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  • The Vale of Cashmere

  • by Sean Elder

    green forest

    This story first appeared in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others.


    Truth was, she used to be able to organize her thoughts, until Floyd retired. Now he was always hanging around talking to her, asking what she was doing. Every time he went out, which wasn’t often enough for her taste, he would ask her if she needed anything and then look angry if she did. Sometimes he’d look angry if she didn’t. Now she looked for errands for him, just to get a moment’s peace. When she sent him off for milk this morning she could have lived without it. But she couldn’t have stood listening to him complain about the bus ride to Atlantic City before it happened, not non-stop for the next two hours.

    “You’re creating your future,” she told him. “Whatever you’re thinking and feeling, that becomes your reality.”

    “Don’t give me that shit,” he’d said, putting on his coat and hat. He had been wearing that same damned hat with the stingy brim so long it had come back in style.

    “It’s the law of attraction,” she’d continued. “You can deny it all you want but that don’t mean it’s not true. “Everything coming into your life you are attracting into your life. You’re like a magnet.”

    “Well, this magnet’s going to attract some milk,” he’d said before going out the door.

    He had made fun of her ever since she first heard Oprah talking about The Secret but deep down she thought that maybe he believed her. Or would, if he would just give it a try. He would come home so angry about something that happened out there – the security guy asleep in the chair, or someone who wouldn’t give his seat up on the subway – and she would tell him, “Every bad thing that comes into your life, you make happen.”

    Sometimes that really made Floyd angry. “Is that right? Every bad thing? I made happen every bad thing that came into my life, Marcy?” He would tower over her, breathing heavily, staring at the top of her lacquered hair until she was silent.

    She looked closely at the big digits on the clock by the bed. It was almost 8:30 and she still had not done her makeup. From the drawer in the nightstand on her side of the bed she looked for her own pill organizer and then realized she had already taken it out. She put it under the light, right beside that picture of her two boys, smiling in the lap of a black Santa, and looked at Wednesday. There were still pills in the morning box but the evening box was empty. Maybe she took the evening pills by mistake. Not that it mattered ‘cause they were basically the same. Or maybe she hadn’t filled the PM part.

    Looking at the rainbow colored compartments (Wednesday was green, Thursday red) she thought of Wilson, who had the hardest time with his R’s when he was little – “Weeding Wainbow,” he would say about his favorite show, and his brother would laugh at him. She felt overcome for a moment and then heard her husband’s keys in the door.

    She took the morning pills, four altogether, as Floyd shouted at her from the kitchen.

    “Do you know how much they wanted for a half-gallon of milk?” She imagined his face as he said the price and the way he would look at her afterwards. He might be looking that way right now, even though she wasn’t there.

    “Cost of everything is going up,” she yelled back. Then she stood and headed for the bathroom. “I got to get a move on.”

    “Ain’t you even going to drink your milk?” She heard him swear as she closed the bathroom door.

    The bus driver turned out to be some white guy who’d been sleeping in the back while people waited outside. The whole bus was talking about it, even after they got out of the Holland Tunnel and were getting on the turnpike, people tisking and hmm-hmming until Floyd wanted to yell, “Who told you to stand out there in the first place? It’s not even cold.” But he kept quiet and sat by a window, alone thank you very much, though Tommy insisted on sitting right in front of him, while Marcy huddled on the other side with a bunch of ladies. They outnumbered the men five to one anyway; he let Tommy represent, going back and forth across the aisle like some congressman making a deal. Each time he went over to the ladies he would say something so low that Floyd couldn’t hear and they would all laugh and holler.

    “I think it’s about time for some music,” Tommy said after one of his sorties. He had a gym bag with him that also said Mets on it, and from it he pulled a boom box that he tried to balance on the seatback in front of him. He pushed play and Johnnie Taylor started in on “Who’s Making Love” and the ladies all laughed, even though the sound was kind of wobbly. From the front of the bus the driver said something, they could see him looking at them in the rear view mirror, but no one tried to hear him. In fact Tommy stood up, with the boom box on his shoulder, and started to shake it in the aisle, which made the driver get on the mike.

    “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to sit down.” He had some kind of accent, Russian or something, but no one really paid him any mind.

    The hits kept coming; it must have been some kind of collection since Floyd never heard a deejay. Tommy jammed the boom box between the headrest and the window so it wouldn’t fall down and turned around to look at Floyd, but not before looking at the driver, who had his eyes on the road again.

    “How ‘bout a little taste?” Tommy said, taking a half-pint in a brown bag from the pocket of his jacket.

    “Too early for me,” Floyd said, looking out the window. To him it always looked like New Jersey was halfway through being torn down.

    Across the aisle Marcy was in the middle of a conversation with the other ladies but she didn’t feel quite right. It started as soon as she left the building; she had picked out a brooch to go with her blue blouse, a little gold tree with red apples on it, but she had left it sitting in front of the mirror. Now she felt naked, all that blue stretching out below her chin like an empty ocean almost and she felt like she was being pulled back from drowning each time one of them stopped talking. That meant somebody was supposed to say something, you were supposed to jump in like it was a game of double-Dutch.

    “What I value most is the privacy,” Marcy said, but no one answered. She had a feeling she had said that before. The topic was assisted living and how to know when you needed it.

    “Until you wake up privately dead,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. Marcy didn’t remember meeting her before, a friend of Helen’s was how she was introduced, but she didn’t like her now. She had these gray and white streaks in her hair, extensions by the look of it, but it reminded Marcy of mud. Besides she was probably the youngest woman of the bunch, what was she talking about dying for?

    “My boy checks in on us every night,” said Marcy and immediately wondered why she had. It wasn’t true. Most times she had to call Eric and he never sounded too happy to hear from her. He did come to visit though, once a month at least. They saw less of him after his divorce, though you’d think it would be the other way around.

    “Where are we?” she said suddenly, looking out the window. Everything looked the same.

    “You keep asking that,” the lady in the Kente cloth said, or maybe she said. Marcy wasn’t looking at her and the music Tommy was playing made her feel lost.

    “Sending this one out for all you ladies,” said Tommy, like he was some deejay, and they all laughed but Marcy didn’t think it was funny. It was that song about sitting on a park bench that always made her sad. “I see her face everywhere I go/on the street and even at the picture show/have you seen her?”

    There was a hospital up there high on a hill and for a second she felt that the bus was going to take off and fly straight up to its doors. She closed her eyes and felt herself rise.

