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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Estate Sale by Jeremy Kaplan of READ Books


The Queue
                “HEY JEREMY HOW’S YOUR BOOKSTORE DOING?” belched Shelly, setting off a chain-of-events that would culminate in me buying more books than I’d bargained on and for a lot less than I’d expected.

It was a dick move by Shelly, but then most of her moves are dickish by design. Shelly likes to poke the hive and belch at whatever surfaces. She is a book dealer and thus knows that by shrilly identifying me as a fellow traveler, she will indubitably make my life that much harder. How so? Well, this was an estate sale and the only thing lower than a book dealer at an estate sale is a jewelry dealer at an estate sale. The shoppers will hate me; the estate sale proprietor will overcharge me at checkout. I will be shunned by decent society. Why? Because book dealers, such as Shelly, exhibit defective behavior here.

I’d taken great pains to separate myself from other book dealers, when I’ve infrequently frequented these things, by pretending to act decent. I did not steal books from other shopper’s piles, force my way to the front of any line, bogart an entire bookshelf by spreading my feet & butt cheeks wide and flailing my hairy elbows, or any other acts explicitly book-dealery. With one deafening announcement, Shelly had undone my good deeds, leaving me butt nekkid as she tore off my skimpy cloak of civility.

“Hi Shelly,” I said. “Can’t make out what you’re saying when you speak so daintily.”

With a snorty Horseshack laugh, she punched me roughly on the shoulder, knobby little knuckles digging in, and spoke words meant to be reassuring. They made me shiver.

“Don’t be embarrassed. You’re not alone buddy. You’re a book dealer,” and then fiendishly added, in the sort of stage whisper that would cause a patron sitting in the nosebleed seats to ear bleed: “WANT ME TO GET YOU PAST ALL THESE RUBES AND INTO THE HOUSE?”

This here was a crowded estate sale. I’d been standing on the sidewalk for some 20 minutes now, and judging from the present lack of movement, it might take another 15 minutes before I stepped through the front door.

I mean, book shmooks; I had to fucking pee.

Yet I declined Shelly’s Faustian proposal, because I knew that if I went in there with her that I’d be with her in there. As Groucho Marx sorta’ said, better to be grumpy and alone for fifteen additional minutes in my pee-stained undies than comfortable in the company of schmucks.

The House
                Ever ask an estate sale employee to use the deceased’s bathroom? They’d prefer you take a dump in the neighbor’s yard. They’ll stand outside the lavatory with an ear plastered to the door, pat you down for shampoo and deodorant when you exit, and then ostentatiously sniff & cringe at the air as if a cow had shat in their dead person’s bathroom. Nevertheless, it was worth the trouble. I emerged reinvigorated, deodorized, and zealous for the book hunt.
Since she is strictly an on-line seller, and I own an actual storefront, Shelly’s book buying interests do not necessarily conflict with my own. Whereas a mass market edition of Catcher in the Rye is a worthwhile addition to my collection, its inexpensive price & worldwide ubiquitousness renders it meaningless to an on-line seller.

In context, it was not so strange that Shelly followed me around handing me small bundles of books. She was probably just being nice. And maybe she enjoyed shouting at my back: “HEY JEREMY YOU COULD SELL THIS ONE FOR A HUGE MARK-UP AT READ BOOKS! IN EAGLE ROCK!”

Dick move or not, her judgment was unimpeachable. Of the dozen or so books she selected for me, I ended up purchasing ten of them.
The best books were in the den at the back of the house, but one had to navigate around the record dealers in the hallway who had spread their prospective LP’s out across the center of the narrow floor, all hunched over that memorabilia with their flaccid rumps pressed against the walls. Not wanting to step on a dead person’s vinyl, I opted instead to step on the impudent hippy capitalists that had placed them there. They ignored my ‘scuse me and pardon, though they were consistent enough to also ignore my feet on their feet and my hands in their faces. I would be inclined to hit anybody who trampled over me. But then, I would not be inclined to block an entire hallway at an estate sale. Human nature, man, is a beautiful, chaotic, aggravating jigsaw puzzle.

