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Far From Flatbush

Bobby Goes to Bay Ridge, Returns to Beaver Street

 

They came to The BookMark Shoppe, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, on the night of November 9, by subway, automobile, bicycle, and foot to hear me read from Bobby in Naziland and answer questions about the book. It was the first time a bookstore within the five boroughs of New York City had held an event for one of my books. Among the audience were people I hadn't seen since high school and college; former Flatbushians; current Flatbushians; a fellow Headpress author; and a couple of complete strangers.

 

It was also the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass—the night Nazi leaders unleashed a series of pogroms against the Jewish population in Germany, the first act of what would become the Final Solution.

 

And though the Q&A that followed the reading inevitably turned to the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, and the traumatic aftereffects that World War II had on America in the 1950s, that night I'd chosen not to read about Nazis. Instead, I read from a chapter titled "The Great Candy-Store Tragedy," which is about my father's candy store on Church Avenue but also about the Brooklyn Dodgers, many of whom had lived nearby the bookstore.

 

The night was also a prelude to one more local event: "Bobby on Beaver Street," which will be held Saturday, December 14, at 7 P.M. in the upstairs lounge of the Killarney Rose, on Beaver Street in downtown Manhattan. (The address is actually 127 Pearl Street, but there's also an entrance on Beaver Street.)

 

Readers of this blog will recall the Killarney Rose as the setting of the two "Bloomsday on Beaver Street" events I held on June 16, 2012 and 2013. The first event was the New York launch of my previous book, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography; the second event was a celebration of literary books that had been branded pornography, like Ulysses, by James Joyce (which takes place on June 16, 1904), and yes, Beaver Street.

 

"Bobby on Beaver Street" will feature actors such as Susan Barrett, Byron Nilsson, Joe Gioco, and Laralu Smith reading select passages from Bobby in Naziland. Barrett, who has appeared in such shows as 30 Rock, grew up next door to me and is intimately familiar with the material she will read. Nilsson will be returning as the Beaver Street MC. Gioco is currently appearing in as Judge Leo Tirone in Showtime's City on a Hill. And Smith's searing reading from the Molly Bloom section of Ulysses was a highlight of Bloomsday 2013.

 

The event is free. Please stay tuned for more details.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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Ghosts of the Nazis Were Everywhere

 

It was the first time since my bar mitzvah that I'd stood before people in a synagogue and spoken to them. The occasion: an October 27 gathering of the Temple Sinai Book Club, in Dresher, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia. Members of the club, and others who'd heard about the event, came to hear me read from my memoir Bobby in Naziland and to ask questions about it.

 

My cousin Susan Klausner-Bratt loved the book—she knew a number of the "characters"—and pitched it to club president Tobey Grand, who agreed to add Bobby in Naziland to the fall reading list.

 

But Susan and Tobey both had issues with the title. Susan had called me after reading it and said, "I hate the title. If I were your publisher, I'd make you change it." Tobey told me that she almost didn't read the book because of the title. She thought it was going to be a depressing Holocaust memoir and asked if there'd been any discussions with the publisher about changing it.

 

There were not, I said.

 

As I told the book club, I lived with the title for several years, and it stuck—because it's a true title; it's what the book's about. Bobby in Naziland is a memoir about growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s, surrounded by Holocaust survivors and World War II vets who fought the Nazis. I describe Flatbush as a place where "the war lingered like a mass hallucination." Ghosts of the Nazis were everywhere. The book describes in visceral detail how Flatbush was a neighborhood suffering from an epidemic of what was not yet called post-traumatic stress disorder, and how this physically and emotionally violent environment could affect a child.

 

And though the Holocaust of course plays a major role, Bobby in Naziland is really a book about America in the aftermath of the war, with baseball a major theme. Tobey, a Philadelphia Phillies fan, was delighted by what I'd written about the final days of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the invincible New York Yankees of the early 1960s. "The Dodgers betrayed Brooklyn!" she said. "And Mickey Mantle was like a movie star!"

 

Since Bobby in Naziland is also about food and candy stores—and since Susan and Tobey had assembled a celebratory candy store in the temple lounge, where egg creams were served—I read "The Flatbush Diet" chapter and a few paragraphs from "The Great Candy-Store Tragedy," which explains how to make perfect egg creams.

 

A surprising number of people in the audience had once lived in Brooklyn. One woman told a story about how her father had owned a candy store in Brighton Beach. My story, I said, could have been her story, and her Brighton Beach memories again reminded me that Bobby in Naziland's themes are universal and that Flatbush was a microcosm of post-war America. (Yet, as I've also heard at this and other readings, people living on a different street a few blocks from where I grew up could have had a completely different experience.)

 

One man, Max Levine, was also originally from Brighton Beach, the son of Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivors from Poland. His father is one of the main characters in the documentary The Boys of 2nd Street Park, about a group of men who'd grown up together in Brighton Beach in the 1960s. Max talked about how American-born Jews looked down upon the Yiddish-speaking refugees and survivors, calling them "greenhorns."

 

Most of the discussion, on what happened to be the first anniversary of the massacre in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue, was about the Holocaust, and one theme that emerged was how Holocaust survivors rarely spoke of their experiences, but the next generation, my generation, needed to find out everything. Tobey mentioned that she didn't even know about the Holocaust until she read about it in a book.

 

"Were you afraid that the world was out to get you?" somebody asked.

 

"No," I said, "I was only afraid my neighbors were out to get me"—referring to how the kids were always beating each other up.

 

Another Jewish writer, Philip Roth, once said, "It's a curse to have a writer born in the family." I suppose that can be true. But in the case of Bobby in Naziland, as my readings have demonstrated, the book has been bringing people together, Jew and goyim alike. That, I think, is a blessing.

________

The next Bobby in Naziland event is Saturday, November 9, at 5 PM, in The BookMark Shoppe in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

 

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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Next Stop, Philadelphia… But First, a Word About St. Louis

 

If you're into Brooklyn, candy stores, and literature, the place to be Sunday, October 27, at 10 AM, is Temple Sinai in Dresher, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb. In celebration of Bobby in Naziland and my father's candy store, which plays a big part in the memoir, the temple book club is building a candy store on site. They will be serving egg creams and I will be reading from and signing copies of the book. The event is free and all are welcome. To attend, please RSVP by October 22 to Tobey Grand, tgrand10290@gmail.com.

 

With any luck, the event will go as well as last Wednesday's reading at Subterranean Books, in St. Louis, where, for an enthusiastic SRO crowd, I read from two chapters of Bobby in Naziland, "The Goyim and the Jews" and "Something Different Happened." Though the book, in many ways, is the best published representation of what you might call my "natural voice," parts of it are not easy to read out loud in front of people, though I didn't realize this until I started preparing for the reading.

 

Primarily, it has to do with the subject matter and the way it's presented—the thoughts and emotions of a meshuggener child filtered through an adult consciousness. The book's narrator, in describing his childhood experiences, reverts back to that childhood.

 

As I explained at Subterranean, some of the passages I'd first considered reading were just too raw. I wouldn't have been comfortable reading them in front of an audience. For example, I thought I might read from chapter two, "Naziland," part of which describes the mutilated Auschwitz survivors I saw in the locker room at a Brooklyn beach club a friend had taken me to when I was 10 years old. But it was too painful, I decided. Another part I chose not to read was a graphic depiction of racism—it was too wrenching and emotional.

 

Instead, I read (or should I say "gossiped"?) about my Brooklyn neighbors from six decades ago, and I read granular descriptions of the Flatbush streets—what they looked like, sounded like, felt like, and smelled like. I also read a scene that took place February 10, 1964, 79 days after the Kennedy assassination and the day after the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show—the moment when the 1960s began for me. The Q&A that followed was lively and served as another reminder that the themes I explored in Bobby in Naziland are universal.

