"Crap! I wish I hadn't seen Ricky on the sidewalk."

"You will be fine for 31 minutes. You will be dead in 32 minutes."

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cloche to You

I loved Chopped, I watch it all the time.  It's a brilliant concept: four chefs square off against each other with a mixed basket of secret ingredients.  Bison, kumquats, fava beans, breath mints.  Make it delicious!

I like Chopped when the best person wins.  Not just the best chef, but the best person. 

Remember the woman who wanted to win so she could go back to France and see her ailing grandmother, the woman who taught her to cook?  And it was neck-and-neck through the dessert round, but she ended up losing to another talented chef and then Chef Lance offered to share his $10K prize so she could still travel overseas?  

Sometimes tears get served up as the final course on Chopped. 

I know reality television thrives on competition, but does a cooking show really need trash talking and bravado along with the culinary skills and sharp knives?  

I watched an episode where they invited back a bunch of losing chefs.  Everybody said they deserved to win, everybody said they could not, would not, get chopped again.

So this sous chef from Alabama ends up taking the big prize in the end.  Biggest ego ever. Huge, enormous.  I assume the producers encourage (insist?) that every participant talk about how great they are and how they can cook circles around the competition, but it seriously depresses the hell out of me.  Why all the ego?  Just make your goddamn entree.

I guess there's no show in letting your cooking talk for you.  Nobody wants to watch four polite and unassuming people compete for anything, but I would watch that show.

I really would.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Musical Be-In

Let us say I have a soft spot for musicals.  

I'm not the biggest fan, I've never seen Phantom or Wicked or Les Misérables.  I was a high school thespian, so I know all the words to The Music Man.  I was raised Jewish, so I know all the words to Fiddler on the Roof.  I like the songs from Guys and Dolls, especially Stubby Kaye's.

I have a special relationship with the musical Hair, partly because of my older sister Jessie, partly because of cable television, but mostly because the songs of Gerome Ragni, James Rado, and Galt MacDermot are so goddamn catchy.  Ragni and Rado wrote the book and lyrics; Galt MacDermot wrote the music.

I came to the musical courtesy of Milos Forman's film version (1979) which played continuously on cable in the early 1980s.  

I don't really care if people think the film is flawed (Ragni & Rado hated it, apparently), because I love it.  I thought Treat Williams was great, I thought John Savage was great, and I thought Beverly D'Angelo's boobs were great.  It had Charlotte Rae from The Facts of Life, it had choreography from Twyla Tharp, and the guy playing Woof (Don Dacus) always made us laugh.

My sister Jessie and I could recite all the dialogue from the film.  We knew a lot of it by heart, particularly the scene where Berger and the gang crash the debutante party and end up dancing on the table, smashing all the plates in sight.  

Prudes, cover your ears.  There's a song in the musical called Sodomy.  In the movie, Woof sings it atop a horse in Central Park.  Here are the lyrics:

Father, why do these words sound so nasty?
Masturbation can be fun
Join the holy orgy Kama Sutra

Jessie wrote all the words to the song on a piece of paper and stuck it in her underwear drawer.  My father was big on reference books, always urging us to consult a dictionary. Jessie had every intention of looking up the words later, but my mother found the piece of paper when she was putting the laundry away.

Holy shit, did that cause a commotion.  We almost had the cable television removed.

None of this dimmed my view of the musical Hair. I still think it's terrific. 

Hair was a genuine cultural phenomenon. I'm about six months older than the musical, which debuted in October 1967.  I don't remember the draft, but I remember Vietnam and I remember hippies.  

I collect records, you know this already. Whenever I find a copy of the soundtrack or some variation I haven't got, I pick it up. 

The soundtrack from the off-Broadway production (RCA, LSO-1143) features songs not found elsewhere, like "Going Down," "Exanaplanetooch," and "The Climax."  

The songs from Hair are presented in a different order on the Original Broadway Cast recording (RCA, LSO-1150), adding "Donna," "Hashish,""Sodomy," "Colored Spade," "I'm Black," "Abie Baby," and "The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)," among others.

The movie soundtrack (RCA, CBL2-3274)is a two-record set.  According to the packaging, it's also available on Stereo 8 and cassette.  It features many songs ("Air," "My Conviction," "Abie Baby," "Frank Mills," and "What a Piece of Work is Man") which were recorded but ultimately cut from the final film.

