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Flatbush Flashback

Talkin’ St. Louie Covid Blues

 

A window briefly opened in May and June. It seemed as if the pandemic were ending and life as we knew it might return. For the first time in more than a year, I walked Manhattan streets without a mask. I flew to Florida and visited my mother. I visited friends in their apartments. I went to a party and conversed maskless with maskless (and fully vaccinated) strangers. And I rescheduled an event at Subterranean Books, in St. Louis, which had been cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

 

The original event was to be a celebration of John Lennon's 80th birthday. I was going to read from and discuss my Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, and the Beatles section of my most recent book, Bobby in Naziland (which Headpress is going to re-release next year with a new title, A Brooklyn Memoir). The new event, a celebration of the end of the pandemic and Lennon's 81st birthday, was scheduled to take place October 7.

 

But almost as soon as the arrangements were made, the pandemic began going in the wrong direction. Suddenly the news was full of breakthrough infections in vaccinated people, highly contagious Delta variants, millions of people who refused to be vaccinated, Covid wards filled to capacity, and too many people dying.

 

Could I really go forward with a live indoor event even if everybody was required to wear a mask? Would more than a handful of people show up? Was I willing to risk my health to sell books?

 

People I spoke with in New York were unanimous: Don't do it. I called people in St. Louis and asked them what they thought. Some told me they'd been avoiding indoor events and would be hesitant to come. Two people said they'd probably come. And a former bookstore owner told me it would be "foolhardy" to go through with it.

 

I've been doing book events for more than 21 years and have never cancelled. St. Louis, where I've done five well-attended events, has been amazingly supportive of my work, no venue more so than Subterranean Books. It was with great sadness that I cancelled the event.

 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had this to say about the return of live book events in the city.

 

So, now I've got the "Talking St. Louie Covid Blues" again. But someday the pandemic will end and I shall return.

________

My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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Talking “Beaver Street” and “Nowhere Man” With a Right-Wing Guy

I've made it a point, over the past two decades, to speak to anybody who wants to interview me about any of my books. It's a simple philosophy: If I'm going to spend years writing a book and placing it with a publisher, then I'm going to do everything I can to get people to read it. So it was an easy decision to go on the right-wing Electile Dysfunction Podcast. The host, Ashton Cohen, an attorney, wanted to speak to me about Beaver Street, which examines 20th-century history, politics, and technology through a pornographic lens. I wrote the book after spending 16 years working as an editor of "adult" magazines, and I describe Beaver Street as an investigative memoir.

 

Cohen and I covered a lot of ground, including free speech, the First Amendment, and cancel culture; how computerized phone sex revolutionized the porn industry; my X-rated experiment in participatory journalism; and the connection between porn and Marvel Comics. Then we somehow transitioned to John Lennon's final years and my book Nowhere Man. So we got into Beatles, drugs, and music. (He likes them.)

 

Cohen is a Trump supporter and we disagree on just about everything political. But our conversation serves as a demonstration that people at opposite ends of the spectrum can have a rational, respectful, entertaining discussion. That in itself may be the most notable takeaway.

 

You can watch the interview on Youtube, above, or listen on Apple Podcasts.

________

My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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Minddog TV

Matt Nappo, host of the Minddog TV podcast, invited me to come on his show and talk about my three books, Nowhere Man, Beaver Street, and Bobby in Naziland. Our spirited, wide-ranging discussion covered John Lennon's final years, the porn industry's plunge into the cultural abyss, and growing up in Brooklyn in the aftermath of World War II. (Matt grew up there, too.)

 

If you didn't catch the show live, you can still listen to the podcast, above, or watch it on YouTube, below.

 

I don't know what a Minddog is, but if Matt invites me back, I'll find out.

________

My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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Catch and Kill, Ono-Style?/¿Catch and Kill, Estilo Ono?

In March 1977, Michael Barbosa Medeiros, a freelance houseplant doctor, was at a party chatting with John Green, a professional tarot-card reader, also known as "Charlie Swan." Green told Medeiros about a possible job opening. A few days later he called Medeiros with the details: Go to apartment 72 in the Dakota, on West 72nd Street, in New York City.

 

Medeiros waited outside the apartment, puzzled by a brass plaque on the door that said "Nutopian Embassy." He'd never heard of that country. The door opened and a pony-tailed man holding a baby and dressed in cut-off jeans greeted Medeiros. "Hi, I'm John," he said. "You must be the tree man." He led Medeiros through a sprawling apartment to a sunny room with a few plants and trees. Then the man spoke at length about wanting to fill the room with more greenery. Medeiros recognized the voice. His potential employer was John Lennon. Though he found the ex-Beatle unpretentious and down to earth, he was stunned and awed to be in his presence. Later that day he met with Yoko Ono. She hired him.

 

Thus began Medeiros's stint as John and Yoko's houseplant doctor. Yoko soon gave him the additional responsibility of personal assistant.

 

John couldn't remember Michael's last name and began calling him "Mike Tree." At first they rarely spoke and Michael quietly went about his tasks. He built a terrarium. John liked it. Then, apparently intrigued by Michael's silence, John began asking him about his family and upbringing, especially his relationship with his father. He asked if he'd ever wanted to play music.

 

Michael told John that he'd always wanted to play the banjo. John gave him an old banjo that was lying around the Dakota.

 

A bond began to form between the Beatle and the houseplant doctor. Yoko didn't like it and threatened to fire Michael for talking to John, but she didn't.

 

John and Michael were both Libras, which John found significant. Michael was one year older, and John seemed to appreciate having an assistant who was close in age. (Most of the assistants were considerably younger.)

 

Michael's duties expanded to include setting up Yoko's recording equipment and organizing tapes of everything from John Green's daily tarot-card readings to, eventually, the recordings of the Double Fantasy sessions (microphones were left open at all times to capture everything spoken, sung, or played).

 

One day John telephoned Michael at home. He wanted to come by and see the abstract paintings Michael had told him he'd been working on. So John came to Michael's apartment and stayed for about an hour. Michael began to consider John a friend.

 

John was in Bermuda during the summer of 1980, composing songs for Double Fantasy. Michael joined him there. He found a small, disassembled sailboat in a shed on the property. He assembled it. The houseplant doctor and the ex-Beatle went sailing.

 

On December 8, 1980, John was murdered. Michael was one of the people who stood suicide watch over Yoko in the days that followed. In January 1981, she asked Michael, who'd remained freelance, to go on staff. Michael had refused numerous requests to do so, but this time he agreed. He resigned in June 1982, due, in part, to friction with Yoko's new partner, Sam Havadtoy. Yoko accused Michael of stealing the banjo John had given him.

 

Later that month, Michael, who'd never thought of himself as a writer, began jotting down his memories of John on a yellow legal pad—disorganized fragments and anecdotes. "Writing about John helped me grieve for him," he told me. "He was one cool guy. He did not take himself seriously. That somebody could be so wealthy and so smart and accomplished… it didn't mean shit to him. He didn't care."

barefoot-in-nutopia.jpg 

Cover design by Sarah Phelps.

 

It wasn't until 2000, after taking a memoir-writing class, that Michael considered turning his notes into a book. It took him 15 more years to finish it. He called it Barefoot in Nutopia.

 

In May 2016, Jawbone Press, a small British publisher specializing in music books, expressed interest in Barefoot in Nutopia. Negotiations dragged on until finally a contract stipulating a $3,000 advance and publication in 2018 was drafted on November 1. But Jawbone soon backed out of the deal, claiming their distributor said the book wasn't a good fit with Jawbone's format—an odd decision considering books written by former Lennono employees have sold well. (See The Last Days of John Lennon by Fred Seaman, Dakota Days by John Green, and Loving John by May Pang.)

 

More likely, either Jawbone or the distributor had received a threatening letter from Ono's attorneys, who routinely send such letters to anybody planning to bring out an unauthorized or unflattering book. (It should be noted that Ono has never sued a writer for something they've written. It would be almost impossible for a public figure like Ono to win such a suit and the suit would bring more attention to the book in question.)

 

I've detailed the story behind Medeiros's memoir because it raises questions about what really happened with Jawbone Press. After backing out of a contract for a straightforward, uncontroversial memoir about one man's personal relationship with Lennon and Ono, why did Jawbone then acquire Peter Doggett's highly controversial book, Prisoner of Love, based on Doggett's reading of Lennon's stolen diaries? And why did Jawbone then cancel publication of that book just before it was scheduled to go to press?

 

Medeiros thinks Jawbone and Ono are involved in a catch-and-kill or catch-and-delay scheme. Catch and kill, a tactic Donald Trump and the National Enquirer made infamous, involves a media organization buying exclusive rights to a damaging story about a celebrity with the intention of never publishing it.

 

It's also possible that Jawbone is planning to publish Prisoner of Love after Ono's death.

 

Tom Seabrook, managing editor at Jawbone, wouldn't comment on Doggett's book but said that Jawbone neither acquired nor canceled Medeiros's book and reiterated what he told Medeiros's agent in 2016: "We withdrew our interest after consulting with our distributor, who felt the book would be a tough sell for a publisher of our size."

 

Doggett and Lennono-estate spokesman Elliot Mintz did not respond to requests for comment.

 

Medeiros, meanwhile, made a deal with Diversion Books to publish his memoir, now titled In Lennon's Garden, in May 2020. Though they'd paid him a $6,000 advance, Diversion, after receiving a threatening letter from Ono's attorneys, told Medeiros that they would not honor the original date but would instead publish the book at an unspecified future time. Medeiros asked Diversion to amend the contract to include a new publication date. Diversion refused and Medeiros has since requested the contract be terminated. The publisher has not responded.

 

Mike Tree remains in Limbono.

________

My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (soon to be re-titled A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

 

¿CATCH AND KILL, ESTILO ONO?

(Este artículo también aparece en Proceso.

 

En marzo de 1977, Michael Barbosa Medeiros, un médico de plantas caseras independiente, estaba en una fiesta charlando con John Green, un lector profesional de cartas del tarot, también conocido como 'Charlie Swan'. Green le contó a Medeiros sobre una posible vacante laboral. Unos días después llamó a Medeiros con los detalles: Vaya al apartamento 72 en el Dakota, en West 72nd Street, en la ciudad de Nueva York.

 

Medeiros aguardaba en el exterior del apartamento, desconcertado por una placa de bronce en la puerta que decía 'Embajada de Nutopia'. Nunca había oído hablar de ese país. La puerta se abrió y un hombre con cola de caballo que sostenía a un bebé y vestido con pantalones cortos recortados saludó a Medeiros. «Hola, soy John», le dijo. «Tú debes ser el hombre árbol». Condujo a Medeiros a través de un amplio apartamento hasta una habitación soleada llena de plantas y árboles. Entonces el hombre habló extensamente y Medeiros reconoció la voz. Su empleador potencial era John Lennon. Aunque encontró al ex Beatle sin pretensiones y con los pies en la tierra, estaba aturdido y asombrado de estar en su presencia. Más tarde ese mismo día se reunió con Yoko Ono. Ella lo contrató.

 

Así comenzó el período de Medeiros como médico de plantas caseras de John y Yoko. Yoko pronto le dio la responsabilidad adicional de desempeñarse como asistente personal.

 

John no podía recordar el apellido de Michael y comenzó a llamarlo 'Mike Tree'. Al principio, rara vez hablaban y Michael se dedicó en silencio a sus tareas. Construyó un terrario. A John le gustó. Luego, aparentemente intrigado por el silencio de Michael, John comenzó a preguntarle sobre su familia y su educación, especialmente acerca de su relación con su padre. Preguntó si alguna vez había querido tocar un instrumento musical.

 

Michael le dijo a John que siempre había querido tocar el banjo. John le dio un viejo banjo que estaba tirado en el interior del Dakota.

 

Comenzó a formarse un vínculo entre el Beatle y el médico de plantas de interior. A Yoko no le gustó y amenazó con despedir a Michael por hablar con John, pero no lo hizo.

 

John y Michael eran ambos Libra, lo que a John le pareció significativo. Michael era un año mayor y John parecía apreciar tener un asistente de edad similar. (La mayoría de los asistentes eran considerablemente más jóvenes.)

 

Los deberes de Michael se ampliaron para incluir la instalación del equipo de grabación de Yoko y la organización de cintas de todo, desde las lecturas diarias de las cartas del tarot de John Green hasta, eventualmente, las grabaciones de las sesiones de Double Fantasy (los micrófonos se dejaron prendidos en todo momento para capturar todo lo hablado, cantado o tocado).

 

Un día, John telefoneó a Michael a su casa. Quería pasar y ver las pinturas abstractas en las que Michael le había dicho que había estado trabajando. Así que John vino al apartamento de Michael y se quedó durante una hora. Michael comenzó a considerar a John como un amigo.

 

John estuvo en las Bermudas durante el verano de 1980, componiendo canciones para Double Fantasy. Michael se unió a él allí. Encontró un pequeño velero desmontado en un cobertizo de la propiedad. Él lo ensambló. El doctor de plantas de interior y el ex Beatle se fueron a navegar.

 

El 8 de diciembre de 1980, John fue asesinado. Michael fue una de las personas que vigiló que Yoko no intentara suicidio en los días siguientes. En enero de 1981, le pidió a Michael, que seguía siendo autónomo, que se incorporara al personal. Michael había rechazado numerosas solicitudes para hacerlo, pero esta vez estuvo de acuerdo. Renunció en junio de 1982, debido, en parte, a fricciones con el nuevo socio de Yoko, Sam Havadtoy. Yoko acusó a Michael de robar el banjo que John le había dado.

