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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"The Eccentricities of Great Booksellers"

the eccentricities of great booksellers

The other day, The New York Times reported that bookseller, Robert A. Wilson, owner of the Village-based poetry store, the Phoenix Book Shop, died in Baltimore at the age of 94.
      The bookstore was popular with numerous New York poets and writers, including Diane di Prima, Denise Levertov, Gregory Corso, Edward Albee and William S. Burroughs. Patti Smith, as she grew interested in the Beat authors, visited often.
     I too visited the store several times over the years, purchasing a great many poetry books, many of them signed by the authors themselves (like the Ted Berrigan poems I purchased there), sold back to the store by unappreciative (or possibly simply impoverished) recipients. It always seemed slightly embarrassing to me to read the names of poet friends to whom Berrigan and others had written personal dedications, but those names also made the books more interesting to me.
      Wilson, who purchased the bookstore far before my New York visits, in 1959, went on the acquire W. H. Auden’s library, when the British poet left New York, and over the years had acquired a wide range of important archival literary books and manuscripts, all of which delighted me on my visits there.
       But it is my very first visit to Phoenix that I remember most. Although clearly something is missing from my memory, as I recall it, I had been simply purveying the book stacks when the somewhat imperious Wilson (and yes, he was somewhat imperious and eccentric) called out, “Hey you, your Djuna Barnes bibliography ought to have provided for numbers that would have allowed new discoveries to be entered into the system; you did it all wrong!” I was stunned: first, how could have he known who I was, and second, whatever did he mean? “I stuttered back, “that was the way my professor told me to do it. But perhaps you are right, there should have been a different numbering system to allow for additions, but I still don’t know how I might have properly allowed for that.”
      Of course, it’s very doubtful that the all-knowing Wilson had immediately recognized me. When I told this story recently to my friend Thérèse Bachand, she replied “I think you’re describing one of your nightmares.”
       No, I thought to myself, it was not truly a nightmare. I was rather amazed and impressed that he suddenly knew who I was. And perhaps he was right. But then, as I had to admit, it is most unlikely that the event I remember truly happened in that way. I must have proffered him my credit card for my book purchases, or maybe even mentioned my name. But I truly do not remember it that way. In my memory I simply recall him just calling out to me with a kind of surreal recognition of my being and failures. But memories are often like that; we forget what we desire to.
       And despite that initial meeting, we got on quite nicely in several later meetings, Wilson often pointing out to me, on later visits, new finds and intimating new manuscripts he had just acquired. After that original visit, I returned to The Phoenix almost every time I visited New York, along with the famous used book store The Strand and the wonderful, if even more argumentative-plagued Gotham Book Mart. Phoenix and Gotham are now long gone, while The Strand continues to offer up piles of literary texts each year. 
      In The Strand, where I purchased dozens of books over the years, I never encountered anyone who might have even seemed slightly negative, but in the other two stores, you had to endure the “eccentricities of the nightingale” personalities of both owners and staff. That is what made The Phoenix and Gotham Book Mart so absolutely remarkable. These people absolutely cared about the titles they sold! 
      I still have dreams of being lured into the basement of the Gotham Book Mart, where the owner, Andreas Brown would show me treasures not yet available to other customers. Yes, perhaps I did dream my first encounter with Robert A. Wilson. But I still cannot imagine that I truly perceive it as a terrible denunciation of my hard work. I truly enjoyed it, and never thought about it as anything but a gentle scolding by a great bibliophile.

Los Angeles, December 12, 2016


Sunday, November 13, 2016

"Opioid and Heroin Use in White, Middle-Class USA"

opioid and heroin use in white, middle-class usa

As my own recounting of “pain,” after knee surgery in 2014 reveals there is sometimes good reason for pain killers such as OxyContin and other powerful drugs. And most Americans, some doctors have indicated, have a difficult time with such pain, particularly long-term back pain and serious bouts with arthritis—pains which I endured for many years before the surgery. Today I still have a daily stiff knee, although, strangely, my left knee—where the bones are still literally rubbing against one another—no longer hurts. I also have a strong aversion to drugs, so, as I reported, I insisted that I receive less powerful painkillers immediately after the first week, despite my continued suffering.
       Thank heaven! For in the years since, it has increasingly become clear that millions of Americans—particularly in the rural areas of New Hampshire, West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan, as well as in parts of California and elsewhere, are now addicted to such pain-killers, and, unable to afford the high costs of their addictions, have turned to slightly cheaper drugs such as heroin.

