Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Humanist Take

Colleague Mike Buehler of Boston Rare Maps  just sent me a link to a fascinating article on modern uses and readings of nineteenth century ship's logs – (dig the YouTube videos of whale ship passages over time!)
by a very cool guy named Ben Schmidt at Northeastern University. As near as I can make out, the writer argues for, and explains, the digital application of statistics compiled from ships' logs and journals. From these results he posits a discipline in which the traditional “humanist” reading of such materials would be altered.

Yes, it sounds complicated. Perhaps I should let him explain it.

The central conclusion is this: To do humanistic readings of digital data, we cannot rely on either traditional humanistic competency or technical expertise from the sciences. This presents a challenge for the execution of research projects on digital sources: research-center driven models for digital humanistic resource, which are not uncommon, presume that traditional humanists can bring their interpretive skills to bear on sources presented by others. We need to rejuvenate three traditional practices: first, a source criticism that explains what's in the data; second, a hermeneutics that lets us read data into a meaningful form; and third, situated argumentation that ties the data in to live questions in the field.

As I said to Mike, the man must be brilliant. But if I had to share an office with him, I'd probably shoot myself. Or him.

By contrast, here's a journal I just cataloged - definitely a "humanist" take...

Manuscript. Log of Voyage in Sailing Vessel "Mantra" - Capt. Clifford Asbel. Starting Tahiti - French Polynesia May 1983. Edward M Southern, M.D. F.R.C.O.G, FALOG. Late Surg/Cmdr RNVR. 4to, unpaginated. About 45 pages of manuscript entries. $200

This looks at the outset like a fairly ordinary journal of a 20th century Pacific pleasure cruise, written by a recently retired MD. Soon, however, we realize that Dr. Southern is undergoing considerable mental anguish – perhaps a late midlife crisis. The journal begins April 30, 1983 as an accounting of expenses during a road trip from South Carolina to California. By May 1 he is comparing his experiences on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 with the present moment, as "possibly the worst day of my life." The trouble, it seems, is with his daughter, Judy. He is ending his relationship with her because he "can no longer stand the arrogant contempt of her prig of a husband who thinks he is perfect and has nothing but contempt for 'less people.' I am 20 times the man he will ever be."
After a day of driving he purchases a ticket to Hawaii (on route to Tahiti) via California, where his son(?) Michael lives, carefully keeping accounts as he unravels mentally. “A new life awaits me if I do not have another heart attack or go back into deep depression again.” He drives 12 hours to Augusta, where he picks up a girl, though they do not quite have sex,
then on to Birmingham, Baton Rouge, Houston, Phoenix, and Los Angeles – none of which is recorded in the 30 blank pages Dr. Southern has left to be filled in by a later iteration of himself. Then, on June 3, we find him in Tahiti, with Cliff, aboard the Mantra.
Things seem to be going well enough there, with gourmet meals and interesting young women, until he begins wondering if he is "being screwed" financially by Cliff.
He dismisses these fears, then treats us to an engaging illustrated tour of Polynesia – including Papeete. Morrea, Discovery Bay, the Bounty replica, and assorted beach combers and other characters he encounters along the way.
Great fun! But a week later he's back to obsessing over the manner in which Cliff in preying on him financially. A few days after that, regarding his nemesis Cliff, "He appears to WANT to fight.”
Dr. Southern is ready to leave Tahiti and the Mantra, but is trapped because his pension checks, being sent by the estranged Judy, have failed to arrive. He holds out hope that Michael will be able to sell the car he left behind in California. The Mantra returns to Papeete where, on Jun 16, cashing in his ticket, Dr. Southern flies back to California, his fantasies of a Pacific ramble dashed. The back of the book contains several pages of frantic, obsessive money worries and calculations, as he tries to imagine how he will live out his days.
Fascinating journal of a troubled man, the kind you hope never to meet in your travels.

After spending two months with Dr. Southern, I think I'd take that office with Ben Schmidt afterall.

