“and Cleveland’s Cold”


My latest piece is up at First of the Month. It begins:

I became aware of Cleveland when Lou Boudreau played shortstop and my Aunt Sylvia, who, to my six-year-old eyes, was really neat, perversely rooted for the Indians against her hometown Braves. I liked Marion Motley and Mac Speedie (good names!), when they came along a couple years later too, but I hadn’t thought much about Cleveland since. I certainly hadn’t registered it as a petri dish for disintegration and despair, capable of occasioning both vicious protest and futile resignation, from which would arise a musician capable of pinning lunch meat to his chest, blowing his nose in a slice, and eating it.
Then Aaron Lange’s “Ain’t It Fun: Peter Laughner & Proto-Punk in the Secret City” landed.

A Walker By Any Other Name

The link to my piece on the cartoonist Jessie Renklaw is below.


It begins:

“They think if something happened to them it is interesting because it happened to them…”
McCandless, on some writers, in William Gaddis’s Carpenter’s Gothic.

That is the challenge for memoirists. Make events from their lives meaningful to others. Wikipedia says about the cartoonist Jesse Reklaw little more than that he was born in Berkeley in 1971, grew up in Sacramento, studied at UC Santa Cruz, received an MA in computer science from Yale, dropped out of a PhD program in AI to draw comics, and lives in Portland with his cat. That would seem to leave Reklaw little with which to satisfy McCandless, especially if it was true, which it isn’t. The cat died six years ago, and Reklaw wasn’t born in 1971, Jesse Walker was but reversed the spelling of his last name when he turned 20.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 408

Sold one “Bob.”
The buyer was a fellow I have known since the Creative Writing program at SF State. (An author of novels and non-fiction books, he is the one person I know to have made a living as a writer, with the side gigs that often entails.) The buy was to occur in person, but he has been lain up with pneumonia.

In other news…
My only conversation of note was with “Arnold,” who is of indeterminate middle-age and a sometime substitute school teacher. He has been coming to the café longer than I but somehow had arrived at the conclusion that I wrote poetry. Though I disabused him of that notion, it did not result in the ring of cash register bells. All he wanted to know was if “Best Ride” was autobiographical. When I told him it was not, he told me how much he had enjoyed Philadelphia – at least Manayunk – when he was there ten years ago. He knew the art museum and the Rodin but not the Barnes, so I filled him in on that.

Last Ten Books Read — xxiii

[Preliminary Note: A couple months ago, I met Fran at my café of choice. An electrician by trade, Fran is a man of many parts, one of which is reading everything he can find by any writer whose work intrigues him, which now includes me. Fran has read more offbeat than anyone I know, and his recommendations, as you will see, have influenced what follows.
So now in order of completion…]

1.Nadenzhda Mandelstam. “Hope Against Hope.” Osip Mandelstam’s widow’s account of life under Stalin’s Terror. (Recommended by another friend, Michael G.) Makes Putin’s Russia look like Candyland.
2. William Gaddis. “A Frolic of His Own.” When I had told Fran, I was reading “Carpenter’s Gothic” (See: List xxii), he said that, as I lawyer, I should read this. Once I began it, Gaddis had thoroughly hooked me. (See: 8 below – and List xxiv, forthcoming).
3. Aaron Lange. “Ain’t It Fun.” A mammoth, black-and-white social and cultural history of Cleveland, centered on the proto-punk musician Peter Laughner. I didn’t know Peter Laughner from Peter Bzystplx, but I knew Lange and his work, and after I had read it, I was asked to review it for FOM, so I am reading it again. I hope to make the Feb. 1 issue. You can read what I think then.
4. Michael De Forge. “Big Kids.” Loaned me by Fran. A charming, if puzzling, graphic mini-“novel and refreshing twist on the now standard troubled-adolescent-who-becomes-a-cartoonist yarn.
5. Marcel Benabou. “Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books.” Another Fran. Benabou, a member of Oulipou, with which I was less familiar than Peter Laughner, is a gang of French post-modern satirist artist/thinkers. While occasionally amusing, the book is not something you curl up with and sink into in front of a warm fire. But if you want to exercise your mind…
6. Britta Lee Shain. “Seeing the Real You At Last.” A friend of a former client, Shain had written a book about her travels – and fling – with Bob Dylan in the ‘80s. When “Bob on Bob” came out, we swapped copies. A fascinating, if unflattering (but understandable) look at him and that world.
7. David Lodge. “A Man of Parts.” A novel about the life of H.G. Wells. I’d expected more laughs, based on “Changing Places,” the only thing I’d written of his previously, and, given what else I’d been reading, it ordinariness (as a book, not as a life, which was certainly unusual) left me flat.
8. William Gaddis. “The Recognitions.” Third time – in 1970s, 1980s, and now. My history with G’s 950-page first novel actually goes back 60-years. I won’t get into that history now but once I saw how funny CG and FOHO were, I wondered if I’d missed something – well, I had no doubt I’d missed things – but funny? So I read it again. Now, I think, when I’ve finished the rest of Gaddis, I’ll start it over. In fact, I may read nothing but it forever.
9. Eliot Weinberger. “19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei.” Loaned me by Fran. EW, a poet/translator, has taken a brief poem by an 8th century Chinese poet, looked at different translations of it, and commented upon each. Fascinating. When I looked at his other books, I saw he had co-authored one with the fiction writer/translator Lydia Davis, whose work I also like, so I bought…
10. Lydia Davis and Eliot Weinberger. “Two American Scenes.” These seem to be two “found” poems, one a manuscript by Davis’s great-great-great-grand uncle about the New England town in which he grew up, and the other a journal kept by a member of the first (non-Native American) traversers of the Colorado River. Davis offers a brief afterword on her contribution but Weinberger offers none, and I found virtually nothing informative about the book on-line. The writing is straightforward, direct, clean, impactful, frill-free. The “poetry” manifests through the breaking up of the lines on the page. Again, fascinating.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 406