The book room was dominated by two different breeds of book people: The Hoarders and The Scanners. Some Hoarders are on-line booksellers, some are bookstore proprietors, some are both; more often than not, Hoarders have a decent-to-vast knowledge of books and their value. Scanners are almost exclusively on-line sellers; they tend to know very little about books other than what their little scanners tell them. Hoarders hate Scanners. A scanner does not harbor human feelings such as love and hate; he/she/it is more machine than man.

Howard, who sells on-line and owns a smallish used bookstore (twice the size of READ Books), was working a corner with a few colleagues. They had stockpiled several hundred books that they were roughly perusing. That is to say, the books that they choose to discard (“This shit is worthless. Get rid of it!”) are thrown roughly aside onto a mangled pile on the floor. The books that they are going to purchase are placed neatly in boxes to be carried to the check out table on the front porch. Howard is a Hoarder. He works in a group of three. A couple of cohorts seize half the books on the shelves and dump them in a corner, while a third plays sentinel by chasing away humans who demonstrate any latent interest in their stockpiled books. When they are finished hoarding, they get down to the business of keeping or discarding. In their wake, Hoarders leave a mess of sad rejects scattered across the room after prevent others from even looking at all those books.

“Don’t you hate these god-damn scanner people?” asked Howard the Hoarder, thumb gesturing toward the guy scanning books about two feet away from us. Howard was less obstreperous than Shelly, but not by much. If they ever got together and spawned children, those children would be well-read flinchers. And we think our parents were fucking embarrassing…

“Hi Howard,” I stage whispered.  “I think the guy you’re talking about is close enough to touch.”

Howard is a monologist. He ignores my occasional interruptions and soldiers on: “They’re not even people. They’re gerbils. A gerbil could use one of those god-damn scanners. No art involved, no skill, just push a button, read a number and listen for the beep. Death knell of culture I tell yuh.”

“Have you seen this model?” Scanner Man pleasantly inquired in our direction. “It’s the tops. All you do is point this guy at the numbers on the back of this thing…”

“Book,” said Howard. “It’s called a god damn book.”

Howard’s subtle manner failed to make its intended impression on Scanner Man. “No argument here,” he smiled, flashing the thumbs up, “So you just point this thing at the little numbers on the back of the book…”

“The isbn! Do you mean the freakin’ isbn?”

“… and it tells you the sales ranking and whether or not it’s worth selling on Amazon. Beep! Takes all the thinking out of the job.”

“Thinking!” Howard lamented at me. “Wouldn’t want to combine something like that with literature! Can you imagine how many brain cells might get damaged in a gerbil’s so-called brain?”

“I don’t know,” said Scanner Man. “A lot?” His scanner beeped. “It’s a keeper!”

“And this guy,” said Howard, shaking his head mournfully, “this gerbil, is probably making more money selling books than you and I put together.” Probably? Definitely!

Checking Out
                The wiry broad with the curly black hair, who was vigilantly rummaging through Howard & friends’ books, was clearly in charge. Two hunched old church ladies standing sentry appeared to be placed behind her as a visual joke; kind of like Mike Tyson stationing a couple of kindergarten girls behind him with nary a worry in the world about anyone stepping out of line. These are my bodyguards whose presence is an adorable reminder that I need no fucking bodyguards.

Accordingly, Howard and his mates stood at a distance, their hands clasped behind their backs like good scouts, with several feet separating them from the curly-haired broad and her checkout table.

“Excellent sale today, Alice,” Howard called across the open space. “Impressively organized!”

“Yeah,” grunted Alice, looking up distractedly from Howard’s books.

“You & your lackeys didn’t leave another one of your fucking messes in my house, did you Fine?” From this I deduced (a) that Alice was both possessive and observant regarding her client’s homes, and (b) Howard’s last name is Fine.

“No, no. Definitely not. Leave it as we find it, that’s our motto.”

“That’s your fucking motto? Jesus.”

“Yup.  Now some of the other book buyers, I dunno. There were a few messes in there, granted, but not from us, no way. Talk to those god damn Scanners. No mottos for those guys. I mean what can you expect from fucking amateurs who can’t even make a decision without consulting their god damn…”

“Stop,” groaned Alice, putting one hand up in the air. “Christ almighty.” She gave Howard’s three boxes of books a quick, final inquest. “Ninety-dollars, Fine.”

Howard rapidly peeled off several bills and absconded with his books.

