Friday, April 29, 2011

THE ONLY YEH YEH YEH GIRL By Peter Nolan Smith



The 1960s were a time of idols for the youth of America. TV, radio, and movies brought stars to our eyes, ears, and souls,even to my 3-red light suburb south of Boston. Teenage boys and girls worshiped pantheons of tragic dead; Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jayne Mansfield, Buddy Holly, and scores of other talents posthumously recognized for their absent greatness. They only came alive in our fantasies and our fervent devotion focused on the living. Rock stars were gods.The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones was a prince. Movie actresses proved wingless angels walked the Earth. Julie Christie won our hearts in DARLING. We fought over our favorites. My older brother was in love with Raquel Welch. My choice was more eclectic.


Faye Dunaway was an easy option. Every male desired the blonde star of BONNIE AND CLYDE. I wanted my own star to adore. Someone to love from afar without interference from other suitors and I discovered my choice by accident. My hand slipped on the radio dial and the antenna found a station from Montreal playing LE PREMIER BONHEUR DU JOUR. The breathy vocals had to belong to a fallen ingenue. I knew what 'ingenue' meant thanks to having taken French two years at Our Lady of the Foothills. The disc jockey spoke her name after the guitar coda faded from the speaker.


"Francoise Hardy."


The year was 1968.


April.


I had never heard her name and neither had any of my friends. She was mine and I searched the record stores of Boston for her records. The album cover stole my heart. Feline eyes framed a young witchy face. Her pose sold innocence. I became her biggest fan this side of the USA-Canada border. Her poster graced the space over my bed. LE PREMIER BONHEUR DU JOUR had been released in 1963. She was known as the 'Yeh-Yeh-Yeh' girl. There were others; Frances Gall, Sylvie Vartan, and Jacqueline Taïeb. None of them were Francoise Hardy and I asked my father, if we could go on vacation to France.


"We're going to the Cape." Our family rented three motel rooms in Harwichport. The pool overlooked the small harbor. The beach boasted the warmest water on Cape Cod. 65 by the 4th of July.


It was not St. Tropez and I plotted my escape to France. A rumor ran across Boston about a jet plane leaving Boston every morning for Paris. Its cargo of Maine lobsters would be traded for eclairs, creme brulees, and pomme tartes. The round-trip ticket cost $100. A week's salary for most people. I had that much in my bank and two weeks before my 16th birthday took the T to Logan Airport. None of the terminals listed the 'lobster' flight and I spent the greater part of Saturday hunting my connection to Francoise Hardy.


"Ha." A Boston cop laughed upon hearing my query. "Once a week some kid comes up looking for the 'lobster' plane. There ain't none. Some bullshit story someone invented for who knows why, but the weird thing is that all these kids want to meet the same girl. Francoise Hardy. You ever heard of her?"


"No." Whatever these 'others' felt from Francoise Hardy could never rival my love.


"Me too. Must be some kind of film star. Like Brigitte Bardot."


I fought back an explanation, not needing any more converts to the faith, and returned home in defeat. It had been a fool's mission. Paris was in a state of revolt. Students were calling for the overthrow of the government. Charles DeGaulle had fled the capitol. She released Comment te dire adieu? that summer. It was not a hit and the radio station in Quebec played less and less of her songs. I fell in love with a cheerleader from the local high school. Francoise would have approved of my selection. Janet Stetson was a great girl. I was stupid and left her for no good reason in 1969. The year Francoise released Françoise Hardy en Anglais. Like the Catholic Mass in English her songs lost their magic in my language.


My travels in the late-60s and 70s were confined to hitchhiking across America. No of the drivers ever played "Tous les garçons et les filles". In 1973 she appeared in the film SAVE THE TIGER. The director failed to break the 29 year-old singer to America. She remained a creature of France. A country distant from America until I was hired to work as a doorman at the most popular nightclub in Paris in 1982.


The Bains-Douches.


I met Johnny Halliday, Yves Montand, Catherine Denevue, Yves St. Laurent, Coluche, countless Vogue models, arms dealers, and other lightbulbs of the night, but never Francoise Hardy and I asked the owner about her absence.>


"She never goes out at night. Her husband is tres jealous. Jacques Dutronc."


I knew his name. He was a rock star to the French. "Et moi, et moi, et moi" was a great song. I had it on tape.


"A boyfriend is a man's best enemy. A husband his best victim."


"Not Jacques." My boss warned that her husband was capable of almost anything against any man and his wife. "He is very much in love with her."


"Who wouldn't be?"


My boss shrugged with mutual understanding. He was a fan too.


Her husband entered the club on many occasions. Always with a big cigar in his mouth. I made him wait more than once. Jacques complained to my boss. He laughed behind the singer's back. My job was to make French stars feel like getting into the Bains-Douches was a privilege. All my friends were granted that gift from the start, especially Suzie Wyss, the mistress of a Getty Oil heir. I smoked opium at her oriental pad in the 13th arrondisement. A little cocaine. A superb cook and a good laugh. She knew everyone and one night she invited me to a dinner.


April 1984. 21 years after the release of LES PREMIERES BONHEURS DU JOUR. It was about time.


"Don't tell anyone, but Francoise Hardy will be coming."


"Not a word." I wanted her to myself. "Will her husband be there?"


"Not for dinner, but for dessert. He loves my chocolate cake."


Suzi's piece de resistance was a culinary delight, but I planned like a general for this rendezvous with Francoise Hardy. A white shirt from Agnes B. A suit for Cerruti. No tie. Cuban heels from the flea market. They dated back to the time of her greatest success. I cut my hair short. No bath. French men never washed too much. The water ruined their masculinity. I showed up on time with a bouquet of roses. Susi loved flowers. We smoked hash. Opium was for after the dinner. The door bell rang at 9.


Francoise arrived at the apartment with a young gay man. We opened a bottle of wine. She wasn't a drinker, but was amused by my stories of New York. Nightclubs awash with beautiful women and crooked cops. A movie. She laughed at my jokes. Susi lit a joint. we smoked it before dinner. I was falling in love again. In fact I realized that I had never stopped loving her. She spoke about her music. A guitar in hand. She sang two new tunes. I was in paradise.


A knock on the door threw my Eden into the trash.


It was Jacques Dutronc.


Rocker cigar-smoker.


She loved him.


She would love no one else.


And he was the same.


Any man would have been a fool to not love her.


"I know you." He pointed his cigar at me. "Bains-Douches. Doorman."

"Yes, that's me."


"A writer too." Suzi was on my side.


"Pouoff." Dutronc had seen thousands of writers attempt to seduce his wife. "Women only love directors and producers. They prefer chauffeurs before a writer."


Francoise laughed at her husband's joke. Suzi did to. I might have joined them if its aim wasn't in my direction.


I was cast out of their celestial heaven and an hour later the couple left with the gay friend more in love than ever before. I had lost her forever. we met several more times at Susi's apartment. The same routine as always. A laugh. A joint. Wine. Dinner. A song or two. Jacques came late and they depart ensemble.


It wasn't much, but each time lives in my head with a greater strength than any of the times I saw the Rolling Stones.


A goddess is always a goddess even when she's another man's woman.


Especially Francoise Hardy.


For a listen to LES TEMPS DU AMOUR click on the following VDO.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BGY6k4Aphs&feature=related

Damned Les Habitants

My introduction to French was via the heavy accent of Pepé Le Pew. The cartoon skunk appeared on TV every Saturday morning in Maine during the 1950s. Pepe never got the girl. Skunks smelled bad and supposedly the French also never bathed with soap. France was across the Atlantic Ocean, but another France was much closer to my home across the harbor from Portland.

Quebec.

The largest minority in Maine was the French Canadians. They worked in the mills and logging camps. A radio station from Montreal played songs for these workers and their families. I listened to them on a ROCKET RADIO, Miniman Model MG-302.

Somehow attaching its alligator clips to the metal frame of my bed powered the crystal. I listened to the French music. None of the words had any sense, but several evenings a week in the winter a hoarse voiced announced the hockey games from ‘le Forum’.

The Canucks in Maine supported the Canadians or ‘les Habitants’. The team dominated hockey in the NHL, winning six of the decades’ Stanley Cups. My father came from an old New England family. We rooted for the Boston Bruins. They always lost to the Habs just like Pepe le Pew never got the girl.

My father moved our family from Maine to the South Shore of Boston in 1960. My ROCKET RADIO was upgraded to a Japanese transistor and I caught the Montreal station when the atmosphere was clear of static. The music was changing from smooth to pop. A young singer was very popular with teens.

Francoise Hardy was the ‘Yeh-Yeh Girl’.

I bought 45s in Mattapan Square. The nuns at Our Lady of the Foothills taught us French. I understood the lyrics and plotted to meet her one day.

Pop lost favor for rock.

I loved the Sultans' garage rock version of LE POUPEE QUI FAIT NON.

But some things never changed.

The Bruins continued to lose to the Canadians with regularity and the Montreal team captured four Stanley Cups in a row, until the Bruins’ Bobby Orr scored a Cup winning goal in 1970. The victory was against an expansion team, the St. Louis Blues, but this was their first Cup since 1940.