 

Earlier that week in St. Louis, at a private gathering, I read "The Flatbush Diet," which I described as one of the "lighter and more Jewish chapters." The party was thrown by an old friend from Flatbush, whom I'd lost touch with in 1972, soon after he'd transferred to an out-of-town college. I mostly remembered Ernest Abramson from our super-competitive pickup football games. In the ensuing years, he'd become a prosperous dentist who lived in a beautiful, art-filled home in the St. Louis suburbs.

 

It was mind-blowing when he contacted me. He happened to see the book on Amazon, and noticed my name, but thought that there were thousands of Robert Rosens (which there are). Then he saw my picture and realized it was me. He read Bobby in Naziland and it blew his mind. "It was like reading my biography," he said.

 

The party he and his wife, Ellen, threw was fantastic—a gathering of the local Jewish community, and a feast of many of the foods I wrote about, including chopped liver and numerous sweets that my father used to sell in his candy store.

 

The dialogue that followed the reading was exactly the kind of provocative conversation I'd hoped the book would spark—a discussion of the newly inflamed bigotry throughout the world and the fact that the generation that experienced the Holocaust and fought in World War II is dying out and that their stories must never be forgotten.

 

These events made me feel that Bobby in Naziland is a book that's bringing people together. I hope this will continue in Philadelphia and beyond.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

 

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Meet Me in St. Louis

 

The first official event of the Bobby in Naziland reading tour, 2019-20, will take place at Subterranean Books, in St. Louis, on Wednesday, October 16, at 7 PM. I'll be reading from chapter one, "The Goyim and the Jews," which sets the scene for the book and gives the reader a sense of what it was like to be in Flatbush in the 1950s and 60s, when a significant portion of the population of this provincial Brooklyn neighborhood was comprised of Holocaust survivors and World War II vets who'd fought the Nazis.

 

I'll then be taking questions, and one question I expect (because many people have already asked me) is: Why that title?

 

It's a good question, and I can tell you this: I lived with that title for years, and it stuck—because it's an accurate title; it's what the book's about. Because of who my neighbors were, Flatbush was a place where the war lingered like a mass hallucination. Ghosts of the Nazis were everywhere.

 

As you may have guessed, the title is also a reference to Alice in Wonderland. As you may not have guessed, the subtitle, A Tale of Flatbush, is a reference to the subtitle of Melville's Bartleby the Scrivner: A Story of Wall Street.

 

If there's still time after the questions, for my encore I'll read part of the Beatles section, from chapter 18, "Something Different Happened."

 

I'm very much looking forward to returning to St. Louis, which I make a point of doing when I have a new book out. When I was there in 2012, after the publication of Beaver Street, I did three events, in Shameless Grounds, Left Bank Books, and the late, lamented Apop.

 

Wednesday, at Subterranean, I hope to see some familiar faces.

 

________

I'll be reading and signing Bobby in Naziland at Temple Sinai, in Dresher, PA, Sunday, October 27, 10 AM. To attend, please RSVP by Oct. 22 to Tobey Grand, tgrand10290@gmail.com. The event is free, all are welcome, and, I'm told, there will be a candy store and egg creams. Seriously.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you should buy it if you can.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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Everything Fades

 

The picture I refer to in the caption, an excerpt from Bobby in Naziland, is the one above, a colorized photo of my parents, Eleanor and Irwin Rosen, taken November 1948, on their honeymoon in Miami Beach. Back in Brooklyn, many decades ago, the photo stood on the dresser in their bedroom, and I'd stare at it every time I walked in.

 

I didn't have the photo when I was writing about it; I was going by memory. But I have it now, and clearly, the ocean is not turquoise and the sand is not golden. Yes, the memory plays tricks, but the photo is 71 years old, so the colors have obviously faded. Though I think when it first penetrated my consciousness, probably in 1956, the water was some shade of blue and the sand, if not golden, was certainly not gray.

 

Everything fades.

 

Inspired by the photo, I spent my childhood longing to go to Miami, "the most beautiful city in the world." But to do so seemed an impossible dream, as fantastic as going to the moon. Ironically, in the early 1970s, when I began to expand my horizons through the magic of low-cost jet travel and hitchhiking, I was no longer in any rush to get to Florida. Europe and California called more loudly, and I listened.

 

I finally did make it to Florida in 1975, during my brief career as a speechwriter for the secretary of the air force. I'd written a graduation speech for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, in Daytona Beach, and I flew down there to watch the secretary deliver it. The morning of the speech, from my hotel balcony, I watched the sun rise over the Atlantic.

 

Perhaps more ironically (though not surprisingly), when my parents retired to Florida 25 years ago, moving to a town called Greenacres, near Lake Worth, their condo at one time was within a few miles (if not yards) of two uncles, one aunt, two cousins, and four of their friends, all originally from Brooklyn, some with their accents intact.

 

Journeys to Florida, where my mother still lives, have become routine, and it now seems about as exotic as Brooklyn did all those years ago.

 

As for Miami Beach, my wife, Mary Lyn, loves the place. So visits to Greenacres always include a side trip to that revitalized and climate-change-threatened city, faded in parts, but still, in its way, retaining a touch of magic.

________

Meet me in St. Louis, Wednesday, October 16, 7 PM, at Subterranean Books. I'll be reading and signing copies of Bobby in Naziland.

________

I'll be reading and signing Bobby in Naziland at Temple Sinai, in Dresher, PA, Sunday, October 27, 10 AM. To attend, please RSVP by Oct. 22 to Tobey Grand, tgrand10290@gmail.com. The event is free, all are welcome, and, I'm told, there will be a candy store and egg creams. Seriously.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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The UFOs of '52... and Evita

 

The above photo is a detail from a two-page advertisement that ran in The New York Times several months ago. It was for a show on the History channel, Project Blue Book, described as a drama "based on the true, top-secret investigations into Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs)… conducted by the United States Air Force from 1952 to 1969."

 

I checked out the first episode and turned it off after a half hour. It was pure, made-for-TV schlock. Yet the ad itself was astonishing—because the date on the newspaper article in the ad, July 27, 1952, is the day I was born.

 

As the excerpt from Bobby in Naziland indicates, the UFO frenzy of July 1952 is an incident that I explore in some detail—and as I was preparing the book for publication, it was weird to see one of the very newspaper articles I'd written about being used to promote an ancient occurrence that the gods of TV had suddenly deemed fit for mass consumption. Was I on to something?

 

I explain in the book that I found out about the UFOs of '52 only a few years ago, when I was in the library researching something else that had happened hours before my birth: the death of Eva Perón. I knew about Evita because my mother, a big fan of "The Lady of Hope," was always telling me about how Perón's death was on the front page of all the papers the day I was born. But she never said a word about the UFOs, which I'd have found a lot more interesting.

 

So it was a bit of a shock to learn that this other thing was also dominating the headlines that long-ago summer day. And it made me wonder: Had the aliens come for Evita and me?

 

Perhaps the gods of TV will explore that in some other extravaganza. Quality, in this case, would be a nice touch.

________

Meet me in St. Louis, Wednesday, October 16, 7 PM, at Subterranean Books. I'll be reading and signing copies of Bobby in Naziland.

________

I'll be reading and signing Bobby in Naziland at Temple Sinai, in Dresher, PA, Sunday, October 27, 10 AM. To attend, please RSVP by Oct. 22 to Tobey Grand, tgrand10290@gmail.com. The event is free, all are welcome, and, I'm told, there will be a candy store and egg creams. Seriously.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my just-launched Instagram.

