Adventures in Marketing — Week 423

Sold a café journal to a Swedenborgian minister in town for an event on Holy Hill. He’d had a long conversation at the next table with F___ in which the Gospels and Diogenes were discussed, topics on which I did not feel up to sufficient speed to discuss. My books caught his eye on the way out, but I did not get to drop into the conversation that the last Swedenborgians I had run into – literally – were at Bryn Athyn when we played them in football.
And – snapping the streak of people who took my card and from whom I never heard again – the ArtCar owner (see Adventure 422) returned and we completed our swap. I received an abstract of hers and she an “I Will Keep You Alive” and a “Schiz” from me. I told her, based on what she said the price her works commanded, she could visit my web site and, if she wanted more, let me know and I would bring them.
Also had a series of conversations with a family here for a graduation at UC. The grandmother, Marina (“Mary”), with whom I spoke the most, is Chinese. Her father had been in Chiang Kai Shek’s army, fled to Hong Kong when the Communists took control, and then to Seattle. The daughter-in-law and mother of the graduate, is from Tokyo and lives in Santa Ana. Her name is Ai. “A-I?” I said. “Like Artificial Intelligence,” she said. “Fooled me,” I said. “I could have sworn you were real”; and everyone laughed. They admired the “comradeship” on display at the café – but no one bought a book to commemorate their visit.

In other news…
Well, this isn’t true “Adventure in Marketing” material, except people like to read about those I meet so…
Some of you may know that for several years I have participated in a program where people who’ve had heart surgery visit hospital patients who’ve just had one to discuss concerns and anxieties they may have as someone who’s been through it. (“Walking role models,” we call ourselves.) This week I met a jolly, 300-pound, 59-year-old African-American fellow whose first name was “JFK,” but that’s not the story I wanted to tell. It’s about another patient.
Often, someone invites me to sit down, but I rarely do. I was only a few exchanged sentences into my spiel when, this time, I did. The patient with whom I engaged was a 75-year-old retired minister and widower of 14 years. He had been told that, after multiple procedures, nothing more could be done and he would die. He was, he said, unafraid, totally at peace, having lived a fine life, and looking forward to its next stage and seeing his wife again. We talked a long time. As I prepared to leave, I said that if he was still here at my next visit, I hoped to see him again. “I’m sure we’ll see each other, Bob,” he said, “if not here…”

Adventures in Marketing — Week 422

Sold a café journal and an “Outlaws, Rebels…” and discussed the swap of a “Bob on Bob” and did swap another and… Let’s take these seriatim.
1.) The journal sale, the least noteworthy – no offense, R_ – of the above was to a café regular (and repeat customer). He wanted a copy to replace one he had given to a friend.
2.) Two days later, a man in his early 70s, who had been sitting across the room, walked up, smiled, and asked, “May I take your picture with the Checkered Demon?” I go months without anyone recognizing my sign. W_ turned out to be a fan of Wilson’s, so I touted my article.
W_ and his wife were in town from Hudson, NY, for a wedding. He is an architect – an award-winning one, subsequent research revealed, and important figure in the New Urbanism movement. (Their son, a RISD graduate now in industrial design, had submitted a comic of his creation in his portfolio to gain admission.) We had a pleasant chat, which concluded when they asked for Berkeley’s best bookstore and I said Moe’s. They took my card and said they would read my book, visit my web site, and get back to me.
But so far nothing.
3.) The very next day, when I arrived, an ArtCar, festooned with sea shells and ceramic animals and plants, was parked in the space ahead of mine. M_, a retired book store manager, who was seated outside, opened a discussion of it, but before we got far, S_____, a young woman seated to his right, asked if we liked it. She, it turned out, was the owner/creator. I mentioned H_ B_, a major figure in the ArtCar movement, who used to come frequently (now occasionally) to the café, but she had not heard of him. M_ mentioned the annual San Francisco ArtCar parade, but she did not know that either. (She was new to Berkeley and hoping to find a place to live.)
S_ is primarily a painter of abstracts, which she showed us on her phone. I proposed a swap of one (or more) of my books for a print. When I pulled “Bob” from my bag, she said he has fathered two children of a friend of hers. I hoped to learn more, and she took my card and said she would get back to me.
But so far nothing.
4.) That same morning, as I was about to leave, in came R_, an 81-year-old fellow in a Joshua Tree baseball cap. He had come to the Bay Area in 1966 from Pomona, where he had studied poetry and philosophy. He lives in Oakland and had often heard about the café but never been before. For over 30 years, he has publishing a professional-looking magazine (32 issues so far) of photographs, interviews and essays, modeled on “The Sun.” It dips into art, the eternal, life’s meaning, and defining moments. Gertrude Stein, Heidegger and Wittgenstein are mentioned on p. 1 and Gurdjieff and Needleman later.
R_ asked about my writing and daily presence in the café and, after we’d swapped my book for his magazine, said he might like to interview me. I gave him my card.
But so far…

