IMG_8104READ Books book club has existed for almost 10 years. At our end of summer meeting in September, one of our original members, Sarah, told us about her recent vacation to Chief Joseph/Nez Perce country in Oregon & Idaho. Chief Joseph, I gushed, was the hero of my childhood. His dignified life combining intellect, benevolence, and fierceness—as related to me in books I’d read—formed my model of manhood that on occasion I try to remember to possibly emulate, if I ain’t too busy. I told Sarah and the other book clubbers about a germane vacation of my youth.

On a summer morning
between 6th & 7th grades, I climbed into the back of my father’s blue ’72 Dodge Sportsvan to commence a cross-country journey from Illinois to Los Angeles via the northern route. Driving with my father always had the potential to be exciting/terrifying, as his foot was the bitter avenger crushing his nemesis the gas pedal. The man attached to that foot had recently presented me with his dilapidated mass market copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a book that partially explained the feelings of his right foot. “Read this,” he’d said. “It’ll tell you a lot about the land we’re about to see, the decent people who once lived there, and the bastards who stole it from them.”

It’s a profound gulf one crosses to travel from a place where you vaguely know something awful happened, to a place where someone shows you the details of who, what, and where. With Dee Brown as narrator and dad the aggressive chauffeur, I gazed at the Badlands and might have thought I was on the moon, except that I now knew that this was where Crazy Horse had ridden, the Ghost Dance had evolved, and that U.S. soldiers had slaughtered Chief Big Foot and his band of Miniconjou nearby on this Pine Ridge Reservation. At a gift store, dad purchased a poster of Red Cloud that hung in his office until the day he retired, and for me a poster of Chief Joseph that has graced the wall of every home I’ve since lived in.

Late afternoon the following day, driving way too fast up the narrow, precipitous Black Hills road, I alternated between wondering if I was the recipient of the same view Red Cloud once admired, and if my father meant to drive us off a guardrail-less cliff so as to join the great chief. Was his reckless navigation the final manifestation of white guilt?

At the age of twelve, I was being told the greatest, saddest story ever told whilst simultaneously moving through the bona fide setting. No greater virtual reality game has ever been invented; in fact, 12-year-olds travelling those roads today would likely miss the experience in order to play a game on the phone their parent bought them. My parent gave me his copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and it made all the difference.

Subsequent to 2 other book-clubbers recalling the book as being intrinsically influential in their life, Sarah nominated it for our first autumn selection. Everyone was enthusiastic, but I felt something more than ardor. In my mind, I reasoned with the great arbitrator of existence that, perhaps, my father could somehow make it to our late October meeting. Imagine that; the university professor, who began me on the journey, gracing our group discussion at the end of his journey. But I couldn’t simply invite him & assume he’d come. Dad was more than half-a-year into a diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

If emotional risks interest you, pick up one of your favorite childhood books some 20-40 years later and see what the fuck happens. See whether or not the Holden Caulfield you always wanted to be has morphed into the Holden Caulfield you’d like to slap upside the noggin. When I’ve said that Bury My Heart… is the most influential book I’ve ever read, I never meant it was the best written; what the hell did 12-year-old me know about literature & technique? It was the concepts discerned from the book—injustice and the necessity of knowing the truth; social justice & the importance of fighting the good fight; the inevitable futility of fighting too far out of one’s weight class; the falseness of the good always prevails narrative—which formed the foundation of me, as it once had similarly forged the spirit of my father.  He was atypically animated when I told him that I was re-reading the book.

36 years after my initial reading, the book remains as compelling as the first time and for many of the same reasons. One still staggers from event-to-event, paragraph-to-paragraph, wondering “How the hell…” while imagining yourself alive in the story, and feeling some degree of the futility that the Native Americans (and decent white men) felt. But my adult brain is now better equipped to recognize the political/economic stimulus that pushed America’s policy of genocide (Indians don’t vote; all that money to be made through our Indian Reservation Industrial Complex) and the potential political solutions that came closest to halting it (legal intervention by several decent Americans through the U.S. court system; i.e. Standing Bear v. Crook). And making the connections to our current political climate—the industrial complexes that drive us towards war & rewards mass imprisonment; the pertinence of court appointments & enforcement of existing laws; voting—is not especially complicated.

With the first side of Neil Young’s Native American inspired Rust Never Sleeps playing quietly in the background, these were some of the things we talked about at the book club meeting on Saturday. We ate buffalo meat, as I had done with my father 36 years ago at Wall Drug. The Chief Joseph & Red Cloud posters, now worn but laminated, hung on the wall behind the cash register. My father died on October 5th.  Death is a hell of a thing, and cancer is rough, but thankfully it was no Wounded Knee massacre. Dad spent some of his final moments coughing blood, but not on a frozen field. He was surrounded by his people, in his home, but instead of watching them be shot dead by soldiers, he saw his wife & children accorded the privilege of holding him. All through that book club meeting, I wanted to tell him. Everything. Now I will give my dilapidated mass market copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee to my son. But I have two sons, and only one book. I will have to locate a decent used bookstore and buy a second, dilapidated copy.

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READ Books will be hosting our next Book Club Meeting on Saturday 12/2. We will eat a thematic potluck dinner, drink thematic liquor, discuss our current book (The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian), and choose our next selection. Call us if you want in.

