Friday, May 18, 2018

WALK LIKE A WOMAN by Peter Nolan Smith

Billy Wilder’s SOME LIKE IT HOT was a funny movie about two musicians hiding from the Mob in an all-women band and I didn't think much about men dressing as woman, until my next-door neighbor asked me in his basement, “Who you think is prettier? Jack Lemmon or Tony Curtis?"

“Neither.”

The year was 1964 and men in dresses weren’t supposed to be pretty to twelve year-old boys on the South Shore of Boston.

"Yeah, but if you had to make a choice, who would it be?" Chuckie Manzi was my best friend, but this was a weird question.

"I pick Marilyn." She was the logical choice.

“Marilyn's dead and you wouldn't want to make love to a dead women, so if you were on a deserted island with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, who would be your wife?”

“I would kill myself before marrying either of them.”

The Catholic Church condemned men dressing as woman an abomination, however the priests wore long black cassocks, which they looked like dresses to me and I kept my distance from priests as would any twelve year-old atheist.

"You know they have a word for men who wan to be women? Drag queens and not drag like drag racing."

"I know." I had heard that term in school and the words were not spoken in a nice way. It was obvious that these ‘women’ traveled a rough road in life.

"Some of them are supposed to be pretty."

"Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are not pretty."

"You're no fun." Chuckie gave up on getting an answer.

A year later I caught Chuckie in his sister’s lingerie and high heels. For a second I thought he was his sister Addy. I was in love with my ex-babysitter. Chuckie smiled and said, “I just wanted to fell what it was like.”

“Right.”

We remained friends throughout the 1960s and when Ray Davies singing on Kinks’ hit song LOLA, “She walked like a woman and talked like a man.” Chuckie asked, “You ever see a man walked like a woman and talk like a man?”

“Once at the Greyhound Bus Station. I had bought Levis jeans at Walker’s Jeans on Boylston Street and was walking to South Station.”

“Through the Combat Zone?”

Strip bars, gay clubs, porno parlors, and prostitution in Boston’s adult entertainment district

“Yeah, I was looking for something at Jack’s Joke Shop and outside the Hillbilly Ranch and a man in a dress was fighting a sailor, who hadn’t paid her.”

“Who won?”

“The drag queen. They’re tough, because they have to be tough. You still try on Addy’s lingerie.”

“No, I outgrew that.”

“You could always try on your mother’s undies.”

“Fuck off.” Chuckie dropped this subject forever.

After high school we grew apart.

I attended a Catholic university on the outskirts of Boston and drove taxi to pay for an apartment near the campus. My last fares of the night were from in the Combat Zone; mostly go-go dancers, drunks, and a few drag queens from the Other Side. The trannies were good tippers and several were more attractive than the strippers from the Two O'Clock Lounge.

Most of the drag queen fares went to cheap hotels with straight men. Neither passengers spoke much en route and after dropping them off for a night of wicked sex in a cheap hotel I couldn't help, but sing Lou Reed’s WALK ON THE WILD SIDE, “In the back room she was everyone’s darling.”

In 1971 I didn’t know what a back room was, but a move to New York in 1976 opened my eyes, because sexual frontiers were blurred in a city where people answered their desires with a constant yes.

I frequented gay bars with queer friends from the ballet. My queer friends told the fag hags that I had doubts about being a homo. These models, air hostesses, and strippers thought they had could cure me and they were right, because I was mostly straight.

One night at the Anvil I was waiting for my friends to end their voyage to Sodom in the back room.

No girls were allowed in the bar, so I was surprised by an attractive slender brunette sitting next to me.

She could have graced a fashion runway in her pink tube top and hot pants.

A long lacquered nail touched my shoulder.

”Can you buy me a drink?”

The faux falsetto betrayed why the bouncer permitted her into the Anvil and I ignored her request.

“Do I have to beg?” She twirled a strand of long brown hair around her finger. It was a good act and I laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, just thinking of an old song.”