One of my first Hair variations is an album attributed to a band called The Aquarian Age (Itco, 10001).  According to the liner notes, the band is "ten talented people from Texas" who "felt the music was the perfect vehicle for their first album.  The eye-catching artwork is by Bob Venosa.  It's perfectly fine, a bunch of by-the-numbers renditions.

Hair Styles by The Terminal Barbershop (Atco, SD 33-301) isn't exactly daring either. 

According to the notes: "If you've never heard the music from 'Hair' (as unlikely as that is), you'll thoroughly enjoy this album.  If you are already a devoted 'Hair' fan, you'll dig these fresh 'Hair Styles' by The Terminal Barbershop." 

The lead off track, a quasi-baroque instrumental of "Let the Sunshine In" is pretty mellow. "Air" (also instrumental) would not be out of place on a commercial or a game show.  The album notes promise a mix of instrumentals with vocals provided by The Wondrous Joy Clouds.  I didn't hear any human voices until the last song on the second side, a reprise of "Let the Sunshine In."  Additional research indicates The Terminal Barbershop featured band members from the psychedelic band Ars Nova, whose first album appeared on Elektra.

This Stan Kenton album (Capitol, ST-305) is a proper mix of instrumentals and vocals. "Sodomy" is certainly instrumental only, as is "Colored Spade," "Walking in Space," and "Easy to Be Hard."  According to the sleeve: 

"Here's 'Hair' the Kenton way, complete with a score and a half of musicians who play everything from the mandolin to the flugel horn, joined by a dozen boy and girl singers who rocked so hard during the recording sessions that they raised the hair on everybody's head and succeeded in transferring the entire spirit of their thing exactly on to this disc.  There isn't a molecule of original inspiration missing."

The Kenton abum is definitely upbeat, if just a little too white bread for genuine hippies.  The energy cannot be denied, but I wouldn't exactly call it rocking hard.

The last two albums in my Hair collection are actually the same record in different jackets, courtesy of budget label Pickwick International.  Pickwick enjoyed success issuing bargain albums with soundalike groups.  

The Music and Songs from Hair (SPS 482) was distributed by Sears, Roebuck, and Co.  I have an identical album (SPC-3169) on the Pickwick International label.

They're not great, but they're not exactly terrible.  

The songs from Hair have been recorded hundreds of times.  I love Nina Simone's take on "Ain't Got No/I Got Life," I love Brian Auger & The Trinity (featuring Julie Driscoll) doing "Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)," and I certainly don't mind The Fifth Dimension.  

I'm still digging Hair, still searching for unknown variations.  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Kinda Blu

 Celeste and Jesse Forever ( Lee Toland Krieger, 2012)

Not great, just okay.  I thought it was going to be one thing, and then it turned out to be something else entirely. 

Cinematography, courtesy of David Lanzenberg, was top-notch.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Trap Dancing

Music from Three Walt Disney Movies: The Parent Trap, Summer Magic, In Search of the Castaways
Disneyland Records DQ-1318 
I pulled this record out of Goodwill on Thursday.  Cost me a buck. 

It had a $14 price tag from another store, from 2011.  It doesn't seem likely that an active collector would pay top dollar for a near-mint Disney soundtrack only to have the record donated to Goodwill two years later.  Foul play? Death in the family?  I know other stores donate unsold merch to Goodwill, but if it was overpriced at $14, why not just discount it?  Price it to move?

It's a conundrum.

I can't remember the last time I saw The Parent Trap, but I do remember owning the novelization.  Probably bought it at a Scholastic book sale at my school back in 1975. I've never seen Summer Magic or In Search of the Castaways.

Anyway, this post isn't about Hayley Mills and her guitar chops.  It's about synchronicity. On Thursday, I happened to pick up this record. Wasn't looking for it, didn't even know it existed.  Hadn't thought about The Parent Trap in years and years.

On Saturday morning, I met with a friend who's programming a reading I'm doing in May. Tania hosts a monthly reading series with five readers and a local band.  I participated last September, told a funny story about camping. In May, Tania is doing a one-off show in an 800-seat venue with ten readers and three bands.  Five Los Angeles-based readers, five locals.  She asked me to participate a couple of months ago, gave me a contract.  

For this, I am eternally grateful.  

I asked her if she wanted the camping story again or if I should write something new. She said she loved the camping story (it plays well, has some big laughs), but yeah, sure, knock yourself out.