    They parked in the lot of the Showboat casino. Though they could have gone anywhere they wanted, the thirty odd passengers that disembarked made for the Showboat as if summoned, shuffling and limping toward the entrance in a broken conga line.

    “No one says we got to go to this casino,” Floyd said to the crowd of ladies leading the way.

    “The Showboat has a Mardi Gras theme,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. She turned around to give Floyd the fisheye, pulling down her glasses as she did. “Besides, we got coupons for the Showboat.”

    He fell in line sullenly beside Tommy who offered him another drink. Floyd took a swallow this time without pulling down the brown paper to see what it was. It tasted like mouthwash.

    “Jesus, what the hell you drinking?”

    “Little peppermint schnapps.” Tommy tried to slap Floyd on the back but the big man danced away, handing the bottle back as he moved.

    “What she mean by a ‘Mardi Gras theme,’ anyway?” Floyd said.

    Tommy shrugged. “As long as they got free drinks and blackjack I don’t much care.”

    Seagulls screamed overhead. Floyd saw his reflection scowling in the window of a parked Humvee. He went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras when he was in the Navy, how many years ago? He got lost and someone stole his wallet. A man dressed as a woman tried to put beads around his neck, he remembered. You could have your Mardi Gras.

    Marcy was among the first of the women to enter the casino and the air conditioning hit her like a cold wave. “Good thing I remembered my shawl!” she said but no one answered. The music and the sound of the slot machines, dinging and ringing with sirens going off every five minutes as if some crime was being committed, swallowed her voice.

    Marcy had thought to bring rolls of quarters and silver dollars. While the other ladies were getting change she was already pouring her silver into a red plastic cup provided to her by a girl in the shortest skirt she had ever seen.

    “You must be freezing!” Marcy said but the girl didn’t seem to hear her. Maybe she just got tired of people trying to talk to her.

    The slots area had thousands of machines and at noon it was already half filled, mostly old timers like her and Floyd. He and Tommy had set off in the other direction like there was a sign saying ‘Men, That Way.’ The carpets were in a pattern of red and orange and gold that reminded her of a kaleidoscope and the ceiling was made up to look like stained glass, though she knew real stained glass when she saw it and this wasn’t it. She felt like if she didn’t sit down she might just fall into the colors. She sat down at a quarter machine and began feeding it. She didn’t know where the other ladies had gone and looking over her shoulder left her none the wiser.

    “Y’all gonna have to find me,” she said and as if summoned a different lady in a short skirt appeared.

    “How you doing today?” she said. She had a tray filled with drinks and a notepad tucked into her belt. “Can I get you something to drink?”

    “Well I suppose you can!” Marcy turned in her chair to show her appreciation. “My name’s Marcy by the way, I come here from Brooklyn with a bunch of folks from my church group.”

    “Now isn’t that nice? My name’s Kim Sue. What can I get you?”

    Marcy smiled and opened her mouth. But she could not think of the names of any drinks, not just the fancy ones but any drink. She felt a trickle of sweat run down her back underneath her blouse.

    “It’s funny,” she said, embarrassed. “My mind’s just a blank today.”

    “Sure, no problem!” Kim Sue smiled back at her like one of those Chinese dolls, her name right there on her badge. “We have beer and wine and soda and mixed drinks.” She kept smiling at Marcy and continued. “I could make you a nice white wine spritzer, if you like.”

    “Oh, that sounds nice,” said Marcy, and it did sound nice, like a sprinkler in the summer time, the kind the boys used to play in. Kim Sue left and Marcy returned to the machine. Cherries and plums rolled past, never stopping at the same time.

    Eric used to chase Wilson through the sprinklers in the park and sometimes when Marcy wasn’t looking he would hold his little brother down and try to pull off his shorts in front of all the other children. She would get so mad at him, always teasing like that, knowing it would make Wilson cry and come looking for her, but she had a job then, looking after a little white boy named Oskar whose parents lived in Park Slope and worked all the time. Oskar’a parents didn’t mind too much when she brought her boys with her when she took him to the park. “As long as you remember,” the father said, “that Oskar is your first priority.”

    Well of course he is, mister doctor man! Why would my own flesh and blood come before your little prince? Good gracious, the things that man would say. If the wife heard him she would weigh in and try to soften the blow. “What my husband means is that we don’t want you to get too distracted. Three children is a handful.”

    Now that was the kind of thing only a white person would say. Where she came from three children was just getting started, even if she was done after Wilson, something her own mother could never understand.

    “Oh, don’t worry, ma’am,” Marcy would say. “I won’t ever let Oskar out of my sight.”

    All these people thinking someone was going to steal their child then, like the whole country had gone crazy. Soon they’d be putting their pictures on milk cartons and billboards and on TV during the news – “Have you seen Brandon?” Usually white kids. If a black kid went missing generally people know who took him.

    “Here you go, ma’am.”

    Kim Sue was back with her drink. It was in a big plastic cup with a straw that went in curlicues, like a roller coaster, like this was for a child. She started fishing in her coin cup.

    “Drinks are complimentary, ma’am.”

    Like I didn’t know that. She pulled out a Susan B. Anthony and put it on her tray. “That’s for you,” she said.

    “Very nice of you, ma’am. And if you need anything else you just let me know.”

    She turned to leave and Marcy was afraid to see her go. “Kim Sue, it’s like your momma gave you two names.”

    “Kim is my family name. Family name comes first in Korean.”

    “Is that right?” said Marcy. “Well I think family should come first, don’t you?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    Marcy thought that was something else she should write in her book but realized that she hadn’t brought it with her, and then forgot what she had said. “But they probably don’t spell it like that in Korea, do they? The Sue, I mean.”

    “No, ma’am, we have a different alphabet.”

    “Now isn’t that something?”

    She was balancing a tray full of drinks while she talked to Marcy so she let her go, disappearing into the big Tiffany lamp around them. A band was playing Dixieland and Marcy strained her eyes to see them. The music seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

    “Let me tell you another,” she said, sipping on her drink. The lady at the machine next to her looked at Marcy and then moved away, taking her quarters with her. She watched as the drink spun up the straw when she sucked. Here we go loop de loop.

    Sometimes Eric would help her push the stroller as they went around the park, and Wilson would run so far ahead she would shout after him. “Don’t go where I can’t see you!” she’d holler, and Oskar, too big to be pushed around in a stroller, would try and stand up and yell after her. “Go where I can’t see you!”

