Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Soi 6 Of The North

Tiffany's in Sydney, Australia is considered the world's best brothel by Nevada's Bunny Ranch takes the silver medal with the bronze going to Relax in Hamburg, Germany. Bangkok's Nana Plaza finished seventh, even though prostitution is not really legal in Thailand. Yesterday Canada took a giant step into the competition with the Ontario Court of Appeals abolishing the ban on brothels, thus joining Greece, Germany, Bangladesh, Belgium, Holland, New Zealand and scores of other nations, which have decriminalized prostitution as a means to insure the health and safety of the women and men involved in the sex trade. Street sex according to Ronald Weitzer, a professor of sociology at George Washington University, stated his a CNC report that street sex takes about 15 minutes from hello to goodbye, while the brothel experience can last up to an hour. Brothels work best far from the prying eyes of society. No one wants them in their backyard. Nevada's thirty whorehouses are out in the desert. No one goes there by mistake. Many working women are happy with the present system, since they get to keep the majority of their earnings. Brothels typically receive a 50% cut, so a good percentage of sex workers, male and female, rely on the internet for their traffic, but there is no guarantee of safety and the court explained their judgment to the BBC by saying, "The world in which street prostitutes actually operate is a world of dark streets and barren, isolated, silent places. It is a dangerous world, with always the risk of violence and even death." The conservative government protested the decision "As the Prime Minister has said, prostitution is bad for society and harmful to communities, women and vulnerable persons. We continue to see a social need for laws to control prostitution and its effects on society." Effects? More satisfaction at the Moosehead Massage Bar. And that can't be a bad thing for Canucks.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Celestial Triple Convergence

Last evening after sunset I looked out the window of my Fort Greene apartment and even without my glasses I spotted the awe-ionspiring triple convergence of the crescent moon, Jupiter, and Venus hovering over the western horizon. I called down to AP, "Come on up here. I got something you have to see." "I hope it isn't your broken tooth." James shouted back from the floor below. "No, it's not my broken tooth." I had been pestering him to smell my shattered molar, which had been yanked from my lower jaw by my Sri Racha dentist in January. "It's something in the sky called the Triple Convergence." James loves Star Wars and dashed up the light of stars followed by his sister and AP. "Come in here." I was standing at the bathroom window. It was easier to open than those in the bedroom. "Ooooo." Lizzie held her nose. "This room smells of poop." "No, it doesn't." I had just cooked pasta with gorgonzola cheese. "Besides my poop smells sweet." "No, it doesn't." James checked the toilet bowl and held his breath before coming over to the window. "Look Dad, the moon has two friends." "They're not stars. They're planets. One is Jupiter and the other is Venus." "Which is which?" Speaking without breathing James sounded like he had a cold. "Jupiter." AP was wrong and I said, "Venus is the brightest. Jupiter is the biggest." "Are you sure about that?" AP narrowed his eyes with distrust. He had attended a better college than me. "Venus is called the Evening Star." No one thinks Venus is a planet, but it's more obvious than the mothership in the blockbuster film INDEPENDENCE DAY. "Why is it so bright?" James always had a surplus of good questions. "Shouldn't the big one be brighter?" "No, the brightness is its reflection of the sunlight.If we were in the country, they would seem even brighter, because there are competing lights." "We're going to the Hamptons tomorrow." Lizzie had yet to release the grip on her nose. "Will there be a triple convergence tomorrow night?" "I think so." I actually had no idea. "Cool." James ran out of the bathroom followed by Lizzie. AP gave me a smile. "It does smell a little of poop." "It's the gorgonzola." I felt a little like Gallilo abused by the Pope. "Yeah, right. See you in the morning." AP clapped his fingers over his nose and I sat by the window to watch the wonderment of the cosmos. I later read that the sun's astronomical magnitude was -26. The full moon was half that on the brightness scale. Venus was -4 and Jupiter remained visible in the night with a -1, plus that Venus shines so brightly, because its solar orbit never veers more than 90 degrees away from Earth. Tonight Venus will be on the longest end of its eastern elongation. Some 46 degree left of the sun. Millions and millions of miles away in Space. I think I'm in love.

Beauty As A Beast

Photo and painting of Lady Caroline Blackwood

"A mermaid who dines upon the bones of her winded lovers."

Robert Lowell husband/poet

MEMORY LOSS by Peter Nolan Smith

The Catholic Church and other derivatives of the Judeo-Christian faith extol monogamy as the true state of man and woman, then explain sex with the mystery of the birds and bees. Actually I don't ever recall hearing that lecture from my parents, although the stork was mentioned whenever a new brother or sister arrived unannounced from the hospital. Storks at hospitals made no sense to me, but my parents remained faithful to each other till death like mating pigeons.

On the other hand I have been a wanderer. I can't count the number of my paramours on one hand or all my digits and while I don't remember all their names, I do recollect their faces, smiles, and smell, yet very little of the sex. Woman pride themselves on their memories. They can quote you twenty years after the utterance left your lips. I thought that females would be the same about the act of love, but not all of them.

Several years back I ran into Valda at a studio opening in Manhattan. I had been out of town for a half-year in Asia. We sat on a window sill and spoke of our past and present. Two younger people came up to us and the girl asked, "Are you a couple?" "Not really." I smiled at the tenderness in her voice. I had been young once.

"You seemed so comfortable together." The young man beamed with the promise of two hearts beating as one and held his girlfriend's hand with tenderness. They had a lot to learn, but I wasn't in the ogod to bust their bubble, so I said, "No, we were never a couple, but we once were lovers."

"No, we weren't." Valda's answer was quick and harsh.

"We weren't? I was certain we had slept together on my futon with sweat slickening our bodies on a hot August night.

"Not at all." She was adamant.

"Are you sure?" Her kiss had been long.


Those encounters couldn't have been a phantasm of my fantasies. She had scratched my back to shreds. A fury dwelt in her eyes. The young couple were aghast. I admitted surrender. "Sorry, guess I was thinking about someone else."

I had slept with two of her best friends. Mary Beth and Lucille wouldn't know if I was right, but those two had vanished from New York at least a decade earlier. Valda walked away angry. She glared at me the rest of the night. I hadn’t thought I was so bad, but you never are bad as long your memory is outdated by reality.

White Men Redux

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed the civil equality to black ex-slaves and the GOP has promised to honor their privilege, but the Republicans remain true to the immortal words of Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, who explained why the party of Lincoln was short on blacks.

“I’ll tell you what the coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.”

Earl Butz led into that comment by telling the following joke to White House Counsel John Dean and the singer Pat Boone on a flight from the Republican Convention.

"After a horrible forest fire, a baby duck and skunk orphan start a conversation.. all of a sudden, the duck asks the skunk what he looks like. the skunk replies “well, you have webbed feet, feathers, and a bill,…you’re a duck”…the skunk then asks the duck what he looks like,..the duck replies, “well, you’re white, you’re black, and you smell,..guess you’re a Puerto Rican”

White men were angered by Earl Butz’ forced resignation. Insulting the Pope about contraception and telling race jokes in mixed company were protected by the First Amendment or the Freedom of Speech.

Of course being white I never really hear too many white jokes, so a googled ‘fat white guy jokes'. The search came up blank, but I scored big time with ‘white man’ jokes.

Such as;

How do you stop five white guys from raping a white woman? Throw them a golf ball.
How many white girls does it take to screw in a light? None, white girls can’t screw
How many white men does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, white men will screw anything.
What do you call a bunch of white guys sitting on a bench? The NBA
What does a white man do at the club? Pout while all the colored folk are bumpin’ & grindin’ with all of his fine white bitches.
What’s the difference between a white whore and a bitch? The white whore would screw everybody in the room and the bitch would fuck everyone but you.
What’s the flattest surface to iron your jeans on? A white girl’s ass!
What’s white and fourteen inches long? Absolutely nothing!
Why cant white men jump? They were too busy making racist jokes.
Why did white people own slaves? They were not strong enough to pick cotton – weak bastards.
And lastly what’s 12 inches long and white? Nothing.
That’s bullshit, because the proper response was, is, and will be John ‘Wadd’ Holmes, who was the champion of white cock. The blonde porn legend Seka had sworn that Wadd was the biggest in the industry. His manager had measured a fully-erect penis as 13.5 inches, although many actresses akinned his semi-erect penis to “doing it with a big, soft kind of loofah.”

Is nothing scared?

Only the GOP knows that answer.

FURY FORGOTTEN by Peter Nolan Smith

New York City has been bled of out-of-towners with a merciless fury. Work that was once abundant for the young dries up, as your age passes 40. Successful friends move out of your pay bracket and your old slot has been replaced by twenty year-olds willing to work for less.

Faced with faltering income expectations middle-age men and women look beyond the borders of the five boroughs and contemplate the nostalgia of home. Many succumb to the siren's song of a town distanced by decades. Like Old Moses says in THE SEARCHERS, “All I want is a rocking chair.”

This simple desire is achievable far from New York and last month I heard that a good female friend, her husband, and two teenage children were setting out for California.

"So you're going back home." Our conversation was over the phone.

"Back to my roots." She had left the West Coast in 1993.

"What about one last night on the town." I invited her to the Mudd Club / Club 57 reunion in late October. “I don’t have time for that.” Garette wasn’t in the mood to see old friends.

“I understand. The West is calling.” I looked out the window of my top-floor apartment in Fort Greene. The sun was setting to beyond the low skyline. Summer had given way to autumn. The trees were losing to the color yellow. Winter was coming early this year.

“Agora.” Her hometown lay on the dry side of the Santa Monica Mountains. The TV show MASH had been filmed below her house. I knew the vista well from having visited her family there more than once during my 1995 stay in Southern California.

“Give my best to your brothers.” We had surfed El Matador and Ventura. They were the tallest white men above Santa Monica. I liked them a lot.

“I don’t talk with them anymore.” Garette said and then added, “My brothers abused me as a kid.”

"Oh." I didn’t have to ask how. Garette’s mom had eight kids. They were as wild as feral cats. I thought sex, but it was worse.

"They beast me."

“I never hit a woman like that.” I answered without thinking about the past.

“What about the time you hit your girlfriend in Paris. That 17 year-old model.” Garette and I had met at the Bains-Douches in the summer of 1984. We were just friends. No one believed that, especially not her husband.

“Candia.” I had entered our Rue Danzig apartment to find the Puerto Rican teenager with her Italian boyfriend. One punch dropped him into the kingdom of whimpers. Candia slapped at my fists. My fingers unfolded to open palms. Red murder flooded my blood. “I didn’t hit her. I threw her on the bed.”

“Are you sure?” Women have better memories than men. “What about whipping them out of the apartment with a ripped telephone wire. Naked into a snow storm.”

“I was a flurry.” Flakes had fallen softly as volcanic ash. The still beauty must have been lost on their unclothed flesh and bare feet. I remember feeling that they gotten off easy. Paris was part of France. The courts would have understood a crime of passion. Even a double murder was forgivable before the judge.

“So don’t tell me that you’ve never hit a woman.” The phone clicked off and my ear was glad that people weren't able to slam the receiver of a cell phone.

Garette was right. I had scourged Candia and her young boyfriend into the wintery night and other woman had answered to my fury.

My older brother and I had chucked rocks at a family of eight sisters for ascendancy of our neighborhood south of Boston. They never beat up another boy.

As a hippie I had picked up my youngest sister from a Wollaston Beach bowling alley twenty minutes late.

“I hate you.” Her tirade scorched my ears on the drive through the Blue Hills.

Inside our split-level ranch house she said something so despicable that I threw a Frye boot at her. It missed her head by inches and dented the steel door to the garage. What she said was forgotten.

So I really didn’t hit her, but two other women were on the list.

Alice had disappeared with the band Shrapnel for over an hour. I found her in the alley behind CBGBs. She smiled at me, as if I were stupid to have worried about her. Nothing had happened between her and the band, but that smile earned her a slap. I don’t recall ever apologizing, but Alice and I stayed together, until I left her for Lisa. The blonde model from Buffalo was as beautiful and cold as a Swedish movie starlet.

We lived in London together the autumn of 1978. The studio was next to Chelsea football pitch. She modeled with David Bailey, while I wandered the wet streets thinking the worst. The next winter she flew to Europe seeking fame and fortune on the runaways of Paris and Milan. Lisa vanished within a month. She called me at summer’s end to pick up her things.

"Why did you leave me?" I asked her as she got in a waiting taxi.

