Archive for June 11th, 2009

Nancy Benoit’s Family Sues Dr. Astin

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Nancy Benoit’s parents, Maureen and Paul Toffoloni, have sued Dr. Phil Astin and “three unnamed drug distributors” for wrongful death. See

According to the newspaper — I haven’t yet seen the court filing myself — the family seeks “financial damages to cover the ‘full value’ of the deceased lives, along with money for pain, suffering and expenses.”

The unnamed drug distributors would seem to be the key if there are any deep pockets here. I may be wrong, but my impression is that Astin himself, who is serving a ten-year federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to overprescribing to patients, is broke.

Irv Muchnick

‘Requiem for Black Oak Books’ (full text from Beyond Chron)

[originally published at Beyond Chron on June 9,]

By Irvin Muchnick

Yet another venerable independent bookstore, Berkeley’s Black Oak Books, has closed its doors. This one hits home: in 2007 Black Oak kindly hosted the launch reading for my first book, Wrestling Babylon.

The demise of Black Oak, like that two years ago of another Berkeley institution, Cody’s Books, is sad. Yet I confess that I can’t bring myself to join the chorus of ritual condemnation of the new hegemony of The reason is that, on balance, I believe online retailing is a very good thing for the vitality of diverse literary voices. My experience with Wrestling Babylon shows why.

That I landed a reading at Black Oak in the first place was a fluke. I happen to live two blocks away, and the manager of the reading series was a good friend of Josh Kornbluth, the comedic monologuist and local icon, who had just booked me for his interview show then running on KQED-TV.

That said, and with all due modesty, I also delivered big time on my end of the bargain. A crowd of around 100 people filled Black Oak the night of the reading (all right, I’m blessed with an extremely large extended family), and the 30 copies of Wrestling Babylon on hand there sold out. Not wanting to wait for resupply by the distributor, the store purchased another 30-copy batch directly from my author’s-discount inventory.

Here’s where we get to the moral of the story. The Black Oak shelvers proceeded to stack a quirky little book that had just generated a lot of on-site buzz on a table in the rear corner. One of the charms of Black Oak was always its haphazard organization – you might find Frank Kermode’s 1965 Bryn Mawr lecture series, The Sense of an Ending, on the “New Literature” table – but this was not charming. Only two or three more copies of Wrestling Babylon sold. The rest were returned.

Meanwhile, Amazon and other “virtual” retailers, for all their arrogance and impersonality, at least offer a universe of infinite space. As a result, Wrestling Babylon two years later still enjoys a nice backlist trickle, supported by mainstream coverage in such places as, the New York Post, the Jerusalem Post, and Scripps Newspapers, along with rave reviews by such major literary gatekeepers as the Sacramento News & Review, the Penn State Daily Collegian, and

We average writers, or at least the few of us who aren’t delusional, don’t really expect our product to be pushed as hard as blockbuster bestsellers. But who among us shouldn’t cheer a new paradigm that at least gives everyone a fighting chance to get discovered?

The Black Oak folks had benign instincts and remained true to their atavistic roots. Don’t even get me started on Cody’s. As a parent and community member, I’d put a ton of volunteer energy into marketing an annual Cody’s benefit to raise money for local schools (while also driving traffic to the store and burnishing its brand). Yet when I published my own book, the people there wouldn’t give me the time of day. They were too busy booking name authors for their disastrously expanded upscale affiliates in locations like Berkeley’s Fourth Street and San Francisco’s Union Square (the latter was only a block or so from an existing Borders). Sorry, but I have no sympathy whatsoever for the argument that we must shed crocodile tears for independent booksellers who are so inept that they think the recipe for survival is to ape the same chains they decry.

To return to my basic theme, this is a time of transition and dislocation in belles lettres. Bookstores aren’t the only things changing. So are books. You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.

Irvin Muchnick’s CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death will be published in the fall. And, yes, pre-order info at includes international Amazon links.

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Batista, Master of the Torn Triceps … And Bicep

WWE star Batista is out of action, yet again. This time it’s a torn bicep requiring surgery, with a recovery estimate of at least four months.

In November 2007 I cheekily headlined a blog item “Batista, Master of the Torn Triceps.” I noted that Batista on at least two occasions was stricken with that injury, which once upon a time didn’t occur but now is common among steroid users whose disproportionate muscle mass overloads tendons. (Pectoral, abdominal, and “lat” tears are three other such injuries.) In 2003 Batista was said to have torn a tricep during a match, then during rehab re-tore it “in a freak accident while jogging with his wife,” according to the WWE website. He explained to journalist Mike Mooneyham why his WWE-branded autobiography failed to broach the subject: “We were afraid of what people would read into it. I thought it would be a better discussion for people to have with myself rather than reading it [in a book].”


In the current Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer comments:

“Batista’s frequent injuries are hardly just bad luck. It’s a combination of age, physique, and likely a lot of muscle/tendon imbalances because he’s so big and muscular at his age. Torn biceps are not like torn triceps, torn lats and torn abs, which are usually the signs of steroid-related muscle injuries. The biceps, being a small muscle that bodybuilders train heavy, will tear more frequently on steroids, but non-steroid using lifters often have problems with biceps tears. He looked to be high risk when he returned carrying noticeably more muscle mass than when he left, even though he’s now 40. His new look raised a lot of eyebrows and questions including rumors that this injury was a cover reason for a suspension. However, we were able to confirm the injury was real and you don’t have surgery to cover a drug suspension.”

I told Meltzer that this comment could have been more clear. First, just because they announced the injury as a bicep doesn’t mean that it wasn’t actually triceps. (And, by the way, I’m not singling out wrestling here: Barry Bonds’ 1999 triceps injury was covered up as a bad elbow.) As for bicep injuries (unlike the ones cited above) afflicting non-steroid users as well as steroid users … well, OK, but in the context of Batista that’s a distinction without a difference, and enables the deniers and apologists.

“Obviously, it was steroid related,” Dave responded to me in an email, “but in fairness, guys not on steroids also tear biceps and not triceps.”

As serious wrestling fans know, WWE right now is scrambling over not just Batista but also a new raft of drug suspensions. One veteran of the 2007 Signature Pharmacy list, Edward Fatu (“Umaga”), was fired a few days ago without explanation. Today comes the explanation that he was fired for refusing to enter drug rehab. After the Signature fiasco, WWE supposedly gave notice to talent that the names of wellness policy violators would, prospectively, be released. But WWE either didn’t adhere to that promise in the case of Umaga, or has some convoluted rationalization of special circumstances that made it permissible not to release Umaga’s name in a timely fashion.

As soon as I can figure out what’s going on with this latest round of WWE drug PR, I’ll blog further about it.

Irv Muchnick

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