May 07, 2007

The American Dream Book Tour & Protest Across the USA - Dispatch 18

... by Mike Palecek

"I don't care if it rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic Jesus, ridin' on the dashboard of my car." -- Cool Hand Luke

NEW YORK CITY If I can make it here. I'll make it anywhere.

I got skunked Friday night at Bluestockings Books in New York City.

Oh, well.

Right now I'm sitting in Everything Goes Books & Cafe in Staten Island. It's Saturday afternoon. A beautiful day.

Did I tell you?

I was in Rochester, New York on Thursday, then drove down to NYC for my evening debacle on the Lower East Side.

I don't think I told you.

I crossed myself about a hundred times and then drove into New York City in the brown Honda yesterday afternoon. That car, if it were a person, deserves most of the credit for me getting this far on this trip. What heart that old soul has, seven thousand miles already, 170,000-plus all told.

Actually drove into the city, through the city, down the Palisades Parkway, the FDR, across the Williamsburg Bridge, into Brooklyn. I was going under the train, on the street.

It reminded me of some movies, maybe "Finding Nemo," maybe "The French Connection."

And I think about Jimmy Breslin, going all-effing around these freaking neighborhoods, with his tie loose, his shirttail out, his hair stickin' out every-friggin'-way, a pad in one hand, pen in the other, walking fast, headed to his desk to punch out literature with two fingers, on deadline.

I got lost and stopped to ask for directions, twice.

The people were extra nice. I kind of knew they would be. Ruth and Sam and Emily and I had been to New York over New Year's. We saw "Hairspray" and walked around Times Square for four days. The people in the city were nice. The cab driver talked to us about Queens and Harlem and the bridges we passed as we stared out the windows trying to take it all in.

And the New York drivers were not the eleven-headed monsters the folks in Rochester had told me about.

I made it to Jim Fleming's place in Brooklyn. Jim lives there with his partner Lewanne Jones in an old warehouse building. It's huge. It used to be a publishing house, back in the 1800s. I think he said McLaughlin House. They published children's books, then moved to board games when that became more profitable. One of their games was a puzzle called "Chopped Up Niggers."

Then they either moved somewhere else or they got real jobs, I dunno.

Anyway, Jim and Lewanne moved in about twenty-five years ago and live in this huge loft with walls made out of books and a view of Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Hudson River.

For about the first hour when you walk into this place you just say "Wow" about one million times.

Jim is a small press publisher, Autonomedia. He is originally from Clear Lake, Iowa, not so far east of where I live now in Sheldon, Iowa. Lewanne does research work for documentary films. She worked on the PBS Eyes on the Prize series, and also Fahrenheit 911. Her name is on the credits. She is working now on something about the life of George H.W. Bush.

On 9-11-01 Jim watched the burning buildings out his living room window. Their son was in a school about a block from the burning buildings.

You know the first time you drive into anywhere it's like, I LOVE this effing place. And then after you meet some people, do some things, maybe you change your mind. Maybe you don't and you stay twenty-five years.

Well, me driving into Brooklyn on this sunny day in May, it's like, "It's A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood!" There are Hasidic Jewish people all over, and I can see that some of them live in these huge high-rise buildings, and there is the neighborhood grocery store, and there is a Mom with her kids and the grandpa. And I'm pumping my brake, down-shifting, looking here and there, searching for Big Bird and Elmo.

That's just me. I like Sesame Street. I like the Barney show. You know why? Because I remember watching those shows with Sam and Emily when they were young. They've outgrown them. Doesn't appear that I have.

That was pretty cool. I was so worried about driving into New York City and then it was fine.

Jim accompanied me to my reading over on Allen Street. He and Lewanne moved into their neighborhood when it was much more dangerous than it is now. Now it is dangerous because they are being forced out by a raise in rents.

On one of the pillars in the kitchen there are height marks for their kids Ryder and Bronwyn, up, up, up. Now those kids are in college.

Jim moved here from Iowa to be with this wonderful woman and it worked.

Well, down at Bluestockings they set up all these effing chairs and I want to say, no, maybe don't do that.

I talk to Jacob because he has read my T-shirt: No Seriously, Why Did We Invade Iraq? He is a young man with a blond mohawk. He shows me the anarchist "A" he has etched permanently into his left forearm. I ask him if he is glad he did it. He says, yes. His eyes say, I dunno.

