My favorite bookstore in the Chicago area was always Bookman’s Alley, a coiling space tucked into an Evanston alley, in the shadow of Northwestern University. It resembled a sleepy intellectual’s living room—the Strand, as if run by WASPs. For years, the store seemed on the brink of closing (and now appears to be shuttered) and whenever I was in town to visit my parents I would stop in, sniffing out bargains. At some point, for reasons unknown, I fell into a routine of buying books by Bruce Jay Friedman while in Bookman’s Alley. This can happen—you buy your Randy Newman LPs at this record shop, David Bowie albums at that one—and over time, I suspect the proprietor took note.
“You know, Bruce Jay Friedman’s son came to the store for an event for his own book,” he told me.
“Ah, yes—Drew Friedman,” I said, speaking of the illustrator. “His work is mind-blowing. Howard Stern claims he is better than Picasso.”
“No,” the store owner said, “Josh Alan Friedman, the writer and musician. He’s great.” Indeed, I had the wrong Friedman.
A few months later, I was in Chicago once more and returned to the store for another Bruce Jay Friedman. “You know,” the clerk said, “we have some books by his son.”
“Of course,” I said, now wise to the man. “Josh Alan Friedman.”
“No,” the clerk told me. “Drew Friedman—the illustrator.”
“Hmph,” I muttered. “Talented family.”
Complicating matters further, we now get Barracuda in the Attic (Fantagraphics), a charmed memoir about growing up the son of Friedman. And this book is by Kipp Friedman—the youngest of the three brothers. The book features a cover illustration by Drew Friedman, a foreword by Bruce Jay Friedman, and an afterword by Josh Alan Friedman. The author has a light, graceful touch. This is not a memoir to settle scores or search an author’s soul—Kipp Friedman writes as much about his older brothers as he does about himself. Many of its best patches depict the celebrity culture of 1970s New York and Hollywood, as witnessed through the eyes of a child or teen beamed into the world of his father. Often, the three brothers are seen as young hellions, at war with saner adult forces in Long Island and Manhattan. Pity the dupe who crosses paths with the trio.
Kipp Friedman, who lives in Milwaukee, will be in New York for readings at KGB Bar December 14 and 2A Bar December 16. In anticipation, the author answered a few questions about Barracuda in the Attic via e-mail:
This is your first book. What was its impetus? And its greatest hurdle?
Not surprisingly, it was my father’s idea that I start writing the stories that led to Barracuda in the Attic. Following my parent’s divorce in 1976, I moved in with my dad at his duplex apartment on East 63rd Street in Manhattan for the final year and a half of high school before attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This was a transitional period for my entire family, and my father has told me this was a particularly dark time for him as he adjusted to his new single life. We lived like two bachelors, surviving mainly on take-out pizza and watching Knicks games on TV. I also accompanied him on business trips, experiencing a number of adventures, and got to see first-hand the daily habits of an accomplished writer in mid-career. Most of all, it was a lot of fun hanging out with him because my father’s such a wonderful storyteller.
Years later, I was recalling how special that period was when he said it would make a great story. I told him I couldn’t wait to read what he would write, he being the famous writer in the family. But he said I should write it and I said I would, when I had some time. About 10 years later, as my 17-year-old son, Max, was preparing to leave for college, I started writing Life With Father (1977–78) all about that magical time I spent with my father. The story would eventually appear on a popular literary website in Manhattan and I would receive praise from friends and family. But I was most gratified when my father said he loved the story, even calling it “exceptional.” That, really, was all the impetus I needed to dig deeper and look back further into my childhood for more inspiration. The writing became addictive as I unlocked other buried memories from the past.
In Lowbrow Reader #7, we proudly published “Curb,” a poem by the veteran comedian, actor, and writer Shelley Berman that details his work portraying Nat David on house favorite Curb Your Enthusiasm. “Curb” reappeared in our book anthology The Lowbrow Reader Reader alongside a second Berman poem, “The Comedian Jim MacGeorge.” Both works were accompanied by lovely illustrations by Mike Reddy.
Shelley Berman has a trail of albums in his wake, including the classic 1959 LP Inside Shelley Berman—the first non-musical recording to win a Grammy Award. Now, the CD-equipped can enjoy Berman’s poetry, too: The new audiobook To Laughter with Questions: Poetry by Shelley Berman features the writer reciting “Curb,” “The Comedian Jim MacGeorge,” and more. The limited-edition, two-CD set comes signed by the poet himself. Order one for yourself, one for your illicit lover, and one for your cuckolded spouse. Check it out at shelleyberman.com!
June 12, 1942
I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, Dear Diary, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, with the exception of Hans, Horst, Franz, Gerhardt, Ludwig, Rolf, and Johan.