“Let me guess,” she sighed with a roll of her eyes. “LOLA.”

“Yes.” I wasn’t a good liar after a few drinks.

“Too bad it wasn’t a song you want to dance to like Diana Ross’ LOVE HANGOVER.”

“Why?” The ex-Supreme singer had scored a big hit with that song in the gay discos.

“Because I’m a good dancer.” She wiggled her shoulders like a Times Square go-go girl

"I bet you are." I signaled the bartender for two drinks.

“My name’s Dove. How you like to go in the back room with me? You can do anything you want.”

“No thanks."

“Why? Do you think I’m unattractive?” Her lips pouted with disappointment.

"You're every man's dream, if I were that type of man."

“I know you’re straight. That’s why I sat here.”

“I thought it was to hustle me for a drink.”

“Fresh.” She slapped my hand. “I have my own money.”

She flashed a thick roll of twenties.

"I'm kept by a very important person."

"Who's your VIP?"

"A US senator from Dixie."

"Which one?"

"If I told you, he'd have to kill you, but I accompanied him to Jimmy Carter's inaugural ball. Every man there was stumbling over their feet to worship my high heels, especially those wicked Republicans. They really have a thing for girls like me."

“I bet they do.”

After that comment the two of us conversed about politics, love, and sex.

I wasn't in a hurry.

I ordered more drinks.

My friends were lost in the Anvil's snake pit.

An hour later I waved for the bill.

"Where you going?"

"Home." I lived in a SRO room on 11th Street and 5th.

“So I guess this means you’re going alone?”

“Sorry.”

I almost kissed Dove goodnight, but instead shook her hand.

“Don’t be sorry, one night you and I will get it together."

"Never," I answered too fast to be telling the truth.

"I’m patient.”

She stood up to twitch a hip as a calling card for that future date in Never-Neverland.

Dove was not only patient.

She was persistent.

I refused her at the Mudd Club, Studio 54, CBGBs, Hurrahs, Xenon, the Kiev, and Dave’s Luncheonette.

"One night you and me."

"Never."

And I thought never was forever, then on Halloween in 1980 I attended a black tie Paloma Picasso party honoring the NY Ballet at Danceteria on 37th Street. The illegal nightclub was packed with Upper East Side slummers and after an hour of champagne I went to retrieve my leather jacket from the coat check.

While waiting in line a young ballet boy stumbled into me. His clumsiness was not from too many drinks. A brutish six-footer shook the dancer by his tuxedo lapels. The stitching of the ballet boy's evening suit gave way and I slashed my arm down on his aggressor’s wrists, breaking the bully's grasp and the gay boy fled gracefully into the crowd.

“Why you do that?” the thug demanded with eyes blurred red with Dexies.

“Because I didn’t feel like being bumped into, while you beat up on a fag.”

“And what are you going to do about it?” His hands clenched into fists.

Boys from Boston didn’t back down and I lashed a right to his mouth. The punch staggered him. He spit a tooth in my chest. I had a fight on my hands and not a good one. I threw lefts and rights faster than his counters, but my heavy opponent weathered the blows without any sign of damage and backed me up to the wall.

I was in trouble, until two bouncers stopped the brawl.

They knew me and threw the Jersey boy out of the club.

Two ballerinas praised my standing up against this gay basher and I exit Danceteria with them in tow. On the street I waved down a taxi.

My hand never reached the air, because something struck the base of my skull. Hard.

I fell into the gutter and pulled my arms over my head.

A second blow booted my ego past my superego into my green emerald id pulsating with lightning.

This was not a good sign. Finally someone asked with a Jersey accent, “Have you had enough?”

"Yes."

I sat up with great difficulty.

“No you haven’t.” The thug cracked my skull with a chain wrapped around his fist and strode away the victor.

I rose to my feet shaken to the bone.

"Are you all right?" asked a young handsome photographer on the scene.

I had seen him around. His name was Marcus.

"I think so." My teeth were intact and my nose was unbroken.

