Sunday, May 19, 2019

409. Surviving a Boss from Hell


For two five-star reviews of my latest historical novel, The Eye That Never Sleeps, go here and scroll down.  The book's first two reviews -- too good to be true.

The e-book was released May 9.  The giveaway of 100 e-books ended May 8. There were 467 entrants, 100 of whom get the e-book.  435 people marked the book as "Want to read."  This is great exposure for the book.

 The Eye That Never Sleeps eimage.jpg

A story of the strangest friendship that ever was: a dapper young bank thief and the detective hired by the banks to apprehend him For more about this and my other books, go here.  

Fascinating New Yorkers has been reviewed by The US Review of Books. Reviewer Gabriella Tutino says, "There's something for everyone here in this collection of profiles, and it serves as a source of inspiration for readers who love NYC."  For the whole review, click on US Review.

Surviving a Boss from Hell

         My deceased partner Bob left 21 volumes of journals covering his life from the mid-1950s well into this century, and he has tales to tell.  One that I find gripping recounts what he and his coworkers underwent when a new library director, whom I’ll call James Walsh, arrived at the Jersey City Public Library (JCPL) in January 1993.  Bob was head of the Reference Room at the time.  Here are excerpts from his entry for January 6, 1993.

          Our new library director est arrivĂ©.  James Walsh.  Catastrophe hovers.  Took perhaps two hours, at a meeting with main library department heads.  Lovely fresh machismo in the head seat.  Age 47, although looks around 60 and frayed.  Largely bald.  Aggressive.  In  fact, smoldering viciousness apparent, despite the  jokes and labored chumminess.  Not to be trusted.  Asserted his power position in record time.  His thighs and legs constantly vibrating.  For every profanity he utters (son-of-a-bitch, Jesus, damn – and, in his mouth such terms do assume purple profane undertones), he removes a quarter from a roll and pushes it ostentatiously across the table!  His nervousness borders on the sick.  I’m convinced he is physically ill, perhaps on drugs.

         Such is the first impression that James  Walsh makes on his staff.  He then assembled committees and talked fervently about computers.  The staff laughed – unwisely, Bob thought – at his jokes, but there was a nervousness in the atmosphere.  Staff, he emphasized, must be “multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and bisexual.”  By the latter, Bob assumed, he meant “multi-sexual.”  “Poor boobie, so inarticulate!  His vocabulary is coarse and limited, although not his abundance of voice and verbal offal!”  When he announced that he had no life outside work, Bob noticed that his legs vibrated.  “I saw everything.  I observed a bona fide S.O.B.”  The rest of the day “tootsie” lingered in his mind, “odorous, odious, yet alas, to be tolerated until he, too, exits and malfunctions unto death.”  Never, in all Bob’s journals that I have read, have I observed him generating so sudden and so intense an antipathy.  Unknown to his opponent, war had been declared.

         Bob’s entry of January 7 adds an incident of the day before.  “My sex life is my own business,” the new director announced, then turned to Bob and said, “Right, Bob?”  At this, Bob remained impassive.  Did the nut think him a predatory gay sex fiend, he wondered, or was Walsh himself gay and anxious to fend off any interest on Bob’s part?  Walsh was for him the stereotypical macho male, displaying “weary, heartless, relentless insipidity.  It was a surfeit of vomit.” 

         Bob managed to turn his mind to other preoccupations, and the journal records no further episodes with Walsh until February 1, when it describes a meeting with him and several other staff members in Walsh’s cigarette-befouled office.  “He proceeded to prattle, belch, fart, and prance about, as though hot from inner sexual frustrations,” and put everyone on the defensive.  “We nurtured his wounds, his persona, the juices in his groins.  Energy flowed in both directions, but it was deeply unpleasant.”  Whether Bob was right or not in perceiving a sexual malaise in the man will be clear enough in time. 

         The entries tell the story.  April 7, 1993: at a two and a half hour meeting in his office, the “Walsh man” asserts his determination to drastically reorganize things at the library, regardless of staff feelings.  Bob speaks forthrightly, urges caution, suggests examining what led up to the present situation. 

