Monday, November 15, 2004

looking for an echo

last night 00soul and i went to the celebration of the life of bill liebowitz, the late owner of comic-book store the golden apple. it started at 6 at the melrose location -- we arrived at 6:10, and the sidewalk was already packed with people, some eating the delicious pizza and hot dogs, some sitting and chatting at tables where big baskets of candy and other snacks beckoned. we decided to eat first, schmooze later, so we scarfed some dogs and pizza while listening to a guy named mike tell us his memories of bill and compliment 00soul's obit of the man, which appeared in last week's citybeat.

inside, an array of beautiful hawaiian shirts (presumably bill's) hung from the ceiling, and people gathered in knots, most congregating toward the back of the store, where a small PA and a dozen or so chairs were set up for the program. they had covered over the back-issue bins to make a giant table, which held pretty flower arrangements, a half-dozen or so bulging golden apple scrapbooks, a big cake, and more baskets of snacks and candy. drinks (soda, water, beer, and wine) were dispensed from behind the back counter. i saw a lot of the usual suspects: bob merlis, art fein, gene sculatti, roger steffens, paul body ... all the kool kats who know 00soul pretty well and are always very nice to me despite the fact that i'm sooo not as cool as any of them.

the program began with reminiscences, from funny to sad. i stood at the edge of the back-issues table across from the seating area, behind some of the family members. sharon, bill's widow, got up to speak, flanked by her sons. her words were terribly beautiful and sad. you could sense how much she loved him, and how she was just learning, in a way, what he had truly meant to so many others. lately my psychic armor hasn't been working too well, so i began to feel myself absorbing her pain ... in an inexact way, i knew what she was going through. how the enormity of the situation was just starting to hit, and hasn't completely nailed her yet, b/c planning the memorial and dealing with all the condolences are distractions in themselves. in a way i felt the beginning of the longer road was dawning on her ... i remembered how very exposed i felt in front of all the people at my mom's funeral. i admired sharon liebowitz for being able to stand up in front of everyone and speak. especially since she said that bill was the speech-giver. her sons' talks were also moving. different friends and family got up to speak, as well. all the love and loss moving through that room was a bit too much to bear.

soon, a cappella doo-wop group the mighty echoes stepped up to sing, a sweet and welcome sound. they were dynamic and harmonized beautifully, kind of witty and versatile and very much alive, which brightened things up nicely. especially their peppy rendition of "unchained melody," normally a sappy and hackneyed tune i really cannot stand.

at one point, i looked across the vast expanse of back-issues tabletop and saw ... phil spector? i blinked and looked again. yep, there he was, and i think he was even wearing a hawaiian shirt. wow. that was a bit of a mindfuck. i mean, i knew that he knew bill, and merlis, but ... still wasn't expecting to see him there.

a bit dazed from the bright lights and the raw emotion, i moved back into the less populated areas of the store. i paused to read the back of a green lantern collection ... just picked up the new "rebirth" story with the return of hal jordan, and was curious about the huge wads of backstory i've missed. a man walked past me and bent toward my ear. "just take it," he said, mock-conspiratorial. "they'll never notice." he was gone before i could do anything other than laugh ... . anyone who knows the place knows that shoplifting is not tolerated. and, i reflected as i finished reading the blurb, despite the chaos in the store and the apparent opportunity for any felonious-minded types, i would bet the ghost of bill liebowitz himself would've smote me if i'd even thought about it.

