Running a month or so behind on my NY Times magazines, so just read Giles Harvey’s piece on Deborah Eisenberg. Anyone who’s has work inside them like I do can certainly relate to her character who feels he’s “hurtling through time, strapped to an explosive device”; but I was even more struck by the pleasure she takes from old age, knowing “I’ve survived this ordeal, and now I don’t have to worry. I know how my life has worked out. All the anxiety that I put into the hard questions has fallen away. I can take my satisfactions where they are.” I wish that for you all.
No sales. One limited expression of interest. One second-hand compliment.
The interest – a lingering look – came from a distinguished fellow: well-trimmed white hair, sporty black-and-white checkerboard-patterned shirt, impressive Germanic accent.
“Wanna buy a book?” I said.
“I already have a book,” he said.
A good, if overly literal-minded, response.
The compliment was relayed by the fellow who had bought “Cheesesteak” two weeks ago – and had not yet read a word. “My wife is enjoying your book very much,” he said. “She grabbed it from me.”
“Is she from Philadelphia?” I said.
“Southern California,” he said.
Which, at least, speaks, if not to the universality of my work’s appeal, then to its cross-continental reach.
(A few days later, the fellow said he had begun reading the book himself and, as a sports fan, had enjoyed running into Robin Roberts in Chapter 3. This chapter had material I would consider more influential to the path of my story that Robin or even the Whiz Kids, but I told him, while he could not expect any more baseball, he could look forward to basketball and boxing.)
In other news…
“I Will Keep You Alive” is practically ready for the printer. The back cover copy has been finalized. (“Churn” defeated “sea of.”) The price will not be lowered, despite the page count coming in under what the catalog promised. (“What can you get for an extra dollar anyway?” I argued. “You plunk down a $20. You don’t care about your change.”) There will be no authors photo. (Mystery hasn’t hurt Pynchon or Ferrante.)
There was one we liked on Adele’s iPhone. But a shadow on my dome made it seem like I was wearing a yarmulke, which, in turn, made my scarf appear to be a tallis.
Not the image I am shooting for.
Sold one “Cheesesteak.”
The buyer was about 70. He wore a baseball cap, had collar-length hair and a Southern accent. He knew Wilson and his “Buy Bob’s Books!” sign drew him to my table. A retired j.c. English professor from the peninula, he was in town for a friend’s birthday party. The friend was from – or had spent years in – Philly, so my book seemed a perfect present,
I could not agree more. So if any of you know someone from – or who has spent years in – Philadelphia… Just saying.
In other news…
When I saw that the new book by the physician/celebrity author, from whom I had sought a cover blurb for “I Will Keep You Alive,” had received a glowing review in the “Times,” I thought that if I congratulated him, he might be nudged – from guilt, if nothing else – into delivering.
What will he say, besides “Thank you”? I wondered.
He said, “Thank you” – and provided a link to another review.
Upon which I did not click.
Speaking of IWKYA, the only fussing left prior to shipping to the printer is over the back cover copy (with or without celebrity blurb), which Milo, Adele, Mary, and I have been pruning, and the decision whether or not to have an authors’ photograph Everyone favors this, except the authors, and since the authors are also the publishers, it seemed they might carry the day.
But Adele just found one in her cell phone, taken six months into my recovery, that we could live with, so now, if we can shape up it’s resolution, Bob’s, as they say, your mother’s brother
“What’re you writing?” the fellow at the cafe said.
“A mini-story,” I said.
“Mini-story?” he said.
“I think,” I said.
Here it is: https://www.firstofthemonth.org/life-in-these-united-states/
Sold a “Cheesesteak.”
The buyer had worked four decades as a public defender. He had already been a regular at the café when I staked a claim, which meant he had seen my sign and books for 128 weeks (actually 129 since I used the same number twice) of my outfit’s operation. While we had once exchanged names and occasionally acknowledged each other’s existence with nods and smiles, he had never before picked up one of my works or shown any interest in them. Why he did this particular morning was one of life’s mysteries.
Albeit, not a major one.
And I swapped an “Outlaws, Rebels…”
It went to a neatly bearded, under 50 fellow who dropped by the café and was intrigued by my set up. He was, himself, an author and publisher (of books about trolls, Rosicureans, clairvoyants, and unicorns), and since he traveled without cash and I view my Square as a measure of last resort, we explored other mercantile options, with the result that I am to receive the latest copy of his journal of “Art & Magic for Tea-Drinking Anarchists, Convivial Conjurers & Closeted Optimists”, and he my essays about cartoonists whose creative efforts flow in related channels of the unconventional.
