Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Two Cocktails - Euphoria and a Painted Horse

Getting to meet authors is one of the best parts of being a bookseller, and I get to meet two this evening - so double the fun.

Lily King has written a stunner of a novel based on Margaret Mead's work and her relationships with two of her husbands.  Euphoria takes place in Papua New Guinea in the '30's and has echoes of Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene while being wholly the work of a wonderful writer.

Malcolm Brooks, in turn, delivers a brilliant debut, Painted Horses, full of a West that maybe never was but in his hands is real - and in danger of disappearing forever.

Both books begged for a cocktail, and since the gin flows free at the start of Euphoria, that's where I started - with Old Tom Gin, to satisfy the very English players you'll find in these pages.  The drink had to be easy - they're anthropologists in the field, after all - so it's just the gin and a touch of Byrrh.  And sugar.  They're anthropologists but they don't have to rough it all the time for heaven's sake.

Painted Horses called out for whiskey - we're in Montana in the '50's so that's what we're drinking.  But I wanted to class it up a little bit - paint the horse, in other words - with a few other flavors for Catherine, the novel's young archaeologist who's quickly captivated by big skies and everything under them.


1 jigger Old Tom Gin
10-12 drops Byrrh
1 sugar cube

Prepare a cocktail glass by soaking the sugar cube with the Byrrh.  Shake the gin with ice and strain it carefully into the glass.  Garnish with a lemon twist.

Painted Horse:

1.5 oz. High West Double Rye
.5 oz Maraschino liqueur
.25 oz St. George Absinthe
.25 oz lemon juice

Stir all with ice.  Strain over.  Enjoy.

Monday, March 31, 2014

California Bookstore Day - the First Round is on Me

California Bookstore Day is happening on May 3rd at a bookstore near you.  It's a daylong celebration of books and bookstores and the neighborhoods and communities that bookstores serve.

Riffing off of Record Store Day - which sings the praises of Indie record stores and the particular cultural vibe that sounds wherever their needle happens to touch a platter - California Bookstore Day aims to do the same.  Aims to remind people of that certain something that good bookstores impart to their customers - and to the cities and towns lucky enough to have them.

I'm a broken record, but we're cooler than any online retailer could ever hope to be - if you value interaction, if you value serendipitous in-store discovery, if you value neighbors employing neighbors and local businesses giving back to their communities every day.

So on May 3rd we're throwing a party and we hope you can be there.  We'll have cool stuff for sale - all kinds of books and art - that you can only find in person when we open our doors at 9am.  Everything's a limited edition and you can check them out here - from books and lithographs to tote-bags and prints.

But in addition to cool stuff, it's going to be a statewide party.  Mainly we want to have some fun.

In Alameda?  We'll be playing all day, and come night-time, we'll be serving up mac and cheese from melt:

The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, because - well, hell, what kind of party would it be without M&C?  Oh, and one of the authors, Stephanie Stiavetti, happens to live nearby.

So there's that.

Me?  I'm mixing drinks.  I wanted to begin the cocktail with apple brandy because my good friends at Green Apple Books are driving forces behind California Bookstore Day.  I've also been sampling Bell-Ringers lately - they're an old cocktail developed by a fabulous bartender at the turn of the 1900's.  Jim Maloney wrote his book, How to Mix Drinks, in 1903, and his Bell-Ringers - cocktails crafted in glasses rinsed with apricot brandy, were born.  And if you don't think apples and apricots go together, well - stop by ye old bookshoppe on May 3rd, in the evening, and I'll prove it to you.

I used California booze - what would be the point otherwise?  California Bookstore Day meets California spirits.  Starting with the apple brandy made by Osocalis down in Santa Cruz - it's lovely.  I remember reading that Daniel Farber, one of the owners of the distillery, appreciates the intensity of California apples and that what he's done is captured California in a bottle.  So I started there.  And didn't leave California when I went looking for vermouth.  Have you tried Vya?  It's a beaut.

May 3rd?  I'll see you.
California Bookstore Bell-Ringer:

1 oz. Osocalis Apple Brandy
.75 oz. Vya Sweet Vermouth
.5 oz simple syrup
5-10 drops Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters

apricot liqueur for rinse


Shake all with ice & strain into a chilled cocktail glass that's been rinsed with apricot liqueur. Garnish with green-apple slice.

A green-apple slice - see what I did there?


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Big Mike

What goes into a drink?  Booze, naturally, unless you want a non-alcoholic cocktail - like customers who belly up to the bar and ask for a virgin Bloody Mary, a drink bartenders call a Bloody Shame for obvious reasons.