"He would have killed you if I hadn't have pulled him off." Marcus was clearly horrified by the damage to my face.

"I owe you one." I glanced in a car mirror. Blood drooled from a dozen cuts and my skull was swollen with blossoming bruises.

I took a taxi home and stayed in bed for a few days.

Every second of my convalescence I plotted my revenge, for while New York was a big city, the nightlife in 1979 was a small scene consisting of maybe 3000 people. I would run into the thug again and I carried a slender stiletto to exact my payback.

Two weeks later a transvestite trapeze bar in Times Square opened in Times Square. Dove's lover was part owner and she invited me for a drink at the bar.

"I heard about you're saving that gay boy at Danceteria." She signaled the bartender for drinks.

"You're my hero."

She was smoking a Virginia Slim.

“Heroes don’t get the shit beaten out of them.” My facial bones were returning to their original positions.

“Well, you’re a hero to me and I’d love to show you how much.” The black Chanel dress revealed the best features of her Mia Farrow figure.

“Thanks, but I’m not really in a romantic mood.”

“I could change that in a second.”

Her hand caressed my thigh and she opened a Pond's Cream jar packed with cocaine shining with Bolivian pink.

"You, me, and an ounce of blow. How can you say no?"

"Not tonight." I rose off the stool.

“What wrong?” She was an expert judge of the mood of men.

“That guy who beat me up just walked into the bar.” I found the knife in my pocket.

The handle was as cold as the blood in my veins.

“I know what you’re thinking.” Dove pushed me back down and puffed on her cigarette. “But girls like me learn early how to take care of ourselves and our friends. I’ll take care of this.”

"This is something I have to do for myself."

"No, you don’t. Believe me, it'll better this way."

She read the murder in my eyes.

"This better be good."

"Silly man, this will be bad."

Dove stole through the crowd like a serpent seeking its prey. She sucked on her cigarette, until the ember burned a lava red. Dove winked at me and tapped the thug on the shoulder.

When he turned around, she stuck the cigarette in his eye.

Screaming he dropped to his knees.

Dove returned to the bar and asked, “Will you go home with me now?”

“How I can refuse?”

At my room we snorted blow, then necked and petted and groped without intercourse. The cocaine was too strong. I wished it hadn’t been.

In the morning Dove left my apartment, whispering that that my erection dysfunction was our little secret.

"Thanks."

"No, thank you, super-hero." Dove was a starlet of discretion.

Her bar lasted a half-year. Dove sold out her interest to the owners of Danceteria.

Over the next months Dove began to dressed like a Park Avenue divorcee with nova blonde hair and one day she told me that she was moving south.

"To Palm Beach."

"Big money country."

She shrugged a shoulder cloaked by Dior.

"The Senator isn't running for office and he wants to make me an honest woman."

"An operation?"

"Perish the thought."

"Good luck." Being beautiful was a powerful card to play with the rich.

"Thanks, but I was born lucky." She smiled knowing the odds weren't in her favor, but they never are for girls like her.

And now every time I hear WALK ON THE WILD SIDE I think about Dove, because she was everyone’s darling in the right mood and beat out Tony Curtis as my # 1 choice on a deserted island, although I couldn’t have foreseen that option in 1964.

Not even in my wettest dreams about a man who walks like a woman.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Holiday In Hell

A holy Iman dies in peace. He is astounded to be welcomed by St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

“Sorry about the no 72 virgins. In this heaven we spend our days in the glory of God, who is non-denominational. You’ll meet the truly blessed evolving into the truly blissed.”

The Iman accepts this heaven in all its goodness, but after a few weeks he goes up to St. Peter and says, “Heaven is great, but all those years on Earth when I was preaching about the horrors of Hell, I was often curious what Hell was actually like.”

“Pretty much as you envisioned it.”

“IS there anyway I can see it?” The Iman was more than slightly bored with the communal utopia of Heaven.

