Friday, December 31, 2010
Even back in the early 60s finding a parking spot in Boston's North End was nearly impossible at the best of times, but my father miraculously found one in front of George's Lounge off of Hanover Street. Someone at work had told him that this restaurant served the cheapest and best Italian food in the neighborhood. My mother had six mouths to feed. Cheap and cheerful was always a good recommendation to her ears. The two burly men standing outside the eatery frowned at my father, but said nothing, as our tribe trooped into George's.
The restaurant had no customers. The men at the bar glanced over their shoulders and then returned to muttered conversations. The tuxedoed waiter approached our family, as if we were lost.
"You really wanna eat here?" He waved his hand at the empty tables.
"I have six hungry kids and you have food. Where else you want me to go?" My father came from Maine. There was only one Italian restaurant in Portland. Every Sunday night of my early years he would drive across the Martin Point Bridge from Falmouth Foresides to pick up pizza and antipasto, which we ate while watching THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW on our Zenith TV. We were no strangers to Italian cuisine.
"Nowhere but here. I give you da best table." A big booth underneath a painting of Naples. My father ordered meatball and spaghetti for us. My mother had a plate of pasta reeking of garlic. they shared a small carafe of red wine.
A few more men entered the bar.
They narrowed their gaze upon seeing us. One of them pointed at my father. They were scary like gangster just out of prison and I ate with my head down to avoid their black eyes. My brother did the same, but my mother and father ordered another carafe of wine. The waiter put a coin into the jukebox and played YELLOW BIRD. The men in the bar spoke louder, until my mother started singing along with Harry Belafonte.
I had seen her quiet a cathedral choir with her voice. My father beamed with pride as she wrenched every emotion from the Jamaican song. I was embarrassed by her singing so loud. In many ways I never understood her gift, however when she finished the men at the bar stood to give applaud my mother.
The toughest man crossed the floor to our table. A scar bisected his forehead. He bowed to my mother.
"Lady, you have the voice of an angel. My name is George. This is my place. Anytime you want to come, you call and we'll have a table ready for you and yours." He gave my father his card and waved for the waiter to bring another carafe of wine and ice cream for us.
My mother sang Dean Martin's THAT'S AMORE and VOLARE. Her rendition of those two songs sealed the eternal gratitude of the gruff clientele and her version of I'LL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN, KATHLEEN brought tears to every man's eyes.
We returned to George's at least once a month throughout the 60s. My father parked in front of the restaurant and his kids thought this driving feat was a miracle. We never strayed from the meatballs and my mother would sing a few songs for the bar. My father beamed with pride and love. She was the one woman in his life and his kids were his pride and joy, even as I rebelled against his way of life.
One night in the Spring of 1971 I decided to take my hippie friends down to George's. Hank Watson and two co-eds from BU. We took the T to Haymarket and walked under the Artery into the North End. The parking space in front of the restaurant was filled by a big Cadillac. The two men on the sidewalk blocked our entrance. Hank had hair down to the back of his ass. Mine was shoulder-length. Guys like us weren't welcome in the North End.
"Youse ain't coming in." One of them placed a hand in my chest. I looked over his shoulder. George was sitting at the bar. His eyes glared at me with a puzzled recognition and then he snapped his fingers.
"Hey, Louie, let them in, the good-looking one's the son of the songbird." George shouted from the bar. He waved me to the bar and shook my hand. "Drinks for the kid. How's your mother and father?"
"Good." The bartender served us wine.
"Come here. I wanna talk to you a second." George led me into the back of the bar. He spoke with a quiet voice with his arm around my shoulder. "Listen, I don't got no problem with longhairs, but my people they don't like hippies. You coming here is no problem, but other hippies and people will start talking, you understand?"
"Sure," By this time in my life I knew that George didn't earn any money from an empty restaurant and his source of income was his own business. "You want me to leave?"
"No, I can't do that to you, but next time dress a little better and only come with a girl. No friends. Out of respect for your mother."
"Whatever you want." I was a good boy still when it came to family. "Can I ask you one question?"
"That first time we came to your restaurant and my father parked in front. He wasn't supposed to do that, was he?" THE GODFATHER had come out the previous year. Any questions about George's business were answered in that film. He was one of those guys about whom no one talked if they knew what was good for them.
"That's my spot. Everyone in the neighborhood knows that, but when your mother sang it became her spot. Still is. Enjoy your meal and give your best to your mother." He started to walk to the bar, then stopped, "One more thing, don't ever tell your father that. He's a good man. Name's Frank, right?"
"I call him 'Dad' and my lips are sealed."
"Good boy, one more thing."
"Cut your hair. You look like your mother with that thatched roof."
"My mother?" Like most teenagers in the 60s I had told myself that I would never grow up to be my father. Nothing had warned me about my mother. The hair had to go.
"Yes, your mother."
I never mentioned this incident to my father or mother. Every time he drove into the North End my father would call George and the parking spot would be waiting for him and my mother. It was a miracle, but then again so was her voice.
Last night we're closing the diamond exchange and one of the security guards asked of my new year's plans. Big Dave's an ex-cop from Brooklyn. My neck of the city. Light black and the 300-pounder knows my hang-out, even though his favorite watering hole is Junior's on Flatbush.
"I'm going to Frank's Lounge, because I don't want to be with any whiteys. They only trouble on New Year's Eve." Every time I go into a white bar someone starts saying something stupid. If I was deaf, I could ignore these slurs against race, religion, and women. Problem is that I'm only near-sighted.
A trio of white ex-cops were waiting for last-minute pick-ups in the exchange. They worked as couriers for the diamond Jews. Most of these couriers were Italian from Bensonhurst or Howard Beach. The three of them stared at me as if I were a race traitor.
"Only brothers at Frank's and the most beautiful Chinese bartender in the world. Damn, am I in love with that woman." Rosa was a wetback slant from Mexico. The 23 year-old beauty had a good heart. Her boyfriends were losers. She deserved better and I would have been the best, if I were 30 years younger.
Chinks ain't much higher of the race scale for these guidos. My son and daughter are mixed. Half-Thai/ Half-Farang. Ha-sip ha-sip.
"Ain't no way a white man can get in trouble at a black bar." I never have fought with a black. Not of the basketball courts, streets, or bars. "My Uncle Jack warned me once, fight any white guy you want, but never a black man. He'll come back and stab you to death."
Big Dave said nothing. He read the hatred in his fellow officers' eyes. I couldn't have given a shit what they thought. None of them go to Frank's and wherever they're going I'm avoiding and going to be seen avoiding. Race traitors know their place on New Year's Eve and mine will be Frank's Lounge with Homer, Andy, Tyrone, Roe, Charlee, Harriet, Claudia, Larry LA and the big man himself, Frank. It's my home away from home.
I'll be easy to find too, since I'll be the only man in his 50s wearing a tuxedo.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
The first disaster in the Bible is the Flood. 9/11 was a modern catastrophe meant to change the way America lives. No more SUVs. No more fast food. No more stupid fat kids. Unfortunately this was not the case and New York was laid open for a winter attack of snow this Xmas weekend by the laissez-faire regime of the Bloomberg regime. Thousands of streets remained unplowed. Subways are running on weekend schedules. Sidewalks are buried under tundras of snow.
Adversity was supposed to bring out the best in people, however this Xmas storm showed the incivility of New Yorkers and most everyone else in the modern world. People only cared about themselves and cared about themselves at the expense of others. Blizzardholes were too numerous to count, but they could be categorized into five groupings.
Fifth, assholes owning cars who shoveled the snow into the street, then tried to drive to the local fast food restaurant, because they were too fat to walk through the snow.
Fourth, New Yorkers who had not prepared for the storm. They bitched about not being able to order Chinese food. I had ordered General Tsao's a day in advance knowing the problems facing those fearless delivery bicyclers in the arctic condition besetting the city on 12/26.
Thirdly was the right-wing media blaming the labor unions for not clearing the streets with flamethrowers or neutron bombs so they could get to fast food joints to get fatter than anyone else in New York. I had to clear my sidewalk. 30 feet. It took me two hours. Mayor Bloomberg cut 1000 sanitation workers in order to save tax cuts for the Rich in the Upper Easts Side. No one is pointing a finger in the direction of John Paulson or other hedge fund directors, because they're on St. Bart's.
