Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Joe Nick Patoski: Water, Comanche Springs, and the Rule of Capture



MONDAY, JUNE 28, 2010

Water, Comanche Springs, and the Rule of Capture

My cover story in the Texas Observer on Water, Comanche Springs, Clayton Williams, T Boone Pickens, and the Rule of Capture.

Click on the headline to go directly to TexasObserver.org or better yet, get a subscription to the TO. It's worth it.

Groundwater is covered by an archaic law that could leave us high and dry.
by Joe Nick Patoski

Published on: Thursday, June 24, 2010
Playing By The Rule

Water and where to get it has been an obsession ever since humans arrived in the American West. People have searched, begged, lied, stolen, cheated, killed and been killed for it. Land has been seized, plundered and rendered useless because of it. Riverbeds, lakes and communities have been drained and abused and trivialized into detritus, remnants left behind in the pursuit of progress.

The process is still playing out, nowhere as dramatically as in Texas, where 21st century water wars are breaking out across the state.

In West Texas and the Panhandle, water marketers such as millionaire farmer Clayton Williams Jr., developer Woody Hunt, Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz and Dallas corporate raider T. Boone Pickens have plotted ways to move the precious commodity from rural areas to thirsty cities, lining their pockets all the way while ending farming as a way of life in the remote Dell Valley of West Texas and in Roberts County in the eastern Panhandle.

North of San Antonio, golf course developments and booming bedroom communities compete with small towns over water in the Guadalupe River. Along the border, farmers squabble with their counterparts in Mexico for their fair share from the Rio Grande. In Kinney County, the heart of Texas’ artesian aquifer region, farmers are fighting each other over their rights to sell water. Caddo Lake—the only naturally formed lake in Texas, in the wettest corner of the state—has been the object of a historic tug-of-war between lake people and the nearby town of Marshall. Nueces Bay, and every other estuary on the Texas coast, is threatened by reduced freshwater in rivers because of increased withdrawals upstream.

Court dockets are backlogged with so many water-related suits, you might say they’re waterlogged. Candidates for high office speechify about the problem but offer no real solutions. Lobbyists stuff their pockets in anticipation of a legislative session in which water will be one of the most serious long-term issues facing Texas.

Much of this fussing and fighting comes courtesy of the Rule of Capture, an archaic piece of British common law carried to these shores. The Rule states that whoever owns a piece of property owns the water beneath it. The Texas precedent was set in 1843 in the case of Acton v. Blundell, when Texas was a republic and people were largely ignorant about the nature and movement of groundwater. The Rule of Capture was upheld in 1861, when Frazier v. Brown was decided, and again in 1904 when the Texas Supreme Court heard The Houston & Texas Central Railway Co. v. East case. The court upheld The Rule by reasoning water below the soil was too “mysterious, secret, and occult” to regulate.

On the other hand, surface water—water you can see, such as rivers, lakes, and bays—belongs to the people of Texas, a doctrine most Western states apply to both surface and groundwater (See “Who’s Water Is It Anyway?”).

No state politician of power and influence has since dared to propose eliminating The Rule, even though Texas is the only state in the arid half of the United States to embrace a principle other states regard as foolhardy. About the best the Texas Legislature could muster to address this unequal use of the earth’s most precious resource was the 1949 declaration that groundwater districts were the preferred method for local communities to “conserve, preserve, protect and recharge underground water reservoirs.” Although districts have the power to space wells to minimize drawdown, if it comes down to legal hairsplitting, The Rule still has precedence. If you are lucky enough to have groundwater, it is yours to sell for a handsome profit.

Water is the New Oil in Texas. The winners and losers are still to be determined.

My own curiosity about Texas’ quirky way of dealing with water began while wandering around a friend’s property a few miles northeast of Fort Stockton in that vague transition zone where the Permian Basin becomes the Chihuahuan Desert, and mesas turn into mountains. It began with a simple question about what appeared to be a sluice gate for a canal in a patch of overgrown desert. Fort Stockton, I quickly learned, was one of the early losers.