“Of course there is.” St Peter opens the Pearly Gates and points to a set of endless stairs. “You can visit Hell on a one-time visa. Two weeks. Do anything you want. You earned this holiday by all the goodness you create on earth. Get it out of your system and then return to the bosom of the Creator.”

“And I can go now?”

“Anytime you want?” St. Peter walks the Iman to the stairs. He is greeted by doe-eyed houris and escorted to a bar where Jimi Hendrix is playing LITTLE WING. Hitler painting the walls and Marilyn Monroe working upstairs in the Satan a Go Go. It’s great fun and time passes in the blink of an eye. The Iman says goodbye to everyone and climbs the steps to the Pearly Gates.

“So how was it?” St. Peter asks peering down the stairs.

“Not like I expected it.”

“Well, at least you got it out of your system. Back to the eternity of bliss.”

Unfortunately his holiday infected the Iman. He can’t stop thinking about hell. Heaven is all communing with the great oneness. He goes back to St. Peter and asks if there’s a way he could go back to Hell.

“Sure, but if you go you can’t come back.”

The Iman looks over his shoulder at the fleecy clouds and praying angels.

“No problem.”

“See you on Judgment Day.” St. Peter is all smiles like a dealer selling a hot shot and so is the Iman as he walks down the stairs, although this time the houris greet him with pitchforks. Fire laps his legs. His flesh is torn open by the demons.

“St. Peter, this isn’t the Hell I knew. Why’s it so different now.”

St. Peter shouts from the Pearly Gates, “That’s the difference between going someplace on vacation and living there.”

"Emissaries" Reading at MOTHERBOX Friday 5/18/18

Please join us for Emissaries, a night of candlelit readings and the launch of The Enthusiast, a limited-edition press specializing in talismanic bindings at MOTHERBOX on Brooklyn

Friday, May 18, 2018 8PM

MOTHERBOX 405 Flushing Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11205

Hand-bound editions of Vroom-Vroom by Geoffrey Bridgman, Transcriptions by Katherine Finkelstein, Famous for Never by Peter Nolan Smith, Of Flowers and Shadows (or Springtime in the City of the Vital Dead) by Damon Stang, and Lumpy Log, a book of poetry by Clara Lip, will be available after the show.

NOTHING BETTER THAN PIZZA by Peter Nolan Smith

Back in 1995 I left the USA after the death of my younger brother. My plan was to visit the holiest places in Asia to expiate Michael's sins. I was a non-believer, but felt this pilgrimage would help his soul on the other side.

By late August I was residing in old Yunnan city of Lijiang in Southern China. My hotel room had a view of the Jade Snow Dragon Mountain farther up the valley. Most travelers visited the old stone city with its traditional Naxhi influences and then headed off to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge on the Yangtze River.

I skipped the hike down the swollen gorge. It was rainy season and the footing was treacherous on the dirt paths.

Returning backpackers reveled each other with the legend of a lone Israeli hiker who fell from the trail and broke his leg. His cries for help were drowned out by the rushing rapids and he died of starvation within 20 feet of the trail. The story sounded like a myth, since the nationality, sex, age, and year changed with each telling.

Still I refused many offers from passing tourist to join their trek.

I was happy in Lijiang. The stores sold cold beer and I was friendly with two Frenchmen laying fiber optic cables between Lijiang and Dali, another tourist destination to the south. They asked why I was here. I explained how my younger brother had died of AIDS. We drank beer in Michael's memory. They said that they had been working on the project for a half-year without a break.

I suggested a day's holiday.

"Go where?" Jacques had driven most of the roads on Sichuan.

"Chengdu is twelve hours away." Yves had driven back and forth to pick up a transformer. "All through the mountains and the food is the same as here."

"My guide book says there is a ski slope on the Snow Jade Dragon Mountain, but none of the locals know anything about it."

"Pas vrai? Le ski ici?" Yves laughed in my face.

"Maybe they have a chalet with fondue."

"Fondue. Je reve du fondu," Jacques whimpered with an often dreamed desire. "Could it be possible?"

