Monday, November 20, 2017

Champagne At High Noon

My high school offered Typing 101. The class was taught by a woman. Every students were male. Xaverian-Westwood was all-boy. I was a math major. My foreign language was German. Typing 101 was for football players. Our team was State Champs.

9-0 in the Catholic Conference.

I took Creative Writing instead of Typing 101.

I never fathomed the effect of this teacher on this championship team, until I moved to New York in 1976.

I showed up at 55 Remsen Street in Brooklyn expecting a greeting from Ro.

The soft-skinned artist from the coalfields was the reason that I left Boston.

"You look like an angel under candlelight."

Lyrical.

Love. Sex. New York.

A magic formula.

Her ex-boyfriend answered the knock on the door.

"Ro's not here."

"Where is she?"

"She left to studying art in Paris.

I recognized the film

Sorbonne. Painting. PETRIFIED FOREST.

Going back to Boston was not in the cards and I moved into an apartment with a gay impresario from the Riviera Cafe. James Spicer had an extra bedroom in Park Slope. He had a typewriter. I wrote a screenplay about a hang glider thief.

D....Descending.

My typing was shit. My grammar was even worse. I should have paid attention in English 101 or taken Typing 101 with the football players.

They were 9-0.

My fingers sought letters on the keyboard like an elephant attempting to play Chopin. I typed with beauty instead of precision. My instrument was an Olivetti A series. I wrote the Detective Poems on this machine.

In 1982 I deserted Reagan America for France.

My job - physionomiste at the Rex Club.

The boite du nuit was financed by Actuel, a counter-culture magazine backed by an aristocrat ne'er-do-well. His New York writer Bernard Zekri liked my poetry. My broken meter was very very punk five years after the ANARCHY IN THE UK.

Violent Femmes, Toure Kunda, the Slits, the Bush Tetras and numerous other bands performed at the Rex. I met the underbelly of Paris. Models, drug dealers, artists, undercover flics, writers, poets, dancers et al. They came from everywhere. Paris was the center of the world outside of the USA.

A German from Hamburg asked if I could transcribe his girlfriend's interview of Bryan Ferry for Vogue. Vivaca was a top model from Georgia. A girl that beautiful never had to take Typing 101. Jurgen offered 1000 French Francs for the job. Almost $200US. I said yes and took the Metro from the Marais to 16th Arrondisement. I arrived at noon.

Jurgen lived in a small house on Rue de la Tour.

Stark decor.

He sat me in the white-walled living room with my typewriter.

A tape recorder lay on the table.

"Do you need anything?" Jurgen was a playboy.

Three years older than me.

No one knew what he did for money, but he drove a 67 T-Bird.

Same as Dennis Hopper in Wim Wenders' AMERICAN FRIEND.

"Some champagne and a glass. Crystal, if possible." I meant the glass, however Jurgen smiled and left the room. He returned with a bottle of Cristal-Louis Roederer and a single crystal flute. He thought that I was cool. I thought the same and we became friends to the end, despite my shitty typing and today I opened a bottle of Prosecco with my landlord, Andy Pollack. It was before noon. I finished my fill before 2pm.

Here's to you, Jurgen and all the bad typers in the world.

It's Post Time.

You Bet I Would - The Ritz In Paris

Hotels in Paris are very sexy.

Especially with naked models in the lobby.

STEVEN MEISEL
Kristen McMenamy, Ritz Paris, 1993

APOCALYPSE NOW AND THEN by Peter Nolan Smith

In 1968 I lied about my age and tried to enlist in the Marines soon after my 16th birthday. My mother refused to sign the papers. The Tet offensive fed her doubts about the final outcome of the Vietnam Conflict. Boys were returning in coffins, wheelchairs, or hooked on heroin. Returning soldiers were portrayed as drug addicted monsters. Dennis Halley came back with nothing more than a thirst for beer.

The twenty-year old had seen action near the DMZ. The Boston Globe had mentioned his heroics during the Tet offensive. My hometown’s John Wayne was dating my next door neighbor. Addy Manzi was the prettiest girl on the South Shore. We had vandalized an abandoned missile base of top of Chickatawbut Hill. The police had arrested me and I never gave up his or Addy’s name. I considered him a god and said that I was thinking about joining the Marines, while we were sitting by the Manzi’s swimming pool.