    Wilson would hide like that at home as well; hide so good she couldn’t find him sometimes. They were living in Prospect-Lefferts, more house than they needed but you could afford those big limestone buildings then even on a Con Ed salary and Wilson would go into different rooms and be so quiet that she would get hysterical, be practically beside herself by the time her husband got home. Then they would hear him laughing. “Got you!” he would say and emerge from the cupboard or from behind the sideboard and Floyd would get so mad. That one time he came out of her closet wearing her bra and Floyd just about went crazy; took off his belt and chased him.

    She put in a coin and pulled the lever: a watermelon; a bell; the number seven in gold.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

    She turned her head but nobody was there. Who had spoken? Just turning her head made the colors around her move and when she looked at the floor she saw the pattern there was moving too. It was like a flying carpet, the Vale of Cashmere –

    The Vale of Cashmere! That was the name of that strange corner of the park where she took the boys now and then. They were getting older; other boys took the place of Oskar, and Eric got too big to want to be with them. But Wilson kept her company as she made the rounds, bought them ice cream and wiped their sticky hands. People used to call it The Swamp and there was a muddy pond okay and some hanging trees.

    “How come you don’t play with boys your own age?” one of the kids had asked him once.

    “I just like to help my momma,” he’d said.

    He was the one who found out the real name of The Swamp, checked an old book out of the library and showed her on the map. There was a poem that went with it and Wilson stood up by the pond and put one finger in the air as he read: “Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere/With its roses the brightest the earth ever gave?”

    Another babysitter saw them by the pond once and came over to warn them. “You shouldn’t be down in there,” she said, afraid to come too close with her stroller in front of her. “They say men get together down there.”

    And after that Marcy noticed them, lurking about, standing in the trees. Once when she came down with Wilson and a stroller two men ran out, going in different directions.

    She didn’t think about it again for years, until Wilson was grown and still living at home, and he came back one night that first time with his face all bloody, drunk or high on something and smiled at her, blood on his teeth.

    “Hey, Momma, I been to the Vale of Cashmere!”

    That’s when Floyd said no more.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

    She turned and the colors whooshed like a scarf being wrapped around her head. She saw her this time, a little woman, no bigger than a dragonfly like the ones the boys chased in the park, Wilson would put them in a jar with holes punched in the top, while Eric tried to cover it up with his hand so they would smother.

    “I’m looking for three sevens,” Marcy said to the dragonfly woman. “Are there some other numbers to play?”

    “That is the question, isn’t it?” said the faerie. “Are there other numbers to play?”

    And then she flew away, just like a little hummingbird, and Marcy got up to follow her, passing into the pattern of colors and leaving her cup of coins behind.

    Floyd went through all his money the first hour. Not all his money but all the money he’d meant to spend, the money he put in his shirt pocket, seemed to fly off the table. Dealer beat him every time: if Floyd had 18, the dealer had 19; if Floyd sat on a 19, the dealer hit him with two bricks.

    “I guess this lady feels like she has to show us what a blackjack looks like,” said Tommy, when the dealer drew her third in ten minutes. She apologized to them both, even though they didn’t tip her, and Tommy’s luck was better than hers: He doubled down twice and made a hundred bucks in the blink of an eye. All Floyd could do, once he had spent the money he had earmarked for this outing, was sit there and simmer in his resentment while Tommy’s chip pile grew.

    That was when Helen, the lady in the purple pantsuit, came and asked if he knew where Marcy was.

    “I thought she was with you,” said Floyd. It came out like an accusation.

    “Well, we agreed to meet for lunch at three,” she said, “but then nobody could find Marcy. We figured maybe you two went off together.”

    And that’s how well you know us, Floyd thought. “Maybe she just went off to another casino by herself,” he said. Even though he was losing, and wasn’t even playing at the time, he didn’t want to have to leave his spot and go look for his wife. “There’s no law says we got to stay here.”

    “Blackjack,” said the dealer, flipping another ace.

    But after a minute he did get up to look, as he knew he would, leaving Tommy, who still had a hot hand and no doubt wondered what all the fuss was about.

    “Did you try the ladies room?” he asked Helen.

    “That was one of the first places we looked. They have sofas in there, you know.” She paused. “Do you think we should call security?”

    The suggestion made his blood pressure rise. “No, I don’t think we should call security. Christ sake, grown woman goes off for a few minutes and you want to call the cavalry?”

    “Does she have a cell phone?”

    “Our son gave her one but she couldn’t figure out how to use it.” This was literally half true: Eric had given them each one last Christmas, and neither of them could figure out how to use it. By the time Floyd got the hang of it he realized that the only person he would call was his wife, which was kind of stupid since he saw her all the time anyway.

    They looked all the places that they had already looked and the lady in the Kente cloth joined them, acting more concerned that Floyd felt. “We need a system,” she said, as they circled the room for the second time. The place was more crowded than ever and Floyd could hardly hear what she was saying. “How about I go stake out the buffet and you stay here?” she suggested to Helen.

    “How ‘bout I go stake out the buffet?” Helen said. “I haven’t had lunch yet.”

    Floyd said they could both go feed themselves and take their time doing it; Marcy would turn up. He stood like a sentinel beneath the bells and sirens of the Mardi Gras slots, scowling most of the time. He hated slot machines; there was no sport in it, as he often told his wife. Blackjack at least you were playing the odds. Slots to him was just dumb luck, like a rabbit betting it wouldn’t get run over when it ran across the road. Twice he thought he saw his wife, and each time he took pleasure in anticipating just how much grief he was going to give her. But each time he was wrong.

    By four o’clock they were back together, Tommy too, and they began to set out in search parties. They were a small group: most of the travelers didn’t want to leave their stations, since the bus was scheduled to leave at six and this whole business had already cut into their time as it was. The lady in the Kente cloth, who finally introduced herself as Niobe, took charge. She contacted the hotel security, who seemed to have some experience with old folks wandering off, and as the witching hour neared, and the day-trippers started heading back toward the bus, she went out and argued with the bus driver, who was pretty adamant about leaving on time.

    “You can’t just go off and leave an old lady alone,” she scolded him. The engine was already running, gently shaking the bus, while the AC gusted out the door in heavy welcoming breaths.

    “I won’t be leaving her alone,” the driver said. “I will be leaving you to find her.”

    He agreed to wait as they made one last search. A handful of them fanned out, going to neighboring casinos and restaurants, off the boardwalk and into the side streets. Floyd couldn’t help but think that Marcy was messing with him the whole time, and when he saw the impatient faces of the other folks on the bus – they’d lost their money and had their fill, they just wanted to go home – he couldn’t help but side with them.

