Sunday, September 30, 2012
In the 80s I would get on my Yamaha XS 650CC and drive out of Manhattan to Jones Beach. I'd avoid the gathering of sun-worshippers at the East Bathhouse and rode past the sand dunes bordering Ocean Parkway past West Gilgo and Cedar Beach to the Oak Beach Inn located across the inlet from the western end of Fire Island.
One sunny afternoon I rolled into the parking lot and stopped a few feet from the slanted gangplank leading into one of Long Island's more renown bars. OBI's bartender, Robert "Rosebud" Butt, was reputed to have been the birthplace of the Long Island Ice Tea and the freshly-opened clams from the raw bar tasted of the Atlantic. TVs showed sporting events and music videos, but the main entertainment was to sit on the outer deck and watch the comings and goings of the cigarette boats churning up the channel.
The sea was calm and the speed boats ripped up rooster tails in their wake.
Most of the yahoos minded the speed for approaching the docks, but on my second beer two old salts pointed to an approaching Scarab.
"I don't think he's going to slow down." The lean man was tanned to the color of a leather couch from years on the ocean. "He's going about 40 knots."
"Probably his first boat." His more portly friend leaned over to get a better view of the inlet. "He'll get by the sand bar, but he's gonna have trouble with the buoy."
"No, he'll have no trouble with it." The thinner man scratched his chin. "Then again the current's running a little funny. Yeah, you're right. He's in trouble."
How much trouble was explained by the speedboat crashing right into the buoy, splitting the rakish bow in half.
"Doesn't look like anyone was killed. Guess we should go out and help him." The fat man turned to me. "You mind watching our drinks, we'll be right back."
"You got it."
The two men weren't the Coast Guard, but they were the next best thing.
They were drinkers at the Oak Beach Inn.
The location of the original club was at 40°38′23″N 73°17′10″W.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
The article taught that hang-overs occur when the blood/alcohol index returns to zero brought on the dehydrating trips to the bathroom, so holding it is better than constant relief visits to the bathroom throughout the night, although an overloaded bladder would produce more anxiety than a hang-over.
The writer dated hang-overs to the Stone Age and offered insight into the source of the word hang-over plus several foreign alternatives.
Danish is the best "Carpenters in my head."
As for cures the writer heralded Andrew Irving's HOW TO CURE A HANGOVER and also RU-21 a KGB remedy for 'A few too many'.
No drinking man or woman should miss this piece, so please click on the following URL
Never have so many been help by one person.
The Jack Palance photo is featured, since Attila the Hun famously fell off his horse while drunk, caught pneumonia, and died the next day. The Huns supposedly hid his corpse to avoid desecration, but some historians think his bodyguard were too hung over to find it.
Thursday morning I woke up this morning with a hang-over and couldn't figure out why I recalled drinking champagne combined with wine.
Never a good combination, but I survived the dawn thanks to the frosty Stella Artois' stuck in my refrigerator.
It's never forever.
What's the difference between drunks and alcoholics?
Drunks don't go to meeting and neither did Kingsley Amis, who posthumously published EVERYDAY DRINKING in which the author decalred about his morning after, "I have a hang-over bad enough to think I'm sprouting antlers."
Mr. Amis was not a wine sipper.
In fact he resented anyone drinking wine other than at dinner as a lightweight.
I'm sure he would have forgiven a Danish sailor/friend on the Isle of Wight for drinking rose wine, since his doctor had warned Kurt that vodka was destroying his liver.
Wine would have been kinder, except the Dane drank 16 bottles of rose per day. Five before breakfast. I'm sure that consumption level would pass Mr. Amis' demands.
Mr. Amis favored cocktails, preferably a gin tonic. He would go to the cinema with all the appropriate mixers in his pockets; lemon, ice, tonic, glasses, and gin. A man for the ages who never let his unconsciousness be his guide only his companion as do most men in Pattaya, drinking capitol of the Orient.
EVERYDAY DRINKING has an extensive list of drinks, but like most drunks we like to keep things simple.
Faster to get it down.
I have perused this Amis collection several times at the bookstore. I doubt it will make it to the lending library, but if it does it won't be staying there long, because I have fast hands.
Friday, September 28, 2012
Two years ago when I was working on 47th street, every morning I checked the weather online. The forecast for the Tri-State area determined my attire for the diamond exchange, especially as the summer and autumn of seesawed during September. Later in the month the AM meteorologists predicted temperature would top off at 75. Rain was forecasted for the afternoon, so I dressed in a lightweight suit. My umbrella was in the office closet.
Morning passed into afternoon without incident. The air grew heavy around 3. I stepped outside the exchange and studied the western sky. I tensed my fingers into a fist. None of the knuckles crackled with age, indicating a falling barometer. The air was thick with humidity. It was 3pm. I figured the storm would arrive at 5.
I had to be at an art opening by 6:30. I returned to my desk and called old customers. It had been a slow day. The telephone rang at 4:30. Manny my boss was calling on his cell. My 80 year-old boss had taken off the day. His hip was bothering him.
"You be careful." His voice was edged with urgency. "There are reports of tornadoes."
"Tornadoes?" I dismissed his weather report as the hysterical reaction to the fear-mongering tactics of the TV news.
"Yes, severe thunderstorms are expected. I can see them from my window." Manny was from Brownsville. Its Old School motto - "Never ran. Never will."
Very little scared Manny. He was worried about his son, Richie Boy. We were holding down the fort in Manny's absence. Richie Boy was listening to a beautiful female client explain how her fiancee gave her the ring in Vietnam. The Ford model had big breasts. Manny's son wasn't going anywhere.
"Just a sec." I exited the store and checked out the western sky.
"We're not going anywhere until it's over."
"Good, because the TV is warning people to seek refuge in their cellars."
"Just like THE WIZARD OF OZ." Dorothy and her dog Toto had been sucked into the heavens by a Kansas twister. Their house had landed atop the Wicked Witch. The munchkin EMS had declared her dead on the scene. Manny was a life-long Democrat and I said, "Maybe if we're lucky the exchange will fall on Sarah Palin."
"I'm being serious." Manny sounded like one of the extras from LA tornado scene in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. "I see a line of dark clouds approaching."
Storm chasers describe this phenomena as the 'bear's cage'.
"We'll stay inside." 47th Street was mired with gloom. Rain was pelting the sidewalk. Pedestrians sought shelter under the alcove of the exchange. Two other friends called with concern. They had never seen a Doppler screen radar with such an angry red line. Richie Boy's had yet to break from the cleavage of the tall model. He was close enough to smell her perfume.
Richie Boy was always faithful to his wife.
Same as me to mine.
The wind whooshed through the canyon of 47th Street. The storm blew past in five minutes. I called Manny to tell him that we were all right. The old man was relieved by the news. He was heading downstairs to his local bar. I told him to come in late. The model left and Richie Boy said, "Let's close."
It was only 5:15. His father never shut the store before 5:30. My co-worker Ava hit the interior showcase like a Pirate of the Caribbean. We were out of there by 6. I got home to Brooklyn at 6:30. A tree had fallen on my street. My apartment was soaked by rain. I had left the windows open. Many other trees had been toppled by the high winds. An actual tornado had struck my neighborhood. I phoned Manny. He was in the bar.
"You were right. There was a tornado."
"I don't joke about shit like that."
"Are you okay?"
"Yes." I was drinking a little wine and eating yellow tomatoes.