“Sometimes you don’t get all the answers.” Lisa sneered at me, as if she was getting revenge for something else someone else had done to her.

"No answer." I snapped and kicked her ass with enough force to propel her inside the taxi.

“Fuck you.” She slammed the door shut and the taxi drove her out of my life forever, then again she was already out of it.

Garette was right. The only difference between me and a woman-killer was the length of my rage. I could have killed Candia without any reservation. Kicking Lisa had come natural and slapping Alice happened faster than a rattlesnake fanging a desert mouse.

All three incidents were decades ago, but later that day I googled Lisa. Her last name was too common to find.

Candia was in a sisterhood down the south of France. They didn’t believe in modern technology.

The only one to whom I could say sorry was my hillbilly girlfriend. Alice would be attending both events. I would be doing the same. I rehearsed my apology before the mirror in my apartment.

Men had been beating women for time immemorial.

Cavemen supposedly clubbed women and dragged them by their hair into slavery.

There was no foreplay involved with the rape of the Sabine Women.

I stood accused of a crime and only forgiveness could help me forget my sins.

Alice was too busy at the first night’s reunion on Avenue A for a conversation. She was still a star and I was just another old boyfriend. Our friends regaled each other with tales from the 1980s. I gathered everyone for a group photo. Alice was going out to dinner with a famous painter. We once had lived around the corner on East 10th Street. Alice was still beautiful. I had been a fool to leave her, then again I had been a fool about a lot of other things.

Morning found me alone in my bed. I wasn't too hung over and soaked in my bath for a good hour. The razor slid over my face. I wanted to look good tonight.

Several film makers had contacted me for interviews.

I had worked every night at the Mudd Club the month of August 1981 to pay for my sister's wedding present. Mostly I had hung out at the downstairs bar listening to music.

SEX MACHINE by James Brown had been my favorite and the DJ played it once a night.

The reunion was at a bar next to the Williamsburg Bridge. I arrived early to avoid paying a cover.

The only time I had purchased a ticket at the Mudd Club was for the Marianne Faithful show. Teh price was $10. Her voice cracked on BROKEN ENGLISH. The concert was cut short by a hail of beer cans aimed not at the singer, but Steve Mass the owner. Everyone wanted a refund. Steve didn’t give back a dime.

"You don't come here for the music. You come here to be you." Steve shouted at us. He was right. At the Mudd Club Joey Arias, Klaus Nomi, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, Anita Sarko, Richard Boch, Anya Phillips, James Chance, Michael Holman, and countless others were the stars of nights fueled by sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

Not all of us made it.

I was more unknown than known, but nearly twenty years later as I sat down on the garden rooftop for an interview about those years, passing party-goers stared at me, as if they had known me. I didn’t think that I had changed that much, then again I stopped looking in the mirror after the age of 50.

“I only look at my shadow,” I told the interviewer along with the story of ordering Alice to turpentine a Jean Michel painting off our refrigerator. I could have sold it ten years ago for a million. “I was so smart.”

I had thought that I was going to make something of my life. The drugs, the drinks, the late hours, and the sex had cut into my body and soul. I was lucky to be alive and found myself sitting with Alice.

She was as sweet as the first day I met her through our now dead friends, Andy Reese and William Lively. We entertained a throng of onlookers with our remembrances. Michael Holman joined us to explain the separation of fun at the Mudd Club versus Club 57.

“They were art and fun and we were sex and drugs.”

I didn’t beg to differ and after the camera stopped rolling I asked Alice for a second.

"What is it?" She was nervous, as if I was going to ask her to sleep with me.

“I want to apologize for hitting you behind CBGBs. It was wrong.”

“You really scared me and I probably should have left you right then, except I wasn’t brought up that way.” Her family from West Virginia was like mine from Maine; LEAVE IT TO BEAVER on the outside and a John Waters film on the inside.

“I wish I had never done it.” My excuse was that I had been worried about her, but that had been an excuse.

“Me too. But that was a long time ago.” Alice smiled with forgiveness and excused herself.


"Yeah." She had done me a favor and I did her one by ending our conversation on the matter.

I went to the bar, convinced that I was no Ted Bundy, the mass murderer, but neither was I a saint. Most men are simply something in between good and bad, which wasn’t such a horrible thing to be in this day and at my age.

Old men never look good angry, but they get better looking with an apology. As long as they really meant it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

One Dead Clown

GW Bush's Vice President got a heart transplant this weekend. The old one had suffered through five coronary failures and Dick Cheney opted to wait over two years for a replacement, since there are too few hearts for too many chests. His doctor says that the new organ should increase the 71 year-old's survival rate, since the ex-VP from Wyoming was in good health. According to the Boston Herald Cheney critics bashed the hell out of the former eminence gris of the Bush regime, saying the heart was “Wasted on a war criminal. Hey Dick how many kids did your lies kill? Thats ok, hell can wait a little longer.” or “surgeons mistakenly transplanted the bleeding heart of a liberal” into the unflinchingly hawkish veep. USA Today reported that Albert Brooks wrote: "Dick Cheney gets new heart! Not to be confused with compassion." Chaney and his family have no idea about the identity of the donor. The Chinese have stopped harvesting the hearts of condemned prisoners. Even Cheney would have to think that was a good idea, but the man has his reputation. Prior to the start of Desert Freedom GW Bush expressed his concern about the potential casualties and asked Dick Cheney for advice.

"Tell them the truth. 5000 Americans, 1,000,000 Iraqis, but add one clown." The VP believed in simple solutions.

"Why?" GW was dumbfounded by the suggestion.

"You'll see." Cheney winked with Wyoming wisdom.

At the next White House press conference the reporters clamored for details on the casualties and GW Bush says, "We estimate that there will be 5000 American dead, 1,000,000 Iraqis, and one clown."

The reporters jumped to their feet and asked, "Why one dead clown?"

GW Bush smiled at Chaney and misquoted HL Mencken under his breath, "Nobody ever went broke misunderestimating the intelligence of the American public."

Dick Cheney could only smile, because only a fool laughed at his own joke. Especially since he had no heart.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Ocean

James Cameron is one of Hollywood's biggest earners. His two films TITANIC and AVATAR grossed billions and Avatar CS MONITOR. His 2010 income was reported to top $250 million and a man with that much money can appease his every whim. The famed director has answered the call of the deep ocean by descending to the wreck of the Titanic and yesterday Cameron dove to the bottom of the Pacific in a submersible torpedo called the Deepsea Challenger. The complete time of the voyage was about seven hours, three of which were spent exploring the unfathomable expanse of the ocean floor some 300 miles southwest of Guam. He popped to the surface without claiming to have discovered the lost ruins of Atlantis. According to the Christian Science Monitor he told reporters, “I just sat there looking out the window, looking at this barren lunar plain and appreciating it." No human has visited the Challenger Deep since the US Trieste in 1960. It is a barren wasteland, but barren can be good and Cameron told BBC News, "I really feel like in one day I've been to another planet and come back." It must be nice to be so rich, but Cameron actually made his fortune by the force of himself. I hope that he had a good time.

Delta Business Elite in the NY Times

'All the news that's fit to print' tops the headlines of the New York Times. This respected newspaper is considered a bastion of liberal thought by the left, right, and center of the upper-classes, for the cost of $2.50 puts the broadsheet out of the range of most Americans and a glance at the ads within Times reflect the publishers' regard for the common man. Page A7 of issue 55,722 featured the completion of the front page's Dublin Journal entry about a broke Dublin artist fashioning a house out of 1.4 billion Euros. Directly beneath this article was a promo for Delta Business Elite. The price of a flight to London with this service is $3500 or about one-tenth of an American family languishing above the poverty line. None of the business class flyers pay for this privilege. The money comes out of the pocket of the consumers. Same as the $2.50 for the New York Times. A mouthpiece for the rich.

Burning Money For Quiet

Last January Jamie Parker and I were drinking at a bar on Soi Bukhao in Pattaya. Several sound systems competed for our attention and Jamie said, "I've never see a people more allergic to silence than the Thais." "The TV in my house is always on." Thais love their soaps. "What about the loudspeakers in the country screeching out the morning news at 4am?" Jamie had visited his fair share of Isaan villages. "Or karaoke bars." I had never heard a Thai complain about this ceaseless din. Quiet on the other hand scares the shit out of Thais, as if ghosts or phi are slinking about the night to eat their flesh. "But they swear that they appreciate san-dti so-ok." "What's that mean?" Jamie glared at the bar opposite. The loudspeakers were blaring HOTEL CALIFORNIA. "Tranquility." I grimaced at hearing the Eagles for the tenth time that evening. "You remember that Brit group from the 90s? KLF. The founder has established a day in November which he calls No Music Day in the UK. No music. None at all." "Good luck trying that here." Even if an Electro-Magnetic Pulse knocked out the Thai power grid, they would find a way to vanquish silence. "Nietzsche said life without music would be a mistake.” Jamie was smart for a high school drop-out. He accredited his vast grip of useless knowledge to his reading in prison. "But KLF's founder was a wanker. Supposedly he burned a million pounds on a deserted Scottish island. Probably said it to keep from paying back his friends and I couldn’t remember a single song of theirs anyway. Jerk off. You don’t want to hear any music, then stick chopsticks into your ears.” "Their hit was DOCTORING THE TARDIS." I couldn't recall the tune, only the title. "They blew all their money to make a statement about art. It took them an hour to burn it. "Couldn't have been too big a fire." Jamie was disgusted by art types trying to be rebels. "Probably fit into a single carry-all bag." "Fucking stupid Brits." Jamie hated people who wasted money. The Pentagon led his list of assholes. "You don't see Thai people burning money." He looked around the bar. The girls were waiting for a farang. Back home in Isaan their family were waiting for money. "What you think they would say if I told the bargirls this story?" Jamie signaled for another beer. "That we're crazy farangs." I lifted my finger to indicate for another beer. "Better to say nothing to reinforce their opinion of farang kee-nok." "You got that right." Jamie and I clinked beer bottles. Poor people never burn money or stay quiet. It must have something to do with the heat.

Billion Euro House

In fall of 1997 I rented a converted schoolhouse in Ballyconeelly from Lord Guinness of the Guinness Beer fortune. The monthly rent for the autumn was 600 Irish pounds or almost $1000. I was splitting the cost with my friend Ty Spaulding, but upon arriving at the desolate dwelling in the coastal bogs I discovered that there was no heat in the drafty building fraught with mildew. "We've been had," Ty wailed upon seeing the shambling edifice. And that was before the ghosts made their appearance. "Tisn't such a bad price," the locals at the pub assured us. "This is a very desirable area." Ty and I surveyed the bleak landscape with bewilderment. "There are houses selling here for a half-million pounds and not new houses either." The publician was the cow town's realtor. "So drink your beers and be happy. Won't be this cheap next year." The pub owner was correct. The price of property in Ireland skyrocketed during the decade of the Celtic Tiger. The banks gave money to everyone wanting a house without credit checks or down payments. The country went house crazy with the nation convinced that they were all millionaires. The recession sucking a third of the value from property restored tragic sanity to owners with devastating consequences. A million ghost houses are planted around the Emerald Isle. No one will ever live in them. Bankruptcy became a national pastime along with divorce for married couples and suicides for young men. Worst was the government's accepting a bail-out plan by the German banks which will impoverish Ireland for generations. A better plan was to over-insure the overstock of housing and have arsonists torch the lot of them, but it's too late for that plan. Ireland is fucked for life and last year a Dublin artist decided to build a billion-Euro house with bricks of decommissioned Euro banknotes, 1.4 billion Euros to be exact. Frank Buckley is another victim of the disaster and according to Huffington Post called his project, "a reflection of the whole madness that gripped us. Everything is centered on the euro, but euros are only pieces of paper. It’s what people do with the euros, the value we put on them, that changes their meaning, but whatever you say about the euro, it's a great insulator." At present the 50 year-old Mr. Buckley lives on the public dole. $250/week. His credit card debt is in the thousands. The man is broke and he is not alone. “I’m one of many, many people. I wouldn’t be on the same level as people in business, who owe millions. But the money I owe is the same as owing millions. If you don’t have it, you don’t have it.” Welcome to the ranks of the Fucked. We are only one of many. And cutting up your credit card is the only strategy left to us. Fuck the banks, but first whack out your credit line to the max. It will hurt them more than it will hurt you and in the end the banks will write it off. They will have no other choice, but International Write-Off Day It can't come too soon.