    Most of the people he saw as he wandered were wearing shorts and T-shirts. Used to be people would get dressed up to go someplace. And when did everybody get so fat? Walking down the boardwalk, bag of French fries in your hand, what did you expect? The new motto for the city was “Always Turned On,” which he found kind of creepy. There was nothing that he saw that turned him on.

    Doors were open, air conditioning blasting out, cooling nothing. Floyd took to popping into places and doing a quick look around, not even asking half the time if they’d seen anyone who looked like his wife. One, they couldn’t hear you with all that noise and two, half of them couldn’t speak English.

    “You seen an old black lady?” he shouted at one girl scooping ice cream. Her nails were so long he figured they might end up in somebody’s cone. “Blue shirt, about this high?” She stared at him like he was the one with the language problem.

    He kept walking. Going in and out of the summer sun was making him dizzy, to say nothing of thirsty. He wished for the first time that Tommy was with him. That man would always stop for a drink. He saw people in those rolling chairs, being pushed by young people, girls sometimes. And you wonder why you so fat?

    Down at one end of the boardwalk he found what looked like a real bar. The crowd had trickled off as the sun sank lower in the sky. Go on, get out of here. A lot of good you been. Floyd ducked inside and felt the rivers of sweat roll out from under his hat and chill on his face and neck. His glasses steamed as he took a seat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. He perched on the stool and looked up at the game on TV. The waitress brought him his drink and man did that taste good. No skimping on the gin, either. He forgot to ask her about Marcy. His wallet was bothering him, he felt like he was balancing on it. When she asked him if he wanted to start a tab he simply nodded.

    “You got a phone?” She pointed to an old-fashioned booth in the back, kind Superman used to change in. The place was filling up, young couples waiting for dinner. Went back to the hotel to put your dress shorts on? Once inside the paneled wood booth he forgot who he was going to call. Eric, right. He searched the scraps of paper in his wallet for the number he never had cause to memorize and let it ring, go to voicemail, and then dialed again.


    “This ain’t no telemarketer.”

    “Hey, Pop.” He did not sound happy to hear from him and Floyd had already put enough change in the machine so he cut straight to the point.

    “We in Atlantic City and your mother’s gone missing.” He backtracked from there, explaining the whole afternoon in greater detail than Eric needed, but never did his son sound any more excited than Floyd felt. He asked the obvious questions – had they called the police? Who else was looking?

    “Did she have her cell phone?” he asked, pointedly.

    “That’s why I was calling,” Floyd said. “I figured maybe she’d called you.”

    Eric was silent, and Floyd knew that he knew he was lying. He imagined him at home, still in his work clothes, the sound on the TV muted, his eyes on the game. From his perch in the booth Floyd could see the TV over the bar. Jeter was trying to steal.

    “I’m sure she’ll turn up, Pop. I mean, where’s she gonna go?”

    “I know that.”

    “You got your cell phone with you? So I can call you if she does?”

    Floyd muttered something and got off the phone. That boy would go to his grave asking about those damn phones. He should just wrap them up and give them back to him for Christmas. Turn ‘em into salt-and-pepper shakers.

    When he got back to his seat at the bar Jeter got picked off and he ordered another drink. Now they could send the search party out for him. The tumblers were tall and when he turned in his seat he found he had company. Big old white dude with long hair and a pointed beard. He was sipping a Budweiser longneck and looking at the screen. His arms were covered in tattoos; dragons, snakes and skulls disappeared into his shirtsleeves.

    “Fuckin’ Yankees,” he said and turned to look at Floyd. “Nice hat.”

    Floyd turned to face his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. “You wouldn’t believe how long I had this hat,” he said.

    “There isn’t much I wouldn’t believe,” the man said.

    They got to talking. Turned out he worked in a tattoo parlor on the boardwalk, which explained all the ink. Half way through his second drink and Floyd was feeling generous in his opinions.

    “Back in the day,” he said, “man had a tattoo it meant he’d been someplace. In the service, in the joint, you know.”

    “I hear you,” the man said. “These days it just means you been to the mall.” He drained his beer and held up the empty. “Buy you a drink?”

    “Let me buy you a drink,” said Floyd, and pulled out the fat wallet that had been giving him such a pain and laid it on the counter. Soon he had the pictures out and was showing him snaps of Eric, bragging on his job even if he wasn’t exactly sure what he did. Then one of the whole family, when everyone was young.

    “Where’s your other boy?” the stranger asked.

    Floyd made a face like he was sucking on a lime. “Wilson got killed in a hold-up ten years ago,” he said.

    “Oh, man, I am sorry. They catch the guy who did it?”

    “No, it was in Prospect Park one night. Lot of crime in there.”

    “That’s why I could never live in the city,” the man said, which struck Tommy as funny. Most people would be scared of him, even in Brooklyn.

    “So what happens when folks get old?” said Floyd, changing the subject. “Maybe they don’t want all those tattoos any more.”

    “Shit, you don’t have to wait ‘til your old to regret something stupid you did.” The man laughed and Floyd got a glimmer of a gold tooth in his head. “People come in all the time wanting to have tattoos taken off, usually the name of some girl that don’t love them anymore.”

    “Can you do it?”

    “Sure,” the man said. “Hurts like hell and costs twice as much. But we can do it. Easier just to change it, though.”

    “How do you mean?”

    “Well, there was this one girl who loved a guy named Chris and had it tattooed on her ass. Until she found Jesus and then we just added a ‘T’.”

    He didn’t smile at first and it took Floyd a minute to figure it was a joke. He smiled first. “Hey, I got one,” he said. The stranger’s eyes gleamed in anticipation. “There was this guy who loved this old girl so much he had her name tattooed on his Johnson.”

    “Now that’s gotta hurt!”

    “Hell, yeah.” Floyd wiped his mouth. “Then they broke up, you know, and soon he started missing her real bad. So he went all over looking for her, from Wisconsin all the way down to Jamaica. Then he’s in the bathroom one day and he looks over and he sees this other guy’s dick.” He stopped for a minute. The stranger kept staring at him. “Now I can’t remember that girl’s name.”

    “Is it important?”

    “Yeah, it’s the whole punch line.”

    “Uh, oh. Better have another drink.”