Even during my operation word had begun spreading about such problems. But in 2016 and into 2017, it became even clearer that the US was suffering a kind of mass epidemic of serious addictions. 
     On August 19, 2016 the small city of Huntington, West Virginia, according to the Los Angeles Times endured 26 overdoses in just a few hours, sending the small police force and emergency servers in chaos. At one location, police arrived to one house where they found seven people passed out, 4 within the house, and 3 outside. Throughout Cabell County, in which Huntington is located, police report that they see from 18 to 20 cases of overdosed people each week.  
      Earlier in the year Sacramento, California saw 11 deaths from opiate mixes in one short period. New Hampshire has one of the nation’s highest number of people addicted to opioids, resulting in a suit from that state against OxyContin’s maker, Purdue Pharma.
      The New York Times reported that on September 18, 2016 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, that in a local Family Dollar store, police discovered an unconscious woman lying on the floor from a drug overdose, while her 2-year old daughter lay next to her, attempting to tug her mother into consciousness. The local police force commented that at about 10% of the drug calls they receive, children are present. There has been a 7.62% increase in child neglect investigations in that area in 2016 alone.
      According to the Associated Press, there were 3,050 people who overdosed during the year, most from powerful painkiller fentanyl. And on September 15th, in the Western part of that state, a couple was found parked on the street, passed out from a heroin overdose, with a toddler in the back seat. The 8-year old boy who discovered them went running off to his parents living nearby, screaming for them to come help. The pictures that were taken of this event have become something close to poster statements of the serious of what is happening throughout the US.


      Similar problems have been discovered among the homeless in Los Angeles who, unable to afford even marijuana are consuming a cheaper, man-made drug called “spice,” which is often sprayed with chemicals that cause deadly results. In LA’s skid row, 38 people had to be transferred hospitals in one August Friday after consuming a batch. And the very next Monday 14 others were found with similar symptoms. The Los Angeles City Council has now requested an ordinance to ban the substance, which can also kill. Perhaps the recent legalization of marijuana, at least in this particular case, will help with the problem.
       But the above reports represent just a few of the numerous stories that reveal that we are slowly turning into a kind nation of zombies, formerly hard-working men and women who, facing pain and aging becoming hooked on devastatingly power drugs, often by over-prescribing doctors and clinics. If job-loss can account for much of the private suffering faced by so many individuals in the poor areas of the country such as upstate New England and the midland’s rust-belt—areas where, incidentally, Donald Trump did very well in the election—drugs has clearly contributed to our cumulative pain instead of relieving it.
     To say something needs to be done is an understatement, as thousands of our citizens are everyday are succumbing to a fate that can only lead to their early deaths and the destruction of their families.

Los Angeles, January 21, 2017

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

"Behind the Wall" (on the Election of Donald Trump)