 

Más tarde ese mes, Michael, que nunca se había considerado un escritor, comenzó a anotar sus recuerdos de John en un block de notas amarillo: fragmentos desorganizados y anécdotas. «Escribir sobre John me ayudó a expresar mi pena por él», me dijo. «Era un tipo genial. No se tomaba a sí mismo en serio. Que alguien pudiera ser tan rico, tan inteligente y logrado … no significaba una mierda para él. No le importaba». No fue hasta el 2000, después de tomar una clase de escritura de memorias, que Michael consideró convertir sus notas en un libro. Le tomó 15 años más terminarlo. Lo llamó Barefoot In Nutopia (Descalzo en Nutopia).

 

En mayo del 2016, Jawbone Press, una pequeña editorial británica especializada en libros de música, expresó interés en Barefoot in Nutopia. Las negociaciones se prolongaron hasta que finalmente el 1 de noviembre se redactó un contrato que estipulaba un anticipo de $ 3,000 y se pactó la publicación en el 2018. Pero Jawbone pronto se retiró del trato, alegando que su distribuidor dijo que el libro no encajaba bien con el formato de Jawbone, una decisión extraña considerando los libros escritos por ex empleados de Lennono se han vendido bien (basta ver los casos de The Last Days Of John Lennon de Fred Seaman, Dakota Days de John Green y Loving John de May Pang).

 

Lo más probable es que Jawbone o el distribuidor hayan recibido una carta amenazadora de los abogados de Ono, que envían habitualmente cartas de este tipo a cualquiera que planee sacar un libro no autorizado o poco halagador. (Cabe señalar que Ono nunca ha demandado a un escritor por algo que ha escrito. Sería casi imposible que una figura pública como Ono ganara una demanda así y la demanda llamaría más la atención sobre el libro en cuestión.)

 

He detallado la historia detrás de las memorias de Medeiros porque plantea preguntas sobre lo que realmente sucedió con Jawbone Press. Después de cancelar un contrato por unas memorias sencillas y sin controversias sobre la relación personal de un hombre con Lennon y Ono, ¿Por qué Jawbone adquirió el controvertido libro de Peter Doggett, Prisoner of Love, basado en la lectura de Doggett de los diarios robados de Lennon? ¿Y por qué Jawbone canceló la publicación de ese libro justo antes de la fecha prevista para su publicación?

 

Medeiros cree que Jawbone y Ono están involucrados en un plan de 'Catch- and-Kill' (capturar y matar [la historia]) o 'Catch-and-delay' (capturar y retrasar  [publicación de la historia]. 'Catch and Kill' , una táctica que Donald Trump y el National Enquirer hicieron infame, involucra a una organización de medios que compra los derechos exclusivos de una historia dañina sobre una celebridad con la intención de nunca publicarla. También es posible que Jawbone esté planeando publicar Prisoner of Love después de la muerte de Ono.

 

Tom Seabrook, editor gerente de Jawbone, no quiso comentar sobre el libro de Doggett, pero dijo que Jawbone ni adquirió ni canceló el libro de Medeiros y reiteró lo que le señaló al agente de Medeiros en 2016: «Retiramos nuestro interés después de consultar con nuestro distribuidor, quien tuvo la impresión  que el libro sería difícil de vender para una editorial de nuestro tamaño».

 

Doggett y el portavoz de Lennono, Elliot Mintz, no respondieron a las solicitudes de comentarios.

 

Mientras tanto, Medeiros hizo un trato con Diversion Books para publicar sus memorias, ahora tituladas In Lennon's Garden (En el Jardín de Lennon), en mayo del 2020. Aunque le habían pagado un anticipo de $ 6,000, Diversion, después de recibir una carta amenazante de los abogados de Ono, le dijo a Medeiros que ellos no honrarían la fecha original sino que publicarían el libro en un tiempo futuro no especificado. Medeiros pidió a Diversion que modificara el contrato para incluir una nueva fecha de publicación. Este pedido se negó y desde entonces Medeiros solicitó la rescisión del contrato. El editor no ha respondido.

 

'Mike Tree' permanece en el Limbo de Ono [Limbono].

________

Traducción y edición a cargo de Mundo Beatle para TodoBeatles.com, EGB Radio, BFC, Beatles & Solistas: Fans Perú, Club de los Beatles Todos Juntos Ahora y Facebook Fanpages amigas.

 

Robert Rosen es autor del libro Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon que se puede adquirir en Amazon tanto en edición en inglés como en español. También está disponible su más reciente libro Bobby In Naziland (que pronto será relanzado con el título A Brooklyn Memoir.

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Here’s Another Clue for You All/Aquí Una Pista Más Para Todos Ustedes ...

 

This past April, I was texting with Carlos Enrique Larriega Ayala, a journalist with the Peruvian-based Internet radio station Todo Beatles. Ayala had translated into Spanish a story I'd posted on this blog, "The Book That Cannot Be," about why Prisoner of Love, by Peter Doggett, based on Doggett's reading of John Lennon's diaries, had been canceled just before publication. Ayala had some questions about my own experience with Lennon's diaries, which I transcribed in 1981 and were the inspiration for my book Nowhere Man.

 

Our text exchange on Facebook Messenger, edited for clarity, is below.

 

There's another book about Lennon that could not be printed, John Lennon's Garden, by Michael Barbosa Medeiros, the gardener from the Dakota. It seems that was thanks to Ono's lawyers. It was interesting to hear Fred Seaman's comments in the interview with the Australian DJ. But now that interview was deleted from YouTube and from that DJ's Facebook. I suppose it was because of the legal actions against Seaman.

Yes, the gardener, Mike Tree, as he's known. I heard about his book some time ago. Fred's interview with the DJ seemed harmless. But that's what got him sued again. It's very treacherous territory.

 

Yes, it's harmless. I translated the interview and put it in my radio program days after it was published in Plastic EP's Facebook. I saw the news in the Daily Mail about Seaman's legal trouble with Yoko. I told that to Plastic EP but I had no comment from him. I suppose he was afraid of the legal repercussions. I had read most of the legal papers. Again Project Walrus is named. It's curious that the legal proceedings could be used to make up fantasy stories.

Calling my work with Seaman "Project Walrus" was an inside joke that set off the conspiracy theorists who concluded that I must be with the CIA. It was insane. The first time I saw something like that my shock was profound, to say the least.

 

I know you prefer not to talk about that because you haven't done a serious interview about that.

It was more than 21 years ago that Nowhere Man came out and I started doing interviews. Nobody ever asked, specifically, about why Seaman and I called what we were doing Project Walrus. There's a piece I wrote several years ago for Proceso, the Mexican magazine, where I discuss the absurdity of the conspiracy theories. It's one of the bonus chapters in the e-book edition. You can also read it on my blog.

 

Thank you, Robert. You believed the trouble with Fred Seaman, as producer Jack Douglas said in an interview, was that John never gave him a document to prove that he'd given Fred some of the things that Yoko accused him of stealing.
I think it's true, though I never said it.

 

Jack Douglas thought Fred Seaman told the truth about that but could not prove it because he didn't have a document from John. For me it's important because that proves that your book had valid sources. But I don't know if Douglas would talk about that topic again after he settled his demand for money with Yoko.

You're probably right about Douglas. By "valid sources" I think you mean it's not a question if I had access to the diaries; it's a question if John gave Fred permission to show them to me to use as a source for a book. I don't think that can ever be proven one way or the other. Not now, anyway.

 

You are right. I'm sure you and Fred had access to the diaries. But the question that can't be solved is if John gave Fred permission to work with them to tell the true story. But many Lennon fans think that Lennon was trapped in the Dakota and it would not be strange if he planned to become independent or leave Yoko.

Well, I believed at the time that Seaman was telling the truth. When they asked me in court, at his copyright-infringement trial, in 2002, if I still believed it, I said yes. Do I believe it now, today, this minute? Maybe. It could be true. I'd like it to be true. But I can't prove it. The real question is: Should the true story of Lennon's final years, according to his diaries, be told? And my answer to that, is: Yes, absolutely. It's history and it's important.

 

I have only a slight objection to working with the diary of such a complex person as John Lennon. Great care must be taken in knowing how to interpret what the writing really means. One who has kept a personal diary knows that there are many things that are not within the realm of formal writing. There is a lot of material that can be misinterpreted by the public.

I can't argue with that. Keep in mind I had 18 years to think about what I was doing, to do additional research, and to put everything in context. That whole time I was determined to tell the story as truthfully as I could. Now it's up to readers to make up their minds if I succeeded or not. I stand by my work.

 

Yes, I understand that, Robert. I congratulate you with your work. It has provided us with very valuable information. It is up to us to expand or analyze.

¡Exactamente!

________

My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (soon to be re-titled A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

 

AQUÍ UNA PISTA MÁS PARA TODOS USTEDES ...

 

En abril pasado, estaba intercambiando mensajes de texto con Carlos Enrique Larriega Ayala, un periodista de la estación de radio por Internet TodoBeatles.com con sede en Perú. Larriega Ayala había traducido al español una historia que había publicado en este blog, 'The Book That Cannot Be' (El libro que no puede ser), sobre por qué el libro Prisoner of Love, de Peter Doggett, basado en la lectura de Doggett de los diarios de John Lennon, había sido cancelado justo antes de su publicación. Larriega Ayala tenía algunas preguntas sobre mi propia experiencia con los diarios de Lennon, que transcribí en 1981 y fueron la inspiración para mi libro Nowhere Man.

 

Nuestro intercambio de texto en Facebook Messenger, editado para mayor claridad, se encuentra a continuación.

 

CLA: Hay otro libro sobre Lennon que no se pudo imprimir, John Lennon's Garden, de Michael Barbosa Medeiros, el jardinero del Dakota. Parece que fue gracias a los abogados de Ono. Fue interesante escuchar los comentarios de Fred Seaman en la entrevista con el DJ australiano. Pero ahora esa entrevista con ese DJ fue eliminada de YouTube y del Facebook por el propio entrevistador. Supongo que fue por las acciones legales contra Seaman.

RR: Sí, el jardinero, Mike Tree, como se le conoce. Escuché sobre su libro hace algún tiempo. La entrevista de Fred con el DJ parecía inofensiva. Pero eso fue lo que hizo que lo volvieran a demandar. Es un territorio muy traicionero.

 

Sí, es inofensivo. Traduje la entrevista y la puse en mi programa de radio días después de que se publicara en el Facebook de Plastic EP. Vi la noticia en el Daily Mail sobre los problemas legales de Seaman con Yoko. Se lo dije a Plastic EP pero no tuve ningún comentario de él. Supongo que tenía miedo de las repercusiones legales. He leído la mayoría de los documentos legales. Nuevamente se nombra el Projecto Walrus. Es curioso que en los procedimientos legales se puedan utilizar como soportes historias que a todas luces parecen de fantasía.

Llamar a mi trabajo con Seaman "Proyecto Morsa" fue una broma interna que hizo que los teóricos de la conspiración llegaran a la conclusión de que yo debía estar con la CIA. Fue una locura. La primera vez que vi algo así, mi conmoción fue profunda, por decir lo menos.

 

Sé que prefiere no hablar de eso porque no le han hecho una entrevista seria al respecto.

Hace más de 21 años que salió Nowhere Man y comencé a conceder entrevistas. Nadie preguntó nunca, específicamente, por qué Seaman y yo llamábamos Proyecto Walrus a lo que estábamos haciendo. Hay un artículo que escribí hace varios años para Proceso, la revista mexicana, donde hablo de lo absurdo de las teorías de la conspiración. Es uno de los capítulos adicionales de la edición del libro electrónico. También puedes leerlo en mi blog.

 

Gracias, Robert. Te parece que el problema con Fred Seaman, como el productor Jack Douglas lo ha dicho en una entrevista, fue que John nunca le dio un documento para probar que él le había dado a Fred algunas de las cosas que Yoko le acusaba de haberle robado.

Me parece que es cierto, aunque nunca lo dije.

 

Jack Douglas pensaba que Fred Seaman dijo la verdad sobre eso, pero que no pudo probarlo porque no tenía un documento de John. Para mí es importante porque eso prueba que su libro tiene fuentes válidas. Pero no sé si Douglas volvería a hablar sobre ese tema después de que resolvió su demanda de dinero con Yoko.

Probablemente tengas razón sobre Douglas. Por "fuentes válidas" creo que te refieres a que no está en cuestionamiento si yo tuve acceso a los diarios; lo que se cuestiona es si John le dio permiso a Fred para mostrármelos para usarlos como fuente para un libro. No creo que eso se pueda probar de una forma u otra. Al menos ahora no.

 

Tiene razón. Estoy seguro de que Fred y Ud. tuvieron acceso a los diarios. Pero la pregunta que no se puede resolver es si John le dio permiso a Fred para trabajar con ellos para contar la historia real. Muchos fanáticos de John piensan que Lennon estaba atrapado en Dakota y no sería extraño que planeara independizarse o dejar a Yoko.

Bueno, en ese momento creí que Seaman estaba diciendo la verdad. Cuando me preguntaron en el tribunal, en su juicio por infracción de los derechos de autor en el 2002, si todavía lo creía, dije que sí. ¿Lo creo ahora, hoy, en este minuto? Quizás. Podría ser cierto. Me gustaría que fuera verdad. Pero no puedo probarlo. La verdadera pregunta es: ¿Debería contarse la verdadera historia de los últimos años de Lennon, según sus diarios? Y mi respuesta a eso es: Sí, absolutamente. Es historia y es importante.

 

Solo tengo una pequeña objeción en cuanto a trabajar con el diario de una persona tan compleja como John Lennon. Hay que tener mucho cuidado con el saber interpretar lo que realmente significa el escrito. Quien ha llevado un diario personal sabe que hay muchas cosas que no pertenecen al ámbito de la escritura formal. Hay mucho material que el público puede malinterpretar.