    He felt flushed and excused himself to go to the bathroom. There he stared straight ahead at the wall and read all the graffiti as if looking for a message. And by the time he got back to the bar he was not surprised to see the stranger was gone and with him his wallet though all Floyd could feel was a keen sense of disappointment: He remembered the end of the joke now. He had remembered that old girl’s name.


    voice from the planet

    ‘Vale of Cashmere’ was first published by Harvard Square Editions in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others. Sean Elder’s writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, New York Magazine, Salon, Slate, Vogue, Elle, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Details and many other publications. The essay he contributed to the collection of men’s writings The Bastard On the Couch (Morrow, 2004) was reprinted on three continents; his essay on ecstasy, included in the collection of drug writings entitled White Rabbit (Chronicle Books, 1995) was called “seminal” by Granta; and a piece he wrote about being a stay-at-home dad for Oprah was included in her best of O collection, Live Your Best Life (Oxmoor, 2005). He has co-authored several books, including Websites That Work with designer Roger Black (Adobe Press, 1997) and Mission Al Jazeera with former Marine captain Josh Rushing (Palgrave, 2007). He also works as a book doctor and helped edit the forthcoming Making Rounds with Oscar by Dr. David Dosa (Hyperion, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and daughter.

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  • All at Once: Excerpt of the Novel

  • I step onto a wide stone platform surrounded by water and lie on my stomach to peer down over the edge. At my approach, tiny fish scatter like drops of colored light; crabs pause, wary, then scuttle along the sides of the basin, stuffing their mouths as fast as they can with alternate pincers. After a while, a kind of brown finger wriggles out from the shadows. Another one emerges, then two more, and finally the bulbous body of an octopus comes into view. It skims along until the water is too shallow then starts to walk, using its tentacles as legs. When the water gets deeper it pushes off against the sandy bottom to glide, once more, just beneath the surface. It circles round and round my platform.

    aao cover

    My back begins to prickle, and I realize I’ll be burnt to a crisp if I don’t find shelter pretty soonthe ocean breeze masks the sun’s virulence.

    Standing up makes me momentarily dizzy. The tide has gone out, uncovering rocks studded with barnacles or slick with thick green hair. I head back toward the flat sand and continue walking, looking for a place to rest. I’ve just about resigned myself to the idea of a plastic chair, when I spot a barraca that’s not open for business. The beach in front of it is empty, the small structure shuttered; its thatched roof casts a nice, wide stripe of shade onto the sand. Gratefully, I set up camp, taking out the water and crackers I brought, spreading out my towel to sit on, and leaning against the barraca wall with the empty backpack in between for cushioning. A sigh of relief.

    The ocean is now more white than blue. At the horizon, a wavering smudge might be a cruise ship or an oil rig. The great mass of water is barely disturbed by shifting waves, fretful and sluggish like a dog settling down to sleep. There’s an occasional bloom of white spray when a wave breaks against rock; wisps of cloud trail across the sky. I yawn, lie down on the towel, and close my eyes.

    Now the landscape is reduced to the rustle of wind in the palm thatch, the faint piping of a distant bird, and the dull roar of the ocean. I stretch my arms and let them flop back down. Rolling my head slowly from side to side to loosen the tension in my neck, I notice that this movement causes the pitch of the ocean to vary ever so slightly. Intrigued, I try it a few more times, just to make sure.

    There’s a lesson in that, I reflect: reality changes according to your viewpoint. I roll my head once more from side to side then lie still again, listening to the tiny, ceaseless fluctuations within the monotone.

    An insect lands on my footwithout opening my eyes I flex my toe to chase it away, and realize that the gesture produced an infinitesimal shift in the ocean sound. Bizarre! I can understand the position of my head influencing what I hear, but the position of my toe? (more…)

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Stu Krieger at University of California

UCR library reading from THAT ONE CIGARETTE with follow-up Q & A on writing and publishing Thursday Oct 8, from 4:30-5:30 PST

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THE ROAD NOT TAKEN: Fighting for Women’s Rights in Weimar

This article first appeared in Ms. Magazine

The following is an excerpt from THE ROAD NOT TAKEN—the debut novel, out September 4, by feminist playwright, documentarian and writer Susan Rubin. In the book, one woman traverses through space and time on an epic journey of self-discovery—and in an effort to change world history.

The café was crowded and the jazz musicians on stage were loud. The interior was so filled with smoke that my friends and I chose an outdoor table. I was smoking a long, thin, pastel colored cigarillo in an ornate holder. My fingernails were black and as I looked at my reflection in the window of the café, I saw that my eyes were all blacked, too. I looked around at my companions dressed in flamboyant reds and yellows. They too had on defiant smoky eye makeup, with bright red lipstick and lots of beaded necklaces over their glamorous dresses.

My companions were pleasantly tanked up, and so was I. We had been drinking everything in the café, from beer we had moved to mixed drinks. We ate no food and smoked one pastel cigarillo after another as we talked in loud voices with extreme enthusiasm for our subjects. (more…)

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Toward Transcendence: The Way Forward

[A desperately brief Critique of Euro-Modernism* (EM) and a bare Outline of The Alternative]

(For Noam Chomsky)

By Rajani Kanth

I will make this piece short and simple.
The times call for such economies of style.
We need now to have done with the genre of immanent critiques, where we rock to and fro, endlessly, w/out getting anyplace.
Besides, old recipes, old formulas , old panaceas, have no place now.
It is, as so many of us sense, a New Game.
And it is time for Change.
BIG Change.
Indeed, it is time now , I think, for Transcendence (the antipode of immanent critiques): rising above/beyond routine, ‘authorised’ , modes of discourse.
Put differently, the Left, Right and Centre versions of EM theorising simply keep us locked in to the same otiose paradigm, from which there is No Exit.
There has been a new Physics for almost a century now.
A new Biology for but a few odd years: Epigenetics.
But we still retain the old, antiquated, Social Theory.
Modeled , if understandably, after the materialism of Classical Physics (Yes, so-called ‘social science’ was engendered in the spirit of Physics-Envy).
Time to jettison that baggage.
In its Entirety.
It is not only archaic, it is wrong, categorically, judged by the canons of Q. Physics.
Darwin’s idea of mutations finds relevance here.
He saw mutations as random.
And many are.
But some are not.
Some are ‘purposive’, in the minimal sense of restoring balance.
We are, likely, going through such a shift.
We humans have radically skewed Nature’s rude and rough balances, over a very long time: but far more precipitously in recent times.
Since WWII , over 60% of animal and plant life, even a higher percentage of large mammals, has vanished.
We have exhausted more planetary resources in that same short span of time than in all of human history.
Nature is, in a sense, now ‘intervening’ (or ‘reacting’).
But one must not read too much into that word (I am no fan of ‘new age’ fantasies).
I do not use it in any anthropic sense.
Let me illustrate.
Water finds its own level.
One might see it as seeking a certain ‘balance’, in its spread.
However, it does not ‘choose”, but follows its inherent properties.
So is Nature , following her own Logos, morphing her varied forces (and they bid fair to check our pretensions).
But we are different: we can, self-consciously, Choose.
Descartes said: I think therefore I am.
The Buddha, a far more accomplished philosopher, albeit 2 millenia prior, provided the needful.
He said: as/what you think, you are: and you become.
So, all change , when not the chance accident of history, begins in the mind.
The Collective mind.
And the Choice is clear: either we change, or Nature must suffer a disruption of Evolution.
She, apparently, is unready to suspend her long-delved plans.
So, either we Change , or we Go.
Climate change (as but one mechanism) will see to the latter.
Maybe, even regardless of what we do.
There is some paradox to this.
At one remove, she is not apart from us , but works through us.
Yet, she is the macrocosm , of which we are but sub-entities; so hers is the larger mind.
And her secrets are not always shared, readily, with us.
We need now to Reorient Life.
Here, but a few clues.
They will suffice: a word to the wise , they say , is sufficient.
We need to divest ourselves from this onerous fetish of incessant consumption and production.

