Millions of Americans voted for Barack Obama with the hope that the new president would get our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Withdrawal from the former has been an easier task than the latter. The hawks in the Pentagon have remained committed to total victory and any talk of downsizing the troop levels smacked of the defeatism. Americans might like the serialization of movies, but few are willing to recreate the images of the last helicopter leaving the US Embassy in Saigon.
THe cost of the war is enormous in both lives and treasure.
60 dead this month was the greatest loss of US military since the beginning of this long war in October 2001.
This year the Pentagon will spent over $100 billion in Afghanistan.
The GOP has waged a relentless campaign for fiscal responsibility within the government. The infrastructure of this country is is desperate need of renewal. The White House has suggested that plans for cutting troops are on the table. 10,000 by the end of the year. 23,000 by the finish of 2012. Long-term strategy for the military suggested that the USA will stay stuck in Afghanistan to the bitter end and that country has presented many occupiers with very bitter ends.
The British Empire suffered a rout in 1842 after refusing to pay an indemnity to a chieftain controlling the Khyber Pass. Only one soldier escaped that retreat. Over 16000 were not so lucky on the road from Kabul.
Throughout the 80s the USSR fought a deadly war in Afghanistan.
No victory, but they were happy to get out of there.
The cost to the Afghanis was staggering; 600,000-2,000,000 killed, over 3 million civilians wounded, 5 million external refugees and 2 million internally displaced persons.
And the war continues without any sign of the combatants calling for a ceasefire.
What a difference does 40 years of war make?
Above is as before and after picture of Paghman Gardens, Kabul Afghanistan taken 40 years apart.
Click on photo to enlarge.
Photo from www.pixdaus.com
End the war now.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
I was sitting in Chengdu back in 1995. The streets were lined with people watching the passage of several trucks loaded with condemned prisoners. Each had his head lowered in shame. His family had paid for his bullets. If they had money, they gave the executing officer a bonus to deliver the coup de grace. The commissars are as cold-hearted as a Texas governor. After the trucks disappeared into the sports stadium, the people went back to their lives. Resistance was futile.
Afghanistan was a two-day drive from Italy in the summer of 1972. My friend Gianni bought a school bus in Milano. He told his parents that he was going on vacation. Kabul was his destination. His parents offered to pay the gas. They viewed the venture as a mind-expanding experience. Gianni was entering medical school in the fall.His companion for this voyage was his future wife. Julie knew the real purpose behind the trip. She was holding over $20K. Hash cost $5 a gram in the cafes around the Duomo. Gianni was planning on quadrupling his money by investing in drugs. He didn’t let Julie touch the steering wheel. Italian men are like that with cars.
In Kabul he packed the school bus with several hundred kilos of hash bricks. Turn around time – 2 days. Another 2 days to Italy, where he sold the shipment for good money. Gianni took three more of those trips during his years in medical school. Julie and he had a good life. No one asked the source of his fortune. In Italy questions about income are considered impolite.
In 1979 I met Gianni at Hurrahs. The club booked punk bands. I worked the door. He was an intern at a big NY hospital. He loved the Damned, Buzzcocks, and B-52s. We became friends. He thought my girlfriend was beautiful.
Lisa was a model from Buffalo. She dated a ranked tennis player. I was never jealous. She came home to me every night. I never questioned the smell of another man's cologne on her skin. Accusations would have changed nothing. Models had their own moral code when it came to getting ahead and I had little to offer her other than love.
One evening we ate over Gianni apartment on the East Side. It was near his hospital. His wife cooked northern Italian dishes. Lisa played with their young daughter. Alice had blonde hair. She could have been Lisa’s baby. Her unspoken dream was sacrifice for her career. Lisa wanted to be a top model. She was only 5-9.
One night Gianni and I sat on his balcony. We were smoking reefer. He critiqued the weed like a connoisseur of fine wine and Gianni explained how he had gained this expertise. Hash runs to Afghanistan enhanced my appreciation for the doctor.
“Now you’re a good citizen.” Afghanistan was an exotic destination. The other side of the world. I had read THE HORSEMAN about the traditional horse game of Buzkashi. Violent as a Mongol charge. It had been made into a movie with Omar Sharif and Jack Palance.
“Maybe.” He leaned forward so his next words were for my ears alone. “I would have kept doing it. The money was too good. Better than anything a doctor can earn in Italy or here, but once the communists had overthrown the monarchy, I could tell something bad was going to happen.”
“Chaos.” It was a feeling. “Afghanistan is on the map of the Great Game. You know what that is?”
“England and Russian trying to control the high plains of Asia.” I had read Rudyard Kipling’s KIM. English pundits traveling undercover to upset the schemes of the Tsar. The 1975 movie THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING portrayed two British deserters attempting to set up a kingdom based on destiny and Enfield rifles in the arid valleys beyond the Himalayan rainshadow.
“In 1842 3600 British soldiers retreated from Kabul. Only one survived the rout. A doctor. William Brydon.” Gianni knew his history. “They tried to put a king on the throne.”The prize India and it still is for the Russians.”
“Yes, the Russians.” The Commies were on the march throughout the 3rd World.
We returned to the dinner table. Our conversation focused on Lisa’s upcoming trip to the UK. David Bailey wanted to shot here for British Vogue. I planned on meeting her in London.
We lived in a studio behind the Chelsea football pitch. Saturday afternoons Fullham Road was a war zone between the visiting fans and the Old Stafford firm of hooligans. Lisa and I laze in bed until the aftermath was wind-blown trash. Vogue went with another model for the cover and I hung out at punk clubs while she socialized with high society. She came home with her disheveled hair. It wasn't from the wind.
I was a third wheel on the bicycle of her ambition and returned to New York. The US Embassy was overwhelmed in Tehran. The Pentagon was powerless to rescue the hostages.
America had lost its taste for empire in Vietnam and the road to world domination was open for the Reds. The magnet pointed south through Kabul. Their army invaded in 1979. President Carter boycotted the Moscow Olympics. Ronald Reagan beat him in the 1980 election. He had bribed the ayatollahs to delay their release.
Lisa went missing in Europe. I spotted her in a lingerie ad for Perla. Her smile invited men to bed. I hoped that she was lucky. I never saw her in Vogue and I looked every month from cover to cover.
The 80s were a new day for America. We financed the insurgency in Afghanistan. The Kremlin fought the mujaheddin ten years. Millions dead. Millions more in exile. A nation in ruins. The last Russian soldier to cross the Amu Darya was Lieut. Gen. Boris V. Gromov.
“There is not a single Soviet soldier or officer left behind me.”
Only the dead.
The USA walked away from the war.
I read more books about the region. Peter Hopkirk’s THE GREAT GAME, Peter Levi’s THE LIGHT GARDEN OF THE ANGEL KING, André Deutsch’s A HISTORY OF CONFLICT and anything else venturing onto the subject of Afghanistan. I planned a trip across the region, although peace evaded the landlocked country until the Taliban seized power with the backing of the Pakistan secret service.
Gianni’s prediction about something bad had legs.
Civil War, the Taliban, Al- Quada, 9/11.
GW Bush authorized a low-level invasion of Afghanistan in 2002. The Northern Alliance rolled over the Taliban troops and their Arab comrades with the help of US air power. The ease of the conquest emboldened the president to open a second front on the War of Terror.
Afghanistan was an after-thought, but the Taliban were not accepting defeat. They had retreated to prevent the mass starvation that winter. The war has lasted 9 years and two presidents with no end in sight. The present military commander seems to think that we are on the cusp of victory. The Pentagon said the same thing in Vietnam and I recalled the words of William Gladstone, the 19th Century English politician.
“Remember the rights of the savage, as we call him. Remember that the happiness of his humble home, remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan, among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of Almighty God, as can be your own.”
Bombs in the compound. Machine-gunned civilians. Death from above and below. Only bribes to warlords prevented a repeat of the 44th regiment’s disastrous retreat from Kabul. Bribes to grow drugs.
And it’s not about hashish now.
A busload of smack could finance my retirement in Thailand for several hundred years. Gianni is still working at the hospital. One of his old dealers had to have survived the anarchy. Both Gianni's wives could use the money and so could Lisa, wherever she is in this world a woman her age needs money, but I'm too old for that segment of the Great Game.
I have a wife and kids.
They want me alive for another 30 years and Kabul doesn't fit into that equation.
It never had.
August 2011 was 'deadliest month' for US in Afghan war. The death toll soared with the crash of a Chinook Helicopter. A rocket grenade hit the twin-engined aircraft during a raid on insurgents. The big copter is capable of speeds up to 190 MPH, but its vulnerability during landings and take-offs have cost many casualties during the long conflict in Afghanistan.
Its loudness eliminated the element of surprise and the Taliban were waiting to ambush the Chinook as they had struck Soviet helicopters during that Afghan War.
Among the 38 dead were members of the Navy Seal team which had assassinated Osama Bin Laden. A loss of so many soldiers has chilled support for the war, although Milt Romney and Rick Perry think that the US military can fight this war forever.
Some critics questioned why the Seals weren't using Apache helicopters.
They were basically built as attack platforms and the Pentagon loves the Chinook for its ability to get there fastest with the mostest.