No puedo discutir con eso. Ten en cuenta que tuve 18 años para pensar en lo que estaba haciendo, hacer investigaciones adicionales y poner todo en contexto. Todo ese tiempo estuve decidido a contar la historia con la mayor sinceridad posible. Ahora depende de los lectores decidir si lo logré o no. Me respalda mi trabajo.

 

Sí, lo comprendo, Robert. Te felicito por tu trabajo. No has proporcionado muy valiosa información. Depende de nosotros ampliarla o analizarla.

¡Exactamente!

________

El más reciente libro de Robert Rosen, Bobby in Naziland (que pronto tendrá un nuevo título A Brooklyn Memoir), está disponible en Amazon y en todos los otros establecimientos de ventas de libros online.

 

Traducido y editado por Mundo Beatle para TodoBeatles.com, EGB Radio, BFC, Beatles & Solistas: Fans Perú, Club Todos Juntos Ahora y grupos Facebook Beatles amigos.

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Off the Top of My Head

 

Victor Wong, a PhD candidate studying public policy at the University of Western Australia, is working on a thesis that he describes as an attempt to connect the policies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to the current state of Democratic politics. 

 

He contacted me because he'd read my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, and thought I might be able to answer some questions related to his thesis. I told him I'd try. As it turned out, only one question was about Lennon; two touched on material I'd covered in Bobby in Naziland; and the rest were about the politics of the 1970s. The latter, in part, is what I've been exploring in the still-untitled book I'm currently working on, some of which is set at a politically radical and pornographic student newspaper at the City College of New York.

 

Answering Wong's questions (off the top of my head) was challenging, kind of a mental warm-up to get in gear for another day of re-creating the atmosphere of the 1970s, a time when the student left was giving way to the encroaching forces of what was not yet called punk.

 

Below are Wong's 16 questions and my answers.

 

What exactly were the motives ascribed to the Johnson administration regarding its acceleration of the war in Vietnam? Was it the domino theory pertaining to Communism, as some have suggested, or was there talk of some other underlying, more complicated motive such as imperialistic excess, for example?

The "domino theory" is what they taught us in school—junior high and high school at the time. My understanding now is that the U.S. was fighting in Vietnam because of all the American corporations that did business there. As with everything, the war was about money. We had to keep Vietnam safe for capitalism. There's a documentary, Millhouse (1971), about Nixon. If I'm not mistaken, the end credits include a list of every U.S. corporation doing business in Vietnam. And, of course, there was the "We've invested so much blood and treasure, we can't leave now" excuse. And nobody wanted to be the president who lost a war for the first time since 1812, even though they knew the war was unwinnable.

 

Was the U.S.'s youth particularly partial to leftist ideologies such as Trotskyism—or Leninism—or were most of them distracted by other things in their lives?

In the early 1970s, at the City College of New York, only a tiny minority of students were hardcore communists or involved with Trotskyist or Leninist organizations. Most students were simply opposed to a war they thought was pointless, illegal, and never-ending. Then, in 1973, the draft ended (though the war continued), and the remaining energy animating the student left began to dissipate. And yes, there was a multitude of distractions—drugs, music, and sex among them.

 

What were John Lennon's true feelings regarding the war? Did he ever express his thoughts regarding the war in his diaries?

Though Lennon never mentioned the war in his diaries, I think he was genuinely opposed to it. His antiwar activism was more than an act.

 

Often, in my experience, the military—or some of its members—are quick to lay blame for America's defeat or withdrawal on the media for its depictions of the war on TV. Do you think this is a fair assessment?

Vietnam was the first televised war, beamed into your living room every night. People were appalled by what they saw on TV and read in many of the mainstream newspapers and magazines and the underground press. Then there was the moment Walter Cronkite, whom everybody listened to, turned against the war. So, yes, I think the media played a role in ending the war. But to blame the media for America losing the war is absurd. As the Pentagon Papers make clear, the war was unwinnable.

 

Is there any comparison whatsoever between the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq?

Both wars lasted seemingly forever (Iraq continues); both were unwinnable; and both were based on lies.

 

Ultimately, did the Vietnam War have a deleterious effect on American politics on the domestic front?

Yes, it taught us to hate the government and to assume that everything the government told us was lies and propaganda. And it gave rise to groups like the Weathermen, who literally declared war on America and, in order to end the war, were prepared to kill people with massive dynamite-and-nail bombs.

 

Why did the U.S.'s youth view World War II as an existential struggle in comparison with the war in Vietnam, which they regarded with contempt?

Our fathers were World War II veterans who fought the Nazis and Japanese. They brought us up to believe in the righteousness and necessity of that war, and to hate the Nazis and Japanese. This is exactly what my book Bobby in Naziland is about—growing up in the aftermath of World War II among Holocaust survivors and World War II vets, and the war lingering "like a mass hallucination." Though I was politically naïve and ignorant in the late 60s and early 70s, as I approached draft age (I turned 18 in 1970), it was clear to me that the war was pointless. I was prepared to do anything necessary to not be drafted and sent to Vietnam. Most people I knew felt the same way. Fortunately, all I had to do was go to college and get a 2S student deferment.

 

Was there really widespread opposition to the war, or was it more of a niche movement?

The opposition in New York City was widespread. Nobody wanted to get drafted and sent to Vietnam to die in the jungle for Richard Nixon. And many of our parents didn't want to see that happen, either.

 

Was Nazism viewed as more of a threat to U.S. interests than Communism as it was being practiced by Vietnam, China, and the USSR?

If you're talking about Nazism in the 1940s, I'd say yes. They were overrunning the world, committing genocide, bombing major cities of our European allies, working on an atomic bomb, and trying to figure out how to invade the U.S. It was a very dark time when we thought we might lose the war. The main horror of Communism during the 60s and 70s was the threat of nuclear war. But with the exception of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it seemed more like a background threat, not something you worried about every single day. I don't think anybody outside the John Birch Society believed the Russians or Chinese were going to overrun America. The U.S. fought Communism far away, in Korea and Vietnam (to protect corporate interests). And that's where they stayed. "We fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here," the saying went. As far as Joe McCarthy, I doubt he believed communism was the threat he made it out to be. He was a lowlife politician trying to score political points. In the 1960s and 70s, you never heard about the threat of Nazism. The Nazis were over, defeated, and buried… except for the fugitive war criminals smoked out in the U.S. or on the loose in South America who might be kidnapped, brought back to Israel, tried, and hanged.

 

Would the generation that fought the Korean War have reacted to Vietnam the same way the baby boomers did?

I think anybody with a functional brain, unless they were willfully blind, eventually recognized the futility of Vietnam. The longer the war went on, the more obvious the futility became. I don't see why the generation that fought the Korean War would have reacted any differently than the baby boomers.

 

Did those on top such as McNamara truly make bad decisions, or were they put in an impossible situation?

The Pentagon Papers make it clear that the war was unwinnable and the Johnson and Nixon administrations knew it. So, yes, I'd attribute it to bad decision-making.

 

Why did LBJ, who accomplished much on the domestic front (at least when it came to civil rights), fail so profoundly when it came to Vietnam?

The war was unwinnable; he knew the war was unwinnable; he got bad advice from his cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff; he continued to bomb the country; he continued to send more troops; Americans were dying in large numbers; atrocities were committed; people saw it every night on TV; they were horrified; and the public eventually turned against him and the war.

 

Why does Vietnam continue to captivate the American public's imagination, in your view?

I'm not so sure Vietnam still captivates the American public's imagination. People are too caught up with the pandemic and the current political and economic nightmares.

 

Was the '60s truly a time of optimism and opportunity, or, as writers such as Stephen King, in Hearts in Atlantis, have suggested, was it a more chaotic time?

The 1960s were a time of war, riots, massive antiwar demonstrations, domestic bombings, and assassinations. That is chaos. But there was also more opportunity, which I'd attribute to the state of the economy. It was much easier to find a job that paid a living wage, college was affordable or free, and, especially in New York City, it was much easier to find affordable housing.

 

Do you think the younger generation today has the potential to have as big an impact politically—if not culturally—as yours did?

I sure hope so. Greta Thunberg and the Parkland high school kids come to mind.

 

Given your time in government, do you have any insight as to how the U.S. government/bureaucracy currently views Vietnam? How organic are protest movements in general? Is the view of the government sometimes that these moments of spontaneity are a way of tamping down the political climate?

I briefly worked as a speechwriter for the Secretary of the Air Force, in 1975, in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War and the evacuation of Saigon. The Pentagon was in a state of shock. It's a different world now. But the attitude still remains that the Pentagon always needs more money to build more and better weapons. I also think that it's generally accepted in the government and military that Vietnam was a cataclysmic mistake that was badly handled from beginning to end. And yes, I do think that protest movements today are organic. My wife and I enthusiastically demonstrated when Bush invaded Iraq and when Trump was elected. And finally, I'd be willing to entertain the possibility that the government sees some demonstrations as a way of allowing people to let off steam and lower the temperature.

________

My latest book, Bobby in Naziland, is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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The Book That Cannot Be/El Libro Que No Puede Ser

The Lennon book that cannot be.

Prisoner of Love: Inside The Dakota With John Lennon, by Peter Doggett, who has written extensively about the Beatles, was scheduled to be published April 13. The book was based on Doggett's reading of the private diaries Lennon kept during his five years of seclusion in the Dakota, before he reentered public life with the release of Double Fantasy, the last album he completed before his murder on December 8, 1980.

 

If this description sounds familiar, it's because it's almost identical to that of my book Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, published 21 years ago.

 

While Nowhere Man was in part based on what I remembered from Lennon's diaries after I transcribed them, in 1981, Dogget had more recent access to the diaries and was apparently able to take detailed notes on their contents. (I say "apparently" because his exact methods are unclear.)

 

A few weeks ago, I contacted Doggett's publisher, Jawbone Press, to request a review copy of Prisoner of Love (a title that struck me as more reminiscent of a song in Mel Brooks's The Producers than Lennon's relationship with Yoko Ono). Jawbone informed me that the book had been canceled; they wouldn't explain why. I then contacted Doggett directly but he, too, refused to comment on the matter (though he did say he enjoyed Nowhere Man).

 

I was interested in Doggett's book because if what he wrote about the diaries is accurate (and I have no reason to believe it isn't), then it would confirm large portions of Nowhere Man.

 

In order to tell the story of Lennon's diaries, I used what I described in the introduction to Nowhere Man as a fictional technique to communicate a small amount of vital information that I couldn't confirm from sources other than the diaries themselves. (I explain the fictional technique in more detail in the e-book edition, published in 2015.) In 2000, soon after the book was first published, the Lennon estate and numerous journalists and readers attempted to discredit Nowhere Man as a work of complete fiction. Some of them suggested that the diaries didn't exist.

 

Much of what I wrote in Nowhere Man has since been confirmed, notably in my sworn testimony at the 2002 copyright-infringement trial of Lennon's former personal assistant Fred Seaman. (The trial involved work-for-hire photographs Seaman had taken.) Over the years, most people have come to accept Nowhere Man as accurate. But a small minority of true believers in the Myth of Lennon the Happy Househusband continue to doubt the book's credibility. Prisoner of Love, I thought, might dispel some of that remaining doubt.

 

So I was surprised and disappointed that the book was canceled. Though we may never learn exactly what happened, and how Doggett was able to read Lennon's diaries, below are my speculative answers to some of what I hoped to learn from interviewing Doggett and reading Prisoner of Love.

 

lennon_diaries.jpg 

Berlin police provided this photo of John Lennon's diaries.

 

How and where was Doggett able to read Lennon's diaries?

In 2006, Ono's chauffeur Koral Karsan was accused of stealing Lennon's diaries and other personal effects. In November 2017, the diaries and dozens of those personal items, including Lennon's eyeglasses, were recovered in the Berlin auction house Auctionata. A 59-year-old German man whom police identified only as "Erhan G." had sold the diaries to Auctionata for 785,000 euros. "Several years ago," states the Prisoner of Love synopsis, "a mysterious set of circumstances led [Doggett] to a room where he was able to read several of the ex-Beatle's private diaries." Doggett must have read the diaries when they were in the possession of Erhan G. or Auctionata.

 

Why was Prisoner of Love canceled?

Ono's lawyers routinely send threatening letters to any publisher who intends to publish an unflattering or unauthorized book about Lennon. Even the remote possibility of a lawsuit is usually enough to dissuade publishers from putting out such a book. It should be noted that Ono has never gone forward with a lawsuit against a writer for something they have written, not even Albert Goldman for The Lives of John Lennon, which described the ex-Beatle as a murderer and homosexual who could barely play the guitar. Winning such a suit would be almost impossible for a public figure like Ono and would bring more attention to the book in question. Copyright infringement is a different story, and it's possible that Doggett quoted directly from the diaries, which would be an infringement.

 

Why go after the book if the story's already been told?

Forty years ago, Fred Seaman gave me Lennon's diaries to use as the basis for a book Seaman said Lennon had authorized him to write. Ono has never forgiven Seaman for this and is currently suing him for a recent interview he gave that she claims violates the provisions of the settlement of his 2002 copyright infringement-trial. Doggett's book is yet another reminder of what Seaman did in 1981 (and what Karsan did in 2006). Ono simply does not want to see another book by a credible journalist that goes against the Lennon Myth and validates what's in Nowhere Man.

 

Will Prisoner of Love ever be published?

I think a heavily revised version of the book will eventually be published. It took me 18 years to find a way to publish Nowhere Man. Perhaps Doggett can find a quicker path to publication.

