Monday, April 30, 2012

HOT AS BLAZES by Peter Nolan Smith


Last year I flew from JFK to Haneda in Japan. The segment of my trip lasted 14 hours. The lay-over in Japan was two hours and the final hop to Bangkok took 6 hours followed by a 90-minute taxi ride to Sriracha. Sitting for twenty-six hours straight had flattened my ass, so my coccyx felt like it had taken a paddling from a nun. I arrived on my soi at dawn. I was happy to be home.

Fenway was waiting at the door. Mam stood behind my son. She was as beautiful as the first day I met her five years ago.

It was vacation time and our two other kids boiled out of the house. Fluke and Noy are my step-kids. The three kids swarmed me with kisses and hugs. It was good to feel their love. It was all kisses and hugs and then they repeated request to know when we were going to the Khao Khio Zoo.

"Punee." Kids don't like hearing tomorrow. Mam doesn't either, because my tomorrows tend to become yesterdays and I vanquished their doubt by saying, "Right now everyone gets a spanking."

I chased the kids and Mam around the yard. It wasn't very big, but they were faster than me. I could only catch Fenway. He's almost 3. He runs with a hop. I took him in my arms and gave him a kiss. It was good to be home.

May was entering the extended deep hot season and the next morning the sweat was bulleting from my pores. Our house has no AC, we had more fans than Howard Hughes' giant flying boat had propellers. The wind tunnel effect worked wonders, but out of their vortex the heat melted the beer girth off my flesh. We drank beer fast. It dripped out of me faster. Darkness came at 7. I lay down on the floor. The tiles were cool to my skin. Mam threw a sheet over my body and stuck a pillow under my head. I grunted thanks and dropped into a deep sleep.

The next day I woke early and took a bus down to Pattaya. I rented a car from Pi-san. His shop lay on land reclaimed from a swamp. My old house had a view of the reeds. Back then I called it a bird refuge. Pi-san was happy with the swamp gone. There were less mosquitoes.

The ride back to Srircha was swift. Sukhumvit was bare of traffic. It was before 11. Later in the day the multi-laned road would become a parking lot.

Mam, the kids, and their uncle nai were waiting in the driveway. I had promised lions, tigers, bears, and giraffes, elephants, and hippos. I looked at the sky. Not a could in sight. I reckoned the temperature in the high-80s. New York had been cool. High 50s. A swing of 30 degrees and the tropical sun promised 90s by noon.

According the complex Heat Index formula:

HI = c1 + c2T + c3R + c4TR + c5 T squared + c6R squared + c7 T squared R + c8T R squared + c9T squared. Here are the danger zones of heat.

ZONE ONE
27–32 ° / 80–90 °F
Caution — fatigue is possible with prolonged exposure and activity. Continuing activity could result in heat cramps

ZONE TWO
32–41 °C / 90–105 °F
Extreme caution — heat cramps, and heat exhaustion are possible. Continuing activity could result in heat stroke

ZONE THREE
41–54 °C / 105–130 °F
Danger — heat cramps, and heat exhaustion are likely; heat stroke is probable with continued activity

ZONE FOUR
Over 54 °C / over 130 °F
Extreme danger — heat stroke is imminent

Khao Keo Zoo was a 30-minute drive away from the coast. The narrow valley was surrounded by tall hills which would be mountains in Eastern USA. The slopes were jungles. The kids were ecstatic to see the giraffes, zebras, rhinos et al, but the temperature was rising fast and my shirt was soaked by sweat. The animals hid under the trees. The sun was burning through the shade. Mam complained about the heat. Fenway was happy with an ice cream, so were his brother and sister. With any luck the hot would zap their batteries dry.

"Lon tao-arai?" I asked their mother.

"Lon mak?" Mam weighs about 46 kilos. Her body wasn't build for retaining water.

"Mak-mak." Fenway echoed his mother and I agreed, for we were definitely in Zone Two.

"Kin beer?" The Thai word for beer is 'beer'. This shared word is a life saver. Confusion in this heat was common for people speaking different languages.

"Dim beer, dai." Mem was equally thirsty for a cold one. Her tiny beer belly was a tribute to her fast metabolism. I drove the kids to a waterfall and bought cold beer for us and iced tea for the young.

95F and rising. Time for taking it easy and drinking Leo beer.

It's good for you.

Dry Season

E

My wife Mam tells me that the water is running from the tap and the Sri Racha water authorities are promising no water shortages in the present heat wave, but in Pattaya old water mains are failing to keep up with demand and funky old water trucks are sucking the Jomtien lagoons dry.

City officials are telling the populace not to worry.

There’ll be plenty of water for Songkran, even if they have to ration water for a month.

The water shortage are no surprise, since the population of Pattaya has quadrupled in the last twenty five years, while the reservoir capacity remains a constant. More people dipping into the same well means less water. With that in mind Pattaya residents should embark on a program of individual conservation.

Have a shower with a friend or a complete stranger. Any visitor to Soi 6 is an expert about strange hands soaping down their back.

Ask for less ice cubes in your drinks, hoping that the bar will reward your sacrifice with a little more alcohol.

Save water with your toilet use, as Rudy Guiliani suggested during a NYC water crisis. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown flush, it down.”

Lastly let your dog lick the plates clean, instead of using the dishwasher. Dog’s mouths are much cleaner than humans.

Every little bit helps.

More Of The Same Only Worse

Tomorrow workers around the world will celebrate May Day to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in which workers and police alike were shoot down by police gunmen. Demonstrations promoting International Workers' Day are scheduled for Thailand, although workers throughout the country are aware that their lot in life has dramatically deteriorated after the flood of 2011. Inflation has further exacerbated the situation and the Bangkok POst reported that 44.45% of workers said they are facing more hardship with 31.94% saying their living conditions were about the same; and 23.61% saying things had improved following a wage rise and promotion. The government's figure on inflation are based on overall prices to hide the fact that essentials are being priced out of the range of most Thais' incomes. Rice, cooking oil, petrol, baby formula, pork and many other basic items are subject to the upward surge, as companies seek greater profits to satisfy the rich. According to the Bangkok Post Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra this month said food prices are expected to ease starting in June, as supply shortages from last year's floods ease. Thaksin's sister is living in a high-rise condo with servants and chauffeurs. Like Mitt Romney in America she has no idea how the people are suffering from the current economic crisis and the rise of the daily wage to 300 baht will barely cover the increases. The banks have all the money and their presidents are following the lead of American investment firms in their refusal to loan money, since giving out loans will drain their wealth cloud. Vatchari Vimooktayon, the director-general of the Commerce Ministry's Internal Trade Department, told the Bangkok Post, "If you raise prices too much, your competitors may undercut you. It's better for consumers to be wise in their spending and their selection, rather than simply calling on the government to control prices." Of course that theory only works in an open economic system rather than the monopoly of collusion existing in Thailand and the USA, for the DG is only ย้อมแมวขาย or painting stripes on a cat. It still remains a cat. Faced with mounting debts without access to relief from the banks Thais are heading to the pawn shops or jum-jam shop for loans on their possessions such as gold necklaces and bracelets. In other words they're fucked for once that gold is gone, there is no safety net left other than a communal effort to save the country from the banks and rich. And that ain't ever going to happen, because the Thais have been taught that the squeaking wheel get thrown away and not fixed. But remember น้ำมาปลากินมดน้ำลดมดกินปลา or at high tide fish eat ants, at low tide ants eat fish

Thailand's Happiness Index Deficit

In 1972 Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck attempted to reform his country's feudal economy on a Buddhist spiritual level rather than a capitalistic model. To best judge his efforts the king created a Gross Domestic Happiness Index based on life satisfaction, life expectancy at birth, and ecological footprint per capita. The Wall Street Journal ignores the Happy Planet Index, which placed the Pacific nation of Vanuata at the top of the list. Zimbabwe understandably was dead last in 178th place.

Thailand ranked 38 in the 2006 survey, however by 2011 the Bangkok Post reported that Thailand's Gross Domestic Happiness Index skidded into the 4s.

Thailand 'mai mee sanuk' or is not having fun these days. Inflationary prices ravage the wallets, unemployment for underpaid jobs remains high, people are worried about this year's flood, and the constant political drama over Thaksin's return have everyone on edge, but The Thais have about 43 smiles for every expression much like the Eskimos have 23 words for snow. The present smile is known as 'sao sokh yim' or unhappy smile. This mask of chagrin hides the basic dissatisfaction of the nation's present state.

7/11s do not answer all our needs.

Although a little beer drinking never hurts.

Last year I stopped into the Janet Bar on Soi Excite. It was past midnight. The temperature was still in the high 30s. The fans were useless. This was high dry season and everyone was praying for the rains.

Twelve ladies sat on the stool eating fried chicken feet. A single elderly farang sat at the bar nursing his beer. Natalee joined me for a drinking. The free-lancer was typically looking very sexy, but complained, 'Mai mi kak'."

"There aren't customers anywhere." The hot season offered lean pickings for the bargirls.

"No good." Her eyes begged me to bar-fine her.

"Mai mi taeng." I lied about my finances. Natalee requires training and my long-term devotion to sloth has relegated my sexual prowess to an amateur level

"Wah." She faked crying and resumed sucking on rubbery Chinese chicken feet.

The nearest westerner smiled sadly and said, "You speak Thai good. How long have you been here?"

"Long enough." My first arrival in Thailand dated back to 1991. I was only 39. A mere youth. So innocent. I never thought I would live here, but neither did I think GW Bush would win a second term.

"I've been here two years." The old git's accent was East end London. East End. He was dressed better than most of the beer slobs of Pattaya. "Married a girl and lived up-country the last year."

"How that working out?" I immediately regretted the question.

"Left her a week ago." Alan introduced himself and signaled the bartender for two beers. "She was as good as gold, but her family was stitching me up for money. Her step-father was an ex-cop and drank whiskey all day. And her mother took all the gold I brought my wife to pay off her gambling debts. The old man wanted 50,000 baht for a tractor. They cost more than that and I told him no."

"Good idea." I had heard this story a thousand times.

"He called me a cheap farang in my own house. Okay, not much of a house 5000 pounds and I spent another 300,000 baht on a wedding." Alan sounded more disappointed than mad.

"That doesn't sound gra-dook kat man to me." Up-country Thais think farangs consider farangs milk cows.

"No, but the worst was that my wife didn't back me up."

'Supporting you would go against the grain. Thai women place their mother first, father second, then the rest of the family, the village, every other Thai before you." I had experienced this first-hand with all my girlfriends here. The Thais are natural zenotropes.

"The old man came to house later with a gun. he still wanted money. I told him I was leaving. Asked my wife to come along. She said no, so now I'm here." He was looking for advice. Advice he wouldn't follow, because he's still in love. "My girl ain't so pretty, she's 31, but we had sex twice a day."

"Sex has nothing to do with love." Although spending a night with Natalee might come close. "Best to cut your losses. You're from the East End. You're not a square. Don't let a rice farmer sucker you."

"I don't know." Weakness of the heart is blood in the water to a Isaan grifter. "My friends that there aren't no kids and I've been married before." These failures rankled him. "I wanted this to work out."

"Sorry." I ordered another round and wiped the sweat off my face. it almost felt like it was getting hotter.