Fort Stockton is known largely as a major food-fuel-motel way-station along Interstate 10. But for most of its history, the reason for Fort Stockton’s being was Comanche Springs, once the most abundant spring complexes beyond the Balcones Fault. Native Americans relied on the springs for thousands of years during seasonal migrations. The Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca passed through there in 1534. Comanche and Kiowa tribes used the springs as a rest stop on their way to and from raids into Mexico every fall. All kinds of adventurers, soldiers, railway workers, outlaws, tradesmen and thieves relied on the springs for their long treks between the civilized East and the wild West.

The springs were named, according to several accounts, for the Comanche who was shot dead for trying to steal horses from Anglo travelers headed to California during the Gold Rush. His body lay by the springs for several years, which inspired the name Place Where the Comanche Thief Was Killed, ultimately shortened to Comanche Springs.

It doesn’t take a military strategist to know that the best way to subjugate people is to take away their water. So Fort Stockton was founded in 1859 as a military camp with the dual purpose of disrupting traffic along the Great Comanche War Trail and protecting Anglo settlers. The fort was strategically located adjacent to the largest of several artesian springs. Guarding the springs hastened the demise of the Comanche, the Lipan, the Mesalero and every other band of nomads.

That allowed Anglo settlement, but not an end to fighting over water. When Pecos County was organized in 1875, its first legal case was a dispute over water rights. By that time, more than 6,000 acres in the desert were being cultivated thanks to irrigation water that flowed by gravity from the springs. Because of water, Fort Stockton thrived, becoming a major stop on the southern transcontinental railroad and a place to rest and refuel on major highway routes linking Florida to California and Mexico to Canada. Because of water, 108 families north and east of town lived on farms. They formed a water district so that the water could be dispersed equitably through an intricate network of canals and sluice gates. Grapes, apples, pecans and alfalfa flourished in this 9-square-mile Garden of Eden. People floated in inner tubes along the canals for up to 15 miles away from town. Visitors came to swim in the springs and picnic under giant cottonwoods along the Imperial Highway.

The town’s biggest social event was the Comanche Springs Water Carnival, established in 1936 to commemorate Texas’ centennial. Two years later, an elaborate, open-air pavilion was constructed around the pool to better showcase the pure, 72-degree water.

That was until 1951, when the Water Carnival was cancelled because there was not enough water. Earlier that year, 52 irrigation wells had been drilled 10 miles west of Fort Stockton on land owned by Clayton Williams Sr., his brother J.C. Williams, and several others. The wells were equipped with pumps powered by diesel engines to draw water from deep below the surface. They worked so efficiently that the flow of Comanche Springs slowed to a trickle within hours after the pumps started. The farmers east of town ran dry, but landowners west of town expressed no remorse. Under The Rule, they could have all the water they could pump because they owned the ground above it.

Geologists and hydrologists determined that Comanche Springs was fed by rainfall in the Glass Mountains, some 50 miles southwest of Fort Stockton. The rainfall drains through braided channels coursing through limestone deep below the surface before bubbling up as springs east of town. The wells drilled west of town intercepted that underground flow.

The Pecos County Water Control and Improvement District Number One filed suit in Texas courts on behalf of the 108 farming families it supplied with water, challenging the prodigious pumping by the new farmers.

On June 21, 1954, the Texas Court of Civil Appeals ruled in favor of Clayton Williams, et al. by upholding The Rule of Capture, agreeing with the landmark 1904 Texas Supreme Court decision that groundwater was too mysterious to regulate. The Texas Supreme Court affirmed the decision.

Sadly, a half century later, the courts and the legal system still embrace the mysterious, secret and occult. The Rule rules.

Clayton Williams’ son, Clayton Jr., may have learned to swim in Comanche Springs, but when it came to pumping water, business was business. He followed in his father’s footsteps by continuing to pump groundwater to irrigate crops on the high Chihuahuan Desert. When Williams unsuccessfully ran for governor of Texas in 1990, Jan Jarboe of Texas Monthly asked if he thought Comanche Springs could flow again if he stopped pumping 41 million gallons of groundwater daily. “They might,” he reckoned. “But I’m not going to do it. It’s my land, and I have the right to use the water....I’m a businessman. I’m a cow man. I’m a conservationist. I didn’t dry up those springs. I bought the land. It’s mine, and if I didn’t pump water, it wouldn’t be worth anything.”