Second comes fat people walking down the streets of New York with a cup of coffee in this mitt, while text their loser friends about how high they are on caffeine. What the fuck about saying no to coffee?
Sell it to China.
Balance the trade deficit.
And Blizzardhole #1 has to be Mayor Bloomberg.
Too many reasons why, but mostly because he paid $100 million to convince New Yorkers that his opponent had no chance against his money machine.
He doesn't give a shit about the cars stranded in any of the boroughs.
Ain't he rich enough to not care what we think?
My opinion of people is based on the premise that we are all the same. Everyone wants good for themselves, their families, and friends. Adolf Hitler is the exception instead of the rule, however my boss on 47th Street holds people in a different regard. The year was 1994.
All people are pieces of shit." Manny was adamant in this declaration. The 60 year-old tough guy had been selling diamonds for over 40 years when I joined his employ in the diamond exchange. This view was heavily jaundiced by experience. Little of it good. "And the worst are your family."
I argued against his damnation of Man.
"You're a communist. What would you know?"
"People will prove me right." I was in my late-30s. Friends had done plenty of favors for me. They had lent me money without ever asking for it back. Few had the courage. I had been the meanest man in the world during the 80s. Nightlife does that to a man.
"People will prove you wrong wrong wrong and it won't take long." Manny came from Brownsville. Danger was a way of life in that part of Brooklyn. He pointed his PBK at me. It normally was in the safe.
"Fuck you, Manny." I wasn't scared of him. I had taken the bullets out of the clip a month ago. "You're wrong."
"No, you're wrong wrong wrong." Manny had to have the last word and each time I failed to close a deal on a sale that week, he would wait until the customer left the store and say, "Another piece of shit."
"They said they would be back." All customers said that.
"Never, because they're pieces of shit."
His son and my friend, Richie Boy, told his father to lay off. Manny swore at him too.
"What are you getting weak too?"
His 'piece of shit' sermon killed my drive and I contemplated just quitting, until a couple from Denver walked into the shop. They were looking for an engagement ring. The budget was $10,000. The price of a good 2 carat round stone.
They were both lawyers. Horrible buyers since they spent their lives listening to the lies of their clients. The woman was in her early 30s. She had dedicated her life to the law. It had washed the soul from her body. Her fiancee looked as if he had been kicked in the head by a horse. Manny was mouthing 'piece of shit'. I gave him the finger and turned back to the forlorn couple. Pity got the better of me.
There was a 2 carat F/VS1 round brilliant diamond in the front window. A gem stone. I pulled it out of the tray and showed them the ring. It put fire back in her heart and her beau said, "How much?"
"9500." It cost us 8000. Manny grimaced at my success. His 'piece of shit' campaign had been thwarted by these sad, but good people. "How will you being paying?"
"Credit card. Visa." He dropped the plastic on the glass counter. Manny went to the bathroom. The defeat on his face could not be wiped off by toilet paper.
"Better than Amex. That cost us 4%" I told them about our charges and added 3% to the price. Richie Boy gave me the thumbs up. My commish was $400. A nice pay day for the firm and me.
"Can you put that in writing?"
"Sure, why not?" I wrote up the invoice as requested. They paid tax and later that afternoon I shipped the ring within a pretty box to Denver. As we were shutting the store, Manny examined the bill and said, "What's this?"
His finger pointed at my handwriting at the bottom of the bill.
"Why did you write that about 3% extra for Visa?" Manny should have been a lawyer. His voice was draped with accusation. Luckily for the guilty he had dropped out of high school at age 15.
"Because they asked me too."
"And if they asked you to jump off a bridge would you do that too?"
"Fuck off, Manny. I made a good sale. My mind calculated 3% on $9500. Almost $300. "If it's a problem, I'll make good for it."
"Richie, you heard him say that?"
"Yes." Richie Boy was my friend, but he was his father's son and shit doesn't drop far from a donkey's ass. In other words blood was thicker than water, except when it wasn't thicker than water.
A week went by and it came time to settle up for the commish. I showed Manny my figures. He smiled and pulled a letter from the pile of letters on his desk. "Remember that nice couple from Denver?"
"Well, they called Visa and said that you had charged them 3% extra for using their card. Visa said that this was against their policy and if we didn't refund the money then they would pull our account."
"Shit." $300 was almost the rent for my apartment on East 10th Street.
"No, pieces of shit those nice people and it could have cost you $300, except I'm a nice guy and for one time and one time only I'll ignore this lapse of judgment and you know why?"
"No." But I had a good feeling I was going to hear why.
"Because I'm a bigger piece of shit than anyone else. I told Visa that I didn't know this and would never do it again, but would always figure the cost into my future invoices. It took an hour, but we fucked those 'nice people'."
"Thanks, Manny." And I meant it and I also acknowledged his victory.
People are pieces of shit, but at least Manny was my piece of shit and sometimes that better than anything else in the world.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Monday, December 27, 2010
Two years ago I left Thailand for the USA. My good friend AP promised a soft landing. I had $100 in my pocket and Mam was pregnant with our son. No job. No place to live. Pressure and stress. I survived that summer as a dog minder in Palm Beach. Pom Pom was a crackhouse refuge from the dog shelter.
80 pounds of angry Airedale.
The local police had Pom Pom on a 'put-down' list, if she attacked another dog or human being. We lived in a mansion. My pay was $350/week. Most of it was remunerated to Mam. Some of it to Angie's mom. I lived on $50/week.
The owner of the mansion, Derek Sabre, said I could drink his liquor. The cellar was stripped of non-vintage wine two weeks before the family's return from Italy. being sober wasn't either, but I never lost my temper with Pom Pom. She was cured of her attack mode. Derek was happy. His wife called me a miracle worker.
I returned to New York and my friends asked where I had lived on Palm Beach. i couldn't remember the address. They thought that It was another story, even after I showed them photos of Pom Pom and the house.
My next domicile was with Vladmar in Williamsburg. A basement room next to the boiler. Vladmar was a collector. The path to my room was a crooked canyon of boxes containing discard clothing and comic books. The rent was $600/month. I couldn't afford anything better. Fenway was a baby and Angie was going to school.
Richie Boy gave me a job at his new store in the Plaza Hotel. He asked my address. I told him the street.
"What's the number?"
"I don't know."
And I never did for almost a year.
Over a year ago I moved out of Vladmar's basement after discovering my cold weather clothing covered with fungus. AP offered his top floor for the same price as Vladmar's dungeon. A floor-through with a western view. I have gone from the worst place that I had ever lived to the best and the rent was the same.
"What's the address?" Richie Boy asked one afternoon. We had closed the Plaza store. It had been a disaster. I was once more on 47th Street.
"I don't know." My mailing address was the store. I knew the way home from the nearest bar. Frank's Lounge on Fulton. The number was unimportant, until Ms. Carolina asked for my address this Xmas.
"How can you not know your address?"
"I am where I am."
"You are such a precious pill." She sighed with resigned exasperation. "No address. No apple pie."
I'll get the address." Ms. Carolina's apple pie was the best in the world. It took me a week to email her the details.
She laughed at my GPS-less sense of position.
"You most certainly are where you are."
And I like it just fine in Fort Greene.
This Xmas Ms. Carolina a
My daughter was born seven years ago on New Year's Day. My son will be two and a half. My two step-children are still under ten. I love them all and reacted immediately to their mothers' request for money by tramping through the snowdrifts of Brooklyn to the nearest Duane Reade to send money.
"Couldn't it wait until tomorrow?" a friend of mine asked from the comfort of his house.
"Kids don't wait for nothing." I was standing on Fulton Street, snow tornadoes tugging at my winter clothing. The temperature was minus 3 Fahrenheit. I felt none of the cold only the warmth of taking care of my kids.
I'm a bad man, but have a little good in me too.
Not bragging, just telling the truth.
Few holidays are more commercialized than Christmas. The chorus of BUY BUY BUY on TV drowns out any rendition of SILENT NIGHT, as hordes of Americans flock to the malls in their SUVs to buy products made in China. Credit cards are whipped out at the cash registers to complete their Xmas gift list on December 23 and 24, the last two shopping days of the shopping frenzy. My last purchases on Christmas Eve were two beers at Jacob Wirth's in Boston, a good luck cat from a Chinatown shop, and a T ticket from South Station to Braintree.
