Sunday, July 1, 2018

362. My Kill Days

For my other books, see BROWDERBOOKS below.

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A collection of posts from this blog.  Short biographical sketches of people, some remembered and some forgotten, who lived or died in New York.  All kinds of wild stuff, plus some stuff that isn't quite wild but fascinating.  New York is a mecca for hustlers of every kind, some likable and some horrible, but they are never boring.

To be published July 26.  You can order it here from the publisher and get a discounted price (plus postage), but it won't be shipped before that date.  Also available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, minus the discount but with the delay.  Signed copies are available now from the author (i.e., me) for $20.00 (plus postage, if needed), though in limited numbers.  


Pigeons are a part of New York.  Wherever you go, there they are on the sidewalk, plump, with a small head that bobs back and forth when they walk, and dark gray or bluish-gray plumage, often with two wing stripes and a dark band on the tail.  Strutting jerkily about, they are indifferent to your towering presence as they scavenge for food. "Rats with wings," said a former Parks Commissioner, and many would agree.  Also known as rock doves, and scientifically as Columba livia, pigeons look drab and tubby and let's face it, don't have class.  And they don't even belong here, in that they aren't indigenous.  They were brought here from Europe, probably in the 1600s, to be raised for the table.  Yes, at first they were a barnyard creature, destined for the tummies of the settlers.  But some of them escaped (and who can blame them?), nested in the crevices of buildings, and so became the omnipresent nuisance of today.  

File:Columba livia.jpg

          But there's more to the story than that.  A photographer who has published a book on them -- yes, a whole book on New York pigeons! -- is dazzled by their iridescent feathers, the fanlike sweep of their wings in flight, and their luminous eyes. And at the sight of them in flight, he claims to see grandeur.  So be it: even the lowly New York pigeon, if seen aright, has grandeur.  A lesson for us all.  

          (This Small Talk is indebted to "City of Pigeons and Yellow Cabs," an article by Sam Roberts in the Metropolitan Section of the New York Times of Sunday, July 17, 2018. The photographer mentioned is Andrew Garn, whose full-page color photographs of pigeons appear in his book The New York Pigeon: Behind the Feathers.)


         Killing is in vogue these days.  Middle Eastern extremists massacre people at worship, Western bombs blow up whole wedding parties, ravaged vets commit suicide, enraged teenagers shoot their classmates, and floods drown whole villages.  Unless you're a soccer player, to grab a headline today you have to kill or be killed, or order someone else to do it for you.

         Kill: in English, a good clean stab of a monosyllable, swift as a bullet, keen as a knife, decisive as an ax.  But we use kill, killer, and killing in many ways.  Consider:

·      He made a killing in the market.
·      You kill me.
·      Trump Sr. to the Donald: Be a killer.
·      Kill your darlings.  (Advice to poets regarding those lines they’re so in love with.)
·      You’re a killjoy.
·      It’s a great way to kill time.
·      She was dressed to kill.
·      The driver killed the engine.
·      My editor killed the story.

         And to these one might add a kindred saying that has now spread throughout the English-speaking world, expressing a reaction to a drag queen or any female out to impress: “Queen, you slay me!”

         Obviously, “kill” and “killing” have many meanings.  My edition of Roget’s International Thesaurus lists synonyms for the adjective “killing” under no less than eight headings: deadly, alluring, exhausting, exciting, delightful, amusing, humorous, and beautiful.

         “Nous sommes tous des assassins” (We Are All Murderers) is the cheery title of a 1952 French film, and with news reports of teenagers gunning down their schoolmates, and disturbed vets turning their weapons not on themselves but on others, that title may not be so wrong.  

File:Frans Hogenberg, The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, circa 1572.jpg
The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in Paris, 1572.  The slaughter of the Huguenots.

So I ask myself, am I a killer?  My honest answer: only of roaches and of time.  Otherwise, I’m too much of a bourgeois, a peacenik, and a wimp.  But I have Kill Days.  And what, you ask, is a Kill Day?

         A Kill Day is a day when I desperately feel the need to kill something, a need that springs up seemingly out of nowhere, but that has been cooking deep inside me for years.  No, I don’t go out and shoot people; I have no quarrel with them.  And I don’t commit suicide or even try, though long ago I did on occasion try, albeit ineptly.  But that’s another story.  (If morbid curiosity impels you, see post #98, “My Suicides and Further Thoughts on the Subject.”)

         So aside from time, on a Kill Day what do I kill?  All kinds of things.  For example:

·      Roaches.  I inspect my glue traps and take great delight in counting the victims.   And if I see a roach -- BAM! -- I smash it.  Mice are also welcome.

File:Mice on a glue trap.JPG

·      Overflowing wastebaskets and trash cans (and high time).
·      Clutter: old newspapers, unanswered letters, solicitations from worthy causes that entice me with addresses in imitation handwriting, free address labels, calendars, even a real dime that I pocket without scruples (they said “free," didn't they?) – all of which I do with wanton glee.
·      Anything on my desk that takes up needed space: unread books (read them or get rid of them), unneeded paperweights, unread newspaper clippings, rubber bands, thumbtacks, paper clips, lists of things to do.
·      Old clothes: donate or discard.
·      Mementos.