I ended up writing a piece about my father, who died ten years ago. Not exactly loaded with laughs, but I was going for something different this time. Something personal, something quiet, something honest. Entertaining but reverent. It's about my father's life and death, not a rant about shitting in the woods.

I recorded the piece as a ten minute voice memo on my iPod Touch, brought it with me to coffee on Saturday.  I had a very nice chat with Tania and her French bulldog, Felix. Tania excused herself once to pee, and a second time to wipe some of Felix off the front of her pants.  It was almost an hour before we got around to talking about the May performance.

I gave her my iPod and sat while she listened.  She acknowledged the one big laugh I'd allowed myself, but mostly she went aah.  She did that a lot, she went aah.  

I found that very satisfying.  It's that kind of piece.  It ends with a whisper.  

She took off the headphones and returned my iPod.  She said, "this  kind of piece needs an intimate setting."  And she's right, it's perfect for a 100 seats.  

She asked me if I would read it in June or July, when the reading series returns to the smaller venue.  She said she could use this piece to establish the theme, an evening of parent-inspired stories.

This is what she scribbled in her notebook:  The Parent Trap.

And that, bitches, is what I'm talking about when I say synchronicity.

I gave Tania a hug and kissed her on the cheek and she took Felix to get his anal gland expressed.  

We have some vague plans to write something together this summer.  I hope it happens, I really do.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Guy at the Pro Shop Just Doesn't Understand Sentiment (3/3/13)

I haven't bowled regularly in almost a year.  Sometimes I miss it, sometimes I don't.  

League bowling came at a tumultuous time in my life.  That part, I don't miss.  Sunday, the night we bowled, was often the worst night of my week.  And sometimes, thanks to the friendship of my teammates, it was the only bright spot.  

About a month ago, I got a call from an old friend who asked if I could fill an empty spot on her team for a couple of weeks.  One of their members had been encouraged to bowl with a 15-pound ball, and in the process of getting it to spin properly had messed up his hand.  

I thanked her for the invitation and showed up the following Tuesday for league play.  I think I averaged a 125 on the night, nothing special.

I skipped the next week, but was tapped to play the following Sunday.  I showed up early, with my bowling ball and shoes.

The last frame of the first game (we always play three), I tried, without success, to pick up a spare and extend the frame.  It didn't work, and my ball ended up in the gutter.

We were starting the second game when Ally said, "whose ball is that?"  My ball had been automatically returned with a large chunk missing from it.  The team looked down the lane. Mark pointed to the gutter and said, "Is that a piece of your ball?"

It was.

I took my broken bowling ball up to the counter.  The manager wasn't around, but I left my name and phone number with a pimply kid who said they'd see if the ball could be repaired. There was no paperwork, they just taped my name and number to the ball and stuck it under the counter.

I went over to grab an alley ball, but there were no more 13-pound balls.  I selected a 14-pound ball and returned to the game.  

My first three frames were strikes, a turkey.  I had no open frames until the 7th.  I ended up with a 177.  I can't remember if my high score is a 192 or I just witnessed someone on my old team bowling a 192.

If I never bowled a 192, I definitely bowled a 179.  And if I've never bowled a 179, then this 177 is my personal best.  I really should pay more attention, I suppose.

My last game wasn't great, but the 177 gave me a nice average.

I called the bowling alley a few days later.  The manager wasn't in.  I called back the next day and finally got him.  He said the ball couldn't be repaired, but they'd replace it.  There's a pro shop a few doors down from the bowling alley, and they gave me a number to call.

I explained the situation to the guy at the pro shop who said the wholesale value of my bowling ball was $50.

He asked me if I wanted a different ball or the same one.  I told him I was sentimental. He said "that's a cheap ball made in Mexico" and tried to upsell me.  I told him I wasn't a serious bowler, that I just wanted the same ball I had before.  He said it would cost $40 to drill.  I told him the last time, I only paid $25.

He shruggged.  I ordered the ball, told him I'd take it some other place to get drilled. He said the ball would be ready on Wednesday.  I asked him if I should leave the damaged ball, so he could match the color in the catalog.

"I got it," he said.  "It's the color of Merlot."  

I checked the online Brunswick catalog when I got home.  

I think my old bowling ball is a T-Zone Magenta Smoke.  How much you want to bet the guy orders me a Mixed Berry?  Or maybe my old bowling ball has been discontinued, I've already thought of that.  

