What to say about an author who has won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, written comic books, edited McSweeney’s, and contributed to the screenplay for Spider-Man 2? One of the leading writers of his generation, Michael Chabon (pronounced SHAY-bon, if you were wondering) burst onto the scene at age 25 with The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and has continued to enthrall readers with his deft combination of literary mastery and unabashed genre pleasures. His bestselling books include The Wonder Boys, Summerland, Werewolves in Their Youth, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Gentlemen of the Road, Maps and Legends, and the Pulitzer-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
A white boy rode flatfoot on a skateboard, towed along, hand to shoulder, by a black boy pedaling a brakeless fixed-gear bike. Dark August morning, deep in the Flatlands. Hiss of tires. Granular unraveling of skateboard wheels against asphalt. Summertime Berkeley giving off her old-lady smell, nine different styles of jasmine and a squirt of he-cat.
The black boy raised up, let go of the handlebars. The white boy uncoupled the cars of their little train. Crossing his arms, the black boy gripped his T-shirt at the hem and scissored it over his head. He lingered inside the shirt, in no kind of hurry, as they rolled toward the next pool of ebbing streetlight. In a moment, maybe, the black boy would tug the T-shirt the rest of the way off and fly it like a banner from his back pocket. The white boy would kick, push, and reach out, feeling for the spark of bare brown skin against his palm. But for now the kid on the skateboard just coasted along behind the blind daredevil, drafting.
• • •
Moonfaced, mountainous, moderately stoned, Archy Stallings manned the front counter of Brokeland Records, holding a random baby, wearing a tan corduroy suit over a pumpkin-bright turtleneck that reinforced his noted yet not disadvantageous resemblance to Gamera, the giant mutant flying tortoise of Japanese cinema. He had the kid tucked up under his left arm as, with his free right hand, he worked through the eighth of fifteen crates from the Benezra estate, the records in crate number 8 favoring, like Archy, the belly meat of jazz, salty and well marbled with funk. Electric Byrd (Blue Note, 1970). Johnny Hammond. Melvin Sparks’s first two solo albums. Charles Kynard, Wa-Tu-Wa-Zui (Prestige, 1971). As he inventoried the lot, Archy listened, at times screwing up his eyes, to the dead man’s minty quadrophonic pressing of Airto’s Fingers (CTI, 1972) played through the store’s trusty Quadaptor, a sweet gizmo that had been hand-dived from a Dumpster by Nat Jaffe and refurbished by Archy, a former army helicopter electrician holding 37.5 percent—last time he’d bothered to check—of
a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from SF State.
The science of cataloging one-handed: Pluck a record from the crate, tease the paper sleeve out of the jacket. Sneak your fingers into the sleeve. Waiter the platter out with your fingertips touching nothing but label. Angle the disc to the morning light pouring through the plate window. That all-revealing, even-toned East Bay light, keen and forgiving, always ready to tell you the truth about a record’s condition. (Though Nat Jaffe claimed it was not the light but the window, a big solid plate of Pittsburgh glass vaccinated against all forms of bullshit during the period of sixty-odd years when the space currently housing Brokeland Records had been known as Spencer’s Barbershop.)
Archy swayed, eyes closed, grooving on the heft of the baby, on the smell of grease coming off of Ringo Thielmann’s bass line, on the memory of the upraised eyes of Elsabet Getachew as she gave him head yesterday in the private dining room of the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant.
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