cliff Rob_wall Originally published on May 11, 2014

To hear Cliff Galbraith tell it, he might just be the only guy ever to conceal a business text behind a comic book — an act that turns a time-worn cliche on its ear, even as it reinforces the fact that the New Jersey based comics creator keeps up with the latest titles by Gladwell and Ben Horowitz “like they were Game of Thrones.”

With two self-published Crucial Comics titles in circulation, and lordship over a pair of buzz-generating commercial websites, Galbraith could already be said to have enough on his drawing board. But it’s his newly minted status as co-founder of a growing empire of ComiCon events that’s got the veteran cartoonist hitting the books over such topics as subcontracted security, guest accommodations, and the sweet science of customer service.

Cliff and his partner in the Con game — fellow Red Bank, NJ resident and “popculturist” authority Rob Bruce — recently wrapped a successful fourth edition of their Asbury Park ComiCon, a “relatively small” two-day extravaganza that drew some sought-after star talent and thousands of fans to the salty Jersey Shore resort. Just weeks from now, they’ll be doing it all again, during a first-ever New York Comic Fest that commandeers the Westchester County Center in White Plains, NY for a single Saturday on June 14.

Sponsored by the pair’s online outlets 13th Dimension and  Monsters and Robots, the spring 2014 events represent a quantum leap forward from the “microscopic” bowling-alley origins of the first Asbury Park gatherings. At the same time, they remain manageably scaled affairs designed to “promote the people who create comics,” in an age when the major conventions have been effectively hijacked by the entertainment conglomerates behind the top titles, publishers and properties.


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5/9: Gentleman Jim: Have Triv, Will Trav

NortonTrivia3“YOU’RE the idiot!” points out genial Quizmaster™ Jim Norton, as Tuesday Night Trivia returns to the very Birthplace of Trivia…Asbury Park. (photos by Stuffy)

The question was a tricky one, regarding the founding of the NHL, and the number of member teams at the time that the league came together in 1917. The correct answer (four) fairly flummoxed fans who were brought up on the legend of the hallowed “Original Six” franchises — prompting Quizmaster™ Jim Norton to observe with a dry drip of feigned arrogance, “To all of you who actually submitted ‘The Original Six’ as your answer…and who even underlined it, like I’m some kind of an idiot…well you’re wrong. Fuck you. YOU’RE the idiot!” It was just another Tuesday in Asbury Park — traditionally a day of rest for many local businesses, there in the drab foothills of the working week — and a day often given over to some creatively wacky pursuits; a fact hammered home by this Tuesday’s head-spinning Steel Cage Match of a city council election. But on May 7, a homegrown tradition returned to take root, as the pop-cultural force of nature known as Tuesday Night Trivia reappeared with a reassuringly familiar host (Gentleman Jim) and a new lease on life, at an all-new host venue — the atom-age retro rec room Asbury Lanes. Continue reading

3/26: Back to the Drawing Boardwalk

CliffJCLuzAlRobMAD Magazine mainstay AL JAFFEE (third from left, with Cliff Galbraith, JC Luz and Robert Bruce) gets folded into the action during the bigger ‘n better than ever Asbury Park ComiCon on Saturday, March 30. The genuinely legendary writer/cartoonist will be making a personal appearance at Convention Hall, where he’ll meet the public with what we can only surmise will be a full quiver of Snappy Answers…

It’s the kind of event we could use a lot more of, not just on the battered boards of the Asbury Park beachfront but anywhere along the Sandy-savaged Upper Wet Side of NJ. An event that’s evolved organically from the hard work of some locally based people who truly know and care about what they’re doing…the exact opposite of some carpetbagger carnival that steamrolls into its host city with little regard for the greater homegrown culture.

And…given the recent wrangling between boardwalk redeveloper Madison Marquette and the City by the Sea, this year’s bigger, bolder Asbury Park ComiCon might just stand as one of the biggest (and last) events of an aborted summer season, right there on Saturday, March 30 (see here for revoltin’ developments).

In an interview that appeared here upside the ‘WETside last year, Cliff Galbraith opined that “the problem with inland shows is you get a bunch of vendors, and crickets…to me the best shows are the coastal ones, the ones in destination towns, where you have places to go and see other than a hotel or convention center.” The devilishly bearded creator of Rat Bastard had done hard time at enough crappy highway hotel comix conventions — and, as the guy behind the gift-shop phenom known as ‘Sauruses, a fair share of garment-biz get-togethers as well — to reckon that there had to be a better way.

