Monday, January 31, 2011

Eljay’s Used Books To Leave Pittsburgh City Limits

When my partner and I made a scouting trip to Pittsburgh in the summer of 2005, the city’s bookstores told us stories that the streets could not. In that sweltering August, most live bodies were on vacation or hidden inside their air-conditioned homes and apartments, but Pittsburgh’s bookstores gave us clues as to who lived here and whether we wanted them to be our neighbors.

Eljay’s Used Books stood out to me on that visit as a bookstore that shared my taste in 20th century fiction, lit anthologies, literary journals, psychology titles, and even mass market classics; and I appreciated their hefty counter-culture selection. As a space the store had an awesome vibe, both funky and lived-in, inviting and with enough nooks and crannies for moments of solitude. A display window proudly featured an Emma Goldman poster, one front wall was covered in colorful paintings and other bold graphics, and further inside were wide aisles of wooden shelves, and a few comfortable reading chairs tucked in front of the fiction section. Eljay’s looked
and felt like a bookstore where both owners and customers loved to spend time--not due merely to a much-cited “love of reading,” but also a love of publishing history and book culture, a love of eclectic book spaces, a love of the first amendment, and a love of lingering in secondhand bookshops. I knew that if Pittsburgh could sustain and embrace a bookstore like this one, it was a city I could live in.

On the Move

On January 26, 2011, Eljay’s Used Books sent out an email to their customer list announcing their impending move from Pittsburgh’s East Carson Street to the South Hills suburb of Dormont. The new store is expected to open on West Liberty Avenue on March 1st. This will come, certainly, as a disappointment to neighborhood (and other city-limits) customers; Eljay’s has been in the same locale since late 1997. But co-owner Frank Oreto cites a few factors for the move. “Daytime foot traffic on Carson Street has been on the decline for many years now--there aren’t as many art galleries or antique stores on this strip as there used to be. Bar and restaurant traffic are up, which is fine for the South Side. But I don’t want to work late nights.” Though Oreto and his family used to live on the top floor of the building that houses the bookstore, he now lives in Dormont, about a five-minute walk from the future store. His business partner, Louise Richardson, also lives in the South Hills area. Add the cheaper rent in Dormont and the fact that many of Eljay’s shoppers already seek out the store from other neighborhoods, and the move starts to make even more sense.

Eljay’s will have about one and a half times the space in the new Dormont location, with a trolley stop a short walk away, nearby restaurants and other shops generating foot traffic, and ample parking across the street. A quick glance at recent census data shows that the Dormont zip code has more than twice the population of the South Side area. But are they book shoppers? Oreto hopes so. “Dormont is where hipsters go to have children,” he quips. “People I used to hang out with on the South Side back in the day….now they’re in Dormont hanging out with a six year old.” Even so, he seems to retain a seasoned bookseller’s attitude that in this business, it’s always a grand experiment. “I could be running a butcher shop in a year—who knows? At least I like meat.”

The South Side’s Carson Street once existed as a long stretch of watering holes for the J & L Steel mill workers (indeed, bars and nightclubs still comprise much of the street’s business). But in its post-steel decades, the street has also been home to some of the city’s most beloved and unique bookstores. River Run Books was a second-floor used bookstore down the street from Eljay’s, but it left town in the mid-90s. Bookseller Bob Ziller recalls two Carson Street storefronts: a great feminist bookstore called the Gertrude Stein Bookstore (Stein was born, after all, on Pittsburgh’s North Side) that was around since at least the mid 80s and closed “probably in the early 90s,” and a radical bookstore called The Pathfinder. St. Elmo’s Books and Music (just across from the Birmingham Bridge) sold new books and was known for its strengths in philosophy, religion and spirituality, cultural studies, queer studies, and gay erotica. They closed in early 2002 after sixteen years in business. More recently, Joseph-Beth Booksellers closed their Pittsburgh location on East Carson at the end of November 2010 (after six years).

Ziller, who used to work at River Run and now co-owns Awesome Books in the neighborhood of Garfield, remembers a time when the South Side literary scene was dense enough that Carson Street held an annual “Poetry Crawl.” Pittsburgh today has an abundance of reading series, but most now take place across a river from here--in neighborhoods like Garfield, Lawrenceville, Oakland, and the North Side.

So when Eljay’s leaves, what’s left on Carson? City Books, a used and rare bookstore often voted Pittsburgh’s best over its three decades, stands a few blocks away from Eljay’s current location. City Books is adored by its faithful customers, and has hosted numerous gatherings and events: It was home of the Pittsburgh Poetry Exchange for many years, and a St John’s University alumni group still meets at the store once a week to discuss Great Books. Bradley’s Books in Station Square (an urban mall a good bit west of the main Carson Street drag) specializes in best-sellers and some remainders as well as calendars, cards, and other gift items. Unless you're in the market for titles by L. Ron Hubbard, that’s it for self-described bookstores--but the Goodwill across the street from the former Joseph-Beth location is known for having a decent-sized book section. (In fact, it used to have its own store next door, Bookends on Carson.) I myself cruise the place with some frequency looking for good reads, in addition to scouting for first editions. The last time I scouted here I was excited to find a signed memoir by Catherine Texier, former co-editor of New York litmag Between C & D.

