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
NOTES FROM ABOVE GROUND
By Honey van Blossom
(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste)
California’s radio, film and television comedies grew out of vaudeville, which largely grew out of earlier European traditions and paralleled the jester traditions in Native American, Middle-Eastern, Asian and African oral literature. Vaudeville, like baseball, was a vehicle of assimilation to American life, and then that amalgamated new American vision spread to the rest of the world.
Within the vaudevillian traditions has always been a sub-category of humor: the coyote jester. The coyote marches to his own drummer. He is difficult. He takes no shit and construes shit broadly.
The art of jesters and fools appeared in hieroglyphics in Egypt’s 5th Dynasty about 2500 BC and surfaced in Tarot cards. Roaming gypsies introduced tarot cards to Europe at the time of the Renaissance, and appeared throughout medieval history. The Harlequin on stage was an acrobatic trickster wearing a black domino mask and carrying a bat or noisy slapstick with which he frequently spanked his victims. That was the origin of the term “slapstick.”
The fool in Tarot cards symbolized a chance to live in the present moment. The fool represents the spirit of adventure and infinite possibility. Clowns and jesters also played an important role in the religions and lives of Asian societies. Clowns in ancient Greece were bald headed and padded to appear larger than normal. They performed as secondary figures in farces and mimes parodying the actions of more serious characters and at times threw nuts at the spectators. The Roman mime clown wore a pointed hat and a patchwork colorful robe. Read more