Part-time Injun

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An Evening with Smokin’ Joe
by Jeremy Kaplan of READ Books

This summer marks the 20th Anniversary of two gruesome events: Evander Holyfield getting half his ear gnawed off by Michael Tyson, and I getting brutally shit-canned by Book Soup. For those not in the know, Book Soup was (and for all I know may still be) the premier new bookstore in L.A.  Due somewhat to its superior inventory and more than somewhat to its prime location on The Sunset Strip (across the street from erstwhile hotspots Tower Records & Spago), it accurately fancied itself as the bookseller to the famous & infamous. I am often asked if I met many famous people there. I did. And shit-can is a euphemism for getting fired.
I have charged tax to Arthur Miller and called a taxi for Gore Vidal, two literary giants who, as they abided at the counter, proved to be quite large in stature. I once vaguely threatened to maybe come around that counter in order to inflict violence on cheeky Adam Sandler, & later observed my future wife accidentally bring fragile Drew Barrymore to tears. Both stars were small in stature. Kevin Spacey once crept around me, in the otherwise empty history section, in order to surprise his “Ref” co-star, Judy Davis. I giggled when she spoke to him, because I assumed that the silly Australian accent was her shtick. It wasn’t. She’s Australian, and that’s just how they talk. Silly.
Mick Jagger rates as my most profitable star encounter. See, upon entering the Soup, Mick was beset by about two dozen stalkers. The scariest of them, a burly young Westsider with dead eyes in and a baseball cap on his head, snagged a Mick Jagger book from the biography section and placed it (and himself) between Mick & the exit. Mick signed and ran. The stalker then approached me at my ubiquitous digs behind the front counter and asked if I could hold the book for him until he came up with some money. Oh I held it alright. I bought it and I held it and I took it home and I hid behind the fucking counter next time dead eyes came in. Some 10 years later, my wife & I opened READ Books and put that book on-line for sale. The author soon sent me an email asking how I came across a copy of his book signed by the subject, seeing that Mick had gone on record as despising said book. I told him. He said he believed my Mick story and bought the book he wrote. Before mailing his book to him, I read some it. I believed his Mick story, for it was a despicable book.
If I’m not reading a book, I’d just as soon be boxing, or watching two guys boxing better than me. The highlight of my 3-year tenure at Book Soup was when “Smokin’” Joe Frazier came to sign his book. Yeah, Joe Frazier, heavyweight champeen of the world, wrote a book. The title isn’t nearly as important as the new word, ubiquitous in its pages, which Smokin’ contributed to the English language. Ahem… SCAMBOOGA. There it is! Scambooga, a noun utilized to describe an individual displaying gross moral turpitude and such. In the Smokin’ Dictionary a drawing of Muhammad Ali would illustrate the definition. For those not in the know, Smokin’ & Ali engaged in a grueling trilogy of fights that left Smokin’ bitter about Ali’s penchant for calling him an Uncle Tom, a penchant which caused his young son, Marvis, much grief whilst socializing with his coevals on the Philly schoolyards. Sample sentence from the Smokin’ Dictionary: “Ali, having falsely labeled me a Tom, and thus having encouraged insensitive young toughs to harass my pre-teen son, is most definitely a SCAMBOOGA.
Marvis, a marginally successfully heavyweight boxer himself, accompanied his father to the signing. I was initially struck by the fact that neither Frazier was especially large; smaller that the aforementioned scribes Miller & Vidal, actually. But the mass on their compact bodies possessed bona fide quintessence, and their hands, when they enveloped mine in bearish handshakes, were massive ham hocks of destruction. The store manager had asked me if I’d stay late on my shift in order to assist in keeping the line orderly. “Sure,” I’d said, “I’ll be Joe Frazier’s bodyguard. Just tell that yellowbelly punk he best not sass me like that Sandler fella did.”
Smokin’ & Son of Smokin’ couldn’t have been nicer, but one crusty old fight fan turned my bodyguard joke into prophecy. Prior to the commencement of signing, at Smokin’s behest, I walked the length of the line announcing that Joe would not be signing memorabilia, only books, preferably the one he wrote. So this crusty old bastard (probably 5 years older than I am now, damnit), plops a pile of photos, gloves, & mouthpieces on the counter and says: “C’mon Joe. Be a good guy.” Joe blushes and nods no. “C’mon Joe.” Just signing books today, sir, reiterates Son of Smokin’. “Be a good guy. C’mon.” I watch dumbly as a customer nudges me and suggests: “He’s embarrassing Joe. Maybe you should intervene.” Yeah maybe I should.
Moving tepidly toward the awkwardness, it wasn’t so much that I was scared of getting into it with a crusty old guy, as I was scared of getting into it with Smokin’ Joe Frazier seated front row. Imagine. Crusty guy takes a poke at me; I bob & weave clumsily underneath his left hook, and come back with a sloppy left hook of my own. In front of Joe Frazier. And Joe shakes his head sadly & frowns. That ain’t no left hook, young man. You know who throws a left hook like that? A SCAMBOOGA! That’s who!
So as I stood behind Crusty, ineffectually mumbling about how Mr. Frazier would rather not sign his mouthpiece that evening, my manager, a young lass approximately a third the size of your average Gore Vidal, grabbed Crusty by the collar and dragged him off to the nearest exit. On one hand, the two Smokins would never be able to critique my technique; on the other hand, they’d probably formed a few opinions about my character. I emerged from the event with a signed copy of the book, an unsigned sign commemorating the event, & an irrational desire to punch pretty much anybody I ever saw lined up at a book signing. After opening READ Books, a decade later, I ultimately sold the signed Smokin’ography (for less, sadly, than the Jagger book), & kept the unsigned sign, which to this day hangs ceremoniously in our store. True story. You should come by and see it sometime.  C’mon. Don’t be a scambooga.

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donald_trump_the_simpsonsApparently, there was a recent national event that has rekindled interest in futuristic literature depicting fascist states. Don’t ask me what happened; due to a recent inclination for slamming my noggin continuously upside a concrete wall so as to forget what I just saw, I have oddly forgotten what I just saw. Do ask me, since I am the co-proprietor of a fancy-pants bookstore, about this new interest in stories pertaining to fascism in our future. Yeah. Future.

A plethora of shell-shocked bibliophiles have descended upon READ Books in search of eminent dystopian soothsayers such as Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), Orwell (1984), & Huxley (Brave New World) who provide a kind of blueprint, ‘how-to-create-a-screwy-world’ vision of the future. In short, Atwood’s book depicts an America taken over by a theocratic dictatorship that picks on the ladies something awful. An edifying analysis by Neil Postman contrasts the divinations of 1984 & BNW: “What Orwell feared was those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.” If you find this stuff plausible, you’re probably a confused commie. Me, I’m still waiting for the dystopian novel describing an America where heterosexual white guys can’t celebrate X-Mas in peace. You’ll see. It shall be horrifically inconvenient.

