Adventures in Marketing — Week 350A

Adventures in Marketing – Week 350A
Felt my reading went so well at the launch party for “The French Hotel” I expected a standing ovation when I walked the next morning. But all I heard was a deaf-in-one-ear musician complaining that our amateur microphone skills kept him from understanding anything. Then I asked this 90-year-old how he enjoyed the event.
“Honestly?” he said.
“Honestly,” I said.
“Honestly, I was underwhelmed.”
Still, we Board of Directors Five thought it a grand event. The café had never been so crowded. (I think we out-drew Trump’s inauguration.) It was SRO, with people out-the-door, of whom I was one. (Covid may have had something to do with this.) The spirit was good.
All the books we brought with us sold. (Some sold out before me, so I sold a couple to their overflow. Over-all, I sold four to friends I’d invited; three to acquaintances who were there for other reasons; one to a stranger.) Six people I invited came, including one from San Francisco. At least six who live in Berkeley didn’t – or acknowledge being invited. (I know this reflects poorly on me, but I keep lists-in-my-head.)
The questions now are (1) do we do a second printing; (2) what about Issue #2?

Adventures in Marketing — Week 350

The launch party for “The French Hotel” journal, which will probably merit a special report, is this afternoon, so this will be a quicky.
Sold two journals, one at cost, and swapped two, one for goods and one for labor.

The launch party for “The French Hotel” journal, which will probably require a special report, is this afternoon, so this will be sketchy.

Two sales of the journal, one at cost. Two swapped, one for goods and one for services.

One sale was to a UC mathematician who has bought other of my books. The discounted sale was to Monroe, another previous buyer. I saw he felt pinched by the full price, so I offered it as a gift, but he insisted on paying something. Years of settlement negotiations had taught me, “Okay, we’ll split the difference.”
Then I gave one to the fellow who nicely agree to design a poster for the party. (He had previously done the posters for our old reading series at the café.) He made clear he intended to give it to someone else. “Fine,” I said, “It’s yours.” The other one is going to an artist/cartoonist in Slovenia who sent me a copy of the latest issue of a journal she edits. (Boy, is she getting the short end of the stick. Her mag – “KOMIKAZE” – is a wonder.)

As for the party…
We have decided NO NAME TAGS. They had been proposed for those of us on the Board so people would know who to buy copies from, but that was voted down. (Too tacky, thought I.) We have, however, to require masks and will have them available at the door.
We thought half-an-hour to mingle; an hour to read; half-an-hour for post-reading mingling (and sales). But we realized if each of us read for 10 minutes, that would leave 20 minutes for everyone else. So we are limiting readings to 5 minutes. (Good luck enforcing that.)
As for attendance, one friend who had previously committed is now wavering back and forth. One friend who had been unexpected says he will be coming over from SF. And Adele is not coming. She has upcoming appointments she doesn’t want to miss and is fearful of catching something from the crowd.
I am looking forward to who comes and hearing what they say about what. (And I have got my reading down to 4:30, if I rush, which I will.)

The Last Ten Books I’ve Read (xvi)

(In Order of Completion)