The soldiers were just doing their job and they died with their boots on, as the rest of America ate potato chips and watched DANCING WITH THE STARS reruns.
Gone but not forgotten by some.
"Dama la cuete." is 'gimme the gun' in slang Mexican and guns have flooded across the Rio Grande to fuel a wicked murder spree by the vicious narco-bandidos of the drug cartels. Slang expressions for the dead are many.
According to a Fox Latino News report of Apr 14, 2011 "Encobijados" are bodies wrapped in a blanket; "encajuelados" are those stuffed in a car trunk; "encintados" are suffocated in packing tape.
Mexican authorities have maintained a body count of the muertitos since the beginning of President Felipe Calderón's campaign against the drug lords. A friend writing a book about the killing spree of the Zeta death squads said that the number is more likely to be approaching 100,000. At stake is control of the multi-billion dollar drug trade and guns are a necessity of business in the border badlands.
The US ATF under the leadership of a gung-ho Obama appointee helped fuel the violence with a two-year operation called 'Fast and Furious' after a popular car theft movie series. Nearly 2000 weapons crossed the river into Mexico, as the undercover agents sought to link illegal guns to various murders in Mexico in order to file conspiracy charges against the desert crime lords. The dead never knew the connection between the guns and the branch of the Justice Department, but the operation came to light after a US border guard was murdered by the AK-47s purchased from the sting. GOP congressmen rightly saw the insanity of such a project and this week the head of the ATF and the agent in charge of the operation resigned from their positions.
Attorney General Eric Holder praised the departing director with warmth.
“I am grateful to Dennis for his dedication and service to the Department of Justice over these many years and commend his decision to place the interests of the U.S. Attorney’s office above all else."
The White House had nothing to say on the scandal.
Sometimes it's better to keep your mouth shut and hope the story goes away, but no one will know how many died in another failure to recognize that the drug war has been lost by the forces of law and order.
It's time to stop the madness.
Legalize all drugs.
Even with all the muertitos, the dead count for drugs is a fraction of those from cigarettes.
Big Tobacco and death.
They were made for each other.
I had expected my flight from Tokyo to JFK to be delayed by the storm. I landed ahead of schedule. The A train was running on time. The sky was beautiful. Walking down my street from the subway station, I saw little sign of the storm's passing. I thought New York had been lucky, for Hurricane Irene had been forecasted to ravage the Northeast as a category 3 storm.
The colder waters of the Atlantic Ocean weakened the winds and the government was harshly criticized for fear-mongering the population without need. Like Katrina the details of the death and destruction caused by the high seas, storm surge, flooding, and high winds were ignored by the media, since the stricken areas had been cut off the power grid by snapped telephone lines, electrical failure, and washed-out bridges. A more accurate assessment of the catastrophe showed that Hurricane Irene will be counted as one of the natural calamities to hit the continental USA.
Scores of deaths and billions of dollars worth of damage have forced the President to declare several states in need of federal disaster relief. My friends in the Catskills are stranded in their houses. Riverside roads were erased by the overflowing water. Vermont was hit particularly hard. Millions are without electricity.
My apartment had been flooded from the roof. AP, my landlord spotted water seeping into his son's bedroom and stopped the waterfall flowing over the window sill from wrecking the ceilings.
Everyone had their own hurricane story.
Richie Boy's mother and brother fled Lido Beach for his one-bedroom Chelsea apartment. He told his wife that the two refugees were staying for two days. After the first Richie Boy put them in a hotel.
"Having them at my apartment was like my own perfect storm."
He got off easy.
Certain regions of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States will take weeks, if not months, to regain a semblance of normalcy.
GOP leaders were quick to attack any aid to devastated communities. Ron Paul contested that the nation would be better served by private industry taking over FEMA's role in disaster relief. Vermont's Socialist senator responded to such drivel as another attempt by the right to cut services to save the tax cuts for the rich, although austerity obsessive messages such as that delivered by the press flak for Virginia's Eric Cantor are pressing for triage tactics to deal with future disasters by cutting more from the budget to finance government response to hurricanes and earthquake. with privatization.
There was an old joke about the difference between a liberal and a conservative.
If a man is drowning 20 feet off shore a liberal will throw 40 feet of rope and walk away from the beach, while a conservative will throw out 10 feet of rope and tell the drowning man to swim 10 feet to save his life.
Now the far right of the GOP would not bother to throw out any rope, if the drowning man hadn't bought insurance.
They angrily suggest to solve the problem the old-fashoined way.
By having their transvestite bearded god in a muumuu kill their enemies one way or the other.
They have seen the enemies and the enemies are the poor and middle-class.
Their brave new world would be better without any other social groups other than the rich and their slaves.
Yahweh get busy and make Commie Vermont pay for its sins.
Teir punishment is long overdue.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
My father loved a good storm. New England was subjected to several hurricanes in the early 60s. Donna in 1960 hit land at a category 2/3 storm on the second Monday of September. WBZ announced numerous school closing. My primary school, Our Lady of the Foothills, was one of the first on the list. My older brother and I were happy to stay home. We were new kids in town.
That morning a raging gale howled against our split-level ranch house and the windows vibrating in their sashes. The lights went out at noon and my father lit a kerosene lamp on the kitchen table. Our family of eight huddled around the flame like Neanderthals sheltering in a cave.
Several hours later the hurricane abated to what seemed a whisper.
"The eye of the storm." My father rose from his chair and motioned for my older brother and me to follow him to the front door.
"Where are you going?" my mother demanded with arms on her hips. She was a beautiful woman, but her voice rang wi the authority of someone who had carried six babies in her womb.
"Outside to show them the eye."
"Hurricanes are not a joke." My mother had been through the 1938 hurricane. It didn't have a name. The winds had hit record speeds atop Great Blue Hill and hundreds had been killed in its path.
"I know." Hurricane Edna in 1954 had destroyed his sailboat on Watchic Pond. The hull lay in the backyard. Six years later he had yet to repair the damage to the mast. Six kids were a lot of work. He pointed out the living room window. "The skies have cleared. We'll only be a few minutes."
My second youngest brother bounced off his chair. My mother grabbed his wrist.
"Only a few minutes." My mother trusted my father to obey his promise. He loved her enough to convert to Catholicism.
"I'll keep them safe." My father led us outside. We lived in the shadow of Chickatawbut Hill. The sultry wind raced through the trees. Branches were scattered across the back. The counter-clockwise swirl of the cloud funnel opened to the heavens.
Overhead the sky was blue.
"This is the eye of the storm."
The three of us 360ed on the lawn to gawk at the storm's awesome power and glory. Lightning pulsed within the cloud wall like the Aurora Borealis. If my best friend hadn't drowned a month ago, the cyclonic display would have reinforced my faith in the Almighty. Instead I said, "Wow."
Rain dotted the walkway. The brief respite was coming to an end, My mother yelled at us to get inside.
My father lifted his finger for another few seconds. He had fought the Maine's Great Fire of 1949. I never had seen him scared other anything other than my mother's wrath. He quickly explained to my older brother and me how hurricanes formed in the tropics. We were 9 and 8. His meteorological lesson was lost on us, but the oppressive pressure of the powerful storm weighed heavily on our skin.
"Remember this for the rest of your life. Few people see this."
My mother's next demand was an ultimatum.
"If you don't come in, I'm locking the doors." She was serious.
"After it's over, we'll drive to Revere Beach." My father guided us inside the house.
The second half of the hurricane stuck within minutes and lasted into the evening. The weatherman on WBZ radio announced the all-clear message wagon, as we were going to sleep. School had been cancelled throughout New England. My father was excited as a child on Christmas Eve and he whispered a reminder.
"Tomorrow Revere Beach."
And the boyish joy in his voice kept us awake for another three minutes.
Tomorrow promised to be a big day.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Autumn is not known for storms blowing up the Eastern Seaboard, but in late october 1991 a tempestuous Nor'easter combined with a cyclone off the the Maritime Provinces and a sputtering hurricane. This unusual triad formed what is now known as the Halloween Storm or the Perfect Storm. The latter title was made famous by Sebastian Junger's book and a subsequent movie.
I was living in New York that year.
The storm struck the city hard.
The FDR Drive was flooded by the storm surge. Commuters ignored traffic cops and drove onto the drive. Their cars were overwhelmed by the surging current and ended up sinking in the East River. The coastal communities were pummeled by the high tides and winds. The Andrea Gail out of Gloucester sank with all hands. The sea did not give up those dead.
Big October storms generated monster swells and on All Saints Day RT and I threw our surfboards in the back of Uncle Carmine's station wagon and headed out to Long Beach. The surf report was 'acres and acres of unbridled hell. RT poobahed the warning as fear-mongering by wimps. The Californian ate those words standing on the Lido Beach boardwalk.
Houses were floating atop towering waves. The gale force winds ripped the air from my lungs. Rain pelted my face like a scattergun shot of BBs. The thunder of the shore break mixed with the grating suck of beach sand. Several other surfers stared at the chaos and shook their heads.
No one was going in the water with good reason.
