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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

February 18, 1996|CHRIS GOODRICH

HOLDING ON: Dreamers, Visionaries, Eccentrics and other American Heroes by David Isay and Harvey Wang (W.W. Norton: $25; 216 pp.). In Helendale, not far from Barstow, they found Dixie Evans, an 80-ish former stripper; she's the curator of Exotic World, a burlesque museum housed in a former goat shed and boasting "the Hubba-Hubba Hall of Fame." In Greensboro, N.C., they talked with Geneva "Jane" Tisdale, a veteran cook at the Woolworth's lunch counter made famous by the 1960 civil-rights sit-in; Tisdale describes what actually happened, noting that the counter manager, to defuse any possible scene, slyly integrated the joint with her own employees. And in the Salmon River Mountains of Idaho, they spent time with Dugout Dick Zimmerman, an ascetic miner who realized that his excavation caves, with the addition of floors and furniture, could be transformed into rustic guest rooms ($2 a night): "I started out as a hermit," Zimmerman explains, "but I'm in the tourist business now." These are just three of the wonderful American oddities celebrated by radio producer Isay and photographer Wang, and there are scores more--the sideshow pitchman, the dollar-a-visit doctor, the street-preacher-cum-folk-artist, the mannequin-restoring family. Books like this run the risk of becoming patronizing freak shows, but Isay and Wang are almost always respectful toward their subjects, knowing there's little accounting for destiny. As the Basque shepherd Candido Olano says from somewhere in the mountains of Lassen County, "Young time, I tell you something, I love girls too. But now at my age, I think it's better love my sheep."

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