Natalee came over to massage my neck. "You still not want to go home with me."

"I want, but have no money." It was a lie. I'm faithful to Fenway's mom. "What about you, Alan?"

"My heart's not into it." Dry thunder rumbled to the north. There was no moisture in the air, except for perspiration.

She frowned and walked to join the other menless women.

Alan's happiness index had dropped below the UK average. Mine was someplace near Peru, which is #3, because while drinking beer makes me happy, hearing someone having it worse than me does my heart good.

Alan and I changed the subject and drank two more beers. It was 2am when I left for home. I wished him luck. Natalee blew a kiss. Alan stopped to speak with her. She smiled with enthusiasm. There wasn't another man in sight.

I arrived back to an almost empty house. Mam and Fenway were asleep in bed. The three fans were arranged around them. They almost looked comfortable. Drops of rain flittered on the roof and I went outside to see how hard fell the rain.

My dog Whitey was happy to see me, but then dogs are the only animal who loves you more than themselves.

Happy?

You should see his tail wag.

Now that's happy.

Lon Mak

Fenway my son called from Sri Racha to complain about the heat. "Ron mak papa." "How hot is it?" "Ron mak, papa." The three fans in the house were weary from constant use according to his mother and Wey-wey's skin is breaking out in rashes. "I know it's hot." I wanted him and his mother to be with me here, then my son could say 'naoew', for any temperature below 80 in cold in Thailand. This morning I checked bangkokpost.com, which reported that the temperature at the old airporrt to the north of the city had reach 39.4C, the highest recorded on April 27 in 30 years. The sun's zenith is directly overhead at noon. The temperature in Chiang Mai will hit the 40sC and like Fenway says, "Lon Mak." Of course Johnny Carson said it best, "It's so hot that I saw two trees fighting over a dog." Lon Mak indeed. TIPS TO DEAL WITH THE HEAT (CDC Suggestions) Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot. Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar–these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps. Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall for a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off. Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle. Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on: Infants and young children People aged 65 or older People who have a mental illness Those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

FLUTE THING By Peter Nolan Smith

In the Spring of 1969 I ran for president of the South Shore CYO Deanery. My older brother was the incumbent and my election was close to unanimous. Throughout the summer I met at the deneary headquarters in Weymouth with the other officers to plan out of schedule for autumn, winter, and spring. The newly appointed moderating priest hectored us about focusing on retreats and religious events to combat the temptations of Satan.

"Teenagers aren't worried about Hell or Satan." I was representing twenty-nine churches and over three thousand Catholic youths. Teenagers were more interested in rock and roll than the devil. None of us had short hair.

"They may not, but the Church is." The white-haired cleric had replaced an anti-war priest, who had been arrested by the FBI. The archdiocese of Boston sent this old fire-breather to stiffen resistance to the slippage of souls. Priests, nuns, and brothers were abandoning the Church in the hundreds. No one was speaking about the reason, but it had nothing to do with the loss of faith.

"We have been discussing the possibility of two concerts. One in the fall and another in the winter to bring teenagers of faith together for a celebration of youth." My apostasy had blossomed into full-blown atheism, but godlessness was considered a psychotic condition to true believers, so I hid my faithlessness under the guise of a Good Catholic.

"Cncerts? That's a good idea." Father Glavine rubbed his chin. Dead skin flaked from his face. "You mean like a choral performance?"

"No, a rock concert." My inner sanctum backed this plan. My parish priest was behind me. He was young and had nothing to do with the secret sins of the dioceses.

"There will be no rock concerts on my watch." Father Glavine slammed his palm on the table. None of us flinched in our chairs. We were young rebels. It was 1969.

"Our council has discussed the matter. We have contacted the Pilgrims. They're the most popular band on the Shore." Their heavy-set sax player also blew a great flute on their cover of The Blues Project's FLUTE THING. "and St. Agatha's has agreed to host the event. It's near the expressway, so we can get a good crowd. Their hall holds 800 people. We can sell tickets at $2, making the deanery a profit of $1000 after paying for the band, the ahll, and the police."

"You've thought this all out without saying a word to me."

"This is our CYO and the Y stands for youth." I was standing my ground and Blake, the treasurer, sold the deal by saying, "The deanery's treasury's running on vapors. We needed money."

"Money. That's all anyone thinks about in this country." Father Glavine dismissively waved his hand. He had his eyes on our treasurer and licked his lips with expectation.

"It helps the world go round." I was letting Father Glavine alone with Blake. AWe were on to his game.

"Have your concert, but any troubles and you're out."

"Fine." We had won our battle and made plans for hold the concert the first Friday of October.

My fellow officers and I blanketed the South Shore with posters. TMy girlfriend got a DJ to announced the show on the radio. Kyla was the cutest girl south of the Neponset River. Father Glavine continued to berate our efforts, but we sold over 600 advance tickets, which more than covered our costs.

"This show is going to be a success." Blake had dreams about having the next show at the Surf Nantasket with a major act like The Who. It was nice to have dreams.

"Work hard and good things happen." I took everyone to the Villa Rosa in Wollaston. Pizza was $2 a pie. I paid from the ticket sales.

The night of the concert we arrived early. A crowd was already at the doors. None of them looked like they belonged to the CYO.

"How many kids you expecting?" the heavy-set town cop asked surveying the long-haired rockers. I knew Officer Farren from his daughter. She was on the cheerleading squad with my girlfriend.

"800. Maybe a thousand." It was a guess.

"There's only two of us." He looked over to his steel-eyed partner. The two of them nodded in agreement. "Any problems and I'm calling the riot squad."

"This town has a riot squad." Blake was bemused by this threat.

"No, but we could get one together in a hurry." Officer Farren had brothers in the Quincy Police. The town line was less than a mile away. He wasn't feeling funny. Moonlighting was supposed to be an easy gig.

"They'll be no trouble." My hometown was a suburb of Boston, not Altamont.

"Make sure or it's your ass not mine." He stood on the steps with his arms crossed over his sturdy chest. His partner twirled his billyclub. They were more for show than tell.

Father Glavine arrived with two other priests with sinister faces.

"They experts at keeping a space for the Holy Spirit between boys and girls, while they're dancing." Kyla smiled at my side. "They might be outnumbered tonight."

"Let's hope for the best."

And we did better than that. Ticket sales were double of expectations. The fire department threatened to shut down the show. Officer Farren quieted that storm with a $100 in twenties. Beer drinking was kept outside by the cops. They knew how to handle a crowd. The band performed for two sets. The DJ had a record collection spanning the history of rock and soul. Kids danced in the crowded auditorium without any trouble and the priest drank the beers confiscated by the police. A small disturbance broke out in the hallway between a gang from Southie and some bikers from Wollaston. I stopped it myself by telling the warring factions that the cops were on the way. Officer Farren congratulated my quick thinking. "Always better to talk than fight." "I agreed." Kyla hated my fighting.

The Pilgrims came back more two encores. Lenny Baker's sax on HAUNTED CASTLE left the audience in a Halloween mood, although for this evening everyone was happy with the treats instead of tricks.

The hall cleared with the lights. The hundreds of teenagers vacated the parking lot without an accident. I paid the band and the cops, sticking $100 in my pocket to take care of future expenses such as taking our staff out to the Villa Rosa for pizza.

"So that went well," I said to Father Glavine who was struggling to leave with the two drunk priests.

"Well? I saw scores of kids kissing in the corners. They told me to go away. None of them cared about God. Only rock and roll and sex. And those girls dressed more like Mary Magdalene than The Virgin Mary. The cardinal will hear of this."

"Sorry you feel that way." I wasn't sad at all, but I could fake contrite with the best of them. I almost called him a hypocrite. Kyla came to my rescue. She was wearing a band-ad of a mini-skirt. Father Glavine fled down the steps muttering about sin.

"He's not very happy."

"No, but you can please everyone." Kyla held my hand. We were in love as only teenagers can be in love.

"No, and I'm not looking to please everyone either." We were on the brink of hell. I pushed my soul over the edge with a kiss and walked out the door with my crew.

The pizza was on me.

The SS Showboat Mayflower Nantasket

A fleet of side wheel steamers plied the waters of Boston harbor in the early part of the 20th Century. The flotilla was reduced to one by a fire in 1919. The Mayflower remained in service until 1948. After its decommission its new owner had the white-hulled ship hauled close to shore several yards from Paragon Park and opened the Showboat for business as a nightclub. Sighting the old paddle-wheeler announced our family's arrival at Nantasket Beach for a day of surf, sun, and fun. My father gave a quarter to the first person to spot the grounded ship. My father was a Mayflower descendant and we joked that the Pilgrims came over in the Showboat. We never stopped there. Nightclubs were for adults. As a teenager the Surf Nantasket superseded the attractions of Paragon Park and we drove down to Nantasket every Saturday night to dance to the music of the cover bands Techniques, Mods, Chosen Few, and the house band the Rockin' Ramrods, who had a regional hit with BRIGHT LIGHTS BLUE SKIES and SHE LIED. Sometimes bigger groups like Steppenwolf and the Doors played special concerts for teenagers on the South Shore. In the fall of 1969 I drove to the ballroom in a VW Beetle that I shared with my brother. He was in college and got first shot at the car. He chose Friday nights which worked out for both of us. One evening I loaded the car with my sister, her friend, Chuckie Manzi, and a friend of us just back from Marine boot camp. We drank beers on the way down, since the Surf only served soft drinks. We danced to the top hits spun by the DJ from WBZ and then watched the band. After the Surf closed, the five of us got back in the car for the ride home. It was 11:30 and traffic was light on Route 228. I sped up to 50 around the curve by Paragon Park. The Mayflower was on the right. The parking lot was empty. Passing the darkened ship I spotted oncoming headlights. Without any turn signal the big Olds crossed the four-lane state highway. I stamped on the brakes and then time was accelerated by the force of the head-on collision whipping our car into a spin. Glass shattered in my face and the impact buckled my door and flung me onto the pavement. Car wheels rolled by my head and then the speed of the present returned to normal. I sat up. The steering wheel was in my hand. The front of the VW had been crumpled by the accident. I ran to the door and peered inside. My sister, her friend, Chuckie, and the marine were cut by glass, but no one was injured badly. I turned to the Olds. A woman was sitting behind the wheel. She was trying to start the engine. I walked over to the car and rapped on her window. She shouted at me to go away. Her voice sounded drunk. Several cars had stopped to help us. A young man pulled open the door of the Olds and took away the woman's keys. Rubberneckers stared out the window. Sirens neared the scene of the crash. "You're going nowhere." "But I'm late." "There's no one in the Showboat. It's closed." "Oh." "So you almost killed us to meet someone who wasn't there." I had a temper. "You're all alive." The young man pushed me away from the Olds. "That's the important thing." "You're right." I looked back at my sister. She gave me a smile. We were alive. The ambulance took my sister and her friend to the hospital. The police drove us to the station. They wanted our statement. "The woman drove into us head-on. No lights or nothing." "She said that you drove into her." The officer was a veteran to teenage crashes on 228. Not a year passed without a fatality on the road. "She's lying." "That's what another man said." "Can we go to hospital now?" I wasn't saying anything more without a lawyer. "Okay." The next summer I stopped going to the Surf. My friends and I returned to Paragon Park. It was fun on reefer. None of us went inside the SS Showboat. It burned down in 1979. I searched for any information about it on google. There was just a few photos like the rest of my past.