"Only one way to find out. We can drive there."

"Non, let's bicycle." Each of us had rented a bike to travel around Lijiang. It was a fairly flat town.

"On Sunday?"

Yves and Jacques were off both days of the weekend and they dedicated Saturday to recovering from a fierce Friday night of beer.

"Weather permitting." The Snow Jade Dragon Mountain was the end of the Himalayas. The vast expanse of Tibet lay across the provincial border. Storms brewed in the high peaks at all times of the year.

We agreed to this plan and on Sunday morning the three of us met for a quick breakfast of rice and eggs.

"On y va."

Yves was very fit and led the pace. He was soon out of sight. Jacques and I pedaled leisurely up the slightly ascending road with the wind in our faces.

The Snow Jade Dragon Mountain was to the left.

Clouds wrapped the snow fields. We rode the twenty miles in three hours. The thin air restricted our conversation to grunts. At the pass a badly designed billboard announced our arrival at the ski slope. It was a chute for toboggans.

Yves was waiting at a restaurant was serving rice and noodles in a chicken broth. The Chinese tourists happily slurped at the warm food. Jacques oared his noodles in the bowl.

"So much for the Jean-Claude Killy ski resort."

"At least they have beer." Yves had built up a good thirst after the long bike ride.

The ski slope ended up being a sled run. Skiing in Yunnan was a lie, but that came as no surprise, since the Chinese version adapted many western trends to their culture without shame.

The Frenchmen and I rode dirt trails back to Lijiang. Passing through small villages and abandoned monasteries Jacques' and Yves' conversation turned to food.

"Je morts de fain." Jacques was heavy-set, but his clothing were noticeably loose.

"The food here is better than most of China." Lijiang fare was consisted mostly of noodles and rice with a high quality of vegetables, but after a month's stay my belt was clinching tighter.

"I can't live on noodles and rice." Jacques came from Nice. "I want Oysters and bottle of vin blanc."

Yves countered by extolling the oysters of his native Normandy, while Jacques praised his hometown's bouillabaisse. I spoke out for Lobster Newburg from Boston's Durgin Park. I had been eating at that Haymarket finery for almost forty years.

"Oysters, bouillabaisse, Lobster Newburg." Jacques spat on the ground. "China has none of that."

"They don't even have simple foods like a baguette and cheese." Yves licked at his lips with a watery tongue.

"There's no cheese in China or baguettes, but there is a pizza shop in Kathmandu."

"Kathmandu? That is thousands of miles away." Jacques frowned at this choice. "We will not be going that way."

"But I will and I'll write to tell you all about it, because there is no better food in the world than pizza. My younger brother and I ate pizza at Villa Rosa in Wollaston once a month. I hoped that they served it on the other side of life.

"Peut-etre." Yves wasn't a true believer in pizza, but Jacques said, "J'adore le pizza."

"Moi aussi."

A month later I bid fare-well to the Frenchmen. They were stuck in Lijiang for another half-year.

"Write us about the pizza. We will be waiting." Yves wished me well.

"Better yet, mail us one. It can't be any worse than noodles." Jacques was serious and gave me $20.

I waved good-bye from the bus and traveled north to Chengdu, where I caught a flight to Tibet.

I stayed in Lhasa two months.

Everyday I lit candles at temples, circled the Jokhang every day counter-clockwise and clockwise, and spoke with rinoches or reincarnated monks. I told them about my dead brother. They said that they would pray for Michael. I wrote a letter to the Frenchman telling them that the food in Lhasa was even worst than that of Lijiang.

"Burnt hairy yak meat and rancid butter tea loaded with salt. Next week I'm heading to Kathmandu for pizza." My visa for China was at an end.

I hitchhiked on the Sino-Nepal Friendship Highway across the bone-dry desert to the rim of the Himalayas. A tourist van picked me up in Gyantze. The highway wound along the Bum-Chu River. The only signs of civilization were the Chinese checkpoints. We passed through Tingri and the road climbed 16,900 feet to the Yakrushong La. The snowy peaks stretched from east to west without a break. The pass was higher than any mountain in Europe. It was almost impossible to breathe.

