Saturday, January 31, 2009

Congratulations, January 1949 Graduates of Brooklyn's Samuel J. Tilden High School!

We would like to congratulate the January 1949 graduates of Samuel J. Tilden High School who got their diplomas sixty years ago today.

Pages from the yearbook . . .

Poem by Flora Cohen . . .

The theme, by Bernard Schacter . . .

Principal Abraham Lefkowitz's message to the grads . . .

Staff of yearbook The Classic . . .

"What a Life" . . .

Senior Diary (features final semester events like Dewey's election as President). . .

Class celebrities . . .

Looking back . . .

Special congratulations to our mom, Marilyn Sarrett . . .

Adding It Up: We review the February 1, 2009 Sunday New York Times Book Review

The New York Times Book Review for February 1, 2009 is 24 pages.

The cover has no ads. Since other sections of the paper, including the front page, now have ads, we think ads would be a good idea here.

Page 2: Big ad for The New York Times Almanac with The Editors' "Up Front" column. Sorry, counts as no ads.

Page 3: Table of contents page has side ad for Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (a competitor of Dumbo Books!).

Page 4: Letters page has bigger side ad for Delta Trade Paperbacks' Polly Evans.

Page 5: First inside review page has little side ad for Delacorte Press.

Page 6: Little side ad for Other Press. (Notice the caps: we are not just trying not to name a competitor!)

Page 7: No ads.

Page 8: No ads.

Page 9: Nada.

Page 10: Nope.

Page 11: No ads.

Page 12: Bupkis.

Page 13: Nice pic of Joseph P. Kennedy, but no ads.

Page 14: Zilch.

Paga 15: Nothing in the way of ads.

Page 16: No ads.

Page 17: No ads.

Page 18: No ads.

Page 19: Nothing.

Page 20: No ads.

Page 21: Finally, big side ad next to paperback best sellers list. Wait, it's for The New York Times Store. Sorry, this doesn't count. Again, no ads.

Page 22: Okay, we have on the left side two real ads for University of Virginia Press and, oh, wait, it's The New York Times store again. And on the right, going down the page, a little box for the memoirs of a psychoanalyst that is available at and, just like Dumbo Books books! Then the book exchange with three classified ads (two "books wanted," one "printing related services") and then a larger ad for. . . The New York Times Store. Well, it is for a book.

Page 23: Essay page has no ads. What would Sontag do?

Page 24: Full-page ad in the back. Bauman Rare Books comes through again! Thanks, fellas! You are indeed a rare find.

Adding it up: Generously, two and one-third pages of ads out of 24 pages.

We are sending a dozen cannolis to the Times display advertising department so they will have something to keep their energy up this week.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Small Press Publisher Dumbo Books of Brooklyn, Converting to a Bank Holding Company, Announces Its Split into a "Good Publisher" and a "Bad Publisher"

Today we are issuing the following press release:

BROOKLYN, N.Y., January 29, 2009 - Small press publisher Dumbo Books of Brooklyn today announced that pending approval of its application to the Federal Reserve to convert into a bank holding company so that it will be able to accept deposits and be eligible for federal bailout funds, it will immediately split itself into a "good publisher" and a "bad publisher" in order to isolate toxic assets that could drive the company into bankruptcy and financial ruin.

Dumbo Books, the "good" publisher, will accept government bailout funds and refuse to lend any money to anyone.

Dumbo Books of Brooklyn, the "bad" publisher, will publish books by Brooklyn hipsters and Tao Lin's friends.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Afternoon in Williamsburg: Paping Pop-Up Theatre at Desert Island

Due to the severe cold today, the MGMT concert at the McCarren pool was canceled since the band would have had to wear clothes. The seven-block walk with this wind-chill factor would have been too much for us at our advanced age anyway.

Luckily there was something suitable for all ages a lot closer, at our favorite friendly neighborhood comic book store, the fabulous Desert Island. At 4 p.m. they were hosting a puppet show. Yay! With some real little kids in attendance.