My hand went into my pocket in the train parking lot. My sister had bet that I wouldn't be on time. Our first rendezvous of 5:45 was blown, so I doubled or nothing for 6:10. I was three minutes late. Her lovely daughter Sara got the $20. I sat in the back of their Benz and we drove through Weymouth Landing to a party at my old neighbor's house. The orgy of buying was over. It was time to consume.
Drinks, food, friendship.
My cup slippeth over and my other brother-in-law dragged me from the house, a glass of whiskey in my hand.
My exit was cheered by the stayers-on. David said, "You won the drunk of the party award."
"There was never any doubt in my mind."
The next morning I woke in a wounded state. I called my kids in Thailand. They were happy and Mem still had a little money left in her wallet. I wouldn't have to go to send a Moneygram on Christmas. We opened gifts and no money passed any out of or into any of our hands. Dinner was free and I begged off going to the movies with my nephew and my sister that evening to drink with my brother-in-law.
I crashed on the sofa around 10pm.
A day without money.
If only every day was Xmas.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
December 23 was my last day of work for the holiday season. Richie Boy and I had worked three weeks solid. An extra hour was added to the schedule in hopes of last minute shoppers. There were none. Jewelry was x-ed off Santa's list this year, although Richie Boy held high hopes for December 24.
"I can't believe you're leaving on the biggest shopping day of the year."
"I'm going to Boston to be with my family." I had skipped the trip in 2009. My Xmas mood was Elvis Presley 'blue'. The day was spent drinking wine at Frank's Lounge. This year was different. My father's death in November slashed the fabric of my universe. I shrugged to Richie Boy. "I'm done."
"Okay, if that's the way you feel." At the end of the day he gave me my salary and bonus. A little more generous than 2009.
Richie Boy, his father, and I drank a bottle of wine after the safe was locked for the evening. It was 7pm. We drank another and toasted our effort this year. In the summer we were dead in the water, but Richie Boy and I and Manny pulled off some lucky sales.
"See you next week." I went home to Fort Greene to pack my bags with gifts for my nieces and nephews. Sleep came early as did my morning alarm.
On the Fung Wah bus to Boston by 10.
South Station by 3.
Two beers at Jacob Wirth and a train to the South Shore for a joyous reunion of friends and family at my old next door neighbors. I drank Black Russians, wine, and a glass of Irish whiskey. My brother-in-law said that I was the loudest person at the gathering.
"Then I accomplished my mission."
Christmas morning I awoke on their couch. I had changed into pajamas. My breath could melt chrome off a tailpipe. I blamed the cat. Shadow. Christmas dinner was recounting on family tales. Laughter following accusation of mendacity. My stories were constant targets and I said, "All stories are true if interesting."
My sister went to the movies with her son, daughter, and her new boyfriend from Maine. I sat with my brother-in-law and his good friend. We planned a May assault on Mount Washington. Vodka-tonics gave us courage for the future climb. We were all the same age.
His son returned from seeing THE FIGHTER with the phone plastered to his ear. Orbitz had called him. His flight to DC had been canceled due to the threat of a blizzard. Continental couldn't get him back until Monday. Amtrak wasn't accepting reservation on the Acela. There was only one option.
This morning we woke at 7:45 and his father drove Matt and me into South Station. We caught the 8:30 bus to Chinatown. The driver valiantly disobeyed every traffic law to get us into Manhattan within four and a half hours. The snow was light. I brought Matt over to the DC bus on Allen Street. It left at 1:30.
"I'll be home by 6." He hugged me goodbye. Matt and I have always been close.
"Are you sure you don't want to stay with me?"
"No, I want to get home."
"Good luck." I felt the same way and subwayed over to Lafayette and Fulton. The snow was nothing special, but by the time I left my house, tornadoes of snow were swirled down South Oxford. People were hurrying home. The good grocery on Fulton was closed. The wine store was open. I bought a bottle of wine and hurried over to Frank's Lounge to watch the end of the Jets game in Chicago.
They lost to the Bears.
I had three beers with Roe during the first half of the Giants game.
They lost too.
The winds were wiping down Fulton. This was no joke. I texted Matt. He was nearing Trenton. Richie Boy texted me from Vermont. Tomorrow was going to be a snow day. The diamond exchange was closed, because of the blizzard. I shoveled the sidewalk twice and then retreated to the top floor to cook myself dinner.
Left-over Christmas ham.
I texted Matt to tell how good it tasted.
"Nice." was his reply.
He was nearing Delaware.
DC was another two hours away.
But Fung Wah was determined to get him there.
"When no one else is moving, Fung Wah will get you there."
Thursday, December 23, 2010
The other night I woke at 3:33 am. I remembered reading in the New York Times that this evening there would be a lunar eclipse. The first to occur on the winter solstice in over 400 years. I looked out the window and saw the shadowed moon. A sliver of silver atop the Earth's satellite. I stripped naked and went up on the roof of our Fort Greene brownstone to bathe in the rare reflected light of the sun off the moon. The frost on my skin was the only human sacrifice within sight. After 30 seconds I retreated back to my bed and shivered myself to sleep.
Few people in the modern age and even fewer Christian realize that Xmas was lifted from the ancient pagan celebration of beermas. Actually the winter solstice was celebrated by the pagans to celebrate the rebirth of the sun. This last chance to feast before the months of winter starvation coincided with the final stages of fermentation of wine and beer.
My friend the ex-model from Paris abhors Xmas as an orgy festival. and wrote on Facebook.
"Christmas is a disgusting pagan holiday that comes from Roman orgies where they would choose a scapegoat torture them by forcing them to eat and indulge in all sorts of excess and then brutally murder them."
She later added, "Some of the most depraved customs of the Saturnalia carnival were intentionally revived by the Catholic Church in 1466 when Pope Paul II, for the amusement of his Roman citizens, forced Jews to race naked through the streets of the city. An eyewitness account reports, “Before they were to run, the Jews were richly fed, so as to make the race more difficult for them and at the same time more amusing for spectators."
Other than the fat runners.
Sounds like a good time had by all
The jewelers on 47th Street were depending on a big holiday season to cover up the losses of 2008 and 2009, however the nation's zombie economy has exiled the masses from the luxuries of gold and diamonds. Only the rich have money and Richie Boy has more than his share of the upper class. One customer bought a ring for a quarter of a million. He makes that much per day. Another dropped a half-million. A few hours at work. Several purchased collection diamonds as investment, despite their involvement in the the stock market. The very rich are no fools. They know the stock market is a shill's game.
"All they do is push money back and forth taking a little here and a little there. They make nothing and neither does America." Lenny was on a rant before our store. He slapped a greasy hand on the window. Each time imprinting a palm. Richie Boy waved for Lenny to piss off. Lenny turned to me and said, "Why is Richie Boy such a cheap prick. He never gives me nothing. The Jews are so mean to the Jews."
"Lenny, if you stopped cursing him out of the street, he might give you something." I handed the fat slob a dollar. He was getting old. Before last year his winter wardrobe was a soiled tee-shirt and battered yamulka. Now he was actually wearing a coat and watch cap against the cold.
"No, he never gives. Does he treat you alright?"
"Alright enough." I hadn't received a raise in two years. Manny, Richie Boy's father, chiseled my commish for every sale. Still I was able to feed two families on my income and no one was hiring a man my age. I was the only 58 year-old on the subway in the morning. Everyone else was either retired or on unemployment.
"You take care, Damian." Lenny waddled down the sidewalk bemoaning the loss of the middle class. The gap between rich and poor was hurting his business too. I returned inside and helped Richie Boy finish with a Burma sapphire sale.
$150,000 to a Wall Street investment banker.
They were still earning good money.
"I don't know why you give Lenny money." Manny hated anyone who didn't work and that sometimes included me, since I never showed up to work on time.
"He makes me laugh." Chronic tardiness was my way of rebelling against his incessant badgering. He was a prick, but I was inured to his abuse.
"A fucking bum." Manny's father had worked every day since he was 12. Jake was run over by a truck on Canal Street running an errand for Manny. The accident didn't kill him, but the doctors gave him a deadly infection. He went to his grave three days after visiting the hospital.