Equally germane (if less celebrated) to the topic of fascist societies are the novels Children of Men (PD James), Oil (Upton Sinclair), & The Plot Against America (Philip Roth). C of M depicts a future England where women are sterile & immigrants are denunciated, imprisoned and/or deported by a fascist government. C of M is the rare book that was made into a movie that is arguably superior to the book. Oil, rather than exploring the scary future, barely fictionalizes the interred past in order to warn the reader of how big money can easily take over our government. Of local interest, Oil is based on real events & people (Doheny) of early 20th century Southern California. Roth’s entry is especially interesting in that he is perhaps the most prominent of the authors on my list, yet this title is largely overlooked in discussions about fascism fiction. Plot is sui generis in that it is essentially about what didn’t happen, but very well could have happened; a sort of plausible historical fantasy. In 1940 America, a war weary public on the heels of an economic depression elects a famous, racist, republican populist (Charles Lindbergh), who aligns himself with a dangerous foreign leader (Hitler), who may very well possess significant political leverage over our new president. The similarities, my paranoid pinko friends, are rather alarming.

But before we all declare via facebook posts and twitter tweets that this is the worst we’ve ever seen, let me suggest you talk to an African or Native American. Or read a few books about them. Start with Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which shall give you a healthy dose of perspective in its detailed account of how our democratically-elected leaders spent over a century stealing a country while subjugating, interning & ultimately annihilating its original inhabitants. Truly, in Trump’s stirring enterprise to become the most destructive American president ever, when one considers that our first 15 presidents piloted a government that murdered one group and enslaved another, Donald has his work cut out for him.

For those seeking a more profound understanding of our fascist past vis-à-vis our Afro-American brethren, I recommend starting with either a fictional account, Charles Johnson’s excellent Middle Passage, or the memoir 12 Years a Slave (Solomon Northup), which can be pleasantly punctuated with a movie night on the couch at someone’s home. And for those skeptical about our fascist tendencies over the ensuing century and then some, please check out The Fire Next Time (Baldwin), The Warmth of Other Suns (Wilkerson), and/or The New Jim Crow (Alexander). There is much that literature can teach us about our nation’s uninterrupted intimacy with fascism. Want to read a current account? Try Frederick Douglass. I hear that he’s doing an amazing job. Big impact!

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People Who Died

“Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped.” ~Groucho Marx

Time’s a helluva thing. I labor to mitigate its impact during my daily runs by utilizing the artful restructuring of measurement. An 8-miler is really just a 1-miler repeated 8 times, thus I reassure myself upon the completion of a relatively facile mile that this need only happen 7 more times and then my modest suffering is all over. Apply this manipulative technique to, say, a healthy individual’s lifespan, and a 10-year chunk of 80-years can get one pretty damn near the finish line, even if one is not so inclined to race in that direction. But then, regarding time, forward is still the only way one can move. In that sense we may sometimes act & think like runners in a race, searching for a way to master time & distance, but ultimately the universe treats us like warm-blooded sushi on a conveyor belt who are unaccountably shocked & chagrined when we discover that it’s our turn to be devoured.

Today READ Books turns 10-years-old, yet I’m not so damn sure that a celebration is in order. Certainly one attains pleasure in enduring; but when one endures over a span of a decade, many participants expire.

David P, one of our original repeat customers, was an erudite gentleman & raconteur. I couldn’t talk to him much about books, because he read highfalutin fellas such as Wittgenstein & Russell whom I like to think are way above my head. In that sense I was like a pusher, procuring for the man materials that I pledged to never sample myself lest they hurt my head and/or expand my consciousness. Our common ground was people whose acquaintanceship we shared, most often people who taught school in Eagle Rock where David’s youngest son preceded my oldest by a decade. He enjoyed telling stories—and I enjoyed listening to stories—about a particular ERHS math teacher who, when they met at quadrennial parent conferences,  would stare dumbfounded across his desk at David and lament: “Do you know, sir, that there are students who do not appreciate the pertinence of calculus in the world?”

Being a Wittgenstein aficionado, David indubitably appreciated the bemused sorrow of the adherent to abstruse knowledge. Anyhow, Mr. P’s weekly visits to READ Books were eventually replaced by a half-year’s absence; when one of our mutual acquaintances came by the store, I asked her if she’d seen him recently. Cancer, undetected in its early stages, travels fast in its latter stages. David P was, so far as we are aware, READ Books first mortality. We’ve missed him.

David had lived near the Eagle Rock Community Garden, whose manager, Mike W, was also a habitué of READ Books. The self-proclaimed “Irritable Gardener”, Mike’s literary pleasure was Dumas and, in addition to grouchy gardening, he enjoyed the analogously solitary activity of writing. Sidelining as the editor of the TERA Newsletter, Mike wrote a pleasingly articulate & accurate article about our bookstore. The especially vigorous sexagenarian often walked the two-mile distance from home to us. Also an avid basketball player, Mike described himself as the world’s only 5’8” power forward. Subsequent to his prolonged absence from READ Books, we once again found out from mutual acquaintances that one of our favorite customers had been stricken with cancer. Mike passed away in 2016, no doubt wondering (amongst other things) what the hell was about to happen with this Trump clown.

Sean didn’t read much, but he sorta wrote. He lived with his lady friend in a pick-up truck that, much to our neighbors’ chagrin, often found itself squatting in the parking lot behind our bookstore. The inhabitants of said truck ostensibly felt entitled to sleep on our property because Sean, when he wasn’t locked up in the pokey on account of drug use or larceny, sometimes performed odd jobs for the tax accountant next door to READ Books (until she accused him and his lady friend of larcenying them, though that’s neither here nor there). Our landlord didn’t grasp their parking logic, and insisted that they park elsewhere.