Sifting through three-dollar books for signed first editions has its thrills for sure. But the cavernous warehouse of Goodwill is no match for the warm wooden aisles of Eljay’s. March 1st will be a sad day on Carson Street; until then, 20% off the memories while they last.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Beltway Poetry Quarterly at AWP

Today I stumbled across a great little interview about DC's poetry legacy with Beltway Poetry Quarterly editor, Kim Roberts. Roberts has organized a BPQ panel for AWP called "Four by Four: Beltway Poetry Quarterly Celebrates the Poetic Lineage of the Capitol City." The panel will happen on Saturday, February 5th at 1:30pm. Roberts reminds us how many poets were once based in DC, including Walt Whitman, Ambrose Bierce, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and points out that:
"The Harlem Renaissance got its start in DC (not in New York--despite the name that movement now goes by), which brought to our city Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Jessie Redmon Fauset, and others."
The panel will feature four contemporary DC poets discussing four historical DC poets: Living writers Regie Cabico, Brian Gilmore, Kim Roberts, and Dan Vera will discuss past literary lights Georgia Douglas Johnson (1920s-30s), Sterling A. Brown (active in the 40s and 50s), May Miller (60s and 70s), and Essex Hemphill (70s and 80s).

Kim Roberts will also be signing her own book of poems at AWP, The Kimnama, published on DC-based poetry press, Vrzhu Press.

Please see the original interview between Roberts and Joshua Gray here:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Some Small Presses in DC

It’s fitting that the annual AWP writer’s conference will be held in Washington, DC next week, as that city was recently named the most well-read city in the nation, according to one study. In honor of the conference, which will soon bring swarms of writers and presses to the Nation’s Capitol, I’m spotlighting a few DC small presses and journals.

Two great DC-area presses are featuring off-site readings during the conference. The literary journal Gargoyle Magazine (published by Paycock Press) will hold a reading at the Artisphere Dome Theater in Rosslyn, Va. at 7:00 p.m., Thursday, February 3rd. The event marks the 35th anniversary of the esteemed journal: Since 1976, Gargoyle has been publishing undiscovered or underpublished poets and fiction writers and producing beautifully-designed volumes of writing and art. I’ve always found the writing in Gargoyle to be both top notch and truly edgy--reminiscent more of Exquisite Corpse than of McSweeney’s.

Atticus Books, a press of literary fiction since 2010, was featured on this blog in December. They’ll be hosting a Happy Hour reading with at least five of their authors at a bar called Bourbon on 18th Street (Adams Morgan), on Friday, February 4th from 5:00-7:00pm.

Gival Press publishes titles in short runs but gives each book a long life in print; they’ve been around since 1998. They publish three formats in three languages: literary fiction, essays, and poetry; in English, Spanish, and French.

Beltway Poetry Quarterly runs four online journal issues a year and has since 2000. They feature exclusively poets who live or work in Washington and the immediate area.

Potomac Journal (not to be confused with Potomac Review) is a publication that juxtaposes, and sometimes blends, poetry and politics. Around since the early 21st Century, Potomac runs smart articles next to wise verse, and poetry reviews next to brief fictions.

Beltway Poetry Quarterly also provides this longer list of DC area publishers:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Three DC Bookstores

I had a brief trip (or a long layover) to DC last weekend and I got to cruise a few indie bookstores.

Fantom Comics is a small but (neatly) dense comic store. I was surprised to discover it in a first floor corner of beautiful Union Station soon after stepping off my Amtrak train. But Fantom’s location seems to fit well with one of their mission statements: “To introduce this under-appreciated yet quintessentially American art form [comics] to the public at large.” Carrying both serials and graphic novels, they had a small section of indie publishers including titles like Blankets (Top Shelf) and Love & Rockets (Fantagrapghics), and work by Charles Burns; that whole wall, in fact, was dedicated to non-superhero graphics. A small shelf nearby held comics collector supplies: plastic slip covers and cardboard backings. But the store was mainly featuring the more standard WHAW-POW! fare: DC and Marvel, X-Men, Batman, and She-Hulk, with some zombies and vampires thrown in for good measure. One-dollar comics had a large display, and Archie comics featured prominently on an all-ages rack. As I made my way around the central island that housed Fantom’s register (creating one square aisle around it), two clerks were doing what bookstore clerks do best: hashing out a recent breakup in a fishbowl. Actually, it's interesting to me that co-owner Matt Klokel has said that Fantom was inspired in part by the movie “High Fidelity”—he wanted Fantom to be the opposite of the shop dominated by snobbish, know-it-all clerks.

Fantom opened in 2005 in Tenleytown (Northwest DC) and moved about three years ago to Union Station. (From October 2009 through May 2010, they also had a store at the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, but a technicality in their lease forced them to give up the space.) I really liked the feel of the compact, concentrated store set-up with so many face-outs. It felt a lot like a magazine shop you’d find in a train station, but without all the distractions: without the gum and candy, the souvenir keychains or the Vitamin Water, the antacid tablets or the neck pillows. Just comics.