Monday, March 23, 2015

What could be more fun than spending two days pouring over old magazines, pamphlets, prints, letters, diaries, photos,
advertising, account books, political fliers and broadsides, trade cards, baseball cards, posters, menus, valentines,
 historical documents, song sheets and songsters, 
alphabets, juveniles and primers, post cards, 
labels, stock certificates,
 passports and old newspapers – to name only a few?

If your answer is “Nothing!” you needed to be at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Greenwich, CT this weekend, for the 35th annual Conference and Paper Show of the Ephemera Society of America. The theme this year was “The Sporting Life” and conference organizers provided a full slate of sports oriented lectures, presentations, book signings, social events, an auction and, oh yes, a paper and ephemera show.

Of course, since we are still in the grips of the memorable “Winter it Snowed,” it snowed. 
Over six inches in as many hours – just like a Viagra ad! The white stuff brought its usual quotient of misery during load in
but, interestingly, had little effect on attendance. Most of the attendees were there for the other Conference events, and were already ensconced in the comfortable Hyatt Regency hotel.

For this reason, and because of continuity of venue and promoters, AND (big “and” here) because of the credibility provided by the Ephemera Society, this is the most stable of all provincial fairs.

The benefits of stability are many – there are no unpleasant surprises. Vendors know how to load in and move out; they know (for the most part) what kind of material to bring; 
Ten Pound Island Book Co. - Not a SINGLE book!
they know what to expect from promoters John and Tina Bruno of Flamingo Eventz (If you yell loud enough Tina will come and help you, and at some point during setup John will make a public announcement in which he addresses the gathering as “boys and girls”); they even have a pretty good idea of who will be in attendance, and what sort of material they're looking for.

Of course the “no surprises” regimen has its downside. Even though this is an unusually healthy show, its very stability can make it a tad boring. There's always a good rush in the few hours after opening – despite the bad weather this year's crowd, for reasons mentioned above, was about the same as in years past – but after the initial buzz dies down it's yawnsville for the dealers, while the paper people frolic in boxes and trays of old magazines, pamphlets, prints, letters, diaries, photos, advertising, account books, political fliers and broadsides, trade cards, baseball cards, posters, menus, valentines, historical documents, song sheets and songsters, alphabets, juveniles and primers, post cards, labels, stock certificates, passports and old newspapers – to name only a few, just like Scrooge McDuck in his money bin.
As a result, reports from dealers cluster around the “same as last year” level, with predictable variations - “I had a great show last year and I got spoiled” or, “Last year was terrible so this year looks pretty good by comparison.” Ten Pound Island Book Co. inadvertently had a very good fair, selling $36,000 worth of stuff intended for the New York Book Fair April 9-12. I had brought the material down to this ephemera show to teach it how to sit in a booth and, inexplicably, people came along and bought it.

So it will probably be a slow New York for me. But that's okay, because I'll be spending most of my time reporting on the Book Fair Wars. (See our blog from November 2, 2014 “Book Show Wars Heat Up.”) The New York International Antiquarian Book Fair and its two (Flamingo and Impact Events Group) shadow shows are the biggest events on the American book fair circuit. There was already a New York vibe on the floor at the Greenwich show, a sort of nervousness, an expectation, a girding of the loins, in anticipation of that April weekend and the surprises it is bound to bring. 

In the best of all outcomes, there'll be enough for everyone. At worst it'll be a weekend of Mutually Assured Destruction. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Carried Away

Clipper Ship Comet
People tend to get carried away by the romance of old books and paper, and it's easy to see why. The thrill of the hunt, the joys discovery, and the marvelous stories locked up in dusty old letters, journals, and books provide a perfect escape – an antidote to the stresses of our daily lives. Unfortunately, overworked librarians and book dealers often find that their interaction with books and manuscripts devolves into an insistent time/money proposition. As much as we'd like to linger over an ancient text, or just sit down and read the damned thing, we've got to get that bugger cataloged and shelved. There's work to be done! We wind up stressing out over the very things that should be affording us relief. So it's a delight when, every once in a while, something comes along that is so arresting and charismatic that it commands our complete attention and gobbles up our time, productivity be damned.

