The Burn Collector: Collected Stories from One through Nine

Another great collection of zines into a book, courtesy of Green Apple. Burian the madman, careening about Providence Rhode Island, Portland Oregon, and Durham NC. The bare bones of good writing that with editing could be turned wonderous. Burian warns us in the prologue that you get what you wish for, and he signs it from Berlin, as if he is trapped by his own fame now in the land of the Deutsch.
Memorable bits– his Greyhound ride from NYC to Portland, 3 days of insanity. Growing up in Durham NC. Temp jobs in Portland. Using sleep deprivation as a drug. High fiving himself for slouching on a porch step drinking malt liquor out of a bag before noon. Drinking lots of coffee. Jobs at a copy shop to get free copies of his zine.

What are my morality and ethics, anyway? They seem so malleable and subject to the dictates of the situation. The only real consistents seem to be appreciation for a good bargain and a vague hatred of anyone who seems to be keeping me from getting one.

But you get what you pay for, and I am, in paying the eighty dollar special fare to get from New York City to Portland, Oregon, also receiving, as a fringe benefit, a three-day safari into the realm of the damned, a suck at the teat of the dankest, most sordid American cultural underbelly you might ever willingly end up subjecting yourself to. Welcome aboard the hound. I’m the guy at the back of the bus, smirking and uncomfortable;

Experience can be approached in two ways: you can put things on a moral/qualitative scale, where, say, on a scale of one to ten, one represents “a really bad time” and ten represents “a totally kick-ass time,” and then go about the business of trying to have all your experiences be, if not tens, at least in the four or five range. Alternatively, you can put experience on the same scale they try to allude to with those little drawings of thermometers on the side of jars of salsa, where low-thermometer equals mild and bland, and high-thermometer equals spicy and delicious. According to this rating system, traditional dichotomies of “bad” and “good” experience merely fall under the umbrella category of “spicy.” The main thing to be avoided are not the “one” experiences but that low-thermometer “mild” salsa, because really, if you like mild salsa, just face it, you don’t like salsa. You like tomatoes. That’s fine for you, but I myself am a spicy condiment individual and under my thermometer rating scheme your acceptable four and five scale experiences become my unacceptable mild salsa experiences.

You Can’t Win

A very pleasant re-read of this classic, a perpetual staff pick at Green Apple Books. Published in 1926, Jack Black’s autobiography describes life on the road with the bums, Johnsons, yeggs, fellow travelers. Black gets his start working for a barman, sweeping up the bar, in order to purchase a dapper grey suit he sees on another man. From this job, he collects money for the milkman from the local whorehouse and is busted by police when one of the customers claims to be robbed; Black’s first taste of jail. He helps one of the girls escape from the bordello, and eventually leaves town to try life on the road. His first night, he is accepted into the camp of two bums who give him a quick primer on bumdom. He rides the rails, falls in with the upper crust of bums, learns burglary and safe cracking. Ultimately this life of crime turns into a tale of jails in the US and Canada. He acquires an opium habit which he sheds after escaping jail, convinced that addition is purely mental. He is ultimately rescued from the prison cycle by Fremont Older, who gives him a job as librarian for the San Francisco Call.
Fantastic glimpse at turn of the century San Francisco, Denver, Kansas City, Vancouver.
***
Addendum: a few days after posting this, I was eating at Souley Vegan in Oakland and spotted a chap there wearing an AK Press sweatshirt, the publishers of this rescued work!

To the End of the Land

A mother refuses to sit at home in Jerusalem and wait for the army to show up at her doorstep to inform her of her son’s death, so to prevent the death, she whisks away an old friend and starts walking through Galilee, hiking the Israel trail back toward Jerusalem. The story takes place as Ora and Avram hike and hike and hike; they have not been in each other’s lives for decades. Ora fills him in on the beginnings of her family with Ilan, son Adam and son Ofer, who is Avram’s son but raised by Ilan.
The book paints a thorough picture of life in war-torn Israel, but I wasn’t terribly gripped by it. In need of a 200 page chop, I could have done without the excessively long chapter about Ilan sneaking to the front to try and rescue Avram before he was captured and tortured by Egyptians. The good parts were the descriptions of the kids growing up, the building of a family. Whittled down to that story, it would be much better. I admit to speeding through the last hundred pages, desperate for closure.

San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics

A decent collection of noir stories about SF. The best section was the old stories- Jack London’s “South of the Slot” with Freddie Drummond (sociology professor) and his alter ego Bill Totts (labor union leader). Dashiell Hammett, Ambrose Bierce. The rest of the book was more filler, stories from people like Don Herron (who runs the Dashiell Hammett walking tour, and pretends to write like him), and Marcia Muller (who wrote a pedestrian tale about a faked GG Bridge suicide). Mediocre writing outside of the masters’ stuff.

