Game Theory

My latest piece has gone up at

It begins: “Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August,” by Oliver Hilmer (Other Press. 2018. Trans. from the German by Jefferson Chase) begins on the first day of that summer’s Olympics and ends on their closing. But the Olympics were a smokescreen, a puppet show, a diversion of less significance than the fireworks which concluded Joseph Goebbels $800,000 last-night party, bloodying the sky red.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 90

No sales.
But in the Department of Mighty Oaks From Tiny Acorns, a Philly-area indie bookstore (out of a dozen queried) replied that it might order a copy of Cheesesteak, if I sent sample chapters, and, if that sold, might order more.
Plus, I stumbled upon two reviews at Goodreads, one five-stars and one four-stars, the latter of which called it “a good book if you’re born in the 1940s” but someone like her, born in 1957 would miss many of the references. (A fair point, but, the author would note, Wikipedia is only a finger-tip away.) Still, she concluded, “(Levin) is an excellent writer and this book will appeal to a certain genre.” (Thirty other Goodreaders had Cheesesteak on their “To Do” list, but what happened to them I can not say.)
Oh yes, a college friend e-mailed me he has been reading (and “enjoying”) The Schiz while vacationing in Hawaii. That’s probably a first: Bob-As-Beach-Reading.
Finally, word reached me of a notice-of-interest from the new owner of one of the cafes I frequent. I figured he was banning me from selling on his premises – but, no! He intends to honor authors who hang there by installing shelves on which their works will be displayed.
I am leaning toward Best Ride and Most Outrageous.

Jimmy Stewart Meets H.P. Lovecraft

My latest piece is up at First of the Month:

Normally, I print the first paragraph or so as a teaser, but this one — a darkly comic riff on the Devon Nunes memo — is so short, I decided to leave it unexcerpted. Hope you can find your way to the FOM site.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 89

Adventures in Marketing: Week 89
No sales – but gave away one Best Ride.
But two people (one friend, one café guy) have committed to buying the new, photo-illustrated edition of Cheesesteak. Only 998 left, so get your pre-orders in.
In other news…
A nicely dressed, white haired woman, who’d seen me around the café for months, stopped at my table, looked at “Cheesesteak’s cover illustration, and said she’d never eaten one.
“I thought it looked like a penis,” I said, “but my wife said it looked like a vagina, so we figured we had things covered.”
I have used this pitch before without as much success as, say, “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.”
“The artist said,” I added, “he was aiming for a Jaws poster effect.”
“I get it,” she said. “Because it’s vertical.”
This fellow in the back of the café called “Bob” and waved me over.
He had said he’d buy a Schiz the next time he had cash on him, but, as it turned out, he only wanted to show me a picture on his phone someone had sent him of that moon people had been talking about.
Then he went from table to table showing everyone his picture of the moon someone else had taken.
I called a writer/friend to discuss next-step medical appointments.
His surgery is looking definite. He may have to wear a bag.
He said how impressed he’d been by The Schiz. “I don’t know anyone else who could have written that,” he said. “That’s a novel that could make a career. Or obliterate one.”
The New Yorker ran an article on William Melvin Kelly.
Kelly had published four novels and a short story collection by the time he was 33 – and no further books in his remaining 47 years of his life.
After my friend “Max Garden” (See: Cheesesteak) turned-on, tuned-in, and, in 1967, dropped-out to Jamaica, he and his family became friendly with Kelly’s, who already lived there. The magazine article says that when Kelly came back to the states, he and his family lived in a sixth floor Harlem walk-up, and he scrounged groceries from dumpsters. Max, who came back earlier, settled in the East Village where, he once told me, he was “too depressed to roll our of bed in the morning and go downstairs for a bottle of gin.”
Kelly taught at Sarah Lawrence for 30 years. Max… Well, you’ll have to read my book.
Max once sent me a signed copy of Kelly’s Different Drummer. After reading The New Yorker, I took it from the shelf. From the placement of the bookmark, I don’t seem to have finished it.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 88

