Favorite Things: Amok Bookstore


In my early years, I lived in Echo Park. I went for long walks with Amok Bookstore being my main destination. The folks who worked there never much talked to me or my friends but they didn’t hate us either like other Silver Lake shop proprietors who gave us the “buy something or leave” look.
We appreciated their selection of radical literature, strange music guides and bizarre ephemera. There were no hipsters in the 90s but if there were, they’d probably like Amok.

The original location was right behind where Casbah Cafe is now.

Rio Grande


Through the efforts of helpful genealogists and far removed cousins on the Tellez side of my family, I’ve come to discover some of the geographic roots of my family. I’ve known for awhile my family had a long history in the Southwest, mostly in southern New Mexico and Arizona but I didn’t know my family was one of the first to move to the northern territories, then known as New Mexico. There are records that show early relatives living in El Paso del Norte as early as the 1700s. At one time, El Paso was part of New Mexico but eventually was annexed by Texas. I became curious about the history of the area and came across a book called Rio Grande, a very subjective historical look at the regions surrounding the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo). There’s lots of references to “peasants” “savages” and other language that is now unacceptable in the book’s many anecdotal passages. Despite the writer’s old school perspectives, he is quite honest when describing historical vignettes, such as this short excerpt on the story of Socorro, New Mexico.


After the war with Mexico, Texas claimed the Rio Grande as it’s eastern boundary, Socorro was just over the river, safely on New Mexican soil, but it was a focal point for westward-drifting Texans. These early Texans were hard men, fighting men, and they hated Mexicans. A few brave words about the Alamo and Davy Crockett would work any Texan into a Mexican killing-mood. The Texans came with came armed with “head rights” which were bits of paper issued by the government of Texas to veterans of its wars and other settlers, entitling the holder to any quarter section of Texas land not already occupied. Head rights were brought and sold and were practically currency.

…They [Mexicans] had a certain skill with knives but they were helpless before these men with six shooters on their hips. It was a part of the Texan tradition that all Mexicans were cowards but in fact the westering Texans were an armed invasion of an unarmed community. It was one of those gradual and unrecorded movements that work more change than formal wars and often spill more blood.

The Texans were not empowered to take occupied lands but Mexicans did not count with them as occupants. They took lands that had been supporting families in undisputed possession for a century. Murder and bluff were their methods and the short and deadly six shooter was their only attorney. The Texans were all cattlemen. They came driving their herds of longhorns before them. The Mexicans were shepherds and sheep were driven off the range wherever the cattle went. Whole herds were stampeded over cliffs and killed. Sheep-herders were terrorized or killed. It was a favorite device to surround a sheep camp at night and shoot into its cooking fire as a gentle intimation to move on.

…Many Mexicans gave up their homes and migrated. The town of Dona Ana was spotted with Texas head rights and filled with belligerent Texans. Sixty of the inhabitants packed up their goods and led by Don Rafael Ruelas, their ruling rico, departed to find new homes in Old Mexico.

—excerpt from the book Rio Grande by Harvey Fergusson, William Morrow and Company, New York, 1955.



Favorite Things: Vintage Sheetmusic

Found at a Montecito yard sale (I just happened to be wandering through)

Although I am unable to read them, I have a fondness for sheet music from the early 1900s. I find them at yard sales, library sales and thrift stores.


Debussy- Claire de Lune performed by Mária Kovalszki, Budapest

The Book of Lists


Lately, my reading has been limited to short time chunks. No long leisurely afternoons of lounging these days. I recently came across The New Book of Lists: The Original Compendium of Curious Information by David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace and it’s perfect reading for my five minute “input” intervals.
The book is filled with all kinds of random information and facts, some lists I passed over like 12 Men Who Cried in Public or Unnamed Women of the Bible. I think I can live without knowing these facts.
Some of the most entertaining lists so far have been 13 Art Riots, Names of Things You Never Knew Had Names, 17 Untranslatable Words and New Neuroses. I found the terms for New Neuroses to be the most enjoyable.  I look forward every year to those dictionary introductions of new words for new situations. In fact, I think there needs to be more words to describe a number of unnamed situations that happen in life whether they are considered neuroses or not.
For instance, a co-worker and myself were trying to describe the feeling one gets when away from the job and being unable to imagine yourself back in the workplace. In this state, it can seem almost impossible to think your daily life revolves around the workplace. You start to think “That life could not possibly be mine.” Of course, one often gets this feeling while away on holiday or in some foreign city but it can easily happen over a long weekend. So this is my new goal, to come up with a word or phrase to describe this phenomenon.