The guy at the pro shop will call me on Wednesday, tell me he had to order something else that's just as good.  Maybe he'll try one more time to upsell me, get me into a more expensive bowling ball.

I suppose that's the solution to everything that gets broken at a bowling alley.  You just replace it with something else.

The Finest Book in the Whole Record Shop

What's the joke about driving on a parkway and parking in a driveway?  Does it matter?

I was shopping at a local record store that started carrying books about two years ago.  It's no secret that sometimes the best bargains are the records found in used bookstores and the used books found in record stores.  

In my experience, a lot of people who collect books and records usually collect both, so doubling up makes good retail sense.  Plus, making a single stop is more convenient when it comes time to liquidate your collection.

In the 2-for-$3 bin, I found this large, slipcased copy of Georgia O'Keeffe: The Artist's Landscape first published by Twelvetrees Press in 1984.  It's a book of Todd Webb photographs, taken from 1955-81.

I checked the colophon.  It describes the book as a second printing (of 5000 copies), following a very limited run of 79 copies (each containing an original Todd Webb print).  The 40 photos in this edition are sheet-fed gravures on uncoated paper stock.  It's a beautiful book, even if you're not a fan of O'Keeffe.  It's probably worth $100.

There was no price sticker on it because the linen-covered slipcase is a poor surface for the non-aggressive stickers this store uses.  

I took the book up to the register, along with my other selections.  I explained to the cashier there was no price tag on the book of photographs, and asked if he could find a price for me.  He removed the book from the slipcase, examined it closely. Then he took a close look at the slipcase. 

"There's no price tag on it," he said.   "I know," I said.  "Is there a way to figure out what the book costs?"  The cashier shrugged.  He called someone over, and she took the book to the backroom.

The cashier rang up my other purchases just as the woman returned with the book.

"It's $4.95," she said.  I thanked her for looking and turned to the cashier.  He asked me if I still wanted the book.  I told him I did.

I doubt very much I'll ever resell it. 

Recent Gets

I wasn't in the market for Marianne Moore, but what are you going to do?  

Sometimes, book scouting is about liberating the few good items from garbage, separating wheat from chaff.

This copy of Like a Bulwark (Viking Press, 1956) was a couple bucks.  It's price-clipped and sports a small inscription ("With Love to Marina from  Don and Nancy/August 4th, 1964), but it looked so sad and lonesome sandwiched between the Rod McKuen and the Ogden Nash.

This was a rescue mission, an errand of mercy.  

The world can thank me later.

For me, this copy of They Came to Cordura (Random House, 1958) is less about Glendon Swarthout's novel, less about the movie (Rossen, 1959) starring Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth, and more about the overall brightness of this 55 year-old book jacket.  

The scan doesn't really do it justice.  

There are other first editions from 1958 I'd rather have in my collection, but this is a fine reminder of how good a book can look, despite its age.

"I Seek Not to Know All the Answers/But to Understand the Questions"

Kung Fu soundtrack (Promo) Warner Brothers BS27276
I'm pretty picky when I'm scouting for books or records.  If there's water damage or a torn cover or too many stickers, I frequently don't bother.  

As always, there are exceptions.

I was browsing the other day and found this promotional copy of the Kung Fu soundtrack, featuring music and dialogue from the '70s television series.  The vinyl is clean, but the sleeve has a coffee-colored stain where the promo sticker usually sits.  I picked it up, sneered, and was returning the record to the bin when something made me look inside.  

The inner sleeve was standard WB issue (1972) but there was also a printed sheet of dialogue showcasing the wisdom of Master Po and Master Kan:

Peace lies not in the world, Grasshopper, but in the man who walks the path.  

Sometimes a stranger, known to us for moments, can spark our souls to kinship for eternity. 

I have three treasures which I hold and keep.  The first is mercy.  For from mercy comes courage.  The second is frugality from which comes generosity to others.  The third is humility, for from it comes leadership.   

There was also this:  

I took the record to the counter and paid for it.  It felt like the right thing to do.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

This Is Your Vinyl Warning (2/28/13)

My nephew was on campus so we met up for an early dinner.  I told him there was a new record store I wanted to visit and I asked him if he wanted to go.  

Who am I kidding?  The kid loves music as much as I do.  Actually, he might like music more.  He'd already received his tax refund and was ready to spend money.

Off we went.