         This last is the most significant, since in later years it risks generating the keenest regret.  When the Kill Day urge sweeps over me, I am impelled to throw out items that hitherto seemed precious.  Doing this, I rid myself of big chunks of my past while experiencing a rabid satisfaction.  Old letters from old friends -- out!  Photos from my years in college -- out!  Photos of old comrades and long vanished lovers -- out!  My letters to my mother over many years, which she accumulated – letters that told her only the surface of my life, but let me chronicle that surface over decades – out!  Old manuscripts: my first awkward scribblings, clumsy and unachieved, but not without hints of accomplishment – out!  In short, poignant reminders of my callow early days, precious to my departed family but painful and sometimes embarrassing to me – out!  My youth – out!

         I do this with a mix of bitterness and joy, but the joy is savage.  Indeed, I have an immediate feeling of purgation, of being cleansed and free … for a while.  But in the long run no Kill Day is complete without pangs of loss and hurt.  I will come to regret the destruction of many of these items – letters, photos, manuscripts – for they are irreplaceable.  But the regret is seasoned with a grim satisfaction, a reflection that life entails destruction, that time kills all, that obliteration is inevitable, and that hastening it breeds this savage joy.  And nothing provokes this joy more than to willfully destroy one’s own creations, whether significant or trivial -- one’s tiny gestures against our vanishing.  Doing this, one kills life, embraces doom and death.  A form of suicide, perhaps, but wisdom of a kind.

         This mood is no doubt shared by many, but it cannot and must not last.  Except in the chronically depressed, Kill Days are only occasional.  Life soon revives, trash accumulates, letters pile up on your desk, and you scribble or paint or sing, or make or sell something, or realize your own pettiness and do good deeds for others, or drink or take drugs, or browse at your computer.  Routine settles in, habits reassert themselves, and you go through the daily motions that give meaning, or a pretense of it, to your existence.  In the great world struggle between the Forces of Darkness and the Forces of Light, you have flirted with Darkness but come out on the side of Light.  And your life creaks or shambles on, or marches, or rolls merrily, until another Kill Day comes.

Coming soon: Maybe Pride 2018 in New York.  (I survived ... barely.)


All books are available online as indicated, or from the author.

1.  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World (Mill City Press, 2015).  Winner of the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  All about anything and everything New York: alcoholics, abortionists, greenmarkets, Occupy Wall Street, the Gay Pride Parade, my mugging in Central Park, peyote visions, and an artist who made art of a blackened human toe.  In her Reader Views review, Sheri Hoyte called it "a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City."

If you love the city (or hate it), this may be the book for you.  An award winner, it sold well at BookCon 2017 and 2018.


"If you want wonderful inside tales about New York, this is the book for you.  Cliff Browder has a way with his writing that makes the city I lived in for 40 plus years come alive in a new and delightful way. A refreshing view on NYC that will not disappoint."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Bill L.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

2.  Bill Hope: His Story (Anaphora Literary Press, 2017), the second novel in the Metropolis series.  New York City, 1870s: From his cell in the gloomy prison known as the Tombs, young Bill Hope spills out in a torrent of words the story of his career as a pickpocket and shoplifter; his brutal treatment at Sing Sing and escape from another prison in a coffin; his forays into brownstones and polite society; and his sojourn among the “loonies” in a madhouse, from which he emerges to face betrayal and death threats, and possible involvement in a murder.  Driving him throughout is a fierce desire for better, a persistent and undying hope.

For readers who like historical fiction and a fast-moving story.


"A real yarn of a story about a lovable pickpocket who gets into trouble and has a great adventure.  A must read."  Five-star Amazon customer review by nicole w brown.

"This was a fun book.  The main character seemed like a cross between Huck Finn and a Charles Dickens character.  I would recommend this."  Four-star LibraryThing review by stephvin.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

3.  Dark Knowledge (Anaphora Literary Press, 2018), the third novel in the Metropolis series.  Adult and young adult.  A fast-moving historical novel about New York City and the slave trade, with the sights and sounds and smells of the waterfront. 

Browder - Cover - 9781681143675-Perfect - 2
The back cover summary:

New York City, late 1860s.  When young Chris Harmony learns that members of his family may have been involved in the illegal pre-Civil War slave trade, taking slaves from Africa to Cuba, he is appalled.  Determined to learn the truth, he begins an investigation that takes him into a dingy waterfront saloon, musty old maritime records that yield startling secrets, and elegant brownstone parlors that may have been furnished by the trade.  Since those once involved dread exposure, he meets denials and evasions, then threats, and a key witness is murdered.  Chris has vivid fantasies of the suffering slaves on the ships and their savage revolts.  How could seemingly respectable people be involved in so abhorrent a trade, and how did they avoid exposure?  And what price must Chris pay to learn the painful truth and proclaim it?

Early reviews

"A lively and entertaining tale.  The writing styles, plot, pace and character development were excellent."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by BridgitDavis.

"At first the plot ... seemed a bit contrived, but I was soon swept up in the tale."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by snash.

"I am glad that I have read this book as it goes into great detail and the presentation is amazing.  The Author obviously knows his stuff."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by Moiser20.

New release; available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

4.  The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), the first novel in the Metropolis series, tells the story of a respectably raised young man who chooses to become a male prostitute in late 1860s New York and falls in love with his most difficult client.

What was the gay scene like in nineteenth-century New York?   Gay romance, if you like, but no porn (I don't do porn).  Women have read it and reviewed it.  (The cover illustration doesn't hurt.)


"At times amusing, gritty, heartfelt and a little sexy -- this would make a great summer read."  Four-star Amazon customer review by BobW.

"Really more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same."  Three-star Goodreads review by Rachel.

"The detail Browder brings to this glimpse into history is only equaled by his writing of credible and interesting characters.  Highly recommended."  Five-star Goodreads review by Nan Hawthorne.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

©   2018   Clifford Browder

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