where the writers are
Paved Paradise

The man who said those seven words you can’t say on television is dead today. George Carlin, one of the people who changed how we saw comedy died yesterday. When I heard about it this morning I felt sad. Mostly because he was so funny, and he did another routine I loved. I think it was on the first Saturday Night Live where he talked about the differences of football and baseball.

            Now you might think yeah, football and baseball are different, big whoop. However, Carlin would make it so funny. In a very serious voice, he would say “In football there has to be a coin toss of who goes first.” Then in an animated voice, he’d say: “In baseball! One team is outfield! One team is up to bat!” This would continue until you are laughing so hard and realize that he was so right. Baseball is the sport of summer, where everything is light and easy. Football is the sport of autumn, where things get serious, when we need to go back and play by the rules. Carlin must’ve performed this bit hundreds of times, and it never got old.

            I didn’t say much about Tim Russert dying last week because although I was sad about his death, so many people were speaking about it that to add my words would’ve been futile. However, I watched bits of his funeral last week where anyone who is anyone came to pay respects for the Man from Buffalo. Senators John McCain and Barack Obama walked in, per the request of Russert’s widow, Maureen Orth. They sat side by side, not speaking, not debating. For a while, there were no red states or blue states in the room. There were just people paying respect to the man who must have interviewed half the room, talked his talk, and walked his walk. That to me is a quiet miracle.

            In addition, Cody’s has closed. Cody’s, if you don’t live in the Bay Area, was one of the best bookstores in the Bay Area. If you watch The Graduate, when Benjamin is living in Berkeley, trying to make up with Elaine, there’s a scene where Ben’s on the bus, and from the window you can see Cody’s. I saw Graduate at the Paramount once. When that scene came up, the audience cheered. This is why I love the Bay Area: We cheer when we see one of our bookstores.

            Cody’s was right on Telegraph. There were many times I would go there and eat at the Mexican place across the street, then go to Cody’s. I saw so man writers there. Alice Kahn. Kaye Gibbons. Michael Moore. Ianathe Brautigan. Joyce Carol Oates.

            One cold night in 1991, I saw Kurt Vonnegut speak. It was so crowded that my body shoved against the calendar table. It was worth it to see him, holding my shabby copy of Welcome to the Monkey House. Meranda and I waited for an hour for him to sign our books, but his hands grew tired and he couldn’t sign any more books. We weren’t even mad. Being in the same room was enough.

            Seven years ago David Sedaris came to Cody’s to promote the paperback copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day.  Cody’s knew it was going to be crazy, so they did a very smart thing. They put up loudspeakers so people on the street could hear Sedaris read a hysterical essay about his brother swearing and yet can be there for their father during an emergency. People were swirling around, listening to his voice, laughing.

            Cody’s on Telegraph closed two years ago, but a couple of months ago they moved their Fourth Street store to College, where Edy’s Soda Shoppe used to be years ago. Three months ago, I saw Jodi Picoult there. It was packed, and Picoult was so excited to be in Berkeley. In the middle of the reading, there were Tibetan monks walking by the store, chanting, protesting the torch run in San Francisco. Picoult stopped what she was doing and said, “Can we just watch this please? We don’t have protests in New Hamphire.”

            Now I heard on KPFA Cody’s is gone. Cody’s which has been in Berkeley for over fifty years is gone. It would be easy to blame the bookstore chains, but this time we can’t. The Barnes and Noble that was down the street disappeared a year ago and Borders Books are in trouble. I don’t know what to make of it. I feel like Alice and the Queen is yelling “Off with her head! Off with her head!” I just want to tell her “Off with your head, lady. I’ve got enough on my plate.”


            Don’t it always seem to go

            You don’t know what you got until it’s gone

            They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

                                                                         Joni Mitchell