June 20, 1942
Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on, neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a 28-year-old chorus boy.
July 5, 1942
As we were taking a stroll around the neighborhood square, Father began to talk about my going into hiding. I asked him why on earth I would want to.
“Well, Frank,” he replied, “for more than a year, we’ve been bringing your clothes, food and furniture to the Nudelklangs. Gott in Himmel you should get hauled off to one of those camps and have to sleep ten men to a wooden bed in a barrack holding 900 others and be made to line up naked in front of one another for body cavity inspections of all kinds.”
“Why, Father, why should I go into hiding—we’re not Jewish,” I cried.
My father sighed. “Some Jews can pass for Aryans,” he said. “But my Son the Actor, you’re no Van Johnson. Don’t worry—the Nudelklangs have a walk-in closet where you’ll feel right at home.”
I was stunned. How did my parents discover Ich bin ein schwuler? Father does seem pretty sympathetic, though. It’s Muti who wants me out of their house. If the Nazis find me, Mother won’t be able to have a cleaning lady. But the picture Father painted of the internment camp—it gives me chills. Who could believe such a place actually exists? (more…)
Honoring his campaign promise, the mayor banishes carriage horses from Central Park. All animals are immediately retired and removed from the city to live out their remaining years in green pastures upstate. Sadly, the drivers have to be euthanized. This development further endears the mayor to animal rights activists.
In a black eye for the stop-and-frisk law, the mayor’s son, Dante, is randomly stopped by police while walking near Gracie Mansion. He is searched in all relevant areas: backpack, pockets, Afro. Across the city, New Yorkers are disappointed and appalled after a police report confirms that Dante was found without a trace of marijuana on his person.
Bowing to his Brooklyn constituency, Mayor de Blasio announces plans to convert the West Side Highway into a bike lane. For some reason, biking advocates still seem incredibly angry.
Mayor de Blasio appoints Bill Thompson, his former rival in the Democratic primary, as Counselor to Mayor. Although everybody agrees that he is the most qualified and competent man for the job, and he is the sole candidate, Thompson somehow manages to come in second place.
In a magazine interview, the mayor reveals that he may be the son of Frank Sinatra.
After a review of the Bloomberg administration’s application process for massive real estate developments finds it to mirror the scrutiny a person goes through in order to obtain a Twitter account, Mayor de Blasio vows to make some slight changes. Hysterical business leaders threaten to take their commercial interests elsewhere, such as New Jersey, giving everybody in the city a well-deserved chuckle.
Controversy engulfs the administration when it is revealed that, since his election, Mayor de Blasio has skipped several shifts working the register at the Park Slope Food Coop. The mayor promises to make up shifts, but finds his membership in the Coop revoked nonetheless.
Mayor de Blasio belatedly apologizes to Michael Bloomberg for offending him with racist television commercials.
Texas is running out of execution drugs. But don’t fear! Here are some proposals for new ways the state can kill their prisoners….
-Inform prisoner that it is taco night on death row. Let prisoner get all excited, since tacos are his favorite. Serve prisoner delicious tacos, but in place of usual hot sauce, give him extra, extra, extra spicy hot sauce. When prisoner gulps down his water and desperately asks for a new drink, hand him a cup of ice-cold gasoline. In his next taco, hide a lit match.
-Have the warden dress up as a prisoner who is impersonating the warden. The warden tells a prisoner in need of execution that it is “escape time.” Warden leads prisoner to the warden’s office, which the prisoner thinks has been taken over by other escaping inmates. When prisoner arrives at warden’s office, he is met by a firing squad.
-Tell prisoner that there is new evidence in his case and he is being set free. Have a big ceremony attended by all of his family and friends. Lead prisoner to the jail gate and give him his old belongings. Just as he is about to get his first taste of freedom, tell him, “Oh, wait—we screwed up. You have to go back to death row, but this time in a much less comfortable cell.” As prisoner flops about on the ground from a heart attack, refuse him any help.
-Lead prisoner to execution chamber. Make a big stink about injecting him with “death poison” even though, unbeknownst to him, it is merely his annual flu shot. When serum reaches his veins, turn lights on and off several times, really fast. Have everybody rapidly exit room with the exception of one guard, who is dressed as the Angel of Death. Slowly, this “Grim Reaper” leads prisoner back to his cell through a pitch black prison. The next morning, the prisoner wakes to find his fellow inmates dressed not in their prison uniforms, but as ghosts. Continue this ruse until prisoner dies of natural causes.
A cherished query of bullies across the globe, the age-old aphorism “What you looking at?” proves as challenging to answer as it is provocative to ask. What follows are a few responses that have been professionally tested on gritty urban streets over a number of years. Please note that although our rebuttals may have tested well in circumventing beatings, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IS GUARANTEED. Street bullies are like snowflakes: Each one is a unique individual. While they may ask the same question, they’re not necessarily all looking for the same response.