         June 24, 1993:  The Walsh man, failing to understand why queries go to another department first and then to Bob, attacks Bob personally: “What kind of fucking reference department can’t answer a simple question?  What kind of shit is this?”  Bob then explained the system and he “kind of apologized.”  But Bob notes that the supervisors are totally disrupted, since no one knows in what direction Walsh’s proposed reorganization will go, and least of all Walsh.  He has totally alienated the entire library staff.  He is “macho, lonely, embittered, I could almost say evil.”

         August 10, 1993.  At the Library Board meeting last night, Walsh’s reorganization plan was again given to a committee for further study – perhaps a way of shelving it.  Also, someone evidently snuck into the business office and photocopied the time-card records of Walsh’s crony, the supervisor of maintenance, which exposes Walsh as a liar.  A reporter for the Jersey Journal has learned of this; an exposĂ© is imminent, Bob exults. 

         August 25, 1993.  A  “scorching” article in the Jersey Journal accuses Walshie of harassing the entire library staff, and also mentions a suspicious mishandling of money.  Bob’s reaction: “Hurrah!  Clap, clap!”  Bob fervently hopes the Walshie will be judged and terminated, fitting justice for the man who, months before, severely judged and terminated an employee for a minor infraction.

         September 15, 1993.  Walshie calls Bob to his office, says he will especially scrutinize any future staff recommendations on his part.  “What are you inferring by that remark?” Bob asks.  He then denigrates a staff member whom Bob had recommended, stating that she is not adept in using the new technology now installed  in libraries.  Bob defends his recommendation and the staff member, and Walshie backs down a bit.  Bob leaves the office “with my head and dignity as high as the sky.”

         October 11, 1993.  The Walsh man screamed at two supervisors and ordered them out of his office, calling their memos to him “shit.”  One of †hem is going to complain to the Library Board.  But the Board has approved Walshie’s reorganization plan.  “Enter, therefore, chaos.”

         April 13, 1994.  Walsh still rules the library.  “Deadline, last day, for my JCPL [Jersey City Public Library] years is to be June 19, 1995.  Enfin.  Bye-bye, tootsies.  Bye, Walsh pig.”  He then recounts how Walsh was leaving the third-floor men’s room as Bob entered.  Said Walsh, “The seat’s still warm for you!”  Bob doesn't give him the satisfacion of a smile.  But the Board has announced a 90-day delay until a final decision is made about naming Walsh top piggy.  No wonder he stomped into the reference room and screamed at a librarian for not being at the information desk, available to the public, when she was consulting an index so as to answer a patron’s query.  “The man is clearly sick.”

         April 25, 1994.  The Library Board president, a pal of Walsh's, is accused of using a library-authorized credit card to have his automobile repaired.  A first-page story in the Jersey Journal.

         June 13, 1994.  A double scandal: the Library Board president and Walshie have been accused of charging large amounts of money on their library-funded credit cards for personal expenses.  Amounts of up to $40,000 over a few months at disco clubs, sex-display clubs, motels, and department stores.  And the president is a bona fide minister at a Baptist church in Jersey City!  “It is a delicious little scandal,” Bob notes, “but it does the library not a jot of good.  The JCPL image has been spoiled to a green rot.”

         June 23, 1994.  The mills of the gods grind slowly, but grind they do.  Walsh has been suspended as the library’s top piggy!

         August 22, 1994.  More good news from the Jersey Journal.  Board President Williams and Director Walsh have been indicted by a grand jury for fraud, theft, and other charges, and are liable for 40 to 50 years in prison.  Does Bob exult?  No, he is thunderstruck, and then feels compassion for the two.  “What will or can ever emerge from all this crashing rattle that will ever reveal the underlying humanity, and what court of justice will make anything of that?”

         October 19, 1994.  Walsh has offered to testify against Williams in return for a light probationary sentence.  Asked to resign as director, he has declined, and will fight to prove his innocence.  No more compassion now.  “He’s a dog of evil stripes, a menace.”

         January 9, 1995.  Another article in the Journal,  The buzzard Walshie is trying to return as director.  “Nightmare again, should the wretch resume his dictatorship.”