A FINE DAY FOR SAILING by Peter Nolan Smith

My grandmother came from County Mayo. Her last name was Walsh. Nana sailed to Boston at the age of fourteen. Most of the other passengers were cattle. "In the Year of the Crow," she told her grandchildren in her lovely Gaelic accent. "When was that?" I was curious as to why she did use numbers. "That's my secret." That ocean voyage was so traumatic that she never returned to Ireland. Every year my mother and her sisters offered to fly Nana to Shannon. “I don’t want to see that sea again.” She had a way with words. In the summer of 1958 my older brother and I regularly stayed at Nana's house in Jamaica Plains. One weekend my parents proposed Nana taking the ferry to meet them in Nantasket. It was a hot day and we were looking forward to the swim. The three of us took the train from Forest Hills to Haymarket and then walked over to Lowe's Wharf. The sky was clear and the water was calm. "Looks like a a fine day for sailing," the purser said taking our tickets. "I've heard that before." Nana showed no fear climbing the gangway and she sat us inside the steamship. The ferry left on time and the cool breeze was a relief to the hundreds of the passengers. A clown prowled the lower decks to entertain the children. He had a funny wig and big floppy feet. My brother and I were scared by him and we kept our distance from the clown. The trip was scheduled to last about 30-40 minutes and ours was uneventful through the inner harbor thanks to the many harbor islands, however as we cleared Georges Island the wind picked up and the sky grew dark. The waves smashed over the bow. No land voyage can prepared landlubber for the methodical quivering of the sea. The ferry rolled from side to side with the gusts of the sudden squall. Nana was white with fright, as the boat swung from side to side. She clung to my brother and me, while the clown and scores of children slid across the tilting deck. The storm ended faster than it began and black clouds we landed at Nantasket without any harm. "Say nothing," Nana advised walking down the gangplank. "How was the trip?" My mother was waiting on the pier. She saw the panic in the eyes of the other passengers. "Grand." "So what about a trip to Ireland." "Not a chance." Nana had a way with words, but an even better one without words. Maith á aithne agam uirthi.

Paragon Park Memories

Funny how the places you loved disappeared and then come back as memories.

Paragon Park was one of them.

Gone in the Here-Now, but always there in the Here-Before. To recapture a taste of Paragon Park, please go to the following URL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDy3MN7rOTo

Saturday, April 28, 2012

AX IN MY HAND by Peter Nolan Smith

My mother swore that Nantasket Beach was the best beach in the world. She had spent her honeymoon in Bermuda. My father and she vacationed in the Caribbean every winter. Our family rented a cottage on the Cape during the summer. Horseneck Beach outside of Fall River might have had warmer water and Crane Beach to the north of Boston was pristine, but Nantasket was thirty minutes away from our suburban development nestled in the Blue Hills. The sand strand was safe for children, the shallow shelf allowed wading for toddlers, and a little farther from shore curling waves provided an Atlantean playground for older swimmers. Across the parking lot Paragon Park filled the narrow peninsula. Saltwater taffy was a specialty of the candy shops lining Nantasket Avenue. Numerous restaurants served franks, fried clams, steamers, schrod, and lobsters to the hungry masses. After dessert children pleaded with their parents to delay the return home. Paragon Park lay within golden gates. The sound of the cars rattling down the wooden roller coaster tingled our spines with anticipation. A pipe organ played 20s music at the Merry-Go-Round and screams from inside the Whirl-About set sneaker feet to running. Refusal was not within our parents' hearts and my brothers and sisters were blessed with many a good time at Nantasket Park. The Merry-Go-Round lost its attraction, as my older brother, sister, and I entered our teens in the mid-60s, however Nantasket answered our needs for adventure at the Surf Nantasket Ballroom, the South Shore's premier rock club, where WMEX's Arnie 'Woo-Woo' Ginsberg had spun 45s at Friday night sox hops in the 50s. The owners had sensed the changing of the guard and switched their format to rock bands in the 60s. The Rockin' Ramrods were the house band and teenagers from as far away as Brockton traveled to see the local groups such as Techniques and the Pilgrims. Headliners featured the Kingsmen, the Ventures, The McCoys, The Left Bank, Tommy James and the Shondells, The Turtles, The Swinging Medallions, and even the Doors. The owner Bill Spence paid the bands right and they gave their all on stage. Before my older brother hot his driver's license my father drove us down for the Saturday Night dances. Our station wagon had room for our friends. We were dropped at the door and climbed the stairs to the ballroom. Security was some old guys, the coat check was to the left, and the bar to the right sold only sodas. My girlfriend never came to the Surf. Kyla had to babysit her younger brother, while her divorced mother went out of dates. I danced with other girls. They knew about my going steady and thought that I was safe. If only they knew what went on inside my head. The Surf's ballroom was segregated by towns, ages, and race. Like the buses in the South blacks were forced to the rear of the hall, but we soon became friends with the Torres Brothers from Mattapan and the Williams from Randolph, because they and their friends were the best dancers at the Surf and good dancing got the best girls. The DJ played Top 40 from the R&B and Rock charts. The Torres brothers took me to see Otis Redding and James Brown in Boston. My father drove us to those shows. He liked getting out of the house. My mother never worried about us with him behind the wheel, but once my older brother received his driver's licenses in 1967, my father retired from the run to the Surf, although my mother stayed up until the garage door opened and we kissed her good-night. The shows finished at 11:30. Our curfew was at 12:30. The ride home included a stop at the MacDonald's on the Southern Artery before Sea Street. "Are you coming?" I asked the Torres Brothers after a concert by the G-Clefs, who were Boston's best soul band. "No, we don't think that's a good idea." Jose shook his head coming down the stairs. "Our father doesn't want us to get into trouble." "What kind of trouble can you get into eating a cheeseburger?" The Surf never had any fights. The management banned trouble-makers after one incident. Everyone came there to dance, meet girls, and listen to music. Tough kids hung out at the Rexicana Ballroom in Marshfield. "All types of trouble." His brother was a big boy. He played football for Boston Tech. Errol sounded scared. "We're black and everyone in Quincy is white." "This isn't Mississippi." "What about the riots in Roxbury last summer?" Buildings and stores had burned for three days around Dudley Station. "There were riots all over America last summer." Boston's uprising was nothing in comparison to the battle in Newark in which 26 people were killed by police and thousands arrest for burning and looting. "And for a good reason. How many black people live in your town?" Jose asked with a secretive hush. "I'll tell you how many. The US Senator and some brothers pretending to be Indians. Maybe twenty people out of a population of 16,000. If that's not segregation, then I'm a Choctaw Indian off the reservation." A horn beeped at the curb. My brother was in a hurry. He didn't like getting home late. "I understand the numbers, but we're not like that." I meant my brother, sister, and our friends. "Then you're race traitors and they hate you almost as much as they hate us." Jose didn't have to say who 'they' were. "Sorry." A black boy from Roxbury attended my Catholic high school on an academic scholarship. His name was Bunker. His nickname was Boon. A senior had given it to him saying, "It's only one letter removed from coon." "Ain't your fault. Just the way the things are. See you next week. We're going to Simco's at the Bridge." The famous frypit on Blue Hills Avenue served as the demarcation line for white and black Boston. After dark it was known as VC territory to the teenagers in my hometown across the Neponset River. "Next week." The Techinques were top-billing the following Friday. I got in the station wagon and my brother asked, "What were you talking about with the Torres?" "I wanted them to join us at McDonalds." "And they said no, I hope." He looked over his shoulder at the two brothers. They were waiting for their father, who worked for the Boston Police. He drove a Delta 88. "Yes." "Good. They don't want any trouble and that's all they would find in Quincy." "Are people that racist?" I was a fifteen year-old boy with black friends. "People didn't want Senator Brooke to move into our town." The GOP senator lived in a mansion next to the golf course. The first black senator ever to be elected to the Senate wasn't rocking the boat, having learned the lesson of his white Democratic opponent's open support of the Civil Rights. "But he condemned the Black Panthers." Race politics were not on his agenda, having stated after his 1967 election "I do not intend to be a national leader of the Negro people." "Doesn't matter. He's black." That should have been the end of the conversation, except Chuck Manzi said, "Are you siding with the blacks?" "I guess so." My girlfriend Kyla was of the same mind. "Then some people will call you a nigger lover." "And those people will have a problem." Having been beaten by bullies in grade school, I got good with my fists and made a name for fighting against thugs from Southie and Wollaston. Throughout the winter of 1968 I met the Torres brothers several times at Simcos. They bowled at the Lanes and drank beer at the Little Brown Jug. The bartender was kind to white boys with a $20 bill. The afternoon matinees at the Sugar Stack were special, but I knew enough to get going after a certain hour. Jose and Errol called them 'mau-mau time'. It was fun hanging out with them and I told Chuckie about my excursion into Roxbury. "You should come with with me." "No way." Chuckie shook his head with vigor. "I know my place." "We don't have any 'place'." "Keep thinking that." Chuckie had knocked up his girlfriend. They were having a baby. Next year he was dropping out of our school to attend the town high school. Sixteen was a tough age to hate the world. "I learned my lesson the hard way. After that conversation Chuckie started hanging out with townies. Two of them were the bullies from 7th Grade. Joe and Mark were two years older than us. They had each done a year at Billerica Correctional. They drove stolen cars. Joyriding was a profession for them and for once I obeyed my mother's edict about avoiding bad company. In April I developed strep throat. My temperature was in the 100s, I suffered severe headache, and nothing stayed in my stomach. My school banned me from attending classes and my mother quarantined me from my brothers and sisters. She made me drink vanilla ginger ale sodas. I puked them too, but at least they tasted as good coming up as going down. "You have mono." Chuckie accused me of getting from kissing disease. Mono was easier to say than Mononucleosis or strep. "Kyla doesn't it." I was only allowed to speak to my friends through a screen door. "And the doctor said I have strep not mono." "Maybe you got it from someone else." Chuckie dropped my homework on the walk. We went to the same school. Everyone there thought that I had gotten mono from my girlfriend, which meant she had gotten it from someone else. "There is no 'someone else'." Kyla and I were going steady. The head cheerleader was saving 'it' for our wedding. She was worth waiting for. "And I don't have mono." "Yeah, right, you probably got it from kissing nigger girls in Roxbury." "What'd you say?" Chuckie and I had been friends since the first day that my family moved into the neighborhood. "Only what other people are saying?" "What are they saying?" I stepped out of the house onto the steps. "That once you go black you never come back." Chuckie backed up, saying the age-old adage. "Get this straight in your head." I was furious with him. "You have a big mouth. I never kissed any girls other than Kyla and two I don't like that word." "What word?" "Nigger." "Joe and Mark were right. You are a nigger lover." "Fuck you and fuck them." I was bigger and stronger than the twelve year-old who they had beaten up every afternoon in 1964. "And you can tell them that." Chuckie looked hurt. I was too pissed at him to apologize and I wasn't sorry for what I said. He stopped bringing my homework. That weekend I suffered a relapse from the strep. My fever topped out at 103 and broke on Saturday. I had lost fifteen pounds in ten days. Kyla stopped by my house with brownies. She looked sweet in her tassled vest and mini-skirt. "Don't you dare come close." "It's not fair. I'm almost better." I wanted to kiss her almost as bad as eating a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon. "I'll be the judge of that." She drove away with Chuckie's girlfriend. They were good friends. Everyone was having a good time, but me. At least she had said nothing about mono. My mother came up to me. She had been gardening in the front yard. Her hands were dirty. "How about a ice cream soda. A real one. I'll get it from the Mug." The Mug was the diner on Route 28. "And something to eat." I didn't have to tell her what. "That's a good sign." My mother loved to see her children eat. She drove off with my two younger brothers and I sat on the steps waiting for her return. This would be my first meal in days. I was the only one at home. My father was working the weekend. With six kids he could use the extra money. My older brother was at his job as a busboy in a nearby hotel. My sisters were visiting my aunt in Quincy. The afternoon was warm for this time of year and the trees in the yard were budding green. Summer was two months from now. I picked up a small ax left by my mother. She had been having a go at a root. I chopped it from the ground. The effort left me dizzy. I was not even close to 100%. A black Corvair Corsa convertible rounded the corner. The two boys were in the red front seat were the Torres Brothers and Joel beeped the horn and parked before the house. I dropped the ax on the grass and approached my friends. "Nice car." The speedometer went up to 140. "We got a good buy on it thanks to Ralph Nader. He wrote some book. UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED." Jose was sporting a sizable afro. Black power was in the air. "Yeah, I heard about it." GM had removed the front anti-sway bar for cost factors. "It does drive itself sometimes, but Jose and I have gotten used to it." Errol was a little oversized for the compact car and he noticed by assessing the Corvair's disadvantage. "My father figured it was a fun car and trust me the girls love the wind blowing through their hair. Makes them free and easy like the back row of the Mattapan Oriental." "Doesn't get much better than that." The Oriental was the training ground for make-out sessions. The upper loge was pitch-black even during the afternoon matinee. A V8 engine revved down the street. The three of us turned our heads. A GTO convertible led a procession of three muscle cars. None of them were local. "Shit." Jose recognized the danger. All the drivers and passengers were white teenagers. "It's the KKK welcome wagon." "I know these people. They won't do anything here." Mark was driving the GTO. His friend was in the front seat. Chuckie was in the back with another white boy. I walked back to the ax and picked it up to hold behind my back. "I know these people too." Errol cracked his knuckles. The bridge at Mattapan Square was five miles away. The Corvair wasn't built for speed safe or unsafe. The three of us weren't going anywhere. "Don't say anything. I'll do all the talking." "That's what I'm scared of." Jose was peace and love. "It is what it is." Errol was the business end of the two. He hunched his shoulders like a lineman ready to sack two quarterbacks. "And it'll be what it was." Vertigo was getting the better of me. "What?" The cars bracketed the Corvair. The drivers and passengers got out with baseball bats and chains. Mark and Joe wore big smiles. Chuckie moved towards his house. This wasn't him. "Who's car is this?" Mark tapped the convertible with his hand. His voice was testing my toughness. he thought that I was his victim. "It can't be your nigger friends. They only drive Cadillacs." "It don't matter whose car it is. Get going." "Or what?" Joe stood his ground. In 7th Grade he like punching me while Mark held my arms. No one took my back. Things were different today and I whipped out the ax. Joe and Mark jumped back like their feet were burned by lava. "There is no or what. There is only this." I ran at them and smacked the flathead of the ax through the GTO's windshield. The glass shards scattered into the air. I spun on bare feet. "Drop the bats. Drop the chains. You know know or what." I was crazed with a rabid fever having nothing to do with race or niggers. I hated these these two boys and wanted them dead. I raised the ax over my head and aimed for Joe's head. It never moved forward. "Slow down. Slow down." Errol had grabbed my arms. "I'll kill them." Fire was a riot on the streets of my body. Burning and looting wasn't enough. "No, you won't." Errol wasn't letting me go. "You white boys get back in your cars and drive away peaceful. If not I let Maddog at you." "Fucking nigger-lover." Mark spat on the ground and nodded for Joe to get in the car. "Fuck you both." I fought to get loose. Errol was too strong. The muscle cars laid rubber. The larger Torres brother let go of me, although stripping the ax out of hands. Ten seconds later the stench of latex and the black tracks of their departure were the only mementos of the fracas. "What happened to talking?" Jose brushed the busted glass off the Corvair with care. Most of it had stayed on the GTO. "Those two boys and I had a story." "Like Lizzie Borden?" Errol laughed to break the tension. "She needed forty whack to do her mom and dad. You only were going to get one." "I needed two." Mark was on my list. "You got what you got." Jose took out his keys. "After that excitement I think it's time to head home." "You want me to come with you?" "No way. We'll see you at Simco's when you're better, Maddog." The two brothers got in the car and drove away. I swept up the glass. Chuckie came over to help. Neither of us said anything. My mother returned with my sandwich and we went inside to watch the Celtics play the 76ers. Chuckie and I were friends again. We went to the 123 Lounge on Blue Hills with his girlfriend and Kyla. The G-Clefs playing a ten-minute version of James Brown's PLEASE PLEASE ME. Kyla joined us, for peace and love was the way life was supposed to be a year after the Summer of Love. A night like that was too good to last forever, but in the 60s nothing was forever for teenagers.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Obama Curse

