Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Saturday, July 28, 2012
The Buffalo Bar on Pattaya's Sai 3 attracted all types in the late 00s. Bank robbers rubbed elbows with Interpol officers, miners drank beer with environmentalists, and gamblers took bets from football hooligans. Every nation showed their flag and the faithful clientele an appearance was rewarded by the gracious hosts with cheap drinks and a plethora of beautiful women.
The Buffalo Bar's girls let my little dog drink beer on the bar. Champoo preferred Heineken to Khang. There was no accounting for a Shih Tzu's tastes.
Not all the regulars appreciated a floppish lapdog lounging on the bar. Some of them were my friends like Bruno and Fabo, who ridiculed Champoo as a girl's dog, but I loved my puppy more than any of the drunken farangs in Pattaya.
Two English hooligans called Champoo a rat.
I let the air out of the tires of their pick-up and they stormed into the bar accusing me of fucking with their vehicle. The girls stood behind 100% and a middle-aged German took my back. Something about his stocky stature said Polizei.
The hooligans retreated from the confrontation with my back-up. The girls at the Buffalo were killers with a swung high heel.
"We'll get you one day." The thugs promised to catch up with me.
"I'll be here waiting." The Buffalo was my home away from the house that I had rented to raise my daughter. Sadly Angie's mom had done a runner to her family home in Ban Nok and now the only women in my life were my girlfriend Mam and Champoo.
I went over to the German to thank him for his support.
"I see you every night with your dog." English came out of his mouth with hesitation, as if he had learned the language late in life. He introduced himself as Erik. "They were wrong to say such bad things. This is a nice bar. No fighting."
"I like it too." I had a tendency to get mouthy with assholes and Eddy the Thai owner had a little patience with trouble-makers. They cost her money. "Can I buy you a drink?"
"Of course, but only if the next drink is on me." The stocky German's unnaturally orange hair revealed repeated failures of correcting his dye mixture.
"I'm drinking Gin-tonic. What about you?" My hair had suffered a serious whitening after Angie was taken north by her mother and the damage wasn't restricted to my head.
"The same." Erik probably could have used professional hair help, but as Manny, my old boss at the diamond exchange liked to say, "Better gray than nay."
"Are you living here?" It was a simple question.
"About half the year. There's nothing in Germany for a man my age."
"You're not old." I pegged him in his late 40s to early 50s.
"Not to you or the girls of the Buffalo Bar." More than a few of the bargirls preferred old guys, because geezers are easier to manage than proud young bucks, who tend to be heartbreakers. "But back in Deutschland I don't stand a chance with a woman."
"You have a wife?" I had never seen the thick-chested leave with a Buffalo girl.
"An ex-wife is living off alimony back in Germany, but why get married here, when you can have a honeymoon every night." His laugh mocked my question. "You had a wife here and she left you."
"How do you know that?" His infringement of my privacy caught me off-guard.
"Sorry, but a few of the girls told me your story." He bent over to scratch Champoo's head. My puppy appreciated the tenderness of a strange hand. She was a real whore that way. "Sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry about. You didn't leave me." We clinked glasses and I asked in German, "Wohin kommst du?"
"Munchen." His singsong Bayerische dialect transported me back to my high school German class and Bruder Karl's voice charred by his chain-smoking. "Have you ever been there?"
"No." Munich conjured up beer hall putsches, mad kings, the Oktoberfest, and the 1972 Olympics. Compliments about someone's hometown put them at ease and I said, "Ein schon stadt from what I've heard."
"Du sprichst Deutsche?" His voice trembled with incredulity.
"Jawohl." My German wasn't as good as his English.
"Du kommst von Amerika?" My country was better known for speaking tongues than foreign languages.
"Ja." My Boston accent played havoc with my annunciation. "New England."
"And you learned German?" He was amazed at this linguistic skill as the Thais were gobstruck by my caveman Thai.
"Naturlich. Ich hatte Deutsche in hoch schule gelearnt." Brother Karl had spent three years forcing German into my brain. "Some of that schooling actually took root. The old Bavarian brother told me, "Du sprechst wie einer schiesskopf."
I wasn't a shithead, only a terrible student. I failed German three times. Brother Karl didn't hold a grudge. He sent me a Christmas card for several years after my graduation from high school.
"But your accent is not so bad."
"Viele danke." I'd bet the remaining limit on my credit cards that I was the only student from that school still speaking German. "I also lived in Hamburg for six months."
"The Beatles played at the Star Club." The city was most famous for an unknown British rock band's two year stint in the clubs of St. Pauli. "I managed a nightclub run by the pimps from the Reeperbahn." The red-light district was dominated by the pimps of the GmBH gang. Its enforcer had been a black pimp in a very tough town.
Bsirs was far from the Eros Center. Nigger Kali used the Clockwork Orange-inspired nightclub as a front for laundering money from his whorehouses. Erik didn't need to know the details, since he dressed a little too straight for Pattaya. Most of the farang residents were in one way or the the scum of the Earth and I liked them for that lack of quality. We were running out of places to be ourselves.
"What was your job in Munich?" My hunch that he wasn't a man of the cloth was based on his overt neatness.
"I was a policeman for Bavaria," Erik stated his profession with pride.
"Polizei." The state criminal police had investigated Nigger Kali's activities at Bsirs. Two plainclothed detectives had interrogated me at my Mittelweg apartment. I had told them nothing as would any fan of the Bowery Boys.
"Das ist rechtig." The German was about my age. He would have been in prime during my half-year in Hamburg. Nigger Kali was a known criminal throughout the BDR. Keeping the black zuhalter's name out of a conversation was always advisable. "How many years you serve the State?"
"From 1970 to 2001."
"41 years. How old are you?"
Champoo raised her ears in disbelief, then Champoo laid her shaggy head on the counter. She was over her limit.
"I would have thought 50." It was a nice thing to say to a man our age.
"You are too kind." Erik ordered the next round. The lesbian bartender poured measured shots. "Make them doubles."
"Thanks." The reinforced gin-tonics had a solid bite to them
"You look good for your age." He had me by five years. "You must have started during the Baader Meinhof campaign."
"They bombed Munich's Investigation Bureau in May of 1972." Dates of crimes were not to be forgotten by a Bavarian policeman. "Actually they called themselves the Red Army Faction. Munich did not support them like the rest of Germany. Maybe we are too Catholic."
"You must have been at the Munich Olympics." I had been hitchhiking across the USA that summer.
"I was with the police rifle squad," Erik whispered in a conspiratorial tone and signaled for two more gin-tonics. The end of his tale deserved doubles. "And I was stationed outside the Olympic village at the time of the attack. My superiors ordered us to take up position with our rifles. None of them were fitted with sniper scopes."
How did it go so bad at the airport? The Palestinians had the hostages, the planes were ready to go. Everyone died. Why?"" I had seen the news report at the time and the recent movie MUNICH suggested a mismanaged rescue attempt.
"The Black September leader went to the plane and found it empty. He realized that the airport was a trap and ran back to the helicopters. Our snipers couldn't make a killing shot in the bad light." Erik was talking about his unit.
"Where were you?"
