Sunday, August 26, 2018

370. Dying in New York


Dark Knowledge, my novel about the slave trade in New York, has appeared twice in August in the LibraryBub newsletter, which lists small-press and self-published books of interest to librarians.  The newsletters were opened by librarians 4909 times, and the Amazon link for the book was clicked 409 times.  Dark Knowledge, which I think of as historical fiction, was also listed in the Mystery & Thriller category in LibraryPub press releases picked up by NBC, ABC, and CBS.  This is great exposure.  Hopefully, librarians will schedule the book for purchase in their purchasing periods.  A sale to a library means the book will be read, not by one reader, but by many.

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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

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 meets denials and evasions, then threats.  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.

For my other books, see BROWDERBOOKS following the post below.

Dying  in New York

         Dying in New York is different from dying in a small town or a rural community where everyone knows, or at least knows of, everyone.  Dying may be quick and fierce, or slow and relentless, but either way, in the city it brings into play an army of strangers.  I have covered this subject before and may again, but here is an account of a dying that touched me personally.

         My longtime partner Bob had been suffering from late-stage Parkinson’s for at least five years.  Parkinson’s involves many things, none of them pleasant: shaking hands, a slow physical deterioration, constipation and incontinence, hallucination, and finally, an utter dependence on others.  Bob went from an early stage where, at first without a cane and then with one, he could get out for short forays and have lunch in a nearby restaurant.  He would come back smiling and announce, “Here I am, Shaky, the eighth dwarf.”  Then he couldn’t go out anymore, but ordered food to be delivered by phone.  Once he fell in the apartment, and I had to get a neighbor to help me get him back to bed.  Soon we found we needed help, and Partners in Care sent a series of aides, several of them compassionate older African American women with a motherly, even grandmotherly, touch, but who had trouble negotiating our four-flight walk-up.  Finally we found a younger aide, Jacques, a Haitian, who was totally capable and could do whatever was needed; he became a part of the family.  And a doctor was found as well who made weekly house calls.

         Twice Bob was rushed to a hospital in a coma caused by a urinary tract infection.  From the first stay he came back with a stage-four bed sore, though he had gone in with stage two.  From then on it was our chief task to heal the sore, which was big and went down almost to bone.  This meant applying large dressings and turning him at intervals throughout the day, so as to relieve pressure on the sore.  Next came the prima donna of high-tech healing, a Clinitron bed, designed to provide a soft, yielding surface that would help the healing.  Supplementing it was a strange apparatus called a VAC that, with the help of a vacuum pump, drained the wound and would hopefully shrink it.  My worst crisis came when, in the middle of the night, I somehow disturbed the VAC, and the dressing on the wound came off.  At 4 a.m. I phoned the Visiting Nurses and, amazingly, a Florence Nightingale  answered and told me what to do.  To be sure, I then phoned the outfit providing the VAC and, amazingly again, some one answered and gave me exactly the same advice: to apply a simple bandage and inform the Visiting Nurses in the morning.  In time, as the wound got smaller, the VAC apparatus and the high-tech bed were removed, replaced by a conventional semi-electric hospital bed.  The wound got smaller and smaller; finally, after about three years, it closed.

         When Bob had been in bed for a year, he resolved to make it to a wheelchair, and then to a walker.  He amazed his therapists and doctor when he made it to the wheelchair, though dizziness or nausea often forced him to return to the bed.  Slowly, his body readjusted to a sitting position, and finally he could make it to the walker.  On good days he would walk the length of the apartment and sometimes, if he rested at intervals in his wheelchair, he could do it two or three times.

         Parkinson’s, though slow, is relentless; mainstream medicine cannot cure it, though alternative treatments sometimes can (but that’s another story).  Bob was able to walk less and less, until finally, with me and Jacques helping him, he could do only a few steps with the walker, then one or two, then none.  He talked less and less until, in our weekly cocktail hour on Sunday when we nibbled cheese and sipped wine, I found myself doing monologues. 

         Last Thursday started out like any other day.  Bob talked little, but ate a few bites for breakfast.  He was sluggish and slept lots, his mouth open, but lately he had not slept well at night, and so slept much in the daytime.  But by midafternoon on Thursday Jacques and I became alarmed: his whole body was limp, his head drooping and his mouth agape, and we couldn’t arouse him.  Jacques called 911, and within eight minutes two Fire Department medics were there.  They examined him briefly, found no pulse or other vital sign; his heart had stopped.  They summoned help, and soon there were eight medics hovering over him, one of them rhythmically massaging his chest as he lay flat on the floor where they had put him.  They asked me to step out of the room for a few minutes, probably so they could appraise the case candidly, and then let me back in.  For two long hours I watched from the doorway as they tried to resuscitate him, giving him an injection to stimulate his heart, and trying every other trick they knew of.  And this in the muggy heat of August; the air-conditioner in the living room was on, but with the door to the room wide open, itdid no good.  After one hour of this, Jacques and I knew it was useless.  After two hours, the medics gave up.