I came across just such a lot on my way to the Washington Book Fair ten days ago, and I'm happy to report that this material has been holding me hostage all week. The lot consists of thirty or so nineteenth century sea charts. 
They're all in good condition, and they're certainly marketable, so they merited some individual attention. Naturally, the closer I looked, the more interesting they became. Many of them bore pencil markings of courses sailed, of dates, of sailing directions, and of notes about navigational sight lines and hazards. On closer inspection the dates grouped around the 1850s. Looking closer still, I saw that many of the plotted course tracks belonged to a ship named the Comet
Furthermore, it became apparent that there was continuity to the charts. Almost all of them described waters leading from the Bay of Bengal though Malaysia to the China Sea. In other words, these charts would have been used by ships - particularly one named Comet - engaged in the China Trade.

As it happened, I had some familiarity with the Comet. She was an extreme clipper ship, designed and built in 1851 by the great marine architect and shipbuilder William H. Webb. (Her plans and lines are included in Webb's magnificent book, Plans of Wooden Vessels of which I happen to have a copy for sale (See this page for a description). In their book, American Clipper Ships, Howe and Matthews describe the Comet as a “Particularly handsome ship in every way... one of the fastest and also one of the most successful ships ever launched from any shipyard.” And, of course, being a famous clipper ship, there were several clipper ship sailing cards advertising her virtues, including one of the most attractive and unusual cards I'd ever owned. 
Between 1852 and 1861, according to Howe and Matthews, she made numerous trips to China, and many of these are documented in this lot of charts.

Just to be certain, I checked with the collector from whom I'd gotten them. His memory was a little fuzzy on the matter, but the broad outlines of the story were reassuring. The charts had come in a single lot, from a single estate in Stonington, Connecticut, some time in the 1970s.

Questions remain. The Comet was sailed by two great clipper ship captains – Gardner and Arquit, both of whom drove her to record, or near record, voyages, and she was owned by Bucklin and Crane. Somehow, a family associated with one or another of the captains, or with the New York shipping company, had kept those charts together until they turned up in an estate sale in Connecticut. But which family? Was there other material? Many of these charts were published by the English chart maker James Horsburgh, intended for use with his pilot book The India Directory. (Almost all the early charts of those waters used by Americans were English - they got there first.) What happened to those books? And who got to keep the charts after a voyage? Was it the captain? The owners? The shipping company?
While we're chewing on those big questions, perhaps some scholar will be pouring over the charts themselves, figuring out how the Comet found her way through the Carimata Passage, and what, exactly, she was doing in the China Sea on August 24, 1856.

Monday, March 9, 2015


Key Bridge and Frozen Potomac

Along with robins and daylight savings time, the Washington Antiquarian Book Fair is the harbinger of spring. In the old days, I'd drive down to the house of my friends who run Bartleby's Books, park my car in their driveway, and take a long, pleasant, shirtsleeved walk down Wisconsin Avenue to their shop in Georgetown, delighting in forsythias, daffodils, and short dresses along the way. But their shop has been closed for four years, and it's a good thing, too. Their business is thriving at home, and I would have needed skis to make the walk this year.
Bartleby's Back Yard
As it was, finding our way across the Key Bridge to site of the book fair at the Holiday Inn in Roslyn, VA, was an arctic excursion, fraught with ice patches, snow banks and potholes. 

Promoter Beth Campbell and her helpful staff made move in a snap, but no one was too surprised that the line on opening night was shorter than usual. We'd just gotten several inches of snow – a blizzard in these parts – and DC officials were encouraging people to stay off the roads so that street cleaning could proceed.

