Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Heading To Virginia

Last Thursday I headed south to Virginia.

I was marrying Paige and Stephen.

In Richmond.

The bus ran at 70 through New Jersey.

It was a boring ride.

I hate Bruce.

I hate THE SOPRANOS.

I hate the Jersey Shore.

I fell asleep.

I woke up at the Delaware River.

I went back to sleep on the southern bank.

I-95 existed for ten miles in Delaware.

I skipped the rest stop.

The shitty pizza was $6.99

The Susquehanna sourced to the north.

It was the longest river on the East Coast.

The Latter-Day Saints performed their first rituals in its waters.

According to family legend I was related to Joseph Smith.

I never saw the resemblance.

Others including Mormons disagreed.

We were both New England born, but now I was entering the south.

Baltimore.

Home of Divine.

She was a slut.

We miss her so.

The Salt alps of Baltimore.

More sleep.

I rose from the dead in the South.

In Peterburg, VA.

In front of a rim shop.

I said nothing. There was no one to say anything to near midnight.

Only more rims.

Thanks For 1,000,000 Page Views

Over a million pageviews.

Probably most by robots or lost internet surfers.

But the 1-6-9 thanks you.

Fire thanks you.

The Chelsea Fire was better.

More fire thanks you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Last Gasp

The American Civil War was fought for four long years. Someone should have negotiated a truce to spare the slaughter of Gettysburg and all the battles in a lost cause, but The Southerners fought to the bloody end and on March 25, 1865 the Rebels launched a final offensive against the siege lines facing Petersburg. The assault carried Fort Stedman in the darkness before the dawn.

According to Wikipedia Brevet Brig. Gen. Napoleon B. McLaughlen, the officer responsible for the Fort Stedman sector, heard the sounds of the attack, dressed quickly and rode to Fort Haskell, just to the south of Battery XII, which he found to be ready to defend itself.

As he moved north, McLaughlen ordered Battery XII to open fire on Battery XI and ordered a reserve infantry regiment, the 59th Massachusetts, to counterattack, which they did with fixed bayonets, briefly re-capturing Battery XI. Assuming that he had sealed the only breach in the line, McLaughlen rode into Fort Stedman. He recalled, "I crossed the parapet and meeting some men coming over the curtains, whom in the darkness I supposed to be part of the picket, I established them inside the work, giving directions with regard to position and firing, all of which were instantly obeyed."

He suddenly realized that the men he was ordering were Confederates and they realized he was a Union general, capturing him. He was taken back across no man's land and surrendered his sword personally to Gordon.

Within four hours the early triumph turned to a ghastly defeat.

Last Saturday morning I walked on the battlefield.

The dead, maimed, and unwounded last buried elsewhere.

Grass covered the ground.

Not the blood of 4,000 men.

Several days later the Federals broke into Petersburg.

General Robert E. Lee telegraphed President Jefferson Davis to flee and then retreated west in hopes of escape.

There was none.

Only Appomattox.

The Whites Of Mayberry

Several years ago Andy Griffith, star of stage and screen, passed away. The North Carolina native debuted as a hick comedian from the wrong side of the tracks and Griffith parlayed this success into a film career with critical hits in A FACE IN THE CROWD and NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS. A 1960 cameo role as a southern sheriff in Danny Thomas' MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY led to creation of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, where his rural Solomon in Mayberry NC played straight man to his friend Don Knotts' portrayal of the hapless deputy Barney Fife. Ronny Howard was cast as his son Opie and for many black Americans no white boy could be whiter than Opie.

From 1961 to 1968 American sat in front of their TVs on Tuesday night to watch the rubes in action introduced by the song THE FISHIN' HOLE.

While THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW was filmed in black and white, not a single African-American character was shown in the series other than the rare background appearance of a passing Negro, for Mayberry was the South the way the South envisioned the South, if the South rose again and reinstated Dixie. There were no blacks on PETTICOAT JUNCTION, GREEN ACRES, or THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, since these shows were aired at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and offered the comfort of security to a White America.