"Maybe you can convince my mother."

"Why you want to go?" He stared at the stars. "I want to get out of here." My hometown had three red lights, fifteen churches, and no bars. It was a suburban purgatory.

“I wouldn’t do that.” Dennis had a puckered hole in his arm from shrapnel and shook his head.

“Marines are taking a lot of casualties. Officers are gungho for promotion. One West Point fuck ordered my friend to get some beer. A mine blew up his truck. My man died for warm beer. Viet-Nam is fucked and if you don’t have to go, then don’t go. The nly people there are dumb fucks like me and poor white trash and blacks who can’t afford to go to college.”

“What about serving my country?” I believed in the American Way; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

“I spent two tours humping around rice fields, burning villages, and shooting at an enemy I couldn’t see. But one of them saw me good enough to shoot me. If I hear you signing up for the jarheads, I’ll kick your ass.” Dennis Halley had killed VC. His eyes squinted like he was a stand-in for Clint Eastwood in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY. "You want to leave this town, then join a carnival or circus."

“Okay.” I wasn’t arguing with my hero.

“Good, now give me some room.” He nodded to Addy. They wanted to be alone. I didn’t have to be told why and wandered across the lawn to my split-level house.

It was painted pink.

The strength of his advice changed my life. I became a hippie instead of a Marine. I protested the war with conviction. My father considered me a ‘commie’, but he didn’t want me to go to Viet-Nam. Like Dennis said the war was someone else’s fight and I avoided the last years of the war by attending college.

By the time I graduated in 1974 our troop levels were down to 1950 numbers, but more than 50,000 Americans had died in SE Asia. Hundreds of thousands more were fucked up by grievous wounds to body and soul. Few of them talked about their experiences and those that had not gone wondered whether they missed the glory of war.

No one spoke about the dead or maimed on the other side.

They were gooks.

Dennis broke up with Addy and moved to California.

In 1976 she and I kissed after my older brother’s wedding.

I was too drunk to attempt anything more in my family’s Oldsmobile.

Later that year I quit my teaching job at South Boston High School in 1976 and relocated to New York. The punk movement was my universe. Manhattan was heaven for a young man in his 20s. I had friends. My girlfriend from West Virginia loved me and I worked at a rock disco on West 62nd Street. My days were free and I spent them going to the movies.

Double bills at the St. Mark’s movie house.

3-4 films a week.

STAR WARS at the Whitestone Drive-in.

ALIEN on May 25, 1979 at a Times Square theater.

None was more important than the release of APOCALYPSE NOW on 15 August 1979 at the Ziegfield.

Everyone from the club showed up an hour before noon. The line ran around the block. The film had won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

This was the first day, first screening.

None of us had to be anywhere else in the world, but here. Whenever someone asked why we were waiting, we told them, "To see APOCALYPSE NOW.

""Damn." They disconnected with their day and bought a ticket.

We had unassigned orchestra seats.

The first showing was a sell-out and disappointed film buffs begged for tickets at any price. No one was selling and the thousand-strong audience filed into the West 54th Street theater with pride.

We bullied our way to the center of the seating.

At noon the lights dimmed to a semi-darkness. None of us were ready for what came next.

A jungle filled the screen and the repeating whoop of helicopters passing overhead strobed over the sound system.

Dust and fire.

The young boy next to me ducked, as if the rotor blade might slice off his head and then a byzantine strum of a guitar was followed by chimes.

The predominantly male audience gasped with recognition.

THE END by the Doors.

A man’s face upside down was overlapped with carnage.

A hundred matches ignited throughout the theater. Marijuana smoke clouded the air.

153 minutes later I walked into the steamy afternoon with a better understanding about why Dennis Halley was so vehement about my not enlisting.

APOCALYPSE NOW was a time machine back ten years.

“Do you think it was really like that?” My friend asked after fending off the next sitting’s questions about the film.

“Yeah.” I really didn’t know, but none of my friends who had been in Vietnam had spoken about the war. Some people told stories, but I figured those that knew didn’t say and those that say don’t really know. Now I had an idea and once more wished that I could have served in Viet-Nam.