Adventures in Marketing — Week 421

Sold a café journal. The buyer was a hotel guest, a white-bearded gent with horn-rimmed glasses. He picked up “Outlaws, Rebels…” but when I asked if he was interested in comics, he only smiled. I described the journal as containing poetry, and he went for that. He said he was a poet, and Googled revealed a poet with his name, the author of an E-book in 2012, with work “written from (the)… heart” but said nothing else allowing for confirmation.
Then I sold a “Best Ride” to a septuagenarian PhD candidate in nuclear physicist. A café semi-regular, she comes dressed in scarves and shawls and earrings the size and shape of dreidels. She has looked over my books in the past, sometimes taking one or more to her table for perusal without every effecting a purchase, tempting to channel the inner drug store owner of my comic book reading youth and exclaim, “I am not a fucking library.” She has also developed a progressively deteriorating condition impairing her brain’s ability to express her thoughts. Even when she writes down what she is trying to say, coherence can elude her. Words repeat; pronouns do not suit; sentences do not appear. But the next morning, she looked up from my book to compliment the clarity of my style, and I gave her a “Cheesesteak” so she might see from where and how it derived.

In other news…
The big event was my Zoom at the NY Comics and Picture Story Symposium.
I had hoped to outdraw “Hollywood Squares” and succeeded. About a dozen people tuned in, and while a majority may have been there at my invitation, the rest were not. It lasted over an hour and, even though I forgot some good lines I had planned to deliver and failed to answer some questions as well as I would have liked, I had a wonderful time. (The You Tube link – “Adults Only” – available upon request – has had 62 views, with 7 “Thumbs-up.”)
My two favorite post-event exchanges have been with friends. One asked if it was true I had been a C+/B- student in college, as if I had falsely claimed that to give me some non-egghead cred. The other e-mailed “After all these years it helped me understand you better.” When I asked what veils had been lifted, he said from my “fascination with the obscene, perverse and tasteless.”
Which is not how I would have put it.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 420

Gave away a “Pirates and the Mouse.” A bit of cosmic coincidence was involved.

It was a slow week. I drew a couple potential customers’ interest. A young woman from Germany who works for the university in tech sales (or something equally foreign to me) and a middle-aged man who seemed skeptical of me at best. They both asked when I would be at the café again. They both took my card. I have neither seen or heard from either.
Things picked up when the contract for the film option on my Air Pirates book arrived. It was entirely pleasing until I reached the Warranty and Hold Harmless/Indemnification clauses. I have seen such clauses in contracts before, though not in all contracts. But then I have been talking solely about material I have authored. Here I would to have no say in or control of the contents of the film but was still being asked to take financial liability for it. Since I was only receiving a small amount of money, I was being asked to gamble that limited sum against an open-ended damages claim.
I put the question “Sign or Not” to the Authors Guild Members Forum. A half-dozen authors posted fervent “No”s. The only dissent came from an IP attorney. He said these clauses were standard; authors always squawked about them; but they were rarely of consequence and could, in fact, prove helpful to authors. He made several suggestions, all of which I passed along to the producer, and all of which he accepted, so I signed. (He also gave me three “points” in the net. I have been around long enough to know that, when we are talking films, you can be pretty damn sure there is no net; but I appreciated the gesture.)
Now, here’s the cosmic part. The IP lawyer had an unusual name, which I recalled of being that of the fellow who had married the younger sister of Adele’s college roommate with whom, I believe, Adele has had no in contact for more tha half a century. I put this connection to the lawyer and he confirmed it with his sister-in-law and passed along to Adele her best refards.
And I sent the book.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 419

Gave away a “Cheesesteak” and a café journal to the daughter of a college friend and her transgender son who were in town from Seattle checking out UCB as a potential college. (He has also been accepted at USF, UC San Diego, Occidental, and a couple schools in DC.) I related how I ended up in Berkeley and recounted a drunken, rowdy night 60-plus years ago, when the father/grandfather and I bonded, and I heard of the son’s political and artistic interests. It was a rich morning.