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The Last Mercedes

 

Many years ago, in another life, I was editorial director of the Motor World car-buyer's guides. The gig involved long hours and endless deadlines. But it was the closest thing I've ever had to a dream job. Every week, a car company gave me a new car to test, and I got to drive everything, except for exotics. I met my wife while I was testing a Volkswagen Passat. Our first date was in a Toyota MR2. Our second date was in a Porsche 944 Cabriolet (the 911 would come later). She couldn't help but be a little impressed!

 

At the same time, for the same company, I was editing men's magazines, and wrote about cars in those, too—to give the mags "socially redeeming value." For those articles, I had near-total creative freedom and wrote some crazy satirical stuff—which nobody read except for one PR guy at Mazda.

 

One week, Mercedes-Benz gave me a fully loaded, $86,000, SL convertible to test for Motor World. I took all my friends joy-riding, let my father drive it, and for one of the men's magazines (whose name I prefer not to mention) wrote the "review" as an over-the-top Hunter Thompson parody titled "Mein Kar" (trigger warning!). Here's an excerpt, originally published in 1990:

 

My father, having spent most of his adult life confined to Chrysler K-cars and automobiles of that ilk, was anxious to test the parameters of the Mercedes. The war was a long time ago, and though he'd always taken personally the fact that the Third Reich had spent four years trying to kill him, he was also appreciative of the opportunity they'd created for him to tour France at a tender age and learn the art of oral sex from experienced French women.

 

"Let me drive," he said when I pulled up to his house and lowered the convertible top.

 

I gave him the wheel and he glided stylishly onto the street, waving to the awestruck neighbors as he drove by.

 

"They'll think I'm wealthy as a king," he said. "How fast does this thing go?"

 

"Zero to 60 in 6.3 seconds… not bad for a car that weighs as much as an elephant... and it has a top speed limited electronically to 155 miles per hour, which means it could go faster, maybe 200. It's got a 5.0-liter 322-horsepower DOHC 32-valve V-8 engine. But you know the Germans... a green people. They don't want maniac drivers breaking the sound barrier on the autobahn. But it will still outrun the F-15 Eagle till takeoff."

 

"Takeoff?" my father said. "Can we handle that much torque?"

 

"Only in the desert but we can't go that far today."

 

"Why not?"

 

"The time factor… I need to make a high-speed run to the Canadian border with my Hawaiian pharmacologist, but first I must see my Nazi pimp."

 

"Your Nazi pimp?" he said, heading north on the Palisades Interstate Parkway at a smooth 95. "Those people should be tried for crimes against humanity."

 

"Maybe so, but you have to give them credit for technological expertise."

 

"Yes… indeed," he said thoughtfully. "This is the way to travel."

 

I couldn't believe that someone from Mercedes happened to see the story. Consequently, it was the last car they ever gave me. It was also the only Mercedes my father ever drove. Unfortunately, I can't find the 29-year-old magazine with the article, which has my father's picture in it, taken outside Mercedes headquarters in Montvale, New Jersey. All I have is what you see above—a lo-res scan I made years ago.

 

I should send the Boys from Benz a copy of Bobby in Naziland. Because it should come standard in every Mercedes, tucked in the glove compartment along with the owner's manual.

________

Meet me in St. Louis, Wednesday, October 16, 7 PM, at Subterranean Books. I'll be reading and signing copies of Bobby in Naziland.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my recently launched Instagram.

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Time Stands Still

 

I was standing in the Dutch Reformed Church cemetery, in early August, talking to Liena Zagare, publisher and editor of the Bklyner newspaper. We were in the midst of a walking tour of some of the Flatbush sites I wrote about in Bobby in Naziland, and the cemetery was high on the list.

 

"I was a gloomy kid," I told her, as I stared at one of those weathered and now almost unreadable tombstones, barely able to make out the inscribed dates. The person whose bones now lay beneath my feet appeared to have been born in the final years of the 18th century and to have died in the opening years of the 19th—a child.

 

It was, I'm sure, one of the many tombstones I brooded over when I was a kid and I'd come to the cemetery on one of my solitary Flatbush walking tours, looking for something interesting to fill my day. I was attracted to cemeteries because I was obsessed with death. In my own family, as I explain in the book, death was more taboo than sex, something only to be spoken of in the abstract and never to be spoken of when it was real and personal.

 

I also found the cemetery serene, like my own private park. Nobody else was ever there—probably because the cemetery entrance is hidden, on a nearby dead-end street. And despite my obsessive thoughts about dying, I liked the sense of being in a place where time had stood still for more than 200 years.

 ________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

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Moe and the Stooges: Bigger Than Babs?

 

Erasmus Hall High School has always made a point of publicizing its famous alumni, of which there are plenty. The list, which includes actors, writers, athletes, and a certain chess champion, is well known. (You can read it here and here.) Barbra Streisand, of course, was the local girl that everybody in Flatbush knew about, even if they didn't go to Erasmus.

 

Babs could not only sing; she was an honor student—a role model for the entire neighborhood. Yet it was almost a secret that somebody whose fame arguably rivals or eclipses that of the great Ms. Streisand also attended Erasmus.

 

The school, presumably, preferred that the student body remain ignorant of the fact that a high school dropout could become rich and famous by performing violent acts of slapstick stupidity.

 

Yes, Moe Howard was, however briefly, an Erasmian. And he makes a cameo appearance in Bobby in Naziland—because, in 1962, to promote the film The Three Stooges in Orbit, the Stooges made a live appearance at the Lowe's Kings, on Flatbush Avenue, sending the packed house of Stooge-crazy kids into paroxysms of ecstasy. (That's Larry, Moe, and Curly in the photo.)

 

And yes, I was there. My takeaway from that memorable afternoon: Larry's hair was real.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you really should buy it.

 

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Homage to My Great-Uncle Robert, Who Died in Catalonia

 

No, not "supposedly," not anymore. I was named after my mother's uncle Robert Weber, who joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. And he's no longer "presumed dead." He's been dead for 81 years.

 

As I was writing Bobby in Naziland, I still classified the above facts about my great-uncle as rumors, part of the multitude of vague and incomplete family stories that had been swirling around for as long as I could remember, but that I could never pin down—because like so many things having to do with my family's history, especially death, nobody wanted to talk about them.

 

I'd never even seen a picture of the person I was named after, because, my mother told me when I asked her about it the other week, there weren't any. She barely remembers her uncle Robert. He disappeared when she was 11. Though she does remember that after a trip to the South Seas, he brought her back a coconut carved into the shape of a woman.

 

But my mother liked the name Robert, and in the Jewish tradition babies are named after a dead person. Her uncle was, in short, a convenient and presumably dead person whose name was available when I was born.

 

I also didn't know that my grandfather had changed the family name to "Webber," adding an additional "b" because he thought "Weber" sounded too German. Because I was spelling my mother's maiden name with two "b"s, I couldn't find anything on the Internet about her uncle, who hadn't changed his name.

 

It was only recently that I found a site called Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, or ¡ALBA! A posting on the site confirmed that my great-uncle was, indeed, killed in action—KIA—in the Spanish Civil War.

 

Here's everything that's posted on ¡ALBA! about Robert R. Weber:

 

b. September 12, 1903, Russia, Russian American, Jewish, received passport# 491405 on January 5, 1938 which listed his address as 442 West 23rd Street, NYC. Sailed January 12, 1938 aboard the Aquitania. Served with the XV BDE, Lincoln-Washington BN, rank Soldado, reported MIA March 1938 near Gandesa; later determined KIA between March 30 and April 3, 1938 during the Retreats.

 

A few months ago, in New York, not long after I'd found the information on ¡ALBA!, my wife and I were having dinner with Susana Aikin, a historical novelist whom we'd met in Madrid last year. She told us that she was in the midst of researching a book about the Spanish Civil War.

 

"I was named after somebody who was killed in the Spanish Civil War," I said. "He'd joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade."

 

"What's his name?"