Radically alter our methods/instruments in both domains (no mass production, no mass consumption).
Possessive, Asocial Individualism – the very (EM) scourge of our current history – needs be junked.
The Profit-motive, retired: it has served its historical use, if any.
The Adversarial Society, abandoned.
Competition, Monopoly, and Economic activity tied to, led by, Private gain, abrogated.
The Nation-State dissolved.
From Gesellschaft forms of organization we need to return, again, to Gemeinschaft forms, which is how we began.
Abjuring the spurious universalisms of globalization (ploys only for control and marketing) we have to relocate ourselves in face-to-face social relations, within a local culture – of ‘little’ traditions – of our own making, and within our own controls.
But, as I will imply, none of the above require any mass effort to topple the system.
Rather is it a matter of erosion of its principal , ideational, supports.
EuroModernist (EM) societies are engineered, artificial constructs, organized, historically, from above, by the machinations of commerce , capital, and empire.
They are NOT human societies.
They are rationalist, cold, uncaring, and mechanistic.
We are , au contraire, caring, feeling, organic, beings.
Classical Socialism failed because it did not raze that foundation.
The USSR – for all of its many successes, which must not be forgotten – still pursued the grail of GDP, no less avidly than its Capitalist counterparts.
But a bigger bowl of Goulash simply doesn’t cut it.
It does not answer to that primal cri de couer that animates our bosoms.
We have to realign, rebond, with our kith and kin (no matter how defined).
Rediscover our quashed norms of Affective Society.
Antic values: of Hearth and Home.
And re-embrace the basic joy(s) of our kind: Convivialism.
And know who we are, as a species.
Co-operative, caring, familial, and co-respective.
This is a far cry from how EM ideology views us.
The real scarce resource is not time, nor money : but love.
For we are Lovers, in short, rather than law-givers, conquerors, colonisers, and adventurers.
Or, calculating, canny, crafty , hucksters.
Time it is to bid farewell to the nostrums of Hobbes and Smith.
Doing was thrust upon us by the exploitative wiles of rulers and conquerors, and turned into a social value.
Becoming is a EuroModernist mantra, the talisman of accumulationist drives.
So much so that some religions/political traditions, took ‘labor’ itself as a commandment of morality and virtue (Arbeit Macht Frei) rather than a temporary nuisance to be swiftly performed and relinquished.
No, Labor is not the choice avenue to social Virtue (as in some variants of Protestant thinking).
It is drudgery, and worse: when performed involuntarily, and by force.
Arbeit Macht Frei?
Tell that to the Bushmen(and women).
All that Utopian thinking that followed the EM revolutions was, objectively, a waste of social energy.
And also caused a lot of irreparable harm.
But it was unavoidable: in recoiling from the dehumanization(s) of the latter, it showed up their manifold shortcomings.
Society had been turned upside down by the latter forces , so these idealists hoped to ‘re-engineer’ it : toward a better state of being.
Wishful thinking, at best: but who can blame them?
They meant well: but had not a clue about the ineluctable realities of human anthropology.
Lacking that, they borrowed their ideas, in that domain, of from either religion (Judeo-Christian ideology) or political theory (e..g., so-called ‘social contract’ ideas).
Which was to err grievously.
For we don’t need Utopia as Invention: we simply need to Rediscover it.
Nor can we simply , willy nilly, invent slogans, coin lofty declarations, and codify master plans for a New World: and expect human nature to conform to it.
We are programmed to live, tribally (parse that as kindred/community based) , in a joyful state (in Being, not Becoming, or Doing).
We are Mammals, Heat-seeking rather than Light-seeking.
Our greatest Human Need may simply be: to Huddle.
That is our species-being, our social DNA.
It can still be found , albeit now in remote parts of a world thoroughly ravished by EM ideology and praxis.
But it is also deep within us, and easy to locate: IF we can shuffle off the coils of religious and political shibboleths that hold us in thrall.
Our eternal ‘home’ is the humblest of societal units: the human family, at once natural and social.
Note that it meets not one single, vaunted, E-Modernist criterion.
It is not free, individualist, equal, nor democratic.
Wrap your head around that last sentence.
Not once, but twice.
Yet, it gives to us what we crave the most: a haven, refuge, and sanctuary.
What extra-terrestrial ‘heaven’ , conjured up by the tendentious fantasies of religious bigotry, could hope, even remotely, to compare with that?
Bears thinking.
You get the point (I hope).
We are natural, instinctual beings: an idea anathema to EM postulates, which prefers to see us as automatons who can take on any shape and form as per requirements of the ruling ethos , ideology. and political agenda.
Instincts are granted in the study of animals, but not permitted to intrude into the study of the ‘sovereign of creation’, i.e. , MAN (gender intended, in the original EM docket).
That came straight from Judeo-Christian ideas, where we are cast in the image of the Creator, until Darwin interrupted that chain of argument.
So we need to remind ourselves, again, lest we forget, in our hubris.
For all our pretensions, We are Apes.
Chimps and Bonobos, our closest cousins, have definable traits: so have we.
So, think.
And disburden yourself of repressive, ideological, chains that diminish you , and erode your energies.
For, as/what you think, you become.
And discover the rich troves of the Affective Life -lavish, abundant – you have ignored, or suppressed, for being stuck on the Wheel , ever since you can recall.
That is our real, imperishable, wealth.
The Virus has just given some of us the time/opportunity for some reflection on such matters.
Employ it well.
And get off the treadmill – of endless, unrequiting, toil – soon as you can.
After all, you are not , if you are reading this, a hamster.
We have been hoodwinked, forced, duped, and systematically misled, into thinking of ourselves in dystopian, sub-human, and asocial terms.
We have, in short, been forced to live a lie.
Contrast , in your thinking, how you live ,and function, to who we/you are, on the inside.
The rest will follow, as day follows night.
Let me repeat that.
Seek simply to Know Yourself : (all) necessary changes will, then, ensue.
We have been , alas, deceived by fine words.
One of the many unstated functions of language (which may well be a primary one) is concealment of motives.
Language is an indispensable aid to dissembling.
W/out that guileful artefact, our feelings, as humans, are all too easy to comprehend , requiring no interpreters.
Complexity of language is often associated with high density of oppression and exploitation.
No wonder elites monopolise language (Latin, in Rome, Sanskrit in ancient Vedic society)
And both religion and politics utilize language, to repressive effect.
Note that I am not outlining a nouvelle manifesto, in the classic EM mode of ‘we can be anything we wish to be’.
Instead , I am suggesting that our contentment lies in effortless conformity to our anthropic species being.
So it requires no force, no mass movements, no marches, no revolutions.
Nor even consulting learned tomes of deep philosophy.
Simply an internal, personal recognition of the obvious, based on reflection alone.
And it will be found to be obvious.
* EM, or EuroModernism , the specific template of Modernism that Europe invented and imposed on the world, consisted of , in my rendition: a very selective faith in a self-defined, triumphalist , reductionist, Science; a tendentious, self- serving belief in ‘progress’ ; a rampant philosophy of materialism; and an abiding conviction that no cost was too high, societal, military, or ecological, to impose this world-view, by force, on Others. It imposed the Restless Society on us all, ever discontented, ever transformational, sacrificing Being to Becoming. Understood, with care, it covers both the Tweedledum and Tweedledee Idylls of EM vintage: Capitalism and Socialism.