Movie Minimum Wage

Two weeks ago a casting director asked if I wanted to work a long day as an extra. "It's $8 an hour." She sounded apologetic, since the last three gigs had been at AFTRA rates. "Put me down. I"m not doing anything." Nimmt geld or take money was one of the first rules of my old boss Manny, plus extra work required no heavy lifting or abusive bosses. I told the casting director, "You can count on me." The evening shoot was located at a private estate out on Long Island. The property had belonged to Guggenheim family. The massive main room was walled with stone. The set was decorated to be a country club dinner. We were not allowed to touch the food. The crew had run electrical wires through the windows, which were ajar to the night air. I was dressed in a double-breasted tuxedo. The women wore gowns and high heels. I was relatively comfortable. They complained about the cold and bitched about their aching feet. There was one bathroom. The queue was twenty deep. I pissed in the garden and then hid in the attic covered by a heavy packing blanket. None of the PAs noticed my absence. The director called it a wrap at dawn. It had been a 12-hour day according to my count. The production head argued that it was ten hours. "We don't count travel time for non-union." He wasn't a prick. He was just doing his job. "Suit yourself." I was happy to get out of there. Buses brought the background actors back to the city. I arrived home in Fort Greene at 8pm. "How did it go?" AP, my landlord, asked, as I tramped upstairs. "Long and cold." They had fed us once in ten hours. "Cruel too, but it will pay some bills." Mam needed money for the water and electrical bills in Sri Racha. I entered my bedroom and dedicated the rest of the morning and some of the afternoon to sleep. A week later the check for that evening's work came in the mail. I opened the envelope and read the amount. $84 and it would have been $64 without the OT. "$84," I muttered to myself and pocketed the check. Over four million Americans earn that daily wage of $64. The total for the week comes to about $250-300. The yearly salary is less than half the acceptable poverty rate for the USA and $8/hour is seventy-five cents more than the real minimum wage. I left the house without telling AP about the sum total of my day's efforts. There was no pride in being a wage slave even for a movie and I hoped that it flopped at the box office. I have a black heart about these things. It must come from being Black Irish. Fuck.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Word Fuck

This tone poem is attributed to the great linguist George Carlin.

Perhaps one of the most interesting words
in the English language today, is the word FUCK.
Out of all of the English words which begin with the letter F, FUCK is the only word referred to as the "F" word, it's the one magical word.
FUCK as most words in the English language,
is derived from German,
the word "fricken[?]", which means to strike.
In English, FUCK falls into many grammatical categories.

As a transitive verb, for instance.
John FUCK-ed Shirley.
As an intransitive verb, Shirley FUCKS.
It's meaning's not always sexual;
it can be used as an adjective, such as
John's doing all the FUCK-ing work.
As part of an adverb,
Shirley talks too FUCK-ing much.
As an adverb enhancing an adjective,
Shirley is FUCK-ing beautiful.
As a noun, I don't give a FUCK.
As part of a word abso-FUCKING-lutely,
or in-FUCKING-credible.
And, as almost every word in the sentence,
FUCK the FUCK-ing FUCK-ers.

As you must realize,
there aren't too many words
with the versatility of FUCK.
As in these examples describing situations
such as fraud,
I got FUCK-ed at the used car lot.
Dismay, Aw FUCK it.
Trouble, I guess I'm really FUCK-ed now.
Aggression, Don't FUCK with me buddy.
Difficulty, I don't understand this FUCK-ing question.
Inquiry, Who the FUCK was that?
Dissatisfaction, I don't like what the FUCK is going on here.
Incompetence, He's a FUCK-off.
Dismissal, Why don't you go outside and play hide-and-go-FUCK yourself?

I'm sure you can think of many more examples.
With all these multi purpose applications,
how can anyone be offended when you use the word?
We say, use this unique, flexible word more often in your daily speech.
It will identify the quality of your character immediately.
Say it loudly, and proudly!

FUCK you!

To hear this poem please go to the following URL

The 10 Unanswerables

According to the Old Testament Moses descended from Mount Sinai with two stone tablets inscribed with 17 Commandments and although the adopted son of the pharoah was the only man in the crowd who could read, Yahweh deigned not to write in Egyptian, so there could have been a thousand commandments for all Moses or Charlton Heston knew in the DeMille's version of THE TEN COMMANDMENT.

The re-interpretation in the ensuing millenia have whittled the 17 to 10, although the late comedian George Carlin shrank the list to One Commandment 'THOU SHALT KEEP THY RELIGION TO THYSELF!!!' I have religiously obeyed his non-divine edict, as have an increasing number of non-believers, however American education has ignored Judeo-Christian thought for the last half-century along with geography, history, math, art, PE, and any science with an -ology at the end of the word. People know less and less. Few can complete all the Ten Commandment, however anyone can resurrect the list by going to and the interactive website had come up with its own list called the Ten Unanswerables, which are the following.

1. What is the meaning of life?

2. Is there a God?

3. Do blondes have more fun?

4. What is the best diet?

5. Is there anybody out there?

6. Who is the most famous person in the world?

7. What is love?

8. What is the secret to happiness?

9. Did Tony Soprano die?

10. How long will I live? Having recovered from my Friday night occupation of a bar stool at Solas on East 10th Street, I will try to provide Ten Answers for the Ten Unaswerables.

1. The meaning of life is simple. Live today for tomorrow you die.

2. There certainly isn't a bearded God wearing a muumuu in the clouds.

3. Blondes have more fun, if you like blondes.

4. The best diet is excess in moderation.

5. There are plenty of anybodies out there. They just don't know where we are.

6. The famous person in the world is Andre the Giant. To me at least.

7. Love is like pornography, I know it when I feel it.

8. The secret to happiness is loving yourself and the world around you. Even in North Philadelphia, which can be a very bad place.

9. Death on TV is cancellation. Even Tony Soprano can't escape swimming with the fish on TV.

10. Everyone lives until they die. See answer one.

Not trying to be smart, for anyone who thinks that he has heard all the answers has not heard all the questions.

THE BEAUTY OF BALI by Peter Nolan Smith

THE BEAUTY OF BALI by Peter Nolan Smith Back in the 90s I had developed a yearly routine. Working seven days a week at the diamond exchange during the Christmas season provided enough money for 5-6 months in Asia and my yearly bonus paid for the around-the-world flight. Once Richie Boy and his father finished their January vacations, I quit selling diamonds on 47th Street for the winter and bought a round-the-world ticket from Pan Express. Two weeks after January 1, 1993 I bid Richie Boy and his father good-bye for the third time in a row. Snowflakes were swirling in front of our window. Richie gave me a hug. His father offered a different demeanor for Bon Voyage. “Don’t expect your job, when you get back.” Manny was serious. “I won’t be back soon.” February was dead. March and April were zombie months for diamonds. Young people got married in the summer and no one sold more wedding bands than me. “I’ll see you in May.” “Maybe I’ll come see you.” Richie Boy was a die-hard surfer. The waves in Ulu Watu were double overhead. Out of my league, but Richie Boy could handle the swell. “Maybe in March “He’s going nowhere.” Manny was driven by work. He expected the same from his son. “Manny, sie gesund.” I wished him well. “You take care of yourself.” The old man got up from his desk and pressed a hundred dollar bill in my hand. “Have a few drinks on me.” “I will.” Those were the last two three words he would hear from me in six months. I was leaving New York that evening. The flight from NY to Bali took about 30 hours. A cab from Denpasar drove me up into the mountains. My parents had Poste Restante Ubud as my address. It was a simple market town set in the verdant rice paddies. I lived in a simple house overlooking a ravine. Villagers bathed in the stream in the evening. The sun set between two distant volcanoes. The music of the Legong band warbled in the air filled with dragon flies. The small village offered backpackers a chance to discover hidden Bali with the comforts of cold beer and nasi goreng. The town was very family friendly and many of them stayed at the hotel up the path from my house. It had a swimming pool and served a tasty gado gado. One couple from the North Shore of Boston were vacationing with their two teenaged kids. I was from the South Shore. The husband and I discussed the Red Sox’s chance for winning the World Series. The wife was into traditional dancing. Her daughter was studying ballet. She looked about 16. Her name was Dawn or Kakatu in Bahasa Indonesian. Dawn had long brown hair and she would sneak peeks at me lounging by the pool, whenever her parents weren’t watching her every move. I had a good idea what she was thinking and avoided her, for young girls are big trouble for men in their early 40s. One night I attended a dance performance of the Legong girls at the temple. Their lithe movements to the acoustic music was a pleasure to the eye. The candle-lit courtyard was easily to mistake for the 18th century, if I ignored the rumble of traffic beyond the red brick walls. After the end of the show I gave the venerable teacher $5 or 10,000 rupiah, which was enough to buy her pupils a meal at the market. She thanked my gift and lifted her eyes to the flickering streetlights. They wavered with the dying surge of distant electricity and then the village was plunged into a primeval darkness. Outages were common occurrences and I flicked on my flashlight. Dawn was standing in front of me. “Hi.” She was wearing a red shirt without a bra. “Where are your parents?” I walked out of the temple. Kerosene lamps illuminated the small warungs. Car headlights blinded me and I yanked Dawn out of the road. “They went to the hotel before me.” Dawn pushed back her long brown hair. “Then I guess I have to walk you home.” There were no taxis in Ubud, at least none that could navigate the narrow footpaths bordering the rice fields. “You’re not scared of the dark, are you?” “Not with you.” She reached out to hold my hand. “Just follow me.” I skirted her grasp and proceeded down a small lane between several Balinese family compounds. The high walls created a narrow chasm leading to the open rice paddies. The hotel lay across the darkened fields and I felt a little like Orpheus leading his wife from Hades, except Dawn was no Eurydice and Bali was more heaven than hell. “Can we stop for a second?” Dawn licked at her lips. They shone with the rising moon. “I want to look at the stars.” “Okay.” I sat in a rice shack. Thousands of fireflies hovered over the golden husks of rice. Overhead the cosmos glowered with an equatorial intensity heightened by the lack of electric light. Dawn lay down on the bamboo pallet. Her shirt was undone. The stars painted her skin silver. “Do you think I’m beautiful?” She touched my thigh with a trebling hand. “Anyone your age is beautiful to a man as old as me.” My resolve weakened under the caress of her fingertips and then cracked with a kiss tasting of bubble gum. “How old are you?” I sat up straight and sidle to the edge of the rice hut. “15, but my friends say I look older.” She shimmered with forbidden youth. “You do look a little older.” I had hoped 18. I had hoped wrong. “Let’s go. Your parents must be worried.” “Can’t we stay a little longer?” She buttoned her shirt. “No.” One more minute and I would cross the bounds of decency. “You don’t know what you’ll be missing.” She pouted with the failure of seduction. “Oh, yes, I do.” I had been fifteen before. Dawn’s mother was waiting at the hotel entrance. Worry was not the word to describe her expression and I said firmly, “I brought back your daughter intact.” “I’m not intact.” Dawn pouted with vengeance. “I’m not a virgin. I’m a woman.” “Young girl, get to your room.” Her mother nodded her thanks and the next day the family had decamped from Ubud. I resumed my life without any threat from Dawn, but I remembered her lying in the bamboo hut wearing only starlight. I regretted telling her ‘no’, knowing that I would have been wrong to say ‘yes’, but then it was only one regret of many and at forty I had plenty of chances left to regret doing the right thing instead of the wrong. Beauty was around me in Bali.

You Bet I Would # 231

Alexa Chung - fashion editor and British it girl photo thanks to Duncan Hannah

Friday, March 23, 2012

Poor Baby

Last February Whitney Houston died in suite 434 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. She was found submerged in the bathtub. The loss of the megastar saddened her fans around the world and yesterday the LA coroner announced the causes of death as accidental drowning due to cocaine, Benadryl, Xanax, marijuana and Flexiril. Heart failure was also a factor in the demise of the 48 year-old singer. Poor baby. It could have happened to anyone involved with Bobby Brown.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

First Flower Of Winter

Two weeks ago I took the 441 bus from Haymarket Square in Boston to Marblehead. My uncle was waiting at the stop. He was in good form, considering having suffered from a slight stroke earlier in the winter. My aunt was on her way home and the two of us walked over to Fort Sewell. The weather was unseasonally warm and I spotted a flash of purple sprouting from the winter withered grass beneath the brick casements. A flower. The first of spring. I wanted to say it was a lilac. It was March 10. My uncle and I looked at the flower in amazement. "Can't say that I've seen a flower this early in the year." "Me neither, but in London I visited a garden in Putney Heath and there were flowers on the trees." "Is that normal?" "I don't think so." There is not much normal about the weather now. "Let's go meet your aunt and then we can have lunch at the Barnacle." The fried clams at the Barnacle were straight out of the sea. "Sounds lovely." As would any day sound when first flower of spring came in winter.