With a new sequential series to promote (the slice-o’-slacker-sitcom-life Unbearable, co-created with wife and    “occasional fire performer” J.C. Luz), the Red Bank-based Galbraith duo’d up with a fellow denizen of the borough what birthed both (Count) Basie and (Jay and Silent) Bob’s. An all-seeing, all-knowing pontiff of Popculturizm (and proprietor of the much-missed Groove Spot), Robert Bruce parlayed a frequently featured spot on Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men — and countless van-hours logged on the bargain battlefields of Collingwood Flea Market — into a hard-earned rep as an all-seeing, all-knowing renderer of judgments (and capo di tutti collectibles), and a spinoff into his own forthcoming AMC show.

Even as Rob and Cliff staged the first of their modestly scaled ComiCons at Asbury Lanes in May of 2012, the World’s Finest team was in meetings with Madison Marquette toward a projected expansion to Convention Hall and an exponential increase in vendor tables. When the doors creak open at 10am this Saturday, some 100 exhibitors and vendors will be laying out their colorful wares inside ConHall’s concrete bathtub space, during a fan-friendly and creator-cradling extravaganza that got the two Red Bank guys a frankly amazing feature story in the New York Times.

Just ’cause it’s LOCAL don’t make it YOKEL, of course…this is a class act, one well worth traveling for (even if it’s just a couple of blocks in our case), and with a multi-generational guest list of artists, writers and producers (about which more momentarily), in addition to the encore participation of Askewniverse ambassadors Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen, and Clerks leading man Brian O’Halloran. We’ve got a rundown of the very special guests, coming right up at the flip of a pixelated page (just don’t bend ’em!)…

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1/14: Angels, Hard As They Come

In this video clip from the 1980s  UNDERGROUND CAFE local music program that aired on low-budget Cable Television Network of New Jersey (the same obscure channel that was home to The Uncle Floyd Show for a while), a slicked-up Chris Barry interviews Jersey Shore folkie Bob Killian at the long-gone High Tide Cafe in Asbury Park. The late music journalist, booking guy and Mad Hatter poet is among the dearly departed “Asbury Angels” celebrated in a special Induction Ceremony show going up this Light of Day Friday, January 18, at the Stone Pony.

The 2013 slate of Asbury Angels was announced this past weekend — and, putting aside questions of how we’re supposed to find a caring-compartment for this endeavor in a not-quite-post-Sandy seacsape, we’re quite pleased to see the name of an old colleague on the list this year…

CHRIS BARRY, the “freakin’ Deacon” of Shore rock journalists, was a guy who, prior to departing for the world beyond in spring of 2006, touched nearly every aspect of the street-level Jersey Shore words-and-music scene as promoter, booking guy, poet priest, PR person and constant chronicler — in newsprint word and occasional hyperlocal cable image — of same.

If you were a musician or a wordsmith in and around Asbury Park at any time within the 1980s/90s/noughties era of trickle-down economics, you almost certainly had dealings with the man known variously as The Lone Paranoid, the Mad Hatter or even Grizz Wald — and you won’t soon un-see the image of Chris, tall but slightly stooped and flatfooted, loping toward you across a crowded tavern floor, leaning in just a little too close and delivering the latest breathless scene gossip, breaking band news or sage observation in a spray of spittle and a smokey/stoney raspy drawl of a baritone. Think latter-day Elliott Gould times Tuli Kupferberg, divided by Walter Winchell and all the great hippie novelists who never quite got around to typing a single word.

You’d generally spend the next minute or so cleaning the spit from your ear, but somewhere back of that wet-willie communique was a solid foundation of hard information; the lay of the land from a tracker-scout whose circle of acquaintance Venn-diagrammed generational Shore subsets as mutually exclusive as the vintage jams of the Upstage and the hardcore hootenannies of the Hot Dog House. Though we never knew him to drive a car or really make a buck from any of this (he would occasionally intersect with the working world, via paychecks like a civilian gig at Fort Monmouth), Chris managed to make all local stops along the North Jersey Coast Line corridor; looking into and forging friendships in scenes that ranged from barband blues, alt-country and reggae, to punk-pop, solo songwriter and the arty college underground.
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12/11: A (Not So Secret) Santa for SB

DKirk out, baby — Jersey Shore barband legend Brian Kirk and his band of partystarting Jirks come to the Count Basie on December 20, as the Red Bank venue hosts a sold-out Sea Bright Rising benefit for the people and places of Kirk’s spiritual homeland.