behind the wall

I woke up this morning terrified. I now live in a country I no longer know, run by a man with no humility, boundless ego, utterly no experience and, evidently disinterested in learning anything about the job.
     Our President is not only a bully, but a demagogue who would, so he claimed several times, send millions now living in this country away from it and would bar people based on their religion and ethnicity. Our new President is a compulsive liar, who has refused to be transparent about his own international dealings and his personal taxes.
      He is a man who has proudly proclaimed that he will get rid of many of the checks and balances by selecting only conservative Supreme Court justices. He and his followers have repeatedly demanded that he arrest his presidential opponent. He and his followers have loudly insisted on constructing a costly and unbuildable wall between my country and another, Mexico. He is opposed to most international trade deals, and wants to undo many of our military and political alliances with other countries. This man highly admires, so it appears, one of the world’s most dangerous dictators, Vladimir Putin, and has even jocularly praised the most brutal leader of all, Kim Jong-un of North Korea.
      Our new president jokes loudly and openly about having groped women and getting away with it because of his celebrity. He and his Vice-President have spoken out against gay marriage and a woman’s right to abortion. Although he has boasted about giving many a woman a chance to serve in his operations, it is also has become clear that he sees them as objects incapable of truly competing in the male-controlled world. Although the press has been quite quiet about it, there are rumors that he raped a 13-year girl.
      Our new—my new president—would take away affordable health care and “reconsider” social security. He is a man who, apparently, believes that if we have nuclear weapons we should use them, that only he can solve world crises such as the rise of ISIS and other international terrorist groups. He wants to return us to water-boarding terrorist suspects and restore other inhumane methods of torture. He knows more than the generals, he proclaims—although it’s been clear all along that he knows very little about international politics, and that, in fact, he knows very little about American politics except for his great displays of bluster. It may be that this president has never read a book—except, perhaps, for his own, written by others.
      Several newspaper journalists have repeatedly described this new President as the least self-reflective person they have ever encountered. In his hate of the media he has banned journalists and entire newspapers criticizing him from attending his conferences and even public gatherings.
     Trump is not a man who truly believes in global warming, and we can surely fear that he will not support further attempts at working against environmental problems in our country or elsewhere.  
      He has denigrated nearly all his Republican opponents, and continually mocked others for illness or any other disability. In his business affairs he has shown that he is racially bigoted, and has, in this campaign, attracted—without rejecting—the worst of racists, including members of the Klu Klux Klan. It is important to recall that he, personally, led the “birther” movement in an attempt to disqualify the black President, Obama, and then, tried to pin that viewpoint on Hillary Clinton. Many of his statements have given evidence of strong anti-Semitic sentiments. His own religious convictions are scanty at best, relating primarily to the “Power of Positive Thinking” tenants of The Reformed Church in America touted by Norman Vincent Peale.
       Although he claims to be a wildly successful business man, it is also apparent that numerous of his business endeavors have been poorly managed and fell into bankruptcy. He is currently facing charges, in fact, for having defrauded mostly poor people in connection with his “Trump College,” a made-up institution that was neither a true educational system nor actually disseminated any knowledge to the so-called students Trump might have been able to provide. He has sued and been sued by more people than any President in our history.
       As Harry Belafonte astutely wrote in yesterday’s The New York Times, Mr. Trump argues for “making America great again,” without really even trying to comprehend what America is, or what he might truly make greater, “reducing all the complexity of the American experience to a vague greatness…a promise that we will return to ‘winning’ without ever spelling out what we will win.” 
       Mr. Trump has shown time and again that, in his self-centric world view, he is a borderline sociopath, if not worse. Esteemed commentator, Fareed Zakaria, has described our new President as a “cancer on democracy.
       Today, I now live in a country where basically the uneducated decided for and against the better educated citizenry. Certainly the very fact that they have been left uneducated and are permanently angry about their denigrated conditions ought to have been taken into better account by the left and even the more moderate of our voters. Historically, we know that it was precisely such rich-poor, educated-uneducated, urban-rural dichotomies that helped contribute to the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler’s fascism in the mid-20th century. And it is sad that we never remembered that fact. But now, I am terrified by what lies ahead. 
      Yesterday, many journalists spoke of healing, but now the wounds have been so completely revealed. As Dana Bash reported on CNN soon after I finished this piece, Trump has ripped off the Band-Aid of American politics. Now we must face the fact that the infection may possibly kill us.

Los Angeles, November 9, 2016

Saturday, October 1, 2016

"Bad Ads"

bad ads

This was a year, obviously, of terrible hostility in the political world, and one feels that it certainly might have spilled over to the several very ugly ads that I note below. If nothing else, this was not a nice community, even for those formerly friendly figures such as “Mr. Peanut” and “Flo” of the Geico world. Insurance companies and cable providers were particularly unpleasant in their relationships to their would-be customers.

time-warner cable

Two unattractive males stand over a kitchen counter while their wives in the background are involved at the kitchen table in deep and a rather animated conversation. The two men, clearly uncomfortable with male communication or even male comradeship, look to the phone and begin a brief discussion about the wonders of each of their phone services, sparring with one other about the marvel of their telephonic reaches until they finally realize they both have the same server: Time Warner Cable. Having come to that marvelous realization—the only thing have been able to find that they have in common—the guest asks of their wives: “Are they wrapping it up?” “Nope,” the other replies, the two clueless males being left without anything to further talk about. The End.


A delighted suburban couple enthuse over the fact that despite the intolerable heat of their terraces, with the installation of the SunSetter retractable cover, priced at only $700 dollars, but now available for a much lower price, has saved their lives. They can sit out in the hot sun with temperatures much lower than previously (we are never told in what climates they live or how high the outside temperatures remain), barbecue and even entertain under the roll-down and up umbrella of protection. Obviously, there is not a tree in sight of their neighborhood, but life is simply now much better—and much less expensive than anyone might imagine! Yet, given their testimonies, we can only imagine how hot the temperatures around them might still remain, and we look carefully to their brows to see if they are truly enjoying their small tent-like domains. And, we can only wonder, what happens to the barbecue flames lit up under the seemingly quite flammable cover. “Stay cooler” they shout out, as if to counter any notion of global warming!


