Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa (Literati Cultura)

Once upon a time, I had a favorite book store.  It was Borders.  From its Novi store opening in the mid-1980’s to its closing in 2011, I spent a lot of time (and money) in that second home.

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Since its departure, I’ve explored the indies, and discovered many excellent book stores, each with their unique character.  Literati Bookstore is one such treasure.

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Located in downtown Ann Arbor, Literati opened in 2013.  Fiction on the main floor, nonfiction on lower, the books are displayed on shelves from the old Borders stores.  Typewriters shine in the front counter display case, with a manual Olympia on the lower level for patrons to type their thoughts.  On the upper floor is a cafe, which was opened recently, where U of M students sit with their laptops and lattes, and author talks and book signings take place.

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Samples of typed comments adorn the side of Literati Bookstore.

In September, 2015, the bookstore started a on-going, signed, first edition, subscription book club called Literati Cultura.   Through this, readers enhance their own reading and exploration of new writing.  It also allows bibliophiles to grow their libraries with signed first editions, creating a potential collectability element.

Each month, a Literati Cultura subscriber receives a hard cover, first edition book, signed by the author, as selected by owner Hilary Gustafson.  Included is a typewritten letter from Ms. Gustafson, detailing why the book was selected, and a limited edition print by Wolverine Press.  All this for cost of the hardcover book.  If you live a distance from the store – like I do – they will ship it to you for the additional shipping cost.  The selections thus far have been:

  • The Fates and The Furies by Lauren Groff. (Sept. 2015)
  • Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell (Oct. 2015)
  • Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape by Lauret Savoy (Nov. 2015)
  • Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman (Dec. 2015)
  • My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (Jan. 2016)
  • Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa (Feb. 2016)
  • The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan (Mar. 2016)
  • Desert Boys by Chris McCormick (Apr. 2016)
  • Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh (May, 2016)
  • The Girls by Emma Cline (June, 2016)
  • Miss Jane by Brad Watson (July, 2016)

This month, I’ll be receiving the twelfth book of the subscription – Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, completing the first year of the club. I figured it was about time I start getting into these books, as they always seemed to arrive beneath the higher priority books I was reading.  Of the eleven titles received thus far, I have only read one.  After last night, I can now say I’ve read two.

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Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman (Dec. 2012 selection) was an easy first book to read.  Illustrator, author, and designer, Kalman tells the story of the her life with her husband and the sadness of losing him, and the how the love of a dog – an animal she feared throughout her life – opened her to a new joy for living.  It was a quick read as the story is told with words and illustrations, and was approved by my beloved dog, Zen.  I gave it the Goodreads rating of a 3 – I liked it.

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Of the ten remaining books, the one that jumped out at me first was the February, 2016 selection, Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. 

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It’s November 30, 1999, as nineteen-year-old Victor emerges from under the bridge of the Seattle freeway he slept beneath, into the organized chaos of ‘N30′ – the first day of the protests against the WTO Ministerial Conference.  His step-father, Bishop, is the Chief of Police, and has not seen Victor since the boy left three years earlier to bare witness to the world.  The story is told through these two characters, as well as King, a young woman activist with a not-so nonviolent past; King’s lover, John Henry, an older activist from the Vietnam-era; police officers Park and Julia who become engaged with the protestors; and Dr. Charles Wickramsinghe, the diplomat from Sri Lanka seeking to have his country become a member of the WTO.

The novel puts these characters not only into conflict with each other, but within themselves as they confront nonviolent protest, police brutality, and globalization.  Yapa does this skillfully, not in a sententious way.  The only feeling of stepping out of the novel and into the political came in the way the final chapters were written – from Chapter 40 on.   It didn’t bother me as a reader, as it takes its shot at the media and the way such events are covered, but others may have a different opinion of whether it pulled too much away from the characters’ stories.

On the Goodreads scale, I give this book five stars – it was awesome.  Some people like to read novels set during periods of war.  I enjoy those that are set during occasions of protest.

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Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing

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On April 4, 2011, I attended the reading and celebration for the book, I’ve Somehow Swallowed the Night: An Anthology of Creative Writing by Michigan Prisoners (2011).  It was the third annual volume of creative writing published by the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) who “make possible the spaces in which the voices and visions of the incarcerated can be expressed.”  Though the readings consisted of poetry, the anthology included short prose as well.  I purchased it and the previous two volumes:  On Words: Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing (2009) and The Bridges from Which I have Jumped: The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing (2010).

Flashing forward to March of this year, I attended the Voices of the Middle West festival.  The one-day event was created by Midwestern Gothic literary magazine and partnered with the University of Michigan’s Residential College, to celebrate writers, professors, university and independent presses of the midwest.  At the first festival, in 2014, PCAP had a table, and I was almost able to catch up on the collection, picking up And Still You Expect Greatness: The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing Volume 5 (2013) and The Sky is On Fire, After All: The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing Volume 6 (2014).  (It is my understanding there was an issue with the fourth volume, On the Corner of Nihilism and Hope (2012), making it no longer available.  If you come across a copy somewhere, please let me know).  Last year, PCAP attended the festival again, adding Build Your Catacomb Anywhere But Here: The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing Volume 7 (2015).

Adding the most recent volume to the collection from this year’s festival – Origami Handcuff Keys: The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing, Volume 8 (2016) – I finally worked the first volume to the top of my reading list.