The way that Brian Kirk tells it, the slender “city” of Sea Bright “has been my home in more ways than one…it’s where I met my wife, where I spent my youth and is the home base for my cover band, Brian Kirk & the Jirks.”

Although his long-running combo continues to gig regularly around the region’s wedding halls and nitespots, the Red Bank resident’s legacy as an entertainer is forever intertwined with Donovan’s Reef, the local-landmark beach bar (and “only piece of oceanfront property open 365 days a year between Sandy Hook and Cape May”) where the Jirks held down a Sunday night stand that outlived nearly all the original anchors of 60 Minutes.

It’s also the place where Kirk served as organizer, impresario and all-around Toastmaster General of Dunesday, the annual day-long beach blanket benefit that served as a fun(d)raising vehicle for a series of hyperlocal charitable causes — in addition to being a shining example of good old fashioned Jersey Shore hedonism.

With Superstorm Sandy having (at least temporarily) consigned Donovan’s Reef to Davy Jones’ Locker, the man who once upon a time raised money for victims of Hurricane Katrina looks homeward — to the people and institutions that have suffered the most during the Dark Ages of the October 29 aftermath. On the evening of Thursday, December 20, Kirk teams up with the seagrass-roots organization Sea Bright Rising for a benefit show from which all proceeds will go directly to Sea Bright “residents, businesses and the community as a whole.”

Occurring in the wake of the December 5 concert that brought San Francisco-based band Train to the edge of the battered borough’s tent city, the special Santa for Sea Bright extravaganza (officially sold out as of this posting) takes place on the stage of the Count Basie Theatre — the curiously elegant setting for one of the displaced town meetings in recent weeks. Kirk and assembled Jirks will be joined for the 7:30pm show by a fellow stalwart of the Shore barscape (championship bluesmaster Matt O’Ree), as well as a promised set of “special guests” that includes TV series star (Crossing Jordan, Law & Order) turned singer and songwriter Jill Hennessy.

The Awesome Music and Offensive Jokes Desk at upperWETside caught up with a beyond-busy Kirk for a conversation about good times, hard choices, and the big challenges facing the little town that so many of us feel a connection to.

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11/12: Here’s a Kiss for Sandy

Seen in the discarded debris outside my mothers house, in the wake of the October 2012 flood.

Is it “post-Sandy” yet? If yes, I’ve got a handful of observations to offer, not that anybody asked or anything.

1. Respect the ocean. Fear the ocean if you must. At least pay attention to the ocean. But make your home near any other body of water, low lying marsh or stand of big old trees, and you’s a gambler.

2. Most of us have recently emerged from a strange interlude during which we were time-tunneled back into a lifestyle more in tune with that of a hundred years ago (only largely without the ability to set fires inside our homes). As a bankrupted renter with few material possessions, I had the advantage of nothing to lose, and not far to fall. But to my friends who lost much or even all, I offer sympathies…and I wonder, given all that has happened in recent years, if the continued stress and unhappiness of the pursuit of “the American dream of home ownership” is more in danger of taking you from us than the angriest rogue whitecap.

3. Personally, I passed on collecting free food and water from the many charitable distributors who appeared around the area. But the need for information — a thing that I value every bit as much, and tend to miss much more than microwaveable Jimmy Dean Flapsticks  — sent me out of the house and over to any place where I might possibly be able to obtain it.

4. The Asbury Park Press, to whom I’ve contributed for more than a decade (and about whom I’ve groused at every opportunity) really stepped up in a time of unprecedented crisis and uncertainty. Coverage was old-school intensive; the website made sense for once, and a much-appreciated printed paper appeared each and every day. And when we finally got around to seeing some TV, the previously ignored News 12 NJ proved to be (and continues to be) THE go-to resource for updated info, images and on-the-ground reporting.

