Sold three CHEESESTEAKs, one to a second cousin of Adele’s/former Berkeley/present Philly suburb resident, one to a niece, and one to a Berkeley pal as a gift (his second — they make wonderful gifts) for an ex-Philadelphian in Oregon (where that Shakespeare festival is) for a fellow whose name he couldn’t recall, so he couldn’t have it personally signed. Also sold a BEST RIDE to the same niece, who overpaid and elected to take that rather than a refund.
Best reaction came from an ex-Philadelphian pal/high school basketball star, a few years younger than me, now living in LA. “Loved it. It’s GREAT!” and was reminded to recount how he had scored 30 points against Pickles Kennedy in a summer camp league game, and made an underhand layup against Trooper (“You remember Trooper Washington?” “Yeah, I remember Trooper Washington”) Washington. Meanwhile, his wife stood beside him, rolling her eyes.
In related news, Spruce Hill Press has successfully paid on-line the Board of Equalization for the sales tax due for its first fiscal year.
And THE SCHIZ, Spruce Hill’s next release, has had its back cover approved by its author (me) and passed on to its cover illustrator (someone else) for his final touches. To pre-order, send $25 to Spruce Hill Press POB 9492 Berkeley 94709 (me, again).
I am watching Roger Federer play a tennis match. The match is occurring in the ground floor plaza of a multi-level shopping mall. Roger’s opponent (screen left) is at the baseline, but his shots are sending Roger up and down to the different levels. Up three flights to return one, down two flights to return the next, and so on, one amazing shot after another.
I am surprised by this dream. What is Roger Federer doing in it. He seems much more suitable for a dream of Adele’s. I mean, I like him, but she is a fanatic. I let go off the dream once I tell her but she chews and rechews it. Finally she has an interpretation. “You, as a writer, are an old guy. Roger, for a tennis player, is an old guy. And you both are still pulling off amazing shit.”
I liked that interpretation. In fact, Roger running up and down between floors, returning shot after shot, felt like my brain, firing off shot after shot to solve each problem presented by each approaching sentence.
…Elena Ferrante’s “The Story of a New Name,” the second volume in her Neapolitan Quartet. (I say “her” with no hesitation. I am aware of the controversy, but I’ll be damned if Ferrante turns out to be a fellow.) I don’t have much to say about it, but I thought it was terrific. Much depth. Many, many intriguing characters, richly6 portrayed. Good picture of a place and time. I think you ought to read Volume One first, though.
I sold a “Cheesesteak” to a nephew and to a Claremont member. (He’d been to Penn. “Is Pat’s in it?” he asked.) I sold an Air Pirates to another club member, who’d bought two of my other books. (“I now have read more of you than Tolstoy,” he said.)
Here are two other reactions: A poet/acquaintance at the French said of “Cheesesteak”, “I feel like a younger brother, tagging along behind you.” A noted economist whose locker is near mine but to whom I had barely spoken before said of the cover, “Looks interesting.” Then he related how, when he was a freshman at Swarthmore, a sandwich vendor had come through the dorm exclaiming, “Hoagies! Cheesesteaks!” and he’d no idea what was being offered. (He was from New York.)
Then there was the woman who came into the French, an ex-client. Aha! I thought. There’s a sale. But first I had to remember her name. When I did, I walked over to her table. “Oh, hi, Bob,” she said, “I’m reading your book. It’s a hoot.” A mutual friend had loaned her her copy, the rat!
I have been thinking of more marketing. I broke down and e-mailed Amazon to see what it would take for them to pick me up. An auto-reply said they would get back to me within four business days. That was six business days ago.
Plus I need to further tap the Claremont. My “Buy Bob’s Books!” sign has been banned and no one is asking when I sit there reading my book. How about having my sign printed on a t-shirt?
I convince the bus driver to let me off in the parking lot of the apartment building where I live (which is the building where Adele and I lived when I came to Berkeley). I am having difficulty getting my luggage out of the baggage compartment and feel badly that I will make the driver late for his next stops. My plan is to unpack and then go to Saul’s (neighborhood deli) to eat. It turns out this is the Warriors team bus returning from a play off victory in Sacramento and Steve Kerr gets off and asks me to get permission to park across several reserved parking spaces while he holds a team meeting. (The bus will wait a couple blocks away while I get this permission.)
I go inside. The building is owned (not really) by Fred and Robbie Ahmadi, who owned my former office building and with whom I am on good terms. I am looking for their phone number when their son (who does not exist) appears and says I can have permission. A crowd is already gathering as I run off to tell Steve Kerr. I feel like Henry Kissinger, having negotiated detente with China.
As I pass Saul’s I see in the window a table of several guys from my old basketball game and, even though I realize they are holding this gathering without having invited me, I go in to tip them off to the Warriors impeding arrival in the parking lot. One fellow does not believe me. There could have been no playoff game, he says. It is snowing and sleeting. All flights would have been canceled. The game was in Sacramento, I say. And they traveled by bus.
Then I look out the window. The bus which had been parked up the street is pulling away. I had taken too long. They are leaving. I run after it I can not catch it. The Warriors will not appear. The crowd will be angry. I will be humiliated.
So much for attempting to be the center of attention, I think. I had better give up writing.
In the morning, I tell Adele my dream. She tells me not to give up writing. She says I have just recapitulated a childhood experience. “Then you were the center of attention,” she says, “and terrible things happened. Your sister died.”