This particular record store is a reboot of a vinyl shack I used to frequent back in the mid-'90s.  I worked at a bookstore near campus, had an apartment nearby.  There were four record stores in my neighborhood (three indies, one chain), all within walking distance.  

Remember the record store Cusack ran in High Fidelity?  The clerk played by Jack Black?  This place was like that.  Three or four Jack Blacks behind the counter, humiliating and harassing as many customers as they could.  I knew the owners casually.  I browsed once a week, spent money once or twice a month.

Eventually, I started dating a woman with a record store of her own.  I moved out of the neighborhood.  One indie closed, and then the national chain went belly-up.  Two record stores were left, within blocks of each other.  Eventually, the place with all the Jack Blacks shut down.  One owner put his records in storage.  A few years later, he opened a little pop-up store.  Now he's back in business.

While my nephew browsed, I went through the new arrivals.  Right off the bat, I found this Beau Brummels album (Beau Brummels '66), their first album for Warner.  It's strictly a covers album, but I like it a lot, particularly their cover of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away."  They also tackle Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, The Rolling Stones, Nancy Sinatra, and Sonny & Cher, among others.  Very nice.

I looked at a lot of records before heading over to the used comedy section, which is where I found three more must-haves.

Suffice to say my fondness for Don Adams goes back decades.  I owe a lot to Get Smart.  If you're a fan, there's a chance we'll be friends.  If you're not, if you don't get what's funny about 86 and 99 or KAOS and CONTROL, we're going to have a tougher time seeing eye to eye.  Sorry about that, Chief.

The Detective (Roulette SR 25317)is a reissue of Don Adams' eponymous debut.  It's not great, but it's a Don Adams album I don't own.  Now I do.

I used to visit Chicago once a year to buy books, one of the perks of my job.  Just off Michigan Avenue was a terrific record store, and I used to pack light, knowing I'd need room in my suitcase for new vinyl.  I found a copy of Musically Mad (RCA Victor LPM - 1929) one year, but I put it back for some reason.  Damage to the sleeve?  Too expensive?  I can't recall.  All I know is I don't have it and I want it. This copy was $2.99.  What the youngsters call a no-brainer.  The record isn't all that great, but the cover art by Norman Mingo is priceless.  

The last album I bought was Jackie Kannon's Live from the Ratfink Room (Roulette SRLP 505).  The shrinkwrap was still on it. 

Ratfink was an expression my dad would use.  That's one of Kannon's jokes:  "You know what the definition of a ratfink is?  That's a guy who lets you drink 12 beers then locks the toilet door."  

Shakespeare it ain't.  But like the other records I bought, Live from the Ratfink Room is something I need.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Double Dylan (From the Bottom of the Deck)

Every few years I go through an intense Dylan phase.  I listen to the early records, I rewatch Don't Look Back (Pennebaker, 1967)and No Direction Home (Scorsese, 2005), and I hunt around for copies of Tarantula.  I used to see a nice copy every couple of years and sold each one as soon as I got my hands on it.  

Christ, I think it must be a dozen years since I've held one in my hands.  Needless to say, I refuse to buy one online.  If it's meant to be, it'll come my way.  

I went scouting for books on Sunday morning and ended up standing between a man in a trench coat with a bad cough and some chick named Maggie with a face full of black soot.  

Two books caught my eye.  

Michael Gray's Song and Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan (Dutton, 1972) was the first full-length critical study of Dylan and his music.  Copies in good shape are a little uncommon and this one was only $4.  I didn't think twice.

The other book was a first edition of Writings and Drawings by Bob Dylan (Alfred A. Knopf, 1973).  This is the first one I've seen that was pink; somewhere I have a copy that's brown.  The book was priced $3.50.

It's worth noting that even though these books were published within a year of each other, a new copy of the Dylan study cost $7.95 in 1972 while a book of Dylan's own lyrics, thick as a college textbook, cost $6.95 in 1972.

Oh me, oh my, love that.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

All Over But the Scouting

So the big book sale was a mild disappointment, but what happens sometimes is this: just when I think I'm going to have to wait a whole year before a pile of good books comes my way, I get lucky.

I go scouting for books and records a couple of times a week, everybody knows this.  I always find one or two things of interest, but on occasion, I'll find a whole bunch of neat stuff.

Sometimes it takes a trip to Tucson.  

Sometimes it's just a trip to Glendale and a thirty minute look-see before meeting my son for lunch.

Last week, at one of the used bookstores I frequent, I started scanning the fiction section and found a nice copy of John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor with a gorgeous cover by Edward Gorey.