5. Prepared or not, I would NEVER have put money on my own ability to survive more than a week without power, heat, phone, internet, gas, cash, public transportation or those aforementioned Flapsticks. But I did (the wife camped out for much of that time at her generator-powered nursing home job)…and many of you were forced to endure much less for far longer. I am pleasantly surprised at the degree to which our often tense little communities did NOT slide into armed anarchy…and I’m astonished at the scarcity of car crashes throughout an extended period of detours and unlighted major intersections.

6. The thing I like least about times like these is how SMALL your world tends to become during a period of need and emergency…how, even if you want to get out there and do great ‘n heroic things for scores of fellow humans, the home front and family take precedence. Which, if you’ve met my mother, requires more than a bit of attitude adjustment.

7. Ever since my family moved there in the 1960s, I’ve thought that the Bayshore area of Monmouth County was the rancid asshole of the coastline; a truly awful place to make your home, and a near-forgotten outpost perched precariously between some of the ugliest entrenched hide-bound attitudes and imminent destruction on a newly reset game board. Now everybody else in America sees it, and anyone who stays there is stuck there.

8. Ready or not, the NEW New Jersey Shore starts now. SHORT TERM, I have every confidence that rebuilding will happen soon enough wherever there’s a buck to be made…the devastation is such that it’ll be a quiet summer (maybe in some cases an off-limits summer) in many of the traditional beach destination towns…meaning that a relatively unscathed town like Asbury Park (the boardwalk in which had problems of its own going into this scenario) is poised to take advantage of other communities’ weakened state.

9. LONG TERM, I ‘d love to think that we’d all plan smarter and take a step or two back from an ever- fascinating but formidable coastline…but the “guaranteed never wrong” cynic in me sez that the old working-class, honkytonk, family-fun Shore of rides and games and stands and old-school kicks is finished…to be replaced by a Pier Village-y seascape of luxury condos, upscale shopping, pricey restaurants, prohibitively priced parking and other signifiers of the have/have tidal forces.

10. Finally, I’d like everyone under retirement age to try and wrap your head around the enormity of what we’ve been through here…the rude and sudden deprivations; the little tea-lights of basic decency and problem-solving energy that “weren’t supposed to be there” in our society; the fact that we somehow had an Election Day if not a Halloween; the “new normal” and the simply heroic act of managing to keep it together in a time of genuine uncertainty. Remind yourself of the strength that you tapped into; the things that you discovered about yourself…and give yourselves ultimate fuck-you bragging rights over the so-called Greatest Generation.

Make no mistake, we salute the coddled codgers of the most safety-netted crop in American history, and admire the truly great and forward thinking things that they accomplished (whenever not sustaining Jim Crow, inventing sleek new ways to hurt people, and generally pulling up the ladders behind ’em)…but time to tuck ’em into bed, put up the railing and let them drift off into bladder-bothered sleep with dreams of the hardscrabble Depression and the wars that Tom Brokaw told ’em they won singlehandedly. This is the marvelously shaky world that you’ve inherited and in many cases contributed to: you and your kids WILL make do on much less; you’ll take very little for granted and given; you’ll carry the experiences of these past couple of weeks with you for life, and find that they’ll color your perceptions in some unexpected ways…you’ll react to a future situation in a way that might surprise you. And these tides that continue to slosh around inside us could be the hi-colonic we were searching for.

5/12: The Con is ON, at the Center Lanes

Pow! Zam! Comics Conventions Aren’t for Shitty Highway Hotels Anymore… Focused upon Saturday’s Asbury Park ComicCon is CLIFF GALBRAITH, who joins with Pope of Popculturizm ROBERT BRUCE as promoters of  the city’s firstest-ever scholarly seminar/ swapmeet for the uplift of the sweetly sequential science.

One’s a satanic-bearded solid citizen who birthed unto the world a rodent named Roscoe, and a slew of instantly iconic screenprint ‘Sauruses. The other’s an all-seeing, all-knowing pontiff of Popculturizm; he who is invoked by name when conflicts must be resolved, and spot appraisals rendered.

Together they’re teaming up to fight crime — if by “crime” we mean the near-criminal lack of homegrown Comix Conventions here in the big-tent neighborhood that’s been home to so many comics creatives, not to mention some of the most influential collectors and connoisseurs the artform has ever known.