Kanth, R . Farewell to Modernism: On Human Devolution in the Twenty-First Century, NY: Peter Lang, 2017
[© R.Kanth 2020]

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By Rajani Kanth

Come, Let us


The Holy Time’s

before us:

And this


May not last –

Come, Let us



All the


Warn us

No Returning

To what is

Past –


The Feast

Was Exorbitant:

Cakes and Ale

lie in the

Waters cast –

So , come,

let us fast


The Antic

Gods do

rave and fume

Their Patience

will not last






giddy, spin

too fast –

Night moon’s


in storm clouds


Party’s over,

Done ,

and Past

It’s Time:

To Pray,

and Fast




The Good


Bounty –

a Largesse,


and Vast


In Euphoria

That Nature –

She Bats

Last –


So, Expiating


In Exculpating

Piety –

Come, Let us


[© R.Kanth 2020]   


Professor Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda,, A Day in the Life, and Expiations, is Trustee of the World Peace Congress

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By Rajani Kanth
[for my daughters]


In face of




And stray


In the room


Let us


To stay



By light

Of day –




Fear –


To what

Is dear







The Pillage

Of Storms


In Faith

Of Healing




The Spreading






Defy the




In sympathetic




that mother



Of anthropic

Empathy –






Do Good

By Stealth



That Moral



True source

Of all our



And teum


the Hubris

That swells

too soon


that does

all Nature







Primal moorings

shorn –


from love

and life

though torn


yet may




in humble


of Good


a universe,






All things


must suffer



Save the





we live –

but to die


upon this




where we


an Unmindful



Into the Abyss

Of Night


Must we ,






In trust


Least one

heart that

will overflow


that can

and will

and must



thrill and



even the


dust –


that muffles

our mortal



in wakeful



long after

we are

gone –


in ambrosial





live on




or scorn

in that





[© R.Kanth 2020]   


Professor Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda,, A Day in the Life, and Expiations, is Trustee of the World Peace Congress


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Politics 101

By Rajani Kanth

The Romans had gladiators and lions.

We have elections.

Both, lavish spectacles for the masses to be , safely, immured in.

Elections, impeachments , they’re nearly on par with Pro-Wrestling, the closest simile I can think of.

Take your pick, and be entertained.

These are but legitimation games.

Unreality shows.


As I have written before, there are 2 kinds of Politics.

One pits the masses of the powerless and the property-less against the corporate oligarchy.

That’s deep politics.

The Other is simply an internecine struggle between contending power elites , for captaincy of the Ship of State.

And stewardship of the (visible) Public Purse.

What we are witnessing now , and do every 2/4 years, is the latter genre.

It holds nothing of real , lasting interest to the sans-culotte, who constitute the vast majority

of Electors.

They are fodder to the electoral mill.

It is – to be only partly satirical – a neat formula: You vote, They rule!

The First kind of politics is expressed daily in multiple fora, as people push back, in manifold ways, against oppression and injustice.

Occasionally, these struggles spill over into the electoral game – i.e. , into the Second domain of politics – where, in rare circs, they may have an impact.

Mostly, though, they are, sooner or later , betrayed/abandoned by their supposed champions.

Like the Labor Party in Britain, in the most recent election.

Though, like Sysiphus, the dispossessed simply dust off and struggle uphill all over again,

It’s akin to the Football Gag in Peanuts (Schulz/ Comic Strip)


So, turn off those TVs.

And resist yielding to the righteous passion that demonizes the one, or other political party, in the holy fire of partisanship.

In the larger analysis, there isn’t that much difference: the real opposition is not invited in.

As The Who sang it, years ago, “Meet the new boss,

Same as the old boss”.

For, as Max Weber understood it well, formal ‘democracy’ is a means only of legitimation of power (the real Business of State carries on , uninterruptedly, behind a cloak of privilege – in the legal sense – and secrecy).

If/When that effort fails, or falters, they simply switch back to their stark, original, unsavory, modus.

It is not pretty to behold.

Power is – to coin a phrase – a brute.


I do grant that the present juncture in history is quite momentous, even unprecedented..

It is not business as usual.

We are nearing the end of a long phase of near-unilateral global domination.