The Pop-Up Theatre show was presented by Paping, the delightful comic zine masterminded by John Mejias, whose art is inspired by his experience as an art teacher at a Bronx elementary school. This was the troupe's inaugural performance of this three-act play, and we are here to tell you it was a triumphant debut.

The puppets here were flat cut-outs of people and animals, often featuring movable limbs - or not - drawn in that highly-patterned way that Mejias has made the trademark of his tales of life around kids in the New York City public schools. Everything went off without a hitch, except when the script called for a hitch.

John (Mr. M) - who, by the way, in real life also organized the famed Paping Soap Box Derby - narrated everything, but the other characters in the autobiographical slice-of-life also spoke their lines in distinct voices of other members of the troupe. Between each act was some appropriately wistful or whimsical musical interlude.

The first act, "The Dog Lost," was a non-shaggy dog tale wherein our art-teacher hero, trying to figure out what to have for lunch at his appointed hour of 10:15 a.m. (too early for pizza since they haven't fired the ovens, too soon for eggs again since he'd just had breakfast two hours before), is confronted with a lost, sick or confused dog and some kids looking toward him - he's a teacher, after all - to do something about the situation.

As the Facebook invitation noted, "While the show contains no curses, nudity or bloodshed, children are in danger of finding out that public school teachers don't always know what they are doing."

The second act, "Victimless Crimes," explains what happens when all the parents in the school impress their kids - and sometimes the school secretary - with the repeated admonition, "If anyone hits you, hits them back." (Fortunately, the big kid we punched in the jaw in fourth grade at P.S. 203 had a Quaker mom.) And what happens when a principal tries to control one of those totally wild kids and meets with the boy's large angry grandfather and his two large angry friends. Early retirement was the perfect denouement.

The piece de resistance, the third act tour de force (we saw Sen. John Kerry on TV today so that must explain the French) "Where Theres Smoke Theres Smoke" - we might have been too nearsighted to see any apostrophes in the jaunty title card - features a mysterious P.A. announcement, a "not too bad, not too good, fun art class," a fire drill, a hysterical first-grader with a fish stick in his mouth, plus boys on a roof pelting the school's students (and us, the audience, with eggs.

Oh, and smoke. Lots of smoke. Unexplained smoke. But everything was quite neatly left unexplained throughout the show. The little kids liked it, the hipsters liked it, the few old poople [sic] liked it, the performers' relatives loved it. ("Did you see the arms? I made them," said the woman standing next to us. "Good work, Mom," said the woman behind her.)

Good work, Mr. M and the entire Paping Pop-Up Theatre troupe. We hope you sold a lot of books after the performance. And, as always, good work, Desert Island. People, go buy some comics and books there.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Saturday Night in Williamsburg: Opening Reception for Nathan Kensinger's "Abandoned Brooklyn" at UnionDocs

Having spent thirty winters in Florida, Phoenix and California, we tend to hibernate in New York when the wind-chill factor drops below 20 degrees. For those of us born in the Truman administration, a January Saturday night means looking forward to diet hot cocoa and reading the Sunday New York Times online. Inside.

But tonight we made an exception and put on our thermal underwear so we could see the talented filmmaker and photographer Nathan Kensinger, whose Abandoned Brooklyn exhibit opened with a reception and screening of his documentary Covered Tracks at UnionDocs, a documentary arts collaborative whose space is a convenient if brisk seven-block walk from Dumbo Books HQ here in windswept Williamsburg.

Despite spending over an hour feeling as though we had been packed in olive oil into a vacuum-packed Angelo Parodi can, braving the cold for a crush of wall-to-wall hipsters was worth it for this kickoff of a new season of UnionDoc's Documentary Bodega screening series. We knew it would be from having seen Kensinger's Brooklyn waterfront photos last summer during one of our warm-weather treks to the Grand Army Plaza central library.