On this day, May 12, all will be put into perspective, as the first annual Asbury Park Comic Con at the Jersey Shore sets up its folding tables and longboxes inside the only venue that’s surreal enough to contain it — the atom-age retro rec room, tenpins taphouse (and alterna-arts odditorium) that IS Asbury Lanes.

Pencilled in between the hours of 10am and 6pm, the Con is the brainchild of two guys who’ve more than logged their share of hours on the frontlines of our nation’s flea markets, convention centers and drab Days Inn event rooms: Cliff Galbraith, the artist and writer behind RAT BASTARD — and Robert Bruce, the capo di tutti collectibles (and proprietor of the much-missed Groove Spot) who’s parlayed his mastery of the arcane and eldritch into a featured berth on Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men teevee program.

That Red Bank connection — both Rob and Cliff are residents of the Basie-birthing borough that recently scored third on Smithsonian Magazine’s list of top American small towns for culture (right behind Relocated Bayway and Centralia, PA) — extends as well to the internationally renowned and bracingly branded Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, Lourdes-like grotto for all who make the Askewniverse pilgrimage and base of operations for Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen (who are slated to conduct a live podcast session from the Lanes on Sat afternoon). As for why this event isn’t set to take place in its spiritual homeland of Red Bank, well, more on that in a moment.

Like any Con worth its acid-free backing boards, the Asbury Park affair boasts some amazing guests — among them the dynamically married duo of Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer (creators, both together and solo, of Milk & Cheese, Action Girl, and Supergirl Adventures). The Girl of Steel’s formidable presence extends to the participation of DC superspecialist Jamal Igle, and there’s a welcome injection of beyond-Bizarro World madness from uncategorizable comicker Michael Kupperman. There are also some 35 vendors on board — and as of late last night Galbraith was putting out the BatSignal for more, in the wake of the new Lanes owners having reconfigured/expanded the available floor space.

In one of the most eleventh-hour interview scenarios we’ve ever entered into, we caught up with Cliff Galbraith at the recently relo’d Zebu Forno in RB, even as the earlybird bargainhounds were doubtless suiting up for the trip to our favorite Fellini-esque Fourth Avenue funnarama. More, at the flip of the pulse-poundingly pixelated page…

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2/20: It’s the Crane House Movie Club!

Acclaimed mystery novelist, suspense genre authority, former newspaperguy (and O.G. original gangsta) WALLACE STROBY is the guest programmer for the first in a new series of Crane House Movie Club events, happening on Sunday, March 11 right here at the Stephen Crane House! (Photo by Patti Sapone)

Over here at the Stephen Crane House — the historic and literarily legendary Asbury Park landmark that also serves as the home office of this bloviatin’ blog — the sluggish segue from mild winter into mucky Wet Side spring is charged with a certain Spring Cleaning energy that can’t wait for that narrow window between Too Cold to Work Around This Un-insulated House and Too Hot to Work Around this Un-insulated House.

We’ve been getting back into gear in recent days, scraping some of the accrued barnacles off this 19th century “cottage” that’s served as everything from a proper Christian lady’s parlour to a post-nuke Asbury flophouse (and almost-scuttled squat) and reorganizing some of those out-of-control rooms back into some semblance of a reclaimed public space — about which more in a moment.

We’ve also got some thoughts and plans regarding the Crane House theater and screening room, the downstairs    in-house venue that’s hosted all manner of quirky stage plays, readings, house-party concerts and a monthly words-and-movie series programmed by Crane House owner Frank D’Alessandro. It’s there that “Mr. D” presented a birthday salute to Charles Dickens this past Sunday (with featured film George Cukor’s sparkling MGM take on David Copperfield) — and it’s there that we’ll be introducing a new film-buff’s series that could ONLY be called The Crane House Movie Club.

Offered up free of charge and open to the public, The Crane House Movie Club is a not-so-secret society dedicated to the viewing, digestion, discussion (and, sometimes dissing) of Film — conceivably any kind of film, from Janus-collection French Nouvelle Vague and wartime Euro-exile Hollywood, to stuff that wouldn’t have been out of place at old-school Asbury grindhouses like the Park and Baronet. It’s a real-world place to gather, enjoy some refreshments and argue balls ‘n strikes with your fellow cinema enthusiasts — as well as meet and participate in a Q&A with a special invited guest programmer, and take in a roomful-of-people screening of a feature presentation that’s been personally selected by our guest.