Reportedly two Schiz sold, one to a nephew and one to his woman friend. (“A dark enjoyable ride,” says he.) He is the first of five nephews to buy a copy. (His sister, my sole niece, did too.) My estate planning side takes note.
And after only one additional phone message, I heard from that book store owner in NYC, who had my books on consignment. He sold a Schiz, two Best Rides, and three Cheesesteaks, and my check is coming soon.
Now here’s a FLASH! The new Cheesesteak edition will be, as they say in the adult-book trade, “photo-illustrated.” It was a last-minute idea, which my brother agreed to carry out. So last Sunday, before the traffic build-up for the Iggles-Vikes game, he scurried through West and South Philly, taking shots of places I had suggested. (“Most of what you want is gone,” he said. “Most of everything is gone,” I said.)
“Oh,” Adele said, “words and pictures. That ties right in with your comics interest.”
I bet W.G. Sebald never had to hear he was influenced by comic books.

Meanwhile, I’m going over copy-edits for a forthcoming article in Full Bleed (It seems I have a major problem with “that” and “which”) and taking notes on Berlin 1936, which I am to review.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 87

No books sold. No conversation attracted.
But otherwise…
1.) The PR person at the NYC publisher told me not to worry. The book she’d asked me to review is still coming. Delays due to weather.
2.) Received complimentary copy of Issue #1 of “Full Bleed,” the quarterly my article on UG cartoonists was bumped out of. But it is to appear in issue #2 and my article on Guy Colwell in #3. So I am reassured there. (A handsome publication. Check it out.)
3.) Sent an article to the fellow in New Zealand who had requested something for me I had thought I might do 500 words, but I came up with 1500, a mini-comic review crossed with a Renata Adler-type story, which delighted both me and the editor. This led to a further exchange in which I learned he also produces records, is into “punk and noise,” and identifies as “an effeminate man… (who tends) to focus on having diverse voices in my publications and music.” (I said, “$5 says I will be the only straight, 75-year-old, Jewish one.”)
The mag is called “Happiness is Luxury.” It will be out in October. I expect distribution in the States will be limited, but I will receive two free copies.
“And I get paid?” I said.
“I could give a donation,” he said, “but I don’t make a profit. It’s more a labour of love.”
“Love is fine,” I said.
4.) Things did not go as satisfyingly with my efforts to get paid by the bookstore in Manhattan which had my stuff on consignment. My personal representative (Name Withheld On Request) suggested I call. “Can I speak to Mr. Healy?” I said.
“He’s not here. May I take a message?”
I left my name and number.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I just spoke to Name Withheld.”
“And to whom am I speaking?” I said.
“Nick. Nick, Nick, Nick.”
“That’s Nick Nick Nick Nick?” I said.
“Yeah. Nick, Nick, Nick.”
Mr. Healy has not called.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 86

No sales.
The lawyer who solicited me as a prospective expert witness in a comics copyright case (See: Earlier “Adventure”) remains disappeared. (May have to give up on him.)
The book I was solicited to review (See: Even Earlier “Adventure”) remains undelivered.
It has gotten so that, seeking recognition, I have taken to scanning the book shelves behind the experts being interviewed on CNBC hoping to spot the spine of one of my titles.
I did get a form letter off to a dozen Philadelphia area indie book stores trying to interest them in ordering the new printing “Cheesesteak” from its distributor, but many of these same stores had ignored me when I’d asked them to handle the original on a consignment basis.
On the plus side, I received confirmation that articles I’d written about UG cartoonists would be appearing in the second and third issues of a new magazine from IDW.
And I have not been totally ignored in the café. Pancho, a tennis instructor, who moonlights as a phone-sales solicitor (or a phone solicitor, who moonlights as a tennis instructor, depending on your POV), with whom I have been acquainted for 40 years – but never bought any of my books – asked how business was going. “Not so good,” I said. “You haven’t paid your mortgage?” he said. “My mortgage is paid, thank you,” I said, “but I haven’t paid off my espresso.”
Then Lefty, a retired cab driver, with whom I have been acquainted about four weeks – and hasn’t bought any of my books either – was attracted by “Best Ride.” “$5,” I said. “Quite a discount,” he said. “Trying to build my audience,” I said. But he dislodged this hook and swept away after he began to rave about the work of the journalist Chris Hedges, at the expense of Ernest Hemingway and Hunter Thompson, and I proclaimed my preference for them both.

