Sunday, December 9, 2018

386. Must We All Be Whores? The Great American Hustle

Good news!  My historical novel Dark Knowledge, about New York and the slave trade, just got a good online review from 

                               HOLIDAY  SPECIAL

Bargain, bargain, bargain!  All my paperbacks are now available from me (but not from Amazon et al.) through December 31 with free shipping.  (U.S. only.  Sorry, Canada, Australia, and Japan.)  This is my hustle – oops, I mean generous offer – for the biggest gift-giving season of the year, and I want everyone to be happy (myself included).  For the books, see under BROWDERBOOKS below, following the post on (ahem) hustling.  As always, signed copies are available. 

          You’ll have to admit, books do make excellent gifts.  No, I don’t mean e-books, I mean real books that you can touch and stroke and smell.  Books that you can throw across the room, if you don’t like them, or clasp them to your bosom, if you do.  Books with margins where you can scrawl “How true!” or “This author is an idiot!”  Books that give you an authentic “booky” experience, and that you can talk up (or down) to friends.  So buy, buy, buy – it’s seasonal, it’s American, it’s fun, and an essential part of life.

          MUST  WE  ALL  BE  WHORES?  

         I once likened the role of an author trying to sell his books at a book fair to a whore strutting her charms on the sidewalk.  But in an article on the first page of the Sunday Review section of the New York Times of November 25, “We’re All in Sales Now,” author Ruth Whippman says that she is part of the 35 percent of the American work force that work as freelancers, whether as their main source of income or as a side hustle.  More than 18 million Americans, she explains, are now involved in some kind of direct sales or multilevel marketing scheme, shelling out money on products that they then try to sell to friends and neighbors – a percentage that is predicted to grow substantially.  Some 47 percent of millennials  already work this way.  Share my blog post, buy my book, click on my link, follow me on Instagram, donate to this, crowdfund that: it’s an endless Black Friday of the soul.  And, she adds, a “special hellspring of anxiety.” 

          Yes, we tweet and share and schmooze and blog, and like and comment on other people’s tweets and shares and schmoozes and blogs, all in the hope of selling them something later.  The trick, of course, is to do it while acting as if you aren’t doing it at all.  And there are hundreds of experts – she calls them “influencers – selling advice on how to do it (which in itself is a sure-fire money-making hustle).  And one finds oneself evaluating one’s friendships on the basis of who bought my thing and who didn’t.  Worse still, we evaluate ourselves by how many we have sold.  Result: we’re becoming “paranoid, jittery, self-critical, and judgmental.”  And anxiety, depression, and suicide are on the rise.

          To much of which I plead guilty.  This blog begins with a hustle and invites people to subscribe to get e-mails announcing new posts and vague future offers of whatever.  Yes, I insist – quite sincerely – that my friends don’t, I repeat, don’t have to buy my books, but at the end of each post is a section called BROWDERBOOKS (note the bold letters) listing all the juicy reads available, and one can always hope.  And I carry business cards with my e-mail address and the name of my blog, just in case some casual new acquaintance shows a slight interest in who I am and what I do.  And at home I have a slew of printouts – far too many to absorb – telling me how to expand my e-mail list, write sexy e-mails, feature my age and appearance and who-knows-what to make myself stand out from all the other marketers doing the same thing.  And be honest, dear readers, don’t you do, or haven’t you at some in the past done the same thing?  Whether we admit it or not, we all are busy marketing ourselves.

Jim Fisk

          But this, I insist, is, and always has been, the American way.  Yes, social media and the Internet give it a new and distinct twenty-first-century flavor, but Americans have always been hustlers, and pretty good ones at that.  Robber baron Jim Fisk, who delighted to stand the world on its ear with his financial shenanigans on Wall Street, started out as a Yankee peddler with a jingly wagon with flame-red wheels, and then a whole team of jingly wagons with flame-red wheels, ranging all over New England  selling housewives shoelaces and pots and pans and kettles, and silks and calicoes by the yard.  And he told his hired salesmen, “If you can’t sell ’em silks, sell ’em calicoes.  And if that don’t work, sell ’em thimbles or frying pans or thread.  Just make sure you sell!”  He was soon known as the Prince of Peddlers.

File:Life of P. T. Barnum frontispiece 1855.jpg
P.T. Barnum

          And how about Barnum, that master of humbug?  In 1850 he sold Jenny Lind, the Swedish nightingale, to a whole nation completely ignorant of opera and coloratura singing, a nation so stricken with “the Jenny Lind fever” that if they couldn't get tickets to her opening concert here in New York at the Battery, they hired rowboats and went out into the harbor, so they could hear her distant warbling by water, if not by land.  And to entice his fellow citizens into his American Museum, he advertised it not as an amusement – puritanical Americans might shy away from that – but as educational, and thus got them to come see its flea circus, rifle range, Feejee Mermaid (a mummified monkey’s body with a fish’s tail), midgets, trained bears, and educated rats.  Receiving 15,000 visitors a day, the museum was so popular, such a symbol of Yankee success, and Barnum was so fervently pro-Union during the Civil War,, that Confederates tried to burn it down, but failed, though it burned down a year later all by itself.  Not that conflagrations stopped Barnum; he went on to launch P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome, an enterprise that in time became the largest circus in the world, and one that, as a matter of fact, toured the world.  When it came to hustling, Phineas T. Barnum couldn’t be topped.

File:P.T. Barnum & Co.'s greatest show on earth & the great London circus combined with Sanger's Royal British menagerie & grand international shows LCCN2012645423.jpg
Barnum's circus in England, 1888.

          And the notorious business known as advertising began as, and continues to be, a distinctly American hustle.  It was born out of the patent medicines of another day such as Mugwump Specific, Hamlin’s Wizard Oil, Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment, Prickly Ash Bitters, Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, Cocaine Tooth Drops, Brain Salt, and a host of others.  

File:Ayers Cathartic Pills.png

Promoted with sleek, sexy bottles, seductive or sinister ads, posters on horsecars, throwaways slipped under residential doors, sandwichmen in public places, and even signs on mountainsides along rail lines in the distant Far West, they promised to cure catarrh, harness and saddle galls, tooth ache, dyspepsia, women’s ailments, biliousness, sea sickness, cancer, and unmentionable diseases that were sometimes mentioned.  Of course government regulations have put a stop to all that, have they not?  As seen in the history of Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, defense contractors, the sugar industry, and countless others.  American hustlers know how to hustle through, under, or around regulations, and give money to Congress to help them do it.  But why labor the obvious?  This is known. 

          Hustling has spread long since to the American high school.  When I attended Evanston Township High School (ETHS) in the 1940s, the students were encouraged, almost pressured, to go out and sell magazine subscriptions to the public.  What the reason for this was, I didn’t quite absorb at the time.  Later, I learned that it was to earn money so the high school could invite celebrities and other persons of note to address the all-school assembly.  Of those who came, I distinctly remember Paul Robeson and his rich, resonant bass voice, and Langston Hughes, who read his poem, “Me and my baby have two ways to do the Charleston.”  So maybe our hustling served a cultural purpose, but hustlers we definitely were.

Coming soon:  It's wide open.  Many possibilities.


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, and at the Brooklyn Book Festival 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   

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