Gothamist said of the artist and this new exhibit:
Nathan Kensinger is an urban explorer, filmmaker, location scout and photographer. Illegally accessing areas that normal folks don't usually see, his photos give everyone a glimpse at what's inside the restricted areas. His work has landed in the Brooklyn Museum and Library in the past, and now he has a new show about to open at Union Docs called "Abandoned Brooklyn," which shows "the rapid pace of development along the waterfront has been reshaping many old industrial neighborhoods" in the borough.

And from our friends at Gowanus Lounge:
[Nate's] work explores off-limits parts of the urban landscape. For the last five years, he has been documenting the industrial neighborhoods of New York City. His documentary “Covered Tracks” - which explores an abandoned homeless city underneath Manhattan - is currently screening at festivals around the country including Slamdance, The Boston Underground and Rooftop Films.

In 2008, his photos of Brooklyn’s endangered industrial waterfront were exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum and in a solo show at the Brooklyn Library titled “Twilight on the Waterfront: Brooklyn’s Vanishing Industrial Heritage."

We were one of the last people who could stuff themselves into a space clearly not designed for so many Brooklynites with so many layers of clothing. After paying our suggested $5 donation (OK, they let us get away with four singles, all we had outside of a twenty), we somehow made our way to the photos on the south wall and soon found ourselves pinned in a tight spot.

Luckily, we were standing up against a gorgeous photo of an abandoned hangar from Floyd Bennett Field, near where we grew up (P.S. 203, where in 1962 we were in the first sixth-grade class to graduate the former K-8 school, is still the Floyd Bennett School) and which we passed all the time on our bike and on sometimes daily car trips to Rockaway - back in the day when the Air National Guard and other units still flew planes we could see from our house.

(In the late 1970s Floyd Bennett Field was home to the New York Avant-Garde Festival, where we once witnessed a woman dressed as a giant penis being asked to take off her "obscene" costume by a harried National Park Ranger - by then it had become part of Gateway National Recreation Area - sighing that he was "just doing my job.")

At 7:30 p.m., everyone was asked to sit down on the floor if possible - for us, it was definitely not, due to space limitations, but only art and wall were behind us - and a member of the UnionDocs collective thanked us for coming and introduced the evening's two documentaries. The first was a short piece directed by Joe Pacheco that shows Kensinger at work exploring an abandoned sanitation depot on Kent Avenue.

It was fascinating to see Kensinger in action (though we noticed he moves very deliberately, since as he says, the floors or ceilings in these abandoned spaces can give way suddenly due to rot) and to hear him expound on the beauty of these not-so-bare ruined choirs. The Kent Avenue sanitation depot has memos on the bulletin board dating back to 1987, and at times it looks like the place was left hurriedly. . .

Covered Tracks is a wordless, starkly beautiful look at the abandoned rail tunnel under Riverside Park and the rest of the west side of Manhattan. People used to live here, and we remember them from the 1980s when we'd spend most summers and some autumns staying with our BFF on West 85th and Riverside and hang out a lot in Riverside Park a few blocks down by the Boat Basin. They were mostly middle-aged guys and their girlfriends and had pretty neat spaces; one guy we recall (Doug?) used to sell books on Broadway.

Anyway, trains run through that tunnel again - Covered Tracks ends with a shot of an affluent-looking little kid on what seems like an Amtrak passenger car - but the remains of the Mole People and other residents of the tunnel and tracks are evident: photos of "family" life down there, forlorn old dolls, discarded clothes and cooking supplies. Kensinger's cinematography makes good use of shadows, allowing us to speculate on the lives lived and lost there. (Holy moley, at one point we see a human skull in profile!)

After the films, we all sat (some of us stood) frozen in place if not in temperature, as Nathan Kensinger answered a few questions about his work and how he came to explore these abandoned spaces. He says that when he goes to a city, like Paris, he tends to look for thse kind of places rather than tourist attractions - perhaps because they tell him more about everyday life, and death. Memento mori.