Not to serve my country or kill VC, but to witness the spectacle of power and glory humbled by determination. It must have been something and I would gladly have risked my life to have the distinction of being a Viet-Nam veteran. Many men of my age felt the same way.

We had missed out on the Big Show.

Like Civil War re-enacters more than a few of them claim to have been overseas with various units and this past month two congressional candidates were caught in these lies by the Press. They had been telling war stories to their small town constituencies for years.

Everyone believed them.

They were no John Kerry, a Navy Lt. There weren’t even GW Bush, a Texas Air Force Reservist.

They were Dick Cheney, who had been out of the country and that goes for me too.

I fired no M-16. I never danced with hookers at the Fall of Saigon. My hair had been shoulder-length on that date. I had danced in the streets of Boston with hippie girls. Our side had forced the peace on LBJ, Nixon, the silent majority, and the military. I never expected a reward for taking a beating from riot police,but I’m getting old. The Department of Defense has yet to answer my requests for a pacifist pension.

The country looked at peace from eight miles high and I stared down at the mountains thinking about grunts humping 100 pounds backpacks up and down the slopes.

It was a long way from America.

Later that year Back at the diamond exchange I told the security guards about my trip. Andy had served one tour in 1968.

Army, but out of the motor pool.

He had had no wish to end up a dead hero.

“I’ve been writing the Pentagon for a pension.”

“For what?” Andy knew my stance of the war. He felt it was a waste too, but also that we had to stop the Reds from taking over the world.

“For all the years I protested against the war. Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, NVA is gonna win.” The chant had served as a slogan at demonstrations throughout the USA.

“Fuck that. You traitors will get nothing.” Andy spat out these words. The Brooklyn native was right-wing. His 2012 choice for president was the feisty Alaskan Sarah Palin.

Like my father he considers me a commie.

“And you deserve nothing. I landed in Danang at the beginning of the Tet Offensive. Bullets smacked into the charter jet and the sergeants yelled at us to take shelter. I spent the first three days in a trench praying for a truce. Mortar rounds landed ten feet from our shelter. I stayed one tour and got the fuck out. I don’t get a pension for it, so why should some long hair peace-nik.”

“Hey, the Feds give money to everyone. Why not me?”

“But you were never in Vietnam?”

“No, but I was in Cambodia.”

“You served in Cambodia?” Andy didn’t figure me for Army and he was right.

“No, I visited Phnom Penh and Laos too.” Both countries were next to Thailand. Thousands of farangs traveled to the borders for a visa renewal. I thought about Dennis Halley’s dead friend. He was one of thousands who never returned to the States.

“Hippie scumbag.” He gave the finger.

“Baby-killer.” I didn’t mean nothing by it and neither did Andy.

My fingers split into a vee.

The gesture had many meanings.

Fuck the French to the English archers at Agincourt, since the frogs lopped off prisoners' fingers to prevent their rejoining the killing ranks.

Churchill had transformed the vee into a sign for victory.

I remained true to the 60s.

“Peace.”

“And love.” Andy returned the gesture, because war was a young man’s game made dead serious by the decisions of distant old men and like everyone else who lived through those times we were glad to be sucking air into our lungs.

Here there and everywhere.

ps

The old Ziegfield Theater was closed by the greedy realtors.

No one fought in Vietnam for luxury condos.

But we all believe in peace no matter what.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Azzadine Alaia Ride The Stars

Azzadine Alaia was born in Tunis, Tunisia, an ancient city dating back to Carthage.

His family were wheat farmers, but his glamorous older sister nurtured his love of fashion and his mother's friend gave the young man VOGUE magazine.

Elegance extraordinaire.

After studying at Tunis' École des Beaux-Arts Azzadine lied about his age and migrated to Paris, the City of Light, where he was hired to be a tailleur at Christian Dior, because he was an Arab.

When the Algerian War broke out, Azzadine was let go.

"When I was growing up, I never heard the word 'racism.' It was only in Paris I encountered that."

He moved to Guy LaRoche and then onto Thierry Mugler after which he opened his line at his tiny apartment of Rue de Bellechasse.

Within his rooms he dressed the elite and the beautiful.

Marie-Hélène de Rothschild.

Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin.

And the reclusive Greta Garbo.

They rightly loved his sober hue and simple lines.

The diminutive designer was their secret weapon.

Ever the perfectionist.

