Sunday, September 30, 2018

375. Junk: An Executor's Nightmare


As the executor of my deceased partner's will, I am sorting out his stuff, and in the process discovered copies of his two self-published books, both of them fiction set in Coney Island.  Bob loved Coney Island, visited it in all seasons over many years, and created thick files of Coney clippings and memorabilia.  So I reread his second work, The Professor and Other Tales of Coney Island.  It's a gripping bunch of stories, but they aren't for everyone.  The main character is the Professor, an aging gay male who chooses to live year round in a shabby boarding house where heat and running water are unreliable, and who records his impressions in a first-person narrative throughout.  Interspersed with his narrations are stories of other year-round residents of Coney: freaks, prostitutes, a midget who longs to meet another gay midget, and Fran Saunders, a bisexual older woman who plays Big Mama to the other residents, listening to their woes with compassion. Those who stay on in Coney through the dreary winter months, when the summer crowds are gone, do so either because they have nowhere else to go, or because, like the Professor and Fran Saunders, they have an appetite for desolation.  The Professor greets the dawn looking out his window at the deserted amusement park and the hints of an oncoming winter storm, while he has one, two, three shots of whiskey, and recalls brief trysts with younger men that never led to a lasting relationship. Later he will resume his reading of St. Augustine.  And always, looming like another character in summer and winter alike, there is the brooding presence of the sea.

I say that this work is not for everyone, because it is not a fast-paced read full of action.  If that's what you want, try my novels (see BROWDERBOOKS below.)  Bob is a superb stylist and a master of mood, presenting Coney in all seasons, but with special emphasis on the desolate winter months, when the Professor chronicles Coney's deterioration and his own.  There is gay sex at times, but no porn, and the end of one of the stories is heartbreaking.  If you read Marcel Proust and savor him, this may be a book for you.  If you read Samuel Becket and his accounts of decay and despair, this may be a book for you.  But don't get it, if you don't really want to read it.  I have only nine copies, all hardcover; they retail at $30.99, but for the moment I'm selling them for $25 (plus postage, if required).  See below for other options.

Re the cover: The cover illustration was provided by Bob, who took photos of the abandoned Thunderbolt roller-coaster, which he had ridden many times in the past.  If you look close, you will see vegetation creeping up over it.  He once showed it to me, the property fenced off and overgrown with weeds.  Especially fascinating was a little house under its hulking structure, where the widow or daughter of the deceased owner was said to live in isolation.  For Bob, the abandoned site was a symbol of the deterioration of the Coney Island he had known and loved.  He uses it in one of the stories in his book.


Hardcover available from Amazon for $30.99, and e-book on Kindle for $9.99.
Paperback available from Xlibris for $20.99.


First, some definitions:

·      JUNK:  Anything that strikes me as unnecessary, useless, time-consuming, and occupying too much space.

·      CLUTTER:  Anything that annoys me by its proliferation and  apparent disorganization.

Junk has no reason to exist.  Examples:

·      In a basement closet in the house I grew up in long ago, a small carton labeled “mother’s hair.”

·      In a box in the home of a deceased New England spinster, discovered by neighbors who were clearing out her things: “String – too short to be used.”

Clutter often has a reason to exist.  It may be useful, even essential.  It offends chiefly by virtue of its seeming lack of order and its proliferation.  Examples:

·      My desktop.  Try as I do to keep it neat and organized, papers and small objects accumulate.  They are usually important, have to be dealt with, but can’t be immediately disposed of.

·      A small drawer in the chest-on-chest in my apartment.  In the back of it is a jumble of old glasses cases, sewing items, keys, small packages of tissues, shoelaces, and who knows what else?  Deplorable.

         Why do junk and clutter offend me?  Because I’m a neatnik.  I like order, dread chaos.  My whole life has been a fight against the primordial she-beast of Chaos, the monster bitch goddess against whom most of us, wittingly or unwittingly, fight a lifelong battle that we are probably doomed to lose.  Chaos reigned before Cosmos was created, and seeks to overthrow Cosmos and dissolve existence the flux of undifferentiated matter.  My fight against junk and clutter is an epic struggle against the Big Mama of uncreation that would swallow us up and obliterate all we know and hold dear.

         So why am I obsessed with this struggle now?  Because, as my deceased partner Bob’s executor, I am obligated to sort out and appraise his stuff.  And Bob, sweet guy though he was, was a clutterbug.  He saved everything, never threw anything out.  An example: in a thick file, all his papers from his college years at Rutgers Newark.  (I’d be embarrassed by mine.)  It’s for me to decide what, like those college papers, is junk and get rid of it, and what is clutter that needs to be weeded out and organized.  A weighty responsibility.  To help me, I’ve consulted a woman whose job it is to help people overwhelmed by an accumulation of things that they must sort out.  She knows what can be sold, what donated, and what you’re just plain stuck with.  She and her assistant came to the apartment and took photos of objects of interest.  Here are some of the items in question and her determination:

 Clothes.  Bob’s don’t fit me, and he had three times as many as I did, filling most of two closets and at least five drawers in a bureau.  Luckily, they can be donated to Housing Works, which has a thrift shop on West 10th Street.  Pending that, every Saturday morning I tote out a load or two to donate to a stand in the Abingdon Square Greenmarket that donates or recycles clothing.

