Shattered Wig #28

Shattered Wig #28
Coming In November!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wedding Eve

Rio landed yesterday and brought with her an all pervading sense of calm despite the continued searing heat. She and Everly worked for eight hours straight today on the house transforming it to a new level of cozy funk and folk grandeur. My beloved kidney shaped art deco table was lost in the groovy makeover, but in light of two endless wars and the death of the ocean I can buck up and take it.

As Charles Dickens said: "It was a time of windy squeaky hospital corridors, a time of villagers walking shredded carrying their own heads, but it was also a time of hunka hunka burnin' love". Or as Anne Murray said: "Even though we ain't got money, ten gallon hat on a rain barrel bunny."

Francis and Linda came by the store on the way to DC for the big library conference. Francis was in a giddy mood despite the conversation first being obsessively about the marathon oil spill and then his re-enactment of an assisted death video he saw that was shot in Sweden. He gleefully spoke in an affected accent as the Swedish doctor telling the patient "Drink this and you will die." "You must finish all of this and then you will fall asleep and then you will die." "Your heart will stop and then you will die." "You will die." He said he felt drawn into the video and began to feel hypnotized. That it was shot in closeup of the doctor's face repeating the phrase "You will die." Overall a pretty good setup, though, if things become too physically grim in your life. For around $4,500 you get set up in a very nice room in Switzerland in the mountains and you get to choose the music for your death and the time. You are brought a beverage to coat your stomach initially and then you drink the everlasting gobstopper itself. The whole procedure is videotaped so that both the police can view it to make sure it was all voluntary on the death voyager's part and also so that the deceased family can have a copy if they wish.

If the ghost of Alzheimer's makes spider holes through my brain in a few years and I can scrounge the money up I most certainly wouldn't mind going out in this way. And the price is only slightly more than the quote I got on having my house painted and much less than the quote I got on built-in bookshelves.

At any rate, that is how my wedding eve day began. With a nice visit from Francis and his wife Linda at the store, Francis giddy and repeating "You will die." And now that I think of it, it was just Tuesday that Daniel was in talking about different open mic readings he had caught in San Francisco. And his favorite one was one that happened at I think the 16th St. subway stop. There is a circle of bricks and when you step inside that circle you are the reader. When you've done your speak for a sufficient time the crowd will begin clapping to let you know it is time to step out. Daniel said the most memorable and moving reader was actually a crack fiend who stepped into the circle and very piteously and nervously kept repeating "I'm going to die. I never knew I was going to die. I'm going to die. You, you're going to die, etc. repeating the same phrases with different pronouns. Daniel left with thoughts of his new book perhaps becoming spoken word on cassette and he left in pursuit of water up North.

Then Madame X called sounding good, saying she was on methadone. This sounded good to me. A good ritualistic plan. I have heard many stories of people on heroin waking up dead with viscous stuff of their own devising lodged in their throat or maybe just hotwired dead from some crap that somebody scraped off the bottom of their shoe to sell, but I can't think of any dramatic methadone stories. Or maybe any at all, other than complaints about waiting in lines or maybe stories about people that sold their rations on the street.

Then amazingly Pope came in. With another Linda who was going to the same library conference that the first Linda and Francis were going to. Perhaps this is the major gathering that Edgar Cayce had talked about. But at the great cataclysmic moment everyone will silently and nervously be seated at industrial tables clearing their throats and checking their watches and iPhone messages. And it struck me watching complicated talented thoughtful Pope in need of a tasty fresh kidney the intense narratives of peoples' lives I was getting a taste of. Thoughts of Blaster Al, who Francis was mainly stopping in Baltimore to visit, emerging from the physical rehab place to approach the cabaret stage once more - this time with a cane - to read at the 20th Anniversary Party of Normal's.

Meanwhile, as the swirl of events, especially for a recluse like myself heated up and I prepared for marriage and a honeymoon and a possible end to two years of being tortured by the Lard Filled Maryland Comptroller's office I get an emergency email missive from Pappy in China that Mo needs American hair dye. The Chinese hair dye he got her literally almost killed her.