         So end Bob’s entries regarding Walsh.  The buzzard never resumed his dictatorship.  In fact, I have been told by a reliable source that Walsh appeared before the Board, only to be arrested on the spot and taken away in handcuffs.  Yes, the mills of the gods grind slowly, but grind they do.   Yet a sliver of doubt remains.  Did Walsh actually serve time?  I have queried online, discovered nothing,  What is certain is that he never returned to the library. 

Coming next:  What Goes Up Has to Come Down.  How Soon the Bust?

©  2019  Clifford Browder

Sunday, May 12, 2019

408. From Illusions to Gas: Mo Kwon Do, Bath Bombs, and Rolfing.


For two five-star reviews of my latest historical novel, The Eye That Never Sleeps, go here and scroll down.  The book's first two reviews -- too good to be true.

The e-book was released May 9.  The giveaway of 100 e-books ended May 8. There were 467 entrants, 100 of whom get the e-book.  435 people marked the book as "Want to read."  This is great exposure for the book.

 The Eye That Never Sleeps eimage.jpg

A story of the strangest friendship that ever was: a dapper young bank thief and the detective hired by the banks to apprehend him For more about this and my other books, go here.  

Fascinating New Yorkers has been reviewed by The US Review of Books. Reviewer Gabriella Tutino says, "There's something for everyone here in this collection of profiles, and it serves as a source of inspiration for readers who love NYC."  For the whole review, click on US Review.

                            From Illusions to Gas: 
              Mo Kwon Do, Bath Bombs, and Rolfing

         Certain stretches of sidewalk in the city are of special interest because of the shops and restaurants that happen to cluster there.  One that I have passed a number of times jst registered with me recently: Eighth Avenue just below West 14th Street, the west side, from the Museum of Illusions to Mobil Mart, one of the few gas stations, and perhaps the only one, in Greenwich Village.  So here is what you find, walking downtown from 14th Street, between illusion and gas.

File:14th St 8th Av td (2019-01-03) 05 - Museum of Illusions (NY County National Bank).jpg
Eighth Avenue, from West 14th Street and the
Museum of Illusions south.

Tdorante 10

         First, at 77 Eighth Avenue, the Museum of Illusions, a fairly new creature whose nest of illusions I have yet to penetrate.  Its Greek-temple-like appearance is a reminder that the building once housed a bank.  The museum's website promises photo illusions, optical illusions, a chair illusion, a head-on-a-platter illusion, and a rotated room where visitors are apparently rotated, photos showing them tossed head over heels in space.  An experience for the young, this last suggests, and maybe not for me.  I don’t need to be rotated or to see my head on a platter.

         75 Eighth Avenue.  At ground level, the West Village Veterinary Hospital, its window listing its credentialed personnel, but nothing visually appealing.  And upstairs, Filipino Martial Arts, including Mo Kwon Do, whatever that may be.

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Email a linkto this fileInformationabout reusing

File:US Navy 040706-N-7130B-001 Senior Chief Yeoman Scott Baker, from Clinton, Mo., a 4th degree black belt and certified Tae Kwon Do instructor, spars with a student during a class held nightly aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).jpg
Mo Kwon Do in action.  Care to learn it?

         73 Eighth.  Think Coffee.  “Feel good about your coffee,” says a sign on the sidewalk, and on the street-facing window, “Our coffee restores farm workers n Nicaragua.”  How can you resist the noble urge to enter, have a cup, and do good?  But resist I did, going on to

         71 Eighth.  Olde Good Things.  In the window, a big star with blinking lights, an imitation green crocodile, a toy red truck, a three-foot-high glass coffee urn, a Waldorf Astoria silver teapot with small glasses, a tall Cinzano bottle, a towering red tyrannosaur with yellow teeth, and in the center of the window, a huge classical or pseudo-classical bust of a smirking god, with what look like vine leaves in his hair.  The god dominates.  Obviously, a fun-loving, mischievous deity, not to be trifled with.  And on the sidewalk in front, greeting visitors, a three-foot-high yellow-beaked metal rooster labeled Quaker State, the name of a motor oil.  The most arresting display on the block, but what is it?  A store – one of four in Manhattan – featuring salvaged treasures: architectural items; antique mantels, doors, and mirrors; old signs; Art Deco hardware; vintage toys and furniture – you name it.  If it’s old and interesting, they will have it, if not in one store, then another.   And upstairs in suite 2R, by way of anticlimax, is Creative License, which describes itself as a “global entertainment licensing firm.”  There’s probably another story there, but Olde Good Things has stolen the show at no. 71.  I don’t know its prices, but that quaint e tacked on to “Old” makes me suspicious.  Not for the budget-conscious, I suspect.