Wow.  The prose in On Words was breathtaking.

  • “A Wake and a Reckoning” by Jason Lee Metras is a tale of street revenge.
  • “The Muddy Uniform” by Marc Janness is a metaphor for how incarceration makes it difficult to assimilate back into society.
  • “His Trip to the City” by Joseph C. Yoder is about a recently released convict adjusting to relating with women (this is a very sweet story).
  • “Letters” by Shaka is about an inmate convicted of murder and the letters he exchanged with his son.
  • “Slow Walk Home” by Daniel Meyers is about the author’s three-mile walk home from picking cotton with his family when he was six-years-old, and applying it to his much older self.
  • “Zooey Deschanel” by Seven Scott is about the dumb things we fight about.
  • “Royalty Deferred” by Antoniese Gant Bey reveals a gripping view of an abused woman who shows her love by calling the police.
  • “Autumn Rain” by Chris Sarr is a family Thanksgiving story.
  • “Crowded Isolation” by T. X. Rasoul is about healing from the life of incarceration by riding public transportation.
  • “Tell Me Something I Can Believe” by Eve Poole is about a fourteen-year-old girl thrown out of her house and subsequently meeting with her mother as to the reason why.

These short pieces were deep, revealing works of fiction and memoir that pulled back another layer of understanding on some of the clients I represent as a criminal defense lawyer.  And the writing itself was better than some of the things I’ve seen published in other anthologies.

Yes, I am not one for poetry (though the discovery of Frogpond, the literary journal of the Haiku Society of America at the festival has tickled my interest), so I confess to skipping over what might be some very good poems.

In September, 2015, while on the Wayne State University Literary Walk, I heard Jim Reese read from his poetry collection; Really Happy (NYQ Books, 2014).  Reese, an Associate Professor at Mount Marty College in Yankton, South Dakota,  also spoke about a project he worked on as the Writer-in-Residence at the Federal Prison Camp in Yankton, South Dakota.  Afterwards, I spoke with him about it, about my day-job, and he gave me a copy of their recent anthology – 4 P.M Count: A Journal From Federal Prison Camp Yankton (2014).

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Through art, we explore our shared humanity.  The power of these works do not come from the stereotypical images we have of prisoners and prisons, but rather, humanize the experience of the writers and people behind bars.  Through their writing a human soul is revealed.  Such a publication is subversive to a society hell-bent on considering and treating incarcerated people as “caged animals.”

As I work the rest of these anthologies into my reading list, I’ll share my thoughts on them here.  But by all means, jump ahead of me.  The Voices of the Middle West festival may be over, but you can order copies from PCAP.

The Bernie Sanders Reader

The Bernie Sanders Reader

-Outsider in the House
-The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class
-Bernie
-Bernie Sanders In His Own Words
-The Essential Bernie Sanders and his Vision for America
-Outsider in the White House

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They say that one should not discuss sex, politics, and religion in polite company.  Well, I already broke the rule by reviewing Buddhist books and books by Buddhist writers earlier.  So, yes, I’m going to occasionally review books of a political nature, starting with this Bernie Sanders collection.

The videos and photos were taken at a Bernie Sanders presidential campaign rally at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, MI on February 15, 2016, and at the Macomb County Community College in Warren, MI on March 5, 2016.   The EMU Convocation Center seats 9,000, and Bernie spoke to a capacity 9,394 crowd on this Monday afternoon, and between 3,000-4,000 (by my estimates) in Warren.

And, in full disclosure, I am supporting Bernie Sanders’ campaign for United States President.  All that said, on to the books.

Starting with Ted Rall’s book, Bernie (Seven Stories Press, 2016) because it is the most recent book I’ve read.  Rall not only reveals Bernie’s personal story, but how the Democratic Party moved to the right since the 1972 landslide victory of Richard Nixon over George McGovern.  This move away from the progressives, coupled with Reagan’s trickle-down economics, resulted in policies which grew the military industrial complex, shipped manufacturing jobs overseas, depressed middle class wages, increased incarceration and prison-building, and removed restrictions on Wall Street and banks.  The Democrats kept progressives at bay, providing a lesser-of-two-evils choice for their vote.  Then Rall gets into Sanders’ personal history, wrapping up with how Sanders offers the progressive wing of the party a legitimate voice during this year’s campaign.  This well-researched and reasoned book comes in a condensed form at a time when many who may not know about Bernie Sanders can quickly understand his origins and how so many, like myself, have come to rally for the Independent Senator from Vermont to create a country for We, the People, instead of for the corporations and wealthy.

The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class (Nation Books, 2011) is the verbatim, eight-and-a-half hour, 255-page speech Senator Bernie Sanders delivered on the floor of the US Senate on December 10, 2010, to filibuster a tax bill that President Obama and Republicans agreed to which would cut taxes for the rich, once more.  It was an epic moment, with President Obama calling a press conference to draw attention away from the marathon recitation by Senator Sanders.  This is not a filibuster in which the Senator read the phone book or other time-killing trivial matters, but a full-on rant on how these tax breaks would widen the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us, on corporate greed, and money in politics, and how it all has had a negative impact on the citizens of this country.

