Giving the Store Away

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Stories / Themes / Business /
re 1978, @ K. 2005 03 07

The first Art Expo had been held in Washington DC, for the bicentennial: WashArt ’76. Now it’s 1978 or ‘9 and an ArtExpo is being held in New York City, at the Coliseum. pk has invested a lot of money in a double booth. Boy, that tax shelter money got spent fast. I’ve hired a gal supposed to be good at wholesaling to come in from California: more money laid out: air fare, hotel … I’ve bought myself some drop-dead clothes. Is my booth swamped with customers? No. My booth is swamped with artists trying to sell me their stuff. The veterans chased them with a stick. I’m no veteran.

The multiple original graphics world is fairly small. Jazz musicians know each other, ballet dancers know each other, chamber string players know each other … or come to, fairly quick. So no matter where I turn I’m surrounded by neighbors. Eleanor Ettinger is a couple of booths over, and practically adjacent to me is one of my favorite people in the business: Bernie, selling posters out of Lido Beach: a real comedian. I’m working out of Long Beach as well as the Apple, high up over the boardwalk, and I see Bernie (and his heart condition) pedal below me daily on his bicycle.

“I bet your art is great,” one candidate says to me as I buy him a cup of coffee. “I don’t paint,” I tell him. “Oh. Then I bet your art would be all the greater.”

Some other guy, comes by with a satchel. In the satchel are his etchings: hundreds of images, whole editions, editions of seven, editions of twelve, not a one of them bigger than a postage stamp.

I take a quick look. They’re cute. Highly unique in this day and age. “Put that down and come with me,” I instruct him. He does. “I bet I could sell them, but not at prices where I could afford to.” I draw him out into the aisle where we can see my display as a whole and several more whole displays in either direction.

“What do you see?” I demand.
“Uh …”
“24” x 30″! 30″ x 40″! Standard sizes! Glass, framing materials, all standard! Flowers! Birds! Little scenes! Don’t waste your time being original. Keep your original stuff in the basement for your own pleasure. Your stuff is cute, but you need a magnifying glass to see it. Who’s going to be able to stand his friends in front of his acquisition and show it to all of them at once? No. Look around. See what everybody else is doing. Then you do the same thing: but with one thing different. Some gimmick.”

The guy stands there with his mouth open. Bernie, in hysterics, comes over to me, puts his hand on my shoulder, shakes off another laugh, and says, “Paul,

You’re giving the store away!”

That’s me alright.

Everyone else is maneuvering for profit; I’m trying to give everything away.
I want everyone to give everything away.
Then we could all share.

It’s more-of-the-same that makes the surest money.

Teaching by example(link to be added) though seems to be a waste of time. People take alright; but they don’t get what’s you’re giving.

Nature is against me? That’s tough on nature. Very tough on human society: when we fall off the cliff.

Partly I imagine that I’m imitating Jesus. (Oh, certainly not in every detail: I don’t speak Aramaic, I’m not kosher, I’m chaste neither in thought nor in deed …) But there’s another guy for sure I’m deeply influenced by.


I was influenced by him long before I met him. As is so often the case, it wasn’t the guy, but a story about the guy that I was taken by:

In college the friend I coveted most was Myron. Myron was easily the most precocious guy in my class at Columbia: not that I cared about that: what I cared about was that he was a jazz pianist, a bop pianist: a follower of Bud Powell. My impressions as a freshman proved to be quite different from my experiences by the time we were juniors, and Myron became my roommate. Disaster. But stories and impressions preceded experience. That was true double of Myron’s guru. Bobby. Bobby Fractor.

I believe I can talk freely about Bobby: especially since Bobby was dead, murdered, before we had finished junior year.

My narrative will mix impressions with what I learned later: Bobby was Myron’s guru. Bobby was Myron’s pusher. Bobby had a house in Jamaica with Bird on the record player all the time and as much grass as anyone could smoke. Apparently there were enough freebies of other things too, but that I learned later.

Myron smoked pot. I knew that. I didn’t smoke pot. But except for my non-participation, pot seemed to come with the jazz: and of course I didn’t play either. I was just a fan.

Bobby’s father had given Bobby $30,000 and told him he never wanted to see him again. Bobby got the house in Jamaica, filled it with grass, jazz, and free loaders. And when the money was gone, Bobby was on the street.

Those guys were very free in showing themselves with the reefer. Those guys were much more covert about the junk. It took me a while to realize: Bobby was a junkie. Bobby had been a junkie. Myron became a junkie. Bobby had made Myron a junkie.

Hell, they all became junkies.

And pk disapproves. But let me focus on the detail from the story that pk approved, admired, found heroic (in his immaturity).

What made Mr. Fractor cut his son from the family?

The Fractors were European Jews. Yes, Hitler and all that.

Mr. Fractor and family had fled Europe. Landed in Queens. Worked hard. Had a factory of some kind. Bobby was dad’s apprentice.

One day Mr. Fractor walks into the office. Finds the safe open. And Bobby, handing out the cash to the workers.