A word about Beth Campbell and the Washington Antiquarian Book Fair, if you will indulge me -

The fair started as a fund raising event for Concord Hill School forty years ago. In its day it was, along with events in New York, Seattle, and St. Petersburg, one of the most successful provincial shows in the country. A bookseller could – and many did – make a decent living shuttling from one of these events to the next. All of them had long waiting lists. Beth got involved as a volunteering mom about fifteen years ago, and discovered that she enjoyed “connecting people who know books with people who love books.” A few years ago the school decided to stop promoting the book fair and Beth took it over on her own. Now her head assistant is that same daughter who was the Concord Hill student, and I think Beth's husband pitches in as well. It's a real family affair, and Beth goes about it with energy, enthusiasm and intelligence. Instead of just mailing cards to the same old list, she has partnered with local radio station WAMU FM to present book collecting, history, and book binding seminars on Friday and Saturday, and a free book appraisal session Saturday afternoon. 
These events, along with aggressive local advertising, helped bring the people out. Despite the show's slow start, attendance for the weekend was up from past years. More importantly, Beth worked with a local supporter to make tickets available at college campuses in the area, and there were some fresh young faces to leaven the usual crowd of graybeards.
Drop that Kindle, Sonny!
Despite Beth's innovative and energetic promotion, however, the Washington Fair, like almost every other fair on the once-thriving provincial circuit, faces significant challenges. These are too well known to be rehearsed here. I'll just note that, although attendance was up, exhibitors were down. And, although there seemed to be plenty of energy on the floor, most exhibitors reported results in the “below expectations” to “met expectations” range. I did not talk to anyone who had a best ever or spectacular fair, and a few of my colleagues, alas checked the “not so hot” box.
Beth promises to give her all to make sure the Washington Antiquarian Book Fair survives and thrives, and we dealers are rooting for her. She's got a healthy event going now and, given her energy and creativity, I'll bet attendance and exhibitors will be on the rise in future years.

One caveat, though. There was some talk on the floor about extending the fair from a Friday – Saturday event to a weekend long show ending Sunday afternoon. In the view of this old book dog and some of his grizzled colleagues, that would be a fatal mistake. There's simply not enough material on display here to require three days of looking. And if the people can't find something to buy in your booth on Friday and Saturday, Sunday won't help.
Well, enough of this talk. Ten Pound Island Book Co. (who's it all about, anyway?) had a good fair. The buying was excellent, and I even had a total of three sales, which “exceeded expectations.” By Saturday night my totals were: Purchases - $7655; Sales - $1850; Bar - $162, for a fair total of $9677.

Perfectly satisfactory! Just don't make do this Sunday, too.

Here's a nice thing that turned up this weekend.

Du Temple, M.L. Du Scaphandre et de son Emploi a Bord des Navires. Paris: n.d. double page litho, fldg. engraved plate. 30, (1) pp. This is an early pamphlet on diving. Anderson gives a date of 1860, which is nowhere evident in the text. “About diving and the Cabirol diving suit”—Anderson 354a. Polak gives a date of circa 1863. “La planche sur doublepage represente le plongeur avec son appareil. La grande planche depliante donne des details sur l'appareil 'Cabirol' avec la pompe a air, le casque et les ouvremanchettes.”—Polak 3108. This is an interesting specimen of Du Temple's work, in that the wrappers are printed on the back of the cover sheet from another book by Du Temple – the atlas to his “Cours de Machines a Vapeur,” an ad for which graces the back of this pamphlet. That work is dated 1861, which would make Anderson's dating of 1860 too early by at least a year. I have seen other copies in the same green wrappers, but never with the extra printing. Scattered light foxing, outer edge of folding plate is lightly chipped, not effecting image. A very good copy in original wrappers. Scarce thus. $1500

Friday, February 27, 2015

Back in the Saddle

As my sojourn at writers camp in Ireland comes to an end I find my thoughts turning back to the book trade.

In particular, a recent article in the Boston Globe about the planned sale of a collection of rare books that had been bequeathed to a local institution, Gordon College, with the proviso that the collection remain intact and stay at the college. Now the college, in a fundraising effort, has decided to send the books to auction at Doyle Gallery in New York, and they've run into a storm of protest from the family of the donor and certain faculty members who were never consulted about the sale.

This resonates with me because we're dealing with a similar situation at the Gloucester Writers Center.

Over the past 30 years author and scholar Ralph Maud 
formed a collection of over 3500 books that duplicated the library of post modernist poet Charles Olson.
At his death Maud bequeathed the collection to the Gloucester Writers Center, which is fitting, since Olson resided in Gloucester and made the city and its history the subject of much of his poetry.