"I was atop the airport terminal."His hands were shaking from the memory of that September night, but the retired policeman was too far along to stop the telling. He petted the sleeping Champoo. "We weren't trained for a situation like that. My rifle was for target shooting, not an assault on terrorists. They had machine guns and grenades. We should have done things differently, but orders are orders and we all know how we Germans are about following orders, both good and bad."
Erik drained his glass in one go. His trusting look was asking for my sealed lips and I nodded acceptance of his condition.
Gai came over to sit with us. The statuesque bargirl was a Thai version of Jayne Mansfield. She nuzzled Erik like a cat looking a place to live. Her main geek Fabo would have been angry to see her betrayal of his affection, however the Belgium was on a oil-exploration ship off the coast of Angola.
I could keep a secret and never saw Erik leave with Gai.
The Buffalo Bar's # 1 earner was a star at keeping secrets.
Champoo and I rode my motor scooter back to the dark house on Moo 9.
I thought about calling a friend in New York to tell him about Erik's story, but decided to respect the retired cop's request. 1972 was a long time ago and it would only get longer for those who lost someone they loved in the massacre.
Both Palestinian and Israeli.
After all they share the same blood no matter what happened in Munich.
Friday, July 27, 2012
My good friend Marge lived a long life. The nonagenarian attributed her good health to a rigid exercise regime and abstemious diet as well as her many decades of physical prowess as the athletic director for several all-women's collages in New England.
Even into her late-80s Marge's ping-pong game was unbeatable. Gravityless drop shots, wicked spin serves, and a power slam guaranteed her a winning streak against me that spanned decades and I thought I would never beat her, but at the age of 91 Madge suffered a stroke. Not so severe as to damage her thought process, yet she had lost a little off her game and I stopped over her house on Watchic Pond to challenged my friend one last time.
The game was to 15.
And I beat her by one.
My niece considered my gloating over Marge 'bush', then again my niece has never beaten me. Only problem is that I'm well over the half-century club and today I read off senior athletes are still competing against each other in a variety of track and field events. I had to ask myself, "Could I beat a 90 year-old in the 100 meter dash?"
Current record by a 95 year-old was 22 seconds .
Back in Brooklyn I went to the local track and paced out 100 meters. My friend AP had a stop watch. I talked him into officiating my race against time.
"You know that you have a thirty year advantage on 90 year-olds." AP was younger than me by ten years. He had refused my every challenge for a race.
"I have to start somewhere." The previous week I had beaten his eight year-old daughter in Fort Greene Park by ten yards. This was a much more serious enterprise.
I leaned forward in a racing crouch imitating Tommie Smith, who was my favorite runner in the 60s. He won a gold medal for the 400 meters at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. This race was infamous for his black power salute on the medal podium. The sprinter had to be about in his late 60s, but I was racing a clock and not my hero.
I called out to AP at the end of the track.
"Ready, set, go."
I dashed from the starting line with the finish in sight even without my glasses.
I counted the seconds. 50 yards in 8 seconds. 75 in 15. 100 in 20.
My friend checked the watch.
I hadn't beaten the best of the 90 year-olds and I was elated with my victory.
Next stop is against the 80 year-olds and for this contest I will train like a motherfucker, because some of those old geezers are cheating with steroids. I will use none, because I'm pure as the wind-driven slush. No asterisks will mar my bio or race record. At least not unless I lose and then it's every man for himself.
Lee Evans and Tommie Smith protesting racism at the Mexico Olympics 1968.
Tank Man Beijing 1988
Last Saturday the Old Roue visited Pattaya for a break from Bangkok. I hadn't visited Walking Street for ages and told Mam that we would only be out for a few hours. She said fine, since my libido shut down after three drinks. My son's mother kissed me in the cheek and returned to watching her Thai soap, in which the mia noi's daughter had been her father's son.
"Every one of those soaps is the same." The Old Roue was eager to visit the fleshpots of Pattaya. "Someone always ends up in the hospital unconscious and the rich man marries the good girl."
"Don't forget a lot of yelling." Ancient Thai culture was based on a respect for your betters, but these days hi-so wasn't getting the proper wai from the lo-so.
"Yes, Thais love yelling in their soaps."
"TV imitating life." We mounted our motor scooters and set off for Walking Street, the main drag for go-go bars in the Last Babylon.
When Eve bit into the apple, humankind lost its innocence and immediately the two realized that they were naked in paradise. Her nudity didn't matter to Eve, but Adam forced her to wear leaves, so the animals didn't stare at the first woman. Ever since then man has spent time and money to undo Adam's error and this evening Walking Street seemed rammed with people, although most of them were Chinese or Russian bus tourists taking in the wanton sights of Pattaya.
We hit several go gos. This was the bottom of the low season. Each bar was hurting for customers and the girls were hungry for any kind of action; long or short time. They danced with a wicked abandon in hopes of getting lucky with two old farangs.
We bought them drinks. We groped their naked bodies. We left without a promise to come back to barfine them for the night. The two of us had been patronizing go-go around the world for a combined total of 75 years and we understood the game and all its eccentricities, yet I was amazed by the Old Roue's mesmerization by the sight of a naked woman and suggested that he enter the London Olympics as a medlap-worthy voyeur.
“It sounds like an all male event.”
“Women glare instead of gawk.” I was familiar with my wife’s piercing gaze and ordered another vodka tonic. I was on my fourth and in no danger of succumbing to the temptation of the flesh.
“A withering gawk, if I remember correctly.” The Old Roue had been married back in the last century. He was now a single man in Thailand and never strayed from the path of one-night stands.
"But nothing in comparison to your concentration on a go go girl. Your eyes are as wide open as your mouth."
"You're not painting a particularly pretty picture."
"You're wrong. I'm applauding your devotion to voyeurism, although several countries might challenge your crown."
We discussed the various nations’ strengths and narrowed the medal challengers to three Asian countries. “#3 has to be the Indonesians." The Old Roue had spent a winter in Kuta. "The Bali beach boys bore holes through the bungalow walls to watch naked fat tourist chicks.”
“#2 has to be the Indians in Goa." November 1995 had been a dream for me. "They’ll stand five feet away from a fat tourist girl show no shame at staring with a face contorted with sexual fantasies.
“#1 goes to the Pakis. But they really don’t have any occasion to practice, since no females get naked in Pakistan.”
“Just because they can’t train doesn’t mean they won’t score the gold. All the best porno store in LA are run by Pakis.”
“What about America?”
“Women in America are too fat to gawk at. Almost like you have to look at the ground rather than a woman in the mall. Plus they’re so angry.”
Yeah, It’s better to look at your shoes, which is why Americans loved strippers."
"And porno." With the religious right enforcing no sin zones throughout the nation, gawking has become a lost art in the USA. I pointed out two sailors at Heaven Above a Go Go. The nineteen year-old swabbies were drooling on their shore leave shirts.
"They haven't had enough training in gawking."
“Once a year they buy Sport Illustrated swimming issue to answer their fantasies." When I was a boy, we played with our sister's Barbie dolls and used our imaginations.
“None of those girls appeal to me." The Old Roue hadn't fucked a white woman in years and neither had I.
"I feel the same way, but then there are those girls on the internet XXX sites.”
“Don’t count. They’re not real.”
“They’re not?” Like millions of American men I didn't agree with his statement. Those women had names. They smiled and didn’t scold if I looked at them for hours. They never asked where I had been or if I had been looking at other women. They never seemed jealous. Even if I never paid for their time.
