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First and Fifteenth: Pop Art Short Stories
Late one night, I was waiting for the 22 Fillmore bus in San Francisco, and an aggressive crackster started begging for change, escalating as he ranted: "I need a dime! A quarter! Fifty cents! A dollar, I need a dollar!" "I don't have any change, damn it!" I swore at him. Thing was, I had on a pair of Levis that I loved and washed frequently, and it was exactly at this moment that the thin cloth of the front pockets gave out, cascading coins onto the sidewalk. I tell this story because Steve Powers' graphic-arts book illustrates such tales—street hassles in which one hustler is outwitted by another, much as an immovable object will sometimes overcome irresistible force. "You can't win if I don't lose" reads one of Powers' captions. The pop-art style, in three colors, is flat as your hat, outlined in blaring lettering like the kind discount supermarkets use when postering their windows. (One possible typeface name: Lebanon Bologna 95 cents/lb" Sans Serif Bold). Like all smart cartoonists, Powers has a superhero going—a cowled lowlife called "Super Feen," who is more at home in the reclining position. Even this white-powder-powered slouch redeems himself, with a death and resurrection, heralded by a cloud of lovely pigeons. (By Steve Powers; Villard, $17.95 paper)

—Richard von Busack

Hugs: Thoughtlead
Mo from Las Vegas sent me this small expensively printed comic book about a goofy cartoon bear and a soccer ball. Unless it's not a ball and is, rather, the plutonium core of an atom bomb, shaped like a soccer ball for purposes of implosion. This is possible, since the cute goofy bear nukes a city with a rocket bomb that comes out of his pudgy bear belly. Later, a carnivorous mutant butterfly emerges and devours the top half of the bear—which is sad. On a happier note, half of a woman parachutes out of a plane and gives the dismembered bear some off-camera sexual solace. (The artist censors the ugly scene.) The comic book is printed in my least-favorite shades of violet and pink and resembles a William S. Burroughs Care Bear story. On the back, in a tiny and nigh-illegible cursive: "I would like to thank you for ... more than this (p.s. and more)." These are the only words in the book, which I have now reviewed. Here is as bizarre a sensibility as Las Vegas has to offer, and that's not nothing. (By Mike Ogilvie; Modus Operandi Publishing; [email protected]; $4.99 paper)

—Richard von Busack

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey
In 1913, Teddy Roosevelt, after losing his third-party presidential bid, took off to the Amazon for an expedition down the uncharted River of Doubt, 1,000 miles of boiling rapids full of piranha, flowing through a dense jungle buzzing with disease-carrying insects. (Would George W. Bush do that? I think not.) The entire harrowing story is related with skill and great narrative pulse by National Geographic writer Candice Millard. During this believe-it-or-not journey, the ex-president soldiered on despite a near-fatal infection to his injured leg, while his monomaniacal son Kermit vowed to bring the grand old man out alive. The expedition's co-leader, Brazilian Cândido Mariano, is just as fascinating—against considerable odds, he ordered his men to die rather than fire upon a single native Amazonian. (By Candice Millard; Doubleday; $26 cloth)

—Michael S. Gant

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From the November 30-December 6, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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