They had been lucky to avoid the Canadians during the playoffs.

They never lost to the Bruins.

April 1971 the Bruins were favored to beat the Canadians in the semi-finals. The goalie Gerry Cheever allowed one goal in the first meeting. It was Easter Week and my three friends and I were driving down to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break.

We had rented an apartment across from the Elbow Room, famed from the 60s movie WHERE THE BOYS ARE.

Below Washington we entered the Deep South. We were longhairs and rednecks hated hippies almost as much as we hated the Canadians.

Our only stops were for gas and food.

Throughout Georgia we listened to WBZ's broadcast of the second game between the Habs and Bs. The Boston-based radio station had a strong 50,000 watt signal. The Bruins went up 5-2 at the end of the 2nd period. The signal died at the Florida border.

In my mind the Bruins were returning to the Stanley Cup. We stopped for complimentary OJ at the state hospitality stop and drove the rest of the night to reach our destination at dawn.

I had never been to Florida before and I marveled at the palm trees, the Gulf Stream, and co-eds in bikinis.

Our apartment had a view of it all. I went down to the store for beer and picked up the local newspaper, opening the sports section. I blinked several times in disbelief before the printed tragedy hit me with full force.

The Habs had come back from the abyss and scored 5 goals in the 3rd period.

The series was tied at 1-1.

The Bruins pushed the Canadians to the limit and lose game 7.

That misfortune was repeated often over the next four decades, but two nights ago with history on the line the Bruins played the Habs in another game seven. I was watching from Mullanes across the street from Frank's Lounge, which does not do hockey.

The teams were tied into OT.

I was ready for the loss, but the Bruins of 2011 were not those of 2010 or 1971. We won the game and I toasted my team with another beer. I was the only Bruins fan in the bar. It felt good and I lifted my glass one more time. “To Pepe Le Pew.” I hope that somewhere he got the girl in the end.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Studio 54 plus 34


Studio 54 opens its doors 34 years ago. It changed the nightlife of the world. I was hanging out at CBGBs. We sneered at the discophiles. I visited the club that winter in leather and jeans. Everyone outside was in satin and glitter. The doorman pointed at me and waved for me to come forward. The crowd parted like the red Sea for Moses' staff. They liked strange in Studio 54. Flashing lights, poppers, and sleek skin.

I liked it too.

Tonight I'm sitting my Fort Greene apartment. The night is warm. I wasn't at Studio 34 years ago, but I'll try and make the 54th anniversary thanks to my years of clean living.

Scottie Taylor, a bartender at Studio, asked if those years of clean living were 1961 & 1962?

I answered him yes, but added 1963 and 1964. Paul Keenan and I started drinking the altar wine in 1965. His father was a druggist. We roofied the priest to keep his roman Catholic hands off us. Surplices and cheap wine in a church. Better than Studio 54 and twice as wicked. I know,because I've been to both places.

The Beauty of FREEBIRD


My youngest brother's health suffered a precipitous decline in 1995. The experimental drugs had failed to stem Michael's ruthless aliment's advances. I received a telephone call from my older brother in Boston. I was running a nightclub in Beverly Hills. He told me the bad news. The next day I was on a plane to Logan. My family was waiting at the hospice on the South Shore. I had seen friends die of AIDS. None of that prepared for the sight of my brother. His only nourishment was a morphine drip.

I guessed his weight to be 120. His family sat by his bedside. My mother patted his hand. My sisters wet his lips. My father met the tragedy with a noble stoicism. He had done his best. Tears were for another day. My older brother read from the Bible. My youngest brother responded to none of this.

One night I entered Michael's room and my younger brother was playing FREEBIRD on his guitar. Paddy was a kind soul, but my youngest brother was more into show tunes and disco than southern rock. I mentioned this to my brother.

"You're right, but in his state I figure that he would hear this song and know it was me." My youngest brother strummed his guitar and I joined his singing the song. I was more a punk than anything else, but I knew every word. FREEBIRD had been a huge hit in 1972.

If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be travelling on, now,
'Cause there's too many places I've got to see.
But, if I stayed here with you, girl,
Things just couldn't be the same.
'Cause I'm as free as a bird now,
And this bird you can not change.
Lord knows, I can't change.

Bye, bye, its been a sweet love.
Though this feeling I can't change.
But please don't take it badly,
'Cause Lord knows I'm to blame.
But, if I stayed here with you girl,
Things just couldn't be the same.
Cause I'm as free as a bird now,
And this bird you'll never change.
And this bird you can not change.
Lord knows, I can't change.
Lord help me, I can't change.

My younger brother put down his guitar and kissed his emaciated brother on the forehead. I kissed the other side. His skin was waxen. Michael had only a little further to go.

"Let's take a photo."

"Now?" Paddy knew how vain Michael was. It was a family trait.

"If not now, then it will be never." Michael had hours left in his heart. I positioned my camera on the bureau. The timer ran for thirty seconds. The camera snapped a shot of Paddy and me with my baby brother between us. He died a day later. We buried him in the town cemetery. I fled the sorrow to Asia and mourned my brother at the holiest temples in the Orient.

Upon my return I developed the roll of film from Michael's last days. I didn't show the shot on the bed to anyone but Paddy. He shook his head.

"What? You thinking about how thin he was?" I asked taking the photo back from his hand.

"No, just thinking about how fat we were."

I looked at the picture and laughed at the truth. Michael would have too and probably did someplace in the afterlife. He was out there somewhere.

FREEBIRD INDEED.

HATE ‘HEY JUDE’ HATE By Peter Nolan Smith



The Beatles and the British invasion vanquished American music from the Top 40. April 1964 the Fab Four dominated the US charts with 5 #1 hits. I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND was the first. One smash after the other and the Liverpool band had long legs. A HARD’S DAY NIGHT gained a stranglehold on 1965. RUBBER SOUL was released in December 1965. Another year lost for the garage bands of the suburbs. Their potential hits blipped on the radar of pop music. The Rolling Stones confronted the Beatles on equal ground, but the adoration of teenage girls had transformed the English group into gods.

Even the drummer Ringo.

When John Lennon claimed that they were more popular than Christ, priests and preachers sought to burn their LPs in Nazi fashion, however the bonfires of the Bible Belt were shunned by virtuous teenage girls willing to sacrifice their maidenhood to Beatlemania.

This defloration fantasy was shared by the majority of New England girls. My next-door neighbor favored John Lennon. He was the Smart One. Addy Manzi had seen the group at Carneige Hall in December 2, 1964. Her father had played with big bands in the 40s. His old music contacts had scored the tickets. Addy was the envy of every girl in my hometown, yet even her beauty had not been enough to pierce the siege lines at the Plaza Hotel. She had attended the Boston Garden show a week later. Her luck was better for that concert.

“John played every song for me.”

Most girls pined for Paul McCartney. The Cute One. My younger sister wrote him a dozen letters. She was not alone. Kyla Rolla was the cutest girl in my 7th Grade class at Our Lady of the Foothills. I knew her since we were 8. Our first puppy love died with her parents’ divorce.

Kyla wore her blonde hair long like Paul’s girlfriend, the British actress Jane Asher. She had cried for days after seeing the Beatles at Shea Stadium. Her older sisters had driven to the concert. They stood high in the standings of girls in my hometown. It didn’t take much, but going to that show was more than enough.

My band was the Rolling Stones. They were outlaws. I couldn’t tell Kyla that SATISFACTION was the greatest rock song of all time. I love the B-side of the 45. UNDER-ASSISTANT WEST COAST PROMO MAN. In order to gain her heart I had to commit treason to the best rock and roll band in the world.

I stopped visiting the barbershop in Mattapan Square. My hair grew over my ears. Loafers were abandoned in favor of Beatles boots. I wore a Beatles jacket. No collar like Chairman Mao. It cost $15. Matching pants were another $10. I wore the suit to school. The nuns sent me home with a note for my parents. My streak of perfect attendance was shot, but Kyla noticed me for the first time in years.

“Who’s your favorite Beatle?” she asked on the way home from school. I sat in last seat of the yellow bus. Her uniform skirt was four inches over her knees. The nuns sent home any girl with a higher hemline. The seat next to me was empty. There was only one answer.

“Paul.”

“Me too.” Kyla sat down close. Her skin smelled of Ivory soap and her hair emanated the scent of Johnson’s baby shampoo. Her green eyes were emeralds stolen by Murph the Surf from the Museum of Natural History in New York. Green as cut grass. I prayed that she didn’t notice my stealing her fragrance with near-silent inhales, as our conservations revolved around Paul McCartney trivia.

Paul was a Gemini like me. He was 22. I was 12. His favorite color was blue. Mine too. I told Kyla that she looked like Jane Asher. She let me hold her hands. I sang her songs off BEATLES 65. ‘YOU’VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY. Kyla closed her doe eyes dreaming that I was her Paul.

“Kiss me, Jane.”

“Oh, Paul.”

