First, an apology.
I missed last week because a burglar/literary critic made off with my laptop.
I had been planning to update new readers/FB “friends” with what I’d been doing anyway, and that is, since I began self-publishing, to sit in a café with a stack of my books and a sign of a Checkered Demon (drawn by legendary UG cartoonist S. Clay Wilson) saying “Buy Bob’s Books!” Then each week, I would report on sales or other notable encounters. A post-burglary development is that, when tidying my study, I came across an old “New Yorker” cartoon of a disheveled fellow standing on a corner, his hat set at his feet for donations, and a sign “Meet the Author, which I have added to my presentation.
In fact, I believe it was this cartoon that caught the eye of a cute five-or-six year old girl.
“Wanna buy a book?” I said.
That got me a big smile.
“You’re too young,” I said. “Come back in a few years.”
That got a smile from her mother.
Otherwise, one check in the mail for a “Cheesesreak” 2d ed., from a correspondent in the comic world.
And two copies of it and of “The Schiz” picked up by the burglar, but since they happened to be in the shoulder bag within which he carried off my laptop, I can’t put this down to editorial choice.
Before all of this I’d been running into a spate of “Maybe next time” and “I’ll think about it” and “I’m traveling light”s at the café.
My favorite was young woman – probably a grad student in one of the sciences, from China – jean jacket, jeans, over-sized glasses – who picked up a “Cheesesteak” and said, “About food?”
“A memoir about growing up in West Philadelphia,” I said.
“Your story? Very cool.”
“Take a look. Ask a question.”
“Maybe next time.”
I figure “Very cool,” “Maybe next time” are two handy expressions to have in English.
Sold my first “Cheesesteak (II). The buyer, who already had a (I), is a fellow I’ve known since kindergarten. A retired jr. high school teacher, he still lives in Philly.
Then I gave a (I) to a former client, currently serving a life term in Vacaville for a murder. He asked for a “Schiz,” saying that since it would be coming from a publisher, even if the publisher was me, the authorities would let it through.; but I thought, with some of those illos, no way it would pass inspection.
I also offered a (I) to an FB “friend,” who self-identified as being from West Philly, but she didn’t take me up on it, probably, I’m thinking, because I requested her address, not because of her independent editorial judgment.
In other news…
Anyone ever hear of the web site atominside? It appears to be offering free pdfs of, at least, two of my books without any authorization to do so. It’s got pictures of both covers, but to add to the general fishiness of the operation, in the description of one it refers to it as “‘Cheesesteak: The West Philadelphia Years,’ by Moh Nurrofig.” Any ideas as to in what language “Bob Levin” translates as “Moh Nurrofig”?
I did click on “Contact Us,” and that seemed to deposit me on a page for Playster.com., which advertised “Access to over 250,000 premium titles” for $14.95/month. Smelling viruses creeping closer and closer, I quit there.
Sold one “Best Ride.”
The buyer was a thirtyish, baseball-capped civil engineer, who works on the Bay Shore trail. He said he would read it next week on his flight to France.
I hoped he would have something to cover the remaining several hours. I figured he would leave it in France, where it would be picked up by someone who would adore it and make me the next American artist to have his career revived there.
In other news…
1. A colleague gave me a brochure by a self-publishing guru. Of her Top Tips, the most relevant seemed “Persistence is Key.” Well, I thought, every day I sit in the café with my “Buy Bob’s Books” sign and wares, so I have that covered. But then there was “Build Your Platform.”
With the drain of the actuarial tables upon my core audience, I was having trouble holding my own. And this was even before people began bailing on Facebook.
2. The new, photo-illustrated edition of “Cheesesteak” has arrived and is currently available from my hall closet ($15 to POB 9492, Berkeley 94709; $10 in person) and presumably from discerning book stores and on-line. I sent copies to five Philly-area papers (since that’s where most of the action occurs). For promotion, that’s it. See what I mean about being “platform”-challenged. (But if you want to write a review, lemme know.)
3. Responses to the proposed reading series at the café have been positive – but not too many people want to actually read. The manager has been enthusiastic and supportive – but took the announcement down when the building owner was in town. I’ve also posted announcements at my other café and health club, which produced zero attendees at my last reading, but, you know…
Persistence is key.
But a delightful café conversation with a Washington State undergraduate from So Cal, who was visiting Berkeley. A computer science major, with an interest in journalism, she asked enough questions about “inspiration” and “process” that you would expect aspiring writers to ask actual ones that I almost believed I had become just that. I got a kick out of listening to her and listening to me and watching us both. I gave her my card and told her about my blog and said she could soon be reading about herself.
In other news, the new, photo-illustrated edition of “Cheesesteak,” with added supplemental material by the author, has shipped from the printer. It can be purchased in stores, on-line, or, personally signed, for $15 to Spruce Hill Press, POB 9492, Berkeley 94709.
And with the short story writer/memoirist Yvonne Martinez, I will be kicking off a new reading series at the Vanne Bistro (formerly the café at the French Hotel), 1538 Shattuck, Berkeley, CA, on April 16, 94709. (If you’d like to read at a future date, e-mail me: email@example.com.)
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?
My latest piece is up at http://www.firstofthemonth.org/me-two-cents/
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.
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.”
…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.
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.
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.)