 

I told her.

 

She said she recognized it. "Very few New Yorkers joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Do you know where he was killed?"

 

"I don't remember. I think it starts with a 'G.'"

 

"Gandesa?"

 

"Yeah, I think that's it."

 

"Have you been there?"

 

"No, it's never occurred to me to go there."

 

"You should go there."

 

It is an intriguing idea, and maybe I will. In the meantime, I did go to 442 West 23rd Street, my great-uncle Robert R. Weber's last known address. That's where the above picture was taken. The building, 119 years old, is now an attractive five-story row house with apartments selling for an average of $1,754,000. In 1938, it was probably a rooming house. I'd have liked to see Robert's room, too, but that just wasn't possible.

________

Headpress will publish Bobby in Naziland September 1; it's now available for pre-order on Amazon and all other online booksellers.

 

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The Gin Mills of Church Avenue

 

I never heard anybody call it the "Maple Court Cafe," but that's its official name, at least according to the above postcard. Everybody called it the "Maple Court Tavern," because that's what it was—a tavern, a bar, or as my father called every low-rent dive on Church Avenue, a "gin mill."

 

And though the postcard makes it look like a classy joint—it was once the conveniently located bar of choice for the wealthy denizens of Prospect Park South—by the time I came to know it, it was a dim, dank, dingy place. There were no potted plants or souvenir postcards or palm trees painted on the walls. According to my parents, it was where the "goyim" did their drinking. In my mind's eye, the bar was horseshoe shaped. But it was, in fact, a rectangle with curved corners. Because I sat at the far end, I can see how I misremembered that.

 

The Stingo I refer to in the quote under the postcard is the narrator of William Styron's Holocaust novel, Sophie's Choice. It's one of the many places in Flatbush that appear in his book as well as mine, and in Bobby in Naziland, I spend a couple of pages contrasting my own impressions of the neighborhood with Stingo's.

 

Every store, bar, and restaurant on Church Avenue's commercial strip has since been replaced by some other kind of store or restaurant (though no bars). A laundry has become a health food store. Two candy stores, including my father's, have become part of a subway station.

 

And the Maple Court Tavern (or cafe) is a pharmacy. Choose your poison, though now you need a prescription.

________

Headpress will publish Bobby in Naziland September 1; it's now available for pre-order on Amazon and all other online booksellers.

 

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King of the Jews

 

When the Dodgers played their last game in Brooklyn, on September 24, 1957, I was five years old and had just begun kindergarten. As I explain in Bobby in Naziland, I am among the last generation to have a living memory of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Had I been born just a few months later, I would not have been old enough to remember them.

 

So yes, I remember seeing them play on the tiny screen of our black-and-white TV, while my mother, a true-blue Dodgers fan, and her friends sat around the living room cheering "them Bums" on. Even more clearly, I remember people talking about the Dodgers because people talked about them for years after they left Brooklyn. And they never stopped talking about Bobby Thomson's soul-destroying "shot heard 'round the world" in the 1951 playoff game between the Dodgers and Giants.

 

Yet long after the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, the spirit of Brooklyn-born Jew and strikeout artist Sandy Koufax—the rare local boy who'd played for his hometown team—continued to hover over the baseball diamonds of the Parade Grounds, where he'd learned his craft. Koufax—his rookie card from 1955 is shown above—was an inspiration to any Jewish kid who'd ever picked up a baseball and harbored, even for a minute, the slightest inklings of a major league dream.

 

Yet Koufax had his greatest moment as a Jew in Baseball nearly a decade after the Dodgers (like so many other Brooklynites) had split for the Coast. Game one of the 1965 World Series, between the Dodgers and Minnesota Twins, was scheduled for October 6—which was also Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish Year. Koufax, the Dodger ace, was supposed to pitch that day. But in his entire career he'd never pitched on Yom Kipper, and he declined to pitch even this crucial game.

 

That was the day he was crowned King of the Jews—because he demonstrated to the world at large and every goyim boss who'd ever demanded otherwise that no Jew, no matter how important his or her job, had to work on Yom Kipper.

 

The other Dodger ace, Don Drysdale, pitched on Yom Kipper, and LA lost. Koufax then pitched game two, but the Dodgers lost again—before going on to take four out of the next five games, with Koufax winning games five and seven, thereby giving LA (and the Jews) the world championship.

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Headpress will publish Bobby in Naziland September 1; it's now available for pre-order on Amazon and all other online booksellers.

 

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The Pink Palace

 

In Bobby in Naziland, I describe the experience of reading William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice, in 1979, and my astonishment at discovering that its main setting was a ramshackle rooming house on the corner of Caton Avenue and Marlborough Road, two blocks from where I once lived. I used to pass that house every day, walking to and from my grade school, which was across the street.

 

Styron called the house the "Pink Palace." His alter ego, Stingo, and Sophie, an Auschwitz survivor, both lived there. As I was reading the book, I thought that Sophie could have been the fictional incarnation of any number of my neighbors—like the woman who worked in a nearby bakery on whose arm I first saw, in 1956, the blue Auschwitz number tattooed. I later found out that Styron and the woman upon whom he had based Sophie really did live in that house.

 

In Bobby in Naziland I wrote: "That a novel dealing with the Holocaust would one day be set in Flatbush was probably inevitable. But who could have predicted that it would be written not by a Jew or even a native Flatbushian, but by a goy from Newport News, Virginia, who had lived in the neighborhood for only a few months"?

 

Sophie's Choice allowed me to see Flatbush, a place I knew better than any patch of real estate on the planet, with fresh eyes. Styron, I wrote, expressed in his book "a simple truth that I'd never before heard anyone say: Flatbush was more Jewish than Tel Aviv."

 

The Pink Palace was torn down many years ago, replaced by a tan brick building housing a doctor's office. New York's tax photo archive, shot in 1940, supposedly includes every building in the city. But the Pink Palace, either overlooked or misfiled, is not there, and I can't find any pictures of it.

 

The house in the above photo is the house that played the Pink Palace in the 1982 film Sophie's Choice, starring Meryl Streep as Sophie, and Peter MacNicol (shown approaching the house) as Stingo. That house is located in Prospect Park South, on Rugby Road, a few blocks from where the real house once stood.

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10/15/64

 

My father's candy store was torn down in the 1980s. The spot where it once stood is now part of the Church Avenue subway station. For myriad reasons that I examine in Bobby in Naziland, there are no candy store pictures in our family photo album. I am, however, aware of two pictures of the store. One can be found here, among the collection of Brooklyn tax photos shot in 1940.

 

The other one is above, taken on the afternoon of October 15, 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson was campaigning in Brooklyn along with Robert Kennedy, who was running for the senate.

 

To me, the most remarkable thing about this photo is not that the president and a Kennedy are riding in an open limousine less than a year after Dallas. It's that it's the best picture I have of the candy store. You can see it on the left, in the middle of the block, next to the entrance to the BMT subway station, and the photo is clear enough to make out individual magazines and newspapers hanging above the store's windows.

 

I found the photo on Reddit some time ago but have been unable to track down the photographer. I'd like to see what else he (or she) shot that day.

 

I was standing outside the frame, a half-block away, on the corner of East 17th Street. Another photo, taken there moments later, ran in Look magazine. I can't find it online—Look, apparently, has yet to be digitized. It shows LBJ lifting into the limo a woman holding a sign that says, "We Love You. We Need You."

 

Flatbush was indeed a Democratic stronghold, and even my law-and-order Republican father was so caught up in the Johnson-Kennedy mania unfolding outside his store that he felt it was his patriotic duty to offer the president one of his famous egg creams.

 

There's one more thing about the photo I should point out: There's not one black or brown face in the crowd. Flatbush, in 1964, remained segregated; racism ran rampant; and in certain quarters the "N-word" was tossed around with impunity.

