Kim Gordon’s New Book

http://www.vice.com/read/kim-gordon-is-a-badass-feminist-rock-goddess-294

Goods News for Lovers of Print from the Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/27/print-ebooks-studies_n_6762674.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063

Best Things of the Week 3/2/15

Best Things of the Week

March 2, 2015

 

Best Thing I Saw All Week: Taj Mahal at SFJazz.  That most of the songs Taj performed the other night he first recorded going on fifty years ago (Cakewalk into Town, Corrina, Corrina, Take a Giant Step, Good Mornin’ Miss Brown, etc.) is a tribute not so much to his age (72) but to his enduring love of the music he has played all his life A first-rate ethnomusicologist without one detectable ounce of didacticism; you get the feeling he knows the history and the back story to every song he sings, and maybe all the music of the African Diaspora, for that matter.  He opened with a mini-tour of that Diaspora, starting with Zanzibar, a tribute to the music of Africa, and swung into Brazilian Sunset, before bringing it all home with Fishin’ Blues. A shouted request for Linin’ Track—“I don’t do that anymore,” he responded—prompted a brief reflection on gandy dancers and the brutal work of laying rail; he talked about the connections between the loping rhythms of the country blues and the gait of horses and mules, plows and wagons of the time, and brought in the whole of North African music by mimicking a camel’s gait “on the way to the next oasis.” At the same time he played his brand of  “natch’l blues”—intensely folksy, international in scope—with the passion and joy of a recent convert, deploying banjo, ukulele, keyboard and five different guitars with his beloved resonator predominating. “I’m aware of modern music,” he declared at one point during the show, “I have children and grandchildren who listen to music, so I hear it. I’m aware of it; it just leaves a little something to be desired.”

Best Thing I Read All Week: The Whites by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt.  Richard Price’s new book is not quite up to Price’s usual superlative standard. The overall premise is a bit creaky and the obtrusive chapters that thread through the main story exploring the inner life of a monomaniacal psychopath are pretty implausible. Still, with Elmore Leonard gone Price is now American crime fiction’s undisputed master of tough guy dialogue; his bitter wisenheimer cops had me laughing at least once on every page. Price’s best characters drive the action and hold your attention, especially his protagonist, an unnaturally moral, underachieving cop; memorable (although you wish sometimes he was in a better book) and keeping the story alive through some of the more improbable plot twists. Although Price wraps things up with his usual skill, bringing the plot strands together neatly, the fundamental implausibility of the whole enterprise ultimately weakens the book. Is this why he’s publishing it under another name?

Ex-Cons’ Book Club

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/how-a-book-club-brought-inmates-together-even-on-the-outside/2015/02/25/0468c8ca-a277-11e4-903f-9f2faf7cd9fe_story.html

Borderlands Books Gets a Reprieve

http://ww2.kqed.org/news/2015/02/26/customers-save-a-beloved-san-francisco-bookstore?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=FBKQED4936

On the Beach, a story. Part 3.

While I’m on vacation I thought I’d run a story I recently wrote about a vacation I took many years ago.  I hope you find it amusing.  It’ll run in three parts on February 17, 19 and 24. This is, mercifully, the final segment.

 

 

I felt like a traitor, like I’d been violating some trust between the Old Man and me, when I found myself liking my Uncle Frank, fooling around and making friends with him. I was fully aware of how much the Old Man resented him and felt it was my duty to resent him as well.

They were living off my grandfather’s money, money he’d made in real estate and other investments, which the Old Man didn’t consider working in the first place, while he worked every day “kissing the Herb’s ass, he says ‘shit,’ we grunt.” The money was going to be his someday anyway, as soon as she got around to dying, so what fucking difference did a couple of years make, one way or another? Why not just write him a check right now?

“They’ve been down there farting through silk all these years while I’m up here struggling to support a family,” he said.

