Cruising the Green of Second Avenue

Wild Child Publishing has issued the second volume of short stories in Cruising the Green of Second Avenue. The tales take up where Vol. I left off — bringing back Klein the Biker, Straight Charlie and Sammy the Madman while introducing new characters stumbling over life’s difficulties in the late 60s. Vol. II is an e-book published by Wild Child Publishing that you can download, save as a pdf (Adobe) file and print. Read both volumes and see that life isn't all that serious. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online book sellers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Astroturfing Your Way to Publishing Success

These are hard times for writers due to a Malthusian conflict: There are more writers than readers. Soon, there will be room for just 20 authors — those featured on The New York Times Book Review best-seller list. (This may devolve to zero readers when the NYT ceases publishing.) Most writers’ work will then be consigned to desk drawers or photocopies they sell outside supermarkets.

But, there’s hope. Four “hopes,” specifically, that you can use to gain writing fame and fortune.

1. Censorship. Google some secrets that might embarrass the CIA, NSA, or people in high places, then go to print on demand with your manuscript and order 50,000 books. The government will buy up all copies and reimburse you. Operation Dark Heart by Anthony A. Shaffer irked the Pentagon, Defense Intelligence Agency, and a few other espionage agencies in 2010. The Pentagon paid St. Martin’s Press $43,000 for all 10,000 copies, then pulped them.

2. Insult that Religion with No Name. This is somewhat dangerous, so first secure your family in Arizona where even children can carry guns. If no one pays any attention to your turgid-but-blasphemous book, notify an imam. He will issue a fatwa to kill you. Join your family in Arizona (after calling The New York Times) and wait for the royalties to roll in from the resultant publicity.

3. Build a Ghost Audience. Contact all of your friends by e-mail, texting, Tweeting, and Facebooking. Instruct them to go to their local bookstore and demand your book. You don’t actually have to write it yet. When thousands of people begin screaming for, say, Existentialism Takes a Pratfall by [insert your name], publishers will come running to you. This happened in 1957 when radio personality Jean Shepherd had his audience demand I, Libertine, a non-existent book about an 18th century rake. Three months later, Ballantine rushed the book into print.

4. Calling Tree, Prayer Chain. Call it what you will. The author needs to have 10 friends each call 10 of their friends who, in turn, call 10 more friends. Arrange to meet on a Saturday afternoon at a central, urban location like New York City’s Union Square. The police will be very perplexed. So will the TV and newspaper reporters. They’ll want to know why you’re all demonstrating. Everyone should insist they’re not protesting, just minding their own business and thinking about your book. This is benevolence at its best. Like a good Japanese wabi sabi print, the space becomes solid and the non-event takes on substance.

Some people may accuse you of perpetrating a cheap marketing trick, like telling everyone it’s your birthday so they’ll give you presents. What you’re really doing is opening the floodgates of communication.

Rallies are fundamental grassroots efforts by people who believe in a cause. They’re a manifestation of our populist culture. With the demise of culture and any pretense of serious thought today, you will have created Astroturf — bright, green grass that is plastic and artificial. Just like money.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sayonara to Media Tools Just Because They’re Old?

A New York Times opinion piece today suggested you can toss your iPod because it’s been replaced by the Smart Phone. A desktop PC is a cumbersome, archaic machine easily replaced by a laptop, iPad or 4G Kindle. The GPS device in my Subaru is less portable than an Android already equipped with turn-by-turn navigation. A digital point-and-shoot camera is only a tad better than a Smart Phone, as is a camcorder. Cable TV and a DVD player can be replaced by the cheaper WiFi that plays Netflix downloads on demand. And the landline phone is a relic Verizon and AT&T don’t like any more than they do phone booths.

This bothers me. I have an attic full of dot matrix printers, software to load MultiMate, 3-1/2-inch floppies of games, and loads of cassette tapes. Do I really have to trash them all? I know my grandmother’s stereopticon is an antique, and sold it. But I love the memories of a device I’d hold up to a phone and push one of 10 buttons to dial a number. And the little flash chip on a key chain that scrolls through photo downloads. What about the slide rule that confounds my accountant friend? Or the Rolodex with business cards from suppliers now collecting Social Security?