Next I headed to Dupont Circle via the red line where Kramerbooks & Afterwords is a stone’s throw from the north exit of the Metro. I wasn’t even sure it would be open on a federal holiday, but I found it hopping with folks browsing, buying, and meeting friends for lunch in Afterwords, the bookstore’s attached café. Kramerbooks and its café have been around since the 70s, and the bookstore is known for its left-wing non-fiction, strong selection of literature, counter-cultural bent, and for being one of DC’s favorite pick-up joints. Some titles that caught
my eye were Emergency Sex and Other Desperate
, an account of war-torn Cambodia in the 1990s told by three UN peacekeepers who face the limits of their idealism; The Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will written and drawn by Judith Schalansky; A Voice from Old New York: A Memoir of My Youth, by novelist Louis Auchincloss; and Brooklyn Was Mine, a non-fiction anthology. The register area featured tongue-in-cheek titles like Where’s Bin Laden?; Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up, A Woefully Incomplete Guide; and the anthology 101 Places Not to See Before You Die. Tinkers (Bellevue Literary Press) and a novel from McSweeney’s stood out as two featured small press books.

While I explored Kramerbooks' shelves, two friends chatted about the Kindle over a table of paperback fiction by authors like Nicole Krauss and Dave Eggers:

“To be honest, I’d rather have a book in my hands.”

“Really? You strike me as a Kindle kind of guy. Maybe once you tried it….”


Walking down Connecticut Avenue to the next bookstore, I bought a homeless newspaper, Street Sense, from a friendly street vendor. I later enjoyed the issue very much—I read the news that homeless newspapers have recently been started in Huntington, West Virginia and Greensboro, North Carolina; and that tragically, homelessness in veterans is up 85% over the last two years in Alabama (and is on the rise in the US in general). I read an inspiring profile of a formerly homeless fellow, and I really liked two poems by an ex-con, featured in this poetry issue. In the city where the political circus rules the headlines, Street Sense chronicles the struggles and everyday stories of the growing underclass. I’ve long thought that homeless newspapers are a great example of the independent press doing its job—providing a truly alternative set of stories to those of the corporate media.

KULTURAs reminds me of funky stores I used to find in DC in the 1980s. The two-story, human-scaled, mom-and-pop shop deals in secondhand books as well as a small selection of vintage clothing. Known especially for their art and photography books that fill the center of the long space, I found myself making a beeline for their paperback fiction. I had told myself I wasn’t going to buy anything today (or ok, maybe ONE novel), trying not to weigh my suitcase down with books. But in a good used bookstore, looking means buying. At least for me. Honestly, I have no idea what all this fuss is over e-books and Kindle: My idea of paradise is endless hours browsing in bookstores run by book buyers who know something about good literature and great presses. Heaven is losing hours carefully moving one pile of books aside to expose other rows of books, in search of the book I forgot I wanted, or never knew about before now, or never saw in such a good-looking font.

KULTURAs never disappoints. The last time I was here, I bought a gorgeous edition of the collected novels of Jean Rhys, complete with Paris photos by Brassai. On this visit I found many more than one book I wanted to buy: An early title by Clarice LiSpector, Night and Hope by Arnošt Lustig, a handsome John Edgar Wideman, a book about Kathe Kollowitz on Feminist Press, an album of photographs and ephemera connected to the writings of Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Grove edition of three novels by Witold Gombrowicz in one volume, early poems by Marge Piercy, a great looking copy of The Street by Ann Petry. I kept picking up books, carrying them around, discovering others and putting some earlier finds back on the shelf. I wanted them all, but the books that came home with me were three: The Situation in Flushing, a memoir of a small town Michigan childhood by the author of Subways are for Sleeping; The Queue, a banned-in-USSR experimental work by Muscovite Vladimir Sorokin; and an old mass market copy of Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights.

Several customers came in and out of KULTURAs in the time I was browsing and sweating over my books, some to try on gorgeous vintage dresses, and a few George Washington University students looking for a Toni Morrison title. Though the owner searched even on his hands and knees, he reported, “It looks like that's the only novel of hers I haven’t got.”

KULTURAs started out in DC in the late 80s, but the owners moved their store to L.A. in 2005 for a change of pace, enjoying the surfing and good weather of Santa Monica for three years. They returned to Wisconsin Avenue, and in February 2010 opened a second store on Connecticut Avenue just north of Dupont Circle, in the neighborhood where it all began.

The owner and I chatted about bookstores and cities while he rang me up.

“Business is alright,” he told me. “Much better here than on Wisconsin Avenue.” When he heard that I live in Pittsburgh after years in New York, he asked how I liked my new city--”I keep hearing good things.”

Me: “It was definitely a culture shock at first, but I like it keeps growing on me. There's a lot going on.”

KULTURAs: “When you get off the East Coast, it takes some getting used to....but once you look around, it’s more interesting...I think.”

Me: “Yeah, well, the East Coast is the known entity.”

KULTURAs: “Exactly.”


Like I said, it was a very brief stop-over in DC, and my itinerary left out some great bookstores. Next time, I plan to revisit Busboys and Poets and check out Second Story (a strong recommendation from Issa's Untidy Hut) and Politics and Prose (RIP cofounder Carla Cohen).

Thanks to my brother Mike for alerting me to both KULTURAs and Busboys and Poets.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Guest Review: Allen Frost reviewed by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE

Allen Frost. The Mermaid Translation. Huron, Oh.: Bottom Dog Press/ Bird Dog Publishing, 2010. Fiction. 140 pages. ISBN: 978-1933964409.

