Happy Chorizo Burrito Day

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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!”

“Sit!”

“Sartre!”

“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: www.facebook.com/READ-Books-Eagle-Rock-180904387004

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

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We will be closed on Wednesday 9/15 for a film shoot.

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“Texts from a READ Books Vacation”

(21st century missives between dog & owner)
by Florence the Dog & Jeremy Kaplan
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  1. DEPARTURES
    READ Books: Dearest Flo, though we dropped you off but five minutes ago at the Calhouns, it feels like we have been separated for interminable weeks. As much as you might miss us at this moment— it was so adorable the way you headbutted the screen door, howling pitifully, when we left you there— I have no doubt you will have a great time the next two weeks. Think of it as a vacation without responsibilities, lazing around a new house with new friends. Wish us luck on our cross country trip! Thinking of you & your sweet disposition…
    Flo: You’re a heartless bastard, and the only you you ever think of is you, you dipshit you. I pee on your insipid sentiments and your pathetic trip. “A vacation without responsibilities”… biped, are you high? My entire life is a vacation without responsibilities. But now you’ve imprisoned me in a strange house with no familiar smells, save for the one I just excreted onto your friend’s couch. You all abandoned me, and I will never forget it.  I have placed an Australian Sheepherding curse on all of yuhs. May your car stall in Texas.
    READ Books: Sweet, silly dog, you know we love you like the hirsute daughter we never had. Taking you along on this trip was simply unfeasible; the hotels we’ll stay at are unlikely to allow pets. It might take a few days, maybe even a week, but I’m sure you’ll acclimate to your new environment eventually. And then we’ll be back to pick you up! Who’s a good girl? You’re a good girl! Yes you are!
    Flo: There are other dogs here! Dogs I tells yuh, with tails a-wagging, floppy ears, and wet noses! They are small and dirty and they love it when I sniff their butts. Gotta go! This place is great! Dogs!

    II. SPEEDING VIOLATIONS
    READ Books: Hey girl, haven’t heard from you for a few days. How you getting along with your new friends? Still lonesome? Had a rough evening here recently. Did you know that they ticket people in Arizona, to the tune of $500+, for driving 3 mph under 100 mph? Fuckin’ racists. First they stick it to MLK, now this. Wish you had been here, girl, to bite that storm trooper in the ass.
    Flo: They got cats in this place, I shit you not: A black one, a white one, even a redhead! It’s impossible to keep track. They are great fun! You know what they really enjoy? When I run at them! Every time a cat comes around a corner, I lower my head and sprint full speed. The cat makes a funny, shrill sound, hair stands up on its neck, & it wags its tail just like we dogs do! This means they like me! A few hours ago, during breakfast, I attempted to follow the redheaded feline (I think it’s Irish!) up onto the dining room table. It landed in the eggs & I landed on Mrs. Calhoun. We all rolled on the floor. This place is great!
    READ Books: Miss us girl? We sure miss you! Who’s our girl? Are you our girl? Florence? Hello?
    Flo: Though my paws prolong this conversation by punching the keyboard on my cellphone, I gotta ask: Who are you people anyhow? I can no longer smell you. Memory fading. Look! Cat!

III. THE JOURNEY
READ Books: It’s not that we’re not having a great time, because travelling across the scenic landscape of America kicks ass, I guess, but we seem to be experiencing myriad issues with this driving business: First that ludicrous speeding ticket, and then I somehow manage to partially detach the front bumper while parking the rental car in Little Rock. Seems the bumper is abnormally low on these Buicks, or I just pulled forward too much and ran over the parking bumper at the Little Rock 9 Museum. If you were here I think you’d agree that the bumper is pretty low, Flo. After that we stop to get gas before getting back on the 40, but when I look at the gas gauge some 15 minutes later, heading to Tennessee, the tank reads empty. Seems that even with this opposable thumb of mine, I am unable to effectively operate a gas pump. What I really want to do right now, rather than wait for this damn tow truck, is pet your fluffy body. I’m cold & lonely & my wife & kids despise me. God, I miss you so much Florence.
Flo:
I have taken over this house. The little dogs do what I tell them to do. The cats fear me. I eat everybody’s food and then lounge on the Calhoun’s bed all day flatulating. When they get back from work, I shall consign the bipeds to the backyard to sleep tonight. The worm has turned. I am queen of the manor.

