A Fig in Winter

My latest piece has gone up at https://www.tcj.com/a-fig-in-winter/
It begins:

On September 6, 1956, the newspaper strip cartoonist Alex (“Rip Kirby”) Raymond was killed when the Corvette he was driving crashed into a tree. The car’s owner, Stan (“The Heart of Juliet Jones”) Drake, who had been riding shotgun, had an ear nearly torn off and a shoulder dislocated. The two had been speeding uphill when Raymond attempted to brake for a crossroad, hit the accelerator instead, and launched them airborne. Or so Dave Sim writes early in “The Strange Death of Alex Raymond,” Leonard (“On Stage”) Starr said in an interview in the October 2012 issue of Alter Ego magazine, Drake, who’d died in 1997, told him. This double hearsay explanation set Sim speculating about what “strange metaphysical undercurrents” may have been at play.

Bruce Dern Loves Last Ride


Above is the link to my most recently published article. Actually it was published in 1983 as “Me and Hollywood” (or was it “Hollywood and Me”?) in a mag a printer-friend put out in Eugene, but it’s been long enough — and its circulation small enough — that I — and, fortunately, FOM’s editor, the esteemed Benj DeMott — thought it deserved a second look. It begins:

There are three things to understand first. My red phone. My second cousin Irving Sussman. My position in American letters.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 339

Sold a “Cheesesteak.”
The buyer wore a dark baseball cap, bill to the front. His couple days black-grey stubble made him eligible for slotting anywhere on the café’s socio-economic spectrum. He asked about each of my books and remarked on my jacket quotes from Crumb and Ram Dass, which narrowed nothing.
Turned out he had been born in Alameda, attended UC, lives in Berkeley, and has two kids at Berkeley High. Said he worked in “software,” “website design,” “product management.”
Successfully, was my impression.
He said he had been coming to the café for 30 years, but I had never seen him before. Leonard who comes nearly every day said he had never seen him either.
FBI? CIA? Operative for a state too deep below the surface to be known?
A sale is a sale.

In other news…
1.) Neither of my pieces that were about to come out have come out and the one that has come out is in a volume that has not yet reached me, though presumably it was mailed a month ago. (Meanwhile I am putting final tweaks on two more pieces – one a “poem” – and accepted a request from a collector/connoisseur of weird cartoonists to look at/review a graphic novel by someone he knows – and I don’t.
2.) As for our anthology, we have (1) figured out how to number its pages, which means (2) we can finalize our Table of Contents; but (3) our first attempt (a) omitted one piece entirely and (b) transitioned an “Alan” into an “Ann.” We still don’t know how to format; our printer is up in the air; and we are (good-spiritedly) squabbling about back cover content, the masthead, attrributions of the previously published, word limits on contributors’ notes, and distribution through Amazon.
It occasionally causes lost sleep.

Adventures in Marketing: Weeks 337 – 338

Sold a “Cheesesteak”; gave away a “Cheesesteak,” “Lollipop,” “Schiz,” and “Most Outrageous.”
The sale was to a 40ish couple – husband and wife, I presume – from Mexico City but 25-years in the US. They operate a commercial cleaning company.
The gift – a package deal – went to my brother’s visiting twins, whom Adele and I last saw at their bar mitzvah about 20-years ago. One lives in Bed-Stuy and consults with hedge funds on where and how to invest. The other lives in Morgantown, having recently completed a tour of duty with an ultra-elite Navy SEAL unit. It would be difficult to say with whom we felt we had less in common going in.
But we had a nice visit. (It was, I remarked to Adele, the most time we had spent with people their age since… Well, when we were that age.) We sat in and outside the café. We drove up and down the North Berkeley hills, into Tilden Park. We walked across campus, down Telegraph, through People’s Park, lunched at Bateau Ivre, and walked back. (8000 steps). They asked questions it was fun to answer and provided answer to questions we asked that were fun to hear.

