Adventures in Marketing: Week 167

First let me descibe the café. (Actually there are two cafes, but in these reports I merge them.) Anyway, I sit at one of its two long tables, which can comfortably seat three on each side and one at each end. Usually I have it to myself. I sit on the center chair on the side facing east, with my lap top and legal pads in front of me, my display and “Buy Bob’s Books” sign to their left facing north. I think of it as “my” table, but I am willing to share.
Thursday, Adele came with me. A Chinese woman who never stays long and with whom I have a nod “Hello” relationship was sitting at the table’s south end, and a man I’d never seen before sat across from my customary seat but to my left. He had a short white beard, a zippered wind breaker, a ball cap of undecipherable inscription. He was on a lap top; his back pack was on the center chair; there was no third chair.
Adele, who likes to face me, asked him to move his pack.
He told her to get a chair from another table.
Not a gentlemanly response, I thought. But I’d had a spat the day before with a fellow outside the Cheeseboard who took offense when I got too close while tacking up a poster advertising Adele’s and my reading. That was enough aggression for one week, so I let it slide, except to nudge his water bottle back across the mid-line when I laid out my books.
Adele – noisily – dragged over a chair. We did our work and went to my cardiology appointment.

Friday, I had the table to myself.
But after I’d been there 45-minutes the fellow arrived. He took the same chair and put his back pack on the chair to his right. I moved my books back across the mid-line toward me. We both did what we did in silence until I was preparing to leave when he said, “Bob, do you write screenplays?”
I said I did not and asked if he did.
He said he did not but had an idea which he wanted someone to develop into one.
I said that would probably be expensive and recommended Syd Field’s book on the subject.
He then asked me which of my books was funniest.
That was a new question. I didn’t have a ready answer, so I described each of them. iefly.
He became most interested in “The Schiz.” He asked if the Berkeley Public Library had it. (He said he could not buy it because he did not own a bookcase.)
“Let’s see,” I said.
I googled, and not only did they not have it, they seemed to have de-acquisitioned the books of mine they used to have. (Their goes their charitable donation, I thought.)
Then I checked Worldcat to find the closest library which had it. UC Berkeley won. (Also the LA Public, and five other libraries in the U.S.)
He took a picture of the cover and said he would ask the public library to order it. Then he asked me if I’d read “Anna Karenina.”
I said I had.
“Is it good?” he said.
“It’s better than mine,” I said.
“Can you recommend one that’s shorter?” he said.
“Most of the Russians are pretty long,” I said. “But I know people who think highly of Chekhov’s short stories.”
“Short stories are probably a good idea,” he said.
I gave him a flyer for the reading. He was unlikely to buy an “I Will Keep You Alive,” not having a book case and all; but we wanted to fill the chairs, and, with his backpack, he seemed good for two..

In other news…
1.) Taking the advice of the café’s in-house design consultant for enhancing visibility, we sunk a few bucks into color photocopies of our flyer and replaced the black-and-white ones we’d posted previously.
2.) Word has reached us of a second forthcoming review, this one in the monthly newsletter of the Atlanta chapter of Mended Hearts. (“Terrific story,” the reviewer leaked to me.)
3. ) But a dyspeptic writer/friend said he stopped reading IWKYA because “…it got too happy.”

REMINDER: See/hear Bob & Adele Live. Books, Inc., 1491 Shattuck Berkeley, August 6, 7:00. PM.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 166

Just when it seemed I would go a week without one, up stepped a curly haired young man in a t-shirt on which were two mushrooms which could have come from the studio of Vaughn Bode.
“Which one costs least?” he said.
I pointed at “Best Ride.” “My first one.”
“Because it’s the oldest?”
“Because I have boxes of unsold copies.”
He settled on “Cheesesteak.” He wanted something ‘60s flavored for his father, born in ‘47 in Great Neck, five years and 90 miles from me, but it should fit.
While he helped me work my Square. I asked if he wrote, a question I often put to customers.
“Off and on.” But mainly he was art director for a new Berkeley free paper.
I perked up. “Hey, maybe, you can review my new book. My wife and I are reading at Books, Inc.”
He said he would discuss it with his editor. Maybe a review. Maybe a plug. Maybe an interview with this character who sits in a café peddling his books.
It was all okay with me. Cracks in the media black out were appearing. I sensed how Dalton Trumbo felt when asked to write “Spartacus.”