We’re pleased and proud to announce the early evening of Sunday, March 11 as the first call-to-meetin’ of the Crane House Movie Club — and we’re just as pleased to announce that our guest programmer for that inaugural event will be the award-winning mystery novelist (and eminent authority on all things crimey and suspensey) Wallace Stroby.

Now open to public perusal for the first time in a dog’s age, the upstairs library at the Crane House is a work in progress that boasts one of the area’s most extensive collections of works by and about Stephen Crane — as well as works by his friends and contemporaries and a number of historically fascinating antique volumes.

A resident of Ocean Grove, Stroby used his background as a classic old-school newspaperman (breaking-news reporter for the Asbury Park Press; arts editor at the Star Ledger) — to say nothing of his life experience on the mean streets of O.G. and its “evil twin” A.P. — to craft his debut novel, The Barbed Wire Kiss, a thriller of misplaced loyalties and overdue paybacks that starred a former state trooper, and used the tired, peeling Tillie-face of our local seaside haunts as an effective backdrop. Asbury Park (and that same ex-cop) figured heavily in his followup effort The Heartbreak Lounge — and since taking the plunge into a full-time career as a working fiction master, Stroby’s traveled the country making personal appearances, and picked up massive raves for such recent-vintage hardboilers as Gone Til November (a book that The Huffington Post said “puts author Wallace Stroby in the company of noir masters like Dashiell Hammett and Elmore Leonard”) and Cold Shot to the Heart.  With his latest novel Kings of Midnight (in which a female thief who’s trying to go straight and a “retired” mobster cross paths with five million bucks in “buried” heist money at stake), Stroby has truly arrived: as witness his book’s recent plug in New York Magazine’s The Approval Matrix;  an appearance that positions Kings at pretty close to BRILLIANT (if just this side of LOWBROW).

Stroby, a genuine movie fan with whom we’ve had the pleasure of co-hosting a showing of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing at The Showroom a few years back, will be introducing a screening of one of his favorite suspensers on March 11 — and while we’re unable to announce the title right at this moment, chances are excellent that it’ll stand as a Stroby-stamped example of effective book-into-film translation (unless of course he opts for a newish find like The Man From Nowhere). We’ll have a pre-film talk with the author, with signing copies of his books available for purchase and complimentary ‘freshments + face time before and after the screening (feel free to contribute to the snackpile).

Again, that’s Sunday, March 11, with the Crane House door creaking open at 4:30pm; pre-show starts at 5, the film screens at 5:30 and it’s open-ended from there. Admission’s free as we mentioned, although it’s not a bad idea to give us a RSVP via the Facebook link at top of the page. Stay tuned for more details on this and future assemblies of The Crane House Movie Club, right here on the upperWETside!

In other Crane House news: the upstairs library “red room” is, as referenced in the photo caption above, once more open to the public after a fairly extensive tearing up/ hosing down/ putting back together again that involved what amounted to an archaeological dig through the boxes, grottoes and crannies of this circa 1878 structure. While it’s still a bit rough around the edges — books are not arranged to any approved librarian standard, and we promise to gradually replace all the Post-Its and Ziploc bags with classier versions of same — the room has an appropriately muted and musty vibe that frames one of the area’s finer collections of novels, stories, poems and nonfiction pieces by Stephen Crane, the American novelist and journalist best known for the Civil War tale The Red Badge of Courage. We’ve got first and early editions of his books, vintage magazines with his stories, a host of bios and critical studies, along with selected volumes by his major influences, friends and contemporaries (including Dickens, Joseph Conrad, H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde and Henry James) as well as those who were influenced in turn by Crane (Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather and more). Lots more where that came from, including some other vintage literary volumes and other fascinating printed artifacts of period life (some of them as old as 1818).

It’s on view in what’s officially branded “The Chris Hayes Room” (various rooms in the Crane House are named for members of the Hayes Family who purchased the home at 508 Fourth Avenue and rescued it from wrecking-ball oblivion) — and our plans for the coming months involve a freshening up of many of the other rooms at the Crane, with progress reports right here as things, uh, progress…