I have to dig around flea markets every decade or so to replace my turntable to play LPs and 45s, but it’s getting hard to find one that plays 78s. Reluctantly, I also passed my Argus C3 rangefinder camera and my Voightländer 120 bellows camera on to my daughter.

I think the alternative to junking my archaic small electronics is to open a museum in my attic. A very small museum full of memories. These are my sleds named “Rosebud.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

High Times in the Colonies - II

Homes Away from Home In the days of unpaved roads and an absence of hotels, taverns served as both hostelry and “watering hole.” Today, you can still note the abundance of places in New Jersey named for one-time taverns. Burnt Tavern Road in Brick Twsp., Stump Tavern Rd. in Jackson Twsp., Bear Tavern Rd. in West Trenton, and Boyd’s Tavern in Whiting; Four Mile, Old Halfway, Three Tuns, and Ong’s Hat were named for taverns in unincorporated areas of Union County.

In 1717, the Colts Neck Inn was built by a Laird ancestor as a way station for coaches and dispatch riders between Amboy and Freehold.

In 1850, the New Jersey Legislature created Ocean County out of the southern half of Monmouth County. The first organizational meeting was held at Thomas P. Barkalow’s tavern on the corner of Main and Water Sts. in Toms River. Much of the meeting concerned building a Greek Revival-style courthouse modeled after that of Hudson County. After the building was completed in 1851, the plans were entrusted to a local man to be returned to Hudson County. He didn’t get far out of town, on horseback, before stopping at Hyers Tavern in Jackson. The plans were never seen again. 6

The Ocean House Hotel (earlier known as the Toms River Inn) began as Barkalow’s Tavern about 1787, and served as a coach stop between Freehold and Tuckerton, as well as west to Burlington County and Philadelphia. It was here that Ulysses S. Grant dictated part of his memoir. Ocean House was demolished in 1952, but the oldest portion was saved and relocated as The Old Time Tavern to Main St. (Route 166) and Presidential Blvd. 7

Taverns were a basic element of New Jersey’s development. Haddonfield’s Indian King Tavern is one of the state’s more important historic buildings. In 1777, as the Continental and British armies devastated Trenton, the Assembly convened there to officially create an independent state and adopt its Great Seal. Legend has it that Dolley Madison, née Payne, was a frequent visitor. 8.

The Merchants & Drovers Tavern Museum Association maintains another stopping-off place, a tavern built in 1798 at the corner of St. Georges Ave. (Rt. 27) and Westfield Ave. in Rahway. The Association also owns and operates the Abraham Terrill Tavern behind the Merchants & Drovers. 9.

And in our own neighborhood, Moore’s Tavern at 402 Main St. (Rt. 537) in Freehold dates back to the Revolutionary War. Moses Mount, an aide to General Washington, returned to Freehold after the war and built this inn for tired travelers. 10

An Army Marching … Sort of The immigration of Scotch-Irish in the 1730s dealt a blow to rum being shipped inland. These new Americans had their own taste for grain alcohol, brought their distilling skills with them, and accelerated the movement toward whiskey. The American Revolution further sped up the migration to corn and grain whiskey as imports disappeared. Royal Navy blockades effectively stemmed the importation of rum and molasses, while American grain was plentiful. A single bushel of corn, for instance, yielded three gallons of whiskey.

Liquor historically played an infamous hand in reducing militia drills to bumbling demonstrations. While training was crucial, many drill sessions were mostly social gatherings with liquor as a central focus. An 18th-century Virginia militia commander recalled that he frequently gave his men alcohol and that afterward “they would…come before his door and fire guns in token of their gratitude, and then he would give them punch ’til they dispersed.” While this kept morale high, it did not build crack regiments. (In the 1600s, Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts saw a sober drill on Boston Commons and was especially pleased.”)

Before and during the Revolution, inns were favorite places for political discussion, they served as rallying points for the militia, and became recruiting stations for the Continental army. During the war, Ethan Allen held the equivalent of senior management meetings at the Equinox Hotel in Manchester, Vt.

