Adventures in Marketing: Week 162

No sales.
Gave a “Cheesesteak” to a fellow former workers’ comp lawyer, who, besides really relating to “The Schiz” and traversing some of the same cardio-vascular ground as I, is the only person I know for whom the law was a Plan B after failing to make it as an astrologer.
I thought I had negotiated a swap of an “I Will Keep You Alive” to a yogi from Calcutta, who materialized before my table at the café one morning, in return for a copy of his book on yoga and Parkinson’s, though I do not practice the former or suffer from the latter. “Thank you for your presence,” he said, giving me one of those pressed finger-tips bows. But I never saw him again. (If you can’t trust a yogi, I ask you, who can you trust?)

Now for some recently received words-of-mouth on IWKYA.
1.) “A terrific and original book… A classic, I think.” NYC-area semi-well-known figure in world of independent press and awards.
2.) “A harrowing and moving account of a terrible ordeal.” Retired Boston-area psychotherapist/artist (and cousin).
3.) “Wonderful… incredible… replete with honesty, humor and wonder. It’s a pleasure to have you as company.” Philadelphia-area MSW (and friend).
4.) “Supreme Ultimate Gratitude for this Deep and Massive Work. Though we all live in Alternate Realities we are all also part of a deep mysterious Inter Connected Reality… (into which) the Two Voices of I Will Keep You Alive in their own Uniquely Similar Directions take me.” Bay Area cosmically-connected retired librarian (and friend).
Then there was the pal who hasn’t read the book yet but had taken it on the plane with him only to pass it to his seat mate who was curious while he, presumably, settled comfortably into the in-flight magazine. She finished it before they reached New York and, he said, “liked it.”
“She liked it,” I, perhaps ungraciously, replied. “She’s gonna have to do better than that if she expects to make next week’s Adventure in Marketing.”

Adventures in Marketing: Week 161

Sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” to a basketball buddy after a work-out and a (tax deductible) lunch.
And another Mended Hearts chapter president – that’s three out of about 200 – says he’s bought one.
As did a cousin, who said she’d been resisting it because she’s had enough medical issues to deal with.

No books sold at the café, but a white-haired guy in t-shirt and khakis took in the cover and asked if I knew Ram Dass, and a woman with short curly grey hair said about the title, “That’s quite funny.”
“What?” I said, not having received that reaction before.
“You don’t want to know,” she said.
More gratifying was the e-mail from a medical social worker who comes in once in a while. “Books this honest,” she wrote, “are like a rung on a ladder. When I have to climb out of an emergency, I’ll have the strength of your honesty under my hand.”
Now that was special.

The most engaging conversationalist I’ll call “Ed,” a round-faced octogenarian, sporting a goatee and newsboy’s cap. He was an abstract painter, with roots in the Cedar Tavern, and stories involving Franz Kline and both de Koonings. His 91-year-old wife – make that his “woman” – a writer/singer/actress, had been in the Party with Paul Robeson. We went back and forth about the difficulties of being an artist these days. “All the galleries are closed,” he said. “The stores are closed. All the bars are closed. I know working people walking home sober.”
“You ought to write your memoirs,” I said.
“The last thing I rote,” he said, “was ‘Dear Mom, I still don’t have a job.’”

Another Short Story


The locker room flat screen is showing the World’s Cup. Myron says something about “a corner kick.”
“You must know this game,” I say.
“My kids played,” he says.
“I went to a school with compulsory sports,” I say. “By 8th grade, it was clear real men played football.”
“I’m surprised to hear you say that, Bob,” George says.
“You see any men up there?” I say.
George laughs.
“I remember,” I say, “when girls – women – couldn’t cross half court in basketball.”
“Progress,” Myron says.
“On the other hand,” I say, “they could hit each other with lacrosse sticks. No one else in Philly could do that.”

Adventures in Marketing: Week 160

[Author’s Note: For new readers – or old readers with spotty recall – let me explain. Every morning, I sit in a café with a selection of my work spread around a sign of The Checkered Demon saying “Buy Bob’s Books.” Then I issue regular reports.
Think of it as performance art.
It sure ain’t a recommended business model.]

Sunday, the city closed Shattuck to traffic and parking for a street fair. I figured I’d sit at an outside table and take advantage of the hordes. Unfortunately, my hours preceded the fair’s by a couple, so the only horde I attracted was a fellow who felt compelled to tell me about the time – it was in ‘63 or ‘67 – when he ran into Buffalo Bob at the Chicken Delight on Harmon in Richmond, where Bob had gone for chicken nugget fritters and a Nehi, after escaping from Napa State Mental Hospital. This story, with its side tracks and circumambulations took about 20 minutes and included a request for a couple dollars (I obliged), which made the day a net loss.
The week’s only actual sale was Adele’s, who made her café (a different one) debut. I’m hoping for a “Guest Adventurer” report from her, so I won’t “appropriate” (as we artists say) her material – but if you run into her, ask about the fireman.
I swapped two “I Will Keep You Alive”s, one to a basketball buddy for his latest poetry collection and one to mountain biker for a tube of super-powered sore muscle relief she smuggles in from Germany.

