magnanimous in the face of my dramatic rejection of (count ‘em) three bottles of Gewürztraminer for their disputed corked-ness. We fast became friends, bonding over Judy Blume and blueberry blue brie.
Mike was a teen fiction writer who had lost his acne-blunted mojo. When 'The Adventures of Bucky Todd' came out in 1967 it was one of the five best debuts in the Christmas edition of Chap and a Half ; it was an unusually rich, blue-chip crop of teen fiction authors that year, new voices that today are so engrained in the contemporary consciousness that is impossible to imagine the genre without them. They are the giants: Tick Bugler (nominated that year for 'Becky Can’t Dance'), Amanda Railsback (for 'Spent'), Nancy Pendleton ('Capsicum, Lasagna and Peas') and Fiscus Chamberlain for 'The Atomic Chewing Gum'. These authors have together sold more than 14 million copies between them. The only name left off the list is that of the long-forgotten author of 'Bucky Todd', Mike Slope. The number of books Mr. Slope sold pales in comparison to his luminous counterparts. Intended for a long and fruitful series, ‘The Adventures of Bucky Todd’ didn’t make it. A popular read with young people in 1967 it was out of print by decade’s end.
Loosely based on a deprivation experiment that took place at Casanova High School in the 1950s, this odd, little detective story concerns itself with the culprit of several misdeeds involving soap. “It’s almost inconceivable to comprehend the interest kids had in this story and honestly it’s the last thing anyone’s ever thought about for a very long time,” said book critic Casper Gently in 1983. As the story goes, Bucky (‘the droll quoll”) takes to campus like a mouse does cheese and begins asking questions. Off the clock, he moonlights as a disc jockey, spinning reggae exclusively during Casanova’s variety hour, earning something of a reputation as a maverick and developing more than a friendship with a shy Jamaican exchange student named Theresa. The mystery unravels when Bucky discovers a stash of soap in the faculty broom closet. A finale involving a heap of suds takes place during a peace summit in the auditorium.
After the book failed, Slope got a job as a busboy, distributing quail eggs to work stations. He was promoted to waiter and held positions at upscale restaurants throughout the Tamar Valley. He moved to Victoria last year to be near his sister. In the last 12 months, Mike developed a perverse sense of time and it progressively made him insane. At first he would forget what hour it was. Then he lost track of the day and soon after that he was a month behind. He died anticipating autumn in the springtime.