Sold three “Bob on Bob”s. (Only a dozen left.) Also, I forgot to mention last week a sale to a friend from Brandx now living in Berkeley.
This week’s initial purchaser was an electrician named, fortuitously another electrician buddy pointed out, “Buzz.” He was from Austin but is now working on a building under construction near the café. He had a grey goatee and earrings and wanted to “support the arts,” being a drummer himself. “All types of music,” he said. “Most recently, Christian rock.” He didn’t have cash, so I said he could take the book and leave the money with the barista the next day, but his buddy, Lyle, pointed out they couldn’t be sure where they’d be working and leant him $10.,
My next two sales were even more outside the demographics of my usual market. Stephanie was a six-foot-two, blonde trans woman, who had worked for decades in bio-tech, “trying to change the world.” Her shorter and older manfriend, Ted, was a cowboy-hatted, third-generation stone mason from Colorado, who is also an ardent drag racing fan. (Frequent readers may remember a previous palaver he and I’d had.) We had a good conversation about Berkeley, the ‘60s, “Dobie Gillis,” and open heart surgeries (Ted’s and mine). I bet they’ll be back.

In other news…
1.) Well, nothing about the Air Pirates movie, of course.
2.) But some interesting reader – and one non-reader – responses.
Let’s begin with the non-reader, a woman veteran of the music business. My standard line, when someone eyes my display, is to charmingly, winningly say, “Wanna buy a book?” This woman was neither charmed nor won. My blatant worship of Mammon appalled her. “How can you talk to Bob?” she asked a mutual friend. “Only money interests him.”
Then “ Bob on Bob” turned out to disappoint a fellow who’d known Dylan in the Village in the early ‘60s. He’d hoped to learn something he didn’t know about Dylan but, disappointingly, found himself learning primarily about me. Now this is a nice fellow, eminently knowledgeable about American roots music; but he also believes Dylan’s song writing peaked with “Only a Hobo,” so I can’t be too distressed by his dismissal.
Third, was the gay landscape designer who had bought “Cheesesteak” six “Adventures” ago. Having avoided eye contact with me since, she confronted me to say that, while she had liked the early portions, the book had lost her when it became “too much guy stuff.” That was a reaction I could engage with, and we had a good discussion about why that was and what women might have related to instead. (I suggested she skip ahead until I hit college, so we’ll see where that goes.)
Finally, “Bob” drew praise from a fellow from my basketball game. A few years younger than me, he was from a Catholic family in Chicago and had served in Viet Nam because that’s what people from his family did. Now a therapist, north of here, he emailed how important Dylan had been to him. “He told me I wasn’t just a nut case in relation to our culture. He put words on things I hadn’t figured out. He understood something not yet formed in me.”
A gratifying reaction.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 406

Sold two “Bob”s and one “IWKYA.”
One “Bob” went to a high school classmate, who worked in the public health field in D.C. The other went to a retired physician, whom I met several weeks ago at the café. He is from Chicago and bought a “Lollipop.” Between then and now, someone had told him about “IWYA,” and he bought that too.

The week’s featured “No Sale” story involves a woman who comes to the café most days. She is in her 70s, tall and stately, with (assisted) red hair. She dresses elegantly, this day with matching purple shawl and scarf. I believe she is retired from UC, in one of the sciences. Her speech is impaired, perhaps from a stroke, which means she must write down a word or question or show it to me on her iPhone. I have seen her reading Clausewitz “On War” and the poetry of Osip Mandlestam but our conversation is usually confined to admiring each others boots. Then she asked to see some of my books and returned to her table with six of them.
Well, no one had ever compared me to Clausewitz. Or Mandelstam.