Bernie Sanders : In His Own Words (Skyhorse Publishing, 2015) is a collection of Bernie Sanders quotes on a variety of topics such as the Economy, Jobs and Wealth Distribution, the Environment, Equality, Health Care, Criminal Justice, and more, compiled by Chamois Holschuh, with illustrations by Walker Bragman.

For something a little deeper into the political platform and philosophy of governance, then The Essential Bernie Sanders and his Vision for America (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015) by Jonathan Tasini is what you’re looking for.  Again, each chapter is broken down topically based on the issues.  Tasini explains, in the Preface that…

(t)he goal of this book is to present to the country, in a succinct way, Bernie’s authenticity and his accomplishments, a vision that he believes is a winning agenda because it exactly reflects, whatever labels one sticks on the messenger, the desires and beliefs of a majority of people.

On the shelves of your local bookstore you should be able to find Outsider in the White House (Verso, 2015) by Bernie Sanders with Huck Gutman.  It is an updated edition of the 1997 Verso autobiography of Sanders, Outsider in the House.   Here, the Independent Senator from Vermont tells his life story.  The new material is an afterword written by John Nichols, Outsider in the Presidential Race.

Avoiding books on religion, politics, and sex is shunning a multitude of thoughts and ideas that inspire and guide us in the practice of life.  Choosing to ignore the discussion of them does a disservice to the exchange of ideas.  I’m sure there will be more future books on religion and politics on this site.  And maybe some sex, too.  Why not hit the trifecta, eh?

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More book reviews

Rock ‘n’ Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League by Ian Plenderleith

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Rock n Roll Soccer:
The Short Life and Fast Times of the
North American Soccer League
by
Ian Plenderleith

It was April, 1978, when the Detroit Free Press introduced me to Detroit’s new pro team, the Detroit Express of the North American Soccer League (NASL).

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I was a hockey fan growing up.  But hockey ran from October to May, which then left the summer sport-less.  I never got into baseball; the only cool thing about baseball was baseball cards.  So, I was intrigued.

WJR-AM covered eighteen of the Express’ games, while WXON-TV 20 broadcast six road games, including the team’s first two matches in Tulsa (2-1 win) and Fort Lauderdale (2-1 OT win).  I followed the team via radio, and caught some of the league’s games on ABC.  Then, this guy named Trevor Francis came over from the English National Team and the English League’s Birmingham City, and raised the level of excitement.  So much so, I finally talked my parents into taking me to the final home game of the season; a 4-2 victory over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, with Francis scoring two and assisting on another.

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It was such a good time we went back nine days later when the Express eliminated the Philadelphia Fury 1-0 in the first round of the playoffs, on a goal by Trevor Francis (who else?)

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Ian Plenderleith’s book is not a detailed history of the league, but rather an analysis of its rise and fall, its innovations and dumb ideas, its players and management, and its effect on the game.  In today’s game, there are elements that were first introduced in the NASL.

For example, in order to encourage higher scoring, the league awarded the winning team six points, the losing team zero points, but both teams would receive a point for each goal they scored up to three.  A winning team could walk away, at most, with nine points, and the losing team could earn up to three.  If the match ended in a tie, a fifteen-minute sudden death overtime would be played.  If still tied, then a shoot-out would resolve the match.  Like the use of penalty kicks today in playoffs or tournaments to resolve a tie, five players on each side would face-off against the keeper in a shoot out.  The ball would be placed on the thirty-five yard line.  The keeper had no movement restrictions and the shooter had five seconds to move in and shoot on the net.  FIFA was using a two-point system for a win, one-point for a draw, with no bonuses for goals scored.  Eventually, FIFA moved to a system that awarded three-points for a win, with goal differential deciding ties in the standings.

Other innovations included the thirty-five yard line (then maligned by FIFA who eventually forced NASL to abolish it) to combat the offside rule; three substitutes were allowed in the NASL when the norm was two, which FIFA later adopted; names and numbers on jerseys was only found in the NASL, but is now universal; and targeting women as potential fans was a NASL innovation.  The NASL talked about eliminating the time-wasting tactic of the back pass to the goalkeeper, but FIFA wouldn’t consider it until the 1990’s, long after the league’s demise.

Of course, it was the people  – players and executives – that made the league memorable.  I found the section on Jimmy Hill, a general partner of the Express who was responsible for the arrival of Trevor Francis to Detroit, especially interesting.  Stories about Rodney Marsh and George Best, two players who knew how to entertain as well as play the beautiful game; about franchises in Hawaii and Las Vegas which brought interesting challenges; and about the league’s origin being a controversy between two rival leagues in 1967, demonstrated how the NASL planted professional soccer into the American landscape.

An analysis of the NASL would be incomplete without a comparison with America’s current professional league – Major League Soccer (MLS).  Even from its outset in 1996 when MLS proclaimed its adamant distinction from the NASL, Plenderlieth draws the similarities and distinction between the two North American leagues.

I found this an enjoyable read broadening what little I had known about the league while following the Detroit Express from 1978 to 1980.

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Book Review: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

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In July, 2014, I visited New York City for the first time.  One day we spent book store shopping, during which we discovered Three Lives and Company in Greenwich Village.  The small, well-stocked book store had a table upon which back issues of literary magazines were for sale for a couple bucks a piece.  I picked up a copy of the Fall, 2012 edition of The Paris Review.  This was my first exposure to the legendary literary journal founded in 1953 by a group of American writers including George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, Harold L. Humes, Thomas Guinzburg, and Donald Hall.

