La Carafe Building (circa 1860)– Houston, Texas
By Bob Vickrey
I sometimes sit in a little French café across the street from my house in Southern California enjoying my breakfast while listening to the piped-in music of Edith Piaf, and become quickly transported back to my college years where I first heard the haunting La vie en rose.
The rundown musty old bar in Houston was called La Carafe, and for several summers in the heyday of the 1960s, it provided the perfect meeting place for many of my former high school pals.
I remember the first night I entered the dark, mysterious La Carafe and promptly spotted several friends who were being regaled with stories by the bartender. I was immediately struck by the number of beautiful women in the room who all seemed to be speaking French. The international flavor of the place was quite a novelty for those of us that had barely crossed state borders. Read more
By LIONEL ROLFE
After several years of deliberation, I finally purchased a Kindle. I now own my very own digital reading device which has all the books I can read on it. There’s lot that’s unsettling about the device, but that’s not entirely bad—just caused a bit soul searching. Getting the Kindle turned out to be a really big deal for me, and a revelation. For one thing, I realized how much I was an old man living through revolutionary times.
I am preparing for exiting this vail of tears, not right away, I hope, but soon enough. I’m stumbling down the last league. As a result, I no longer feel a compulsion to be on the cutting edge. I’ve lived long enough to see too many cutting edges come and go. One of the things that my friends know about me is that I’m quaint in my appreciation of music. I grew up turning pages for my concert pianist mother, especially when she played the Kreutzer. I played classical guitar until I was 13 or so and haven’t touched an instrument since.
But music never lost its magic. I just felt that there were others who could give it that magic better than I. When I got into my late teens, Jazz proved intriguing. Folk, blues, and the very greatest voices like Paul Robeson and Edith Piaf turned me on. Rock never made the cut. I rarely heard that much genuine genius in it, and mostly I saw it as an essentially corporate product. When Bob Dylan electrified his guitar, I lost interest. Read more
(Umberto Tosi, author of Ophelia Rising, was an editor and staff writer for the Los Angeles Times from 1959-1971.)
“More doctors smoke camels than any other cigarette.” Gordon feeds the line.
“He’d walk a mile for a Camel,” Benny cues off the ad that actually had just flashed on the muted bar TV, and bums one off Roy.
Roy acknowledges Gordon with a sidelong glance, elbows Benny, gives him a fag and lets him light up off of his. “Fraternizing with the enemy again, Benny?” Smoke envelopes them in a blue-gray twilight like doomed doughboys in World War I trenches.
Camel Cigarette ad from the period, with slogan quoted in Nino’s text
Roy reminds Benny of a younger Nat King Cole, with high forehead, sculpted cheekbones and an easy, kind of sexy smile, but a gravelly voice. He doesn’t trust himself to say that to anyone, for fear it will sound like he thinks all black people look alike.
Maybe. Benny is white, after all – a whiter shade of pale. Procol Harum’s pseudo-psychedelic one-trick hit gives Benny a contact high and a case of hives, because he has to grit his teeth and give a shit-eating smile whenever people mention the title as a cool way of letting him know they notice he’s an albino.
“Yeah? Well then, where are my 16 vestal virgins?” Read more
the author back in the day
Around 2 am I drifted into a fitful sleep. Sargeant Battaglia and Doria Nune appeared in my dreams wearing clown costumes in a mirrored funhouse, their privates exposed like overripe fruit. Battaglia advanced with his night stick raised, about to arrest me for killing a rapist in Arkansas.
It was around 7 o’clock when I woke up, convinced that Doria had given her pot-smoking cop lover the number of my room which was only two floors down from hers at the Chelsea Hotel. It was time to get out of this pitstop in my fugitive’s life before Battaglia came banging on my door —maybe with a search warrant and his other gun drawn.
Frantically I rummaged through my wallet and found Dr. Grobnik’s card with the name of Danny Schultz on the back. During the business hours, I would call Schultz about the apartment Grobnik said he wanted to sublet. I needed to get out of The Chelsea—away from Doria and her scene, away from the junkies leaving blood and vomit in the communal toilet outside my fourth floor room, away from the squalid horror of Battaglia who was more dangerous than any addict in this boho hotel.
At least the sun was shining brightly in the early winter morning. I slipped into jeans and a thick sweater and walked out into the nearly vacant street. A half block east towards 7th Avenue, I bought a copy of The Daily Bugle at a newsstand and read it over my first cup of coffee at the nearby Horn & Hardart automat.
