Adventures in Marketing: Week 63

Swapped a “Cheesesteak” to a Cal student.

She gave me a class project, three-ring binder, text and photographs, about growing up Filipino-American in Vallejo.

It was moving and amusing — and not totally unlike growing up Jewish in West Philadelphia. it was also an eye-opener. I realized I had never thought about Filipinos as a distinct group with a distinct culture. (Boy, I thought, could they use a good P.R. person.)

There is even a term, I learned, the title of her work, “Cocoanuts,” for those, like her, America-born-and-raised, an ethnic equivalent of “Oreos.” Brown on the outside; white on the inside.

My smile was broadened for days. Café book-peddling sure comes with varying rewards.


“Cheesesteak” has received its second review, both – full disclosure – by someone with whom I have an on-line mutual admiration-type relationship.
Actually, the latest isn’t so much a review as it is a favorable mention in Jon Allen’s “Cool Stuffola” pages in “Pop Wasteland” #3, which he edit/produces with his brother. Allen liked the “fly on the wall” enjoyment provided of experiences “that occurred before (he) was born.” While this reminder of the ever widening gap between the formatives of my sensibility and the steadily expanding (while simultaneously diminishing) pool of available readers was a bit knee-buckling, it was a kick to find a product of my present day, sedentary, mild-mannered self in the company of Allen’s favorite “filthy trash” zine, an “outlandishly superb hardcore/grindcore punk record store, a punk rock flea market, and a “vile to the gills” “Revenge” film.
Speaking of “hardcore” and “vile” – and I mean that in the good way – the same issue features the worth-the-price-of-admission-alone longest single work by Mike (“The Only American Cartoonist Even Convicted of Obscenity”) Diana I have come across. If you wondered what he’s been up to – or needed a demonstration of the failures of the Florida criminal justice system at either deterrence or rehabilitation – “The Night Sugar Pop Fucked the Devil’s Old Lady” will suit you fine. Plus there is an interview with the buzzingly unique “comix provacature” Aaron Lange which, within a half-dozen pages, touches upon geek culture, self-destructive artists, the (previously unknown to me acronyms) POFTA and ICP, Guido-ism (another new one), Otto Dix, Lenny Bruce, and “Winesburg, Ohio.” (Them I’ve heard of.)
Your head will spin.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 62

Sold one “Schiz” and one “Cheesesteak,” both to a desk clerk at the Sens Café and Bistro (formerly the French Hotel), which is home to one of the cafes where I peddle them.

In other news…

My cell phone rings.

I figure it’s a robot.

But the caller leaves a message. He wants “to develop” a movie about my baseball novel “Away Game.”

My excitement is tempered only by the fact that a different Bob Levin wrote “Away Game.”

I explain this when I return the call. I offer the other Bob Levin’s e-mail address. Then I add, “But if you want to develop a movie about a basketball novel…”

There is a pause while, in retrospect, I think he does something on his computer. “You’re exactly who I want to talk to,” he says. “‘Best Ride to New York.'”

It turns out his development plan for “Best Ride” involves a new cover and what sounds suspiciously like an e-book and print-on-demand deal.

Which will only cost me $$799.

The Murderers and the Nun

FIRST OF THE MONTH said it would run this piece but I don’t know when. Meanwhile Netflix has continued to promote this series so, with FOM’s okay, I decided to get my two cents in. (The article will come with illuminating — possibly humorous — footnotes, but I proved unable to get them to accompany my copy/paste instruction here.) Anyway…

The Murderers and the Nun

I had problems with “The Keepers.”
That’s the recent seven-part Netflix documentary about the unsolved murder of Cathy Cesnick, a Baltimore nun, who disappeared in November 1969 and whose partly decomposed body was found two months later in a patch of scrub woods. Cesnik was an attractive young public school teacher, on a sabbatical of sorts, after several years on the faculty of Archbishop Keogh, a Catholic girls high school. She did not wear a Cesnick’s body prior to its discovery by the police. habit; she shared an apartment with another secular-sampling nun. She had gone out one evening to a shopping center and never returned.
!n 1994, “Jane Doe,” a former student of Cesnik’s at Keogh, came forward to say that she had recently remembered having been taken to the woods by Joseph Maskell, a priest on the Keogh staff, by whom she had been sexually abused, and shown Cesnik’s body prior to its discovery by the police . Doe said she had confided in Cesnik, who had promised to help her. Doe believed Cesnik had been killed to prevent her exposing Maskell, and that Maskell had shown her the body to scare her into not telling anyone else about the abuse. Doe also believed the Archdiocese, the police, and governmental officials had conspired to protect Maskell and others involved in his crimes. The authorities refused to prosecute Maskell because of a lack of evidence, and a civil suit brought by Doe and another victim of Maskell’s, “Jane Roe,” was dismissed because the statute of limitations had long expired.