Our lips met at the red light before the local church. Paul’s soul invaded my body and my hand touched Kyla’s sweater. It was cashmere. Her ribs felt like thick guitar strings. My fingertips inched higher. They grazed the bottom of her breast.

“Oh, Paul.”

My hand glided over her nipple. I had practiced the movement on my own thousands of times. I had expected a moan, instead Kyla gasped with outrage. A slap to my cheek devastated my imitation of Paul.

“But I thought that____”

“You thought wrong. You’re no Paul.” Kyla pulled down her shirt and stormed down the aisle to the girls her age. My older brother had seen the entire episode. His eyes warned the other boys to not make fun of me. It didn’t stop their snickers.

Every day I begged Kyla for forgiveness. I had never imagined that her fantasies were rated PG. She ignored my every entreaty. I was no longer her Paul. She went steady with Jimmie Lally. His hair color was closer to Paul’s than mine. I didn’t hate him or her, because they were caricatures of the greater world beyond the confines of Boston’s South Shore. Rock and roll, fame, and fortune.

My parents bought SGT. PEPPER for my birthday. I listened to it once. Kyla had ruined the Beatles for me. The Rolling Stones regained my devotion. I played HIS SATANICAL MAJESTY’S REQUEST twice a day as if the Devil could restore Kyla to me. His power failed day after day. The Beatles seemed more powerful than Satan, then we came back together. I didn’t know why and didn’t ask why either. We were childhood sweethearts touched by the Devil.
Kisses were not kisses.

A caress was soul-deep.

Her family was living on the other side of town. Her older sisters had moved out of the house. Two of them were stewardesses. The other dated a biker from Wollaston Beach. His name was Chico.

Kyla and I were a thing. We were saving it for our wedding night. Herr mother was going a man from Chile. They spent nights out in Boston. We had the run of the house until midnight. I was almost a man.

Kyla introduced me to WBCN on her FM radio. “Mississippi Harold Wilson” was the first DJ to play Cream’s I FEEL FREE. She loved the Velvet Underground. I was a big fan of the Jefferson Airplane. We lay on the couch of her dark living room. Our nights were everything except have sex. My parents understood that we were in love. My mother was okay with our dating as long as I got home before midnight. I felt a little like Cinderella.

My hair got longer. Kyla and I talked about running away to San Francisco that summer. We got as far as Wollaston Beach.

At summer’s end I spent a long night on the couch. Her bra was on the floor. Her panties down at her knees. My Levis were unzippered. Our hands did the rest. Time disappeared from our universe, as WBCN’s night DJ played the Modern Lovers’ ROADRUNNER, the Velvets’ ROCK AND ROLL, and Quicksilver’s MONA. We were naked, when JJ Johnson announced over the air, “I have a special song to play this evening. A masterpiece. HEY JUDE by The Beatles.”

I stopped rubbing against Kyla’s thigh. WBCN never played The Beatles. Paul McCartney, my old rival, opens with vocals and piano. F, C and B-flat. The second verse added a guitar and tambourine. Simple. Pure Beatles.

“I love this.” Kyla pulled me closer and closed her eyes. The four minute coda of ‘Hey Jude’ went on forever. At the song’s end I was still a virgin, but only just. Kyla opened her eyes and sighed, “That was good.”

I read the love in her eyes.

Paul.

Always Paul.

I looked at the clock on the wall. It was 2:10. I kissed her lips and dressed fast, as if my speed could turn back the hands of time. Kyla waved from the door way. She was wearing a silk robe.

“Tomorrow.”

“Manana.” I had learned the word from her mother’s boyfriend. He let me drink wine.

The streets of my hometown were suburb quiet. No cars. All the houses dark. My home was three miles away. I began to run. I was on the track team. A car appeared around a curve. A VW. My father’s car. He must have been coming to get me. His mood had to be dark. He liked his sleep. The VW 180ed in the street with a screech. It had a short turning circle. The car braked to a halt and the passenger door shot open.

“Get in.” It was a command. I sat down expecting the worst. My father read the riot act. “All you had to do was call. Ten seconds and say you were all right. But you were only thinking about yourself.”

I never saw the punch coming. The VW never swerved. Blood dripped on my shirt. My father handed me a rag. I could tell that he was sorry for having lost his temper. I had never hit me before.

“You’re grounded for a week.”

“Yes, sir.” A month was punishment. A week was an apology.

He turned on the radio. WBZ. The disc jockey was playing HEY JUDE. Soon The Beatles song would be the only song on the radio. It stayed #1 on the American charts nine weeks. Kyla played the song at home. Her mother did too. My mother also. My father knew the words. I couldn’t get them out of my head.

Even to this day.

Always telling me, “I’m not Paul.”

Then again I never said I was.

And the next night I didn’t have to be anyone to Kyla, but me.

After that there was no manana.

Only on HEY JUDE a thousand "Na na na na na na na."

Who's # 1



Easter weekend brought the youth of spring to New York. The trees are flowering and the temperature will be in the 70s by midday. Holiday-makers are returning from their vacations with tropical tans and the city is slowly resuming its hectic pace. The Hassidim will return to the Diamond District tomorrow and Manhattan will abandon the spiritual for its incessant search for the superficial.

Jesus has been exiled from his temporary # 1 status on the Google search engines by superstar Lady Gaga follow by teen heartthrob Justin Bieber and then cats. Not the musical CATS. Cats as in the household pet beat out the saviour of the Believers. Cats also scored higher than Barack Obama, Elvis, and the Beatles. John Lennon must be rolling in his grave to have fallen so low. At the peak of the Beatles, the singer said in a UK newspaper interview, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first, rock 'n' roll or Christianity."

The Believers in the USA freaked at this statement and irate church officials burned Beatles records in the South. Reporters in America badgered the Fab Four for a retraction and John Lennon gave them the following apology.

"If I'd said television was more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it." Lennon said he had only been referring to how other people saw their success, but "if you want me to apologize, if that will make you happy, then okay, I'm sorry."

He was a man of his word.

And I think that he really was sorry.

For something, but not his words.

Click on this next image to see who's where on Google Search

Monday, April 25, 2011

Nines


Easter was a special holiday for our family. My mother was a devout Catholic. My father had converted from agnosticism to marry his Irish bride. The Bowdoin College grad was a good dresser and they attired their six children, as if we were the jewels of empire. Every Easter we wore new clothes from tie to shoes. Our family's fashion statement for the holiday was the highwater mark for our parish south of Boston.

My mother and father have been promoted from this mortal coil. I never confessed my rejection of their faith. The truth would have only pained them both and my apostasy is a private matter, however this Easter as every Easter before it I dressed to the nines. Not a stitch of old on my limbs. Tan suit, white shirt, Celtic green tie. White shoes. My mother loved white shoes and this Easter Day was a day for white shoes.

A misty morning had surrendered to the will of a balmy afternoon. The long winter was gone and the youth of new season was blooming on the trees. My mouth broke into a smile at the sight of the white flower of the ornamental pear trees.

I walked over to Frank's Lounge in my finery. No people on Lafayette were dressed for the occasion. I spotted Raldo on Fulton. The old high-lifer was slick as an otter in his racing red sweater, flannel trousers, and panama hat. The rakish style icon rarely sports a jacket in warm weather, so the police know that he isn't carrying a gun. They can't believe the light-skinned Prince of the Strip has retired from the game for good. Most of his friend share the sentiment. Raldo and I have no history and 80 year-old greeted me with a nod.

"Hey, there, white boy." The salutation has no bite. Raldo doesn't know my name. "Looking good."

"Thanks."

"But I don't know about the rest of these folks." His eyes shuttled from left and right terminals. His vision took in the whole street. Disappointment scrunched his grin and he hitched up his 30" waist trousers. Raldo weighed as much as the wind. "Low-assed jeans, a sloppy tee-shirt, and fat. How did those young people get so fat. Damn, they so fat they put the Fat Man of the Carnival out of work."

"It's a plague." I didn't say more. It had been a long winter. Comfort food warmed the flesh. My estimate on my weight was 10 pounds off. I had to lose my girth and I sucked in my stomach. It almost hurt. "And catching."

"You better watch out, white boy." Raldo tipped his hat.

"Do too."

Raldo looked over his shoulder with a snap of his head.

"I'm good." He sauntered up the hill with women on his mind.

I headed down Fulton to the bar across from the statue of General Fowler. The Civil War general fought at dozens of engagement against the South. This winter an admirer covered his cold shoulder with a cape and wrapped a wreath of Xmas lights around his head. It was a good look.

I entered Frank's. The Celtics-Knicks game was on the TV. Tom the bartender whistled with appreciation. His two octogenarian friends applauded my effort. I bought the three immortals a round. We toasted my parents. The Celtics won the game and I returned home.

Happy.

I hadn't spilled a beer on my new suit. My white shoes were spotless. Messing them up is for a day other than Easter.