I know nothing about this author or his intentions. As I read this I wondered what it would've been like to read it at age 8. I reckon that might've been when it would've seemed the most magical to me. It seems like it'd be in good company if it were to be grouped with L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, Evans G. Valens' Me and Frumpet: An Adventure With Size and Science, & Tolkien's The Hobbit - all of which stimulated my imagination, sense of wonder, & ability to daydream when I was 8 or 9. I'm further reminded a tad of novels for adults like In the Days of the American Museum by Robert Edric & Leonora Carrington's The Hearing Trumpet. While in some respects the novel seems surreal it's not really stream-of-unconsciousness enough to be surrealist. It's more stolidly in the tradition of kids books everywhere - there're ethical underpinnings that're a relief to me as an adult who's often exasperated by the boneheaded macho behavior of the male world. THIS BOOK IS (mostly) GENTLE - & thank goodness for that. The chapters are short, the language is simple, the characters are 'exotic': a former deep-sea diver, a mermaid, dolphins, a magician, elephants. The world is post-empire & the forces of fantasy are free-ranging.

Reviewed by

Monday, January 10, 2011

Recommended Reading

Kim, Jee, at al., eds. 2001. Another world is possible: new world disorder : conversations in a time of terror. New Orleans: Subway & Elevated Press (distributed by New Mouth from the Dirty South).

View book on Worldcat.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Novel Excerpt: Beer Mystic by bart plantenga

I'm excited to be one of the hosts for bart plantenga's "Literary Pub Crawl," (aka a novel released in excerpts all around the web), Beer Mystic. bart is one of the founding members of The Unbearables. Without further ado:


Beer Mystic: A Novel of Inebriation & Light
bart plantenga

Furman Pivo believes he [plus beer] may be the cause of a rash of streetlight outages. This sense of empowerment transforms him into the Beer Mystic. He has a mission and a mandate. Or does he? In any case, 1987 NYC will never be the same and the rest is history or myth or delusion.

Beer Mystic Invitation: Participate in a unique literary adventure that will take you on the longest, rowdiest literary pub crawl ever. Follow the Beer Mystic's story around the world through a global network of host magazines. [next excerpt at end of this chapter / cover by David Sandlin.]

Previously: Beer Mystic Excerpts #21-22 Jiggered

Beer Mystic Excerpt #23

Nice truly enjoyed etching rosary-shaped bite marks into my neck, knowing that I’d be going home to my “wife.” She wasn’t sure why she did this. Jealousy? Territoriality? Carnivorous cravings? Beer-addled devotions? Scarification rites? Well, some yes – and some no.

Eunice as in “you nice” as in “you are nice” or as in “you niece” as in “you were born in Nice”; there were other theories floating around regarding the origins of her name. Was it Swahili for a scarlet meadow flower? Or Italian for a decorative black alloy used for inlays? Or an Anglo-fication of “unico” or “unique”?

Nice also claims her parents told her they had named her after a brand of margarine in the Midwest, which had a vaguely “ethnic” milkmaid as logo.

“They were so keen and exciting – I love them – but now that my mom has passed into a new phase of existence, my dad stumbles through his job and watches news on the telly. He drifts through his duties and rounds; his ambassadorial activities are mainly ceremonial now, and purposeless – he misses my mom. Me too. I will one day be strong enough to return and help my father. I told him we should do a scrapbook. I even promised to help him write a book about it all.”

I had met Nice only weeks earlier, walking a neighbor’s dog. I had assumed a longing stride that overstepped its bounds, something right out of a film dream sequence.

“I wish I was your dog,” I announced from the park bench, quick to hide the bottle of Red, White & Blue behind my back, with a Milwaukee’s Best in my pocket, both in honor of my dead old man who drank these brands with such verve as if he could prove things [like the beer’s good taste] via sheer enthusiasm.

“I think you mean ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. Me too. I’d have you on a choke-chain and a short leash. Are you dog or pedophile?”

“Which do you prefer? Pet or petofile?”

“I expect the courtesy of bein’ left alone...”

“For how long? The rest of yer life?”

“I am far from alone and I expect you to let me walk this dog in peace.”

“But who’s walkin’ who anyhoo?”

“One yank on yer choke chain and you’d know. But aren’t you lovely or desperate to ask.” And seamlessly, without a need to rationalize the marvelous, we ended up hanging out on that park bench that very night. We shared my beers almost immediately. I explained the sudsly and woe-is-me logic behind their purchase.

In the days that followed, we found ourselves on my stoop, in parks of crumbling concrete, in art galleries, and Bar Dollar Bill, but then quickly migrated to the Linger Lounge, talking about the awesome mechanics of a dog’s jaw. And then a snake’s. And then a career’s. I entertained her with wild tales of black-eyes and brown outs. And she with tales of an amazing life that no amount of my mythologizing could ever top. Eventually I got her to where we would brown-bag it. Anywhere. Feel like outlaws sucking brews through straws from the warm smooth boulders in Central Park. The benches on the Brooklyn Promenade. Get skunked. And sometimes in my place although Nice felt creepy there. I’d let Nice go just minutes before I might expect Djuna back to maybe change into her club-networking gear [was she really twirling in the same circles as Jerry Rubin and Vernon Loud?]. And the closer to a possible run-in, the more aroused I got.