"Still very funny." Lenny knew his stocks. His knowledge of economics was profound. Everyone said that he used the coins and dollar bills that he reaped from 47th Street to finance his online trade. The slovenly bum was rumored to be worth millions. I had seen him on the streets late a night. No where to sleep. He was not a rich man.
We worked like slaves, as Richie Boy churned out sale after sale. He was relentless. My workmates and I could barely keep up with him. His phone never left his ear. The rich and very rich wanted to celebrate the new tax bill. They were free to not pay taxes for another two years thanks to the deal between Obama and the GOP. I was grateful for their munificence. The trickle-down theory filled my pockets every year.
"Our low-end client base is gone." Richie Boy explained to a wealthy heiress. Her riches were a gift from a lucky birth. "I haven't made a sale beneath $10,000 this season."
"Those bums spent too much money at Kmart." The rich woman wore a fur costing at least five policemen's annual salary. It wasn't the only one in her closet either. Her new diamonds-by-the-yard necklace would have provided thirty families in Indonesia with a livable wage. She had no pity on them. "Serves them right for buying all that crap from China."
"It's all they can afford after you rich bitches sucked them dry," I muttered under my breath. Richie Boy caught some of it. He had good hearing. A glare warned to keep my feelings for the rich to myself. Free speech was a luxury only the rich could afford on 47th Street.
Dealers kept showing up at the store for payment. Manny had a long list of creditors. He never ran from them, but paid off these debts slowly. Richie's big sapphire sale saved the firm, but after giving a setter $2000, Manny said, "I don't know where I'm going to get salary this week."
This comment was probably to himself. Manny's getting old. 83 next month, but I immediately suspected that my boss had said this to prepare me for his not giving his working staff their Xmas bonus. He had done it before and I feared that he was getting ready to do so again.
I mentioned this possibility to Deisy. She shook her head.
"I work six days a week and this is the thanks I get."
"It's not sure." Only 90%.
"Yes," Deisy sighed with an accent. She came from Brazil. "But he only gave me one raise in three years. Always the same thing. I wish I could do something but it was a bad year."
"You want to make a bet that we get something?"
"No." Deisy was a Born-again Christian. She believed in the goodness of man. Her curse on Manny was from the bad magic of Brazil.
"Don't be like that." As a non-believer I worried about curses. They were almost as real as Santa Claus.
Two evenings ago we had our annual Xmas dinner.
$50 a head.
Richie Boy's partner gave Deisy and me $200. Manny gave us a cheap scarf and good glove. I left them at the table. Karl chased me, "You forgot your gifts."
"No, I didn't." I was pissed. Richie Boy and Manny. Cheap bastards. "Thank you for your gift, but I don't need anything from those two scrooges. Another Merry Stiffmas."
"They didn't give anything?" Karl was incredulous. He was a little crazy at work, but the diamond broker had a good heart.
"Nothing. Not a pfennig." The yiddish word for cheap was 'billig'. It rhymed with pfennig and niggardly too. Karl insisted on my taking the gifts. They would be nice to re-gift. I took a taxi home and had a beer at Frank's Lounge. Everyone there was happy to see me. The bartender bought me a drink. We toasted ourselves. None of us were rich and in some ways I was happier that the rich owed me nothing and me nothing in return.
Happy Beermas one and all
I hope none of you get coal in your stockings.
It's all the rich want to give.
Monday, December 20, 2010
My grades at Our Lady of the Foothills were better than good, but nothing extraordinary, so everyone in my town was shocked by my winning a scholarship to Xaverian Brothers High School. My parents were so proud. Their son had answered their prayers.
I lost the scholarship two years later for failing religion. My mother and father were astounded by my F grade until I informed them that my failure was the result of a declaration of non-belief.
“Non-belief in what?”
“I don’t believe in God.”
My mother was horrified by the rejection of her god. She saw me burning in Hell and my father backed her struggle to re-convert their son to the Womb of Jesus. All their attempts were thwarted by my apostasy. My high school girlfriend almost brought me back into the fold. Janet was a cheerleader. She had big breasts. Her virginity was the prize of my re-conversion. We attended a pilgrimage to a holy site in New England. My best friend brought Led Zeppelin's first album
It was 1968.
The first power chords off Jimmie Page's guitar reconfirmed my lack of faith. Janet joined my crusade for a year, then wandered back into the fold.
Since then I’ve worshiped many idols, but only one has remained true.
The soul of man
For better or for worse and in between.
Several years ago I nailed Xmas lights to the roof of my house in Pattaya. Ours was the only one on Moo 9 celebrating the winter holiday on Pearl Harbor Day. The rest of the farangs were too mean-hearted to any happiness other than the emptiness of sex, drugs, and golf. I spoke to none of them.
Two days later I bought a blue plastic pine tree and explained to my 3 year-old daughter that Xmas was a Christian holiday lifted from the pagan celebration of the winter solstice.
Angie only spoke Thai. Her understanding of religion was limited by her young and she said, “Fi suay.”
"Yes, the lights are beautiful."
I accepted my failure to enlighten her to evil of the Christian faith, for while I have rejected the deeds and words of the Catholic Church, I still appreciate the beauty of Santa Claus.
A fat man with a white beard wearing a red suit driving around the world in a sleigh hauled by flying reindeer remains twice as believable as the Immaculate Conception, since the Virgin Mary was only pregnant four months.
If I were a god-worshipper Santa Claus would be my man. The ho-ho gift-giver is based on St Nicolas of Smyrna, the original St. Nick, who is also the patron saint of beer, which is why my friends and I celebrate Beermas rather than Xmas, however I don’t play Scrooge during any holiday and neither do the Thais.
Christmas lights decorated Pattaya’s shopping mall to lure western consumers and curious Thais. Buy Buy Buy. Tis the season. Go-go bars were splashed out in red. Dancers wore cute caps and nothing else. Jingle Bells played everywhere. Whiskey bottles were cracked open by my friends and gifts were exchanged amongst the neighbors on my soi.
All this despite there being no chance of a White Christmas.
Neither were people fighting over nativity scenes, because the War on Christmas doesn’t exist anywhere but the UK and the USA. Religious fanatics are a buzzkill everywhere in the world, yet everyone should be able to say ‘Merry Christmas’ as much as ‘Happy Holidays’ or nothing at all.
Santa will sort out who’s good or bad. The Bible-thumper's man in the mumu gave up that job a long time ago. Anyone not playing for his team is doomed for eternity.
Christmas in Pattaya is lights, fireworks, red caps, and a good time. Friends, family, and a good laugh. It even got cold at night. 15 Celsius. And atop Doi InThanon, Thailand’s highest peak, there were reports of frost. Maybe next year will be a White Christmas.
So Happy Beermas one and all.
Peace on earth and good will to men. Women too.
Friday, December 17, 2010
The director Blake Edwards passed away in late December. His greatest hits were BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, 10, and VICTORIA VICTORIA. Fame fled him in the 80s, but his star rose on Broadway in the musical version of VICTORIA VICTORIA. My cousin was Julie Andrews' understudy. Tara got to perform the leading role on several occasions. I caught her once with the rest of my family. After the performance my aunts and mother asked what Julie Andrews was like.
"She calls me 'darling'." Tara was enthralled by the superstar's allure.
I didn't have the heart to tell her that she probably called everyone 'darling', so she never forgot anyone's name. Julie Andrews' must have had a pet name for Blake Edwards. They were married for 41 years.
Before they met, he explained her success to a gathering at a party by saying, "She has lilacs in her pubic hair."
And having seen them once, he never wandered again.
Faithful to the end.
This is the power of pussy.
Recently I asked a graduate of Princeton what was the the planet closest to Earth. He was the top of his class. A genius at 21.
"The sun." He answered within a nano-second.
"The nearest is Venus."
"Isn't that a moon?"
"No, it's a planet." Only the once-planet Pluto had been rejected from the list of heavenly bodies. "The Sun is a star."
"Then why's it's so big?"
It was obvious that he had never been taught anything about the universe. His major was finance. He wanted to be a stock broker. His father had a job for him lined up at an investment firm. His economic soul was a belief in the return to 2006.
"And there's no way the Sun is a star."
His ignorance was bliss and he wasn't alone. I asked several more of his friends the same question. None of them gave the right answer and I thought that I might be wrong. Maybe the Sun is not a Star. After all Pluto is no longer a planet. Only a frozen asteroid. It's out there somewhere.