In other news…
The entry of “Steamboat Willie” into the public domain has renewed interest in the Air Pirates and, not incidently, my book, including the possibility of a film.
I have been down this road before. Occasionally punji pits had to be avoided. Commonly they petered out nowhere. Once in a while bread (or cake) crumbs were picked up before the trail abruptly ended. The starting point is always exciting, the journey usually entertaining; but as I age, the excitement is less. As one Hollywood macher said to me, “You know how it is, Bob. I tell you how much I love your work. And then you never hear from me again.”
On this occasion – and it is not entirely clear – one (or two) film makers of actual (but modest) credentials have associated in a “producer,” with greater (though not terribly current) experience in the sphere of socially conscious documentaries. Because he has the most familiarity with matters like options, he is to contact me. Whether there is funding or, if not, where it is to come from has not been disclosed.
No matter. I would like to see the project proceed. I will not stand in anybody’s way.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 405

Sold a “Cheesesteak” and three “Bob”s.
The former went to a “business system analyst,” which means he helps people do their jobs better. (NOT an efficiency expert. He insisted I get that straight.) He familiarizes his clients with their software “In preparation for the new world.”
“Richard,” who was in town from Dallas, was of average height, about 40, wore plastic-rimmed glasses, and dressed in unobtrusive blues and greys. He was fascinated by the different types of people who congregated in Berkeley’s cafes – and me, selling my books. (He took my picture. Then had a barrista take a picture of the two of us together to prove he had met me.) He was a tad unfamiliar with local history, not knowing people had been shot on Telegraph Ave. in the ‘60s, or that troop-bearing military vehicles had rolled down the very street we were on, or that tear gas had spiced our air.
He had wanted a book to read on his flight home, hence my recommendation – but I also gave him a copy of the café journal for his cultural enrichment.

The “Bob”s went to (a) a high school classmate; (b) a friend/semi-cousin of Adele’s, who’d lived here but, for decades, has been a psychiatric-social worker outside Philadelphia; and © a retired-from-Kaiser anaesthesiologist back from a Doctors-Without-Borders stint in India.

In other news…
1.) My top no-book-sold encounter was with Iris, a fifth-grader in a “Merry Christmas Ya Filthy Animal” sweatshirt. (From “Home Alone,” it was explained to me, the culturally unenlightened.) She lives in Virginia City with her mother, Jess, who joined us – and said I could use their real names. Jess, a digital designer/librarian, knew of Bob Crabbe but not Dan O’Neill, my primary Nevada-City-connected-names-to-be-dropped. The most significant thing about Iris is that, in a city with much home schooling, she insists on attending public school. She does not want to miss the experience of being around other children. Good for her.
2.) A Mystery Solved: My pal Fran picked up two copies of “Outlaws, Rebels…” from Moe’s for me, which I can mark-up and peddle. One is immaculate, but one is signed “Bob, Thanks” by one of the cartoonists profiled in it. “Why would he be signing a book by me to me?” I wondered. The answer came from another pal, Wes. “He was giving the book to another ‘Bob.’” That made perfect sense because the cartoonist was a magalomaniac and probably felt that since he was in the book, it was about him. Not only that, I thought I knew the “Bob” to whom he had signed it.
When I mentioned the name, Fran thought he knew him too.
3.) Finished the article I’d been working on for “Comic Book Creator” about the life and tragic end of the Chief Writer and Editor in Chief of “Penthouse Comix.” “Great piece,” the editor said, which was satisfying and exciting since I had never heard of him or it before the assignment before it was offered. I’d literally begun with nothing and ended up with 6000 words.
Now the editor has a bigger story for me.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 404

Sold 14 “Bob”s and one “Lollipop.” Gave away another “Lollipop” and swapped another “Bob” to a vintage vinyl and clothing store in Lexington, KY for a t-shirt designed by my the cartoonist and – I am proud to say – my illustrator/colleague J.T. Dockery.
The Bob” buyers were four people from the café, one former client, a nephew, who also bought a copy for his daughter, a Swiftie employed in high tech, four high school classmates (two girls, two boys), a VISTA colleague, a fellow who knows me through my writing on comix, and one who connected through my writing at FOM. One of the café purchasers had never bought a book from me (and received the gift “Lollipop” because he was from Chicago and had lived there during the year in question) and another café purchaser had made “Bob” her first purchase a week earlier and now wanted one for the girl friend with whom she had seen Dylan in 1964 when they were 13 and he he played the Berkeley Community Theater and half the audience walked out when he came out with a band for the second set. (I said Dylan didn’t go electric until 1965. She said she would check her diary and get back to me.)
The most notable comment the book received was from a fellow at the café who called “The Man, the Moment…” “a worthwhile piece,” which didn’t quite match my personal evaluation of it as “The best thing about Bob Dylan ever written,” though I realize experts may differ. I also overheard two of the more strongly opinionated regulars share the surprising recognition that I was quite a good writer.
Surprising to them anyway. I haven’t doubted that for a half-a-century.