SIDESHOW by William Shawcross

When I visited Cambodia in 1995, I arrived at Phnom Penh’s airport on a brutally sunny day. My sunglasses offered little protection against the glare and stumbled toward the terminal seeking relief from the heat, then stopped upon seeing a score of young children getting off a bus. Every child was dressed in their best clothes and each was missing a limb or two. "They are flying to Bangkok for fittings with prosthetic limbs," a fellow passenger informed me with a hushed voice. Hopeful smiles disguised their absent arms and legs as well as their nervous anticipation of a long journey away from family and friends. I wished them luck with a smile. In Asia smiles have many meanings. Mine was shame. Amputees are everywhere in Cambodia and the mines laid during that long conflict reap new victims without a vacation. Strangely Cambodians don’t express anger about Pol Pot, the mines, or the long war, almost as if it had happened to someone else or talking about it might bring back those years.

Not me. I’d be out for revenge and my #1 target would be Henry Kissinger, who is portrayed in William Shawcross’ book, SIDESHOW as the principal architect of Cambodia’s descent from a neutral monarchy to the Pentagon’s secret front of the Viet-Nam War.

Prince Sihanouk had kept his country out of the neighboring conflict by waltzing between the USA and Vietnamese combatants. By 1970 this neutral status was unacceptable to the Nixon regime and Kissinger condoned the secret bombing of suspected NVA bases inside what was called the Parrot’s Beak.

Armed incursions followed by an ill-conceived invasion. Sihanouk was deposed and the Prince supported the Khmer Rouge against the Lon Nol dictatorship. This country of rice paddies and flood plains joined Laos and Vietnam in the holocaust. And despite the horrors portrayed in SIDESHOW, the Cambodians are a much more forgiving people than others who have suffered through a holocaust, mostly because they have to live with the perpetrators. They love Americans and only a few older people have any idea about what Kissinger or Nixon did to them. The rest live life as best they can without any help from the bombers of 1970.

Along the path to Angkot Wat’s Bayon Temple a quintet of amputees plays traditional music. A tourist stopped to take a photo and the leader of the troupe asked the visitor’s nationality. When the middle-aged voyager replied Texas, the band struck up YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS.

The tourist left a dollar and so did I.

Small reward for such forgiveness.

Forgetting is another matter.

Bomb Them To The Stone Age

On March 18, 1969 President Richard Nixon ordered American B-52s to bomb Cambodia, thus kicking off a deadly air campaign supposedly directed against North Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge targets. 540,000 tons of high-ordinance bombs resulted in the deaths of anywhere from 150,000 to 500,000 civilians and countless wounded in the agrarian populace. Operation Menu lasted until August 1973. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has adamantly rejected any responsibility for the ensuing horror of the Khmer Rouge's Year Zero by stating in his memoir, "It was Hanoi-animated by an insatiable drive to dominate Indochina- that organized the Khmer Rouge long before any American bombs fell on Cambodian soil." Courts are trying Pol Pot's cronies in Phnom Penh. Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize. The co-winner Le Doc Tho refused his award. "There is no peace in my country." At least he had the honor to see the truth. Here is a map entailing the tonnage dropped on the Cambodian-Viet border during the early 70s. One ton for each Cambodian. Just think what Kissinger might have won with two tons.

The Trade Route Of The Orient

From 1956 until 1973 20 Thai baht bought $1. A flight to Penang on Thai Airway cost about $130US. I checked Air Asia current ticket fare from Bangkok to Penang and discovered the price is about the same. Some things never change.

135 IN THE SHADE by Peter Nolan Smith

In late-July of 1975 Andy K and I left California on a cool morning. Our summer vacation had come to an end. We hitchhiked east from Pomona at the end of the Valley.

Leaving LA wasn’t easy for long-hairs.

The locals were the sons of Okie rednecks, but a young Mormon girl stopped at the Rancho Cucamonga on-ramp and drove her Monza convertible over the pass into the high desert. The cute driver played the new Joni Mitchell 8-track on the stereo.

“My parents won’t let me listen to music, but her voice is so pretty.”

We sang along with URGE FOR GOING and AK and I both wondered why we were leaving California. It was all about money.

She dropped us in Victorville.

It was barely 10AM.

We thought ourselves lucky,, then we saw the long row of hippies standing on the arid eastbound onramp. 

Hitchhiking on the Interstate was illegal.

The State troopers arrested anyone attempting to break the law. The fine was $50. I had almost $40 in my pocket. California cops didn’t bargain with hippies. AK and I took our place in the ragged queue.

There wasn’t a speck of shade in sight. Sand, weeds, and a dented guardrail decorated the scenery. Across the interstate was a gas station and a diner. I smelled bacon in the air and licked my lips. Our breakfast had been a donut and a cup of coffee. I was hungry.

“What do you think?” AK asked with a canteen in hand.

“I think it doesn’t look good.” I sipped some water. It tasted of Pomona. The hitchhikers in front of us licked their lips with envy.

“We’ll have to go easy on this.” AK put away the canteen. We only had one.

Cars and trucks whizzed past on the Interstate. They were going faster than 55 MPH. By the time the drivers saw us, they were gone. A CHiP cruiser patrolled the onramp every twenty minutes. The steel-faced officers were dead-set against hitchhikers. They were here to enforce the law.

After an hour a van picked up three hippies and six more longhairs joined the ranks of the stranded travelers. I walked down the line speaking to the other hitchhikers. None of them had anything good to say about this onramp.

A New Orleans-bound couple were fortieth in the line-up. They had been on the ramp for 20 hours. Both of them were in the throes of cold turkey.

“15 hours?” I checked up the sky. There wasn’t a cloud from horizon to horizon. The temperature was in the high 80s. By late afternoon it would be in the 100s.

“Some of it was night.” The rail-thin girl wore a wife-brimmed hat, but her skin had been torched a torrid red.

A merciless sun bounced off the black asphalt. 

We were six people behind them. AK and I were #47 and 48. I had been a math major my first years at university. The math was simple addition and subtraction. One ride per hour meant that we would not get a ride for another two days.

“You two should split up. No one picks up two guys.” Her strung-out old man had hair to his ass. The skinny girlfriend could have passed for his twin. They made a cute lesbian couple for anyone not looking too close. 

“Except for perverts.” His furious girlfriend was hungry for a fix. She wanted out of this desert limbo.

“Yeah, I’ve had a couple of offers from some sick fucks. They were into men,” he said it as if it were a sin.

“They wanted me to watch.” Her face screwed up with disgust. Sex was as distasteful to junkies as it was to nuns. Torture was beyond her strung-out comprehension.

“Nothing wrong with being queer.” I danced with gays at the 1270 Club in Boston. They pawned me off to fag hags. It was a good deal for me. “Especially if it gets us out of here.”

“These guys weren’t after sex.” The junkie was hinting at murder. Killers were preying on hitchhikers in LA. It was a city of commuters. They drove everywhere to get their kicks.

“Oh.” I had come down from Big Sur. A serial killer was chopping up co-eds. Another was shooting men in the Valley. Some of the Manson Family was at large. They called the desert their home.

“What do you think?” AK asked for the second time. Our water was getting low.

“Let me try a different technique.” I tried to look bisexual. Andy didn’t play that game and the cowboys weren’t buying my solo act. The sun was fast approaching high noon. The temperature was in the high 80s.

By noon the sun would be melting the asphalt under our feet. A Greyhound bus exited from the Interstate and pulled into the forlorn gas station.

“Bus?” The heat had stolen AK’s tongue.

“Now?” My mouth was as dry as dust.

“Now.” AK and I grabbed our bags and ran across the cloverleaf to the diner.

The Greyhound was billowing diesel fumes. Its driver was exiting from the station’s diner.

“How far we get for $5?” AK pulled out his wallet.

“$4.25 buy you a ride to Needles.” The driver sucked on an icy coke.

“Make that two.” $8.50 bought us escape from Victorsville. The two tickets were worth every penny. We stared out the window at the marooned hippies. Three minutes ago we had been them.

“Good move.” AK sucked down water from the canteen. He saved me the last gulp.

“You boys look hot.” An old black woman across the aisle was peeling an orange.

“We were stuck back there for a few hours.” AK wiped the sweat off his face.

“Hitchhiking?” She passed half the orange to us.

“Yep.” I was still stuck on single syllables.

“You’d have a lot more luck, if you cut your hair. You look like girls and not pretty girls either.” The old black woman laughed with a simple wickedness, because she was telling the truth. “But these peckerwoods out here ain’t too particular about pretty.”

“Thanks.” It had been a long time since I had been called ‘ugly.

AK and I pored our the map, as the bus sped down I-10.

With each mile the desert was even more desert.

The window was warm to the touch, but the bus interior was ACed to Alaska.

A few rangy cowboys and the old black woman got off in Barstow. She gave us each another orange. They were sweet and we sucked on the fruit, as if we might not taste another for a long time.

The bus pulled out of Barstow. The driver announced that the next stop was Needles. It was a 170 mile ride.

Two and a half hours later the bus pulled into the desert town. I looked at the map. Needles lay on the west bank of the Colorado River.

“The Joad family’s first stop in THE GRAPES OF WRATH was Needles.” AK loved John Steinbeck. He had written a paper on the author in college. “They drove through the night to avoid the oppressive Arizona heat and they arrived here.”

“The California dream.” I looked out the window. Nobody was walking on the sidewalks. The heat was too much for man or beast. Needles was a funny place to enter paradise and not funny ha-ha.

“The beginning or the end.” AK lifted his bag in both hands. He didn’t want to get off the bus. AK had the money for a ticket to Boston. His eyes asked me what to do.

“You want to go, go.”

In this heat it was every man for himself. My lack of funds meant that Needles was the last stop for me.

“No, I’ll stick with you.” He hefted the bag over his shoulder.

“Really?” I would have bet my last money on his ditching out on me.

“Did you ever doubt I would?”

“Not for one second.”

The bus braked at the small terminal and the driver announced a thirty-minute break.

We were the last passengers to exit from the bus.

A brick wall of torpid heat stuck me the second I stepped off the bus and I thought that I had walked into the exhaust of a thousand buses, except our Greyhound was the only bus in the sweltering parking lot.

The other travelers hurried into the station. AK pushed me off the bus. The sun beat on my skin, as if its rays were ironing my flesh.

Needles was much worse than Victorville. My boots sunk into the molten asphalt. Across the street a large thermometer displayed the temperature.


“That can’t be right.” AK was gasping for breath. We were from the East Coast. New Englanders wilted whenever the mercury lifted north of 85.

“No one else is outside.” I felt like I was breathing off the end of a hair-dryer.

The highway was in the distance. Cars and trucks sped through a shimmering mirage. It was less than a mile away. In this heat that walk was a test of survival. 

“There’s a Dairy Queen across the street.” AK headed toward the promise of cold ice cream and AC.

I followed the New Yorker without question.

The heat was so dry that the sweat was seared off our skin. We ran across the parched grass verge. The time was almost 3pm. High noon lasted long in Needles.

Our entrance into the ice cream parlor was loud. Doors opened easy.

“Shut the damn doors.” The counterman shouted from the cash register. “I’m not cooling the outdoors.”

“Yes, sir,” I answered with respect, as AK shut the glass door.

The other customers appreciated the gesture.

They were farmers, teenage boys and girls.

Hippies were not a common sight in the Mojave, but they directed their attention to spooning sundaes and floats into their mouths. The AC was set to 68. Everyone looked comfortable.

“Two vanilla ice cream sodas.” My mother had given the sweet slurry of cold comfort to me when I had strep throat.

“I want chocolate.” Andy stepped up to the counter. “Two too.”

After the 3rd ice cream soda our core temperature had dropped to 98.6. 

“Is that thermometer right?” I asked an Okie rancher.

