Intellectuals & Liars

Leonard Durso

The phone would ring at the store and when I answered, “Intellectuals & Liars,” someone always asked, “Which one are you?” To that, I inevitably replied, “It depends on who’s calling.”
It always got a laugh no matter how tired I was of saying it.
Intellectuals & Liars: a literary bookstore. That was the full name. And it existed for 3 years exactly 3 doors down from the SW corner of Wilshire Avenue and 10th Street in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California. It was, for its brief history, one of the few bookstores in Los Angeles that catered exclusively to literature and poetry. There were the weekly readings first coordinated by Joel Dailey and then later, after Joel left by Bill Mohr, the broadsides we published that first year, the occasional guest speakers—agents, editors, journalists, small press publishers—and the after hours discussions fueled by Gallo Hearty Burgundy about literature and…

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The ELI (English Language Institute)

Leonard Durso

nassau group copy0The ELI ( The English Language Institute) was the last thing I created that had any real meaning for me. It was the culmination of 20 plus years devoting my life to immigrants & foreign students and there were many battles fought in that war, a war I eventually lost, but not one I regret waging. There were many successes, and many people I helped toward a better life, but ultimately, like all those other campaigns I found myself on, those crusades that have taken up so much of my adult life, it left me worn out. I haven’t always known how to write about those years, just like I haven’t really written about the boy scouts in my fiction (just a piece of journalism that ended up in a textbook once a long, long time ago), only the bookstore was turned into an earlier novel that my agent couldn’t…

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The Boy Scouts Part 2: Troop 291

Leonard Durso

When I wrote about working for the Boy Scouts, I mentioned my troop: Troop 291 from Riverside Church. Now I’d like to talk about some of those kids and tell not all that I remember, but what I can share about their lives, for some things are best left in the recesses of our minds where they either glow or haunt us in the blackness of the night.

The first troop meeting I had with them was that fourth meeting when I declared myself their scoutmaster and decided it was time to begin to start teaching them some of the basic camping skills they would need to advance up through the ranks. So we started with tying knots.
I didn’t know them well enough yet to decide on who I would pick to be the troop leaders. This was important because in scouting, if a troop is run properly, the…

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On Working for The Boy Scouts

Leonard Durso

…..My first job out of college was as a Scout Executive with the Boy Scouts of America. Essentially that meant I was a professional boy scout. You know, going camping a lot on weekends, going to an endless series of Cub Pack and Boy Scout meetings in the evenings, visiting schools and churches and community centers during the day trying to recruit scouts and potential sponsors, and the perennial job of trying to recruit volunteer leaders. These jobs were difficult enough in white, suburban, middle class and affluent neighborhoods but were a hundred times more difficult in the poor, inner city neighborhoods that comprised my district. It was actually the poorest area in Toledo, Ohio, which was the city in which I worked. What was a nice Italian American kid from NY doing in Ohio? Well, my so-called best friend at the time, Steve Cohen, talked me into transferring there…

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Tune: Treading on Grass by Ou-yang Hsiu

At the post house lodge, plum flowers scattering,
by the valley bridge, willows coming out,
fragrant grass, warm wind that sways the traveler’s reins:
parting grief–the farther apart, the more endless it grows,
long and unbroken like a river in spring.

Inch on inch of gentle heart,
brimming, brimming, her rouge-stained tears:
the tower so tall–don’t go near, don’t lean on the high railing!
At the very end of the level plain–spring hills are there,
but the traveler’s even farther, beyond spring hills.

translated by Burton Watson

Tune: Song of Picking Mulberry by Ou-yang Hsiu

Ten years ago I was a visitor at the wine jar,
the moonlight white, the wind clear.
Then care and worry whittled me away,
time went by with astounding swiftness, and I grew old.

But though my hair has changed, my heart never changes.
Let me lift the golden flagon,
listen again to the old songs,
like drunken voices from those years long past.

translated by Burton Watson

Cypress Hills Cemetery

Leonard Durso

Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn. My summer job two years in a row in high school. First my junior year, and then in my senior year when my first summer stock experience in Benton Harbor, Michigan ended with the company closing after two weeks because of protests led by the two directors over unfair working conditions. But that is another sordid tale full of intrigue, sexual deviation, drunken pool games, and why I’ve always mistrusted the Midwest. But now it’s summer in Brooklyn and I’m getting a great tan under a hot merciless sun among tombstones and some people I used to know.
First there was Theresa Farrell, my mother’s cousin and daughter of Aunt Lizzie, who we saw quite a bit of and whose husband, Whitey Farrell, got me the summer job at Cypress Hills Cemetery. Theresa was a big woman, dark haired, laughed a lot, and loved my mother…

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