I continued scanning.  A few shelves over, I found this copy of James M. Cain's Mignon.  It should have been in the mystery section, but who am I to quibble?  

It's just a reading copy, nothing particularly valuable, but I could tell almost immediately that it belonged to the same person who owned the Barth.  Whenever this happens, I get excited.  Anytime someone dumps their whole collection, it's cause for celebration.  

Especially when it's a good reader.

The next thing I found was this copy of The Motorcycle by Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues which is interesting for a couple of reasons.  

One, I collect Grove Press hardcovers.  Check. Also, this novel was the inspiration for Jack Cardiff's Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) starring Marianne Faithfull.  Check, check, and meow.

I continued scanning shelves, determined to find more books from the same collection.  I picked up an early printing of The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass but passed on Allen Drury's Advise and Consent, Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls, and Irving Wallace's The Prize before finding this perfectly nice copy of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One.  I also threw a first edition of Mark Twain's Letters from Hawaii into my basket, in case I ever visit my cousin in Hawaii. 

Then I stopped by the vintage paperback shelves.  

Almost immediately, my eyes zoomed in on this copy of Peggy Swenson's Lesbian Gym.  This is one of those famously camp covers, the kind they reprint on postcards and refrigerator magnets.  

The story of a virgin who was seduced into the wrong kind of loving!

I continued scanning, hoping to find more vintage sleaze.  Nope, nope, nope.  

And then I found Suzy and Vera.  Same author, Peggy Swenson, which is actually a pseudonym for Richard E. Geis.

How can you turn down a book with a tagline like this: 

"The love story of a college girl and a confirmed lesbian."

The paperbacks were only a couple of bucks each.

I couldn't have been happier.  

Oskar Nacht (2/24/13)

I had to work the weekend of the Academy Awards, which was fine because I wasn't that excited about the show this year.  

For my money, The Master was the best film of the year.  I loved Moonrise Kingdom, I loved Silver Linings Playbook, I have very fond memories of Life of Pi.  Couldn't care less about Lincoln. Didn't think too much of Django Unchained.
I thought Argo was fine, just not Best Picture.  I admire the way Ben Affleck rebuilt his career, directing his way right out of movie jail.

Like a lot of people, I enjoy having people over on Oscar night.  Everybody fills out a ballot, everyone puts in a buck.  Winner takes all.

I just couldn't do it this year, couldn't muster the requisite excitement.  It was nice having work as an excuse.  

But that didn't stop me from cooking and having some friends over.  We ate and drank and made fun of the people making fun of the other people. 

When it was over, everyone went home.

Two memories will linger from that evening:

Ben Affleck, looking genuinely moved by his victory

It's Been Oolong Time (2/17/13)

My cousin came to town the weekend of the big book sale.  

I haven't seen Ira in over two decades, but I'm very fond of my Aunt Natalie and she encouraged her son to get in touch with me.  He's a doctor, runs a successful practice in Hawaii with his wife.  

Normally I return to the book sale on Sunday, but we made brunch plans instead.  I gave him a choice of meeting spots, but knew he could not resist breakfast at an organic farm.

I'm not a coffee drinker, never have been.  Ira brought some oolong tea leaves and we sat and drank tea and talked about our family history.  We talked so long we had to flag our waitress down to order breakfast.  

My mother is the youngest of three sisters, so it's no surprise that Jackie and Natalie started having kids earlier.  

Growing up, my older cousins all seemed so exotic to me. 

Ira shared an interesting story about visiting our grandmother, who spent most of her adult life in a mental hospital.  

Ira had just graduated high school and was on his way to Israel.  There was a stopover in New York and he made time to see her.  

"She was quite lucid for most of the visit," Ira said, "and as I was leaving she said something I've never forgotten."

I asked him what she said.  

"She said 'Tell Natalie don't wear high heels--you'll fall.
And she told Ira, "Don't get too cold, and don't get overheated."

Good advice.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Edna St. Vincent Malaise (2/16/13)

The book sale was neither boom nor bust, but I found some interesting things.

This copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay's Conversation at Midnight (Harper & Brothers, 1937) isn't one of the signed and numbered limited editions, but it's still worth a couple of bucks.  The glassine cover is mostly intact, but it's not long for this world.  Millay lost her work-in-progress in a hotel fire; she reconstructed Conversation at Midnight from memory.  By the time it came out, I really don't think anyone gave a shit.