________

My latest book, Bobby in Naziland, is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

 

EL LIBRO QUE NO PUEDE SER

 

'Prisoner of Love: Inside The Dakota With John Lennon' (Prisionero de Amor: En el Interior del Dakota con John Lennon), de Peter Doggett, quien ha escrito extensamente sobre los Beatles, estaba programado para ser publicado el 13 de abril. El libro se basaba en la lectura que hizo Doggett de los diarios privados que Lennon tuvo durante sus cinco años de reclusión en el Dakota, antes de volver a ingresar en la vida pública con el lanzamiento de 'Double Fantasy,' el último álbum que completó antes de su asesinato el 8 de diciembre de 1980.

 

Si esta descripción suena familiar, es porque es casi idéntica a la de mi libro 'Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon', publicado hace 21 años. Si bien 'Nowhere Man' se basó en parte en lo que recordaba de los diarios de Lennon después de que los transcribí, en 1981, Dogget tuvo un acceso más reciente a los diarios y aparentemente pudo tomar notas detalladas sobre su contenido. (Digo "aparentemente" porque sus métodos exactos no están claros).

 

Hace unas semanas, me comuniqué con la editora de Doggett, Jawbone Press, para solicitar una copia de la reseña de 'Prisoner of Love' (un título que me pareció más parecido a una canción de 'The Producers' de Mel Brooks que a la relación de Lennon con Yoko Ono). Jawbone me informó que el libro había sido cancelado; ellos no explicaron por qué. Luego me comuniqué directamente con Doggett, pero él también se negó a comentar sobre el asunto (aunque dijo que disfrutaba de 'Nowhere Man').

 

Estaba interesado en el libro de Doggett porque si lo que escribió sobre los diarios es correcto (y no tengo ninguna razón para creer que no lo es), confirmaría grandes porciones de 'Nowhere Man'.

 

Para contar la historia de los diarios de Lennon, utilicé lo que describí en la introducción a 'Nowhere Man' como una técnica ficticia para comunicar una pequeña cantidad de información vital que no pude confirmar de fuentes distintas de los propios diarios. (Explico la técnica ficticia con más detalle en la edición del libro electrónico, publicada en el 2015). En el 2000, poco después de la primera publicación del libro, los herederos de Lennon y numerosos periodistas y lectores intentaron desacreditar a 'Nowhere Man' como una obra de ficción pura. Algunos de ellos sugirieron que los diarios no existían.

 

Mucho de lo que escribí en 'Nowhere Man' ha sido confirmado desde entonces, en particular en mi testimonio jurado en el juicio por infracción de derechos de autor del 2002 del ex asistente personal de Lennon, Fred Seaman. (El juicio involucró fotografías de trabajo por encargo que Seaman había tomado). A lo largo de los años, la mayoría de la gente ha llegado a aceptar a 'Nowhere Man' como algo exacto. Pero una pequeña minoría de verdaderos creyentes en el mito de Lennon El Feliz Amo de Casa continúa dudando de la credibilidad del libro. 'Prisoner of Love', pensé, podría disipar algunas de las dudas restantes.

 

Así que me sorprendió y decepcionó que el libro fuera cancelado. Aunque es posible que nunca sepamos exactamente qué sucedió y cómo Doggett pudo leer los diarios de Lennon, a continuación se encuentran mis respuestas especulativas a algo de lo que esperaba aprender al entrevistar a Doggett y leer 'Prisoner of Love'.

 

¿Cómo y dónde pudo Doggett leer los diarios de Lennon?

En el 2006, el chófer de Yoko Ono, Koral Karsan, fue acusado de robar los diarios de Lennon y otros efectos personales. En noviembre del 2017, los diarios y docenas de esos artículos personales, incluidos los anteojos de Lennon, fueron recuperados en la casa de subastas de Berlín Auctionata. Un alemán de 59 años a quien la policía identificó solo como 'Erhan G' había vendido los diarios a Auctionata por 785.000 euros. "Hace varios años", afirmaba la sinopsis de 'Prisoner of Love', "un misterioso conjunto de circunstancias llevaron a Doggett a una habitación donde pudo leer varios de los diarios privados del ex Beatle". Doggett debe haber leído los diarios cuando estaban en posesión de Erhan G. o de Auctionata.

 

¿Por qué se canceló 'Prisoner of Love'?

Los abogados de Ono envían cartas amenazadoras a cualquier editor que pretenda publicar un libro poco halagador o no autorizado sobre Lennon. Incluso la remota posibilidad de una demanda suele ser suficiente para disuadir a los editores de publicar un libro de este tipo. Cabe señalar que Ono nunca ha presentado una demanda contra un escritor por algo que han escrito, ni siquiera Albert Goldman por 'The Lives of John Lennon', que describió al ex Beatle como un asesino y homosexual que apenas podía tocar la guitarra. Ganar un caso así sería casi imposible para una figura pública como Ono y llamaría más la atención sobre el libro en cuestión. La infracción de derechos de autor es una historia diferente, y es posible que Doggett haya citado directamente de los diarios, lo que sería una infracción.

 

¿Por qué ir tras el libro si la historia ya está contada?

Hace cuarenta años, Fred Seaman me dio los diarios de Lennon para usarlos como base para un libro que Seaman dijo que Lennon le había autorizado a escribir. Yoko Ono nunca ha perdonado a Seaman por esto y actualmente lo está demandando por una entrevista reciente que dio en la que ella afirma que viola las disposiciones del acuerdo de su juicio por infracción de derechos de autor del 2002. El libro de Doggett es otro recordatorio de lo que hizo Seaman en 1981 (y lo que hizo Karsan en el 2006). Ono simplemente no quiere ver otro libro de un periodista creíble que va en contra del mito de Lennon y valida lo que hay en 'Nowhere Man'.

 

¿Se publicará 'Prisoner of Love'?

Creo que eventualmente se publicará una versión muy revisada del libro. Me tomó 18 años encontrar la manera de publicar 'Nowhere Man'. Quizás Doggett pueda encontrar un camino más rápido para la publicación.

 

Traducido y editado por Mundo Beatle para TodoBeatles.com, EGB Radio, BFC, Beatles & Solistas: Fans Perú, Club Todos Juntos Ahora Oficial y Grupos Facebook.

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Everybody Had a Hard Year

Everybody Had a Hard Year

Soho street art. Photograph © Robert Rosen.

 

On Friday, March 12, my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, and I received our second Covid vaccinations at a Duane Reade a few blocks from where we live—Moderna for those keeping score.

 

Exactly one year after New York City went into lockdown we walked out of the drugstore feeling elated, facing the world as fully vaccinated people, awaiting a return to something approaching normalcy. To celebrate, we bought bread and little pizzas at the Sullivan Street Bakery.

 

People told us we were lucky to get vaccinated so quickly. I've no doubt. I know people in Florida and Missouri who drove hundreds of miles to be vaccinated. We've certainly been luckier than the nearly 540,000 Americans (more than 30,000 in New York City alone) who've died from Covid-19 and continue to die at a rate of about 1,400 per day. That only one person in my family, my 81-year-old uncle, succumbed to the disease is both tragic and miraculous. My mother, 94 and in an assisted-living facility in Florida, continues to endure, though I haven't seen her in more than a year.

 

I've spent that year mostly within the confines of my apartment with Mary Lyn and our cat, Oiseau, who seems to appreciate having us here 24/7 and will soon be in for a rude shock. The days have been a blur of routine and routine horror. April, the "cruelest month" as T.S. Elliot called it in "The Wasteland," more than lived up to its reputation in 2020.

  • It was the month almost a thousand people a day in New York City died from Covid.
  • It was the month the sound of ambulance sirens were heard round the clock and the sound of vuvuzelas and people banging on pots and pans to salute "essential workers" filled the air every evening at seven.
  •  It was the month most of our building cleared out and we were the only ones left on the seventh floor.
  • It was the month that one morning, before dawn, clad in latex gloves and a $3 face mask and armed with a small bottle of hard-to-find hand sanitizer, I ventured into a supermarket. On the checkout line, I saw, social-distancing behind me, a man wearing a gas mask, with the rest of his body, down to his shoes, wrapped in plastic garbage bags, his cart overflowing with carrots, potatoes, and onions. I felt as if I were in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie.
  •  It was the month we stopped going to supermarkets.
  •  It was the month we began washing our groceries with disinfectant.
  •  It was the month I began studying a Covid map of the USA. A small corner of Montana had no cases. I wanted to be there.
  •  It was the month we stopped taking the subway.
  •  It was the month Mary Lyn began working from home, turning our couch and coffee table into her office.
  •  It was the month I lived in a state of terror and didn't leave the house for days at a time.
  •  It was the month that when I did emerge from my apartment, always early in the morning or late at night, when there were fewer people in the street, I felt enraged every time a maskless person came too close to me.
  •  It was the month, while passing through Times Square, I saw only two people: the Naked Cowboy and a solitary tourist listening to him.
  •  It was the month that every time my throat felt scratchy I thought it was the beginning of the end.
  •  It was the month I became aware of the mobile morgues—refrigerated trucks and trailers—parked outside every hospital and couldn't walk past one without imagining the overflow of bodies inside.
  •  It was the month my post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie became more of an Edgar Allan Poe story.

And that was only April.

 

As the months passed and the body count grew, every day I binge-watched the news, though it sometimes made me feel physically ill. I could barely believe I was living in a country that elected Donald Trump. For all the good it did (none), I began rage-tweeting at Trump in response to his endless flow of toxic inanities.

 

By May, as restaurants struggled to survive, our entire neighborhood, Soho, was transformed into one big outdoor café. It would have been nice to sit in one of those cafés and have a glass of wine if being around people didn't seem like such a bad idea.

 

frum.jpg

Post-riot graffiti as literary criticism. Photo © Robert Rosen.

 

On a Saturday night at the end of May, after the murder of George Floyd, Soho was trashed and looted. The luxury stores and quaint restaurants were reduced to a jumble of smashed windows and boarded-up storefronts, some covered with graffiti, others with street art.

 

The pandemic played havoc with what I loosely call "my writing business." The European and West Coast events I was planning for Bobby in Naziland went by the wayside. My participation in a documentary, Did America Kill John Lennon?, and an event celebrating Lennon's 80th birthday, at Subterranean Books in St. Louis, were postponed indefinitely.

 

But some good news did emerge from our household: Being in lockdown gave me time to make progress on a new book, as yet untitled, about the 1970s. You can read a description here. And Mary Lyn released some new music, including a pandemic-inspired song, "I Can't Touch You (Supermoon)."

 

Then came the election. We lived through that, too.

 

Now I'm wondering if the widespread availability of vaccinations is the light at the end of the tunnel or just another oncoming train.

 

I'm betting on light. In a rare act of faith and optimism, I've rescheduled my Lennon event at Subterranean Books for October 7, 2021. I hope to see some of you there, well vaccinated and probably still masked.

________

My latest book, Bobby in Naziland, is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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Jewish Stars of Baseball

"Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story" trailer from Willow Pond Films on Vimeo.

"Cleveland Indians third baseman Al Rosen, the second in a very short line of 'Hebrew Hammers' (and the best Jewish slugger since the original Hebrew Hammer, Hank Greenberg), was leading the A.L. with 18 home runs, 4 more than Mickey Mantle of the Yankees." —from Bobby in Naziland

Peter Miller's Egg Cream, a documentary about the chocolate beverage that contains neither egg nor cream, led me to another Miller film, Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, from 2010, which also coincides with a theme I touched on in Bobby in Naziland.

 

Bobby references three Jewish major league ballplayers: Brooklyn-born Sandy Koufax, pitcher for the Brooklyn and L.A. Dodgers; Detroit Tigers first-baseman and outfielder Hank Greenberg; and Cleveland Indians third-baseman Al Rosen.

 

In the book, I talk about how Koufax, on his way to the Hall of Fame, learned to throw his unhittable curve ball on the "sacred, scruffy sandlots" of Brooklyn's Parade Grounds and was crowned King of the Jews when he sat out a World Series game on Yom Kipper.

 

I also mention how Greenberg, in 1938, blasted 58 home runs, the closest anybody came to breaking Babe Ruth's record before Roger Maris did it, in 1961. Though he missed three prime years to serve in the army during World War II and was subjected to rabid anti-Semitism from fans and opposing players, over the course of his 13-year career Greenberg hit 331 homers with a .313 lifetime batting average—amazing statistics for a player of any religion.

 

But I didn't know till I saw Jews and Baseball that Greenberg, too, was celebrated for refusing to play a World Series game on Yom Kipper.

 

In this impressively comprehensive documentary, Miller, an Emmy- and Peabody-award–winning director, doesn't cover all 160 Jews who played the game going back to the dawn of professional baseball. But he covers a lot of them, lavishing most of his attention on Koufax and Greenberg, the game's two greatest Jewish stars, but also giving Rosen—somewhat obscure because he played only seven full seasons, outside a major media market—his due.

 

I've been following baseball since I was old enough to understand what baseball was. And I was brought up in a household where any Jew who'd ever achieved anything of significance was brought to my attention. Yet I didn't discover Rosen until I was about nine and started reading books like Who's Who in Baseball. I was amazed that I'd never heard of a player who'd hit so many homers—43 in 1953 alone, when he was the American League MVP—and who shared my last name.

 

He wasn't the only Rosen who played professional baseball. Also mentioned in the film is Goody Rosen, a Brooklyn Dodger and New York Giant center fielder who, in his best season, 1945, hit .325 with a dozen home runs. I remember people in my father's candy store talking about him long after he'd retired—probably because, like Y.A. Tittle, they liked saying his name.

 

Narrated by Dustin Hoffman, Jews and Baseball features extensive archival footage, interviews with fans like Larry King and Ron Howard and, of course, interviews with Koufax, Greenberg, and Al Rosen.

 

Though the film will obviously hold the strongest appeal to Jewish baseball fans (and those old enough to remember the Brooklyn Dodgers), I'd recommend Jews and Baseball to all fans, regardless of religion, race, or country of national origin. It's streaming on Amazon.