IV. ILL COMMUNICATION
READ Books: We ate at this ridiculous restaurant in Texas where you get a 72 oz steak for free, so long as you finish it in one sitting. I figured maybe we order one steak and share it between the four of us. So we did. They charged us anyway, as apparently the free deal only applies to one person/one steak. You would have loved that cow. You would have loved the bones. We would have loved to bring it to you, but no way that bone shares a car with us from Texas to Pennsylvania and back. Sorry girl. You still having a good time there?
Flo: Go fuck yourself.
READ Books: Pardon?
Flo: You heard me, biped. I am eating dry dog food. From a dirty bowel. On a cold floor. In a locked bathroom. I don’t want to talk about it. Enjoy your damn steaks.
READ Books: What’s wrong girl? Your text feels a little embittered.
Flo: The coup d’etat was a bust. The Calhouns kicked me out of their bed and imprisoned me in the latrine. I never stood a chance. Between them they share 4 thumbs & a leash, & they are, like you all, 20-foot tall giants. I received no support from my canine brethren. The cats on the freedom side of this bathroom door mock me with their incessant purring. Hell of a world.
READ Books: Yeah, I know what you mean. The world kicks ass. Right now we’re sitting in our motel in downtown Memphis devouring rows of chopped pork bbq sandwiches, baby back ribs, & fried chicken. You’d love this stuff Flo. And the funny thing is, this motel, as most of the others we’ve slept in, has a pet friendly policy. That’s you! You’re a pet! So next time we do this, assuming we can ever afford a next time, maybe we’ll bring you! Baby back ribs, Florence. I’m picking the meat out of my teeth with a damn pitch fork!
Flo: Ever notice how some dialogues are really just two zigzagging monologues that never converge?
READ Books: Yeah. We miss you too girl.
Flo: I’m going to go jump through the screen of this second story window now. I hope an earthquake swallows you, and your baby back ribs, deep into the ground. I can run the bookstore by myself. I know the alphabet. A, b, c, d…
READ Books: Uh huh. We’ll send you photos of our hushpuppies when we get to Carolina. See you next week girl. Say “hi” to Eagle Rock for us.

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My Superhero Origin

My Superhero Origin
by Florence the Dog as told to Jeremy Kaplan

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Crossroads

“What a handsome boy!” said the lady voice. “Would you like me to pet you?”

I turned toward the open door and sniffed at this new biped. She was not the same biped that had been driving me around in this car, the genial parole officer that had released me from prison earlier in the day. That biped was also a lady, but unlike this knucklehead, she was aware that I too am 100% woman. This knucklehead, smelling of cheap cheeseburgers, reached across the backseat and patted me gauchely upon my skull. I sat at a crossroads in my life:

Do I remain in the backseat of this claustrophobic car being treated like the head-slapped butt of a Benny Hill joke, or do I dash around the knuckleheaded head-patter and make for the streets? I closed my eyes and envisioned an endless array of pee-stained lampposts.

When I opened my eyes, the car-infested street was on my right, storefronts flashed on my left, and the smell of urinal lampposts lay ahead. Peering back from whence I fled, I espied my kind parole officer shoulder shrugging in the direction of my clueless liberator.

I’m a Number, Not a Name…

Kids, I had once been a juvenile delinquent. My recalcitrant ways had landed me in the pokey the previous week, where I had shared a stinky cage with two half-witted chihuahuas. My crime? Curiosity! I yearned for freedom, man. If a domestic portal was left open, I passed through it. So one day I had come across an open window in my former biped’s kitchen and decided to release myself on my own recognizance from that prohibitive domicile. And what was the official charge thrust upon my martyred mane when the local gendarme booked me at the South Central Doggy Penitentiary later that day? I peed on the wrong porch. Perhaps I barked at the wrong government stooge. It matters not. Listen, I was running 20 mph down a dead end street and Johnny Law was just itching for a reason to remove me from decent society.