(also: “Nothing, man.”)
Human instinct will naturally (more…)
Oh, 2006! Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had been released a mere one year prior, Madonna was two years away from issuing Hard Candy, and the Lowbrow Reader was publishing its fifth issue, forever remembered as “Lowbrow Reader #5.” And what an issue! It is the only Lowbrow Reader not to feature a toilet on the cover—instead, cover illustrator John Mathias got classy and went with a urinal. Articles include Ben Goldberg and Joe O’Brien debating the pros and cons of Chevy Chase; Neil Hagerty toasting Don Knotts; and a comic-book–style interview with the White Stripes by Mike Reddy (drawings) and Jay Ruttenberg (words).
While many of the articles would reappear in our book, The Lowbrow Reader Reader, Lowbrow Reader #5 itself has been sold out for a few years. But guess what? We just unearthed a small stash of copies, available to the Paypal-equipped public via our ordering page. Check it out—but act fast, as supplies are limited!
I am a statesman delivering a much-anticipated speech in an ornate hall. I approach the dais and unfurl my prepared remarks. The packed crowd watches my every movement, rapt. I look down and realize I have neglected to wear a shirt, and am staring out at the gathered men and women completely bare-chested. My toes feel the floor beneath my feet, and I understand that my shoes and socks have been forgotten as well. Finally, I notice that I am wearing neither pants nor undergarments and, in fact, am standing before these dignitaries naked as the day I was born. But suddenly, my dream turns into a nightmare, as I realize that my press secretary has failed to notify the media of my address. There is not a single camera or reporter present: no broadsheets, tabloids, or nightly news. Disaster! I step down from the dais and furiously rebuke this imbecile employee until he breaks down in tears. Returning to the speech, I receive a standing ovation and seven scattered “bravos!”
I am at Shea Stadium and Jerry Koosman is on the mound. An elderly Japanese man has taken my seat by mistake; naturally, I irately reprimand him. But just as he lifts his dagger to commit hara-kiri—which would be especially ironic, as the Mets are playing the Cubs—I deliver a heroic speech about the wonders of life, and he is saved. The game is going into the top of the 7th and the Mets are winning, 104 to 2. It occurs to me that I must urinate, so I excuse myself to visit Shea’s immaculately maintained men’s room. A man appears at the urinal to my right, eating a hoagie. It is Koosman! “Aren’t you supposed to be pitching right now?” I inquire. Koosman laughs my question away, as if he gets such queries all the time. “Young fella, someday, you’re gonna run this town,” he tells me. “Let’s introduce you to some voters.” Koosman tosses me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carries me onto the field. I stand on the pitcher’s mound, urinating, as the game goes on around me. The entire stadium boos. After the game, I shake hands and collect signatures from 835 registered Democrats.
A parade. I stand at the side of the road with my fellow spectators, all of whom wear old-time straw hats, for it is 1934. I am nude but for a strategically placed sombrero—strategically placed, that is, atop my head, so that it can provide my manhood with much-needed shade. Suddenly, an old hag appears. “Hide your shameful manhood!” she cackles. I turn to confront her, for I am a New Yorker and refuse to take any guff, but she disintegrates into thin air. In the parade, an elegant convertible slowly passes, ferrying Fiorello La Guardia. I make a show of berating the mayor, lambasting him for his failed policies as the gathered newsmen, impressed with my performance, take note. A makeshift press conference is convened as I take questions from the reporters. I turn back to Mayor La Guardia to find that he has transformed into his alter ego, Señor Sexy. He is joined in the convertible by several female supporters; they engage in love-making.
One of the more prescient features of The Lowbrow Reader Reader, our eminently orderable book anthology, is a two-part piece debating the respective merits and deficiencies of Chevy Chase. In the book, Ben Goldberg argues against the comedian, while Joe O’Brien defends the oft-maligned star—a Lincoln-Douglas debate for the modern age. The chapters initially appeared in Lowbrow Reader #5, back in 2006, well before the actor’s resurgence on Community. All of which prompts the question: Have Chevy Chase’s recent activities done anything to change the two writers’ minds? Let’s find out!—Ed
Ben Goldberg: I like to see myself as not being an angry guy. Don’t we all? I fully embrace aging and the sense of wisdom that comes from it, and how one realizes the ephemeral nature of most feelings. And yet, in the years since I wrote this piece on why I dislike Chevy Chase, my disgust at his existence has only gone from rubber to cement, forming a hardened ball of trigger-hate at anything he does.