As he said about another designer, "Karl Lagerfeld never touched a pair of scissors in his life."

Azzadine knew how to snip like a surgeon to frame a woman's body for beauty.

His name was murmured in the 1970s.

People discovered his work.

And they knew his dog.

Patapouf, le etoile de mode.

Le Super Punk.

"I put myself on the same level as everyone else around me - from the directrice to the workman, everyone. Except my pets - they are the Kings; you must treat them like royalty."

I moved to Paris in 1982 to be the physionomiste at the Bains-Douches .

The previous doorperson, Farida, had upgrade her life by haring her statuesque Levantine beauty at Azzedine's larger atelier off the Marais.

As did my good friend, Christine Bergstrum.

The exotic Marpessa.

And the lovely Candida.

A grace d'elle I was invited to dinners at the Rue du Parc-Royal.

Laughter, freidns, good food, the dogs, and the Napoleon de la mode.

It was the best of times and Azzadine voyaged into the heavens after French Vogue honored his genius.

He was a star.

"There is a sensuality about fabric. I think all materials should be inviting when they touch the skin. When I watch children stroking their mother's clothes, I feel that I have succeeded."

"My obsession is to make women beautiful. When you create with that in mind, things can't go out of fashion."

"Fashion will last forever. It will exist always. It will exist in its own way in each era."

After the death of his sister Azzadine retreated from the limelight.

He served his public at his atelier.

I guess he was more comfortable there.

"I would rather die than see my face in a car advertisement."

I feel the way way too and salute the grand master.

I did not know him well, but as a physionomiste I recognized his soul.

Azzedine shared his smile with the world a good smile and for me that says it all.

Bon Voyage, Mssr. Alaia.

You ride with the stars.

THE END OF RICE by Peter Nolan Smith


Thailand has many superstitions. One concerns rice.

Never joke while eating or else a ghost will steal your rice.

The ghosts will have to wait, for this is the beginning of the rainy season and throughout the Kingdom aging farmers are planting rice. The current price for jasmine rice per tonne from the wholesalers is between 15,000-20,000 baht, which has been guaranteed by the government since last year. Mothers and fathers call their children for help with the crop, but fewer and fewer Thai young work the fields. Manual labor is beneath them. As one old farmer said, "The only thing my son knows how to carry is a mobile phone."

Several years ago at dawn in Bannok my wife's father asked, if I wanted to plant rice.

"Plant rice. Know life Thai."

"I don't know."

I had seen rice planting all across South East Asia. It never looked like an easy job.

Not in Bali.

Not in Java.

And not in Thailand.

Maybe you not man. Maybe you ladyboy," joked Den.

"Ladyboys make more money."

Not you. You ugly ladyboy."

My mother-in-law, wife, and daughter laughed at the thought of me as a kathoey.

"Okay I'll give it a try."

Finish eat. Go field."

Nu begged off going. She had had her share of the rice fields as a child. Angie, my daughter came with me, carrying cold beers. She knew my weaknesses better than most.

We arrived at the rice paddies with the sun creeping over the palm trees.

Ten migrant Burmese were already hard at work.

To the west mountains marked the frontier.

The air was gentle, but the first rays of the sun promised a hot one by mid-morning.

"Paw-ter, not do rice," my daughter begged and pulled me from the path.

Angie was worried about my health.

I was not a young man, but neither was Den, who handed me a shoulder bag crammed with baby rice shots.

See me do."

He stepped off the path into the brown water and began the traditional repetition of planting rice without ever standing up straight.

Now farang." Den motioned for me to join him.

I stepped off the path. My bare feet sunk into the soft mud and the water lapped at my thighs. Old stalks poked at my tender soles. My technique of stick the rice shoots into the field were met with harsh criticism from the old farmer in Ban Nok.

"A pig shit rice better than you." Den was joking, but only half-joking about my effort. He was 65 and his fatless body resembled the starving Buddha.

"I never work rice."

"I see you never work rice." Den was planting twenty times faster than me and my daughter laughed from dry ground as did several of the Burmese migrants whom Den had hired to assist with the crop. They got paid about $5 a day with a meal.

I got nothing.

"Farang no work rice."