The Confidential Clerk (Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1954) isn't particularly rare, I see them all the time, but it's hard to ignore T.S. Eliot and this copy cleaned up pretty well.  One of the problems of this particular book sale is the multiple stickers affixed to every volume. Each book has at least two stickers (one on the book, one on the dustjacket) and some have three. For years, I let my fingernails grow a few weeks before the sale, painfully aware that I'd have a few hundred stickers to deal with.  It's a real pain in the ass, to be perfectly honest.  

Fortunately, I haven't bought in bulk for the last couple of years.

I already own approximately 500 Modern Library books in a variety of dust jackets and it's getting increasingly difficult to find new additions to my collection.  At this point, I don't turn down any volume in the library, provided the dustjacket is intact and the book is less than $5.   

I picked up eight more Modern Library books at the sale, all of them duplicates or jacket variations except for a couple of Proust novels previously absent from my collection and a Modern Giant devoted to modern poetry (from 1946). 

A couple of years ago, I picked up two or three dozen vintage sci-fi magazines at the book sale.  No such luck this year, but I did find some Man From U.N.C.L.E. magazines that looked like fun.  

I went through my Man from U.N.C.L.E. phase about five years ago, watching the old show religiously.  Open Channel D, bitches!  My vintage paperback collection has many of the tie-in novels, but these magazines are new to me.  Each issue features an U.N.C.L.E novella, plus a half dozen unrelated short stories.  Nice. There were stacks of old magazines like Life and Saturday Evening Post but after flipping through a couple dozen I determined there was nothing there for me.  

However, I did find these old newspapers from 1961:  a couple from Arizona, one from Philadelphia, and a couple from New York, all celebrating astronauts and the space program.  I haven't really explored the non-space related content from these newspapers, but I'm looking forward to it.   

We browsed for over three hours.  Fiction is my priority, my first love, but once I've had my fill I allow myself to drift over into other sections:  poetry, film, humor and biography.  

Among the mysteries, I found a first edition of  The Lights of Skaro (Random House, 1954) by David Dodge.  It's not as interesting as To Catch a Thief, but--much like my encounter with T.S. Eliot--once I found it I couldn't ignore it.  

Last year I stumbled upon some terrific Grove hardcovers mixed in with the erotica, but that particular cupboard was bare this year.  I did find an old sex manual with illustrations featuring articulated wooden models, but (yawn) I've seen that sort of thing before.  

We checked out of the sale by noon, thoroughly satisfied with our purchases.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Speaking Volumes (2/16/13)

There's an annual book sale I go to every year, the kind where you get in line at 3 a.m. even though the doors don't open until 8.  Five hours of waiting and there are still a hundred people ahead of you because certain diehards pitch their tent at 6 p.m. the night before, all for the simple thrill of walking in ahead of everyone else.

It's a terrific sale, tables and tables loaded with interesting books, but people don't donate like they used to and there just aren't as many rare and unusual books as there were just a few years ago.  

I've been attending the sale for nearly two decades, found my share of valuables.  It's still a thrill, still something I circle on my calendar, still something I cannot resist.  You wait and you wait all those hours and the very best stuff usually goes very quickly, within the first fifteen minutes.  Some years I stay two hours, sometimes three.  Depends on what I'm looking for, who I'm buying for.

It goes without saying that I spend more time in line than I do shopping for books.

This year was a relatively easy wait.  I had a good partner in line with me and it was much warmer than it's been the last few years.  

There have been times, waiting in that line, where I bought a cheap cup of coffee just to have something warm in my hands.  Just a few years ago, in what we felt was bitter cold, we took turns sleeping in the van with the heater on for 15-30 minute shifts.  

This year we sat in the same chairs we took camping, covered in blankets and extra layers of clothing. 

If course, it's not just the cold or the lack of sleep that you're battling.  It's the fellow eccentrics that surround you, the unabashed book addicts, the card-carrying dreamers, the socially awkward, the nutcases.  

The line was mostly quiet except for the people sitting next to us who droned on about personal things (their jobs, their sex lives, their unpublished novels). 

We listened in silence until one of the women paused to describe her unusually large hands.  "These gloves I'm wearing?  They're men's size large."

Which was all I needed to burst into laughter.  

I tried to blame it on the lack of sleep, tried to muffle my giggling in the folds of my blanket.  

I didn't fool anyone.