What Nice had resented the most in her life up to this point was having to endure it devoid of her OWN adventures.

“But you’ve had an amazing life.”

“That is survival and none of it was of my own choosing.” All the people she had met – Bill Cosby, Miles Davis, Ishmael Reed, U-Thant, Caroline Kennedy, Miriam Makeba – and the things she had seen were through her parents. “They were sharp as phonograph needles and they played me well. No complaints. But now it is time for my own adventures. I don’t mean Area-Limelight adventures, I mean heart-of-darkness-types of stories.”

And that the upper-middle class sought adventure where others merely accepted the cruelty of their fate was definitely to my advantage. As an ambassador’s daughter, she had seen much but touched little – until moving resolutely to the Lower East Side – on her own. Although her dad has an apartment on Lexington and 74th and sends monthly stipends via her P.O. Box.

“It’s too early to tell. I mean, you haven’t been around long enough to not have a life to complain about.” Our deep evenings led her to thinking that I was thinking that she was thinking that she was prime material to share my moments of inebriated ultra-awareness with. “Because drunkenness opens us up to enlightenment’s possibilities. It allows us to extract the ‘OM’ from a LindeboOM or a DOMinion Beer. Beer apparently secretes this coded cheesy and viscous goo [not unlike smegma?], by the way, that actually initiates the yeast’s own mating processes. This coded goo allows the yeast to imitate the human sex hormone – gonadatrophin. This chain of tiny fungus organisms converts sugars into alcohol. This was discovered many hundreds of centuries ago when the skin of a fallen fruit broke open, exposed itself to the natural yeast in the air, and there began to ferment.”

“Holy Saccharomyces! The first inebriated soul!”

“The first visionaries. And then you see that beer head and the male gonad might be related.”

“To suck one is to suck the other?”


“It’s almost like this sneaky yeast does all this to ingratiate itself into our human lives – imitation as a form of biological flattery. Once in our lives it assumes a central cog – er, keg – in our psyche’s dealings with amour, inebriation, and light. Like a ‘liquor vitae,’ the ch’i, the life energy, the electric fluid that flows through our blood, lymph, and nerves, carrying our essence to every cell – and beyond. Enhancing our magnetic core that attracts us to other human reservoirs. Thereby linking aesthetic beauty, blind lust, and beer ineluctably in this delicious neuro-comedy of life. And so beer [and its adherents] must also surmount disorder, search for supreme integration, make amends between the shifting territories of mind and environment.”

“All this seems delightfully yet unreliably clear, don’t you think?”

“Well, monks in the Dark Ages knew all about this yeasty marvel. That’s why they brewed beer and allotted themselves and guests up to a gallon a day! They made beer outa oatmeal, burdock, dandelion, nettles, even spruce. Wheat was common. It’s where witbier comes from.”

“I have some sad news.”

“You’re allergic to beer.”


“To me? My jokes?”

“No. No. “Back to my name, Nice, for a minute, and then I hear it was originally ‘Nielle’ as in La nielle des blès. It’s a purple flower whose seeds are toxic and can poison wheat harvests. In English its called a Corn Cockle or Corn Pink because the English sometimes call wheat, corn.”

“I thought you were named after a margarine.”

“Yes and no. I mean, I think I was born in Nice and so have some claims to French citizenship I believe. Nielle – I don’t even know where the whole Nielle story came from – coulda been after this pretty pink-purple flower that grows everywhere but often in among the wheat.”

“Sneaky weed.”

“Here’s what I found: “Les graines contaminent le blé et elles sont considérées comme toxiques pour la volaille, les bovins et les humains.”

“Something about them being toxic.”

Chez l’humain, les cas d’empoisonnement sont rares.”

“Humans who drink witbier stand a good chance of dying?”

“No. Human poisoning is rare. I got sent up the river. Did two years at Bard. I’m gonna apply to Cooper Union. I am going to use art as advocacy, as agitation.”

“But why would you think they would name you after a poisonous flower?”

“Maybe as in beautiful but lethal. Listen, I don’t think I’m beautiful…”

“But, I mean, it is not something that is up for debate. It is a fact and they probably meant is as in: Keep your hands off our daughter.”

“Probably. I mean, they did not want me to be a nun or nothing. Just to be… careful. Condom use, all that. Interrogate the guy. Discern motivation. Anyway, it’s all human fluids under the bridge of no one’s foot. Anyway, my passport says ‘Eunice’.”

“Let’s go back to a cheerier story – the monks. They knew beer had strange illuminating properties, and that’s why they considered beer a divine libation. That’s why the earliest breweries were also places of worship.”

“This what they mean by ‘university of the streets?’

“I dunno… That’s why, eventually, priests and popes condemned the intake of beer and the peculiar exaltation it produced because it came too close to suggesting divinity. It threatened to subvert some of their monopoly power in their roles as supreme intermediaries between god and imbiber, between gut and soul. And the administrators of holiness are always blocking the way between us and the other side. Some half-crocked power priests even stretched the ‘insidious delusion’ references, trying to associate beer-head, godhead, and the more unseemly Satanic activity of ‘giving head.’ Beer used to be poured onto fields to bless the harvest. After which, farmers masturbated on their fields to doubly ensure an abundant harvest.”