A little before midnight.
Today I worked at the diamond exchange. There are no customers. Only the rich have money. Richie Boy has sold big-money items to his wealthy friends. $260,000 for a magnificent sapphire. The buyer in investment. $190,000 for a stunning Fancy Yellow diamond. A gift from a media personality to his wife. $170,000 to a Manhattan restauranteur. None of my friends have money, so I act as Richie Boy's right-hand man. At 58 and two families to support, I know my place in the equation.
The business is owned by Manny. He's been around since 1954. At 82 he works harder than anyone a quarter his age. A lot of it is shuffling dealers according to need to pay. He's a master at stalling payment.
Work is a grind. A dead-end too. It offers no escape.
I came home to Fort Greene with my pay. I bought a very good bottle of wine. $41. The staff of Green Grape applauded my escape from single-digit wine. I drank the bottle with my landlord and his wife. They gave me a bottle of Johnny Black for the winter's solstice. I toasted them and my staying them. It's been over a year. I babysit their kids. I don't make a mess. My bedroom has a view. My bathroom too.
After we finished the wine, AP and I retreated to my floor to listen to music. I opened the bottle of Scotch. We had a few glasses and AP descended into domestic 'for better or worse' bliss. I readied for sleep, listening to Jefferson Airplane's SURREALISTIC PILLOW.
COMING BACK TO ME.
Time for bed.
Because tomorrow I have to be to work at 10AM
Cindy asked me to come early, "I have a customer."
"I'll try." I was only early one day this week. Tardiness to perfection. For Cindy I'd do anything. We are old workmates, but come early to work on Saturday.
It will be hard.
It's now 11:53 and all's well.
Even if there are not two near naked girls in my bed.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
During college in the early 70s I drove cab to pay tuition. I was in the taxi more than university. My first class in the morning was math. It was my major. I rarely showed up for Multi-Variable Calculus 101. The professor was Rene Marcus. His daughter was my friend. I rarely showed up in class. At the end of the autumn semester I arrived at the final. Professor Marcus pulled me to the side.
"You haven't been in class more than three times." Rene Marcus was about 45. A genius of telemetry. NASA paid him big money to figure out missile attack on Russia. It was still the Cold War.
"That's right." I had won a high school scholarship thanks to my natural aptitude in math. I had been accepted to college early thanks to my SAT scores in Math.
"How do you think you can pass this test?"
The rest of the class stared at me with pity. Multi-Variable Calculus 101 was not Geology 101 or Rocks for Jocks.
"Give me a test paper and let me put my hand on the textbook."
"And this will help?" Mathematicians only believe in numbers.
"It can't hurt." I placed both hands on the book. My palms read nothing. I took the test. My score was 45. The whorls on my flesh were very sensitive.
"I thought you'd get nothing right." Rene was amazed by my idiot-savantism.
"I still failed."
Yes, but if you drop out from Math, I'll give you a D+"
"It's a deal." A failure would have resulted in my losing a draft exemption. Vietnam was a meat grinder. I was no John Wayne. My new major was economics. I graduated sine laude or without praise. I worked for me for by 1974 the Vietnam War no longer needed my corpse.
That summer I drove cross-country with my good friend AK to celebrate the end of my education.
It was a great trip.
My boss Manny started selling jewelry on Canal Street in 1954. He says that he didn’t sell his first diamond until a year later.
“Back then all diamonds were white. We didn’t know any better and better still neither did the Gs.” Manny’s speech is colored by hundreds of diamond selling terms interspersed with Yiddish. It’s his only foreign language. A G was a customer and G referred to their status as a goyim or now-jew. “I sold him a one-carat stone for $500. It’s probably worth ten times that now.”
Manny’s guesstimate was on the money. I did the math to make sure. He was rarely 100% wrong. Back in the late-70s I would visit Manny and his son, Richie Boy, at their store at the corner of Elizabeth and Canal. Lunchtime meant sandwiches from Little Italy. Salami and red peppers on crisp bread. Manny liked me, because I took care of his son at Hurrah, where I worked as the doorman. One Xmas he gave me a classic Pulsar watch. It showed the time whenever you moved your wrist. I loved that watch.
One Thanksgiving Eve I was at my friend RT’s apartment next to the Natural History Museum. His lovely wife and he held a party every year, so their friends could watch the workers inflated the balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
It was probably 1990.
Richie Boy and I went to the party together. We drank more than anyone else at the party. People thought we were silly, but one young man admired my Pulsar watch. I took it off and he tried it on. I didn’t think anything about the watch, but several minutes later he was gone. I asked RT about his guest. RT said he was a painter. So was RT.
“He’s a painter.”
RT gave me his phone number.
He never answered the phone. New York is a small world and I have longevity on my side. Alexis is well-known for his futuristic paintings. They are sold for big money. Not really my taste, but one day I’ll run into him. he won’t remember me, but I’ll remember that he has my watch. I’ll be nice and ask him for it.
If I’m lucky, he’ll be cool and give it back after a few days.
It’s only the right thing to do, even after all those years.
Painting by Alexis Rockman
Every boy has a best friend in his youth.
In 1959 I was lucky enough to have two. My older brother and a neighbor Chaney. We were in the same year at Pinewood Elementary in Falmouth Maine. We did almost everything together. Our street ended at a bluff overlooking Portland harbor. We swam in the shallow waters beyond the marsh grass.
The two of us crawled under the fence into a strawberry field and ate summer fruit on our backs. The farmer caught us and my father paid him for four quarts. Cheney and I were in love with the same girl. Kathy Burns. She was in love with Chaney. He played the accordion. I had no musical skills, even though my mother was famed for her voice. She could silence the cathedral choir with her singing.
Chaney was a protege on the squeezebox. He played SINK THE BISMARCK and DAVY CROCKETT as well as the standard songs that he had learned from his teacher. YELLOW BIRD and MACK THE KNIFE. I envied his virtuosity as well as Kathy's admiration. She had a birthday party to which I was not invited. Chaney brought me a piece of chocolate cake and told me how he had kissed Cathy in her basement. The cake tasted like chalk, but congratulated Chaney on his success. We were best friends.
When my family moved south from Maine to a suburb south of Boston in 1960, Chaney and I vowed never to go swimming unless we were together. His parents had a place on Lake Sebago. That summer was warm in New England. One day in August my mother received a phone call from Chaney's mother. I was told to sit in our station wagon. After a few minutes my mother exited from our split-level house and said, "Chaney drowned this morning."
I sat in the car for a long time, staring at the silhouette of Great Blue Hill.
Chaney was gone.
He had broken our vow, but so had I at Nantasket Beach. One of us paid the price.
Since that sad day every time I see an accordion I think of Chaney and any time I see a street musician with an accordion I ask them to play SINK THE BISMARCK. None of them know the tune and I request IN-DA-GADDA-DA-VITA. No one knows that 60s hit either, however I'm sure that Chaney would have liked Iron Butterfly.
After all we were best friends.
To hear some heavy metal accordion please go to the following URL
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Day 1… Get naked and smoke.
Day 2… Ask a neighbor if they find it funny that every man in the neighborhood has a penis.
Day 3… Flash someone.
Day 4… Get your hair done.
Day 5….Go to a porn theater (or rent a porno movie)
Day 6… Whenever you hear someone say “shit” tell them you hate the brown word.
Day 7… Exclaim “What a day for an execution!” to strangers.
Day 8… Stomp on someones foot – laugh maniacally.
Day 9… Play “car accident.” (Be sure to have plenty of ketchup on hand.)
Day 10… Get a baby sitting job – throw wild destructive party. Trash everything.
Day 11… Admit to God that you are a whore.
Day 12… Tell your nephew (or other younger male relative) you’d be so happy if he turned nelly and found a nice beautician boyfriend.
Day 13… Seduce a bus driver.
Day 14… Refer to your daughter (or young female relative) as “that little MF”
Day 15… Write “I sniff jury underpants” (or other obscenity) in a bathroom stall.
Day 16… Have sloppy joes for dinner.
Day 17… Go to doctor and demand “a wang.”
Day 18… At the dinner table exclaim loudly “I’m so hungry I could eat cancer.”
Day 19… Tell someone that you’re a thief, a shit kicker and that you’d like to be famous.
Day 20… Condone first degree murder. Advocate cannibalism.