I had fallen in love with several and cried if my computer crash during our date. But the Old Roue was right. They weren’t flesh. Not on the computer and that’s why the USA will never win the gold in voyeurism.
We only live for dreams.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
I don't know how many people I've met in my life. I've never tried to count them, but they must number in the tens of thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands since I worked 20 years in nightclubs in New York, LA, London, Paris, Nice, and Hamburg and have also circumnavigated the globe over twenty times. Some people I have forgotten. Some names I've forgotten. Some people I remember very little, while others exist as a story surrounded by shards of memories and Mojo is one such person.
Mojo had been the doorman at the Berlin in the 1980. The after-hours club was located in a four-floor walk-up at the corner of Broadway and Houston. The stairs were very steep. Mojo was big, black, and mean to women. On several occasions I warned him to calm down and he glared threateningly without making a move. My temper was legendary back then.
I hadn't seen him years, but I didn't forget him like other people.
Mojo was one of a kind and two year ago I ran into at a Williamsburg bar.
Mojo greeted me as if I had risen from the grave. He was smiling. All that meanness was gone.
"I've been working as a chef." Mojo was bigger than ever. I gauged his weight at near 300. Heavy people like working in restaurants.
"Where?" I like eating.
"Out in the Hamptons." Mojo shrugged as if it wasn't his first choice. "Tough living out there without a car, but I live about a ten minute walk to the restaurant. Even quicker if I cut through a graveyard."
"Aren't you scared about a graveyard?" I wouldn't walk through one at night.
"That's what I thought too, but a month ago I was drunk and decided to take the short cut. There was no moon, but I could see the lights of my house, so I knew where I was going. Problem was that it was too dark to see the ground and I fell into an open grave. The impact of the drop nocked the wind out of me."
"How you get out?"
"Get out? A man my size ain't getting out of no grave. I tried climbing out, but it was a waste of breath, so I sat down and waited for someone to come along. I had cigarettes and it wasn't a cold night. I might have even fell asleep, except I heard someone coming. He was drunk. I was about to call out for help, when this white frat boy fell into the grave. He gets to his feet right away and starts jumping out of the grave."
"Not easy." Six feet is six feet.
"Not at all, but I figured that he could climb on me and get out, then get help to get me out, so I coughed and said, "You can't get out of here that way."
"And what he say?" I was laughing hard now.
"Say? The white boy squawked like a chicken with a hot rod up its ass and practically flew out of the grave like I was Satan." Mojo laughed at the recollection of this moment. "Man, his eyes were bigger than dinner plates and ten minutes later the police come down to the cemetery. Nothing gets those lazy fucks working faster than a black devil in the grave, but one of them knew me and they helped me out of the grave."
"Soo more short-cuts?"
"None at all."
After a few drinks Mojo and I bid each other 'health' and went our separate ways. Each happier for his tale from the grave.
ps 'Mojo' is a magical bag of charms used in Hoodoo, an ancient Afro magic.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Nearly every parent in America would have ordered their children to avoid this aberration of the Bicentennial Spirit, for no suburban mall stocked his black leather jacket, torn t-shirt, or heavy engineer boots and his skin pallor rivaled the paleness of the rising moon.
Most teenagers would have obeyed their mothers and fathers, but not all and the guitarist disintegrated the heavenly mirage with a windmill slash of his fingers against the steel strings of his Les Paul.
Listening to the chords sizzle Johnny Darling shut his eyes to envision a small stage. Overhead lighting enveloped a drummer, bassist, and keyboard player whose music meshed the Kingsmen with the MC5. A teenage Lolita rasped words of love and no tomorrows in imitation of the Velvet Underground’s Nico. The imagined feedback of Marshall Amps buzzed in his ears and the audience might have materialized within his eyelids, if a young boy's voice hadn't shattered Johnny’s trance.
This time of night only gay bashers and leather freaks frequented the derelict docks and the guitarist waited for the last coda to disappear beneath the subsonic range before turning to address the intruder.
The Puerto Rican teenager in a distressed leather jacket was two inches shorter and his slanted eyes hinted the taint of Chinese blood. Some Times Square johns found Frankie Domingo pretty, despite the multitude of scars crisscrossing his 17 year-old body. Most of those wounds hadn’t not come from fights.
“Thanks for at least letting me finish?” Johnny was annoyed by the interruption.
“I been waiting thirty minutes.” A gust off the river blew a shank of greased hair across his eyes. “That a new song?”
"Just three chords strung together.” Johnny rubbed his calloused fingertips. The mirrored incandescence was wading on the river.
“Doesn’t get more basic than that.” Frankie rattled off a drum roll with frayed sticks. “Got these from Jerry Nolan at Max’s Kansas City last night.”
“How were the Heartbreakers?” Johnny had skipped the last night’s show for a date with a customer. Business sometimes had to come before pleasure.
“Great and the crowd loved them.” Frankie shivered with hunched shoulders. “I saw them get paid $100 each. When we gonna have a band?”
“Now I got my guitar back, we can audition for the other members.”
“Great.” Frankie stepped from side to side to relieve the damp seeping through his sneakers’ paper-thin soles and then stammered, “Johnny, you got ten dollars?"
"The pawnshop took my last fifty." Johnny slapped his guitar.
“Damn, I wish we could get out of here." Frankie moaned like a runaway in need of a dime to phone Mom for a bus ticket home.
“And go where?”
“What about Florida?” Frankie glanced south, as if the Sunshine State lay over the horizon. “It got beaches and sunshine and palm trees. How far away is it? Five hours?”
“More like twenty–four if you drive straight.”
“What about by plane?” The young Puerto Rican’s teeth clattered a 10/10 beat.
“Where we getting the money for two plane tickets?” Johnny was down to his last$5.
“We could hijack a plane. Tell them to give us a million dollars like in DOG DAY AFTERNOON?” Frankie had seen that movie five times on 42nd Street and pumped his fist in the air. “Attica, Attica.”
“Aren’t you forgetting how the cops shoot Pacino’s friend in the head.”
“Movies aren’t real.”
“DOG DAY AFTERNOON is based on a real bank robbery.”
“Yeah, it didn’t have a happy ending either.” The guitarist grabbed the young boy’s arm, which was almost as thin as his own. “Florida’s not worth a bullet in the skull.”
“Your parents live in Florida.”
”So what?” Johnny’s mother and father were Frankie’s answer to everything.
”If you called them, then they could wire you money to come home?” Frankie lifted his eyebrows in hope of hearing Johnny say ‘yes’.
“Yes, they would wire the money and tomorrow night we’d be eating my Mom’s home-made apple pie ." Teasing the young boy with this dream of warm weather and a full belly was cruel, but Johnny couldn’t help himself.
“I love apple pie.” Frankie actually licked his lips.
“Only one problem.” Johnny gestured toward Manhattan to reel the young drummer back to reality.
“Don’t say what I think you’re going to say.”
“I’m not leaving this behind.”
“This?” Frankie spun on his heels and chucked the battered drumsticks into the river. “All I got here are hustles, an empty stomach and old man’s hands, if I don’t want to sleep on a cold roof and you don’t have it much better.”
