I am a little weary of bad news, cautionary tales and object lessons by way of instruction and warning. Another mass shooting? Thank the NRA. Mass spying on US citizens? Color me surprised, not. So, a little silver lining by way of the otherwise dark cloudy move by Whale of a Tale, whose terrific owner Alexandra Uhl announced that her singular and iconic children's and family bookstore–until this week across the street from UC Irvine–is opening in early July at a new area location. Good news! Oh, and San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station? It won't be relocating. It will be decommissioned, which means closed, permanently. Damn straight!
So, instead of Mr. Bib going on yet another vigorous if pleasingly well-written rant I'll celebrate the value of creative, constructive anger and not only the perhaps less-valuable (but still fun) despair, which is too easy on this nuclear-free Sunday morning in Orange County. “Anger is an energy,” sang John Lydon, and loud, on one the best songs from his post-Sex Pistols career with the band PiL..
Cuz, hey, it's been a heck of a week. I'd heard a most excellent interview with favorite poet Rae Armentrout, whose newest collection is recently out. The Bookworm over at KCRW has featured a bunch of poets lately. Good for him, and for us. Last Thursday it was Alice Fulton. But back to Armantrout, and my dumb-angry and predictable story of trying to purchase an actual copy of Armantrout's Just Saying. You know where I'm going with this. Not long ago I would have found it on the shelf at what is now the sad former bookstore across the street from Uhl's store, pretty much a t-shirt emporium called “The Hill.” The old UC Irvine Bookstore managed by Matt Astrella, would, I promise you, have had the book in stock as it was one of the last “indy” bookstores in our region, an ironic
default circumstance of a university-run retailer of books being the last store in South OC with enough square footage to display and sell popular literary titles, nonfiction, poetry, cultural criticism. Don't get me started. The school library's copy was checked out. Yes, there was a Barnes & Noble–in Tustin–which had a copy. Having no other reason to drive there, I ended up buying online, Until it arrives, I'll make us all happy (or at least me and my pal Jonathan Cohen, who turned me on to Armantrout) this morning with an older poem-as- teaser by the West Coast “language” poet of wit and humor, author of the memoir True, who teaches at UC San Diego.
The woman on the mantel,
who doesn't much resemble me,
is holding a chainsaw
away from her body,
with a shocked smile,
while and undiscovered tumor
squats at her kidney.
is a sentimental favorite,
with its heady mix
It's as if I'm subletting
a friend's apartment.
Even in the dream,
I'm trying to imagine
And I'm trying to get
all my robes together,
robes I really own and
robes I don't.
Happily, the talented editors of this year's UC Irvine annual literary journal, the estimable Faultline, left me a copy of the newest mag. Thanks, Aaron Peters and Warren Fong, and congrats. You can purchase a copy via the virtual commerce experience about which everybody is talking and with which I am so bored, bored, bored. (And uselessly angry!)
And after you secure a copy of Faultline No 22, Spring 2013, with the strikingly fun and story-inferring comics-style cover illustration by Jeff Heermann, you will likely want to go to the stories portrayed there and, if you are willing to take my advice, read the short story “Dentist” by Michelle Latiolais first. She is, you will remember, a mentor, teacher and hero of mine, author most recently of the collection Widow, co-director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at UCI. Latiolais is a writer of quietly startling intensity, of emotional and intellectual subversion, of prose which in its details and character-driven assumptions and perspective sneaks up on the Big Problem, making it the imperative which cannot speak its name but which is being screamed, yelled, hollered by a stadium-full of literary tropes, necessary endings, syntactical whirlpools and perfect word choices. In this ur-Latiolais story we meet a grumpy old dentist whose inner struggle, stream-of-consciousness last stand, fitful retirement from teeth and people is tested by a sad-comic patient who seems to somehow love and value him despite the office falling apart, disappearing, the waiting room empty except for her, the last pilgrim.
Occasionally he would wonder, Had his staff left? or Had he run them out? Patients asked at first, Where was Norma? Cindy? Are you on your own today, Doctor? but no one said anything anymore. No one asked. It was the economy. It was hard times, or perhaps it was just computerized times which helped lead to hard times. Everyone just knew, or answered in their own way why there was no longer someone to greet them, to bill them, to fan out before them a colorful selection of toothbrushes, this office's tradition, a new toothbrush a visit…but everyone just knew the Why Not, and that hush of not saying what was on everyone's mind prevailed, an enervated pall, hardly enough charge to even ask the bigger questions: Where was all of this leading? What had they done to their country? Whose fault was it?
“What had they done to their country,” indeed. And all this from a dentist. Other contributors include Tatjana Soli (The Lotus Eaters) and Rick Bass. Bigtime writers, with some you will want to meet, all smart writing from an out-front lit journal OC can be proud of.
“It is not down on any map;true places never are.” Thar she blows, my clumsy through-line for the week. From Moby Dick, which was of course a whale of a tale of a whale. Maybe that's the challenge of finding what you want, need, by way of books and writers, wherever you are. Enjoying it, and telling others and only connecting even under stress and lack of bookstores. Because, yes, the week ended very well indeed as Alex answered the telephone when I called, while cleaning the old store and packing up for her new location, to confirm the July 10 reopening of the store. See the website for hours. Some scene I imagined, with her in the near-empty old place, with her vacuum cleaner and lots of memories of readings and visits and book signings over many years of service to our community. Thanks, Alex. See you soon at the new digs.
And because you can't shut up this bibliophile when he's happy or angry – except when he's listening to the radio –
don't imagine for a minute that Mr. Bib wasn't in the audience when Garrison Keillor brought Lake Wobegon to the Greek Theater on Friday night. If you listen to the show, taped Friday night for broadcast on your favorite NPR station, you might hear Bibovich and friends Deborah and Wayne Clayton laughing, singing along to “Prairie Home Companion” music, skits and hijinx after they'd enjoyed a lovely late Spring evening picnic in Griffith Park prepared by the Rebel Girl and served up by the Little Red Reader, a fan of Guy Noir the wonderful boy: chard tart, mushroom quiche, home-baked bread, delicious farro salad, white wine and chocolate chip cookies with two
(!) kinds of chocolate chips. It's end-of-school year, Dear Readers, almost summer, lots to read, outdoor music and theater, and did I mention, goodbye fucking nuclear poison plant…so why not?
Speaking of radio. Note to fans of Bibliocracy: Thanks for your support of KPFK 90.7 FM, the only truly anti-corporate people's radio in Southern California. I'm back on the air post-fund drive this week, regular Wednesday night 8 PM time slot with LA author Jim “Middle Men” Gavin.
Faultline 2013. University of California, eds, Aaron Peters, Warren Fong, 143 pgs., $10.00
See you on the radio, and at the new Whale location in a month or so.
A Whale of a Tale Children's Bookshoppe, 15 Hubble, Irvine, www.awhaleofatale.com
Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.