On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City

Scored this at Green Apple in the Staff Recommends section. Writings collected from the 90s and 00s that were published in various zines (Scam) and street papers (Turd Filled Donut), depicting life during that time in the Mission and Haight. Punks taking over public spaces with generators and putting on shows in doorways. Breaking into abandoned buildings and turning them into squats or art spaces and giving out free food by the bucket. Sending messages to friends in other cities via tagged train cars. Creating anti-war marches to protest the impending Iraq war, shutting down the city when Bush finally invaded. Hunt’s Donuts, open 25 hours a day, *the* place in town to fence items stolen nearby, the dividing line in the Mission between the Norteños and Sureños, the red vs. blue. Irish cops closing down Latino working class bars so they could be reopened as dive bars for the yuppie dot commers who were gentrifying the neighborhood.
At some point Lyle distances himself from his alter ego, Iggy Scam, and embraces his own talent for writing. Very enjoyable read, fills in some of the gaps I didn’t experience although I was living in the city at the same time.

Literary speed dating

020211_speed_dating

The fear is palpable. Poorly shorn men and women gather downstairs at the main branch of the library, clutching their books, brazenly ogling the others who mill about. Getting checked out at the library. And getting checked in for the night’s entertainment: speed dating, with a literary flourish.
We all dutifully bring books to use as conversation starters. We wear numbers on our chests, if we like someone, we bubble their number on our card and if they bubble our number, match-tastic! Slipping into the last seat, I steel myself for the onslaught and give my friend the thumbs up across the room. The librarians break down the logistics of the evening: the men will snake around the room while the women remain seated. Even the librarians seem nervous, sweated armpits, frenzied.
For the next hour and a half I have nineteen conversations lasting four minutes each.
I meet a cute twenty-something fresh from Brooklyn, reading Zorba the Greek, living in a homeless shelter, who spits paper hearts out of his mouth during the conversation. And a lawyer in a purple shirt, cocksure and flaunting his book: 15 minute meals by Cooking Light. There is the leopard print pajama-bottomed dude with a self-help book, a long haired sci-fi lover who launches weather balloons on weekends, and a Yelp salesman extremely impressed with himself for working at Yelp, reading a history of Palestine.
There are a few effeminate men, one self-published his own book after firing his “real” publisher over creative differences. The other effem has teeth which defy explanation and whose hometown is “the terrible city”, which is not Detroit, as I guess, but LA.
I meet a self-conscious guy with braces carrying one of Roald Dahl’s children’s books. When I mention Dahl had all his teeth extracted in his twenties, Braceface shifts uncomfortably in his chair. There is someone who brought a notebook of his own jokes, with one word jokes like “Alf-ghanistan.” My last conversation is with a whirling dervish, glasses fastened together with electrical tape. We cover so many topics in four minutes it feels like we are on fast forward: literature, comics, pop culture, the new Smurf movie and protests he’ll be leading against it. After the frenzy he hands me a card with link to his 80s appreciation tumblr.
At some point, the men’s snaking breaks down and it becomes a free for all. Men beeline towards cute girls. Chaos reigns. Librarians try to pull us back into order by decreeing a mingle hour, but we ignore them.
My friend meets a woman who brought a book titled All About Scabs. There is also a woman who brought Bukowski and Eggers, trying to appeal to a broad range of men.
When I first proposed this event to my friend, his response was, “What on earth would I gain from this? OK, I’ll do it.” After we survey the shambles of the room, and I see his exhilarated face, I can tell it was a success. He bubbles five girls on his card. We decamp to the bar to debrief, double orders of bourbon.
The next morning, he IMs me, “I now officially regret three of my five choices.”