After moving their vehicle to (one hopes) a more welcoming space, they continued to frequent our shop: Sean’s lady friend in an effort to sell us books that she usually yoinked from the free book pile at the library; Sean— probably conflating the disparate occupations of literary agent & bookstore proprietor— hoping to interest me in the recondite prison novel he was writing in a spiral notebook. There were spaceships and shanks and aliens and non-consensual sodomies and plenty of pen drawings in the margins illustrating these concepts & activities. There were no paragraphs or linear ideas or intelligible sentences. Mattered not. I am not a literary agent.

So one day Sean’s lady friend strolls into the store, dumps a pile of books on my desk, and casually states: “Did you hear Eli died?”

“No,” I admitted. “I sure didn’t. Who the hell’s Eli?”

Turns out Eli was Sean. Or Sean was Eli. He had a pseudonym and a brain tumor. Apparently his lack of access to chemotherapy allowed him to maintain his robust physique, but one night he passed away in his pick-up truck with a decent head of hair and not much else. His lady friend is still in the neighborhood, bringing us books that we don’t really need in exchange for a few bucks here and there.

Though admittedly ambivalent towards Sean/Eli, my wife & I were very fond of another addict we knew through the bookstore. As I recall, it was not on his first visit to the store that Teo invoked his relationship with Hemingway. It might have been his second. This dapper, pasty-skinned man with the aristocratic, faintly English accent told us how his parents had often hosted the great writer at their Spanish villa. Since we live in a damn bookstore, it took us all of two minutes after his departure to fact-check a Hemingway biography in which we found a photo of a man sharing Teo’s last name and then some. There he sat in black & white—the same aquiline nose & heavy brow as his son—drinking wine at a Spanish table in Malaga with a white-bearded Papa.

The books Teo sold us were never ordinary. He would park his dilapidated Mercedes in the red zone out front, saunter inside smelling like a 5’10” cigarette, and deferentially request that I carry his crates inside since he had a bum ticker weakened from decades of liquor, drug & nicotine abuse.  His literary esoterica was often so obscure as to be worthless, though occasionally the kind of obscure harboring financial potential. Sometimes he traded his books for some rare, signed tome we were selling. Sometimes he took cash and showed up at the store a few weeks later looking as if he had been on a particularly hairy bender. On one occasion he borrowed several books from our display case without informing us, only to return them several months later with a rather convoluted story & a bruised conscious. He had impeccable manners, expensive taste, no job that I knew about, a variegated education, and a sentimental warmth & candidness that rendered his sins—such as borrowing things that were not his—venial.

It was not surprising when he showed up to the store some fifty pounds lighter than he had been a few months earlier, with a pace-maker to boot. It was a little surprising that he had gone cold turkey on the cigarettes. Even with consideration to his 4th quarter efforts to extend the grim reaper into overtime, Teo was our first customer/friend whose death we anticipated.

Last month I went searching for him on-line & found a website in memoriam. Through photographs I was able to trace his life in reverse: from the dapper, vitiated man of culture dining in an expensive Los Angeles restaurant; to the hip teenager posing in 1960’s Windsor as if he were Rod Argent, or a young Martin Amis; to the guileless child in Spain looking as if he’s about to be warmly embraced by a shirtless Ernest Hemingway. This child is unmistakably the same man I knew (bold & vulnerable, intelligent & lost), but only one-lap into what will be a race too brief. He will be modified, amended, augmented & diminished by busted relationships, drugs, food, money, death, and books. But before that he was a child and everything that entailed. Like everyone & everything else, he was once brand new.


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“If I Had a Hammer”

A READ Books Eagle Rock Flashback

I am Wrecking Ball
January of 2007; my friend Ray & I enter a vacant storefront with grim countenances forged upon our mugs & heavy sledge hammers abiding upon our shoulders. We are here to deconstruct. We both bring our own specific skill sets to the party. Ray is an ex-marine. At an age when I was gingerly placing LSD blotters on my tongue & playing White Light White Heat on a loop, Ray was waking up every morning at 5 in the a.m. to do push-ups, run in mud, and get cursed out by older, accoutered men with guns. A fella like Ray is bound to be efficient with a sledge hammer and then some. Me? I once read “The Destructors” by Graham Greene.  We are both prepared in our own ways.

The storefront we were about to desolate had been, until recently, a tailor’s shop. Word on the street was that the original owner had retired and bequeathed the space (and rent) to his assistants, who had then taken to living, rather than tailoring, in said space. Tailoring, apparently, would have been a more effective means toward earning rent money. They were gone now, all those tailors, leaving behind a 650-sq. foot space with a dilapidated counter cutting across the center of the room and myriad empty cabinets unaccountably clustered about the walls. Ray and I planned on demolishing anything that was neither wall nor toilet. The void would soon be filled with shelves, books, and things literary.

Smashing shit is to exercise what eating pizza & drinking beer is to consumption: not work; gluttony. The hard part, aside from not smashing more than necessary, is dealing with the debris produced by all that conviviality. Ray’s first idea was to make use of his nearby American Legion dumpster, but subsequent to loading the bed of his truck with smashed stuff and driving the requisite block-and-a-half, we discovered that a Legion member not named Ray had already filled said dumpster with his own personal detritus. With his sniper’s eye, Ray pinpointed a larger dumpster at the Foster’s Freeze, drove our load across the street, and then instructed me to ask a FF manager for permission to dump our load in their can, so to speak, while he maneuvered his truck into dumping position.

I wanted to tell Ray that this was a bad plan because following a year of blissful unemployment I no longer spoke to people, but I somehow felt that a declaration of my handicap might be met with unsympathetic skepticism from Mr. Marine. Thus, against all odds, I heroically confronted my social fears, and then reported back to Ray with the intel as he prepared to empty the trash from his truck.
“Nuh uh,” I said truthfully. “Not gonna’ happen.”

“What did you say? Did you talk to the manager? You offered ‘um money, right?”

Recalling what that Twain guy allegedly said about truth telling , I truth told Ray: “This is way too traumatic to remember. I was asking somebody something, somebody stared at me for eternity and then said something back. It just wasn’t ‘yes’ is all. It was the opposite. Let’s go.”