File:Olde Good Things on the sidewalk.jpg
Olde Good Things on West 24th Street in Chelsea.
Beyond My Ken

         69 Eighth.  Tiziano Zorgan.  Italian clothing, high fashion with a vengeance.  Two manikins loom in the window, garbed in garishly bright colors.  The woman’s high heels, blatantly green/yellow, bruise the eyeball.  If you want to make a splash, go with Tiziano.  And who or what is that?  A “who,” it turns out.  His website explains: an Italian designer whose collections are manufactured 100% in his own laboratory in his native Italy, and are imbued with the Italian tradition of art and beauty.  He has another shop on Washington Street and is headquartered in a third at 380 Bleecker, my street now given over to designer clothing and stratospheric rents.  A photo shows him as sleekly bald, with a very intense look.  Lucky the West Village is to have him, especially for those seeking a trendy, color-explosive look. 

         And again, an anticlimax: in suite 1D, not noticeable from the street, is Village Rolfing, offering healing through Rolfing.  Another mystery, at least for the uninformed like me.  So what is Rolfing?  A form of alternative medicine developed by Ida Rolf, involving ten hands-on physical manipulation sessions to alleviate pain and increase energy and mobility.  And Ida Rolf herself?  An American biochemist, born in the Bronx, who created Structural Integration, or Rolfing, and died in 1979 at age 83.  A photo shows a white-haired lady with a gracious smile, a lady whom you’d like to have as a grandmother.  I hope Rolfing works.

         But we aren’t done with 69 Eighth, where another clothing store is nested:  Meg, “Women’s clothing made in your neighborhood for women by women.”  Coming right smack next to Tiziano Zorgan, Meg would seem to issue a feminist and vibrantly American challenge to this Italian intruder.  And the clothing displayed is black, tan, and gentle pink: subdued colors of quiet elegance.  The contrast couldn’t be starker.  But who is Meg?  Meg Kinney, a clothing designer who loves “urban women with big lives,” and quotes online magazine publisher Amanda Carter Gomes’s statement that “style is eternal, trends are bullshit, and still after 20 years, there is so much to learn!”  Though I’m not tempted to cross-dress, my heart goes out to her.  May she continue to thrive!

         67 Eighth.  Soapology.  In front, a sign:

                           All Natural

From the doorway comes an enticing blend of aromas.  In the window stands an old four-legged bathtub with a mesh of tiny cracks, topped by a shelf with clusters of beauty products such as Massage Candles, Dead Sea Scrub, Body Cream, and Natural Perfume Oil,   To which their website adds Anti-Oxidant Face Moisturizer, Black Amber Body Lotion, Black Coconut Bath Bomb, Blue Jasmine & Sandalwood, Black Coconut Aromatic Reed Diffuser, and a host of others.  No ordinary beauty products, these.  Their proclaimed philosophy: to combine the secrets of the Old World with those of the New, to create products specially made “to the needs of the everyday modern individual.”  They want “to inspire a more nurturing and health conscious lifestyle in a fast-paced and bustling world.”  And what “everyday modern individual” will heed their call and use their products?  The well-heeled, I suspect.  The fans of Tiziano Zorgan.  I can see them flocking in their blatant green-yellow heels, maybe after a session of Rolfing.

         67 Eighth.  Caserta Eye.  Optician, glasses, contacts.  Displayed in the window are eyeglasses, Easter bunnies, chicks, and fake flowers.  Inside one sees an optician servicing a client.  The website promises unworn vintage eyeglasses and current brands.  One reviewer proclaims it “Always the best,” and another declares herself “beyond thrilled with my new Victory glasses.”

         65 Eighth.  Village Pizza.  This one is obvious, offering heros, calzones, burgers, and rolls, plus free delivery.  Toppings include meatballs, broccoli, eggplant, pineapple, pepperoni, fresh garlic, roasted peppers, anchovies, spinach, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, and more.  If pizza is your thing, what more could you want?