However, before the transfer can be made, Maud's estate wants a guarantee that the Olson library will be kept together and will remain in the care of the Gloucester Writers Center forever.

The GWC has gone to great lengths to assure the Maud estate that they'll do everything they can to protect and preserve Maud's collection. But they point out, rightly, that no institution can guarantee that any gift will be maintained by that institution in perpetuity. Just look at the scandal at the Barnes Foundation in Philly, or the mess caused by the proposed liquidation of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis. Politics change. Agendas shift.

Now Gordon College has gone and got themselves into trouble for the second time in recent months. Their first PR gaffe was asking for an exemption to federal hiring practices because they are a Christian institution and don't want to hire gays. You can imagine how well that one went over!

Now this mess about their rare books.

Along with Bibles - which, of course, the newsboobs jump on , since "bible" is a form of book most people recognize - this collection also contains a wealth of early voyages and travels – some of which I was hoping to be on the verge, in the best of all possible verges, of perhaps getting the chance to be allowed to purchase.

Ultimately, however, the geniuses at Gordon decided they'd do better taking their books to public auction rather than sneaking them out the back door to rats like me. And look at the trouble they've gotten themselves into now.

The only exec who's made more bad decisions than Gordon prez D. Michael Lindsay
(what kind of guy has "D." for a first name, anyway?) is Roger Goodell, that overpaid idiot who runs the NFL. 

There's a lesson here somewhere...

Next week – Back in the Saddle! The Washington Book Fair.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fred Rosselot

While in Ireland and out of the book world, I've been posting chapters from a story I'm working on. (See entries below.) The story is set in the town of Talman, a fictional iteration of Nyack, NY, one of the stops on my book route for decades. One of my favorite guys in Nyack is Fred Rosselot,

a lovely guy with a sharp mind and a sharper eye for books - with which he filled his house.

This past weekend, Fred was severely injured in a fire which destroyed his house and his entire stock.
For details go to

Presumably the ABAA Benevolent Fund will be helping out as well. 

According to colleague Lorne Bair, "I've already forwarded Mr. Rosselot's devastating news to the Trustees, who will no doubt act appropriately."

"Of course, there are many on this list who don't donate to the Benevolent Fund, but who might feel moved to donate to Mr. Rosselot directly. Where that's the case, it sounds like under the circumstances he can use every penny that comes his way."

"I'll just take this opportunity to point out to all here how clearly this story illustrates the fact that many members of our fraternity/sorority lead a tenuous existence, one step away from disaster. The Benevolent Fund was established in understanding of, and as a partial antidote to, this reality. Give accordingly."

"Nuff said.

