Things I Think About

ICEMAN ELSEWHERE

Photo by Julietta Cervantes

ICEMAN ELSEWHERE

By Howard Fishman

April 26, 2018

I loved “St. Elsewhere” when I was a kid growing up in West Hartford, CT. Every Wednesday night, without fail, I would tune in to Channel 30 at 10pm, and watch the show. “Elsewhere” had a true ensemble cast that worked together to draw subtleties of humor, sensitivity and depth out of their finely-drawn characters and from the smart scripts that stretched plotlines out over entire seasons (rare in those days). Like its stylistic cousin “Hill Street Blues,” “Elsewhere” was a moody, downbeat soap opera; death and heartbreak were ever-present. There was something meta about it too, before that word came into common parlance and practice; as far as ratings went, it was a failing show, always in danger of being cancelled, set in a failing hospital, always in danger of being shut down. A melancholy air infused the show, an underdog sensibility that made one root for both the characters and the series itself. Every time it was renewed for another season my early-adolescent soul rejoiced. When the show finally did reach its end, after six seasons, I was broken up about it. It had only been five years since the finale of “M*A*S*H” and here I was saying goodbye to what felt to me like another surrogate family (interestingly enough, another bunch of doctors).

The cast was a mix of veterans (led by Ed Flanders, Norman Lloyd, Christina Pickles, David Birney, and William Daniels) and young then-unknowns (Ed Begley, Jr., Mark Harmon, Howie Mandel, David Morse, and Denzel Washington). Their characters seemed to really communicate with one another, to truly inhabit the make-believe world they’d been cast in. I was unexpectedly reminded of this when the curtain came down on the current revival of “The Iceman Cometh” (now at the Jacobs Theater on Broadway) and I looked at my program for the first time to learn that the actor who had so uncomfortably and unconvincingly portrayed Denzel Washington’s foil in the show had been none other than his erstwhile “Elsewhere” cast member, David Morse.

How could this be? These two fine actors had established a rapport over six long seasons of that show, more than three decades ago. They shared a rich, nuanced history. “Elsewhere” may have finally lost its terminal battle against a popular mandate for more light-hearted entertainment, but it had been a noble fight, fought with gusto and lost with dignity. These guys had spent years giving something they cared about all that they had. Of course, Washington’s career had burst forth after “Elsewhere” in glittering Hollywood style, while Morse’s has been less visible, mostly spent playing character roles like his sad-eyed, quiet George Washington in “John Adams,” but this bit of casting for “Iceman” would seem to have been, on paper, an inspired choice: the former cast-mates reunited once again in another ensemble piece with no less than life and death as its subject, this time pitted against one another as Larry Slade and Theodore (“Hickey”) Hickman, two old friends meeting up again for the last time.

Before delving into the particulars of Morse’s performance, it should be noted that playing Larry Slade is no easy assignment for any performer. Even seasoned O’Neill actor Brian Dennehy seemed to struggle with the role in Robert Falls’ majestic revival at BAM, three seasons ago. While it’s a fact that whomever is cast as Hickey has always received top billing (owing, perhaps, to Jason Robards’s early, career-making turn in Jose Quintero’s landmark 1956 mounting at Circle in The Square -- a production that effectively gave the Off-Broadway movement its first teeth), the case can and has been made that Larry Slade is the more demanding of the two roles, and that it is he, and not Hickey, who is really the protagonist of the piece. Larry is simultaneously the audience’s guide and the playwright’s mouthpiece. He is the one who espouses O’Neill’s most philosophical views, asks his most existential questions, states (and restates) his main themes. Larry is concertmaster here, first chair violin. He has, by far, the most dialogue of any of the eighteen main characters. Aside from Rocky (the bartender whose job it is to oversee the establishment in which the play takes place), and the somnolent Hugo (a drunk who spends much of the play in a barely-conscious stupor), Larry is the only character who remains present for the play’s action throughout. He is the only character who is witness to the entirety of the proceedings, which -- even in this trimmed version -- still clocks in just shy of four hours.

