Adventures in Marketing: Week 93/94

No sales.
But after a couple weeks mullings over, Open Book, a small store in Elkins Park, outside Philadelphia, has agreed to take two copies of Cheesesteak (first printing) on consignment. If they sell, it will order the new edition. So if you are in the neighborhood…

In other news, (a) I’ve moved into the back room at one of my cafes. (At the other, I sit close to the door.) Less foot traffic, but the tables are bigger so I can spread out, and it’s quieter so I’m less vulnerable to chatter. (B) “My Two Cents” received a couple quality responses from FOM (though not of the quality of my pal Budd, whose recent review of Daniel Ellsberg’s new book received praise from Ellsberg himself) And ©, it looks like I will be organizing/hosting a series of readings (poetry and prose) at the aforementioned café. Still to be negotiated are how many per month, how many readers per evening, the hours of operation, and will I spring for the cost of a microphone.
Any suggestions for the latter?

Me Two Cents

My latest piece is up at

It begins…

One evening in the summer of 1960, while waiting on a rocker-sofa on the porch of a friend’s home to give him a ride to a party, his step-father sat down beside me – and grabbed my cock.

Not a bad opening sentence, if I do say so myself.

The Trauma

Word reached him of two deaths, six months apart, of fellows from his freshman dorm, one from a heart attack, one from head injuries sustained in a fall. That made three he knew of, the other, a few years earlier, a chronic smoker’s, had been from lung cancer.
He had been most friendly with that fellow, an athlete, future lawyer, father of three. He had been second friendliest with the heart attack victim, in student government, and later the federal. He had been least friendly with the fellow who had fallen. He had been an amusing eccentric in college and, according to his obit, had blossomed into a fuller one, but beloved by many, at his end.
He thought abut the two times he had himself been coded. He thought of the hair’s weight on the scales of fate which had kept him here and able to write this. He felt like – saw clearly, in fact – he was a lemming moved two places closer in the pack to the cliff’s edge.

The dorm had two floors. About 25 boys lived there, and he found he could recall 23, who lived with whom, and in which room.
He could not, however, recall the bathroom or any detail about it.
He e-mailed news of the deaths and his recollections to five fellows from that dorm.
His roommate recalled them living on the first floor, not the second, and next door to someone whom he did not believe to have been anywhere in the vicinity.
Another fellow said he could recall the bathroom but not the names of either of his roommates.
A third fellow said he lived across from the bathroom but did not recall ever using it – or seeing anyone else use it either.
When he told Adele of his memories, she said, “Boy, something really terrible must have happened to you in that bathroom.”

I just read…

…well, not word-for-word — “Shadow and Substance, Jim Hughes’s biography of W. Eugene Smith.

I became interested in Smith when I saw the (previously recommended) documentary “The Jazz Loft” on STARZ. There was comparatively little about this portion of Smith’s life in “Shadow,” but it was an exemplary biography. Smith kept voluminous records — photographs (of course), writings, tape recordings — in which Hughes immersed himself. He also interviewed dozens of Smith’s family members, friends, lovers, and professional associates, many of whom spoke at length and ultra-candidly about him. The result is a complete, compelling, non-agenda driven portrait of a man who was a dedicated and gifted transformative artist — and an utter mess. I never learned to appreciate the art of photography as thoroughly as I did from this book, and I rarely have encountered someone at whose behavior I have mournfully and scornfully have shaken my head.

Smith’s father suicide when he was a teen. Smith was so tied to his mother that he moved her in with himself and his wife after their marriage — and kept her there, over his wife’s displeasure, following the birth of their children. He abused dexadrine, benzadrive and scotch for decades. He took risks while covering WW II that, literally, almost got his head blown off. He cheated on wives and lovers and abused them all. He spent money on photography supplies rather than feed his children — and he later abandoned them. He destroyed working relationships through his perfectionism and demands. He was always broke and seeking loans he would not repay. He subjected himself to beatings and poisons. He…

Well, he produced brilliant work. He undoubtedly believed that was the important thing. I don’t recall even one of the people whom he mistreated most badly calling his behavior — I don’t know — criminally insane in its infliction of misery and grief.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 92

Word has reached me of another Schiz sale.
The worked at Fantagraphics and proofread the first two books of mine it published. We had not been in touch for several years, so her purchase was nice because it suggested she had thought, Hey, I always liked Bob’s writing. Will buy his book.
Meanwhile, not only have I not been selling from my café table, I have not been attracting any interesting conversationalists either. (This morning all I got was some guy who wanted to crow about the outcome of Men’s Curling. How, I wondered, do you decide that is what you want to do with your life? Push 45-pound rocks across ice.)
Maybe I have become too familiar. Like the furniture. Maybe I need a new “Buy Bob’s Books!” sign. No one even seems to recognize the Checkered Demon.
One morning, when my favorite tables were taken, I went into the back room and sat in the far corner. I quickly felt at home there. True, there was not much foot traffic, but there was a certain symbolic purity to me, at work, alone in this corner.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 91