“Sun got to it. Ain’t right by 15 degrees. Makes it 120. Hot, but ain’t half as hot as July 2, 1967. That was 122. The two degrees don’t sound like much until you been in 122.” He spoke with pride. “Not many humans can handle that heat. Felt like the Devil was burning my bones. You boys, headed east?”

“Yes, sir.” The heat brought out the polite in me.

“I can give you a ride to Topock. Some 20 miles from here. It’s on the other side of the Colorado. You got some money for gas?”

“Sure.” I had $33 in my pocket and gave the driver two of them.

“Every little bit helps.” Gas was 40 cents a gallon and he was grateful for the donation.

“Same goes for us.” I was in no shape to walk to the highway.

“Mind if I fill up my canteen.” AK lifted his metal water container.

“Make it snappy.” The Okie exited from the Dairy Queen. The back of his Ford pick-up was loaded with bags of grain. His dog was in the front seat. When I approached the passenger door, the black snarled with bared fangs.

“Ranger don’t like the heat. Don’t like strangers though. You gotta sit in the back.”

“Okay.” I put my hand on the truck. The steel was frying pan hot. I sat on a burlap bag and pulled a bandana from my pack. The merciless sun was high in the sky.

AK ran out of the ice cream shop and jumped into the back.

“Damn.” He leapt off the flatbed like a fried egg with legs.

“Pull up a bag.”

The sign next to the Dairy Queen indicated that the temperature was hovering around 125. It was the wrong reading, but my mind registered it as the real thing.

“We’re ready when you’re ready.” I rapped on the rear window.

Twenty minutes later the farmer pulled off the highway. The town was two miles away. We were on the wrong side of the Colorado. The sun was four hours from setting. The only shade was a bullet-holed billboard some 300 feet off the highway.

I stuck out my thumb. Cars and trucks were coming our way. I pretended to be Jack Kerouac’s illegitimate son. He had to have one somewhere.

“Look like you’re harmless.” AK put on his best smile. The Berkeley School of Music graduate had perfect teeth and excelled at looking harmless. He pushed me to the side and the second car stopped for us.

“We’re out of here.” He led the way to the waiting Delta 88.

“Thanks for stopping.” AK pulled off his bandana. “It’s a life saver.”

“Nice car.” My father had a gray version.

“Good AC.” AK was settling into the leather seat. “Where you going?”

“Lake Havesu. We used to be from Chicago, but the winters got too much for my bones.”

“Isn’t Lake Havasu where they put the London Bridge?” I had read about the move in LIFE magazine.

“Yes and no.” The husband was a full head of hair. He drove with both hands on the wheel. “The developer bought the old London Bridge, thinking it was the Tower Bridge.”

“But it wasn’t.” His white-haired wife muffled a pleasant chuckle with her hand.

“Still they reconstructed the London Bridge and people come from all around to see it,” her husband explained with an apologetic tone.

“Bridge doesn’t really go anywhere.” His wife shook her head with an giggle.

“No, but it’s better than no bridge.” This sounded like a regular discussion between them. “I wish I hadn’t moved down here. It’s cooler up in the high country. Sometimes down here my head feels hot enough to fry an egg on.”

The driver might have said the line maybe 100 times. The punch line was funny to us, because we knew it was true.

“It isn’t this hot all the time.” The desert sun had leathered his wife’s skin. She was as brown as a Naugahyde couch and her silver-blonde hair was a homage to Dinah Shore. “We have grandchildren. They come and visit sometimes. That’s why we picked you up.”

“They’re hippies too.” The old man smiled in the rearview mirror. The two complimented each other. “There’s lemonade in the cooler. Drink as much as you want.”

There were four glass screw-top bottles. 

“Don’t be shy.” The driver floored the pedal. The big V8 ate up the road. The old man was in a hurry to get out of the heat. “Drink as much as you want.

Andy and I drained one each in thirty seconds.

We were safe from dehydration. We were leaving the frying pan. We both slept in the back seat.

The old couple pulled off the road at Kingman for the night. This town was mentioned in Chuck Berry’s ROUTE 66.

“We’re staying here for the night.” The motor lodge offered rooms for $20. 

“We’ll keep on going.” My money was going too fast to spend $10 on a bed. Boston was 3000 miles away from here. “I’d pay for a room.” The old man had a kind heart.

“No, thanks, we’ll be fine now we’re out of that furnace.” AK opened the door.

I followed him out of the sedan and put my bags on the ground. We waved good-bye from the shoulder of old Route 66.

“I can’t believe two hours ago it was 135 in the shade.” The air at 3000 feet was cool relief and I stuck out my thumb.

“The thermometer was broken.” AK sat on the guard railing.

“It was still as hot as I’ve ever been.”

“You can say that again.”

I didn’t bother to repeat the obvious. The sun was setting in the pines and a semi was throttling its diesel engine on its way through Kingman. Wherever we would be tomorrow morning was a night away.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Bing Crosby couldn’t have sung WHITE CHRISTMAS on December 25, 1990. The sidewalks of New York were bare of snow, sleet, slush, and ice. The city entered 1991 equally whiteless. The month ended without any storms from the north and people were celebrating the end of winter.

Few of us had heard of global warming.

The term had first broken through the public unconsciousness with a SCIENCE article in 1975. ‘Inadvertent climate modification’ was gobbledygook to the normal man worried about the harsh conditions preceding the expectant nuclear exchange between the USA and USSR. The National Academy of Science warned of carbon increases in 1979, but it wasn’t until 1988 that ‘Global Warming’ was mentioned before Congress and our representatives shelved the consequences of the impending changes in weather with the combined ignorance of SuperBowl TV audience.

The New York Giants beat the Buffalo Bills 20-19 in Tampa and every trendy Manhattan was fleeing the north for a weekend in Miami Beach. I had no interest in joining the exodus to the newly discovered art-deco district east of US 1. Too many people who regarded themselves VIPs were crowding on Ocean Avenue for my tastes.

I came from New England.

I was after cold and conjured up an expedition to the frozen tundra beyond the St. Lawrence River.

My friend Philippe ran a nightclub in the Meat Packing District. The long-haired Englishman was equally put off my the fashion elite’s transformation of old Miami and after a brief discussion we decided to go north until the snow and ice stopped any further progress.

The Eurotrash could have Miami Beach. 

We were on an expedition.

The Amtrak train transported us from Penn Station to Boston. The coast was clear of snow. My father met us at the 128 station. He drove us to my family home in the Blue Hills south of the city. My car was in the garage. The gray 1982 Cutlass had good heat and a working stereo. The passenger window was paralyzed by faulty wiring, but the V8 was tuned for a long road trip. I only used it on weekends in the summer.

“You want to come with us?” I asked my father in the sun room. The sky was a bright boreal blue. The grass behind our house was a withered yellow. My mother was in the kitchen cooking beef stew. Her recipe came from my Irish grandmother. It was a good winter meal. The thermometer was stuck on 45 F.

“I know what winter looks like in Maine.” The seventy year-old Maine native had spent two of the long seasons in Jackman for the phone company. “The trees crack from the cold. They sound like cannons. Why can’t you be normal and go to Florida?”

“I want to see Lake Manicouagan.” A five-kilometer meteor had struck the Laurentian Shield to create a a ringed impact crater.

“The roads will be closed for the season.”

“It has been a warm winter.”

“Nothing is warm north of the St. John’s River.” The four-hundred mile stream served as the border between the USA and Canada.

“And that’s why were going there. To see winter.”

My mother understood my reasons. She loved to see the world.

“Be my eyes.” She kissed my cheek in the morning and pressed $40 in my hand. “Buy yourself a nice lobster.”

“Drive safe.” My father was firm believer in defensive driving.

“I’ll keep the car between the lines.” I hadn’t had an accident since 1974.

Philippe and I listened to NEVERMIND skirting the coast along the Casco Bay. Nirvana was as good on US 1 as it had been on the highway. Wells Beach, Old Orchard, and Portland were devoid of snow. I stopped in Falmouth Foresides to see my old house.

“When I was a kid, my older brother and I jumped from the roof into the snow drifts.”

“You would break your legs doing that today.” The grass was as yellow as our backyard south of Boston.

“My grandfather used to say there were two seasons in Maine; the season of good sledding and the season of bad sledding.” I got back in the car. “He never said nothing about the season of no sledding.”

A half-hour later we stopped at LL Bean where Philippe bought real winter clothing good for -20. Fahrenheit.

“Better to be prepared.” He looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy in his new down jacket. The temperature in Freeport was 40. Sweat poured from his face in the parking lot. He stashed the jacket in the back seat and we continued along on the old two-laner through Bath, Wicassett, and Rockland. Each town held a story from my childhood. I told Philippe each one. This was the land of my childhood.

We arrived in Camden at dusk. The motel cost $40 for two. The picturesque seaside resort was asleep for the winter. The temperature was below freezing and hoar frost rimmed the rocky harbor.

We ate at a restaurant overlooking the falls. The heavyweight bartender was in her late-twenties. She weighed in excess over 300 pounds. She wore a flannel shirt and overalls. The fashion sense for the other women in the bar varied between shabby and manly.

“Is this the norm?” Philippe lifted his head from the plate of broiled halibut. The waitress promised it was fresh. In Maine fresh meant an hour off the boat.

“Any woman in Maine is twice the man either of us will be.” A man at the bar was eyeing Philippe in a funny way. The Englishman was near-sighted same as me, but refused to wear glasses. I didn’t mention the attention of the stranger.

The next day we drove farther Downeast. The temperature hovered over freezing. Patches of snow hid in the woods along US 1. We reached Bar Harbor mid-afternoon. After finding a cheap motel Philippe and I headed over the Shell Beach. The polar air was crisp as a potato chip. Small waves rippled through the tidal ice.

This was the first time that I had been cold this year.

That evening we ate lobsters in Bar Harbor. Philippe and I were the only two diners. No one was drinking at the bar. 

The fat woman serving us beer looked like she had been spawned by salmon. The bleached blonde waitress at the restaurant in Bar Harbor was missing two front teeth. The skinny thirty year-old had a big nose. I was attracted to her and pushed my short hair into shape. Philippe had stopped my flirtation by ordering the bill.

“I liked her.” Skinny was better than big in my book.

“You were only leading her on.” The bony Brit was into petite Asian women. New York had plenty of those.

“And she me.” I hadn’t expected it to go anywhere further than holding hands. 

“She’s uglier than sin.” Philippe had eaten every morsel of lobster. His shirt was unstained by butter or stray meat. Mine was spotted with morsels which hadn’t made it into my mouth.

“Nothing wrong with ugly.” I had drunk enough to make me good-looking in the bathroom mirror.

“You’d regret it in the morning.” He was scared of having to share the room with rutting Mainiacs. As I paid the bill, the bartender asked Philippe, “You want some fun.”

“He’s with me.” I thumbed at Philippe.

“Then have a good time.” The fat bartender winked, as if she wanted to watch us

“Aren’t there any attractive females in this state?” Philippe asked under his breath.

“Not many.” I was pissed at him for having ruined my chances with the skinny girl. She was talking to the chef. He looked, as if he thought he was going to get lucky tonight.

“I’ll regret nothing.” I started for the kitchen. “You’re a buzzkill.”

Philippe dragged me out of the restaurant before I could do something stupid. A million stars traversed the clear sky. My breath was the only cloud in the air. The temperature had to be in the 20s. My fingers felt the cold and the car had a hard time starting. It was a good sign. We were getting north.

The next day we traversed the barren potato fields of Aroostock County. The snow deepened past Dover Junction. The grey skies didn’t renege on their promise of snow. Thick flakes clotted the air. The highway was plated by the tire-trampled residue of a recent blizzard. The temperature was hovering around 10F.

Old US 1 ended at its northern terminus of Fort Kent. Key West was 2377 miles to the south. Snow drifted chest-deep against the houses. Philippe tested his new jacket.

“It works.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything else from LL Bean.” I was wearing layers. Heavy boots were a must. We had reached winter and night was falling fast this far north.

We got a room at the motel nearest the ice-clogged river. The grinding floes filled the frozen air with horrid crunches.

“Tomorrow we’ll drive to the St. Lawrence and catch a ferry to the other side.” Icebreakers opened the seaway for ships throughout the winter. “We can reach Manicouagan Lake in two days. If the road’s open, I can make Newfoundland. It’s no Miami Beach.”

“I can’t go to Canada.” Philippe held his hands over the motel’s radiator. The interior surface of the windows were glazed by ice. A naked man wouldn’t last thirty minutes outside.