In other news…
1.) This same friend and I have been exchanging noteworthy birthday presents for years. Most recently, I gave him a coyote skull and he gave me a custom made bowling league t-shirt. The front showed a large, lavishly and gruesomely depicted skull in handsome black-and-white. On the back, above a ball scattering pins are the words “AUTHORS STRIKE.” One sleeve bears an American flag (perhaps more provocative in Berkeley than the skull). Where the breast pocket would be is a smaller skull and cross bones (or, rather, cross pins) and, above them, my name. Now some back story.
One of the café regulars is a 94-year-old, old lefty originally from NYC, a former fitness instructor and dancer, who was left a widow a year or two ago. She is very sweet and very chatty but hard of hearing and slipping a little. Recently, whenever Bob Dylan comes up in conversation (or when she notices my book), she will say, “I knew his first girlfriend,” which really means she was friendly with the parents of Suze Rotolo, the girl on the cover of “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” and she will add, “Her mother told her he wouldn’t amount to anything.” I will then reply, “You knew his second girl friend. His first girl friend was Echo Holmstrom from Hibbing, Minnesota.” She will not hear me or she will hear me but not absorb what I have said, and we will have this same exchange again and again and again.
The other day, I wore my new shirt to the café. When she saw my name, she said, “I knew him. Bob Lev-en,” giving it the New York pronunciation.
“Li-vin,” I said, making it, like me, from Philadelphia.
“I knew his first girl friend,” she said.
Sweet – but sad.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 418

Sold one “Bob on Bob.”
The buyer was my former secretary. She was passing the café and saw me and stopped by. Commerce resulted.

In other news…
1.) Things have been moving along in a variety on non-writing-but-writing-related fronts.
(A) The option agreement for “The Pirates and the Mouse” is supposedly en route. What, if anything, is on the table me remains undiscussed. I wonder how I will respond: money grubber or fool? (B) Have prepped for my upcoming symposium talk. Wrote it out (12 pp.); condensed it onto 3X5 cards (12) as I learned in 9th grade public speaking; tightened the contents of the cards, then considered tightening all 12 onto one but recalled the joke of the fellow who condensed his speech to a key word – and forgot the word. (C) Have been invited to discuss the Air Pirates on the podcast of a young fellow who, from the looks of his prior broadcasts, is interested in (i) the counter-culture and (ii) a multitude of conspiracy theories. I disclosed I thought Lee Harvey Oswald did it, and he agreed to keep away from that subject. (D) A woman compiling an anthology in tribute to Trina Robbins for UMiss Press has asked permission to reprint my CJ interview. That interview is slated for inclusion in my new collection from FU Press, and the editor/publisher says granting her request may reduce sales of my book by diminishing its exclusivity or increase sales by broadening my name recognition. Since I figure we are talking low single digits either way, I said she should go ahead.
2.) This isn’t writing-related at all, but since readers like hearing about my café encounters… On recent Sundays, my favored table has been occupied upon my arrival by a fellow who used to sit against the back wall near the rest room. He is in his 70s, with close-cropped hair and bad teeth. He is usually on his iPad and keeps his belongings in a small cardboard Domno’s Pizza box. He usually leaves by the time I have finished the Chronicle (5-10 minutes), and once I see him packing, I prepare to shift.
We had begun exchanging a few words and last week he asked if I was a registered Berkeley voter. I said I was, and he asked if I would sign some petitions for which, I assume, he collected compensation for each signature he snagged. So this week I asked if he had any new petitions. He did, so I signed them. “What’s new?” he said.
“You don’t know anything about me,” I said, “but since you ask, I’ve got a new defibrilator.”
Then we discussed it and my heart history, and when we were through, he asked if could add me to his prayer list. Adele and I are already on the prayer list of a woman in NYC I went to high school with, so I said “Sure.”
Can’t hurt, right?

Adventures in Marketing — Week 417

Sold one book.
The buyer was Steven, the lawyer-turned-glass-artist who had bought a “Cheesesteak” some weeks ago. This time he wanted an “Outlaws, Rebels…” for his son, a film maker turned psychologist.
This alone would not have been enough for an “Adventure.” But then came Duffy.