I expect we will each add to the other’s understanding of the universe.
Sold one “Schiz” and one (discounted as part of the package) “Best Ride.”
The buyer had stopped by my table in the café several days before and asked if I would be there Wednesday or Thursday. I was; he wasn’t. He was a short, elderly fellow, wearing an OAK-town baseball cap and traveling with a back pack, so I figured him as a rambling sort. “If I miss you, I’ll get you,” he’d said, while leaving, which, if enigmatic on its face, proved right-on in its execution.
Turned out he was retired from UC, where he’d worked in computers, and was enough of an old school basketball fan (See: “Best Ride”) to bring up Wilt scoring 100 against the Knicks in Hershey.
Then at the deli, I ran into the “Cheesesteak” Buyer, whose father had graduated West Catholic. He hadn’t sent it to his father yet, but he had leant it to his father-in-law. He introduced me to his two children and his wife, who turned out to be a fan of the Pat’s dining experience. (See p. 9.) We exchanged tips on how not to be taken for a tourist there, so she was looking forward to her next visit and putting this knowledge to use.
In other news…
It looks like the best selling author/cardiologist (See earlier Adventure) will not be providing a blurb for IWKYA. (“Enjoyed the first few chapters and will read more when time permits,” doesn’t quite cut it.) The publicist is considering other options. (She suggested thinking locally – librarians, bookstore owners – but I nixed that. Nationally-known or nothing, I said.) We go to the printers in a month, and I am already obsessing over how many copies and evaluating invitees to the launch party.
Just when I thought there would be nothing to report, up walked Ed.
“Look at that,” he said to my sign.
“Checkered Demon,” I said.
Ed was about my age. Maybe younger. Yeah, younger. He had that New York look, Michael Cohen-sized. Heavy green zipper jacket. Greying curly hair. He did not know Checks. He did not know Wilson. Hell, he did not know Robert Crumb. “Underground comix?” I said.
“I know underground crime.” He looked at me. “I’m serious.”
Ed had hustled pool on both coasts. “Nine ball. Eight ball is for girls.”
You did not pay after each game. You settled up when you were done. He played a guy all night. At the end, in defiance of all convention, the fellow paid by check. Given the circumstances, Ed did not object. The damn thing cleared. The point was, some people you could trust.
“8:09,” Ed said. “Time for the Cheeseboard.”
In other news…
1.) In 48 hours my review of Dan O’Neill’s book has drawn zero comments at tcj.com., two “Like”s at FB, one self-referential remark at my blog, and a flattering plug at “The Comics Reporter.”
Thanks, Tom – and Mike, Eric and Budd.
2.) The poet to whom I’d swapped a “Best Ride” for his latest collection compared the metaphors to William Burroughs’s. With my having already complimented his imagery, this cemented our relationship firmly enough to support conversation about insufficiently appreciated talents of American letters.
The two of us.
3.) Looks like “I Will Keep You Alive” will have an e-book edition available at the same time as the print one.
My latest piece is up at http://www.tcj.com/why-does-the-12-inch-tall-piano-player-sing/
“Is Dan O’Neill our age or older?” Adele said.
“Older?” I said.
“Well, he’s still got all his marbles,” she said. “Or as many as he ever had.” The occasion for these remarks was our receipt of his first book in 30 years, “The House Next Door” (Hugh O’Neill & Assoc.). “It’s the first time I’ve understood the relationship between gold and money.”
“You understand it?” It is part of Adele’s charm that I generally must identify for her who the person is that has outraged Stephanie Ruhle that morning. She returns the favor by identifying for me each Czechoslakian teenager who had made the quarterfinals of the tennis tournament of the week.
“Gold. Money. Corporations. The environment. It’s bigger than his fight with Disney.”
None of the three people mentioned in last week’s adventure have reappeared. It is like expressing interest in my books is grounds for deportation by alien invaders.
But another brave fellow picked up a “Cheesesteak.” He was a very thin and very pale, with red hair and in white shorts and a white t-shirt. He looked about 12 but was studying piano at the Jazz School. I asked who he liked.
“Monk,” he said. “Bud Powell. Horace Silver.”
“Bill Evans?” I said.
“Why do people from the east always like Bill Evans?” he said.