There was definitely no silk to be seen in Florida. My grandmother and Uncle Frank mostly farted through rayon and polyester, wool for when the temperatures dipped below eighty-five degrees. No silk.

 

“I don’t know why he married her, do you?” she asked one day during a commercial.

The three of us—her, me and Uncle Frank—were watching Concentration, Hugh Downs hosting.

We watched for a few minutes more until it dawned on me; her question was directed at me and she was expecting an answer.

“I dunno,” I shrugged.

“You know Harper was perfect for him. Came from a good family with some money. Not a lot. He could have had or done an-y-thing he wanted. A man, if he has to, can find what he needs. With a little gumption. So what if they couldn’t get along? There are other things in life than all that. Take it from me. But, no-o, he couldn’t get alo-ong with Ha-arper.”

She paused while the contestant tried to remember where she’s seen the match for the prize, ELECTRIC MIXER, currently showing on the board.

“Five seconds,” Downs warned.

“Number seven,” the contestant shouted, obviously guessing.

The square turned around revealing VACATION. No match.

“Doh,” Frank shouted. Like he’d known all along.

“He should’ve stayed married to Harper,” she said more to herself than anyone else.

“Harper,” Frank said.

“T. S.,” I said to the TV.

 

One fateful afternoon we roused ourselves from sitting on our asses in front of “The Guiding Light,” shook off our post-St. Clair’s stupor and trundled over to the beach.  The journey was undertaken primarily out of a sense of obligation; you couldn’t very well send a boy home from a month in Florida without having visited the beach at least once, nervous breakdown or no nervous breakdown. What would people say?

She’d thought ahead and gotten me a moronic-looking hat at Kresge’s just for the occasion; she was always very concerned about the effects of the sun. It had Donald and Mickey cavorting all over the crown and a floppy brim with mouse logos spaced evenly all the way around. She’d already bought me a red-and-white-striped seersucker jacket (“It’s what they’re all wearing.”) at Burdine’s, which I knew I would never, ever, wear again once I got out of her sight, but the hat trumped the jacket and by a good couple of miles.

“We can only stay for half an hour—thirty minutes—I don’t want you getting all sun burned. How would it look to send you home with all your skin peeling off?”

There would be no going in the water either, not after having stuffed ourselves on Turkey Tetrazzini and wax beans (“I love Italian food,” Uncle Frank had declared with is mouth jammed so full that it had me wondering what would happen if I asked one of our server friends to bring us a shovel.)  I didn’t care about going in the water anyway; I had plan.

My grandmother had wrapped herself in a variety of shawls and coverings, an enormous, Mickey-less floppy hat of her own which she lashed to her head with a scarf tied under her chin, in case of tornadoes, I guessed, or perhaps to stave off parboiling. Frank sported sunglasses, short-sleeved shirt and seersucker slacks with suspenders, an old pair of lace-less two-tone wingtips, and a plaid deerstalker that made him look like a giant Elmer Fudd on a wabbit hunt.

As we picked our way through the blankets, cabanas and umbrellas, looking for the right spot Frank eyed the bikini-clad sunbathers, rubbing his palms together  and saying, “Hubba-hubba” over and over although it was clear he had an even vaguer idea than I did of how any of that worked.

“Frank!” my grandmother said.

He jumped, startled.

“This is why we don’t come here anymore.”

They finally threw down the blanket on a spot that looked like every other as far as the eye could see. As soon as seemed polite, I left them sitting on our blanket and, slathered in about three-and-a-half bottles of Coppertone, walked to the edge of the surf, working out a plan.

I had it all pretty firmly fixed in my brain already, but I’d checked the map in the glove compartment of the Caddie just to make sure. I faced the ocean, that was east. I turned to my left. That had to be north. I’d made a series of calculations, admittedly overheated.