"And my son?" Manny was a father of four. Same as me. Only one thing mattered to men like us.
"Fine I last saw."
I'll see you tomorrow."
"Barring wind, sleet, rain or snow."
I was glad to have the work. These were strange times in many more ways than the weather.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Air stewardess were sex symbols in the 60s and 70s. These airborne beauties flew from city to city and country to country with a smile. The uniforms were designed by fashion houses. Air travel was cool and the stewardesses were sexy in a good way.
The sexiest air hostesses were from foreign countries with Air France girls exuding a special availability at high altitudes special and they dormed overnight in an apartment high rise next to Hurrah on West 62nd Street, where I worked as the doorman.
The punk disco offered live shows of the Damned, Ramones, and Dead Boys. Between sets our New Wave DJs such as the British Sean Cassette spun the B52s, Specials, and Blondie for dancing. Each night a new crew of Air France would drop their bags at the apartments and then stripped out of their uniforms and slip into leather and chains for a night at Hurrah.
As doorman I held the power of entry and waved in the Air France stewardesses for free. They were young, international, and beautiful. Pan-Am, BOAC, Lufthansa, Air Italia were also welcomed guests. My co-worker, Anthony, and I bedded many of these travelers and these glamorous Valkyries transported us to Valhalla without ever asking for a home phone number.
Anthony and I reveled his these anonymous encounters and we gained a well-deserved reputation for free love in the stairways and bathrooms of Hurrah. Jhoury the gay bartender would announce the arrival of these high-flying angels in a shrill voice.
"Now landing at Hurrah Air France Flight # 201 from Paris."
It was good fun until a goddess fully aware of her deification sauntered up to the entrance in a sleek black leather body suit straight out of the flight school of Pussy Galore, 007's love interest from GOLDFINGER. She was arm and arm with a handsome air steward wearing matching black leather. I didn't even really see him.
Her platinum blonde hair hung straight as a bullet's trajectory complimented her powdery white skin. Her crow black boa stiletto heels click on the sidewalk to accented her haughtiness.
She didn't even notice my opening the ropes or my waving her in for free or my trailing her scent of Chanel # 5 up the stairs to the dance floor.
My adoration was in competition with every straight man in Hurrah. She danced with anyone who asked her for dance. My eyes studied her sinuous body to the music of the Bush Tetras like a XXX film producer casting his leading lady.
Jhoury plied Claudine with drinks at my request. Her male steward friend was his type; handsome as a Greek statue and dumber than a bucket of mud.
I introduced myself.
"I know you. Dance with me." She spoke like Marlene Dietrich and I obeyed her command.
I danced with her during the headliner's show, my hands on her hipbones. The flesh over her skeleton was thinner than a crepe. Claudine shrugged off my grope.
"I have heard about you. You fuck like a dog. Toilet, roof, stairway. I am not a dog."
She swirled away with a shimmering curtain of hair pirouetting across her shoulders. Her refusal scoured the rust from my lazy pride. I had never said that she was a dog and I had never thought about having her doggie style until she mentioned 'dog'. She was right. I was a dog.
Jhoury laughed at my expense. He was expecting to tour Le Toilet bar in the West Village with Claudine's male roommate. He was into the rough stuff. I gave Jhoury the finger, as Claudine and her friend, Martin, left the club.
I had failed for once.
Fifteen minutes later Martin climbed the stairs to Hurrah. A boa stiletto in his hand. He pointed to a lighted terrace on the 24th floor.
"Claudine is expecting you. She is flying to Paris in five hours. Go now. Enjoy." He had a big smile for Jhoury.
I told Anthony that I would be back. It was 2:14am. I wasn't coming back here until the following night. Anthony glanced at my hand. The shoe said everything.
The doorman was expecting me.
The door was open. Claudine lay on a chocolate brown couch. Her vanilla skin looked like ice cream atop cake. A dog collar was clasped around her aristocratic neck in imitation of Marie Antoinette on the leash. Cocaine rails zigzagged across the glass table. Claudine had seer-soothed my sins. I was Johnny Thunder's cousin from the John Holmes' side of the family. A thin Cartier watch was on the table. Claudine glanced at the face.
"Three hours to take-off."
Claudine had a swimmers's skin and bones. After a few minutes her skin bore the tang of chlorine. Within twenty minutes she only smelled of my sweat. The view out the window was New York from a magic carpet, but the magic spell was draining out of the hourglass of opportunity. We had no time to waste figuring who was master or slave.
The reversals of domination contested our stamina. I was in good shape. She was in better condition. In the end I was Claudine's dog, while she was a lioness wanting more of heaven and hell. I was looking for eternity, but as the sun bleached the black rim of the night with a sliver of red, Claudine reached out for her watch.
It was 5:43am
Claudine snapped off the cuff. The fall of the chain was muffled by the carpet. Brown. It was a rented apartment. No one really lived there. New York was a stopover. Paris was home. She threw my clothes across the room.
"I must go."
"Five more minutes." I was begging for more. She shook her head with a smile of conquest on her lips.
"Au revoir, le chien."
Claudine pushed me out of the apartment with a kiss on each cheek and the scent of her skin gently weeping in my soul. The Beatles should have written a song about her. Claudine was gone and I was a naked man in the hallway of a high-rise. I had been here before.
Same hallway. Only then Claudine had been Brigitte.
I didn't bathe her off my flesh for three days.
Several weeks later I met the Blonde Model from Buffalo. She became the only woman in my life. The stewardesses heard the news and fewer came to the club. Anthony was angered at my blowing a good thing.
"French stewardesses." He muttered, saying the two words like a prayer three times.
This prayer acted as a curse.
I've haven't had a stewardess since.
Neither in Space nor on Earth.
Most flights reach their destinations without incident, but not all of them, so before take-off stewards and stewardesses stand in the aisles to give safety instructions accompanied by a video. They point out emergency exits and demonstrate how to put on life vests and air masks. Most people ignore the safety instructions, but on a flight from JFK to Orlando I noticed during the segment about air masks that the actors pretending to be passengers calmly slipped the plastic breathing apparatuses over their faces and I thought that if and when the air masks dropped from the ceiling of a 757 I am going into an EXORCIST level panic.
There will be no calming me down, for if you keep your head while everyone around you is losing theirs, then you don't understand the seriousness of the situation.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Yom Kippur 1972.
Syrian and Egyptian tanks swarmed over Israeli defenses on the Golan Heights and the Suez Canal. The Arab Forces initial successes were reversed by strategic blunders and Israeli air cover, however the losses to the IDF were catastrophic for the small nation. If a country the size of the USA had suffered the same casualties, the deaths would have mounted into the 100s of 1000s. Russian intervention was deterred by a stern warning from President Nixon.
DefCon 3 to DefCon 4.
Cooler heads prevailed and prevented Mutual All-Out Destruction on a global level and Yom Kippur has resumed its position as a day of atonement for the Jewish People with Bobby Vinton leading the way by singing his hit I'M SORRY.
No holiday is without humor.
A small town had two churches, Presbyterian and Methodist, and a Synagogue. All three had a serious problem with squirrels in their buildings. Each in its own fashion had a meeting to deal with the problem.
The Presbyterians decided that it was predestined that squirrels be in the church and that they would just have to live with them.
The Methodists decided they should deal with the squirrels lovingly in the style of Charles Wesley. They humanely trapped them and released them in a park at the edge of town. Within 3 days, they were all back in the church.
