Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Excerpt from Foozler Runs


by Stephen Poleskie

from Fozzler Runs, a novel, published by Onager Editions

“BEST RESTAURANT AROUND these parts. . . .” the man behind the desk in the tiny, smoke filled motel office boasts, pointing to a picture of the place on the calendar hanging behind him. He should have added that it was the only restaurant, at least in walking distance.
           A huge green dragon winks on and off, alternating with the words GEORGE’S in red neon and RESTAURANT in blue neon. This must be in some reference to Saint George, Johnny supposes, or perhaps there are dragons here in this Pennsylvania wilderness that he is not aware of. High stepping in his low sneakers, Foozler has made his way through the quarter mile of wet snow, suffering the splashing of the eighteen wheelers rushing past on the roadway. While these monsters are dressed in enough lights to illuminate a small city, only the usual two headlights in front are useful as an aid to the driver’s forward vision. Not expecting to see anyone tramping along the highway in the snow, Johnny has received several snow baths along with his close shaves.
            Not wanting anymore traffic violations, Johnny has left his car at the motel. He felt the walk would do him good. The moisture working its way through his thin canvas shoes tells him he has made yet another wrong decision.
            “God bless you, honey. . . . Are you catching a cold?” the waitress says, returning with Johnny’s cup of tea. He had rejected her earlier offering of coffee. Coffee always appears automatically in these truck-stop diners; asking for tea means you are different, deserving of a good wait.
           “Aachoo!” Johnny sputters again, covering his mouth with his hand. “It’s not a cold. I just got my socks wet. . . .”
            “Better take them off then,” the waitress suggests to John’s surprise. “I wouldn’t want you to catch a cold. Give me your socks then. I’ll hang them over the grill there. They’ll dry off while you’re eating.”
            Perhaps he is old-fashioned, but Foozler still appreciates the constraint of manners. Despite all the other odd things he may have done before, Johnny never takes his socks off in a restaurant.
            Foozler looks around at the men sitting around him at the counter—tired truck drivers, stocky, mostly bearded men, wearing baseball caps turned around the correct way with words like MACK and PETERBILT printed on them. The drivers’ inevitably overweigh midsections are wrapped in wide, black elastic belts designed to support their backs and kidneys. The sour odor of sweat, from long days of fatigue and fear, radiates off their bodies.
            The truckers snap-inhale their cigarettes, then exhale the smoke out their nostrils in twin plumes. Are these the dragons of GEORGE’S? John wonders. With elbows digging into the Formica counter top, the drivers sit there staring into their black coffee with glazed eyes, a base, almost bestial expression on their faces. Having eaten, they have attained one of the few goals in their daily lives, and are quietly waiting for their dinner, and their Quaaludes, to digest so they can get back on the road.
            “Woowoo! Hey Marie . . . how come you never offered to dry my socks?” the big man sitting next to Foozler says, winking at him. Johnny hopes the man is only winking at his own joke.
          “Aaachoo!” Johnny tries to stifle his sudden sneeze into a handkerchief, not so much out of politeness, as no one here seems to care much about being polite, but rather not to draw anymore attention to himself.
            “Hey dude, give Marie your socks . . . next it’ll be your shirt and your pants . . . then who knows . . . har, har, har,” the man next to him says, jabbing his elbow into Johnny’s ribs with a force that surprises him.
            Tossing wrinkled dollar bills on the counter, the MACK and PETERBILT hat wearers get up to leave. They suck on toothpicks as they swagger toward the door: “Watch yer socks, buddy . . . don’t let Marie put them on the grill . . . she might just serve them up to the next customer that comes in here, har, har, har, har. . . .”