“God almighty,” declared Ray. “You’re gonna make a funny kinda business man.”

This was when it first occurred to me that opening a bookstore was going to make me a funny kind of business man, perhaps proffering me with innumerable opportunities to interact with grown people. Christ? Was it really worth it? Well, I was running out of money, and it beat getting another job.

Shelf Building
In addition to having been an engineer in her pre-me life, my wife was raised by a father who routinely went around building stuff. Debbie knows all about tools, measurements, wood, joists, and other manly shit. Ray & I having effectively executed the baboon task assigned to us, Debbie entered the desolate premises the following morn with a fistful of diagrams, boxes of screws and nails, a screwdriver, a hammer, much wood, a saw, a neat power tool, and me. Her role in this shelf building business was to be planner, thinker, administrator, teacher, and problem solver. I was, as the previous sentence implied, the last tool in her sentence.

“Shhh,” cooed Debbie, patting me on the head. “You don’t talk so much. Just hit the little nail with the little hammer and try to look pretty.”

But I wanted to use the power tool.

Hitting the little nail with the little hammer was less fun than smashing the wood with the big sledge hammer, because the former demanded more accuracy than the latter. I lacked. The first half of the day began with me bending as many nails as I drove home. The second half of the day culminated with me creating a hammer-shaped indentation in a wall. I was beginning to suspect that I lacked a certain flair for creating; or at least harbored a certain flair for tantrums.

“How are you able to make things,” I asked my wife that night, “without breaking them instead. Or getting really mad and throwing tools through walls?”

She shrugged. “My father was always building & repairing stuff around the house. From watching him, I guess I gathered that when you have a problem you find a solution & calmly work through it.”

“That’s fucking weird,” I said. “In my house, like when the lawn mower didn’t work, my dad would stomp the shit out of it. Yeah. I watched him too. Once when he was having trouble chopping down a dead tree, he threw the axe over the fence and it hit a car driving by on the road behind our house. Yeah. It was kinda funny when it was him.”

“Not so funny now, is it, Chuckles?”

“Well. I feel like I’m gonna have an aneurysm & start cussing like a Scottish sheepherder.  Is that funny?”

Always full of plans, Debbie spent the next week teaching me how to be a creator. She edified me in the science of screwing & hammering. She learnt me about angles and hand measures and how not to strip a screw head. When I made an error she’d offer words of encouragements such as now don’t throw my fucking hammer into our god damn wall you fucknut. She halved my morning coffee intake. By the end of the week, under her sagacious tutelage, I had constructed several lovely bookshelves.

Math Hurts
“Tomorrow,” I said, “we should get here early and maybe we can build two whole shelves.”

“Sure. At this rate,” she answered, “we might be open for business by March.”

“But I thought the plan was to open in February. On mah birthday!”

“It is the plan. But we have another 25 shelves to build. And then secure to the walls. And then fill with books. If we’re going to be building at a rate of two shelves per day…”

“Sounds like math,” I sighed. “Sounds like math is going to curtail my dreams. Again.”

That is the story of how I learned patience, manly building skills, and problem solving, while constructing 10% of READ Books’ bookshelves, prior to learning how to hire a competent handyman.

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If one’s sole exposure to words was through literature, one might perceive the English language to be a relatively coherent thing. But if one were obliged to interact with for-real humans, say in a bookstore, maybe because one’s ability to procure food & shelter depended upon it, one might find the English language, in practice, to be a thing funny as all hell. Or maybe any language is funny, not that I’d know. I learned enough Hebrew phonetics in my youth to careen my way through a Bar Mitzvah sans any meaningful comprehension beyond a bemused 13-year-old’s misapprehension of Moses wandering through the desert with his rod. With the succor of 5 years of high school & college Spanish, I can read a 2nd grade level Spanish text as ably as your average 1st grade Spanish gamberro. Maybe all languages are funny when funneled through your basic human pie-hole. I do not know.

Take the word “literally”… a favorite of my adolescent facebook friends who are forever “literally dying”, and that earnest young fella who recently told me that it took him “literally 20 years to read Guns, Germs, and Steel” in spite of the fact that neither book nor alleged reader has existed for that long. Which would have been okay if literally meant something completely different, like, say, “figuratively.” And it ain’t just the kids bandying about that word in all the wrong ways. Plenty people my age (youngish) and older (oldish) utilize it in literally every senten… oh.

Aping the speech patterns of our progeny ain’t necessarily a crime, not literally, but maybe it should be, figuratively. Some fifteen years ago I told a classroom of African-American 6th graders, to whom I was allegedly providing education, that they were “trippin’,” and it would have been nice if at least one policeman had rushed into the room and bonked me upside the head with a nightstick, or service revolver, then rushed me out of the room in cuffs, so I might have been spared the agony of watching them kids rolling on the floor and belly-laughing at me for that final hour of a sweaty afternoon. Violent, instantaneous legal consequences might have displaced that vile memory with a less painful, albeit more bloody, one. Criminalizing misuse of language might have left me with a wee bit of dignity is what I’m saying here.


Sometimes we say the wrong thing because our ignorant asses don’t know what a word means. Other times we say the wrong thing by reciting the right words the wrong way.  Take my wife, typically a skilled practitioner of the English language, completely Hebrew-illiterate, and renowned profferer of sound advice regarding children’s literature. Last week it was her bright idea to suggest to a mother and her child that they check out a kooky kids’ book called “Mr. Klutz is Nuts.” But what Flo & I heard my wife exclaim to mother & child, as we re-entered the store from a lovely midday stroll, was:

“Let me grab Mr. Klutz’s nuts for you!”

Well Florence and I just turned right around, trying hard not to make eye-contact with either the horrified mother or her intrigued son (or my oddly exuberant wife), and embarked on a second walk. Chain-walking, as my smoker friends call it, to avoid a tense situation.