In other news…
Nine days until the aforementioned reading. August 6. 7:00 p.m. 1491 Shattuck.
We have posted flyers in two cafes, and spread them on tables at the health club. Adele put one on the club’s on-line message board, and I just tacked one outside the Cheese Board.
One person has reported seeing our poster in Books, Inc.’s window.
So tell your friends.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 165

Gave a “Schiz” to a fellow who had previously bought several books from me.
Gave an IWKYA to a woman who… (Well, see below.)
Oh, Wayne, the homeless guy who bought a “Schiz”, (See previous “Adventure”) came up to my table in the café holding a crumpled bill. “Sir,” he said, “I owe you $5.”
“Forget it,” I said. “We’re square.”
“You’re sure?” he said.
“Sure,” I said. “Any friend of Duncan’s…”
“Well, thanks,” he said. “I’ve started it. It’s going. You have an active mind.”
We were both pleased.

In other news…
1.) I went to Books, Inc. to introduce myself and show support for its having scheduled Adele and I for a reading. (FRIENDLY REMINDER: August 6, 7:00 p.m., 1491 Shattuck (at Vine). It seemed to have sold one IWKYA – and stocked two “Cheesesteak”s.
I brought the new Jackson Brodie novel and two greeting cards (one birthday; one get-well) to the counter. “My wife and I are going to be reading here,” I said.
“Bob Levin,” said the young man taking my VISA card. “I’ve read one of your books.”
“‘Cheesesteak’?” I said.
“The one about the Air Pirates,” he said.
It was the first time, literary-wise, outside of the comic book world, my name had meant something.
2.) It looks like IWKYA may be reviewed.
The woman (See above), who is editor of a journal on women’s studies, was visiting a mutual friend and picked up our book and was knocked out by it.
“You ought to review it,” she told our friend.
The review is done. The focus is “strong women,” Adele and “Dr. Fleur.”
The next journal is devoted to Mary McMcarthy, and we may be the following issue.

Joe and Me

I just found out I played high school football against Joe Biden. (We murdered ’em.)

I was reading “The New Yorker” profile of Hunter (the “bad” son), which said he and Beau had followed their father to Archmere Academy. I had practically forgotten Archmere was regularly on our schedule, but, I figured, even though the media had Joe as “old” and practically in his dotage, while I was, as far as I could tell, vital and wise, maybe we overlapped. So I Googled him.

Sure enough, Wikipedia has him born November 1942, which means he should have graduated in 1960 like me (DOB: March ’42); but, for some reason, he was Class of ’61. Wiki said he was a star halfback, who, as a senior, led a perennially awful team to an undefeated season. (Could be. I didn’t check further but I remember they had a good QB, and that extra year’s growth must have helped Joe.)

Anyway, I’ve asked teammates if any wish to go public with recollections of his having groped them in pile-ups. I figure that would derail his campaign and give my gal Liz a leg up.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 164B

Sold an “I Will Keep You Alive” to my former secretary.
Swapped a “Schiz” to a lawyer/poet in exchange for his new collection.
Sold an “IWKYA,” a “Best Ride,” and a “Most Outrageous” to a lawyer from Sacramento who comes to the café when he is in town visiting his grandchildren. He is originally from Philly and, after buying a “Cheesesteak” for himself, bought five to send to friends. (I would have sold him a “Schiz” too, but I hadn’t put another in my bag since selling one to to Wayne. See: “Adventures in Marketing: Week 164A”)

Another morning a fellow was giving all my books a favorable once-over, but I couldn’t engage him in scintillating patter because I was occupied by Knut. I knew of Knut – and he of me – because he had occupied Adele similarly when she had taken a stab at selling our book in a different café several weeks earlier.
Knut, a thirtyish, Norwegian-born snowboarder and real estate developer, had been excited to meet Adele – and now me – because he too had suffered serious bodily injury. Eighteen months before he had fallen at Alpine, suffering a concussion, his third. Whereas, one might say, my injuries had left with no sequelae any more peculiar – or obvious – than sitting in cafes selling books I had written, Knut’s had left him with the inability to stop talking. His conversation was friendly, bright, engaging – and unceasing.
On and on he went. On and on and on. About meeting Adele. About the cover of our book. About the flyer announcing our upcoming reading. Analyzing the text: “Alive” and “Romance” and “Doing Everything Right.” He explained concussions: the physical mechanics; the neurological aspects; the brain rattling back and forth within the skull. He reported on the concussion-sufferers support group he had walked out of because he was so much more fortunate than the woman upon whom the air conditioning unit had fallen.
Much of this I already knew from Adele. I also knew that, no matter how long he talked, he would not buy a book.
Nevertheless, I thought, Compassion. Reduce suffering.
I also thought that, if he came to the reading and raised his hand, I would not call upon him for a question – and whatever that brought with it – unless he showed me a receipt as proof of purchase..

