I was just looking through one of my folders when I found this. I am sure it was never published, and I don’t think I ever blogged it. Anyway, here it is:

The other night, in the midst of a period of discussions of L’Affaire Polanski, where I am of the leave-the-old-scoundrel-alone persuasion, we caught, via On-Demand, the semi-charming 1987 release, “In the Mood” (Patrick Dempsey, Talia Balsam, Beverly D’Angelo), based on true events.
It seems that, in 1944, Elaine Monfredi (Balsam), a twenty-one-year-old, unmarried mother of two in Compton, California, ran off it to Arizona with her fourteen-year-old neighbor, Ellsworth “Sonny” Wisecarver (Dempsey), and married him. The honeymooners were arrested, returned to their home state, and, though Monfredi celebrated Wisecarver as “an ideal husband… (who) is kind, considerate and doesn’t believe in hitting women,” had their marriage annulled. Felony charges against Monfredi were dropped and she was placed on probation, with a condition being that she attend church once a month. Wisecarver’s parents sent him to live with a strict uncle.
In 1945, Eleanor Delaney (D’Angelo), the twenty-five-year-old wife of a Marine stationed in Japan, ran off with Wisecarver. The couple was tracked down, arrested, and after Delaney, who had boosted Wisecarver as “more of a man at sixteen than a lot of men are at thirty-five,” reconciled with her Leatherneck, all charges against her were dropped. Wisecarver, however, whom the press — having by now taken as much interest in him as if he had been riding shotgun beside Tiger Woods in his MVA, had dubbed “The Woo Woo Kid” and “The Compton Casanova,” was sentenced to the California Youth Authority until he turned twenty-one. A year later, he escaped and fled to Las Vegas, where he married a seventeen-year-old Mormon. No effort seems to have been made to extradite him.
Legal moralists argue that, in addition to rehabilitation, which has pretty much dropped from the picture due to budgetary considerations, and deterrence, whose efficacy has always proved a wobbly in the documentation department, a proper function of the criminal law is the gratification of society’s desire for revenge upon those whose conduct is so offensive it threatens to rend the basic fabric of the community. A problem for me with this approach is that what offends whom seems to vary widely from place to place and, indeed, decade to decade. In fact, with all due respect to cultural diversity, when you get down to certain orthodoxies – and here I nod both toward Mecca and Jerusalem, not to mention the Vatican – many deemed offenses seem to stem from collective societal psychoses that exposure to the light and air that frequent rendings would bring about would do a world of good.
But to return to late-1940s Compton, it is true that Wisecarver, unlike other persons of more recent interest, never claimed to have been forced or drugged into submitting to anyone’s advances. But he was, at all times, the minor victim in the picture, and if there was abuse, it was – by statutory definition – perpetrated upon him by the predatory cravings of his adult partners. Yet, as Wisecarver could not help noticing, the only one who went to jail was he. It could be that the judge thought he was not punishing Wisecarver but acting in his best interest by removing him as an object of temptation for other lustful creatures. But it may also be – as I suspect is often the case when the law is called in to regulate sexual matters – that the judge was acting out the people’s wish to slap down those it suspects of having more fun than the rest of us.

Marketing (3.)

Toward the end of the week, Adele set my books and sign outside the health club locker room. There was ittle foot traffic that morning, but we sold two copies. One was to a woman we barely knew, but she sat down to chat.

She is of Iranian descent and came here in the ’60s as a college student. She has been an artist and therapist and is a student of Sufi-ism. When I remarked that I would publish another book if I did not lose too much money on this one, she good humoredly reminded me how insignificant a consideration that was. Five thousand dollars, she said, ten thousand — grossly over-estimating what was at stake, “These are mere bumps in the road. You could not have been here at all. But if you touch only one person with this book, it has been worth it.” She went on to explain that, according to the Koran, the book on one’s life does not close until Judgment Day, “And you may never be aware of how what you have left behind has affected others.”

“What a nice thought,” I said. “And if I hadn’t written this book, I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you.”