________

My latest book, Bobby in Naziland, is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.

 

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Egg? Cream?

EGG CREAM Trailer from Icarus Films on Vimeo.

"The most valuable skill I learned at the candy store was how to mix the perfect egg cream. It was kind of like drawing a perfect pint of Guinness: You had to use just the right amounts of chocolate syrup and milk, and you had to squirt the seltzer against the side of the glass at just the right angle and with just the right force, so the head was neither too foamy nor not foamy enough. (A master egg-cream maker, like my father, could divert the seltzer with a spoon into a second and third glass and still achieve a perfect head.)" —from Bobby in Naziland

The egg cream is a subject that comes up time and again in Bobby in Naziland. It was one of the most popular items my father sold in his Brooklyn candy store, and the above excerpt, in part, explains why.

 

So I was surprised when a critic complained that I didn't explain where the name "egg cream" comes from, as the drink contains neither egg nor cream. He also suggested that perhaps I should have included a bit of the iconic beverage's history.

 

I didn't include this information because, in my approximately six years (ages 7–12) of making egg creams professionally, nobody ever asked me about such things. A customer would come into the store, order an egg cream, lay a dime on the counter, and drink it. If he or she said anything, it was usually something along the lines of "Delicious!"

 

That was it, and this was the experience I described in the book: the making, serving, and imbibing of the glorious egg cream.

 

I was even more surprised to receive an email from a reader expressing outrage that my father didn't use Fox's U-Bet to make his egg creams. Rather, he used chocolate syrup that came in unlabeled gallon jugs (or maybe it was five-gallon jugs).

 

I didn't realize that there are egg-cream aficionados out there who have an almost religious devotion to Fox's U-Bet. And I didn't expect to find myself defending my father, 54 years after he sold the candy store, for not using Fox's.

 

I bring this up now because, for those of you who need to know the complete history of the egg cream (it's biblical!) or can handle the truth about Fox's U-Bet (it's Mafia!), there's a 15-minute film, Egg Cream, by Nora Claire Miller, Peter Miller, and Amy Linton, that will tell you everything, including things you might have been afraid to ask.

 

You can rent Egg Cream here for $1.99, which is a penny less than the price of an authentic New York City egg cream, which I'd urge you to try if you've never had one. It pairs well with the movie.

________

My latest book, 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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

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The Impending Resurrection of the Killarney Rose

 

I walked by the Killarney Rose, on Beaver Street, the other morning. The windows were boarded up and the menu holders affixed to the outside were empty. By all appearances, the bar was permanently closed, another victim of Covid. It must have just happened, I thought, feeling a wave of sadness. I'd passed by Christmas Day and the lights were still on. Before breaking out the black crepe, I wrote to the Killarney Rose, not really expecting an answer. But I got one: The Killarney Rose will reopen as soon as the city lets them.

 

Why all this feeling for a dive bar on an out-of-the-way street in a neighborhood I rarely spend time in? A bit of background:

 

I stumbled upon the Killarney Rose about a dozen years ago, when I was wandering through the Wall Street area, thinking how I needed a catchier title than "A History of Modern Pornography" for the book I was working on. I looked up and saw I was on the corner of Beaver and Broad. It was like a sign from on high—a literal one. That's it, I thought. That's the title: Beaver Street.

 

Though it would be years before the book was published, I knew then I had to have the launch party on Beaver Street. I walked the length of the street, from Broadway to the intersection of Wall and Pearl streets. The Killarney Rose was the only possible venue. I walked in. The bar had two floors, and the upstairs room had the look and feel of a private club. It was perfect.

 

The owner agreed to let me to use the room free of charge, as long as I could bring in enough paying customers to make it worth his while.

 

"Not a problem," I said.

MC Byron Nilsson delivers the opening monologue at "Bloomsday on Beaver Street," June 16, 2012.

 

On the night of June 16, 2012, Bloomsday—the day that James Joyce's Ulysses takes place—I launched Beaver Street at the Killarney Rose. Hosted by the indomitable Byron Nilsson, "Bloomsday on Beaver Street" was a celebration of literature that had been branded pornography. Before a packed house of hungry and thirsty supporters, musicians (including my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott) played rock 'n' roll, actors read from Ulysses—Laralu Smith's reading of the Molly Bloom passage was a highlight—and I read from Beaver Street. The presence of "Subway Vigilante" Bernie Goetz, who had an abiding interest in the subject matter, added a surreal touch to the evening's festivities.

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Lexi Love reads at "Bloomsday on Beaver Street II," June 16, 2013. Photo © Michael Paul.

 

The celebrations continued, in 2013, with "Bloomsday on Beaver Street II," another night of music, theatre, and literature. One memorable moment was adult actress Lexi Love's highly emotional reading from her favorite book, Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black, by Cookie Mueller.

 

Then, on December 14, 2019, the Killarney Rose was the scene of "Bobby on Beaver Street," the launch event for my latest book, Bobby in Naziland, featuring myself and six actors, many of whom you may have seen on stage, TV, and/or in the movies, reading choice passages from the book.

 Susan Barrett, at "Bobby on Beaver Street," December 14, 2019, reads about her brother, a character in Bobby in Naziland.

 

Finally, on January 25, 2020, Mary Lyn Maiscott celebrated her birthday and the release of her song "Middle Child" at the Killarney Rose.

 

Less than two months later, life as we knew it ended. But the Killarney Rose, despite all outward signs, did not. All we can do in this still-new year is wait for its resurrection. It can't come soon enough.

________

My latest book, 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 (and probably can) buy it.

 

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John Lennon, James Patterson, and the Hired Elves

John Lennon, James Patterson, and the Hired Elves.

Ad that ran on the back page of The New York Times Book Review.

 

I come here to neither bury nor praise James Patterson. I've not read his latest book, The Last Days of John Lennon, nor do I intend to. I don't read books written by elves who toil in Patterson's word factory, no matter how closely he oversees their work. Patterson is more brand name than author, and the elves in this case are named Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge. I assume they researched and wrote the book based on Patterson's outline and guidance.

 

My only interest in Patterson's (for simplicity's sake I'll refer to the three authors by their brand name) heavily promoted "true-crime story," as he calls The Last Days, is that my book Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon is cited in the notes. Naturally I was curious to see what scrap of information Patterson gleaned from my book.

 

The note section of Patterson's book is extensive. Virtually every fragment of information throughout The Last Days is attributed to a source. The Nowhere Man note is from Chapter 43. It says:

 

Playboy magazine: Robert Rosen, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon (New York, Soft Skull Press, 2000), 180.

 

This isn't quite correct. Playboy magazine is mentioned on page 180 of the Quick American Archives edition, not the Soft Skull Press edition—a sloppy, though hardly tragic, mistake.

 

But sloppy research may also be apparent in the full-page back-cover ad for the book that recently appeared in The New York Times Book Review. In the ad, Patterson writes that the day after Lennon's murder, "I was in the huge, sad crowd gathered in Central Park." He seems to be referring to the vigil that took place December 14, six days after the murder.

 

I'm not usually a nitpicker when it comes to this kind of thing. And having made my share of factual mistakes in my own books, each one invariably pointed out by concerned readers, I understand just how easy (and human) it is to err. But considering that the two things I looked at—an endnote and a prominent newspaper ad—contained factual mistakes, I think it's an indication that the sloppy research is widespread, and that Patterson needs to hire a few more elves to do his fact checking.

 

The scrap of information he gleaned from Nowhere Man is straightforward: Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman, bought, at the Sheraton Center Hotel on Seventh Avenue, a copy of Playboy featuring an interview with John Lennon.

 

The scene is more or less mirrored in Chapter 43 of The Last Days, describing how Chapman gets into a cab, goes to the Sheraton Center, and buys Playboy and a copy of The Catcher in the Rye at a bookstore near the hotel.

 

Curiously, Patterson adds a fictional B-movie element to the scene: He has the cabdriver say to Chapman, "Get in, bud."

 

The book begins on December 6, 1980, with Chapman flying to New York from Hawaii. Patterson also adds some fictional elements to this scene. He has Chapman sitting in a cloud of cigarette smoke looking at his handgun permit.

 

I assume such fictional elements are pervasive, and I'll leave it to others to decide if Patterson achieved his goal of telling "a story that's almost impossible to stop reading," as he says in the ad. I was able to put the book down where I found it in the bookstore. I know the story well—too well. It's been told in about 400 other Lennon biographies, many of which I read when I was writing Nowhere Man. I feel no need to hear it again, as told by hired elves.

________

My latest book, 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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

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It Was 40 Years Ago Today

 

John Lennon left us 40 years ago, on December 8. We're fast approaching the day, sometime in February 2021, when he'll have been gone longer than he was with us. As time continues to pass at an ever-accelerating pace, I find myself looking back, as I often do at this time of year, on the night when the unthinkable happened.
 

Like John, I was a compulsive diary keeper. Below are two excerpts from my diary from the days immediately after John's murder. Both excerpts appear in Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. The "Fred" I refer to is Fred Seaman, John's personal assistant. The book I mention would, 18 years later, become Nowhere Man.

 

I post these excerpts now to share with you a sense of what it was like at a time when the world changed and my own life would never be the same.

 

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12/9/80 John Lennon was killed last night. At around 7:00 I'd smoked the last bit of dope Fred had given me, my "Lennon Dope." I looked at those crumbs in the bag and said, "What the fuck am I saving this for, sentimental reasons? This stuff is for getting stoned." It was Jim Morrison's birthday and I was listening to a Doors special on WPLJ. When news of the murder came over the radio, all I felt was a chill. Around 2 A.M. I went down to the Dakota. I felt it was important to observe the scene. I shed a few tears, I couldn't help it. God help you, John Lennon. Thank you for touching my life. At 5 A.M, when I got home, I tried to call Fred at the Dakota. I got the accountant. He said Fred wasn't available. I said, "Tell him I called and that I'm sorry." There was nothing to say then and there's nothing to say now. There is only sickness in a sick world.

 

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Yet as I absorbed the unfolding events, I couldn't help but consider my own role in them.

 

12/10/80 I'm an eyewitness to history. I would not be human if I were not fascinated by Lennon's death. My perfectly human desire is to want to be part of the scene, to be part of history. There is a possibility Fred will ask me to begin work on the book. He called this morning to say he's quitting his job at the end of the week to begin writing it. "It's what John wants," he said. "John knew he was going to die and he poured his heart out to me. He knew I was working on a book." I'm not going to ask to participate in this project. If I'm not part of it, my life will go on as it has. But if Fred does ask me, there's no way I can say no. I believe I can execute such a project in a spirit true to John Lennon's memory.

 

I hope that Nowhere Man is sufficient proof that the last sentence is correct.

________

My latest book, 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 (and probably can) buy it.

 

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My Pandemic Reading List

My Pandemic Reading List

In the midst of this never-ending pandemic, despite overdosing on news, I've found time to read for pleasure—usually books that have been sitting on my shelves for years that suddenly catch my eye, or more recent books that somehow have landed on my coffee table. It's all pretty random. In any case, here are capsule critiques of the last three books I enjoyed.

 

Miami Noir: The Classics, edited by Les Standiford, Akashic Books

I'm not a big fan of detective stories or pulp fiction, but this volume, the latest in Akashic's series of "noir" stories set in cities, from Addis Ababa to Zagreb, caught my interest. I've always found Miami—from the Art Deco and beautiful-body trendiness of South Beach to the funky Cuban vibe of Little Havana's Calle Ocho—to be an intriguing place. It was also the last city I visited before the onset of the pandemic confined me to New York.

 

Aside from Damon Runyon and Elmore Leonard, I was unfamiliar with the contributors, though their stories, covering 1925 to 2006, are generally entertaining and many do convey Miami's distinct atmosphere. Like most anthologies, the book varies in quality, ranging from literary, like Preston L. Allen's "Superheroes" (2006), about a boy taking well-deserved revenge on his stepfather, to genre pulp, like Carolina Garcia-Aguilera's "Washington Avenue" (2001), about a serial killer who's murdering gay men, which kept me turning the pages but was ultimately dissatisfying.

 

Two of the stories that stayed with me for reasons good and bad are Brett Halliday's "A Taste for Cognac" (1944), a genuine hard-boiled detective classic, and Charles Willeford's "Saturday Night Special" (1988). The latter starts out as a realistic tale about four gainfully employed, middle-class guys in their early 30s, living in a swinging singles apartment complex in Dade County. Then the story goes off the rails as they react in a way that makes no sense given the situation they find themselves in. SPOILER ALERT: An underage girl one of the men picked up at a drive-in movie dies from an apparent drug overdose in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. Instead of calling an ambulance, they take the body back to their apartment complex. Then they kidnap the guy who gave her the drugs, murder him by accident, and dump both bodies in a canal. There are no repercussions, either psychological or legal. The implication is they live happily ever after. Even by the standards of "Florida Man," this is insane.

 

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Why Do Birds, by Rob Hoerburger, 71 Songs

I paid no attention to Karen Carpenter when she was alive. Her songs, especially "Close to You," I thought were sappy, the antithesis of cool, the exact kind of thing I did not want to listen to. Why Do Birds, a book that found its way into my hands because my wife knows the author, is about Karen Carpenter (though she's never named) and the effect she and her music have on the lives of the other characters. Set in Manhattan and Queens in the early 1980s, Hoerburger's novel made me care about a young music-loving woman, her gay brother, an undercover cop, and, of course, Carpenter. In addition to giving me a deeper understanding of anorexia, the disease that killed Carpenter at the age of 32, the book motivated me to give her songs another listen. I still think "Close to You" is sappy, but "Superstar," written by Leon Russell, is beautiful. The girl had a voice.