Last January the Boston Bruins goalie refused a White House invitation to honor the team's 2011 Stanley Cup victory. Tim Thomas explained his reason for staying at home by saying, "I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People. This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government. Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL. This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic." In a free country Tim Thomas can act, say, and do what he wants, but his team slumped after his no-show. His decision created division and his crease performance was less than stellar against the last seed Washington Capitols. Cap fans waved Obama's photo at home. They chanted his name and in OT of the 7th game Joel Ward scored the clinching goal with a mulberry through Thomas's pads. Boston fans reacted to defeat with a venomous throwback to the busing riots of desegregation era. Why? Joel Ward is black. Here's a sampling of KKK Twitters as reported by chicagonow.com “So fucking mad. That fucking nigger scored #4thlineblacktrash” “WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU SHOWING REPLAYS OF THAT NIGGER SCORING” “We lost.... To a hockey playing nigger.... What kind of shit is this” “The Nigger scores again we riot #JoelWard” “Seriously.....fuckin nigger #stillfuckinlovethebruins Joel Ward your a nigger. Holtby, get a life. I never wanna see Tim Thomas in a bruins jersey ever again #washedup #bum Can't believe Boston just let a sand nigger beat them #gobacktothejungle @abrownn36 “A nigger beat us in #OT Are you kidding me?” “stupid nigger go play basketball hockey is a white sport” Scratch the skin of a white man and he'll bleed racism. Even me, but I'm prejudiced more prejudiced against peckerwoods, since other than a two-punch brawl on the West 4th Street b-ball court, I've never had a fight with a black man. I get along with people of color better than my own kind and it's not because I'm a nigger-lover. Maybe a little, however I don't blame the loss on the game-winner. Tim Thomas misplayed several pucks during the play-offs. The coach should have rested them in the last month. Bergeron skated in a state of concussed confusion and several injured players took the ice with a teddy bear's tenacity. Hockey is a tough game and the Bruins played flatter than a drag queen's chest. We lost on a good goal. I accept that. These racist twitters should be banned from watching any Celtic games for the rest of their lives as well as the Red Sox and Patriots or dancing to any rap or soul music. To thine own race be true and this goes for Tim Thomas. I do agree with #washedup #bum "I never wanna see Tim Thomas in a bruins jersey ever again." John Wayne the western hero of John Ford film said it best about JFK. "I didn't vote for him, but he is my president." I have to admit that I didn't feel that way about GW Bush, but I do pride my heightened hypocrisy. Go Obama. He lost votes in Boston. He gained in Maryland and Virginia. Four more for the POTUS. See yah for Tim Thomas, unless he shaves that 'tache. We are family. ps photo by Stanley J Foreman Boston Herald American

Christian Bullies

Enterprise Coming To Earth

NASA Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-101 was named the Enterprise by President Gerald Ford in response to a letter campaign by Trekkies seeking honor for mankind's first space ship. STAR TREK fans should have been more patient, because the Enterprise was an experimental craft designed without engines or a thermal heat shield for testing in the atmosphere. After completion of these trials the Enterprise was stripped of all vital equipment. It never touched the sky. In 1983 I was standing by the Seine by the Tullieries in Paris. Upon hearing the roar of a low-flying jet I looked up and spotted a NASA 747 piggybacking the decommissioned test shuttle. The French authorities had refused NASA a fly-over on the way to the Air Show at Le Bourget., but the pilot must have executed one and as a Trekkie my heart soared with pride. "We are going to the stars." I was ignorant of the Enterprise's flightlessness and remained bliss until reading about the test space shuttle in the morning Times, which announced that the Enterprise would be flying atop a 747 this morning. I checked the clock on the Williamsburg Bank. 11:01. The fly-by was scheduled for 11:05. I shouted down to AP. My landlord and I scrambled to the roof of his Fort Greene brownstone. We are kids at heart. I had binoculars. He was holding a camera with a long lens. The sky was clear and helicopters flittered to the west. "They have to be following its flight." I agreed with his hunch. Sadly our azimuth was too low to allow a sighting of the Enterprise's passage. "I think it's gone." "Yes, but it will be transported to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum by barge some time in the summer. "We could bicycle over to Battery Park." "It's only 15 minutes away." Via the Brooklyn Bridge. We high-fived each other like 12 year-olds. NASA might have abandoned the stars, but we never will. Live long and prosper.

THE CLOSET OF LOST THINGS by Peter Nolan Smith

The Nuns of Our Lady of the Foothills taught their students math, English, religion, history, geography, and a scattering of other basic subjects. Their educational technique depended heavily on rote memorization and harsh discipline. The Palmer penmanship was beaten into our rebellious right hands. Laziness on small ts earned miscreants a wrap on the knuckles. The nuns were experts in teaching through pain.

A pinched arm opened our eyes to Math. The mysteries of adding, subtracting, multiplication, and division were boiled down to tables. 7 X 7 = 63. How didn’t matter. The charts didn’t lie. 1 + 1 always equaled 2. How a man and woman ended up with a baby was not part of the learning process.

The flow of history was divided into dates important to the Holy Roman Church and America; 5 BC the Birth of Jesus Christ, 1215 the Magna Carta, 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, 1776 the American Declaration of Independence, 1914 the Start of the Great War, and the 2nd Vatican Council in 1961.

Questioning why the Birth of Jesus Christ was 5 years before Anno Domino or why Christmas was only four months later than the Immaculate Conception were grounds for a visit to the Principal. Sister Mary Eucharist corrected adolescence heresy with a yardstick. She expected the same iron hand from the nuns of her convent.

The mysteries of faith were solved by the memorization of the Baltimore Catechism; God made the world, God is the Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things, Man is a creature composed of body and soul, and made to the image and likeness of God and God made us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. God reigned over man with capital letters. There was no detour from these tenets.

