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The Amazon Store

I’m in Seattle for work, and the Amazon store opened while I was here. So I ran over to check it out.

I didn’t bother to take pictures. It’s wholly unremarkable, except for the preternatural cheeriness of the staff – a quality I find in the staff of EVERY Seattle establishment I go to. (I’m from New York. Friendliness, the genuine desire to help, the quite sincere hope that one has found everything one needs – I’m not used to this. I HAVE BOUNDARIES, PEOPLE.)

The aisles are, as reported, rather narrow. When one wants to look at a bunch of books, one doesn’t want to have to excuse oneself or squeeeeeeeeze past the other person who is looking at PRECISELY WHAT ONE WANTS TO BE LOOKING AT ONESELF.

Obviously, with every book face-out, inventory is minimal. And every book I saw there had a shelf-talker that declaimed at least 4 stars for each book. I picked up a book of poetry called “Salt.”, but there was no indication of provenance (the author’s name was not on the book). Flipping through the verse, I wasn’t grabbed. However, visiting the product page on Amazon itself, it seems I missed a good book. Context is everything.

At the center of the store are devices – the Fire stick, plugged into a large TV screen, Kindles, etc. Along one side, some cushioned benches with Kindle Fires nearby. Kindle Paperwhites are placed on shelves intermittently throughout the store, and additional Fires and other screens are always near, so one can look things up and (presumably) order them.

I bought two books on home organization – I’m in full nesting mode these days, for obvious reasons. The checkout process was, in addition to being cheerfully Seattle-ian, slick – my credit card was recognized; my receipt was emailed to me.

It is a perfectly ordinary bookstore. That may well be what Amazon is after. In which case…I don’t even know what to think. Thanks for putting everybody else out of business so you can do what they did but less remarkably?

“[T]he Only Surprise To Me Was That the Rioting Had Not Happened Sooner”: A letter from my father

I really wish I had found this 1989 letter from my father earlier. It’s a problematic letter because it is truly from the past, where terminology is not at all carefully thought through. Additionally, I’m posting an edited version of it (mostly for length and irrelevant/father-daughter asides) here, with my own notes in brackets, because I think it belongs on SOME kind of record, even if it’s only my own:

Dear Laura Jo…

[Responding to a letter I had written him about discovering Do The Right Thing and Public Enemy]…I’ll be glad to share with you some of the experience I had in the Newark area.

We went to Bloomfield, on the western edge of Newark, in the spring of 1965. [Ed. note – I was born a few months later, in a hospital in Glen Ridge.] The church we served was no more than a half dozen blocks from the Newark line. The ethnic/racial battle line at the time was drawn between blacks and Italians. [This was 1989 – capitalization/proper-nouning of “ethnicity” was all over the place.] The white Anglos [my dad was from Oklahoma/New Mexico/Texas – “white” was not enough of a description, and “white ethnic” hadn’t been invented as a term yet] had left the area around the church and headed farther out into the suburbs, giving place to Italians migrating out from central Newark. There was a lot of friction along all the lines of division, but, as I say, it was extremely intense between blacks and Italians. So, in effect, anyone traveling east-west in that area passed through four very identifiable concentric rings of racial/ethnic culture, all running as hard as they could to escape the crime, drugs, poverty, etc., in the guts of Newark.

During the ensuing year, I became aware of the build-up of tensions through close associations I had with ministers and lay people int he other churches throughout Essex County, especially down in the Newark area.

In the summer of 1966 we successfully merged our floundering little church with three others in Bloomfield, who were also floundering, to create one viable congregation. I was, ironically, in the position of having successfully worked myself out of a steady job [been there, done that, got THREE tee-shirts, apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, apparently]. Problem is, that kind of success doesn’t pay the bills. [No, sir, it don’t.]

So the Presbytery hired me temporarily to do odd jobs around the area, one of which was to fill in as an interim minister in an almost entirely black congregation [holyyyyyyyyyy God, that must have gone over well]…, until they could find a full time black minister [read your job descriptions carefully, people]. I was apprehensive from the start about that, especially since the church was located in one of the worst parts of inner city Newark. However, partyl because I found a black family in the congregation whose name was also Nixon [for the 500000th time, people, we are  not related, and this is precisely why I took my husband’s last name when I married him, I hate the questions], I was able to have a pretty good relationship with most of the people. In fact, I developed some very warm and rewarding relationships among most of them before my time was up there.