“Why not?” He was English and I thought he might have a prejudice against French Canadians.

“I have a visa problem.” He avoided eye contact.

“What kind?” French Canadian women were attractive. Their Gallic beauty came from not eating potato chips. Winter would only get more winter farther north.

“My visa is out of date.” He was embarrassed by this admission.

“How long?” Mexicans were called ‘wetbacks’. Up this far north illegals were known as ‘snowbacks’. They were mostly Canadian.

“Two years.”

“Damn.” We were 673 miles from Manhattan. I had a car and money in my pocket. I had dreamed on standing on the shores of Manicouagan Lake for years. I grabbed Philippe by his arm.

“Put on your coat.”

“It’s cold.” He protested without conviction.

“This is northern Maine. Of course it’s cold.” I forced Philippe to get into the bulky parka that he had bought at LL Bean. We walked down US 1 to a snow-covered steel truss bridge. The wind off the frozen river was twenty degrees south of zero and Philippe’s long hair whipped across his face.

‘That’s Quebec.” I pointed to the black bank across the St. John’s River.

“I know.” He refused to look at the other side.

“They have good food in Canada.” The French had colonized the region over four hundred years ago. I appealed to his weakness for good food. We had eaten lobster the previous evening. Fort Kent’s cuisine consisted of doughty pizza and greasy burgers. “There’s a great French restaurant in Clair. The Resto 120.”

The restaurant had been recommended by the motel manager. Her last name was Quelette. Fine cuisine was a specialty of the lost tribe of France. She wore her weight well.

“Tourtires, soupe aux pois, et pommes persillade. Cheese. Wine. Good bread.”

“Really?” Philippe was a hearty eater for a thin man.

“And French girls are cute.” They ate ‘frites’ not potato chips.

At Old Orchard Beach the sexiest girl in the summer were from Quebec City. They looked like either Brigitte Bardot or Francoise Hardy. Philippe was almost sold by my sales pitch, but he had a girlfriend back in New York.

“I can’t risk it.” They were in love.

“What’s the risk?” No one was guarding the bridge. “On the way back you can hide in the trunk. It’s heated.”

If the technique worked for millions of wetbacks, it couldn’t be too much trouble to run a snowback operation at a sleepy border crossing.

“No way.” Philippe shook his head. His nose was red from the cold wind.

“It’s either that or burgers.”

“Sorry.” He walked away from my grasp.

“Sorry?” I trailed him thinking about dragging him across the desolate bridge.

“You can come back in the summer.” 

“I have no idea where I will be in the summer.” Kidnapping was out of the question.

“Me neither, but it won’t be a deportation cell. Burgers and fries tonight It’s on me.” Philippe stormed over to the nearest bar. Neon signs FOOD and LABATT BEER flashed in its window. I stared across the icy river with disappointment. This was as far north as I would get this year.

“Fucking Brits.” I joined Philippe in the Moose Inn. It had a pool table, jukebox, and wooden bar with draft beer.

He didn’t take off his hat. Everyone in the bar was wearing theirs. I couldn’t tell the difference between the men and women and threw my watch cap on the bar.

“Fuck the Resto 120.” There were no pommes persillade on the Moose Inn’s menu.

“What?” Philippe asked to appease my anger.

“Shut the fuck up.” I was in a bad mood. I ordered a beer. The Labatt went down in less than thirty seconds. The second took two minutes. The third lasted almost a quarter of an hour.

We ordered burgers and fries. My fifth beer washed down the hockey puck of a paddy and the sixth took care of the sodden fries. At least I was warm.

The bar filled with loggers, snowmobile sledders, and the state road crew.

A storm was due in two days, so everyone was getting in their drunk tonight. I bought drinks for the road crew. Philippe played DJ on the Jukebox. The crowd danced to LOUIE LOUIE. My battery was on E. A thickly bearded drunk tapped my shoulder.


“You mind if I dance with your date?” The man had a cross-eyed squint. One lens of his glasses was cracked. For a second looking at him was like seeing my personalized ‘Portrait of Dorian Grey’. We were both forty.

“My date?” I was confused for a few seconds, until he glanced over his shoulder at Philippe.

Long hair hid his face.

“You’re saying that you want to dance with my date?”

“She’s better looking than any of the other girls in this town.” He lit a cigarette with a match. It flared over his thumb. The townie didn’t register any pain and said with a dull vice, “Girls around here weigh as much as moose in a peatbog. I like them skinny. You mind?”

“Be my guest.” The Englander’s illegality in America had halted my exploration of the North and I smiled as I said, “Just a dance.”

“You got it.” The townie staggered off to Philippe.

His mouth mouthed ‘you wanna dance’. I put down my beer before I spit it out laughing. The Brit came back to the bar and picked up his beer.

“Some guy just asked me for a dance.” Philippe was outraged by the offer.

“And you said no?”

“Of course I said no.” He was horrified by the thought that I presumed that he might say ‘yes’.

“Just so you know, he had the politeness to ask me if it was okay.”

“And what you say?”

“I said okay. Let’s face it, you have to be the prettiest girl in northern Maine by a long shot.” I figured that we were even.


“Did he offer to buy you a drink?” We were running low on money.

“Yes.” Philippe had said the magic word.

“So get to it, Thelma.” I went over to the jukebox and dropped two quarters to play KC and the Sunshine Band and Nirvana. They were good dancing songs.

Philippe gave me the finger.

I returned the favor, for I was ready to party along the St. Johns. The meteor lake was for another day or year. I ordered tequila. The logger gave me a joint and everyone joked about him asking Philippe to dance.

“I’m not gay.”

“Only blind.” I tossed down the tequila.

Philippe danced with a fat woman. He laughed with the drunk about being mistaken for a woman.

No one asked me to dance. I wasn't their type, then again I wasn’t the prettiest girl in Northern Maine. It was a good place to be a man and I didn't see anything wrong with humming WHITE CHRISTMAS. The dead of winter was 2200 from Miami Beach and I was there.
Snow has been absent from New York since my return from Europe. A few snow flurries have dusted the sidewalks of Fort Greene and the city experienced a cold snap in February, but otherwise this winter has been extremely abnormal. Today's temperature reached the mid-70s and tomorrow is predicted to hit a new record for March, so I'm feeling good about the bet which I made with my landlord AP at the beginning of the month. "I think the snow is finished for this year," I forecasted from my room on the top floor of his brownstone. "I think we'll get another storm." AP and I had been drinking cheap wine. The liquor store on Fulton was selling two bottles of plonk for $10 tax inclusive. There was nothing cheaper in the neighborhood. "Not a chance." My windows were wide open and I was barefooted. "You wanna bet?" AP loved the snow. He was a good skier. His family had planned a school holiday for St. Patrick's Day. "Four inches by the end of April." "You have to be kidding." I was from New England. My aunt and uncle in Marblehead had phoned in the morning to praise the peculiar warmth. There was no snow on the ground at my niece's house in upper Maine, although the top of Mount Katahdin was covered by a seasonal glacier. Her husband worked in the forest. They had snow up there, but not on her lawn. "I'll back it up with $10." AP had two kids. A tenner cut into his allowance as deeply as mine, but I confidently backed up my mouth. "I'll take your ten." We shook hands and finished off the rest of the bottle. It was pretty crappy wine, but then what can a wino expect for $4?

HIPPIE BEACH BUMS by Peter Nolan Smith

Every evening the breeze off the Pacific wreathed the coastal towns north of San Diego in a thin mist. The clear moisture clung to the flowers and fruit trees of Encinitas throughout the night and the dew lingered on the pedals well into the morning. Some time before noon the sun seared through the fog and evaporated the teardrops into a miasma of scents unknown to the residents of Eastern Seaboard.

Life had taken on a comfortable regime over the past three weeks, once Pam and Helen went to the art school off the PCH, AK and I answered the siren call of our mutual muses. This morning Euterpe was kinder than Erato. I had not written a single word in the three hours AK had banged out McCoy Tyner’s version of IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD on the stand-up piano in the living room.

A ten-finger coda signaled the end of my friend’s practice session. Several seconds later AK stood at the doorway, flexing his hands. A glean of sweat wet his forehead and the muscles on his forearm quivered from the extended exertion.

“How’s it sound?” He was seeking perfection as proof to Pam that he was serious about the piano.

“You’re getting closer.” The modal chorus of the song was etched into my brain by the constant repetition.

“Closer how?” AK expected the truth.

“I don’t know. I’m not a musician.” I put down my pen. My opinion was not as important as his effort to best the tune.

“You listen to jazz.”

“It doesn’t make me a critic.” I hated lying.

“You’re not deaf.” AK was desperate to improve, since he had only started playing three years ago. “Why? What’s wrong? I’m a big boy. I can handle it.”

“Nothing’s wrong.” It was the truth, but things weren’t 100% right. AK’s left hand was covering the low bass, but his right hand struggled to match the speed of the legendary pianist’s spontaneous improvisations. I went easy on the truth. “But McCoy’s been playing from before we were born. It’s a game of catch-up and one day you’ll be where he is, but that day isn’t today.”

“Thanks for the encouragement.”

“I don’t know anything.” To my ear AK was ready to be in a band.

“At least you accept that.”

“Well, ignorance is always easier to achieve than enlightenment.” I had been staring at a blank page for an hour. My poetry needed inspiration. it wasn’t far away. “You ready for a swim?”

“Sun’s breaking through the gloom.” Our daily routine was paced by the clockwork of the heavens., we worked the morning and swam in the afternoon. Acceptance of the nature’s cues was an integral part in Southern California and the two of us had adapted to the regularity with pleasant obedience as had Pam.

“I’m ready when you are.” I picked up my towel and packed my bag with the journal, fruit, and a canteen of water. Moonlight beach was a beach. There was no refreshment stand.

“Me too.” AK stuck an African thumb piano in a backpack. Helen had bought the kalimba for his birthday. He had mastered the steel tines in less than a week and his fingertips were as tough as dog’s paws. “The girls will meet us in a couple of hours.”

“Like clockwork.”

“As is to be expected from another day in paradise.”

AK and I exited from the low bungalow and walked through acres of flower fields. The young farmer was tending to jasmine at the far end of his property. The long-hair was cool with our using the path to the PCH as long as we didn’t pluck any of his reefer crop on the way.

Several minutes later we crossed the Pacific Coast Highway and strode up to the parking lot overlooking a rugged beach. A steep trail zigzagged down the cliff. Waves pounded the sand. None of the cliff top houses dated back further than the 40s and standing on the cliffs facing the Pacific it was easy to imagine yourself as a shipwrecked sailor from the 16th Century, if it were for surfers slicing into the barrel of tubes.

“What you think the Spanish thought sailing up this coast?” My father’s side of the family came over on the Mayflower. My Irish grandmother had sailed across the Atlantic in the Year of the Crow. AK’s family possessed similar roots and his friend Helen was pure Yankee stock.

“Where’s all the people probably, but it was some Portuguese that first discovered this part of California over 400 years ago.”

“How you know that?” I prided myself in my knowledge of history.

“I think I read it in National Geographic. I can’t remember the captain’s name, but his fleet went to winter on Catalina and he broke his ankle getting off the launch. He died of gangrene. Watch your step down the cliff.”

His warning did not fallen on deaf ears. Careless stumbles were fatal from this height. Two people had already lost their lives tumbling down the steep ravines in the next town up the road. The loose sand provided treacherous footing and we grabbed onto shanks of withered grass, hoping the roots held our weight. Several minutes later we set foot in the sand. There wasn’t a car or house in sight. The sloping strand was shared by surfers, hippies, seagulls, and seals.

The year was 1974 and the season was the endless summer of Southern California.

AK and I spread our towels and stripped down to our shorts. Our bodies were hardened by the weeks of swimming in the heavy surf. Our skin was bronzed to our veins. My hair was going blonde. We were on a long vacation and I didn’t see any reason for it to end with the fall.

“What you think about staying here?” The wind wafted off the sea and I held out my arms like wings.

“We can’t crash at Helen’s pad forever.” His friend’s bungalow had two small bedrooms. AK had been there a month and I had crashed on the porch for three weeks.

“I know that.” Encinitas got cold at night. “I was talking about California.”

“You mean not go back to Boston?” The New Yorker had a teaching job starting in September and his faithful girlfriend was waiting on the South Shore.