Day 21… Have sex with a midget in the back of a car.
Day 22… Be celibate for celluloid.
Day 23… Watch “Christmas Evil” with JW commentary.
Day 24… Send someone a bowel movement.
Bonus day – Return all your Christmas gifts for money because-”you can do that you know.”
My baby brother died on AIDS in 1995. My mother succumbed to cancer in 1996. I mourned their passing with a circumnavigation of the globe. Every holy site on the route was my destination; Luang Prabang, Zhongdian, Lhasa, Benares et al. My soul was washed by the waters of the holiest rivers in the world, my feet circled the well-worn path of pilgrims, and monks burned incense throughout Asia for my dearly departed. My spiritual voyage ended at the statue of St. Brigid in NY’s St. Patrick Cathedral. It was January. As a non-believer I worshiped her as a pagan saint. A dollar bought a candle and my prayer was silent.
I took the Lexington subway to Astor Place. I emerged from the station into bright sunshine. The air was frigid. I pulled up my collar and noticed a NYU co-ed looking at the sky.
I joined her gaze. High above floated a double rainbow created by the sun piercing high-altitude moisture. I had never seen a rainbow in winter. I recognized the miracle as my mother and my brother.
They are with me forever as I am with them.
The photo of the rainbow is thanks to Amos Poe.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Pattaya is a paradise for middle-aged western men with money. Food, accommodation, and beer are cheap and beautiful girls call them sexy. None of these seductive women are blind and the men forget about the truth of the mirrored reflection, for as Frederick Engels the co-writer of THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO said, "Money is the one thing that can grow hair on a bald man's head for a woman."
Pattaya most certainly is the closest thing to Eden that most men will ever visit, however you need money to operate as a sexy men and this year my friend Jamie Parker found his fun funds close to 'empty'. He wasn't a gambling man, but bought several Thai lottery tickets with a portion of his last 1000-baht bill. The numbers came out in the Thai newspapers. None of which Jamie ever read, however his geek, Ort, discovered that Jamie had purchased a winning ticket.
Jamie was back in the money and after redeeming the ticket his luck ballooned with the discovery of 5500 baht in an envelope at the 7/11. He waited for an hour outside the convenience store for someone to show up to claim the money. No one came in a panic. Up 30000 baht he returned to his unfurnished apartment on Soi Bongkot, thinking to take Ort out for a nice meal. He found her packing her bags.
An Englishman had decided she was the prettiest girl in the world and retired her from INSOMNIA GENTLEMAN’S CLUB. This was good news, since Jamie had been shedding 1000s of baht on the little go-go dancer's ice habit. She loved the gear. Jamie was semi-sad to see her go, although pleased that she wanted none of his cash.
"You good man. You find new girl. No one more pretty than me. Ugly girl. She cheap."
"If you say so." Jamie watched her get into the farang's CRV 4X4. The guy was older than Jamie. Bald too. He wished them both luck. It wasn't the first time Ort left him for another man, but it was the first time she left with his having money in his pocket.
Jamie decided to celebrate this Trifecta of good luck with a binge at What’s Up a Go-Go. I was in town for a single night. Mem had cut me loose from Sriracha. I didn't plan on a late one.
"Go with friend. Have good time. No look at other lady." Mem knew that her love potion denied me any opportunity to cheat on her.
"No look. No touch." I kissed her and my son good night. The sun fell fast this time of year. It was barely 6 O'Clock. I got to the bar at 7. Jamie bought a round of shooters for two go-go dacners and then went over to the DJ with a CD and 2000 baht. The 55 year-old returned to the couch with a laconic smile. He had pulled a swift one and I asked, “What’s up?”
“I gave the DJ 2000 baht to play the Doors’ THE END.” The song was ranked #328 in all-time great rock songs, despite its lasting over 11 minutes. “You’re joking?”
THE END had opened the movie APOCALYPSE NOW. I remember watching Coppola’s homage to THE HEART OF DARKNESS at New York’s Ziegfield Theater and hearing the helicopters waft from left to right to rear to front.
The song took the go-go girls by surprise and the old guys in the bar too, but their eyes widened with surprise and their lips moved wordlessly to the lyrics.
“In a desperate land.”
Jamie bought more tequila for the girls on stage.
“Lost in a romance.”
He ordered another round realizing more drinks was only way to bridge to generations. The DJ was looking skeptical. Jamie flicked him another 1000 baht.”
“Ride the highway west baby.”
The old dudes were flipping cash too.
“The snake is long.” The girls understood THE END was a cash cow.
“The snake is old.”
The tequila worked its effect. The old guys ordered more. The young guys in What’s Up were out of their element by 40 years. The Doors and go-go girls. Jamie was right. Our generation.
“The killer woke before dawn.” The girls crawled against the steel poles like serpents with poison ivy.
The DJ still was uncertain about the choice.
Another 1000 baht brought THE END to the end.
I was a Doors fan. They had no bass player in the band, but the bassist from Clear Light ie MR BLUE supported them in the studio and on the road. I still play CRYSTAL SHIP but having the DJ play that would have been pushing out luck.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Jamie disappeared into the bathroom with the go-go dancer.
I left the bar. I only have one friend.
And Mem knows that too.
My wife Mem is very jealous. The Thai word 'itsah' pertains to envy of objects, however the true way to express jealousy is the word 'huung'. Mem can't believe that I spend months in New York without sex.
"All you think about with me is sex."
"That's different. I only want you." Her love potion has yet to wear off and I'm not ready to take the cure, which is having an old crone stand over a pot of boiled rice to sweat into the rice after which I must finish the entire bowl.
"Not believe you not have sex." Mem likes sex with me. She even fakes an orgasm for me.
"I do have sex, but only with the computer." No one in New York believes that I can be celibate and in some ways I am not. "XXX films and my hands. Is that cheating on you."
"No, only butterfly when you go with another woman."
"Then I'm a good man, unless she finds out that I XXXSurf through a cosmos of sex-ravaged women, some only for a second, others long enough to burn them faces and bodies into my memory.
Let’s face it, I've not been a good boy in that sense. maybe even too wicked to celebrate Xmas, so bring on Beermas or even better XXXmas.
“What did you eat for breakfast, fried rat?” Americans classically asked this question after a friend’s methane netherhole expulsion.
“It wasn’t me.” The guilty party protested without forgiveness. Fast Food is more to blame for their noxious flatulence than dining on strange meats, because no one knows for sure what 100% Beef means for Micky Ds. Everything cow except for the moo.
Rat, owl, vulture, and crow are four animals Americans will never eat and only owls will eat crow. I’m sure there are several other animals missing from any menu of the 50 states, such as seagulls, seals,jellyfish as well as a legion of endangered species, especially whale, which I ate as a child in Boston fish market next to Fanuiel Hall.
But this last trip to Thailand I ate fried field rat or noo yang.
Mem, Fenway, and I had spent a week in a Cambodian border town and she brought down several fried rats for her cousin, uncle, and me. The rats are fat for eating only rice. Field rats. Not house rats. Clean creatures.
Back in Sriracha her cousin opened the plastic plastic and was immediately transported to a rapture like a glue-sniffer huffing a tube of Dupont after a year’s sabbatical. Nai is 100% a native of Bannok. The uncle pranced like a trained bear in anticipation of feasting on his two rat carcasses. Needless to say my enthusiasm was a little more decorous.
“You no want eat.” Mem was upset. Cooking rat takes hours. She had saved me the largest corpse. If I didn’t eat it, she would have been insulted by my refusal. Thais have thin skins and long memories.
“Who say I don’t want to eat rat?” I gave Nai money to buy 6 large bottles of Leo beer. it was good enough to take the sting out of a scorpion tail, on which I had dined the previous evening.
Mem happily fried the rat and cut the body into sixths.
It still looked like a rat and not Mickey Mouse either
New York rat on a plate.
“Why you not eat?” Mem had her arms crossed. Everyone else asked the same question.
“Wait for it not to be hot.”
Two minutes later I cracked off a leg. The meat was dark. I took a bite. Not bad, in fact good.
Rat does not taste like chicken or pig or beef.
Something entirely different yet familiar.
I finished my serving and had seconds. We threw the bones to the mongrel dogs in the street. They fought over these scraps. Mem was happy and the assembled Thais said, “James not same other farangs. He eat same Thai.”