Nice loved these stories and all the affixed data, and rose quickly to fill the position groomed for her, that of “Brownie.” With each beer dark and full in the Linger Lounge I watched her plunge her middle finger into the center of its head. Yes. This was a woman who knew how to control the head with her middle finger, a little known but effective technique.

“Maybe that’s why they built St. Bart’s Church in New York on the site of an old brewery, the way Moslems and Christians in Spain were always building on top of one another.” It was this type of conjecture she was sure would enamor her to me. She was right. She liked being called “My Sweet Brownie” and “Lil Acolyte” because of the “light” in “acolyte.” I was pretty sure it wasn’t spelled that way but I wasn’t about to point that out and risk breaking our spell. The more confused things got the more I managed to make a lovely sense of it.

A sense of mission began to congeal around her presence: put dogs in their place, promote beer, link my being and ego to that beer, the elimination of light pollution… articulate the detrimental effects of light pollution. (Apply for grants?) It meant that hope could at last become messianic, that the happenstance had emerged as a logic beyond logic. That beer and the struggle against light pollution led to increases in crime, not ordinary crime, not crimes of passion, of human against human, but of a righteous struggle against, well, all that is aligned to and abetted by excessive light. This battle between sensual dark and vigilant light could also be described in Marxist terms. Our successes might eventually come to be measured by some equation that revealed the increased recovery of long-missing stars and an increase in vandalism of the automobile, the ultimate symbol and conveyance of massive homicide-suicide attempts.

“Where’d you learn that?”

“I dunno, books.”

“No, the finger in the head. It’s very per-vocative.”

“Oh yea?”


“Greek anatomists useta believe a vein directly linked the heart to the middle finger, givin’ rise to the notion that it was a healing finger. Doctors stirred healing potions with it, knowing it’d ‘tell’ the heart whether the potion contained toxic substances.”

[Eunice ‘Nice’ Waymon: “Furman Pivo is a true zymurgist, mental seismologist, and artist. We call his works ‘repairing rips in the big dark.’ What exactly IS his art you may ask. Well, first off it’s OUR art. He has the power to douse lights, streetlights mainly, and I have the power to enhance that – call me an amplifier, then – which offers him the opportunity to color in the urban scars of light with his own personal darkness. I can give all this rhetorical form. We free the dark so it can reunite with its atmospheres. I compare him to Mark Rothko, that master enabler of dark. I’ve done my homework, don’t you worry. Critic Michel Butor once said of Rothko: ‘He produces an oasis of light that protects him. A light intended to benefit only individuals, in secret.’ It’s THIS kind of light that we seek to preserve and enlarge. Plus when he sits across from me poking his runny eggs in Odessa he looks so cute, like an owl and owls can see in the dark.]

“Plato said that perfect men – the philosopher kings – should have absolute power.” Nice, my plum-eyed houri, had truly earned the right to tag along, nay, to lead. We had fasted, ingested hi-mineral multi-vitamins with extra vitamins B, B6, and C to replenish our bodies with the nutrients they need to breakdown alcohol. We had deprived our bodies of sleep to welcome the excitement of the unexpected into the pores of our souls. The famished adrenaline-driven anticipation, hyperaesthesia, the isolation, the “snugfests,” debilitation, the noise [Coltrane’s “OM”] that led to sensory rearrangement, and potions of narcotic ale, ex lupulis confectam, a lovely bouquet, replaced the notions of makeup and jewelry as we headed out into the night.

I clicked on the micro-corder stashed in my coat past the pocket hole, into the unexplored body of the coat to make a secret sound recording of our journey. I would play this on my radio show [the next time I fill-in for the Bean or X-Ray-Spats or somebody else] for an audience that I wasn’t even sure existed.

We were already Brahmins of Brew by that first night; the night burning deep inside us like clumps of anthracite coal in a furnace. In search of that brackish crepuscular, that grey zone, that netherland where beer meets dark, where soul floats into alignment with ale, where I “encounter darkness as a bride and hug her in my arms,” as Nice said Shakespeare put it. And we found our first street light, a wounded one spitting out its last feeble flickerings along Lexington Avenue where whores with the longest legs on the planet wear boots up to where their crotches whisper “toot sweet.”

I stepped boldly under this light and dragged her with me. The light went easily and naturally the way of a thousand black-eyes before – POOF! – like that. And that’s all she shone. It was gone and we had killed it. Like suffocating a lover with a dark blanket. Yes! And we touched fingertips, my right hand to her left…

One whore, on the corner with zippers that looked like teeth riding her thighs, thanked me with a nod. Had we killed the hum in her ears?

This would become a moment branded indelibly into Nice’s memory as we were about to be denounced publicly on a grand scale. “Whether or not these people committed shameful and fabulous acts, the putting out of lights and indulging in promiscuous intercourse I don’t know with absolute certainty. But I guarantee you that we will catch them.” Justin DeSade, NYC Commissioner of Public Lighting, vowed in a Daily News article about the recent rash of outages.