Now Williams wants to repurpose his rights from farming to municipal use in order to pipe water to Midland, though the city hasn't shown any interest. He also wants to pump it to the proposed NowGen experimental “clean” coal power plant in Penwell, in which Williams is an investor. A 100-mile pipeline would be constructed by Williams’ Fort Stockton Land Holdings through private property seized through the use of eminent domain.

The Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District has scheduled two hearings for Williams’ application for late September and early October. Williams believes the pipeline is a win-win deal, as he related to the Midland Reporter-Telegram in March: “I went to Fort Stockton and told them I’d build a reverse-osmosis plant, process their water at cost, and pay $2.35 million in property taxes to the school and $1.45 million to the county. I’m only paying $20,000 now, so that’s a big bump. It would be more economic benefits and high-paying jobs. To me, it’s not complicated. We live in the box of law.”

Former Speaker of the House Tom Craddick tried to help Williams by introducing House Bill 4805 in April 2009 to create the West Texas Water Supply District on 20 acres near the Midland International Airport. The district was designed to give Williams his own private government agency to capture and sell his water.
The bill was greeted with loud howls of disapproval in Fort Stockton.

“This is not in the best interest of Pecos County,” County Judge Joe Shuster testified to the House Natural Resource Committee. “There’s not been an independent study of groundwater in Pecos County. It’s disingenuous to say that this amount of water [extraction] would be safe for all parties.” The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, Laredo’s mayor, and the eight-county Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Group have called for a moratorium on Williams’ permit request until studies on groundwater flows, including water from the Pecos River watershed, and their impact on the Rio Grande are complete.

House Bill 4805 died in committee, but the fight is not over.

“It will be back before the Legislature in 2011, probably in a timelier manner and with more organized support,” says state Sen. Carlos Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat whose district includes West Texas. “Those of us who are committed to protecting the water must be vigilant during the interim, during the next session of the Legislature and the sessions after that.”

We've learned a lot over the past 150 years, and what happens to groundwater is no longer mysterious or occult. In the Panhandle, scientists have studied the drawdown of the Ogallala Aquifer, the vast reservoir of groundwater that extends from Texas up the spine of the Midwest into Canada. The Ogallala provided abundant sustenance for farm crops in the region for more than 150 years. But so much water has been pumped out that no amount of rain can refill the aquifer to levels of 150 years ago.

Less than half of the aquifer’s capacity remains, and what’s left costs more to pump, making irrigated farming in the Great Plains a risky proposition. That didn’t stop T. Boone Pickens from trying to exploit the Ogallala. In the early 2000s, he made deals with neighboring landowners around Roberts County to form Mesa Water Inc., which would pump Ogallala water and ship it via pipeline to Dallas, or wherever the highest bidder happened to be. He couldn’t have done it without The Rule.

Pickens has not yet found a buyer willing to pay his price for water, or built a pipeline to deliver the water, but he nonetheless felt compelled to accuse three northwest Texas groundwater districts of trying to ruin his business. The three are among the 98 groundwater districts in Texas, which by law must have plans to assure a water supply that will last 50 years. Groundwater districts were reaffirmed as the preferred means of local control with the passage of Senate Bill 1 in 1997. The districts are among the few entities that can limit what the Rule of Capture allows.

One district, Hemphill County Underground Water Conservation District, located in the arid northeastern part of the Panhandle, and including some of Pickens’ property, has established some of the most stringent limits on the Ogallala by planning to leave 80 percent of what remains in the ground for 50 years. A healthy aquifer would ensure flows in the county’s creeks and rivers, including the Canadian River and the headwaters of the Washita River. George Arrington, a Hemphill County rancher who sold a percentage of his rights to Mesa Water, joined Pickens in a lawsuit in March against the Texas Water Development Board. Arrington and Pickens complain that the Hemphill district’s plan is unreasonable and that Mesa Water would be denied as much as 18,000 acre-feet of water annually (an acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons), hindering Mesa’s ability to turn a buck. They want the conservation plan thrown out.