But it's the choosing of the booze that can make a drink sing, so choose carefully.  To commemorate Matthew Thomas's remarkable debut, We Are Not Ourselves, I took my cue from the father of Eileen Tumulty, the character you'll follow from her girlhood in the 1940's all through her tumultuous life - a life colored by the times she grows up in, certainly, but colored even more by the neighborhoods she'll call home, by the friends and acquaintances she'll meet along the way.

Her father, Big Mike?  He's loud.  Charismatic and dynamic.  And even though he cuts a brash, dangerous figure, "When he drank whiskey....the leash came off," he's also responsible for some of the most touching scenes in the book.

In one, he's purchased his daughter new shoes to replace her worn-out pair - and because this happens while Eileen's mother is in the hospital, Big Mike has to choose on his own and he buys a pair, manure-brown, that little Eileen "was sure were meant for boys."  When she balks at wearing them, he upbraids her and says when he was young, he would have been grateful to receive secondhand shoes.

     "If my mother were well," she said bitterly, "she wouldn't make me wear them."

     "Yes, but she's not well.  And she's not here."

     The quaver in his throat frightened her enough that she didn't argue.  The following night, he brought home a perfectly dainty, gleaming, pearlescent pair.

     "Let that be and end to it," he said.

In another scene, after Eileen gets drunk on a date and Big Mike hears of it, he decides to school her in the ways of drinking.  He has her take a drink from every bottle in the house, beginning with whiskey - from the bad stuff to the good.  Then vodka.  Gin.  Beer.  And onto colorful drinks - Cointreau, Creme de menthe, Grand Marnier.  When she complains ("I don't want to drink that much") he tells her if she wants to stay under his roof, she'll finish the glass.

The next day, head pounding, Eileen receives Big Mike's final lessons:

"You will never again drink anything you can't see through....You will never pick up a drink again after putting it down and taking your eye off it....Drink whiskey," he said.  "Good whiskey.  Not too much.  That's the long and short of it."

If only we all had had a Big Mike to instruct us in the ways of the drink.

When I needed to choose the booze, I began with Big Mike's admonition and went with whiskey, good whiskey - but I wanted it to clamor like the Queens neighborhood where Eileen grows up.  I started with Jameson Irish Whiskey, of course - the Tumulty clan I'm sure would've liked their Jameson - but then I added New York in the form of Hudson Manhattan Rye.  Still, the neighborhood was loud, and two voices weren't enough, and I wanted more of the melting-pot chaos involved, so I added some smoky Yamazaki Single Malt.  This trifecta of different cultural voices was good, but the addition of sweet Italian Galliano made it a grand slam.  Lemon and Jerry Thomas' bitters would tie the ingredients together, bringing calm to this raucous neighborhood in a glass.  The fact that the bitters were named Thomas, like our author?  Sheer coincidence.

What I ended up with, then, was a Big Mike.  I think it sings, even though, alas, the lemon makes it impossible to see through.  Enjoy.

Big Mike:

.75 oz Jameson Irish Whiskey
.75 oz. Hudson Manhattan Rye
.75 oz. Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky
.75 oz. Galliano
.75 oz. lemon juice
2 dashes Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas' Bitters

Stir all with ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

BOOK/SHOP in the alley

This is a story about a book I found in an alley.  It's also got some booze, and dads, and poetry - so grab a chair and let me get you a drink.

I'd gone into the alley to get my hair cut.  I've done this before, and you can read about that here or here, but unlike those times, this time they were too busy for me.  After chalking my name on the board like I'd done in the past, one of the barbers looked at me, at my name there in white, and said, Nick?  You might want to come back in two hours.

Two hours?  Who waits two hours for a haircut?  Who comes back in two hours for a haircut?  Dejected, and not a little irritated, I took a slug of the whiskey that's always waiting there on a high shelf at the Temescal Alley Barbershop - this time they had an expensive bottle of Masterson's 10-Year-Old Straight Rye.

So I shot that and left.  Grumpy.  Smacking my lips, but grumpy.

But then - surprise! surprise! - I had an impromptu business meeting with Cheri, one of the amazing book reps that we in the Bay Area are so lucky to have.  These fellow troopers - aiding us while we fight our good fight, providing guidance and support as we in the trenches tirelessly strive to beat back the amazonian money grubbers - these delightful reps who ceaselessly help us get wonderful books into deserving hands.

That day we had donuts.

But after, right next door to the donuts, there was the BOOK/SHOP at the end of the alley.  We were coaxed inside by its charming, unpretentious sign - and inside, with its fresh white walls and white shelves, it felt like more like an art gallery than a used bookstore, a gem no larger than my backroom at ye olde bookshoppe on Park Street.