Law enforcement, social architects, and bureaucrats, as Nice argued, understand that light is a tool of surveillance and control. Light makes conscious what is better left UN. Light leaves humans squeamish, camera-shy, blinded; it circumscribes instinct, clips the wings of fancy, defines the parameters of lust and behavior so that erogenous zones are renovated as trade zones. This is how we wrote it up in her raggedy spiral notebook, covered in rhombuses of fake fur. They know that light stimulates commerce. And they know that in order to control the marketplace and society and its collective unconscious – keep going Nice! – they must control fear and the consumption of palliatives and annex darkness. Their frontline defense is streetlights – manifest destiny in the shape of 175-watt unshielded mercury vapor lamps or the more common 150-watt cobra-head fixtures. That’s why to disperse a potentially unruly scrum of festivity-seekers management always turns up the lights after a concert or party to send the revelers scurrying home like Blatta Americana. That’s why cops patrol the dark sectors carrying flashlights, scarring the fields of night with vectors of light, attempting desperately to contain the night’s ooze toward squalor and ecstasy. But to whom would we send these treatises inlaid around phenomena to render them purposeful and pregnant with meaning?

It didn’t matter all that much because adventure was now the throb in the blood, the beer in the glass, the light in the bulb. Nice was totally beside herself. She made me repeat what sounded like profound or almost Biblical pronunciations: “The rich shall inherit the lights [strategies of lighting] and therewith illuminate their conquests.”

She took photos of the patch of darkness above where once had hung this pulsing testicle of light. Her full smile made her eyes go Chinese. She gave me full credit as the “king of mind” and “ruler of dark” [capital letters come later] for the whole phenom. And for her benefit I repeated “The rich shall inherit the lights and therewith illuminate their conquests.”

This allowed me to make a deeper play for her. I drew her into the chain of phenomena and turned on the charm of my light and flattered her further and further beside herself. Of course, any too-much of light can trim the edges off the dream.

“Yuh, know, if it’s all about darkness then why not just poke our eyes out?” She needed to know this under the scream of the FDR down where your not sure whether its fish parts or human body parts that gives it its particular stink. “Like Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder. They’re soulful.”

“Five Blind Boys from Alabama, Riley Puckett, Blind Willie McTell, Jose Feliciano, Blind Lemon… Well, I figure we need the contrast of light to fully appreciate darkness. That’s what ETERNAL light is all about.” I’m not sure where all her knowledge and musical history came from but I suspected she may have studied with Amiri Baraka [an admirer of her father I think I heard her say]. It may have been something she once whispered or something I merely surmised and then for the sake of the plot forever pinned to her bio.

“‘Light doth seize my brain / With frantic pain.’ William Blake. He was there before us.” See what I mean; Nice had an incredible sense of timing, an even more incredible memory.

And with black-eye #2, and then #3, #4, and #5 – those delicious proofs of my prowess – I magnanimously suggested that they were the result of our COMBINED bio-electro-magnetic impulses. “Loving you long in the short sparks of the night.” Nice said in all earnestness. I had no way of knowing that she was quoting Dylan Thomas at the time. Although I swear I’ve read him!

And I stared into the depth of her bottomless pupils and said I foresaw times when our combined bio-electrical surges and brain-matrix linkages would render us unstoppable and mythological. We would tap into paranormal phenomena, telesthesia [sensibility to sights and sounds beyond what is thought possible for our normal sense organs], Buddhism, and the post-Weather Underground.

I saw wild embraces where our contours would take on the shape of one another. I imagined us watching the docks’ last glowing ashes fall into the river like exhausted fireflies and the pillars, which had once been trees, collapse like an old man’s legs, giving way into dark water. Nice knew that during the days of Louis the 14th there had been a great deal of commotion regarding streetlights as a symbol of enlightenment. “By the end of the 18th century, the Revolutionaries had destroyed all the street lamps because they were symbols of the Ancien Regime.”

On my stoop [where were the porch gargoyles?] I proposed we rub vigorously together to increase our collective electrical charge. I’d acquire her positive charges and she my negative and vice versa, and we’d sit there exchanging charges late into the night. My Fugs for her Trocchi, my MC5 for her Debord and Fanon, my B. Traven for her Nadja, my Celine for her Youssou N’Dour, my New Jersey for her Senegal and the rest of the world she had been dragged through. Eventually we’d go on a so-called Blindman’s Holiday, do the so-called “feelie zoo” to get around the fabulous surface that is her skin, that magnificent eclipse of body.

“Henry Miller once said, ‘It is obvious enough that the sexual life flourishes better in a dim murky light: it is at home in the chiaroscuro and not in the glare of neon light.’” She knew scholarship was foreplay, that the way to one head was through the other. She was hopeful that the words of others could still influence us. She wasn’t far gone, no, she was far and deep into it, the real it. Hope is what made her the most beautiful woman in all of NY.

“Now my father lets on in a postcard sent from his Lexington Ave. apartment, mind you, that I may have been conceived along the Nielle River, in Fabrezan in Languedoc in France. Among the vineyards. Cathar country. He likes to kid about ancestry. There may have been some struggle between mom and dad over whther to name me Nielle or Eunice.”

“That’s fair. How’s American beer like making love in a kayak?”


“Both are fucking close to water.”