Alice spent the next minute or two haggling with some stocky jewelry dealers in track suits, showing off her impressive capacity for both geographical expertise and racial insensitivity. After she stated a price for the merchandise they desired, one of the men made a counter-offer in his thickly accented voice, to which she counter-countered: “This isn’t Glendale, pal. You can’t bully me with your hairy… Hey,” she turned to her geriatric bodyguards, “this isn’t fucking Glendale, is it?”

“No ma’am,” declared the first.

“I don’t think it is,” said the second. “I do believe we’re in Pasadena. Now let me think…”

Me, I was hoping to be back home in Highland Park real soon. With the brusque departure of the offended Armenians, all that stood between me and the rest of my life was Shelly and her huge box of books. She dumped her load in front of Alice, the table rocked, and Alice frowned.

Shelly leaned on the box and snorted: “Jewelry dealers, heh? Can’t live with ‘um, can’t live without ‘um. Heh? Am I right?”

“You didn’t leave another one of your fucking messes, did you Shelly?” From this I deduced that Shelly did not have a last name— just Shelly would do— and (unlike Howard) just Shelly was not especially intimidated by racially insensitive Alice.

“Huh? Since when do I leave messes?”

“Don’t blow smoke up my ass kiddo. Fine says that somebody left a book mess, and now here comes you, lo and behold, with a box of books.”

“Huh? I don’t leave messes, Alice.”

“Tell it to Howard, Shelly, don’t tell me.”

“Howard said I left a mess? No. He said the scanner scum…”

“Did he say you didn’t? You got all the fucking answers, Shakespeare, but not to my question.”

“Oh shut up, Alice. God. Just tell me how much for the box of books.” Shelly took a wallet out of her purse and snapped her fingers in Alice’s face. There was so much silence around us.


“For one box? You just charged Howard the same for three boxes!”

“What can I tell yuh kiddo? You got expensive taste.”

“But you didn’t even look at my books!”

“Yeah, but I looked at you, and now I’m sick of looking! A hundred dollars! Going going gone!” Alice slammed her fist on the table and pronounced: “Banned! Thou shalt no longer haunt an Alice Estate Sale! Ipso fucking facto! This pig is officially persona non fucking grata!” With a ceremonious jolt of her neck, Alice threw her curly mane over her shoulder like a rather grotesque movie starlet and aimed a finger at me. “Next!”

And there went Shelly tramping down the stairs of the porch in a dust storm of ugly words.

I was holding two heavy boxes of books, and there was a heavier box of books still sitting there on the table. Alice understood. She turned to her geriatric security team and barked: “Return this defiled box to my house! It stinks of Shelly! That fucking pig.”

Confronting the box from opposite sides, over 150 years divided amongst four decrepit arms attempted to nudge it toward the edge of the table. Looking upon these befuddled, impotent Sisyphuses with blue veins threatening to burst upon the canvasses of their pallid temples, I set my boxes down and wrestled away their load not because I’m a heroic motherfucker but because their dueling heart attacks would only obstruct my departure.

Before I could find a spot to set the box, Alice asked me: “So you one of those fucking book people?”

Recalling precious wisdom imparted upon me by my dear mom—admit nothing, Jeremy—I said: “I know what you mean. So where should I set this ma’am?”

“Twenty dollars for the box and whatever books that imbecile put in it.”

“Huh? You want me to buy a box of defiled books?”

“Okay ten for that box,” she repeated, “forty for the other two boxes, fifty altogether. Just get them the hell outta here buddy.”

“Fifty dollars for three boxes?”

“What are you,” she said, “the village fucking idiot?

“I know what you mean,” said I.

“Forty dollars! Three boxes! Sold! Ad fucking valorem! Next!”

I drove straight to READ Books to unload my spoils. The books from the original two boxes looked to be an excellent addition to the store’s bookshelves. The books from Shelly’s box turned out to have excellent on-line potential, proving once again that the line we like to draw between apparent stupidity & proven competence is a fine one. Think on that for a few seconds.