“It’s not like I have a job like you.” I had graduated from college in May. Recruiters from the banks and corporations had sneered at my stammer as a disability. I had only gone on the interviews to please my mother. My future was an unknown commodity.

“But Boston is your home.” AK had left Long Island at the age of 18. The pianist had lived away for five years. His home could be anywhere.

“I’ll always be from Boston no matter what.” The collapse of last year’s Red Sox hadn’t weakened my New England roots, but the cold, snow, and ice were hard to take in the winter. “But I like it here.”

“What’s there not to like.” AK admired our surroundings and then stated the obvious, “If we stay, we need to make some money

“I know.” My vacation stake was down to $400. Boston was 3000 miles to the East.

“That means a job.” AK stretched his body, as Helen had taught him. She was into yoga.

“I know.” I had driven taxi back in Boston. They had to have cabs here. Not everyone in California had a car. “If something came up, I’d stay.”

“What you think Pam is going to do?” AK and Pam had been sleeping the guest bedroom.

“Go back to school.” As far as I knew they were just friends. I wasn’t asking any questions. The blonde nursing student had another year left till graduation.

“It’d be nice, if she stayed.” AK liked Pam more than a friend. Any man would.

“Let’s see what happens when it happens. What about that swim?”

“Sounds good.” Neither of us were ready to hit the road and we raced into the ocean for another session with the waves.

We caught an undertow to the break. The local surfers greeted us by our nicknames. AK was Flotsam and I was Jetsam. We timed the swells. Some formed better than other. We gave the surfers first choice. It was their spot. There were plenty of waves for everyone and we propelled our launch with hard kicks and frantic strokes. Our bodies accelerated down the face and we ducked under the water before the wave closed out on the shallow sand bar. Sandpaper was made out of beach sand for a good reason and our shoulders and shins bore the scars of hitting bottom. We repeated this process for the good part of an hour.

Each surge was spawned from a menage a quatre between wind, earth, sun, and water. The waves of our native Atlantic were too small to feel this union of the four elements. Everything about the Pacific was big. The swells originated thousands of miles from shore. The current ran from the Arctic south to Antarctica from to the south. We were one with nature and the planet. Finally AK rode all the way to the beach and I joined him on the sand. The two of us rested for ten minutes, then drank half our water and ate all the fruit.

Later that afternoon AK plucked a familiar tune on the kalimba, while I wrote in my journal. He was getting good.

“I know that song.” I had danced to it last week at a gay bar in San Diego.

“Number 1 in America.” He rocked on his hips to ROCK THE BOAT. “C’mon, dance.”

“Not now?” I was trying to complete a poem about my first sighting of the Rockies from the Great Plains. The view had been from a bar in Sterling, Colorado. It was called the Inferno Lounge. Pam had met a cowboy there. I wrote ‘fields of wheat fly across the earth with the wind’.

“Let’s see that.” AK snatched away my journal and after reading a few lines, said, “The key to writing is putting the seat of your trousers on the seat of the chair.”

“Didn’t Graham Greene say that?” I loved his books POWER AND THE GLORY and OUR MAN IN HAVANA.

“He might have said it, but the quote comes from Mary Heaton Vorse, who was an American journalist and labor activist who predates Greene by a few decades,” AK said with convinced authority. He had a degree in English.

“I stand corrected, but what does that have to do with my writing?”

“Just that you have to keep writing. Every day. As much as you can. Sandy Koufax didn’t become a great pitcher by accident. He worked at it.”

“So my poems are nothing.” They didn’t even rhyme.

“No, but they need work. Same as my piano playing.” AK practiced on the keyboards three hours in the morning and two at night. He read the page and then handed back the book. “Work, work, work and maybe one day your books will be next to Graham Greene.”

“I doubt it.” Graham Greene’s name began with G and mine started with an S, but I lay on my stomach and scratched words describing the gleam of snow on faraway mountains. The white crests of the waves mimicked the Rockies. The time disappeared into the ocean and the high tide ran closer to the cliffs.

“Let’s go.” AK grabbed his towel and we scrambled to the dirt trail with water surging over our ankles. The surfers crowded the path ahead of us. Getting caught on the beach was flirting with death.

Atop the bluff we regained our breath. A long-haired hippie in a flowered sarong sat cross-legged playing a flute. He was a regular at sunset.

His tune wandered through tempo and his body rocked with the movement of his fingers. Pursing his lips with purpose he blew a shrieking high note. 

I winced, as if my ears had drunk bitter lemon.

He opened his eyes. They were shiny as glass. He nodded to AK.

“Didn’t realize I had an audience.” His accent was from the cornfields. “How was that last note?”

“It wasn’t a C 3rd Octave. More like an A.”

“Some people think the highest note is a D.” The hippie looked like John Lennon without the tinted glasses. He spoked with a disjointed voice, as if her body and mind were more than one. “Are you a musician?”

“I play piano.” AK was modest about his talents.

“And your friend?” He studied my face. The pupils behind the glasses were huge.

“I play the kazoo.” I had attempted the bass in 1965. My fingers had been ripped to shreds.

“Fran Zappa used the buzz of the mirliton on HUNGRY FREAKS and Jimi Hendrix played a paper-covered comb to get the busted amp effect in CROSSTOWN TRAFFIC.”

“I love FREAK OUT.” The Mothers of Invention was the first and only record that I stole from a store.

“Cool.” The hippie nodded with the bliss of musical communion. He turned his head to the setting sun. It disappeared into the ocean within a minute. The flute player rose from the ground with the grace of a trapeze artist. “I’ll see you around.”

“Later.” Good-byes were short on the bluff.

“He any good?” I asked once we were out of earshot.

“Not bad, but he’s no Herbie Mann.”

“MEMPHIS UNDERGROUND.” Herbie Mann combined with Larry Corryll on guitar to create a funky LP, but I preferred the breathless pacing of Jeremy Stieg on HOWLING FOR JUDY.

“He plays like a hippie. No sense of anything.” AK tended to regard music with the seriousness of a late convert.

“He was high on LSD.”

“How could you tell?”

“The eyes.” The black pools were wide-open for light. “And the way he spoke.”

“It seemed like a good trip.” AK was into pot. Hash was hard drugs to him.

“It’s all about your surroundings.” I had dropped acid more than twenty times. The good outnumbered the bad 10 to 1.

“Would you do it here?” he asked entering the local grocery store.

“MY mind is open to anything.”

We bought wine and vegetables for dinner and discussed jazz walking through the flower fields. I had argued for buying some meat, but Helen was a strict vegetarian. As her guests Pam, AK, and I respected her wishes and we had eaten nothing but rice, vegetables, and beans for weeks.

My farting was terrible.

The two of us showered off the salt of the sea and stripped off our bathing suits. With towels wrapped around our waists we entered her bungalow with the eastern sky turning to night. Helen sat at the kitchen table sketching an apple by candlelight. Incense was burning next to the sink. The scent was jasmine. AK looked over her shoulder.

“A nude.” Helen attended private art classes in La Holla. Her teacher was well-known for his seascapes and drinking. The slight brunette scheduled her classes for noon. By that time her teacher had recovered from his hang-over. Pam worked as their model.

“Is it any good?” All artists sought approval.

A glance at her journal confirmed that she had captured the soft curve of Pam’s back with the stroke of a pencil. She had even caught the color of her blonde hair curling down her spine in black, white, and gray.

“I wished that my poetry was as good as your drawing.”

“I’ve got a long way to go.” She put down her sketch book and helped us unload the groceries. “Victor’s coming this weekend.”

Her boyfriend had studied dance at the same college as AK and Helen. He had been hired as a choreographer working at a small movie studio in Hollywood. Every night Helen lit candles in front of his photo on the wall and I swore that her lips moved, as she stared at his picture a semi-naked young man in a toga. The mousy brunette was very much in love.

“You want us to leave?” AK didn’t want to stand in the way of romance.

“No, Victor is looking forward to having a good time with all of us.” Helen cooed with anticipation and fingered the ancient Byzantine gold chain around her neck. The brunette acted like she was broke, but her ethnic dresses came from an expensive boutique in La Holla and none of her shoes had holes in the soles. According to AK her trust fund was worth millions.

“I could make myself scarce.” I offered, since I was freeloading on AK’s connection.

“No, he wants to meet you and Pam.” Helen opened the bottle of red.

“Me?” Helen had barely spoken to me in three weeks.

“I told him about your fight in the Haight, making love to lesbians in Big Sur, and your ex-girlfriend Jackie.” Helen smiled with a sly shyness. “You didn’t think I was listening, did you?”

“To be truthful, no.” I had a tendency to tell long stories after a few drinks.

“I said you were a poet. He likes poetry. Maybe you can read him something of yours.”

“Sure.” I glanced at AK in panic.

“I like LUCKY’S RIDE.” The poem was an ode to broken hearts and country music.

I’ll rewrite it a little.” I hadn’t read a poem aloud since high school.

“Where’s Pam?” The sexuality between them was strictly cerebral.

“She went out for a walk in flowers. She likes walking in the fragrance of the night jasmine and the flowers don’t think she looks like Patty Hearst.” Helen and Pam spent their days together. The painter was very protective of the younger woman.

“No one stopped you today?” AK asked with concern. Police from coast to coast were hunting for the renegade heiress, to whom Pam bore a small resemblance.

“No, but people look at her funny.”

“Is she okay?” AK looked out the window.

“She’s fine, but she could use a friendly face.” Helen pointed toward the San Diego Botanical Gardens abutting the flower fields. “She went that way.”

“Thanks.” AK left the house and I opened a bottle of red wine, as Helen lit a few candles. The nights were dark away from the suburban tracts blanketing the coastal plains.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but what are you planning to do?” Helen pulled on a sweater. The nights were colder than the days along the coast.

“With what?” The subject of her question wasn’t a mystery to me.

“With you life? I know you have some money, but it doesn’t last forever. Our friend will head back to Boston to teach school and Pam will go back to finish school. What about you?” Helen sat on the sofa.

“I had been hoping to relive that surfing movie ENDLESS SUMMER.” The director Bruce Brown had poisoned a good segment of American teenagers with the allure of spending the rest of our youth on a beach. I poured us two glasses of wine and joined Helen. She had my best

“You have been doing a good job of it too, but that was a movie and this is real life. I’d say that you can stay here with me, but I’m leaving for Paris in the fall to study art at the Sorbonne, so I rented the place. Sorry to be a bummer, but it’s not easy being a hippie beach bum in a recession and most of the jobs around here pay the minimum wage.”

“Which isn’t enough to live on.” An forty-hour week at $2/hour came to $80 before taxes. A small room in Encinitas cost $60/month. LPs were $3.99, but stereos were a hundred times that. Food was relatively cheap and I didn’t have to worry about the price of gas, since I didn’t have a car, although life in Southern California was almost impossible without a vehicle.

“What did you study in college?”

“Economics.” My original major had been Math. Pot smoking had interfered with my absorption of Multivariable Calculus. My grades in economics had been far from stellar, but I had been able to avoid the Draft with a college deferment. Now the Pentagon was winding down the war, the outlook was complicated by a depressing reality. “I tried to get a job with banks, but they said I had a stammer.”

“Only a small one, but I don’t see you working in a bank.”

“Me, neither.” I didn’t see me working anywhere.

“Me neither what?” AK asked, as he entered the bungalow with Pam.

“We were talking about his future.”

“I see his glass is almost empty. It must have been a serious conversation.”

“When I was in grammar school the nun asked Joe Tully, what he wanted do after school, meaning his life. Joe wasn’t the smartest kid in the class, but he had an answer all ready and he said he wanted to ride his bike. We laughed at him, but I feel a little like Joe Tully today.”

“I saw a ten-speed bike for sale on the PCH for $30.” AK filled my glass.

“At least he had a plan other than being a hippie beach bum.”

“This is your vacation. We return to Boston, you get a job.”

“Driving cab.” Corporate America wanted no part of me and to be truthfully I wanted no part of them.

“You’re good at it.” AK had hacked at the same company. His earning were half mine, mostly since I worked twice as long. He raised his glass. “To the King of the Checker Cab.”

We clinked glasses and after my third I accepted my present fate. The fourth and fifth glasses rose-colored the world and my prospects. The sixth and seventh stole my sense of balance and I went to bed on the porch before the others. A owl hotted in the eucalyptus trees. I crashed into unconsciousness without taking off my clothes or slipping into my sleeping bag. I had no other choice.