I’d reckoned if I walked north for a couple of days, maybe three or four, I would inevitably reach New Jersey. The train had taken just a little more than a day and it hadn’t been exactly breaking the World Land Speed Record doing it, so I figured at a brisk walk it would take five days, tops. I could go to my other grandparents’ house at the Jersey Shore, if I could recognize it—And why wouldn’t I? I’d been there a hundred times—and they could call the Old Man and get him to come down there in the Handyman and pick me up. He’d be sore, but…

Once home I could go back to hanging out and reading with Julie in her backyard or setting off cherry bombs with my other friend Robbie and go running all over creation in the Handyman  snagging ice-cream sodas with the Old Man; all the stuff I liked to do. No more St. Clair’s Cafeteria, no more The Price is Right, no more two-toned shoes or swimming lessons.

I glanced in the direction of our blanket. Frank was pretending to stare off into space while ogling the bikinis through his shades and fooling no one. My grandmother was reading Redbook through hers, horn-rimmed with a beaded string to keep her from losing them. I started up the beach feeling like some combination of Hernando De Soto and Crusader Rabbit. I had no idea how long my resolve would hold, if I would ever get to New Jersey or not. It occurred to me the coast was not unbroken, there would be bays and river mouths to somehow traverse and I’d be evading search parties the whole time, travelling by night and sleeping all day like some fugitive in the movies; Paul Muni maybe, or John Garfield. Perhaps my story would make the papers, like some guy who had sailed alone across the Atlantic in a boat made from discarded retreads or the guy in Perth Amboy who claimed to have built a car that ran on goat’s milk.

After reading about the guy in The Record, the Old Man—always interested in inventors and cranks of all stripes, and always recognizing a fellow dreamer when he saw one—had immediately fired up the old Handyman and charged over to Perth Amboy, seven of the eight cylinders rattling furiously, to try to find him, figuring he’d be ‘fascinating to talk to.’ He dragged me along for the ride, as usual. After being treated to an hour or so of uncomprehending looks at innumerable muffler shops and root beer stands, we finally got some coherent directions and found the guy’s place, a flat in a row house, and tried to get him to come out and talk to us. Apparently we weren’t the first on the scene. He wouldn’t even let us near the front door. We went to ring the bell and he began shouting down from his window. He called us “bastards,” and accused us of wanting to steal his inventions. We were “just like the rest,” like the patent-office guys who’d stolen his self-recharging battery and the automated nut sorter. We retreated back to the safety of the Handyman. Where he was getting goat’s milk in Perth Amboy, especially enough to power a car for any distance, was only one of the many questions that went unanswered that day. As we drove off the Old Man said, “Well, he turned out to be something of a nut, didn’t he?”

“Yeah,” I agreed with a shrug.

“Root beer float, Sancho? As long as we’ve come all this way?”

 

As I headed northward I thought all this over and decided I could make a pretty convincing case for wanting to head home. But like everything else on the Florida excursion, all roads led, inevitably, to failure and disappointment. I’d only gone about forty yards, at most, up the beach when a lifeguard, his bare feet slapping the sand wetly, came running up from behind. He was bronzed and his yellow bathing suit fit so tight you could see exactly how big his balls and stuff were.

“Hey kid,” he said, clearly more pissed off than relieved, “Your grandma’s very worried about you back there. Where do you think you’re going?”

“Home,” I said, pointing north. I could tell right away this guy couldn’t have cared less about a car that ran on goat’s milk or Perth Amboy or anything remotely like that.  You probably couldn’t even have interested him in an automated nut sorter.             “Well, from what I’m told, home for you is thataway,” he said pointing back toward our blanket, and turning me around with both hands on my shoulders. I saw both my grandmother, looking like a garish Bedouin, and Uncle Frank in his two-tones, standing and watching, craning their necks, waving frantically as if I’d gotten lost like some idiot kid; Frank not getting much of what was going on, you could tell even from where we were. I hadn’t gone very far at all. You’d have thought I’d reached St. Augustine for all the fuss.

