Telegraph Avenue, the Novel

by Steed Dropout
Aug. 23, 2012

Berkeley, Ca


Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon’s novel. I haven’t read it. I’ve lived it.

Almost daily, I walk from Dwight to Bancroft, and back again. Often several times. I’ve been doing this for 35 years. Factor in that I’ve lived two and a half small city blocks from Telegraph.

Telegraph is my playground.

When I began calling Telegraph, Teley in the Berkeley Daily Planet, five years ago, I put my stamp on Teley. Readers bristled at the spelling, especially Mango Bob, who argued with me for weeks, and then one day said, “you say Telegraph is Teley, not Telly, because Teley is closer to Telegraph.”

You don’t get much closer than we are to Teley. But the name is really not mine. I just revived it from hearing old-timers from the fifties use the word.

On Teley. But where is Chabon?.

We’ve covered Teley’s decline, predicted the resurgence of, “Berkeley’s Center,” written of its street merchants, and fairs; covered the meetings of its businessmen, and obituarized its unsung heroes. We were the first to publish that a local landmark bookstore, would re-open as early as December as a night-club. [SCOOP]

We have brought together a cast of characters. Running Wolf, Commatoes, Ace Backards, Hate Man, Michael Delacour, Gina Sasso, Al Geyer the dildo-friendly headshop owner, various kings and queens of the avenue…

…famous street merchants, like Eddie Munroe, founder of the street merchants org, back on the street with his art, and at the top of his form — at a career peak, he tells me; Clifford, who’s been hawking Jewelry since street merchants organized, in the early eighties.

Sather Gate Jewelry, immortalized in the Graduate, has become Studio Six.

“Former co-owner Betty Ann Aman (with her business partner Stephen E. Morine) presided over the historic store that was un-changed for half a century. Its wooden edged, thick glass display counters remained popular with the Graduates’ grandchildren,” we wrote, a few years ago.

The display counters from the old store survived a remodel. The new owners have established themselves as successful, colorful, even charismatic business people — hippies really.

This is my beat, my town, and my story.

Enter Michael Chabon, Berkeley’s most famous writer, although not a local, but lives here, and has written about Berkeley in Gourmet Magazine.


I read him in literary quarterlies, and asked myself how he even could have gotten published. I’ve browsed subsequent novels of his and despised the writing.

I admit to being curious about his life in Berkeley as a literary celebrity, and his bi-polar old lady, Ayelet Waldman. I just won’t read him, but then I don’t read much fiction these days, with my brain on Google, I’m a ghost-writer on the cloud.

People still asking what happened to Cafe Intermezzo, which featured the biggest heap of greens west of the Rockies after big fire last year. Foam, center is from fire hoses. Will this be in Chabon's Novel?

I should be doing an impartial review of his fucking novel, but I couldn’t face that.

I instead clicked on “first read,” a Chabon promotional release. I gather this was to pique my interest. It was a poorly written, boring account of a birth, a bloody birth at that. Does this get him female readers?

Maybe some men associate blood with combat and valor.

I liked his Berkeley piece for Gourmet magazine. Perhaps he’s one of those writers, like Mailor, whose non-fiction eclipses their fiction. He described fairly well certain Berkeley types, including a friend of mine, who consulted an attorney about suing.

I thought Chabon accurately characterized my friend’s public personna. In fact, he and Chabon were neighbors for a time, until Chabon and Waldman moved up to the pricier North side, or way North of Telegraph.

How fucking often does he even come to Teley? Perhaps to go to Moe’s or the Med. I’m not clear on his appearance, and book jacket shots can be misleading.

Have you caught on that I’m jealous. I was in a better writing program, SF State’s than his, U.C Riverside. I doubt he would have been admitted to SFState. Now he moves in on my beat — if he ever stops with the childbirth and actually writes about Teley.

I must wack-on, doing minor journalism, in a journalism backwater.

Teley still working on a comeback from fire last year.

I hope Chabon actually describes Teley, and plan to skim the book at Moe’s, where it might sell out, if it hasn’t already, goddamnit.

Talk about being upstaged!

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