One of the stories within the 202’nd edition was Disgust by Ottessa Moshfegh.  It opened with a 134-word paragraph which was a single sentence.  I thought that was rather unconventional.  No speakers or instructors at the writers conferences and workshops I’ve attended ever suggested that starting a short story with a 134-word sentence was a sure-fire way to get published.  I suppose you can get away with being unconventional if your writing is strong, which Ms. Moshfegh’s certainly is.  The protagonist in Disgust is the quirky, socially awkward Mr. Wu who has a crush on the woman who worked at the video game arcade, and his introverted schemes to make contact with her.

Upon returning home, I picked up the newest issue of The Paris Review, which was the 210’th edition – Fall, 2014.  I’ve been hooked ever since.

The Winter, 2014, 211’th edition included another story by Ottessa Moshfegh.  Slumming featured another quirky character, a high school English teacher who owned a summer home in Alna, a small town away from the city.  She tells of her interaction with the residents, like Clark who she paid to maintain and watch the house during the school year, the zombies (vagrant townsfolk) who sold meth and heroin at the bus station, and the very pregnant girl who Clark paid to clean the narrator’s house.  Again, the unusual characters drew me into the story.

In the September, 2015 Indie Next List flyer, Moshfegh’s debut novel, Eileen was promoted.  I purchased it at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, but I didn’t get a chance to read it until recently.  In the interim, The Paris Review‘s 214’th, Fall, 2015 edition contained Moshfegh’s short story, Dancing in the Moonlight.  The narrator, Nick, a Yale grad, falls for a woman selling her refurbished furniture in a pop-up market on the Lower East Side of New York, named Britt Wendt.  “That’s not a name, that’s the beginning of a sentence,” his oldest friend, Mark Lasky said when he told him.  Again, it was a well-crafted story involving unusual and engaging characters.

So here we are.  My name was Eileen Dunlop.  Now you know me.  I was twenty-four years old and had a job that paid fifty-seven dollars a week as a kind of secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys.  I think of it now as what it really was for all intents and purposes – a prison for children.  I will call it Moorehead.  Delvin Moorehead was a terrible landlord I had years later, and so to use his name for such a place feels appropriate.

In a week, I would run away from home and never go back.  This is the story of how I disappeared.

Eileen is a novel-length exploration inside the head of yet another unusual character, in a reflection of the event fifty years prior, in 1964, that caused her to run away from home.  As a result of her disappearance, Moshfegh’s narrator changed her identity , and masks the details of the New England town in which she was born, raised, and fled from.

Darkly funny and sad, Eileen lives with her father – a retired police officer – whose reputation keeps him from finding himself in jail from his drunken antics when he wanders from home.  Her mother had recently died, and her older sister, Joanie, lived with another man a few towns over, leaving Eileen to care for her unappreciative, intoxicated father.

Eileen was a social outcast, and the inner workings of her mind are creepily realistic.  The reader is placed in a position of feeling both uncomfortable and pity for the girl.  She thinks about leaving, about how her father, her sister, her co-workers, might feel if she were suddenly gone, but nothing moves her.  Until the correctional facility hired a new counselor – Rebecca St. John.

Rebecca is an educated, classier woman who is new to town and becomes friendly with Eileen.  This sparks a glimmer of hope for the narrator, a companion and friend.  Rebecca becomes the catalyst for Eileen’s disappearance.

Throughout the novel, the reader knows that something is going to happen to cause Eileen to leave town.  The ‘why’ she leaves, well, I did not see coming.

Like her three previously published short stories, Ottessa Moshfegh pulled me into the company of an unusual character, the kind of character I prefer to read about, and weaved a satisfying story within a gloomy environment in Eileen.

On Goodreads, I rated this novel a 4 out of 5.  I really liked it.

Book Review: Hockey Card Stories by Ken Reid

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Back in August, I was looking for a specific book.  I finally located a copy at the Barnes & Noble in Utica.  However, while perusing the shelves that day, I happened upon this striking cover.  Yes, covers do catch the eye of those of us who are browsers, and sometimes results in sales, such as on this day.  The title is self explanatory, but the cover was cool in that it has the waxy feel of an old fashioned pack of hockey cards.  Thumbing through it sold me.

Growing up, hockey was my sport.  In most all sports in gym class I was the kid chosen last…except in floor hockey.  I couldn’t skate a lick, learning while playing in a house league in Plymouth (and don’t get me started on the politics of that fiasco, with my coach a Michigan Republican Senator who…well, damn, I said don’t get me started).  Still, hockey was my sports forte.  And with that, hockey card collecting.

Reading through this book, I found it to be an interesting and fun trip down memory lane.  If you’re looking for critical or literary writing, this isn’t for you.  The author has an almost teen-age voice in each of these bits about the 59 hockey players and their cards, which is fine for reliving this hockey nostalgia.  See, back in the day, there were those of us who collected hockey cards because we enjoyed the sport and the cardboard representations of its players, not for the financial investment purpose.  It’s where my inspiration for shooting sports action photography – specifically hockey in the past, soccer today – originates, and probably author Ken Reid’s inspiration to go into sports broadcasting.  He’s a sports anchor on Sportsnet Connected.