The Jews simply voted the squirrels in as members. Now they only see them at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Of course my late father hated squirrels. Not so much hated them, but cursed them during his visits to my mother’s grave. The town cemetery was overrun with the tree rodents. They scrambled into the paved roads before cars.
A game for them.
An accident waiting to happen for humans.
My father swerved away from a daredevil squirrel and crashed into a gravestone almost 100 feet from the road.
He drove over the next squirrel brave enough to play ‘chicken’.
And he was a Convert to Catholicism.
No Yom Kippur for him.
For him the only good squirrel was a dead squirrel.
A holy man from Bali died from old age. He arrived at the Pearly Gates to be greeted by St. Peter.
“Welcome to Heaven.” St. Peter led the Balinese holy man inside the holy rest home of eternity.
“I thought heaven was only for Christians.”
“No, no, heaven is for everyone. Over there are the Balinese. To the right the French. Back there the Muslims. Up front the Christians. Over there the Irish.” St. Peter pointed out every segment of heaven, then as they walked through a forest of euphoria, St. Peter whispered. “And over there are the Fundamentalists.”
“Why are you whispering?”
“Because they think they’re the only ones up here.”
Read Stanley Elkins THE LIVING END.
In that novel the protagonist is sentenced to Hell for thinking Heaven looks like a Hollywood set from the 1930s.
Now that's cold, even for god.
Back in the 90s I had developed an annual routine of working seven days a week at the diamond exchange during the Christmas season. The weekly income and commission from the sales 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 Travel Agency.
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 and his gruff father offered a different demeanor for his Bon Voyage.
“Don’t expect your job, when you get back.” Manny was serious about this warning. To him there was work and little else.
“I won’t be back soon.” February was dead in the Diamond District. March and April were also zombie months for diamonds, although young people got married in the summer and no one sold more wedding bands than me.
“I’ll see you in May.”
“I’ll come see you.” Richie Boy was a die-hard surfer. The waves in Ulu Watu were double overhead in the winter. They were out of my league, but Richie Boy could handle the swell. “Maybe in March
“He’s going nowhere.” Manny expected his son to uphold his fanatical work ethic.
“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. She looked like a dancing girl from a De Mayeur painting. 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 all around me in Bali.
My friend Bruce is a famous writer. His name is listed in Wikpedia. Last week I re-wrote a small piece about Palm Beach, in which I take care of a crazy Airedale during off-season. I mentioned Bruce's name in the story and the robust novelist called to invite me to dinner.
Last night Bruce and I met in the East Village. He had died his hair blonde and looked like a healthy Marlon Brando weighing closer to 200 than 300. The staff greeted the legendary writer with smiles. He was the most famous person in the restaurant.
"I come here a lot." His satyric grin revealed a few missing teeth. His exploits on Times Square had taken their toll on his beauty. I no longer recognized the reflection in the mirror.
He ordered a bottle of wine from the Latino waiter and we both choose the fish du jour. After the waiter left the table, Bruce said, "I read that Florida piece."
"It showed the promise of your increasing literary lassitude. Bruce thought that several of my novels should have received better treatment than total rejection.
"Lazy how?" My father had accused on that sin from a very early age.
"Like you were just typing instead of writing." Bruce had churned out three novels in the 90s. The one about a rent boy won a prize in France.
"Truman Capote said the same about Jack Kerouac."
"Even Kerouac spelled better than you and your grammar is atrocious. You're better than that."
"I don't really have the time to be anything other than lazy."
"Don't have time? You're not even working." Bruce was constantly typing out articles for magazines and journals. Words flow from his brain to fingers like tiny diamonds fleeing a broken hourglass.
"The search for money takes up most of my time some days." Raising $700 a week without a job was a week-by-week struggle, but Bruce was right and I said, "I'll go re-edit that story."
"Good, I hate lecturing grown men who should know better."
The young waiter arrived with the wine. Bruce chatted to him about the nearby gay bar. He was certainly Bruce's type. Once the wine passed his muster, Bruce raised his glass.
"Welcome back to New York. How was Thailand?"
I clinked his glass and told him about my two months with Mam and Fenway, the couple of weeks with Angie and her mom, then my ear infection which prevented me from swimming and touring the country. I felt like an old man complaining of my ailments and said, "I think my warranty has run out." "Mine ran out years ago." He laughed with a learned wickedness. Both of us were lucky to be alive.
"You know it's funny about that story, but Fenway's mom read that piece and afterward said that she knows that I love her."
"Why?" Bruce had not met Mam. She had never been to the States.
"Because I wrote that I was faithful to her." I had invited Bruce to Thailand on many occasions.
"You're not faithful." Bruce was judging my present by my past. Most people are trapped by deeds long forgotten by themselves, but not others.
"Twenty years ago you would have been right, but I haven't been with anyone but Mam since 2006. I keep accusing her of slipping a love potion into my beer."
"Love potion?" His voice quivered with possibilities.
"She said that she didn't need a magic potion to make me love her." I showed Bruce her photo.
"She's skinny and beautiful, but not as skinny as Jeffery Kime's old girlfriend Valence. She was the skinniest girl I ever met. A top model with arms as thin as licorice sticks and legs as slender as ivory toothpicks. Tres maigre."
"I don't remember her." I had been good friends with Jeffrey in Paris of the 80s. The ex-actor had a top-floor apartment overlooking the Grand Boulevard. "I crashed with Jeffery after breaking up with my teenage girlfriend. He had plenty of girlfriends, but no Valence."
"She must have been before you knew him. Valence is still my close friend. Then he married the Limey aristocrat."
"She wasn't skinny at all." I had spent time at Jeffery's farmhouse in the Luberon. His wife was lovely. "A nice girl."
"Jeffery thought he was marrying up." His mother had been an army officer. His father was a higher rank. They never married, because his father already had a wife.
"He was." I met his wife's father. He was old landed gentry from Devon.
"I can't believe Jeffery's been dead for over a decade." Bruce finished his wine and poured his glass full. We had lost too many friends over our lifetime.
"Me neither." The last time I had seen him was at Bruce's condo in Miami. He had been very sick. We had gone to see Tom Petty at the Orange Bowl. It had been a good night.
"What happened to his wife?"
"She remarried. My friends say that she is happy." I lifted my glass to Jeffery. He had been a good friend to us both.
When I got home, I thought more about Jeffery and wondered whether I might have met Bruce's friend. I googled Valence, top model, Paris, 80s and found one photo of her naked smoking a cigarette. She was skinny or maigre, but very hairy too. Almost like she was wearing a beard on her groin. I didn't remember her at all.
My Mam is nothing like her. She's phom enough for me. Phom means skinny in Thai. I think Jerry would have liked her. He was a lot like me. I only wish he were here to be more like me than me.
Monday, September 24, 2012
Sunday, September 23, 2012
"What's next is we die. One of us first the other second." Moishe was more pragmatic than his friend. He had been an accountant. Number added up to a total sum. No more. No less.
"What about Sheol?" Izzy had been a lawyer. He still believe in good and evil. His wife Miriam had been good. Her mother was evil incarnate.
"A bleak afterlife, feh?" Moishe was too pragmatic to be pessimistic.
"What about Olam Ha-Ba?"
"The world to come where we are rewarded for our good deeds. Feh. And Gan Eden is a fairy tale."
"But what if there really is a heaven and hell?"