Word around the pen was that, if no one spoke up for me in the next few days, I was slated for the gas chamber, which is the fate that society reserves for its rebel dogs. This is when the lady biped came sniffing around with her two half-grown male interns. I initially figured them for screws, and I pondered whether I’d be needing the shiv I kept hidden in my dark fur. Thankfully this proved unnecessary when the benign two-legged triumvirate escorted me out of the facility. They were obviously parole officers, so surely I was on probation.

Halfway House…

Upon entering what I presumed to be my next domicile, I smelled a cat. I found the little squirt in a room off the hallway, sleeping on a bed. He was black and had two, maybe three eyes. I jumped onto the bed. The cat woke up and promptly ceded the territory. I regally squatted and peed all over my new pillows. The bed legally belonged to me. The lady parole officer stood in the doorway wearing a sad face that implied somebody had just violated the terms of her probation.

“Bad girl,” she said.

Yeah I am. Send me back to the gas chamber if yuh can’t take it.

We got a runner…

Naturally, when the probation officer and her diminutive lackeys parked the car, I expected to be led back toward the SCD Pen and my imminent necrosis. They exited the car without me. When I looked out the window, I saw a swarm of biped junkies loitering about an unfamiliar Foster’s Freeze parking lot. The door behind me soon opened again and the car was filled with the essence of cheeseburger. The knuckle-head thumped my head; I ran.

The effluvium of burgers & fried chicken swept past as did the myriad automobiles deviating from their customary paths. They honked at me as if to say: “Hello beautiful pooch of the family Canidae! Welcome to your new neighborhood! May you run free and reckless!”

The greasy odors of American cooking were soon supplanted by the Pinoy essences of vinegar & fish sauce, and I became aware of a biped riding a bicycle in my territory. When I slowed my gait, intending to pee on the interloper’s shoes, he seized me by the chain that was still, until then unbeknownst to me, attached to my collar. Bipeds and their damn fancy-pants thumbs! The show-off, smelling pleasantly of carnitas, utilized one of those thumbs to grip my chain, the other to balance his bike. The probation officer’s car pulled up alongside and I was spirited back into the bosom of the machine.

Home…

Upon entering my next domicile, the building across the street from the Foster’s Freeze where we had initially parked, I was tackled by the two little lackeys who smothered me with hugs and kisses.

“We thought we’d lost you forever,” cried the shorter one. “Or that you got crushed beneath the wheels of a huge truck and flattened like a pancake.”

“Good girl,” cooed the slightly larger. “You’re the best damn dog in the world.”

Huh? I am? Peering through the interstices of the bipeds’ entangling arms, I saw shelves of books stretching to the ceiling and across the length of the room. Right on. I love literature! Maybe I’ll read them all.  The door opened behind me and I smelled a tall biped wearing a fedora on his chicken mcnugget-shaped skull. He sat on a couch situated to the left of the entrance. The other bipeds frantically jibber-jabbered about the events of the day. They told him that I was by far the best dog in the whole penitentiary, and that I apparently enjoyed a good run. But they did not know my name. I nudged the tall biped to the far end of the couch in order to annex the cushy area where he had been sprawled. If he proved foolish enough to attempt reclamation of the cushy spot, we would indubitably partake in a peeing contest.

Instead, he sat placidly on his rim and squinted at me.

“She likes to run, eh? How’s about we call her Florence then? Flo-Jo. Like Florence Joyner-Kersee.”

Suit yourself, stretch. Reposing on that spongy couch, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to run again.

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Vacation

READ Books will be closed on Friday, August 14th, but OPEN on Saturday August 15th & Saturday August 22nd. We will be closed all other days until Monday August 31st. Please call (323-259-9068) or email (readbookseaglerock@att.net) if you have any questions. Thanks.

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Dog Day Afternoon

“Dog Day Afternoon”
by Florence the Dog (as told to Jeremy Kaplan)
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I feel compelled to warn all and sundry of an alarming happenstance recently commenced in the springtime.  The boy biped that still lives at home, He Who Throws My Tennis Balls across Fields of Green, picked up a fresh furry ball of Wilson and declared: “Let’s go girl!” This action & declaration, as made evident by the boy’s name (“He Who Throws…”), was expected, as was the presentation of leash and the subsequent opening of the car door. I leaped in the back seat, because clearly we were driving to a park in order to sniff pee & chase my tennis ball across fields of green. The alarming part of this event unfolded when the passenger side door opened and my tall biped, He Who Sullenly Glares, plopped into said seat. I peered left just in time to see the boy biped impetuously thrusting a key into the car’s ignition.