One episode of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW had a vignette in which none of the townspeople could explain what The Emancipation Proclamation might be, then again segregation in the South meant that blacks and whites kept to their own areas thanks to such welcome signs as NIGGER DON'T LET THE SUN LET ON YOUR ASS IN MAYBERRY.

At least the producers never featured a KKK segment.

Unless a viewer reads between the lines.

No matter what THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW was a classic and spun off GOMER PYLE.

They were funny in their own way and the wrinklies loved Griffith in MATLOCK.

He continues to be missed by his people.

ps there were no blacks on THE JETSONS or THE FLINTSTONES either.

To view Barney Fife Explaining The Emancipation Proclamation please go to the following URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yupu8DE6vzw\

The Debt Of A Nation

In 2011 Madame Ambassador phoned with the offer to be her 'unofficial writer in residence' at her posting in Mittel Europa and she asked, "Do you have an evening suit?"

"Of course," I replied without hesitation from my apartment in Fort Greene.

"Good, because you'll be needing it. There will be plenty of balls and galas," her aristocratic intonations painted a 'pas encore vu' vision of black ties and satin gowns.

"I'll be ready."

I was looking forward to formal affairs.

In America tuxedos are dragged out of the closet only for weddings.

No one wears them to funerals.

After hanging up on Madame Ambassador, I tried on my fifteen year-old evening suit and discovered my waist wedged into the trousers and the jacket was loose on my upper body. As I stood at the mirror, my roommate/landlord entered the top-floor apartment with a bong and asked, "Where are you going?"

"To Europe."

"Europe?"

I explained about my appointment. AP knew Madame Ambassador. He eyed my trousers.

"Does that hurt?"

"No," I wasn't giving him the pleasure of the truth, but the next day my tailor let out the waist an inch. The fit felt much better.

A month later I flew to Europe and unpacked my clothing into a closet atop the residence.

"Where's the evening suit?" Madame Ambassador smiled upon seeing my formal wear. "You clean up good. Next week is the military ball. I expect you to look your best."

The evening of the RAF gala I freshly showered, shaved, and shined my shoes to a gleam.

"You clean up good."

Madame Ambassador was pleased to have a well-attired escort. She was no longer with her husband. The civilian guests conjectured about our relationship. It has been purely platonic for thirty years. The military were more circumspect with their assumptions and I drank with colonels, captains, and naval commanders. The head general of the host nation sat at our table. His glorious dress uniform shamed me, but he was a man used to the admiration of his troops and we spoke about the Civil War and Joshua Chamberlain's bayonet charge at Gettysburg.

The gala had a raffle to benefit its charity. I bought several tickets. The general discreetly tapped my shoulder and asked for 20 Euros. I slipped a blue bill under the table and he winked his thanks.

Generals like the very wealthy, royalty, and poor people don't carry money.

None of our tickets were winners and later I told to the UK military attache of my loan to the general.

"How much was it?" The commander pulled out his wallet.

"20 euros." About $27 and I waved my hand in refusal. "But that's fine. I like the idea of a general owing me money. Especially the head of the army."

Madame Ambassador and I joked about this debt and the story became funnier over the next months, for I ran into the general on several occasions without his reaching into his pocket. Once at a military ball, we spoke for several seconds and he held out his hand. I thought that he might be cuffing 20 euros in secret, but his hand was empty.

After he walked away, I scratched my head. I owed money to my friends for a long time. If I have it in my pocket, I pay them. Obviously the military have a different set of rules, then again I never asked for the 20, because I hold the debt of his nation in the palm of my hand.

The missing 20 Euros felt like good luck.

I hope the EEU feels the same about their debt.

SOUTH OF THE POTOMAC by Peter Nolan Smith


My St. Patrick's Day of 2011 ended at Frank's Lounge on Fulton Street. Everyone at the bar knew my name and well they should, because I was the token white just like that Paul Benedict's character in nearly all-black TV show THE JEFFERSONS.