"I don't know." Moishe had no questions, but there was always doubt, especially at the age of 87. "Listen, I tell you what, if one of us ides and there is a heaven or hell, the one who dies should come back to tell the one staying whether there is a heaven or hell. Is it a deal?"
"For you, anything." The two friends went back to 1st grade in Brownsville.
Neither man thinks anything about the oath until Moishe dies two weeks later.
"At least he went in his sleep." Izzy tells the children who are transporting the body back up north. No one gets buried in Florida. The ground is tref.
A week goes by, then another. A month and then more.
A year to the day of Moishe's passing, the curtains of Izzy's windows billow inward without a breeze. The temperature was in the 80s, but the room is freezing. Moishe can see his breath and asks, "Izzy, is that you?"
"Of course it's me, who else were you expecting?" The voice sounds like it's coming from across the universe.
"Only you, so tell me, are you in heaven or hell?" Moishe is eager to hear the answer, since then he can tell Izzy that he was wrong about heaven and hell.
"Neither?" Moishe hadn't expected this response. "So what do you do all the time?"
"I eat, I fuck, I eat, I fuck, I eat, I fuck, and then I go to sleep."
"Well, aren't you in heaven?"
"No, I'm a rabbit in Montana."
Saturday, September 22, 2012
The CIA go first. Two hours the black squad comes out of the woods.
"We found the rabbit, but we had a team rendition him to Gitmo." The CIA agent tell the G-Man.
"Bullshit, you didn't find any rabbit. FBI, you're next."
The FBI go into the woods. Two hours later their team exit from the woods.
"We got him but he's in the witness protection program."
"Bullshit, you didn't see any rabbit." The G-man sends them away and turns to the NYPD.
"Don't worry, we'll get your rabbit." The Sargent leads his squad into the woods. The G-Man hears fighting and screams and after ten minutes the NYPD drag a battered and bloodied bear out of the woods. The G-man asks, "What the fuck is this?"
The NYPD sergeant nudged the brutalized bear, who says, "I'm a wabbit."
Nicky Barnes was a drug dealing legend from the 70s. He ran his Harlem heroin empire under the protection of the Lucchese crime syndicate. His godfather 'Crazy Joe' Gallo helped Barnes create 'the Council' to run the trade north of 125th Street and Barnes earned the nickname 'Mr. Untouchable' for his skill at beating charges and arrests. Neither the DEA nor rival gangs could touch him and President Carter ordered his AG to bring down the Harlem kingpin.
The Feds were too square to catch Mr. Untouchable in a compromising situation, however a blonde-haired NYPD officer with a dirty reputation ensnared the gangster in a dope deal. Facing multi-life sentences of Life Nicky Barnes served his time like a man, until he discovered that a council member was seeing his old lady and his investments were being sapped by his friends. He dimed over 150 of his associates as well as his girlfriend and Rudy Giuliani reward his snitching with a reduced stretch of 35 years.
The NYPD cop instrumental to the bust was given his gold shield. Johnny Z was destined for great things, however one night he raided a Harlem apartment and shot dead several innocent people. One of them was a grandmother. Johnny Z said that his informant had given the wrong address. Other people suggested that the killings were an execution. His previous heroics and numerous line of duty injuries saved him from prison. His punishment was a summary dismissal and retirement with a pension.
The NYPD take care of their own and Johnny Z was employed by different precincts to enforce payments from dealers, gambling halls, brothels, and after-hours clubs. The killer also insured that wrong-thinking cops maintained the blue wall of silence. His name was spoken by the cops of the 9th Precinct as if he were a ghost, but he was no phantom.
In the autumn of 1979 a sniper on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 10th Street had shot two people. One dead was dead. A cop had been wounded attempting to batter down the door of the barricaded apartment. The desk sergeant ordered a siege and the 9th precinct the area cordoned off two blocks. I was watching the confrontation from the back of the St. Mark's Church. The precinct captain called for back-up and help came in a black unmarked Chevy.
A tall man in a dark suit got out of the passenger side. His broad face was set in fleshy concrete. He was the mirror image of Clint Eastwood, if the movie star had rattlesnake blood running in his veins.
The nearby officers greeted him with firm handshakes. The captain put his arm around the newcomer's shoulder and then pointed to the sniper's perch. The tall man pulled out a .38. He checked the cylinder and nodded to the captain. As he walked away, I asked an officer that I knew from the restaurant next to the precinct on 5th Street, "Who was that?"
"Johnny Z." The uniformed cop spoke the name with fearful reverence.
I followed Bobby Z from a distance.
He pushed back his blonde hair like he was going on a date.
Twice he looked at his reflection in the store windows, as he circled the block to approach the sniper's building from the rear. He didn't have to show a badge to get through the police line. Johnny Z walked like he had weights on his ankles, but climbed the side of building to reach the fire escape leading to the roof with the agility of an escaped ape. Within seconds he was in the building.
A minute later two shots rang out from the sniper's apartment. A rifle flew from the window. It shattered on the street and Bobby Z waved his hand from the building.
Back on the street several officers patted his back, as he headed toward 1st Avenue. His glare toward the civilians warned them that they had never seen him. The newspapers never reported the incident. Johnny Z had returned to the ghosts.
Not for long.
The International was an after-hours club on West 25th Street and the river. It was the hottest place in town the winter of 1981 and I was working the door with Benji, a massive Jamaican street fighter. His arms were scarred from machete wars in Trenchtown and I thought I was a hard guy just standing close to him. At worst I could take a punch.
The International opened an hour before the legit clubs' closing time. Scottie from the Ritz was operating the bar. The registers sucked money like slot machines. By 4am the converted garage was packed with those people not willing to release their hold on the night. Entry cost $10 and drinks in a plastic cup were $5. We paid no taxes. Customers bribed me with cocaine and money. I was rich every night and broke by the afternoon.
Everyone wanted a piece of the action and the local precinct was insisting on a bigger cut from the door. Arthur the owner thought that $500/night too was generous a donation and stiffed the bagman. Crooked cops have their own value system and I was nervous about how they would right the situation in their favor.
The next night an unmarked car rolled down the deserted block. I nudged Benji. He recognized the ride.
"Police." The only time on-duty cops cruised the street was to get their pay.
"What we going to do?" A velvet rope offered little protection. I had been arrested the previous year for running the door at another after-hours club on 14th Street. The judge had let me off with a warning. He had seen me playing basketball on West 4th Street. A second arrest would warrant a harsher verdict.
"This isn't official." Benji read the scene with criminal vision. This Chevy was it. Only one man was behind the wheel. The face belonged to Johnny Z, a man tougher than a bag of nails.
"Damn." Benji muttered under his breath, as if the ex-cop could read lips. Benji's 300 pounds on a 6-2 frame intimidated most white people into crossing the street and he carried a 45. Neither mattered to Bobby Z, who got out of the car leaving the engine running.
“Where’s the owner?” Bobby asked, surveying the street without seeing any threat.
We opened the ropes and pointed to Arthur. Johnny Z went over and slapped Arthur once. He fell to the floor.
“500 a night.” Johnny Z helped Arthur to his feet. "You got that? I'll be here every night to make sure I get it too"
"Yes." It was the only right answer.
The extra $500 came from allowing less desirable customers into the club for $20 each. 25 people might not seem many, but these entries proved to be trouble time and time again. Benji and I handled each intruders with force. Johnny Z watched from the bar with amusement. All he had to do was tell the trouble-makers to leave. None of them would have questioned his command.