Hellbound and Loving It


My co-worker at the diamond exchange on West 47th Street is a born-again Christian. Ava sits behind me. She listens to Brazilian Jesus music at a low-volume. I don’t understand the lyrics, but the word ‘Jesus’ is repeated often in the choruses. Ava attends church on Saturdays and Sundays. She believes in the 2nd Coming of the Messiah. The Judgment Day is a tangible date in the near-future.

“Do you think I’m heading to heaven?” I was joking with her. My non-belief is well-known on 47th Street.

“No.” Ava shook her head vehemently without condemnation. “You’re not going to heaven?”

“I’m not?” My concept of the afterlife consists of coming back as a skinny blonde go-go dancer, so I can control the destiny of men. Ava’s version was more traditional and I said, “What if I repent at the last moment?”

“Then you go to purgatory after you die?” Ava was convinced on this fate.

“That’s better than hell.” The fiery pit was legendary for its lack of cold beer, although the only beverage in limbo was a gray flagon of regrets and heaven’s fountains are not spraying lager.

“Only if you truly repent.”

“And who decides that?” I had a feeling that the arbiter of eternal salvation would not be fooled by my last-minute re-conversion to my old faith.

“God.”

“He has to have too much to do to bother with me.”

“That attitude will send you to hell.” Ava exercised no sense of humor on the subject of eternal damnation.

“Well, could you tell me when the Day of Judgment is coming?”

“Why?” The Brazilian was puzzled by this question.

“So I can drink cold beer for a month before I go burn in Hell.”

“Damned. You’re damned, but I'll still pray for your soul."

"Thanks." Ava was a good girl and a man like me needs a good girl to pray for his soul, for in Hell there will only be bad girls. Go-Go girls, whores, sluts, trannys et al. It will be a Hell of an Eternity and I will be in bad company. How bad can it be?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Difference of Three Days


According to the New Testament Yeshua bar Yosef was surrendered by the Hebrew legal council to the Roman Prefect of Judaea. The Sanhedrin accused the citizen of Gallilee of claiming to be the King of the Jews. Pontius Pilate came to the conclusion that the healer was innocent of charges, however the Passover crowd before his palace wanted blood. The Roman offered them a choice; their 'king' or Barrabas, a violent insurrectionist. The mob led by the Pharisees and Sadducees, the two most powerful political forces amongst the Judean populace, cried out for Barrabas. Pntius Pilate washed his hands and ordered his garrison troops to crucify their choice.

The date was supposedly the 14th of Nissan and the year ranges from 28AD to 36AD.

No one is sure after nearly 2000 years, although the Vatican determines Good Friday and Easter according to the ancient calculations of the Council of Nicaea, which declared Easter to be celebrate on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox as was the pagan holiday honoring Isthar, the Babylonian goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex. Her temples were infamous for their prostitution cults.

The early church was adept at kidnapping the traditions of other religions, but not so good with arithmetic. The priests and nuns taught the faithful that Jesus rose from the dead after three days. He died on a Friday. He stayed dead on Saturday. He rose on Sunday. Three different days, yet a time span of only 43 hours. Less than two days. Maybe I'm too picky. Clocks didn't exist in 33AD. The hours were either sunrise, noon, sunset, or night. Calenders were also hard to find in 787AUC according the the Romans, whose years began according to Anno Urbis Conditae or the founding of Rome.

A long long time ago.

Before I was born in this lifetime.

And I couldn't care less, because for me Easter is simply a day for chocolate and wearing a new suit and tie. The former for kids and the latter for my beloved Mother. She liked to dress up on Easter and even atheist will honor the old traditions for their mother.

Happy Easter Eggs.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

ROCK AND ROLL PART 2


Gary Glitter served time in Vietnam. His crime was sex with minors. The singer of ROCK AND ROLL PART 2 claimed he was innocent, since the act of coprophilia isn't ‘sex’. Authorities in almost every country in the world begged to differ. Cambodia has long been targeted by pedophiles as a desired destination to pursue their prey. NGOs and police have arrested scores of chicken hawks and closed down the most notorious brothels of K11.

The problem is deep-rooted in poverty.

Several years ago Nick Spurs and I escaped the Songkran madness in Thailand. We overlanded from Pattaya to Sihanoukville and then up to Phnom Penh. I liked the old colonial capitol. It had escaped the Asian Tiger Boom. Nick and I had drank at Martinis. He found a date. I wasn't in the mood. Mam was on my mind and she was a ten hour car ride away in Pattaya.

The next morning Nick met me on the terrace of the Hope and Anchor Hotel. The morning traffic on the Quai Sisowith was reserved for early risers and street urchins. A young boy came approached our table with yesterday’s papers. I had already read the Bangkok Post, but couldn’t let him go off empty-handed. 1000 rials made him smile. Nick felt the same way and handed him another 1000 rial note.

“You want to go room and have sex? Six dollars.”

I didn’t think I heard him right.

Six dollars.

Nick and I shook our heads.

“No, we’re not interested.”

“What about young girl? 10 years-old.” The young boy turned from hustler to pimp within a heartbeat.

“No, we want to eat our breakfast.” I signaled for the waitress to tell the boy to leave. He wasn’t giving up. “Maybe you like boy and girl. $10.”

“No.”

“I come back later. Maybe change mind.”

Travel brochures warn against trafficking in minors, but few mention how to avoid situations like this boy.

Best to stay away from the street side tables and never be too friendly, because you never know who might be looking or how they might interpret an innocent or not so innocent gesture.

Gary Glitter has been banned from SE Asia. His hit song was boycotted by sports stadium DJs. His income must have shrunk to nothing, but I heard ROCK AND ROLL PART 2 being played at Bulls-Pacers NBA game this afternoon. It's a great song for the crowd. Americans don't care if he's a perv. They love the music and the Law can never take taht away from Gary Glitter. His music will live forever.

At least one song.

To hear ROCK AND ROLL PART 2 please go to this URL

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xd44PWZGzg

A Man from Nowhere


My older brother and I were born 13 months apart. My mother dressed the two of us in the same clothing to firstly prevent us from fighting over shirts, pants, and shoes and secondly to heighten the illusion that we were twins. She loved people asking that question and she would reply 'Irish twins' with pride, even though Yankees considered the term an insult or that "Irish Twins' were siblings born within 11 months of each other.

My older brother and I accepted her dress code without question. We were born in the 1950s. Not only was silence golden, but children were better off seen, but not heard. The Sisters of Our Lady of the Foothills were of the same mind. My brother was a class ahead of me. I was a little taller. In our uniforms or altar boy outfits we still resembled each other to most people, but both of us could tell the difference. His hair was darker and my head was larger. For the earlier segment of my youth there was no question about our kinship, but as I grew older I rejected many of my family's traditions and beliefs, most importantly the acceptance of God and somehow I doubted whether this family was actually my family, almost as if my real family had abandoned me at birth.

This confused state was the opposite of the Capgras delusion theory, in which according to Wikpedia 'a person holds a delusion that a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family member has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.'

I was the impostor and searched for the proof of my substitution. My birth certificate bore my name and the baby in the photos of the family album resembled me and no one else. I was who everyone said I was, but that is not the case for Barack Obama.

During the last gasps of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid, her staffers released the rumor that her opponent had been born outside the USA and his citizenship came into question. This strategy was a failure. Barack Obama ran against Senator McCain, who was too much of a gentleman to use such underhanded tactics. A wise move to take the high ground, since the GOP candidate had been born in Panama, while his father was posted to the Canal Zone by the US Navy.

Over the past three years critics of the president have continued to challenge the validity of his Hawaiian birth certificate. These 'birthers' are the backbone of the Tea Party and a plurality of GOP supporters regarded Obama as a foreigner. Several state governments have actually introduced bills on the subject. The governor of Arizona vetoed such a proposal, however Donald Trump, the New York billionaire, has publicly expressed his discomfort with the POTUS' nationality issue by demanding that the president produce his birth certificate.

My friend Ty Spaulding attended school in Hawaii with Barack and said to me, "He's as American as you and me."

We met in Nepal atop a Himalaya glacier.

Our opinions do not matter to birthers, but the State of Hawaii will provide proof of birth to anyone who asked for it. Only 26 people have asked for this document in the past three years. Donald Trump, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, Missouri Congressman Roy Blunt, Ohio Republican congresswoman Jean Schmidt, Georgia Representative Nathan Deal, Sarah Palin, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich have yet to visit Hawaii to take a look and CNN made it easy for Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachman, who's no relations to the beautiful Barbara Bachman by showing her the birth certificate.

The issue stays alive on talk radio, because no truth sounds better than a lie everyone wants to believe.

As for Obama he can only say his version of the truth.

"Just want to be clear - I was born in Hawaii."

Like he had any idea where he was on the day of his birth.

My mother knew where I was back on that cold day in May of 1952.

Boston.

An American through and through.

Until someone finds my Irish passport.

Then it's Erin Go Bragh.

I do love my Guinness.

It's certainly better for you than Budweiser.