I once amassed a nice collection of hockey cards, beginning with the first set I put together through opening packs – the 132-card 1971-72 Topps – and all the way through to the early 90’s.  In my day, there was only O-Pee-Chee and Topps, the former had the exact same cards as the Topps, but with an additional checklist of cards and sold in Canada.  I still have some of them, and thought it might be fun to take the chapter titles that Reid used and add a few of my cards and thoughts.  His book interviews the players on his cards, which is cool, especially when the player having a hockey card issued meant something to him.

Strike a Pose:

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Yes.  It was the long hair of Garry Unger that made him one of the coolest players in the NHL.  The first NHL game I went to was at the Olympia on January 9, 1971.  The Red Wings defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2.  Unger played for the Red Wings, and even though legend Gordie Howe was on the ice in his last season as a Red Wing, it was the long flowing hair of Unger that caught my attention.  About a month later, Unger was traded to St. Louis with Wayne Connelly for Red Berenson and Tim Ecclestone.  Not even a month in to following this team and they traded a favorite of mine.  Unger went on to having a great career, playing over 1,100 NHL games and setting the iron man record of 914 consecutive games (later broken by Doug Jarvis).  The 1972-73 Topps card still in my collection.

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1972.  The year I strapped on skates for the only season of little league hockey for me.  That same season, the Red Wings dressed rookie Henry Boucha.  His Topps 1973-74 rookie card shows a poised, clean-shaven, thick-haired young man.  However he became a fan favorite sporting a headband instead of a helmet.  He even made an appearance at the Plymouth Cultural Center, where I played, to sign autographs.  I remember owning a headband, but not allowed to wear it in lieu of a helmet.  A wise thing for a ten year old learning to play the game while at the same time learning to skate.  This 1974-75 Topps card remains in my collection, depicting him more accurately than his rookie card had.  He played two seasons for the Red Wings, in 143 games, with 33 goals and 26 assists, before being traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Danny Grant.

Making it look Mean:

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I agree with Reid that the 1973-74 Phil Roberto card is a classic of all cards when it comes to the game’s aggressive nature.  And if I remember correctly, the Billy Smith card from that season looks as if it was taken just after this fight, as he is putting him and his equipment back together.

I always thought this Cam Connor card from the O-Pee-Chee 1976-77 WHA set had an intimidating look.  Connor, a career pugilist, racked up 904 penalty minutes in 274 games in the WHA, and additional 256 penalty minutes in 89 NHL games.

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Keith Magnuson played his entire 589 NHL game career with the Chicago Blackhawks.  And the defenseman was one of the feistiest players of his day.  The look of his 1972-73 Topps card, with Magnuson in the penalty box, and photographed with a fisheye lens, was a clear guide of where to direct your gaze if you wanted to see Keith Magnuson at a hockey game.

The WHA:

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I loved the WHA.  Though having not seen a game until the late 90’s when I found a DVD of the final Avco Cup trophy game, I still loved reading about the WHA in its section of The Hockey News.  My dad subscribed to the hockey weekly, which had articles on every team in the NHL, a section for the WHA, and sections for the other minor-pro leagues and Canadian Juniors.  The box score for every NHL and WHA game was published in them,  Being from Metro Detroit, you’d think I would have been a fan of the Houston Aeros and the New England Whalers, for that is where Gordie Howe and his two sons, Marty and Mark, played together.  And Bobby Hull being a former Blackhawk, I shouldn’t be rooting for the Winnipeg Jets.  However, the duo who kept Hull in the limelight – Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg – were favorites of mine.  At the time, the great debate was which right winger was better – Hedberg or Guy Lafleur.  Both were of the same age, and both were in the prime of their careers.  From 1974-1978, Hedberg scored 236 goals, 222 assists, for 458 points in 286 games.  Lafleur had 225 goals, 287 assists, for 512 points in 308 games during the same years.  However, when Hedberg joined the New York Rangers after the WHA folded and the NHL absorbed four of its teams, Lafleur racked up more points than Hedberg in the three seasons from 1978-1981.  But Lafleur was a part of the legendary Canadiens dynasty of the late 1970’s.  Would he have had the same production on a team of lesser talent than the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA, or New York Rangers?  It always made for a fun argument.

I had every one of the O-Pee-Chee WHA sets complete at one time.  I’ve sold all but the 1976-77 set from which these two cards come from.

A good book about the WHA is Ed Willes’ The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association (McClelland and Stewart, 2005)

The Goalies:

There was something about Rogie Vachon that drew me to putting him among my favorite goalies growing up.  I had liked the LA Kings uniforms back then, and he became an all-star goalie on an average team.  Where the Drydens and Cheevers and Parents and Espositos got all the accolades, Vachon stood on his head for the Kings back in the day.  I like this 1974-75 Topps card which features Vachon in the Kings garb and the old-style goaltender equipment from the 1970’s.

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Then, there were awesome goaltenders on horrible teams.  Gilles Meloche was that guy.  I, too, liked the Oakland Seals/California Golden Seals uniforms – each variation from season to season.  And though the team was pretty much a given two points for any team they faced, Meloche made it a hard-earned two points.  The 1973-74 Topps Card again shows the goaltender equipment of the 70’s in the Seals uniform, and the 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee card has him decked out in the Cleveland Barons red, where the Seals migrated to in 1976 before being merged with the Minnesota North Stars two years later.

