"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Book Marks the Spot

Books have always held an important place in my life. Not just reading them but owning them. I wouldn’t call my father an intellectual but I would call him bookish. My grandfather had a library and so did my dad. So do my aunts and uncles.

After my old man died, my brother and sister and I were faced with the daunting task of what to do with his library. My syblings took a few books but weren’t really interested in them. I felt a great responsibility to make sure that they would have a good home, even if most of them were donated to the local library.

It’s tempting to look at someone’s library as autobiography. You could certainly tell something about my old man by what books he had–he loved mystery novels, for example. On the other hand, he just didn’t throw things, especially books, away. So there were books that he had gotten as gifts that said nothing about him or his taste. It just said that he didn’t believe in tossing them away. And there were others that I knew he hadn’t cracked open in more than thirty years.

Still, his library still gave him comfort and a definition of sorts. I ended up taking just a few dozen for myself, most of them for sentimental reasons–his first edition copies of “The Boys of Summer” and “No Cheering in the Press Box,” Leo Rosten’s “Joys of Yiddish.” His books, which I had memorized and adored for so many years had actually become a burden.

But if someone’s library paints a misleading or limited portrait, there is still room for autobiography. Because there are little reminders inside the books for us to discover…

Last night, I was in bed and I picked up my dad’s copy of E.B. White’s book of essays. The book has been on my night table for a year and every time I try to get into it, I just can’t. I feel as if I am supposed to adore White considering how much I like clean, vigorous writing. So I decided to give it another go when a postcard fell out from the middle of the book.

It was a board of elections registration card from 1983 addressed to the first woman my dad dated seriously after my mom kicked him out of the house. I hadn’t thought about Kaye in a long time but lying in bed, a flood of memories came back to me.

She was roughly my dad’s age and had a bob of silver hair and wore big glasses. She had long, thin fingers and smoked More cigarettes, slim and brown. Kaye lived on 81st street just down the block from my grandparent’s apartment. She had some money though I don’t remember what she did for a living. Was she in publishing?

What I do recall is that she was sweet and gentle with us. She gave me a frank talk about sex one day, described what an orgasm was. She wasn’t provocative or clinical, but somewhere inbetween, and she left me feeling that an orgasm would be a terrific thing to have. On a shelf in her bedroom was an over-sized video cassette box for “The Devil in Ms. Jones.” I was a snoop in those days but for some reason I never had the nerve, or perhaps the opportunity, to sneak a look at it.

Kaye also had “Young Frankenstein” and my brother, sister and I watched that over and over. I remember watching Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious” there often too. But our greatest discovery at her place was George Carlin’s record “FM/AM.” I’ll always remember Kaye for turning us on to him.

For a brief time, my dad lived with her, and almost certainly took advantage of her, at least financially. But he was still battling the bottle and I don’t think they lasted more than a year-and-a-half before she kicked him out and ended it.

I was twelve when they dated. At that time I wanted nothing more in life than the chance to go see “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the famous midnight movie. I had the soundtrack, both from the film and the play. But my mom wasn’t about to let me go out in the middle of the night to watch transvestites sing. I was nothing if not persistant. I pleaded, carried on. Eventually, Kaye agreed to take me and my friend Mike to see it one Saturday night. I don’t remember why, if it was a secret from my mom or what.

We saw it at the old New Yorker theater on 88th street and Broadway. There was no floor show but they did show two animated shorts:

Bambi vs. Godzilla

and Lenny Bruce’s Thank You Mask Man.

Then, the moment we had been waiting for. Mike and I were not disappointed. Kaye was horrified. She wanted to leave after twenty minutes but we weren’t having it and to her credit she put up with us and the movie and we stayed for the entire show.

I never saw her again after she split with dad. The old man said that she had gotten into “Dyanetics” and was a kook. But I’ll always remember her as a nice lady who introduced us to some adult pleasures with enthusiasm and sensitivity.

And I’ve got her voting registration card to prove it.

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1 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 30, 2009 1:24 pm


I wonder when the post for "Roly-Poly Fish Heads" will go up. I'm sure William and OYF would appreciate that for its instrumentation and sweet melody. But then the decadent and unruly Chyll once suggested to his best friend that "Roly Poly Fish Heads" should be mixed with Cypress Hill's "How I Can Just Kill A Man" on his college radio show, which after much incredulity he did (the prevailing reaction being, "dumb-ASS!"), but he later did a toned-down remix of it with Main Source's " Fakin' The Funk", which appears on one of our Cut-Up City albums>;)

2 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 30, 2009 1:31 pm


You ROCK my friend. That's AMAZING.

3 thelarmis   ~  Jan 30, 2009 1:38 pm

very nice write-up, alex! my parents have a pretty sizable library. my (late) uncle had a massively impressive one, but a major hurricane in Miami knocked it out completely some years ago. that was pretty devastating. my brother has a good library, as well.

i'm not a big book reader, in the slightest. that said, i have a decent-sized library myself. i like having these books, even if i just thumb through 'em or they just sit on a shelf. i feel like they DO represent me in some auto-biographical sense. you can totally tell which books are mine and which ones were gifts that i simply don't have the heart to toss away.

the one book i plan on reading this year is the Blue Note Records biography. it's been sitting on my coffee table for months, but i've only used the (partial) discography in the back as a reference point. i hear it's not a great read, but i'll get into it one of these months. i read a TON online, in papers and 'zines...just not books...

Ms. Kaye, sounds like she served as a good life lesson for the Belth Boys at a seminal time. i'm glad you had that experience, got to re-live and shared it with us!