 

This, too, is a tragedy that Bobby in Naziland explores viscerally and in depth.

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A Faded Relic

 

Each apartment in Brighton Hall had a sealed-off fireplace in the living room, and I felt a pang of regret every time I looked at the outline on the wall in my apartment where the fireplace used to be. It would have been so cool to have a working fireplace, and so warm to sit by the hearth on the frequent frigid winter days when the boiler was broken and there was no heat or hot water. Having earned a camping merit badge in the Boy Scouts, I was good at building fires.

 

The fireplace in the above photo was the only one in the building that was not completely hidden. It was located in a common room off to the side of the first-floor entrance hall. When I lived there, the room served no purpose (as is still the case); sometimes people chained up their bikes there. But the architectural detail that went into that room is indicative of the building's luxurious origins. Note the heads carved into the pseudo-Ionic columns above the mantle, framing a frieze; the combination Ionic-Corinthian marble column in the foreground (a counterpoint to the Doric columns outside); the marble panel next to the column; and the elaborate moldings on the ceiling and walls.

 

Because Brighton Hall would be located close to the Parade Grounds and Prospect Park, and around the corner from a subway that would put you in Manhattan in 20 minutes, the builders thought East 17th Street was a perfect spot for a luxury apartment house. But their timing was off. The Great Depression hit as the building was being completed, and neglect set in immediately. By the time my parents signed a lease for a two-bedroom apartment, in 1953, Brighton Hall was a faded relic. But the rent was a reasonable $36 per month and my father could walk to work. His candy store on Church Avenue was 174 steps from the front door.

 

Even today, as Brooklyn becomes as gentrified as Manhattan, somehow the odd-numbered side of East 17th Street between Church and Caton Avenues remains the block that gentrification forgot.

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The Columns of Brighton Hall

 

Columns: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. You learn about them in school, especially if you studied architecture (which I did for a year at City College). They were a common sight in my neighborhood, found on all kinds of buildings, from shabby to sumptuous. (See "Tara of Flatbush.")

 

The columns in the above photo, taken in 2019, are the ones in front of Brighton Hall, the building on East 17th Street where I lived from 1953–65. The building itself and the street in front of it are two of the main settings for Bobby in Naziland.

 

As I've noted in previous posts, much about the building and street have changed in the ensuing decades. For example, it's a different front door, the concrete bannisters are gone, the lights are new, and there were no fences. The columns, too, have been modified. Though still clearly Doric, the fluting that I recall so well is no longer visible; the columns have been covered in some sort of spackle-like material and painted black. (Click here to see how the building looked in 1940.)

 

Yet there they stand, as solid as ever. And when I look upon them now, I remember that once upon a time I was small enough to fit, with room to spare, between the columns and the walls. And that's where I stood so many years ago when I pressed my cheek against the fluted gray stone.

 

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Tara of Flatbush

 

It's one of the most striking homes in serene and stately Prospect Park South, and I began to think of it as Tara of Flatbush after seeing Gone With the Wind. Modeled after a classical Greek temple, this glorious colonnaded abode looked like the kind of place Scarlett O'Hara would have wanted to live… had she ever come north to Brooklyn.

 

Flatbush Tara also had an attached greenhouse in the back (not visible in this photo), which appears to have been converted to a sunroom. It's smaller than I remember from bygone days, and I now doubt my entire apartment on East 17th Street, two blocks away, would have fit inside, as the caption, excerpted from Bobby in Naziland, says. But that's the way it looked to me as a kid—which is indicative of how the passage of time distorts memory. The more time that passes, the more the line blurs between what you remember and the reality of the way it was. That, too, is a theme I explore in the book.

 

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The Boulevards of Prospect Park South

 

The "mini-neighborhood" mentioned above, in another excerpt from chapter 1, "The Goyim and the Jews," of Bobby in Naziland, is Prospect Park South, an affluent district within working-class Flatbush.

 

Though Prospect Park South is in most ways the same as when I moved away, in 1965, two differences struck me when I returned in 2019: The houses are in much better shape than they were a half-century ago, and day trippers posing for selfies in front of the "eccentric mansions" now populate the "depopulated boulevards." The old hood has become a tourist destination.

 

You can see the graceful curve and some of the eccentric mansions in the photo, taken on Buckingham Road.

 

Headpress will publish Bobby in Naziland September 1. It's now available for pre-order on Amazon.

 

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Chvrch Avenve

 

The above caption is from chapter 1, "The Goyim and the Jews," of Bobby in Naziland, which Headpress will publish September 1. It describes the gateway to an opulent mini-neighborhood, within Flatbush, that stood in mind-boggling contrast to the shabbiness of East 17th Street, where I lived. The photo was taken recently, on the corner of Church Avenue and Marlboro Road. Though many things about the neighborhood have changed since 1965, when I moved away, some, like the red brick monoliths, are exactly the same.

 

"You don't have to be Jewish—or a Brooklynite—to be enchanted by this book."

 

As Bobby in Naziland's publication date inches closer, in addition to brief excerpts from the book and accompanying photos, I'll be posting links to reviews. In the first one, which ran in The Jewish Voice, a Brooklyn newspaper, the critic said, "You don't have to be Jewish—or a Brooklynite—to be enchanted by this book."

 

And I'll post information about media mentions, like the one you'll find in the coming attractions in the summer issue of Vanity Fair, on newsstands now. (Look for the Star Wars covers.)

 

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I Didn't Go Home Again

 

A few weeks ago, I went back to Flatbush with my personal paparazzo, Mary Lyn Maiscott, to photograph some of the locations I wrote about in Bobby in Naziland, which Headpress will publish September 1. One of the places I visited was Brighton Hall, the apartment building on East 17th Street, between Church and Caton Avenues, where I lived from 1953–65.

 

Much of the book is set in the building or on the street in front of it. Though parts of East 17th Street have become almost unrecognizable in the decades since I moved away, the interior of my old building—the banisters, the stairs, the tiles on the hallway floor—are unchanged. They are the original fixtures from when Brighton Hall was built, almost 90 years ago.

 

The stairs I'm sitting on, in the above photo, are right outside my old apartment, on the third floor. When I lived there, on days I didn't feel like going home, and it was too cold or wet to be outside, I sat on those steps biding my time, wondering if my mother was wondering where I was.

 

As I was sitting there, in 2019, a young man speaking Spanish on his cell phone came up the stairs and opened the door to my old apartment. I was tempted to ask him, in my fractured Spanish, if I could look inside. I hadn't seen the apartment in 54 years. But to ask such a question seemed rude and intrusive, to say the least. I couldn't bring myself to do it, and the door closed behind him.

 

So I didn't go home again. Maybe because you can't.

 

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The Past Came Calling

My father, Irwin Rosen, circa 1942.

Soon after the Brooklyn-based news site BK Reader published an article titled "New Book 'Bobby in Naziland' Tells a Different Tale of Flatbush," the past came calling—in the form of a tweet.

 

Somebody whose name I didn't recognize said he saw the article and thought we might be related. In the tweet, he asked about my father, Irwin Rosen, his candy store on Church Avenue, and two of my uncles, all of which I wrote about in the book.

 

My new Twitter follower is my father's first cousin—my first cousin once removed. And the likely reason I'd never heard of him is because of an ancient family feud of obscure origins that rendered a significant portion of my father's relatives persona non grata, at least as far as my parents were concerned. There are numerous people in my family whom my parents never told me about and whom I first learned about as an adult. Some of them are still alive; others share my last name and lived nearby when I was a kid.

 

In Bobby in Naziland, to be published in August, I write about the shock of these discoveries.

 

My cousin then sent me some family photos, including the one of my father, above.

 

As William Faulkner so aptly put it, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past."