Johnny Z was bad news. His mission were mired in violence. He had a past, present, and future which he couldn't outrun. He was above the law, but Johnny Z misread the shitstorm coming our way.
The International was hot. The FBI were investigating police corruption.Arthur wore the wire for Internal Affairs. Our partners were Russian counterfeiters. The leader was going out with my ex-girlfriend. I was still in love with her. Benji thought I was a fool and so did Johnny Z.
"You." Johnny Z motioned for me to come over to him.
"What's wrong? Are you blind?"
"No." I knew what he was talking about.
"You should get out of here before it's too late to leave."
"What about you?"
"Tonight's my last night. It should be yours too. One more thing. That girl is never coming back to you.
"Thanks." The truth didn't sound any better coming from a bag of nails.
I gave my notice. Arthur shrugged like I should have gone before that. I left before Paris within the week for a job at a nightclub in Les Halles.
I heard about the International from Scottie. Viktor Malenski's corpse was found outside the club and the FBI raided the premises a day after New Year's Eve. The Special Investigations Unit arrested two bagman for the cops. Johnny Z wasn't one of them. 30 precinct cops were dismissed without charges. No one knew who killed Viktor.
I stayed in France for five years.
By 1990 I was out of nightclubs. A friend, Richie Boy, hired me to work at his diamond exchange. Part security, part schlepper. Sleeping regular hours was a treat, but the money wasn't close to what I coined at the International,so when Scottie offered a job at his club in Beverly Hills, I accepted without reservation.
It seemed like a good idea; a free place to stay, good money, drugs, beautiful women, palm trees, the Pacific Ocean, and a chance to meet a film producer for my stories. The Milk Bar opened in January of 1995. Its success was overnight. I met Prince, the husband of the Pakistani president, Mickey Rourke, and a good number of plenty drug dealers. My cocaine use was minute to minute. Our bouncer, Big Bernard, was a skyscraper of a Haitian. His big smile was his calling card to get into films. Everyone in LA was doing the same. Even me.
Bernard had a tendency to disappear inside the club. He was a pussy hound. Scottie would come out to watch my back. Beverly Hills was rich and soft, but gangbangers cruised the night looking for ripe targets and we were flush with cash. Scottie was no gunman. Neither was I. We were in LA for easy pickings and so was our past.
"Damn." Scottie's mild expletive echoed Benji's 'damn' from over a decade ago.
"Let me guess."I didn't have to turn my head. "It's Johnny Z."
"In the flesh."
"Damn." I turned around hoping Johnny Z was a mirage. He was more a thick cloud at 300 pounds and not muscular like Benji.
"What you looking at?" His voice had not lost the menace.
"I know you." He walked with a limp.
"From where?" He asked with nervous apprehension. Two well-dressed men were nearing the entrance. They looked like move producers with extraordinarily young skin from a thousand rejuvenation procedures.
"You busted Nicky Barnes." That was the legend.
"I was only small part of the operation." Johnny Z was scared at the thought that his past had tracked him down. Drug dealers had long memories. "Did you know Nicky?"
"No." Nicky Barnes was before my time.
"We had the International in New York." Scottie had never liked how Johnny Z had sucker-punched his best friend.
"Damn." The name of that infamous club jolted his memory and the heavy ex-cop rubbed his lips,as he said, "I'm looking for work in films as a cop expert. No one out here knows about that shit. They think I'm a decorated cop. I am too, but if they were to find out other things, I'd be screwed."
"So you're asking a favor?" Scottie was fishing for an edge. Johnny Z might be over the hill, but he had friends here and in New York.
"Yes," he hissed the word as an agreement to whatever we asked of him later.
"Then come on in. Your friends too. Free of charge."
"I'll make good for you." Johnny Z breathed easy. He ushered in his friends. They tipped the bartenders with largesse. When he left alone, Johnny Z duked me a c-note.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"You told me to leave before the fed raided the International. That saved me a lot of trouble. Why you do that?"
"I did that?"
"Sorry, I don't remember you at all."
"I guess that's a good thing." I wished him good luck and never saw him again.
I've read that he's had a good career out in Hollywood. I never collected his favor and I was better of for that, because favors done are favors owed and no matter how out of shape Johnny Z was, it's always best not to owe anything to a bag of nails.
Staten Island was formed by the melt-off of the Ice Age. The fifth borough doesn't exist to most New Yorkers, but my doctor lived next to the Tibetan Museum on Lighthouse Hill. Nick and I attended the same college and every year he invited me out to his house for my annual mdedical examination.
Last weekend I rode the subway from Fort Greene to South Ferry. Saturday was a sunny day and the starboard side of the Samuel I. Newhouse was packed with tourist snapping thousands of shots of the Statue of Liberty. I sat on the port-side to survey Red Hook NYCHA projects.
Back in the 90s those forlorn houses had been named the city's worst neighborhood and my friend Rocco had worked under cover for the NYPD narcotics. He had been off the force for years, but his brother was working as liaison between the Mafia, FBI, and NYPD on Staten Island and I tried the retired detective's cell on the off chance that he might be on there.
"Where are you?" Rocco was a big fan of my writing. I had almost ruined his career as a movie producer with his seeking support for NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD, my screenplay about pornography in the 90s.
"Where do you think I am?" We were used to answering questions with questions. No one could know our answers.
"You're not upstate." Rocco never picked up the phone at home, almost as if he was in the witness protection program. "I'm guessing you're on Staten Island."
It was a long shot and I wished that I had bet $100, because Rocco said, "You motherfucker, you have someone tailing me."
"Nope, just playing the odds." I believed in planned coincidences. "I'm seeing my doctor at Rose Avenue. Maybe we could meet up later. Are you with your brother?"
"Nah, Johnny's done thirty. He's down in Florida collecting his pension. I'm with my old partner, Frankie, you remember him?"
"Sure." Frankie was the scary half of a duo playing bad cop/bad cop. His partner looked like Dean Martin and got all the girls at the Milk Bar. "Wasn't he related to someone in____"
"Yes, he was, which was he couldn't get nowhere in the job, because everyone knew his connections, so after I busted out of the job, he became a union delegate."
"A dead end for a good cop."
"You got it." Rocco and Frankie were basically straight in a time when being crooked was easy.
"We're at Great Kill Yacht Club. You should come by. I'd like you to talk to him." Rocco was producing a indie film about crooked cops in Red Hook. FIRST MAN IN wasn't even close to being semi-autobiographical.
"Is he still on the force?" There was no one near me.
"No, he did his twenty and out, but then opened a couple of bars with ties to his family. They went under and he ate the debt, then he tried a deli and pizza shop. Each one was a failure."
"I know the feeling." My jewelry store in the Plaza went bust in 2009. I noticed that the ferry was approaching St. George and the tourists were flooding to the bow. I got up and lingered at the rear of the crowd. "What you want to speak about?"
"I'll tell you when you get here." I hated secrets almost as much as Rocco hated talking on the phone.
"I'll call you after my check-up." I got off the ferry and proceeded through the terminal to the trains. Nine stops later I exited from the train and walked over to Nick's office. He was waiting in his BMW SUV. It was good to see him. The doctor and I had been friends ever since European History pre-1500 at college.
"Get in." He popped the locks.