And that’s when Bobby was thrown out of the Fractor family.

That story affected me the way Irving Stone’s Lust for Life had affected me in high school. A biographical novel of Vincent Van Gogh, Stone portrays the artist-to-be in his days preparing for the ministry, living among Belgian coal miners, and sharing his pittance of an allowance with them. The miners had next to nothing. Vincent had a little something. Before they all starved, Vincent made sure they had a little meal.

The teenaged pk saw that as what Jesus would do. At least what Jesus would approve in others.

Don’t ask me what I think now, at least don’t ask me just yet. Pause for a moment on my teenaged impression.

Of course sharing heroin isn’t the same as sharing food: but it is sharing.

It’s entirely possible that Bobby was giving lagniappe away in order then to sell to the resulting addicts, and I don’t doubt that Bobby did wind up selling. But if so, Bobby was no better a dealer than he was a manufacturer’s apprentice. Bobby took the short route to the gutter.

Myron followed him. So too did pk: except without the pot or the junk.

Once I had actually met the famous Bobby, had him as a guest in my disaster of an apartment, talked to him, ate with him (who the hell knew where Myron was?), my impressions complexified. Bobby really was a no good bum, a junkie moron.

But Bobby was a profound moron.

“You’ve got to listen … between the notes!” Bobby was quoted as saying at the house in Jamaica as Bird was soloing.

Now that sounds to me like the crap you hear in a French movie, but at eighteen, I was impressed.

Once at my pad Bobby broke into quoting Hermann Hesse: the Steppenwolf. The German wowed me, though I didn’t understand a word (then). I’d just read Hesse’s Siddhartha, and was very impressed. My mentioning it is what set Bobby off into the German. (I didn’t take up German till graduate school.)

When we met Bobby, Myron and I, Myron not having seen him in ages, Bobby was dragging a dead leg behind him. The cops had shot his knee out for him as he was fleeing with a stolen overcoat. They threw him in the slammer and allowed him no medical attention. Six months later, he gets out of jail, crippled, and that’s when he ran across us: could have been looking for Myron for all I know. He found him.

Bobby, himself a bass player, had been living in a loft down around Chambers Street with stone bassist Wilbur Ware.

When news came that Bobby was dead, word was that he’d been given a two cent pistol: horse laced with rat poison: though just pure H would have done the same deed. Bobby apparently knew too much, had seen a deal go down, was no longer trusted. For those guys, the pure H might have been as cheap — and more convenient — than rat poison.

So. Now you don’t have to ask me what I think now: I’ll tell you whether you ask or not. Giving the store away doesn’t gain much: because we’re not ready to be given anything. Giving food to starving people only fosters more starving people.

When potatoes were introduced to Ireland, by some priest intending charity, there were a million Irish, barely subsisting, mostly on vegetables. In no time, there were six or eight million Irish, barely subsisting, mostly on potatoes.

Thank goodness, after the famine, the Irish actually seemed to have learned something: maintaining about a million: doing slightly better than subsisting. (Of course that doesn’t count the millions of Irish who’d fled elsewhere into the world and somehow survived, and they’re at like four and a half million in Ireland now: better diversified and in less danger: at least from famine.

Ah, one other Bobby memory just tacked on here since I forgot to weave it: Bobby was a bass player. (I’ve long loved and admired the bass. The soloists are off somewhere, playing “far out” (extended chords); but the bass has to be right on the root, to play the simple chord — whatever else he also then might do.) Myron had a piano in his room. Myron invites Bobby to jam. Bobby goes downtown, comes back with a bass.

Wow, I’m finally going to hear Bobby’s bass. But it sucked. Of course by then, Myron’s piano sucked too: stiff on codeine cough syrup (when he wasn’t stiff on who knows what else).

After a while Bobby just stopped playing. We look at him: at least I looked at him. Blood is running down the strings, pooling at the plastic thing that holds the strings lifted, dripping onto the floor. Bobby hadn’t been playing! He’d lost his calluses!

Stupid junkies. The trumpet player hocks his horn, goes on a binge, somehow gets his horn back, tries to play: and blows out his embouchure. Permanent damage, never get it back again. (Our friend Marty did exactly that: and he was core to a great band!) (I’ll still see Marty occasionally on TV, in some tape advertising classic records, but Marty was faking by then, couldn’t really play.) (His charts for the band though remained great!)

And while I’m at it, I’ll remember another stupid junkie: Lynn. Lynn Halliday was awesome, when he could stand up straight. But he was always hocking his tenor. Woody Herman had the sense to boot him after three days.

Lynn then settled in with Maynard, who didn’t seem to care.


Give Everything Away

Understand: that was me in 1978, that had been me in 1965, in 1970. But it’s not me now. My Christianity failed, I no longer believe in it. All the good (and interesting, potentially valuable) Christianities failed.
So what succeeded? Nothing succeeded, we missed the boat.

Stories by Age by Theme by Others

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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