None what so ever, but my 6th Grade teacher Sister Mary Osmond ignored the dictums of her superior. The ancient nun had taught in Egypt and entertained her pupils with tales of Africa.

“We lived by the Nile. After the harvest the children ran barefoot over the sharp stalks without slicing their feet.”

Closing my eyes I could envision her students skating over the fields without his feet touching the grounds. Sister Mary Osmond opened our minds to worlds beyond Boston and we followed her new approach to learning like trusting sheep.

Sister Mary Eucharist hated her.

“Fear. That’s what teaches these children. Fear.”

“Yes, sister.” Sister Mary Osmond smiled with love and we reciprocated by scoring the highest test scores in the Boston Diocese. Her knowledge flooded our senses and she had an answer for everything.

Not all of it was true.

One afternoon Connie Botari cried in the back of the class. Sister Mary Eucharist would have ignored the silent sobs, but our teacher put down her chalk and wordlessly glided down the aisle to Connie’s desk.

“What’s wrong?”

“I lost my headband.” Connie had looked very cute this morning with it on her head. She was pretty, although not a pretty as Kyla Rota. Neither knew that I lived and breathed on the same planet.

“Is that all?” Sister Mary Osmond touched the young girl’s head with tenderness. “Don’t you worry about that?”

She paused for few seconds and I expected the venerable nun to tell the same thing that my mother told me when her six children lost a favorite toy.

“If you lose something than it wasn’t yours to begin with.”

My mother had learned that lesson from her mother. Nana had come over from Ireland in the Year of the Crow. She had been 14. Losing things was bad luck and she expected her family to avoid bad luck. Only St. Anthony had the power to help us find things.

“St. Anthony, St. Anthony
Please come down
Something is lost
And can’t be found.”

I had rejected the belief in God at age 6, but remained true to the powers of the saints. Most of them had pagan roots. Not St. Anthony of Padua, although the Italian had at one time lived in Morocco, which rendered his faith questionable in my eyes.

Sister Mary Osmond patted Connie on the head. She had a different take on loss.

“In heaven there is a closet with everything you ever lost waiting for you.”

“Really?” Connie Botari sniffed behind the swipe of her wrist.

“It has your name on it in gold letters. Nothing is truly gone. It remains in your memory, so you will enjoy seeing it again in heaven.” Sister Mary Osmond gave Connie a handkerchief with our teacher’s initials embroidered in a corner.

“You keep it. All possessions are transitory on this Earth. The only thing you need is a pure soul to get you in heaven. That purity is your key to the closet with all lost things.”

I was on the verge of pubescence. Impure thoughts outnumbered evil deeds. I had abandoned my faith at an early age. Heaven was for only true believers. I was going to Hell and I was certain that Lucifer had a closet of mockery loaded with the things that I never wanted in the first place.

I lowered my head into my hands. My toy boat and teddy bear would remain trapped in their heavenly closet, but then I remembered what Sister Mary Osmond had said about lost things. They remained forever in your head and I smiled, because forever will be a long time in Hell without a teddy bear.

As I got older the number of lost things grew with my travels around the world. My possessions were scattered across two houses in Thailand, a mountaintop cabin north of Santa Cruz, two farms in upstate New York, my apartment in Fort Greene, and my sister’s house outside of Boston.

Worse was the feared loss of photos, paintings, plates, books, and clothing from a storage unit in the East Village. Gone for good were paintings, first editions, color slides as well as my cowboy boots and collection of nightclub memorabilia or at least that was what I thought until visiting a good friend out in Easthampton several years ago. in 2009 I

“I have several boxes of your in my cellar.” Billy O announced on a bright sunny morning.

“You do?” I had no recollection of these boxes.

“Yes, you left them here after you gave up your apartment.”

“That was 2005.” The rental management had offered $10,000 for my vacating the tiny apartment on East 10th Street.

“You were moving in Thailand.”

"Remember what you said?"

"No." That was four years ago.

"You said that now I was just another guy from Boston who once lived in New York." Twenty-nine years in the city didn't make you a native.

"Harsh words."

"But true." I named my son Fenway. “I thought I put everything in storage.”

“Wrong, boyo.” Billy O and I celebrated St Padraic’s Day every year. We were both Irish in the right way.

“Damn.”

“You want to go check on them?” Both of us were recovering from LEAVING LAS VEGAS hangovers.

“No, let’s go for a swim in the ocean first.”

A distant hurricane was churning giant waves along the offshore sand bars. The water temperature was in the 70s. The salt air and danger of riptides had natural curative powers more important than a reunion with long-lost relics of the past.

“You boys be careful.” Billy’s wife shouted from the back porch. Two people had drowned the previous weekend.

“We’ll follow the buddy system.” The ocean was unforgiving to fools.

Amagansett Beach was ten minutes from Billy’s house via the back roads. His I-pod played John Lennon’s WORKING CLASS HERO, as we broke through the barricade of slow-moving SUVs and Porsche Reich sedans on Route 27. Billy is a local. He knows the road.

At the beach a parking space opened up next to the reserved handicapped spot. Billy grabbed it before a up-island vacationer could steer his Mecerdes GL 405 between the white lines.

“Nice, huh?” Billy had a healthy disdain for the summer people, while recognizing his high-end real estate job survived on their largesse. He smiled to the irate driver of the luxury SUV and shrugged like he was sorry. It was a good act.

We walked onto the beach with towels over our shoulders.

Two men in their 50s wearing sun glasses. The strand was crowded with weekenders dedicated to enjoying themselves in the sun. Their blankets were surrounded by coolers. The sea air was tainted by a miasma of melting sun lotion. This was not for us.

“Straight into the water.” Billy was a good swimmer. He did laps at Guerneys three times a week. “The only thing to do.” A single surfer was bobbing on the waves beyond the nasty shorebreak. Few people were venturing farther than their knees into the sucking froth. I ran into the sea. Billy followed close behind.

The water was cold at first and the current grabbed our bodies like the Atlantic wanted us to see Iceland. We ducked under the close-outs and stroked through the sets of double waves to the calm of the outer break. I couldn’t touch the bottom. The lifeguard looked in our direction. I waved that we were fine. He nodded to say ‘be careful’.

Billy and I rode a few waves. One crunched my body into the sandy bottom, then tumbled me in an eddy of foam. My head bobbed to the surface. Billy was a few feet from me. We shared a glance and let the turbulent surge carry us to safety.

“I think I’m ready to look at those boxes now.” I was out of breath and exhilarated by the swim.

We returned to Billy’s house, listening to John Lennon’s IMAGINE. I was never much of a Beatles fan, but these two songs revealed the genius of John, although Billy and I had to both ask, “Why Yoko.”

My boxes were downstairs. One was covered in mould. A small carpet had rotted in the damp. There was no damage to the art work; cartoon series by Gaetano Liberatore, an oil painting from the Steaming Musselman Philippe Waty, two of Ellen Von Unwerth’s first photos, plus a suede jacket in a plastic bag.

“It still fits after all those years.”

“A little tight around the waist.” Billy’s wife was English. She said it in such a way that the truth didn’t hurt. They are such a polite people.

The next box was loaded with slides and photos from my travels around the world. Bali, Tibet, Laos, Peru, France, Ireland, China, Thailand, plus love letters dating back to 1976, the first year I moved to New York.

I read a few aloud.

“Sweet.” Billy’s wife was very sentiment.

The third box was a set of Wedgwood china from Bowdoin College. It had belonged to my Grandfather, who had graduated from the Maine College in 1912. I had served countless dinners on the plates at my old apartment on East 10th Street. The large serving bowl still bore the stains of a sauce. I guessed that it was tomato sauce for pasta.

The last box contained books; first editions of FRANNY AND ZOOEY, CATCHER IN THE RYE, MOONRAKER, and about twenty other classics. They would have been worth a fortune if signed or still in good condition. Thankfully I hadn’t put them in the box with the carpet.

“Thanks, Billy.” He could have thrown these out years ago.

“Well, we still have to discuss the storage fees.”

“Oh, Billy.” His wife was British. “You can’t charge him anything.”

“I was just kidding.”

I knew that too, but his wife didn’t.

She was British.

I told them about the closet of lost things.

“It was supposed to be in heaven, but there was one here and it was in your basement.” Sister Mary Osmond had been right about the closet of lost things, then again nuns were rarely wrong.

“Proving there is heaven on earth.” Billy O examined the copy of JUNKIE.

“And it’s where we find the things we love.”

Now if I could only find my lost teddy bear, my life would be complete.

I am a simple man.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Sic transit gloria mundi translates from the dead language of Latin phrase into "Thus passes the glory of the world" in English, even though no one in America speaks that language. There is very little glory left in this world, which is why we look to the stars.

Next year Andromeda.

F Is Not For Fake

My editor Adrian sent this photo from Christie's in London. They want 50K Sterling for this scribbling by Karen Kilimnik. I worked the door of the Bains-Douches in that era of error. And I'm worthless. No commercial value no sell out - James Steele But I do like her work.

Donnie Ward 1270

In 1971 I drove taxi to pay for my college education. The Boston Cab Company had its garage on 72 Kilmarnock St. The split was 50/50 for booking over $100 in a night. Tips added another $10 to the equation. Average income for a family of four was $10,000. I wasn't rich, but I had buying power and one summer night I picked up a drunk man at Fenway Park. "$10 if you drive me to the 1270." "That's a gay bar." I was a radical. We didn't call anyone 'fags' or 'queers'. "And?" He introduced himself as Bruce. His mustache was thicker than the shaved tail of a Lipizzaner stallion. "And nothing." I had seen his type around Boston. 1971 was the height of the Sexual Revolution. All that mattered was getting off. "Nothing. I know your type. You think you're straight, but you look at the girls in this town and think that there's nothing you want to fuck." "Wrong." I was a stud. "Then you have no problem coming into the bar. I'll get you a girl as long as you don't say you're straight. The fag hags love men on the razor's edge. Drinks are on me. The Red Sox won in the 9th." I parked the taxi in front of the bar. Bruce and I entered without paying the $2 cover. Beers were a dollar. The DJ was playing Sly's SEX MACHINE. A black boy came up to me. "I've never seen you before." He was the handsomest man in the world. "I'm new." "You ever dance with a man?" "No." "I won't bite." And he never did. Donnie Ward was a good friend and so was Bruce. They respected straights who respected gays. "

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Nyet Gay In Russia

The Russian criminal code in 1832 "muzhelozhstvo" or men lying with men a criminal act punishable by exile to Siberia for up to 5 years according the Wikipedia. The police rarely arrested men for this crime against nature, since the hunger that dare not speak its name was reserved for the upper classes of Tsarist Russia, however homophobia has been deeply engrained into the national psyche and a third of the population think that homosexuals should be executed and another third call for their exclusion from society. That draconian attitude has improved since the collapse of the USSR, but a gay men or boy are regularly persecuted by their countrymen.

According to www.pinknews.co.uk a Moscow teenager recently escaped from a rehab clinic after his traditionalist father locked him up after he came out to him aged 16.