“They were afraid you got swept out to sea or something,” the lifeguard said.

“How would that look?” I said.

“I don’t think they’re worried about too much about that.”

“I don’t go near the water much anymore. When my brother got swept out to sea the sharks left nothing but his nose plug to bury.”

We started back toward them.

“Do you think this hat is stupid?” I asked Big Balls after a minute.

“No, it’s fine,” he said, but I could tell he was bullshitting me.

After a couple of seconds we stopped so he could take a closer look.

He nodded once and said, “Okay, yeah. It is a little silly, but what’re ya gonna do? It’s no reason to run off.”

I said nothing.

“Down here for the summer with your Grandma, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said. Close enough.

“That your old man?”

No,” I said with more force behind it than I intended.

“Well, what’re ya gonna do? That’s what I always say.”

We trudged on through the hot sand. I liked his philosophy. It would probably come in handy, especially after all this, when everybody got to going apeshit all over again,

“Are you for Goldwater?”

“Hell, no! Everybody knows he’s a fuckin’ maniac. That crazy bastard? He’ll blow us all up, we let him.”

I thought about this for a few seconds. We were getting close to the blanket.

“Do you let your Grandmother look at your turds?”

“What?” he said.

Secret Lives of Vinyl Hoarders

Look familiar?

https://medium.com/cuepoint/the-secret-lives-of-vinyl-hoarders-fa519eee6fff

Combining Libraries.

A pretty common problem.  In my case(s) there was never any question…

http://blog.longreads.com/2015/02/05/when-two-people-decide-to-live-together-and-combine-their-bookshelves/

Thursdays at Readers Poetry Series: Dee Allen and Boadiba

Join us every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in our Readers Bookstore Fort Mason for our weekly FREE poetry series! Browse books and enjoy a glass of wine while listening to internationally acclaimed poets and artists such as Jonathan Richman, David Meltzer, Diane di Prima and California Poet Laureate Al Young. The series is  curated by Friends’ Resident Poet Jack Hirschman. For a full line-up and more information please visit our website at www.friendssfpl.org.

Proceeds from our bookstores benefit the San Francisco Public Library

Today, February 19th, we are excited to have  Dee Allen and Boadiba read!

deeDee Allen is an African-Italian poetry writer and Spoken Word performer currently based in Oakland, California. Allen is active in two San Francisco-based Spoken Word performance troupes: Poor Magazine’s Po’ Poets Project and the Revolutionary Poets Brigade. His first 2 books Boneyard and Unwritten Law available from Poor Press  [ http://www.poormag.info/static ]

Boadiba is a Haitian poet and translator whose work has appeared in many publications and anthologies including Konch Magazine, Tribes, Malpais and volumes one and two of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade compilation. Short stories from her unpublished collection, Tales of Lust and Sorcery were featured in Konch and Left Curve.  Her collection of poetry, UNDER BURNING WHITE SKY was the basis for a one woman show performed at Live Oaks Theater in Berkeley. She is known for linking original poetry to traditional sacred songs of Haitian Vodou and story- telling in the traditional Haitian imgresstyle; she has performed at the Reader’s Café, the Emerald Tablet, the Poetry Archives at SF State University, the Museum of African Diaspora, Yoshi’s and the Jazz Center in SF, at the Oakland Library, at Barnes and Noble in Emeryville, at the Gallery Lakay Literary Salon in Los Angeles, at the Miami Book Fair and at Tribes Gallery and the Shomberg Library in New-York.

Click “read more” for poetry by Dee Allen and Boadiba!

Read more »

On The Beach, a story. Part 2.

While I’m on vacation I thought I’d run a story I recently wrote about a vacation I took many years ago.  I hope you find it amusing.  It’ll run in three parts on February 17, 19 and 24. This is Part 2.

 

 

When my grandmother and my Uncle Frank met me at the station she was pretty cross that the train was late, so we were off to an absolutely terrific start right out of the box. It made her even more cross when I apparently had no explanation to offer for the delay.