Sold one Schiz. The buyer had been a secretary at the law firm where I worked in the 1970s when most of the material that resulted in this book walked into my head. She and I re-connected through FB, and she is, I believe, only the second person I met during this decade to buy this book. (Oh yes, the college friend who read it in Hawaii – See previous “Adventure” – “loved” it and thought the ending was “great.” See what you laggards are missing.)
Made another gift of a Cheesesteak. It went to an ex-café buddy – retired contractor/
non-publication-seeking poet – who had decamped to hang elsewhere. I spotted him passing by and chased him down. When I returned to my table, another pal – retired architect/self-publishing author of smut – I mean, adult erotica – said, “I guess it isn’t true that you can’t give this shit away.”

In another news, the photo-illustrated new C.steak edition is at the printer’s and its run paid for. Order your copy now. (Or see me, if you want to write a review.)

Game Theory

My latest piece has gone up at

It begins: “Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August,” by Oliver Hilmer (Other Press. 2018. Trans. from the German by Jefferson Chase) begins on the first day of that summer’s Olympics and ends on their closing. But the Olympics were a smokescreen, a puppet show, a diversion of less significance than the fireworks which concluded Joseph Goebbels $800,000 last-night party, bloodying the sky red.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 90

No sales.
But in the Department of Mighty Oaks From Tiny Acorns, a Philly-area indie bookstore (out of a dozen queried) replied that it might order a copy of Cheesesteak, if I sent sample chapters, and, if that sold, might order more.
Plus, I stumbled upon two reviews at Goodreads, one five-stars and one four-stars, the latter of which called it “a good book if you’re born in the 1940s” but someone like her, born in 1957 would miss many of the references. (A fair point, but, the author would note, Wikipedia is only a finger-tip away.) Still, she concluded, “(Levin) is an excellent writer and this book will appeal to a certain genre.” (Thirty other Goodreaders had Cheesesteak on their “To Do” list, but what happened to them I can not say.)
Oh yes, a college friend e-mailed me he has been reading (and “enjoying”) The Schiz while vacationing in Hawaii. That’s probably a first: Bob-As-Beach-Reading.
Finally, word reached me of a notice-of-interest from the new owner of one of the cafes I frequent. I figured he was banning me from selling on his premises – but, no! He intends to honor authors who hang there by installing shelves on which their works will be displayed.
I am leaning toward Best Ride and Most Outrageous.

Jimmy Stewart Meets H.P. Lovecraft

My latest piece is up at First of the Month:

Normally, I print the first paragraph or so as a teaser, but this one — a darkly comic riff on the Devon Nunes memo — is so short, I decided to leave it unexcerpted. Hope you can find your way to the FOM site.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 89

Adventures in Marketing: Week 89
No sales – but gave away one Best Ride.
But two people (one friend, one café guy) have committed to buying the new, photo-illustrated edition of Cheesesteak. Only 998 left, so get your pre-orders in.
In other news…
A nicely dressed, white haired woman, who’d seen me around the café for months, stopped at my table, looked at “Cheesesteak’s cover illustration, and said she’d never eaten one.
“I thought it looked like a penis,” I said, “but my wife said it looked like a vagina, so we figured we had things covered.”
I have used this pitch before without as much success as, say, “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.”
“The artist said,” I added, “he was aiming for a Jaws poster effect.”
“I get it,” she said. “Because it’s vertical.”
This fellow in the back of the café called “Bob” and waved me over.
He had said he’d buy a Schiz the next time he had cash on him, but, as it turned out, he only wanted to show me a picture on his phone someone had sent him of that moon people had been talking about.
Then he went from table to table showing everyone his picture of the moon someone else had taken.
I called a writer/friend to discuss next-step medical appointments.
His surgery is looking definite. He may have to wear a bag.
He said how impressed he’d been by The Schiz. “I don’t know anyone else who could have written that,” he said. “That’s a novel that could make a career. Or obliterate one.”
The New Yorker ran an article on William Melvin Kelly.
Kelly had published four novels and a short story collection by the time he was 33 – and no further books in his remaining 47 years of his life.
After my friend “Max Garden” (See: Cheesesteak) turned-on, tuned-in, and, in 1967, dropped-out to Jamaica, he and his family became friendly with Kelly’s, who already lived there. The magazine article says that when Kelly came back to the states, he and his family lived in a sixth floor Harlem walk-up, and he scrounged groceries from dumpsters. Max, who came back earlier, settled in the East Village where, he once told me, he was “too depressed to roll our of bed in the morning and go downstairs for a bottle of gin.”
Kelly taught at Sarah Lawrence for 30 years. Max… Well, you’ll have to read my book.
Max once sent me a signed copy of Kelly’s Different Drummer. After reading The New Yorker, I took it from the shelf. From the placement of the bookmark, I don’t seem to have finished it.