 

Imagine if he had social media.

 

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Adventures in Fact Checking

 

I've been proofreading the galleys for Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, which Headpress will publish in the coming months. Part of the proofreading process involves fact checking—veryifying every name and date that it's possible to verify.

 

Mostly it's straightforward; a Google search provides the answer. But Bobby in Naziland, set in Flatbush in the 1950s and 60s, often defies Google. Checking the weather for a particular day in 1952, for example, involves digging through newspaper archives. And many of the Brooklyn places I wrote about are long gone—like N.E. Tell's bakery on Church Avenue. Was I spelling it correctly? Were there periods after the "N" and "E"? Was there a space between the two letters? Was there an apostrophe before the "s"?

 

The New York City Municipal Archives recently digitized their tax-photo collection, which they describe as follows:

 

Between 1939 and 1941, the Works Progress Administration, in conjunction with the New York City Department of Taxation, organized teams of photographers to shoot pictures of every building in the five boroughs of New York City.

 

I found the answers to my spelling questions there—and it was a eureka moment of genuine excitement. Then I enlarged the photo, which you can do on the site, and saw the apostrophe "s" on the side of the truck. I felt as if I'd discovered a time machine.

 

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Naziland in 3-D

This computer-generated image of my forthcoming book, Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, creates the illusion that the book exists, in three dimensions. It does not... yet. But this is what it will look like when it's published later this year, publication date soon to be announced.

 

 

A recent tweet from Headpress notes that Bobby in Naziland "touches on topics as wide ranging as the trial of Adolf Eichnmann, goyim, Jews, money, sex, class, racism, the Rosenbergs, the space race, UFOs, Eva Perón, President Kennedy, the Three Stooges, the New York Yankees, literature, language, and memory itself."

 

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Coverboy

The cover photo on my new book, Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, to be published in the coming months by Headpress, was taken by my mother, in my grandmother's house, in 1956, with a Brownie Hawkeye camera.

 

"Smile naturally!" my mother demanded as she snapped the picture. Her direction made me so nervous, I couldn't smile at all. I could only stare into the camera in a state of deer-in-the-headlights shock.

 

The photo sits atop the piano in my house. And though I've been living with it for more than 60 years, it never occurred to me it could be a book cover. In fact, I couldn't think of any single image that would capture the essence of Bobby in Naziland.

 

"What about this?" my wife asked, showing me the photo.

 

It was perfect, I realized: the expression, the position of my hands, the saddle shoes, high-waisted pants, and 50s-style shirt.

 

Headpress thought so, too, and added the frame, wallpaper, and map of Flatbush.

 

"Good work," I told my mother. "Did you know you were shooting a book cover that day?"

 

She thought that was funny. I thought it was funny that my unsmiling four-year-old self had become a coverboy.

 

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Gracias Madrid/Thank You, Madrid

El grupo en el restaurante Strawberry Fields después de mi presentación en el Café Comercial, en Madrid. El traductor Diego Harris está en el extremo izquierdo; Mary Lyn Maiscott, Robert Rosen y María Martín son el quinto, el sexto y el séptimo desde la izquierda. (Si a alguien más le gustara ser identificado, por favor déjemelo saber)./The crowd at Strawberry Fields restaurant after my presentation at Café Comercial, in Madrid. Translator Diego Harris is at the far left; Mary Lyn Maiscott, Robert Rosen, and María Martín are fifth, sixth, and seventh from left. (If anybody else would like to be identified, please let me know.)

 

"Esta es una de las noches más memorables de mi carrera", le dije al grupo reunido en Strawberry Fields, un local de hamburguesas cuadra abajo desde el Café Comercial, en Madrid. Era el 3 de noviembre y recién habíamos venido del café, donde por las últimas dos horas yo había estado respondiendo preguntas, sobre la nueva edición en español de mi libro Nowhere Man. Y ese céntrico restaurante beatle era el lugar ideal, para celebrar mi primera presentación en España. El video "Hey Jude" de los Beatles estaba rodando en la pantalla detrás de nosotros, y mi esposa, Mary Lyn Maiscott, señaló que su viejo amigo Joel Soroka estaba tocando la pandereta, en esa cápsula de tiempo de 50 años. María Martín, quien colabora con Jordi Melgosa en la revista beatle El Submarí Groc y quien organizó el evento, pareció encantada con esta pequeña noticia.

La energía había sido eléctrica durante toda la noche. Me sorprendía y apocaba que tantas personas hubieran venido de toda España, para asistir al evento. Su amor por los Beatles era incondicional; estaban ansiosos de cualquier información nueva, y deseosos de oír lo que yo tuviera que decir sobre mis experiencias, de muchos años atrás, mientras editaba los diarios de John Lennon. Sus preguntas fueron desafiantes, fue como una conferencia de prensa. Yo lamento que no pude ofrecer mejores respuestas, a la ráfaga de preguntas sobre la ama de llaves española de John Lennon, Rosaura López Lorenzo, sobre quien conocí mucho después que Nowhere Man fuera publicado. Cuando se trataba de los empleados, Lennon sólo escribía sobre esos que lo enojaban y, al parecer, Rosaura se las agenció para quedarse en su lado bueno.

La audiencia llenó el café con una clase de emoción, que no se parece a ninguna cosa que yo haya visto en Estados Unidos en décadas. Estos fanáticos de los Beatles españoles eran personas no cínicas, que no pudieron obtener suficiente de los Cuatro Fabulosos cuando ellos existían como grupo, o que habían nacido demasiado tarde y los habían extrañado por completo.

Como mi traductor, Diego Harris, quien nació en 1977, me había dicho antes: “Yo estoy feliz de haber estado vivo al mismo tiempo que John Lennon.”

Hacia el final de la presentación, yo expliqué cómo mi experiencia me había habilitado para escribir Nowhere Man, y leí un extracto de mi nuevo libro, Bobby en Nazilandia (que será publicado el próximo año, por Headpress), describiendo cómo compré mi primer álbum grabado, Meet the Beatles, por tres dólares, en una tienda de cinco y diez centavos el 10 de febrero de 1964, el día después que la banda apareció por primera vez en el programa de Ed Sullivan. Fue, dije, “la primera vez en mi vida, que yo poseyera una música que pudiera llamar mía propia”. Y por el medio siglo siguiente, he continuado prestando una atención cercana.

Esa noche mágica en Madrid, marcó asimismo el 18 aniversario de la publicación de un libro, que por 18 años nadie había publicado. Yo dudo que pudiera haber habido una mejor manera de celebrarlo, que con mis nuevos amigos en el Café Comercial y en la fiesta posterior en Strawberry Fields. Me sentí como un embajador de Nutopia, un representante terrenal del señor Lennon, haciendo lo que pudiera para comunicar su vibra, en un tiempo cuando parece que nosotros podemos necesitarla más que nunca.

Así que yo quiero expresar mi más profunda gratitud, a todos quienes hicieron posible el evento y vinieron al Café Comercial, especialmente a María; a Diego, por sus extraordinarias traducciones al vuelo; a Arturo Gonzalez, editor de 10, Mathew Street, por su cobertura a lo largo de los años, y por el gran tour por Madrid que él y su esposa Almudena nos dieron a Mary Lyn y a mí; y a René Portas, quien tradujo no sólo Nowhere Man, sino asimismo la declaración de apertura que yo leí en el café, así como éste y muchos otros posts del blog.

¡Gracias a todos!

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Thank You, Madrid


“This is one of the most memorable nights of my career,” I told the crowd gathered at Strawberry Fields, a hamburger joint down the block from Café Comercial, in Madrid. It was November 3, and we’d just come from the café, where for the past two hours I’d been answering questions about the new Spanish edition of my book Nowhere Man. And this Beatles-centric restaurant was the ideal place to celebrate my first presentation in Spain. The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” video was playing on the screen behind us, and my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, pointed out that her old friend Joel Soroka was playing the tambourine in this 50-year-old time capsule. María Martín, who collaborates with Jordi Melgosa on the Beatles magazine El Submarí Groc and who organized the event, seemed delighted with this unexpected bit of news.