…Joy Williams’s “The Quick & The Dead” (2000). I had read “Breaking and Entering” shortly after it hit paperback and liked it. A couple years ago, I read Q&D was Williams’s best. So when I saw an ex-library copy at Half-Price Books…
Williams writes about out-liers’ lives. Her sentences are rich. Her ideas swarm through her text. Her life view is not mine, but her world is engaging. Her characters are odd and, often, crazed; but her “plot” here is virtually non-existent. Sometimes it seemed like she began with one, then two, then three interesting characters and ran with them until they met up with some other odd someone, who intrigues Williams more, so she ran with him or her until they met another even more interesting oddball. From time to time, she would resume with characters where she’d dropped them but, except one fellow who was cut to pieces by a shattered mirror and another who was, as I recall, shot, no one seemed to get anywhere.
Sold one “Cheesesteak” to a physician/acquaintance at the French, one to a physician/acquaintance at the Claremont, and one to a prior customer there, who wanted it as a gift for a friend. Sold a “Best Ride” to a painter/acquaintance at the French, who became the first buyer where I got to use the gizmo that allows me to take credit cards on my iPhone. Boy, that was cool!
But my July Fourth Weekend Sale (“Buy One; Get One Free”) produced zilch. The closest was a woman who engaged me in conversation as she carried her latte and muffin from the French’s counter. “My hands are already full,” she concluded, resisting my charms. When she finished, she exited through the door where she would not have to pass me.
As for feedback, a professor emeritus of molecular and developmental biology, another former resident of Powelton Village (See p. 82), who had lost a best friend to heroin and considered himself another ’60s “survivor,” was impressed by my evocation of the times. And “Max Garden”‘s widow thanked me for writing the book — and cried. (Between tears, she noted mine was the only record of their wedding (p. 86) that existed. She did recall a dog, also in attendance, which had failed to impress itself upon me.)
Though not directly on point, I also received a note from the 24-year-old Serbia-born woman I mentioned a blog or two ago. She wrote that “Outlaws, Rebels” had “deepened (her) understanding and appreciation of the beauty and struggle of truly free-thinking creators” and influenced her present work. “Your fan,” she signed it.
When I ask myself why I keep doing this, that will be good to remember.
My latest is up at http://bit.ly/29fofFx.
The new editor belatedly informed me there was an 850-word limit, not 1000, so she cut 150 without asking, and I am afraid to look at the result.
Anyway, here is how it begins — or used to begin.
On July 10, Bob Dylan, the most significant American artist of our lifetime, will play the Borgala Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City and, July 13, Philadelphia’s Mann Center, as part of a 30-concerts-in-43-days cross-country tour, which shows good energy for anyone, let alone a 75-year-old grandfather of nine and survivor of near-fatal heart disease. Opening will be Mavis Staples, who, Dylan scholars will recall, rejected his marriage proposal in the early ‘60s; and, no, his mended heart does not guarantee Joan Baez’s being aboard the next time he sails into town. For those who will attend either show but have not been following the old song-and-dance man since the days you worried about Frank Rizzo seizing your stash, consider the following a public service announcement designed to steer your expectations onto safely appreciative ground.
Sold a “Fully Armed” to a satisfied reader of “Cheesesteak” at the health club and a “Cheesesteak” to a fellow self-publisher-in-retirement (a former architect) at Berkeley Espresso.
This 80% fall-off was discouraging, which did not speak well of the development of my inner sense of self-worth. (Nor did my thinking, when informed by a fellow who’d received a freebie that his brother, who’d read it, intended to buy copies for friends, “What about you? Don’t you have friends?) I may have to re-think my approach.
Other reactions have been mixed. Two fellows, who’d bought “Cheesesteak,” announced they’d begun reading it, s if I should be pleased that had followed. (One said he’d learned more about me from it than from our having worked in the same building for years, as if that would be news t me too. The other, a restaurant owner, was most interested by what “inside-out” had meant at Pat’s.)
A 60ish psychologist at the French said “Cheesecake” was “the funniest book I’ve read in years.” (She was up to “As Mildred.”) When finished, she planned to send her copy to an octogenarian former English professor who co-hosted a podcast on books in Minnesota. (I gave her one for him.) A middle-aged man with a backpack looked at my display and said, “My wife will kill me if I bring home more books.” A woman walked by me at the club, while I, adhering to the “No Soliciting” rule sat silently with “Cheesesteak” propped upon my lap, and asked the 10-year-old next to me what he was reading. (“The Shadow Throne,” if you want to know.)
Maybe, I thought, I should hire a 10-year-old to read “Cheesesteak.” Maybe a slew of them. Maybe from Bangladesh. I hear they work cheap there.
…two collections of non-fiction by Renata Adler, “Canaries in the Mineshaft” (2001) and “After the Tall Timber” (2015), which is a career-spanning retrospective. I have now read seven of her eight books, omitting a collection of her film criticism from the year she spent doing that for the NY Times.
Boy, is Adler something! I admire the clarity and power of her thinking, analyses and arguments, her courage, humor and quality of her prose. Sometimes she may be vague (or beyond the limits of my comprehension). Sometime she may weld herself to positions that have not been supported by subsequent evaluations or others over time or commit herself to causes that have failed to endure. But I can not fault her guts or style in propounding her beliefs.
Adler reports from civil rights marches across the South, from Biafra during its war of secession. from Israel during its fate-in-the-balance Six Days. She can be take-no-prisoners scathing, as she is toward Robert Bork, Pauline Kael, Kenneth Starr, the Rehnquist Supreme Court, and the Times and New Yorker, burning bridges to those with whom she had formerly worked. She can also be surprisingly kind to G. Gordon Liddy.
I ought to write about her.