One of the biggest consumers of whiskey was the Continental Army itself. Soldiers were given a daily liquor ration of roughly four ounces. 11

A good soldier follows his senior officer, and in this case George Washington, the distiller of Mt. Vernon, was the model. Washington worried in writing about the morale and condition of his troops. To comfort them “when they are marching in hot or Cold weather, in Camp in Wet, on fatigue or in Working Parties,” Washington said it was “essential” that troops have “moderate supplies” of whiskey. 12

6 The Ocean County Bar Association.
7 Sadly, time ran out for the renamed Old Time Tavern, and it was destroyed. The Asbury Park Press on Dec. 17, 2008, wrote a feature on the demise of this tavern in order to widen Route 166.
9 and
10 Moore’s was modernized in 2009, with wi-fi, 14 HD flat screen TVs, and serves today as a sports bar. The original architecture, however, has been preserved.
11’s Web site provides a lengthy history, Drinking in America: A History, by Mark Edward Lender and James Kirby Martin, The Free Press, 1982, a division of Macmillian Publishing Co. Inc. During the war, profits were very attractive to distillers, whiskey was easy to transport, and it kept longer than grain. In fact, so much grain was directed to distilling that it began to concern the Continental Congress.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

High Times in the Colonies -- I

Hard to imagine, but by the late 1700s, the average American over age 15 drank almost six gallons of absolute alcohol each year. That’s the equivalent of 34 gallons of beer and cider and almost a gallon of wine. Today, the average is less than 2.9 gallons per capita. 1 Below is an article I just had to research my way into.

It’s safe to say, America wasn’t “founded” as much as it floated on a sea of booze. The Mayflower dropped anchor at Plymouth in 1621 with its crew and passengers deathly ill from exposure, scurvy, pneumonia and other maladies. Worse, the Pilgrims’ own beer had run out and the crew’s supply was “perilously low.” The most popular drink was a dark, strong brew of barley malt flavored with hops – like today’s porter and stout and about 6 percent alcohol. In that age, alcohol was safer than polluted water, so finding safe water in Massachusetts was a surprise. Back on board, the sailors knew they might not have enough beer for their return trip if they shared it with the religious dissenters.

Governor William Bradford wrote that the settlers “were hasted ashore and made to drink water that the seamen might have the more beer.” Bradford’s pleas from the shore for just a “can” of beer brought refusal. If he “were their own father,” one sailor said, “he should have none.”

Still, when the Arbella brought Puritans to Boston in 1630, the ship sailed with three times as much beer as water – in addition to 10,000 gallons of wine. 2

In 1639, Harvard’s President Nathaniel Eaton lost his job when he failed to provide enough beer to students. 3

Drunk, but Not Disorderly Drinking to excess didn’t bother the colonials as much as it represented a threat to community standards. In 1624, a Virginia General Court found against three defendants for “having kept company in drinking, and committing a riot.” The rioting and disorder bothered the court more than being inebriated. The trio paid heavy fines for disturbing the peace.

Colonial magistrates in the north and the south rarely let concerns over excessive drinking affect their disinterest in alcoholic consumption. At least, no one went on record that legal prohibition was needed for harmony in the communities. The fault wasn’t in liquor, but of deviants misusing this wholesome, healthful, and necessary product.

Both the Anglican and Puritan churches used wine for communion. Any idea that Christ had broken bread with grape juice was simply 19th century theological tinkering.

Distilled Spirits as American as… The colonials proved ingenious at making the brews and spirits they had left behind in Europe. A verse written in the 1630s went: “If barley be wanting to make into malt, / We must be content and think it no fault, / For we can make liquor to sweeten our lips, / Of pumpkins, and parsnips, and walnut-tree chips.” Their beer was probably no better than their poetry.

Distilled spirits were portable and took less space than beer. Sprits were even used as wages in Massachusetts until it was felt a worker drinking his “wages” probably wasn’t a very effective employee.

Gradually, however, the colonials were wooed away from beer to “strong waters.” Some of it was gin, which had roots in English culture. Grain spirits infused with juniper berries came from the Low Countries to England in the 1530s, was cheap, and became popular among the poor. The British government became shocked at a “gin epidemic” until it was staunched by edict in 1751, but gin never caught on in America – except in the Dutch colonies and elsewhere when the martini was invented in the 20th century.