We wondered if indeed this activity would save us from the brutal anonymity that the tireless pursuit of individual distinction had hollowed out for us. The pursuit of states of consciousness beyond our control or the control of priests and governors and teachers, beyond what we are daily saddled with – call it the logic of linear hegemony – is universal. It was incredibly satisfying drinking with Nice while drafting manifestoes the world might never see. Take coca leaves, glue, acid, banana leaves, rancid wheat, mushrooms – they neither legitimize nor hasten the fall from heroism. My/our hunt is technically not unlike the search for the perfect truffle, although my endless search for the perfect deli [beer knower] would mean having my criteria at hand: near home base, on a well-trodden route, wide aisles, they don’t mind me inspecting the labels at length or consulting the Beer Bible, they are friendly and can enthusiastically recommend related beers of like quality. [ed: That, of course, was to eventually describe Abdul of the Sip-n-Snak All Nite]. This may be hopeless but I will continue, hopefully to create a modest constellation of delis, where no matter which cardinal direction I am headed in I can find a satisfactory purveyor of fine beers. Nice is right, as soon as you write these kinds of things down, they instantly begin to instigate their own resolution. Writing makes things happen. It is voodoo.

What made our subsequent illumination even more remarkable was that she had actually begun to glow like a broody “black light,” as she herself had come to jest. She was black, yes, and I wanted her, or at least her skin, to absorb me.

I told her about how Dr. Harold Burr, a pre-Curlian scientist, had already proven the existence of halos. He discovered that ALL organisms have unique electrodynamic systems with their own voltage patterns. Some humans, he discovered, had learned to harness these voltage surges. These are mystics. Wilhelm Reich thought that some of these hyper-charged beings had repressed biological surges which produced malevolent charges or “armors” of muscle.

“This is not a joke: Why do men tap the tops of beer cans just before they open’m?”

“There’s a chemical explanation.”

“To warn the beer gods?”

“No, it has to do with making sure that not too many over-anxious bubbles are clinging to the tab hole.”

She was impressed by the way I had seemingly gathered all the random awesome intelligence of the night and made it intelligible – and sexy. I was even more impressed by how she could make the phenomenon into manifesto. I never told her that the first time my knuckle grazed her erect nipple I climaxed inside my humid briefs and that each citation she sent my way added one more butterfly to my stomach.

This was a time of lightheartedness, of precocious exploration of intellectual improv. A time during which her heavenly body, limber and slender as a gangly corn cockle, didn’t so much reflect light as ABSORB light and heat, and all my lunging desire with an awesome indivisibility.

Beer Mystic Excerpt #24: Book Beat >>
bart plantenga is also the author of Wiggling Wishbone and Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man both published by Autonomedia. His book YODEL-AY-EE-OOOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World received worldwide attention. He is currently [not] working on a new novel, Paris Sex Tete, which lies around like an apathetic, half-clad, dissheveled paramour while his new book on yodeling Yodel in HiFi, will no doubt be a bread-winner of epiglottal proportions. His radio show Wreck This Mess has been on the air since 1986, first on WFMU [NY], then Radio Libertaire [Paris], and finally Radio 100 and now Radio Patapoe [Amsterdam], the world’s most untamed and oldest pirate radio station. He lives in Amsterdam.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Book Giveaway Follow-up: Liveblogging the Coin Toss

I still have to decide who wins the free copy of James Jay's wonderful poetry book, The Journeymen (Gorsky Press), generously donated by Mike Faloon. Margaret Bashaar and Ron Kolm are the two contenders, and there's no way I can subjectively choose--they are both poets I admire, both writers full of energy and enthusiasm for the small press.

To solve this dilemma, I have enlisted poet, publisher, and bookseller, Kristofer Collins, to witness a coin toss. See the comments for the results and Kris' confirmation.

Heads, Margaret Bashaar wins....

Barefoot and Listening, poems by Margaret Bashaar (Tilt Press)

Tails, Ron Kolm wins....

Dreamscapes, poems edited by Ron Kolm, Jennifer Ross and Paul Meyers (Autonomedia)

And the winner is.......[See comments]

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Guest Review: Johnny Ryan reviewed by Eric Nelson

Johnny Ryan, Comic Book Holocaust. Oakland, Ca.: Buenaventura Press, 2006. Comics. 128 pages. ISBN: 978-0976684893.

In the graphic, gleefully offensive world of Johnny Ryan, body parts fly through the air and all bodily orifices (both natural and unnatural) are ripe for penetration. From the creator of Angry Youth Comics comes this book of sketches skewering comics ranging from Krazy Kat to Hi and Lois. Many times the jokes have little to do with the original content or turn on a dime into a wild tangent, an interesting choice considering every comic is exactly one-page long.

While some criticism has pointed out the fact that for Ryan, the laugh lies in how horrible the joke is in the first place, leading to the question of "Why do we need a full book of this?" I think one thing that's neglected in that discussion is the amount of detail given to each piece. While obviously the jokes won't be for everyone (Archie tells Jughead about his plan to put a firework in poor Betty's ass for being "a bananahead"), enough darts are thrown at the board to make a reader (and especially a writer) go back at the end, knowing they missed something. Highly recommended for comics nerds and those with a nasty streak. Guaranteed to put you on anyone's naughty list.

Reviewed by
Eric Nelson, zinester and author of Silk City Series (Knickerbocker Circus Publishing, 2010)