The driver stopped at a caravansary.

Noodles and broth.

I ate nothing. The walls of the inn were covered by dusty flies. Even the beer looked dangerous.

By evening I passed through customs and booked a cheap room in a cheap hotel in Zhamgnmu. The filthy dining room served rice and noodles. I drank beer from the bottle.

In the morning caught a mini-van bound for Kathmandu. I refused all food on the road. Pizza was on my mind. We reached Nepal's capitol within five hours. I checked into the Yeti Hotel. The cheapest room was $20. I asked about the pizza. The desk clerk gave me directions and I hired a rickshaw to drag me to Fire and Ice on Tridavi Mag.

The restaurant was located in a new building close to the Royal Palace. The clientele was divided between rich Nepalis and homesick westerners. The menu offered l'Americano with pepperoni. I ordered a small pie with a Chinese beer. The waiter brought a glass filled with ice. I wasn't scared of amoebae. I had survived yak meat in Tibet.

A half hour later the pizza came with a knife and fork.

I stared at the plate for several seconds. The Villa Rosa served something else.

"Is there anything wrong, sir?" The waiter must have seen my expression of disappointment on the face of other pizza lovers.

"Nothing at all."

The pizza was nan covered with clouts of goat Nepali cheese topped by a thick ketchup sauce. The pepperoni sweated on the heated pizza. I lowered my head to the plate. It smelled like pizza and I picked up a piece. My first bite told the truth. This was Nepal and there wasn't any better pizza within several thousand miles.

"How do you like the pizza, sir?" asked the waiter.

"It's the best in the Himalayas." I ate every crumb. My younger brother must have been laughing from the other side, but I asked the waiter, "Can I have two to go and packed them really well."

"Yes, sir."

I reached the Kathmandu Post Office ten minutes before closing.

The clerk secured the pizzas in a shipping box and I wrote the Frenchmen, "I love pizza."

And the pizza in Kathmandu certainly tasted better than yak meat, then again anything tasted good when you're hungry.

Three days later I was stricken with giardia. My intestines had been poisoned by bacteria. The source of infection couldn't have been the pizza, but I accused the ice for the beer.

It was the usual suspect in the Orient.

I suffered an assortment of unpleasant effects for a week: diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, loss of appetite, passage of gas from more than one orifice, and horrible weakness. My planned trip to Annapurna was delayed by the illness. The hotel staff was very helpful. They dealt with giardia on a daily basis and knew of one cure.

Tea and toast was my diet for 7 days.

Once I was better, I put myself on the scales at the hotel.

175 pounds.

I had lost nearly 15 pounds.

And my first real meal was pizza l'Americano.

Beer.

No ice.

Nothing was better than pizza and my younger brother knew that too.

Especially at the Villa Rosa.

Both in this life and the Here-After.

Public Knowledge

Several years ago the beach resort of Pattaya announced plans to place public urinals along the Beach Road to better serve the nearly five million tourists expected that high season. Most sunbathers piss in the sea and beer drinkers relieved themselves in the bars along the busy road. Everyone else has to hold their water until the city actually follows through the the Mayor's plans.

I bet the chances of hong-nams being financed very good, but the money will disappear before a single WC can be built.

Paris was famous for its green pissoirs. Over 1200 were in service during the 30s. These vespasiennes were replaced by more profitable pay toilets. Only one pissoir on Boulevard Arago survived the 20th Century. I haven't ever used the new ones.

Not everyone is in favor of public toilets.

Gabriel Chevallier's 1934 book CLOCHEMERLE satirized the attempts of a small village to erect a urinal next to the Catholic Church.

In the end no one is happy with the new arrangement and those in need resorted to the nocturnal tradition of pissing against the church. The novel made the town of Vaux-en-Beaujolais famous.