Well at dinner that night, when I brought up her peculiar offer to mother and child, my wife was shocked, stunned, and appalled by what I had unwillingly witnessed and she had unwittingly perpetrated. She wanted to drive back to the bookstore, with Flo & I in tow, just to prove to us that this Klutz fella, as evidenced by the title of the book which the lady understandably declined to purchase, was merely cuckoo; nuts if you will. I would have none of it. The words that Flo & I heard were better, more compelling, than those that my wife had intended.


“Hey dad,” said one of my boys, fork poised beneath pie hole. “What was the name of that magazine?”

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” I lied.

“Oh yeah,” said the other boy, slapping his knee with too much enthusiasm. “I remember that one!”

“Remember what one?” asked my nosey wife.

“They remember nothing,” I declared optimistically.

“’Twas back in aught-seven ,” said one of my wife’s kids, “when the world was still young & innocent. We were doing our homework at the bookstore when this nice old lady came in…”

“No she didn’t,” I lied.

“She was looking for a good literary magazine, and da…”

“No she wasn’t.”

“…and dad suggested she try Black Clock…”

“Except,” interceded the other boy, “He didn’t say clock.”

“No he did not. I do recall him deleting an ‘L’ from one of the words in the title. And adding the word ‘big’ in front of the one word in the title that he actually said correctly. ‘Well ma’am, I recommend you try Big Black…”

And the worst part of it was, instead of having a relatively innocuous memory of the event—say a nightstick smashing into my big white mouth— the astounded agapeness of my children’s eyes confronting me, as comprehension of what I’d said suddenly entered my consciousness (and that traumatized old lady suddenlier exited the bookstore), will forever be seared in my mind like a dunce cap tattooed upon a clown’s naked buttocks.


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The Greatest Taco in the World

The Greatest Taco in the World
by Florence the READ Books Dog
(as told to her biped, Jeremy Kaplan)
Summer 2016

What is This Thing Called Hooky?
On an average morning my big, goofy biped chooses to become a giant, goofy quadruped. He plops behind the wheel of his driving machine as I spread out across the Mexican blanket on the backseat, he squints at the dashboard clock & mutters “oh damn we’re late again,” and then we exit right out of the driveway. All this rigmarole routinely results in the two of us pulling into the bookstore parking lot at 11:10 in the a.m. On this morning, however, we exited left out of the driveway a few hours earlier than usual, and the elder of my two biped boys was making an aberrant appearance in the passenger seat. What was he doing here? Isn’t he hairy enough to be gainfully employed on a Monday morn? Where are they taking me? Am I going to be “tutored” a second time?

The boy turned & said “Hey girl!” with the bug-eyed village idiot grin he utilizes especially for me. “We’re playing hooky today!”

“That’s right, dog,” muttered my vehiculating biped. “Fuck work. We’re going to a political rally.”

The Burned Dogs of Hookyland
Though it was sufficiently verdant and contained a petite lake, Lincoln Park spread out before me like a post-apocalyptic adumbration of the future. Here was a world of bipeds, and only bipeds, rooted to the ground in a queue that wound around the perimeter of said park. What kind of park is utterly bereft of canines? A post-apocalyptic park, that’s what! A post-apocalyptic park that teased me with the myriad scents of sundry dogs recently present, but presently vanished. Is this what happens at a so-called political rally? The un-dogging of parks? Well sir, I wanted no part of it.

What I did want part of was that greasy smell emanating from a mobile grill that a small biped woman was wheeling up and down the line.

“Oooo,” cooed my boy biped. “How about a hot dog with peppers for breakfast, dad?”

“Don’t be a jackass,” said this so-called dad, as I tried my damnedest to drag the imbecile toward that so-called hot dog pepper breakfast.

A swarthy old hippie biped kneeled in front of me with raised fist and declared: “Viva la raza, Perrito!” Drugs had addled his mind. I am obviously a Perrita.

Meanwhile, numerous bipeds had taken to chanting, most likely in reference to the sweet smelling meat on the grill: “Feel the burn!” Around the time those bipeds finally uprooted & the queue began to unravel. I should have been insouciantly passed out on my bookstore couch, but I was not. I was at a political rally without dogs, being cruelly teased by the smell of pepper dogs.

Free Neutering for All!
About an hour after being funneled into a gated area, we observed several bipeds on a stage singing songs. About an hour after they’d ceased their primate warbling, an impassioned biped who insisted several times that he was “chewy,” commenced shouting at least two biped languages into a microphone. Bipeds cheered. My boy biped shook his fist and shouted “Fuckin’ A, chewy!” Whatever the hell that means.

A female biped who the other bipeds called “Actress” next took to the stage.  She had the sort of dreamy expression on her face as I experience subsequent to a walk in the park that results in one of my bipeds filling a plastic bag with my feculence, so I supposed her most recent walk around the park had been a successful one. Actress encouraged the other bipeds “to feel the burn,” provoking  their Pavlovian urge to shout and chant, and mine to tug on my leash in an effort to break free of bondage & assault the mobile grill. Actress concluded her speech by beckoning her pale, shiny-pated grandpappy onto the stage.

Christ almighty how those bipeds loved Actress’s grandpappy! The lanky old fella leaned against his podium and, with an accent eerily reminiscent of my younger bipeds’ Brooklyn grandpappy, kvetched about numerous biped injustices, and promised to let the younger bipeds go to school on the cheap, which led to the strange happenstance of many young bipeds cheering for school. Me, I dunno what happens in your average biped academic academy, but when my bipeds took me to the aforementioned “tutoring,” I emerged from that god-forsaken room as barren as the Mojave Desert. So suit yourself, kids. I’m done with tutoring, free or otherwise.


Hooky is Good
After all the shouting was over, the three of us shared chopped-up bits of charred swine purchased in the park; theirs bundled up in thin circles of masa, mine shoveled into my pie hole straight from the bipeds’ hands.

“I’m glad we skipped work and came here to listen to Bernie and eat tacos,” opined my biped boy. “You?”

“Me too,” said Stretch, my elongated biped. “But I wouldn’t do it again.”

“No? Why not?”