The energy had been electric throughout the night. I was amazed and humbled that so many people had come from all over Spain to attend the event. Their love of the Beatles was unconditional; they were hungry for any new information and eager to hear what I had to say about my experiences, so many years ago, editing John Lennon’s diaries. Their questions were challenging—it was like a press conference. I’m sorry that I couldn’t provide better answers to the flurry of questions about John Lennon’s Spanish housekeeper, Rosaura López Lorenzo, whom I learned about long after Nowhere Man was published. When it came to employees, Lennon only wrote about the ones who pissed him off and, apparently, Rosaura managed to stay on his good side.

The audience filled the café with the kind of emotion that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in America in decades. These Spanish Beatle fanáticos were uncynical people who couldn’t get enough of the Fab Four when they existed as a group, or were born too late and had missed them entirely.

As my translator, Diego Harris, who was born in 1977, had told me earlier, “I’m happy to have been alive at the same time as John Lennon.”

Toward the end of the presentation, I explained how my background had enabled me to write Nowhere Man, and I read an excerpt from my new book, Bobby in Naziland (to be published next year, by Headpress), describing how I bought my first record album, Meet the Beatles, for three dollars, in a five-and-dime store on February 10, 1964, the day after the band first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was, I said, “the first time in my life I possessed music I could call my own.” And for the next half century, I’ve continued to pay close attention.

This magical night in Madrid also marked the 18th anniversary of the publication of a book that, for 18 years, nobody would publish. I doubt there could have been a better way to celebrate than with my new friends in Café Comercial and at the after-party in Strawberry Fields. I felt like the Nutopian ambassador, an earthly representative of Señor Lennon, doing what I could to communicate his vibe at a time when it seems as if we need it more than ever.

So I want to express my deepest gratitude to everybody who made the event possible and who came to Café Comercial—especially María; Diego, for his extraordinary on-the-fly translations; Arturo Gonzalez, editor of 10, Mathew Street, for his coverage over the years and for the grand tour of Madrid he and his wife Almudena gave Mary Lyn and me; and René Portas, who translated not only Nowhere Man, but also the opening statement I read at the café as well as this and many other blog posts.

¡Gracias a todos!

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Finally...

Church Avenue near East 17th Street in Flatbush, in the early 1960s: the main drag of Bobby in Naziland.

 

I received word recently that Headpress, the publisher of my previous book, Beaver Street, will publish Bobby in Naziland sometime next year--as nonfiction.

There will be a lot more news to come. For now, here’s a synopsis:

From the final days of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in the mid-1950s, to the arrival of the Beatles, in 1964, Bobby in Naziland takes you on an unsentimental journey through one Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood. Though only a 20-minute and 15-cent subway ride from the gleaming towers of Manhattan across the East River, Flatbush—or Flapbush, as native Flatbushians called it—was a provincial, working-class place, frozen in time, where concentration camp survivors and army vets who’d fought the Nazis lived side by side and World War II lingered like a mass hallucination (along with the ghost of the Dodgers). It was a place hell-bent on vengeance, seething with hatred, and suffering from an epidemic of what was not yet called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Voice-driven and darkly comic, this slice of autobiography focuses on the interplay of the personal and historical, and is narrated by “Bobby,” an adult who channels thoughts and emotions from his childhood: “I was 97 days old when a one-footed Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, Edward Teller, the real Dr. Strangelove, more commonly known as ‘the father of the H-bomb,’ introduced Planet Earth to this brand-new way to exterminate the human race.”

Grappling to understand and come to terms with the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation and the historical weight of the Holocaust, the young Bobby obsessively draws mushroom clouds and broods about Nazi atrocities as he watches his family and neighbors celebrate the capture, trial, and execution of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Along the way, he provides a child’s-eye view of the mid-20th-century American experience, often as it plays out in his father’s candy store. Among the subjects he explores are goyim, Jews, money, sex, class, racism, the Rosenbergs, the space race, UFOs, Eva Perón, President Kennedy, the Three Stooges, the New York Yankees, literature, language, and memory itself.

The story moves towards a climactic moment of self-discovery through self-mutilation, a misguided act brought about by emotional abuse, the physical violence so prevalent in the neighborhood, and the latent yet inescapable pain of the Holocaust survivors and World War II vets who surround Bobby.

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Mi hechizo latinoamericano/My Latin American Mojo

América latina, para mí, es un universo alternativo, donde todo en lo que yo he estado trabajando, por los últimos 40 años, ha llegado a suceder en un lenguaje, que apenas puedo entender.

Cuando yo fui a la ciudad de México, en 2003, poco después que Random House Mondadori (desde entonces re-nombrada Penguin Random House), publicara por primera vez Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, y cuando retorné a México en 2005, y luego fui a Chile, los medios de esos países reaccionaron a mi visita, como si yo fuera el autor de Harry Potter. Mi rostro fue desplegado en toda la tv, los periódicos y las revistas en una extensión tan desconcertante, que la gente me reconocía en la calle, y así confirmé la verdad esencial de la antigua cita de Woody Allen: “El ochenta por ciento del éxito está apareciendo”. Y eso es especialmente cierto, si tú estás apareciendo en un lugar a 5,000 millas de distancia.

¿Pero seguiría mi hechizo latinoamericano funcionando, en 2017, para una edición española ampliada y re-traducida de Nowhere Man? La respuesta, estoy feliz de reportar, fue un resonante “sí”, y yo incluso no tuve que salir de mi casa para poner las cosas en marcha. Empezó en el cumpleaños de Lennon, el 9 de octubre —el día que la nueva edición fue publicada—, cuando el periódico chileno La Tercera divulgó un extracto de Nowhere Man, y lo continuó al día siguiente con una entrevista.

Un mes más tarde, un artículo sobre el libro en el semanario mexicano Proceso, de Roberto Ponce, basado en parte en una entrevista publicada en el sitio argentino Espectador, envió Nowhere Man a la cima de las listas en Amazon de México.

Entonces las cosas se pusieron surrealistas. Las noticias anunciaron por todo el mundo, el 21 de noviembre, que los diarios robados de John Lennon —los diarios que yo transcribí en 1981, y que habían servido como un mapa de ruta para Nowhere Man—, habían sido recuperados en una casa de subastas en Berlín. Yo no sabía que el chofer de Yoko Ono había, supuestamente, robado los diarios. (Él afirma que no los robó). Pensaba que los diarios habían sido devueltos a Ono en 1982. Aún más sorprendente fue que los medios españoles y latinoamericanos, estaban citando extensamente de Nowhere Man, dándome la clase de publicidad que el dinero no puede comprar.

Yo arribé a Buenos Aires para el lanzamiento oficial el 27 de noviembre. ¿Por qué Buenos Aires? Déjenme contar las razones: mi traductor René Portas y mi agente argentina, Beatriz Norma Iacoviello, viven allí. Argentina es un país que adora tanto a los Beatles como la literatura. (El apartamento de Beatriz y René está a la vuelta de la esquina, de donde Jorge Luis Borges vivió alguna vez.) Yo nací 12 horas después que Eva Perón muriera, y siempre he sentido una conexión con ella y la ciudad. Y como un bono extra añadido, mi amigo Avi Avner estaba en la ciudad, actuando como consultante principal de la Mossad, para la película Operación Final, sobre la captura de Adolf Eichmann en Buenos Aires, cual es asimismo un tema en mi libro aún no publicado, Bobby en Nazilandia.