Hurricanes are deadly as the City of New Orleans learned from Katrina in August 2005. The 6th most powerful hurricane in history made landfall as a Category 3 storm. The eye misses the low-lying city, but the torrential rains overwhelmed the levees flooding most of the city. Government response to the disaster failed on every level and the aftermath of Katrina became horror show of neglect and a lasting symbol of GW Bush's inadequacy as a president.
No politicians wants to be caught so unprepared for a forecasted threat from nature and the cities, states, and federal government launched into action this week, as Hurricane Irene swung up the coast. NJ's governor ordered his constituents to evacuate the beaches and flood zones.
“Get the hell off the beach … and get in your car. “You’re done, its 4:30, you’ve maximized your tan.”
Locals and tourists rejected his strident demands and flocked to the shore for a weekend by the sea.
New York City mayor had been stung by harsh criticism after the mismanagement of the Xmas blizzard and he brayed at residents of the Rockaways and Lower Manhattan to flee their homes. The subway system will be closed for the duration of the storm along with the railroads and airports. New York City will be cut off from the world.
Mayor Bloomberg has refused to evacuate the 12,000 prisoners on Rikers Island, despite the penal colony lying in a tidal flood zone and his announcing at a press interview, "This is a storm which if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, could be fatal ... It is dangerous out there."
The inmates are staying put as are many New Yorkers.
I'm scheduled to fly from Bangkok into JFK on Monday. All international flights have been cancelled until 3pm. My ETA is 5pm. Something tells me that I'll be stuck in Narita along with hundreds if not thousands of NYC-bound travels.
1988 was a dry year in the West. Fires broke out on both sides of the Rockies. None was more dramatic than those in Yellowstone. The National Park was torched by the union of small conflagrations that merged into a ravaging fireball. Management took a course of inaction under the direction of President George Bush.
"Let nature take its course."
A third of the park was cinderized before the Bush administration understood the seriousness of the infernos. Wikpedia reported that the fires ended up as beneficial, however when Ms Carolina and I drove through the park in the Spring of 1994, huge swathes of the volcanic plateau were charred from horizon to horizon. Ashes clogged the streams. Burnt bones laid as humps on the river banks. The fire had been a disaster.
Simple and pure.
Not matter how the GOP played it against the wall.
Ms Carolina and I were happy either way. The torched trees allowed motorists unrestricted vistas. Bison cruised the road. Elk patrolled the meadows. Some sections of the park were untouched by flames. We hiked along a river. I was following tracks.
Ms. Carolina asked what I was doing.
I told her.
"You idiot." She rarely had a bad word for me. "Those are bear tracks."
"Yeah." I knew that.
"It's spring. Bears are hungry. How fast can you run?"
"A little fast." My best time at the 440 had been 55 seconds. A little better than 15 MPH.
"A little fast ain't good enough." Ms Carolina had been reared in New Jersey. Her accent was 100% southern. She scanned the riverbanks. "They run 30 MPH."
"So what are you telling me?" I needed help.
"That we return as quietly as possible to the car."
She had a good heart and a smart mind.
It was too bad that she was married, but we can't have everything. Only what we have for the moment and I thank the stars for the time.
Friday, August 26, 2011
In August of 1987 Pullie Fallen, Grieg Packer, and I left New York City for Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The art professor, literary agent, and I took turns driving Pullie's F-150 pickup truck through the sweltering heat of the Midwest. None of us broke the speed limit. Pullie had two unlicensed guns under his seat. He used them to blast his steel sculptures. The bullet-holed pieces sold well in the South.
We stopped at the Great Bear Dunes to visit mutual friends from Florida. Vonelli's sister had a beach shack overlooking Lake Michigan. The art dealer took us out on a ChrisCraft. The vast expanse of water rivaled Conan the Barbarian's Vilayet Sea. Three days passed riding dirt bikes off the dunes and drinking beer. Vonelli was heading back to Paris. The auction season opened in less than two weeks at the Hotel Drouot.
We said our goodbyes at noon. The Vonelli clan heading south to Florida. Pullie pointed the pick-up north. I sat in the back of the truck. The midday heat zapped my strength and I passed out in the back of the truck short of Petrowsky.
The Ford's tires humming over the Straits of Mackinac Bridge disrupted my sleep. It was a little after sunset and the temperature had dropped into the 70s. The sky was filling with the cosmos illuminating the black waters on the two joining lakes. This was Hiawatha's shores of Gitche Gumee by the shining Big-Sea-Water and I sat up in the back to breathe in the boreal night air.
Pullie drove for another 15 minutes and pulled off Route 2 somewhere north of St. Ignace. We slept in the back of the truck and rose with the misty dawn. Breakfast was a bag of warm pasties from a Epoulette diner. The delicious meat pies were a hang-over from the Welsh miners working mineral deposits in the mid-1800s.
The bearded sculptured had summered on the UP in the 50s. His deceased father had designed cars for Chrysler. His son had a photo of an black Imperial sedan parked on thick ice next to a fishing shack. His family wintered on the UP too.
"The UP was a paradise back then. Jobs, nature, and good people. Most of them gone since the mines closed. Now all you got are old Finns to stubborn to quit the land. "
The Upper Peninsula had a population density of 10 people per square mile in the late-80s. We hadn't count heads passing through dismal towns overlooking the Great Lake, but I hadn't seen more than 3 people in a clump the entire morning. The stocky men and woman looked the same in their jeans and flannel shirts topped by a baseball cap.
Three men, three women, or a menage a trois.
I couldn't tell the difference.
We pulled into Fire Lake around 3.
Pullie beeped the horn before an old farm house. The walls had been weathered by many winters and the two-story structure leaned away from the prevailing wind. A herd of cows grazed in a fenced field. One cow stood by itself. It was not the bull.
Our host limped into the afternoon sunlight. Uvo was in his 50s. He greeted us with a firm handshake and a yellow smile. He lit an unfiltered Camel.
"Where's everyone?" Pullie's scratched at his beard. It was more salt than pepper.
"Down at the lake fishing, but Jim left for Ann Arbor two days ago, eh."
"Sorry, I missed him." Pullie had attended U Michigan with Uvo's second son. Both were artists.
He tugged on the cigarette and exhaled a flume of smoke. "You boys fish?"
"Not much fishing in New York." Grieg regarded Uvo, as if he were a Norman Rockwell painting.
"No, guess they don't like to swim in concrete.
The afternoon sky that filled with high clouds from the north. The summer was almost gone. Uvo held a pair of axes in this hands.
"Going to get cold tonight, eh. Call me old fashioned, but I believe in the work ethic. You work. You eat. No work. No eat."
Grieg and I looked at each other.
The Londoner was no farmer.
I had picked crops as a teenager at my local farm.
Neither of us was a farmer boy. We had blisters on our hands within minutes, but as an Englishman Grieg believed in doing a host's bidding and the both of us hacked logs into firewood, while Pullie and Uvo drank Schlitz beer. They were examining Pullie's 45 and the shotgun. Beer cans floated in a metal tub.
We finished our task in a sweat and joined the other two. Grieg slung the ax over his shoulder, as if he graduated from Paul Bunyan School. Uvo surveyed the woodpile.
"Not bad for trolls, eh."
"Trolls?" I had been called many things in my life, but never a troll.
"Trolls is the Yopper euphemism for people coming from unda the bridge," Pullie explained, as he handed us two cans of Schlitz. The beer that made Milwaukee famous was unavailable in New York. The gusto of the crisp cold beer brought back memories of my youth on the South Shore of Boston.
"Better than Bud." Grieg refrained from his usual assault on American beer. They tasted like water to the Brits.
A breeze whiffled through the trees bordering the pasture
Uvo sported a serious bruise on his forearm.
"Cow butted me, eh." The farmer glanced over to the single cow in the pasture. "You boys feel like a sauna."
Many of the inhabitants of the UP were descendants of Finnish immigrants. Uvo had build a traditional Scandinavian steam room next to the barn. He stripped off his clothing and waved for us to join him inside the sauna.
The gnarled farmer threw water on the hot stones. Steam furled from the rocks. Te temperature was close to the surface of Venus.
"Good to see new faces up here, eh. Fire Lake is a long way from anywhere. Most of the people in town are tired of seeing each other. Crabby as a bear coming out of hibernation and the winters are long up here. People just don’t like getting together too often. Too busy working, but nothing gets them together faster than talk of a barbecue, so if you want to see people, we’ll have a barbecue.”
“Fresh meat too.” Pullie's was a total carnivore. His blood pressure was that of a 300-pound man. The art professor weighed under 160. He ate steak four times a week. The Homestead Steak House on 9th Avenue knew him by name.
“Y-up.” Uvo spoke with tinges of Finnish clinging to his accent. He scratched his buzzcut then rubbed his unshaven face. “Go shot a cow after we’re done.”
“Shoot a cow?” I was a meat-eater, but my steaks came from a supermarket. I wiped the sweat from my face with an old towel.
“Would rather he kill it with an ax?” Grieg joked from under his wrap of towels. The English literary agent looked like a soggy mummy.
“I kill one cow every fall.” Uvo stated matter-of-fact. “Keeps me in meat until the spring. The way snow falls up here you never know when you might get supplies.”