"What about my check-up?" I sat in the car. It smelled brand-new. Nick took care of his things.
"You look great." He peered over the top of his glasses and pulled away from the curb.
"That was my check-up?" My legs hurt from too much basketball and I had a little hangover.
"I see enough sick people every day to recognize a healthy one." Nick had been practicing medicine almost thirty years. His name symbolized health care on Staten Island. "You lost ten pounds in Thailand. You stopped drinking hard liquor. My eyes are clear and my skin is in good condition. You look great for a man twice your age."
"Thanks." His bill of health backed up what I had heard from the Thai doctors during my summer vacation in Sri Racha. "You mind if we stop by Great Kills Yacht Club."
"I have to meet a friend."
"He connected?" Nick shrugged to say that was the only kind of people who hung out there.
"He's an ex-cop making a film. He wants to help me with my screenplay BET ON CRAZY." I had a name actor for the lead. Bill was going to play 'me' in the drama about a goy selling diamonds on 47th Street. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all, Rose is cooking dinner. We have an hour." Nick drove past Hylan Boulevard past the various clusters of strip malls selling nails, sun tans, and pizza. He turned left on Hillside Terrace. "You know where his boat is."
"I think they'll be easy to find." Rocco liked to see any approaching danger. I figured that it ran in the family. We pulled into the parking lot and I scanned the boats in the slip, then spotted Rocco and his brother supervising the storage of a SeaBreeze 25. The white hull was gleamed in the late summer sun.
"I thought as much." Nick parked his car and we strolled over to the two ex-cops.
"Love to see yah." Rocco shook my hand and I turned to Frankie. He was as handsome as ever, although the lines in his face aged him a little more than his years. At least he wasn't balding like his partner. I introduced them both to Nick.
"I know you. In fact I knew your father. He was my doctor as a kid."
"His father was a good man." He always had a good word for me as did late Nick's mother. I loved her bacon and eggs.
Frankie reached into a cooler and pulled out four Tecates. We spoke about Staten Island, their years working the Red Hook houses, and our connections to each other. We went back decades. Nick and Rocco wandered off to look at the boats and I stood with Frankie. He had something to say and started with a confession.
"You know me, I'm not a bad man." He was posing a question.
"None of us are, but we do what we have to do to get by." I had never killed anyone and Rocco had never spoken about any shootings resulting in a death.
"Yeah, well, I got into financial trouble a couple a years ago. I have three kids and an ex-wife. I needed to get straight and one night I met a guy I knew from the job. He was retired too. I had heard something about him, but couldn't remember what. For some reason I thought that he was a little like me, but he starts talking about cocaine. I don't know nothing for it. Maybe a few lines once and awhile."
"It isn't a sin." I stopped, because coke wasn't cocaine anymore.
"Anyway he tells me that he has a connection from Florida with pure stuff. He'll front me a couple of ounces and I can sell it to my friends. I knew he was talking about my family. Shit, I wasn't going to sell the shit to strangers. So I ask around and make a contact. We sell ounces and then a kilo. I get back on my feet and I'm almost ready to pull out of the deal, when this fucking scumbag turns out to be undercover for the DEA. They want me to rat on my family."
"But you can't."
"No, I can't, so they take me into custody until I make bail for a million dollars."
"Who'd you shoot?"
"No one. Fucking G-man prosecutor thought he was Rudy fucking Giuliani and I was his case to ride into politics. They have me every which way; wires, tapes, every fucking thing. I felt like John DeLorean. I would have never gotten involved unless they suckered me into it."
"I understand." The good are good only because they are too weak to be bad.
"I'm looking at major time and I was wondering what you thought about doing a runner somewhere."
"And Rocco told you about Thailand." My old home Pattaya had been a refuge for fugitives. "You have any money?"
He mentioned a number. It almost had enough zeroes.
"If you live quiet that's good for five years, but most farangs live fast in Thailand."
"I'm looking to disappear." A million dollars was a good incentive against flight, but time for cops was hard time in prison.
"You have a passport?" The Feds normally confiscate it on arrest.
"I got one," he said it in a way that I knew it wasn't his.
"And you can leave and never come back."
"All I got waiting is a cell." His kids were grown. People were going to be looking for him, but he was good-looking and Thais like good-looking people.
"At my age that's going to be my retirement plan."
"This isn't funny." Frankie wasn't in the mood for jokes.
"Okay, I'll tell you what to do." I laid out a plan for him. The route was direct. I knew a village in the western forests. The headman was a friend. He had a nice sister. Vee had one eye, but spoke English. No one else in the village did. Frankie might last there a couple of months before the peasant food and the quiet of the rice paddies drove him into Bangkok. I wrote down the information with my left hand. My script was almost as unreadable as NIck's handwriting on his prescription.
"And these people will take care of me?" We exchanged phone numbers.
"For a price." I lived there some of the year. The tranquility was brutal, but I had my children and second wife. She loved me. I had no idea why. It had only been a month since I left her and I missed Mam.
"No one does nothing for free." Frankie eyed Nick and Rocco coming back to us.
"I'm doing this for you." I was waiting for him to ask me to be his guide. We had no history.
"Thanks." It was a simple thing to say, when you were trying to disappear as a wanted man.
"It's just a couple of phone calls. You have to do the rest." He had been a fool, but all that bullshit about not doing the crime, if you can't do the time is exactly bullshit.
We shook hands and I told Rocco that I'd see him soon. If Frank took my advice, i would see him in the western forests come the new year.
Back in the car Nick asked, "What was that about?"
"You really want to know?" I was getting hungry and his wife was a good cook.
"No." Nick had his own troubles.
"Good." And I had mine.
We were good friends. We knew that we didn't need to know everything anymore and that was a good thing on Staten Island.
Passing Joe's Crab Shack my phone lit up with an SMS from my Thai girlfriend. Our baby was going to be a boy. I phoned the phone to tell Andrew C about the news of my baby being a boy.
HIs salutation was cut short by a Christmas tree of lights exploding behind the LandRover. I pulled over to the curb and said to the British interior designer, "Let me get back to you. The cops want to talk with me."
I kept my hands on the steering whee and the young officer shone his flashlight in my face. I blinked for several seconds and then he shut off the light.
"Yes, officer." As far as I knew I hadn't done anything wrong.
"Your right-rear tail light is out." His Floridian accent was soft to my ears.
"Really?" I had only one beer at my friend's house, while we were playing scrabble, so I wasn't worried about a DWI.
"Yep, license and registration and insurance, please." He was polite for a cop, then again this was Palm Beach.
The license was in my wallet. The registration in the glove compartment. I couldn't find the insurance. Giving him the first two, I apologized, "Sorry, this isn't my car. I'm house-sitting on King's Road. The insurance is on the desk there." My job was to watch the house and walk their Airedale.
The officer asked the address and I gave him the street and number.
"You're taking care of that crazy dog?"
"You know it's on the shot to kill list if it gets off the lease."
"Yes, officer." Pom Pom had attacked two dogs before I got there. She had been rescued from a shelter. I thought that her previous owner had run a crack den in Riviera Beach. "I keep her on a short lease."
"See that you do."
"I'm sorry about the light. Does this mean I'm getting a ticket?"
"No, if everything checks out, it's a simple verbal warning."
"Thanks, I was speaking with my friend. I must found out I'm having a baby boy."
"Congratulations. I'll be right with you."
Five minutes later he returned to the car and handed back my ID and papers.