Marketing (2.)

In my first week, I sat in a café each morning with a stack of books and my “Buy Bob’s Books!” sign. In one café, where I know few people, I sold one book. The buyer was a law professor whose own self-published book I had previously bought from him. Four people, two of whom were probably schizophrenic, stared at my sign without speaking, though one silently mouthed, “Wow.”

In my other café, where I know many copies, I have sold several copies, all to people whose first name, at least, I know. This café is in a boutique hotel and one morning a guest, an Asian-American woman, asked if I was “a Berkeley tradition.” “No,” I said, “I’m the first one I know of.”

Later, I realized, I had forgotten Julia Vinograd, a poet, who for years has roamed the streets, dressed in a long black coat and multi-colored cap, while blowing soap bubbles and peddling her chapbooks. I have the long black coat and the multi-colored cap already.

Or I could remain sedentary. Worst comes to worst, I figure, I can deduct the cost of my double espressos, like rent.

Marketing (1)

One week report:

About 80% of the people to whom I gave free copies of “Cheesesteak” have not responded. (Some may not have received theirs yet, the US Postal Service being what it is.) One respondee has bought one for someone else; one has promised to. One promoted the book at his web site, which resulted to my sole sale to a stranger so far. One said he might have it reviewed at his on-line magazine.

About 90% of the people whom I notified of “Cheesesteak”‘s existence have not responded. Two of the respondees bought a copy; one has promised to.

Exactly 75% of the people whom I asked for an address so I could send them a free copy did not reply.

One lesson I have drawn is that I am not as important a part of many people’s minds as they are to mine.

Another is that it is weird knowing everyone who knows of your book’s existence and of how they have dealt with this knowledge.

I just finished…

…”Dancing in the Dark,” Karl Ove Knausgaard’s fourth volume in his “My Struggle,” an autobiographical saga. “Dancing” is mostly an account of Kausgaard, at 18, teaching school in northern Norway while, more importantly, taking his first steps of entry into Norway’s literary world and, more importantly still, attempting to have sex. [Author’s Aside: When I was at SF State, around 1970, the professor of my novel-writing class remarked one day that, whereas, a few years before the staple of his students’ work was their first sexual experience, now it was their first acid trip. Have we regressed?] There is only one lengthy portion where Knausgaard scrambles his time frame, as he was wont to do in his earlier books, and one shorter one where he, very nicely, steps into the present and examines himself then. The rest progresses in strict chronological fashion with Knausgaard depicts himself with the consciousness he (supposedly) had then. The prose is direct and clean. It reads quickly. The characters and places are well defined. But I think that, unless you’ve read the earlier volumes, there’s no reason to read this one.

I just finished…

…”Achilles in Vietnam” by Jonathan Shay, MD. The book was highly recommended by my pal Budd, who knew Shay from high school. Shay went on to become a psychologist who worked with Vietnam vets suffering from PTSD. His approach in writing about them is to compare and contrast our military’s and our society’s treatment of combat veterans who have suffered loss, grief and rage with that of the Greeks, as recounted by Homer in “The Iliad.” The Greeks seem to have done it better.

The book did not have as powerful and effect on me as it did on Budd, but I learned a thing or two or three or four. You could spend your time a lot less wisely than reading it.


“Cheesesteak: The West Philadelphia Years: A Rememboir” is out (Spruce Hill Press. POB 9492. Berkeley 94709. $20, including postage.) It looks great. No reviews are in (or expected), but Adele was caught laughing when she read it. (She also said that in the author’s portrait on the back I looked “even more dissipated than in the original.”)

UPS delivered the shipment early Friday morning, which was nice. It meant I could get to Staple’s to stock up on the least expensive mailers into which I could squeeze one and then to the USPO where I could price one so-squozen in order to purchase the stamps required to mail them as cheaply as I could. (“Allow five-to-seven business days for delivery.”) Then I started stuffing envelopes.