Winters were hard this far north. 200 inches of snow were the norm. A few communities had recorded annual snowfalls nearing 13 feet.
“Killing a cow ain’t sport, eh. I known this cow all its life. Fed it as a calf.” Uvo seemed sad about the upcoming culling of his herd. “Strange but the other cows sense what's going to happen.”
“You think they tell each other?” Grieg came from London. The only cows in that city arrived dead at the Smithfield Market for slicing into steaks and grinding into hamburger.
“Dunno. Cows are funny, eh.” Uvo stripped the edge of an old straight-razor to the sharpness of an assassin’s blade. He stroked the grizzle from his face with an economy of motion. . After finishing Uvo stropped the edge. My beard was scrapped from my face without a nick. Paul had a beard, but Greg wasn’t so lucky. His skill with the blade suffered from his heroin intake. He exited the sauna patting his cuts with a towel.
"You boys religious?" Uvo didn't wait for an answer and said, "Because up here on the Upper Peninsula we take the Word of God for truth."
"Okay." I was a confirmed atheist, but kept my devout non-belief to myself.
"In da beginning dere was nuttin." Uvo's accent thickened to a nearly indecipherable patois, "Den on the first day God created da Upper Peninsula. On the second day He created da partridge, da deer, da bear, da fish, and the ducks. On da third day He said "Let dere be Yoopers to roam da Upper Peninsula". On the forth day He created da udder world down below. On the fifth day He said "Let there be trolls to live in the world down below". On the sixth day He created da bridge so da trolls would have a way to get to heaven. God saw it was good and on da seventh day, He went Huntin and that works as the Word of God on the UP."
"Good for me." I toasted his version of Genesis with a cold Schlitz.
We raised our cans to the sky. The sunlight dried our naked flesh. The winwu lipped up the silver bottom of the leaves. Uvo looked over his shoulder to the large pasture. The herd of cows were standing against the fence. The one cow was in the distance.
“That’s the one.” Grieg lifted his head from a nod. He was handsome in a desperate way.
“Weird, eh?” Uvo reached into the bucket and pulled out four more beers. They were going fast. “They shun that one like killing might be contagious.”
Death awaited all creatures. We drank our beer. Uvo saved the empties for target shooting. The cows stared at us like we were holding a vote to change the sacrifice.
“Funny how they’ll protect themselves from other animals but not man.” Grieg aimed a finger at the distant cow. It moped in protest. “That’s because they trust us.”
“Trust?” Uvo laughed with a farmer’s certitude. “Cows ain’t no one’s friend and nuttins as dumb as a cow tied to a post, eh. How you think I got this black and blue on my arm.”
“The lone cow.” Pullie was sitting on a log. His legs were thin. The sculptor needed more exercise.
“Yup that’s the one.” Uvo walked over to the gate. He lifted his fingers to his mouth. A long whistle got the attention of the solitary cow. The others huddled closer to the fence. The cow shook his head.
Uvo whistled again and then banged the grain bin. Corn husk dust misted a halo around the farmer’s head. The cow meandered to the gate. Uvo slipped a noose over its head. Long scars crisscrossed the haunches. Something wild had had at it. Uvo led the beast to a trellis constructed of thick logs. A pulley hung from the beam. The naked farmer fed the lead line through the pulley and hauled the cow’s head upward.
Uvo returned to us. The other cows scattered over the pasture to munch the long summer grass. Grieg was sprawled against the sauna wall. The heat and the beer had taken its toll on the Englishman. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
“Something wrong with that troll. I don’t want no one dying on my farm, eh.”
“I’ll take care of him.”
“You a doctor?”
“No,but I know what to do, but my grandfather was a doctor in the First World War." I went into the sauna and came out with a bucket of icy water. I emptied the contents over Grieg. The Englishman sputtered to life. Uvo and Pullie laughed as only naked men can laugh.
Hands over their genitals.
Grieg wasn’t too happy with the sudden reveille but understood that he had violated his guest privileges.
“Thanks for the wake-up call."
“I have some calls to make and that cow has a date with a Winchester.” Uvo walked over to his house. He entered by the front door. The cow in the rear mooed our surrender. We followed Uvo’s path across the lawn. I went to my room. It was on the second-floor. the windows overlooked the cow. I stuck wet tissue in my ears waiting for the killing shot.
Uvo and Paul exited from the house. They were still naked. Uvo held a Winchester rifle. Paul had his 45. The cow mooed once and Uvo stuck the rifle muzzle in its ear. One bullet buckled its legs. Paul gave the coup de grace.
The killing took less than 10 seconds.
Uvo and Paul tugged on the rope around the dead cow’s neck. The creature was ready for slaughter. I lay on the bed. The mattress was old. The sheets smelled of the seasons. I fell asleep in a minute.
I woke to the sound of people talking and the smell of sizzling steak. I got out of bed and went to the window. Meat was burning on the grill. Ten people were drinking beer. Pullie, Uvo, Grieg, three women and four men. Everyone was wearing the UP uniforms. The only way I could identify Uvo was by his red cap.
I dressed in the uniform and joined the party.
Pullie's truck was parked next to the house. The tape deck was playing a tape of garage music. ? and the Mysterians. Grieg was entertaining the congregation with tales of Oxford. I had heard them before, but he was a good storyteller and I laughed along with the other guests. We drank beer and ate steak. Medium raw. Blood dripped from our lips. The meat went well with the potato sausage and cudighi, a spicy Italian meat.
One of the women had brought a nisu, a cardamom-flavored sweet bread. Another juustoa or spueaky cheese and sauna makkara, a Finnish bologna. It was good eating. The sun was going down.
Uvo gathered the empties and placed them on a shot-up fence post 50 feet from the grill. Pullie placed his 45 on the table. A box of ammo.
We shot the entire box in ten minutes. Only two of the beer cans survived the onslaught. Pullie put his pistol under the seat of his pick-up and I sat on the porch.
“Good steak, eh?” Uvo was aglow with beer. His smile was shared by his friends. They smiled broader when the stereo played DIRTY WATER.
“Delicious.” Better than anything from the Homestead. “But I meant to ask you. What were those scars on that cow.”
“Bear, eh.” The nisu woman answered my question. Pullie was flirting with the scrawny 40ish brunette. She was in her 40s. She wanted to dance to LOUIE LOUIE playing on the pick-up’s stereo. They did the two-step.
“Yup, a bear attack that cow last spring. I shot it dead.”
“Don’t say that too loud, eh.” The woman glanced around the guests. “Game warden hear that and Uvo has a big fine.”
“Maybe $2000 for out of season.” Uvo popped open another beer.
“But it was attacking your cow.”
Bears in Maine roamed the blueberry patches for a sweet treat. The police warned hikers to stay away from the patches. Last summer spotted two black bears. Smaller than a Grizzly, but big. They were scavenging a moose carcass across a river. Both studied me as if I were food.
“Bears won’t attack something big unless they’re hungry. Guess that bear was hungry. I shot him with that Winchester, eh.”
The same one with which he had killed the cow. It was almost like the scene in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA where Lawrence has to shot the man that he saved from the desert in order to seal the alliance of another tribe of Arabs.
“Uvo called me up and I came over with my backhoe.” A longhaired farmer nodded his head in remembrance of that day. “Big hole, eh.”
“Yup.” A chorus joined by the other locals.
“That cow was a little crazy after that. Always running around the pasture. Scaring the other cows. Sorry it had to go, but crazy cows are bad for milk.”
“Yup.” Another round of ‘yups’.
“Bear meat tastes like pork. Best are the legs and loin.”
“bears too strong for me. Too much grease.”
“Plus they get trichinosis.” Paul’s date made a face. “Bears are no good eating. Not like steak.
Grieg and I joined in the chant of yups, for after the fifth beer we all spoke the same language.
The land of beer.
And no bears.
At least not at a barbecue on the UP.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
All crimes are political in nature and this week the Thai Appeal Court overturned the 2008 sentence of deposed PM Thaksin Shinawatra's wife on the grounds of insufficient evidence. The 54 year-old divorcee had been convicted for non-payment of taxes on the the transfer of stock shares of her then-husband's telecom company her brother. The reversal comes after the election victory of the Pheau Thai Party. Thaksin's younger sister had been named the PM. Her brother vows to stay out of politics. Over a billion dollars of assets are frozen by the courts. Money has a funny way of seeking out the best justice for the wealthy.
Guilt and innocence are interchangeable with a good PR campaign.
A common criminal doesn't stand a chance.
Route 71 ran from north off I-10 through the flat prairie of eastern Texas. I had driven an blind piano from Miami Beach in his Delta 88. Everyone at the Sea Breeze Hotel had warned about Old Bill's driving.
Outside of La Grange he ordered me to turn onto a dirt road. It was as straight as a strand of dry spaghetti. The radio was playing GREEN ONIONS. I got out of the car, wishing Old Bill luck. He drove off slow, weaving from side to side. After a few minutes the Delta 88 was a black speck swallowed by yellow dust.