But unlike the art in a gallery, the books here beg to be touched and then bought.  Touched and bought and taken home where they can be read, and looked at, where you can set them on a shelf next to that silly photo of you from fourth grade, or where you can drop it next to your bed, dropped the night before when you fell asleep reading the amazing book you found that day in Oakland.

Space is precious at the BOOK/SHOP, so the few items they have for sale are elegantly displayed.  Books, yes, but - as Erik courteously explained after we asked - it's also a shop about books.  So books, yes, of course, but also prints and paintings and broadsides dealing directly with poets & novelists, writers of fact & fiction. . .

Perfume?  Sure, if it's in a bottle labelled In the Library.

Photo by Erik Heywood for BOOK/SHOP

Bookmarks?  Naturally, but bookmarks that are more slim pieces of art than anything else.  Or how about a small tub of the paper-and-book cleaner made by Absorene since 1891?  Yeah, they have that.

But the books?  Oh, the beautiful books.  Because BOOK/SHOP is modest in size, their inventory changes quickly.  Week to week, we were warned, you might find yourself in the same BOOK/SHOP but stocked with entirely different books.

And again, those beautiful books.  I was especially taken by a first edition of Nobel laureate Gunter Grass' novel, Cat and Mouse.  It's book #2 in his Danzig Trilogy, the trilogy that began in 1959 with The Tin Drum and ended with Dog Years in 1963.

Photo by Valeda Stull for BOOK/SHOP

Even though the spine of Cat and Mouse was sun-faded, this copy was a charmer because of the inscription.  I often steer clear of books that have been marred by book plates or scribbled names - just one more example of people pissing on their things to mark territory.  So I usually don't go in for that kind of thing - unless I do.  Unless it's something written by the author, say - or unless the inscription is particularly beguiling.

This inscription was just that.  It was written in blue ink by a Father to his Son on the occasion of the Son's birthday.  Father quoted Thoreau, then quipped something ridiculous, and then - but then - Father signed off with:

Yours in sobriety....

And there's an entire novel there, right?  A novel hidden in plain sight on a flyleaf?

I should have purchased the book - but I had excuses.  Sun-faded, remember?


It's just after the holidays and I shouldn't be treating myself to baubles, no matter how pretty.


Under the inscription, a later owner had signed his name in bold black ink, and I've mentioned before how I feel about the piss-markings inside books, yes?

So I didn't buy the book, but I told its story to a number of different friends, and the more I told the story the more I wanted to own the book--

Yours in sobriety....

--because that inscription was so rich in a shared history.  Father to Son.  Reader to reader.  Heck, maybe the signed name at the bottom of the page was the Son.  What if it wasn't inked there by a later owner but by the recipient himself?

I went back to the alley a week later, on Friday.  First to get my haircut.  Second, to take another shot of the Masterson's on my way out of the barbershop to buck up because I was worried - worried Cat and Mouse would be gone because we'd been warned that the stock changed quickly, worried that it had been purchased by someone smarter, someone better at taking notes.

Like I'd been told, the store's interior had changed radically from my first visit - and Cat and Mouse was gone.  The shelf where I'd seen it the Friday previously was taken by a manual of decorated typefaces.

So I spritzed the inside of my wrist with the Library perfume as consolation and was about to leave when I saw it - someone had been perusing Cat and Mouse and then had left it on the reading chair when they had gone.

I picked it up and read the inscription again.

My son:

Thoreau says:  "I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days."

I say:    "It's not hee-hee or ho-ho
             To sit next a burping dodo."

Yours in sobriety and in happy birthdaying you.


You've come back, Erik said, smiling.

I did, I said.  I saw this last week and you told me to buy it then, but I didn't.

Did you know it's from the personal library of Douglas Blazek? Erik said.

I had no idea who Blazek was but I could feel a vista about to be revealed as Erik took Cat and Mouse from my hand and pointed to that black signature under the inscription.

He was a contemporary of the Beats, Erik said.  A published poet who also published others.  Blazek brought attention to writers like Bukowski - and here, Erik's voice grew stronger, not quite like a preacher who's found a willing congregant, but awfully close.

Let me show you, Erik said, and he handed Cat and Mouse back to me and went to the small stack of books and pamphlets that seemingly had just come into the shop, that hadn't yet been placed in the perfect light to showcase their beauty.

He carefully removed a copy of Charles Bukowski's poems written before jumping out of an 8 story window from its protective sleeve.  Here, Erik said, and he showed me the dedication.

It's funny, I said, that you have so few books but that you have both these books here at the same time - speaking to each other.

