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Flatbush Flashback

Greatest Hits: Volume I

I launched this blog three years ago, on February 10, 2010, with the announcement that my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, was going to be published in Italy. Since then, there's been a lot of water under the bridge--the publication of three editions of Beaver Street, a UK and a US promotional tour, various battles with mega-conglomerates, and an assortment of earthquakes, hurricanes, and blizzards. As this past week has brought an influx of new readers to the Daily Beaver, I thought this might be a good time to look back on the 10 most popular blog postings--my greatest hits--which I'll run in two parts, beginning today with 10 through 6. And by "popular," I mean the individual posts that have gotten the most total hits over the years.

10. New York Calling to the Riot Zone (Aug. 11, 2011)
A meditation on the London riots from the comfort of my New York living room.

9. The Tea Party Congressman and the Porn King (Feb. 14, 2012)
An investigative report detailing Swank publisher Lou Perretta’s campaign contributions to ultra-conservative congressman Scott Garrett.

8. Fat Sex (Sept. 28, 2011)
An essay on some of the problems I had editing magazines like Plump & Pink and Buf.

7. The Unfinished Life of John Lennon (Jan. 3, 2011)
A piece I wrote for the Mexican newsweekly Proceso, on the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, in its original English.

6. Memoirs of a Pornographer (May 13, 2011)
Editor Jamie Maclean’s rave review of Beaver Street for the British sex journal Erotic Review.

Tomorrow, Volume II Read More 
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The Fire Next Time

All this writing about rioting has gotten me to thinking about what it might be like in New York City should a bit of social unrest erupt here. Well, it's not terribly hard to imagine. We got a preview of what would happen in 2004, when the Republican Party invaded New York to re-nominate Bush on the ashes of the World Trade Center. So, I figure it'll be pretty much the same, with more fire and more carnage.

The entire city was in lockdown. Concrete barricades manned by heavily armed riot police and military—it was hard to tell them apart—sprung up overnight, on virtually every street corner in Midtown Manhattan. Chinook helicopters thumped overhead. At the first hint of trouble, the police carried out mass arrests, swooping in with plastic netting, and rounding up anybody who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Stores and restaurants closed. Streets were deserted. Anybody who could leave town did. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t good for business (as our mayor had advertised). It wasn’t anything but ugly.

Which is why most sensible New Yorkers breathed a sigh of relief when London was chosen for the 2012 Olympics. The convention lasted only four days. The Olympics will go on for 17 days. Word to the wise: Get the fuck out of London if you can. Go to Spain. Or, better yet, tell them to go away. You’re London. You don’t need the Olympics. Read More 
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Loot This Book

I read Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book in high school. Hoffman, co-founder of the Yippies, proclaimed that it was immoral to not steal from the American Empire, and he explained how to get pretty much everything for free (or close to it). I found the book so inspiring that I embarked on an extended career of using subway slugs, making free long-distance phone calls, and acquiring free record albums and books through the mail. My life of liberating things from the "pigs" lasted through graduate school, and the only lesson, an arrest for subway slug use, taught me was to be more cautious.

I mention Hoffman’s book now because of a letter I read in The New York Times the other day describing the rioting and looting at a shopping mall in England. “Rampaging mobs had broken into virtually every shop there, stealing everything from designer clothing to electronics,” wrote Arnold Grossman of Denver, Colorado, though he failed to identify the city in which this took place. “One store stood alone, however, its windows intact and its goods untouched.”

It was a bookstore.

How utterly dispiriting that British rioters, who also looted such things as bottled water and trash cans, didn’t find it worth their while to steal books. I suppose they could have preferred reading e-books on Amazon’s Kindle, but I somehow doubt it.

More likely, book lovers tend to be shoplifters rather than looters, and shoplifting books is, indeed, a serious problem in the US and UK. Publisher’s Weekly, in fact, has compiled a list of the top five most stolen books in the US: anything by Charles Bukowski, anything by William Burroughs, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, and anything by Martin Amis.

And the Guardian has compiled a list of the most stolen books in the UK: London A-Z, Lonely Planet Europe, The Guv’nor by Lenny McLean, Tintin and Asterix, and Harry Potter by JK Rowling.