So I told her all about how the Quail and Ale Club had been shooting out the windows of the Club Car with their shotguns and how drunk they all were and how the conductors had uncoupled the Club Car from the rest of train in the middle of the night and left them to sleep it off on some siding in North Carolina.

She was shocked that such shenanigans were allowed to go on and at the same time seemed mollified by the knowledge that the delay had been no direct fault of mine.

“Well, I never,” she said, “I have a very dear friend who has stock in this outfit; I shall give her a call. She’ll get to the bottom of this.”  Obviously she’d never seen Palm Beach Story.

She drove us in her two-acre Cadillac, never exceeding fourteen miles-per-hour, back to their long, low ranch house along the Intracoastal Waterway. I realized, even as cross as she was, I was sort of glad to see her after all the time on the train.

Uncle Frank, the Old Man’s little brother, was moderately retarded. He’d contracted encephalitis during the big outbreak that swept the country in the early ‘twenties and it had stunted his mental growth; he’d had never since been out from under his mother’s chubby thumb. He’d never worked either, telling anyone who inquired that he was ‘retired.’ There was a joke in there somewhere—retired/retarded—although I couldn’t make it work no matter how many times I turned it over in my mind. He liked to fish and watched baseball whenever it was on, unintentionally validating the Old Man’s theories on sports and morons going hand-in-glove.

 

At the same post-dinner discussion my mother had told me, “Still, listen to your Uncle Frank like he was any other adult.”

The Old Man winced as she said that.

“She moved him to Florida so he wouldn’t stand out so. Blend in with all the other half-wits down there,” he was a vocal exponent of the theory that the further you got from Jersey—in any direction, but especially South—the further from our county, the further from town, the further from our block, from our very house, the lower IQs became. Obviously by the time you got to Florida, well…

“That sun parboils their brains in their skulls,” he’d say, as if it was a scientific fact.

My mother anticipated this line of argument and shushed him before he could get any further into his usual rant. This was the kind of stuff I wasn’t supposed to hear even though I already had, hundreds of times. I knew his resentment of his brother ran deep. The rant went into how my grandmother had tied them together with a length of rope, like a leash, to ‘keep Frank from running off,’ and sent them out to play. Years spent tethered to your idiot brother would take it out of you though, you gotta admit.

“For all anyone knows it might have only happened once,” my mother said, ever supportive, “but once would probably be enough for most people.”

“I’ve always gotten the shitty end of the stick,” he said, an expression that functioned as a tag line to many of the things he said, the stories he told.

 

In the first few days the three of us visited all the places everyone figured would interest me; the Parrot Jungle, the Seaquarium, the Seminole Village, replete with Indian crafts and alligator wrestling, which didn’t look dangerous or even particularly difficult.

“Alligators have evolved so all their jaw muscles are dedicated to clamping and holding, not opening,” the Old Man’d told me before I’d left home, “Once the guy gets a grip on the gator’s closed jaws it’s a relatively easy thing for him to hold it there.”

Which the Seminole guy did with first both hands and then one hand and then the other and then his teeth.

“Seminoles?” the Old Man asked, when I told him about it that night on the phone, “Don’t they have any whole Noles? Seems you pay to get in you should get the whole Nole.” He said this every time, no matter how many times the subject came up.

Still, I couldn’t help myself; I got pretty excited about some of this, even after I noticed that the Seminoles mostly stood around smoking and scratching their nuts. Even the dolphins at the Seaquarium seemed bored.

We wandered over to the Soap Box Derby and gawked at all the homemade racing cars. We didn’t see any races; my grandmother decided all the cars looked the same and that Frank was bored so we left before things could really get started, if they ever did.