A trucker stopped a half-hour later. The long-hauler dropped me south of Austin near sunset. The far horizon was boiling with color. It was getting late. The next big city was El Paso. I had read about Austin in Rolling Stone magazine. The World Amarillo Headquarters had been anointed the musical navel of the Southwest. Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson were regulars at the rock venue. I had some time to kill before heading out to the coast and hitchhiked into town.
A red Ford pickup with Texas plates pulled over to the shoulder. Two hippie were in the front. I was a longhair too and told them my destination. They said Commander Cody was playing tonight with Asleep At The Wheel.
"First round on me."
The Amarillo was located next to a roller rink. I brought my bag with me. The two hippies knew the man at the door. We entered for free. I checked my bag with a dazed girl and walked inside the club. It was enormous. Billy Bob, the pickup's driver, said, "The Amarillo used to be an armory."
"The acoustics suck." His scrawny friend lit up a joint. Marijuana possession was a serious crime in the Lone Star State. Huntsville Prison was infamous. My hosts could easily be narcs. I stepped away from them.
"Don't worry there ain't no one gonna bother you in the Amarillo about weed." Billy Bob accepted the reefer and his inhale expanded his lungs to the bursting point. His exhale released a thunderhead of smoke. The smell was Mexican.
"Cops, lawyers, judges, everyone comes here to hear the music and drink beer. I thought you said that first round was on you."
I surrendered my caution and bellied up to the bar. Lone Star was the beer of choice. I ordered six. We were thirsty. We drank with other cowboy hippie. They were over 6-feet. Most looked like they had played college football.
I don't remember the opening bands. Billy Bob, his friend, and I tossed back shots of tequila. Billy Bob had been wrong about Commander Cody, but right about Asleep At The Wheel. Most of the audience watched from tables. I danced with a redheaded woman in a filmy black dress.
A country version of the Hustle.
I hadn't slept with a woman in over two months. An actress was waiting for me in LA. It was a long way away.
"I live on Blanco." Ginger was thin.
Still a waif at 25.
"I don't have a car."
"Me neither. We can go by taxi." Her fingers graced the inside of my elbow. Seduction was her mission. I was an easy target.
"Then let's go to your place." I was 23. 5-11. Long brown hair. Ginger and I were made for each other.
"If you need someplace to stay." Billy Bob wrote his telephone number and address on a napkin. 22nd and Chestnut.
"Looks like the Yankee Boy done good." His friend winked his approval. "He won't be needing us tonight. "Just ask for the hippie commune."
I was a lucky man.
Her house was a bungalow not far from Shoal Creek. The classic western decor spoke old cow money. Ginger had two family names. They both sounded important. Her bed was brass. The sheers were scented with spices.
She placed Joni Mitchell. CalIFORNIA from the album BLUE. James Taylor on guitar. Our young bodies recreated Eden and we didn't fall asleep until dawn. My clothes were piled on my bag was in the corner.
"You have to leave before noon." Ginger's drawl was exhausted.
"Noon." I mentally set an alarm in my head.
It failed to go off at noon and Ginger's violent shaking ended my coma.
"You have to go." A silk robe was wrapped around last night's body.
"Now?" I was very comfortable.
I heard the slam of a truck door. A man's cowboy boots were lined against the wall. They looked size 12.
"My husband is back from the oil field."
A man called out her name. I grabbed my bag and clothing. Ginger pointed to the bedroom's open window.
"See you at the Amarillo later."
There was no time for a kiss. I fled the bungalow naked without a backward glance. Billy Bob and his friend were sympathetic.
"Even cowgirls get tired of fucking cowboys."
Billie Bob belonged to a vegetarian commune. We ate cheeseburgers before showing up for the evening meal of mushed broccoli and peas. My passport into their midst was a big bottle of red wine. Eight co-eds from UT, Billie Bob and his friend. We ended up at the Amarillo. I repeated the previous night with Ginger.
A week of nights with her. I always left an hour after dawn.
The Amarillo opened early. The jukebox covered a lot of ground. Bands auditioned in the afternoon. The bartenders knew my name. I tipped better than the goat-ropers. One called me to the side.
"Jo Jo Booth Gammage been looking for you." He placed a Lone Star beer on the bar.
"I don't know any Jo Jo Booth Gammage." The last names were vaguely familiar.
"Ginger's old man and he don't look none too happy."
"Oh." Very familiar.
"Thanks for the info." I tipped him $5 and left the Amarillo by the rear exit. It took me an hour to walk to Chestnut by the back roads. The sun was down by the time I arrived at the commune. The front door had been kicked in. Billy Bob was sporting a black eye. My bag was at his feet.
"Sorry, but the commune has voted you out."
"I understand." They commune was into peace and love.
His friend stood at the door. The girls were shadows in the kitchen
"I vote me out too." I picked up my bag. The welcome rug was gone.
"I'll give you a ride to the highway." Billie Bob handed me my bag.
I didn't refuse his offer.
71 was more than five miles away from the house.
The radio played SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL BY Grand Funk and FREE BIRD by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Billy Bob said nothing about the black eye meant for me. He was cool and waited by the side of the road, until a westbound Camaro shuddered to a stop. I waved good-bye to Billie Bob and got in the car. The driver was a soldier. He was headed west and so was I.
It was a good time to be heading to the coast.
"I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts."
Charles Whitman left his apartment and drove to the Texas University. The ex-Marine climbed the 307-foot tower with a cache of weapons. From this aerie he shot dead 13 and wounded 32 others with telescopic rifles. This rampage lasted for hours. Finally two Austin police officers with shotguns put down the killer.
"We got him."
Medical examiners found a brain tumor in his head. He was also on speed and rumors abounded about his abuse as a child by the Catholic priests from his home parish of Lake Worth, Florida. No one blamed the guns. Not then. Now now and not when gunmen assail 'soft targets' such as school, fast food chains, and malls. Strangely no deranged gunman has ever attacked a gun show.
Guns and guns and guns.
Not once in America has a mass murderer assailed a gun show, proving either the madmen are scared of not accomplishing their mission or gun shows calm the burning blood of a killer's brain.
Don't get me wrong. I like shooting guns. Just not at people.
Unless they after my family.
Then it's open season.
Lock and load.
Don't squat with your spurs on.
Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.
Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.
There's two theories to arguin' with a woman. Neither one works.
Never slap a man who's chewin' tobacca.
Always drink upstream from the herd.
When you're throwin' your weight around, be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else.
Never miss a good chance to shut up.
There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.
The Death Penalty throughout history has been imposed on traitors, heretics, adulterers, thieves, murderers, rapists, arsonists, and the innocent. One of my distant family members was hung by the English for religious dissent in the late 1500s and more recently Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob in Carthage, Illinois in 1844. I have never committed a capital punishment crime.
Not a saint, just not deserving of such a final judgment.
58 nations condemn criminals to death at present. China executed over 5000 man and women in 2010. I witnessed a caravan of dead men walking in Chengdu back in 1995. The streets were lined with citizens watching the trucks heading to the local stadium. The condemned stood in the back of the trucks with lowered heads. No one said a word or cheered their passing. There was no hope of a governor granting a stay of execution.
They were doomed from the moment of arrest.
Capital punishment is a powerful issue in American politics.
In 1988 the Democratic presidential candidate was asked by the the moderator of a TV debate, "Governor, if Kitty Dukakis (his wife) were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?"
The reply sealed the election for many viewers.
"No, I don't, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life."
His opponent, George Bush Senior, had operated the Contras for Reagan. The blood of hundreds of thousands of Central Americans were on his hands. He swept the nation for a 3rd straight GOP term.
Bill Clinton presided over four executions as governor or Arkansas. He witnessed the shooting of a cop killer, even though the murderer had shot himself in the head and was considered mentally incompetent by the State Courts. That ruthlessness paid off in the 1992 presidential election. Slick Willie further toughened his anti-crime stance by extending the federal death sentence to over 60 categories of criminals, although he also pardoned a condemned convict as president.
GW Bush executed over 150 death-row inmates during his governorship of Texas. He pardoned none and witnessed none. For the 2000 elections GW Bush scheduled executions to coincide with voting primaries. American voters loved the killer in him and he stole the presidency from Al Gore without any armed resistance from the plurality winner.
Al Gore was no killer.
Americans favor the death penalty 3 to 1.
If someone killed or hurt my kids or family member, I would get a gun and shoot them. No qualms about it. I'm no Michael Dukakis, but I am against the State taking lives. The police like to cut corners and the CSI TV shows lie about the accuracy of criminal investigations. Criminals snitch to get lighter sentences. Selling a friend to a murder rap is more common than divorce.
As a democratically elected mass-murderer GW Bush had no rival until fellow Texan Rick Perry ordered the deaths of 234 people. the 2012 presidential hopeful actually commuted one execution and banned the death penalty for mentally retarded inmates.
One more than GW.
His rhetoric rings true with the right.
"If you don't support the death penalty...don't come to Texas."
Such talk has won him the support of 29% of the GOP and fans overseas.
"If Perry has been busy putting plenty of murdering scumbags to death then fair play to him and I hope he becomes President.
The public here in the UK want the death pen. But since we don't have democracy how about sending our murdering scum over to the USA so Perry can fry 'em."
Thank you for your comments.
Rick Perry is two years older than me. He married his high school sweetheart. Pro-life and pro-gun the governor is a Christian supporter of Israel.