Audience laughed hard whenever Mr. Jefferson slammed the door in the kindly Englishman's face. Harry Bentley never showed any rancor and neither do I at Frank's Lounge.

Since Day One I haven't heard any of the regulars speaking badly behind my back, for they have the courage to speak their mind to my face.

Around 8pm I bought a round for the bar. It was the right thing to do.

"I knew Old Irish would show up here on St. Patrick's Day," Homer crowed in his thick Delta accent.

"This is my home away from home." My apartment was only two blocks distant from my favorite stool. I wasn't working the next day and I told Homer about traveling to Virginia in the morning to visit a sick friend. "Ms. Carolina lives on the Northern neck of Virginia."

"Where's that at?" Homer hailed from Philadelphia, Mississippi. He left that town after the police telling his momma that they wanted to speak to him. The year of that midnight departure was 1953. I was one year old at the time.

"Someplace east of I-95." My geography of that region was limited to a teenage trip to Virginia Beach with my parents in 1966. "The Tidewater."

"Cracker and peckerwood territory." Homer shook his head. He swore that he had no trouble with white folks in the Delta, but said, "You be careful how you speak. They don't have the same ideas as you do."

Two white boys had been murdered with James Chaney, a black man from Meridian, Mississippi in 1964.

It wasn't far from Philadelphia.

"Thanks for the warning." I lifted my hand and ordered another round.

I got home at midnight and set the alarm for 7AM.

A southbound bus was leaving from Chinatown at 8. My bag was already packed with two days of clothing and I fell into bed like a bag of mashed potatoes. It had been a good St. Padraic's Day and I slept like the dead.

But not for long.

6:54AM I opened my eyes. It was dark outside my window. Dawn was another hour away. Sweet sleep beckoned from the softness of my pillows. I resisted the siren call and left the house within minutes.

I made the 8AM bus with enough time to buy a bacon sandwich from the Chinese bakery. The bus departed on time for Washington DC, the nation's capitol.

We arrived on time.

I rented a car at Ronald Reagan Airport. The drive to North Cape Point was 120 miles. The speed limit was 55. The traffic inched along the highway. I was stuck in the belly of the Fairfax County traffic monster.

Once off 95 there were no stoplights. I visited the Fredericksburg battlefield for a half-hour. The day was getting late. I had been on the road almost ten hours. I drove a little over the limit. County troopers manned speed traps. They weren't catching me for nothing.

North Point Cape was 20 miles from the main road. Fallow fields were blue with ragweed. Winter weed was a thick carpet of green. The land dropped under my wheels and I entered the tidewater.

A land of marshy inlets and crooked tidal flows.

My phone service died two miles from my destination. Ms. Carolina and her husband waited at the door. She was as blonde as the first night I met her in New York. If I took off my glasses, she would be as young too. Her husband was a tall gentleman for whom looks had never been a problem even at 80. Ms. Carolina and Hal had been together 35 years. It showed with their every gesture.

Dinner was on the table.

My last food had been that Chinese croissant.

Hal put a drink in my hand.

>Dewar's Scotch.

Ms. Carolina served a plate of corned beef and cabbage.

"I know it isn't St Patrick's day, but who's counting."

Not me."

The meal was delicious. Hal and I conversed about hitchhiking, fathers, the death of our brothers, and his career as a gynecologist in the Bible Belt.

"Two people I can't stand are Catholics and Jehovah Witnesses. Both are idiots when it comes to the matter of birth control and a woman's health."

"I'm a Catholic and I agree with you too." My faith had been abandoned in my teens.

After dinner we walked onto the dock extending a hundred feet into the river. The air was soft as summer. No mosquitoes buzzed in our ears. Ms. Carolina hadn't spoken much during the evening. Hal had dominated the conversation. She seemed to favor her right side. I blamed it on her last chemo session.

"That's the last of winter, I think." I was forever optimistic. "If it's this warm tomorrow I'll jump into the river."

"Crazy-ass Northerner." Ms. Carolina's husband had met a caravan of his wife's friends. Most were a little eccentric. I was rumored to be the most of the lot. She and I had traveled the world; Maine, Peru, Guatemala, and the Far West. People said we were lovers. They knew nothing. Friends for the road. Ms. Carolina was a good companion on the road.