Literary speed dating

The fear was palpable. Poorly shorn men and women gathered downstairs at the main branch of the library, clutching their books, brazenly ogling the others who were milling about. Getting checked out at the library. And getting checked in for the night’s entertainment: speed dating, with a literary flourish.
I attempted to rope a few of my friends into this, and one showed. We leaned back and watched the chaos. After twenty women on the wait list were no-shows, the librarian finally hit upon someone in the crowd who had had the courage to show up. Six additional women and seven men were shooed inside, after a lengthy reading of wait-list names akin to a list of the dead. At the end of the men’s list, there were two additional spots and four dudes scuffing their feet and looking nervously down. I suggested that they Roshambo to get in. Nervous laughs and then they awkwardly looked at each other. One guy said he’d never Roshambo’d.
I had sacrificed my wait list position until I knew my friend would also get in. But now, he was in and I was outside missing the action. With the men all accounted for, I began to wander off, until a librarian frantically chased me down. “We have too many men! We need you!”
We had all dutifully brought our favorite books or books we were reading, to use for conversation starters. We wore numbers on our chests, if we liked someone, we would bubble their number on our card and if they bubbled our number, match-tastic! Slipping into the last seat, I pulled my book out and steeled myself for the onslaught. I gave my friend the thumbs up across the room. The librarians thanked us for coming and broke down the logistics of the evening: the men would snake around the room while the women remained seated. Even the librarians seemed nervous, sweated armpits, frenzied.
For the next hour and a half I had nineteen conversations lasting four minutes each.

What I remember from that blur:
* A lawyer in a purple shirt, so sure of himself and clutching this book: 15 minute meals by Cooking Light. Apparently he eats fast and doesn’t like spending more time cooking than eating.
* the cute twenty-something freshly moved from Brooklyn and living in a homeless shelter. He was spitting paper hearts out his mouth during the whole conversation, and reading Zorba the Greek.
* Leopard print pajama-bottomed dude with a self-help book. I complimented his outfit and he proudly mentioned that he was meeting up with his crew later and they all dressed like this.
* The guy whose daily routine involves watching Seinfeld, favorite episode: The Opposite.
* Long haired sci-fi lover who claimed that his job doesn’t take any time at all, so he can pursue other interests. His job? Software development. I never thought of that as a part-time gig. His other interests? Launching weather balloons from Tracy, CA, with friends.
* Yelp salesman who was extremely impressed with himself for working at Yelp. Reading a history of Palestine.
* A few effeminate men, one of whom had written his own book and published with CreateSpace. He bragged about firing his “real” publisher a few months before they were supposed to bring out his book. Yeah right. He also has no clocks in his house. The other effem had teeth which defy explanation– a line through the middle of the top row, but white on both sides. Perhaps falsies. Originally from what he deemed “the terrible city”, which is not Detroit, as I guessed, but LA.
* A guy with braces, and like all adults with braces, wildly self-conscious of them. He brought one of Roald Dahl’s children’s books. As is always the case when Dahl comes up, I mentioned reading in his biography that he had all his teeth extracted when he was in his twenties. This factoid caused the gentleman in braces to shift uncomfortably in his chair.
* A whirling dervish, glasses taped together in the middle with electrical tape. We covered so many topics in four minutes it felt like we were on fast forward; literature, comics, pop culture, the new Smurf movie and protests he’ll be leading against it. After the frenzy he handed me a card with link to his 80s appreciation tumblr.
At some point, the men’s snaking broke down and it became a free for all. Men were beelining towards cute girls. Chaos reigned. Librarians tried to pull us back into order by decreeing a mingle hour, but no one responded.
My friend met a woman who brought All About Scabs . He asked her to show him her favorite picture, and flustered, she pointed to the first page.There was a woman who brought Bukowski and Eggers, obviously trying too hard to appeal to the range of men. Other women brought Deliverance and Cloud Atlas, Anna Karenina, a Shel Silverstein biography.
There was a guy that I missed meeting who had a notebook of his own jokes, a whole section of one word jokes like “Alf-ghanistan”, a section of jokes turning the word Bjorn into Pjorn, an Oprah-themed section.
When I first proposed this event to my friend, his response was, “what on earth would i gain from this? ok i’ll do it.” After we surveyed the shambles of the room, and I saw his exhilarated face, I could tell it was a success. He bubbled five girls on his card. We decamped to the bar to debrief, double orders of bourbon.
The next morning, he IMs me, “I now officially regret three of my five choices.”
*******
Update. Data from the librarians in charge.
Data: Match sheets
Women: 20
Men: 20
Matches for both women and men:
0 = 11 participants had zero matches
1 = 16 participants had one match
2 = 4 ” ” ” etc.
3 = 4
4 = 2
5 = 2
6 = 1
Data: Registration Lists
Totals attended: 20 women, 20 men
Women:
18 pre-registered
3 no shows
3 canceled by email
2 canceled from the waitlist by email
4 waitlisted & got in
69 waitlisted: 20 (considered the “real” waitlist at the beginning of the list); 49 (at the end of the list, were emailed not to come, they wouldn’t get in)
3 showed up from the last 49 waitlist and got in
Men:
20 pre-registered
2 canceled by email
3 no shows
10 waitlisted
5 waitlisted got in
2 showed up not pre-registered and got in