` In other news…
1.) I squeezed out of the distributor the number of copies of IWKYA and “Cheesesteak,” which have been ordered (not “sold”). Dauntingly minimal. On the positive side, a second library has acquired one of the former. In Wellington, New Zealand. (Don’t ask. We haven’t a clue.)
2.) Faithful readers will recall my college buddy who’d called IWK the best book he’d read this year, leading me to wonder in print how many that was exactly. Well, he’s checked and said “At least ten” – though, he adds, “It’s a good thing I finished ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ in December, or you’d be Number Two.”
3.) Words-of-Mouth. From a lawyer-pal, on “The Schiz.” “It’s like reading a cross between Mickey Spillane and Ismael Reed, with a little flavoring from Bukowski, just to kick up the language.”

Adventures in Marketing: Week 159

In the café, I sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” to our first botanist and to our first resident of Montana, which, unfortunately gross-sale-wise, consisted of the same woman. But a pleasing encounter all the same.
And in the health club locker room, Adele sold one to first Israeli, a woman who’d tipped us to “A Touch Away” and to whom we’d recommended “Shregim.”
I also gave away two “Cheesesteak”s. The first was to a Mended Hearts chapter president in North Carolina after she’d said she’d buy an IWKYA and revealed that she’d grown up near the art museum. The second came about after a fellow beside the club pool remarked favorably upon my 1982-83 76ers “World Championship” t-shirt. When I told him I was from West Philly, he said his father’s claim to fame was, while pitching for Overbrook, giving up a “mammoth” home run to Reggie Jackson, which put his dad, though a couple years my junior, squarely within my book’s ideal demographic.

In other news…
1.) Speaking of MH chapter presidents, we have now e-mailed over 180 about our book – and received three replies, Two (from N.C. – see above – and Georgia) say they will buy it, and one (from Idaho) says he couldn’t open the attachment that describes it.
2.) And word-of-mouth-wise, a fellow with (and against) whom I’d played tennis and basketball over three decades but never shared intimacies, unless you count sitting nude in the same backyard hot tub, after finishing the book, reached out for a coffee over which we discussed life, death and relationships. About his reading experience, he said that, after resisting them at first, he’d enjoyed Adele’s portions more than mine. He’ been “touched” by her willingness to expose herself, the rawness of it, the fears exposed. She’d been, he said, “Very courageous.”

Adventures in Marketing: Week 158

Sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” to an anaesthesiologist just back at the café after a stint in Ireland.
And one to a pal/ex-client/ex-employee/fellow ex-West Philadelphian.
And one to an even-longer friend as a gift for his psychologist French son-in-law.
And a “Best Ride” to a chemistry grad student (“I’ve been looking for a book”).
And a “Cheesesteak” to a just-turned-30 (“Call me ‘a healer’), who went for it because of its likely humor which he needed more than the probable “stress” of IWKYA, despite its endorsement from Ram Dass.
And didn’t sell one to a fellow who announced his presence at my elbow, “What do you know about cheesesteaks?”
“I know they didn’t use to have cheese,” I said.
He was from southwest Philly. He knew Pat’s, Geno’s, and South Street Jim’s, but he didn’t know 62nd Street Jim’s, and I didn’t know his favorite.

In other news…
1.) Had a long conversation with a UCB undergraduate – something to do with computers – who hopes to write. How did I get started? What was my advice? All the gratifying questions that imply an exalted status on the answere. But no hint of interest in a purchase.
2.) And Adele and I e-mailed about a hundred notices of IWKYA to presidents of Mended Hearts chapters around the country. Aside from a half-dozen or so “Undeliverable”s, we received zero responses. Can you believe that? ZERO! Well, we still have a hundred to go.
3.) But some Word-of-Mouth responses:
a.) “I appreciate the honesty of it, the no bullshit. That’s what makes you turn the page.” A medical social worker.
b.) “The best book I have read this year.” A college friend. (Full disclosure: I am not sure he’s read that many books.)
c.) “I knew the basics, and, I think I told you, I was scared to read it. Now I have read it – and I want to kiss you. But not enough to do it.” A retired architect/author.

I recently read…

Since the first of the year, I’ve read Julian Barnes’s “The Noise of Time,” (Recommended by high school classmate), Russell Shorto’s “Amsterdam,” (Recommended by guy at health club), Nathan Hill’s “The Nix,” (Recommended by friend in L.A.) Mark Jacobson’s “Pale Horse Rider,” (Based on NYT review), James Salter’s (“A Sport and a Pastime” (Found on Free Books shelf in cafe), Susan Orleans’ “Rin Tin Tin” (Impulse buy at Moe’s), Don Winslow’s “Power of the Dog” (Recalled good review in NYT), John Bowers’ “Stonewall Jackson” (Free Books shelf), Stephen Ratcliffe’s “Selected Days” (Folliowng his reading,) and Ed McClanahan’s “Congress of Wonders,” “Natural Man,” and “Famous People I Have Known” (Was writing about a novella of his and got into his stuff.) I am prepared to discuss any or all of the above.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 157

Sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” and a “Schiz” to a lawyer/pal from my workers’ comp days. Shared some past, some present, and got on so well we decided we’d have a lunch.
Swapped an IWKYA to a fellow at the health club for his primer on Buddhist meditation. (You can never have too much Buddhist meditation.) But then he threw in his more scholarly interpretation of early Buddhist texts, so, to restore balance, I gave him “Cheesesteak.”
And a high school classmate reported her sister had picked up her IWK and couldn’t put it down. “Sweetly suggest,” I answered, “that she do so long enough to buy her own copy – or one for a friend. (Preferrably an influential one who can get it reviewed.)”

