“Fun,” the semi-retired financial adviser said about “The Schiz.”
I was impressed.
Most people who were given or bought a copy have said nothing. Many, I expect, have not read it. Many, I bet, began but were put off by the structure or content.
So I welcome what I get.
Remember the fellow in the health club locker room I recognized by his accent as being from Philadelphia?
He sent me a two-page, single-spaced e-mail that called “Cheesesteak” “terrific.”
He knew Jim’s and Larry’s, The White House. He thought my description of Pat’s “superb” and of my bar mitzvah “hysterical.” He knew a dog like Ming, had a grandmother who died young, and his wife danced on Bandstand. He sold sodas at Franklin Field, went to fights at the Blue Horizon, had Mel Brodsky as a Camp Counselor — and had friends who came to unimaginable ends.
It had all resonated.
It had lit corners of his life.
I thought of the knots that life ties and unloosens and reknits.
[Bob’s books are available from this very web site.]
The closest I even came to a nibble was a UC English major who engaged me in conversation at the café and said next time, maybe, he’d bring cash.
Rewards came in other fashion. For one, the estimable Jon B. Cooke asked to reprint Adele and my 1992 essay “I Don’t Fuck My Dog: The Life and Art of Dori Seda” in his “The Book of’Weirdo,'” forthcoming from Last Gasp. I’ve been looking forward to this book since first hearing about it some years ago, and it will be an honor to be included.
Then I made my Skype debut, a partial one anyway, sound of me but no video, being interviewed by the film maker/cartoonist Wostok for a documentary about his book “Robusto,” which I reviewed a couple months ago. This was one of those unanticapatable-ripples-cast-by-unlikely-stone moments that art (and life) magically set in motion. Here was this middle-aged Serbian artist, who had basically given up on cartooning, having work he had done a decade a ago discovered by a young woman, Dragana Drobjnak, a punk musician/artist in Buffalo, New York, Who decided to collect these stories and publish them in book form, which she then brought to the attention of a well-into-senior citizenship writer in Berkeley (You Guessed It), whose book from 2008 she credited with inspiring her own creative vision, and hoped he would write about hers.
So three generations are spanned here and 6500 miles. It is hard not to smile at the wonder of connection.
I’ve been contributing to “The Comics Journal” since 1988, and Fantagraphics, its parent company, has published three of my books. Recently, in celebration of its 40th anniversary, Fanta published an oral history, “We Told You So,” in which its owners, employees, artists, and writers, past and present, shared memories, experiences, and stuck knives into backs. On p. 443, the Journal’s present Managing Editor said this:
“Levin was an excellent, if eccentric writer… I often witnessed editors tearing their hair in exasperation over Levin’s pieces. Assigned to cover a particular creator, Levin would go and have a cup of tea with ‘Ruth Delhi,’ a recurring — probably fictional — figure in his article and write about their conversation. But then Hunter Thompson was known for his metaphorical digressions too.”
All but the “excellent” surprised me. I had always regarded myself, in Henry Higgins fashion, as a most appealing chap. But it was to Ms. — actually Dr. — Delhi’s defense that I sprang.
She might be, I assured the Managing Editor, a “conceit” or even a “device,” but she assuredly was not a “metaphor.” Besides, we didn’t just have tea. Sometimes we had vegetarian Chinese food, and, once, we even had sex.
“Maybe it was the tea that was the metaphor,” he said.
Big Lou Emeritus (Not his real name) said I had made a mistake when I had directly asked him to buy my book.
“I never ‘directly asked’ you to buy my book, Big Lou,” I said.
“You sent me an e-mail.”
“I sent everyone an e mail. You sent me an e-mail when you ran for city council.”
“That was different,” he said. “That was a public service.”
“My books are a public service,” I said.
“Fair enough,” he said. “If that is your perception. I am just saying, given our relationship…”
I enjoyed Big Lou. But our relationship, as far as I could see, consisted of our standing in the locker room in various states of undress while he I listened to his efforts to become an entrepreneur or celebrity spokesperson or consulting expert.
“I’m all about…,” he went on, placing a hand out to either side, fingers clenched, equal level, justice’s scales. “Not…” He dropped one hand to his side and raised the other, fingers cupped, soliciting a hand-out.
Which, I assumed, was me.
My latest piece is up at http://www.tcj.com/something-of-value/. Here is how it begins…
On March 26, 1994, after four-days of trial and a deliberation of 40, 90 or 120 minutes, depending on what you read, a St. Petersburg, Florida, jury of three men and three women, each older than him by at least a decade, declared Mike Diana to be the first American cartoonist officially guilty of obscenity.