Hickey, the “star” of the show, does not even enter until nearly an hour into the performance, at the very end of the first act. He arrives on a mission to relieve his old friends of their illusions, their “pipe dreams” about tomorrow that they individually cling to (i.e. tomorrow I’ll quit drinking; tomorrow I’ll go looking for a new job; tomorrow I’ll reclaim my former glory). Because of a self-imposed time constraint, Hickey moves quickly and appears sporadically, coming and going, until he finally delivers his epic, confessional monologue in Act Four. But it is Larry who watches the whole unfold; it is through Larry’s eyes that reality begins to twist and fragment in Acts Three and Four as O’Neill’s theatrical language somehow manages to seamlessly transition from easy naturalism to outright expressionism; it is Larry whose character undergoes the only real transformation when the play is through. As he says in his final speech “I’m the only real convert... Hickey made here!”  As the final, awful moments of “Iceman” play out, the teeming ensemble of bums and drunks snap back into place, reclaiming the exact, pathetic identities they’d inhabited at the top of the play. Despite the moral reckoning prompted by Hickey’s visit, by the end it is as if nothing whatever had happened to them (making one of Hickey’s final lines “It was a waste of time, my coming here” really hurt; it’s a shame that Washington threw that line away in the performance I saw).

Larry is O’Neill’s beloved “Old Foolosopher:” the cynical barfly who says he just wants to be left alone but who privately gets great pleasure out of being surrounded by his fellow bums -- a collection of eccentric characters referred to by one of their own lot as a “who’s who of dipsomania.” In turn, Larry is the object of affection to all. The bartenders love him, the hookers dote on him, his fellow bums admire him and his sage words of drunken wisdom. If Harry Hope’s seedy saloon was transported to 1970’s Los Angeles, Larry would be Charles Bukowski.

So, if this is Larry Slade’s play, and I think I’ve just talked myself into being willing to defend that position, what can be made of David Morse’s portrayal? In the performance I saw, Morse’s Larry starts and ends the play, bizarrely, as an outsider.  It is impossible to believe that his Larry is a part of this crew, much less the soulful center of it. In dress, appearance, and bearing, Morse seems to be channeling the late Robert Ryan’s take on the character as seen in John Frankenheimer’s magnificent 1973 film adaptation. Ryan was seriously ill with cancer during shooting, adding an extra layer of pathos to a deeply felt, superb performance that would turn out to be his final role (Frederick March is equally stellar in the film, as is everyone else in the ensemble, with the glaring exception of a grotesquely miscast Lee Marvin as Hickey). Ryan owned the role. But though Morse may possess a passing physical likeness to him in this production, the similarities stop there. Instead, Morse seems uncomfortable from the get-go, his hands constantly shoved deep into his pockets as though mechanically feeling around for a lost set of keys. He seems to take no joy in ribbing his fellow inmates at the bar; in fact, it seems as though he is acting in a different play altogether. His Larry seems to be nothing so much as an older version of Albee’s Peter at the zoo.. He seems disengaged, flat, strangely affected, and -- sad to say -- lacking in either warmth or charisma.

I don’t want to beat up on David Morse, who has proved himself again and again  in other roles. Perhaps the odd choices for Larry’s personality and bearing were not made by him. Morse’s cause is certainly not helped by the fact that he is often stationed at the extreme left or right of the action, most likely to emphasize his self-stated position of being “in the grandstand,” watching the proceedings from a objective standpoint. But the effect is confusing, and seems ultimately wrong-headed, as does the production’s curious sound design. Early in Act One--as Larry introduces his sleeping friends to the young interloper Parrot, taking care to flesh out the backstory for each-- the strains of an old Gilded Age parlor song are heard being ponderously plunked out on a piano. But where is the music coming from? There is an upright piano onstage, but no one is playing it. Oh, it’s underscoring -- the cinematic kind, awash in the sort of ghostly reverb used to cue an audience to understand that we’re in flashback mode. But while the drama is indeed set in the distant past (1912, to be precise), “The Iceman Cometh” is decidedly not a memory play. Larry Slade is not Tom Wingfield, wistfully gazing back at people and events that once shaped his consciousness. Inarguably, the exposition O’Neill gives to Larry in the early going of the piece can be rough sledding for both actor and audience, but the decision to try to lift the proceedings with this kind of musical sentimentality feels like an act of desperation, as though the production somehow does not trust O’Neill’s iron-clad dramaturgy to hold its own.

Good things can be said about the production: it certainly moves briskly, and director George C. Wolfe has a deft touch with regard to bringing out O’Neill’s comedy. This may come as a surprise to those less familiar with the play, but there is a lot in “Iceman” that is very funny, and this production makes the most of it. In fact, if one were to judge the play purely on the basis of the audience’s reaction during the performance I saw, one might well think it a silly comedy -- more “Cheers” than “The Lower Depths.”  Much of the rest of the cast acquit themselves well, especially Bill Irwin’s Mosher and Michael Potts’ Joe Mott, the latter receiving a well-deserved ovation for his speech that calls out the underlying racist atmosphere in Harry Hope’s saloon -- an issue that, happily, does not seem at all confused by the casting of Washington as Hickey.