"Get that fixed."
"I will as soon as the house owners wire the money, officer."
"That could be a long time." He knew his territory.
"I have a bike." It was cheaper than a Rover with gas at $4 a gallon.
"Good Luck with your baby boy." It was a nice thing to say.
"Thanks. Now all I have to do is think of a name.
"You'll think of something." He got into his cruiser and sped down the road toward the Southern Bridge.
I put the car in gear and called back Andrew.
"Did you get a ticket?"
"No, just a warning." I started the car and drove slowly down S. County Road with the crest of waves glowing white on the night's ocean. "He was actually nice."
"Not like New York cops." Andrew C had been living in the country the last ten years, but he explained that the previous month he had been invited to a dinner party at Paul Kasman on 10th Avenue in NYC.
"I was flying to London in the morning. I had a few glasses of wine, then stopped to drink water. After dinner I went outside to see that a tow truck was backing up to haul away my Audi. I got there before the clamps had been hooked to my car and I drove away to find a decent parking spot. It took more than ten minutes. Finally I crammed the car into a spot a block from the gallery and got out of the car. A light blinded me. It was an unmarked NYPD cop car and two cops ordered him to stay where he was."
"Never a good thing." Cops under Mayor Bloomberg had been become wretched revenue pirates.
"One got out of the cruiser and demanded if I had been drinking. I told him that had two drinks at a party around the corner." He explained with a Norfolk county stutter. "Then I said that I was flying to see my parents in the morning."
"They must have been impressed."
He said that he didn't about my travel plans and demanded that I take a Breathalyzer test. I thought that I was going to jail and wouldn't make my flight. I blew into the device and I passed. The cop was not happy, saying that I barely passed.
"Barely counts with atomic bombs."
"I locked the car and went back to the party. I didn't drink anything else. Coming out of the gallery I saw the cops waiting. I smiled and they said, "Bon Voyage."
"Nice." It turned off the main road to the driveway of the mansion. I could hear Pom Pom barking inside the house. She wanted her walk. "Thailand has four in the whole country. If you get caught for DWI the Thai police will make you drink water until you pass the test."
"If only New York cops were so accommodating."
"What a nice world it would be."
"Once more congratulations of your having a son."
"Yeah." I missed Mam and wanted to put my hand on her swelling belly. A ticket to Thailand cost $1100. I had $20 in my pocket. I hung the phone and opened the door. Pom Pom had the lease in her mouth. I snapped it onto her collar. We walked down the street. Ours was the only house with lights and let Pom Pom do her business on their lawns.
Actually I was lying before.
I had six beers at Lisa's house.
The cop must have smelled them, proving that Palm Beach is more Thailand than New York City and that's a good thing.
Friday, September 21, 2012
Thursday, September 20, 2012
One wintry night December of 1976 I was stumbling home from a derelict bar at the corner of the Bowery and Houston. The icy wind slashed through my thin clothing and I was about to hail a taxi, when I felt the thump of a bass emanating from a white stucco building. The accompanying music was rock and roll at its purest and I pushed open the heavy wooden door.
The leather-jacketed quartet on the stage were covering the 45rpm version of The Rivieras’ CALIFORNIA SUN. The audience was heaving up and down, as if the floor was pulsating in time to the 3-chord progression.
I stepped forward to join the frenzy.
A huge hand blocked my way.
“$5.” The monstrous bouncer wore a yellow construction.
“Who are they?” I handed over the fiver.
The next song was I WANNA BE SEDATED.
By the end of their set I was hooked to the musuc and like that I became a regular at CBGBs.
The next day I bought a leather jacket and cut my hair with my own scissors.
Every night I hung out at the bar. None of the stars of the scene were my friends. They played music and my one talent was playing pinball, so I was a nobody, which was okay, since being a punk was all about not caring about being nobody.
Not everyone felt the same way.
Blondie was getting noticed by major record labels, the Talking Heads toured coast to coast to bigger and bigger crowds, and almost every girl loved Richard Hell. His BLANK GENERATION was a punk anthem and he created a look of nihilism to be emulated by hundreds and then thousands. None of us knew how to be different, but we had a good idea about how not to be 'me' anymore thanks to Richard.
Our devotion to this faith failed to translate into record sales and the Voidoids' attempts to break into the top 40 were disasters summed up by a power-pop trio mocking the iconic singer with their song RICHARD IS A FORKHEAD. My own personal lack of success gained me nothing and in 1981 I left New York to work as a bouncer at a Paris nightclub.
One night a New Wave girl band from the East Village appeared as the club's headliner. The lead singer had a crooked nose and bedraggled hair, but once the ugly duckling hit the stage, Claudia emanated a savaged beauty meant for a dark room. Her lanky body encircled the mike stand like a boa crushing its prey. In some ways she was a female version of Richard.
After the show I introduced myself and offered her a drink. We spoke about CBGBs. New York was close as her body. Claudia's husband played for Richard’s band. She laughed upon hearing about RICHARD IS A FORKHEAD. After closing the club, we ate at an African restaurant in Les Halles. At dawn she said, “I have to go to Lille.”
“I don’t think Cinderella ever went to Lille.”
“I guess not.” The fairy tale never mentioned the name of Cinderella's hometown and I walked Claudia to the band's van. She kissed me on the cheek and drove off at dawn. No glass slipper marked her departure, then again I wasn't Prince Charming.
Several weeks later I met a tousled-hair French singer. Lizzie was promoting her new record. The African influenced single was climbing the charts. A friend introduced us.
"I know him." Her eyes were filled with accusation.
Lizzie had lived in New York during the late 70s and said that I had thrown her out of an after-hours club on 14th Street.
"Now I remember." I had a vague recollection of frog-marching a crazy French girl onto the sidewalk. "But not why?"
"Because I was having a fight with my boyfriend. You were trying to break it up. It was all our fault. "
"Ouais." Lizzie didn’t hold the forceful eviction against me and that evening in bed she told me about the spike-haired singer in the East Village.
“Richard?" Forkhead had a long reach.
“Yes, Richard.” She lit a cigarette and the tobacco turned her kisses into ashtrays. Lizzie loved her smoke. "Don't be jealous. Richard and I were never boyfriend and girlfriend.”
“And what about us?”
“We are a one-night stand."
"Those are the best kind of affairs." I expected her to disappear for good, but the next evening she showed up at the nightclub with her Fender Jazzmaster guitar. She had just appeared on TV. Lizzie was famous and I kept our affair a secret. We lasted until a Christmas vacation on the Isle of Wight.
I said good-bye on Boxing Day.
She flew off to Africa and I took the ferry to France.
I remained in Paris another two years before returning to the USA to write screenplays for porno films in North Hollywood. Within a month the quasi-mafia producer fired me for being too intellectual. This accomplishment would have made Lizzie proud.
Back in New York I rode motorcycles and worked at the Milk Bar.
Richard came to the door. I had never spoken to him before, but he said, “I think we have a mutual friend.”
“Who?” I knew exactly who.
“Lizzie in Paris says hello.”
"She's a great girl."
She is at that." I offered him a drink and was surprised by how friendly he was. After the second drink he said, “Lizzie told me about some American in Paris calling me Forkhead.”
“I said it, but the first person to call you that was Marky, the lead guitarist of the Ghosts.
“I know, but it’s a better story that way.” Richard no longer sported spikes. “By the way she called you ‘suedehead’, which is funny coming from someone with a hair like a crow’s nest.”