The next morning I woke late. My eyes were coated with shredded glass and I put on my sunglasses to protect the back of them from the sun piercing the gloom. AK was pounding on the piano. His forward movement on the Tyner piece was apparent with each renewed effort, but the strident bass chords burrowed into my sodden head with the force of a burro’s kick. I surrendered to the power of gravity for another hour. By the time I got to my feet, it was time to go to the beach.

AK recognized my misery and we walked to the beach in silence. The buzz of the bees bore a loud eagerness and the freeway hum with the the purpose of cars and trucks. Encinitas along the PCH was mercifully spared of commercial activity and late-morning quiet deepened on the streets of the suburban neighborhood abutting the bluffs above Moonlight Beach. The sun was sparkling on the Pacific and a light breeze wafted over the lip of the cliff. I breathed in deeply the tonic of nature.

“Thanks for not saying anything.”

“I can be a man a few words.” AK was spreading suntan oil on his arms. “Only one thing. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You graduate from college. Sure, your grades sucked. You might not be executive material for a bank, but you can get a job. Finally you’re 22 years old, we’re in California, and a beach is waiting for us.”

“Put that way, life is good.”

“And it only can get better.”

The two of us climbed down the path to the beach. The surfers were in place. We lay out our towels and went for an hour swim in the ocean, after which AK and I returned to the warm sand. He read John Steinbeck’s CANNERY ROW, while I wrote in my journal. An hour later I got to my feet.

“Listen to this.”



“No way.” AK clapped his hands over his ears. “I hear that fucking poem in my sleep. This isn’t an oral application to grad school. Demosthenes practiced his oration with pebbles in his mouth. Go tell your poem to the waves.”

AK turned his back to me.

I could have attacked his incessant repetition of IN A SENTIMENTAL WAY, but instead walked down the beach for an hour and then back. By the time I returned, the poem’s twenty lines were stuck in my head forever.

AK wasn’t alone. He was sitting with the scrawny hippie from yesterday, only now he had a guitar. The long hair’s skin was tight over his bones and his torn denim shorts were several size too big for his waist. Fragile sunglasses rested on his long nose, as he strummed familiar chords. AK accompanied him on kalimba. A golden blonde girl kept time with a tambourine.

Leather bracelets adorned her slender wrists and glass beads glistened around her neck. A tan macrame top covered her breasts, although her hardened nipples protruded against the loosely woven material. A matching skirt was hiked high on her thighs. Her head nodded to the guitar’s bass line and AK accompanied the two on his kalimba.

My friend looked up and said hi.

They stopped playing and AK introduced Rockford and Carol. The blonde was more comfortable with her near-nakedness than me. She made no attempt to cover herself.

“You seem interested in Carol.” Rockford wrapped his guitar with a towel.

“She reminds me of someone.” As soon as I said those words, I placed the face. “Did you go to Woodstock?”

“I was 14 in 1969.” Her smile was bemused by the thought of being at the Aquarian gathering in Upstate New York.

“Funny, you look like the girl from the first full-page photo of LIFE magazine’s special on Woodstock.”

“Not me. Maybe my double. We all have them. Maybe even more. Besides I was living with my parents in Texas.”

“You don’t have an accent.” I had a copy of LIFE magazine’s special edition on Woodstock. Carol

“I was an Army brat. We moved around.” She arranged the bracelets and shook out her hair. “Were you at Woodstock?”

“No, I worked that weekend, washing dishes at a hotel.” I had been 17.

“Doesn’t matter where you were as long as you have the feeling.” Rockford aimlessly strummed on his guitar before singing, “I just seen a face I can’t remember the place.”

After a few bars Rockford segued into another Beatles song.

It was the dreaded HEY JUDE. The 1968 hit was over seven minutes long with Paul McCartney singing eighteen ‘Hey Jude’. To my sixteen year-old ears I thought that the Cute Beatles had repeated the two words a million times.

“Watch out. He hates the Beatles.” AK warned the thin hippie.

“How can anyone hate the Beatles?” Rockford was visibly hurt by my rejection of his idols.

“It’s a long story.” It dated back to before HEY JUDE.

“We have time. The tide is still out.” Rockford glanced at the ocean, as if its substance had shifted from water to gold.

“I’ll tell the short version. I had a girlfriend in 7th Grade. I sang her Ginny rejected me, because I didn’t look like any of the Beatles. BEATLES 65 was the last record I bought. I’ve boycotted them since.”

“You didn’t buy MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR?” Rockford was shocked by my apostasy. The Beatles were gods to most members of my generation.

“No, they weren’t rock and roll anymore.” The control of the band had been taken over by the studio engineer and Paul McCartney’s drive to become the Elvis of the 60s.

“Weren’t rock?” The hippie played BACK IN THE USSR. “That’s not rock.”

“Okay, I’m wrong about that song.”

“And what about this one?” Rockford changed the chords for BABY I’M A RICH MAN.

“John is not Paul.” Lennon would have never written YOUR MOTHER SHOULD KNOW.

“Deep.” Rockford zoned into a buzzing haze and turned to AK. “Your friend is deep.”

“Some times deep as the ocean and other times shallow as an evaporation stain on a desert highway.” AK was getting a contact high from the tripster.

“That girl was right.” Carol kneeled on the sand and studied my face. Her eyes were an intense blue and she smelled of musk. “You don’t look like any of the Beatles.”

“And that was a good thing. I was more into the Stones.” HIS SATANICAL MAJESTY’S REQUEST was my favorite theme LP. Still Ginny’s kisses had been sweet. “I just wanted to be me.”

“Me is never a bad thing as long as you are me.” Her statement verged into the simpleminded mysticism. She smiled with a question mark. Her pupils were expanded to the rims of her retina. Rockford and she were tripping on LSD.

“Who do you think this ‘me’ looks like?” I was asking Carol to be my mirror. LSD gave visions. Some visions were true.

“A drifter. Someone without anywhere to go. Don’t look so hurt. Everyone on this beach, everyone in California is a drifter. Rockford and me. We’re drifting with the weather, the wind, and our whims. Some drifters are good, some are bad.” She wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings. This was her view of the world for right now.

“And some are in-between.” I had seen the good and the bad hitchhiking down the coast from San Francisco.

“Not some. Only those not willing to decided whether they like good better than bad.” She reached up for my hand. “Let’s go for a swim?”

I pulled the blonde to her feet. She stripped off her top and skirt and ran toward the sea.

Rockford winked at me, as if to say Carol was on her own.

I shrugged to reply that her freedom was her own business and followed the naked blonde to the edge of the sea.

The shore break was a vicious maze of undertows.

“Why is the water always this cold?” She dipped her toe into the spreading fan of a dying wave.

“Humboldt Current.” Geography was my best subject in grammar school.

I drew its path in the sky.

“Past Japan, Kamchatka, the Bering Sea down the West Coast to here. This coast knows nothing, but cold.”

“Cold from the cold.” Carol plunged into the sea and I swam after her to where several surfers bopped on their short boards. They greeted her by name.

“You have a lot of friends.” I treaded water in the swells, as we drifted south from the surfers.

“I’ve been living here since April. I get to know people’s names, then they know you. It makes life easy. You ask a lot of questions.”

“I like to know people too.”

“You want to hear my story. It won’t take long.” Carol paddled on her back. Her breasts, belly, and thighs were islands of flesh in the sun. “I left home at 18 heading for Haight-Ashbury. It was a tough place. Speed freaks and junkies ripping off the flower people.”

“I went through there last month. It’s not a nice place. Some people tried to rob me.” I stroked to keep close to her. The current was running strong. I wanted to stay near the beach. “I was lucky to get away from them.”

“Those people are a bummer. I fell into a bad crowd and did some drugs I shouldn’t have done.” She wasn’t filling in the blanks. “It could have been worst, but two years ago I ran into Rockford. He sort of rescued me from that scene. We traveled up and down the coast staying at communes. The people were always groovy.”

I checked the beach. We were being hauled out too far.

“We’re caught in a riptide.”

“I’m a good swimmer.”

“Me too.”

Carol swam to the side rather than fighting the offshore stream. The riptide released its grip and we bodysurfed closer to the beach.

“You know he never touched me once.”



“Not once?” The crest of the wave lifted us ten feet in the air. The break was shifting with the tide. The surfers scrapped at the water to reach the change in the break.

“Never, but that didn’t stop him from talking about it.” She looked at the beach. AK and Rockford were not at the blanket.

“Men talk about it a lot. At least when women aren’t around.”

“Rockford is all talk. I really liked him too.” Carol neared me and brushed against my body. Her nipples were hard against my chest. “Do you think I’m pretty?”

“Yes.” The next swell was even higher. If the water wasn’t so cold, my erection would have been straining against my denim shorts.

Rows of waves cordoroyed the sea.

Our conversation was cut short by AK and Rockford joining us in the surf.

“Looks like a big set building up.” Rockford eyed funnels of foam circling to the left. The surfers crouched inside the tubes and skated over the tops of the waves with ease. We rode them straight to the beach. One caught me in a washing machine and slammed my body into the sand.

Carol pulled me out of the water.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine.” Stars flashed across my eyes. I shook my head to clear away the cosmos.

As a child on the South Shore of Boston my parents had packed the station wagon for a venture to the beach. The waves at Nantasket and Horseneck beaches were ripples in comparison to the growlers at Encinitas.

“I’m ready when you are.”

I dove into the next wave and raced Carol to the break. She beat me by a body length. Pelicans floated on the rise of wind. A seal popped its head from the water. Its eyes were coal black. Palm trees rimming the bluffs hid most of the cliff top houses. The sky was shear blue.

This was the land of beach bums. We were hippies. The surfers were family. Carol and I dove under a breaking wave and surfaced a foot from each other.

“I’d like to trip with you some time.” She held my hand.

“Me too.” I hadn’t dropped LSD in a year.

“You turn on?”

“Last time I was in the White Mountains with three friends. We sat in the Saco River. It was ice-cold, but we heard it talking, then some kid comes out of the forest and asked if we knew the way home. My friend thought that he was Jesus and we freaked a little, then his sister came out of the woods and grabbed him by the ear, telling him not to talk with strangers. It was a good trip.” I knew that the young boy wasn’t Jesus. Even on acid I was still a non-believer.

“Acid’s good at opening your mind.” Carol nodded her head to the incoming wave. It was a monster. I caught the swell right and my body stuck out of the face like a log for a good fifty feet before I was buried by a few hundred tons of ocean.

Exhausted after a half-hour in the heavy surf the four of us dragged our bodies from the sea like shipwrecked sailors.

“Can you get my back?” Carol handed me a towel.

“He probably wouldn’t mind getting your front, if you asked him nice.” Rockford resumed his meditative pose with his feet tucked into his ankles.

“My front I can do myself.” Carol took back the towel, as AK, Rockford, and I smoked a joint of Acapulco Gold. Laying on the sand, I stared at the sky and remembered that for the last hours I had forgotten about work, my future, and America, for below the bluffs the world was simply sea, sun, skin, and sand.

As the sun lowered closer to the horizon Carol pulled on a macrame top and skirt and shook out of her hair. The color was a streaked blonde.

Rockford pointed to the rising tide.

“We better go. Newcomers get caught against the cliffs all the time.” The solemnity of his voice indicated that not everyone survived the sneaky sea.

“We wouldn’t want that.” AK collected his things and we headed for the cliff path.

A minute later we had reached top of the bluff and surveyed the ocean with eyes of adoration.

“A fine day.” Rockford stared into the sun, as if it were his creation. “You should come to our house. We can play music and I have some serious LSD.”

“Clear Light.” Carol rolled her eyes, as if she was experiencing a flashback.

“I’m in.” The sky prismed red to blue above the Pacific. “Where better than here.”

“You might have a point.” AK wasn’t into heavy drugs.

“Any time you want.” Rockford hooked his arm with Carol and pointed out a low bungalow surrounded by jasmine trees. “That’s our place. Give us a day or two to recover, then we’ll talk, brothers.”


AK watched the two enter the house.

“What you thinking?” I had to ask.

“That I wouldn’t mind not leaving here.” AK was in love with where we were at this moment.

“Me too.” We left the bluff with the sunset at our back. We were back in the world of cars, but tomorrow the beach was ours again and tomorrow was six hours away from today and today was right where it was supposed to be in late June 1974.

California and it was good to be a hippie beach bum, because I was not alone.