Adios Bookstop and "Poll" Dancing
Memories of A Bookseller
Adios, legendary Alabama Bookstop
By John Nova Lomax
With the exception of legendary one-eyed bookseller Jim Brown, nobody knows the soon-to-shutter Alabama Bookstop better than John Cramer. The curmudgeonly guitarist in local psych-rock bands the Mike Gunn and Project Grimm worked there — mostly as the receiving manager — from 1994 to 2008, when he transferred to the Galleria Barnes & Noble.
"At its peak, the place was really a focal point of the neighborhood," he says. He remembers the glory days of the strip mall, when Butera's anchored one end and Whole Foods and Cactus were in the middle. "You could go to Butera's and have a beer at lunch," he recalls. "We would always catch each other doing that and never acknowledge that we had seen each other."
In the early days, Cramer recalls, the store was one of the area's prime meat markets. "It was open until midnight and lots of people would come in to pick up, and that carried over a little bit after it was taken over by Barnes & Noble." But as busy as the customers got with each other, they had a long way to go to compete with the employees, Cramer remembers. "At any given time, half of us were screwing the other half, and then we would shift, like in volleyball."
In the interest of disclosure, I must report that I worked there for a few months back in 1997 and 1998. (Back in '89, it was also the first place I ever picked up a copy of the Houston Press.) At one point in my term of employment, there came a red-letter day: I won a promotion from ordinary bookseller to magazine rack supervisor. On winning this plum position, I was told by Cramer that I had august shoes to fill. One of my predecessors in that role, he said, was none other than film director and producer Wes Anderson. I reminded Cramer of that recently. "I had totally forgotten about that," he said. "I am pretty sure that's true. He was there before I was. There's that scene in Bottle Rocket where they rob the college bookstore, and I always wondered if he got that from working there."
Cramer did have brushes with fame there. Both Sterling Morrison (of the Velvet Underground) and Jandek were regulars, as were Billy Gibbons and Rudy T, and Ozzy Osbourne came in one night. "I think he was a vegetarian at the time, so he came in after going to Whole Foods," Cramer says. "He bought a book on genocide and another on venereal disease. He said the book on VD was for his daughter and was for informational purposes only, and he wanted everyone to know that although the book on genocide was for him, he was not a Nazi."
Lesser-known customers also made some memorable visits. One night one customer stabbed another with a pair of scissors. Another night Cramer encountered a homeless man talking on the lobby's pay phone. Or trying to — he was holding the receiver upside down, and gabbling into the earpiece. Cramer tried to intervene. "The guy kept giving me the 'hold on' finger," he says. "And then I heard him say, 'I just want to speak to Ty Cobb.'"
Some odd candidate descriptions in that survey
By Richard Connelly
Most Houstonians have no idea who they want for their next mayor. The only major poll so far shows more than two-thirds don't favor any of the candidates, partly as a result of financially crimped campaigns that haven't been able to advertise much yet.
Houstonians who were called for the poll and said they had no candidate were then given brief bios about the four people running. That changed things a little, not too much, but we're hearing some off-the-record grumbling about the way those bios were worded.
Here's what the poll respondents were told:
Peter Brown is a 72-year-old Democrat who is a member of the City Council and an architect. He supports tougher land-use restrictions and has worked to increase recycling and energy conservation in Houston.
Gene Locke is a 61-year-old African-American Democrat who was City Attorney under former mayor Bob Lanier and serves as a legal adviser to METRO and the Port of Houston. He played key roles in some of the most significant economic development projects in Houston.
Roy Morales is a 53-year-old Republican currently serving as a Harris County Department of Education Trustee. He is a highly decorated military veteran and businessman who served as the Chief Technology Officer for the City of Houston Emergency Center.
Annise Parker is a 52-year-old Democrat who served on the City Council for six years and is now the City Controller, where she monitors city revenues and expenditures. Before entering public service, she worked in the oil and gas industry for 20 years.
One of the factors Brown is fighting is the perception that he's too old for the job. He was the first candidate to air an ad, and that ad was a virtual workout video of Brown robustly walking, climbing stairs, pointing vigorously and doing basically anything short of dunking on LeBron to show he's no oldster.
But the first thing voters hear about him is that he's 72. Next!!!!!
Gene Locke's bio includes this sentence: "He played key roles in some of the most significant economic development projects in Houston." Hey, what's not to like?
Longshot Ray Morales is not only a vet, he's "a highly decorated military veteran."
And Annise Parker is described in exceedingly dull terms. If only there was something relatively unusual about her in terms of a politician...
In talking recently with poll designer Bob Stein about complaints that his son-in-law works for Locke's campaign, the Rice prof defended his survey, so he's obviously fine with the bios. And a little grumbling is to be expected in a political race.
Gee, maybe the race will even start showing some signs of life.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.