The backyard to UnionDocs was opened up after the Q&A and we managed to move again (we're glad we're not all that claustrophobic), and having been hemmed in by hipsters for so long, we were grateful for the cold night air as we made our way back to Dumbo Books HQ, where for once we were grateful that we are living all alone in a huge seven-bedroom house which will never be part of abandoned Brooklyn.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Afternoon in Williamsburg: El Puente's 22nd Annual Three Kings Day Celebration Show

We've just come back from El Puente's fabulous 22nd annual Three Kings Day celebration and a terrific afternoon of drama, music and dance at the Grand Street Campus High Schools.

Thanks to El Puente's Theresa Doherty, we got mailed our tickets while we were still in sunny and warm Phoenix earlier this week, because otherwise we couldn't have gotten in along with the hundreds of others into the campus's nicely-appointed auditorium for the 1 p.m. show.

We got there early (all of us were asked to bring a donation of a can or box of nonperishable food for to the Southside Mission Food Pantry to help to support its
life-saving work) and although we skipped an audience and photo session with the Three Kings, we did watch the kids 12 and under pose with them and receive brightly-wrapped gifts, courtesy of the Hispanic Federation and Councilmember Diana Reyna.

As we settled down to our seats with little ones on both sides of us, we admired the auditorium's murals and then focused on the sneak preview of the revived PBS Kids show Electric Company, an episode featuring high-tech prankster Manny Spamboni, played by the multi-faceted Dominic Colón, theater director of Teatro El Puente, who wrote today's show and directed it along with Piper Anderson, El Puente's arts coordinator.

This was the fourth year in a row Colón and Anderson wrote and directed the show (this year, with help from Sasha Dobos-Czarnocha), and it was funny, fast-moving, and filled with young talent. First, Frances Lucerna, El Puente's executive director, introduced the afternoon show (a second show is at 5 p.m.), giving us a little history about the 22 years of Día de los Reyes celebrations and thanking the Community Preservation Corporation and other sponsors of the event.

Then El Puente founder and president Luis Garden Acosta spoke, in both Spanish and English, about the ideals of community and how, in these difficult economic times, it's necessary to continue the fight for freedom and justice of the United States' own King, Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow. At the mention of the next day's inauguration of President Barack Obama, the crowd applauded enthusiastically.

Finally, the house lights dimmed, and the show - "Latinoman, Defender of the Barrio" - began. It was an incredibly professional production, from the evocative sets to the flashy and well-styled costumes to the acting and amazing choreography.

The show was in the tradition of The Wizard of Oz and other fantasies involving adolescents who are magically whisked into an alternate reality and discover that the home they grumbled about was indeed the best place of all.

Rey (played by the talented Jose Morales), is a cranky adolescent who tells his sister, abuela and abuelo that he wants no part of the Three Kings Day holiday beloved by his much-missed late mother -- Rey says his friends think that his family celebrates January 6 because they're cheap and like to buy bargain gifts -- but once Rey gets transported into the world of a comic book superhero, Latinoman, thanks to his grandfather's present, he learns to appreciate his family and community's traditions.

With a giant Latinoman comic cover looming above (it looks remarkably like the work of Jack Kirby), Rey discovers himself in the very weird city of Billyburg, where the Mayor (Sean Carvajal) is a green-haired, chalk-white-faced, purple-gloved amalgam of the Joker and Michael Bloomberg, who plots to stop the traditional So'sida residents from celebrating Three Kings Day (their anti-traditional No'sida adversaries tend to wear outrageous hipsterish outfits) and get rid of the people's champion, superhero Latinoman.

The whole show works on several levels. For the kids, there is robust, rollicking comedy, but for some of the adults, the satire is sharp (the Joker-like Mayor, with the help of his aide Conalisa Lies [Rose Rivera], schemes to quickly get the City Council to let him keep his control over the city forever). Latinoman (Chris Then), in both his superhero outfit and in his secret identity as the laconic Tino, who befriends Rey, is refreshingly low-key.