“That’s true.” Johnny slipped the guitar into its case and started walking toward the elevated highway. ”But I ran away from Florida for the same reason you want to run away from New York.”
“I hope this isn’t an intro to the gypsy lady story.”
“Why not? It’s true. The first day I arrived here, a gypsy lady in the Village read my palm for free. She liked my eyes and said my name was destined to be up in lights and I’m going to make it here. It was her who gave me the name Johnny Darling.” Johnny stopped on the curb of West Street. “Me and you are going to make it here as rock stars.” “But not tonight.” Frankie kicked an empty beer can into the gutter.
“No, not tonight.” Johnny couldn’t lie to Frankie. “What were you doing the night I met you?”
“I was at the hot dog stand across the bus terminal talking to these guys from Jersey.”
“Two chicken hawks wanting to rape you was none of my business.” Minding your own business was an act of survival in New York.
“And you’ve never explained why you helped me.” Frankie blew on his hands, warming the tips.
“Yeah, and I’m not going to now, but since that day you and me have been a team and that’s most than what most people got in this city. Tomorrow Max’s will put on a turkey dinner for us orphans and we’ll be okay tomorrow, right?”
“And what about tonight.” Frankie could handle anything as long as he was with Johnny.
“Tonight it’s time to go to work." The uptown lights on West Street were changing to red.
"53rd and 3rd?"
“We’re not competing with the midnight cowboys tonight.” Cars were accelerating to make the lights. Across the street the bars were filling with men in search of nameless sex. A few lurked between the trucks underneath the elevated highway. It was no mystery how they were celebrating the night before Thanksgiving.
“Times Square then?” Frankie sighed with resignation
“Times Square is about luck.”
“Luck being when head I win, tails you lose and never give a sucker a break.”
“You’re learning fast.” Not all of Johnny’s lessons were good advice for a young boy.
“I try.” Frankie regarded the snow-skinned guitarist with a surprisingly risky innocence for a veteran of the streets.
"How I look?"Johnny slung the case’s strap over his shoulder.
"Like a prince." Frankie stuck his hands in his leather jacket. It was getting colder.
"Where anyone from Jerome Avenue meet a prince?" Johnny was two inches taller, ten pounds lighter, blonde and white. Johns cruised him and ignored Frankie, unless they were after young meat.
“My grandmother read me fairy tales.” Frankie liked the ones with happy endings asked, “They really have princes and princesses?”
"Real as you and me, except they were born in a palace, instead of a dumpy apartment.” The chilled air scrapped over Johnny’s right lung like a boat striking a reef. He spat out an unpleasant taste and touched his chest wishing his fingers could probe beneath his ribs.
“You meet one?” Frankie was oblivious to his friend’s discomfort.
“Not this side of the silver screen.” Johnny fought off the shakes, figuring his ‘jones’ was knocking on the door. “Princes and princesses are like any suckers. We meet one and what we do?"
“We take them for everything." Frankie snapped his fingers.
“And leave them begging for more.” The ache faded from Johnny’s chest and he draped his arm over the younger boy. Family might more suitably define their relationship, except they were more comfortable never saying what they were to each other. “Just one more thing.”
“I know what you’re going to say.” Their conversation were almost rituals on occasion.
“You’re going to tell me not to trust anyone.”
“Trust no one is survival rule # 1 in New York.” In Times Square people got hurt for believing in someone more than they did themselves. His warning was for himself as much as Frankie. “And that means me too.”
"I’m a big boy.” Frankie accepted the warning with stubborn resignation, for his childhood had already revealed the worst of what the world had to offer.
"Then let’s head to Times Square.” Johnny dashed across West Street between two taxis. Neither vehicle touched him and he arrived on the other side, convinced that he was fated to forever.
At twenty years old his believing that he was anything other than immortal would have been a sacrilege, at least until he reached twenty-one and that birthday was more than a year away and a year was an eternity in New York.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Saturday, July 21, 2012
Friday, July 20, 2012
Suburban tricks hijacked teenage runaways straight off a bus from the Midwest and slick hustlers struck cowboy poses on the street corners, while unsuspecting hicks were trailed by dope-hungry muggers. The action should have tapered off before a holiday, except the players on the Strip were dedicated to acting naughty and not the least bit nice 365 nights a year and tonight was no exception.
A sharp gust unraveled a pile of trash and discarded newspapers scattered in flight over the sidewalk. Johnny dodged a page, as the door to the Haymarket opened for a tall blonde transvestite in a white leather jacket and pants. She wasn’t wearing a shirt or bra and her heavily made-up eyes simmered with slattern lust, as if she were auditioning for a porno film. "Leaving so soon?" Johnny asked her
“Just taking a break from my date" The blonde sashayed behind Johnny for shelter from the cold and she towered over him taller in her stiletto heels. "What about you?"
"I need a quick score to pay my rent, Dove.” The twenty-year old leaned into the powder-skinned beauty, whose translucent skin radiating an unnatural heat for this time of year.
“You shouldn’t aim so low, my dear dear Johnny.” The slim transvestite caressed the nape of Johnny’s neck with a tenderness of a teenybopper recovering a long-lost teddy bear.
“I have simple tastes,” Johnny declared over KC’s THAT’S THE WAY booming on the bar’s jukebox. “My guitar, drinking at a bar, eating a little food, good music, and someplace warm to sleep.”
“What about the gypsy's woman's prediction of fame and fortune?” Dove cuddled closer to the guitarist with each syllable.
“I'm haven't given up on stardom, although you're the only star in this night's sky.”
You've always had a sweet way with words."
"Only for my friends." Johnny had witnessed Dave’s transformation to Dove in the seclusion of her parents’ bedrooms. Her mother’s lingerie and make-up had given way to clothing stolen from Macy’s. "But you've been a star ever since we dressed up as Jodie Foster in TAXI DRIVER.”
“A pink tube top, white silk hot pants, and red spaghetti strap pumps.” Dove sighed with fondness of that memory.
“You stopped the traffic on 42nd dead.”
“That act was good for a teenage summer. Now I’ve grown into a Vogue model. Last night at Les Jardins this designer asked me to be in his fashion show. He was I would be a sensation."
“As you are every night.” 42nd Street was Dove’s runway. The eyes of the men seeking her attention were the cameras. She sold glamor and the buyers understood the risk and price of that transaction.
"But really, Johnny, when are you going to be a star and take me away from all this?” Dove twirled a lacquered strand of hair in her fingers.
“I’m starting a new band.”
"Another band playing to a hundred punks at CBGB’s or Max’s is not going to fly us to the South of France.” Dove sighed with exasperation. “None of whom pay a penny nothing to get into those bars isn’t going to save me from all this.
“Knowing your expensive tastes, I’d have to sell out Madison Square Garden for a week to afford a vacation on the Riviera.” Johnny stepped aside for a priestly gentleman and two teenagers entering the Haymarket. His companions were above the legal age, but pretended to be 16 and Dove said, “They won’t pass for jailbait much longer.”
“Not unless they lower the lighting inside.” “Dark lighting is a girl’s best make-up.” Dove hushed into Johnny’s ear. “You hear about Jimmie Bags?”
“How the cops gave their favorite bagman a machine gun for his birthday and how later the drunken idiot tested the gift, nearly wounding three cops in the line of duty?” People on the Deuce told him everything, although sometimes he wished that he could retire from his unofficial position as the Strip’s confessor, except the only applicants for the job were the police and no one plea-bargained their sins with the Law.
