BROOKLYN BOOKS #5

I love reading good books – especially good books set in New York. I’m guessing you do to or you wouldn’t be here. And, I’m guessing that, like me, you love discovering book stores built over basements bursting with used books and then hunting and coughing your way through the dusty stacks.

I even have a recurring dream of descending into an imagined basement in a Manhattan slum and finding the used book store of my dreams. (Literally of my dreams.) For years, I’ve been returning to this seemingly limitless catacomb.   

The great joy of being a book hunter is stumbling over a new author, subject or world. Here are some of my most treasured discoveries – 

Psychic Dictatorship in America 

by Gerald B. Bryan (1940)

Guy and Edna Ballard – the Bonnie & Clyde of the Occult
  • An insider’s exposé of The Mighty I Am. This spiritualist cult was popular in the 1930s and is still around. The money-mad Ballards gave birth to many imitators and set the template for the entire New Age movement complete with fairies, fruitcakes and frauds. On orders from the Ascended Masters, adherents murdered their pets. No foolin’.

Instantaneous Personal Magnetism 

by Edmund Shaftesbury (1933) 

“Look into my eyes, stop fidgeting and remove your wet clothes… ”
  • Tips published by the International Magnetism Club based in Manchester, England. Chock full of lifesaving information on nerve tensing, magnetic foods, wet clothes, thin shoes and fidgets. Hey, these guys were from Manchester and that’s good enough for me. Betcha they were Masons, too.

Adventures with Vending Machines

by Ray Burkett (1967)

Vending sun tans in the 1940s.
And, people doubt that man landed on the moon.
  • The “straight skinny” from one-who-knows on how to make millions stocking gumball machines in garages and paperback book racks in drug stores. With special chapters on, condom vending machines, pay toilets, the salted-in-the-shell peanut racket and the ever-fraught subject of vending in negro locations.  

Analism Among the Poor 

by Preston Harriman (1970)

Part of Harriman’s multi-volume indictment of class struggle and lube,
  • Harriman’s oeuvre includes: Analism Among the Poor, Analism Among the Rich, Anal Girl, From Adultery to Analism and Oral Aunts. (Preston was either hungry for a change of pace, or had a very friendly aunt.) Sadly, I’ve found only the one work by Harriman but I live in hope. Still, I’m not sure I’d shake his hand at a book signing.
And you thought I was kidding!

But what does all this have to do with Joe the Engineer, I hear you cry. This –

You know how it is – your moving down the used book aisle, head tilted sideways, giving yourself scoliosis, scanning the book spines when a title catches your interest. You never heard of the author. The cover and blurbs intrigue you. You read the first sentence and next thing you know the clerk is telling you the store is closing. You blow the mildew from your lungs, brush the cobwebs from your clothes and head up to the cashier clutching gold-in-print. 

That’s how I found Joe the Engineer by Chuck Wachtel (1983). I stumbled over it in the used book basement of the original Sam Weller’s in Salt Lake City. I found Francine Prose, David Markson, Charles Portis, Sam Lypsyte and Tom Perrotta in similar basements around the world. (They haven’t written any “Brooklyn” books so I’m not featuring them on this blog. But, if you are a fan of dazzling prose, do yourself a favor and read them. Trust me. Just do it.) 

Anyone who has read my memoir Boy Outa Brooklyn will know that my opinion of the neighboring Borough of Queens is not high. Since Wachtel’s book is set in that hellhole, it’s not a “Brooklyn” book. But, since I grew up surrounded by “Joe the Engineers” and might have been one myself, and since it validates everything I’ve written about Queens and since it is so damn good and since this is my blog and I can do whatever I wanna do – I’m gonna do you a favor by making it my Brooklyn Book # 5. (So there.)

Joe the Engineer is quite simply one of the truest and most moving novels of working-class life ever written. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

Chuck the Wachtel

Joe is a Vietnam vet stuck in a dead-end job reading meters in Queens basements and living in Richmond Hill – the same dead-end Queens neighborhood where he grew up.

Joe’s Richmond Hill, Queens is the evil twin my South Brooklyn.

Joe is saddled with half-assed intelligence and half-assed dreams. And, Wachtel does a masterful job of capturing the mind of a person who isn’t fully conscious of the “how and why” of his miserable state but senses that something is wrong somewhere. The working class is full of such “canaries in a coal mine.” The media loves to mock them when they are inarticulate in their rage and confusion but I’ve always heard them loud and clear.  

I’ve heard them because I am one of them. My antenna has always been finely attuned to pick up snide condescension from the elites. (That’s what cost Hillary Clinton the election. White workers ain’t dumb ya know.) So, I appreciated how “working-class Wachtel” applied his writer’s eye to our shared caste without snobbery or sentimentality. 