“Have you all lost your minds?” I barked. “He doesn’t drive! Open the %@&*ing door and let me out!”

This performance repeated itself throughout spring and into summer: The boy enticingly wields a luscious yellow tennis ball & summons me to the car. I leap in with puzzling alacrity, as if I possess no memory of this having happened innumerable times before: What could possibly go wrong? Tall’n’grumpy mistakenly plops in the passenger seat again, while peach-fuzz-face cagily sneaks in behind the wheel. My vociferous warnings & protestations are ignored. The world of bipeds, obviously, strives to function sans logic. Chaos will ensue. And I will continue to leap into the car with great expectations.

*

I saw a biped on the TV juggling a single snow ball & that proved global warming does not exist in his neighborhood. I know for a scientific fact that it exists in my ‘hood, because I sweat like a pig-dog when chasing these tennis balls of mine. In days of yore, when I was still a naive pup back in, like, 2013, sweat did not come so easily. And these balls I presently pursue are not made of snow; they’re made of tennis. Science fascinates me. Take this biped boy who throws my balls, whose hair once seemed destined to exist solely as decorative lawn atop his oval mountain top. The lawn has migrated south, and somehow this makes him a bona fide candidate for operating motor vehicles? Why not let me drive then? I’m older & hairier than him! What lacketh I, aside from a thumb or two?

*

In the waning days of summer I perch atop my couch and consider the unattended tennis ball that sits inert on the indurate bookstore floor.  ‘Twas in the aforementioned summer of ’13 that the elder biped boy began his absurd quest to navigate automobiles. Initially, this led to field trips to assorted fields of green where plump tennis balls were inevitably funneled into my anxious jaws. Soon after, the biped boy and I were joined in the fields of green by strange female bipeds. At night time, he and these biped girls often drove somewhere— presumably a field to throw tennis balls— and didn’t even invite me. And then one day the elder boy biped got in the car with his biped parents, drove to a place called college, and didn’t come back home for a long time. Cars are cruel & impetuous. Sometimes they ferry tennis balls, but sometimes they steal friends.

So I consider the tennis ball and sigh. The younger boy biped is not at the bookstore today. He is driving around in his fancy-pants car; I would not be surprised if there is a female biped seated beside him, carelessly clutching one of my fresh, furry tennis balls in her grotesquely bald hand. The boy biped and his biped parents frequently, brazenly, discuss his plans to go to college. I’m not suspicious by nature, but…

I close my eyes, and the circular, fluorescent yellow image sustains imprinted in my mind’s eye.   This is my tennis ball. There are many like it, but this one is mine… A cool breeze skims my wet nose and hovers briefly in the air. Does this indicate the cessation of global warming? Will the next ball I chase be crafted from snow? Simultaneous with the sound of the front door closing, a familiar hand strokes my skull.

“Let’s go girl!”

In a moment I will lift my snout toward the sky and open my eyes with great expectations. I’m coming boy! What could possibly go wrong?

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“Raising the Rent”
by Florence the Dog
of
READ Books

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“Dos Casas”
I am a dog like other dogs. I have homes on both coasts: Eagle Rock and Highland Park. My day home is a couch in a store where my bipeds sell their books and frequently go to sleep while gazing at a computer screen. My evening home is a couch in an old house where my bipeds drink from bottles sheathed in brown bags, prior to passing out beside me on my couch. Mine.

In between naps, we walk. I am a dog who walks like other dogs. I meet other dogs in parks, on urban sidewalks, and precipitous staircases. Sometimes we chat vociferously, other times we serenely sniff one another’s butts. I have few complaints.

I am also a dog who is not so different from your average biped. When you bipeds want to interact with your species, but there are none of them around for you to bark at, no enticing butts to sniff, then you procure information by reading, yes? Books, newspapers, computer screens? On days when I walk northeast L.A. and do not encounter my species, I cull information from urine strategically sprinkled by my brothers & sisters. This is The News, and it can be found in the grass, the base of a lamppost, on the cozy stoop where bipeds sit.