“You hear and see all.” Dove backed away from Johnny.
“And on no account do I tell all.” Whatever entered his ear didn’t break the seal of his lips.
"That's my baby." Dove tenderly kissed Johnny’s cheek. “I got to save my date from some Miss Thing’s claws. Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my scene.”
Dove entered the bar and a middle-aged trick beamed him an inviting smile. Johnny was waiting for a better offer and shook his head, then silently asked, “How long I been saying that?”
Most of his old friends and competitors were dead or in jail. Times Squares’ math was loaded against hustlers as crooked dice. Chilled by the premonition of his luck crapping out, Johnny scanned the quagmire of faces for action. Two seconds later Frankie scooted up to him and announced, "We have a live one on the way."
“Left or right?” His protégé specialized in taking unnecessary risks.
"This loaded white guy checking out on the last block. He spots me and I motion for him to follow me." Frankie glimpsed over his shoulder.
An overweight businessman with his tie adrift at the neck was staggering along the sidewalk.
“I’ll take him into a peep show and pickpocket his wallet.” Frankie was bouncing on his toes with too much eagerness.
“We have to give him a miss."
“He's drunk.” Frankie was puzzled by the rejection of this sucker.
“Take a closer look. Those thick-soled shoes are for running and the undercover cop across the street is back-up. You want to spend the night in Spofford?"
"At least Juvie Hall is warm.” Last summer Frankie had racked up two thirty-day bids in the Bronx jail famed for rotten food, sadistic guards, and bloody gang beatings. “I need money."
"The night is young," Johnny assured the drummer, although the theater had let out and the foot traffic was getting thin. The easy marks would be replaced by drunks with little cash in their pockets and their fellow hustlers turning to more predatory pursuits of purse-snatching or knifepoint robberies.
"And colder too." Frankie wanted everything yesterday.
"We’ll score soon,"
I hope so.” Frankie swept back his hair. "How I look?”
“Like a young Richie Valens.”
“How many times I have to tell you.” The young boy clenched his fists. “I’m Puerto Rican, not Mexican.” Faking fighting prowess on the Strip was a fatal error and Johnny slipped a left under Frankie’s guard. His fist barely tapped the teenager’s chin, but tears dampened the corners of his eyes. "We're lovers, not fighters." and Johnny gave Frankie two dollars. He was down to three. “Stop your crying and go get warm.”
“You know where I’ll be.” The young boy hurried to the subterranean Eight Avenue arcade. $2 bought eight pinball games out of the cold and Frankie was skilled enough to last an hour at the KISS machine.
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE replaced KC’s disco hit inside the Haymarket and Johnny fingered Lou Reed’s anthem on air guitar. His Les Paul was safe behind the counter of ShowWorld cashier and he sang low along with the irresistible chorus.
“In the backroom she was everyone’s darling.”
“And all the colored girls sing.”Dove popped from the bar, tugging on a paper-thin white leather coat. She slipped a man's wallet inside Johnny’s jacket.
"Meet me at Adonis." She clattered around the corner seconds before a mustached man in his thirties exited from the Haymarket, his head bopping on his shoulders like a turtle on Speed and his hands clawing at his pockets. Any honest citizen would have been shouting for the police.
"You see a tall blonde?"
"She have on a white coat?" Johnny knitted his brow with concern.
"Yeah, that's the one.” The sucker bought his sincerity with frantic gratitude. He wedding ring meant a wife in the suburbs. Most of Dove’s tricks were straight or so they told themselves.
“Which way she go?"
His having heard the truth about the coat primed the man for a lie.
"She headed toward the Port Authority. Maybe thirty seconds ago."
"Thanks." The man darted down the crowded sidewalk. "Just doing my civic duty." Johnny casually crossed the avenue. Running was a sure sign of guilt in Times Square. Opposite the Haymarket he stuffed the money in his jeans and wiped the wallet once before dumping it in the nearest trash can.
Farther down the block Johnny counted the bills fast and stepped into the foyer of the Adonis theater with a smile. Dove was leaning against a poster promoting a gay sex movie. Johnny slipped the cash into her jacket pocket.
"Nice little score." She returned five $20s to Johnny.
"Are you sure?" His take was on the generous side.
>“Most of the scum on this street would have stiffed me.”
“We go back plus I have three rules; trust no one more than you trust yourself, steal from the most deserving, and avoid the deadly sin of greed.”
>“You're such a good Catholic boy, too bad you’re not into women."
"Never said I didn’t like women.”
“You ever been with one?” Dove fluttered her eyes at a mustached passer-by.
"You know better than that. All the women care about is turning me straight.”
“So there’s no hope for me?” Dove cinched the belt of her leather jacket and Johnny poked his head around the corner of the foyer. There was no sign of her victim.
Because you walk like a woman and talk like a girl.” He had changed the words to the Kinks’ song LOLA knowing how hard Dove strived to sound like a young Tallulah Bankhead. "So one day I might love you."
"I'll be counting the minutes till then." The transvestite strutted onto the street to flag a taxi. A checker pulled over to the curb and Dove flipped back a loose strand of hair from her face. "You care for a ride to CBGBs? The Ramones are headlining."
"I have to take care of Frankie." $42 covered his back-rent at the Terminal Hotel and a twenty would happy up his protégé and $38 might last another two days. It was time to call it a night.
“You’re a soft touch.” Dove waved good-bye from the taxi window. “That kid will be the death of you.”
“He’s no trouble. No more than you.”
“No trouble? Baby, trouble’s my adopted last name?” Dove shouted out the window, as the taxi turned left on the next street. Johnny pulled up his collar and clocked the foot traffic on the sidewalks. The scammers outnumbered the scammed 5 to 1 and he hurried down the sidewalk dreaming about his bed at the Terminal Hotel.
His foot stepped onto the pavement of 44th Street only to have a black 1976 Lincoln TownCar block his path and a hand white as smoke beckoned from the rear window. Johnny peered through the crack at a grim blonde boy in a black cotton bathrobe and pajamas suspecting a set-up, but pale-skinned teenagers were only narcs on TV cops shows.
"I know you?"
"No." His voice was barely audible. "But I know you."
Johnny didn't like hearing that or the lock popping up open.
"You want me in the car?"
"If you please." The young man replied with a private school accent hoarse from disuse.
"Who can't resist such politeness." Johnny sat in the car. The interior unexpectedly smelled of medicine, instead of leather.
"You're staring." The pajamaed passenger slouched against the opposite door, as if his back had been hammered out of place.
“It’s not often you meet Howard Hughes’ illegitimate son.”
“It’s Hugh Hefner who wears pajamas.” His host was annoyed by the levity.
“Sorry, I get millionaires mixed up.” Johnny lifted his hands in apology.
“Where to?” The thick-necked driver coughed in front.
“Down the block and this isn't about sex."
“That’s a first for Times Square.”
A sheet of black glass cut them off from front seat and the car drove farther from 8th Avenue.
“So how do you know me?” Johnny wanted to solve this mystery.
"I don't know you personally, but I saw what you did.” The passenger's face was framed by the halo of his platinum hair.