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“For the Love a Christ!” by Florence the Dog of READ Books


Those readers familiar with my earlier work know that I, Florence, am a dog with a checkered past. Due to systematic iniquities & racism, I had been unjustly imprisoned in the Crenshaw pokey, where the powers that be had blithely discussed sending me to the gas chamber for the alleged crime of homelessness. Upon being freed from incarceration, naturally, I harbored more than a few issues, not the least being a raging case of separation anxiety disorder. Whenever my biped liberators drove to work at READ Books, thus leaving me home alone, I, Florence, would hop onto their biped bed and pee copiously upon their plush pillows. Leave me home alone, will yuh? I make no claims to being a role model, but I am an effective mother f#$%er. My precise bedwetting led directly to my becoming a bookstore mutt.

Now that my two younger bipeds are finished with high school & attending college locally, I often spend afternoons at home with them instead of at the bookstore. Recently, these college boys have been grousing incessantly to their biped progenitors about lack of money: Blah blah blah broke. To which their decrepit elders retort: blah blah blah job. So last Sunday, my broke & puerile bipeds strapped me up, nudged me into the car, and drove to READ Books with the intent of alleviating their brokenness through literary labor.

“For the love a Christ,” muttered biped boy #1, having circled the bookstore neighborhood myriad times, “what are all these cars doing here?”

“There’s a spot,” said biped boy#2 as we passed the Lutheran church.

“Nope,” said biped boy#1, noting that the curb had been painted white with a sign that denoted this street parking area as reserved for church vehicles. Around the corner, on the streets surrounding St. Dominic’s, all spots were taken. At this point I commenced slamming my body against the car door whilst barking: “Walk! Walk!” Lock me up in car, will yuh? Still not a role model, but I, Flo, get what I want.

Thus freed from vehicular confines, I’m walking young biped #2 around the neighborhood while #1 searches alone for parking, and, my paw to God, we counted 8 churches in a 4 block radius. Did you know that there’s a church in the American Legion, or that the newest one is in the postal building at the corner of Eagle Rock & Chickasaw? Neither church has a parking lot. Strolling past the latter, a barrage of Mr. Microphone type chatter emanating from within molested this quadruped’s ears. Apparently the congregation was serenading Jesus, in Spanish, about how they had a great big convoy.

Our walk concluded on the yard outside Eagle Rock Elementary, where we reunited with an irritable biped boy #1 who had finally located a parking space and was now hoofing it toward the bookstore. As I frolicked on the green grass, pausing briefly to poop, a throng of bipeds in their Sunday best exited the school’s, the public school’s, auditorium.

“Blah blah blah church in a school?” queried biped boy #2.

“Blah blah blah separation between church & state?” added his brother, the socialist.

The three of us stood there wagging our heads sadly, wondering at the state of our nation whose public schools are so damn broke that they’d rent out space to religious institutions. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Dismayed, we schlepped to the bookstore where we were involuntarily serenaded for the next hour by Eagle Rock’s newest church. Tenemos un gran convoy grande, corriendo toda la noche…

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Happy Chorizo Burrito Day


What are the chances? In 1994 I met my wife in a large bookstore. We now co-own a small bookstore. We married in 1997 at the Long Beach Rod & Gun Club. We now co-own two children, yet neither of them seem to own either rod or gun. The older boy was born in 1994, the younger in 1997 (we knew neither of them in either aforementioned year, but that’s another story). Some people tell us that there is a profound, spiritual significance to all them there coinciding events of ’94 & ’97. Some people, I tell you, struggle profoundly with concepts such as math and reality.

This is reality: It’s May of ’94, late evening shift at Book Soup. I’ve been working here for less than two weeks and some genius manager has just placed me at the cash register, which I am manning with half my ass. The other half is busy rolling a burrito, stuffed with Bargain Circus chorizo & eggs, on the front counter. I’m hungry enough to forego microwaving these leftovers since my official dinner break won’t happen soon enough, hungry enough to ignore the young lady sidling up to the register whilst making lusty sniffing sounds, but apparently not as hungry as that young lady who inevitably hovers, drooling & snorting, on the business side of my chorizo counter.

“Is that chorizo?” she slobbers. “’Cause I sure do love chorizo.”

I shove the somewhat rolled burrito across the counter and commence with the sweet talk. “Go ahead, I’m not hungry anyway,” I grumble. “I found a raisin behind the register an hour ago and I ate it. Go ahead and eat my burrito already. It’s fucking destiny.”

“It’s fucking cold,” she murmurs while chomping at my dinner like a circus geek set loose upon a comatose chicken. “But it’s still chorizo and all chorizo is great gardblarnit.”