In other news…
1. I previously called attention at FB to my making the pages of “Variety” with my Air Pirates book. While taking satisfaction from being quoted in the company of IP experts whose law school class rank, I am sure, far outdid mine, I was a trifle irked to see my 20-minutes of bon mots reduced to one sentence at the article’s tail end. But as my pal Benj noted, this meant the author had allowed me to dramatically ring down the curtain.
2. Two others have now followed me into selling their books in the café. Both are elder statesmen whose tenure on the scene dwarfs mine. One, an honored member of the local folk music community, ran a landmark guitar store in the Village in the early ‘60s, and the other studied mime in Paris and mask making dance in Bali and has been active in the Bay Area alternative performing arts scene since the 1970. We may turn the place into the Bouquenistes of Berkeley. Look for us in the Tourist Guiides.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 403

A big week for “Bob”s. Sold a second copy (and a “Lollipop”) as Hanukah presents to a basketball pal. Sold copies to a café pal and to a long time non-café pal. Received checks from a former client and the friend of a friend of a friend for their copies. Sold one (and a “Lollipop”) to a woman who comes to the café nearly every day and had never stopped at my table to inspect my wares before. (She is originally from Germany, has an unused PhD in philosophy, was a stay-at-home mom, now edits, translates, and plays her guitar. (She’s currently working on mastering “Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.”) Very pleasant person. May have a new friend.
Also sold one non-“Bob,” a “Cheesesteak.” The buyer looked just this side of a street person: black zipper jacket; skull t-shirt; steel chain on belt. But he turned out to be a metal designer/sculptor of national repute. He’s from New Hope but has lived in Philly, near the Italian Market, for 19 years. “I love, love, love Philadelphia,” he said.
“I left in 1967,” I said.
“How come?”
“Well, it was 1967.”
He told me how much the South Street of now is like Haight Street of now. Same head shops, same motorcycles, same bars where you go to pick people up.

In other news – well, not other news entirely:
1.) Another basketball pal – and member of the local Grateful Dead community – posted a recommendation of “Bob on Bob” on Facebook to his friends. Let’s see what that brings in.
2.) And a high school classmate has announced a challenge grant. There are 30 or so of us on an e-mail chain, and she has announced if ten will but a copy of “Bob,” she will make a $150 donation to the school Annual Giving fund. So far one purchased before the announcement; four have promised – and no checks have arrived. I can not be sure if this I a reflection of my classmates feelings about me or Bob Dylan.
3.) First reader responses include “fabulous” and “incredible.”

ALL BOB’S BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT www.theboblevin.com.

Adventures in Marketing — Week 402

Sold a “Lollipop.”
The buyer, a 30-something fellow wore a Tigers baseball cap but was not from Detroit. He just liked that shade of blue. An “events producer,” he worked the A/V side of things. He had come to the café with his wife and two small children, the oldest of which, a boy of eight, he described as an avid reader of graphic novels. I thought and thought but could not come up with any of my works that might suit his preferences.
Also had an engaging conversation with a retired elementary school teacher who looked over my books but bought none. She had come down from Lake County, four hours away, to (a) see her physical therapist and (b) pick up a pair of shoes she had left for repair. She had wisps of white hair peeking out from under a knit cap, rimless glasses, and an eye that was half-closed at all times. She relied on an empty shopping cart to keep her balance.
“I usually use a cane,” she said, “but it’s in my trunk under 50 bricks.”
“Why are you riding around with 50 bricks in your trunk?” I quite reasonably asked.
“To keep the gophers from popping out of their tunnels in my garden.”
When she turned out to be three-years younger than me, I was shocked.

But the big news has been the arrival of “Bob on Bob.” I sold six copies at the café the first day, eight the second, and one the third, with the assistance of a new sign (“NEW” written across a lightbulb) in full color, drawn by Fran. The buyers were a classical musician (two copies), a 94-year-old grandmother, (“I knew Susie Rotolo’s parents in the Village. Her mother used to tell Susie Bob would never amount to anything”), an abstract expressionist painter, recently burnt out of his studio, who knew Franz Kline at the Cedar Tavern, another writer (two copies), my high school yearbook co-editor (two copies), a therapist, another therapist, a retired nurse, a retired UC administrator, a retired UC electrician, and a basketball pal.
Very exciting.