No-Go Zone on the Hudson


Last weekend I rode the Hudson Line north to Poughkepsie. Spring was suffering a delay thanks to a powerful storm warping across the nation. Heavy winds were expecting to batter the region overnight. I sat by the window and watched the a gray rain lace the river. At times the opposite bank was obscured by a heavy mist, but just north of Croton-on-Hudson the weather lightened to allow a view of Peekskill Bay.

Three concrete towers dominated the southern vista. The cooling towers of the Indian Point nuclear station supply a third of New York City's electrical needs. Subways, elevators, my computer and lights, and millions of energy drains depend on Units 2 and 3. # 1's pressurized water reactors was shut down by the AEC due to its failure of its emergency core cooling system to meet regulatory requirements.

Entergy, the owner of the plant, has long held that the two reactors pose little threat to the area, despite the site's proximity to the Ramapao faultline. Their claims have not assuaged renewed concerns about the plant's safety, especially since the Japanese government declared a 20-kilometer no-go zone or NGZ around the earthquake-damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor.

"No need to worry."

A 20 kilometer NGZ at Indian Point would encompass over 300 square miles according the the following formula; A = Pi times r squared.

West Point would escape the zone, but Peekskill and Croton-On-Hudson would be as deserted as the forest surrounding Chernobyl. At least 200 years before anyone could survive in the dead zone, unless the Japanese or extra-terrestial visitors could save us from ourselves.

Yesterday was Earth Day.

I toasted our planet at the diamond exchange with my co-workers and Manny, my boss. Beers for everyone on me. Richie Boy, his son, had taken off the day. He was driving his brand-new SUV to Montauk. It is powered by gasoline. I keep telling people that we won't have any cars 20 years from now. No one believes me. I don't really believe me too, but no one will be driving in Fukushima until the year 2212.

I won't be around then, unless the extra-terrestials also invent a youth rejuvenating machine.

29.

I wouldn't mind being that old again.

It's my half-life.

Friday, April 22, 2011

You Bet I Would # 6


A friend of mine posted this photo on Facebook. The website managers warned him against such material. Squares of Political Correctness and many of his friends also chided him for purveying sex. Americans are so puritan that the adults have forgotten how to have sex and the white race has to depend on teenage single mothers for population growth.

Of course Sarah Palin's daughter was rewarded with a TV contract for her unwedded mommy status.

Way to go, America.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

West 23rd Street Afoot


Residents of Chelsea are noticeably thinner than the inhabitants of other Manhattan neighborhoods. Their sparse frames might be attributed to youth, exercise, and diet, however the cause of their weightlessness is a result of the paucity of M-23 buses. Every time I exited from the F train at 23rd Street to head west the the galleries by the river, the connecting bus stop is crowded with commuters. This evening was no exception. I stepped onto the street and studied the oncoming traffic. There was not a bus in sight. A glance in the other direction affirmed my suspicions that the 3rd term mayor of New York had targeted Chelsea for the first stages of public transportation cuts. The young were impatient with the wait. Walking home was faster than the bus and good for their circulation. The old and infirm had no choice other than to grimly tolerate the abysmal service. I was tired from a long day at work, but hoofed the four long blocks to 10th Avenue.

The paintings at the gallery were worth the hump, although the slog to 8th Avenue tapped the dregs of my reserve. I descended into the subway. The toll booth was not only unattended. It was gone. A white square of ungummed concrete marked the ghost of its existence. The platform was packed by travelers on the C Line. The train arrived several minutes later. I took a seat to rest my weary bones, thankful to be living in Fort Greene and not Chelsea. A bus runs in Brooklyn. In fact many of them. It's a good place to be.

ps I like skinny girls

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

4:20 4/20 2012


I smoked my first joint on an afternoon drive from Nantasket Beach in the summer of 1969. My passengers were Frank E Smith (not my brother), Thommie Gordan, and John Morsey. We were friends from the Surf Nantasket, a dance club on the beach. We had just seen an afternoon show of the Rockin’ Ramrods, the South Shore’s #1 band. My three friends wanted to smoke marijuana on the way home. I told them no.

“I don’t want to get a contact high.” My drugs of choice was beer, wine, and any other form of alcohol. Marijuana was against the laws of the state. No one in my family had ever gone to jail.

"Pot is better than alcohol and safer than cigarettes." John was a head. He smoked every day. His grade average at high school was a straight D.

"You smoke both." The radio in my VW Beetle was tuned to WMEX. The DJ was playing the Zombies SEASON OF THE WITCH. It was a groovy song.

"Girls like smoking weed." Frank E had been in the Marines for six months. A broken leg had earned him an honorable discharge. He brandished a joint between his fingers. "It makes them horny."

My girlfriend was straight. Kyla was a cheerleader with a divorced mom. We had come close more than a dozen times that summer.

“Smoke it.” John lit up a reefer. He attended Catholic Memorial. It was my school’s arch rival. “You’ll feel good.”

“Smoke it.” Thommie Gordan played hockey for Archbishop Williams. He had long hair. His sister was cute. “It won’t hurt you.”

I opened the sunroof of the VW. My window too.

“Smoke it.” Frank E sucked on the joint. “Girls like it, especially that hippie girl from Weymouth you like. Susan Finn.”

“She does?” I had spent the entire afternoon trying to get the petite brunette out to the beach. She had a reputation for being 'easy'. I was frustrated from Kyla's refusals. She wanted me to wait until after college. Four more years was an eternity for a teenage boy.

“Yes, she does.” A match flared before John’s face. He inhaled off the joint and then passed it to the front. I took it from him. My days of a straight person ended with one inhale. Two minutes later we stopped at a green light in Hingham. Time reversed direction. I sat at the light until a cop car beeped at me.

My friends laughed hysterically.

I joined them.

I was ruined for society and have remained FTW, especially on 4/20, National Smoke Day.

420 wasn’t the original choice for this holiday, however 4:20 was the mythical time that these pothead from San Rafael High School in California would meet at Louis Pasteur Statue to get high.

Hence 420.

Not much else to say other than I’m going out to break the law.

It’s time to free the weed.

If you got it, smoke it. I will.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Day after Passaich


America was a strongly Christian country in the 1950s. Cecil B. DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS was released in 1956 and its box office success earned the cinematic retelling of Exodus over $180 million dollars. In 1962 Paramount Pictures re-released the film for screenings at drive-ins across the nation and my father loaded my brothers and sisters into our Ford station wagon to view the epic with a cast of thousands at the South Shore Drive-In.

After paying for our entry my father cruised the left-handed lane looking for a good vantage spot. He was an ace at parking. My mother spotted an open slot, but before my father could turn a rock hit our car. My father's head spun to the left and he spotted a teenager scrambling up the grassy slope. He jammed the shift into P and jumped out of the car. He had played football in college and caught the young man within seconds. It was too dark to tell if he had punched the stone-thrower, although he returned to the station wagon rubbing his knuckles.

"Damned kids today."

"That language." My mother never used a bad word in her life. She thought that swearing was a sign of mental depravity.

"Sorry." My father loved my mother almost as much as he loved his 6 children. He gave my older brother and me money to get popcorn from the concession stand. This was the first time that we didn't have to wear pajamas to the drive-in. We weren't kids anymore and we sat in front of the car on folding chairs. Charlton Heston was awed by the burning bush under the starry skies of the South Shore. His voice was echoed by hundreds of tiny speakers across the drive-in. The cruelty of the Egyptians was monstrous. Moses was heroic. The plagues came one by one. The Pharaoh played by the bald Yul Brenner refused to let the Hebrews leave his land.

The Nile was turned into blood. Frogs overran the land. Gnats infested the dead frogs. Wild beasts were driven crazy by the gnats. Livestock died from the diseased wild beasts. A pestilence of boils spread on the skin of the Egyptians. A hailstorm destroyed the remaining crops. Locust clouded the sky. Darkness fell over Egypt and finally the first-born of every Egyptian died with the passage of the angel of death.

"Why would God kill innocent babies?" I had been a non-believer since the age of 6. God's ruthlessness with the 10th plague hardened my heart to the faith of America.

"God acts in strange ways." My older brother had possession of the popcorn. This wasn't the place for an argument about God and at the end of the movie the Hebrews reach the Promised Land, although without Moses who doubted God's promise.

"God doesn't act in strange ways. He acts like a creep." My best friend Chaney had drowned in Lake Sebago. He had been a 1st born.

"Sssh, you want mom to hear you?"

I shut up, since my youthful atheism would have deeply hurt my mother, but for years later I would question believers about God's mercy and I became very troubled how the Jews celebrated Passover as a commemoration of the ancient decimation of the Egyptian young.

I mentioned this quandary to 47th Street's crazed genius. Lenny worked the street for $1 tips from the diamond dealers. He spent the money on his sister. Lenny was a good boychek, but more than a little mad, although he had recently been written up in the Daily News as a financial wizard.

"How can anyone in their right mind celebrate the death of innocents?" I handed Lenny a dollar. My boss hated Lenny for being a beggar. Manny had every right to feel this way, since he had worked most of his life.

"Damian, I didn't kill any Egyptians and I didn't kill Jesus either. I'm just a harmless Jews." Lenny whined with a shrug. "Makes me wonder too, but then the Pharaoh was a bad man."

