Monday, November 29, 2010

Guerrilla Book Marketing

Of all the subtle beauties of my current parking spot, chief among them is its position: first in line after the sign dividing commercial parking from alternate-side. When the street sweeper comes, the car in this position has the best chance of getting its spot back, with the minimum of anxiety. It helps that there is no parking directly across the street: only a curb cut leading to a door that opens like a portcullis, admitting cars one at a time into a big elevator cage. So when the Broom comes, as it did this morning at 7:45, I have only to start up my engine, back up a bit, pull out as if into a diagonal spot across the street, leaving room for the Broom to pass, and then reverse back into position before through traffic can get tangled up with the parkers and foil our enterprise.

This is such a fine spot that I could sit here for a half hour twice a week and watch the seasons change. The pigeons were absent this morning, and the yellow leaves of the ginkgo had mostly fallen. In front of me was a silver-gray Dodge Charisma with New Jersey plates. I had not heard of the Charisma before, for a very good reason: when I looked again, I saw that the word formed by the chrome letters was not Charisma but Charger. I like Charisma better. (Detroit, take note.)

Over the long holiday weekend, I practiced the art of guerrilla book marketing. Curious about where the various bookstores have been shelving “Freud’s Blind Spot,” the anthology of sibling experiences that I contributed to (Simon and Schuster, $15; here’s the Amazon link), I went first to Barnes & Noble and asked for it at the information desk. It was in Relationships, on the third floor. I found three copies, shelved alphabetically under the name of the editor, Elisa Albert (how great that her name begins with "A"); I took all three downstairs with me and bought two (after placing the third strategically on one of the counters featuring new nonfiction paperbacks). I got some slight discount, because I am a member of Barnes & Noble, but I had a coupon for an extra fifteen percent off that I forgot to use.

Next on my list was Borders. There is no Relationships section at Borders, so I wandered around in Psychology and discovered a section labelled Anthologies, but no luck. I used one of the computers Borders has instead of employees, and determined that there were indeed copies of "Freud's Blind Spot" in the store. Finally I tracked them down in Literary Fiction, under Elisa Albert’s name. There were two copies, and I bought one (after finding a nice spot up front on a shelf that featured new nonfiction). I had gone to the trouble of printing out a coupon I received via e-mail, so I got forty percent off.

Third was the Strand. Here I did not know what to hope for: that there would be dozens of reviewers’ copies available (at half price) or none, because all the critics were busy consulting the book as they wrote rave reviews. Anyway, there it was downstairs, not among the reviewers’ copies but in the Literary Nonfiction section, which has recently been moved downstairs: three copies, under Elisa Albert’s name, at half price. I bought all three, feeling relieved that it had been shelved properly.

I suppose I could make a color Xerox of the cover and tape it to the window of my car, parked there behind the Charisma, where it might have a subliminal effect on passersby.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bus Lane Alert

From my parking spot today, I saw a fleet of four pedicabs pulling mini-billboards that said “Bus Lanes Are for Buses—$115 Fine.” They were headed east, toward First and Second Avenues, where new cameras have been installed to catch cars violating the bus-only lanes. Like the red-light cameras, the bus-lane cameras, which go in effect today (Monday), will be another huge ka-ching for the city. This is from the online Wall Street Journal: “The Metropolitan Transportation Authority says ‘the city's 2.8 million bus riders have been held hostage for far too long by motorists who routinely block bus lanes.’… Vehicles will be allowed to enter a bus lane only to make the next available right turn or to quickly discharge or pick up passengers.”

Everything happens at once. The pedicab ads went by just as the Broom was passing. Though I backed up as far as possible last Monday after the S.U.V. in front of me pulled out, there still was not quite enough room for two cars, so a motorcycle had filled in the blank. Its scofflaw owner failed to show up. The street sweeper—the man, not the machine—seeing the motorcycle in front of me and a van in the commercial space behind me, knew that he wouldn’t be able to get in and out of my spot, so although I started my engine, in a show of good faith, he didn't make me move.

But as my head was turned, some urban Hansel and Gretel must have walked up the street, because suddenly the pigeons reappeared on the sidewalk outside my car door, pecking at microscopic breadcrumbs. Among the birds were some sparrows, and among the sparrows a blond. I seem to be parked in a bird-watching zone. Ahead was a ginkgo tree in full yellow.

Meanwhile, at Broadway and Twenty-third, there was a truck with the word Arctic on it. I thought it was a promotion for some freezing-cold beverage, and headed for the tent to get my free sample. Despite the fact that it is unseasonably mild today, there was snow on the ground and people were bundled up in mittens and mufflers and earmuffs. When I got to the kiosk, a man was turning people away. They were not giving away free samples. They were making a movie.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sneak Preview

Chances are pretty good you'll be getting this for Christmas: "Freud's Blind Spot," edited by Elisa Albert, with an essay about Dee and me, out today from Free Press.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Arrr ...