Privately owned groundwater’s connection to state-owned surface water, such as the vanishing Rio Grande, is clear. The Rio Grande has been running dry below El Paso since the mid-20th century from intensive agricultural and municipal use in Texas, the Mexican state of Chihuahua, New Mexico and Colorado, and the damming of the river at Elephant Butte in southern New Mexico. Over the past 10 years, the Rio Grande has frequently run dry before reaching the Gulf of Mexico east of Brownsville.

Historically, the Rio Grande has been replenished with inflow from the Rio Conchos in Chihuahua, which joins the Rio Grande above Presidio in Southwest Texas, and by the Pecos River above Del Rio. Several dams were constructed in the Conchos watershed over the past 25 years, rendering that river’s flow less dependable. This is where Clayton Williams’ plan to export water runs into trouble, because his groundwater in the Pecos watershed feeds the Rio Grande, an international waterway.

“The idea to export water from a desert is just so insane that you would laugh if you were not so afraid that it will actually happen,” says Kirby Warnock, whose relatives farmed the now-arid land east of Fort Stockton. “I mean, on the face of it, any proposal to export water from a county that only gets 13 inches annual rainfall should be shut down immediately, except for the ‘flat earth’ groundwater laws we have in Texas. I am hopeful that Mr. Williams’ proposal will finally spark some legislation to implement strong groundwater laws in Texas, and recognize that water is a shared resource.”

Neither the lakes constructed over the past century in Texas, nor the reservoirs below the ground that took thousands of years to fill, are satisfying the thirst of Texas’ growing population. Otherwise, Kinney County landowners wouldn’t be suing the local groundwater district for restricting the amount of groundwater they’d like to export. There wouldn’t have been the unsuccessful lawsuit filed by the San Antonio Water System against the Lower Colorado River Authority for canceling a $1 billion dollar deal to sell Colorado River water to San Antonio. And there wouldn’t be water marketers such as End-Op making deals with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority to move groundwater from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer southeast of San Antonio to nearby cities and suburbs. It’s also why almost every creek, spring, and river in Texas is showing signs of stress.

Those realities make the fence and cage surrounding Big Chief Spring adjacent to the pool in Fort Stockton all the more curious. The cage was put in place decades ago to protect swimmers from the powerful force of the spring flow, a force that is now gone. Since the springs went dry, the cage has become just a memento of what once was. Even if springs have no legal rights in Texas, maybe, just maybe, Clayton Williams Jr. will do the right thing, and pure water will once again gush out from this once-sacred ground.

We shouldn’t hold our breath.

Joe Nick Patoski is working on two upcoming books, one about the Dallas Cowboys and the other on Texas' best stewards of the environment. This story is adapted from a project about water in Texas.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Carousel Club, Jack Ruby, Jada & Candy Barr

Jack Ruby's Carousel Club (Part 1) (English Version)



HelmerReenberg | March 15, 2009 | 9:21

Jack Ruby, The Carousel Club, in Dallas. The Carousel sat across the street from the Hotel Adolphus at 1312½ Commerce St., upstairs from a delicatessen. The outdoor walls were covered with provocative photos of scantily clad burlesque dancers, offering a glimpse of what could be viewed inside for a $2 cover charge. The dancers drew large crowds to three stages where they stripped down to g-strings and pasties.

Jack Ruby's Carousel Club (Part 2) (English Version) 



HelmerReenberg | March 22, 2009 | 6:04

Strippers in the Carousel Club. Penny Dollar, Marilyn April Walle, Nancy Jane Mooney and Janet Conforto known as Jada.






Jack Ruby - Part 1



10Garmonbozia01 | May 27, 2007 | 5:05
 Statement by Captain J.W.Fritz.

Various newsclips following his arrest. Interview with the lawyers of Jack Ruby. One have had threats to his family members' lifes. Tom Howard is interviewed several times.






Jack Ruby - Part 2




10Garmonbozia01 | May 27, 2007 | 5:56

More newsclips.


Outtake with DA Henry Wade. **Personally I do not see a truthful man here. He knew Ruby, and you can see it is evident IMO.

Some statements by Ruby himself. He talks in riddles mostly. He claimes a conspiracy against his person.

Mark Lane discloses evidence stating that Ruby was an informant and was indeed working for Richard Nixon.