One of the things that contributed to that was an event that took place one Saturday morning in the basement of the church. I and some of the members were doing something there that day, and we got into some sort of conversation which led to them backing me into a corner and proceeding, as a group, to educate me about what it was like to be black in Newark. It was a mind blower…From that point on I did a lot of visiting and listening, and part of what I heard really alarmed me, so that by the time the riots actually broke out with burning, killing, looting, and the whole nine yards, the only surprise to me was that the rioting had not happened sooner. Turns out that the city and all city departments, including the police department, was owned by the Mafia. The Mayor, a guy named Addonizio, was finally indicted by the grand jury, after we left the area, on all kinds of charges, including embezzlement, racketeering, conspiracy to do everything, bribery, fraud, extortion, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum…

Those black people that Saturday morning thought enough of me to lay it out for me in no uncertain terms.  They themselves had suffered through all kinds of intimidation and abuse (economically, morally, emotionally, etc.) at the hands of officialdom, and they were fed up!  And this had been going on for decades! I found myself almost at the point of totally identifying with their side of things…And when the shooting started…there were many, many instances of over-reaction by the city officials, and people on both sides died in the streets. It was mainly people against property, but human beings did get caught in the middle, and there was no hesitation in gunning them down. Mom and I could hear through the open window at night, in Montclair that summer – gun shots, sirens, etc. – and we could see the smoke from the burning buildings during the day.

At any rate, in the spring of 1967 I more or less had to take the job at the big white Anglo church in Montclair as an associate pastor. When the riots broke out that summer I found myself in one heck of a bind: I knew why the blacks had rioted, and I didn’t blame them in many ways; but the uptight whites around me were incensed, some of them at me whenever I just slightly hinted that there might actually be reasons for what was happening. I did round up a group of people in that church to load up a caravan of station wagons to run food in to one of the Newark Presbyterian churches to feed those who had gotten pinned down in their apartments and housing projects and couldn’t get out to go shopping for food – these were not necessarily participants in the hostilities, mostly old people, mothers, and children. But our church in Montclair lost several major families over what we did. One man called me up one day and cussed me all over the place for running food down there to feed those “damned nigger criminals”. The white backlash was, believe me, scary! But when outrage builds and builds and builds for many, many years, it has to break out. You can’t plug volcanoes to stop them from erupting. The super heated magma is going to go someplace, regardless.

During the fall of 1967 and into 1968 and ’69 there were a lot of serious and sincere efforts from both sides to reconcile, and a lot of good, productive bridges were in fact built. But scary! Incredibly so….

The only way I have ever been able to do anything in the direction of civil rights is to go out of my way to make friends with some black person or persons, and let it be known that if any trouble started I at least wanted some of us on both sides to remain in a talking relationship so there could at least be a line of communication somewhere that could be trusted. This has been pretty productive in several instances, even here in little Seaford. Trust is the issue, I think. But it’s got to be wanted and welcomed on both sides….

I can’t believe I’ve gone on like this! Obviously that period of life was what they call a “significant emotional experience” for me. I don’t know if any of this rambling is of any use to you, but I’ve found it exciting to struggle with it in retrospect after all these years…

Yes, Dad. I think it’s of great use to me, and great use to a lot of people right now. Thank you for doing what you did. Thank you for writing this to me. I’mma share it with the internet now, ‘kay?

Closer to Fine

I’m nearer a routine. It depends on what kind of day I have – there are those when I go to bed at 10 and wake up at 9; there are those when I go to bed at 11 and wake up before 7.

“Oscillation on the pavement always means there’s a love affair,” says Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps oscillation in sleep cycles means something similar – having a (very tentative) love affair with your own life and self.

The move is, essentially, complete. I expect my couch on Friday. I have a few more art items to fetch from the house (I just don’t know QUITE where I put them). I have several more things to order – ottomans and the like – but I have everything I need to function as A Person Living Alone.

I continue to go to this very intensive therapy. It’s a tough place – the song from “Little Mermaid”, “Poor Unfortunate Souls”, just rattles around in my brain as I pass people on the way in and wait with others in the waiting room. These are half-spirits, coming back into their own fullness (some of them – others of them, apparently, not so much). Being with them, even for 20 minutes a week (I usually arrive early and have to wait), tethers me to our humanity. We can insulate ourselves as much as we want – from lack of privilege, from poverty, from mental illness, from racial inequality – but none of us are immune. We live in the world. We have rights and some of us have privileges – and we have responsibilities toward one another. The greater the privilege, the greater the responsibility towards other people who don’t have those privileges.

(Yes, I am working myself up for some volunteer work.)

In the meantime, I am back at work. I am waiting for the Y to finish its renovations so I can go back to yoga again. I am winding down a Miss Fisher marathon so I can pine for Season 3. My life is my own and I need to figure out what happens next in it.

Travel Season

Work travel comes in waves. I’m in Pasadena now, which is a welcome climate shift from the iceberg that is Staten Island. I’ve been walking a lot here, as much as I possibly can. Thanks to the Super Bowl, The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” has wormed its way into my brain and refuses to leave, so I play it while I walk (among other things). A quick trip to Whole Foods ensured that I have food that agrees with me. Say what you want about global commodification – and I hate it – it does offer the comfort of knowing you can get what suits you no matter where you are, so it’s one less thing to worry about.

In another week, I go to Seattle. And then again two weeks after that. And then to London. And again to London two weeks after that. And then to Arlington. And then to San Francisco. Which takes us till June. I’m basically experiencing winter on a part-time basis.