The judge, an ex-naval officer, ex-prosecutor, and Rotarian, ordered Diana jailed. Diana’s girl friend, Suzy Smith, wept. Diana’s lawyer asked for his jewelry so it would not be stolen by his guards. Diana spent four days in maximum security while the judge pondered his sentence. The noise was unrelenting. The lights were on constantly. His cell had a metal bed with one blanket. Sleep was impossible. His company included murderers and rapists.
Because of picture he had drawn.
…”Can’t and Won’t,” a collection of short stories by Lydia Davis.
I had previously read Davis’s “Complete Stories,” which this subsequent volume has rendered in need of a retitling. I’d also read of hers given me by a woman to whom I’d recommended Davis and who’d rushed off to buy everything she could find by her at Amazon — and hated it.
I generally don’t read short stories. I don’t find you can do as much with them as with a book. But a collection works better for me. And Davis is a lot of fun. She is non-traditional, to say the least. A “story,” for her, may be a dozen words long. It may be dreams, either hers or someone else’s. It may be edited passages from Flaubert’s letters. But one is “Can’t,” “Seals” seems to me, by any standard, to be a masterpiece. (Among her less-traditionals, I liked “Cows” a lot.)
Davis raises the question “What is a story?” Her answer seems to be “Anything a story-writer says it is,” which is itself only a narrowing of Duchamp’s axiom that “Art is anything an artist says it is.”
That can be a good thing to keep in mind as you go about within the world.
No café sales.
A lawyer I knew when I was in practice asked how my writing was going. But…
A woman said, “I have a library with 3000 books, and if I bring one more home, my children will kill me.”
A thirtyish fellow, longish black hair, thickish black-framed glasses, lots of black clothes, asked if the books on display were mine.
I assured him they were.
He examined each, front cover and back. He riffled through some, lingering the most at the cartoons in “most Outrageous.” Which was understandable.
He assured me I was a credit to Berkeley.
Sold a “Schiz” to the sole law school classmate with whom I have even semi-regular contact. He e-mailed he’d enjoyed “Cheesesteak,” which I’d comp’d him. He’d known some of the characters and locales (pp. 78-87) and asked about them, which was cool. He also wanted a “Best Ride” and a “Pirates/Mouse” to give an Overbrook High School classmate of his, now “living as a mountain man in West Virginia.”
That sounds like a story-and-a-half.
[All books available from www.theboblevin.com]
Every Tuesday we share a club sandwich — no mayo, no fries, extra salad — at a restaurant owned by Iranian emigres, usually staffed by Latin Americans, occasionally an Asian or Eritrean. When we sat down, “Stay” was on the sound system, followed by “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Speedo.” “We may be the only people in here who were alive when these songs were popular.” I scanned the customers more carefully. “In fact, we may be the only ones alive within 30 years of that.”
“Bye Bye Love” was playing when a grey haired woman using a walker entered. “She should be up and dancing in a minute,” I said.
“Probably she heard it a block away,” Adele said, “and the music drew her.”
Our server said she had chosen the station. My question surprised her. “It’s very popular?” she said. “People in Columbia love it.”
“This was the music of our teenage years,” Adele said.
“Would you like a mimosa?” the server said.
Wait till they hear the Beatles, I thought.
Sold copies of “The Schiz” to two alte cockers at the health club, both veteran readers of my stuff. (One hasn’t paid yet, but, a retired lawyer/professor, he’s good for it.) Since I’m not discounting this item, even for pals, each got a complimentary “Huge.” Swapped a “Cheesesteak” to a Penn man for an UG-friendly zine he edit/publishes.
Speaking of Penn, my café friend Hap, another alum, I send a “C.steak” to the “Gazette,” its all-university mag for its Class Notes (“Bob Levin L.’67…). Figuring it would draw more eyes than the law school’s equivalent, I did, but since I usually toss the Gazette when it arrives, I didn’t know the notice’d run till Hap gave me his copy.
If any sales result, I shall let you know.
[Bob Levin’s books are available from this very web site.]
For those of you who have been wondering about my new pants.
They are fine.
The second best thing about them is the front pockets. You can stick an entire hand in. (What you do with it then is your business.)
The major drawback is that if you are a 33, you can snap open the waist button by bending over. (Or maybe that is not a problem.) But if you are a 34, I would buy a 36.
The best thing is that they — buffalo hide, grey, pebble-grained — don’t look like leather pants. They don’t have the glitz. They look like faded/distressed black jeans. In fact, I wore mine for a day without Adele noticing.
Of course, as my brother said, “What’s the point of wearing leather pants, if no one knows they’re leather. You might as well wear corduroy.”
I am mulling this over.