I especially enjoyed listening to Joe’s thoughts as he read his customer’s lives while reading their basement meters. I saw him as a blue-collar Howard Carter mining the minutiae of ancient Egyptian life from hieroglyphs though in Joe’s case it is from ancient wall calendars and broken toys.

In one exquisitely painful passage, the unhappily married Joe has a disastrous one-night-stand with a supermarket checkout girl.
 

I found a 1983 radio interview with Wachtel – the year Joe was published. I was pleased but not surprised to learn that one of Chuck’s literary models was Hubert Selby Jr. whose Last Exit to Brooklyn is one of my Brooklyn Books. I was less pleased and surprised that Wachtel sounded prissy and academic. And when he blithely stated that America was a “mulatto” nation, my antenna started twitching. “Mulatto” is code for White genocide. It’s shorthand for “Death to Joe the Engineer.”

Happily, in 2020, “mulatto” is still not the norm in America and race-mixing is frowned upon by the vast majority of all races. (Don’t believe me? Listen to minority talk radio.) And, it was certainly not the rule fifty years ago despite Wachtel’s best wishes. However, due to the subversive work of those condescending elites (whom Wachtel chastised) and their fellow-travellers like, ironically, Chuck Wachtel himself, the Joe the Engineers of Richmond Hill and the world are being replaced. 

Joe’s parents circa 1950
The couple who bought Joe’s parent’s house.
Ya think they have racial consciousness?

Yes, the solidly White working-class Richmond Hill, Queens to which Joe returned after being used as cannon fodder in Viet Nam is now not open to his kind. For Richmond Hill, Queens is now known as Little India-Guyana-Trinidad and Tobago.     

Richmond Hill circa 2050.
Who needs water meters when there’s no water?

I eagerly sought out and read Wachtel’s other works which include poetry but, for me, Chuck is a one-hit-wonder. Still, as with those other liberal half-wits I’ve reviewed, Alfred Kazin and Pete Hamill, I’m gonna cut Chuck Wachtel some slack coz he wrote a beauty.  Do yourself a favor – read it!

There seems to be a movie in the works but I fear they’ll kill the book with politically correct crap. Betcha the supermarket check out girl is Black or Muslim. And, probably cast with Chuck’s approval. Never mind –  “I hereby pronounce Joe the Engineer an honorary Brooklyn Boy.”

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Available as an eBook here
and as a paperback and eBook from
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk

BROOKLYN BOOKS #4

A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill

Pete Hamill and I grew up side-by-side in working-class, Catholic, Brooklyn neighborhoods.   

Row of brownstones in Park Slope, Brooklyn
Pete in leafy Park Slope.
Me in not so leafy South Brooklyn.
Brooklyn trolley in the 1940s
Pete in the 1940s
The cast of The Honeymooners on a bus.
Me in the 1950s

Pete – Irish. Me – Italian

Kiss Me, I'm Irish. Blow me, I'm Italian.

That last distinction was the biggie. For as much as I admired and even feared the Brooklyn Irish; and though we lived cheek by jowl, I felt they were alien to my tribe. Sharper. Colder. Meaner. And, lots, lots drunker.

19th century anti-Irish immigration cartoon in the USA.

I can’t remember ever seeing an Irish parent being warm and affectionate with one of their children. 

It was the Irish parents who mocked their kids and blackened their eyes; the Irish parents who drunkenly fell off bar stools and tenement stoops; the Irish parents who got thrown into the aptly named Paddy Wagon to be hauled away by Irish cops. 

Cartoon Paddy Wagon

It was the Irish mother upstairs in our tenement who got her sluggish sons out of bed by throwing pails of cold water over them. It was the Irish father upstairs who chased one of those same sons out of their kitchen window only for the terrified kid to go sailing past our kitchen window as we ate dinner. 

My childhood impression, formed in countless games of stick ball, tag and Monopoly, was that all Irish kids had fiery tempers and green teeth. I also learned that all Irish nuns had cheeks forever reddened with fury. No lie, it seemed like all of Irish Brooklyn was constantly plastered and pissed-off. 

So, for me, Hamill’s memoir was an insider’s lowdown from the enemy camp – one that confirmed what I felt as a child about his kith and kin. In A Drinking Life, he spills his guts on himself and his breed with bittersweet affection and brutal honesty. This is a brave, brilliantly observed memoir that captures the feel of 20th century urban American life as well as any I’ve read. Pete’s description of the VE Day celebrations in Park Slope brought me to tears. The way he conjured his proud, angry one-legged father made me see and feel the man as he limped up the street to the corner bar.   

Pete Hamill and I played in the same streets, rode the same trolleys, hung-out in the same parks, fought in the same playgrounds and gorged in the same ice cream parlors. I suffered a year of weekly piano lessons from a terrifying Irish nun at Holy Name School where Pete suffered the full-time fury of the Sisters of Perpetual Rage.