Number six on this list, incidentally, is Steal This Book. So perhaps there is some hope for the UK after all. Read More 
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It Takes a Riot

My posting yesterday about how disturbingly close the UK riots felt to New York City generated a number of comments on Facebook and Twitter. So, while the situation in England seems to have calmed down for now, I'd like to respond to a comment by my fellow Headpress author Charles Shaar Murray.

“The big difference between what happened in London and what might happen in NYC and elsewhere in the USA is guns,” Murray wrote. “If the rioters had been armed—not to mention the storekeepers trying to protect their businesses, and the cops—as they would inevitably be in Merkuh, we’d’ve had a body count in the hundreds, if not thousands.”

Murray is referring to the fact that unlike in the US, guns in the UK—especially handguns—are difficult to obtain and the police are, famously, unarmed. And though buildings were burnt to the ground and stores looted, only five people have been confirmed dead, three of whom were run over by a car in Birmingham.

Compare that to what happened in LA riots of 1992: 53 dead. Or the Detroit riots of 1967: 43 dead. Or the Watts riots of 1965: 34 dead. Or the Newark riots of 1967: 26 dead.

The difference, of course, is handguns. In America everybody, including terrorists, has the constitutional right to own virtually any gun smaller than a cannon, and somebody like Mark David Chapman can walk into a gun shop, lie on the application about having been hospitalized for mental illness, put $169 cash on the counter, and walk out with a .38 caliber revolver that he will use to murder John Lennon. Or more recently, the clearly insane Jared Lee Loughner legally purchased a 9mm semi-automatic pistol with a 33-round magazine, and used it to murder six people and wound 13 others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, at a political rally in Tucson, Arizona.

So, yes, America is a violent country full of heavily armed lunatics walking around at a time of political chaos and economic turmoil, where the gyrations of the stock market can cause jobs and life savings to evaporate in one bad afternoon. And as I wander the streets of New York, where the increased tension is palpable, I think about the riots in England, and I remember how it was here, in the mid-1960s, when my city was on fire, everybody was scared out of their wits, and I heard too many people say things like, “I need to buy a gun to defend myself, because the police aren’t going to do it.”

So, yeah, it seems as though it takes a riot (and an impressive body count) before people can come to their senses. Might it happen here? I ain’t no prophet. I can only report what I see, hear, feel. Read More 
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New York Calling to the Riot Zone

Sitting here in my cluttered New York living room/office, tapping on my laptop, the London riots, though 3,500 miles away, feel uncomfortably close. My publisher, Headpress, whose site you may be reading this on, is in Wood Green, adjacent to Tottenham, where the riots began. A photographer I wrote about in Beaver Street, Steve Colby, lives in Hackney, about a half mile from the worst of the rioting on Kingsland Road. Another friend, who I stay with when I'm in London, lives in Crouch End, also not far from Tottenham.

Yet, from the perspective of these people, it’s tranquil in London. “All as quiet as anything,” reports Crouch End. “Everything OK so far,” says Wood Green.

But it wouldn’t be London without the gallows humor, would it? “A security guard clapped me round the head as I was exiting Foot Locker through the smashed window, but I managed not to drop the trainers!” reports a colleague.

“US size 11, if you get a chance,” I remind him.

Despite what your Prime Minister, David Cameron, says about a “lack of proper parenting,” and a “lack of proper morals” being the root cause of the riots, I’m inclined to believe that when people burn down their own neighborhoods, what they lack is something to lose. It doesn’t take a genius to see a connection between the violence and “the cuts,” as you call them—in health care, libraries, police, drop-in centers, etc., etc…. all the things that governments cut to balance their financial books on the backs of those who already have the least.

It’s the same thing that’s happening here, in America, where the economy is in a state of turmoil, the government has gone insane, 14-million people are unemployed, 46 million don’t have health insurance, those who have health insurance can barely afford to pay for it, and more and more people are left with a desperate sense of having nothing to lose.

I used to think that I’d be okay as long as I was coherent and could string together a couple of sentences. I don’t feel that way anymore. Whatever sense of security I once had has been shredded.

There are just too many people here, in New York, with nothing to lose, and too many people with plenty to lose who are losing more every day. Inevitably, the riots will come to America. And when they do, I can’t say I’m going to join them, but I certainly won’t be able to blame them. Read More 
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