 

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Lives of the Poets, by E.L. Doctorow, Avon

E.L. Doctorow, who died in 2015, does not need my criticism to secure his reputation. But having not read any of his books since Ragtime, when it came out in 1975, I found myself plucking off the shelf an old paperback edition of Lives of the Poets. Suffice it to say this collection of six short stories and the title novella is excellent. The mordantly funny "Lives of the Poets," presumably autobiographical, is set in my Soho neighborhood and can be taken as a cautionary tale about the dark side of literary success.

________

My latest book, 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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

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Today and Yesterday

Today and Yesterday

 

Since the Covid-19 pandemic cut short my Bobby in Naziland promotional tour, all has been quiet on the media front. But today and yesterday, things came to life.

 

This morning, my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, was referenced in The Wall Street Journal in an article about the sale, for $36 million, of El Solano, the mansion in Palm Beach that John Lennon and Yoko Ono bought in 1980. El Solano is where John, after five years of musical silence, reconnected with his muse several months before his murder, on December 8, 1980. You can read all about it in Nowhere Man.

Then yesterday, my appearance on Sharifah Hardie's Round Table Talk Show with four other inspiring guests was not only fun but gave me the opportunity to talk about all my books, including Beaver Street. So thank you, Sharifah!

 

I will now return to my regularly scheduled day of writing another book and enjoying the walls closing in on Donald Trump.

________

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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

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Bobby (and I) in St. Louis

 

Guest Post by Mary Lyn Maiscott

My husband, Robert Rosen, and I were supposed to be in St. Louis this month. We'd gone in October last year so that Bob could do a reading from his memoir, Bobby in Naziland: A Tale of Flatbush, at Subterranean Books, an indie store on a popular strip called the Loop, near Washington University. Bob had a great turnout, including relatives and friends of ours—I grew up in the area, and my two siblings, Cecilia and John, and my nephew Sean live in the city.

 

After the event, the bookstore manager told Bob they'd love for him to come back, and so a date was set—October 9, 2020, John Lennon's 80th birthday; Bob was going to read from his 2000 cult classic, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon. With that settled, a group of us walked across Delmar Boulevard to celebrate at a Thai restaurant and, later, the club Blueberry Hill (famous for the numerous performances in its Duck Room by favorite son Chuck Berry).

 

Of course, the October 2020 Lennon reading evaporated in the wake of the coronavirus. But the event that transpired last year remains a wonderful memory, and Bob and I are both grateful to Subterranean and all of those who came out that night—a spirited Q&A followed the reading—as well as those who attended another reading, at the spacious, art-filled home of Bob's childhood friend Ernie Abramson, who had, coincidentally, moved to St. Louis long ago to study dentistry. 

 

Soon after we got back to New York, we found out that Bobby in Naziland had made a bestseller list in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch! And now Subterranean has set a date for next spring for the Nowhere Man event. 

 

In the meantime, Bob is working on a book about the 1970s, and I have a single coming out inspired by feelings of missing people, especially my family, during this time: "I Can't Touch You (Supermoon)." It's a true quarantine production, and I'll be writing more about it before its release November 20!

 

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A Message From the Author

 

I'm sure some of you were expecting to find my weekly blog post here. You might have even been looking forward to it. Since early 2019, I've been keeping readers apprised of all phases in Bobby in Naziland's life cycle: proofreading, fact checking, printing, a lost shipment of books(!), launch events, reviews, an appearance on the St. Louis Post Dispatch bestseller list, and, sadly, the "characters" who've died since the book was published.

 

Then the world as we knew it came to a standstill; my planned one-year promotional tour was cut short (I didn't get to the West Coast or Europe); and "Flatbush Flashback," became an illustrated addendum to the book itself.

 

There's no question that the pandemic had a shattering effect on small publishers and authors with new books. Bobby in Naziland was no exception. I prefer not to dwell on all that's happened since mid-March, not just to book publishing but to the life I used to know (and hope to know again).

 

I'm happy to say that a substantial number of "Flatbush Flashback" readers have bought Bobby in Naziland. Many of you bought multiple copies to share with your friends and family. Some of you posted reviews and wrote newspaper articles. A few of you organized readings. Many of you came to my events (and it was a trip to see people I hadn't seen since high school). A half dozen of the professional actors among you participated in the New York launch at the Killarney Rose, on Beaver Street, and later recorded videos reading from the book. Many heartfelt thanks for your support!

 

This post marks the beginning of an interlude, not the end of Bobby in Naziland's life cycle. I'll continue to update "Flatbush Flashback." I'm just not going to do it every week. Blogging is time consuming, and at the moment I need to focus more energy on the book I'm currently writing

 

I should add that September 23 would have been my father's 97 birthday. He's one of the main characters in Bobby in Naziland. That's Irwin Rosen on the left.

 

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Should this pandemic ever end, Mary Lyn Maiscott and I plan to celebrate with a combination concert (her) and reading (me). For now, if anybody (or a group of people) would like to discuss Bobby in Naziland or any of my other books, e-mail me. We'll set something up, perhaps a Facebook Live event.

 

I'll leave you with a simple request: If you read Bobby in Naziland and enjoyed it, please spread the word, especially to former and current Flatbushians. And if you haven't read the book, I hope you will!

 

Stay well and be safe.

________

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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

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In the Promised Land

 

"This and more the Czech girl carried with her, quietly for the most part. And it carried us through the Promised Land, from the Golan Heights to the Gulf of Aqaba, where we sat one morning after breakfast, 14 miles from the Saudi Arabian border, on the beach in Eilat, looking out at the Red Sea. I knew then that I was finally far from Flapbush." —from Bobby in Naziland

 

In Bobby in Naziland's epilogue, "Far From Flapbush," I tell the story of meeting up with my girlfriend—I call her "Naomi"—in Israel in the summer of 1972. She was the daughter of a man who, along with his mother, fled Czechoslovakia as the Nazis overran the country. The rest of her father's family was wiped out in the Holocaust.

 

Naomi spoke fluent Yiddish, which she'd learned to communicate with her grandmother, who spoke only Yiddish. In the book, she serves as a living symbol of the Holocaust's inescapable shadow. Though a generation removed, she was obligated to carry its memory, and it was a heavy burden. But she was also a guitar-strumming hippie, a young American woman determined to enjoy her life as she balanced the horrors of the past with the pleasures of the present.

 

For me, that trip, my first time abroad, was an extraordinary odyssey through Europe and Israel. I flew and hitchhiked more than 6,000 miles to rendezvous with Naomi. But my camera broke before I got there, and I had no photos of my time in Israel.

 

Several months ago, in what turned out to be one of my last social engagements before the onset of the pandemic, I had dinner with an old friend whom I'd first met that summer in Israel. He gave me the above photo, which he'd taken in early August, soon after I turned 20. That's me on the left.

 

That day, I was on a glass-bottom boat in the Red Sea with Naomi and a group of people she was touring the country with. (They'd let me join them on their tour bus.) The fellow standing next to me is one of the tour leaders, Avnir, an Israeli. (My friend the artist Daniel Jay said we look like Peter Frampton and Elvis Costello.) That's "Naomi" on my right, her face outside the frame.

 

So now I have one photo to remind me of my time in Israel—and how amazing it was to be young, to feel immortal, to look (a little) like Peter Frampton, and to always remember the reason that that country, the land of survivors, exists.

________

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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

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A Brand-New Way to Exterminate the Human Race

 

"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." —from Bobby in Naziland

 

In 1975, I briefly worked in the Pentagon as a speechwriter for the secretary of the air force. Gerald Ford was president; the Vietnam War had just ended—the first war the United States had lost since 1812—and though there was a so-called moment of "détente" between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the Cold War and the arms race were ongoing.

 

Justifying the need for more money to build more nuclear weapons was the central theme of many of the speeches I wrote. The secretary, John McLucas, would put forth two arguments: You need the right-size weapon for the job at hand. You can't stomp ants with elephants. And, more importantly: Nuclear weapons are not for killing people. They're to deter killing. The more nuclear weapons there are, the more deterrence there is.

 

This is known as "Mutual Assured Destruction" or MAD, and it's a strategy that's been in effect since the Russians developed their own nuclear weapon, in 1949. In its insane way MAD has (thus far) prevented a nuclear war.

 

The failure of MAD is the plot device at the heart of Dr. Strangelove: a lunatic general orders a nuclear strike. I first saw the film when I was 11 and have seen it about 25 times since then. It left a deep impression, whetting my taste for black humor and instilling in me a fascination with the power of the hydrogen bomb. So I was amazed to find myself, all those years ago, toiling in the Pentagon—the ultimate Strangelovian setting.

 

I mentioned the Pentagon only in passing in the afterword of Bobby in Naziland. But what I witnessed there was very much on my mind as I examined the threat of nuclear annihilation that hung over my childhood.

 

While doing research for a chapter called "Speak, Memory," I learned that the first hydrogen bomb was detonated November 1, 1952, when I was 97 days old. I then wondered if it was possible for an adult to retain not an actual memory, but something memory-like from his infancy if an event occurred that "tore asunder the very fabric of reality," as did the hydrogen bomb. I described that memory-like sensation as "a tiny quivering in the recesses" of the brain.

 

That train of thought resulted in the sentence excerpted at the beginning of this post. It may also partially explain my attraction to dark topics and my tendency to find humor even in a one-footed Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who developed a brand-new way to exterminate the human race.

 

Cracks me up every time.

________

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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

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Space Nerd in the Land of the Free

 

"An astronaut, Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard, was sitting atop a Redstone rocket in his Mercury space capsule, Freedom 7, the announcer said, and was about to be the first American launched into outer space. No, he wasn't going to orbit the earth, at 17,500 miles per hour, as Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space (a Communist!), had done less than a month earlier—thus asserting the technical superiority of our arch-enemy, the Soviet Union, and making an entire freedom-loving nation feel distinctly inferior, both intellectually and militarily. Shepard was going to ride this rocket a mere 115 miles into space, on a 15-minute, 300-mile sub-orbital flight, at 4,500 miles per hour." —from Bobby in Naziland

 

Two things obsessed me in the early 1960s: the New York Yankees and the space race, and it's hard to say which one I found more exciting. In any given year, I could have named all 25 Yankee players and cited most of their batting and pitching statistics. I also could have named all seven Project Mercury astronauts, given you a capsule (so to speak) biography of each one, and told you the names of their space capsules and exactly what each mission entailed. My favorite book was We Seven, "by The Astronauts themselves." I read it more times than I can remember and I still have it on my shelf.

 

The above excerpt is from a scene that takes place in Brooklyn's PS 249 gymnasium. Grades three through six were assembled there to listen to the launch of Freedom 7 on a big transistor radio set up in front of the gym. Like most of my classmates, I was wondering if the rocket was going to explode. That kind of thing happened a lot in those days, and it made for almost unbearable drama. People could hardly believe that America was finally sending a man into outer space.

 

Between the anti-Russian Cold War propaganda drummed into our heads in school (the Communists are godless, immoral warmongers who want to enslave you) and the "public service" TV commercials we watched on Saturday mornings ("We will bury you!" Khrushchev threatened), we took the space race to heart.

 

Alan Shepard's entire flight, from liftoff to splashdown, was a goose bump–raising patriotic rush. When frogmen recovered him and Freedom 7 safe and sound in the Atlantic Ocean, everybody in the gym let loose with an enormous cheer. Then the teachers marched us into the auditorium for Friday morning assembly, where we pledged allegiance to the flag and sang with feeling "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "This is my country, grandest on earth."

 

Because we were proud American kids in America, in 1961, who really did believe we lived in the greatest country in the world—a country where anything was possible, where there were no limits to what you could accomplish if you worked hard and played by the rules, and where anybody could grow up to be president.

 

Boy, did we have a lot to learn.

________

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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

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I Was an Eight-Year-Old Soda Jerk

 

"If you read comic books, then you may remember that Pop Tate's Chock'lit Shoppe was the Riverdale institution where Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead whiled away idyllic afternoons sipping malteds at the gleaming, chrome-trimmed counter. It occurred to me one not-so-bad Flatbush afternoon, as I was perusing the latest editions of Archie, Richie Rich, Sad Sack, Superman, The Flash, Fantastic Four, and Mad, which I'd spread out on top of the ice cream freezer in the back of the store, that if Pop Tate's were in Bizarro World, the cube-shaped planet from Superman where everything is the opposite of the way it is on Earth, then it might look something like the Goodrose Cigar Store." —from Bobby in Naziland

 

One night in Provincetown, in the summer of 1996, Mary Lyn Maiscott and I went to see the band Betty at a local club. Named after Betty Cooper in Archie comics, the group, known for tight harmonies, catchy melodies, and clever lyrics, still consists of Alyson Palmer, Amy Ziff, and Elizabeth Ziff. Midway through the show they asked the audience an Archie-related trivia question and offered a prize to the first person to answer it correctly.

 

The question was: "Who is the principal of Riverdale High?"

 

I was the only one who raised my hand, so they called on me.

 

"Mister Weatherbee," I answered.

 

"That's correct," one of them said and then asked me my name.

 

Not only did Betty give me some Betty CDs and a T-shirt, they sang my name in three-part harmony, which left such an impression on the audience that after the concert, as Mary Lyn and I wandered around Provincetown, some people, who'd obviously seen the show, called out, "Hey, Bob Rosen!"

 

It was my finest Archie moment, and it wouldn't have happened had I not spent all those hours reading comic books in my father's candy store.

 

The above cover of Pep (Archie Series), from January 1961, is typical of what I was reading in the prime of my comic-enthusiast days. And though I'm sure I understood the difference between fact and fiction, the idealized image of the candy-store proprietor, his employee, and his customer must have filled me with confusion and longing.