I asked if his parents had been supportive. He said their only advice had been not to become a lawyer because lawyers were only paid by the hour. Well, it seemed they would not to have to worry about that.
He read two chapters while eating a bagel with cream cheese.
In other news…
To promote our forthcoming “I Will Keep You Alive,” Adele and I had sought cover blurbs to honor both its spiritual and medical qualities. Through someone who knew someone who knew someone, we got Ram Dass to satisfy the first. But physicians affiliated with heart care-related foundations would not support a commercial venture, despite the unanimity among literary agents we’d queried that “commerciality” was not its paramount feature, and the best-selling author of non-fiction, who belonged to our health club, said he received too many requests to accept any. Then I tossed a last-minute Hail Mary letter to a similarly successful physician/author, and he offered to read a pdf and consider it. That was unexpected and gracious and – no matter how it turned out – appreciated. So I bought his new book, a gesture I did not extend to Mr. Too-Busy-To-Even-Ask-Your-Name-Or-What-Your-Book’s-About.
Finally, the cartoonist/philosopher J.T. Dockery has written, not only the first review of “The Schiz,” but a semi-overall Levin career assessment. It will be published soon in the fringe-of-the-fringe ‘zine “Pop Wasteland,” whose selections draw from the pens of the enraged, the displaced, the misaligned, those who do not fit or care or tolerate the crap the rest of us do, and who with a bit less luck or talent or bio-chemistry would be like the fellow outside the café at this very moment, bouncing from leg to leg, gesticulating with arm upon arm, screaming at the newspaper racks. Several of these contributors, sensing a sympathetic je ne sais qua in my own writings, have sent me their work to review. Becoming the toast of this town had not been within contemplation when I first walked into Creative Writing 101a 55-years ago, and I look forward to reading what J.T. has to say with renewed appreciation of – and smiles at – the rugs upon which life sets out for us to slip.
Three expressions of interest.
One was from a pianist, a man of about 70, who plays contemporary classical music with symphonies and chamber music groups. We planned a swap: one of his CDs for one of my books.
One was from an Asian-American woman, a first year grad student in psychology at UC. She is from Scranton, had gone to Penn, and lived a few blocks from where I grew up. She loved West Philadelphia for its abundance of good restaurants, which was news to me since it was not until I was in junior high that even chicken fried rice arrived within walking distance and, until I left, a drive to the Hot Shoppe at 69th Street was required for upscale dining. She wanted to buy a “Cheesesteak” but only through electronic transfers of funds that were beyond me, so she promised to return with cash.
The third tapped associations of a different kind. When my mother visited Berkeley, she never failed to remark about (a) the variety of produce in the supermarket (her father had sold vegetables from a horse-drawn wagon) and (b) how schleppily women dressed while walking about in public. Now the latest in eggplant does little for me, but while I sit in the café, I am alert to its patrons’ couture. Recently someone has been ordering to-go of whom my mother would have approved.
She has precisely cut, collar length black hair, which she compliments with black suits or accents with white sweaters above black slacks. Her coloring – and the exoticness of her appearance in this sweat-shirted, Yoga-pantsed surround – makes me think, Persian – perhaps royalty. The other day, while awaiting her order, she turned and picked up a book.
When a panhandler (male or female) compliments my boots or hat, I am appreciative – and usually good for a buck. But these are times when men – even old and likely harmless ones like me – must be circumspect. (I am half-certain one woman avoids the café due to her having read my mind when I complimented her sense of style, a style which, I must add, featured tresses falling below her waist, micro-mini-skirts, and black fish net stockings.
“Thank you,” the woman with my book said. “I work in I.T. and sometimes have conferences to attend. Otherwise, I’m in jeans.”
We chit-chatted. No, she did not write; but she read.
No, she did not wish to buy; maybe next time.
“Felicite,” she said – and extended a hand.
Adele nodded when I told her of this gesture. “She must be comfortable with who she is.”
In other news, it was time to order new business cards. I decided to sacrifice the name recognition of the “UTNE Reader” with its eye-catching but problematic testimonial (“Lurid and fascinating… loathsome… (and) compelling”) for the lesser known but cozier “Everyone… should read everything Bob Levin has ever written” by Jog the Blog.
All well and good, until I received 750 cards with my name spelled wrong. Not that this hadn’t happened before. My publisher did the same on the spine of my third book At least, this time I caught it and received replacements at no charge.
But you think Ernest Hemingweigh or Sol Bellow ever had this problem?