I asked if I could see the copy of the Bukowski collection.  It was in the format of the hundreds of 8x8 kids books that we have in the store.  A few dozen pages - bound flat, without a spine.  But this was no book you'd hand to a first-grader, not a Little Golden Book to read with grandma.

It appears that certain people, Bukowski writes by way of introduction, think that poetry should be a certain way.  For these, there will be nothing but troubled years.  More and more people will come along to break their concepts.  It's hard I know, like having somebody fuck your wife while you are at work, but life, as they say, goes on.

Oh my, Mr. Bukowski.  Oh my.

When was this published? I said, and Erik picked up the phone and made a call.  The Bukowski collection was too expensive to buy, but the serendipity of it being here after I came for the other - of Blazek owning the one and being mentioned in this...

1968, Erik said.  It's a beautiful copy, isn't it?

Cat and Mouse, I said.  Was the inscription to Blazek?  Was it his birthday?

I don't think so, Erik said.  I think Blazek came into possession of the book later.

Ok, I said.

Ok? Erik said.

Both, I said.  I'd like both.

Cat and Mouse had to have belonged to Blazek, right?  Had to.  It'd make this all so much better if - before Blazek became the publisher of Bukowski, before poems written before jumping out of an 8 story window had been dedicated to him - if before all that he had been

My son

Better story right there.

Sitting in my car, I notice a part of the inscription I hadn't before - Father had dated it, in the smallest print possible - upper right corner - 12/31/63.

And Blazek had signed his name, followed by 1963 - had to have been a gift to him, yes? 

If Blazek's birthday was New Year's Eve, that'd seal the deal.  I should have called a reference librarian instead of booting up Wiki, but do reference librarians even answer those questions anymore?

Wiki told me Blazek was born in 1941, but not the day.  Who does that?  Include an entry with a birth year but not birth date?  Couldn't they have checked Wikipedia?

I dug around a little bit more until I stumbled across a blog, Writing the Polish Diaspora (who knew?), and in this post, I discovered a certain shiny nugget about Blazek's upbringing: 

I was born in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Chicago’s west side, on the last day of 1941.

Bingo, right?  Bingo.

So here I am with this great copy of Cat and Mouse by Gunter Grass, about the craziness of growing up in Poland after the war, dealing with that long shadow - and it was owned by Douglas Blazek, given to him by his father on his 23rd birthday, just before Blazek would write his own books, just before Blazek would be part of an important poetry underground that would end up lifting all letters high.

All because I walked down an alley into a BOOK/SHOP.  You should, too.  As their card says, it's not just a shop selling books, but a shop devoted to them in all kinds of ways.

Where you're bound to stumble across a little bit of history that's going to resonate.

Go shop at a real store - go get your hands on a beautifully made book - read an inscription from an earlier time - imagine its history - revel in that, and the book - and then go back for more.

Only, if you do, promise you'll tell me about it.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Karen reminded me this morning that Elizabeth was three when she started at Dance/10.

Elizabeth was unsure, there at the beginning, how comfortable she felt having to shake her little booty in front of a lot of strangers - even if those strangers were primarily other three-year-old girls.  Everyone at the studio, though, was encouraging - though none was as warm and vibrant as Bryant.

Bryant taught Hip Hop and one of his classes ended at the same time as Elizabeth's.  Elizabeth would stand at the bottom of the stairs, after her class, and watch the older teens hippity-hop.  I don't know who was having more fun - the rapturous dancers, following the lead of Bryant, or Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, grooving her little body to the tunes Bryant had chosen.

Early on, Bryant saw Elizabeth off to the side - watching.  When his class ended, he glided over and dropped to his knees.  Hey, girl, he said.  You look like you want to join my class!

If people could fly, Elizabeth would've flown.  Such was the power behind Bryant's smile, accompanied by his willingness to take a moment in the craziness of pickup - with multiple dance classes letting out - to stop and give encouragement to a shy little girl who didn't know exactly what she wanted to do, not yet, but that maybe it had something to do with what she saw this man just do.

Bryant?  I never saw Bryant without a smile.  Bryant walked around each day like he'd just won the lottery - and he wasn't going to tell you about it, but he'd show you what it meant to feel so good about the world that maybe you, too, might pass some of that good will on to those around you.

Happy?  That man defined happy with his grace and effortless moves - in the studio and on the stage.  I'm sorry I didn't know him outside Dance/10 - I'm pretty sure he was as joyful outside it as in.

If you were lucky enough to ever see Bryant leap?  Ever see him jump?  You saw the world jump, joyful.

