Life, death, and anonymity

If I'm finally all better from whatever disease hit me last month, when does my strength come back? Any time now, please.

Today I'm very low on energy, so instead of me doing any real writing, you get more letters to Pathetic Life:

♦ ♦ ♦  

Addendum, 2023: It's something i haven't re-typed as I've put Pathetic Life on-line, but at the back of every on-paper issue, mostly as filler, there was a small list of people I said thanks to, usually for things unmentioned, and always under the kindhearted headline, "People Who Shouldn't Be Shot."

In the November 1995 list, I wrote,

I'd like to start with sincere thanks to Diane & Jeffrey, who send three bucks each month for the next issue, and though they live only a few miles away haven't once hinted at inviting me to dinner or anything. They're ideal subscribers — content to laugh at my life from a distance, with no desire to meet the anti-social author.

While I have generally enjoyed meeting most (not all) of the readers I've met, it's always a moment I'd rather avoid. For sparing me that misery, I thank you, Jeffrey & Diane — let's not get together some time!

A few months later, this letter came:

I don't know if words can express how nice it was of you to thank us for our non-intrusions, in PL#18's "People Who Shouldn't Be Shot." Your interpretation was correct — we respect your privacy way too much to ever put you on the spot with a request for a face-to-face meeting, and you're the one and only person who's ever noticed or acknowledged that.

There's a confession behind our non-intrusion which might shed enlightenment. We are somewhat in the same position you are in — having people know more about us than we know about them.

We are the owners of a used book store (West Portal Books). It's just the two of us,l no employees, and we are open every day. As a result, over the years a fairly large number of people have come to recognize us. They know who we are, that we're married and own the store, and various other facts about us gathered in conversation.

We are not famous enough to be celebrities, but we are a little bit of famous, sort of the same way you are. I'm finding it to be a very weird experience. My husband Jeff seems to be handling it fairly well, but I'm not doing so good with it, because I am kind of shy. Privacy means a lot to me (didn't realize how much until I started to lose some!).

For example, sometimes strangers (they must be former customers we don't remember) will just walk up to our table in a restaurant and start asking questions about what kind of books we buy from people, how much we pay and stuff. It startles me, and I feel they've butted in rudely on our private conversation. They don't even say "excuse me" or anything.

Another bad personal experience is when I'm just walking down the streets of San Francisco, minding my own bee's wax, when suddenly a stranger races up to me and shouts, "Aren't you the lady from the book store?"

Somehow I'm never prepared for it, and it always scares the hell out of me. I'm stunned, standing there sweating and blinking like a toad that's just been uncovered from a rock or something. Then the person thinks I'm being the rude one, because I'm too shocked to speak. Sometimes they'll start badgering me, "Well, you ARE the lady from the book store, AREN'T YOU? Huh? Huh? ANSWER ME, GOD DAMN IT!"

I guess they want me to stand and deliver a warm-hearted monologue on Haiku or some kind of bullshit like that, but there's way too much pressure, so I can't. 

Maybe we should consider ourselves to be "mini-celebrities," and these people are our "mini-stalkers." So we understand how it goes, sometimes, on the other side of 'fame' with a small 'f'. That's why we've never tried to get up close and personal with you."

—Diane Goodman, San Francisco  

Diane, you've said it brilliantly and I'm so glad it's not "just me being me." When you're away from the bookstore, you're not the bookstore, you're a person eating in a restaurant or walking along the sidewalk, and you deserve the freedom to be that non-bookstore person.

You're not a walking billboard for the bookstore everywhere you go, and like you, when I'm not typing I am just an anonymous fat guy, not eager to talk about my life with strangers. —DH 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Haven't been working on the new Attagirl zine lately 'cause I suck. Meanwhile, you rock. Here's some dough. See ya, and have a nice day. I'm pre-menstrual.

—Sandra Stringer, Attagirl, Columbia SC  

♦ ♦ ♦  

Anonymity is one of the great blessings of urban life. I know most people get some kind of gratification if the grocery clerk recognizes them and says hi, but it just makes me want to go buy my bread somewhere else.

I can imagine that strangers coming up to you with "You must be Doug!" would get on your nerves, preemptively taking away your choice of whether to introduce yourself or not.

—Jeff Carlock, Well Read Fox, Berkeley CA  

♦ ♦ ♦  

Sir: This is to advise you that Norman Edwards died in Akron on December 15, 1995, and I have been appointed executor of his estate.

Your publications 19 and 20 were forwarded to me. Please remove his name from your mailing list and cancel his account. Thank you.

—David E Culbertson, attorney-at-law  

When I read "executor of his estate" I briefly daydreamed of an inheritance, but instead it's a fatal cancellation — a letter from a dead man's lawyer.

Many readers of the zine send notes, which I read, but according to my half-assed bookkeeping and memory, Norman only sent a couple of fivespots with his name and address, never anything else. And now, never anything ever again.

Adios, Norman. Hope you enjoyed the reading as much as I enjoyed your ten dollars. Go in peace. —DH

From Pathetic Life #22
Thursday, March 7, 1996

Addendum, 2023: West Portal Books, like most of the best bits if San Francisco, is long gone.

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


  1. Fun fact : I am not allowed to comment here using a VPN, apparently.

    Man, I vividly remember this whole entry.

    The letter from the bookstore lady was great, and stuck with me.

    This quote:

    "Anonymity is one of the great blessings of urban life. I know most people get some kind of gratification if the grocery clerk recognizes them and says hi, but it just makes me want to go buy my bread somewhere else."

    I remember to this day, and I thought it was your original thought. I've requoted it many times, about buying my bread elsewhere.

    1. I've probably plagiarized it myself, unknowingly.

      It saddened me to learn that the bookstore is gone. It was a cool place, though far enough from my SF haunts that I only went into the store a few times. And I *never* said hello.

      They know me by name at the diner, but only because my nitwit brother called them on the phone and asked for me.

      Every time the waitress says "Hi Doug" I gently curse my brother for that.

  2. Testing from "Japan," let's see if this works...

    1. Well, I'll be dipped in dogshit, it did work.

    2. Yeah, I don't think Google cares about VPNs. I'm usually on mine, and that's never been a factor. It just rejects 1 out of about 250 comments at random and for no reason.


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