Last night, watching the new PBS documentary on Emma Goldman, I was happy to see my old colleague, poet-social commentator Andre Codrescu, from my days, in the '60s and '70s, at New York's rightfully legendary Eighth Street Bookshop. I devoted a chapter to working at the literary emporium in my memoir Early Plastic .
Andre was one of a number of employees at the place who went on to claim a place in the public eye. In addition to Andre, others included Amiri Baraka, writer (and present day blogist extraordinaire) Jan Herman , notorious "draft dodger" David Mitchell; and its regular clientele included Susan Sontag, Allen Ginsberg, Irving Howe, Uta Hagen, Herbert Berghof, the curmudgeonly Jospeh Campbell, William Steig, Edward Albee, Lenny Bruce, et al. Everytime you turned around found you rubbing literary-artistic stardust out of your eyes. The man who sold us our stationary was Alger Hiss (!), our janitor, for a time, was Peter Orlovsky and. . .well, you get the picture. A pretty heady enviornment for a twenty-something, such as myself, in the 1960s.
Seeing Andre talking about Emma Goldman on TV, put me in mind of an incident that happened late one night at Eighth Street. I included it in Early Plastic , as follows:
"This is Shelley Winters, 225 Riverside Drive," the party on the other end of the line said. "Perhaps you recognize the voice." Who wouldn't? The call came in at Eighth Street just before midnight closing time. Winters wanted to know if we had any books on Emma Goldman. We did; practically an entire section devoted to the legendary feminist/Communist/anarchist. I would have sworn that pit bull Winters had not only heard of Emma Goldman, but somewhere in the heart of her Riverside Drive co-op had a shrine dedicated to her. But the former Shirley Schrift continued: "Do you know who this Goldman dame is? I'm auditioning to play her in a movie, but I've never heard of her." That night the store stayed open past its usual closing time, just long enough for her driver to arrive and pick up "one of everything." I never did find out whether Winters got around to playing "Red Emma."
I was employed on and off at Eighth Street for more than ten years. It was the happiest time of my life. Fighting a bad case of insomnia last night, I wanted to see how many names I could recall (my way of counting sheep) of the people who worked there. It turns out that my long term memory is even more killer than I thought it was. In addition to the above, here's a partial "honor roll": Bruce Marcus, Don Kasha, Gary Barton, Conrad Brenner, Rod Rademacher, Sylvester Pollett, Chuck Campbell, Ron Horning, Mark Brasz, Joe Johnson, Charles Dudley, Joseph Bitowf, Richard Kolmar, Paul Barnes, Stephen Hillary Clark, Roy Tedoff, Jose Soltero, A.B. Spellman, Harry Lewis, Ken Weaver, M.G. Stephens, Tom Farley, Paul Glushanok, Martin Last, Ron Najman, Marvin Ellenbogen. . .a red haired guy whose first name was Roger, and a demented chap in the paperback department by the name of Lew, who was so scary, they were afraid (or perhaps even too compassionate) to fire him. "They" being the unforgettable and sui generis (and totally unalike) Wilentz brothers, Ted and Eli, who owned Eighth Street.
Notice that the list includes the names of no females. I can only remember three women who worked at the place in all of those years. There may have been one or two others. I seem to recall a "Mimi." Looking back, I don't think any of us ever thought that it was all that odd, illegal, unfair, not to mention sexist. Just goes to show how times have changed.
note: My PC is in the shop (see below). TFN blog entries fewer and farther between.
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