Janet 'Jada' Conforto




10Garmonbozia01 | May 27, 2007 | 1:46
 Interview with Jada. She is asked (by Paul Good-ABC?) about her knowledge to Jack Ruby. She was a dancer at his Carousel Club. She knew Ruby before she went to work there. Further she says that she believe he disliked Bobby Kennedy, but she is not sure. She is not sure of Ruby's political motive either.

She was killed in a motorcycle accident during the HSCA investigation.




Rick Randle & The Rockers - I'm Hurt (1958)





doktorsung | November 16, 2009 | 1:58

 billboard okt. '58 on Arc 4445 + ever sweety Candy Barr

Lee Oswald claiming innocence



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ROOTS AND TRACES: tornado warning – doug sahm & the texas mavericks live in bremen 1987-04-13




tornado warning – doug sahm & the texas mavericks live in bremen 1987-04-13

in 1987 the lolly pope and me=myself saw doug sahm and the texas mavericks play live in tübingen, a very pleasing evening at the old amerika-haus close to the blaue brücke organised by one hans kesteloo. unfortunately no recordings of this event seem to have survived, but in the deep black holes of my collection i found a tape of their gig in bremen only four days earlier. this tape is what you are going to be listening to right now and the lolly pope has a lot to say. please enjoy:

"Those were the days when Rock n' Roll – though already smelling suspiciously funny – was still alive, and there were reasons to leave the house every once in a while. As a hardcore Sir Douglas-fan since the German release of "She's About A Mover" in '65, I had to see the MAN when a gig at Tuebingen was announced '87 during his European promo tour for the Texas Mavericks album on New Rose. When I asked fellow-warrior-against-the-jive van daale to come along, he was a bit undecided, but soon as he heard of chances (well, that turned out to be just rumours) for some cameo appearances by Roky Erickson, he was more than convinced, and we hit the road to our old Alma Mater on smoking wheels. It was a night of pure magic, and definitely the only useful purpose one of these Amerikahauses spread across Germany - and usually rather a place to protest and throw molotov cocktails - ever had. Doug seemed to be a bit embarressed with that Roky hype, which was a promo-trick invented by his management, promoter, record company or who ever, but he explained, that he and Roky were old friends and companions since the days of the Vulcano Gas Co., and that he had a couple of Erickson's songs in his repertoire for decades anyway. I can't tell you the complete line-up, but I remember that Doug's son Shawn was on lead guitar, and Speedy Sparks was as prominently featured on guitar and vocals in The Mavericks as Sir Doug himself. Augie Meyers was sadly missing, but they had a small keyboard on a table, where they shared fake-Vox organ duties when necessary. Trouble with this incarnation of the Sir Douglas Quintet is, that they all worked under aliases on this record (subtitled „Who Are These Masked Men“), and bass and drums are stated as Miller V. Washington and Frosty respectively there. But then again, who the care fucks anyway... The only regret we had, was that we forgot to bring along some bootleggers' equipment to document this memorable evening.

Some 23 years later a tape of a gig in Bremen, recorded 4 days earlier, showed up in stunning sound quality. It time-warped us back to the days when the defuncted Pinkees couldn't yet imagine to reincarnate as Sturclub. Reduced to the duo format we were sitting in limbo, but somehow the idea of the Club of the Stubborn was in the air right from the start, and after struggling through all the madness, and losing some members half our age to the „real world“, we're still angry old men getting younger than yesterday. (Look out, here comes tomorrow...)