In 1984 New York closed its subway toilets. The bathroom were homosexual dens of iniquity known throughout the gay community as tea rooms. The city has been discussing designs for a street toilet ever since without any installations on the sidewalks. Public urination remains a crime on the police books and I have avoided citation by holding my telephone to my ears as I violated the city statute.

The most famous urinal in history in Marcel Duchamp's 1917 Fountain signed R. Mutt.

My favorite urinals are those in PJ Clarke's bar

.

Big and comfortable.

Works of functional art.

For as long as the bars remain open.

So good luck Pattaya.

Until then I will pee in the sea.

20 million Europeans do the same in the Mediterranean every July morning in the South of France.

It's only natural.

Lijiang 1995

In the summer of 1995 my younger brother, Michael, passed from this world and I voyaged around the world on my way to Tibet, where I would pray for his soul. I stayed short times in LA, Honolulu, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai.

In September I flew north to Kumming and after a few days traveled from Dali to Lijiang.

A four-hour trip by bus.

Yunnan Vvillages dotted the roadless slopes of steep valleys. I was the only gwai-lo on the decrepit bus. A villager opened a bottle of soda. The cap revealed a winning number. 5000 yuan. More than a thousand dollars.

I understood no Chinese, but two weasel-faced men befriended the wary villager. They tried to get him off the bus, but the driver refused them to steal the villager's prize.

The bus driver was a good man.

Lijiang had been the capitol of the Naxi people from the year 658 AD to 1107 AD serving as a southern Silk Road outpost for caravan voyaging from Burma, Yunnan, Tibet, and Persia. So far the old Baisha city had survived the urbanization wiping out ancient China and the centuries-old neighborhood has been declared a World Heritage site with good reason.

Stone buildings bordered the meandering streams and Naxhi music floated on the air, having been protected from the Cultural Revolution by the remoteness of Lijiang.

I picked a hotel on the outskirts of old city.

Chairman Mao hailed my arrival.

I was the only one to salute back the Chairman.

My hotel room on the the 4th floor room was simple. The bed was comfortable and the window offered a view of the Jade Dragon Mountain. Clouds covered the 5500-meter Himalayan peaks. The Naxi called the tallest Mount Shanzidou. In 1987 two American mountaineers had scaled its heights and said the climb was very dangerous.

I set up my typewriter on the desk, content to be far away from the awe-struck tourists on the Great Wall of China.

I turned on my Sony Worldband radio. Women from around the world were flocking to Beijing for an international congress.

Hillary Clinton was coming to address the conference.

She was married to the president of the USA.

The BBC said the Chinese Authorities were at a loss as to how to handle these 'guests'.

There were thousands of them.

Wanting freedom.

From men.

Naxhi women were hard workers. The traditional matrilineal family had been eradicated during the Cultural Revolution, however the dominant females retained the right to leave their wealth to women. Men were rarely seen working the fields.

Some tended to tourists in the old town.

At night they got drunk.

Beer was cheap in China.

I got drunk too.

Like I said beer was cheap in Lijiang.

Sadly the restaurants in Lijiang offered a very limited menu.

Noodles, noodles in a broth, scallion pancakes with noodles.

Plus a tasty Yunnanese specialty.

狗 or goĆ¹ or dog.

I had eaten dog in the Spice Islands. I ordered a plate. The backpackers regarded me with horror. Gou was a good change from noodles.

After dinner I attended a concert of Naxhi music. The Baisha xiyue orchestra consisted of antique Chinese musical instruments like the flute, shawm, Chinese lute, and zither.

The multi-tonal repertoire was hard on Western ears and I left early to search for bootleg cassette tapes in the night market. I stopped at a stall run by Tibetans. The Buddhist nation bordered Yunnan.

After drinking a few beers at a river cafe I wandered out of the old city to my hotel. The night manager handed over the key to an old lady, who accompanied me to my room. I turned on the TV. A young woman was reading news. I didn't understand a word and sat at my typewriter. My fingers said nothing and I laid in bed listening to Jeff Beck on A TRAIN KEPT ROLLING.