She thought it a scandal that I couldn’t swim and signed me up for lessons down at the Y. All the kids were deeply tanned from growing up in Florida and all. I was white as a washing machine. At the end of a couple of days of floundering around they gave me a certificate saying I’d learned to swim. It looked very official but I had the feeling they just wanted me out of the pool. Across it the supervisor wrote: “This boy didn’t quite pass the test but I passed him anyway because he tried so hard.” In other words I was not the first person you wanted to call when the river started rising.

 

After that first few days, when that initial burst of enthusiasm had subsided, things settled into their routine existence.

My grandmother insisted on personally checking my morning bowel movement every day before I flushed it away. I couldn’t imagine what she possibly expected to learn from this or why she would want to see it. Maybe she thought I was holding out on her. For the first few mornings I feigned forgetfulness, flushing without thinking. I pretended to be constipated for a few days, but she threatened me with Fletcher’s Castoria, which I’d had some experience with and never wanted to revisit. She took to standing outside the door, and threatening to join me in the bathroom, unless I stopped my ‘nonsense,’ so I finally had to capitulate and let her in to have a look. The whole practice and whatever rationale lay behind it—she never said— seemed like some outmoded practice left over from the Nineteenth Century, something that had gone out with the medicine shows and leeches. Like Fletcher’s Castoria. I wondered if the Old Man had to put up with this when he was my age. As hard as it is to imagine him ever being my age in the first place—“I was never a child,” he would tell us with straight face—it was even harder to picture him sitting still for this treatment, so to speak, at any age.

“She checks mine, too,” Uncle Frank said, as if that made everything all right.

What limited fun there was to be had in the weeks that followed Uncle Frank and I had screwing around in the yard, tossing a ball under the palm trees, throwing cocoanuts into the canal and telling each other stupid jokes that he mostly didn’t get. He laughed along anyway, whether he knew what I was talking about or not, which was more than I could say for my other friends. He called milk ‘moo-juice’ and had a big laugh about it every single time he said it, which was at least seventy-five times daily. He always talked about fishing for mullet in the canal—you could see them down there in schools of six or seven—but we never got around to it. He took some getting used to; other than being an inch shorter and a couple of years younger, he was the spitting image of the Old Man but had a mind that easily could have been bested by the most dull-witted of my little brother’s playmates. The Old Man dressed impeccably, Frank wore baggy tweed pants belted at the sternum so the bottoms ended two inches above his white crew socks and Keds. Both had heavy beards, but Uncle Frank consistently missed spots, sometimes the same spot for several days running, the Old Man never missed a whisker.

Uncle Frank and I didn’t have much in common but we did find we could get a giggle out of a good belch any time of day. Our favorite words, which I taught him, were ‘barf’ and ‘crud.’

I also taught him to say ‘T.S.’ whenever something bad happened. It was something my brother and sister and I had been saying constantly for about a year. The radio would announce that school was open despite the snowstorm and we’d go, “T. S! And I don’t mean ‘tough situation!’” and laugh our asses off. Or you’d strike out playing stickball in the backyard and one of them would say “T. S. And I don’t mean ‘tough situation.’” It was a kind of universal taunt. I don’t think they even got what T. S. stood for if it didn’t mean ‘tough situation,’ they were just saying because I was saying it. I know my mother got pretty sick of it pretty quick.

So I got Frank saying it, only he had even less of an idea what it meant than my little brother did, he just threw it in anywhere he couldn’t think of anything else to say. So you can just imagine.

Where my mother had been sick of it after a couple of weeks; it drove my grandmother completely around the bend after just a few hours. She hollered at Frank telling him to stop saying it and he did, for a while, but then I would whisper it to him and get him started all over again.