Technically, it was easier for Americans to distill palatable liquor than to brew good beer. Rum was the most popular distilled drink. It was made using the rinds and juice of imported limes, lemons – even oranges – and then mixed with rum and sugar. Most taverns served a lime punch, warm, in a bowl. Toddies were rum mixed with sugar and water. Sangre – wine or beer sweetened with sugar and flavored with nutmeg – was also served by the bowl. Brandy, usually imported, was also made from peaches, apples or cherries. In New England, pears were distilled into “perry,” while Vermonters distilled honey into mead. 4

Where was wine? It wasn’t generally available outside of cities since it was imported from Germany and Spain. (New Jersey’s Renault winery didn’t open until 1864.) Madeira was the most expensive and popular wine, and was served with meals.

But, back to local improvisation. If you were rural and poor, you turned to making apple cider or bought it by the jug. Thanks to the English, apple seeds grew very well in the hospitable American climate. Hard cider was fermented to about 7 percent alcohol, and then distilled. The best came from New Jersey, where it was known as “Jersey Lightning.”

In 1780, Robert Laird established America’s first commercial distillery in the little town of Scobeyville, N.J. Laird was a Revolutionary War soldier who served under General Washington. In fact, the good general wrote to Laird in 1760 asking for the recipe for producing applejack “cyder spirits.” Laird was happy to oblige. Laird’s applejack cost four shillings, six pence per gallon, or about a half-day’s wages. 5

1 Increase Mather wrote in 1673 in Wo to Drunkards, “Drink is in itself a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan, the wine is from God, but the Drunkard is from the Devil.”
2 ibid.
3 Colonial Williamburg notes that John Adams started the day with a draft of hard cider, Thomas Jefferson imported fine wines from France and tried without success to grow grapevines, Samuel Adams managed his father's brewery, John Hancock was accused of smuggling wine, and Patrick Henry once worked as a bartender.
4 The DUI Library offers cautionary news about drunk driving, but includes a lengthy history.
5 Laird & Company provides a nice history of applejack. It notes that Abe Lincoln served applejack in his Springfield, Ill. tavern. His published list of rates in 1833 shows Apple Brandy at 12 cents a half-pint, while a night’s lodging cost 12-1/2 cents, and a meal was 25 cents.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

The release Mar. 4 of The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, will send some movie-goers back to their sources to review author Philip K. Dick’s oeuvre. They should. This seminal author’s 46 books and 121 short stories have been adapted to 10 films. (Confession: I have 13 Dick books on my shelves and one e-book collection of stories.)

It wasn’t always this way, in the 1950s and ‘60s when Dick was writing for pulp science fiction magazines. Jonathan Lethem notes in the foreword to The Philip K. Dick Collection that Dick worked to gain recognition and usually failed. He also takes note of Dick’s “remarkably personal vision of paranoia and dislocation.”

Laura Miller, an editor at, amplified this: “Dick has his share of champions, ranging from rock musicians to French postmodernists. Since his best work was published as pulp science fiction, they've had their hands full just trying to win him a little credibility. Meanwhile, almost unremarked, Dick's sensibility has seeped wide and deep into contemporary life.”

Some writers rise like Roman candles before fading, their books relegated to flea markets and used-book bins. Fortunately, Dick has heirs and a literary executor maintaining his reputation, and I presume merchandising his work beyond his death in 1982. In lieu of a seeing his works reissued, there are always new and used bookstores, and his official site,, to keep his work alive.

The plot of The Adjustment Bureau isn’t material here. (A man confronts the fact that he doesn’t have free will in the face of the Bureau that guides his decision-making process.) In any case, it was extensively rewritten by Writer-Director George Nolfi. Key to the storyline of both book and film, however, is Dick’s existential question of what is human and real.

The other films were adaptations as well, often surprassing the original story. You’ll remember Blade Runner (based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"), Screamers (based on "Second Variety"), Total Recall (based on "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"), Confessions d'un Barjo (French, based on "Confessions of a Crap Artist", Impostor, Minority Report, Paycheck, and A Scanner Darkly. King of the Elves is set for release in 2012.

Dick wrote of made-up worlds: a farmer on Mars, or a police agency that arrests criminals before they commit a crime, or an alternative history in which the Axis powers won World War II. Often, he posed the questions of what is human and what is real. This might also have been Dick’s own cri de coeur for never being recognized as a “real” literary writer.