 

For one thing, portly Pop Tate, with his bowtie and lavender shirt, was a far cry from the candy-store owner I knew: my father, whom I describe in Bobby in Naziland as looking "dangerous, in that irresistible James Dean kind of way, all slicked-back hair, cool aviator shades, and ever-present cigarette dangling from his lips."

 

And I, the employee, was an eight-year-old soda jerk who could barely imagine what it would be like to serve somebody as pretty as Veronica (or Betty) an egg cream, not to mention make out with her between sips (though I could never understand what either of them saw in Archie).

 

Most confusing of all was the contrast between the cramped, dingy candy store, where every surface "appeared to be coated with a half-century of accumulated dust and grime," and brightly lit, sparkling clean, mirrored, expansive Tate's, with its chrome-trimmed seats at the counter. (SRO for the candy store's cigarette-smoking and dirty-book-reading clientele.)

 

Why couldn't my father's candy store be more like Pop Tate's? I wondered, as if the fictions of Riverdale could somehow be made real in Flatbush's grubby commercial grottos. In Provincetown, 35 years later, had Betty, the band, followed up their Mister Weatherbee question with this more existential inquiry, I'd still have been stumped.

________

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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

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Brighton Express Memoirs

 

I'm a New Yorker and I've been riding the subway pretty much from the day I was born. That's why I have no memory of my first subway ride. It happened when I was too young to form long-term memories. That's one difference between native New Yorkers and people who move here as adults: new arrivals always remember their first ride.

 

In the 1970s, when the subways were in decrepit condition, muggings were routine, and the fare kept rising, from 20 cents to 30 cents to 35 cents, I was living in Brooklyn and going to school in uptown Manhattan. My commute took well over an hour each way, not counting the walks to and from the stations. In my freshman year at City College, before I found a quicker route that involved fewer trains and more walking, I took the F train from Fort Hamilton Parkway to Jay Street/Borough Hall; then the A train to 59th Street/Columbus Circle; and finally the No. 1 train to 137th Street/City College—and I somehow made it to an eight o'clock History of Architecture class on time.

 

I spent so much time on the subway, it felt like my second home, though not as much of a second home as it was for a guy sitting next to me on the A train one morning, on his way to school. He had a portable typewriter in his lap and was tapping out a term paper due that day, as he told me when I asked.

 

Because of the pandemic, I stopped taking the subway for more than four months, from late February into early July, even for trips to distant neighborhoods. Despite what I'd read about the relative safety of New York's mass transit system, and the fact that ridership had declined by as much as 80 percent, the subway still seemed like a place worth avoiding. I walked everywhere.

 

Then, on two brutally hot July days, I broke down and took the subway. It was an exercise in underground anxiety. Too many people on the platform weren't wearing masks, and though there were never more than a dozen people in the car, there was always at least one maskless rider.

 

I again stopped taking the subway.

 

My lack of subway riding had me thinking about the long-ago days when riding the subway was an adventure, and on Saturdays my mother would take me to Manhattan, on the Brighton Express from Church Avenue, usually to visit a museum.

 

I described those trips in Bobby in Naziland, and so clear was my vision of late-1950s and early-1960s subway cars, some of which remained in service until 1970, it never occurred to me to check the accuracy of my memory against a photograph. Then the other day, I came across the above photo and was pleased to discover that everything I wrote about the subway cars of my childhood is accurate.

 

The car in the photo appears to be from an exhibit at the New York Transit Museum. You can see the padded wicker seats, the white enamel poles and handgrips, the exposed ceiling fans, the bare light bulbs, and the period advertisements. Though Lux soap and Heinz mayonnaise are well represented, there are no ads for cigarettes, nor are there any Miss Subways posters.

 

My nostalgic subway reverie has since ceased, and I again find myself longing for pandemic-free days when taking the A train uptown to Harlem is routine, and a pleasure trip to Brooklyn, across the Manhattan Bridge via what used to be called the Brighton Express, doesn't seem like a reckless act of life-risking insanity.

 

Maybe someday.

________

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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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Maris in the Fall

 

In "Maris in the Fall," a chapter in Bobby in Naziland about Roger Maris's quest, in 1961, to break Babe Ruth's "unbreakable" home run record, I referenced four parody poems that ran in the April 8, 1962, edition of the New York Times Magazine. The poems were part of a feature, "Maris in the Spring, Tra-la, Tra-la," comprised of 19 poems by Milton Bracker, the Times Rome bureau chief.

 

The poems, published to coincide with opening day of the baseball season, are a classic example of doggerel. But when I read them at age nine, I thought they were fantastic—even the footnotes rhymed! They were better than any poem Edgar Allan Poe ever wrote, and I used to think nothing could beat "The Raven."

 

I memorized most of Bracker's poems, recited them to anybody willing to listen, and hoped that someday I, too, would be able to write such extraordinary poetry.

 

I wanted to quote some of the poems at length in Bobby in Naziland, but when I contacted the Times to get the rights to approximately 50 words, the non-negotiable price they stated was outrageous. You'd think they were selling me an original handwritten manuscript by Shakespeare.

 

So I did what I've often done in similar situations: sliced and diced a total of 16 words—enough to communicate the poems' flavor while staying well within the bounds of "fair use."

 

Since this Website is both "educational" and not for profit, in celebration of this weird season of pandemic baseball (and the normalcy of seasons past), I will now quote the four poems in full (and still remain within the bounds of fair use).

 

I Love Maris

I love Maris in the springtime,

I love Maris in the fall;

I love Maris

Nearly-as-much-as-I-love-Paris,

If he just h-i-t-s that ball.

 

The Electronic Age

Transistor Sets

Why do so many people go

To ball games with a radio

That tells each hapless nearby being

Exactly what his eyes are seeing?

(But since, at short, he was a whiz

  With every drive and bouncer,

No wonder Phil Rizzuto is

  My favorite announcer.)

 

Historic Utterance

Near Coogan's Bluff

(Oct. 3, 1951—Giants win playoff on sensational home run in 9th, 5–4)

Bobby Thomson took a bat,

Knocked the Brooklyn Dodgers flat,

Said, aware he was much richer,

"Glad I wasn't born a pitcher*."

___

  *Pity, indeed, Ralph Branca's plight:

Pitched that day. Tossed all night.

 

The Last Time I Saw Maris

The first time I saw Maris,

His bat was coming round;

I loved the way it smote the ball,

I loved the shot-like sound.

 

The next time I saw Maris,

He loped from base to base;

He didn't have to run at all,

He set a hero's pace.

 

The last time I saw Maris,

He wore a handsome tux;

He wasn't making runs at all—

But he was making bucks!

________

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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

 

 

 

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Living on Flatbush Time

 

There are only two pictures of my father's candy store that I'm aware of. One was taken the afternoon of October 15, 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, who was running for the U.S. Senate, rode down Church Avenue, in Flatbush, in an open limousine. As the car passed the candy store, a photographer snapped a photo of thousands of ecstatic Brooklynites surrounding the limo. If you look closely at the background, you'll see my father, Irwin Rosen, leaning out the candy store window, another face in the crowd. I'd been scrutinizing the photo for a year before I noticed him.

 

The other photo is the one above, taken around 1940, eight years before my father bought the store. This stretch of Church Avenue, between East 17th and East 18th Streets, is one of the main settings of Bobby in Naziland. This is how it looked in the decade that Flatbush Standard Time came to a standstill and construction began on a psychic wall that would surround the neighborhood and hold a changing world at bay for the better part of 23 years.

 

Then two events—the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the arrival of the Beatles—crashed through the wall, and the 1960s came flooding in, changing black-and-white 1940s Flatbush to the full-color spectacle on display in the LBJ-RFK photo.

 

Frozen-in-time Flatbush of the 1950s and early 60s—a neighborhood where World War II "lingered like a mass hallucination"—is the subject of Bobby in Naziland. Though the Municipal Archives photo was taken more than a dozen years before I was born, it's more in sync with my earliest memories of the block than the color photo of those famous politicians rolling down Church Avenue, making for a day so vivid, it's seared into the memory of every Flatbushian alive at the time.

 

Let's deconstruct the photo, beginning with my father's arch-competitor, the hated corner candy store, on the right—the place that made inferior egg creams with chocolate syrup I described in the book as "cheap slop." Though some local denizens will tell you that the corner store actually served superior egg creams, in my household it was a matter of religious faith that my father's egg creams were the best on the avenue if not in all of Brooklyn. I never set foot in the corner store and never tried one of their egg creams, so I can't settle this ancient argument. If anybody reading this can offer an objective opinion, please post a comment below.

 

The store that my father would buy, in 1948, is to the left of the entrance to the Church Avenue subway station. The photo isn't sharp enough to make out the lettering on the sign or any other details. But it does capture the ramshackle dinginess of the place. In 1965, two monopolistically inclined brothers bought my father's store and then bought the corner candy store, too, thereby establishing themselves as the undisputed egg cream kings of Church Avenue.

 

But the Metropolitan Transit Authority held the leases to both stores and, in the late 1970s, chose not to renew them. Instead, they tore down the two candy stores and expanded and modernized the subway station. Click here to see how it looks now. The tile wall between Feel Beauty (formerly Lamston's) and the entrance to the station is where my father's store used to be.

 

October 31, 1956, was the last time the Church Avenue Trolley—one of the last trolleys to run in New York—passed over the trolley tracks that span the length of the photo. I'm old enough to remember both riding on that trolley and the Brooklyn Dodgers, named for trolley-dodging Brooklynites.

 

Note the M.H. Lamston sign on the side of the building above my father's store. There's also a sign in front of Lamston's that says "5 and 10," which, I assume, is what most things in the store cost in 1940. That sign was long gone by the 1960s, but everybody continued to call the store "the five and ten," though there was almost nothing for sale that cost so little as that. On February 10, 1964, I'd buy Meet the Beatles there for three dollars.

 

To the left of Lamston's is Wallhide Hardware, which I don't remember, and to the left of Wallhide's is N.E. Tell's bakery. (You can see both signs more clearly in this Municipal Archives shot.)

 

One of the key scenes, from which I drew the title Bobby in Naziland, takes place in N.E. Tell's, in 1956, the year the trolley stopped running. I've always imagined it as a scene from a black-and-white movie, a film noir in which a young child sees a number tattooed on the forearm of a woman who works in the bakery. He asks his mother what the tattoo is and she tells him—but she doesn't have to say much. The child watches TV, and images of extermination camps are already embedded in his mind. He understands too well what the tattoo means.

 

That's just the way it was when you were living on Flatbush Standard Time, and the past often seemed more real than the present.

________

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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

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Death of a Salesman

 

In the summer of 1967, when I was 15, my "Uncle Paul," as I call him in Bobby in Naziland, took me on the road to make a few sales calls with him—an adventure I'd been looking forward to since school ended. He worked for Highlander, a women's suede and leather coat manufacturer. His territory was upstate New York.

 

One afternoon we were in a women's clothing store in Utica (or maybe Rome), in the buyer's office, sitting opposite his desk. Paul introduced me as his nephew and launched into his sales pitch, about fall's hot new suede fashions, which, if stained, could be easily cleaned with an ordinary pencil eraser—that was, supposedly, a big selling point.

 

The buyer—pudgy, middle-aged, and with a receding hairline—was resistant. There was too much inventory, he said. Other Highlander coats weren't selling as expected.

 

Had I been in my uncle's chic Italian size-nine loafers, I'd have given up then. I thought there was no chance the buyer was going to buy. I was ready to leave.

 

But my uncle kept pressing him, charming him with jokes about Cary Grant, stories about women and deep-sea fishing, wearing him down, veritably seducing him. By the time he was through, the buyer had agreed to buy 10,000 dollars' worth of suede coats, and my uncle had earned a 15 percent commission.

 

The buyer then looked at me and asked, "Do you know that your uncle's the greatest salesman in the world?"

 

"Yes," I said, swelling with pride, amazed at the turnaround I'd just witnessed. I thought that I, too, might want to be a salesman.

 

You won't find the above story in Bobby in Naziland. It occurred outside the book's time frame. But you will find other stories about my uncle. Some are not flattering, but all are true. What I wrote in the book about "Uncle Paul" was my way of coming to terms with a difficult relationship with an uncle who was like my older brother when I was a kid. I worshipped him because he was living proof that it was possible to escape from the kind of life I felt trapped in. With his salesmanship skills and "winning personality," he'd escaped from a similar life. My uncle represented everything a lower-middle-class kid might dream about: money, success, expensive cars, and exotic travel.

 

When I was 19, and in the throes of rebelling against everything, my illusions about my uncle fell away. I saw him for who he was—the deeply flawed man I'd write about in Bobby in Naziland. I was so angry at him, for reasons I won't go into here, I stopped talking to him; I cut him out of my life.

 

As I matured and became more accepting of people and their flaws, we reconciled to a degree. We talked and spent time together.

 

I'm writing this now because on July 20, my uncle, 81, died from Covid-19 in a Florida nursing home. I'd last spoken to him several months ago. He was unhappy with where life had ultimately taken him, and I'd gotten the feeling that he didn't want to talk, that there was nothing more to say.

 

Due to the pandemic, there was no funeral. So I sit here, in New York, sorting out a spectrum of emotions and memories accumulated over a lifetime. I prefer to dwell on the positive.

 

My earliest memories of my uncle are from 1956. He was a starting offensive guard on Brooklyn's James Madison High School football team, and my parents took me to games to watch him play, though I could never seem to pick him out on the field. His football career ended when he tore up his knee. I can picture him in an autograph-covered cast, recuperating on a green couch in my grandmother's living room.