Group of unsmiling nuns
Here they are saying “cheese”

I even bought movie tickets from Pete’s mother at the local itch-house.

She probably short-changed me , too.
Pete at play. Wait a minute… that’s me!
Pete Hamill at Holy Name School, Brooklyn
Me in the 8th grade. Wait minute… that’s Pete!

Yet, no matter how similar our childhood landscapes, we were separated not only by ethnicity but by politics. 

Pete – Left. Me – Right.

Pete’s pin-up.
Mine.

Pete Hamill became one of New York’s premier newspaper columnists and bleeding-heart liberals. Like his contemporary Irish columnist, the insufferable douchebag-blowhard Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill loved playing the “muck-raking White knight” fighting for what he believed was equality but what I knew was actually White replacement. 

Pete believed dat dey was depraved on account dey wuz deprived.

In the 1980s when Brooklyn was stewing in crack-fueled racial violence, Hamill sided with Black Brooklyn against White Brooklyn – specifically Italian Brooklyn. He sneeringly called we Italians fighting for our survival, “guidos” which was tantamount to calling Blacks, “niggers.” I’ll never forgive Hamill for being a race traitor.  

Irish drunks are a dime a dozen (and a fuckin’ bore) so Hamill’s saga of bottoming out before straightening out, though well told, wasn’t for me. I much preferred his bawdy, Henry Miller-like tales of being a budding beatnik artist. Those were full of fun period details and read like Tropic of Art School. Besides, a little sexual braggadocio never hurts. In fact, Brooklyn and braggadocio go together like sausage and peppers.

And, hey, if you were playing “hide the shillelagh” with…

Pete Hamill with Shirley
Shirley MacLaine…
Pete hamill with Jackie Onassis
… and Jackie O

You’d braggadocio, too!

So, this social-justice leprechaun wasn’t averse to a bit of jet-setting at Elaine’s and P.J. Clarke’s. (Somehow I doubt he ever squired Tawana Brawley to either boîte.) And yet… like Alfred Kazin (the subject of my last post ) as much as I wanted to smack Hamill in the chops for his silly knee-jerk liberal bullshit, I couldn’t help liking the guy.

Farrell's Bar & Grill, Brooklyn

I’d love to sit down with him over a beer (Oops, better make that a root beer) not at Elaine’s but at Farrell’s – the legendary Irish working-class watering hole in Park Slope. We could stay off politics and shoot the shit about the nuns, the priests, the gangs, the girls, the Irish Mafia, the Italian Mafia, Coney Island and especially the Dodgers. The Brooklyn Dodgers.  

Pete & Me

Two boys outa Brooklyn

So very different

So very the same

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Available as an eBook here
and as an eBook and paperback from amazon.com
amazon.co.uk

Covid-19 THIS!

Silhouette of male skull filled with three question marks.

I’ve got some questions. You do, too. We all do. 

  • How the fuck did we get here? 
  • How have we allowed a pack of third-rate politicians and unelected eggheads, bureaucrats, careerists and apparatchiks take control of our world? 
  • Our lives? 
  • Our future?  
A pile of typed question marks on textured white paper.

Who died and left them boss?

Welp… as of today 218,000 have died from Covid 19. Possibly. Maybe. We’re pretty sure. That’s our guesstimate. Ballpark figure. Some with. Some suspected. But, yeah, 218K. That’s the body count. There or thereabouts. 

Now, if you ask us about diarrhea… 1.5 million die annually from that. No foolin’. 1.5 million. Annually. From diarrhea. You can take that to the bank.

As long as we’re talkin’ numbers here… 

The Flu pandemic of 1918-19 killed 20 – 100 million.  

  • More than died in WW1 
  • More than died from the Black Death 

The Flu of 1957 killed 1.1 million 

The Flu of 1968 killed 1 million  

In an average year the flu kills 300 – 650,000 

In the 1918-19 flu pandemic the sick were quarantined. Otherwise, life went on. And, there were no lockdowns in any of these earlier pandemics. In fact, aside from this corona-panic, at no time in history have the healthy been quarantined. 

Before you argue that social-distancing and lockdown have kept the Covid-19 deaths down consider that the official modellers included those mitigating factors when concocting their original vastly exaggerated infection and death rates. Those geniuses got it so dead wrong that a suspicious person might think they did so on purpose. Could they have been that stupid?  After all, from the git-go there were modellers who got it dead right

Large  black ad white hollowed out question mark
What’s worse? They are Incompetent or duplicitous?

Any dispassionate observer who examined the history of the UN, WHO, CDC, NIH, NHS (or any other member of the alphabet soup of so-called public health agencies) would conclude that the inmates had taken over the asylum. Their record of wrong projections, lethal injections and spectacularly inept responses are beyond dispute and beyond belief. 