“A Beagle’s Tale”
‘Twas a year or two ago when the poop began to change in Highland Park. Where once sat pleasing pellets of asada-infused Chihuahua stool, I encountered shih tzu excrement smelling suspiciously of vegetables. In kind, my encounters with yipping Chihuahuas, pugnacious pit bulls, and various mutts grew infrequent. In their stead I began to notice the vegan shih tzus, oddly coiffured poodles, and comically bearded corgis. Some of them snuffled & barked; others were ostensibly aloof. They were okay enough; still, I missed my old, indigenous neighbors. Where had they gone?

Then I remembered the beagles. They’re a yappy lot, teeming with information that is largely trifling, lowest common denominator stuff. But they inundate the airwaves with sheer volume, thus tractable canines tend to listen to them. Last year I’d encountered myriad beagles proclaiming that Highland Park was the place to be, the hottest neighborhood in Los Angeles, even America. Many of them had yelped the same claptrap about Eagle Rock the previous year. Beagles, I figured, are village idiots with impressive vocal range, thus I ignored them.

Story of my life; the trends I resolve to ignore are the ones every other dog latches onto & humps like a tantalizing human leg. Suddenly there were pallid poodles practicing hot yoga poses in the park; shaggy corgis eating overpriced donuts & pizza crusts from the street, yet still producing sweet smelling stool compliments of their fancy-pants doggy laxatives. Which is cool. I respect yoga, would happily eat bacon on my donuts if I could afford such luxuries, and I wish poop flowed from my tush like peppermint ice cream. Success is relative, yes? But what happened to my old friends that I used to talk to on the street, or bark at from my couches? Or hell, where were my old nemeses that kept me up all night with their incessant howling? I decided to go outside and smell the pee that carried the news.

“The Oracle at Excreta”
My capable nose sniffed out some facts that my eyes already knew—the displacement of my neighbors by a more affluent breed—as well as a few facts with a decidedly acrid bouquet. Wolves. No, it was not their excretion I detected. Such creatures rarely dwell in this neighborhood; they prefer sequestered hills, and such places do not come cheap. This is what my nose, thanks to all that informative urine, told me:

Wolves are investors. They listen to the loud, prognosticating yapping of beagles, and then descend upon the relatively low rent communities that beagles have proclaimed the next hip neighborhood. Wolves tell property owners: “See that couch where that mutt sits? How much you charging that mutt? Well, if you kick all those mutts off all their couches, I will bring you a better breed of dog that will pay more to sit on the same damn couches. My pooches eat $5 donuts; those mutts eat $1 tacos. Do the math, dog.” And the wolves ultimately get their commissions, which they take back to their secluded homes in the hills.

Many of my renter neighbors were priced off their couches. Some of my neighbors that owned their couches saw an economic opportunity and sold them to hipster dogs with relatively deep pockets.

Me? I rent my couch in Eagle Rock. What if one of these wolves proffer my landlord with a sweet smelling financial upgrade? Then where will I lay my head? Where will I put all these books? Innumerable wolves constantly pester me with proposals for the couch that I, thankfully, own in Highland Park. To them I suggest that they sniff my butt, and then I attempt to do just that to theirs. Win win.

Some of the cynical stories that I have sniffed suggest that dogs who lose their couches should simply move on, presumably— if this brand of economics-driven-culture is to prevail—to a less affluent neighborhood where the whole scene can repeat itself. Except this time, if I am compelled to move, it will be I usurping another dog’s couch, another breed’s sidewalk.

Or what if one dog can find a way to move into another dog’s neighborhood and just, I dunno, appreciate the culture that already exists there? With patience, maybe after a few years  in which a dog like me commits himself to the neighborhood, perhaps the better parts of my culture can amalgamate with the one that already exists there? Co-existence & mutual respect, sadly, is a difficult task in a world where we are led by the strident whimsy of beagles or pay off wolves for their dubious services. Some of us just want a decent couch on which to lay our heads.

Follow Florence on Instagram @readbookseaglerock, or access her with #readbookseaglerock & #readwithflorence.

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