'Only in a good way. My people fought at St. Mary's Heights." The battle lasted most of the winter afternoon. 20,000 Union soldiers had been killed during the assault on a fortified ridge. Pure suicide. "I stood there today. They were lucky crazy ass-Northerners."

"Not like Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg." The Civil War was far from over in the South.

"No, the 20th Maine stopped the Texas and Alabama from taking Little Big Rock." My recollection of that fateful day's history depended on a faulty memory. "Joshua Chamberlain ordered a "right-wheel forward" maneuver. The ensuing bayonet charge saved the day and the Union."

Hal muttered a curse under his breath. He was a serious church-goer. A doctor for women too. He supported a woman's right for choice and birth control. A man of contradictions. I liked him fine. He was a true Man of the South.

I believed in no god. Ms. Carolina was in the hands of fate. I could tell by the way that she favored her right side.

On the walk back to the river house Ms. Carolina told me the worst. She had six months to a year to live.

It was something that I didn't want to believe.

Back on the unlit porch Hal, Ms. Carolina, and I watched the rising of the moon over the Potomac River. A silver disc spread a scalloped path of light into heaven. We retired into the house for a last drink or two. Hal and I discussed our president. He used the n-word more than an entire CD-rack of ghetto rap hits.

"You think Obama is a Muslim?" I had voted for the president twice in 2008. Once in the East Village and another time on an absentee ballot from Thailand, following the venerable Tammany Hall adage, "Vote early, vote often.'

"100%." Hal was a die-hard GOP supporter.

"And he is a member of Al-Quada."

"I don't know about that."

"Well, what if he change his first name to Al for Al-Quada."

"And why would he do that?" Ms. Carolina fell for my trap.

"Because then he would be Alobama and the state of Alabama would vote for him."

"He won enough southern states thanks to the black vote." Hal conceded 2008 without a recount. The contest for 2012 was still in the air.

"You know what Ford's agricultural secretary gave as the reason for why Lincoln's party didn't get the black vote?"

"Earl Butz?" asked Hal.

Yes, he came from Indiana. The Hoosiers backed the KKK big in the 1920s and Earl said, "I'll tell you what the coloreds want. It's three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit. I understood the comments about sex and the outhouse, but he lost me on the loose shoes."

"Me too." Hal and I had more than Ms. Carolina in common. He was only 80. I was 58. The generation gap meant less now than it did in 1975. "Still like his saying about the Pope's opposition to contraception."

""He no playa the game, he no maka the rules." Hal proved his memory was as good as mine. We toasted the past and bid each other goodnight. Ms. Carolina went to her first-floor room. Hal had his room on the other side of the house.

"Hal snores like an out-of-control jack hammer."

"I'm like a truck stuck on ice." I took after my dearly departed father.

"The you two will snore in harmony."

Only the living room separated us.

"Sleep well, dream better." Ms. Carolina smiled with warmth. She was with her husband and an old traveling companion. Not many people came this far off the track to see her. Hal and I sat up watching NCAA basketball. I switched to wine and killed half a bottle. At 10 we called it a night.

"Thanks for coming down. She can use some cheering up." Hal intoned that he didn't want to discuss her health and I respected his feelings on that matter. We retreated to our bedrooms. It was very quiet and remained that way for the rest of the night

My telephone was out of range. My computer had no signal. This was the end of the world. All roads to somewhere other than here and I lay on the mattress with a heavy head. Ms. Carolina looked okay. Fenway's mom knew that I was in the hicks or ban-nok as the Thais called the boondocks. I read two pages of A SAVAGE CITY.

A history of racist courts, police corruption, and black power revolution on the late-60s. The true explanation of the Summer of Love. My reincarnated youth existed for a couple of minutes. The full moon burned through my curtains. I felt like the Wolfman without a demon inside me. The book fell on my chest. Sleep was my paradise and I drifted into the clouds. There was no other place to go at this time of night in North Point Cape.