That time leading up to a reading is always tense, especially when it really looks like nobody is going to show up. There's nothing you can do about it, though. I'm a writer, not a magician or a harmonica player or a rodeo clown. It's a novel, not a new brand of beer, or movie, or car.

Anyway, I decide it's time to fold it up. We go over to another part of town, the Brecht Forum, where one million people are sitting and listening to Grace Lee Boggs.


It was a boring talk.


I had never heard of her. Probably my own fault.

These people should have been over at Bluestockings listening to me.

She was talking about Malcolm and Martin Luther King Jr. and a million years ago and how to build nurturing relationships and ... zzz ... zzz. It's naptime in the neighborhood.

There was nobody to hear me talk about stopping the war, impeaching George Bush, putting George Bush in Terre Haute Penitentiary and finding out how Dick Cheney planned and carried out 9-11.

I'm supposed to be a gracious loser, say that I understand this. I am nobody, and Grace Lee Boggs is an icon and zzz ... zzz.

They had wine and cheese and crackers, and thanks for that, but, well, I don't remember much else. I must have blacked out.

In Rochester on Thursday, after drinking with the Democrats at Monty's Korner I got pulled over by a giant Rochester police man. I was not drunk, had two beers during five of the longest hours of my life, so the reason I failed to stay in my own lane was because I was so tired and bored with Democrats, not the two glasses of Guinness.

Sir. [He shines his giant cop flashlight into my eyes.] Have you been talking to Democrats?

Yeah, I mumble.

Would you step out of the car, sir.

Please place your index finger, sir, next to your lips, run it up and down and go "bbb-bbb-bbb."

Scared the shit out of me. Couldn't find my registration, anything. Why are you here? Book tour. What kind of a book tour? There are kinds? How long have you owned this car? I would have to ask Ruth. Where are you going? Some Democrat's house.

Oh, well, now I am on/in Staten Island. My reading is in one hour and then I am going to find my shorts and some beer and go sit by the water like an old man should.

I am staying at something called the Ganas Community, on Scribner Street in/on Staten Island. The owners of the bookstore are members here. I guess Ganas is spanish for having the will to do something, In other words, the balls, the cajones.

I'm here for one night for twenty-five dollars and laundry is free and food, too. They have businesses owned in-common on the island and they have a bunch of houses and kids running around and everyone greets you and smiles and a garden and shit. And already I need to get away from here.

I guess they started about twenty-five years ago when some people from San Francisco wanted to live together, moved to New York City, then over to Staten Island where the housing was easier to come by.

Aviva just showed me around. She is having her fifty-first birthday tomorrow and the community is having a picnic down by the water. She is from Argentina and Israel, has been here three years.

Later I meet someone working on the house who has been here since 1991. Geezuz-god. Then I talk to Robert, who has just moved into the community. He drives a rickshaw in Manhattan, charges people twenty-five dollars a ride. Some are tourists, some really need to get places.

I'm not going to ask if I can bring in the rest of my twenty-four pack of Coors that's heating in the backseat of my car. Better to apologize than ask permission. Didn't Geronimo say that?

Oh, well.

Did you know that Staten Island is pretty large and at least the part that I am on is extremely hilly? The Honda is parked on Scribner Street and looks like an old car on the launch pad ready for lift-off. It wants to go, is ready for the journey, willing.

May we all have the ganas to do what we really want to do.

It is a beautiful day on the island.



Next stops on The American Dream Book Tour & Protest Across the USA:

May 7, Monday: AS220 Performance Space, 115 Empire Street, Providence, Rhode Island, 8 pm.
May 8, The Book Cellar, Brattleboro, Vermont, 120 Main St.
May 10, Lucy Parsons Center, Columbus Avenue, Boston, 7 pm.
May 11, Elizabeth, New Jersey Catholic Worker, 7 pm.
May 12, Richmond, Virginia [To Be Determined]
May 14, Robin's Books, Philadelphia, 7 pm.
May 16, McIntyre's Books, Pittsboro, North Carolina, 7 pm.
May 17, Internationalist Books, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 7 pm.
May 19, Bound To Be Read Books, Atlanta, 7 pm.
May 20, Koinonia Community, Americus, Georgia, 7 pm.
May 21, The Iron Rail Bookstore, New Orleans, 6 pm.
May 22, That Bookstore in Blytheville, Blytheville, Arkansas, 7 pm.
May 23, Monkeywrench Books, Austin, Texas, 8 pm.

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