"Or so the Bible says."

"Please." Lenny lifted both his hands in defense. He was a religious bum. His head was always covered by a yarmulke. "Don't think bad of us. We have had a hard time over the centuries. You know that there was no angel of death. The young probably died from infected food, since the first-born always got the food first. Who knows, but it was a sad scene when Yul Brenner carried his dead son in his palace."

"Yes, it was." I bid Lenny a good Passaich.

His god and the god of my rejected religion is a cruel god. He let his son die on a cross. As a father I could never do that, but then I'm human and gods are divine. They can get away with everything.

I hope everyone had a good sedar.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Downside of Heaven


A holy man from Bali died from old age. He arrived at the Pearly Gates to be greeted by St. Peter.

“Welcome to Heaven.” St. Peter led the Balinese holy man inside the holy rest home of eternity.

“I thought heaven was only for Christians.”

“No, no, heaven is for everyone. Over there are the Balinese. To the right the French. Back there the Muslims. Up front the Christians. Over there the Irish.” St. Peter pointed out every segment of heaven, then as they walked through a forest of euphoria, St. Peter whispered. “And over there are the Fundamentalists.”

“Why are you whispering?”

“Because they think they’re the only ones up here.”

Read Stanley Elkins THE LIVING END

It's a Smaller World


My bloodline is divided between my maternal Hibernian roots and my father's Yankee heritage. My Nana was transported from the West of Ireland across the Atlantic in steerage and my DownEast ancestors sailed with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower. Both families held strong convictions about the value of hard work and in 1962 my father found my older brother and me a job delivering the morning newspaper for the Boston Globe and Herald to our neighborhood south of the Neponset River. The distributor paid four cents a paper. My brother and I earned more than $10 a week at a time when then minimum wage was $1.15. We were rich boys at 8 and 9. My mother banked the money from the newspapers for our college fund. We got to keep the tips.

Our youthful spending sprees devoted to Yodels, cokes, movies, and comic books didn't deplete our personal stashes and I decided to be charitable with my money. The nuns of Our Lady of the Foothills had organized a fund drive to proselytize the war orphans of Korea. My Uncle Jack had fought with the Marines at Chosin Reservoir. My father had escaped service in that far-off conflict by writing a letter to JFK, then Massachusetts' freshman congressman. They had both done their duty in WWII. My father was exempted from joining the battles against the Chinese hordes. He was the sole source of income for his family. I felt that I owed a debt to the less fortunate children and contributed $15 to the nuns' charity.

My selfless donation was praised by the sisters and I was given the right to name the baby orphans at their baptism. It was almost like having my own children and I gave $30 more for the right to these motherless wards of the Church with names such as Peter Nolan Kim, Chaney Park, and Fabian Lee. The pastor of our parish rewarded my generosity with documentation of my wards' baptism and enrollment in an orphanage with hopes of increasing Christ's army in Asia. I stashed the certificates in my closet. I attended Catholic school only to please my mother. My belief in God had reached a dead-end in 1960, when my best friend, Chaney, drowned in Sebago Lake. He had been 6. No god I wanted to worship would have let someone that young die.

Over the years I would wonder about my wards. I hoped that they had escaped the clutches of the Church. My research into the numerical ranks of the faithful in Korea revealed that many Koreans had rejected traditional beliefs in favor of the more liberal concepts of all men and women sharing equality as espoused by the Chatholic and Protestant missionaries. Their proponents ballooned to sizable proportions of the population and in recent years I have Googled the names of my charges without any success. I also have occasion to travel through Korea on trips to Thailand. Korean Air is the best airline in the Orient. Each time I'm waiting in Inchoen Airport, I study the name tags of the workers in their 40s. One day I'll meet one of my orphans.

Either in this life or one of the next.

We are all family.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

GONE ARE THE GODS by Peter Nolan Smith


This afternoon at the diamond exchange my co-worker Ava was reading scripture, while listening to god music on her computer. This good woman is worried about my soul. I told her that I was content with the threat of hell, for my best friend had drowned in Sebago Lake at age 8. No one saw him over his head. He died alone. Over 50 yeasrs ago I decided that no god could have permitted such a death and I told Ava, “I am happy with my spirituality.”

“But I don’t want you to burn in hell.” This single mom had a heart of gold. Only Jesus could bring me to the promised eternity.

“Believe me. I will not burn in hell.” I’ve never done anything so bad in this lifetime to deserve an endless torment from the devils of Satan. “I’m a good man. Most of the time.”

“But you don’t believe in God.”

“When I was young, hippies believed that a guitar player was God.” ERIC IS GOD was spray painted across walls in the UK and America. Clapton’s searing performance with Cream had earned that accolade.

“No man is God.”

“Jesus was a man.” Earlier Christianity argued the duality of his natures. Half-God. Half-man. Every variation on that theme.

“He was a God.” Ava sucked in her breath. In her mind my words were straight from Satan. Her lips moved with prayer. “You are going to Hell.”

"I'll have good company."

Mostly sinners, non-believers and heretics, but also those devotees to Eric Clapton, for their rock god was a false idol. There is only one and true guitar god.

Jimi Hendrix.

The Jesse James of rock burst onto the screen with his staggering performance at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival. A long way from his first gig at Seattle’s Temple De Hirsch. At the end of covering the Troggs hit WILD THING he set his Fender Stratocaster on fire. From that moment to his final appearance in Germany Hendrix was the mountain.

I saw him at Boston Garden in 1970 with my good friend Wayne Shepard. The opening bands were Illusion and Cactus. Their sets were short. No one had come to see either band. We were waiting for the Jimi Hendrix Experience Part 2. Jimi took the stage with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass.

The set consisted of Fire, Lover Man, Hear My Train A Comin’, Foxy Lady, Room Full of Mirrors, Red House, Freedom, Ezy Ryder, Machine Gun, The Star-Spangled Banner, Purple Haze, and Voodoo Child (Slight Return).

I kept shouting out THE WIND CRIED MARY. Wayne worshiped Jim. He elbowed me to shut up. I stopped after the LSD hit my brain. I don’t remember much after that other than singing “Cuse me while I touch the sky.”

Jimi didn’t burn his guitar with lighter fluid that night.

Only with his fingers.

40 years ago.

When I was young.

And listening to him tonight bring me back to those days.

18.

Jimi lives on.

Forever.

One day maybe Ava, my co-worker will understand my worship of the Left-Handed Guitar. He was human. Like the rest of us.

To see PURPLE HAZE please go to his URL

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnFSaqFzSO8

Holiday In Hell


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

“Sorry about the no 77 virgins. In this heaven we spend our days in the glory of God, who is non-denominational. You’ll meet the truly blessed evolving into the truly blissed.”

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

“Pretty much as you envisioned it.”

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

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

“And I can go now?”

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

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

“Not like I expected it.”

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

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

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

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

“No problem.”

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

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

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

Rent-Free Hell


This evening on the C train between Hoyt-Schmmerhorn adn Lafayette Street a young man was preaching about the wrath of his lord.

"God loves his flock, but hates a sinner. All you sinners will have a special place of torment in Hell." He glared about the subway car like Josef Mengele, the SS Angel of Death at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I met his stare with cold blue eyes, but smiled as I asked, "Are those places rent-free?"

Most of the passengers were immune from his rant. Their headphones and earplugs filled their head with song. A few were free of any device and they laughed at my quip. The preacher was not amused and pointed a finger in my direction.

"The end is coming soon."

"Not soon enough for me, if it means you'll be taken to your holly heaven and I don't have to listen to you anymore."

The train stopped at Lafayette and I stepped onto the platform. I half-expected the preacher man to follow my exit.

"You're lost." The preacher scowled without joy. There are no jokes in hell for the Christians.

"Not lost, but found in the beauty of humanity and the glory of love."

I couldn't imagine the Jesus-lover celebrating Bunny Day with an egg hunt, but stranger things have happened to the faithful.

Even to those without a sense of humor.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tar in the Blood



My father’s side of the family arrived on the the Mayflower. Howlands. My Nana rode a deck above steerage in the Year of the Crow. She was 12. My parents enrolled my name in the ranks of The Sons of Colonial Wars and Mayflower Descendants. As a hippie I was anti-status quo and never attended a single gathering of either association, despite our rumored family ties to Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president. We were from Maine. My grandmother’s last name was Hamlin. I recalled her saying that she was related to the great man and have mentioned this to many of my friends over the years.

A few have backed up this claim. My father compiled a family genealogy. I can only guess at our past, so I researched the family connection on the Internet.

The first page of websites blatantly accused my supposed ancestor of having been a mulatto, citing his dark complexion.

“Hamlin is what we call a Mulatto…they design to place over the South a man who has Negro blood in his veins.”

His Vice-Presidency added another incendiary flame to the secessionists and his political opponents in Maine further scandalized by untruths as to his heritage.

“That black Penobscot Indian.”