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By the mid-Seventies, I had lost my interest in the Red Wings.  They never won games, were never in the playoffs, and they kept trading away my favorite players.  When one of them – Marcel Dionne – was traded to the LA Kings, I started to claim them as my favorite team.  However, there was no Internet or ESPN back then, and seeing a Kings game on Hockey Night in Canada was rare.  With the expansion in 1974 adding the Kansas City Scouts (and Washington Capitals) to the league, the Scouts had me peeking in their direction.  Former Red Wing legend, Sid Abel, was the general manager of the team, and brought over one of my favorite Wings, Guy Charron, and others.  After two seasons, the team left Kansas City for Colorado, but not before drafting a young defenseman from the Toronto Marlboros.  More on that later, however that move to Colorado and the players that were emerging there drew me.  I was becoming a Colorado Rockies fan.

Doug Favell’s mask is the reason for this card’s presence.  Favell had a career playing for the Flyers and the Maple Leafs before coming to Colorado in 1976 to finish his career.

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And one cannot talk about goaltenders, the Colorado Rockies, and the 1970’s without mentioning Hardy Astrom.  This 1980-81 O-Pee-Chee card is the only one of the goalie that Don Cherry gained a lot of his material from.  Cherry coached the Rockies in the 1979-80 season where he had Astrom between the pipes in 49 of them.  But it wasn’t all bad for the Swedish goalie.

On Saturday, February 25, 1978, the Rangers were to play the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada.  The Habs were on a record streak of 28 games without a loss.  And the Rangers started the rookie Swede in goal against the league powerhouse.  Astrom went on to stop 29 shots and the Rangers won 6-3, snapping the Candiens streak.

Cool:

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There were a lot of cool cards during the years, but I chose these because they represented the Colorado Rockies, the team I was becoming a fan of, and because they were all action photos.  It was shots like these that inspired me to shoot sports action photography.  Posed photos are nice, but to capture humans practicing their humanity, whether it be skating on the ice and scoring a goal, making a save, kicking a ball downfield on a soccer pitch, fans creating plumes of smoke, or humans performing compassion in action, I find a sense of creativity and beauty of capturing those moments as they happen.

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And, well, this is the ultimate cool.  This was the guy who was drafted by the Kansas City Scouts, and began his career with the Colorado Rockies.  I rooted for my namesake for the obvious reason – if he was on a Stanley Cup winning team, our name would be engraved on the Stanley Cup!  It took almost 40 years, but as the Assistant Coach of the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks, (and again in 2015), the dream has been realized.  Now I have to see the Stanley Cup with our names etched on it.

I got to see him play live, once, at Joe Louis Arena for the New Jersey Devils on October 8, 1983 in the Red Wings home opener.  The Devils won, 6-3.

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Airbrush:

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I no longer have what I considered the classic airbrush card, but this one will do.  My first favorite player, Marcel Dionne, was traded from the Detroit Red Wings to the Los Angeles Kings in the summer of 1975.  This 1975-76 Topps card shows him in the Kings purple jersey, however wearing number 12 – the number he wore as the Red Wings’ captain during the 1974-75 season.  In LA, he took the #16 jersey.

But the airbrush I remember was from the 1974-75 Topps Jacques Lemaire card.  Lemaire played his entire twelve-year career as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.  But for some reason the O-Pee-Chee/Topps  company airbrushed him into a Buffalo Sabres uniform and displayed him as a player on the Buffalo Sabres.

The 80’s:

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The 1980’s hockey to me meant the Quebec Nordiques and the New Jersey Devils.  I became a fan of the Devils after having followed the Rockies and their move to New Jersey.  They developed young talent due to high draft picks from finishing low in the league.  It was the Nordiques I found myself rooting for most often in the playoffs.  I thought Peter Stastny was an amazing player, and human being, defecting from Czechoslovakia with his brother, Anton, in 1980.  He played the decade with the Nordiques, then was traded and played four seasons with the Devils, ending his career with a season in St. Louis.

Error Cards:

I liked the Steve Larmer/Steve Ludzik rookie errors from the 1984-85 Topps/O-Pee-Chee sets, like Reid.  So I think I’ll take this moment to point out the only error I uncovered in Reid’s book.

On Page 94, Reid begins Chapter Five: Cool Cards with the 1977-78 Pat Hickey card.  The content of the chapter talks about Hickey being traded from the Rangers before Hickey was to appear on the “Hockey Sock Rock” video, sung by a number of the Rangers’ players.  On Page 95, Reid writes, “But Hickey wasn’t in the video.  It turns out he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings before Espo, JD, Dave Maloney and Ron Duguay made the famous video.”  At the bottom of the page, he quotes Hickey.  “We did this film for an ad and then we got on a plane and went to Los Angeles and that’s when I was traded for [Barry] Beck.”

The Colorado Rockies fan in me cringed.  No.  Hickey was traded to Colorado for Barry Beck.  Beck was the first round draft choice (#2 overall) of the Rockies in 1977.  In his third season with the Rockies, Beck went to the Rangers for Hickey, Lucien Deblois, and Dean Turner.  Hickey never played for the Kings.