            With a roar of exhaust and a grinding of gears the two truckers rattle off into the still falling snow. Six other chrome and steel leviathans idle in the parking lot under the amber floodlights. The diesel engines are never shut off on cold nights like this for fear they will not restart, and also to keep their drivers warm, who are sleeping in the bunks behind the cab.
            The temperature outside has fallen to the lower double figures. Cold air, blown in through the open door, runs across the floor, finding Johnny’s feet.
            “AAAaacchhhooooo!” Johnny sneezes again, louder than before.
            “Really! You better take those socks off, honey, and let me dry them before you catch your death.” Marie says. She puts her hand on Johnny’s arm, leaving her touch linger longer than just a casual contact.
            Wanting to avoid any further comment, and perhaps because he is beginning to fear he may actually be catching a cold, Johnny reluctantly removes his foot coverings and hands them over the counter.
            Marie wrings the damp fabric into the dish sink, then moving aside a few hand towels, hangs the socks on a small rack below the grill. She wipes her hands once on her apron, picks up a breaded fish fillet that has been thawing on the counter, pats it three times, and then plops it into a pot of boiling grease.
            Well at least it’s my fish sandwich, Johnny thinks.
            “So . . . what brings you out on a night like this, honey?” Marie asks, trying to sound off-handed. “I mean, I can tell you’re not a driver . . . and you’re not from around here.” Marie stirs the fish patty with her thongs. A white cumulus of grease escapes up the vent.
            “I’m from New York.”
            “New York! Wow, that’s a great town.”
           “Not the city . . .  upstate. My tires are worn down; they made me get off the Interstate. I was heading south.”
            “Jeez . . . my tires aren’t too good either. I hope I am going to be able to get home. The cook and the other waitress have already left . . . they’re all going to a Mardi Gras party. Another girl was supposed to come in, but she hasn’t shown up. It must be the snow.”
            Marie places Johnny’s fish sandwich in front of him, her head leaning closer to him than necessary. “You enjoy your dinner now, honey. I’ll be right back to see if you need anything else. . . .” she says, patting his hand.
            Marie makes her rounds of the other customers, asking the ubiquitous question: “Is everything okay here?”
           One of the truck drivers mutters something to the waitress that Johnny cannot hear, and laughs, a vulgar kind of laugh. Paranoid, Foozler wonders if something might have been said about him.
            “Oh, you get otta here. . . .” Marie responds, dismissing the man with a wave of her hand and walking away.
           The fish burger actually tastes good. But then Johnny has not eaten anything all day. He covers the fries with ketchup, trying to conceal their origin as flavorless potato pulp forced into crinkle shaped molds.
            “God! It’s too quiet around her . . . especially since it’s Mardi Gras,” Marie announces, leaning over the counter to get to the jukebox selector mounted in front of Johnny. Her body is so close to his that he can smell her scent. She flips through the selections, brushing her arm against Foozler again, slowly, purposefully. John can see her breasts, squeezed together, creating a white valley in the pink V of her uniform. She presses the letter C, and then the number 9. “Now here’s one I really like. . . .”
            Signaled from this remote source the huge juke box at the end of the room, the kind you don’t see anymore, a real classic, all glass, and chrome, and neon lights, begins its robot-like action of spinning the disk.
            Na, na, nah. Now baby, I may be lower than a green snakes belly . . . but you could carry a jar of jelly . . . underneath me while standing up wearing your high-heel sneakers. . . . Na, na, nah. Now baby, I may be lower than a green snakes belly. . . .”  The song blares on, bouncing out lyrics from another era, a sensibility that has passed.