"I'm a big believer that this country was given to the people of Israel a long time ago, by God, and that's ordained."
29% going into the kamikaze campaign for president.
He likes colorful jackets.
The Drudge Report loves him.
He shot a coyote dead with his pistol.
America loves a cowboy and this one is real.
Scary as a sober John Wayne.
"You want a president who would, in a rainstorm, grab America's hand and take shelter with America in a nearby barn. Maybe help America out of its wet clothes. Maybe lay America down on some hay bales. And then, as America and Rick Perry become one, the sounds of their lovemaking merging with the thunderstorm's cacophony, the barn shutters rattling, the livestock, the livestock they want to look away but they can't, their eyes are transfixed. I am Rick Perry and, unlike Barack Obama, I will f*ck the shit out of America."
Jon Stewart says it all.
Fuck Rick Perry.
He has had a vasectomy.
Ball less Texas mass murderer.
He's no Charles Whitman.
Shooting like a madman from the Texas U tower.
Then again Rick Perry is a goat-roper from the A and M.
The Aggies know moo inside and out.
And that's not a good thing either.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
The day after Christmas Manny’s longtime partner, Lee, was showing a 7.04 Cushion Cut Round Diamond to a retired couple from West Palm Beach. The sixtyish woman wore a matriarchal Dior outfit, though her nasal accent betrayed Brooklyn roots with an envious coo, “I don’t know, it’s so bigggg!"
Her husband’s skin color of an old leather couch from the decades of sun on Long Island and Florida. For once he agreed with his wife. He wanted to get back to Boca Raton ASAP. Preferably without buying this rock.
"It is big.”
“Big? This isn’t big.” Lee, silver-haired and handsome in his early seventies, slipped the platinum ring onto the woman’s finger. “You remember Liz Taylor and Richard Burton? Well, back when we were all young, my good friend, Buzzy Yugler, had a 55-Carat D Flawless Diamond, which sparkled like snow under moonlight. Liz also thought it was a little too big, yet putting on the ring changed her mind and she said, “I think I can get used to it.
Acting as if he had been in the room with Liz, Lee guffawed with practiced elegance.
"Maybe there's a little Liz in you." The venerable diamond dealer hailed from Brooklyn too. Everyone he knew once came from Brooklyn. His posh mannerism were inherited from his wife. Her family was French he patted the woman's hand. "You got used to your husband. You could get used to this ring too."
The couple laughed with embarrassment and the man sighed, "We'll have to think about it."
"Take your time. We'll be here when you make up your mind." Lee waved good-bye to the couple. Once the door shut, he handed me the ring, “Could you put this back in the front window."
As I waked past my boss' desk, Manny muttered about Lee’s unabashed schmoozing, “Buzzy Yugler had nothing to do with that sale.”
Whereas Lee had inherited his father’s diamond business on 47th Street, Manny had spent his youth on the streets of Brownsville and learned the jewelry trade on the Bowery from the bottom up. The Italian suits and imported ties pinpointed his rough background, not that he cared a rat’s ass what anyone thought, because he didn’t have to pretend that he had a firm grasp of what was right and wrong.
“What do you mean?” I asked, bringing the 7.04 to the front window.
“I don’t have time to tell stories.” Manny looked at the wall clock at the back of the exchange. It was past noon and his customer hadn’t arrived with a promised check. He frowned like Jackie Mason not getting a laugh and turned to me. “And neither do you."
I surveyed the sidewalk for prospective customers, however most were intent on wide-eyed browsing.
"Not much business out there today.”
“Now you hexed the entire day.” Manny pulled out the folded paper towel he wore every morning to prevent his shirt collar from getting dirty. He knotted his tie at half-mast and joined me in the window. He was ready for action, but one glance at the street broke his heart and he said, “Buzzy Yugler bid a million dollars for the stone, which wasn’t 55-carat.”
I was old enough to remember Liz Taylor leaving the singer, Eddie Fisher, for Richard Burton during the filming of CLEOPATRA. “
"A million dollars back in 1964 must have been a lot of money.”
“But not enough to buy a 66-carat Pear Shape, because someone beat Buzzy’s bid by three hundred thou, though failure didn’t prevent him from crowing about having sold Liz the stone.”
“I thought Harry Winston sold Richard Burton the stone.”
“Maybe he did.” Manny shrugged like he heard different. “Abe Padrush offered Elizabeth Taylor two-million three for the stone. She would have sold it to him, except he wanted her to hand it to him personally and be photographed doing so. Publicity like that would have been priceless, but Richard Burton refused. Thought it was too low-class. Goyim, go figure.”
Richard Burton’s rejecting the prime Yiddish tenet of ‘nimmt geld’ or take the money confounded Manny, as did many aspect of gentile behavior. His son, Richie Boy, had been speaking on the telephone, but overheard his father and decided to his father a zug or needle. “You just don’t understand them, because you were brought up on the Bowery.”
“We had plenty of Gs downtown.”
“Yeah, but not like here and you don’t know how to deal with these uptown people.”
Being Yankee Irish I had a lot of better things to do than intermediate the eternal psychological battle between father and son, but Richie Boy turned to me and said, “You remember than million dollar ruby?”
“How can I forget?”
The deal was ten years ago.
The fingernail-sized stone possessed an awesome blood red radiance, but I hadn’t seen one million dollars in it and when I had told Richie Boy the same at our old exchange, he had said, “I don’t either, but believe me that’s what it’s worth."
“Your guy isn’t going to buy it!” Manny insisted, as we examined the stone.
“Why do you always have to be so negative?” Richie Boy shook his head. He wasn’t handsome, but possessed an demonstrative affability, which had won over a good number of wealthy clients, though none as rich as the president of a West Coast airline who was looking to buy his girlfriend, a blonde heiress from Millbrook, something special for her birthday. His call was for a very rare ruby. It had to be over five carats, a natural from Burma, internal perfect, and the color of the blood bleeding from a pigeon’s nose. The vein, not the artery. Very specific about the details, which meant the customer had done his research.
Richie Boy phoned several dealers and within a day came up with a stone. It wasn’t cheap and the dealer flatly told us, “875,000 dollars and I don’t want to hear any bitching about the price."
Banned from chiseling the price angered Manny, especially since his son was reaching for stars he couldn’t see. “I’m not being negative, but no one, and I don’t care how rich they are is going to spend a million dollars for someone else’s wife.”
“Yeah, but he’s going to marry her as soon as she’s free.” Richie protested, though Manny merely laughed, “Think what you like. You’re young. You’ll find out.”
His father walked away and Richie Boy asked me, “What do you think?”
“It doesn’t look like a big house in the Hamptons, but what do I know?” I grew up on Cape Cod.
Richie Boy agreed and picked two diamond necklaces for back-up from Lee’s inventory. Both cost over a quarter million. “The G has to buy something.”
An hour later the client called and told Richie Boy to meet him at the Regis Hotel
In his room on the tenth floor.
Richie Boy’s father predicted that we were being set up. Neither of us disagreed, but the client wasn’t coming to 47th Street. Manny wanted to kabosh the entire deal, however we were insured for the full value of the merchandise.
“And what if you get robbed on the street?” His father liked to play very negative angle in the search for the right path.
“That’s not going to happen!” Richie was licensed to carry, though when he stuck his 9mm in the shoulder holster, I asked, “You’re not really going to shot someone, if they try and rob us?”
He was no fighter.
“No, nothing is worth dying over, but it will look better on the insurance form, if I was carrying.” To Richie Boy’s way of thinking getting robbed was almost like making a sale, since the insurance companies would have to cover the loss, though both of us could do without the psychological scarring of someone sticking a gun in our face.
As Richie Boy hid the jewelry inside his suit coat and I picked up the front section of the newspaper. His father swore, “What you need a newspaper for?”
I was about to tell him, I wanted something to read, however Richie Boy told him, “Pete broke Doom Darazzio’s nose with a newspaper. One blow.”
Manny’s brother. Seymour the Cop, could attest to my toughness, but that beating was a long time ago and I was only taking the newspaper was to have something to read, while Richie Boy conducted his sale. Everyone wished us luck, though his father swore we were crazy.
He was right, but we walked over to the St. Regis Hotel and arrived at the hotel without incident. Two guests tried to get on the elevator with us, but Richie Boy and I glared a warning to take the next car up. Reaching tenth-floor corridor, we smiled nervously. So far everything had gone accordingly to plan.
Richie Boy padded his pockets, as if he thought he might have been pickpocketed by the Invisible Man. Feeling his jacket, he nodded to indicate the jewelry was still on his person and then he rang the bell. A woman laughed and several second later the door opened.
Both of us stared at the blonde, because she was naked, but for high heels. For a woman in her late thirties, but her skin tone was a testament to a strict gym regime. When Richie Boy and I exchanged a puzzled glance, she smiled and drawled straight out of Texas, “C’mon in, boys, we’ve been waitin’ for y’all.”
She sashayed into the main suite, where her boyfriend rose from the satin couch. He was tall, athletic, and wearing only a bathrobe. Greeting Richie Boy with a handshake, he looked at me and asked, “Who’s your friend?”