“I saw what you did?” The passenger scowled, as if he had co-authored the Ten Commandments.
“Do what?” Johnny wasn’t admitting to anything.
“You helped that ‘girl’ rob that man and dumped this wallet in the trash.” He held up the discarded wallet with a handkerchief. "And last week I saw you rescue a drug dealer from arrest by pushing two theatergoers into the path of the police.”
“Really?” Johnny was irritated by the absence of this incident from his memory and even more so that he hadn’t noticed this car or its passenger and he asked, “How much?”
“I don’t need your money.” The passenger fidgeted into a more comfortable possession, as the Lincoln turned onto 9th Avenue and sped uptown.
“Good, because I'd hate to split $100.” Johnny’s hand grasped the door handle, hesitant to jump out of moving car, then settled back into the seat. The passenger wore expensive slippers and his pajamas were of high-quality cotton. He was rich and rich was an opportunity not to be passed up in Times Square.
“You’re staring again.”
“Sorry, this isn't for sex or a shakedown, right?" Johnny was a musician as well as a hustler. Both professions required an understanding of timing and he allowed several seconds to pass before spinning his web.
Three years ago an old Gypsy woman taught me the ancient art of palmistry like the left hand reveals the past and the right hand predicts the future. I started fooling around reading palms of the strippers, massage girls, pimps, cops, and dealers in Times Square. Some paid me $5 for a reading, but I got tired of reading highways to hell and I closed up shop.”
“You can divine the future?”
“No, but I learned that most people want the same thing; money, love, happiness and so I told people what they want to hear and they'll nod their head when you're right.
“So it’s a trick?” This revelation clearly disappointed the young man.
“Sometimes yes, sometimes no, I’m not sure when was which.” Johnny sensed the passenger’s desire for answers and spoke without any premonition as to what he would say. “We are all trapped by the past. It is the future that frees us, if your present isn’t a jail. I bet you haven’t stepped on the street in months.”<
The passenger’s eyes widened with this plundering of his soul.
“And I’m probably the first person you spoke with in a long time other than the driver and your family."
The passenger’s silence confirmed that he was on the right track.
“You don’t talk about anything to anyone. You don’t ever leave this car either and I know why.” Johnny played him without pity. “Because whatever happened to you didn’t kill you and sometimes you wish that it did.”
The passenger reached forward to knock on the window, but the effort hurt more than he was willing to show, giving Johnny another insight into why he was in this car.
“You had an accident. A bad accident. It changed who you were into who you are now and you don’t like that person, but you’re not the only person in the world that changed from who they wanted to be. I was a good kid once. An altar boy. No one recited the Mass better than me. Families hired me to serve their weddings or bury their grandparents. I was vain enough to consider myself special. A priest did too and he corrupted my life time after time. He said he was trying to teach me humility. I didn’t need to taught humility and neither did you, even though you went to the best schools and summered in Europe."
"This is all a trick."
A red light stopped the Lincoln at 54th Street and Johnny slapped his palm on the dividing window. It slid down halfway.
“Pull over to the curb,” Johnny told the driver and turned to the passenger, “I can only tell you what I see. It’s no trick. I see you trapped in this car, praying for the boy to come back from the grave, but both him and my innocent altar boy are dead. We can only become someone else. Someone new.”
"You make it sound so easy." The passenger's right eye twitched with a slight spasm.
“It is easy." His host had been hurt bad and Johnny knew hurt. "All you have to do is leave this car and live."
"With them?" The passenger regarded the passing parade of people with a noticeable disdain. The dregs of Times Square were heading home for the night and none of them had houses or apartments.
“There’s more to life than them or this car. Other people, other places.”
“If I fall, I could hurt myself more.”
Being scared is all part of taking the first steps. Have you fallen since your injury?”
“A couple of times.”
“And you didn’t die?”
“I can understand you’re frightened of the pain, but mummifying yourself in this car is a form of death and that’s why you picked me up tonight.” Johnny told the driver, “Me and my friend are leaving the car.”
“Mr. Ames?” The driver asked, as if getting out of the car was against the rules.
“Robert, park the car for a second.”
The car pulled over to the curb. Johnny stepped out of the car and reached inside to assist the young man from the back seat. The passers-by stared at the black cotton pajamas and Johnny sensed his deep unease.
“Ignore them. They’re nobodies. You’re what matters. How’s it feel to be out of that car?”
“Like I should return to the cocoon.” He wasn't very stable on his feet.
“Too late for that. Breathe.”
The young man inhaled the cold air like an astronaut testing the atmosphere of Mars. The garish streetlights were unfiltered by the Lincoln’s smoked windows and jarred his eyes and the noise battered his eardrums, then a harsh wind kissed his skin with an old lover’s forgiveness. His knees buckled from the sensory overload and Johnny caught him. The young man didn’t weigh much.
“It’ll improve with practice. Trust me.”
“You expect me to trust a thief?”
“Thieves have more honor than most people and I'm not only a thief. You play an instrument?”
“A little piano.” The young man sounded as if he might have given an incorrect response.
“Think you could play an organ?” Dove was right. Johnny was soft. This kid was primed for a scam and he was letting him off the hook to become part of his life.
“Organ?” “A Bach fugue worked for Procul Harum in A WHITER SHADE OF PALE and the Doors' LIGHT MY FIRE would have been nothing with the organ, which is definitely a hipper choice than a piano for punk.”
"Punk?" The term was a blank for the Lincoln's passenger. "Punk like the Ramones, and Patti Smith.” Johnny’s blitz of information retilted his new acquaintance.
"The only times I heard the word ‘punk’ have been in reference to this incense burnt to stave off mosquitoes.”
“It’s also a prison definition for another convict's sex slave, but the punk I'm talking about has to do with music."
"Sorry, I don't listen much to the radio." The young man stood erect with a pained effort.
“Punk doesn't get play on the radio.” The record executives hated it. “I’ve had two bands, the Disappointed and the Precious Few. Both failed, due to ego problems or talent conflicts, but I haven’t abandoned my dream, so today is your lucky day.”
“Lucky?” He looked to the car, as if his driver was supposed rescue him, but doors remained shut.
"yes, you're lucky, because I’m offering you a crash course in punk and punk will bring you back from the dead. You know the song LOUIE LOUIE?”
“Yeah, duh, duh duh, duh-duh, duh-duh duh.”
"So you're not totally brain dead about music. Now speed it up faster and rawer and nastier.”
“Like Slade? My sister had played them on her stereo."
"Not exactly, but close.” Frankie had been the drummer in the Disappointed and Cheri from room 301 had sung for the Precious Few. Bass players were as rare as light bulbs, but an organist with money was a trick pony begging for a circus.
“When I first got in the car, I was thinking about ripping you off, but I said to myself, "Why I rip him off for couple of hundred dollars, when I can score more, but now that you're going to be in my band, you're money is safe. Like I said there's honor among thieves."
"I-I-I-I never said I’d join in your band.”
“Okay, don’t join my band.” Johnny backed away from the passenger, who snagged his arm.
"Okay." He was hooked, but good and Johnny had yet to tell one lie. “But a warning. Punks about burning down the temple of soft rock, pissing off the middle of the road producers. It's not a big scene. Maybe two thousand punks in New York, LA, London, but there's more every day and your joining us could only help the cause. You're going to love it."