1. Yasunari Kawabata. “The Sound of the Mountain.” I had read one or two of Kawabata’s novel before but must have forgotten his name because when a friend recommended this one, I bought it. It was good enough to make me think I should have paid more attention to the other(s). (No offense, but the Japanese are pretty weird though.)
2. Leesa Toscano & Janet Bodoff, eds. “Speaking of Atlantic City.” An anthology I’m in. I didn’t read my story or the poetry and I’ve written about the book before so I won’t say anything more about it here.
3. Naomi Zack. “The Handy Philosophical Answer Book.” This was loaned me by my previously mentioned philosopher neighbor. When I told him I’d read it, he was astounded. He hadn’t thought anyone would read it start-to-finish but would dip into it when questions arose. From my experience, that would be the better approach.
4. Ryszard Kapucinski. “Travels With Herodatus.” One of my favorite author-discoveries of the past couple decades. Alas, I think there is no more of his work available in English for me, and I doubt I’ll learn Polish. This is somewhat autobiographical with K recounting his first trips abroad as a reporter (India, Iran, China, Africa), interspersed with his thoughts on Herodatus and his work and time.
5. Laurent Binet. “The Seventh Function of Language.” Recommended by another friend. He loved it but I didn’t have enough familiarity with French politics or linguists or semiotics to get a kick from it. It’s a satiric novel and it’s always good to know the thing being satirized.
6. Drew Friedman. “Maverix and Lunatix.” A collection of full-page, pen-and-ink caricatures of notable underground cartoonists and associates with accompanying biographical test. The portraits seemed “soft” to me in comparison with Friedman’s other work. I guess he is fonder of these guys.
7. Diane Williams. “”How High? That High.” I read she was a master of the short-short story and I thought, Oh, good. Maybe I’ll be inspired to write short-short stories.” Boy, was I wrong. Got zero from it. As short-shorts go, I’ll take Lydia Davis.
8. Anthony Amsterdam. “Crass Cruelties.” When I was in law school, Amsterdam was the brightest of the bright young men on faculty. He was the kind of guy who, if he was at the next urinal, you’d expect to see holding an appellate court decision in his other hand. He never got s Supreme Court seat – politics – but he had a distinguished, exemplary career fighting the death penalty. I don’t know when he turned to poetry but a classmate sent me this volume. (“Surprise!” he said.) The first half-dozen or so poems are written as if by death-row inmates and they are something. Raw and strong and they rip your heart out. The rest of the poems have more traditional subject matter but the vision is still Dark, Dark, DARK. I guess a lifetime of his kind of work can do that to you. I hope the poetry brought him light.
9. William Hope Hodgson. “The Night Land.” There’s a story here too. I was told that William T. Vollman, whom I consider to be just-about America’s pre-eminent novelist, had written a 3000-page unpublishable novel for which this was one of his inspirations. It is a dystopian sci-fi novel written about a hundred years ago. Since it’s out of copyright, various editions are available and I made the mistake of buying one that had cut a couple hundred pages, so I had to go back and buy the complete one.
It is a schlog. It’s written, like, in 16th or 17th century prose, runs over 700-pages, is extremely repetitious, has no dialogue, spouts some problematic sexual attitudes, and just goes on and on. I can see why you’d want to cut it, but the edition I bought eliminated the first chapter (It flat out begins “Chapter 2″), which removes a crucial framing device for what follows, and then eliminates the end, erasing two critical events, erasing the entire spiritual/philosophical guts of the book, leaving it transformed and meaningless.
As hard as it was to read, once I got to the (actual) end, having read the (actual) beginning, I felt the experience worthwhile.
Without them, crap.
10. David Pozen, ed. “The Perilous Public Square.” A collection of essays by (mainly) law professors about the First Amendment in the internet age. I wouldn’t’ve read it except the editor is a cousin’s son and I’m a First Amendment fan. I can’t say I changed any previously held opinions but I became more aware of problems others will have to solve.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 349

Sold five books – and gave seven away – all being copies of our newly published journal “The French Hotel.”
The gifts were to Adele for relatives (2) and friends (1); to my relatives (2); and one each to the café’s chief barista and our formatter, as my share of his compensation. The sales were to four café regulars and one semi-regular at my back-up café.
Selling at the café has required balancing interests among we Board of Directors. A subtle one has been recognizing that, while our markets for customers may over-lap, some of us have a greater claim to some people than others of us, and the honorable thing may be to steer a buyer elsewhere. This became somewhat dicier when one of us chose to sell books for half the price of the rest of us, leading some buyers to forsake allegiance for the bargain and some of us sellers to be racked by feelings of guilt.
This has now been resolved – perhaps in violation of anti-trust laws but resolved. We may give away books; but if we sell them, it will be at the agree-to price. (My back up plan had been to buy all the cut rate books and then re-sell them at full price.)

Meanwhile, personal relationships have ebbed and flowed. The fellow who’d called me a “Jackass” over my recommended edits and I are now pals again. (A big relief. I hate walking around imagining what-I’ll-say when what-he-says, which I tend to do.) But another contributor and I are on the outs over (a) the condition her free copy arrived in – which I had nothing to do with and (b) her being misadvised of the date of our launch party – which I didn’t do. “What the fuck?” she inquired.
This is a prickly person. Following an earlier confrontation, I’d remarked to a friend of hers, “Boy, X gave me a piece of her mind.” “Really?” her friend said, “I’m surprised she has any left.”
Dorothy Parker couldn’t’ve said it better.