I fell asleep by the light of the stars.

I couldn't count how many.

In the morning I walked down to the main square. The city was asleep. A few backpackers were slurping down noodles. An old man ate dumplings. I signaled to the cook I wanted the same and wrote in my journal. The shuijiao were pork-filled and another welcome detour from noodles. The old man sat at my table and pointed to my block-script writing.

"English not beautiful."

He painted a Chinese character in my journal along with other characters and stamped a red print to the right.

"Love."

"Meili?"

He nodded and corrected by annunciation.

I spoke all languages with a Boston accent.

Huang Fu invited me to his studio. I told him he spoke good English.

"As a young man I go school for English. A lucky man," he laughed and explained his name meant 'Rich future'.

"Good joke. Father not see no one have fortune with Mao. My family not lucky. I # 1 son. Red Guard sent me camp. Almost die."

"Bad times."

"Yes, but then they sent me here. Mao want kill all 'olds'. Here far from Beijing. We walk here. Red Guard beat us. We get house. Have food. Red Guard hate here. Hate Naxhi. Everyone hate them. We go back to old ways. I write. Come I show you."

We entered his house. The long rolls of Chinese characters covered the walls. Writing implements crowded the tables. Two friends followed us inside. They told their stories. The same at Huang Fu. We drank tea and Huang Fu drew on paper.

"This tell story Chinese win victory over America in Korea."

He was proud of his nation's fighting MacArthur to a stalemate.

I told him about my Uncle Jack killing hundreds of PLA soldiers at the Chosin Reservoir.

"War not good."

We nodded in agreement, but I could tell that Huang Fu believed his country to be in the right, even if he was forced to live far from the center of the world and thought about Ezra Pound's translation of Li Po's poem EXILE'S LETTER.

I went up to the court for examination,
Tried Layu’s luck, offered the Choyu song,
And got no promotion,
And went back to the East Mountains white-headed.

I wasn't in exile, but I was far from New York.

For a good reason.

To pray for my brother in Tibet.

I gave Huang Fu a photo of me and the Statue of Liberty.

"Big lady," he laughed and said the same to his friends in Chinese. They laughed too and he gave me the calligraphy drawing of the USA defeat. I handed him 100 yuan. We shook hands weakly. No one in the Orient liked that Western habit.

I walked down alleys to the hotel.

I spotted a Chinese motorcycle on the street.

It looked like a BMW and a good ride to Tibet.

Zhongdian was only six hours away and the road to Lhasa ran west from the frontier town.

I asked the owner if he wanted to sell the bike.

He shook his head.

I pulled out $1000US.

He shook his head again, signaling it was forbidden for foreigners to drive in China.

Later that after I learned from two Frenchmen that the road between Lequn and Nyingchi was very dangerous.

"How dangerous?"

"Fatal."

Five years earlier I had survived a head-on crash with a pick-up in Northern Thailand. The driver hated me. He had been at fault and the police had forced him to pay for the repairs to the motorcycle. I was lucky to escape with just a broken arm.

Even luckier in Bangkok.

Then again everyone is lucky in Bangkok until their luck runs out.

Bad roads had a funny way of killing good luck, so I decided to stay in Lijiang a little longer.

I rode a bicycle up the valley to the foot of the Jade Snow Mountains

The locals said there was a ski slope there.

I saw none.

I cruised leisurely down through the rural villages. TV antennae were the only sign of the New China that this wasn't the 14th Century.

Same as it ever was.

A single temple rested under trees.

The Buddhist monastery had survived the Cultural Revolution.

A lone monk inhabited the temple. He blessed me and asked in sign language where I was going.

"Tibet." I pointed west.

He smiled and picked up a stone.

"Tibet." He wanted me to take it to Lhasa.

I nodded with a smile.

It was on my way around the world and I was taking my brother with me.

Tibet was not far away now.

And neither was my brother from my heart.

He lives in the stars always.