In other news…
1.) It looks like FOM will run a story of mine soon. When I pitched it, the editor recalled having seen it three-years ago. He had lost it, and I had forgotten I had submitted it. So I sent it again.
2.) It looks like TCJ will be running a piece of mine too. It had asked my opinion of a controversial book and I submitted it. “Fantastic, Bob” I was told. “You’ve still got it.” That registered well – until I envisioned an editorial meeting with “Has Levin lost it?” on the agenda.
3.) Our anthology rolls along: (a) we have figured out how to pay the printer. (All Board members will chip in); (b) contributors have been asked to submit 30-word descriptions of themselves. (A limit determined by how many I needed); and (c) unasked – and with some chutzpah – I line-edited four submissions. Three authors expressed thanks and accepted all or many of my suggestions, (including a woman who first “lost” them). The fourth called me a “jackass.” He told me that people on two continents (Australia and North America) had loved his story without finding a single nit to pick. When I suggested he dump, oh, two-dozen metaphors as quickly – speaking metaphorically – as Friday’s fish on Wednesday, he pronounced them examples of the “lyrical/poetic infusion” he brought to his work.
. An infusion, alas, he had arrived at after abandoning Raymond Chandler’s stylistic influence for Mickey Spillane’s – which strikes me – Australians not withstanding – as a classic inversion of the Buddhist maxim that from garbage comes the rose.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 335

No sales. No swaps. But I received a gift.
The flip-flop-shod, maximalist poet/assemblage artist/Merry Prankster associate (See “Adventures… 332″), who had purchased “Best Ride,” re-appeared. “A book for a book,” he said. I thought it would be a chapbook of his but no. It was a 57-year-old ($1.95) paperback anthology: “The Philosophy of Time.” What in “Best Ride” had led him to conclude this would be of interest to me was a mystery.
But on the other hand, at the very moment he had bestowed it, I was in the midst of an e-mail to my philosopny professor emeritus neighbor (See “Adventures…” I forget) reporting my thoughts on a book he had loaned me where I had been particularly intrigued by the question of how we know something is a dog. Is there something within both “Dahlia,” the Habanese, and “Fido,” the Alsatian, that when either or both of them enters the cafe, owner-in-tow, we think “Dog,” or does something within us that occasion this conclusion? (Philosophers have been pondering this question for centuries.)

In other news…
1.) A pleasant woman in a blue suit and short gray hair stopped at my table. She said she was visiting from the east.
“What part?” I said, hoping to place a “Cheesesteak” with her.
“North Carolina,” she said.
“That’s the south,” I said.
“Right,” she said. She picked up “Fully Armed.” “I’m not familiar with you… Or Jimmy Don Polk.”
“No reason you should be,” I said.
She worked in the therapeutic court system, so I should have pushed that one. But I wasn’t thinking quick enough. I gave her my card instead.
2.) A young woman in glittery blouse, pedal pushers, and chunk-heeled sandals stopped. “Dragana.” I identified her accent as Middle-European but she said “Minnesota.” She was in “J” School and had come to the café to interview someone about People’s Park. “Harvey Smith. Do you know him?”
“I knew a Harvey Smith. He pitched for West Philly in 1959. I doubt it’s the same fellow.”
When her Harvey Smith arrived, he was skinny with a long, grey pony tail, so “No.”
As she turned to sit down with him, I said, “Wanna buy a book?”
“I’m a broke grad student,” she said. “But I support your efforts.”
I gave her a card too.
That’s 4,721 distributed in vain – or thereabouts.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 334

Sold an “Outlaws, Rebels…” Usually, I don’t even display a copy because I don’t expect it to move. (Based on its success, I’ve brought “Fully Armed out. It’s drawn some looks but price has not been discussed.)
The “Outlaws” buyer was maybe 30. A fellow of Mexican heritage, slim and dressed in black slacks, black zipper jacket, black baseball cap. He wore a silver necklace with a wing-pendant. His field is, of all things, marketing. He must be good since it takes him all over the country. He was in the neighborhood this particular morning dropping his son off at school.

In other news…
1.) The long, long awaited anthology “Speaking of Atlantic City: Recollections & Memories,” in which I will have a piece, will be available in stores and on-line October 3. For those of you in the area, there will be a signing October 14 at the Noyes Art Garage Museum in A.C., 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. (Exact address available on request. I will not be there.)
2.) Some folks outside the café were kicking around the idea of putting out a journal of work by regulars, and George said, “Wendy, you do it.” Wendy told me the next morning and I said, “Great idea!” and she said, “You’re on the Board of Directors.”
We had our first meeting Wednesday. (It’s sort of a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show” thing so far.) We made some important decisions like (1) inclusion will be by invitation-only; and (2) we will charge something for it. We also recognized important problems like (1) since the “kids” in this case are pretty old, none of us know how to format the material we collect into a form a printer can work with and (2) we don’t know how we will pay the printer’s bill if we solve problem one.
Details, details.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 333

Sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” and gave away a “Cheesesteak.” And had a couple brief book-related encounters.
So read on.