           Johnny’s mind gropes back to a dingy recording studio in New York City. Marijuana smoke fills the room, empty Scotch bottles line the counter tops. He has been there for the past twelve hours, with only cold pizza to eat. The band was arguing. They didn’t want a song—the one that was being played on the jukebox this very moment—on the album that they were making.
           It was not a song they had written. Nevertheless, the producer wanted it included; he owed a favor to the songwriter, or was screwing him, or something like that. Their manager had compromised, claiming the song was not really that bad, actually rather kind of catchy. They had tried six or seven versions of the song, about 36 takes, each one more pitiful than the last. But the song “Snake’s Belly” arguably one of the worst songs ever written, somehow had caught on, and became The Artful Foozler’s only runaway nationwide hit. Johnny has not heard the tune played on a jukebox in a good many years.

            “That’s The Art Foozler!” Johnny blurts out.
            “Yeah . . . I love ‘em,” Marie says. She is doing a little dance, a kind of twist, between the counter, getting into the music, shaking her body, feeling the beat, lost in the rhythm, no longer a middle-aged woman, but a teenager again.
            “Woo! Wooh! Go for it Marie!” someone shouts. Other customers are clapping their hands.
           Johnny can see Marie’s nipples standing out on her shaking breasts. He feels a firmness growing between his legs, a heat he has not felt since his wife’s death. Marie keeps bouncing, smiling; she is dancing just for him.
            “. . .snake’s bbeelllllyyyyyyyyy. . . . Yeah!!!”
            The music stops; the frisson passes.
            “Whew!” Marie says, wiping her hair from in front of her face.
           The truck drivers applaud politely, and then go back to smoking and staring at the dregs in their coffee cups.
          “Oh god. . . . excuse me,” Marie says to Johnny. A ripple of sweat runs down her neck and disappears into the crevasse of her breasts. “I just got carried away there for a moment. It’s The Artful Foozler . . . they are my favorite-ever group. Actually, they’re still pretty popular around here, the jukebox plays “oldies.”  But you don’t hear anything about them anymore. I read years ago that the lead singer killed himself, and then the group broke up. Have you ever heard of them?”
            “Heard of them,” Johnny replies. Although he fancies himself a humble man, Foozler is vainglorious to the point of wanting to be envied. “Hand me two of those spoons there. . . .”
            Tapping the spoons on the counter top, Johnny beats out the exact drum solo that they just heard on the record.
           Marie tilts her head and listens intently. “Hey! You are good. Then you have heard The Artful Foozler before. . . .”
            “Heard them! I was one of them!”
            “What do you mean?” Marie says, placing her arm on John.
            “I’m Johnny Foozler . . . I started the group, and was the drummer!” he exclaims.
            “Ya don’t say?!”
            Marie places both her arms on Johnny. Close up, almost intimate, she stares into his face, trying to recall an image from a record jacket, a group of carefree young boys, with long hair and sun glasses. They were trying to look arrogant and self-confident, when in reality they were actually diffident and insecure. Marie superimposes the various images over Johnny’s no longer young face, his head bristling with a short and unkempt shock of gray hair, tufts bristling too long on his eyebrows, and from the openings of his nostrils.
            “Jeez. I know which one you are,” Marie exclaims, stepping back from John. “Like, you’re the one with the big nose!”
            “The big nose? . . .” Johnny repeats, sounding offended. Yes, his nose did appear a little too large back then, however, over the years his face has grown up to match his nose, and there are women who think him even more handsome now than when he was younger.
            “Oh! I didn’t mean it that way,” Marie retreats. “I mean your nose wasn’t ugly big, it just was . . . well . . . bigger than any one of the other guys in the group; if you know what I mean. Oh god . . . what am I saying, eh . . . anyway, I’m really pleased to meet you. What did you say your name was, again?”
            “Johnny . . . Johnny Foozler, the one with the big nose. I was the drummer.”

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STEPHEN POLESKIE is a writer and artist, he has published six novels and numerous short stories. His artworks are in many major museums including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Galley in London. He is currently a professor emeritus at Cornell University.

To order Foozler Runs from Amazon click here

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

International Book Discounts

Not Just the French: Argentina and South Korea Debate Limiting Book Discounts

While limits on book discounting in France and Germany receive much more attention, Publishing Perspectives took a recent look, in separate pieces, at how pricing and discounting is shaping the book market in two countries with vastly different reading and book buying cultures–Argentina and Korea.
In Argentina, state-mandated price controls help bricks-and-mortar bookstores thrive, while in Korea, which has no such restrictions, the success of a discount book chain is sparking calls for fixed pricing. In both countries there’s debate over whether the need to preserve literary diversity should trump the free market.
Argentina implemented book price controls in 2002 following a devastating economic crisis. The fixed price law, known as the “Defense of the Bookstore Activity” act, requires books to be sold at the same price at all stores until 18 months after a book is first published. The situation today, reports Publishing Perspectives:
In Argentina book business remains robust, having sold more than 50 million books in 2012, worth an estimated revenue of $535.7 million. According to the Cultural Information System of Argentina (SINCA), the country’s 2,256 bookstores are responsible for 80% of total book sales, with sales equally divided between hundreds of independent bookshops and a few large chains.
Price is not the only key to the success of Argentine bookstores, however. Publishing Perspectives describes a country of passionate booksellers, intelligently curated selections and bookstores serving as cultural centers.
In Korea, where book consumption is at a 10-year low, used book chain Aladin is under fire for discounting policies some are calling “reckless and myopic,” says Publishing Perspectives (which based its piece on a story in The Korea Times). While officials are debating a law forbidding more than a 10% discount on new books, some say the law would be useless because Aladin routinely sells new books as “used.”
Dong-Asia Publishing, recently said that it would no longer sell its books through Aladin’s network. The company’s president, Han Sung-bon, says that despite the risk, it’s the right decision.
“Aladin’s used-book stores are masquerading as second-hand book shops, but they are essentially discount shops aimed at moving new books. These shops have been encouraging twisted, unconventional discount activities that are hurting the health of the entire market.”
Aladin denies the accusation and says newer titles make up only tiny portion of its sales.

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Article Courtesy of: The Authors Guild, 31 East 32nd  Street, New York, NY 10016

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