I have been suspicious of recovered memories claims since the time of the McMaster Pre-School case. All memory is unreliable to some extent, and memories said to have lain below consciousness for decades seem especially vulnerable to compromise by time, outside influence, internal psycho-dynamics, and the corruption to which the recovery process often exposes them. “The Keepers” did not make me less skeptical. (For one thing, I believe repressed memory claims are usually made by victims of alleged childhood abuse, but Doe seems to have had a consistent recollection of abuse she said she had suffered as a child and only forgotten her adolescent abuse by Maskell and seeing Cesnik’s body.)
I don’t doubt Maskell abused Doe. I don’t doubt the Archdiocese covered for him. Too many other Keogh students alleged similar outrages after Doe went public. Too many times, in other instances, has the Catholic church behaved similarly. (Plus there was that doctor, whose records documented Maskell’s creepy presence during his gynecological examinations of the young women patients Maskell referred him.) But Doe’s accounts of the participation of others in her debasement – priests, policemen, the especially sadistic and enigmatic “Brother Bob” – smack of “recovered” stories about Satanic Ritual Abuse, a phenomenon I believe has been thoroughly discredited, and to which I don’t recall any of Maskell’s other victims saying they’d been subjected.
Even the series’s on-screen expert, a psychologist, who stated the most recent research supports the validity of recovered memories, didn’t convince me. He equated it to PTSD, but my understanding is that with PTSD the traumatic events – the firefight, the loved one’s death – have not been forgotten. They have continually been known but only sometimes –weeks or months or even years after the event – are “lit-up” into disturbing, disabling, sometimes disastrous extremes. While there has been an effort in the last 20 years to rehabilitate the legitimacy of repressed memory claims, Wikipedia reports its non-existence “is the position supported by expert consensus” today. I still think “The Myth of Repressed Memory,” by Elizabeth Loftus, and “Remembering Satan,”by Lawrence Wright, are the books on the subject to read.

Then there is/are the murder(s).
Beside the Cesnik killing, Episode 1 of “The Keepers” addressed at length that of Joyce Malecki. Malecki was an attractive 20-year-old, who had disappeared within a few months of Cesnik. Malecki had also gone shopping at a mall not far from Cesnik’s, and her body had also had been dumped in the woods. I kept waiting for these murders to be linked in some way other than upon the chart of the two amateur investigators, both former students of Cesnik’s at Keogh, two charming women who had dedicated themselves to finding her killer, indefatigably searching court files, reading microfilmed old newspapers, scouring the internet, cold-calling those whose names they uncovered, becoming the show’s central figures. But by the time the link arrived – in the last episode – it was little more than Maskell’s having lived and worked a block or two from Malecki’s home – as presumably did several hundred others – and his “signature” having appeared on a condolence card received by her family. (When shown on screen, his name was one of three priests which had been commercially printed – not “signed” – on the card.)

The tenuousness of this connection made me wonder what the murder(s) was/were doing in the show at all.
I saw several possibilities. One, the most cynical, was that the producers thought, Hey, we can’t sell this show if it’s just one more story of priests sexually abusing children. Let’s add some homicides. The second, and the one apparent on the series’s face, was that the producers believed Doe that Cesnik’s murder related to the abuse and that Molecki’s murder was linked to Cesnik’s. (The first belief seems reasonable – to a point; the second seems gossamer.) The third, which is what I believe “The Keepers” most clearly demonstrates, is how good intentions can lead even the nicest people into mazes of twisted, contradictory, badly mistaken thought.
Let me show you what I mean.