And what of Washington, the reason that this production exists in the first place, and the reason that most will see it? He is excellent, probably the most likeable, charming Hickey ever seen (and that includes Robards, who brought more than a touch of menace and darkness to a the role that will always be his). Even when Hickey is at his most gratingly self-righteous, Washington is impossible to dislike. He is simply a delight to watch, and when he finally delivers his confession in the final act, he does so seated downstage center, breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to us, spinning his tale with bravura storytelling technique, casting us under his spell. The audience eats it up. This is what they came for.

Sadly, the promise and potential to be mined in the reuniting of the former “Elsewhere” stars for this production bears no fruit. When Washington leaves the room for the last time, he takes with him all of the air in this production.The play’s real punch that is the remainder of the action -- and indeed, O’Neill’s very thesis, his scathing indictment of latter-day humanity-- lands not as the knockout blow of a heavyweight champ, but rather as the harmless swat of a featherweight, a neat little ribbon to tie up an otherwise pleasantly diverting evening at the theater. The end of “The Iceman Cometh” should send us careening down into O’Neill’s bottomless, spiritual void, what should be an exhilarating, harrowing, plunge. Instead, we’re left safely peering in from the outside, safe, satisfied, unscathed.


Hotchkiss Thoughts

I had the wonderful good fortune to be invited to spend a week at The Hotchkiss School as their guest Artist in Residence this semester, and -- let me tell you -- it was an experience I will not soon forget.

My time there was profoundly meaningful, primarily because of how immersive it was.  I was engaged on so many different levels of interaction, in mind, body and spirit. 

On an intellectual level, I got to share my passion for the plays of Eugene O'Neill, as I worked with students looking at both his lesser-known early experimental work, and his late, last plays. 

In an American Literature class, we read through the Prologue of the great god brown, that fascinating, unhinged yowl of an angry young man from O'Neill's early prime.  We talked about the use of masks on stage, about hyper realism and expressionism, and about the power of the imagination -- how some plays can, perhaps, really only be performed on a stage (as opposed to being adapted to film, for example, which we would look at in a subsequent Film Studies class in which we read a scene from Long Day's Journey Into Night, followed by a screening from the classic film adaptation by Sidney Lumet).

In a double session with two combined Humanities classes, students and I used Greil Marcus's text The Old, Weird America as a launching pad for a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the subjects of violence in American music and culture (using recordings of songs by the banjo player/singer Dock Boggs and Bob Dylan as two examples); the changing role that music has played in our society in modern times; the merits (or otherwise) of contemporary recording techniques like Auto-tune; the value of authenticity;  and the similarities and discrepancies between old American murder ballads and contemporary Hip Hop and Gangsta Rap.

* * *

A hands-on workshop with students who are writing original music and/or honing their instrumental skills in the music department found us working on a full-band arrangement for one student's original song (utilizing piano, electric and acoustic guitars, upright bass, drums, saxophone and backup vocals), and then backing up another student singer as she led us through a soulful, jazzy arrangement of "Georgia on My Mind," complete with improvised solos from members of the student band. 

  * * *

 In several theater classes, and in another Humanities class that was engaged in making "Monument Projects," I talked with students about my Donner Party project "we are destroyed," discussing and showing examples of ways to interpret history, atypical ways to incorporate music and poetry into theater, and getting into the philosophy and idealism/hubris behind Westward Expansion in America.  Some of the kids read portions of my oratorio out loud in class (a thrill for me), and I played them some of the songs I wrote for the piece, like "Do What I Want" and "In Another Life."

I also had the opportunity to visit an acting class, where I talked about some of the craft and understanding of performance I've been able to glean as a working artist over the last decade and a half.

In two Musical Theater classes, students and I had lively discussions debating the merits of the contemporary musical theater form itself.  We had fun playing around with some of the songs that they knew or were working on as singers, as I accompanied them on guitar while they sang standards like "Fever" and "Crazy" -- some of them experimenting with vocal improvisation and tempo for the first time.