“That's not true. There’s no thing I won’t eat. Chicken feet.”
But the Thais love to suck on the rubber feet.
Even my son.
He's definitely not 100% farang, but not 100% Thai either.
Fenway was scared of rat.
Several years ago while surveying 5,529 heart attack deaths in Asia, Dr Wong Teck Wee discovered that 34 fatalities occurred during sex and 27 of those deaths occurred while the male was engaged in an act of illicit sex ie adultery. The Universiti Putra Malaysia cardiologist concluded from these findings that stress of illicit sex could lead to sudden death due to the narrowing of the artery and insufficient blood supply to the organs or even worse your merciless wife walking into the hotel room with a shotgun or machete.
That’s a shock to the system.
But all things considered kicking off in the sack is not a bad way to go as long as you come before you go otherwise it’s coitus interruptus fatalis, which is how Nelson Rockefeller, the former US President, departed from this mortal coil. On January 26, 1979 Nelson was riding male superior atop his mistress, Megan Marshak, when his heart overloaded from adrenalin, stopping almost every body function other than breathing.
Nelson was a big man and the 26 year-old aide had to squirm from underneath the portly politician, but rather than dial 911 for help, she telephoned her girlfriend, news reporter Ponchitta Pierce. Neither helped the ex-VP from his sprawled position on the floor as they discussed for the better part of an hour.
“911 or not 911.”
911 won in the end.
Too late for Nelson Rockefeller who expiated in the ambulance.
His corpse was cremated 18 hours after the coroner pronounced him DOA, mainly since his wife, Happy, was anxious that the Medical Examiner might find traces of sexual activity, however everyone in New York understood how Nelson went out of this world.
In the saddle.
I wish that his demise could have been at the hands of his wife Happy or a mob of rioting convicts, for Rockefeller's draconian laws have ruined millions of lives in the Empire State and his order to retake Attica prison resulted in many senseless deaths.
Law and Order.
For an adulterer.
Even better would have been for Nelson to suffer death by stoning.
That's the old punishment in the Bible.
And I would not hold my hand, for I am not a sinner like him.
Faithful to Mem forever, and not only because she dosed me with a Thai love potion.She swears that's not true, but I know better.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
My mother liked to say that she went down to the valley of death during my birth. 12 hours spent trying to push my infant body from her womb. Finally the doctor clasped my fragile head with steel forceps and dragged me from my mother's body. The procedure is a common practice in childbirth, however my skulls still bears the indentation of the obstetrician's surgical tongs. I survived that encounter with the medical profession and avoided hospitals for the rest of my life other than a couple of stitches here and there. My daily intake of medicine consists of 4 herbal capsule of cryptolepsis buchanani and several glasses of alcohol.
Last night some moonshine while watching the Celtics-76ers game at Frank's.
My local on Fulton Street in Brooklyn.
This morning I woke with my skull filled with felt. A mild hangover is my most common ailment. No sore muscles bones since I stopped playing basketball 5 days a week. My remedy for the morning-after sickness is a long hot bath. After a long hot soak my restitution-coefficient was hovering around 30%. A good sleep would restore another 30% by the next day's dawn and a greasy breakfast of bacon and eggs would top up my energy reserves.
Unlike most Americans I believed good health was a result of sleep, hot baths, herbs, and organic eating habits, plus nothing scared sickness from your body like threatening it with death-defying bouts of drinking. At 58 my medicine cabinet was home to a bottle of flu syrup and an unopened bottle of aspirin.
"You should get health insurance." Richie Boy was worried about my health. He depends on me to be at work every day. Never on time, but at work nevertheless. Stress deflection is another detour from illness.
"I can't afford it." $300/week is the minimum cost for a health plan offered by the insurance companies. My salary supports my two families in Thailand and a working life in New York.
"I know how much it is." I've asked Richie Boy and his father for a raise. They have yet to come through for their only employee.
"Well, you just got money from your father's estate."
"Yeah, and what?" I hate the idea of giving money to the insurance companies. Obama's Health Plan neither. I'm healthy and I intend on staying that way, although this summer I was speaking with a farmer leading an upstate organic co-op. The 62 year-old looked in top form, but he admitted that he had suffered a heart attack at the age of 58.
"Up to then everything was fine."
And so far everything is fine with me too.
Of course I am an Irish citizen, so I should never get so sick that I can't board a flight to Shannon and take a taxi to the nearest hospital. Socialized medicine might be decades away from the USA. It's only 6 hours distant from JFK.
And there's also plenty of Guinness on tap.
Like the adverting states, "It's good for you."
My earliest exposure to gout came from movies showing Henry VIII hobbling about the set with his foot swathed in bandages. The disease came from rich foods. Only the very wealthy or obese were supposedly prone to such an ailment, although in recent years friends have limped into restaurants or parties to explain, “I have gout.”
Healthy folks would laugh at the sufferer’s prediction.
After all you are what you eat and everyone thinks that there’s no way they’ll ever get gout.
The first symptom of gout is a sore toe.
Two weeks ago my toe was more sore.
Gout is caused by a rich diet of red wine, meats, and peas.
I eat a lot of frozen peas and drink wine too.
Being a hypochondriac I feared that swelling pain might spread.
I went to the Internet and scoured the online medical journals.
Eat asparagus, spinach, and broccoli.
I like those.
My friend Sam Royalle called from Thailand and asked, “Why don’t you go to the doctor?”
I only visit the doctor for my annual check-up. Doctor Nick is my friend from History 101 at Boston College. He is a GP in Staten Island. It's a long way from Brooklyn.
“I don’t have gout.” The pain was minor.
“And if it doesn’t go away?” Sam liked hospitals. He was living in Thailand. A visit to a doctor in the USA costs over $200, unless it’s to Doctor Nick. He does it for free.
“Then I’ll go to the hospital.” Until then it’s broccoli sandwiches once a day with a glass of white wine.
Red is supposed to be the killer.
Of course I'll stick to that diet only in my head, because in the morning was toe was fine. Probably just a sore muscle. That happens to guys my age.
The chasm between the very rich and the poor in the USA was once separated by the middle class. The poor could rise to that status, but no one could become very rich, for the masses are mostly denied the three ways to get rich; birth, marriage, or theft. Birth is strictly a gene lottery. The rich baby is rich thanks to his rich parents. No poor baby had ever been born rich, although the heirs to the GM fortune adopted a poor baby. A miracle, but ever so rare. Poor women can marry the rich, especially if they are beautiful, however these trophy wives had a shelf life lasting as long as their beauty. Divorce is accompanied by an alimony settlement and this wealth is soon squandered on maintaining the living standards of the rich. Lastly a thief can steal a fortune in money, art, or jewelry, but he will always remain a thief, whereas a rich person who steals from the poor is considered a success, since the government ie law and order is on the side of the rich.
The middle class was a haven from the greed of the rich, however for the last ten years the Bush Tax Cuts have ennobled the very rich with even greater wealth and the middle class have suffered immensely as social services are cut to deal with the increasing budget deficits incurred by this favoritism to the very rich.
The Bush Tax Cuts were supposed to lapse on 12/31/2010. The GOP refused to accept this timeline and their off-year election victory has forced the White House to prolong this gift to the very rich in order to maintain unemployment payments to those Americans out of work. My boss Richie Boy cheered the news, for the only people buying diamonds this holiday season are the very rich.
"The recession is over."
"The recession never began for the very rich." I countered quickly. Our customer base was included the middle class and working people. The only time they enter our store is to sell gold or old jewelry, which gets melted down and shipped to China or India, the two countries profiting most from the off-shoring of America's industries.
"Well, if it weren't for them, then we'd have no business at all." Richie Boy loves the rich. He likes fine food, fast cars, and multiple homes. Richie Boy ain't rich, but he plays that way and his toys confused his vision. His father knows better, since he pays the bills.
"We're lucky to have the business we have." Manny started on the Bowery. The very rich never came that far downtown unless it was to Wall Street. Manny didn't trust the rich. His father had been a carpenter. Money only came his way through hard work and no one we know ever got rich through hard work.
"That's true." I had to admit that I was glad to have a job. The times of easy money ended with 9/11. They probably ended before that attack on the World Trade Towers, only I was immune to the disease ravaging the lives of the middle class.