We begin with the idea that Cesnik was killed to prevent her exposing Maskell. This is based on Doe’s 25-year-old recollections of a conversation she had with Cesnik, of Doe’s assumption that, because of this conversation, Cesnik said something that threatened Maskell, and that Maskell showed Doe Cesnik’s body. (My recollection is that Doe’s account of her conversation with Cesnik lacked specifics. Cesnik had observed Doe was upset upon coming from Maskell’s office. Doe had confirmed she was. Cesnik had said she would take care of it. Doe had said nothing about sex. Cesnik had said nothing about confronting or reporting Maskell.) The only corroboration the show offers for these recollections (and assumption) of Doe’s is that she was probably correct when she said maggots were present on Cesnik’s corpse. Personally, I find this only slightly more probative than a recollection of there having been dried blood on the body.
If Maskell was the purported murderer, fine; but for reasons that escape me, “The Keepers” is clear that he wasn’t. Others did it for him. And it was in identifying these “others” that the show had me half-wondering if we weren’t going to end up in Dealy Plaza on November 22, 1963. Either Episode 4 or Episode 5 introduced the first alternative suspects: Ed; Billy, (unrelated, but perhaps working together – or perhaps not); and Skippy, a friend of one of theirs, about whom little is revealed beyond that he had a thick mustache and (maybe) liked gadding about dressed as a nun. This episode also introduced a nephew of Ed’s (or Billy’s) who said that, when he was a boy, he had accompanied his uncle and another man while they carried Cesnik’s body, wrapped in a rug, from her apartment and drove it to the woods. His account was presented uncritically, even though (a) it is the only suggestion by anyone that Cesnik was murdered in her apartment (and, by the way, distinguished her killing from Malecki’s); (b) it overlooks the fact that Cesnik’s roommate was home; and (c) it presumes that two murderers trying to conceal a crime would bring a 12-year-old along as company. (I guess they couldn’t find a sitter.)
The episode also linked Ed to the murder by a necklace he gave his ex-wife. This line of reasoning ran: Cesnik had gone shopping for an engagement present for her sister; the necklace had a pendant which might have been a wedding bell; the pendant was set with a gem that might have been her birth stone. But in the next episode, the sister said it wasn’t her birth stone after all, though it was her fiancee’s. So maybe Cesnik was giving her sister a necklace with her fiancee’s birth stone on it? Not as persuasive, I’d say.
Episode 7 forgets Billy and Skippy, but we do meet and observe Ed. He appears shabby, poorly aged, seemingly lost, slightly addled, befogged. He denies involvement in Sister Cathy’s murder but admits once calling a radio talk show claiming knowledge connected to it. He also admits driving a car in the manner the killer was thought to have. This made my wife suspect him, but instead of building a further case against Ed, “The Keepers” sallied forth to present more suspects for our consideration.
The first was Gerard Koob, a minister and former priest, whom we had met earlier as an aggrieved friend of the deceased. At the time of the murder, Koob and Cesnik had been extremely close. In fact, if memory serves, she had refused his request to leave the church, as he eventually did, and marry him. We also become, for the first time, privy to challenges to his account of the night she disappeared, and a letter from Cesnik to him is revealed, which is open to an interpretation that their relationship had been sexual. The letter spoke of her relief at the arrival of her period, which had been 10 days late, and it expressed a desire to have Koob “inside” her. It is, of course, equally plausible that she meant “inside” in a spiritual sense and that her relief at menstruating was simply physiological and not because she feared being pregnant. “The Keepers” just presents the letter without taking a stand as to its significance.

Of course, if Koob had been the killer, or if Ed had – unless he was working for Maskell, for whom, from his resent incarnation at least, he seems an unlikely partner-in-crime – Maskell wouldn’t’ve known where the body was and couldn’t have taken Doe there. To further complicate things, by the climactic Episode 7, Doe has recovered further memories and now recalls Brother Bob as having admitted he killed Cesnik. (Doe is also remembering more and more about what he looked like. Presumably she will soon be able to pick him out of a police line-up and testify against him should he be brought to trial.)
Doe seemed a reasonable, well-spoken, sincere, thoughtful, woman. But this revelation, while it handily tied Maskell to the murder, seems to me to have presented the film makers with only two honorable courses of action. First, if they believed Doe, they should have absolved all the other suspects, perhaps eliminated them from the film entirely, so as not to further tarnish their names and memories, and begun over, seeking to bring Bob to justice. Or if they had not believed Doe, they should have begun seriously questioning the reliability of all her recollections and explored where and how they had originated and why they had led other people, including themselves, on this pursuit of wild geese.
Instead they turned their film over, in part, to a quasi-public service announcement, calling for the State of Maryland to re-write its statutes of limitations to allow those with recovered memories even longer periods of time to bring claims based upon them. One wonders what minotaurs will be found lurking at the heart of where this would lead..

Adventures in Marketing: Week 61

Sold one “Cheesesteak.” (It was intended as a gift to a high school classmate, but she sent me $20.)

In other news…

a.) Information reached me that an on-line dealer in remaindered books was offering “Most Outrageous” for less than my author’s discount gets me at my publisher’s, so even though it has not exactly been jumping off my table, I ordered 10. Available here for a limited time only for $12 (40% below list).

b.) When I returned to the post office, Big Dawg (See Week 59’s report) said, “You was a wild young man, you and your buddy.”