Some highlights from the lists:

Untranslatable Words

Bilita Mpash from Bantu meaning “a legendary blissful state where all is forgiven and forgotten” much like the feeling one gets when waking from a happy dream.

Espirit de L’Escalier (French) when a brilliantly witty response to a public insult comes into your mind only after you have left the party. Literally translates as “the spirit of the staircase.”

New Neuroses

Cell Yell: Loud talking on cell phones in public places by people with the neurotic need to invade their own privacy.

Cyberchondria: Hypochondria resulting from seeing one’s symptoms on a medical Web site.

Art Riots

Most of the art riots listed in the book were the results of controversial performances. One exception was the 1809 “Old Price” Riot at Convent Garden Theatre where the audience interrupted a performance of Macbeth with cries of “old prices! old prices!” The theater had recently raised the rates and redesigned the theater so that only the legs of the performers were viewable from the cheap seats. Soldiers were called in to quell the audience but this only inspired the theater goers to mount greater disruptions. For months they brought in whistles, trumpets and even barnyard animals to cause mayhem. It worked, the ticket prices were finally set back to the “old prices.”

George Antheil, an avant-garde composer and performer who was well acquainted with hostile audiences, provoked a riot in Budapest, 1923 while performing one of his “harsh and unfamiliar sounding” piano compositions. The second night, in order for his music to be heard, he ordered all of the ushers to lock and guard the doors and then in full view placed a revolver on top of his piano. There it remained throughout the whole performance and no disturbances took place. It was said he carried a gun around for this very purpose.

George Antheil – Sonata for Piano and Violin 1 (b)

This was not the composition that caused a riot but it gives an idea of the type of music he composed.

Nowadays, it’s social conventions that will keep you in your seat suffering through drawn-out performances of self-absorbed artists, musicians and poets. I say we return to the good old days of rotten tomatoes, catcalls and barnyard animals. Artists, you need some inspiration? I got yer inspiration right here! All power to the peanut gallery!

Coincidence, part two

Barcelona, 2001.

Just moments before this photo was taken, my friend and I remarked that there was so much graffiti on the walls of Barcelona that we might even spot a Chaka tag. Coincidently, a few blocks later and causing a great deal of astonishment, such a tag appeared.

“Coincidence on the other hand, is total freedom, our natural destiny. Coincidence obeys no laws and if it does we don’t know what they are. Coincidence, if you permit me the simile, is like the manifestation of God at every moment on our planet. A senseless God making senseless gestures at his senseless creatures. In that hurricane, in that osseous implosion, we find communion. The communion of coincidence and effect and the communion of effect with us.”

2666 by Roberto Bolaño

Coincidence, part one

Love and Rockets, #13 by Jaime and Beto Hernandez

By coincidence, the creator of the above publication came up to me when I was 14 years old and told me I reminded him of a character named Maggie from a comic book called Love and Rockets. Interestingly, the story of said character eerily mirrored my life for the next six years, love life and all. I related very closely to this fictional world of SoCal Chican@ punks, cholos and weird, spooky unexplained happenings – it brought me a bit of solace during the dark days of my teen years.

Mr. Freeze-Dr. Know

Not knowing there were any connections between the above story and incident, I saw this band one and half years later after reading my first Love and Rockets comic book (which was bought at a store called Y-Que.)

The Savage Detectives


It took me awhile, but I finally finished reading The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. It’s a novel I’ve been recommending to everyone I know.

The first chapters actually affected me physically and I felt almost buoyant and youthful while reading them. Bolaño was able to capture that heady sensation of being in your early 20s and and feeling as if your challenge to the world, to the institutions around you, could result in their demise. It’s a time I truly miss.

The novel is a series of remembrances about a group of Surrealist influenced Mexico City poets called the Visceral Realists. They are a 1970s incarnation of a previous Visceral Realist poetry movement from the 1920s, a group they revere for their outsider literary world status. The poets are on a quest to find the original Visceral Poet, Cesarea Tinajero an elusive figure who holds a mythical position in their pantheon of writers.  The book is so chockful of symbolism, literary and political references and countless sidestreet narratives that it probably deserves a second read. I’m quite happy to have gotten through one read for now. Next on the list,  Bolaño’s , 2666.

New York Times review of The Savage Detectives.

One more thing, while I wouldn’t dare attempt to read the book in Spanish (I don’t have the skills for it) if you can read it in Spanish, I’m sure it’s even better. I kept finding myself translating dialogue into Mexico City slang while I was reading. For instance, what is ‘Luscious Skin’ in Spanish? I’m eager to know.