Oh, yes, the party. A week from today, despite the email sent contributors saying it would be one day earlier and despite the poster prepared for the event saying it was four.
Finally, the dozens and dozens of emails I have sent announcing the journal and the party have brought zero reactions to the former and two acceptances of to the latter. Which calls into question whether this is truly something whose time has come.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 348

Sold a “Lollipop.”
The buyer was the advisor to banks and hedge funds who’d bought a “Cheesesteak” a couple weeks ago. His favorite part was the “Bob-and-Adele” story so “Lollipop” seemed a natural follow-up. Then we talked about autobiographical writing and that crypto-currency outfit that just went bust and effective altruism.

In other news…
1.) The café’s journal, which we had been told would not even be printed until December 12, is scheduled for delivery to us this week. Much excitement has ensued and many Christmas gift lists modified. ($10, plus shipping for anyone so inclined. Limited copies available.)
2.) My article “Denise” finished in time for Benj DeMott to get it posted in the new “First of the Month.” (I have blogged and FB’d links to it and received a total of five “Like”s, three from relatives or semi-relatives, and zero comments.)
The two things I like most about this piece are: (1) It is always exciting to write something where you don’t know where you are going to end up when you begin it; and (2) I love it when I have written something where I can believe there is little chance anyone else in the world would have written it.


My latest article has gone up at First of the Month:

Here’s a bit from near the beginning:

Several years ago, I entered into an e-mail correspondence with a woman over an article I’d written about the B-movie actress Peggy Maley. I had become interested in Maley after learning that she, as Mildred the platinum blonde beautician, not Mary Murphy, the wholesome cafe-owner’s daughter, who had posed the question “What’re you rebelling against, Johnny?” in “The Wild One” to which Marlon Brando had uttered the generation-defining answer, “What’ve you got?” My subsequent research had led to a fascination with Maley’s social life, which linked her to, among others, Artie Shaw, Farley Granger, John Hodiak, a British lord, Greek shipping tycoon, cousin of Al Capone, the head of Columbia Pictures, an ex-husband of Peggy Lee’s, and being “kept” by King Farouk. My correspondent, whose name was Denise Noe, had a broader appreciation of Maley’s talents. She would send me You Tube links to films and TV shows which featured her dramatic and comedic skills. None displaced King Farouk in my imagination.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 347

Sold TEN books, eight in one order, smashing my PB.

But first…
“Goshkin” went to a high school teacher from the Bronx in for Thanksgiving at his daughter’s. He has lived in Boston, Peru, Israel, West Chester – and we connected over basketball. He knew the SPHAs, Willie Somerset, Guy Rodgers, and the Eastern League, where a friend, “the one honest guy among Clair Bee’s boys at LIU” had played. “Zai gezunt,” he wished me when he left.
“IWKYA” went to a fellow whose part in the Berkeley scene pre-dates mine by years. His usual routine is to arrive at the café looking for a friend who has already left, fail to recognize me, and, when I identify myself, recall a sedar he had attended with my wife and Ram Dass which, Adele says, never happened.
This time I invited him to sit. It was an entertaining half-hour. I heard about old girl friends, acid trips, Merry Pranksters, Gershon Sholem, Saul Bellow, learning French kissing from a nine-year-old cousin, visiting pre-Castro Cuba with a business mogul relative who predicted the revolution, a second marriage, at 72, to the 27-year-old daughter of a noted scholar of Judaica (“Seven, two,”he said, “Two, seven. Kabbalahistically significant”), and his plan to return to Stanford, at 82, to complete his PhD. (My role as a line editor came under discussion.)

As for the bonanza…
Faithful readers will recall the law school classmate who had gone on to a distinguished career in journalism with whom I’d breakfasted recently after not seeing each other in 50 years. I had given him a “Lollipop” and he already had a “Cheesesteak” and he sent a more-than-enough wad of cash to complete his collection of Bob Levins. So I packed up “Best Ride,” “Fully Armed,” “Pirates & Mouse,” “Outlaws, Rebels…,” “Schiz,” and “IWKYA” and sent them off. “I pride myself on owning and reading all books written by… Gay Talese, Walter Isaacson, and Bill Cohan,” he wrote. “I want to add Bob Levin to my list.”
Boy, did I feel good.