The double murder of Vinnie DeQuattro and his still unidentified mob associate was front page news with my pictures of the two slain wise guys splattered across the cover, the headline in red ink. Ted Katz and I shared a byline just as Katz had promised. There, on page three where our story continued, was an artist’s sketch of the burly hit man with a pullout description of how he strode military style towards his targets wearing gray sweat pants and holding a .38 revolver. And there was my pen name—C.J. Ryder—standing alone for the photo credits. Read more
By Bob Vickrey
Shortly after the lunch hour on January 6th, I heard the first loud crash of a crane knocking down the walls of the buildings on North Swarthmore Avenue in Pacific Palisades, directly across the street from my house on Monument. When I walked outside to see which of the former businesses had taken the first hit, I saw the demolished back wall of Village Books.
As a booklover and former publisher’s representative, I began to wonder if there was some kind of international conspiracy against bookstores. First, Jeff Bezos turned the business on its head with Amazon.com; then billionaire investor and landlord Charley Munger decided Dutton’s Brentwood Books was an expendable commodity, and now, even the guy operating the crane for the demolition company employed by Caruso Affiliated decided he didn’t like bookstores either. Read more
(Copyright © 2015 by Umberto Tosi, all rights reserved.)
The social worker doesn’t make eye contact. She squints slightly through wire-rimmed glasses as she puts her ballpoint pen to the sheet of paper on her official clipboard, her shoulders hunched as if somebody might peek. She’s only slightly plump, slightly fortyish, slightly rouged, all neutral in a gray suit and sensible shoes, except for her dyed reddish hair that needs a touch-up. She clicks off questions in with a lets-get-it-over flatness, without follow-ups. Benny gets that Ms. Gray Suit already made up her mind.
Benny tries to nuance and elaborate his responses, but she’s having none of that. He feels impatient too, thirsty for a martini at the Dog, where he would be, having taken the rest of the afternoon off. Ms. Gray Suit has him cornered in a tight, windowless bleach-lit meeting room in the basement of the courthouse, a good place to get the third degree . He had hoped she would come to his home – which I had made spotless for the occasion – with his daughters at play in the yard and all demonstrably right with his parent world. Turns out the social worker had already gone by his daughter’s school, and met with them privately in the principal’s office. Ben steams himself up imagining Gray Suit putting his girls on the spot about whether they would like to live with neurotic, albino daddy or manic-depressive, vodka-orange-juice tippling mommy. Read more
An Unnecessary Woman. Rabih Almeddine. New York: Grove Press, 2013. 291 pp.
Aaliya Saleh, the 72-year-old protagonist of Rabih Almeddine’s fifth novel, has lived in Beirut all her life. She has seen her once-cosmopolitan city descend into seemingly perpetual communal strife. After Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization’s failed attempt to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy in 1970, in which thousands of Palestinians died, the PLO gunmen were expelled into Lebanon.
There they staged guerrilla raids into Israel and became one pole in the civil war that raged from 1975 to 1990. Aaliya recalls reading Calvino’s Invisible Cities “while people killed each other outside my window.” At the midpoint, in 1982, Israel invaded, forcing the PLO into exile in Tunisia, and leaving behind a new enemy, the Shi’ite Hezbullah militia, which has contested ever since for dominance against Lebanon’s Christian and Sunni Muslims, while periodically launching attacks over the border into Israel, which draws the Israelis back into Lebanon.
Aaliya observes these events with stoic distaste, hating all of the gun-toting armies, militias, and gangs with Olympian impartiality. Liberated from an arranged marriage when her nasty, diminutive, and impotent husband divorces her at the age of twenty, still a virgin, she secures a marginal job as the only employee of a small bookstore, operated on a shoestring as a hobby project of a prosperous Beiruti. “There were more stupid stuffed toys than there were books, and everything was covered with dust. The bookstore had as much chance of making it as I did.”
She stays there until she retires when she is sixty-eight and the bookstore is sold out from under her. Thereafter she has been a recluse in the apartment she had first occupied on her disastrous wedding night when she was sixteen. It is owned by her ex-husband’s family and they resist every attempt by Aaliya’s relatives to force her out to allow their larger families to take it over. This gives her space for her books.
A glimpse of the Chelsea’s Inner Sanctum
By Mary Reinholz
The Chelsea Hotel’s house shrink was an uptown psychiatrist named Murray Grobnik who held fourth in a penthouse suite a few blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue. His was a world away from my grubby little room at the boho hotel where I had recently considered a swan dive from the fourth floor balcony after learning that an undercover cop from the NYPD’s anti-crime street unit was looking for me.
Richard, the hotel’s desk clerk, said that Grobnik could prescribe something more effective than aspirin to relieve my headache and “obvious anxiety attack.” He made the appointment for me from his phone in the lobby, whispering that the good doctor was a patron of the arts who grew marijuana on his terrace and sometimes forgot to charge patients for treatment.
“He’s overextended and absentminded and some of his patients here really take advantage of him,” Richard confided. “They steal his prescription pads and one of them took his opiates when he wasn’t looking and threw a party on the 7th floor that lasted all night.” Read more