In other news…
1.) I’ve basically sold out of “The Schiz” and have ordered a box from its distributor. (I’m also almost out of “Outlaws, Rebels…” and have been buying used copies on-line to sell as “previously owned.”)
2.) We’ve printed out flyers announcing our Books, Inc. reading. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: August 6, 7:00 PM, 1491 Shattuck, Berkeley.] I’ve posted one at the café and left a few on a table at the health club. I’ve also handed some out. The first person said, “I’m teaching a class that night. Maybe my wife will come.” The second said, “I’ll be on the east coast.” The third said, “‘A Cardiovascular Romance.’ I love Romance Novels.”
3. I have also received free advice. One person said I should punch up the copy. “I died twice; yet here I am,” he suggested. The second said we should focus on the “we” of the group, not the “I” of us. The key words, he said, were “sharing,” “relationship,” “spirit,” and “love.” I said we had most of that covered.

[FURTHER AUTHOR’S NOTE: All of Bob’s books – even the pre-owned ones – are available from this very website.]

Adventures in Marketing: Week 164

Are you selling these?
If someone will buy them.
And you, uh, uh, write…
I write them. I sell them.
He had been around for years. On his good days he slouched in a chair by the door of the café and twitched. On bad days, he stood outside, shaking, shouting, waving his arms. I had never seen him speak to anyone except the owner when he was being told to keep quiet or move. He had a grey beard and a wool coat. He had not cleaned it or himself in a while. He had a “trailer,” a body-width-wide, body-length-long, four-sided, roofed and floored structure, whose two-halves, which snapped together in the middle, could enclose a sleeper. It had wheels and a hitch that could attach to a bicycle but it sat now in the parking lot of the health food restaurant across the street like a shell awaiting its mollusk to return.
He said he would see me when he had money.
I said I would be back Wednesday. The first of the month had been a week ago and I did not see him receiving an infusion of cash soon.
When I was leaving, he asked what philosophy I offered people who read my books.
That was a good question. I said I did not have a philosophy, except to write about what interested me at the moment. I wrote a lot, I said, about alternative and underground cartoonists.
I had to repeat that for him.
He said something which referenced “The Telley Times.”
B.N. Duncan, I said. I’ve written about him,
Bob, I said.
Wayne, he said. Like Bruce Wayne
He had been born in Berkeley in 1949. He was writing about spiritual matters himself.

Wednesday, Wayne was there with a crumpled $5 bill. He wanted “The Schiz” because of its cartoons. I told him it was $15, so he wanted me to hold it for him. I said he could take it and pay me when he had more. He came back from his chair with another crumpled $5.
That will be plenty.

Adventures in Marketing: Week 163

A guy stops by my table at the café, balding, goatee, close-cropped red hair, ball cap (“C”). Grad student in chemistry.
I give him the usual answer. “Existential sports novel, true crime reportage, memoir, riveting medical account, black comedy.”
He picks up “The Schiz.”
“Half-dozen murders,” I say. “Kinky sex. Twenty different illustrations by twenty different cartoonist. Intricately plotted.”
“Looks interesting.” He has stopped at Shary Flenniken’s drawing. “But I don’t have cash.”
“I take credit cards.”
“Really?” I didn’t look the type.
“If I can work my Square.”
“It’s easier if I pay cash. I see you here all the time.”
Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, I thought.
“I think it’s awesome that you get to do what you like.”
If I was the role model, it would take him thirty years and luck.

In other news…
REMINDER: Adele and I read from I WILL KEEP YOU ALIVE at Books, Inc., 1491 Shattuck, Berkeley, on August 6, at 7:00 p.m. (Free admission, no cover, no minimum.)

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.”