4 williamnyy23   ~  Jan 30, 2009 1:40 pm

"Roly Poly Fish Heads"? Only if I can have them with frim fram sauce
with the Ausen fay. With chafafa on the side

5 thelarmis   ~  Jan 30, 2009 1:49 pm

[4] nat king cole! GREAT, fun tune! diana krall did a nice version of it, as well. i'm playing on a gig this spring!

6 williamnyy23   ~  Jan 30, 2009 1:51 pm

[5] Now, that's "music". :)

7 thelarmis   ~  Jan 30, 2009 2:09 pm

[6] i really get off on the old jump stuff, like Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan & Slim Gaillard (Slim & Slam). frim-fram sauce, fits that bill. it's just, sooo much...FUN!!!

8 OldYanksFan   ~  Jan 30, 2009 2:10 pm

[0] Shortly after my 18th birthday in 1972, a good friend of mine, who managed a record store, had a little get together to play a brand new comedy album that had just come in. Bringing over my 'finest stuff', myself and a small group of friends met up at Les's apt.

Well, we ended up playing both sides 3 times, and were in hysterics the entire evening. For many weeks after, we met at Les's most Friday nights for another dose. This album, AM/FM, was a revelation to me, as I had never heard such political incorrectness in my life. It was just wonderful and I have worshipped Carlin even since. While George got quite an edge later in his career, I consider him the greatest stand-up comic ever, and to be both brilliant and somewhat prophetic.

Whenever I hear anything on the news about the death penalty, I can't help but think of Carlin's brilliant routine on public executions at football game's half time. The more I listen to it, the better an idea I think it is.

In todays hyper politically correct environment, we simply do not have enough George. I really miss the guy.

9 Just Fair   ~  Jan 30, 2009 2:13 pm

I eat up these posts. Yum. : )

10 thelarmis   ~  Jan 30, 2009 2:53 pm

[8] i don't know much about comedy records, but i did a tour w/ my old Fusion trio up/down the East Coast in Spring of '01. we listened to a Carlin cd on the road as we were leaving town. i NEVER laughed soooo hard in my life! in fact, i'm still laughing and in stitches!!! : )

11 unmoderated   ~  Jan 30, 2009 2:55 pm

hey, you found a forgotten bookmark; i don't want to be an attention whore or anything, but I do run a website devoted to all the kooky stuff I find left behind in books. I won't link it, but I'm sure you can find it with a little snooping without too much trouble.

12 OldYanksFan   ~  Jan 30, 2009 2:59 pm

ahhh..... was that some of that there hippidy-hopper stuff?

13 Chyll Will   ~  Jan 30, 2009 3:24 pm
14 thelarmis   ~  Jan 30, 2009 3:30 pm

and on that note...i'm out!

15 PJ   ~  Jan 30, 2009 3:44 pm

It all goes back to 1968, doesn't it? At least most things do...


16 Diane Firstman   ~  Jan 30, 2009 4:15 pm

In the "small world" category, one of my Scrabble buddies is a guy named Sal Piro. Sal is the president of Rocky Horror Picture Show Fan Club, and appears at a great many of the conventions.

17 Alex Belth   ~  Jan 30, 2009 4:48 pm

Dude, Sal Piro ran the original Rocky Horror floor show. Oh, shoot, what's the name of the theater right near the basketball courts on 6th ave? That's where it started I think. I saw him do the show at the 8th street playhouse, long gone now. It was a ball. He was a cult celebrity, Sal Piro.

18 ms october   ~  Jan 30, 2009 5:13 pm

interesting post alex.

my dad has a ton of books - mostly physics and history.
my mom is always trying to get him to get rid of some of them and one of her reasons is so that i won't have to go through them - but my dad will is holding on to all of them.

i used to not want to buy books (or dvds) thinking i could just get them from the library. but i have started ammassing mroe books -some for my studies, some for casual reading and there is something defining about having a little library.

19 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Jan 30, 2009 10:44 pm

Wonderful post...Saturday afternoon paradise is browsing for used books and records here, then heading to a vintage 1968 (there's that year again..) jazz cafe near my apartment in Tokyo..

thelarmis..you're not a Diana Krall fan, are you? :)

20 thelarmis   ~  Jan 30, 2009 11:01 pm

[19] i'm afraid i am, jazz tokyo! HA!!! not so much anymore. she starting getting a bit too adult contemporary for me. i was terribly disappointed when she married Elvis Costello! why, diana, why?!?!

she's actually a tremendous musician and had a handful of records that were really GREAT and swingin'. plus, at the time, most of my gigs were brushes hits w/ a piano player singing standards, so it all lined up! the album she did that had "frim fram sauce" on it, was a drummer-less trio record tribute to Nat King Cole and it's an excellent record!

np = an out Bobby Hutch BN cd called Head On...

i guess it's saturday afternoon by you, huh? the Asia tour might actually happen! let's cross all our digits and hope it comes to fruition this year...

21 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Jan 30, 2009 11:15 pm

[21] gotcha on Krall..it happens too often once the label guys get their claws hooked in..

1pm here but actually at the office for a bit..hoping to head out soon though! you make it to Tokyo and leave the rest to me..been doing a lot of "tour guiding" the last eyar or so for visiting jazz-heads so can hook you and your band up with all the right spots.

22 thelarmis   ~  Jan 30, 2009 11:24 pm

[22] any guy that gets their claws hooked into diana, is super LUCKY!!! ; )

awesome on Tokyo. i hope it happens! who knows how much time i'd have to tool around, but i'd at least wanna get you to the show. it ain't gonna be jazz though...!

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