The other reason I remember that trade is because of the third wheel in the deal.  Dean Turner was a player trying to break into the NHL.  From Dearborn, Michigan, he was the son of a local news personality – Marilyn Turner.

Rookies:

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The first year I started buying cards at the store, tearing open the packs to get at the cards to complete the 132 card set was the year of the Ken Dryden rookie card.  The cerebral Dryden came out of Cornell University, played six games at the end of the 1970-71 season, then surprised the Boston Bruins in the first round in seven games.  He then led the Habs past the Minnesota North Stars in six games in Round Two; then another seven game battle against the Blackhawks to win the Conn Smythe Award for being the MVP of the playoffs.  Dryden went on to be the #1 goaltender for the Habs throughout the 1970’s, with the exception of the 1973-74 season where he went to work as a law clerk for a Toronto law firm while in a contract dispute with the Canadiens.

His books, The Game: A Reflective and Thought Provoking Look at a Life in Hockey (Macmillan Company of Canada, 1983) and Home Game: Hockey and Life in Canada (McClelland and Stewart, 1990) are classics and good reads for the hockey aficionado.

Hall of Famers:

Reid writes about the 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee (and Topps) card of Phil Esposito wearing slacks.  When I read that, I recalled the card, and that his teammate, Ken Hodge was also immortalized on a hockey card in slacks.

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O-Pee-Chee/Topps must have liked the look, because they repeated it in the 1972-73 set.

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Reid’s chapter on Espo is a reminder of the character he was.  Individual characters seem to be lost in today’s team sports, unfortunately.  This 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee card shows him in the New York Rangers look of the late 70’s, a jersey I thought was cool.  It also happens to be an uncorrected error card, as its stats incorrectly show Espo scoring 78 goals in 1972-73 (he scored 55 that season).

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When it comes to Hall of Famers, though, my favorite all-time player is Patrick Roy.  He emerged much like Ken Dryden did, winning the Conn Smythe in his first season as the Habs won the 1986 Stanley Cup.  His idiosyncrasies and confidence made him a character as well as the NHL’s greatest goalie.

In 2001-02, Topps issued a parallel set, which I tried to collect because they were formatted like the 1971-72 set – the set that began it for me.  I haven’t completed that set.

DSC04028Reid’s book obviously took me down memory lane, and into the boxes and 9-pockets of cards I still have.  If you collected hockey cards and followed the sport back in the 70’s and 80’s, you’ll find enjoyment in this book.

I stopped collecting hockey cards shortly after the market flooded with companies like Upper Deck, Score, Pro Set and Fleer entering the fray.  I also left hockey behind as well.  The game has changed too much, not necessarily for the better.  Instead, I’ve rediscovered my appreciation for “the beautiful game.”  These are the only cards I collect now – Major League Soccer cards.  It’s very simple, a single set each year, first released by Upper Deck, then within the last couple seasons, by Topps.  It’s just like back when only O-Pee-Chee/Topps existed in the hockey card world.

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Book Review: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

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I enjoy going to book signings.  I treasure the opportunity to meet a writer, hear about their lives and influences and the book they’ve recently published that has put them on the stage or in the book store.  However, a recent book signing event was the worst I have ever attended, which is quite a contrast from the book I was reading at the time.

I’ll tell you about it in a moment.

The Art of Asking or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer (Grand Central Publishing, 2014) is a must-read for any artist.  When I saw it at the book store I immediately thought it would be a good self-help book for my wife.  She is stubbornly independent, so much so that when she took the Buddhist Precepts, she was given a name with the meaning, “Relies on Self.”  Buying her the book, though, would be useless because she prefers e-books to the real thing.

I found myself at the book store again, in front of this book, curious about its message.  The only thing I knew about Amanda Palmer was having heard her recording of “The Ukulele Anthem” on Occupy This Album.  I’d read the inside flap and the back cover blurbs, and, I don’t know, something within it called to me.

A lot of this book is memoir of her artistic career to this point.  But it is also a reflection on her practice of asking and trusting.  “I wanted to address a fundamental topic that has been troubling me: To tell my artist friends that it was okay to ask.  It was okay to ask for money, and it was okay to ask for help.” (Page 5, emphasis in original).

It’s a legitimate topic for those of us who are in the arts.  And Ms. Palmer’s career as an artist began on the streets of Boston, where she dressed up as a bride, stood on a platform, remained stationary until someone dropped money into a hat before her.  She would then animate and give the patron a flower, making eye contact while smiling; the gift of seeing the patron.

A statue performer at the 2012 Ann Arbor Art Fair.

Palmer hits on all the buttons that disable us as artists from asking for help.  For example, she calls out our fear of the Fraud Police:

The Fraud Police are the imaginary, terrifying force of “real” grown-ups who you believe – at some subconscious level – are going to come knocking on your door in the middle of the night, saying:

We’ve been watching you, and we have evidence that you have NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING.  You stand accused of the crime of completely winging it, you are guilty of making shit up as you go along, you do not actually deserve your job, we are taking everything away and we are TELLING EVERYBODY.
(Page 42-43).

She counters that what we do, as artists, is not conventionally categorized and is new.  “When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy.  You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand.  And feel stupid doing it.” (Page 43).  This is what gives the Fraud Police strength.  I know.  I write, and I have in my mind what the wand looks like that will make me feel legitimate in calling myself a Writer.  But that’s the kind of bullshit I, and other artists, need to cut through in order to make that leap.