Despite childhood attacks of their parent’s car with arrows, bicycle falls, chemical spills, wet dog entries and exits, along with the other wear and tear that any family car may suffer, Suburu, we are most told by a most friendly voice, has the highest resell value—an ad that seemingly ignores not only all the dings and bats the car might have received, but its smells and the daily ignominies of everyday living. Even if it sells, why would I ever want such a worn-out vehicle, particularly if they are selling it at a higher price than others?

time-warner cable

A man on a stage shouts out, again and again, in a kind of inspirational message that people can change, particularly since Time-Warner Cable has made a change in telling people precisely when they will appear to fix and change their cable networks. The man shouts as if he were a born-again preacher, the audience blindly following him like he were revealing something important to them that might actually effect their future lives, reminding me a bit of Trump’s supposedly “spell-binding” message.

liberty auto insurance

A black couple who have a perfect driving record discuss how when they have a sudden accident—whether they have or have not had such an accident yet is indeterminable—that they have no benefits for their “prefect record,” indeed they are charged far more for having such a record. If they had “liberty” insurance, evidently, they might be allowed a one-time exception. Their conversation seems to center around the words “perfect” “anything” and “nothing.”

time-warner cable

A couple attempting to sell their house return home to discover their neighbors comfortably sitting in their living room, enjoying all the privileges of their Time-Warner Wi-Fi coverage. The poor real-estate agent is beside herself with the frustration of the selfish neighbors who are delightfully taking advantage of their neighbor’s wonderful reception. One wonders, as they wander in and out of the kitchen, preparing themselves snacks, whether they might ever again leave. Presumably the couple might even be convinced to remain in their well-connected domain.

time-warner cable

A clearly angry airport worker, tossing her customer’s bags upon the cart which will take them to the belly of the airplane, throws them about, even allowing some of them to open and spill their contents onto the tarmac. But suddenly when she hears of Time-Warner’s change (it’s hard to know where she hears this news—maybe in her earphone) in their scheduling procedures, she suddenly comes awake, determining, like the cable company, to change her behavior. She takes a single suitcase and lovingly places it upon the cart, evidently leaving all the others to be destroyed by other, unknowing workers—or perhaps not even loaded.

affordable energy

More abundant energy needs more affordable energy. I’m Rick and I support affordable energy—presumably the energy that helps to create global warming and all the other things that destroy our atmosphere. Good for you Rick! I admire your cover up of what you’re truly saying!

I’m Rebecca and I’m Andy, goes another ad. Join us to support affordable energy. Meaning coal, fracking, oil-wells, and smokestacks I presume. They don’t bother to make that clear.

hartford insurance company

Perhaps the nastiest series of TV adds this season was from Hartford Insurance Company, which suggested that a certain warehouse could easily send harmful productions, if ordered, to small businesses. One suggested that with a simple order one might request a device to increase the local pizza-warm up to such a high degree that it would cause a major fire, the over-weight abuser of that system obviously being found guilty of causing major destruction to his company.
      Another, while pretending to celebrate the appointment of a new “associate” partner of an architectural firm, made sure that the champagne cork would explode in such a way that it caused a unsupported bookcase to collapse on the new company member, while the elders looked at her in passive dismay.
      The final, nasty Hartford add, suggested that this strange warehouse needed to ship a painting to a law firm. The painting, evidently had the eyes removed, so that some poor litigant was terrified by seeing “real” eyes—presumably those of the head lawyer—move behind the portrait, sending him, quite illogically, into shock and an entire physical breakdown, which the secretary simply mocks.
      What, one has to ask, was the purposes of these really unlikeable adds, and what were they saying about Hartford’s ability to insure one against the accidents they might face? And was Hartford, after all, responsible for these “accidents?”

I might certainly never seek Hartford insurance to protect me, since they, themselves, were evidently, the criminals in these three advertised events!

mister peanut

The formerly loveable Mr. Peanut is seen, as a motivational speaker, lecturing a college class of young slackers, arguing that he, unlike their own colleagues, will never let them down, helping them to function better every day, even while they sleep, while they, in stupid agreement, shake their heads in mindless confirmation. If these new millennials are the spokespeople for Mr. Peanut, forget it! The witty bon vivant has become simply a bad university lecturer, and I want nothing to do with his salty assertions.

mister peanut

In yet another transformation of the character of “Mister Peanut” the lovely “nut” turned quite nasty in his hostile reaction again the apparently hostile “Nutcracker,” who, at the last year’s event, evidently tried to take a bite out of him. This year, at what one gathers is an annual celebration, the formerly loveable monocled dandy, turns on his nemesis, demanding his ouster from the event. No peanuts in my New Year’s platters, I assure you. They bite!

gieco insurance

The incredible successful and chipper pitchwoman Flo, has now evidently been asked to turn down her “emotional excitement,” and pretends to be a kind of “goth” figure, without presenting any of her normal irrepressible personality. She, quite boringly attempts to do so, only becoming momentarily excited by one of the company’s claims before moving back into her bland non-commitment. What are we supposed to believe? That she cares or no longer is committed to her product? Should we take this insurance company seriously or simply dismiss them as not committing to their own previous statements?

Los Angeles, February 4, 2017