as i continued toward the exit to get some air, there was a line to get out, b/c the guest book was set up right near the door. the egress stalled, and i looked up at the man behind the counter. it was harlan ellison, wearing all black except for a bright orange tie and his silver, silver hair. he's an old man now. i should not be surprised. i last interviewed him for the dearly departed l.a. reader when he turned 60, and that was ... in 1994? he looked at me, i looked at him. there was really nothing else to be done. i said, in my usual intelligent way, "aren't you harlan ellison?" he clearly did not recognize me, which ... i didn't really expect him to. but he hedged and said, "it depends. do i owe you money?" i laughed and said no. a woman next to me started talking to him like she knew him, and i thought i had interrupted a conversation. which immediately made me feel self-conscious and embarrassed. i reintroduced myself to him and said i'd interviewed him for the reader back in the day. he said, joking, "yeah, around 1971, right?" i laughed and said no, in the mid-'90s. "i was only about 6 in 1971," i said. he mocked me: "about 6?" well, yeah, i said. "for part of the year, i was 5. the rest of the year, 6." he didn't seem to hear me. "so we've never slept together?" he said, apparently still joking. hmmm. i decided this was my cue to move on. b/c, no. never slept with him. the woman next to me kept talking to him about once having borrowed his jacket or something ... i'm not sure. he said something about really being a nice guy, even though people think otherwise. i know, i wanted to say, but didn't. i didn't dare speak for fear of what might come out of my mouth, and i still felt like an intruder. they seemed to know each other, and obviously i was just a convenient toy at that moment. (which, karmically, i deserved to be, as i can be such a nasty person when strangers innocently accost me, and if someone's going to rip on me in public, it might as well be someone i think is really great.)

i really wanted to wander away, but there were too many people clogging the doorway, and of course i didn't have the presence of mind to go back the way i'd come. then his wife, susan, came in, and he introduced us, although i've met her several times before too. she didn't appear to remember me, either. which is fine, and really to be expected, but i guess it was a little depressing, too. (there is a great story about him inviting me to his house to have breakfast with them after he read my review of angry candy in the reader, which i wrote in 1988 when i was about 12 ... ok, 22. or maybe 21. they offered me lox with my bagel, and i didn't even know what it was! god, what a hick i was. anyway, at the time he was my biggest idol, and that was a great thrill, especially when he praised my writing. i have not had many heroes, and having harlan ellison as a hero pretty much guarantees you'll be disabused of any worshipfulness sooner or later, but i'm actually glad about that, as well.)

ok, so i finally extricated myself from this hugely embarrassing situation and went outside. (later, and coincidentally, i signed the guest book on the same page as harlan and susan, which was cool, in a pathetic fan-grrrl way.) 00soul was out there but wanted to go back in and see if he could find aaron mcgruder, creator of the boondocks, to say hello. i asked him and the fabulous ms. kim cooper if they'd seen spector; neither had. so then i began to wonder if i had ... as i am terrible with recognizing people. but i was soooo sure it was him. eventually, i found merlis, and he confirmed that, yes, i was crazy, and, yes, phil spector had been there. (thanks, bob.)

i chatted briefly with some of the store employees i see every week or so, not all of whom i know by name. i talked to mike, who dug a copy of that "rebirth" issue out of the back for me last week. and tony, with his spiky hair and expressive eyes, who seemed rather frazzled behind his quietly good-natured front. and another guy with dark hair who i often see there, but don't know his name. i briefly spotted, but didn't get to talk with, the baby-faced guy who quite frequently rings up my purchases on wednesdays or thursdays; we talked recently about the collections of grant morrison's doom patrol run, which i then ended up buying, even though i'd read the originals, b/c i don't have them anymore.

things were more or less wrapped up by 8:30. there was a brief flurry as harlan and his posse departed, after he stood near the front of the store and bellowed for "margaret" (?i think) to get out there b/c they were leaving. he turned to me and said, "one of these days i'm gonna hit puberty, and then, look out!" nonplussed, i murmured under my breath, "i shudder to think." yeah, i'm a wit, all right.

anyway, goodbye, bill liebowitz. i didn't know you personally, but you were always friendly and smiling at your store. and it's no wonder. you followed your dreams almost from the beginning of your life, hardly ever got derailed, and always figured out a way to make things happen. in the process you inspired and helped out many. you seem never to have been disillusioned. you were a man of action. if i had a single iota of your drive and optimism, i would be so much better off. but at least i am lucky enough to have been able to enjoy your dreams, writ large and oh so very real.

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