Good luck, Fred!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chapter IV

Jerry is making a Manhattan on the rocks for Mister Windle. He pours the frothing liquid from the shaker into the glass where it settles to amber with hints of yellow, scarlet, and blue from the reflection of the Christmas lights strung above the bar. No cherry. Mister Windle is a Brit and has an accent, but he's turned out to be a good guy despite the way he sounds - which, afterall, isn't his fault - genuinely interested in Americans and things American. He’d introduced himself three years ago as, “Windle, John Windle” and Jerry, just to see what he was made of, began calling him “Mister Windle.” After a few sincere urgings to just call him John, Mister Windle tumbled to the fact that he was being put on, and soon was as comfortable in the name as he was in his camel hair overcoat. Began calling the bartender “Mister Jerry” much to Jerry’s satisfaction. Good guys were few and far between.
It’s February and the year-round Christmas lights outside the River House reflect on the ice chunks heaped in the little cove under the western sweep of the Tappan Zee Bridge, giving the scene a muted carnival glow. Manhattan, in its insane hurry to get somewhere, has roared over the bridge and missed this quiet place, the town of Talman, noted once for its shoe factories, long since abandoned. Jerry is telling Mister Windle, “No, they can’t just run all the time, even though, as you say, that’s what they seem to do best, because then the other team, the defense, would stack everyone closer to the line of scrimmage, discouraging the run.”
Hence the forward pass.”
Jerry pours someone a draft. “Exactly. Loosen them up. Plus which, think about at the end of a game when you’re behind and you need to score but you’re running out of time. The passing play gets you bigger gains. And, if the pass is incomplete, the clock stops.”
However, the incomplete pass results in a loss of the down, correct?”
There’s hope for you yet, Mister Windle.”
It is the consensus of the regulars that Jerry is a solid citizen with a good thing going. He’s got a long standing gig as an adjunct English professor at Thomas Aquinas College on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons, and he manages the bar at the River House Tuesday through Saturday nights. But what he really is, is an information manager. He gets his news from both sides of the tracks and deploys it judiciously. Somebody’s fucking somebody’s wife, and the husband is a creep, Jerry doesn’t have a thing to say. But if the guy's OK and wife is a slut, an ingrate or a nut job, well...
Jerry’s credibility derives from the fact that his own wife, Denise, proved to be a slut, an ingrate, and something of a nut job herself. Jerry had just returned to Talman from the Korean War, trying to finish his masters on the GI Bill and put his life back together. He and Denise met at this very River House, and they got pregnant and married, in that order. A few years after that, Denise freaked, walked out on Jerry and the baby without a word. Turned out later she’d joined Sri Chinmoy in Manhattan where, it was rumored, she’d found spiritual peace through meditation and weightlifting. She’d always been a profound physical specimen, so the weightlifting was understandable. But Jerry refused all gestures of reconciliation no matter how much meditation had “improved her as a person.” He dated women after Denise, but never married again. Fool him once.
Somehow, he’d managed not to drown in the soupy mess of heartbreak, single parenting, and undiagnosed post traumatic stress. The longer he survived the more resilient he became, but tenderer, too. That squinched up face, all mustache and nose and scarred chin, those big, sad eyes. Tough as nails and soft as a grape. Finished his masters and got his kid into private school. A standup guy. At least in the opinion of the Solons who line the bar at the River House.
The sleigh bells on the big oak door give their muted jingle, and in comes Jerry’s half brother Skippy. Uncle Skippy, babysitter-in-chief. Skippy, with the thick dark hair, shining eyes, and square chin. Skippy of the many girlfriends. Skippy the insouciant prankster. Skippy the punk. Skippy the smalltime crook. Skippy the junky, with a tall, nervous companion in tow, and a smile for everyone at the bar. Buddy Buddy, a wet brain at one of the tables in the front of the room, gets excited.
Hey, buddy buddy!”
Skippy delivers a mock punch to the man’s shoulder. “How’s things, Buddy Buddy?”
Buddy Buddy gobbles the attention. “Hey, buddy buddy,” he says. “Hey…”
Skippy and his friend unzip their jackets, find seats at the bar, receive and return nods from Jerry and Mister Windle, to whom Skippy introduces the gaunt stranger as, “my man, Al.” He orders two Rheingolds, lays a bill on the bar, and continues with Mister Windle’s football education, citing the mediocre seasons put up by Allie Sherman and his New York Giants as the reason for the otherwise inexplicable “Goodbye, Allie!” chant. Jerry walks over to receive the bill and sees Benjamin Franklin staring up at him. Gives Skippy the fish eye.
For last month’s tab,” Skippy says. “And next month’s.”