Back to the drawing board: Speedy Sparks, in and out with the Sir Douglas Quintet since 1980, obviously is a die-hard Buddy Holly admirer (like Roky) and covers no less than 3 of his classics here („That'll Be The Day“, „Not Fade Away“ and „Rave On“) with bravour and grandezza. He also does a fine rendition of Van Morrison's „Brown Eyed Girl“, and that's a very good idea after 20000 versions of „Gloria „ worldwide. I could have thought of less over-played Chuck Berry-classics than „Johnny B. Goode“, but it's a crowd pleaser anyway, and his mediocre self-written „Redneck Rock“ is the only number I could have done without. Speedy makes up for this with a tremendous run through Erickson's „Don't Slander Me“. I had to listen to legions of lousy versions of that song before and after, but this one, well, don't know... It somehow sounds right. But Sir Doug of course is the man in charge here, and he blows away all wannabe Tex-Mexers this and the other side of the Rio Grande lefthanded with „Texas Tornado“, something like his theme song, and speeds up with a killer interpretation of Roy Head's „ One More Time“, a song that may sound familiar to formerly young punks in the version of Joe „King“ Carrasco & The Crowns (remember Stiff Records?) „She's About A Mover“ nails me to the cross like it did in '65, and I still can't grasp how Lenny Kaye could miss out on this one, when he compiled the original „Nuggets“. A personal heartbreaker, tearjerker, you name it, is the Gene Thomas Medley („Sometimes“/“Cryin' Inside“), which was one of ten highlights on Doug's '76 album „Texas Rock For Country Rollers“. A wonderful melange of Western Swing and New Orleans R&B, and I remember well the hard times I had back then, when I outed myself as a fan of both in the wake of da Punk. The following „Key To My Heart“ from the same LP is a very personal, possibly autobiogrphical song, that still seemed to haunt him 12 years later, and... , fuck me, I need a new handkerchief.

Strange enough... I've first heard „Starry Eyes“, one of two handfuls of 70's songs that'll survive this and the next century, on Doug Sahm's rare LP „Live Love“ (1977, Texas Re-Cord Co.), a year before I noticed that it was a Roky Erickson song. The greatest number Buddy Holly couldn't record, anymore, but a post-mortal tribute in both versions anyhow. And then „Mendocino“!!! The smash that catapulted Sir Douglas high in the charts worldwide. And left him stranded as some kind of one hit wonder, teenage novelty attraction from times not true anymore. Tortured and mutilated in „Original home language versions“ from Cambodia to Michael Holm. Nurse, my brain hurts!!! (Just listen to the words, teenyboppers! But then again: it's too late anyway.) Who'd have thought that Roky Erickson would survive Doug Sahm (or even the 80s)? But that's the way the cookie crumbles, and it's a pleasure to see Roky singing and walking with kindergarden kids instead of zombies these days. Doug's worst ever LP was „Border Wave“ (never trust any kind of wave) in '81. Recorded for Takoma, but released in Europe on the then still major label Chrysalis, it was aimed at a mass market, and sounded like Sir Douglas trying to out-teenybop Michael Holm at his own game, which was old hat and around the corner by that time for years anyway. (Though there's a hell of a version of The Kinks' „Who'll Be The Next In Line“ on it, to give truth some honour). And you'll find the most ridiculous execution of The Elevators' „You're Gonna Miss Me „ ever on this strange platter. BUT: here it is the way God, Roky and Doug planned it. A real revelation. And it's true: I'm missing Doug Sahm, the first and last real KrautROCKER (yep, his parents immigrated from Bavaria).

The band encores with Ritchie Valens' „La Bamba“, the first million seller in Chicano Rock. An old, worn-out warhorse, you might think, but a heartfelt tribute to a 17-year old Latino, who had 4 Top 20 hits in 8 months, before he fell from the sky with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. Not really the day the music died, but a bit like the beginning of the end...."

01: That'll Be The Day
02: Texas Tornado
03: One More Time
04: Not Fade Away
05: Brown Eyed Girl
06: She's About A Mover
07: Rave On
08: Gene Thomas Medley: Sometimes / Cryin' Inside
09: Give Back The Key To My Heart
10: Don't Slander Me
11: Starry Eyes
12: Redneck Rock
13: Mendocino
14: Johnny B. Goode
15: You're Gonna Miss Me
16: La Bamba

tornado warning – doug sahm & the texas mavericks live in bremen 1987-04-13
(mp3 / 320 kbps / 57 minutes / wrapped as one track / direct download)

(doug sahm / steven t. / question mark / kim fowley)

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Ann Arbor Chronicle: Arthur Nusbaum's Third Mind Books


Column: Book Fare

Arthur Nusbaum's Third Mind Books: Real estate to surrealism

Arthur Nusbaum raised the curtain on his second act – Third Mind Books – in January. With an inventory of more than 500 items, the online bookstore devoted to the work and legacy of the Beat Generation shares office space with Nusbaum’s once-primary gig: he’s president of Ann Arbor’s Steppingstone Properties Ltd.