In other news…
Inquiries to our distributor and the expressor of interest in foreign language rights have been ignored. But the president of my Mended Hearts chapter has offered to recommend our book to all 200+ chapters nationwide (Talk about shrewdly targeting an audience); and our local-est bookstore is flaunting five copies, front cover-facing, in its Biography section between Vladimir Lenin and Nelson Mandela. Adele and I were so excited we signed all five, offered to read, and each bought a book – Kate Atkinson thriller for me; memoir by a neuroscientist who experienced madness for her – purchases which, incidentally, set us back about twice what we’ll net if the store sells our out.
Finally, in a burst of when-one-door-closes…, just when my current project had reached a stymying when-you-can’t-say-something-nice… stage, an exceedingly sui generis cartoonist announced at FB the publication of his new book, which garnered a “Like” from me, and a “We were proud to do it” from his publisher, followed by a “Get Bob Levin to write about it” from said artist, which got a “Like” from an equally sui generized cartoonist, at which I said “Who am I to deny the public?” and the publisher said, “What’s your address again?”
And just that evening, I reached the point in the wonderful “Book of ‘Weirdo’” where its editor designated Adele and I “honorary Weirdos” in recognition of our contribution.
My heart is warm and full.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 156

“Hello, Monsieur…” She stood beside my café table, latte in hand, looking at my books and sign. “…Levin.”
“Bonjour…,” I said.
“…Lorelai,” she said.
Fiftyish, green baseball cap, shades, tie-dyed back pack on a luggage cart. I had seen stranger. “Wanna buy a book?”
Alas. She had spent her last $80 on a four-concert, no-service-charge package. Elvis Costello, Beck, Alice in Chains… I forget.
Popular culture trumps literature again.
She had not seen Alice in Chains in 20 years.
Faithful readers may recall the woman who had told Adele she was withholding judgment on “I Will Keep You Alive.”
“You and your husband are excellent writers,” she said, standing between the health club’s massage tables and the basket for the yoga mats.
“But…?” Adele said.
“But… I didn’t care for the frankness.”
“Can you give me an example?” Some people, Adele thought, like frankness.
A personal trainer and the young woman he was massaging smiled.
“I could have done without the sex.”
“There’s not a lot of sex.”
She turned back. “And the incontinence.”
“You and your husband wrote a book?” the young woman said. “What’s it about?”
“You mean, besides sex and incontinence?” Adele said.
Adele was talking with Sunshine, a buxom woman with dyed black hair. She and her husband, a commercial litigator, have belonged to the club for 30 years, but she spends half her time at a retreat in Taos. She held our book, and I thought, Oh, good, a sale.
The Ram Dass quote on the cover, Sunshine was saying, balanced the “Cardiovascular” in the below-the-colon portion of the title. The red lettering balanced the black. The spiritual, in other words, balanced the scientific. Both sought truth, but neither, in isolation, could find it. She had been talking to Adele for 10 minutes when I arrived and continued another 20. She discussed the concept of “journey.” The concept of “romance.” The “I” that would “keep” the “You” “Alive.” (It was only about this time that she realized Adele and I had written what she held.) Her process involved pauses during which movements of her arms seemed to search for words. It involved sharp, audible inhalations, like those I have been instructed to take when feeling dizzy upon getting up too quickly. The point, Sunshine said, was that there was no “I” that was not dependent upon or subservient to a greater power.
I explained from where our title derived. I did not argue the point though. I was enthralled. Her discourse was Sunshine’s excellence. I wondered what her conversations were like with her husband, whom I only knew from talking work-out routines and muscle cars.
“So would you like to buy a copy?” Adele said.
A silly question, she later realized. Sunshine already had it.
In other news…
1.) IWKYA has been acquired by its first library. The University of Illinois (Chicago) School of Health Sciences. (Circle Campus, I assumed. When I was in VISTA, I played basketball in its gym. So the mind associates.)
2.) Adele has steered a woman who reads many books to a neighborhood bookstore to buy ours, and I sent one as a gift to a friend who, while laboring under many disabilities, cares for a husband who is even more disabled. And we heard from another friend whose husband’s cardiac condition has disabled him for years. By page 50, she said, she had succumbed to PTSD.
I often wonder how people who have not been as lucky/blessed as Adele and I will react to our book. But, I thought, if you are a writer, you write what life brings you. You are not entirely responsible for how people react, and where some may find distress, others will find inspiration.
So far, more have mentioned the latter.