To return to the reference to Rome that I began this post with, let me repeat a much earlier comment.

We are, today, at the Caligula phase of Empire.


The system now reveals itself , in many regards, quite openly: they, apparently, disdain to conceal their aims.

No more, or leastways far fewer, fig-leafs.

It bodes ill for the poor, the toilers, and the impuissant.

So, be governed accordingly.

[© R.Kanth 2020]   


Professor Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda, and Expiations, is Trustee of the World Peace Congress


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NOT YET is Launched!

Erik signing
Suicide hotline worker Erik Segall’s debut novel Not Yet has made it into Amazon’s top 5000 sellers of World Literature and in the top 1500 of Amazon’s Self-Help & Psychology Humor. “I didn’t even know that was a category! (#31 is “Fight Club” and #32 is “How To Live with a Huge Penis”),” quips Segall.

Erik Segall singing at B&N launch


Erik with Pueblo’s famous author Terrence Damon Spencer on launch day

big 3

Food for thought






Alas, poor Yorick








How many people want to read Not Yet?



All copies sold out at B&N

More about Erik Segall and Not Yet at www.eriksegall.com

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Humorous Suicide Hotline Novel for Christmas

By Erik Segall, author of Not Yet

Julia & I with bookA few days ago, I met Julia Alvarez and asked her if she would take a look at my upcoming novel, Not Yet. You should know Julia is a magnanimous woman, generous of spirit, a sensual Latina queen who sang of butterflies. Her reply made me cry, “I want to hold your baby!” Naturally, she understood how much labor I’ve put into this novel.

Tomorrow, the book will be officially released and I’m not sure how to feel. I’ve tried to relate the last 18 months of this publishing journey in my blog at https://www.eriksegall.com/blog. Going over them in retrospect, I see a plethora of words about becoming an author, about suicide, even about Bhutan. Mainly, I complained about editing.

pic4Here’s what I left out: The feeling of holding my book after three years. Almost as exciting as beating my aunt in chess because in 20 years, I’ve only checkmated her twice. For those writers who dream of becoming published, I only know that perseverance may be the most valuable asset.

You’ll need three traits to progress from writer to author — a lot of time, a little money and a love of rejection. Sadly, you will never have enough time, and it will be more expensive than you expected, but you will learn to forget the rejection and remember only success. The journey is arduous and at times, you’ll feel like a pawn trudging through life’s game.

Well, now I feel like a promoted pawn becoming a queen. And I’m utterly exhausted.


front smNot Yet
by Erik Segall

Release date: December 11, 2019
Genre: Fiction; Humor
Price: $22.95
ISBN: 978-1-941861-67-7

Book Launch, Blo Back Gallery, 131 Spring St., Pueblo, CO Jan. 10, at 7-8 p.m.

Book Talk, Barnes & Noble, 4300 North Freeway, Pueblo, CO, Jan. 11, at 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

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Frankfurt Book Fair 2019 Highlights

LitAG“LitAG” at the Frankfurt Book Fair (Oct 16 – 20, 2019), with row upon row of busy tables buzzing with multimillion-dollar deal-making, now moved to a new ‘Festhalle’, where it proceeds under the watchful ray of an esoteric dome–such a fitting place for the heart of the book fair. In other halls, titles focusing on mind, body, and spirit in several languages were on display….(more in Library Journal)

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Literary Culture Decentralized at LA’s Little Literary Fair


A brand-new book fair premiered in Los Angeles Sat 20 Jul 2019, 11 am – Sun 21 Jul 2019, 6 p.m. LitLit, the Little Literary Fair was free and open to the public, and featured more than 20 exhibitors ⁠— independent publishers, booksellers and cultural creators from Los Angeles and the rest of the West Coast.

Charles Degelman, author of Gates of Eden and A Bowl Full of Nails, enjoyed the streams of people flowing by Harvard Square Editions’ booth and the “extraordinary variety of the festival participants. LitLit proved to be as diverse as Los Angeles can be! Beautiful space, wonderful interaction between readers, writers, and publishers.”


Left, Susan Rubin, playwright and author of forthcoming novel ROAD NOT TAKEN. Right, Charles Degelman, author of A BOWL FULL OF NAILS, fields a question about Harvard Square Editions’ titles winning awards such as the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35, IPPY and Nautilus prizes.

“We were most excited by the enormous amount of interest in small literary houses on the part of the general public,” said Diane Haithman, journalist and author of the diverse, debut novel Dark Lady of Hollywood.

The fair is meant to highlight the burgeoning small-press scene in L.A., according to Tom Lutz, founder and editor-in-chief of the LA Review of Books.

“The small press world of Los Angeles is exploding,” Lutz said. “At least half the small presses that are in the fair have been born in the last decade. It is part of L.A., which had always been home to great writers, really coming into its own as a literary city.”

“They each have things they do best, and some are the best in the country at what they do,” Lutz said.

Exhibitors included California-based presses Harvard Square Editions, Red Hen, Not a Cult, Unnamed Press, Angel City Press, Rare Bird Books and Kaya Press.

The Los Angeles Public Library, Words Uncaged, and the LARB/USC Publishing Workshop were among other exhibitors at the fair, which featured interviews and panel discussions focusing on “themes such as activism, art, and absurdity,” organizers said.

The new book fair grew out of a partnership between Hauser & Wirth Publishers, a branch of the Zurich-based art gallery, and the Los Angeles Review of Books and took place at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, the arts complex in L.A.’s Downtown Arts District. The arts complex, located in a former flour mill, is the home of Hauser & Wirth gallery, the Artbook bookstore and Kris Tominaga’s restaurant Manuela.

Michaela Unterdörfer, publisher of Hauser & Wirth Publishers, said the fair was inspired “by the vibrant ecosystem of West Coast publishing.”

“Los Angeles has such a rich history of cross-disciplinary cultural production, and for decades there’s been a strong, if under-recognized, tradition of artists and publishers who have shaped Southern California’s literary scene through their dedication to the potential of publications as artistic mediums,” Unterdörfer added.

“Recently, this has been furthered by the significant emergence of collectives, small presses and independent publishers that’s allowing a discursive and highly engaged community to flourish in new and innovative ways.”

Los Angeles Review of Books editor Lutz said, “L.A. has played second fiddle to New York in so many areas of culture for so long, but now the city is recognized as on a par in many of the arts. At the same time, culture is decentralizing and diversifying — this is part of a nationwide and worldwide phenomenon — L.A. is prepared for this shift and is building the new infrastructure for it.”

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