Three large cartoonish question marks
Duplicitous or doofus? You decide.

And, yet. And, yet. They are lording it over us. Calling the shots. And, we are allowing them to do so. 

Coming soon to an economic zone near you, the motion-picture entertainment of the ages!

Pen and ink sketch of Depression Era breadline
Cast of billions! Cost of trillions!

“1984 meets Brave New World”

Large paranoid eye with red surround
Featuring elements of every dystopian movie you’ve ever seen!

Plus, you’ll thrill to the spectacular second feature – 

“Big Mommy vs. the Big Bad Bugs

That Might Give You a Boo-boo”

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra enters Rome.
  • SEE – the masses fight to be first in line for vaccine shots! 
  • THRILL – while morons demand more government surveillance! 
  • MARVEL – as cretins beg for chip implants! 
  • GASP – to see suckers accept a devalued, cashless currency. 
Black and white sketch of paranoid, hypnotised eyes

I feel it in my waters. You do, too. We all do. We all feel it but dare not speak it. We know what’s really going on here. But, we also know that terrible truths must be spoken aloud to be made real. We are terrified of speaking into life the horrible future we foresee.  

 “In the beginning was the word…

and the word was made flesh.”

Meanwhile… Don’t kid yourself. There won’t be any big pushback. Oh, sure, a few horn-honking, flag-waving, Bible and constitution-clutching diehards. But, no widespread revolt. No 1776, No Yellow Vests. No Antifa. No alt-right. No nuthin’. Acquiescence. That’s all there will be. Acquiescence. Surrender. Compliance.

POLICING BY CONSENT 

I wish I was wrong. I hope I am proven so. But…   

Vintage WW1 poster "Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?"
Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great Corona war?
Obey.
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder-memoir by Jack Antonio
Available as an eBook here
And as a paperback and eBook here
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk

Donut Porn

Dripping glazed donut
I know what you’re thinking and you’re going to hell.

On my way to meet Shmuel, I decide to cast my fate to the winds and become a total voluptuary. I will splurge my last dollar on a donut and coffee in a pigsty way East on 14th Street. I’ve always hated 14th Street and Columbus Circle and that pedestrian-tunnel that runs under 42nd Street and Shepherd’s Bush in London and all of Los Angeles. Certain places give me nausea and make me break out in intense psychic hives. 14th Street is the worst of the worst. But, I’m there and I’m hungry so I plunk down my buck, pour flyspecked sugar into my plastic cup and dunk my stale donut into the greasy brown fluid that passes for coffee. This is when the young woman sitting next to me asks if I’d like to fuck her on film. I’m tellin’ ya, in ’70s Manhattan, an actor on his uppers can’t even enjoy a cup o’ Joe with a sinker without being offered porn stardom.

The gal in question is kinda chubby but kinda cute with an impressive full head of brunette ringlets. She speaks in a heavily slurred Greek accent – heavily slurred because she is heavily stoned and falling off her stool. 

Original movie poster for Deep Throat
The birth of “porn chic”
Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio
Image:the smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as a paperback and eBook
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here
https://books2read.com/The-Boy-Outa-Brooklyn
 

Don’t try this at home!

Gay men in a 1970s pre-AIDS leather bar
A bunch of the boys were whooping it up…

One night, Ray and Preacher take me to a notorious gay bar way west in Greenwich Village –The Toilet. (I ain’t makin’ this up – The Toilet!) The dress-style ranges from crotchless black-leather pants to crotchless black-leather pants with metal studs. And, the metal studs are on the penis, not the pants. While who knows what is going on in the back room, we are entertained out front by the floorshow. This consists of an acrobat pulling his upside-down body up a thick iron chain, link by link, with his anal sphincter muscles. Yes, this intrepid aerialist climbs up the chain with his asshole!

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: The smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as a paperback and eBook amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here

Dining with Zulus

Movie poster for Zulu starring Michael Caine

I do my best to avoid Doris and Daddy but one night he corners me while I’m eating “sausage and mash” in the kitchen. No sooner have I casually mentioned that one of my favorite war films is Zulu than Daddy’s drooping regimental mustache springs to attention and he is off, seizing the opportunity to re-fight the entire Anglo-Zulu War on my plate. I am more trapped than Michael Caine at Rorke’s Drift –

Painting of the Battle of Isandhlwana
My sausage didn’t have a prayer!

“Let’s say your mashed potatoes are the British encampment near Isandlwanda here… mmm… perhaps that’s a bit too much potato… there, that’s better… your sausage… here… represents the Zulu army under command of Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza… an untenable position I’m sure you will agree… now your broccoli…”   

Boy Outa Brooklyn a murder memoir by Jack Antonio
Image: The smiling face of Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn
Available as a paperback and eBook amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
And as an eBook here