 

When I was older, he sometimes took me deep-sea fishing, for blues, fluke, flounder, and porgies, on the charter boats at Sheepshead Bay. "Let's cut a slice of life," he'd say, as we set sail. Fishing was another thing he excelled at, and he was passionate about it. There were days, especially when we went for blues, when he was the only one on the boat who caught a fish. He once took me to Montauk to go cod fishing. It was my best fishing day ever. You dropped your line in the water and out came a fish. We caught hundreds of pounds of cod between us, which we gave away, except for a couple of fish we took home for our mothers to cook.

 

Also when I was 15, he took me on my first airplane ride, to Cleveland. He had to go there to pick up his car, a silver Cadillac, which he'd left in a parking lot when he had to fly back to New York for an emergency. He wanted me to keep him company on the drive home. Riding on a jet plane and spending an entire day with my uncle, traveling 465 miles in his Cadillac, was the most thrilling thing I'd done at that point in my life.

 

He took me to Ranger hockey games at Madison Square Garden and Titan football games at the Polo Grounds. We spent afternoons cruising around in his other car, an MG convertible, which was almost as exciting as flying in a jet. And he turned me on to the Beatles "White Album," though I don't think he ever got past side one.

 

My uncle might have been a salesman, but he was no Willy Loman. If anything he was more akin to an honorary member of the Rat Pack.

 

I hope what I've written will provide some comfort to those who knew him by his real name.

________

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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

 

 

 

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Name That Year: July 27 Edition

 

July 27 is my birthday and it'll be here before you know it. It's also fellow Brooklynite Bugs Bunny's birthday, though he's considerably older. (He was born in a rabbit warren under Ebbets Field.)

 

I'm not going to say how old I'll be because that will make me feel older than I am (and older than I feel). But the information's out there. You can look it up.

 

Or you can read the list, below, of nine newsworthy events, which I've compiled from a chapter in Bobby in Naziland. Everything on the list took place in a 12-hour period, from 8:30 p.m., July 26, to 8:30 a.m., July 27. See if you can guess the year. The answer is in the UFO video at the end of the post.

 

  · Eva Perón—"Evita"—the first lady of Argentina, died, at age 33.

 

  · Objects unknown—UFOs—traveling at speeds between 100 and 7,000 miles per hour, buzzed Washington, D.C.

 

  · The stock market reached a 22-year high.

 

  · King Farouk of Egypt was deposed in a bloodless coup.

 

  · A woman flying Pan American airlines, from Rio de Janeiro to Rome, was sucked out of the plane off the coast of Brazil when the emergency door popped open.

 

  · U.S. B-29s bombed North Korea's electrical power grid.

 

  · At the Summer Olympic Games, in Helsinki, Bob Mathias broke his own world record for the decathlon.

 

  · The New York Yankees were in first place in the American League, and the Brooklyn Dodgers were in first place in the National League.

 

  · Cleveland Indians third baseman Al Rosen was leading the American League with 18 home runs, 4 more than Mickey Mantle of the Yankees.

 

 

Bugs Bunny's July 27, 1940, debut. If you're of a certain age, you've seen it many times.

 

One of the multitude of UFO sightings that occurred during the month of July, many years ago. Find the answer to the "quiz" in this video.

________

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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

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How Hot Was It?

 

"She always began with the heat wave that baked New York City that July. 'It was 95 degrees every day,' she'd say. 'Some days it hit a hundred. And we didn't even have an air conditioner. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable it was to be nine months pregnant in that miserable little apartment?'" —from Bobby in Naziland

 

The heat wave of 1952 began on June 26, when the temperature in New York City hit 100 degrees. It continued throughout July. The "she" in the above excerpt is my mother, and her meteorological memories of the days surrounding my birth, amidst a frenzy of UFO sightings, are accurate.

 

  · July 14–23, 1952, was the hottest 10-day stretch in New York's recorded weather history, dating back to 1871.

 

  · July 1952 was the hottest calendar month the city had ever endured.

 

The first four summers of my life, 1952–55, were the hottest four consecutive summers on record in New York; the temperature went above 95 degrees on 41 different days. And I was in Brooklyn for all of them.

 

Somehow, we got through those heat waves without air conditioning. I didn't know anybody who had an air conditioner, in part because a 5,500 BTU machine, in the mid-1950s, cost about $350, the equivalent of $3,386 today. But money was beside the point. The building I lived in and most of the other buildings in the neighborhood, constructed in the 1920s and 30s, weren't wired for air conditioning. Flatbushians could only dream of air-conditioned apartments.

 

I can picture myself, age six or seven, lying in bed, coated in sweat and trying to fall asleep on a sweltering night. On the floor next to the bed is a little spluttering fan tilted upward, its breeze wafting over my body and doing almost no good at all. How I longed for a moment of coolness.

 

In those ancient days, if you couldn't afford to escape to the Catskills for the summer, you cooled off at the beach, at a public swimming pool, or in an air-conditioned movie theatre, probably on Flatbush Avenue.

 

These days, I'm fortunate to be sitting in a large room cooled by a 12,000 BTU Frigidaire AC. And that's a good thing—because, out of an excess of caution, I wouldn't consider going to a beach or pool, and New York movie theatres remain closed.

 

So I'm staying right where I've been for the past four months. It's safe here, and there are books to be written and books to be read. Summer, after all, is a good time to catch up on your reading. And if you're reading this blog, you might also want to pick up Bobby in Naziland, if you haven't done so already. It may be just the cure for the summertime blues, despite what Eddie Cochran sang in the long, hot summer of 1958.

 

________

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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No Asterisk for Maury Wills

 

"With the transistor radio pressed to my ear, I can feel the electricity of 25,000 people in Dodger Stadium and a million more who are tuned in coast-to-coast. I can feel it pouring into Maury Wills, surging through his body. The Dodger infielder, having drawn yet another walk against the Chicago Cubs, takes a huge lead off first base, and the frenzied L.A. crowd, knowing he's feeding off their energy, is on its feet, chanting 'Go, Maury, go!' willing him to fly, to again steal second, now only 80 feet away." —from Bobby in Naziland

 

In the summer of 1962, I listened to a lot of baseball on a transistor radio my parents had given me for my birthday. Mostly I tuned in to the Yankees, the reigning World Series champs. Since the Brooklyn Dodgers had split for L.A., in 1957, I'd become a Bronx Bomber fan. There was no choice, really. I never understood how anybody could root for the Mets, the "lovable losers" created out of thin air, in 1962, to replace the irreplaceable Dodgers.

 

When the Yankees had a day off, I'd listen to a Dodger game if I could find one. Of course it bothered me that "dem bums" had moved 2,500 miles away, but fellow Brooklyn Jew Sandy Koufax was still a Dodger, so I felt a connection to "dem," though Koufax had been injured in July and was out for the rest of the season.

 

Even without Koufax, the Dodgers were a thrilling team—thanks to Maury Wills, a player I could relate to, despite his lack of Jewishness. Unlike my Yankee idols, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, who blasted baseballs into the bleachers, Wills, a 5-foot-10-inch, 160-pound infielder, who never hit more than six home runs in a season, got by on pure speed. I, too, was a fast runner and I devoted a significant portion of my childhood to trying to figure out how to apply my speed to baseball, even though my hitting abilities were akin to those of Gus Bell, the Mets right fielder, who finished the '62 season batting a hefty .149. If I could just find a way to get on base, I thought that I could be like Maury Wills.

 

With Wills providing the spark, the Dodgers were locked in a life-and-death struggle for the National League pennant with those other New York deserters, the San Francisco Giants, with the winner gaining the right to lose the World Series to the invincible Yankees.

 

Hanging out in front of my house or wandering around the neighborhood, I'd listen to Dodger games, the voice of Vin Scully transporting me to distant ballparks where I'd become one with the crowd, urging Wills to get on base and make something happen—and just about every time he came to bat, something did happen.

 

Though hitting an unspectacular .299, Wills's blazing speed forced errors, turned routine ground balls into singles, and turned walks into triples. His on-base percentage was .347, and every time he got on base, everybody watching or listening to the game knew he was going to try to steal—second, third, and sometimes home. There was little anybody could do to stop him. In 117 attempts, he was thrown out stealing only 13 times—8 of those times on hit-and-run plays when the batter didn't hit the ball. No team's entire roster had more steals than Maury Wills alone. The Washington Senators came closest, with 99.

 

Wills stole his 96th and 97th bases, tying and breaking Ty Cobb's record of 96 steals, which had stood for 47 years, in the 156th game of the season, on September 23, 1962, in a 12–2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. (No asterisk for Maury!)

 

The Dodgers and Giants both won 100 games, finishing tied for first place and forcing a three-game playoff series. On October 3, in the seventh inning of game three, Wills stole his final base of the season—number 104.

 

But the Giants pulled the game out—1951 déjà vu all over again!!!—and went on to lose the World Series to the Yankees.

 

I watched game seven on TV, a 1–0 nail-biter at Candlestick Park. The game ended as Willie McCovey lined out hard to second baseman Bobby Richardson, with the tying and winning runs on second and third base.

 

Somewhere Maury Wills, the National League MVP—Willie Mays of the Giants, batting .304, with 49 home runs and 141 RBIs, finished second in the balloting—was watching, too.

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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 (and probably can buy it again).

 

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40 Sacred, Scruffy Acres

 

"Once I was allowed to cross Caton Avenue on my own, I could play baseball anytime I wanted, though not terribly well, on the sacred, scruffy sandlots of the Parade Grounds." —from Bobby in Naziland

 

The official name has always been Parade Ground, but nobody called it that. Today, these 40 acres of ball fields, unrecognizable to my eye, are partitioned with fences and covered with artificial turf. A sign over one of the entrances confirms the official name, so maybe modern-day Flatbushians call it Parade Ground.

 

Fifty-five years ago, when I lived a half block away, on East 17th Street, everybody called it the Parade Grounds, plural, and there were no signs indicating otherwise. To say "Parade Ground" doesn't sound right to me and never will.

 

It was a wide-open space and there was no artificial turf, either. Astroturf, as it was first called, didn't exist. The Parade Grounds were, as the above excerpt says, a collection of dusty, scruffy, unmanicured baseball fields. Blades of grass were few and far between. When you played ball there, especially in the summer, you'd return home covered in gritty red clay.

 

Come autumn, combination football goalposts and soccer goals appeared, and gridirons were marked off. Though somebody must have played soccer there, I never saw anyone do it and I didn't know anyone who did. The Parade Grounds were for baseball and football because that was the American Way.

 

And the grounds were sacred, especially if you were Jewish and loved baseball, as most of us were and did. The Parade Grounds were where Jewish, Brooklyn-born Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, of Lafayette High School, learned to throw his unhittable curve ball before joining the Brooklyn (soon-to-be LA) Dodgers.

 

In the above photo, taken in 1928 from a rooftop near Coney Island Avenue, the Parade Grounds look similar to the way they were in the 1950s and 1960s. The corner of Caton Avenue and Stratford Road is behind the trees on the upper right, and Parade Place, which turned into East 17th Street when you crossed Caton Avenue, is at the upper left.

 

The number of times I crossed Caton Avenue with either a baseball mitt or football tucked under my arm is incalculable.

________

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 (and probably can) buy it again.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

 

 

 

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Church Avenue Stories

 

"Then [my father] had to return to those grueling 12-hour shifts, the ones that began in the predawn Church Avenue gloom, when the drunks came staggering out of Byrne's 'gin mill' across the street and made their way to the candy store's front window to croak, 'Bromo Seltzer.' And my father would serve it to them, one foaming glassful of stomach-settling swill after another, 12 cents a pop, thereby earning his first dollar of the day." —from Bobby in Naziland

 

The awning in the above photo is the entrance to Byrne's bar or "gin mill," if you prefer that term. It's one of the places from which the intoxicated multitudes emerged around four in the morning when the bars closed. They then stumbled across the street to order a Bromo Seltzer from my father's candy store. The glasses he used to serve the Bromo were the same glasses he'd use later in the day to serve his famous egg creams, which were the same price, 12 cents, and were said to taste like chocolate ambrosia.

 

I didn't remember the name of the bar until I came across the photo. I rarely walked on that side of Church Avenue—I wasn't allowed to cross the street by myself until I was eight. Byrne's didn't hold the same fascination for me as the Maple Court Tavern, on my side of the avenue. Even after it had gone to seed, the Maple Court seemed like a more interesting place, and I'd always stop to look inside as I walked past on warm days, when they'd leave the door open. Byrne's just seemed dark and unappealing—the diviest of the local dive bars.

 

The character I call Aileen Murphy—the girl who prowled Church Avenue with a vicious dog after she was released from reform school—lived above Byrne's. Even after I was allowed to cross the street, I usually kept to my own side to avoid running into her and her provocatively named mutt. (See Bobby in Naziland, Chapter 1.)

 

Three stores to the left of Byrne's was the Savoy. Though I didn't write about it in Bobby in Naziland, this greasy spoon was a place my father often sent me to retrieve a cup of coffee when he was working in the candy store. Sometimes my family ate dinner there; I always ordered the hot open roast beef sandwich and, when permitted, the marshmallow sundae for dessert. (Neighborhood denizens will recall Matty the waiter.)

 

One afternoon when I was in the third grade, I walked into the Savoy and saw a bunch of teachers from my school, PS 249, sitting at a table in the back, eating lunch. They were so out of context I didn't know how to process this vision. I'd never seen any of them, including my own teacher, Mrs. Fletcher, outside the confines of the school. Mrs. Fletcher waved to me. I stood there dumbfounded, before finally deciding that I should wave back. But I was afraid I'd done something wrong and would be in trouble the next time I showed up for class. In those days I lived in a perpetual state of thinking I'd done something wrong.

 

Which isn't all that different from how I feel today.

________

Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you'll hopefully be able to buy it again someday soon.

 

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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