Pigeons swarmed the sidewalk outside my car door this morning. I could not tell what they were pecking at, it was so tiny (cornmeal?). Apart from the pigeons, I was in a beautiful spot: Monday/Thursday, 7:30-8, with alternate-side suspended Tuesday through Thursday for Idul-Adha. I am good till next Monday and then again for Thanksgiving, if I don’t go anywhere this weekend.

At 7:50 A.M., the Broom sped down the middle of the street with no intention of sweeping. The car in front of me, a big white Lexus with Massachusetts plates, was unoccupied. At eight o’clock, a young blonde showed up with a cup of coffee, got in the car, and drove away. What did she know that I didn’t know?

Sunday evening I came home to yet another envelope from the Department of Finance. It felt ominously thick, as if it contained a return envelope, yet it seemed too soon for a response to my defense in the matter of the defunct curb cut. I make it a policy not to open financial mail in the evening, but in this case I couldn’t stand the suspense. I tore open the envelope and inside, along with a pre-addressed return envelope, was a form showing three pictures of the Eclair, unmistakable with its fishermen’s-parking-lot permits lined up on the right rear fender and, as if that were not enough, a closeup of the license plate. It was running a red light.

My first sensation was of hilarity: I had caught my mechanic joy-riding. The red-light camera was in Rockaway, where I had left the car for a muffler job: it wouldn’t be the first time that I had gotten a ticket while my car was at the mechanic’s. He had probably taken it for a test drive after fixing the muffler, or used it to run an errand, or both. Hah! I would present him with this undeniable proof and demand that he give me a free oil change and throw in a pair of complimentary windshield-wiper blades.

But when I examined the details, the date of the violation did not match up with my appointment to get the muffler fixed. Where was I on 09/11/2010 at 5:59 PM? That was the Saturday after Labor Day, and friends from New England were visiting me in Rockaway. I had gone to the marina in the afternoon to check on my boat, and then returned to the bungalow, where one friend had already arrived on foot and the other soon arrived by car. We sat on the porch for a while, trying to decide what to do for dinner; I didn’t feel like cooking. Then I had a brainstorm: a picnic at Fort Tilden. We had fresh mozzarella and garden tomatoes and leftover pesto and sliced turkey and a bottle of Prosecco. We bought some rolls, threw in salt and pepper and knives and forks. I even packed champagne glasses.

I don’t remember running the light on the way to the beach. I must have sailed through it in an excess of high spirits. The amount due is $50. When I showed the Notice of Liability to a friend who let me use the color copier at work, he said, “You should get rid of that car.”

I went out in the boat one more time on Sunday, heading over to the capped-off landfill on the Brooklyn side at high tide. Thankfully, it was an uneventful trip, and though I haven’t gotten out much this season, on my return I executed a beautiful landing: yanking the gas plug as I entered the marina, feeling the motor begin to sputter out as I turned into my slip, having the boat glide to a stop just as it reached the dock. I grabbed the line I tie up with and wrapped it around the cleat. Too bad no one was watching except the cormorants.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


That time of year thou mayst in me behold when I resubscribe to home delivery of the Times. The home-delivery week seems to start on Wednesday, so for several years now my first home-delivered copy has carried the results of Election Day. How sad to see on the front page the first unflattering picture of Barack Obama.

It was not election news that I craved so much as the weather page. I know there are other sources for the weather, but I like the graph in the Times that predicts the high and low temperature for the next several days. As soon as that line plunges into the thirties, I start worrying about turning the water off in Rockaway. As usual, I am torn between pulling the plug (literally) and stretching the season. Last year, I let it go too long, and when I called the plumber, he had already decamped for Florida. But he very sweetly sent his son the accountant to turn off my water. This year I called early, and it turns out Jimmy isn't going to Florida till January.

I cancelled my first appointment, for November 1st, All Saints Day (alternate side suspended), hoping to reschedule for Thursday, but the plumber said it was going to rain. At least that meant it wasn’t cold enough for the pipes to freeze. But the forecast (and I did consult other sources at this point) showed the temperature dipping as low as 30 over the weekend. (The Times held at a conservative 34.) We set a tentative date for Friday, November 5th, Diwali (alternate side suspended), agreeing to talk the night before to confirm.

Jimmy was right about Thursday: it poured and was gloomy. I began to focus more on precipitation than temperature: on Friday there was a chance of rain, but even if it didn’t rain, the ground would still be wet. I hated to think of my plumber, who is like an ancient Chinese ancestor (in jeans, and minus the beard), lying on the wet earth beneath the bungalow. And considering that the forecast was getting milder, I asked, when I called, if he would prefer to postpone again till next Thursday (recycling day in Rockaway; I could get all the newspapers and beer bottles out for the winter). He agreed, and I was feeling quite beneficent: I was giving my plumber Diwali off. Also, I didn't have to leave the Tuesday-Friday spot I found last Sunday, which was good for the whole week.

Later, I realized I’d rescheduled him for Veterans Day (alternate side suspended). I hope he's not a veteran. And that it doesn't rain.