He was sitting alone, dressed in shabby clothes, a stocking cap, sneakers but no socks. He had grey stubble and lacked a few teeth. He had a duffle bag, bed roll and blanket. A variety of belongings spread across his table, including William Barclay’s “The Letter to the Romans,” with which he seemed to be conversing in raspy tones about scripture. Normally I would have steered clear, but when I passed by for a glass of water, he greeted me cheerfully.
I had settled into my normal routine when Ken arrived. We’d met in the ‘70s, and he lived nearby in Section 8 housing, but I had not seen him in years. Ken has given tennis lessons and done telephone sales – and has never bought one of my books. (Sorry, but I think like that. It’s a mental tic.) He was at the café to brain storm with a city council candidate, an earnest, curly haired, pro tenants’ rights, pro-open spaces young woman, who occupies a table once-a-week to court constituents. (She has not bought any of my books either, but then I do not live in her district.) Ken said he’d join me until she arrived.
Before he could, Duffy was beside me. “I’ll pay you $5 to send an e-mail.”
“You don’t have to pay me,” I said.
The transmittal proved complicated. He had to send a photo of both sides of his drivers license to a bank to verify his identity. There was other information to provide and detailed instructions to follow. The only way I knew to do this was to take two separate photos (front and back) and send two separate e-mails, so I had to provide the information and follow the instructions twice. It seemed to have worked, but Duffy said I’d receive confirmation, and I didn’t.
“It’s Sunday. Maybe they’re closed.”
“They’re open 24, 7,” he said. But he seemed satisfied.
“If you’ve got $5 to throw away,” I said, thinking I had an “Adventure” here, “why don’t you buy a book?”
“You write these?” he said.
I described them.
“I’ll buy you a couple beers.”
“It’s 10:00 in the morning.”
“A bottle of wine then. The Apostle Paul wrote Peter wine is good for the stomach.”
We agreed to meet in a week. If his transaction had worked out, he would buy a “Bob on Bob.” Which led to a story about him wandering around Buffalo wearing a robe in 1987 and being invited into a convent and fed by nuns who had apparently taken him for a wandering priest. The convent adjoined a field and when he left, he heard music from it that led him to a concert of Dylan and the Dead.
The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Adventures in Marketing — Weeks 415-6

Sold two books – and bartered two more.
Both sales were to a young SoCal cartoonist/editor/publisher, who had sent me an unsolicited copy of his book. He had enjoyed my interview of S. Clay Wilson, so I’d suggested he might also enjoy my earlier profile of Wilson. I told him it was in “Outlaws, Rebels…” without even saying it was available from me. But he found my web site and ordered both it and “The Pirates and the Mouse.” I was sufficiently touched to say I would meet the price (including postage) he could have picked them up for on-line, which is where I go to replenish my supply when I dip below the number I like to keep on hand.
The swaps were as follows. (1) When the above mentioned SoCal fellow had sent me his book, I had asked my café pal Fran, who makes individually designed post card objects d’art, for one by which I might say thank you. In return I dealt him a copy of J.T. Dockery’s graphic adaptation of Ed Mcclanahan’s “Juanita and the Frog Prince” for which I had written the introduction. (2) I made the acquaintance of a pony-tailed nomadic sort in town briefly while he picked up a van. He identified himself as a poet (with the last name “Doubleyou”). After we had discussed our crafts and business models, he gifted me with two of his books and I gave him a “Cheesesteak.” His are slight (10 pp. and 20 pp.) and made by folding sheets of paper (8 ½” by 11″) sheets, in half and binding them by hand-stitched threads. The poems are direct, real and cosmic, and I liked them.

In other news…
1.) The Korean psych research assistant I let have an IWKYA on credit has not returned to make payments. And the film maker who asked for a copy of my Air Pirates book for his grant writer overlooked paying for it upon delivery, and when I handed over my archival material, while he repeated his offer of an “option,” he also let drop his being short of funding at the moment. No contract has, as yet, been forthcoming and no option nailed down. (Meanwhile, on a more positive note, Fantagraphics says it will do a reprint.)
2.) Notables who have dropped by my table include (a) a 40-ish guy in an olive zipper jacket, and olive pants, who is, according to his company’s web site, the publisher of “best-selling Indian and Pakistani crime novels, Nigerian soyaga fiction… and picture books about young women in love with monsters.” A fan of “Yummy Fur,” he looked over “Outlaws, Rebels…,” which includes my piece on Chester Brown but did not buy); and (b) a charmingly British accented young woman who works as a recruiter for a video game company. She had yellow hair and the brightest red fingernails to have ever gripped one of my book covers. Pretty as a Daisy, which happened to be her name.

Last 10 Books Read (xxiv)

In Order of Completion

Introductory Note: This list has been influenced by my café pal Fran, who tries to push tomes of experimental fiction on me. I read some. I start and put others down. I push others back across the table, unopened. All the while, I am learning what I like in books and what I don’t. I see that at my age I have limited room and time for expansion. Anyway…

1. Ivana Armanini, ed. “Komikaze 2023.” An anthology of European comix in which the visual excellence and excitements outshines the verbal. A mind-expander as to the possibilities of the form – and a contradiction of my statement above that I can’t broaden my tastes.