“I’d rather have you disabled or a vegetable than gay,” the father told the son according to local Ekho Moskvy radio.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

Back in 2009 I was in Moscow during the gay protests. Thousands of cops encircled the Kremlin to prevent any demonstrations before the palace. I retreated from the chaos and sought refuge in the baroque confines of Sandunovskye Bani. In this famed banya naked straight men were beating each other with oak branches for their health. None of them were ashamed by this act of S&M, then again there are few more profound blindnesses than hypocrisy, then again nothing more relaxing that a good whipping.

B'ak'tun Tsunami

Doomologists have pinpointed the end-date of the Mayan's 5,125-year-long cycle as 13.0.0.0.0 or December 21, 2012 without predicting the cause of Armageddon. Various options for the B'ak'tun have been offered by opposing camps. Fundamentalists are hoping for the Second Coming of the Messiah and survivalists are arming up for collapse of the New World Order, while New Ages search the cosmos for an errant asteroid or black hole. The apocalypse was supposed to start May 21 and culminate with a cataclysm on 12/21/12.

Last evening I had a dream in which I was staying on the 8th floor of a Honolulu high-rise. The waves surging into Waikiki grew larger and larger, until a surfer duck-dived under the crest of a monster tsunami. The wave crashed into the condo and water splashed against the terrace windows.

I looked out the window.

An even bigger wave was surging towards the submerged beach and I backed away from the window in time to escape the wave shattering the glass. The sea was only two stories below our floor. Another wave was coming and it was huge.

I woke up with a start and looked around my room.

Dreams about tidal waves are often the result of life's overwhelming pressures and our tendency to not dealing with our problems. I have to admit that I don't have everything under control, however not everything in the world is about me and I got out of bed to look out the window. It was still dark and no wave rose over the skyline of Brooklyn, but I don't really have to worry about a tsunami.

Fort Greene is only 104 feet above sea level and the doric column of the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument adds about 149 feet of elevation. This added height would provide sufficient elevation to survive a tidal wave of epic proportions, but I would only be one of hundreds of Brooklynites seeking refuge from certain doom.

A jug of moonshine is under my kitchen sink.

It was a good back-up plan for doomsday and I went back to sleep content that the world was not ending today.

Ka xi'ik teech utsil, which is Mayan for good luck.

We'll be needing in the months to come.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bummed By The Sopranos

Last month AP my landlord informed me that I could watch HBO on my iPad.

"What would you suggest?" I hadn't watched American TV in ten years.

"A good place to start would be THE SOPRANOS." The cable series about a New Jersey mafia family had been a success for HBO. Wikipedia called it the greatest TV series of all time.

"I don't know." I had seen a few episodes in Thailand. It wasn't STAR TREK.

"Believe me. You'll love it." AP and I had similar tastes in most everything.

That evening I signed into HBO and started a two week blitz on THE SOPRANOS. I fast-forwarded through Tony Soprano's panic attack and any relationship with his dysfunctional family in which his mother and uncle plot his death. The internecine struggles and cold-blooded murders came a little too slow for my tastes and my finger pushed through any scenes dealing with Tony's manic-depressive behavior.

Richie Aprile is killed by his sister. His best friend "Big Pussy" is shot for being a snitch. Christopher kills his longtime girlfriend. She's a snitch. The deaths and madness never stop and the Ides of March arrived with my succumbing to a recurrent touch of depression.

I wanted to die.

Same as Tony.

He was getting fatter.

And I was girthing a little.

He fucked women who meant nothing.

I was faithful to my wife.

He betrayed everyone for money and power.

I took care of my family. There was something wrong and I hadn't recognize the effect of THE SOPRANOS on my fragile psyche.

More people die in the show.

More madness.

My depression deepened through season 4 and 5 and finally 6.

THE SOPRANOS ended with a black scene.

I recovered from the long slog through the series.

I feel better now.

I'm no Tony Soprano.

He is only a TV persona.

We are real.

See Yah Jersey

Last night the NBA Nets ended their 35 year stay in New Jersey with a loss to the 76ers in Newark. Starting next year the long-suffering franchise will be playing down the street from my apartment in Fort Greene and hopes are high for the team to regain the glory from the two final appearance in 2002 and 2003. The state's governor wasn't sad to see them go.

"They want to leave here and go to Brooklyn? Good riddance." A little harsh from the fat boy, but I'm in agreement.

The Nets are not loved by anyone.

In fact I've never met a Nets fan.

Back in the 90s the team was one of the worst in the NBA. A dealer on the corner of East 10th Street and 1st Avenue had season tickets thanks to a sinse-buying banker. One night Franklin called me over and said, "I'm going upstate for a year."

"Sorry to hear that." Franklin watched my motorcycle while I was in the Orient.

"I might get out in six months." He had been convicted for sale of marijuana.

"I hope so." Franklin was neighborhood unlike many of the new dealers working the spot.

"But I want you to have these." Franklin pulled out a stack of tickets. "Season seats to the Nets in the Meadowland."

"I can't." It was more like I didn't want to go there.

"Don't be stupid. You can go see the best teams, even have two games with your Celtics."

"Really?" I was a diehard Boston fan and played basketball every day down at Tompkins Square Park. The tickets might come in handy and I thanked Franklin for the offer.

"Enjoy."

Two days later I invited Roberto Sharpe to see the Knicks and Nets. We caught a bus from Port Authority to the Meadowlands and walked into the stadium. It was a first for both of us. The seat were good and the beer was cheap, but the arena was quiet. Half the seats were empty and the braindead fans sat as if they had been lobotomized at the entrance. Roberto and I wondered, if they might be zombies, then again the team was shit and no one gets excited about a shit team.

The Nets stayed shit for many years, because of bad luck and bad management.

The team was an original member of the ABA, winning two championships with Julius Irving, whom they had to trade away in 1975 to pay their later entry into the NBA's New York area.

Their next shot at victory came in the 1983–84 season with Darryl Dawkins, Buck Williams, Otis Birdsong, and Micheal Ray Richardson, but the team imploded with Michael Ray's failure to pass a drug test for cocaine use. It was all downhill until the Jason Kidd years culminated in two shots for the title.

And now it's all over.

See yah, New Jersey. Love yah, wouldn't want to be yah. New Jersey Nets 2-Sided Banner New Jersey Nets 2-Pc. Mug Set

Chinatown's Dancing Chicken

Back in the 70s one of Chinatown's greatest attractions was the dancing chicken at the Chinatown Fair Video Arcade. The chicken or chickens didn't really dance the insipid tune, but shifted their feet to avoid the shock from the electrified plate. They also played tic-tac-toe and strangely won most, if not all the games they played against humans.

According to www.scoutingny.com the last chicken Lily was retired in 1998.

The arcade closed in 2010.

Another wonder of New York gone forever. To see the dancing chicken, please go to the following URL

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOAc1VdLoTg

photo by Michael Yashamita

WHY I MISS JUNKIES by Peter Nolan Smith


(published in OPEN CITY MAGAZINE 2002)

Most New Yorkers depended on air-conditioning to survive the heat waves of summer, unfortunately AC always felt to me, as if a dirty old man from the Arctic who isn’t Santa Claus was breathing down my neck. I actually like the heat and any temperature under 92 is survivable with the aid of a fan and a couple of cold beers.

Any warmer weather necessitated multiple baths in my kitchen tub and the drinking countless liters of water, however as July 1999 stretched into its second week of body-sapping heat I had to admit defeat. I needed cold.

Renting a car to drive to a less tropical climate was not an option, since the Eastern Seaboard from Eastport to Cape Hatteras was blanketed by an oppressive mugginess and the meteorologists forecasted no relief till the end of the month. My bank account held enough money for a small 6000 BTU AC and I staggered out of my apartment with one purchase on my mind.

The nearest appliance store was on 14th Street. It seemed out of range in the pitiless swelter and I stood dazed by the brittle sunlight of East 10th Street, until someone called my name.

Sweat stung my eyes and I blinked several times.

Crazy John was exiting from the Russian Baths. His long white hair was wet and his papery skin was flushed red from the long sit-down in the baths. He walked, as if his feet had no bones.

“You weren’t schvitzing today?” I loved the baths, but not in the summer.

“Why not? It’s so hot inside the steam room that outside on the street is almost chilly.” Crazy John was a junkie and their blood ran cold as snakes. “You should try it.”

“No way.” I was scared of heat implosion. “I need to get cool.”

“Why don’t you go swimming in the East River?” His eyes were pools the color of mercury.

“The East River?”
Every day New Yorkers drive by, over, and under the East River. Its broad tidal stream touched the lives of millions. Lovers wandered along its banks, tourist ships cruised its waters, fishermen cast for blues from FDR Park and kayakers shot the outbound tide off Roosevelt Island, yet since moving to Manhattan in 1975 I couldn’t recollect anyone swimming in that river. “Only the Dead End kids swam in the East River and that was in the movies.”

“You’re right about that, but now there’s a peninsula of rubble on East 20th Street.” Crazy John was in line for millions from a family trust, but preferred to live on the Lower East Side in order to practice his craft as an addict. My uncle Carmine was letting the junkie stay for free in his basement. Crazy John had promised to reward Carmine with a fortune for this favor. Carmine’s wife and I thought that he was full of shit.

“I see where you mean.” The riverbanks were collecting debris and the debris gathered sand.

”So billions of gallons of sea water flush the river every day. My friends tell me it’s okay. Better than riding all the way to the Rockaways or the Hamptons. Give it a try and let me know.”

Crazy John sauntered off to 1st Avenue without breaking a sweat.

Bathing in the East River was a mad idea, for it had a sewer for centuries. The river couldn’t be clean, but I returned to my apartment and changed into shorts and reef-walkers. The purchase of an AC could wait until I checked out Crazy John’s information.

Hitting the street again, I threw a towel over my shoulder and headed east. No one dared to play basketball on the frying pan of Tompkins Square Park. Old men in tank tops listlessly played dominos on East 13th Street, while a pack of children scampered through the spray from a fire hydrant. I resisted succumbing to its temptation and slogged past the Con Ed power station. The river wasn’t far now.

An elevated section of the FDR Drive shaded a cluster of improvised shelters. The inhabitants lay on cardboard boxes, as if they were exhausted from praying for winter. Come January they wouldn’t be so happy about their dreams coming true. Mine was across the access road and I ran to the chain-link fence guarding the river from the city.

The turgid water was a cold green plain separating Manhattan from Brooklyn. A tour boat steamed upstream and two jet skis skated across its foaming wake. Their drivers wore wet suits and laughed like they were having a good time. The air was scented by the evening tide and I hurried to 20th Street.

It was just like Crazy John had said.

Several old-timers basked on a narrow spit of beach extending thirty feet from the stone embankment. Sea gulls perched on the waterlogged stumps of a forgotten pier. The lap of waves dampened the hush of traffic on the FDR and I climbed over a railing to a rock quay slick with algae. The water emanated a chill and I tested the temperature with my foot. It was cold and I inched into the river. My feet cautiously explored the bottom.

Anything could be stuck in the sand.

I was soon waist-deep and my body was dropping down from the heat. A head popped from the river. It was a man and he wiped the wet from his eyes. The swimmer smiled and sensed my hesitation. “C’mon in, the water’s great.”

“Jamie?” I recognized the voice and the face.

“Way you say that makes me think you thought I was dead.” Jamie stood up like he was tottering on an unsteady perch.