The morning started late. I woke and went back to sleep. Everyone else in the house was on a similar wavelength. I finally got out of bed and walked to the end of the dock. The warmth had departed from the wind. The temperature was below 50. Hal joined me with his dog.

"Cruiser's bigger than I recall."

"A cross between a wolf-hound and a mastiff."

"Nice puppy." I recounted the tale of my taking care of a crackhouse Airedale in Palm Beach. Pom Pom had weighed 95 pounds. She was on the hit list for bad dogs. I cured her insanity with beer on her Kibbles. Drunk dogs don't pick fights. Hal wasn't impressed with my story and asked, "You still thinking about going in the Potomac?"

"Not this instant."

"Thought so."

Ms. Carolina called us to the table.

Blueberry pancakes and bacon.

Corn syrup instead of maple.

I said nothing.

North Point was 600 miles from Vermont.

After breakfast Hal drove us on a tour of the area. Beaches, houses, fields for hunting, new forests, a cousin's estate on the shore, the burial ground of Lee's family, he never stopped talking. Manny liked to say that he had never met anyone who could speak more than me, but I had to admit Hal had me beat.

I heard about his Navy career in Key West and Norfolk, playing sports during high school, his father's work as a car dealer.

"He had no cars. Only a book. People would come to his office and order a new car. A week later it was there. Daddy worked hard."

Hal had read a book on mine. NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD. A tale about a New York hustler forced into a contract hit by two dirty cops. He fakes the murder and escapes into Death Valley with two lesbians making a movie about the last man of Earth. I thought that novel was going to make me famous.

"Porno. That's what I remember about that book."

"I gave the book to an agent. Her husband read it in a day. They had sex three times in a row. "Great." I said, but the agent told me that she was divorcing her husband. End of NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD."

Ms. Carolina promoted my writing. I'm beyond that task. After a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches I looked at the dock.

"If not now, never."

"You are going in the river?"

"In three minutes." I changed into my shorts and white tee-shirt. I met Hal and Ms. Carolina on the dock. The wind was stiff from the north. The water looked cold. There was only one way of doing this and I handed my camera to Ms. Carolina.

"Record this."

After several words I leaped off the dock. A ten-foot drop into the river. It wasn't cold. It was freezing. I swam to the ladder like a survivor from the Titanic. The distance was only twenty feet. My feet lost feeling. My fingers grew numb. Ms. Carolina waited at the top of the steps with a towel.

"You are one crazy ass northerner." Hal shook his head.

"That is right."

Ms. Carolina laughter and her laughter was tonic to my ears, for laughter is the magic of life. Back in the house she reminded me about the doctor's prognosis.

"Six months." She lifted her shirt. The cancer had erupted on her skin. Tumors covered the right side of her chest. She dropped the shirt and I gave her a soft hug.

"You will always be beautiful to me."

Hal stood in the doorway.

"And me too." He was playing it tough.

Both of us were.

Tears were for a year away from now.

"Let's have a drink."

Whiskey and wine.

A good talk about life.

We were friends.

Until the end.

And for friends there was no place else to go on the North Point that evening.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Battle of the Crater

On July 30, 1864 Union miners lit a massive bomb underneath Confederate lines defending the transportation center, Petersburg. The mine of 320 kegs of gunpowder comprised of 8,000 pounds and were buried twenty feet below the trenches. The explosion killed several hundred Southern troops and wounded many more, however the Union attack was delayed, giving the survivors of the blast time to rally their forces and throughout the morning the Rebels shoot pointblank down into the crater at the heaving mass of Federal soldiers, black and white. The attack was called off, but not before Mars had reaped his crop of death.

So much slaughter over such a small piece of ground.

170 feet (52 m) long, 100 to 120 feet (30 to 37 m) wide, and at least 30 feet (9 m) deep.

Over 5000 casualties, mostly Northern.

Grant wrote to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, "It was the saddest affair I have witnessed in this war."

The killing ground is now covered by grass.

And the dead are at rest.