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Monday, November 23, 2009

Of Banjos and Books

Saturday I was in the city all day until late in the evening. I sold a 1920s Washburn banjo ukulele, of a size that is often called a “tango banjo”, to a very nice woman who contacted me through Face Book. I got $500 for it, the majority of which is going to pay for the readings of “Café Lysistrata” – though the major part of $500 is less than half the cost of the presentations. I was sort of sad to part with this instrument but I know it’s found a happy home, and I’m going to be giving the new owner a few lessons.

My first stop after selling the banjo was Barnes & Noble. I wanted to pick up a copy of Jerelle Kraus’s new book “All the Art That’s Fit to Print (and Some that Wasn’t)”. The book is an insider’s look at the machinations behind the scenes at the New York Times Op Ed Page. Jerelle was the art director for the page for many years, so she has a unique perspective. I should have bought the book on It’s $25.91 there, which qualifies for free shipping. At Barnes & Noble it was $34.95, and I had to lug it around with me.

Anyway, it’s a wonderful collection of illustrative art from the golden years of American newspaper editorial art. It’s also full of funny stories of the reactions of editors to certain illustrations. If you have any contemporary art fans, or newspaper buffs – who soon will occupy their own niche in society, much as railroad buffs do – on your holiday gift list, then this book is a must buy. (Full disclosure: Jerelle came to some of the Plexus art operas back in the 1980s, and I got to know her a little at that time. We recently reconnected on Face Book. I was also a regular contributor to the Times back then, in the form of light verse that frequently appeared in the now-defunct “Metropolitan Diary” column.)

While in the book store, I decided to check out the drama section. I was sorely tempted to buy a copy of the Joe Papp biography “Free For All” that just came out. However, at $40 I decided to wait until my local library gets a copy of it or it comes out in paperback. Or maybe I'll buy it on for $26 and change, after the "Cafe Lysistrata" readings.I did buy a volume of 5 Tom Stoppard plays. I really love Stoppard’s writing, though I have to admit I’ve not been privileged to see all his plays on stage. One piece that I neither read nor saw and had a hankering to check out was the play “Arcadia”. (I started it this afternoon and should finish it tomorrow.)

There was a copy of the play in its own volume for $15.95. For $17.00, there was a collection of 5 plays that included “Arcadia” as well as another of my Stoppard favorites “The Real Thing”. I saw that play when it was first on Broadway. Joe Papp and I had a lively discussion about the play’s ending, one night when we co-hosted a party for Paul Davis, the illustrator who created all the great show posters for the Public Theater for so many years.

Anyway, I bought the volume with 5 plays. Both were paperbacks. It was baffling to me how anyone could buy “Arcadia” in its slender solo volume but I’m sure they must sell some copies. Buying books is becoming like comparative grocery shopping – and check the price online first!

Fifty six dollars lighter, I made my way through the Union Square Farmers Market. Just that walk kept the pot on the back burner bubbling, as I got several interesting ideas for “Green Market” -- my next stage musical.

All in all, it was a great day in Manhattan. Someday, somehow, I’m going to get a home there again. This country house is close enough to the city to be part of the perfect life for a playwright.

Would that someone of Joe Papp’s caliber come along again; someone who cares about playwrights and theater as much as he did. It’s a bleak world where a playwright must sell his possessions to hear his new piece sung and read in front of an audience. Oh well. At least I have some possessions to sell. Anyone looking for a quality ukulele?

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