"We have rich clients. They pay our bills, so I don't want to hear any of your commie bullshit." Richie Boy is a die-hard capitalist. He fervently believes that he can elevate his standing through his connections. His father shrugged upon hearing his son's zeal. Manny is a commie like me. We believe the more money people have the better it is for us.
"Yes, sir." I have not lost my faith, but the stock market reacted adversely to the news of two more years of deficits, so there's only one way to keep the rich very rich and that's to cut from the poor and everyone earning less than a million is poor to the very rich. They are living in their own world.
Just like all their followers.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Almost 70 years ago Japanese aircraft attacked the US Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor. Nearly every capital ship had been damaged by bombs or torpedoes and with the sinking of the British battleships REPULSE and PRINCE OF WALES off the coast of Malaysia, the Pacific Ocean became basically a Japanese lake. President Roosevelt declared before Congress, "December 7th shall live forever as a day of infamy."
I asked a score of NY teenagers about December 7th.
"What does December 7th mean to you?"
Most of them went to good schools. Only one of them mentioned Pearl Harbor. The rest answered with a 'huh' same as most Americans did in 1941, since they had no idea about the location of Pearl Harbor or Hawaii, proving that America's bliss ignorance of world geography is a long-cherished national asset.
I know what December 7th means most to me. It was the birth date of my youngest brother, Michael.
50 years ago I was standing in the parking lot of Our Lady of the Foothills. It was recess time. My classmates were kicking a big red ball. A station wagon pulled up before the school's front door. My father stepped out of the car. He waved for my older brother and I to join him. My younger sisters too. We were all in uniform.
"You have a baby brother," he proudly told us. The nuns appeared annoyed by his unapproved appearance, being fiercely protective of their authority. My father was a late convert to Catholicism. His faith was newborn and he ignored their glare.
"We have a brother?" Our mother had shown no sign of pregnancy and I was mystified by this potential immaculate conception. The birds and bees explained nothing.
"Michael. Your mother named him after your uncle." My father hugged my two sisters close. They were a little more than a year apart.
"The priest?" Uncle Michael was a monsignor for Cardinal Cushing. He had met my grandmother Nana at the docks. She had left Ireland for America at the age of 12.
Four years older than me in 1960.
"Yes, and he's going to baptized your brother at the church. Go get your things. Your mother wants you to see Michael."
The nuns protested his request, but my father's greatest love was for his children and we piled into the station wagon. The drive to Boston Lying-In Hospital took less than 15 minutes. My father liked to drive fast. We entered our mother's hospital room. She was holding Michael in her arms. Nana was holding Padraic, the fifth of our brood. He was all of 2. We were now six. A family of eight counting my mother and father.
"There goes my pony." My older brother whispered in my ear. Frunk had requested a pony from Santa Claus. I never thought that he had a chance of getting one since my mother hated animals and stepped closer to the bed. The red-faced baby in my mother's arms didn't look human. More like a furless monkey. I touched his small hand. It was warm.
"Say hello to your brother." My mother beamed with a Madonna's love.
He was my baby brother that day and has been every day since. He passed from this world in 1995. I think of Michael often and my father's telling me that I had a baby brother. I still do have one, because December 7th is a day that will live forever in my memory as Baby Brother Day.
Michael Charles Smith RIP
My baby brother is sorely missed by family and friends.
He would have been 50 today.
I'll raise a glass for Michael later.
Up the rebels, boyo.
The old bridge at Wicassett spanned the Sheepscot River for decades and I loved the hum of tires over the steel gird. A new bridge replaced the old, but Wicassett's primary attraction were the two rotting hulks wallowing in the mud flats. Their state of ruin spoke shipwreck to my boyish mind, but these two ships once transported timber from Maine to the world along with hundreds of other coastal schooners.
The Hesper and the Luther Little were the last two ships of their kind. Every year Maine's winter ravaged the sailing schooners, yet they withstood the harsh treatment of Nature. Two teenage boys set fire to the relics, damaging them to such a state that the town had them dismantled as a safety hazard.
Of course they could have remained in their final berth for another half-century if it were not for the threat of legal suits. The Hesper and the Luther Little joined the hum of car tires over the Wicassett Bridge. Something gone but not forgotten
Distance around the world have shrunk with the spread of jet transportation. Columbus' 1st voyage to the New World lasted a little more than 2 months. That trip from the port of Palos in Spain to Plana Cays in the Bahamas would take about 24 with a train to Madrid, flights to Miami and Nassau followed by a small hop to Plana Cayes. A long day, but a fraction of the time Columbus' flotilla spent on the Atlantic.
My great-grand-aunt Bert traveled to Asia on her father's clipper ship during the 1880s. Almost seven months across the Atlantic around the Cape of Good Hope to traverse the Indian Ocean to Singapore and beyond. She lived to 103 and her house in Falmouth Heights, Mass. was a memorial to her journeys. Hookahs, whale teeth, harpoons, swords, and fetish masks adorned the hallways. Her home was more a museum than a house.
I met my great-grand-aunt three times.
The first time Bert sat at an ornately carved table transported from Siam. Her maid bought tea. The cups were Wedgewood. The silverware from Mexico. Aunt Bert beckoned for me to sit with her. My older brother too. He was 9 and I was 8. She was nearing 100.
"Would you like one sugar or two?" She didn't wait for an answer. "Of course you want two spoonfuls. Young boys like things sweet."
"Thank you." My mother had raised us to be polite.
Aunt Bert noticed our staring at the table carvings. Naked women snaked up the legs to honor a dignified king. She smiled and motioned for us to sip our tea.
"My father bought this table in Thailand. It used to be called Siam. The women there were beautiful but had black teeth from chewing betel nut. It was hot, but they loved sweets too. Lovely cakes." Her clawed hand pushed forward a plate of pastries. My brother grabbed a cream puff and I chose an eclair. My father came into the room with my mother and their conversation is lost thanks to the heavenly taste of the chocolate eclair.
The next time I saw Bert was at her 100th birthday. President Eisenhower sent a telegram. Her family surrounded her. She was sitting in a wheelchair. Her smile blessed the younger generations. We played on her lawn till the sun set in the west.
The last time we met was at a nursing home. She was close to death. Bert spoke our names with a gasp. She died several days later. Her will left everything to the nurse. This woman had worked with her three months. It seemed wrong, but my grandmother didn't contest the decision, but I think about the curios from her house often, especially when I travel to the Orient.
My last trip from Fort Greene in Brooklyn to Sriracha on the Gulf of Siam was on the new Airbus 380.
JFK to Dubai on Emirates. 14 hours.
Dubai to Bangkok another 6 hours and after clearing customs an hour drive to the small house overlooking the harbor.
Total travel time from door to door 27 hours.
Certainly beat Aunt Bert's record, however the return trip was a marathon, thanks to an eight-hour lay-over in Dubai and a long queue at JFK. The TSA was checking everyone as a terrorist candidate. They searched my bag for contraband.
While Arabs with 14 kids waltzed out of the customs terminal. Their bags towered over mine. None of them looked like Al-Quada, but the TSA weren't taking any chance with an American with a passport thick with immigration stamps.
"What were you doing out of the country?"
"Visiting my family in Thailand and drinking beer."
"Sir, this isn't a joke." The TSA agent was serious. Too serious for my taste, but I kept my answers to the point and soon exited into the terminal. Taxi drivers were waiting by the doors. The Skytrain was my connection to the A train. A straight shot to the Lafayette stop on the C.
36 hours from door to hour.
I was exhausted by the trip and fell asleep within minutes.
That was a week ago and I find myself waking at 3am.
I bet Christopher Columbus never suffered from jetlag and neither did my Aunt Bert.
That was a different age of speed.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
In Jan. 1982 I flew from JFK to London with one bag and an Olivetti typewriter. I visited with friends and then continued over to Paris to start my job at the Rex Club as doorman. Train to Dover-Ferry to Calais. A short walk to the train station in the cold night.
My typewriter weighed a ton and I contemplated ditching it while crossing a bridge before the train station. The world didn't need another writer nor another doorman at a nightclub, then again this world doesn't need much, so I trudged into the terminal and bought a ticket to Paris.
Gare Du Nord.
For me and my typewriter.
I have no idea where it is now, but me I'm in New York. My typing as bad as ever.