         Two policemen had arrived by now, and when the medics left, they remained.  A medical examiner was notified, but she couldn’t come immediately, having many other calls to make.  Then two men in suits arrived: a short, thin one and a tall, stocky one, both with a very professional, deadpan, down-to-business look.  The medical examiner?  No, that would be a woman.  The short one took a quick look at Bob, now replaced on his bed and wrapped up like a mummy, though with his face visible, mouth agape.  The visitor then talked briefly and quietly with the two policemen, following which he and his companion left.  “Detectives,” said one of the cops, who then told us that, since Bob’s death was in no way suspicious, the medical examiner wouldn’t be coming.  There were now two possibilities: we could notify a funeral home to come collect the body, or Bob would be taken to the morgue at Bellevue.  They urged us to notify a funeral home, since getting the body to Bellevue would be long and complicated. 

         Bob and I had long since made arrangements with the Neptune Society to be cremated, with the ashes to be scattered at sea.  So I dialed Neptune, learned that it had morphed mysteriously into the New York Atlantic Funeral Services, and informed them of the situation.  Since they were out on Long Island, it would take the hearse an hour and a half to come.  The two cops told us that they couldn’t leave until Bob did, so Jacques was able to leave at 8 p.m., but the three of us settled in for a long wait.

         While the two young cops waited, and I sat at my computer informing friends by e-mail of Bob’s death, I could hear the cops’ police radio reporting other situations: a man lying flat on his face in his apartment on 14th Street; a woman raging about in her apartment on 10th Street, probably delusional; and so on. 

         “Boy,” I said, “our stuff here seems dull.  You guys must get some pretty wild cases.”

         “In a city of nine million,” said one of them, “we get anything that can happen.”

         I nodded.  “That’s exciting.  For all its faults, I love this city."

         “I love it, too,” said the officer.  “Our job is never dull.”

         I managed a quick snack in the kitchen, while one of the policemen went out to get both of them a bite to eat.  An hour passed, then an hour and a half; still no hearse.  Used to a bedtime at eight, I resigned myself to a long, sleepless night.  A phone call: the driver of the hearse explained that a highway accident not involving him was causing delays; it would be more than an hour and a half.  The cops asked if I would want a few minutes alone with Bob to say good-bye; I declined.  That mummified thing on the bed wasn’t Bob, just some pitiful remnant of the Bob I had known; Bob was somewhere else.  Finally the hearse arrived, and two burly guys strapped Bob to a stretcher and took him down the stairs. 

         “That’s how I’ll leave this place, when the time comes,” I told the two cops.  “Horizontally, not vertically.”  Four flights or not, who would give up a sun-drenched, rent-stabilized apartment with four rooms?

         The cops smiled, shook hands with me, gave me a sheet with their names and the number of the case, and left.  They had been great; all honor to the Sixth Precinct.  At 11 p.m., exhausted, I finally fell into bed.

         So ended the day of Bob’s passing.  Not that anything had ended.  There would be condolences by e-mail and telephone, a dozen beautiful white roses from a neighbor, and forms from the funeral home to be notarized and returned, so the cremation could proceed.  And a will to reclaim from a safe deposit box, and initiating the mysteries of probate.  One little problem: the death certificate should be done by Bob’s doctor, but he was vacationing in South Africa; without the certificate, the cremation could not proceed, nor much of anything else.  So I would have to chase down the elusive colleague who was handling his cases in his absence.  As for the apartment, after the to-do of eight strangers attempting resuscitation, the living room was topsy-turvy, with furniture and useful small items disarranged, and litter on the floor.  Also, much to sort out, some of Bob’s things to keep and lots to get rid of.  Things to do, things to do.  The apartment was very quiet, a quiet that I rather liked.  It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

Coming soon:  Maybe the Way of Justice, with a friend's personal reminiscences of Dorothy Day.


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.

"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.  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 no 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.

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

Fascinating NYers eimage.jpg

Short biographical sketches of colorful people who lived or died in New York.  A cardinal who led a double life, a serial killer, a baroness with a tomato-can bra, and a film star whose funeral caused an all-day riot.  


"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