Lo más destacado de los medios sobre mi estadía en la capital argentina, incluye una entrevista en vivo en el programa de Martín Aragón, Eternamente Beatles, con Octavio Cavalli sirviendo como mi traductor; una entrevista con Luis Kramer para su programa, Cinefilia; y una extensa entrevista grabada en video con Vanesa Preli de Radio Zonica, que aún no está al aire.

Había más por venir cuando retorné a Nueva York: un extracto del libro en Proceso, un artículo sobre eso en Cultura Colectiva y un episodio titulado “El misterio de John Lennon”, escuchado más de 72,000 veces, en el programa de radio de internet del periodista español Iker Jiménez, Universo Iker.

Porque yo trabajo para Vanity Fair en Nueva York, mi trozo de prensa favorito fue una pieza humorísticamente salaz, titulada “Los oscuros secretos sexuales de John Lennon”, de Alejandro Mancilla, que apareció en Vanity Fair de México. Inspirado por una crítica de Rodrigo Fresan, publicada en Página 12 en el 2000, el artículo es, más o menos, un estudio de las escenas de sexo en Nowhere Man. Su toque más surrealista es ver mi nombre en negrita, al lado de algunos como Louis C.K. y Miley Cyrus.

¡Yeah, baby, yo aún tengo mi hechizo!

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My Latin American Mojo


Latin America, to me, is an alternate universe where everything I’ve been working for, for the past 40 years, has come to pass in a language I can barely understand.

When I went to Mexico City, in 2003, soon after Random House Mondadori (since renamed Penguin Random House) first published Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, and when I returned to Mexico, in 2005, and then went on to Chile, the media in those countries reacted to my visit if I were the author of Harry Potter. My face was splashed all over TV, newspapers, and magazines to the disorienting extent that people recognized me in the street, thus confirming the essential truth of the old Woody Allen quote, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” And it’s especially true if you’re showing up in a place 5,000 miles away.

But would my Latin American Mojo still be working, in 2017, for a retranslated and expanded Spanish edition of Nowhere Man? The answer, I’m happy to report, was a resounding Yes, and I didn’t even have to leave my house to get things going. It began on Lennon’s birthday, October 9—the day the new edition was published—when the Chilean newspaper La Tercera ran an excerpt from Nowhere Man and followed it up the next day with an interview.

A month later, an article about the book in the Mexican newsweekly Proceso, by Roberto Ponce, based in part on an interview published on the Argentine site Espectador, sent Nowhere Man to the top of the charts on Amazon Mexico.

Then things got surreal. News broke all over the world, on November 21, that John Lennon’s stolen diaries—the diaries that I’d transcribed in 1981, and had served as roadmap for Nowhere Man—were recovered in an auction house in Berlin. I didn’t know that Yoko Ono’s chauffeur had allegedly stolen the diaries. (He claims he didn’t steal them.) I thought the diaries had been returned to Ono in 1982. Even more shocking was that Spanish and Latin American media were quoting extensively from Nowhere Man, giving me the kind of publicity that money can’t buy.

I arrived in Buenos Aires for the official launch on November 27. Why Buenos Aires? Let me count the reasons: My translator René Portas and my Argentine agent, Beatriz Norma Iacoviello, live there. Agentina is a country that worships both the Beatles and literature. (René and Beatriz’s apartment is around the corner from where Jorge Luis Borges once lived.) I was born 12 hours after Eva Peron died, and have always felt a connection to her and the city. And as an extra added bonus, my friend Avi Avner was in town, acting as chief Mossad consultant for the film Operation Finale, about Adolf Eichmann’s capture in Buenos Aires, which is also a theme in my still unpublished book, Bobby in Naziland.

The media highlights of my stay in the Argentine capital include a live interview on Martín Aragón’s show, Eternamente Beatles (Beatles Forever), with Octavio Cavalli serving as my translator; an interview with Luis Kramer for his show, Cinefilia (think Terry Gross and NPR); and an extensive videotaped interview with Vanesa Preli of Radio Zonica that has yet to air.

There was more to come when I returned to New York: an excerpt of the book in Proceso, an article about it in Cultura Colectiva, and an episode titled “El misterio de John Lennon” (“The Mystery of John Lennon”), listened to more than 72,000 times, on Spanish journalist Iker Jiménez’s Internet radio show, Universo Iker.

Because I work for Vanity Fair in New York, my favorite bit of press was a humorously salacious piece, titled “Los oscuros secretos sexuales de John Lennon” (“The Dark Sexual Secrets of John Lennon”), by Alejandro Mancilla, that ran in Vanity Fair Mexico. Inspired by a critique by Rodrigo Fresan, published in Pagina 12, in 2000, the article is, more or less, a survey of the sex scenes in Nowhere Man. Its most surreal touch is seeing my name in boldface alongside the likes of Louis C.K. and Miley Cyrus.

Yeah, baby, I've still got my mojo!

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A Taste of Publicity

Despite a lack of Harry Potter-like sales and the absence of my name on celebrity A-lists, I've still managed to publish two critically acclaimed books.

That's yesterday’s news.

In 2015, in order for me to get another deal, an agent must submit my book pre-reviewed and pre-publicized.

Recently, filmmaker Michael Nirenberg, best known for his Hustler magazine documentary, Back Issues, asked if he could read my just-completed novel, Bobby in Naziland. The book is about growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s, in the aftermath of World War II and in the shadow of the Holocaust.

Nirenberg liked it enough to interview me for The Huffington Post. It’s Bobby in Naziland’s first taste of publicity.

Thus begins the long journey to publication. Glad you’re along for the ride. Read More 
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Some Days I Think About Word Counts

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea: 24,191 words

Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's: 26,433 words

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: 27,622 words

Thomas Mann, Death in Venice: 28,770 words

Joan Didion, Play it as it Lays: 32,482 words

Albert Camus, The Stranger: 36,451 words (Translated from French to English by Stuart Gilbert)

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness: 37,746 words

Saul Bellow, Seize the Day: 38,816 words

Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John: 41,909 words

Robert Rosen, Bobby in Naziland: 44,527 words

Lorrie Moore, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?: 45,361 words

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea: 45,499 words

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby: 47,104 words

Paula Fox, Desperate Characters: 47,739 words Read More 
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'Twas the Day After Christmas

I'm not in the habit of discussing here, at least on a daily basis, the book I'm currently working on. But there are references to Bobby in Naziland on this blog dating back to October 2011, so it's hardly a secret that I've been writing a novel. And if you were one of the people who attended Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, in 2013, then you heard me read the opening pages of the book and have a sense of what it's about: a child's view of Brooklyn in the 1950s and '60s.

I haven’t posted here in nearly four weeks because I’ve been working on revisions for Bobby in Naziland, and it’s taken up what little free time I’ve had. Also, in the middle of doing those revisions, the British government passed a new censorship law, and The Independent, apparently fans of Beaver Street, asked me to write about it. The piece I wrote, “No Female Ejaculation, Please, We’re British,” went viral and was then picked up by Dagospia, an Italian political-gossip site. This was one of my two major-media highlights of 2014. (The other was an appearance on the John Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals, which ran multiple times on the Reelz Channel.)

So, here it is, Boxing Day, Henry Miller’s birthday, and the day after Christmas—the traditional time to reflect on the year gone by. Judging by the horror that smacks me in the face every morning when I foolishly pick up the newspaper because it’s lying outside my door, 2014 seems to have been little more than a series of catastrophies. No need to innumerate them here; we both know what they are. Which is why I’m going to take a moment to feel especially grateful that I’ve gotten through this year relatively unscathed. Also, I’m going to put aside my cynicism for a day or two and look to 2015 with a sense of hope.

Call me crazy.

In the meantime, happy holidays to all, and I’ll see you next year, if not sooner! Read More 
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