“That was long ago,” I said.

“But good memories and good times.”

“Yes, it was.”

c.) Then just the other day, while I was on my lap top in the café, my book display to my left, a young woman asked if she could take y picture. She was a photo-journalism student at UC. “With toothpick or without?” I said.

“With,” she said. “It’s cool.”

She was from Denmark. I told her how much we liked “Forbrydelsen.”

I smile to think about it.


Adventures in Marketing: Week 60

Sold one “Cheesesteak”

The discerning shopper was a middle-aged UC math professor who had noted my presence at the café before but never spoken to me until now.

When he heard I also wrote about underground cartoonists, he told me his ex-father-in-law had written and/or made a documentary film about Lord Buckley.

“Lord Buckley!” I said. “I remember him from my druggie days.”

“his too,” he said.

In other news, “Heart” was turned down by another agent and my proposed new collection of cartoonist-related writings (tentatively titled “Son of Outlaws, Rebels, Free-Thinkers, Pirates & Pornographers”) by two publishers. The editor-in-chief of the second of these said he “really liked” my stuff but that the marketing and sales folk were opposed. While certainly understandable, this news did not make me want to jump out of bed this morning.

But my distributor guy says he will handle it if I self-publish and my production guy is hot to go ahead. so maybe it’s safe to throw off the blankets.

Pre-orders accepted.

The Hammer and the Paintbrush

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

I had read Denis Johnson’s “Jesus’ Son” when it came out in paperback, 1993. I had read “Tree of Smoke,” which won a Nat’l Book Award in 2007. That, I didn’t like so much, but after Johnson died, in May, I decided to read the earlier one again. If you can recommend another book of Johnson’s to someone who didn’t like “Smoke” but did like “Jesus,” I am buying.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 59

No sales.

And no word from Logos Books, for whose Father’s Day display designed to break me big in the Big Apple I had sunk double-digits into a promotional budget. Well, maybe it will hold me over through the Fourth of July.


I had sent a gift “Best Ride” (my existential basketball novel) to an address that turned out not to exist. Since it had gone Media Mail, the post office wanted me to pay again to get it back. I had enough copies. I figured this a Sign from God. Give it to that guy, I said, indicating the clerk whose name tag read “Big Dawg” and who kept a Wilt Chamberlain commemorative at his window. I figured him a hoops fan.

When I came in yesterday, Mr. Dawg caught me. “Hey, remember slipping and sliding all the way to New York?” He looked at the woman who was waiting on me. “I can’t mention the other stuff. But it’s gettin’ good now.”

(“Best Ride” — and all of Bob’s books — are available at this very web site.)

Adventures in Marketing: Week 58

Sold a “Cheesesteak,” a “Schiz,” a “Most Outrageous,” an “Outlaws, Rebels…,” all to the same woman. (I gave her a discount for buying in bulk.)

She had arrived at the café, handing out Meyer lemons from a tree in her yard, to all the customers. Squeeze one each morning into hot water, she explained, to clear the body of toxins. She had blue eyes, a round, smiling face. She had short gray hair under a wide-brimmed straw hat. She wore a loose-fitting black top and wheat-colored Himalayan butterfly pants. She had also, I later notice, taken 18 books from the “Free” shelf and piled them on a chair at her table.

My work seemed to have interested her in me so much that she paid several visits to keep me posted on her thoughts. (And I felt grateful enough for her purchases not to interrupt.) So I learned of the health problems of her sister who operated heavy equipment at a nuclear waste disposal site, the personality of her brother-in-law, a Mohawk high-beam walker, the dialogue her own interest in the dharma had led to with a local Catholic worker-priest, and her suspicions that the Amazonian special ops warriors she read about in intrigue novels were real.

So I did not get a lot of work done that morning.

Adventures n Marketing: Week 57

No sales.

Gave away two “Cheesesteak”s. One went to a woman in Munich who had been an exchange student, senior year in high school, with whom I have been in recent correspondence, mainly about politics (French, German, USA). (She promised to cover postage.) The other was to a baseball-capped 83-year-old fellow, in town from Santa Cruz, visiting his daughter. He’d seen me in the café before and, this time, decided to see what I was about. “Do you write?” I said. “All my life,” he said. He had, he explained, storage lockers full of novels, paintings, cartoons, that he had never tried to have published or exhibited. “If I don’t do something soon, they’re headed for the city dump.”

I also got a visit from a portly fellow in an electric wheelchair. He was not looking to buy but had been attracted by the cover. “I love cheesesteaks,” he said.