After hurriedly pricing another fantastic stack of vinyl from The Kindly Hardboiled Man of Catonsville I slipped out of the shop, feeling ancient and thinking "I am to be married." I had to stop off for wine so I chose the old Schnapp Shop I used to haunt every Friday night back in the end of my drinking days. Just a good imported six pack to take the edge off while watching "Homicide". Often in my single days I would fantasize marrying the Korean woman who ran the place and who I'd maybe exchanged a few dozen words of English with over the years. She always seemed so alert and straight forward reading her Bible behind the counter. I bought two bottles of white wine, smiling at the Korean shop owner who I hadn't seen in so long, thinking "I am buying wine at the old Schnapp Shop and I no longer drink and tomorrow I am to be married."

I drove home as the 100 degree heat still clung to everything, feeling sorry for the bus riders crumpling like tortured figures in El Greco paintings on the fiery bus benches.

I got home and stepped through the door and the light and sound and smell was the softest it had ever been. Gleaming floors, new art hung, my baby so happy with her mother, both of them excited and sweating and humming with life. It is a good door to have stepped through and tomorrow I am to be married.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Daniel Higgs Book On Shattered Wig Update

I had the good fortune to see Daniel Higgs yesterday, shortly after he pulled into Baltimore in his Bible School Van. He's here for a few weeks or so and says he should be able to hand off the manuscript for his new book to me before he heads back out to Lemuria. Insh'allah!

"Perfectly Normal's"

Perfectly Normal's

Twenty years after nine friends started a business, it's still going strong

Sam Holden
John Berndt (left) and Rupert Wondolowski mine culture.

By Andrea Appleton Posted 6/16/2010

Normal's 20th Anniversary

With music by Zomes, Bow-Legged Gorilla, Ornate Coal Men, and DJ Lucky Charms Eaton; readings by Blaster Al Ackerman and Megan McShea; and short films by occasional CP contributor Rahne Alexander and Kristen Anchor.

14-Karat Cabaret, Friday, June 18

The walls at Normal's Books and Records are crowded with album covers, scary clown paintings, newspaper clippings, and random oddities: fishing lures, puppets, a gorgeous velvet painting of a Doberman Pinscher. A photo of Allen Ginsberg hangs from one shelf. The inscription, addressed to one of the store's owners, reads: rupert--can I run naked in your yard? xxoo allen. It's decor with history, and for good reason. On June 1, Normal's celebrated its 20th anniversary.

As independent bookstores across the country are closing, unable to compete with megastores, e-books, and Amazon, Normal's has survived. By cultural standards, it has thrived. It is the unofficial home of the Shattered Wig Press and The Shattered Wig Review. The Red Room, the experimental performance venue that birthed High Zero--one of the largest improvised music festivals in the country--grew out of Normal's. The store itself still sells more merchandise in person than online, and regularly attracts record collectors from as far away as Japan and Germany. Normal's success is perhaps all the more surprising because it began as a collective.

In 1990, nine friends--some had known each other since high school--decided to open a clothing/bike/record/bookstore on 31st Street called Normal's Bargain Cobbly World. (Legend has it that the name came from the fact that several of the owners had participated as "normals," or controls, in medical trials for schizophrenia research. "Cobbly World," which eventually was dropped, referred to a 1950s sci-fi novel.) The friends--all artists, musicians, or writers--decided they would each pitch in $500 and donate their labor until the business made a profit.

"We all thought it would be a good way to have a day job that wouldn't enslave us and would leave us psychic energy to work on our art and music," says Rupert Wondolowski (an erstwhile City Paper contributor), a writer who remains an owner.

Several of the participants had spent years working in bookstores, but no one had much experience as a small-business owner. Agreements were made verbally and the store's aesthetic came about organically, through the tastes of the participants. "We didn't really think things through," says John Berndt, founder of the Red Room and one of the four remaining owners. "It's just sort of shook out for us over the years, fortunately in a good way. In retrospect, I think it was a lot of luck."

Former owner tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE--his name, he says, is "basically the answer to the question, 'What's your name?'"--calls the early years "incredibly grim." Drug busts in the area were regular occurrences, and business was slow. "I spent 80 percent of my time just fending off hustlers and would-be robbers and very little time selling anything," he says. The store was able to weather this period largely because the burden was shared between a number of people, all with different skills (and, crucially, outside employment). Walt Novash, an engineer, was available for projects like rewiring the store. Peter Zahorecz, an artist, designed the sign that still hangs outside. Other owners were skilled curators, and selected most of the books and music. The clothing and bike elements of the business quickly fell away as, over time, did five of the owners.