         65 Eighth.  Fresh Farm.  Last on the block, a grocery offering fresh fruit and vegetables, with apples, oranges, and bananas -- some of the latter blackened -- in bins outside.

         So ends that block.  Across West 13th Street, still heading downtown, we come to Mobil Mart, where trucks and cars turn in to fill their tanks.  Satisfying the most basic of vehicular needs, the place provides a sharp end note contrasting with the pretensions of Soapology, Tiziano, Rolfing, Olde Good Things, and the Museum of Illusions.  On solid ground at last.

Coming soon: Surviving a Boss from Hell.  How my partner Bob dealt with the most obnoxious library director that ever was.

©  2019  Clifford Browder

Sunday, May 5, 2019

407. Damn the Gatekeepers, or Why I Go with Small Presses or Self-Publish


The release date of The Eye That Never Sleeps was last Thursday, May 2; pre-ordered copies have now been shipped.  For the first review, go here and scroll down.  A five-star review by jetangen. 

The release date of the e-book is May 9.  The giveaway of 100 e-books ends May 8; when I last checked, 251 people had signed up.  

 The Eye That Never Sleeps eimage.jpg

A story of the strangest friendship that ever was: a dapper young bank thief and the detective hired by the banks to apprehend him For more about this and my other books, go here.  

Fascinating New Yorkers has been reviewed by The US Review of Books. Reviewer Gabriella Tutino says, "There's something for everyone here in this collection of profiles, and it serves as a source of inspiration for readers who love NYC."  For the whole review, click on US Review.

          Damn the Gatekeepers, or Why I Go
           with Small Presses or Self-Publish

         Literary agents are the first gatekeepers that aspiring writers bump their head against.  Just getting to them is tricky, since they are usually overwhelmed with submissions and want no more.  And if you do get to them, the odds are against their taking your manuscript on, and if they do, the odds are against its finding a publisher.  So the big publishers’ acquisitions editors are a second round of gatekeepers that writers come up against, and in doing so usually end up bruised.

         Let’s talk about the agents.  On page 8 of the Sunday Review section of the Times of Sunday, April 21, 2019, the Loose Ends column, under the caption Literary Agents Seek Fresh Voices, is a list of what some agents are looking for as the next big thing.  Here, seemingly, is a writer’s dream: agents open to new voices and telling those voices exactly what they want.  And here, in the words of the column, are some of their “perfectly reasonable requests.”

  •         Neil Gaiman, but a woman, and also not so tall.
  •         I want a writer with a sensibility at the intersection of Shel Silverstein and Milo Yiannopoulos who can whip up a mean keto cookbook.
  •         A sexy Ursula K. Le Guin.
  •         A Stephen King type who loves adverbs.  No clowns.
  •         Jane Austen geared toward men who hate manners.
  •         Anne Lamott, but make it fashion.

         And more, but why go on?  The four authors of the piece – Caitlin Kunkel, Brooke Preston, Fiona Taylor, and Carrie Wittmer – run a satirical website, so I suspect that their presentation of the agents’ requests has more than a dash of humor, and edged, satirical humor at that.  And since no agents’ names are given, I suspect that the whole thing is one big spoof at the expense of agents and their demands.

         But let’s assume that it’s for real.  If so, what gives?  For me, not much, since I don’t recognize a single one of the names mentioned by the agents, except dear Jane.  Which means that I’m not “up,” I’m not "in the swim" or "in the know."  But let’s google a few of those names, to make sure that they, at least, are real.

         They are.  Neil Gaiman is an English author of fiction, audio theater, and films.  Fair enough.  But why not so tall?  Maybe that’s the point of the spoof.

File:Neil Gaiman (2005).jpg
Neil Gaiman answering questions while
on a book tour in Berkeley, CA, 2005.


         Ursula K. Le Guin is an American author of speculative fiction and fantasy.  She is about 90, looks very human, but I wouldn’t call her sexy.  Maybe the books need to be sexy, not her.

Ursula K. Le Guin at a meet-the-author
Q&A session in Albuquerque, 2004.