Jerry returns to the register and puts it with the others beneath the coin tray. He wonders, not for the first time, if it is actually possible to be a joyous junky. A harmless or, no, a Robin Hood junky. Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. The poor strung out creeps his kid brother runs with. Like this new friend Al. Some sap who blew into town looking for a connection and landed in Skippy's generous embrace. Sooner or later he'll be at the end of his dough and then it will be “Good bye, Al!”
Jerry watching Skippy, he of the restless intelligence, chatting up Mister Windle, trying to work out what, exactly, the limey's deal is. Over the past few years Windle has so integrated himself into the ambiance of this place that he seems as much a part of it as Jerry, for whom he’s become number one straight man. Which, now that Jerry thinks of it, is something of an accomplishment - in an unobtrusive Windle way.
Skippy, who had never thought of this before, thinks of it now and finds it intriguing, because there's something about the guy that doesn't add up. Windle’s shoes, for example, must’ve cost more than Jerry’s entire wardrobe. And he’s a lawyer for the Talman Housing Authority? Skippy the mouser.
Errand boy, actually,” Mister Windle corrects him. “They call me a consultant, but I specialize in running errands.” He pronounces it, “spessialize.”
You’re, like, a Housing Authority authority?”
Hardly. I picked that part of it up on the fly. To be honest, it’s the way I sound. And the way I dress, I suppose.” He peers down the length of his woven silk repp bar tie, striped in charcoal and pink (with matching pink display hankie that somehow looks manly and suave against the pinstriped jacket), then up at Skippy, with an apologetic smile. “These are my work clothes.”
I don’t get it.”
I sound to American ears like a man who knows what he's talking about. And I look like a man who's done well knowing what he knows. When in fact...”
Skippy smiles encouragement. “I know that hustle.”
Yes, young Skipper, I believe you do. So when the Talman bosses need another dole, they send me to Albany with the proposal.”
For what?”
We're talking about Urban Renewal, Skippy. Our 'blighted Negro ghetto.' The eighty acres of desperately substandard housing and crumbling infrastructure we fondly think of as 'downtown.' In five years you won't recognize it. Federal grant money dripping down from Kennedy and HUD to Rockefeller and his cronies to hungry entities like the Talman Housing Authority."
So you're a lobbyist.” Skippy hasn't read anything other than the sports page in years, but this talk of Albany and cronies makes his ears perk up.
No, a go-between.”
Skippy nods, thinking, You're a fucking bag man, Mister Windle.
He smells money of a sort that does not have the nervous, sour stink of breaking and entering or small time drug deals. Windle's “hungry entity” has already taken over several blocks of Skippy's old stomping grounds, in preparation, it is rumored, for office towers. Whatever the fuck office towers are, there have to be millions of dollars involved, with some presumed amount of collateral leakage. And it sounds like there will be a lot more to come. Leakage. What else would explain the clothes, the fancy car? And isn’t it interesting that Mister Windle never talks about his past except in the most general terms, other than to say that he was “in finance” in Hong Kong and then Manhattan, and that it “got complicated”?
It's all theoretical to Skippy. As removed from the daily round of his activities as bird watching. But it is exactly that daily round, populated by pigeons like Al, that is beginning to pale. Skippy wants to get off the streets. And he's thinking maybe...
He buys Mister Windle another Manhattan, then turns his attention to Al. They drink more, sidle off to play shuffleboard. Mister Windle watches the late news, then departs, two Manhattans under his belt. It’s a weeknight and by 10:30 the River House is deserted. Al disappears. Down to the Chelsea drug store, Jerry imagines, to get his prescription filled.
He begins cleaning up. Last load of glasses and a final wipe down. Skippy, headed for the door, stops, as if his stopping were an afterthought, and says to Jerry, “So what’s really up with Mister Windle? What’s his deal?”
What do you mean?”
C’mon, Jerry. Finance in Hong Kong? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? You ever ask him?”
Jerry puts the towel down and moves to his brother's end of the bar. Skippy is in his face once again, looking for trouble, or excitement, or simply diversion, and Jerry responds with an older brother's moral authority. This is a game they’ve played all their lives. Jerry measures off a yard of jokey warning, with a promise of worse to come if necessary. And Skippy knows that old Jerr, with the scrunched up soulful puss, is capable of delivering it. Jerry is bedrock, sincere. He will inadvertently provide a useful read on Mister Windle.
Skipper, if you’re even thinking what I think you’re thinking, don’t. Don’t fuck with Mister Windle, and don’t get any ideas about working him in any way, shape, or form. I don’t know fuck-all about his clothes or his car or his money or Hong Kong any more than he tells me. He’s a decent guy, is all, and I don’t care to know what he doesn’t care to say. But I’ll tell you this: I’ve got a feeling about him that he might be a tougher customer than he seems to be. That he might see you coming before you even think of whatever it is you’d better not be thinking of, and that he might give you cause to regret it. Very efficiently and very abruptly.”
Skippy grins his irrepressible charmer grin. “Bond,” he says in a phony English accent. “James Bond.”