Usually it was too hot to go outside after about seven in the morning anyway and my grandmother didn’t like having to keep an eye on both of us anyway, especially around the canal and all, so we ended up sitting around in the air-conditioning, set at eighty degrees, and watching TV all day, mindless junk like The Price Is Right, which Uncle Frank turned out to be spookily good at, and local talk shows where it was considered an epic event if Nipsy Russell or Minnie Pearl wandered into the studio to promote some nightclub appearance. Frank constantly tussled with the rabbit ears, trying to bring in a snow-less picture, while my grandmother shouted directions as if he were a couple of miles away instead of just across the room. All they ever succeeded in doing was making things worse.

Halfway through every morning we tore ourselves away from the TV, piled into her shining Coupe de Ville and beat it over to St. Clair’s Cafeteria, a super-air-conditioned storefront in a down-at-the-heels mall about half a mile away. Every day she wore the same powder blue sweater over her shoulders, held closed by a three-inch string of pearls with alligator clips at each end, just to let everyone know she thought the place was too chilly.

“It’s tawdry to turn the air conditioner up so high.”

“Tawdry,” Frank said.

We had to cross one of the iron drawbridges that spanned the mullet-crowded canals to get there. My Grandmother bitched if we had to wait while the yachts passed under it. I wondered what else we had to do other than to watch the disembodied masts of the boats as they passed, but she was being inconvenienced and that was all that counted.

Uncle Frank explained to me that it was a drawbridge every time we pulled up to it, whether it was in the Down position or the Up.

“Drawbridge,” he said.

The main attraction of the mall was a grandiosely sagging movie theater that featured “Cleopatra” for the entire month I was there. My grandmother promised to take us to the movies if they ever switched over to something ‘less vulgar than that darned Nile saga.’ Elizabeth Taylor she called a ‘spoiled tramp moon-cowing around that greasy limey drunk’ Richard Burton.

My grandmother swanned into St. Clair’s as if we’re all waltzing into Elaine’s on the opening night of Hello Dolly, the two of us traipsing slumpily along behind her like a couple of discount-brand stuffed animals, animated only in her imagination. Her massive prow preceded her by several minutes.

“Any time you try to take her picture” the Old Man said, “she holds a magazine up in front of herself as if she were reading it so no one will notice the size of her bosom.”

“Which only calls attention to the size of her bosom,” my mother pointed out.

“Well, exactly.”

The first time we went in she introduced me around to a serving staff of sweaty, apron-wearing Negro women as if I were Carol Channing. I could have been J. Fred Muggs for all they cared. You can imagine how good our ‘Goldwater ’64!’ buttons got us in with them.

She spoke of them glowingly.

“They’re different from so many others of their kind, they’re so polite,” she said loudly as we sat down with our trays, “and always so happy,”

“Happy!” Uncle Frank chimed in with his wholehearted agreement, as if he knew anything about it. Sometimes he substituted “Polite!” just to break things up. Big expert.

She sought out her favorites and gave each a nickel, lifting every coin laboriously out of her coin purse as if each weighed as much as a manhole cover.

St. Clair’s could have doubled as a shrine to the inventor of the steam table. It certainly would have improved business, luring school lunch ladies and hospital orderlies from all corners the globe to worship at the stainless steel altar. It certainly wasn’t for the food that she liked the place, but because she could feed us cheap. Uncle Frank and I didn’t care how God-awful the food was as long as we could get lots of it and all-you-could-eat was one the joint’s primary features. We had contests to see who can eat the most and/or the fastest. Frank invariably won. She sat by, picking daintily at her salad, doing her best to ignore us while we shoved it in with both hands. She drew the line at our belching contests; those she wouldn’t countenance.

Another outstanding feature of the place, by her lights, was that it was never crowded. It would have never occurred to her that this was because we consistently showed up at 10:30 in the morning to eat lunch, which we did so we wouldn’t be too full when we showed up at four in the afternoon to take advantage of the ‘Early Bird Specials’ they offered at the clip joints out along Route 1.

We’d emerge under a blazing white sky that bounced off the sparkly macadam painfully.

“Crud,” I would whisper to him.

“Barf,” he would shout out, giggling.

“Frank !’ she would bark.