“I heard a few things.” Prison was one of them.

“I’m too crazy to die, but I heard you died too.” HIs smile was missing a few teeth and his beard was a grizzled gray, but he was unmistakably alive instead of dead from a series of ODs, fights, and freak outs. “Something about a bike crash in Burma.”

“It was more a near-death experience than the real thing.” My bent left wrist was a reminder of that crash and I hung my shirt along with my towel on a stump.

“Hey, those are the worst kind.” Jamie was as wiry as a meth addict’s pit bull.

“Is it really okay?” A flotilla of plastic bags floated past him.

“It ain’t the Riviera, but it’s better than Coney Island with a million people pissing in it.” His skin was clear of any rashes.

“Maybe.” Goose bumps popped on my flesh. “It does feel good.”

“If the water looks clean and smells clean, then there’s a good chance it won’t kill you.” Jamie swam on his back. “Don’t be a chicken.”

Those words spurred my diving under the water. The cool wet spoke of Labrador and Greenland. Nothing disgusting touched my flesh and I rose from the shallows refreshed by the plunge.

“So what you think?” Jamie raised his arms above his head. The tracks within his arms were on the mend. He almost looked healthy and I said, “Almost as good as Jones Beach.”

“Hey, why shouldn’t it? It’s the ocean. Only don’t swallow any of it?” Jamie glided on his back and the current tugged him away from the shore. He broke free with a frantic flurry of flailing arms and kicking feet. Reaching me, Jamie said, “Damn, it’s dangerous. Exciting too.”

“I have to admit it’s nice swimming in the city.”

“‘They forbid us from doing it.” His tone made no bones about who ‘they’ were. “A friend of mine dove off the helicopter port. The authorities decided he was a suicide. The fire department and police tried to rescue him. He kept on doing the Australian Crawl. Hah. Even the divers were scared to enter the river. It’s not too bad once you’re used to it.”

“Where you been lately?”

Pedestrians stood by the embankment and gaped at us. It might be another ten years before normal people chanced swimming in the river. They walked away shaking their heads.

“The Bellevue doctors diagnosed me as manic-depressive and I wasn’t in any condition to argue with their assessment. Upstate I discovered that the State was hiding hundreds of madmen and women in these abandoned nut houses. Most of them not really crazy. Only homeless.”

“What do you mean?” I was suspicious of conspiracy theories from avowed maniacs.

“You wonder where those Squeegee men went? No, cause you were too happy with them off the streets.”

Very few New Yorkers missed the hordes of beggars and mumbling madmen, although their near-extinction posed a very sinister mystery. “I figured the Mayor had hired a death squad from Columbia to kill them.”

“He’s too cheap to pay more than the price of a bus ticket.”

An old man shouted from a bike. Jamie waved to him and threaded his way through the debris-strewn bottom to the beach.

“Friend of yours?” I waded to shore, careful not to step on a broken bottle hidden by the murky water.

“I met Dynamite upstate. He was once was a fighter, then took a few of punches too many.” Jamie picked up a torn tee-shirt.

“You want me to meet him?”

“Dynamite’s a little touchy around strangers.” Jamie motioned for me to stay in the water. “He should be getting help, but they emptied the hospitals, cause the mayor’s running for Senate and can’t piss off those upstate hicks, so you’ll be seeing lots more of my friends.”

“I’ll keep my eyes out for them.”

Jamie waved good-bye and climbed the embankment to the old man.

Poseidon had a claim on my soul and I backstroked with the current into the river. I was exhilarated by this simple pleasure, until the wake from a tourist boat filled my mouth with water. I spat it out and saw the passengers pointing at me. I imagined their saying I was mad or re-enacting that SEINFELD episode in which Kramer swam across the East River.

“The squares don’t know how good it is.” Jamie yelled from the road.

“Never will.”

I saluted him with a raised fist and returned to the decrepit spit of debris. The sun dried my skin in seconds and I sniffed my arm. My skin smelled clean, but a bath was more than likely not a bad idea.

Back at my flat I scrubbed my flesh raw.

That evening the weather broke and I didn’t buy an AC.

The next day I told several friends about my adventure. Their faces warped between disgust and disbelief. I fought off an exhilarated grin, since I hadn’t witnessed such boldfaced distaste since the grammar school nuns had condemned my wearing a leather jacket to Mass.

I swam a few of more times in the East River without running into Jamie.

Summer rounded the homestretch into September and his prediction bore fruit. Legions of homeless people begged quarters and they harangued passers-by with demented litanies. Most East Villager ignored them in the hopes they would disappear with the change of the season.

School was back in session and one afternoon I stood on 3rd Avenue in awe of the passing parade of NYU students. The boys wore their hair to honor boy bands and the girls groomed themselves, as if they were seeking employment as a shopping mall mannequin. The pudgy collegians watched too much MTV and drank too much Coke, yet happiness beamed from their clean faces and their joy infected the East Village with a blandness of the suburbs.

Tears broached the dikes at the corners of my eyes.

I missed the gap-toothed smiles of the needle-tracked 12th St. whores, the gravity-defying acrobatics of Union Square’s Valium addicts, the ravaged face of William Burroughs shambling through Grand Central, Johnny Thunders falling off his stool, and the constant patter of drug dealers on my corner. My nostalgia was scary, since the bad from those times was so much more memorable than the good.

The traffic light switched to green. Students rushed past the ‘don’t walk’ signal, which I might have obeyed forever, if Jamie’s gravelly voice hadn’t hijacked me back to the present.

“Nothing stays the same.”

“No one said they do.” I turned to face him. He was wearing a rumpled suit.

“Remember the way it used to be.” He pointed up 3rd Avenue. “In the parking lots prostitutes worked out of decrepit vans.”

“Now they’re college dorms.”

“Farther along the street were pawnshops, a gay peepshow theater, and a couple of porno parlors.” Jamie looked worse than the last time and smelled unwashed from a distance.

“Now sushi shops and beer halls for the students.” I breathed through my mouth.

“Shit, the director of TAXI DRIVER filmed a couple of scenes with Jodie Foster at that SRO hotel on 13th Street.” Yellowing bruises discolored his face. He had been in a fight. His hand deftly covered his mouth and slipped on a cap to fill the gap in his grin. “Man, this neighborhood was fucked up. Junkies, sluts, people down on their luck.”

“Not anymore.” His sidewalk preaching was attracting too much of the wrong attention and I crossed the street.

Jamie followed, speaking with a belligerence better saved for the start of an argument.

“I hate these kids. They wear helmets bicycling and condoms for sex. They stare at us like we don’t belong in the East Village. It’s them that don’t belong.”

“Perhaps we’re too old.” I led him onto Stuyvesant Street. There were less people on the tiny square.

“The little stick-pussies pretend they’re us.” Jamie snarled at two teenage punks. “They’d survive about one second where I sleep at night.”

They’re kids.” I had been young once.

“If I ran a gang of thieves, pickpockets, conmen, and grifters, I rip these spoiled brats off for every last penny and send them back crying to their fat-ass parents.”

The idea of a Fagin gang raping the rich was a psycho-flame not needing any gasoline, but I asked, “Little angry this afternoon, Jamie?”

“Damn right.” His eyes twitched without focus. “I finished a weekend bid in jail.”

“For what?” Knowing him it could have been anything.

“This film crew was tearing branches off a tree blocking their fucking shot. I told them to stop and they ignored me. I punched out the producer and was arrested for trying to save a tree.”

“That’s very green of you.” I liked saving the planet, though not enough to go to jail.

“I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the tree, but I hate film people making believe like the shit they film is the truth.”

Jamie was waving his hands in the air to catch imaginary flyballs.

“Then I get out and find out they jailed Dynamite. Shit, he ain’t killing people with tobacco or brainwashing people’s minds with advertisements. Only ranting about a fight he might have lost twenty years ago and if that’s a crime, they’d throw all the assholes talking on cellphones in jail too. I wish I had a hockey stick to slapshot them off their ears. I mean who are they talking to anyway? Dynamite’s crazy talk made it safe for straights to speak on phones like they were talking with Martin Scorsese. Why they have to bust Dynamite? He’s only a drunk. The cops, they don’t care, cause they have orders to protect these fucks’ pretty little world.”

Jamie seized my arm. His fingers bit into my bicep and I pried them loose. It wasn’t easy.

“You gotta calm down.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down.” Jamie spun around, as if a sudden spurt of vertigo might shift the time twenty years into the past.

“Then don’t calm down.”

“Calm, not calm.” Jamie staggered to the fence around a weedy garden. “You gotta remember why this ain’t how it was. Why nothing is the same that it was after the night they took Hakkim away.”

“Hakkim?”

“You remember Hakkim?”

“How could I forget?” His sanity depended on my answer.

“And the night they took him away?”

“We were at the Horseshoe Bar on Avenue B.”

“Good, you haven’t forgotten.” He stood up straight. “Sorry, I lost it, but I get a little crazy, if my blood sugar gets low. They still have egg creams at the Gem Spa?”

A family of Pakistani might have taken over the newsstand, but the recipe was as old as the neighborhood.

“Same as ever.”

“I drink one of those and I’ll be good. You have money?”

A warning accompanied my two dollars.

“You go crazy and you’re on your own.”

“Hey, I’m just having an egg cream.” The evaporation of his rage left him a fragile shell. “You mind coming with me?”

“What are friends for?” I walked him to the corner of St. Mark’s.

“Good to see something’s still the same.” He turned and said, “Do me a favor.”

“What?” I hoped that he wasn’t contemplating robbing the Gem Spa.

“For once it’d be nice for someone to wait around, instead of running away.” He almost sounded like an orphan. “Can you do me that solid?”

“Hurry up.”

While I didn’t owe him any favors, I couldn’t refuse this small boon. I waved him inside and examined the street to recall what remained of the East Village from twenty years ago.

In truth very little.
The St. Mark’s Cinema was a Gap, the Orchida serving pizza and liter beers had been replaced by an Italian restaurant, the Baths were now Kim’s Video.

The people were missing too.

Steven Pines OD, Carol Smith OD, Johnny Thunders OD, Clover Nolan disappeared into East Berlin, Klaus Nomi and Steve Brown of AIDS.

Thousands returned to regular lives in the suburbs and hundreds left for LA dazed by the promise of stardom.

I had gone nowhere.

My apartment on East 10th Street had been my home since 1976.

Back then East Village had resembled ancient Rome a week after the Huns had sacked the city. Apartment buildings had been abandoned by indebted landlords. Other tenements had been torched for insurance and the rest were rattraps overrun by cockroaches with buckling walls and no heat.

The Ninth Precinct had unofficially declared east of 1st Avenue a ‘no-go’ zone populated by thieves, whores, chicken-hawks, hustlers, rapists, scammers, junkies and deviants.

The East Village was dangerous, but my hillbilly girlfriend from West Virginia loved the album cover pose of the New York Dolls in front of the Gem Spa and we weren’t the only ones. The rundown neighborhood was the center of the universe for punks, musicians, artists, runaways, B-grade models, painters, dancers, actors, and sculptors recolonizing the burnt-out blocks between 1st and D Avenues.