* * *

In a Documentary Film class, I shared my experience of what has gone into creating a documentary theater project about Connie Converse.  Here we talked about what elements are important in telling a nonfiction story, delved into what makes for a powerful narrative, and looked at similarities between Connie's mysterious story and Rodriguez from Searching For Sugar Man.

The poet and teacher Susan Kinsolving brought me in to her Creative Writing class to talk about the creative process, and what it means to be a working creative artist.  One of the students wanted to know whether my song Mary Ann was based on a real person, which led to a discussion about the power of imagination and how we can transmute specific real-life experiences into (hopefully) more universal art.

And I was fortunate enough to be able to be a fly on the wall for Mike Musillami's "Right Brain Logic" rehearsal, a massive ensemble of student instrumentalists working on one of Mike's original composition that employed changing meters and keys, and elements of conduction (conducted improvisation) that was really something to behold.  These are some advanced kids (and teachers)!

Finally, to cap it all off, my band came up from the city at the end of the week, and we gave a concert in Hotchkiss's beautiful Elfers Hall, for students, faculty and the general public. 

Photo by David Thompson

The show was a benefit for a local no-kill animal shelter, The Little Guild of St. Francis. Hearing my friend and sousaphone player Kenny Bentley in that hall hold forth on a song like "Pretty Polly" was quite an experience.

Photo by Carole Cohen

* * *

And if all this weren't enough, in between classes I got to play tennis matches with several of the varsity and junior varsity team members (in an ongoing game called "Crush The Artist in Residence"), took a hike out to the Hotchkiss Farm with faculty and students (where I was given an opportunity to swing an axe on the wood chopping block), and took my meals daily in the Hotchkiss Dining Hall, where much of the food is locally-sourced and organic, where there are vegetarian options a-plenty, and where compost is collected from finished plates and trays. This is a very hip institution, as far as sustainability and eco-awareness goes.

In fact, this is a very hip institution, period.  The community I felt there, and the warm embrace I was given by students, faculty and their families, made it difficult to leave.  The academics and creativity invigorated my mind.  The beautiful grounds, athletic facilities and sports engaged my body.  The sense of connection and mindfulness on display everywhere lifted my spirit.

Thank you, Hotchkiss. I'm deeply grateful for the experience.

A New Year

I didn't think about it unitl I thought about it, but 2013 was an extraordinary year for me and my music, if only for the number of different projects I had the opportunity to work on and present. 

Some highlights:

* My Biting Fish Brass Band toured Europe for the first time, playing to big crowds in Estonia and Finland. Here's a clip of our headlining gig on the Mainstage at Augustibluus Fest in Happsalu.

Onstage in Estonia * No Further Instructions was programmed at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, and at the Jewish Museum in NYC. Both concerts featured my 11-piece "Romanian Orchestra," and Mike Benanav reading from his book and showing his photos from our trip abroad.

 

The Orchestra after the Jewish Museum show

* "A Star Has Burnt My Eye," my music-theater-documentary piece about Connie Converse, continued its development, with workshop performances at the Rattlestick Theater and Joe's Pub in NYC. Director Sarah Hughes (Elevator Repair Service) has joined the team as Director of the project.

 

At Joe's Pub

* My Basement Tapes Project hit the road again this fall, presented by Mercyhurst Institute in Erie, PA.

Mazz, Bean, Me, Scott and Nathan, backstage in Erie

* I produced Connie's Piano Songs, the first-ever recordings of Connie Converse's art songs, featuring the recording debuts of soprano Charlotte Mundy and pianist Christopher Goddard (Release date: 2/14/14).

Connie Converse

* Peculiar Works Project in NYC commissioned me to compose a score for their multimedia theater piece MANNA-HATA, most of it performed in the show entirely acapella by the large cast in the gigantic, mostly-abandoned spaces inside the Penn Station Post Office.

* Howard Fishman Quartet was a recurring feature in Cynthia Von Buhler's Speakeasy Dollhouse in NYC.

HFQ

* And non project-specific, regular old Howard Fishman tour dates in 2013 included stops in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Upstate NY, New Orleans, Estonia, Latvia and, of course, NYC and Brooklyn.

 

 

I'm generally not one for gazing into the rearview mirror, but sometimes it can be useful to track progress and, more importantly, to express gratitude -- to the presenters who made these things happen; to my unbelievable circle of collaborators/musicians who help make my ideas manifest so beautifully; to you for showing up and showing interest in the various things I do; and to the universe for continuing to allow me opportunities to pursue and explore my various interests and passions.