Richie played it right and took the two diamond necklaces from his jacket.
“He’s the protection for these.”
He draped the diamonds on the woman’s bare neck and she sat on the man’s lap. Even though they weren’t dressed and were from the best families in America, I didn’t trust them, but by the end of an hour Richie boy had sold one of the necklace. We took a cashier’s check for more money than either of us could earn in several years, but Richie Boy wasn’t happy, because he hadn’t sold the ruby.
Back at the store everyone congratulated Richie boy on the sale. His father shrugged and said, “I told you that he wouldn’t go for the ruby.”
“Yeah, you’re always right.” Richie Boy retold the story a dozen times that day and probably several hundred more, including the day after Christmas. Lee came over and turned up his hearing aid, since he liked to hear about the schitzah’s being naked as much as the blonde buying his piece. “I love that story.”
“You would.” Manny commented, since Lee’s admiration of blonde gentile woman was endemic to the most Jewish men. “But I’ll tell you another story.”
“Not about your girlfriend!” Richie Boy groaned, fixing his suit’s lapels.
“No, I’ll tell you a story about schitzahs that will curl your hair.” Manny smoothed down his Caesaresque coif for effect and then continued, “I was working down on the Bowery. Before you came to work for me, Richie.”
“Back in the Stone Age before the car and telephones!” Lee joked, but Manny was two years younger and said, “You remember those days just as good as me, if not better, but this was also when the blondes were really blondes and not out of a blonde. Well, maybe half of them were real.”
Manny had everyone attention, including the two Hassidic diamond brokers at the counter. “It was summertime, maybe 1971. Hilda and I were doing good. She was a lot like Richie in that she could sell rain to a picnic. Anyway this day she’s not working and I’m in the store with Norman.”
“Norman!” Everyone remembered Manny’s first employee and some not fondly, especially Richie Boy, who announced, “Best thing I did two years ago was fire that kuchleffle!”
As far as I could recall, Norman retired once he inherited his mother’s money, but Manny raised his hands, “Norman was a shit-stirrer, but back then he was a real lady’s man back then. Won the Lido Beach Club Body-building contest all through the sixties.”
“And you call that a talent?” Lee asked and Manny answered with a smile, “It worked for me. Anyway this one afternoon I see Norman outside talking with this beautiful blonde. I mean, she’s like a Vegas showgirl. He comes in with her and I expect him to want to use the vault, but instead he tells me she’s looking for a diamond ring. A big one. Five carat. I know not as big as Liz Taylor’s or and certainly not more money than you got for that diamond necklace.”
This story sounded very familiar, because I had heard it from Norman. Manny noticed my dismissive gaze and said, “Norman likes to tell it that he sold her the diamond and got screwed later, but she said to me, “I have this boyfriend. He’ll buy me anything I want. He won’t chisel you for the price, but I want you to give me half the profit.”
“I couldn’t believe my ears and thought she was trying to pull a scam, but the guy came in, didn’t squawk about the price, and she left with him. Ring, box, go.”
“And so then what happened?” one of the Hassidic brokers asked, stroking his salt-and pepper beard.
“Well, she came back, just like she said she would. I paid her what I owed her."
“Half?” Lee demanded incredulously.
“Fifty-fifty above my cost.” This split could have meant anything, but Manny stilled all other questions by saying, “She was happy, but gave me back the ring.”
“She wanted you to buy it back?” It would be the first time a woman did this to a man, however Manny shook his head. “No, she said she wanted me to sell it back to her.”
“What?” Everyone asked in unison.
“She tells me she has another boyfriend, who wants to buy her a ring, but she can’t have two, otherwise she won’t remember which is which could lead to complications, so she says, “Sell me this ring again and we’ll split the money fifty-fifty.”
Manny eyed everyone. I shrugged to signal I would ruin the punchline and nobody mentioned anything about the morality of what the woman proposed, but Manny admitted nothing by saying, “I did what I thought was best.”
“Which means?“ Lee demanded in suspect curiosity.
“That nobody got hurt.” Manny’s last word coincided with the arrival of a young couple looking for an engagement ring. I heard Richie Boy start to say, “No one is luckier than Pete.”
Manny and Lee said, “Barbara.”
I glared over my shoulders to silence them and then turned to the young couple straight in from Connecticut and asked, “When are you getting married?”
“September,” the twenty-two year-old brunette announced as if the vision of her wedding was playing inside her mind.
“No, 2003.” The man put his arm around his future bride.
Manny and Richie Boy chuckled and said, “A WOT.”
They were probably right about the couple being a 'waste of time',, but you never knew where missionary work would lead, so I said, “Congratulations.”
And I wasn’t lying.
2003 was just around the corner.
"There are no second acts in American lives."
F. Scott Fitzgerald's fatalistic quote on success has been excoriated by critics. They did not have to live through the gauntlet of abusive expectation suffered by the writer after the triumph of THE GREAT GATSBY, considered by many scholars as the most perfect novel in American literature.
Having failed often I hold with the thought that there is no worst failure than premature success, but failure to accept failure can lead to success such as in the case of ultra-right political commentator Glenn Beck. Drunk and drugged from the age of 16 the born-again Mormon rose from obscurity to fame as a passionate spokesperson for God, Country, and Race. His neo-evangelistic politics are firmly based on the teachings of the late writer W. Cleon Skousen, a fellow Mormon and a strong supporter of the John Birch Society, who believed that God's Hand was the main reason for the rise of America as a superpower and Glenn Beck tapped into White America's relentless fear of a godless future to become Fox News' # 1 commentator. The Murdoch network and Beck amicably parted ways at the end of July allowing Beck to pursue a more lucrative career as a private broadcaster.
A strong promoter on Christian Zionism Glenn Beck scheduled a series of Restoring Courage rallies in Israel aimed at disrupting the upcoming UN vote ON Palestine's statehood. Tickets sales for the event were tepid at best, although his white American Christian audience responded with cheers to his apocalyptical predictions with heart-felt applause.
"The world is burning. Whatever we've grown to think is solid and strong and durable is under siege. The threats are mounting. The evil is growing. Darkness is falling. New York, so-called leaders are talking about human rights. But what they do is abuse the very meaning of this phrase. They condemn tiny Israel, democratic Israel, free Israel – Israel which values human life above all others. In some countries it is a crime not to condemn Israel. The diplomats are afraid. They are cowards and so they surrender to falsehood. The truth matters not."
Jewish groups boycotted the rally due to Christian Zionism call for Jews to convert to Christianity to save Israel. Another reason for the lukewarm turnout was the $5000 cost of attending the rally.
If Glenn Beck learned one thing from his earlier failures it was that money makes people ignore your failures.
Which is Yiddish for take the money.
Mangozeen is #1 in the google search for Nimmt Geld yiddish.
Taking money the old-fashioned way.
Oi ist Mir.
Lastly Free Palestine.
It's the right thing to do no matter what Christ's Nazis think.
The Thais are very particular about touching, especially in public.
The head should never be touched, since the Thais consider it the most sacred part of the body. Farangs are notorious at ignoring advice on etiquette and I first visited my ex-wife's family in the country, we sat down for a long meal. The afternoon feast transformed into a drinking contest between the males. I had nothing to prove, especially since the lao whiskey was much weaker than White Lightning moonshine. The rice alcohol still packed a wallop to the head and I was more than willing to finish dead last in the mao kah Olympics.
I kept sliding into a sleeping position and my hosts continued to offer me glasses of the foul liquor. At one point the toothless old man smiled and ruffled my hair. I knew about the not touching the head thing and thought, "If you're drunk this rule is waived."
I returned the gesture.
The father was older than me. He can do what he wants. Plus he was drunk. He started shouting. I didn't understand Thai then, but his demeanor suggested that he wanted to hit me with something harder than his fist. It took forever to get the rice-cutting knife out of his hand.
"Khor-thot." I apologized dozens of times. My drunken contrition sounded more like khai-tot or Who farted?" in my boston-accented Thai.
The rest of the males laughed hysterically at the foolish farang. The old man simmered down after I bought two big bottles of lao-khao down and I swore to never touch a Thai person's head again. We drank those two bottles and then finished the beer in the fridge. Going to sleep I lay against the door. I wasn't taking any chances at getting chopped up in my sleep by a vengeful Thai.
The next day I woke covered with mosquito bites. My 'wife's father grunted a greeting indicating that his revenge mode was in gear. My hang-over was a killer, but my survival instinct ran strong and I avoided the gnarled rice farmer for most of the morning. Yung's muscles were knotted like tree vines. His muttering was unforgiving. His wife and daughter acted like everything was cool. As a man I knew better.
A little after noon the oldest brother showed up on his motorcycle and got off the bike to give his old man a motorcycle helmet on which he had written in Thai and English 'DO NOT TOUCH'.
Her father didn't find this joke was funny, but the helmet hangs on the wall ready for my visits and at least once during the stay someone will place the helmet on the father's head.
And Yung's doesn't think it's funny.
And I go to sleep against the door.
At least we understand each other.
And that's good etiquette.