“Couldn’t I like it first?” “Like is for a distant aunt with a mustache. Tomorrow evening come to Max’s Kansas City on Union Square.”
“I’m having dinner at the Carlyle Hotel with my father and sister.”
"That's right. It's Dry Turkey Day.” Johnny was losing his organist to a dead bird.
But I can meet you afterwards.”
“Great, but do yourself a favor and lose the Hugh Hefner pajamas.” Johnny fingered the material. Sea cotton had to cost a fortune. “Go to St. Mark’s Place around 11 and buy anything black and leather at Trash and Vaudeville and get Snookie to cut your hair at Manic Panic. You have a number?”
"Yes." He handed Johnny an embossed card. "You can call me ‘Charles’."
The accent inhibited the use of Charlie or Chuck and Johnny acceded to his new friend’s unspoken request.
“Charles, my name's Johnny Darling. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I have a previous appointment."
“Your young friend?” Charles held up the wallet.
“I forgot you were spying on me.”
“Sorry.” The apology sounded heart-felt.
"I've forgiven you too." Johnny helped Charles into the car. “You’ll meet my assistant tomorrow. He’s the drummer.”
“Your band have a name?" The rich boy was visibly relieved to be off his feet. His pain was no joke.
“GTH.” Johnny had remembered the top bill at the Adonis Theater and stripped the first letter of each word in the title. "It’s short for ‘Gone To Hell. I'll call you tomorrow, ‘Charles’.”
"Any time after ten."
“I’m a late-waker too." Johnny shut the door and the Lincoln disappeared down the street.
Nearby drifters envied his imagined score and Johnny walked fast toward 42nd Street. Times Square was shuttering for the night. Entering ShowWorld his nose reeled from the smell of pine oil used to clean the viewing cubicles. The elderly clerk passed his guitar from behind the counter.
“More than you can imagine.” Johnny left the porno emporium and spotted Frankie across the avenue. The young boy was begging for a handout under a movie marquee promoting THE DEVIL IN MRS. JONES. Tonight his helplessness was no act. No one on the Strip owed anyone favors and Johnny could walk away from Frankie without a twinge of guilt, instead he shouted out to the drummer, who lifted his head like a dog hearing its master’s whistle. Frankie ran across the avenue and said, "I thought you had ditched out on me."
"Would I do that?" Johnny slipped him $20.
“My prayers are answered. I love you." The young boy stamped his feet on the pavement.
"Love no one. Not me. Not anyone." He couldn't tell Frankie that fools never followed their own advice.
“Everything is just business.” Frankie had adopted Johnny as his God, even if worshiping him might cost his soul.
"And business is good.” Dove’s score was none of his business, but he had to tell someone about meeting Charles. “I ran into an 'angel'."
“What kind of angle you talking ‘bout?” An F in Algebra had ended his schooling.
“Not angle. An Angel.”
"You turning religious on me?" Frankie had lost more friends to the church than drugs.
“I’m talking about an angel to finance our band off the ground.” The priest’s kiss had permanently soured Johnny’s faith in God.
“Our band?” Johnny’s plans to reform the Dispossessed was mostly talk.
"No, new one.” His hands itched to create new music on his guitar. “GTH."
"GTH?" Frankie asked, eagerly, hoping for the three letters might have been a new drug.
"It stands for Gone To Hell.” They needed new songs to go with the new name.
"Gone To Hell?" Frankie hadn't been to church in years, but he still respected the horror of a fiery eternity. "I don’t want to burn in Hell.”
“You’re not going to burn in any Hell. Not while I’m around in this life and the next.” They needed a place to rehearse and he knew one in Chinatown.
“Okay, if you say so.” Frankie bongoed a beat on a car. "So who else is in GTH?"
"This rich kid’s on organ and Cheri will sing.”
“She has a terrible voice.” Frankie had no use for the stuck-up painter living down the hall from Johnny at the Terminal Hotel.
"If I know you two don't get along, but Cheri can shake her ass. The straight guys and the lezbos will love her. The organist is a cripple. The sad girls will love him. You beat the drums and I scorched the air with my guitar.” Johnny was thinking way ahead of tonight, even knowing that no surefire formula existed to guarantee musical success, however not contemplating failure was a step in the right direction. "We'll have a number one on the charts for a hundred weeks and live the life in Hollywood."
"Movie stars, palm trees, and swimming pools," Enticed by Johnny’s enthusiasm, Frankie chanted the words like 'lions, tigers, and bears' from THE WIZARD OF OZ and then asked, “Care to score a few bags?”
“No, I have to stay straight for this ‘angel’ tomorrow.” Johnny couldn't preach moderation in fear of throwing a rock through a window of his temple of sins. “Go get high. You can crash at the Terminal later."
"Thanks." Frankie headed to Bryant Park with reckless determination and Johnny lifted his arm to flag a taxi. Instead a Plymouth Valiant halted by the curb and its overweight driver ordered, “Don’t move.”
Nearly half the foot traffic froze in place, though the command was aimed at Johnny. He walked slowly over to the nondescript car and asked, “And how can I help you this fine evening, Sgt. Weinstein?"
“Save that Eddie Haskell shit for LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.” The grey-haired detective hauled himself out of the unmarked cop car and hitched up his 40-inch waist Sta-Press pants, pretending he had all the time in the world. “See your guitar’s out of hock.”
"Yes, sir." There was a chance that the cop had witnessed Dove’s score. Johnny paid it safe and said, “An old friend repaid a debt.”
"You’re fortunate to have friends, Mr. Darlino.” The heavyweight detective was waging a one-man campaign against the wickedness of the Strip. Ten more cops like him would have shut down Times Square for good, however the NYPD honored other commitments to Law and Order.
“The name’s Darling.” Johnny hated any connection to his past.
"We get you down to the precinct and you’re John Darlino real fast.” The detective frisked the hustler’s pockets. “Where you headed?”
"Home, Sergeant Weinstein." Johnny lifted his arms to facilitate the search.
"You mean 'home' like Mom and Dad's house in Florida for Turkey Day?" While most of the cops in Times Square were on the take, the detective was relatively honest. Whatever he found on Johnny was Johnny's as long as it wasn't illegal. might get back.
“Hell, no, I’m done with that cracker state.” Four years ago DisneyWorld in Orlando had offered his father a position promoting tourism. The move had mostly been made to save Johnny from his friends and the sixteen year-old had accompanied them, promising to be a good boy. He had lasted two very long years. “Don’t you miss the palm trees and sun?” Sgt. Weinstein withdrew the remaining money from Johnny’s pocket.
"Naw, I’m into the change of seasons.”
“You call your parents sometimes?”
“Every once in a while.” He told them with the stories about studying at Hunter College days and playing night in a band. Hopefully his lies were easier to believe than their fears about the truth.
“Two years on the Strip and not once have you been arrested or sent to the hospital. Not many people on the Strip can say that."
“I obey the laws.” Another one of his # 1 rules was to only break one law at a time.
"Unlike the rest of the scum on the street.” Sgt. Weinstein glared at the passers-by and they shrank from his gaze. “I can remember coming here with my mother. We’d go to the movies and I’d have some hot dogs.”
“Not many kids around here now.” Johnny eyed the sidewalks.