“More a bird’s nest.”
“Depends on your perspective.” Richard was taller than me. He tipped the bartender $5 before leaving the bar. She smiled at him in recognition of his legend. Punk wouldn't be punk without him.
“I’ll see you around.”
We lived in the East Village and occasionally ran into each other on the street. He invited me to poetry readings at the St. Mark’s Church. Someone said that he edited several alternative magazines. I submitted short stories to each one. He never mentioned them afterwards. I didn’t blame him. My typing, grammar, and spelling were atrocious.
I returned to France in 1989.
Lizzie was going out with an art dealer. We played squash in Les Halles. She was beating me without mercy, despite wheezing after every shot. I spoke about Richard during a break.
“Richard is so funny. I think he was jealous of you.”
“Jealous for what?”
“For you being with me.”
“You told him about that?” Our affair was still a secret on my end.
“Maybe, it isn’t important anymore.”
“No.” I had been in love several times in the interim. None of my affair had been a success.
“Then let’s not worry about the past.” Lizzie served the ball against the wall for an ace. We went to dinner in the Marais and I said, “Loser pays.”
“It wasn’t much of a game.”
“Not considering that I was once the 17th-ranked tennis player in the USA.”
“Yes, my friend lied to his father about my ranking.”
“So you weren’t the 17th-ranked player in America?”
“Do I look like I could have ever been the 17th ranked tennis player in America.” I said it so she wouldn’t believe me and added, “I let you win fair and square.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Up to you.”
We said good-bye in Les Halles. Neither of us suggested a nightcap. We had become just friends.
In the 90s I started taking around-the-world trips.
Richard was fascinated by my tales of opium dens on the Burmese border. I thought about writing a down-and-out travel book. I gave several chapters to a literary agent. He hated my typing and I started selling diamonds on 47th Street. It was a 9-6 job. I wore a suit and tie. The money was good. I went out at night, but not late.
One night at a party at the St. Mark's Church I spotted Claudia at the bar. I hadn’t seen her since Paris. She was happy to see me. Richard kept looking at Claudia and I asked, “Are you two a thing?”
“Richard’s no one’s thing. You have a girlfriend?”
“No, I had a Spanish girlfriend, but I thew her out for being unfaithful. My next-door neighbor loved her and she cursed me.”
“A Santeria curse and I haven’t had sex since then.”
“100%.” There was no other explanation for my celibacy.
“Maybe I can help you change that.”
We left for my place and he spent the night. Her divorced husband was taking care of their son. She had to leave before dawn.
“Like Cinderella.” I joked with a towel around my waist.
“Cinderella didn't have a kid.”
Claudia walked down the hallway to the stairs. Mrs. Adorno opened the door. The old bruja had witnessed more than a few women come and go in and out of my life. Her one good eye squinted in my direction. She spat something in Spanish, then mumbled, “Sex not love. Siempre.”
“Not always.” I said, but I wanted more from a woman than sex. We went to the movies, made love, took holidays, and hiked with her son, so I wasn’t prepared for her saying after two months. “This isn’t working out.”
“What isn’t?” We saw each other several times a week. The sex was good.
“You and me. I want something more from a relationship than this and someone wants to give it to me."
"Who?" I had to ask.
"Oh." I was used to coming in second place.
“Yes, he called to say he really wanted to be with me. I have to give it a chance.”
“I understand.”I stood no chance against the aging rock god.
Mrs. Adorno’s curse was stronger than both of us.
I gave her my blessing and started drinking on my own. It wouldn’t take off the curse, but stopped my thinking of Claudia. Of course Richard wasn’t forever and a month later Claudia phoned to say it was over. “Can I come over?”
“The answer is yes, but I’m leaving for Thailand within a week.” I had sold a 5-carat diamond and bought a round-the-world ticket with my commission.
“All you men are alike. You leave when the going gets tough.”
She hung up before I could defend myself.
Six months later I returned to work the Christmas season on West 47th Street. I bumped into Richard at an art opening. Neither of us spoke about Claudia, but he said, “We should play tennis sometime.”
“Lizzie said you were good at squash. You must be able to play tennis. I belong to the club over on the East River. We can play whenever you want.”
“It’s wintertime.” I hadn’t been on a tennis court since 1975.
“The cold scare you?” This was a challenge.
“Not in the least.” I was from Maine. We had two seasons. Winter and preparing for winter. “Name the day.”
“Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny in the high 40s.”
“Noon it is.”
I stopped drinking the cheap wine. Showing up sober was the only advantage I could gain by an early departure. I went to sleep dreaming about overhead lobs.
Not only Richard regarded with our match as important.
The next morning I called in sick. My boss Manny let his employees have ‘drunk days’ and I slept for another hour.
By noon the temperature warmed up to almost 50. Richard was waiting by the riverside court. He had brought an extra racket.
I selected the one more tightly strung without knowing if that was better or not. I was no Arthur Ashe and lost two sets in record time.
“You don’t play often, do you?” Richard smashed an ace to my left.
“Not for years.”
“Lizzie said you were once the 17th-ranked tennis player in America.”
“That was a joke. I was once down in the South of France during the Roland-Garros tournament in Paris. I was watching Yannick Noah's set and my friend told his father that I was once the 17th-ranked tennis player. I denied the claim, but his father thought I was being humble and scheduled an exhibition at the local tennis club. I was presented to the town’s mayor and the club president. My friend whispered that they expected me to play the provincial champion.”
“And did you?”
“No way. I said that I was under contract and couldn’t play anywhere without signed agreements. A little later his father found out the truth. He didn’t think it was funny at first, but everyone else did. I felt the same way as him. You always do when you’re the punchline of a joke.”
“Now, I feel the same way. I really thought you a good player.” This was not about Claudia, but Lizzie.
“Maybe I am. Maybe I was taking it easy on you.” I knew the truth.
“What about another match?” He wanted to know it too.
“Sorry, I’m under contract.” I handed back the racket and walked away from the court with a smile on my lips.
After that day Richard and I didn’t see each other for several years. I was either working or away in Asia writing novels no one wanted to publish. At least my typing was getting better. Finally I left the States to live in Thailand. I had a baby with my wife. Maybe it was mine. I didn’t ask too many questions.
In April 2004 I returned to New York. My Israeli subleasee had squealed to my landlord in hopes of getting my apartment. An eviction notice was issued in both our names. I threw my tenant out on the street.
Mrs. Adorno said nothing this time. My landlord paid $8000 to speed up my departure from the flat. I was 50 and New York was a tough city for the old. The day before my flight to Bangkok, I spotted Richard on 1st Avenue.
He smiled upon seeing me, then frowned, “I got bad news. Lizzie died this week. She was buried in the South of France. Her ashes floated out to sea with the flowers.”
“Did you go?”
“No, I only heard about it after the fact.” He shuffled several folders of manuscripts between hands. “That leaves only you and me.”
We had nothing else in common and his words died out like a fire left unwatched. I told him that I was leaving the city for good.
“No one leaves the city for good.” He had been living there for over 30 years.
“No, you’ll be back, if only to prove you’re the 17th ranked tennis player.”
“Yeah, there’s always that. See you around Forkhead.”
“You too, Suedehead.”
I waved good-bye. We would see each other another time, because none of us were leaving New York. Not even our ghosts, for the dead lived forever in the past for those stuck in the present.