Bryant Cash-Welch passed away early this morning of a heart attack.  I don't know any more than that.  I do know that the music softened everywhere because of his passing.  Bryant - you will be missed by all those you touched in word, deed and dance.  Thank you for having a kind smile for Elizabeth and Kristina and for bringing joy into their lives.  Into all our lives.  Thank you so much.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year with a Hangar Banger!

This was concocted for an event on January 19th at The Chapel in San Francisco with Armistead Maupin to commemorate the publication of his final tale in his Tales of the City.

The Harvey Wallbanger is probably the most '70's of all '70's drinks, so I went with that and tarted it up just a bit.

More on the event later, but for now, Cheers!

Hangar Banger:

1.5 oz. Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka
4 oz. fresh orange juice
.5 oz. Galliano
Stir vodka and orange juice in a tall, chilled glass.  Add ice.  Float the Galliano on top.  Garnish with an orange wedge.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Last night - with the wine in crystal goblets glistening in the light of the green candles running the length of our Christmas table - we remembered those who couldn't be with us.  Like my dad.  My dad and his brothers.

I was a pallbearer this year in Salt Lake City for both of those brothers, my uncles.  Two men I loved, the last direct link to my father.  The last people who could answer the questions I still have about their childhood, about growing up in the coal-mining town of Hiawatha, Utah.

Salt Lake City was beautiful both times I flew there in 2013.  Beautiful but sad.  First in early May, then in October.  And now it's already Christmas - the year nearly over.

This time of year always finds the picture rails in our front room lined with holiday cards.  One of the first we received was the Christmas card from my Aunt Ursula.  Aunt Ursula whose husband, my Uncle Pete, died in April.  Inside the card:

Dear Family Petrulakis, she wrote.

I hope all your wishes come true, she wrote.  Have a happy and healthy New Year.

She continued, of course.  How could she not?

I am missing Pete something awful, she wrote.

We spent 45 years together on Christmas, she wrote.

I put the Christmas decorations up just like he liked them, she wrote.

May his memory be eternal.

Love you all.  Ursula.
Tony in front, Dean behind him, then Pete.
Circa 1944

And the enormity of her loss almost became plain.  I knew at the funeral how much she missed her husband, my uncle.  At the next funeral, for my Uncle Dean, Ursula was beautiful in black, and missing her husband, my uncle, something awful.

So - on one very superficial level - I understood how much Aunt Ursula must miss her husband, my uncle.  The same way I know how much my mom misses my dad.  How much Judy misses her partner, my Uncle Dean.

But I still don't really understand, right?  The degree of the loss?  Of spending 45 Christmases with someone, and then not?

The love that leads you to decorate your home with Christmas decorations because he - her husband, my uncle - loved it so?

When my mom walked into our house yesterday, the first thing she saw was the grand rocking horse she bought my Elizabeth for her first Christmas in 2004.  My mom stopped short, looking at our mantle, at the horse there, and then turned, her eyes already wet.

Is that...? she said.

She'd never seen it displayed before.  The last time she saw it was when we opened it at our house, the largest package under our tree that year.  I hadn't put it out before because - though beautiful - it's full of sharp angles and so heavy that little toes under the horse's treads could be hurt so easy.  Then a few years later Kristina came along so we continued to not display the horse because of our caution, our worry.

The rocking horse stayed in its box, in our garage, Christmas after Christmas.  Until this year when we were again hosting my family on Christmas Eve and I thought, even though we'd have two visitors even more little than our own - thanks to my brother Dean and his wife, Laura - maybe I could finally display the rocking horse if I put it up high, on our mantle.

Is that...? my mom said.

It is, I said.

And with her eyes getting more wet my mom said she remembered seeing that rocking horse on display at Keller's in Modesto.  It was too dear, though, too expensive to pick up on a whim for her first grandchild.

When my dad came home from work that night she told him about the rocking horse, the rocking horse that played Silver Bells, and he asked where it was.

Oh, Andoni, she began, ready to explain why she hadn't bought it that afternoon.  But before she could get past the words, Oh, Andoni - my dad interrupted.

Anna, he said, smiling.  Just go get it for her.

My dad who had so much love for my mom.  Who adored her so much.  Who had realized so quickly how much he loved our Elizabeth.  Elizabeth named for his mom, my YiaYia.

Anna, he said, smiling.  Just go get it for her.

As we sat around the table last night, remembering those who are no longer with us, we realized, Karen and I realized, that the rocking horse would be on display every Christmas from now on.

Just like he liked them, Aunt Ursula wrote.  Just like he liked them.

Merry Christmas to everyone near and far - and to those who aren't with us.  Set out a plate, or a glass, and remember how they liked it.  How much they liked it.

Merry Christmas.