She not only persevered in the face of my faux surliness, this future wife of mine, but she also microwaved what remained after that first bite and then allowed me a nibble or two of what was supposed to be my second meal of the day. I did not initially realize that we were co-workers, my future wife & I, as she had been away on a trip to Boston when I was hired. We might have talked about books that first evening, but more likely we marveled about how lucky we were to live in a time & place when burritos glutted with chorizo, pastor, carnitas, and sundry pig parts could be procured at a mere pittance. This is more reality: Our mutual support of immigration reform— mandatory immigration for all those emanating from chorizo-bearing countries really— had more to do with our hooking up than any abstruse aligning of stars. No magic here folks, just Mexican sausage.

That was some 22 years ago. We have now been married for nearly 19 years. I’ll give you two guesses as to the ages of our children. This is merely math. So they were born the years we met and married. Still I am confident that the boys’ biological parents did not conceive with my wife and I in mind, and if there is a God she best have more important things to do with her time than playing cute number games with some goofy family in Los Angeles. Furthermore, when you hear your dead dad’s favorite song on the radio it ain’t God telling you that dad’s in heaven watching over you any more than the 99 crappy songs you previously heard on the radio was God telling you that dad’s alone in hell. DJ God? What’s more important is whether or not dad’s song kicked ass.

Yesterday was my birthday. My wife celebrated hers two days before mine. She and our children surprised me last night by baking pizza with—what else?—chorizo on top. Destiny? Shut up. It’s called good taste. Twenty-three-and-one-half years ago I had enough of it to share my burrito with a lovely person who had enough of it to appreciate good, cheap food when she smelled it. So we had sex. Together we had enough sense to raise children that, amongst myriad faults & aptitudes, possess a healthy respect for the tastier things in life and are willing to stumble into a kitchen once-a-year to make a meal happen.

Nine years ago, that wife of mine gave me the birthday present of a lifetime when she helped me open READ Books. So long as I am competent enough not to muck this up I will never have to get another job again, thus proving that hard work will always save one from having to work hard. With a belly full of Chorizo pizza, I dedicate this article, as well as a large, geek-sized portion of anything I ever write, to what’s-her-face: Happy birthday wife! I don’t need divine intervention; I gots you.

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The Surly Snuffle of a Highfalutin’ Dog

The Surly Snuffle of a Highfalutin’ Dog
By Florence the Dog of READ Books

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The first thing about being a bookstore dog, most of our significant literary discussions commence with the ostensibly simple act of sniffing another dog’s butt. Sure we don’t have to, but neglecting to do so, well sir, the results can be disastrous. Or even worse, tedious! You never know when some screwy pooch might stray into the store with Dr. Phil on his mind, or perhaps that peculiar thrift store mentality of $1 Grisham thrillers. A few of these dogs with whom I have incautiously engaged in conversation couldn’t give a lick about literature. Some of them— get this— some of them are merely “enjoying a walk” with their bipeds. You never know. Except I do know! I have a nose! All I have to do, in order to get a clear picture of your canines’ literary dispositions, is stick this nose of mine approximately half an inch up their anal glands. Sometimes a quarter-inch won’t do.

Like the time that strapping young Wolf Hound sauntered in off the street, looking as if he owned the lavish leash that allegedly constrained his shaggy manliness; it wasn’t difficult to imagine that this Irish hunk was walking his biped, and not the other way around. Sure I wanted to take a whiff, but that tingly yearning rendered me indecisive; was this purely business or a joy inhalation? Diffidently, I performed a quarter-inch penetration snuffle and detected vague scents of rebellion & alienation. The ladder interested me more than the former.

“Read any good Russians lately?” I barked with false bravado.

The big galoot shrugged his broad shoulders. “Well of course I read all the important Ruskies during my formative years,” he barked lowly. “But lately I’ve been enamored with Wittgenstein and the aspect thusly employed through his imagined interlocutor.”

“A sound postulation,” said I wagging my tail. “But do you ever find yourself struggling with his penchant toward anti-cratylism.” Huh? What the hell does that mean? Those were real words I barked, but strung together I wasn’t so sure if they formed a real sentence. Was I trying too hard to impress this beguiling genius? Down girl! “Uh, but maybe,” I backpedaled, “that’s a faulty parallelism.”