         Stephen King is a prolific bestselling author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, sci-fi, and fantasy – precisely the genres that I don’t do.  He wears glasses, looks serious, squints, and smiles, but I’d have to read him to know if he eschews adverbs.  (Another spoof, no doubt.)  He’s 6 foot 4, but in this case his height seems not to matter.

Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store, 2006.
bunkosquad/Michael Femia

         Ann Lamott writes fiction and nonfiction about subjects beginning, as her website states, with capital letters: Alcoholism, Motherhood, Jesus.  She has signature blond dreadlocks that hang down charmingly over her forehead, and at age 65 is about to marry for the first time; she met her prospective hubby through an online matchmaking site.  Of all these authors, she’s the one I personally find the most congenial, but is she lacking in fashion?  That too is probably a spoof, but if she does lack it, that may be why I take to her and wish her well in her new real-life adventure.

Ann Lamott at the lighting ceremony for the Rainbow World Fund's World Tree of Hope, 2013, in San Francisco City Hall.

         Spoof or no spoof, these are my betters.  They have agents, are prolific, do book tours and (hopefully) good works, sell well.  But I don’t want to copy them – least of all with the twists supposedly stipulated by the agents – any more than I would want them to copy me.  To each his own … or hers.  I have my path, and they have theirs.  Theirs involves fame, money, and success; more power to them.  Mine is a quiet bit of endeavor involving none of those things, but it’s my path and no one else’s.  So on I plod, agentless, and contentedly so.  Because I’ve bypassed the gatekeepers.  For me, they don’t exist.  I’ve found several small presses interested in my work, and if ever they reject a manuscript I believe in, I’ll publish it myself.  Self-publishing today is relatively easy.  Admittedly, it floods the world with bad books as well as good ones, but the good ones will win out – however modestly – in time.  We unagented authors are unknown to vast multitudes of readers, but one precious thing consoles us: we are free.

          Did I ever have an agent?  Yes, several for various manuscripts, back when the gatekeepers weren't so inaccessible.  But something was always wrong with the relationship.  For instance:
  • She never answered letters, couldn't be reached by phone.
  • She answered letters, but never the one that I'd just written.  She must never have kept files.
  • She promised and promised and promised to read my manuscript, never did.
  • Unable to sell my manuscript, he returned it to me, but said he'd offer suggestions as to where I should go next.  But when I asked about those suggestions, he always put me off.  Finally I realized that he had no intention of suggesting anything, just wanted rid of me.  At that point, I wanted rid of him.
Those that took on my manuscript tried their best to find a publisher; for this I have no complaint.  It was their contact with me, or the lack of it, that was troublesome.

          I rarely saw an agent face to face.  My keenest memory is one of an older woman sitting at a desk covered with manuscripts, toiling away in solitude in a tiny inner office, her door open just enough to let me sneak a peek.  Ruling the small outer office was her one assistant, a younger woman, another gatekeeper, who received or returned manuscripts; beyond her I never got.

          One thing all agents want is for a manuscript that comes their way to be exciting.  They want to come alive when they look at it, want to be unable to put it down, want to keep turning page after page.  But -- and what a But it is -- it also has to be something they can sell.  Many of them tell sad stories of loving a manuscript but having to reject it.  Why? Because it's not what the acquisitions editors of the big presses want.  So what do they want?  A woman I know who represents authors at BookExpo, the annual gathering of the book trade in New York, tells how she gets the editors' attention.  She goes to them, promo sheet in hand (a sheet listing the basic features of a manuscript), sniffs it, and says, "I smell money."  And does that ever get their attention!  Because today that's all the big presses care about: money, and big money at that.  They want to drown in it, and I hope they will.

          Do writers ever have good relationships with agents?  Of course. Especially if you write books that sell, and sell big.  How-to books, celebrity biographies, vampire novels, another twist on Ann Boleyn, or how I got cured of cystic fibrosis: the stuff that I don't write.  No wonder I prefer small presses and the DIY option.

         Even so, I don't resent the success of my betters; they deserve it.  I especially wish Ann Lamott well, and hope that her newfound hubby will let her keep her dreadlocks.

Coming soon: From Illusions to Gas: Mo Kwon Do, Bath Bombs, and Rolfing.  

©  2019   Clifford Browder