BY LIONEL ROLFE
There’s a curious thing about talking union. It’s not cool. Unions ain’t cool. They’re so not cool you’ll notice almost nobody writes about them. They ain’t trendy. But they’re the coming thing.
True, most of the great folk songs about workers organizing are from yesteryear. But ignoring something doesn’t mean it’s not there. There are no doubt more songs yet to be written.
For many years, Harry Bernstein was the Los Angeles Times’ labor reporter, and while his politics were distinctly middle of the road, he knew his subject. During the glory years of the Times, he provided generally fair and knowledgable coverage of labor, which was amazing considering that the newspaper had been known as the most anti-labor rag in the world.
Bernstein was a good antidote to the newspaper’s history, and it also strongly suggested the owners really were trying to build up the old paper into something great and important.
Now Bernstein is gone, and the Times apparently has no one left who can or would be allowed to write intelligently about labor. Despite what you might think, Hollywood is not the only economic driver of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles area is one of the world’s greatest industrial areas, comparable to the Ruhr in Germany or the vast industrial areas of Shanghai. There’s a lot of organizing in the city these days. Some even dream of organizing Walmart and McDonald. Read more
With Editor Nan Talese at Book Expo in 1992
BY BOB VICKREY
When my former college journalism professor spotted one of my columns in the Houston Chronicle a few years ago, he sent me a note that simply read, “What took you so long?”
The question he posed in that message has been asked by others in recent years after I had spent the majority of my working life as a publisher’s representative for a well known East Coast publishing house before my retirement in 2008. I had entertained early plans to build a career as a newspaper reporter and columnist after college, but somewhere along the way I became sidetracked and landed a job in the book publishing business more than four decades ago.
After spending many years promoting other writers and their books, I have since become sympathetic with their plight as I attempt to regain firm footing and lose some of the rust accumulated during my long absence from writing. I began sending out my stories to newspaper editors in recent years and was pleasantly surprised to find several of them found space on their pages for my feature pieces. There was an uncomfortable, but somewhat exhilarating feeling of producing my own work after a career spent critically reading other writers’ efforts. Suddenly, I found the shoe was on the other foot, and now have discovered a greater appreciation of the writer’s quandary in walking the creative tightrope without assurance of a “safety net” to catch us when we are in free-fall. Read more
Mary in New York, early ’70s, on top;
the lower picture shows her near the end of the ’70s
Junkie town. That’s how a neighborhood in the East Village struck me when I first arrived in New York, swiftly discarding my carefree California ways to survive the spaced out speed freaks, pill poppers and heroin addicts who prowled like the walking dead around this dirty bastion of flower power, so often compared to San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district.
Here I was, a former west coast golden girl who only a short time ago had driven a convertible through the Hollywood hills, listening to the Beatles and The Beach Boys in wooded rich hippie enclaves, now reduced to a reed thin fugitive hungry for money and connections, stamping through dirty streets littered with condoms, used hypodermic needles, dog shit.
“Be sure you have enough cash on you to give the junkies if they stop you—don’t fight them,” warned my hostess Phoebe Whistlethorpe, a one-time WASP princess who was putting me up at her railroad flat overlooking Tompkins Square Park where the addicts frequently gathered for drug buys. “You can get killed that way.” Read more
NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND
By Honey van Blossom
(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)
Some of those fascinated by Jack London seem to see aspects of themselves in him.
Most of his readers think of his having an adventurous life, and he did. One of his adventures started with the great earthquake of 1906, begging rather in his own backyard when he and his second wife Charmian Kittererdge London rode their horses to the top of Mt. Sonoma and looked down at the destruction in San Francisco and in Santa Rosa. This is the journey Charmian was to call “Jack London’s magic trail,” but it was actually a trip to visit old friends, bathe in hot springs and enjoy riding through the redwoods to the Pacific Coast. The Londons were to follow much of the same journey in 1911, which he described in “Four Horses and a Sailor.”
London inherited the travel story as a vehicle for making a little money from Charmian’s Aunt Netta, a travel writer. Background for reading both Charmian’s and Jack’s writing about the magic trail is enhanced by getting to know a little about them. Jack’s life was his greatest literary inventive contribution to California, and Charmian was his hardest working assistant. Read more