“Isn’t that adorable?” gushed the biped at the other end of my real interlocutor’s leash. “I mean the way they’re woofing at each other?”

Adorable? Woofing? Zip it lady biped, I wanted to bark at her, there are adults barking here! I looked to my biped for intervention, but he merely muttered something or another that even a dog cannot hear and then pretended to read a book. The schmuck. I turned back to my Wolf Hound, feeling emboldened. Nothing I barked could possibly be half as dull-witted as the nonsense dribbling from the mouths of your average biped.

“Your tail end possesses a faint scent of alienation,” I barked. “Existentialism?”

“Perhaps that was Kerouac you smelled,” barked he.

See? I should have sniffed deeper. “That’s not alienation,” I barked, cocking my head.

“Sure it is,” he whimpered. “That biped was all sorts of alienated.”

“That biped played football,” I growled. “With other bipeds! Would you play catch with a whole team of Wolf Hounds?”

“Sure I would!”

“Then you’re not alienated!”

“Florence,” my biped stood up, “What’s wrong, girl?”

“What’s wrong?” I barked. “Are you deaf, biped? Get this Wolf Hound a copy of “Nausea” before it’s too late!”



“Bad girl! Sit!”

“Stupid biped! Stand!”

The Wolf Hound plopped onto the cold floor and rolled over.

“My poor baby,” cried the lady biped, desperately shaking the leash so that it undulated down toward her whimpering mess of a Wolf Hound. “Don’t be scared of the little bookstore dog. She’s just playing (turning to me) aren’t you sweetie?”

“Flo don’t play!” I howled.


            Every decent story, me thinks, should contain some sort of moral or theme. If we haven’t learned anything in the telling and the reading, then who cares? My lesson? Perhaps I shouldn’t be such a pretentious, hifalutin’ dog. Just because I don’t enjoy a particular author doesn’t mean I need to get aggravated every time some goofy hound “thinks” otherwise. I’m sure there are some learned mutts out there who could justifiably find fault with my taste. Hell, some of my best friends read Kerouac. (That might be a lie). Or maybe bipeds shouldn’t take offense when a couple of ruminative pooches decide to engage in dialectics about literature. What’s the harm in a little barking when ideas conflict? Must I “sit” every time I feel inclined to raise my voice? Is it so difficult for bipeds to disagree yet remain friends?

            I’ll tell you the second thing about bookstore dogs: Next time big ol’ Wolf Hound saunters into my store, we will greet one another harmoniously, meeting beneath the shadow of a book rack to share in the customary sniffing of the butts.

(This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of NELA News)

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Cautionary Tales of Double-Aught-Seven for the Aspiring Entrepreneur

Cautionary Tales of Double-Aught-Seven for the Aspiring Entrepreneur

So a wise guy walks into the bookstore last week & asks me how long we’ve existed.  Flipping through the calendar of my mind, I informed the both of us that, holy shit, READ Books is about to celebrate its 9th anniversary. Was I surprised how long it’s been, or how not longer it hasn’t been? Seems like yesterday when I’d been father to two grade school punks alphabetizing our shelves for free; also seems like I’ve been malingering in this here bookstore my whole damn life. My boys are now surly college punks demanding wages (damn unions!), and I was still malingering at the front desk, attempting to subpoena mental images of early 2007, when the wise guy interrupted my reverie with the funniest request.

“Can I buy this book?” he asked.