The sale was to a definitely-under-40, maybe under-30 – fellow with dark curly hair and dark curly beard. He’s a mathematician – that’s five I’ve now met, for those keeping count – in Berkeley for a just-concluded 10-day conference, on his way to New Mexico where a friend has started an alternative university – or was it an alternative universe?; with New Mexico you can’t be sure. I asked why he had chosen IWKYA since it usually appealed to older readers. Health issues of his own, he said.
Payment became a problem. He did not have cash and I had not hooked Square up to my new bank account. Since he was about to leave town, I offered to give him a copy and trust him to send me a check, and then he remembered he had his check book in his car and went out to get it. It’s on a Bloomington, Indiana bank but my ATM took it.

The gift was to an ex-Philadelphia newspaperman who runs a valuable on-lite site about Philadelphia high school basketball, a research tool I have used on more than once, most recently in connection with a mock epic poem I’d written in 12th grade and was sprucing up. That’s a different story, but it led to a friend putting a question to me, which I put to the site-runner, whose reply led to me sending him my book. Every ex- or current Philadelphian should have one.

In other news…
1.) Conversation (a) was with an engineering student from India, who is working on a non-privacy invasive AI system which could, for example, tell him the average age of everyone in the café, but before he could explain why anyone would need to know this, he had to rush off to class. (You know how engineering students are about classes.) (B) was with a UPS driver, who said he liked to read books and had grandkids who liked to read them; but before I could think which, if any, of my books were grandkid-friendly, he had to rush back to his truck. (You know how UPS is about schedules.) I gave both men my card which, as frequent readers know, is my way of insuring I will never hear from people again.
2.) I received an email from a fellow in Indonesia who had read an article I had published three-years ago in a magazine in New Zealand about a cartoonist from Toronto. This fellow wanted to contact this cartoonist. I replied I would see what I could do – and my computer immediately informed me my message was “Undeliverable.” Since all I had done was hit “Reply” to the email which had come from him, I was mystified. I forwarded his email anyway to the cartoonist and he emailed the fellow without difficulty.
So I don’t know. Is this fellow in Indonesia on some CIA terrorist list making communications to him from America impossible? I asked the cartoonist to let me know if buildings in Toronto started blowing up.
3.) Just as an aside, I noted that my previous “Adventure” received four “Like”s at FB, which is about the median, whereas my latest “Dream” about having sex with Sally Fields and Jane Russell received 18, which leads me to conclude my dream-life is of much more interest to people than my actual one.
Or that people prefer reading about sex to commerce.


Adventures in Marketing: Weeks 331 – 332

Sold one book, swapped one book, gave one away.
The sale (“Best Ride to New York”) was to a large, soft fellow, with unkempt brown hair extending to his shoulders from beneath a blue baseball cap and bare feet in rubber flip-flops. He described himself as a maximalist poet (“Do you know Charles Olson?”), an assemblage artist, and an associate of the Merry Pranksters (“I once met Ken Babbs”).
The swap (“The Schiz”) was to an 83-year-old retired architect who wore a straw hat, a multi-colored vest and shirt, and walked with the assistance of a glittery cane. Since retiring, he had become a photographer, self-publishing 20-or-so books. The one I received was a collection of photos of “found” or purchased items, like blocks, or dolls, or miniature animals (My favorite were his rhinoceroses), all brightly colored and arranged in towers or within boxes or other dioramas of his creation.
The gift (“Cheesesteak”) was to a retired pediatrician, a friend-of-a-friend. We’ve never met but he’s a valuable contributor to a mini (five-man)-basketball-discussion group we have going. He’s read a couple of my books and when I heard he was unaware I’d ushered at the Palestra, I thought I’d fill him in.

In other news…
1.) I discussed – but made no sale – to a woman who had commandeered my usual table before I got to the café. This has happened before but the interlopers usually depart before too long. This woman, however, had ensconced herself with a tablet, a large glass with one drink, a to-go cup with another drink, two small bags, a plastic container with foodstuffs, and a small roll of toilet paper. (“For my sniffles,” she explained when she saw me looking.) “People always tell me I should write,” she said. “I have such interesting stories. But I don’t like to sit in one place.”
“You could stand,” I offered. “Like Hemingway.”
She was still there when I left. She had cheery discussions with several people she seemed to have just bet . She had such a good time I feared I would never sit at my table again.
But she has not been back yet.
2.) I also had conversations with a woman who had a copy of Clausewitz “On War” on her table and who turned out to be a retired research chemist. “Chemistry is a lot like war,” she explained, but I didn’t quite follow why. And I had a conversation with a woman who said she had acquired her former business from “an elderly Jewish gentleman,” which, being an elderly Jewish gentleman myself, was a turn of phrase that piqued my interest. But neither of these conversations had anything to do with my selling books, so they really shouldn’t be here.