This is okay with me.

My goal is to find yoga studios wherever I am and to make the time to go to sessions. This can be difficult, because there’s the expectation that you’ll socialize – heading for drinks right after work, etc. And I’m okay with that – I love my colleagues, and now that I’m working from home, I want to spend time with them when I can – but it’s tough to find a yoga class during a time of day when I’m free…never really knowing when exactly that will be. It might vary from day to day!

But at least there’s the walking and thinking. And I’ve been feeling much better. And the projects I’m working on are thrilling and challenging, and really give my brain a workout.

On y va

As Ta-Nehisi Coates says…

I’ve been feeling a bit reflective lately. I suppose drastic lifestyle change will do that to a person – it’s no more business as usual, but you have to think about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and value the positive actions. It’s interesting to go through a radical re-engineering of health while simultaneously, outside in the world, there are ongoing protests and incredulity and the sense that Things Are About To Change – in essence, some radicalism on the outside and on the inside. I’m feeling rather plugged in, empathetic with the protesters because I’m waging my own health protest from within.

Maybe I’m thinking too much.

Anyway, I’m coming to grips with the fact that my best resource for the things I need is Whole Foods. I hate that. But my membership at the Park Slope Food Coop has come to an end – I just cannot do the required shift work from Staten Island and New Jersey. We do not have a Wegman’s, and our natural foods store on Staten Island is small (and singular). Definitely the better solution is for there to be a Food Coop on Staten Island, but this is not a population that is open to those sorts of organizations. A Whole Foods will come here first, and that’ll be the end of it.

So on we go. Muddling through as best we can. I really like the sort of acceptance of one’s own limits that Roxane Gay offers, for example, or Russell Brand. The way our capitalist system is constructed, hewing to your ideals while holding down a full-time job and raising kids and learning and loving and growing – you can’t. You just can’t, in reality, execute all of that unless you are in a certain income bracket.

So Whole Foods it is until I find a better option.

Ten days into this new regime, I have made meals of lean pork, chicken breast, turkey breast, fish. I have eaten my weight in skyr, it feels like. I have eaten tofu, seitan, kimchi, so much kale. I have consumed much ginger in all forms. And whole grains. Nothing but whole grains.

I was heartened for a bit because I wasn’t losing weight. I’m happy with my body and the weight I already lost. But this morning I got on the scale and I was down another 2.4 pounds. So it begins. My body seems to want 10 days into a new regime to begin shedding or gaining weight.

Next steps are purchasing a stationary bike for the basement (walking doesn’t allow much for interval training), and going on YouTube to gather up safe yoga videos for muscle development. My time is highly constrained (thanks, capitalism!), so I cannot make any of the yoga classes when they’re scheduled at my gym, and the only gym equipment I can use safely these days is the bike anyway – at least until my hip heals these two torn tendons (tendons take A Long Time). It means the social aspect of things gets cut out, but given that I am not getting it now, I can view it as a step forward.

On y va.


Oh, Dad

My father really loved Bill Cosby. We had a couple of his albums, along with Beyond the Fringe and other records. But Cosby…

My dad fought in the Newark riots. The Cosby Show was sort of mandatory viewing in our house.  Not even mandatory – we looked forward to it.

My heart hurts. Because, as my friend MiAngelo says, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And I hate it. Because my father expected better. He thought he had better. He fought for more than this.

I’m sort of glad that my dad is beyond where he can care.

But I’m not.

Gina’s a Witch!


My Favorite Lucybun pic


RIP, Lucy




Go Home, Amazon. You’re Drunk.

I received, along with every KDP author, Amazon’s email this morning and my immediate response was, “What the everloving f***?”

I’d seen that sort of word salad before – after breaking up with someone. The sort of message that is filled with hurt feelings, false equivalencies, misattributions, and not much else.

It’s an uncharacteristic move by Amazon, who previously seemed to act as if they didn’t care what anyone thought about anything. They’ve never had to explain themselves before. They’ve certainly never pleaded with their customers and suppliers before. Bullied their suppliers, yes. Pleaded with them, not so much.

My second response was, “Why on EARTH would Michael Pietsch care AT ALL about what KDP authors think? The entire point of tradition publishers is NOT to care about what independent authors think.” Then I saw that Amazon had extended its message to readers. That made marginally more sense.

So yes, Amazon has blinked. And I think the reason is that they’ve received a little bit of a reality check. They apparently CAN’T bully all their suppliers. Now Hachette doesn’t represent a ton of Amazon’s (weakening) profits. But Amazon still needs Hachette. They need Hachette not to be an example. Because if one publisher does it, another one will too. And if the Big 5 all do it, the littler ones will too. And if book publishers do it, other suppliers will too.

And Wall Street is watching. Bezos’s leash is a little shorter than it has been.

Why Amazon wrote this note, instead of doing the usual clamming up, will probably always be a mystery. But I kind of prefer Simon Collinson’s theory.

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