“Part of it is the standing in a crowd for 5 hours in order to hear a 1 hour speech. Mostly, even though I agree with pretty much everything Bernie says, I ain’t too hot on the crowd mentality. I mean he’s obviously nothing like Trump trying to incite people to half-wit violence, but get too many people together at once, even the ones you by and large agree with, and they quickly become susceptible to that foamy-mouthed mob mentality. Hundreds of people sharing one brain. I mean Bernie coulda’ said anything: “Let me tell you something; I need you people to kill the hot dog lady and bring me her food!” and half of these knuckleheads woulda’ been pummeling that poor woman as if she were Mussolini. So thank god he didn’t go down that road, right?”

“Dad,” said boy biped. “You are fucking weird.”

“Sorry about that,” shrugged Stretch. “Want that I should take you to Hilary Clinton’s next stump speech?”

“Sure,” said boy biped. “I hear she’s appearing on the Westside this week and it only costs two-thousand bucks a plate to get in.”

“Well then we best get back to work and start making us some scratch.”

As the bipeds stood up and bipeded toward the garbage cans with their empty, grease-soaked paper plates, I sauntered alongside, trying to imagine how tantalizing these taco things are going to smell on a two-thousand dollar plate.

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“The Sanity Clause”

“The Sanity Clause”

By Jeremy Kaplan & Flo Dog

READ Books of Eagle Rock

The Patron


I’ll tell you what. When that gangly whippersnapper took to laughing at the political perspective of yours truly, it took all the self-control I could muster not to brain the giggling punk with one a my crutches. I’ll tell you what else. I got no use for self-control. They expect me to be jolly. They look at my size, the long white beard, and they think I’m gonna’ hand ‘em a damn Christmas gift or something. If my crutches had been long enough to reach across that damn counter, I’d a given that chuckling bastard a gift alright. Nearly forgot why I’d walked in there the first place.

Well yuh don’t see many bookstores nowadays. People don’t read anymore. It’s part of this god-damn global conspiracy to dumb us down, all these internet sons-a-bitches and what have you taking over the market, and I didn’t mind telling him so at the get go. Him being the aforementioned gangly whippersnapper whose bookstore I’d just entered. Sure, he agreed, our economy’s designed for corporate takeovers. His words. Damn straight, said I. Gettin’ to the point where the government’s takin’ all the jobs away from the little guy. Leave the rest of us with nothing but a pair of pee-stained undies and a car to sleep in. My words.

“Income inequality’s pretty fucked up,” he said. “Problem is that a lot of people running our government are intent on giving the government away to corporations & billionaires that pay for their campaigns.”

“Fucked-up don’t even begin…” I almost poked a whole in his ceiling with my crutch. “I’m living in mah damn car!”

“That sucks,” he said, taking a peek-a-boo at his ceiling above me. “Anyhow. Makes for an interesting election year, huh?”

“Time for a damn revolution, young fella,” I began. “That’s why…”

The Proprietor


            “… my man is Donald Trump!” That’s what he shouted I shit you not, all the while abusing my ceiling with his unwieldy crutch.

I’m not sure that I actually laughed aloud, but I couldn’t restrain the silly grin that took over the southern hemisphere of my face. I mean here I got this three-hundred-pound self-professed hobo looking like St. Nick forty years after a dozen harrowing tours of duty in Vietnam, he’s griping righteously about The Man and Revolution god bless him, and this is what he comes up with? Donald? Maybe I, like, guffawed.

“What’s so damn funny? Trump’s gonna take on all those damn bastards. Got a problem with that?”

“Trump is all those damn bastards.”

I was glad that he didn’t have longer arms— or a monkey in his pocket— because that crutch he was aiming at me was maybe ten inches short of a sloppy embalmment, and this guy who’d entered the store a few minutes ago looking for a book to read was now talking like Popeye moments before clouting Bluto. “Wipe that grin off yur face I will. Man says what a man says and he don’t say no more. Ar.”

I wanted to talk to him. How could we both see the same rigged system yet come to such antithetical conclusions? Must be some kind of misapprehension of facts and whatnot.

“So why would a billionaire with a history of scamming people have any interest in altering an economic system that favors him?”

“Well he doesn’t need any of our money for one thing. He’s got enough of his own damn it! And he’s gonna kick out the Mexicans! And stick it to the Chinese! Tell ‘um where they can take their stinkin’ debt! The Chinese damn it! Over in China!”

He waved a crutch to and fro, told me I’m a nice guy but a “gangly whippersnapper” nonetheless, and groused about the damn Mexican kid that screwed up his order at Burger King last week. So I was about done discussing. No misapprehending here. Where I saw well-endowed people affecting policy to further enhance their multi-billion endowments, he saw a swarthy teenager fucking up his whopper and making $10 bucks an hour to boot. Thankfully, before he had the chance to describe any depravity he’d been exposed to at the bronzed hands of Panda Express, Florence interceded.

The Pet

flo 010

Believe you me there’s not a dilemma in this world that cannot be solved by sniffing a biped’s butt. Take this giant biped for instance with his jolly facial hair and un-jolly disposition, all set on flaying my biped with the succor of his long, metallic arms whilst my biped sat dumbly contemplating said giant with an unaccountably entertained grin plastered on his relatively hairless countenance.

“What is so amusing about being flayed?” I wanted to bark at him.

But I’m a problem solver, not a philosopher, and thus engaged myself immediately in the pragmatic defusing of a tense situation.

The hairy white giant peered over his immense shoulder. “Hey. What’s… what are you doing down there? What’s… you a boy or a girl?”

Subsequent to a long, contemplative pause, my biped ventured: “Girl?”

“Hmm. Good girl,” muttered the crazy biped, stroking my back with the rubbery end of his arm. “What kinda dog is she?”

My biped shrugged. “A girl one? I actually know her name… gimme a second… Florence!”

“Well Florence,” crooned the somewhat mollified biped. “Aren’t you a good girl?” I am? He leaned forward on his freakishly long arms and continued: “You want Donald Trump to be America’s leader, donchoo girl?” I do? “You don’t want to have to habla espanol every time you order a Whopper, now do you?” I don’t? Then he fixed my biped with a most defiant countenance and shouted: “In America, everybody gets to vote!”