Saturday morning, I put my marketing plan into operation. I trundled off to the French with a stack and my “Buy Bob’s Book Sign,” accompanied by Adele for moral support. We sold four, all to people with whom I have been known to chat. Others within this same degree of consanguinity did not bite. Strangers (and semi-strangers) did not glance in my direction.

Morning two, Adele stayed home. No one bought. (I guess I need a babe in the booth.) An Asian-American woman (a stranger!) picked up a copy, asked if I was part of a Berkeley tradition, put it down, and said, “Good luck.” An artist/musician picked one up, put it down, and said nothing. An anthropology professor emeritus offered to gtrade me a copy of his book he’d self-published after writing it for his grandchildren.

Hap, who bought one yesterday, said he’d read half and found it “hilarious.”

The Horror! The Horror! Ghastly Ingels and the Art of Real Yuch

My latest is up at

It begins:

As this volume’s only contributor to have actually read – and suffered the loss of EC comics – as a kid, I feel the weight of a generation – well, a thin, weird slice of a generation – on my shoulders. Like the one alone, you know, escaped to tell you. Like the last surviving veteran of a momentous battle, though this battle’s heart-wrenching outcome, the gutting of EC following the imposition of the Comic Code of 1954, was worth only two square inches in the local press. (I retain the Philadelphia Bulletin’s actual story, preserved behind Scotch tape on blotting paper, as a personally tailored flagellant if you doubt me.)

The Road Goes On Forever

My latest is up at

It begins:

Peter Kurt Woerner’s “Odyssey” is one hundred cubic inches and 3.4 pounds of gorgeous and compelling viewing/reading. $45 to him, 44 Kendall, New Haven, CT 06512 brings a copy.

Woerner and I were Friends’ Central Class of ‘60. He was personable, good looking, a stellar athlete, and dater of debutantes. To a Jewish kid from West Philly he seemed a Prince of the Main Line. He’d “secret” societied at Yale, then M.Arch’d it. We’d gone 50 years without contact. His book landed, unexpected as a flying saucer.

Allen Dulles

My friend and most trusted political adviser, Budd, hates Allen Dulles. This may surprise those who have not woken up with Mr. Dulles on their mind since before the break-up of the Beatles, but he seems needed fuel for those who believes that those who do not remember history are condemned and wish to remind themselves and others what evil the USA can do.

Budd has been reading a biography of Dulles by David Talbot, a journalist of impeccable… Well, a journalist impeccably ideologically straight-jacketed. Budd is clear on Talbot’s bent, but he still led off our last get-together by fingering Dulles for offing Patrice Lumumba, another figure long absent from “Jeopardy”‘s big board.

Sure, Dulles was probably evil, but Henry Kissinger, whom Budd admires and who is still with us, probably has more blood on his hands. And granted Lumumba’s execution, without due process of semblance of trial, was an abominable act; and while the Congolese and Belgians were more directly implicated, Dulles could easily have gone down as a co-conspirator. But bigger-picture (and sardonic humor)-wise, given went on in the next 50 years in the various states the British, French, and Belgians left behind them, how confident can we be that the Congo citizenry would have been better off if Lumumba had been left in place than if Joseph Mobutu hadn’t been maneuvered to replace him?

I can’t tell from Wikipedia what total body-count Mobutu rolled up while at his nation’s helm, but he did seem to have gutted the country financially, while, in good capitalist fashion, enriching himself unduly. On the other hand, Julius Nyere, who seems to have shared Lumumba’s more socialist inclination, left Tanzania “one of the poorest, least developed, and most foreign aid dependent countries in the world.”

I mean, I think the world can regularly be counted on to throw up evil men, like landslides or earthquakes or famines, to destroy hundreds or thousands or millions. I’ve said this before but maybe, given that, you’ve just got to step back and take the long view. Like President Obama said in the NYT today (in the Styles section, of all places), “(T)he fact is the world is wealthier, healthier, better educated, less violent, more tolerant, more morally conscious, and more attentive to the vulnerable than it has ever been.”

It may be good to get as angry as Budd does, but keep that in mind too.