In the mid-1990s, when Normal's moved to its current location just down the street from its humble origins, business increased. Students came from the Johns Hopkins University, Goucher College, and Loyola University. Other customers wandered in from the neighborhood or the nearby Waverly Farmers' Market. Ever since, the enterprise has been stable, if not wildly lucrative.

What has made Normal's succeed where so many other similar ventures have failed? Novash, who remains a co-owner, points to the project's modest aims. "I don't think anybody really had the expectation that we were going to be some sort of huge business conglomerate entity that was going to take over Baltimore," he says. "It has been big enough to survive and very good at what it does, but always sort of working within its niche."

tENT says the store's survival has to do with its place in the community. "I can go into Normal's and there will be a comfortable chair plopped somewhere in the store and a couple making out in the chair," he says. "And nobody who runs the store is going to go up to them and say, 'Hey, what the fuck are you doing?' We'll just be happy they're comfortable in the store."

Perhaps the answer is simply that Normal's sells things you can't find elsewhere. The store's vast and varied book collection includes a carefully cultivated stock of classics in philosophy, Greek and Roman literature, religion, art, and history. The extensive vinyl collection covers all the major genres and most of the minor ones. But it's the unusual, esoteric finds--what Wondolowski has called "pockets of sweet subversion"--that make the place unique: the Japanese issue of a Joy Division album, the out-of-print Trotsky biography, the illustrated guide to cannibal culture.

These days, the selection is largely Wondolowski's doing. Though four owners nominally remain, he is the only one who still works in the store and attends to its day-to-day operation. In 20 years, much has changed about the business. About 40 percent of the stock is now sold online, for instance, and vinyl has had a huge resurgence. But the daily routine is more or less the same as ever, with the company of a store pet--currently Max the dog--and a dazzling variety of customers. "We get Muslim police officers, but then we also get young Hopkins students," Wondolowski says. "We get wild mulleted young electronic musicians. "

One regular is a security guard who has, on occasion, bought out the store's entire Eastern Religions section. But there are also annoying visitors, like the man who recently came in, crouched down and slurped alcoholic eggnog while offering everybody in the store free condoms. "You never know what's going to happen," Wondolowski says.

Email Andrea Appleton

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Normal's Books and Records 20th Anniversary Party - Friday, June 18th

June 1st the shambling beast that is Normal's Bargain Cobbley World Books & Records turned 20. Down to four co-owners from 9 but still kicking cultural ass and taking names, although with our diminished hearing we occasionally have to have them repeat themselves: "Gore who?"

To celebrate this momentous retail achievement that survived two different Bush presidencies, crack cocaine and the menace that was unleashed by it swarming the streets of Baltimore and The Second Great Depression that withered the dugs of Capitalism, we are throwing a party at our home away from home, Laure Drogoul's 14 Karat Cabaret.

The party is Friday, June 18 and will feature Zomes (Asa Osborne, Baltimore's most beloved and gentle keyboard stroker), The Bow-Legged Gorilla (your fine paper's choice for "Best Solo Act"), young Bethany Dinsick under the guise of Square Pi, our very own legendary warhorse Blaster Al Ackerman, enigmatic words from scribe Megan McShea, short films by Rahne Alexander and Kristen Anchor and The Ornate Coal Men featuring John Berndt, Tiffany Defoe (this would be a great opportunity to corner her and find out once and for all if she is truly related to Willem Defoe - she actually might be!), Joel Knispel and Paul Neidhardt.

After all that cerebral music grabass DJ Lucky Charms AKA John E. will shake your body down with '80s nuggets and other sonic delights. Will he dress as Lady Gaga???? Only those in attendance will know for sure.

Admission will be $8 at the door, but your ticket will get you 20% off your next purchase of used items at our very own Normal's Books & Records. There will also be door prizes, possibly mimes and two different limited edition hand screened t-shirts for the occasion - one by musician/artist Scott Larson of Little Gruntpack and Furniture Falling Down the Stairs fame and one by Hamilton's beloved Matt Bovie, reigning artist prince of The Mt. Royal Tavern.

Other surprises surely to come.

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