“To paraphrase that great American political philosopher, Chico Marx,” nodded my biped in agreement, “when it comes to voting, there ain’t no Sanity Clause.”

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“Estate Sale II: Where Have All the Dealers Gone?”


A Pound of Flesh…
The email for this estate sale, alleged my allegedly industrious wife, alleged that there’d be “tons and tons of the very best books.” Having thus far stood in line on a sidewalk beneath a house on a hill for 10-15 minutes, and having seen none of the shoppers departing from that house carrying even a single book, we’d begun to juggle a few theories about this “tons and tons” allegation.

“Sometimes they say ‘tons’ and there’s only one bookcase,” observed my cynical consort.

“They ought to have an estate sale regulatory commission,” proposed I, observing another half-dozen souls emerging from the house sans literature, “that reviews absurd claims. Make the bastards weigh their books, I say. Short a ton, pay a fine. Books not ‘the very best’? Whack’um upside the head with the very worst, nay, the very hardest books.”

We watched a driver, indubitably noting the lack of legal parking spaces in her myopic future, park her car in front of a driveway across the street. In Boston, the local philistines double and triple park; In SoCal, we impede the entrance to thy neighbor’s domicile. This particular depositor of poorly parked vehicle crossed the street to where my allegedly empathetic wife and I stood near the front of the line, and anon chose to address the half of us who appeared somewhat more amenable to stupid questions.

“Is this the line to get in,” she asked my wife.

“To get in what?” retorted the spouse.

“Hey,” I nudged my surly bride, “that’s a good one.” Everyone thinks she’s sooo nice.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend…
My previous encounter with Alice of Alice’s Estate Sales (see article below) inspired me to eschew estate sales for a year. ‘Twas a peaceful epoch lacking only in churlish bargain hunters, hoarding book dealers brandishing witless scanners, & long lines which never move. We’d been standing at the front of this here line for 20-25 minutes now, staring up expectantly at Alice who in turn stared down at us from atop a horseshoe shaped driveway in the foothills of Arcadia, looking a lot— what with her sunglasses and shillelagh-like walking stick— like the angry bastard child of the sheriff in Cool Hand Luke.  Initially, for every 15 people I counted exiting the estate sale, Alice would grudgingly allow 5 from our line entrance into the house. For the last 10 minutes, however, she’d been restricting all immigration as if she were Donald Trump patrolling our southern border and we a swarthy horde of antichrists here to steal her jobs. Meanwhile, the funny parker who did not know how to identify a line was stealthily entering the estate sale behind Alice via the far side of the horseshoe driveway. I began to signal to Alice to turn around and look upon a truly illegal border crossing.

“Don’t do that!” snapped the woman behind me, smacking down my upraised hand. “Make Alice mad and we’ll all be standing out here for another half-hour.”

“You don’t think she’d want to know that people are sneaking into her crowded estate sale while we wait out here in line?”

“You sad, pathetic clown,” said the hand smacker, shaking her head grievously at this sad, pathetic clown. “You think this is about fairness? About how much space there is in that house? This is about control, you lanky buffoon. Give Alice the idea that she might not be in charge, why, she’s liable to close down the whole shebang and send all of us home empty-handed.”

“I forget,” I said, turning to my wife. “Why are we not in bed enjoying a hangover or two?”

“Tons & tons of books,” she reminded me. “The very best.”

Absence of Malice
A perusal of the interior informed us that tons & tons are mathematically equivalent to three bookshelves. As I inspected the books one-by-one, placing some in my box while leaving others on the shelves, I felt a gentle tap upon my shoulder.

“Excuse me,” said the deferential tapper. “When you get a chance, could you pass me that red book on the top shelf? Unless you want it, that is. Then I don’t need it.”

As I apprehensively handed the shoulder-tapper a red book, the aporetic little man in my head wondered why this shoulder-tapper was shoulder-tapping instead of estate-sale-jostling. Where’s his book scanner? His pile of hoarded books? Why is he being all civil & friendly like? Say what’s this guy’s angle?

Deep in contemplation, exiting the room, I nearly ran into a woman in the doorway who scooted aside to let me through. She said “pardon me sir” and did this weird, upward curling, sliced watermelon effect thing with her mouth. Sent shivers up my spine. Upon entering the second (and last) book room, an old man asked me: “Find anything good to read?”

“Say what are you getting’ at friend?” I squalled. “Don’t push me buddy!”

By the time my wife found me culling through the last row of books, I was, not unlike a stupefied mental patient, softly serenading myself: “Where have all the book dealers gone? Long time passing, where have all…”

“Notice anything strange about this set-up?” she muttered. “Something decidedly askew about this screwy shindig?”

“No book dealers,” I grunted. “Absence of hoarders & scanners. A glut of people with decent manners.”

“Weird, huh? Whattayuh think happened to the usual crowd? Did they somehow suspect that there really wouldn’t be tons & tons of the very best books? Have they all been banished by Alice? Self-banishment? Are we the last of a dying breed of booksellers? I feel like Burgess Meredith at the end of that Twilight Zone.”

“Yeah I should throw your glasses on the floor and step on them,” I said. “Teach you a Twilight Zone lesson.”

The woman at the check out table in front gave us a fair price for our box of books, and some more of that friendly civility stuff. Alice was still guarding the line, now stretching two blocks, from her perch on the north side of the horseshoe driveway. Inside the estate sale, there appeared to be enough room for another 20 people to shop in relative comfort.

“Okay!” Alice commanded. “Next three!”

A group of four elderly women began to mount the driveway. Alice shook her pale paw at them: “Three! All four of yuh deaf or what?”

One of the ladies attempted elaboration: “ We’re all together. These are my…”

“Next three! Four deaf ladies to the end of the line! Think you can tell me how to run my estate sale, huh?”

Meanwhile my business partner & I tramped downhill on the south side of the driveway, past a group of five entering the estate sale sans the inconvenience of a two block line. We carried our one-ton box of books, the very best books, back to our car.

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