Adventures in Marketing — Weeks 329 – 330

Sold two books.
The first, a “Most Outrageous,” went to a math professor who had just returned from a conference in Poland. I realized I had lived 70 years without knowing a single math professor. Now I knew four. What does this say about the direction in which my life is headed?
The second was a “Cheesesteak” to a young Vietnamese-American fellow who was working in his family landscape design business while waiting to see what path his life would take. (He has recently broken an addiction to video games and begun visiting the Zen Center.) We discussed meditation and was I Jewish and how you found what you wanted to do.
“Why did you recommend ‘Cheesesteak to him?’” someone asked me.
“Well,” I said, “he wasn’t interested in basketball and he was too young for major illnesses and he didn’t seem to care about social service programs, which was all else I had on the table to pick from; and everyone has had an adolescence.”

In other news…
1.) The café, as you may know, is on the ground floor of a boutique hotel, and one of the other regulars, a Latin American history PhD turned legislative assistant (ret’d) wondered what Trip Advisor had to say about it. This was from Dec. 21: “The best part is the café, a real hot spot for old men in deep discussion of semi-neo-democratic society and hawking their latest books and an ex-professor who pulled out his computer and showed my wife a slide show on the loss of great buildings in Paris.” Now the creator of the slide show never attended college, and no one hawks books but me; all we “old men” did feel like, since we had become a recognized tourist attraction, the damn café ought to spot us a free cappuccino now and then. After all Joe Gould was comp’ed in Greenwich Village bars after Joe Mitchell profiled him in “The New Yorker.”
2.) I was at the point of my spiel where I hand the prospective customer (30-something soil engineer, with back pack and quilted jacket, down from Sacramento) my card when Monroe entered and handed her his card and brokered his own chain of conversation. (Monroe’s card has his name on one side and a diamond exchange’s on the other, the relationship between whom I have never understood since all the time I’ve known him he’s resided in subsidized housing on SSA.) It turned out he and she had attended both Humboldt State, albeit forty years apart, and the discussion quickly focused on lumber companies they have known.
“You stepped on my sale,” I said, after she had left.
“I saw them first,” Monroe said, which was technically since she had to pass his outside table with his shopping bags and shopping carter to enter.

Adventures in Marketing — Weeks 326 – 328

Sold two books.
The first buyer, Pat, was from Ireland. Husky; white hair; short, full white beard. He took a “Schiz.” Reading, no doubt, for the long flight home – and opening up a new country of readers to me, I believe.
The second, Dobie, black t-shirt, green skull cap, tattoos up both forearms, went with “Cheesesteak.” He’d lived in Philly for a year, on 46th Street actually, but across Market from where I grew up. He was from Stockton, lived in San Francisco, but came to Berkeley to see his therapist. He worked “in bars,” doing what left unspecified. He was a published “Meat Poet,” a term he didn’t care for, but had no chapbooks with him so we couldn’t swap. Next time. First, he was going on a three-book-store reading tour of New Jersey. (He’d like to write and teach but the bar money was to good to give up.) We had a nice chat about “The Writing Life.”

In other news…
1.) Two other people showed interest. A young woman – blond pony tail, back pack, nice smile behind her mask – self-described as “More an artist than a writer, mostly poetry” and a middle-aged man – accent either Scandenavian or German – who asked if “Best Ride” was “a travelogue.” I gave each a card – and neither has been heard from since. (That’s 1,412 in a row.)
2.) Annals of Research: I have been engrossed in writing about a graphic “true crime-ish” account of a fatal single-vehicle accident, which occurred in a small Connecticut town in 1956. Near the end, the author reproduces the first three paragraphs of a newspaper story that appeared the following day. Wouldn’t it be nice to see the rest?
I Googled and found the paper, which I’d never heard of, still existed. It even had “archives.” I was stymied, however, because I couldn’t navigate my way through them. Then I saw the town library had the paper in its archives. I called, explained what I wanted, and said, of course, I’d be happy to pay if they sent me a copy. “Oh that’s not necessary,” the clerk said. “You have e-mail? I’ll send it to you.”
Zip. Zap. There it was. (You know how many rolls of microfilm I could have seen myself spooling through? Amazing!

I was so excited I thought, What about the police report?
“Oh, I don’t think there’s much chance we’d still have that,” I was told.
“I didn’t think so. But I just got a copy of the story from the Call, so…
“You did? I’d love to see it.”
So I e-mailed it to him. A couple days later, I got an e-mail. “Send us $2 and…”