The varied choreography by Ros Nash and Arkadiusz "Erock" Lesniak -- from very young kids dressed as angels accompanying Rey's now-angel mother (Nikaury Acosta, who earlier does a nice turn as Rey's abuela) in "on Angel's Wings" to amazing b-boying in several dances, including "Heroes vs. Evil: The Battle for 3 Kings," set to Hans Zimmerman's "Introduce a Little Anarchy" from the Dark Night soundtrack but reminiscent of the fight scenes in the campy 1960s Batman TV show - is so stunning that even the few squawling babies fell silent.

The lesson that one's community, culture and traditions are important goes down easily, and even a cynical adult never feels this production talks down to kids or skirts being saccharine. The show is never less than vibrant, even in its more serious moments, and it builds to a celebratory conclusion as Rey is transported back home to Brooklyn, now more than ready to join in his family's Three Kings Day celebration with his worldly-wise grandfather (author and co-director Dominic Colón).

The cast and crew and everyone associated with El Puente's Three Kings Day show well deserved the enthusiastic applause as they took their bows. It's wonderful that our community has so many talented people, young and not-so-young, who must have worked very hard for weeks to put on this production enjoyed by the hundreds of people there. Thanks to all.

It may be a little late, but ¡Feliz Día de los Tres Reyes Magos!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Friday Night in Tempe: Changing Hands Bookstore presents "Paperback Dreams" Film & Discussion on Future of Indie Bookstores

For the second Friday evening in a row, we headed for everybody's favorite Arizona bookstore, Changing Hands, to see a fascinating film, Paperback Dreams, and a discussion afterwards on the future of indie bookstores and Changing Hands' important role in the culture of metro Phoenix. It was another of the many wonderful events at this Tempe mainstay. (And given the subject of the one-hour documentary, the struggles of two venerable Bay Area bookstores, we stress the "stay" in "mainstay.")

We hurried over as best we could from Apache Junction after dinner, but getting to Tempe's McClintock Drive store just five minutes before the 6 p.m. starting time for the film, we saw that the room was full. But then we were told they'd be moving the screening out on the bookstore floor because of the huge crowd, which to us looked like about a hundred people.

The screen was brought out and lots of chairs set up. We sat in the back row but had a great view of the film and the discussion afterwards with bookstores owners Bob Sommer and Gayle Shanks and marketing director Cindy Dach, as well as the cool poster from Indie Bound on the back wall.

Rachel came up after everyone was seated, welcoming us to the "oldest and largest independent bookstore" in our community. All of us got hands stamped, good for discounts at various local stores and bars that night. Rachel suggested that a good book to go with the movie was Larry McMurtry's Books, an account of the adventures in bookselling by the Pulitzer- and Oscar-winning writer. After a little trouble, Paperback Dreams began, and for a quick hour we got the story of two years in the life (and death) of two great indie bookstores, Cody's and Kepler's.

We loved both stores when we were living in Silicon Valley for several months during the winter and spring of 1998 although we went to Kepler's on Camino Real just a few times and Cody's on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley just once (a trip we remember well because our rear-view mirror fell off midway there and had to be fixed in Oakland).

You can find great stuff on the film's website on both Cody's and Kepler's. As Bob Sommer said before the screening, Cody's on Telegraph Avenue played an important role in the Berkeley Free Speech movement of the 1960s (Mario Savio even worked there for a while!) and served, as the film showed, as not just a meeting place but an emergency first aid station during the beatings of students by police.

Both stores were focal points in the changing of a culture. Paperback books, really really cheap, played an important part in the counterculture, not just for literature but for ideas. As college students, we carried around worn copies of books by Marx, Engels, Marcuse, Fanon, Mao, Du Bois, Mailer, Baldwin, Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir, etc. as well as our Pynchon, Plath, D.H. Lawrence, Vonnegut, Hesse, Albee, Pinter, Salinger, Roth, Flannery O'Connor, Tom Wolfe et al. literary books and teachers assigned us Future Shock, The Greening of America, The Population Bomb, The Story of O and The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. We talked in an interview with The Written Nerd about the indie bookstores in Brooklyn and Manhattan where we spent many spellbound hours in our teens and twenties.