Arthur Nusbaum

William S. Burroughs looms large for Arthur Nusbaum – in this case, literally. The portrait of this Beat Generation iconoclast hangs in the lobby of Nusbaum's Third Mind Books and Steppingstone Properties.

A real estate guy with a thing for William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and the rest of that reckless crew? Incongruous, on the face of it. But a closer look reveals a certain ironic harmony.

“I used to be an activist,” says Nusbaum. No surprise there – this is a fellow whose dazzling energy will find an outlet.

Born in Detroit, he grew up in the suburbs, attended the University of Michigan and returned to Ann Arbor for good in the early 1990s as the concept of New Urbanism was gathering steam in Ann Arbor and across the country. Those principles resonated with him, and as he made the connection between his own business and the intensifying local efforts to rein in suburban sprawl, Nusbaum says, “real estate became more meaningful for me. And that’s reflected in buildings like this.”

He’s speaking from his second-floor suite of offices in Ashley Square, at 123 N. Ashley St. The building – Nusbaum believes it was an auto showroom in its original incarnation – was rehabbed in the 1980s and purchased in the late 1990s by Nusbaum, who relocated Steppingstone there in 2000.

“To make a long story short, that’s the direction I took for the last decade and a half in my business,’’ he says. 

Nusbaum is 51. His passion for the Beats – and, specifically, Burroughs – dates to his days at UM, where he was an Honors English student in the late 1970s and “awakening to the counterculture. I became aware of the Beats. It snowballed,” he says, “parallel with my regular life.” And for 30 years he has been building a personal collection of Beat literature and artifacts that he believes “is one of the most comprehensive and one-of-a-kind in the world.”

Hung carefully on the walls of the Ashley Square suite are pieces from Nusbaum’s collection of original artwork, posters and prints (Jesse Crumb and his father, Robert, are represented) and a carefully edited sampling of counterculture and avant-garde artifacts that date back decades. (Ever heard of The Residents? Me neither. Nusbaum totally digs them.)

Prominent on a wall in his office (and on the website) is a photo of Nusbaum with Burroughs that marks what he calls “the lifetime peak of my Beat experience – meeting the master.” Nusbaum had made an attempt to get in touch with Burroughs via Allen Ginsberg in 1994, when the poet was in town for a reading and was signing autographs beforehand at Shaman Drum. “I met him there and had him sign something, and then I wanted to give him an envelope for Burroughs.” When Ginsberg gently waved him off, Nusbaum didn’t press it.

“I just up and went, and knocked on his door” in February 1995 – Burroughs was living in Lawrence, Kansas – “and the rest is history.”

His account of the day can be found among Nusbaum’s writings onThirdMindBooks.com, along with an obituary he wrote for “Dharma Beat” about the man he calls the “Big Bang; Ground Zero” – the mentor of the Beat Generation.

“Today it means nothing, but to be an iconoclast during the age of extreme conformity, of the ‘gray flannel suit’ and the Red Scare” – Burroughs was beyond the edge, Nusbaum says. “And he was a junkie, he was gay at a time when that was really shocking. And yet,” he says, “here was this reserved, three-piece-suit-wearing guy.”

Nusbaum says “a really thorough and deep biography has yet to be written” of Burroughs – and he might get to it “if I live to be 500.” For now, though, Nusbaum is “whittling” down his real estate interests to downtown Ann Arbor and some other properties and focusing his energies on Third Mind Books. The store’s logo honors the master.

Logo for Third Mind Books

The logo for Third Mind Books tips its hat to William Burroughs.

“My first idea was a brick-and-mortar store on Huron Street,” Nusbaum says. He envisioned a shop “like Shaman Drum that specialized in the Beats and also had consigned art and a (performance) venue .… I had all these ideas.

“But you know Ann Arbor, of course. They always find a reason why you need to spend an extra quarter-million or so converting the zoning to this and that and what have you, and then I thought, ‘this is not the time and place to do a brick and mortar.’”

Enter ThirdMindBooks.com.