In other news…
1.) “I took 15-pages of notes on your book,” a recent reader of “Lollipop” told me. “But I’ve compressed it into one sentence: ‘A snide look at do-gooders by an insider who knows the score.’ What do you think?”
“I don’t care for ‘snide.’” I said.
“I didn’t think you would. But you’ll remember it.”
2.) On the other hand, another fellow e-mailed: “At 12 MN, I decided to look again at ‘Cheesesteak.’ Read it cover to cover. Cannot remember when I read a book all in one sitting. What a book!”
So there.
[ALL OF BOB’S BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE FROM:, The “snide” to the “What a…!” Judge for yourself.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 346

Just after e-mailing one of my most reliable “Adventure” fans that, unless something happened quick, this would be a week without one, I sold a “Schiz” – and a “Goshkin.”
The former was purchased by a cafe-friend, who had read it and wanted a second copy as a gift for a neighbor who had given him cat food. (Exactly how much a signed, first edition “Bob Levin” is worth in cat food was not revealed.) The friend, who stood by as the transaction took place, was a nice fellow. He was casually dressed, with grey hair in a short pony tail. He described himself as “a dinosaur,” a general practice attorney, everything from civil litigation to criminal appeals. He also teaches “How-To” courses at a law school in SF.
The other buyer was an exuberant woman (tousled grey hair, grey wooly sweater, big, black-rimmed glasses, many rings), down from Placerville for the Big Game. (She and her husband’s two daughters are Golden Bears.)
“Poetry?” she asked.
“Prose,” I said.
“Even better.”
She clearly enjoyed the idea that she was having a Berkeley experience – which is how I subliminally pitch my books to out-of-towners too. (To her credit, she recognized Edward Gorey on the cover. Joe Gould stumped her, but when I said, “Bob Dylan,” she said, “Far out. We saw him on a bill with Willie Nelson.”) She promised to e-mail me her comments and questions. “I’m going to start your book immediately. I brought a reading light for the ride home.”

In other news…
1.) My link to my newly re-ssued Dylan article at FOM drew ZERO response at FB. Which has had a depressing effect on my interest in publishing my contemplated “Bob-on-Bob” collection.
2.) However, I had sent a copy of my mock epic poem about the 1959 Overbrook-West Philly game, which is slated for publication in the soon-to-appear “Journal of the French Hotel,” to an author/correspondent who had actually played in it. He loved it, which, as I told him, made me feel as Homer must have when he heard from a combatant at Troy. (Oh yes, the mag in question has a projected print date of Dec. 12.)

Bob Dylan: The Man, The Moment, The Italian Meats Sandwich

It’s been called “the best thing ever written about Bob Dylan.” Okay, it was I who called it that, but since it first appeared in “Karamu” (1996), it’s been reprinted in “Montague Street (2012) and now here.

It begins:

Chickie Pomerantz was lit.
Opening night of the 1963 Brandeis Folk Festival had been lame. All those green bookbags and black turtlenecks. All those skanks and pears. Then this skinny guy with this scratchy voice came on singing about some farmer starving to death in South Dakota. Chickie and Kevin Cahill and Frannie St. Exupery and a couple other jocks tossed beer cans at the stage. “You shoulda seen the assholes run,” he said, coming back to the dorm.

Adventures in Marketing: Weeks 343 -345

Sold a “Lollipop.”
The buyer was a fellow from the café. I’d known since the ‘90s, but he hadn’t bought a book from me until six-months ago. He’d asked what I’d recommend and I’d said “Cheesesteak.” (He’s an LA hippie-turned-tradesman, 15 or 20-years my junior.) He liked it so much he asked what I’d recommend next.
And I’ve been giving out cards – and not receiving any follow-ups – hand over fist. One went to the phlebotomist who took my annual pre-physical blood sample; three went to lawyers who asked how my writing was going at a judge’s retirement dinner in Oakland; one went to a woman who used to “mix” sound for Santana; one went to a Hindi-named musician; one went to young man studied jazz piano; one went to a Russian-born “aspiring entrepraneur” (These three the same morning); and one to a self-described “iconoclastic” Social Studies teacher from Long Island, who repeatedly dropped old Woody Allen lines into our conversation. (Actually, I didn’t give him one. I knew that conversation was going nowhere.)

In other news…
1.) The file(s) for the journal has/have reached the printer. The printer has returned the proofs. The proofs have been reviewed, corrected, and returned to the printer.
2.) I had agreed to review a comic, but, while I was waiting for it to arrive, I began to write something else, and when it still didn’t arrive, the editor asked if I would review this forthcoming book instead, and I said, “Fine,” and then the comic arrived. So I am going to be a busy boy.
(Plus I have these letters to send to Georgia to get Sen. Warnock re-elected, I did such a good job in Pennsylvania.)