Well this, I thought, is an image missing from the archives of READ Books’ first few months of business. In February 2007, most of those storming our tiny castle manifested scant interest in literature, and the voices encountered on the other end of the phone were usually soliciting. This is apparently a common thing amongst new businesses: Most humans initially aware of your existence will have cash flow ideas that are in direct opposition to yours. Por ejemplo:
Corporate Malfeasance
Donna Priddy is a piece of crap whose job accommodates her like a stinky toilet bowl; she is the sales rep who introduced READ Books to the perverted world of credit card companies. Her primary accomplishment was to sign us up for some cockamamie gift card program that she’d promised not to sign us up for, thus sticking us with two years of excess paperwork & useless gift cards we’d never use, plus all the appended costs, plus monthly fees that increased whenever the hell they said they did. DPriddy was also adept at not returning phone calls or letters, though no more so than her supervisors. We eventually weaned ourselves off credit card companies & their machines & thrown in with Square.
Local Tomfoolery
In our incipiency, we were visited by the publisher of a local newspapery-like publication with initials that are, befittingly, a synonym for malarkey. For several months we took out ads with this fella whom I refer to as Professor Syntax because all of the sentences that he types are grammatically funny. Even funnier than that last one I typed! Mid-2007 Professor S came by & we declined to take out an ad. Accidentally (one presumes) speaking his alleged thoughts out loud, Professor S duly noted that the distance between our books and the ceiling might be in violation of fire codes. He responded to my quizzical expression by coughing out a hunk of phlegm and saying: “Not that I’d report you.” A week later a rather reluctant fire marshal appeared in our store for the purpose of inspecting the distance between books & ceiling. It was his disinterested opinion that we might spread our books out less vertically & more horizontally, so I moved a pile of books from up high onto the floor spot once reserved for Professor Syntax’s B.S. “newspaper.”

KISS Horatio Hobo
In daylight, Heavy Metal Joe was a disarmingly sweet guy sporting long black locks beneath a KISS cap, a black eye or two, and an obstinate hangover that caused his leathery face to cringe at 30w light bulbs. By night he was an annoying lush ostensibly in search of a third black eye. Daylight HM Joe used to visit READ Books in order to sell us his rock & roll books as he had no other source of income.

One Friday evening circa 2007, several hours after I’d purchased a signed Paul McCartney Rolling Stone from him, HM Joe staggered up beside me at the farmer’s market, poked me in the chest, and growled: “Hasvinifuh seknir fleginblerk.” He then fell down without being hit, crawled across Merton Avenue, reassumed a shaky biped stance, and repeated the scene with a young hummus vender who gave HM Joe a free pita chip & sent him on his way. When he visited me the next week, his sole memory of that evening was beginning it with lots of money & ending it without. On any given day, Heavy Metal Joe was the nicest guy I’ve ever met, and I hope he is alive & residing in a helpful institution.

My point is one day I bought some books from HM Joe & gave him back several I did not want. Next day this little old lady donning a jumbo straw Coolie hat on her noggin came in the store & tried to sell me the same books I’d returned to Joe. Next time I saw Joe, he told me he had taken those books to the Eagle Rock library & donated them. The library, apparently, set them in their own donation box where that enterprising old lady, now known as The Librarian, found them.

The Librarian, a habitué of both the library & St. Dominic’s free lunch fare, would periodically show up with more library rejects she’d try to sell. After a few months of no luck, she stopped bringing me books & began taking them off the sales cart in front of our store. Several times I gaped at her thru the window as she shoveled books into her shopping cart & gaped back thru the window at the gaping Jew whose books she had abducted, before bolting south down Eagle Rock Blvd with one hand steering her somewhat heavier cart, and the other balancing the straw hat on her somewhat tinier head.
This was a quandary; in a moment of weakness, I once promised the Lord that, aside from mom, I’d never again chase or wrestle any old ladies. Furthermore, it is READ Books’ policy to let all lit-loving homeless persons have sale books gratis. It’s just that they always ask first. Hi, how much for this book? Hi yourself, you can have it for free. Thank you bye! No, thank you bye! This one just shoveled & ran.

One day after work I went to Occidental to run up & down stairs. Passing a very large house on Campus Road, a veritable mansion by my piss-ant standards, I espied The Librarian entering that manor without, like, knocking on the door. I approached a young laborer engaged in yard work & asked him if the manor was his. He looked at me like I was nuts. I asked him if it belonged to the straw-hatted lady who’d just passed thru the entrance. Yeah, he nodded, that’s the ticket. I stood on her capacious front lawn for a few minutes, stretching & shit, until she came back out, at which time I approached her and said: “Next time you steal books from the cart in front of my store, lady, I shall break my pact with God.” And she has never taken another book from my cart, as she could see that I was a most serious man.

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All That Culture

All That Culture

                If you ask my wife why we chose to open a bookstore during the early stages of a recession, she’ll rhapsodize about literature and culture and providing the community—especially children and those types—with an essential service that the neighborhood previously lacked. God bless her. I’m neither so highfalutin nor altruistic. READ Books, if you ask me, exists only because of nicknames. That’s right, Stinky Pants. Sobriquets!  Oh, and bitterness.