Pattaya is not Venice and certainly no one on the Coasta del Crime pretends to be a reincarnated Thomas Mann writing a Thai version of TO DIE IN VENICE. At least no one I know, however plenty of people die in the Last Babylon. Thais and farangs. Many of natural causes. Some by misadventure. Dying is what makes us mortal.
None of us live forever.
Murder, accidents, and suicides are headlined by the morbid editorial staffs. Their photographers barge into the bedrooms of the deceased to chronicle the sad events like Cheap Charley Weegee. One tawdry rag reported on a senior member of the German community hanging himself over indebtedness to his Thai girlfriend.
Flat broke and 65.
The man couldn't face going back to his Heimat.
He had nothing or so he thought, because there's always a reason to keep on breathing and i learned that secret over 30 years ago traveling out of Mexico out a Tres Estellas bus. The driver stopped in a small mountain village outside of Monterrey. Church, cantina, market. I ate a couple of tacos for dinner and then got back on the bus. We arrived at the Mex-Tex border at sunset. I booked a cheap room at the nearest hotel. My stomach was pitching, as if my innards were in a typhoon. I ran to the toilet countless times. I made each time with a second to spare. My body was whacked by spasms. Sweat spewed from my flesh. I tried to read my book. HP Lovecraft's THE TERROR AT INNSMOUTH.
The gothic horror tale troubled my soul and a wicked fever accompanied me to a fitful sleep.
I had no watch in my dream. The light belonged to the realm of limbo. I stood in a rusting garden. The rotting flowers smelled of iron. Mumbling voices belonged to shuffling zombies. They weren't fast, but their numbers were countless.
The living dead chased me through the garden. Their green teeth clattered like plates on a tile floor. Their stomachs were empty. I was dinner. The ghouls trapped me in a gazebo. Their nails scrapped at the fly screens. Grave dust filter through the metal. I was two seconds from screaming like a Hollywood extra, when a thin man barged through the mob of flesh-eater and demanded, "What is the secret to human life?"
My Philosophy 101 grade had been a C+. I was no Nietzsche and the leader of the undead offered a once in a dream opportunity.
"If you give us the secret of human life we will let you live another 60 seconds."
"I know and I'm not telling."
"Then," he turned to his tortured minions. "Bon appetit."
My scream woke me from a horrible fate and I shook in terror but also armed with the truth that no matter how bad things might be we want to draw that next breath until there's no sense, despite how in THE COMEDIANS Graham Greene writes about how suicides are great mathematicians since they calculate the odds of ending it to be greater than going on.
There is always a reason to end life and begin it. I have always considered every delirious drunk to be a life and death experience. Living through a hang-over breeds another rebirth.
"It's not the despair I mind so much as the hope." Woody Allen.
Is that what killed a Hollywood actor this week.
He had it all; fame, fortune, everything common people strive for without success and he killed himself much like the German. Because it got too much and it can be anything.
Life is that intense right now.
So hold onto your minds. We will ride out this storm. Most of us and for those who pick the fast way out, "Via con dios."
And you know I'm not a religious person?
Even In distress.
My SOS will be sent to the bartender.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Tourists in Northern Thailand flocked to the convergence of the Mekong and Mai Klong Rivers in expectation of seeing the notorious Golden Triangle. Most express deep disappointment that there aren't any opium dens from which they can watch the flow of the Mekong River. A few harass the riverside shop owners for a taste.
"Four hours on a bus and all I can buy is a tee-shirt."
Bann Sop Ruak is a tourist trap, although years ago you could sit in the bungalows of Chiang Saen 10 kilometers to the south and smoke yourself into a narcotic coma for weeks on end.
In 1991 I stayed at guesthouse along the Mekong. $5 a night for a bamboo shack.I was writing a novel about pornography. The owner supplied opium. It was good for my dreams.
A Japanese tourist hadn't emerged from his room for two weeks. The owner and I thought he might be dead and knocked on the door. A groan was followed by footsteps. The door opened with a creak. The Japanese backpacker was whiter than a mushroom. He smiled and said, "Mai pen arai."
"No problem." The owner shrugged his shoulders without the slightest sign of condemnation. It was low season and Thaksin's War on Drugs was years away. I don't think the Jap ever got to Baan Sop Ruak. He had found his Golden Triangle in a 100baht/night bungalow. I'm waiting to find mine in my 80s.
The summer on the Hamptons are coming to an end and the mega-rich are celebrating special occasions with lavish weekend soirees. None more extravagant that the Southhampton party hosted by a billionaire investor for his 60th birthday. His 200 guests joining the fat cat were entertained by Elton John. Their names are well-known to the world as the Rich and Famous; politicians, movie stars, bankers, sports figures et al. No expense was spared for the occasion.
The only non-rich at the event were the help.
The millions for his birthday would buy about a half-million Happy Meals at Mickie Ds, the soup kitchen of the current Depression.
The birthday boy expressed hope that his opulent party can help spark the engines of the 'trickle-down' economy at a time when Warren Buffett is asking for his fellow billionaires to pony up more money for taxes.
His suggestion was ridiculed by the supposedly 'non-partisan' Tax Foundation.
“There's simply not enough wealth in the community of the rich to erase this country's problems by waving some magic tax wand."
Such a comment is to be expected from a think-tank supported by Exxon and the Koch Brothers, but they do state that seizing the entire wealth of the super-rich would amount to approximately $1.53 trillion.”
It's not much, but it's a start.
Happy birthday Mr. Black.
Of course I'm pro-No Tax too.
Bring the troops home.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Once a week I leave our 100% Thai compound for a farangization visit to Pattaya.
Mam doesn't begrudge my re-union with the West. She has me the rest of the time.
This week I took the 1pm bus down the coast. Thirty minutes later I was at Maggie May's. The afternoon drinkers were few. I recognized one face.
Jimmie had been coming to Pattaya several years. The postman from Northumberland had obeyed the advice of his lager lout mates and never gotten involved with a bar girl. Every night of his two-week holiday the 40 year-old drank up a storm brought a willing female companion back to his 400 baht/night room on Soi Concrete.
The next day Jimmie repeated the same process with the same enthusiasm as the previous night. He was a simple man with simpler pleasures. They were unattainable in the UK.
I was not friends with Jimmie. He was a little too National Front and his Geordie accent defied any attempt at a two-way conversation.
"Ah feel leik Ahm deein an expensive version of GROUNDHOG DAY." Jimmie said in his Gordie accent one afternoon, nursing his hangover with a beer.
Actually he had to repeat the sentence three times before I could understand his dialect. He shrugged and added, "Met a lass last neet . She's a canny good one. Doesn't want nothin an fucks leik sheh likes it. Ah think Ahm gonna stay wi hor."
Being a married man and nearly faithful ( I believe Bill Clinton never had sex with Monica Lewinsky ), I don't like seeing any man in his golden age succumbing to allure of commitment. "Jimmie, fight off that urge. Have another beer."
Jimmie was weak. The girl was cute. He looked like a vulture. She loved sex and he was thinking about extending his vacation.
"Ah want te stay wi hor the month. Sheh says Aa've te gis hor 15,000 baht (00US) fre the month an then the bor 6000 baht. Does tha seem leik a canny good deal?"
15K was about three times her monthly salary at the bar.
"If it makes her happy."
"What bout the 6000 to the bor?"
"Well, it's an insurance policy. Once you leave she's going to have to work somewhere and she likes where she works. So you have to give the bar their due." 200 baht a night for a month came to 6000. She was playing him fair and square.
"Ah just feels a little tee much leik a slaver."
"You get over it."
"It's not aboot the money."
Anytime I heard someone say that it wasn't about the money, then it was definitely about the money.
"If you say so. Just enjoy yourselves and forget about the bar fines." My head was hurting from the struggle to translate his Geordie-speak into a form of an understandable dialect of English. I ordered a draft beer, hoping for some price.
Jimmie coughed to disrupt my non-flow of thought.
"200 isn't too much."
"For a bar fine?"
His dumbfoundment was due to a basic cultural confusion.
Most farangs thought that the girls should be free to come and go as they like.
"Pay attention, because I'm saying this once and once only. The fines in Pattaya generally run according to these rates. Go-go girls get 500 baht. Show girls cost 600-1000 baht. Service girls in go-go bars are 500 baht. Bar girls are 200 baht.
Short time girls on Soi 6, Welkom Inn, and Jade Garden at 200 baht. Free lancers at Marine Disco or Tony's don't expect a bar fine, although it would stop them from asking for one." I explained all this to Jimmie as well as that his girl gets a commission from the barfine. "25-50%."
So yee think it's a canny good idea ?"
"Yeah, sounds great to me." Some people need a shove to push them off the cliff and sometimes these romances are the best a man like Jimmie can expect from life.
"Cheers." Jimmie bought a round for the bar to celebrate his decision. The girl came down later and thanked me.
"Only trying to make a man happy." Drinking with a woman wasn't as much fun as with your mates unless they were boring Wankers.
"I make him happy. He make me happy. Good."
"Yeah, sure. But can you understand what he says."
"No." She shook her head. "I don't speak German."
Neither does Jimmie, then again I'm not so sure that he speaks English.
It Doesn't matter. Money says love in every language. It's the universal translator.
Not matter where you go.