But it's not 1969 or even 1975 anymore. Reading habits have changed, the Internet is omnipresent, and chains (what Gayle called "the B stores") and big-box stores (Wal-Mart, Costco, etc.) that use ultra-cheap books as loss leaders have made the indie bookstore an endangered species. Paperback Dreams shows Andy Ross of Cody's and Clark Kepler facing dwindling crowds and sales, financial woes, and a culture in which their once-loyal customers have cheated on them with and other online retailers.

We're betting Fred and Pat Cody and Roy Kepler would not be starting their legendary bookstores today but doing something else to benefit society. As Paperback Dreams shows, they were valiant idealists who struggled against bigotry and ignorance (Kepler's was bombed by neo-Nazis who thought the store was un-American) but managed to thrive by being part of a vibrant group of people in the Bay Area who wanted to change the world one book at a time.

The equally idealistic Andy Ross's opening of a megastore branch on San Francisco's Stockton Street in 2005 seems, in retrospect, like a very noble fool's errand. We remember during the community campaign to resuscitate Kepler's, there were those who were skeptical (though they're not shown in the film).

Anyway, the film has some amazing clips of historical events, readings with famous writers, and talks with ordinary book-lovers whose lives were changed by their hours in Kepler's and Cody's, and it ends on an uncertain but hopeful note. Paperback Dreams is definitely worth seeing.

The long discussion following the film was fascinating. Gayle and Bob said that while others viewed the film You've Got Mail as a romantic comedy, to them it was kind of a tragedy when Meg Ryan's indie bookstore is imperiled by Tom Hanks' family's chain. However, even the chains are suffering, and Borders may be close to bankruptcy; they couldn't succeed on Mill Avenue in a space that Changing Hands had looked at when they left the street, and one suspects CH might have thrived there, since they are an important part of the community.

That was evident in the comments of many in the audience, some of whom were taken to the store as little kids and "grew up" there and who are now loyal customers.

It's understandable that people might be price-sensitive. Cindy related that when they had their Harry Potter celebration, they ran out of books and went over to Costco to get some more. Costco, which receives a price break on books which they use as loss-leaders to bring people into their stores, charged them retail what they (as retailers) had to pay Scholastic for the books. So the competition between indie bookstores and big-box stores isn't exactly fair.

There was much talk about "buying locally." That said, Bob agreed that it might be understandable that someone in east Mesa (or, like us, out in Apache Junction) might not want to spend the gas money and enlarge our carbon footprint by driving 15 miles to Changing Hands when they could get a book on Amazon. Of course, you can't browse the shelves on Amazon, meet friends there, or get out of the house...

The discussion included lots of interesting history about Changing Hands, why they left Mill Avenue after the 1980s heyday (too many football games on weekends that scared off customers, terrible parking). One person in the crowd summed up most people's feeling about Changing Hands when she called it "a gathering place" that is important in a metro area like Phoenix (which Cindy said was "an awful place" in terms of culture when she arrived 22 years ago).

It seemed funny when Gayle said she didn't know how many people would show up for the screening of Paperback Dreams. She thought it might be as few as half a dozen and she could take them all out for a drink next door afterward. Needless to say, with about a hundred in the crowd, we were on our own when the discussion ended - though thanks to our hand stamps, we could get discounts ourselves!

Thanks to everyone at Changing Hands for a great evening. And Bay Area indie bookstores are indeed surviving, as this story in the San Francisco Chronicle attests:

Defying conventional wisdom, and despite what you hear every time a landmark bookstore closes - Stacey's on Market Street is the latest example - independent bookstores are thriving in San Francisco.

And, thank our lucky stars, at least one independent bookstore is thriving in Tempe.