In both the art and the business worlds, the difference between the amateurs and the professionals is simple:
The professionals know they’re winging it.
The amateurs pretend they’re not.
Page 44.

Another obstacle are the critics.  The voices from real people who have little good to say about what we are doing or what we’ve produced.  Standing on that platform, Palmer heard numerous insults, focusing on the one that, again, sends chills through us all.

Get A Job!

I had a job.  I was doing my job.  I mean, sure.  It was a weird job.  And a job I’d created out of thin air with no permission from a higher authority.  But I was working, and people were paying me.  Didn’t that make it a job?  And, I would think as my face burned with resentment, I was making a consistent income, which made the GET A JOB insult hurt even more.   Page 55.

I know that’s a mental brick wall I beat my head against often.  I come from practical parents.  If I had pursued a Bachelor’s in English with the hope of pursuing a Master in Fine Arts in Writing, instead of a Bachelor’s in Business with an Accounting major, it would have been frowned upon from my blue-collar, pragmatic parents.  The purpose of college was to Get A Job.

Palmer goes on to tell about the band she started – The Dresden Dolls – and how she used social media to connect with fans.  She would do concerts and contact fans ahead of time to ask any of them if they had a place they could stay after the performance.  She built a fan base and put her trust into them.  They, in turn, shared with her.  This was a major factor in her ability to raise over one million dollars with a Kickstarter campaign for the release of a new album and tour.  That is what prompted the folks at TED to have her record a TED Talk about the Art of Asking, and subsequently the writing of this book.  Here is the TED Talk.

Something that recently hit home was a section where Palmer talks about the signing line.

The signing line is a cross between a wedding party, a photo booth, and the international arrivals terminal at the airport; a blurry collision of flash intimacies.  It’s a reunion with those I haven’t met yet.  There are a lot of tears and a lot of high-fiving and a lot of hugging.  There’s also a lot of asking, in both directions.

Will you take a picture for us?
Will you take a picture with us?
Do you need a hug?
Can I have a drink?
Do you want a drink?
Will you hold my drink?
Why are you crying?

It’s not always the fans crying.  I’ve been held by many fans on nights I needed a random shoulder on which to collapse.

I’ve observed signing lines at other concerts that are not like this, where it’s all business and security officers stand there making sure nobody touches The Talent.  I’ve had to argue with security officers appointed to my signing lines, explaining that, unlike other bands, we don’t WANT security to hurry people along, or shoo them away, making sure they don’t stop to talk.  I need people to stop and talk and hug me, or else I feel like an automaton.  (Page 104-105).

This takes me to the worst book signing event I attended.  It happened on October 28, 2015, when Drew Barrymore came to Ann Arbor to read from her memoir, Wildflower (Dutton, 2015).  The event took place at the Ann Arbor Theater.

It was a two-part event, with Ms. Barrymore and a moderator on stage reading and discussing the book in the first part, then the book signing at the end.

For the discussion portion, before she was introduced, the moderator laid down the rules, which included “no photography during the discussion.”  When I first entered the theater, there were signs taped up on the walls and doors “No Cameras.” I took mine in anyway, asking more than one Michigan Theater employee/volunteer if I was going to have a problem.  The common response was that it would be left up to security.  My thought was, What the hell?  It’s not like they’re taking everyone’s cellphones away.

I was sitting in the 7th row on the aisle. When Ms. Barrymore took to the stage, people began lifting their cellphones to take photos. Michigan Theater security swarmed the area making them stop. I left my camera off (though I was ready to turn it on if security became overzealous and another rent-a-cop or cop issue happened, for there was a strong police presence as well).

For the book signing portion, the moderator, prior to introducing Ms. Barrymore, laid down the ground rules for that, too.  They were 1) she was signing the book, only the book and no other paraphernalia; 2) that she was not personalizing any of the signatures; and 3) that there was to be no conversation or photo taking of her during the process, other than to say a quick “thank you.”

While waiting for my section to be called to get in the autograph line, I asked an usher if the no-camera/no-photography policy was the Michigan Theater’s. She said no, that the policies they adhere to are set by each event.

Ms. Barrymore and her policy did not respect her fans. It felt more like a “pay your money; be grateful that I’m here; do not take my photo; let me sign your book in quick, assembly-line fashion, and be on your way.”

To be fair, I have not been to an Amanda Palmer event, especially now that she is rising in celebrity status.  But what she wrote about her feelings about signing lines seems genuine.  And she puts it quite accurately in the TED talk.  “Celebrity is a lot of people loving you from a distance.”  That was my Drew Barrymore experience, one whose book has fallen so low on my priority reading list now that it could end up being one of the many books in my library that won’t be able to read in this lifetime.

Amanda Palmer is a musician who offers us a flower, sharing the human experience on stage and with those who are touched by her music, like an artist.  Drew Barrymore is an actress who offers us a Wildflower, which is like a weed – a plant growing in the wrong place – sharing stories about her life with her fans from a distance, like a celebrity.

Book signings are for writers who are artists, not celebrities.

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The closest photo I could get of Drew Barrymore at her book signing event, October 28, 2015 in Ann Arbor, MI.