The idea was to grab a table outside the French Hotel’s café, when Berkeley shut down Shattuck Avenue, between Cedar and Rose, for its Spice of Life Festival and compete with the Thai barbecue and 600 thread Egyptian sheets for the celebrants’ discretionary dollars by peddling my books. But I was having second thoughts. "It seems a little pushy," I said.
"How would you feel if you saw someone else doing it?" Adele said.
"I’d wish I’d thought of that."
She dropped me in Andronico’s parking lot, and I trotted over with my wares in a black duffel. I set them out in a V – five stacks of five books each – around a full-color S. Clay Wilson original of The Checkered Demon exhorting, "Buy Bob’s Books!" ("Or you can sell it for $500 on E-bay," Wilson’d told me.) I knew in my heart one-sale-per hour might be a worthy goal, but in case demand exceeded supply, I had additional copies stashed in Adele’s trunk. I wore a black leather jacket and red beret. I left off my shades, so as not to be too intimidatingly cool. Entrepreneurship, I thought. Rugged individualism. Lift yourself up by your own desert boot straps.
I thought, Passing friends will be delighted at this opportunity to show support. Cafe regulars and people from my health club and lawyer’s life, who do not know I write, will be delighted to explore this other side of me. I had something in every price range. I blanketed every member of the family – if the family was a strange one. The only friends kept Shattuck Ave. between us. The only client smiled and waved without breaking stride. The only health club member told me how he’d held Jumpin’ Johnny Green to four points in the Catskills in 1953. One regular said she would be back but must have climbed through a window after finishing her latte.
One man asked if Wilson would be selling his books. One man fingered a book, wandered away, returned, fingered another, lingered teasingly – until his chess partner arrived. One woman said she had to check with her boy friend. One man inquired if my essays contained structural analysis. One man, eying my book about Disney, asked what Ub Iwerks was really like. One man said he was afraid to buy my book about Chester the Molester because what-if-the-police-found-it.
I was there three hours. I sold a book to a guy from the French who’d bought one of my other books. I sold a book to a guy who was a pal of a cartoonist I’d profiled. I swapped a book to a guy who’d given me a terrific color-shopped photo he’d taken of me. I grossed $30 – and caught a cold in one nostril.
Adele once said, after a similar outing, "Selling your own books is a better path to enlightenment-through-humility than Zen meditation."
Causes Bob Levin Supports
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, ACLU, PEN, Berkeley Emergency Food & Housing Project.