He credits his staff and their technological savvy for getting ThirdMindBooks.com up and running, and applauds them for their willingness to go along for the ride: “They made the transition from real estate to surrealism very well.”

To stock his store, Nusbaum turned to the connections he has made over the years as a collector (his private collection, very emphatically, is not for sale). And on the Web, he tracked down “all of the Beat-related sites – some of which are very active and up to the minute and really of high quality.” Links to and Nusbaum’s comments on some of those sites have led to some sales, he says.

“I’m hoping that somewhere in this world of 6.5 billion people there are maybe 50 to 100 like me who could carry a business like this, who are really passionate about it,” he says.

“I know it’s going to take a while,” but Nusbaum envisions a broad purpose for ThirdMindBooks.com: “I want to combine sales with scholarship and writings and linkages.” As a longer-term project, Nusbaum says he intends to present “a museum-like tour” of his own collection on the Web site – “not for sale, but as a way of cataloging and showing it.”

“The educated customer is important and I want to educate,” he says, “and connect the dots for the aficionado – and that will make a more passionate customer.”

Arthur Nusbaum

Arthur Nusbaum with some of the Beat literature that's sold online through his business, Third Mind Books.

Nusbaum’s focus and passion is evident in the presentation of his inventory on the website. The Ashley Square suite contains a de facto studio where photos are made of each item in the inventory. That list includes a sharp image of each piece along with descriptive text that details the condition of the item, its history and significance to collectors and, often, its provenance. “We lavish a lot of attention on every single item,” Nusbaum says.

In this new age of virtual browsing, that’s a valuable service for an online bookstore. And the Web is the perfect way to reach Nusbaum’s core market: Beat enthusiasts like himself who know what they’re looking for.

And yet (and here’s an opening to lament the lost Shaman Drums of our culture): Nusbaum made a sale on the day of my visit when a box on his shelves, covered in paper the color of terra cotta, caught my eye. The paper was textured with thin, horizontal folds that undulated like low waves on water; the box was a couple of inches thick and as tall as my hand.

And then I pulled the book itself from its handsome case. “Six-Pack 1-5,” published by Bottle of Smoke Press, gathers in one loosely sewn volume five issues of “Six-Pack,” the publisher’s five collections of a half-dozen very short poems, letterpressed in a range of colorful typefaces onto various shades and textures of cardstock. Each little poem-on-a-card is mounted on its own page with photo corners; almost all the cards bear the signature of the poet. Encountered online, this little jewel wouldn’t have been nearly as captivating, no matter how conscientiously presented.

Luckily for locals, Nusbaum says he’s pleased to open the real-life doors of Third Mind Books to the old-fashioned browser for whom the tactile pleasures are still so bound up in the book-buying experience. Just make an appointment. “I’m not sure,” he jokes, “but this may be the world’s only hybrid real estate office and rare-book store.”

Third Mind Books is gold mine of first editions, photographs and postcards, hand-made books, magazines and literary journals and poetry collections created by the super-celebrated and the sometimes-unjustly obscure. From Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Patti Smith (“She just came to Borders!” Nusbaum crows. “I gave her my card!”) to Irvine Welsh (“Trainspotting”) and, of course, a lavish abundance of one-of-a-kind Burroughs, Nusbaum’s inventory holds hundreds of treasures.

So if you still haven’t tracked down that first-edition complete transcript in comic-book form of Allen Ginsberg’s testimony at the 1969 Chicago Seven trial, look no further. Arthur Nusbaum will be thrilled to help you out.

About the writer: Domenica Trevor is a voracious reader who lives in Ann Arbor and has been known to own a copy of “Howl” and wear a beret, back in the day.

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"This Strange Effect"- The Kinks/Dave Berry/Hooverphonic/Puck Darlington/The Undertones/Holly Golightly

Seven versions of "This Strange Effect'' written by Ray Davies. First Ray's demo, followed by Dave Berry's 60s radio hit. Then varied renditions by Hooverphonic, Puck Darlington, The Undertones, & Holly Golightly. Concluding with an odd, nuanced older Dave Berry on some forgotten television program...

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The Undertones - This Strange Effect - OnderInvloed.com

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dave berry sings "this strange effect"

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