Of course no one was really white back then. Artists painted presidents as white when in truth they were men of color, because white women died in droves during childbirth. Faced with extinction white males impregnated black women to save the race, plus sex with white women was an obligation instead of a pleasure, however the darkest of the dark were thrown out of the big house same as Abraham banished his concubine Hagar and his son Ishmael into the desert.

As for me, I walked like the Mothers of Invention sang on FREAK OUT, “I’m not black,but there’s a lot of times I don’t feel white.”

It’s in my blood.

And everyone else’s too.

The First Shot In Anger


150 years ago

At 4:30am on Friday, April 12, 1861 Brigadier General Beauregard ordered the secessionist troops manning the artillery batteries of Charleston, South Carolina to open fire on Fort Sumter housing 127 federal troops of which 13 were musicians. Two hours lapse before the Yankee commander allowed Captain Abner Doubleday, the inventor of baseball, to return a salvo of solid ball. No rebel or union soldiers died during the 34 hours of bombardment, although one rebel was mortally wounded after the misfiring of a cannon and two union troops gave up their lives on the 47th shot of a 100-shot salute after the surrender of the beleaguered fort.

The nearly-bloodless fight ill-prepared the divided nation for the four years of slaughter to come. I asked everyone at work of today's importance. None of the employees at the diamond exchange had an answer. A good percentage of them are foreign-born. None of the native-born were aware of the date's significance. The New York Times, the Daily News, and New York Post wrote articles about the battle, but 2 weeks ago is ancient history in the city that never sleeps.

My father's side of the family fought in the Civil War. Hannibal Hamlin had been vice president under Lincoln. The first time I googled his name the first article to appear said that the Maine politician was reputed to be a negro, but then most white people at that time had negro blood in their veins after 200 years of slavery. They even paid painters to change their pigmentation in portraits to heighten their whiteness, but then the War Between the States was not about freeing the slaves, the casus bellum was 'states rights' according the the southerners of today and certainly more folks south of the Mason-Dixon Line recall the events of today than in the North.

To the victors go the glory of ignorance.

But in the Great State of Maine granite statues dot town squares. Immortal soldiers from the 10th Maine regiment, the 27th Maine, and Joshua Chamberlain's heroic 20th Maine face in one direction and that direction is South. My family is from Westbrook, Maine. The attic of my grandmother's house was a memorial to past wars. As a boy my older brother and I wore the uniforms of WWI and WWII. In my mind I remembered pulling on a blue coat of a Yankee. It was small. Almost the size of a young boy like myself. I telephoned my aunt to ask her, if she recollected a uniform dating back to the Civil War.

"You have such a special memory," she laughed from her living room in Marblehead. Her husband agreed with her recollection, but men at any age agree with a woman if they know what's good for them.

My older brother was my next call. His memory mirrored that of our aunt.

"What about seeing the last Union soldiers at a town parade on Memorial Day? About 1960?"

"Not a chance. The last surviving veteran was Albert Henry Woolson. He died in 1956."

"How do you know that?"

"Because my son told me that today."

His son was smart. He was graduating from U Penn. His field of studies was pre-med.

"And he also asked me to name the 9 battles in which over 20,000 troops died in the Civil War."

"That's easy; the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, Gettysburg, Fredricksburg, Shiloh, Antietam, Stone River, Spotsylvania, and Chickamauga." I had read Bruce Catton's Civil War histories several times as a youth and adult.

I was right, although his wife thought that I read these names from a computer. She was wrong. The Civil War is in my blood. Last month I had driven south of the Potomac to visit Ms. Carolina. She was seriously ill. I wanted to see her before the turns of her travails worsened with the shortening of time. Her house was out on the Northern Neck of the Potomac. I drove down I-95 to route 3 and turned east. Fredricksburg was en route. I was drawn to St. Marye's Heights. The Union Army had been broken on this ground. The 20th Maine had huddled behind the dead. Spring was another few weeks away, but I stood next to the old cannons and mourned the dead.

Theirs and ours.

150 years is a long time. We are still enemies, yet still the same for the Union survived those four dreadful years and this country will be challenged by the present division sundering our connections, for at the end we are all Americans and nobody says it better than Maine's Joshua Chamberlain, who was present during the Surrender at Appomattox. He met with General Gordon of the CSA.

"I am from General Gordon. General Lee desires a cessation of hostilities until he can hear from General Grant as to the proposed surrender."

Chamberlain recounted the ceremony in his memoir and the moment when he ordered the 20th Maine to "carry arms" as a show of respect.

"Gordon, at the head of the marching column, outdoes us in courtesy. He was riding with downcast eyes and more than pensive look; but at this clatter of arms he raises his eyes and instantly catching the significance, wheels his horse with that superb grace of which he is master, drops the point of his sword to his stirrup, gives a command, at which the great Confederate ensign following him is dipped and his decimated brigades, as they reach our right, respond to the 'carry.' All the while on our part not a sound of trumpet or drum, not a cheer, nor a word nor motion of man, but awful stillness as if it were the passing of the dead."

We are one nation.

150 years ago as much as today.

Monday, April 11, 2011

51 REMSEN by Peter Nolan Smith



New York is 200-plus miles from Boston. The two rival cities are connected by an interstate. The drive takes about three-and-a-half-hours. Not a long way and I had spent a little time in the city traveling back and forth to buy pot from Fat Eddie. The East Village dealer was a good connection, even if he stole my girlfriend. Sookie convinced him to lose weight and stopped dealing. She had succeeded on one out of two. Since then five years had passed and I could count my visits to New York on one hand.

Boston was my hometown. My rent for a Brookline basement apartment was cheap. Upstairs was a two-family commune. I had gone out with their 16 year-old daughter. Hilde had told me at the Hi-Hat Lounge that she was 18. We had lasted less than three months. Her parents had said that she was too young. They were probably right. I was 23, but they were a little bit wrong too, since her next boyfriend was a 30 year-old car thief.

My best friend AK had left his ex-girlfriend to be with Hilde’s older sister. Terri was almost twenty. She was very sexy as to be expected of a Combat Zone stripper. They lived into the commune’s attic. We were one big happy family.

I was working as a substitute teacher at South Boston High School. The school system was torn by busing riots. Poor white kids going to school in poor black neighborhoods and vice versa. No one went to school, unless the TV crews showed up to interview a politician, then the kids went crazy. A riot, police, tear gas. I was getting $85/day. Life wasn’t bad. I wrote poetry. Hilde thought some of it was good.

My upstairs neighbor AK played in a funk band. Jump Street. AK was the only white boy. The group was popular, although gigs in white bars were tough due to the busing conflict. Jump Street got a weekend show at a club in the West Village. AK invited me to join him. His girlfriend was staying behind. He had an old girlfriend in Brooklyn.

An artist.

“She looks like an East European refugee.”

I painted my own portrait from this scanty description. Dark-hair, thin, feminine. I doubted I had a chance with her. AK was on the prowl. I had passed through the city on came to New York with my friend AK. He was playing keyboards for a funk band. The only white boy in Jump Street. They had a gig at a bar on 7th Avenue. AK invited several friends. One was Ro, a young painter, with a tendency not to finish here sentences. AK had hoped to rekindle their dalliance, however his girlfriend showed up unannounced at the show. Terri had smelled a rat. Ex-strippers are tough that way.

“Pretend your friends with Ro.” AK was plotting to meet her later.
His girlfriend was too smart to fall for any subterfuge and I accompanied Ro to a late dinner at David’s Pot Belly on Christopher Street. She worked at the small restaurant as a waitress. We spoke about art. Mostly I listened about her plans to study at the Sorbonne in Paris. .

“Bette Davis’ character wanted to do the same in PETRIFIED FOREST. Lesley Howard has the outlaw shoot him so she can collect his insurance. I thought it was very noble.”

“Anyone ever tell you that____”

“Tell me what?”

“That you like an angel____” She struggled for several seconds with the next words. “______under candlelight.”

No one had ever said anything like that to me and we went to her place in Brooklyn Heights.

55 Remsen Street.

Her apartment was over a Chinese whorehouse. A dragon lady stood at the door. Her chignon was sheer silk. I guessed her to be about 40. The red light over the doorway made her 20.

“You want good time?”

“No.” I had never paid for sex.

“Maybe sometime you not lucky. Come see me.” She hissed the invitation like a snake sliding through dry grass.

“I hate that____.”

“Woman.” Ro couldn’t finish off that sentence.

Straight women hated those that aren’t and Ro opened the door to her apartment. She shared the space with a lanky West Virginian. He had a pad of paper in front of him. His hand scribbled numbers. Ro introduced him as Bix. He lifted sallow eyes from the scratching pencil point, but didn’t say a word, as Ro led me into the bedroom. I tried to be quiet, but Ro called out my name with each thrust nearing orgasm. Women were echoing other men’s names from the sex den below.

Every time I exited from the bedroom, Bix was seated at the kitchen table. An unlit cigarette in his hand. An empty beer to the left. Several piles of paper were scattered about the table. Numbers filled them to the edges. An expression of hurt paralyzed his face. Words were lost in his mouth. Finally on Sunday morning he said, “How does it feel to fuck another man’s woman?”