I had picked apples as a young boy on the South Shore, but couldn't recall working on a farm since then. Only ten minutes had passed and I was ready to call it quits. I headed for my daughter, who wore a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeved shirt to protect her skin from the sun. She grabbed cold beer from the cooler.

"You stop work?" Den nodded with satisfaction.

He had bet his wife that I wouldn't last more than fifteen minutes.

"Yes, I stop work." I sat on the dirt and drank a Leo beer in one go.

"You same all farangs."

"Same all Thais too. Where young Thai?" I waved my hand across the fields.

"Your daughter lazy."

"Not lazy. Not stupid same kwaii," Angie disrespectfully muttered under her breath and stormed back to the shaded rice shack.

"I last Thai. After me no Thai grow rice. Then they eat air," Den shouted after me. "Thailand old now. Not young. No one have baby. Only farang."

He was right, for Thais have been abandoning the rice fields for work in hotels, factories, and bars. Thai families have been shrinking too. Once Den's generation is gone, the communal rice tradition of long kek will disappear into the abandoned paddies.

Back at the shack I asked Angie, "If I am old and have no money, will you work rice so I can eat?"

"Mai." Her refusal was quick. "Growing rice for stupid people."

"Farmers aren't stupid."

"Then why they not rich?"

"Money isn't everything." Most rice farmers are hopelessly in debt to the banks and one in Asia worked harder.

"You want work rice?"

"No."

She brought another beer and hugged me.

"Same me."

My beer was very cold and I was glad she was my daughter.

Smart and loving.

Always.

Den came over to join me.

Angie gave him a beer.

We gave them together.

A Thai and a farang.

He souted for the Burmese to get back to work.

"They drink lao later. We too."

He is the last Thai I know.

Chai-yo.

Men Versus Women - The Eternal Struggle

"Women are always right and they are never more right then when they are wrong and you try to convince of this." Pascha Ray.

They're different creatures rom man as proven by this email from Brian LeBouef featuring a short story exercise written by a male and female student at the U of Phoenix.

The professor told his class: "Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right. As homework tonight, one of you will write the first paragraph of a short story. You will e-mail your partner that paragraph and copy me on the email. The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story and send it back, also copying me. The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back-and-forth. Remember to re-read what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. There is be absolutely NO talking outside of the e-mails, and anything you wish to say must be written in the e-mail. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached."

The following was actually turned in by two of his English students:

The Shine of Donyale Luna

America was white in 1964 from coast to coast, however Malcolm X preached resistance up in Harlem and Martin Luther King led marches in Selma, Alabama. Reacting to the blowing in the wind, Nancy White, the Harper's Bazaar editor, transported an unknown black teenage from Detroit to the starry heights of the international modeling set.

According to Wikipedia Donyale Luna was 5-11, flat-chested and X-ray skinny. Her legs were as stilt-like as a Giacometti sculpture, her fingers extended and spidery. She had caramel-colored skin, almond-shaped eyes, full lips and an oval-shaped face, which, in certain poses, portrayed an owlish surprise, as if she'd just been pinched from behind.

Half African and half Quechuan from the Andes the black model strode onto the runways of New York and Paris.

The world was hers.

London's Telegraph reported that Luna wrote a friend, 'New York is a dream… a man danced me down Fifth Avenue, and all up and down Broadway men were eyeing and whistling at me, and so many other unbelievable things. I'm really getting the works from head to toe by Harper's Bazaar's best! As soon as possible I'll send you a picture of the new me. I'll be on top of the world if it takes every breath I have, every muscle of my skinny body. I feel it, I know it. I'll be some kind of star real soon. Real soon."

Avedon shot her for Harper. After a violent family tragedy in which her drunken father had been shot dead by her mother in self-defense, Luna took solace with high class friends, but defected to London, as her career languished in racist America.

In the city of BLOW-UP she became a star for David Bailey, William Klein, Helmut Newton, William Claxton, and Dali.

"She had no tits, but lots of presence," quipped her model friend Pat Cleveland in the Telegram article. "We'd walk down the street and men's mouths would drop open in awe. When we walked into restaurants people would stop eating and stand up and applaud. She was like a mirage, or some kind of fantasy."

And like a mirage she vanished into the world of drugs and died a model's death in Rome.

A black beauty forever.

ps America is no longer all white.

No matter what white people think, because goddesses come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.