Thank you. Looking forward to seeing you in 2014.

Photo by Carole Cohen

FOOD THOUGHTS: Vaandag (NYC)

As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I get excited by food.

I spend at least as much time thinking about it -- ethically, nutritionally, aesthetically, culturally -- as I do eating it.  So, why not write about it?  I've been writing here about other non-musical passions for years now (film, theater, books, comics), so indulge me if you may -- I'm going to try writing about food.  I have absolutely no qualifications for same, other than the fact that I love it, I eat out at least once a day in one of the greatest food cities in the world, and I travel a lot for work (which offers even more opportunities for amazing and unusual food experiences than I have here in NYC).  So, let's start with...

 

 

 I've wandered past VANDAAG any number of times since it opened last summer, admired what I could see through the large plate glass windows, thought about the day's menu, with its uncomfortable (for me) mix of creativity and delicious-sounding combinations of fresh, local ingredients combined with a puzzling preponderance of dead animals in almost every dish.  I've always passed by.  Sam Sifton's review in The Times last fall did nothing to change my mind. (Truth be told, although he constantly evoked my ire with his constant near-fetishization of said dead animal flesh, I tried never to miss one of Mr. Sifton's columns and miss his food writing dearly).

Last month, I walked by once again, but something was different. It was daytime, just about noon on a Saturday. The sun was flowing into the restaurant's welcoming interior, and the menu featured brunch, with a number of appetizing, unusual, and vegetarian-friendly items.  Even though I was en route to Momofuku Noodle Bar, my at the time go-to food destination in the East Village (that's since changed, more on that another time), something made me deicde to give Vandaag a shot.

I was immediately glad I did.  While I don't have much of a vocabulary when it comes to interior design (see Sifton's review, linked above, for a good description), suffice it to say that the place certainly has an elegant, Scandanavian feeling to it -- clean, austere, simple, airy, a lot of light and wood.  It reminded me of many of the restaurants I ate in when I was lucky enough to visited Stockholm a few years back.  There's nothing fussy here, nothing cute, nothing smacking of anything remotely like the "speakeasy" vibe that's currently played-out everywhere (it seems) in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Neatly laid out on the bar were the sections of the day's New York Times (including the Sunday supplements).  What a fabulous, underrated service that is to customers who, like me, enjoy the ritual of dining alone on a regular basis as a kind of public solitude.  I eagerly borrowed a couple of sections for my table, and sat down with the menu.

 

I ordered and ate two things, both astoundingly well-prepared and delicious.  The smoked mackerel scramble was, essentially, what it sounds like, with a few beautiful touches -- accompanying the fluffy scrambled eggs (at least three, I would guess) and the tasty bits of smoked fish were a couple of dollops of yogurt, onions, green peppercorns and fresh dill. This was all served in its own skillet, with a giant piece of the house's hot, toasted, buttered, "Red Ale Bread" -- perhaps the best piece of toast I've ever had, outside of the garlic toast at Tequila Bar in Uzhgorod, Ukraine.

I also ordered the Hete Bliksem, or "Hot Lightning," just because it looked so extraordinary on the menu.  While I am a 99% of the time pescatarian -- and even then, only if the fish is wild, and only once in a while, so let's call it a 75% of the time vegetarian -- I will make exceptions every once in a while if the dead animal being served is an essential part of a dish that I want to try, and if said dead animal is local and free range.  VANDAAG's "Hot Lightning" is described as crisp fingerling potatoes with bacon, apple and stroop syrup.  A dash of hot pepper makes it hot, and the syrup makes it sweet.  It sounded like something fantastic that I had to try on this Saturday early afternoon to accompany my smoked mackerel, and I wanted to honor the chef by ordering it as envisioned which, in this case, meant eating a little bit of bacon. I went for it, and I have to say that the dish is indeed extraordinary and worth getting, but next time I will not feel the slightest compunction about asking them to hold the bacon; while the intensity of the hot pepper and sweet syrup complement the crisp potatoes in an exotic, unexpected way, they completely overwhelm the flavor of the pork, rendering it into little tasteless bits of chewy flesh added for -- what, exactly?  Texture? I don't think so.  More likely to appease the foodie masses who happen to be in love with all things pork at this moment (see: bacon vodka, bacon chocolate, bacon ice cream, ad nauseum indeed).