And it has not been easy. The past decade has seen to completion the Chase Comeback. It started with a revisionist article in Entertainment Weekly, continued with increasing appearances on Saturday Night Live (as that show has become “In Praise Of Lorne” in every sense but name), and coalesced in the cosmos with Community, everyone acting like he is not a talentless jerk.
I am convinced that the only reason this has happened is nostalgia. We love to love what we loved when we were 11, and nobody is going to taint the purity of that youthful joy. Hence, Chase surfs a misty-eyed wave of bullshit as a pathetic attempt at self-justification. You hear people all the time quoting lines from Chevy Chase movies, but do they ever say his lines? What situation fits a comment by the egotistical buffoon character he drilled into the gravel?
Prince can be an ass; I still love his music. Russell Crowe can throw whatever he wants at anyone; I still respect his acting. Chevy Chase is a bloated vessel of emptiness, standing on wisps of memory to see himself as taller than others.
Great. Now I’m all worked up.
Joe O’Brien: Do I still like Chevy?
In my pro-Chevy piece for the Lowbrow Reader back in 2006, I predicted that Chevy would make a comeback once he channeled his inner bastard and put it on the screen. It pretty much came true with his role as moist towelette entrepreneur Pierce Hawthorne on Community. Chevy was back. On primetime TV, dammit.
Naturally he blew it, feuding with the show’s creator, alienating the cast and slinging racial slurs on set. But still, as a lifelong Chevy fan, I felt some vindication.
A few years ago, through a generous friend, an opportunity came up for me to spend a day on the set of Community. I jumped at it, obviously, because I am a star struck rube. I wanted to get my picture taken with Chevy, and maybe coax a Fletch quote out of him.
I met my friend on the Paramount lot and we wandered the fake grounds of the Greendale Community College campus. The crew was setting up some elaborate stunt scene, so we were able to sit and talk with Joel McHale and Ken Jeong for a while. They were both very nice and funny; my friend asked Joel if Chevy was around, because I really wanted a picture with him.
I was a little embarrassed—and doubly so when Joel stared at me, completely stone-faced, and said, “Why?”
Ken then turned to Joel, real sarcastic, and said, “What do you mean ‘why,’ Joel? Don’t you know Chevy invented comedy?”
For the next half hour, I was given a blow-by-blow of the rigors of working with Chevy. The highlight was a description of how Chevy would walk around the set making off-color remarks and the writers would follow him around taking notes. The writers would then put some version of what Chevy said in the next script. Chevy would read it and complain, “That’s awful, I’m not saying that.” Then they’d tell him that he had said it at lunch the previous week and he’d say, “It’s brilliant. Leave it in!”
It was a fun day. Fans of Community probably remember the paintball episode. I was there right after they shot it, so the set was covered with paintball splatters. Unfortunately, it was Chevy’s day off. I saw his lonely trailer plunked on the lot, and even that exuded a kind of sourness after all the stories I had heard. I left the set figuring I had missed my one chance to see Chevy in the puffy flesh.
Cut to a year later into my Los Angeles decline. I was working as a caterer. During awards season, I would work all these high-profile parties and feel like a lowly insect serving drinks and food to the famous.
I was working a big Emmy party, which was unsettling. The casts for all the big shows would arrive together in the same giant limos. So all at once, here comes the whole cast of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc…. Then they would splinter off and overlap into some weird alternate TV universe where Don Draper is having a drink with Walter White and there are enough stray cast members of Lost lingering around to make things creepy.
The cast of Community arrived and I decided against saying hello to Joel McHale, since I figured he probably wouldn’t remember me. Or, even worse, he would and I would be embarrassed. Then, while all the people from the TV shows were drinking and having fun, I spotted Chevy off by himself, sitting on a couch way in the back, just kind of staring into space. I thought it was appropriate and sad and I walked by a couple of times. He showed no interest in the tray of tuna cones or salmon flatbread or whatever I was hawking. Then I saw his wife come over with two small plates full of little appetizers; he looked really happy, smiled and was really affectionate to her. They stayed off to themselves away from the party sharing their food. It was kind of sweet. He seemed harmless—the kind of guy who calls you an “egg timer” as an insult (which Chevy is known to do).
Anyway, I guess this is a long, meandering way of saying: Yeah, I still like the old bastard.
In the late ’90s, after I had graduated from college but before I was prepared to leave it behind, I lived in Boston and was up to no good. I worked for a short stretch as an office temp, and for a long stretch as a late-night cookie delivery person. At some point—perhaps inspired by the great old zine Dishwasher, perhaps by the street posters of Camden Joy—I concocted a scheme to earn money as a dishwasher-for-hire at private residences. While I never actually enacted the plan, I did design a flyer, which I recently unearthed while looking for something else. Reading the flyer now, I think I made a fairly convincing argument. Though I am embarrassed to admit that three of the four bullet points included toward the end are outright lies.