Medical supplies.  A wheel chair, a walker, surgical gloves, wipes, pads, bandages, bottles of saline solution, and condoms for a male external catheter.  (Never heard of the latter?  Neither had I, until immersed in home care.)  An outfit in Chelsea will take it all.    

     Playbills.  A huge collection.A huge collection.  But since everyone saved them, they have no value.  Out!  And are they heavy!

Jewelry.  I was amazed to find how much Bob had.  Some he bought, some probably came from his mother.  Bright, glittery stuff, quite eye-catching, plus quiet rings that may be of value.  Probably a mix of cheap stuff and items of value.  A dealer in the Diamond District might be interested, but since the expert doesn’t think I’d get much, and the stuff doesn’t take up much space, I’ll keep it.  

Three small Wedgwood items.  All bear the Wedgwood name.  Not sellable; today there’s simply no market for china.

Two Tiffany objects.  A sterling silver letter opener that he gave his mother and reclaimed after her death, and a small vase given him by a friend, which he thought was also Tiffany, though it isn’t labeled such.  Since the vase is questionable, I’ll keep both items.

         Bob’s Coney Island files.  Memorabilia amassed since the 1950s: clippings, photos, etc., organized in files by decade, plus sundry other items.  When she opened a small box and found a stack of old postcards, the visiting expert was quite intrigued, took photos of it. But no dealers are interested, so I’ll offer it to the Brooklyn Historical Society.

          Bob’s diaries, photos, letters.  A huge collection.  Countless diaries, bulky photo albums, and correspondence from the 1950s on, with accompanying photos.  To be sorted out by yours truly – an overwhelming task that I’m now in the throes of doing – with possible donation in time to the gay history archives in the gay center on West 13th Street, just a short ten-minute walk from here.  In his letters and diaries Bob said exactly what was on his mind, whether it was socially acceptable or not.  I’ve dipped into it, and boy, am I learning a lot!  Much of it he told me, but it’s coming through now big and bold, and I’m startled, amused, baffled, and amazed.  Out of all this I may get a post or two for this blog, leading to a nonfictional account of his eventful twentieth and twenty-first years, based on his letters and diary, plus accompany photos.  What he was up to as a callow youth will amaze readers, just as it has amazed me.

         One final observation: those bulky photo albums hold literally hundreds of photos, often accompanied by handwritten notes.  For every photo he took of his father, there are 40 of his mother.  (Shades of Oedipus!)  And for every photo of his mother, there are 60 of Bob.  I can’t myself conceive of taking so many photos of myself.  Bob was a narcissist obsessed with his youthful and aging self.  But not a total narcissist: he found room  for others (myself included), had warm friendships with both men and women.  His albums, diaries, and correspondence bear witness to the fact.  He lived richly and fully, and it's my job now, not just to sort out his stuff, but to commemorate his life and make it available to others.  His life was anything but dull.  By recording it in letters, diaries, and photos, he has left me the means to do it.

Coming soon: ???  I just hope I have time to do something.  Right now, I'm overwhelmed (that word again!) by things to do.


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.  

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.

"To read No Place for Normal: New York is to enter into Cliff Browder’s rich and engaging sixty years of adult life in New York. Yes, he delves back before his time – from the city’s origins to the 19th Century that Ms. Trollope and Mr. Dickens encounter to robber barons and slums that marked highs and lows of the earlier Twentieth Century. But Browder has lived such an engaged and curious life that he can’t help but cross paths with every layer and period of society. There is something Whitmanesque in his outlook."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Michael P. Hartnett.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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. 

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, 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.  What price must Chris pay to learn the painful truth and proclaim it?


"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.

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, but 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.

5.  Fascinating New Yorkers: Power Freaks, Mobsters, liberated Women, Creators, Queers and Crazies (Black Rose Writing, 2018).  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.

Fascinating NYers eimage.jpg


"Fascinating New Yorkers by Clifford Browder was like sitting down with a dear friend and catching up on the latest gossip and stories. Written with a flair to keep the reader turning the pages, I couldn't stop reading it and thinking about the subjects of each New Yorker. I love NYC and this book just added to the list of reasons why, a must read for those who love NYC and the people who have lived there." Five-star NetGalley review by Patty Ramirez, librarian.

"Unputdownable."  Five-star review by Dipali Sen, retired librarian.

"I felt like I was gossiping with a friend when reading this, as the author wrote about New Yorkers who are unique in one way or another. I am hoping for another book featuring more New Yorkers, as I couldn't put this down and read it in one sitting!" Five-star NetGalley review by Cristie Underwood. 

©   2018   Clifford Browder   

No comments:

Post a Comment