Before I explain, allow me to elaborate: I rarely bestow a nickname with the mere intent of lampooning; I’m just bad at remembering names. So when my wife asks me who visited the bookstore today, instead of saying:  “Whuzhizface, whuzhername, and the guy who resembles a serial killer…” I can tell her: “Mystery Man, Raised by Wolves, and Manson dropped by.” She knows who I am talking about.

Whilst teaching martial arts late in the last century, I discovered that children sometimes cry when you address them by a name that is not them. So I amended the insufficient names with which their parents had saddled them with new, catchier names. Henry became “Homicide Hank”, Bob “The Bone Crusher”, Cynthia was jubilant about being called “Slaughterhouse”, and Tevan was temporarily “The Terrorist” (a perfectly decent fighting name until 2001 came along and pricked my word balloon).

In addition to its negative view of terrorism, the new century seemed to frown on monikers in general. At our dojo’s annual Xmas demo, as was custom, all the students stood up in line & introduced themselves to the audience. My little brats arose & gleefully announced themselves not by their silly Christian names, but their flamboyant fighting ones.

“The Violator!… “Boom Boom Morales!… The Irish Instigator!”

When the introductions reached the black belts in the back row, the man beside me—a prominent African-American actor— extemporaneously introduced himself as “Chocolate Thunder.” So I, not prominent yet next in line, introduced myself as “Vanilla Thunder.” Ultimately, the drunken stag party vibe thus created did not sit well with the traditional karate sensei that ran our dojo, and I was ordered to drop nicknames from the curriculum. Rather than risk provoking the tears of another child whose name I would inevitably misremember (“You sure you’re not, er, Buddy?”), I decided to keep the nicknames and drop the sensei. Thus my incipient foray into independent business as a piss-ant dojo operator. Our motto: “Discipline-schmiscipline… We Got Nicknames!”

All the while my wife dreamt of literature falling off bookshelves & onto the crowns of inquisitive children, and I simultaneously taught not inquisitive children in LAUSD, there too giving out nicknames like a Gideon donating bibles at a cheap motel.  It may very well have been the only part those kids liked about me and my class, those damn nicknames, which were, apropos to the setting, a little less violent in nature than my martial arts sobriquets. As a role model presiding over a position of profound influence, I had to be sensitive to a child’s personality & interests. Matt was a very tiny boy who idolized “The Rock” & was thus dubbed “The Pebble.” Sonia was big on comic book heroes, so we called her “Super Sonia.” Only problem was that Super Sonia, kind of like the antithesis of Daredevil, was partially deaf, which affected her clarity of speech. And her mother was partially idiot, which affected her ability to be intelligent. When Sonia came home one day bragging to mom that her teacher & classmates called her Super Sonia, mom thought she said: “Stupid Sonia.” And then went to the parent’s workshop the next day, which was housed in the classroom next to mine, and told all the parents about her daughter’s new nickname. Thus I wondered, for the next month, why all these parents that used to be my friends now responded to my salutations with the stink-eye.

But even if that was my mistake, it wasn’t my biggest. Disregarding all aesthetic principles, I let one student dub himself: “Rockin’ Randy,” because he was 9 & really wanted that one. No accounting for taste. So one day I get called into the principal’s office and she tells me that Rockin’ Randy’s father had visited her several weeks ago, stating that he was going to fight me in the parking lot after school because he didn’t like his son’s nickname. As I sat there mulling over the fact that some grown man I’d never met had told my boss, who then did not tell me for several weeks, that he was going to fight me during the one time of the day I was guaranteed to be sober, my principal hit me with the whammy. “Nicknames are not professional,” she said. “Stop using them or I will have to write you up.” And then she described Randy’s father to me, just in case.

Some decisions are softballs, so to speak. When I arrived home later that afternoon, I joined my wife on the front porch, shared with her several new nicknames I’d created for my principal, and then asked: “So tell me more about this bookstore idea of yours. I think I’m ready for all that culture and shit…”

Florence the Dog is presently in repose & does not want to write. She will, hopefully, be less indolent next month. Send all your hate mail to:

This article originally appeared in the October Issue of NELA Art News.

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