“Thank God for that.” The detective couldn't fathom his city’s descent from the glory days of the 50s. His fellow officers blamed the blacks and drugs, yet the decay ran deeper than race or narcotics.
“I don’t think God has anything to do with it.”
“Same as your luck and that of your little protege." Sgt. Weinstein respected Johnny’s tutelage of Frankie and their avoidance of violent crimes.
“Just trying to keep him out of trouble, that’s all. We don’t want to be a burden for the city.”
“My fellow officers are not so appreciative of your effort and they have you in their sights. You're twenty, right? No more Juvie Hall for you and prison is hard time on pretty boys.”
“I’m dedicated to my music and nothing else.” Johnny Darling lifted his guitar.
"I wish that was true, but everyone makes a mistake and one day you’ll make one too and that day we'll play LET’S MAKE A DEAL.” Sgt. Weinstein had seen thousands of wiseasses hit the Strip thinking that they could beat the long odds of the street. Most couldn't count on their fingers and ended up in jail or lying in an alley dead for less than $50.
"I wish I could walk away from it, but not just yet."
"Don't push it too long." Officer Weinstein shook his head. It wasn’t too late for Johnny to save himself, although he wasn’t so sure about Frankie.
“I’m starting a new band and need some money."
"You ever heard of work?"
"$2 an hour pays about $65 after taxes. No thanks. I'll take my chances here, but I promise you. Not for much longer."
“Don't promise me. Promise yourself." The detective's good cop act was in his nature and he handed back Johnny's money.
"Have a happy Thanksgiving."
“Thanks, Sgt. Weinstein. You too.” Something was very wrong about Weinstein cutting loose Johnny, for the detective was renown for never giving an inch, unless he received a yard in return.
Standing on a windy corner offered no answers to this mystery and Johnny Darling jumped in the next Checker cab, instructing the middle-aged driver, "14th and 9th.”
“You have money?”
Johnny flashed a twenty.
“You do a runner on the other end and I’ll drive you down." The driver coldly flipped on the meter.
“Thanks for the warning.” Only the NYPD were meaner than New York taxi drivers.
“It’s a promise, not a warning.”
At the meat market on 12th Street the taxi turned onto Washington Street and dropped Johnny at the Terminal Hotel. He paid the driver and raised his eyes to the third-floor corner room. The lights were out in Room 21. Cheri was either asleep or in bed with a new lover. Johnny was knocking on her door either way and entered the hotel lobby flourishing cash.
“You better have my money, cuz no way yer gettin’ a key widout payin’." The nearly toothless clerk turned off Johnny Carson’s interview with Robert Blake on THE TONIGHT SHOW.
“Shut your hole, Ernie.” Johnny slapped forty-two dollars on the counter and snapped a fiver before the wino’s roadmap of wrinkles. “And a bone for you too, you old alkie.”
"Fer me?" Ernie licked his swollen lips in the anticipation of a soul-quenching bottle of Thunderbird.
“Sorry for the grief, Johnny, you know I like you, but the bosses have a hard-on deadbeats. Even the Great Johnny Darling."
“Hey I know, but who else takes care of you like me?” Johnny patted the old man’s cheek.
"Only you, Johnny Darling, only you." Ernie pocketed his tip. "By the way Cheri left you a box."
"Left me a box?" He palmed his key.
"Yeah,"Cheri split ‘bout two hours ago fer the airport. She said sumthin’ about goin’ to Paris." The old man toed a cardboard box from behind the desk.
"She say anything about coming back?" Johnny had dismissed her late-night prattling about art school in Paris as a bedtime lullaby.
"Damn is right. Guess she wuz spooked by this hippie boy.”
“Spooked?” Johnny had heard Cheri talk about this hippie. She had never spoke about her lovers before. Maybe Ernie was right.
“She spent last weekend with this hippie boy. He had stars in his eyes and a girl like Cheri gets scared that a young fool in love will kill her dreams.”
“But why she leave?"
“Because this hippie boy is supposed to show up tonight to live with her. She left him this letter." The clerk held up an envelope and Johnny tried to snatch it. The old alkie had faster reflexes. “Gotta give that to the hippie, Johnny Boy.”
“So you’re not going to give it to me.”
“I’m like the US Mail that way.”
“I’ll keep that in mind the next time you run short for a bottle of wine.” Johnny lifted the box and walked over to the elevator. “They ever fixing this?”
“Boss sez soon.” Ernie shouted, as Johnny climbed past two winos arguing over who was the most beautiful member of CHARLIE’S ANGELS. On the 2nd floor a madman ranted about the president-elect’s being too Christian. Johnny gave him a quarter and continued to the 3rd floor, where he walked down to Cheri's room. It was empty, although a painting of a naked hippie covered one wall.
“Fucking hippie.” Johnny entered room #308 and dropped the box next to the stack of LPs. He laid the guitar on the bed and cued up the Dolls’ LONELY PLANET BOY on the stereo. A quick ferret through Cheri’s box produced vintage clothing, two wigs, and no letter. She had loved dressing him as her. “Long as you stay the same weight, you can be my mirror."
His fingers struck a discordant twang on the steel strings of his Les Paul.
Cheri’s leaving was the hippie’s fault.
He strummed several ragged A chords and visualized this longhair. Her surprise disappearance would break his heart. He might even cry and tears made a man defenseless.
Johnny added an F chord to the train of As chord and envisioned Cheri’s ex-lover facedown in the street without a penny to his or anyone else’s name. A-A-A-F-A ended his murderous solo and he mimicked with Johnny Thunders' lead. No one in the Dolls had a spectacular voice. Not even David Johansson. Singing came from the heart not the throat and tomorrow he would find a soul-filled singer at Max’s. As for tonight he could only wait until tomorrow and tomorrow wasn’t never too far away from this time of night
Throughout 70s and 80s the Times Square was a haven for XX theaters, go-go girls, pimps, whore houses, rent boys, hustlers, thieves, dealers, and lowlifes on the make. Police and city authorities had basically declared the area as DMZ for crime and sex and the 1977 debut of Show World across 42nd Street from the Port Authority Bus Terminal was the highwater mark for the Doo-Wop as the salubrious way was called by its malevolent denizens.
Successive mayors attempted to clean up Times Square, but the Mafia-owned establishment relied on the Free Speech Amendment to protect their wicked fiefdom. Finally Rudy Giuliani enacted in new adult zoning laws in 1995 and the end came the following year with the closure of every XXX theaters and porno shops.
I happened to be walking through the neighborhood on that rainy day. Affectionados of perversity were crying on the sidewalk, as the moving crews loaded their merchandise onto trucks. Their patrons stood outside in tears chanting, “Fuck Mickey Mouse.” A friend of mine lamented the disappearance of Times Square. “NYC has been thrown into a blender and homogenized into a bland and boring urban pastiche. This city once had character and disparate neighborhoods. Now it’s just numbingly the same wherever you go. I was driving around the city yesterday and occurred to me that downtown-uptown, west-east, it all looked the same now. Same store fronts, same hideous developer apartment buildings, same gourmet coffee, same gentrifications, same same….shame.” My friend wasn't speaking about egg creams and luncheonettes. All that wickedness is gone like the Wicked Witch of the West melting in the WIZARD OF OZ.
But thanks for the memories.