Ro had said nothing about their relationship, but I had guessed that they were more than roommates. Kindness wasn’t in my heart that early in the morning, plus he was holding a steak knife.

“Wait a few minutes and I’ll tell you.”

I locked the door behind me and said to Ro, “Your roommate said____”

“I know what he said. Don’t___” Her hands drew me back into bed to complete her sentence. Her first kiss swallowed my soul. “I love your lips.”

We made love twice more that day and on Sunday Ro escorted me to Penn Station to catch the train to Boston. I had no idea where AK and his girlfriend were. I kissed Ro on the platform and said, “I’ll see you next week.”

“I work on the weekends.”

“I’ll wait until you get out.”

“It will be late.” Hesitation rimmed her reply.

“I can wait.” The train conductor was calling ‘all aboard’. “After all this is the city that never sleeps.”

I started planning my departure from Boston. Its streets were empty after dark. The bars seemed provincial. None of the women shared the beauty of Ro. The next weekend I trained south to Penn Station. Ro waved from inside the restaurant. The cook Michael made me an omelet. Gruyere and mushroom. Afterward I drank at the Riviera Bar with a silver-haired jazz impresario. I recited a poem about hitchhiking. He said that I was almost a genius.

“How do you know?”

“I manage Cecil Taylor and Merce Cunningham.” He smoked a cigarette like Marlene Dietrich. The Riviera was loaded with gays, bi, straight. It was middle ground. James was 100% playing for the other team and proud of his sexuality. “I once made it with James Dean.”

“The movie star?” I had heard that he had been with Sal Mineo.

“He went with anyone. You care for a drink?”

I arrived at David’s Pot Belly at closing. I paid the taxi fare. The dragon lady smiled at my passage.

“You lucky man.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

Ro slapped my hand. She didn’t want me talking to her downstairs neighbor. Bix was waiting at the table. Unlit cigarette in his hand. The numbers had spread to the walls. None of them were equations. Ro and I retreated to her bedroom. She wasn’t in the mood for sex.

“I’ve had a long day______at work.”

“What’s with Bix and the numbers?” I had been a math major my first two years in university.

“He feels as if he can find the right number maybe he can turn back the hands of time and win back my heart.”

“And do you know the right number?” I had loved the poetry of math until LSD warped my perceptions of dimensions. Then words became my math. Maybe I was as crazy as Bix and didn’t know it yet.

“No, and neither will Bix. He’s crazy and that’s why I______stopped being with him.” She whispered from bed. We kissed under the sheets. She murmured with a cuddle, “I still love your lips. Go to_____sleep.”

“All right.”

I was too drunk to fuck and fell asleep reading TROPIC OF CAPRICORN. The profane writer had spent his childhood in Williamsburg. Brooklyn Heights was more for successful artists such as W. H. Auden, Truman Capote, Hart Crane, Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer, Carson McCullers, Arthur Miller, Walt Whitman, and Mary Tyler Moore. I woke to the screams of a Chinese woman fighting a man. Not everyone was happy in Brooklyn Heights.

The next day we brunched on Montague Street. Ro had to be a work at 4. We made love quickly on her bed. I liked her tongue more than her lips.

“That was better than good.”

Saturday night was a repeat of Friday night. Dinner at the Potbelly and drinking at the Riviera. Ro was off on Sunday. We went dancing at the Limelight on 7th Avenue. James Spicer came along with us. He bought drinks and we shared a taxi back to Brooklyn. His apartment was in Park Slope.

“You ever need a place to stay call me.” James blew me a kiss, as the taxi disappeared into Brooklyn.

“You know what______he wants?”

“Same thing as everyone. A little love.”

I didn’t even notice the dragon lady or Bix or the cries of pleasure from below. Ro and we the only two people in the world. I wrote several poems. Ro wanted me to read them to her. They must have made more sense than Bix’s numbers.

We ate in the city. I went to the train by myself, telling her that I would be back in two weeks. She smiled and said, “I’d like______that.”

That fall and winter I commuted between Boston and New York. The dragon lady’s name was Lee. I’d phone during the week. Ro rarely answered the phone. She was either at art school or work. She told me that Bix never picked up the phone. He was even deeper into his numbers. They infected the hallways.

“I like number. Maybe I find lucky number.” Lee followed the twisting cortex of numbers for a lottery winner. She was looking to get away from her mama-san job. “Open restaurant. Sell food. No pussy.”

I slowly formed a strategy to quit teaching in June and collect unemployment through the summer. I informed Ro about this plan on several occasions. If she said that it wasn’t a good idea, I didn’t care, because I no longer wanted to live in Boston.
My parents were sad to hear about my living. AK my neighbor said I should thank him for introducing Ro. “You owe me.”

I wasn’t sure how to pay him back. The two-family commune stood at the door and waved good-bye.

“You be careful.” Hilde was a teary-eyed 17 year-old high school student. Her car thief boyfriend was glad to see me go. He had arranged for me to drive a gas-guzzler to New York. $300 to ditch the Oldsmobile in New York. The owner couldn’t afford the gas and wanted to collect on the insurance. Once in New York I’d park the car by the Hudson, throw the plates in the river, and what to do. Drive to New York throw the plates into the Hudson and leave the keys in the ignition. Joyriders would steal the gas-guzzler within minutes.

Easy.

I phoned Ro several times that afternoon. No one answered the phone. I drove down the highway at 55. A state trooper might ask too many questions if I was stopped for speeding. The trip from Brookline to the West Side Highway lasted 4 hours. It took five minutes to unscrew the license plates and toss them into the black water flowing past the desolate docks. I walked up Christopher Street to her restaurant. I had $300 plus my savings in my pocket.

A new life awaited me and I entered the restaurant with a smile. Michael S the cook said that Ro had quit on Wednesday.

“See say why?”

“No.”

Brooklyn Heights was a couple of stops away from Christopher Street. I reflected on the unanswered phone and her quitting her job. That one and one didn’t add up to two, but a myriad of possibilities. Too many to count. Numbers and more numbers.

Just like Bix.

I arrived at 55 Remsen at midnight. I buzzed the doorbell a number of times without success. I tried the buzzer for the whorehouse. The door clicked open. I climbed the stairway with my eyes half-shut. This was no my dream world. The dragon lady was waiting under the red light.

“Today I lucky. Find good number.” She pointed to a scrawled number on the wall. “Tomorrow no work. You come back. Have good time. Okay.”

Bix was sitting at the table. A burning cigarette in his hand.

“You know that Hitler was anti-smoking. So was Ro. When Hitler killed himself in the bunker, the first thing the Nazis did was light up a cigarette.” he inhaled deeply and then crumpled up several papers jammed with numbers. “Ro’s gone.”

“Gone.” I hadn’t played that word in my head on the way over here.

“Off to Paris to study at the Sorbonne.”

“She said nothing about that.”

“I know. I was surprised too.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, but I guess you’ll have to go to France to find out what it’s like to see another guy fucking your girlfriend. Not me. I already know.”
It was a shitty thing to say and I probably should have hit him, but I had said the same thing several months earlier, so I figured us even.

“You know she never kissed me.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“How was it?”

“Good.” I had no reason to lie.

“I thought so.” Bix took out his pencil and paper. The numbers were his friends. I walked out of the apartment with my bags. The dragon lady looked at me, “Look you not lucky no more.”

“No not lucky.” Fucked was a better word, except that word had only one meaning in Lee’s bordello. I wandered onto the street. A plane flew overhead. I imagined Ro looking down. From that height people were not visible. Somehow I had ceased to exist for her. I couldn’t say why. I went to the corner telephone and called James Spicer. He answered on the first ring. I told him that I needed a place to stay.
“I thought you’d call me one day.” He sounded drunk.

“Why?” I wanted drunk too.

“Because that girl had heartbreak written on her face. More hers than yours. Get in a taxi and I’ll tell you more.”

“Okay.” I glanced back over my shoulder at 55 Remsen. A taxi was coming down Montague. I waved it down. Like Ro I was gone and I wasn’t coming back either.

I ran into Bix two months later. He was living on the street. I got him a job as a carpenter. He stayed about two weeks. The police found him dead below Brooklyn Heights. Starved to death. His ragged clothing was stuffed with paper. No numbers on any of them. He had buried that demon in the peace of his death. I excommunicated my demon by writing the same poem to Ro about a hundred times. Each ended as a crumpled paper. James Spicer called the pile of rejects ‘the hill of THE END’. I didn’t laugh at his joke. After that I stopped writing poetry. The words were simply letters, not magic.

Ro and I ran into each other years later. We had another affair. Very brief. She was working at a fish restaurant. Her paintings were of fish. They were very good. I mentioned Bix. She said that she knew about it. I couldn’t bring myself to ask why she had left me. I had always known the answer. It was in the movie PETRIFIED FOREST. Art was more powerful than poetry and numbers. Only life was stronger, although sadly not for everyone and Bix knew that better than most. I’m only glad not to know the same.