2. “The Letters of William Gaddis.” Recommended by a clerk at Moe’s who saw me approaching with “JR (See below). I’ve been enthralled by Gaddis for months. The earlier letters, being primarily to his mother during years in which a young man is not likely to share certain experiences with his mother, are of limited interest, but the later ones make me feel I don’t need to read his biography. Gaddis, great as he was, reassuringly maintained gripes and grievances that were familiar and amusing.

3. “Jack Green” (Not his real name). “Fire the Bastards.” Green, an eccentric Greenwich Village resident, published his own newspaper in which he championed Gaddis’s “The Recognitions.” This book collects pieces in which Green calls out Gaddis’s critics by name, excoriating those whose familiarity with the book came entirely from its jacket flaps, who misunderstood what they did read, who were blinded by atupidity and prejudice. Great fun.

4. Cormac McCarthy. “The Passenger.” McCarthy is among my favorite contemporary authors. I’ve read all his novels and this and the simultaneously published “Stella Maris” (See below) are his last. It begins like a conventional enough thriller but soon turns into a series of existential conversations between the protagonist, Western, an unlikely ex-physicist, former Grand Prix driver, and salvage diver, and equally colorful characters of his acquaintance, criminal and legitimate. Some of these are deep and thought provoking, but the only one I know something about, the JFK assassination, is nonsense. I regret the book didn’t continue as it began, but that mayn be my limitations speaking. McCarthy, at the end of his life, seemingly had more important thoughts he felt the need to set down.

5. John DiSanto. “The Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame.” A collection of a photo of and a paragraph of prose about a sampling of members. There are a lot. One needn’t possess a winning record, let alone a championship belt, to merit inclusion, it seems, and the presence of Blinky Palermo means there is no “good character” requirement for eligibility.

6. Carter Scholz. “Magic.” A Fran recommendation. It is a collection of “hard” science fiction and a couple op-edish entries, which I skipped. I liked the premise of the title story and an epistalatory one that followed, but I am not a sci-fi fan and this did not entrance me.

7. William Gaddis. “JR.” Perhaps Gaddis’s finest novel. After finishing I almost began it again. (But it’s 750-pages, and other matters called.) I often lost track of who was who, what exactly was going on, and how things were working out for whom, but it was magnificent. I am sure I will return to it.

8. Carter Scholz and Jonathem Lethem. “Kafka Americana.” Passages were engaging. Encountering Kafka, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Walter Keane, “The Trial,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” was entertaining, but like Gully Jimson said to Lady Beeder in “The Horse’s Mouth” about the “clever,” it’s like “farting Annie Laurie through a keyhole…. (I)s it worth the trouble?” Where’s the consequence? I grant you this may be my arterio-scleroticized brain speaking.

9. Thich Nhat Hanh. “Only Connect.” (Second time.) Everybody ought to keep a little Buddhism bedside. A read a snatch most mornings to prime my day.

10. Cormac McCarthy. “Stella Maris.” (See Number 4, above.) Now the conversations are between a patient in a mental hospital, a mathematician (and sister of the salvage diver) and her psychiatrist, with the former getting the best of the exchanges. (It isn’t close.) These exchanges are about math, physics, psychiatry, the nature of reality (and hallucinations) and life. It is under 200 pages and I will go through again, taking notes so I can discuss it with Fran.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 414

Sold a “Cheesesteak” to a pleasant, back pack toting young fellow in yellow rain slicker. He is of Syrian ancestry and has a PhD in agricultural economics.
And I “sold” an IWKYA to a young woman from Korea (white sweater, black slacks), who is a research assistant in psychiatry. This transaction is in quotes since she didn’t have cash but I gave her the book in exchange for her promise to leave money with the barista. So far he received any, and though there are two Asian young women in the café this morning, neither has shown any sign of recognizing me, and I realize I am not certain I could pick my customer out of a line-up anyway.
But I maintain faith my trust will be rewarded.

In other news…
1.) An elderly semi-regular woman, who had never previously spoken with me, looked over my books and said she had a photograph I must see. What she produced – after going home for it – was not a photograph but a photocopy of what looked like a Daumier drawing of a perhaps alcoholic gentleman with a cup in one hand. The caption, in both French and German, seemed to entitle it “The Coffee Drinker” and depict a member of the lower depths who needed its daily dose for his digestion and would have it even if he could not afford to eat. (What then, I wondered, would he have to digest?)
I didn’t see that this drawing had anything to do with me, but it did remind me of a story which, since I am short of content, I will repeat here, even though I didn’t bother telling it to the elderly, semi-regular woman. When Adele worked for Mr.Peet in his first store– yes, that Mr. Peet – he confided that the reason he had opened his business was that in hard economic times, whether depression or recession, the last luxury people would give up would be coffee.
From that acorn…