 

* * *

I've been back to VANDAAG several times since, and have continued to sample the menu (it changes daily), including the excellent seasonal pickle pot; the outlandishly good roasted chestnut soup (my friend and musical cohort Russell Farhang correctly compared the taste of it to fallen leaves on a chilly, sunny autumn afternoon); the decadent French Toast with pine, cranberry and stroop syrup; and the roasted sunchoke omelet (the only near-miss for me, but that may be simply because I'm neither an omelet guy or an artichoke guy; so why did I order it? I don't know).  I couldn't help but feel that the Stroop Wafel, a small, thin caramel-filled treat, would be even better served warm.

The service is always excellent, and the experience being there in the daytime is just delightful.  I do wish that they'd opt for better music, but I'm aware that this is a disease most eating establishments have -- they simply don't know how to leave a patron's ears alone.  If I'm with someone, I want to talk quietly between bites.  If I'm alone, I want to read.  Either way, I do not need nor want any thumping music, thank you.

I have yet to dine at VANDAAG in the evening, but it's absolutely become one of my favorite daytime places to eat in the East Village. If you're in the neighborhood, stop in. I might just see you there!

 

 

THINGS I THINK ABOUT: Bookstores

 

 

 

I've got an idea. 

What if independent brick-and-mortar bookstores charged an entry fee -- say a dollar --  and used the proceeds to enable them to level the playing field with online retailers in terms of pricing?

What if independent music and record stores did the same thing?

What if every retailer that sells something that could be had for less on the internet did it too?

* * *

I was browsing at The Strand last night, and I found a newly published book I wanted to read.  It was marked 10% off the retail price of $29.95.  Engaging in a common, if somewhat undignified, modern ritual, I pulled out my smart phone and checked to see what it would cost to buy it online at amazon.  I happen to despise amazon but, times being what they are, I wanted to see what my options were.

Amazon lists the book, brand new,  for $16.45.

And so ensued the ethical debate: support The Strand and pay a whopping $10 more for the book, or save the $10 and order the same book online, further hastening the imminent demise of great bookstores like the very one I was standing in? 

It seems like a no-win situation.  As much as I love The Strand and all it stands for, that's a huge margin of difference in price...and that's only one book.  Let's say I bought five or six books (not uncommon for me -- The Strand is a dangerous place), and let's say the same price differential applied, on average.  Using this calculation, I could spend $135.00 at The Strand, or I could spend $67.50 for the same books online.  Do the math.

So, am I (are you? are we all?) expected to subsidize the small, independent little guy simply because we know it's the proper thing to do?  I'm onboard with this in principle, and perhaps if one of my songs got placed on Grey's Anatomy I would...without question. But, like most people these days, I'm mindful of my finances. Paying a third more for exactly the same product seems, well...unsustainable.  This is not news. It's why bookstores and record shops and other Old Media outlets are disappearing faster than you can say Digital Monday.

I want The Strand to have my money. I really do. I'm willing to give them a little more than I'd spend online. Just because. I think that they deserve it, simpy for the service they offer me by having a physical store for me to browse in. That's absolutely worth something to me.

So, here's my idea.  Monetize what is now a free service. Let Old Media stores charge admission. A buck. Wouldn't you pay a buck to browse in The Strand for as long as you like? I would.  For a buck, you have access to their entire inventory. You can pick the books up, look at them, feel them in your hand, read a page or two. You can talk to the knowledgable staff, ask their opinion, shoot the breeze.  For a buck, you can be physcially surrounded by the greatest words ever composed from the greatest minds from all corners of the world.  And the best part? You're not obligated to buy anything while you're in there. But if you DO, it will be priced competitively with online retailers, because we all agreed to pay a buck for the privilege.

Wouldn't this be a great way to give those suckers (amazon, et al) some pause, even a run for their money?

I don't know the economics, so this may be a naive idea.  How many people walk into The Strand every day?  A thousand? Two thousand? Would every one of those people contributing a buck provide enough economic cushion to the retailer to allow for quasi-online prices?  And what about the little guy with the little shop in the litlle town in the country, who gets a dozen customers in per day? That owner probably won't be able to compete. But maybe the economics in the little town in the country are different?

* * *

All I know is -- I  love bookstores. The physical ones. And record stores (where they still exist).  I want them to stick around. I always want to be able to go and browse in them, and I'm willing to pay a premium to do it. But an extra 30% is asking a lot.  Something has to change about that calculus, and soon, I would think.

Give a dollar to get in to The Strand? Absolutely. All day. 

Wouldn't you?