The (Other) N- Word

My latest piece has gone up here:

The (Other) N-Word

It begins…

Two years ago, I self-published 250 copies of Cheesesteak, a memoir about growing up in West Philadelphia in the 1950s and ‘60s. I gave about half away to people who had shared experiences with me and sold most of the rest. A distributor offered to take the book on if I printed more, and a friend, who had experience as a copy editor, offered to read proof.
On p. 3, she questioned my use of the word “Negro.” (I had written that my immigrant paternal grandfather’s medical practice at 10th & Baimbridge was devoted primarily to “Jews and Italians and Negroes, who paid him in cash or produce or homemade wine.”) It turned out that in 101 pages I had used “Negro” 18 times, “black” (in a racial context) 10 times, and “Afro-American once. (I had also used, twice each, usually quoting a speaker, “nigger” and “schvartze.”) All the pieces which composed the book had appeared on-line or in-print in publications of modest but actual readership, and no one of whom I was aware had objected to any word I’d written, except for one editor, who’d changed the title “My First Faggot” into a Spanish phrase with all considerations of – or attitudes toward – sexual preference removed.
My friend said “Negro” was unacceptable. She cited as authority President Obama, The New York Times, the Oxford Dictionaries, Wikipedia, and an esteemed friend of hers who edited a journal about flutes. (My friend played one.) She said if I did not replace each “Negro” with “black,” she did not want her name associated with my book…

Adventures in Marketing: Week 86

[Preferatory Note: I’ve picked up a few new “Friends” recently, so let me explain that since I began self-publishing, most mornings I’ve sat in a café with a “Buy Bob’s Books” sign (courtesy of S. Clay Wilson) and a display of my works. Then most weeks, I’ve posted news of my experience — and related matters.]


No sales. (One shopper examined “Fully Armed” because he thought the fellow in the wheelchair on the cover might be a gangbanger he knew from Oakland but, of course, he wasn’t.)

Worse. That lawyer who was definitely going to call me Tuesday about my testifying as an expert witness in his comic book copyright case hasn’t been heard from since.

And worser still, the new collection of my comic-related writings, which I expected to have out in the fall, won’t happen until the following spring because I missed a deadline I didn’t know about or had forgotten if I did. If there were any heads to roll at Spruce Hill Press besides my own…

However, seeing these newly opened gaps in my schedule as Messages from God, I may accelerate the publishing of Adele and my co-written account of our adventures in cardio-vascular land.
Love (certainly. Death (nearly). It’s got it all. Can I see a show of hands for pre-orders.

Generation Gap

The two twenty-somethings on the corner intended to empower Oakland youth through re-envisioned hip-hop. “Putchu down for $100/month?” the young woman said.

“How about $5?” I said.

“Get you invites to all the shows,” he said.

“I stopped listening to pop music in, oh, 1968,” I said.

“C’mon,” he said. “You know the first rapper?”

“Gimme a clue.”

“Muhammad Ali. And them radio d.j.s”

“Ooo-tiddley-ock,” I said. “This is the Jock. Here on the scene. With the record machine. Crying ooo-poppa-do. How do you do.?

“There you go, Bob,” she said. “Tha’s dope.”

When I told this to a friend, she said, “Why did they call you a dope?”