Nowadays the politicians, the cops, the shop owners, and the nouveau-riche are quick to claim responsibility for the East Village’s rebirth, however the improvement was determined by one criminal’s absence and if anyone tells you different, it’s because they never met Hakkim, for a scumbag like him came around once in a generation.

July 1, 1976 was not a day for moving. The weather was unbearably hot.

“Why don’t we do this tomorrow?” I was happy in my SRO room on West 11th Street. I had drunk seven beers at CBGBs. My hang-over was second-degree.

“Because I’m not spending another night in this dump.” My hillbilly girlfriend hated the warped linoleum floors and sweating wallpaper. The twenty-one year-old had just graduated from an art college in Ohio. This was the actress’ first summer in New York. It was my second.

“It’s not that bad.” A slight breeze was crawling through the single window.

“Only because you’re near-sighted.” Yanne threw a bag on my chest. Her eyes were two different colors; green with tints of red. The latter was the color of fire. “Start packing.”

“Okay, okay.” I crawled off the soggy mattress and we loaded my books, clothing, stereo, and a black-and-white TV into five boxes. The clerk at the desk have back my security.

“I get us a taxi.”

The driver of the Checker was reluctant to head into the East Village.

“I’ll give you a good tip.” I loaded the boxes into the trunk.

“I’m not going into Alphabet City.”

“No one said that you needed to go there.” I signaled for Yanne to get in the Checker before the driver changed his mind. He looped around the block to 12th Street to turn down 5th before heading east on 10th Street.

“Easy.” I kissed her.

“Happy to be out of there.”

“Happy to be with you.”

Happiness doesn’t last long in New York.

The driver emphatically refused to go any farther than 1st Avenue.

“It’s only a little bit down the block,” Yanne pleaded with an Appalachian accent. Speaking in tongues was one of her many gifts.

“I don’t care if it was five feet. I’m not going another inch.” The driver pulled over to the curb.

“Thanks a lot.” We unloaded our stuff onto the sidewalk and I tipped him a dollar.

“You said a good tip.”

“It is a good tip for not taking us where we wanted to go.” I slammed the door and the taxi driver cursed me in Greek before racing uptown.

“Thanks for not losing your temper.”

“I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot.” I looked down the block

A flurry of near-naked children played in the spray from a hydrant, their parents lounged on the steps, and old men played dominoes on milk crates. This rendition of a Jacob Riis photo was why my girlfriend and I wanted to move here. It wasn’t suburbia.

“Guess we’re home.”

“No, home is upstairs.” She beamed and lifted a box. I tried to manage with the other four. One toppled onto the sidewalk.

“Mister, you need help?” Two scrawny kids ran up to us.

“$1 each to carry a box to that door over there.” I pointed to the three stoop on the southside of the street.
“Can we trust them?” whispered Yanne.

“We let them help and no one will think we’re stuck-up white people trying to evict them from their neighborhood?”

I handed them each a dollar and she frowned in disapproval of my bride. The kids joked about us being Mr. And Mrs. Opie, then fell silent at the door to our new address.

A pockmarked junkie lay slumped before the door and the taller kid said, “That’s George. He ain’t dead, just fucked up.”

“Let me see, if I can wake him.”

I called his name several times and then climbed the stairs to lightly nudge the comatose junkie with my foot. As he slumped from the doorway, an enraged voice shouted, “Who the fuck are you to kick George?”

”Oh shit.”

The two kids dropped the boxes and ran toward 1st Avenue. The kids in the spray of the fire hydrant scurried to their parents. A bare-chested black man was crossing the street. He was wearing jean shorts too tight for his muscular build and his eyes bellowed with yellow fury. This was not a joke.

My girlfriend stood behind me.

“I didn’t kick him.”

“You callin’ me a liar, you white piece of shit?” he snarled from the bottom of the steps.

“I’m sorry.” I couldn’t look him the eyes.

“Too late for sorrys. You’re fucked.” The veins on his neck pulsed with thick throbs of blood, as he clomped up the steps in his army boots. “I’m gonna to kick your ass.”

Countless scraps with Southie boys had taught me the value of not fighting fair and I threw the boxes at his chest. Their weight knocked our neighborhood greeter off balance and his body slammed onto the sidewalk. The crack of his head on the pavement echoed off the opposite building. He didn’t move and a trickle of blood seeped from under his head.

The street grew very quiet.

George rose from his slumber and stared at his friend and then me.

“Hakkim, what you done to Hakkim? You fucked yourself good. Hakkim gonna come for you and your little girlfriend. Take your clothes, TV, jewelry and fuck her.”

Anyone stupid enough to threaten you without throwing the first blow deserved a beating and I kicked him in the head. My girlfriend stopped me before I hospitalized him.

“We better leave before the police come.”

I opened the door and carried our boxes to our third-floor flat.

That night I lay awake on the futon waiting for Hakkim’s revenge.

A little past 3AM my girlfriend lulled me to sleep.

“Nothing is going to happen tonight.”

Birds singing in the alley woke us and we made love on a dusty futon. We took a bath in the kitchen tub. She washed me and I dried her. We made love again with the sun streaming into the apartment.

When I went to buy groceries, the domino players across the street greeted me with a wave.

Hakkim appeared that afternoon sporting a stained head bandage and George possessing a black eye and a swollen cheek. Their eyes followed me, but neither man tried to attack me that night or any other.

Their unexpected leniency didn’t curtail their reign of terror against the neighborhood. Two models, Valda and Mary Beth, moved into an apartment across the street. The two models heeded my warnings about Hakkim and installed theft-proof grills on the windows.

For several weeks they were spared the unwelcome wagon treatment, but only because Hakkim had been busy elsewhere.

One night they returned home to discover Hakkim had chopped through the walls, stolen their money, defecated on their beds, and threw their clothes into the street. They moved out the next morning.

A musician friend devised the unusual strategy of leaving his door unlocked.

“I have nothing worth stealing.” Kurt upped this security measure by refusing to clean the apartment. He threw pizza rinds onto the growing pyramid of trash in the corner.

“That’s all I have and, if anyone wants it, they can have it.”

A lack of cleanliness was meaningless to a criminal so far removed from godliness as Hakkim and one day I spotted him wearing a jacket which Kurt had buried under a pile of Chinese take-out boxes. Observing my horror, Hakkim warned ominously, “I been waitin’ for you. Waitin’ real patient for a piece of your girlfriend too.”

After hearing of Hakkim’s threat, my hillbilly girlfriend thrust the Village Voice in my chest. The weekly was folded to the APARTMENT FOR RENT section and she didn’t mince words.

“Find us an apartment quick. I don’t care where as long as it’s not East 10th Street.”

I called the landlord of a one-bedroom in Gramercy Park.

It was available and my girlfriend said, “Go over and sign the lease.”

“Right away.” Our experiment with urban pioneering was nearly at an end.

No one being on 10th Street was strange, yet I’d witnessed enough weird shit in one month and I walked to hail a taxi on 1st Avenue expecting the worst.

Loud shouting rang from the corner.

Hakkim and another junkie were arguing about the split of swag from their robberies of apartments. Hakkim saw me. My eyes narrowed and he laughed, “You gonna throw down on me? You a punk bitch same as the rest of ‘em. I own you all.”

Two-on-one was not fair odds and I snatched a two-by-four out of the trash. I charged after Hakkim. He scrambled between two tightly parked cars and I swung at his head. He ducked under the whistling wood and stumbled into the avenue.

His escape was cut off by a Daily News truck. Its fender sent Hakkim flying fifty feet in the air. He landed on the other side of the street, a bone audibly snapping, and his body tumbled to rest. The other junkie stared at him sprawled on the pavement.

I expected him to blame me for causing this terrible accident.

Instead he rifled through Hakkim’s pockets and cried out with joy upon discovering several glassine packets of dope, then ran east spreading the news that Hakkim was dead.

Long-time residents emerged their apartments and stood over the fallen thief.

Only the untimely arrival of a cop car from the Ninth Precinct stopped their revenge. The crowd begged the police to leave the scene. The officers apologized, “Sorry, we have a job. For him as much as you.”

People swore at the cops, as an ambulance carted him to Bellevue, but no one was afraid to pray aloud for their tormentor’s death and that evening people walked on the block with newly purchased TVs, radios, and the stereos. Stuff they wouldn’t buy as long as Hakkim controlled the streets.

“You still want to leave?” I asked my girlfriend. The sun was setting in an orange sky. Children were laughing beside an ice cream truck. She tucked her arm around my waist.

“If he’s gone, then we’re still home. You want vanilla or chocolate?”

“Both.”

Flowers sprouted in the beaten ground underneath the trees. Supers swept the sidewalks and music filled the street. This miracle’s lasting forever was too much to ask from a place so beyond the pale of civilization as East Village.

Two weeks later I was sitting on the stoop with my upstairs neighbor and his face went white.

“What’s wrong?”

“Look.” He had seen a ghost.

“No way.”

Hakkim was hobbling down the sidewalk on crutches. His admiring coterie toasted his resurrection by ripping the flowers out of a recently planted garden.God might have been above saving his only son, but I couldn’t make any sense of his sparing Hakkim.

“Hey, you motherfuckers.” Hakkim waved a clump of roots over his head. ”Get ready for a Christmas in the springtime, cuz I been hearin’ you bought a lot of shit for me.”

Everyone shirked his gaze and I shook my head.

“I have to move.”

When I broke the news to my girlfriend, she started crying.

“It’s not fair.” Yanne believed that Hakkim was coming for her. I did too and took out a five-shot revolver from the closet. It was hardly the most accurate weapon in the world, but if I could get within ten feet of Hakkim, he was a dead man.

Night fell slowly during the first hours of my hunt.

Hakkim wasn’t at Brownie’s or the East Village Artist’s Club on 9th or at any of the shooting galleries on 4th.

I ran into Jamie Parker at the Horseshoe Bar on Avenue B.

“Have you seen Hakkim.”

He pointed to a group of passing Puerto Ricans.

“They’re gonna to find Hakkim way before you. He ripped off their bruja. This fucked with their juju or some shit, so have a drink and let them commit murder for you.”

Hunting someone in hot blood gives a man a thirst. I drank a few beers. My mind imaged Hakkim on the ground before me. The gun was in my hand. My finger was on the trigger. Jamie sensed the rising tide of vengeance and ordered me a shot of whiskey. I pushed away the shot glass.

“I need air.”

“Don’t go far.”

”I’m not going anywhere.”

The night air was still and the streetlights were black. Someone had knocked them out. Running feet slapped against the pavement. It was George. No one was catching the little junkie.

“Who was that?” Jamie exited from the bar.

“Fucking George. Hakkim can’t be far behind.” My hand slipped inside my jacket to the handle of the revolver.

“Help me. Please help me.” Hakkim wobbled along the street on his crutches. “They gonna kill me. Help.”

“Someone call the police.” A gang of Puerto Ricans mocked him.

“Help me.”

Plenty of people were on the street and lots more watching from the windows.

No one answered Hakkim and I tried to cross the street to kick him off his feet.

“This doesn’t concern you.” Jamie restrained me.

He was right and I watched, while the crippled junkie swung a crutch at four young barrio toughs. Six more kids ran up carrying pipes. There was no escape for the terror of the East Village.

“Help me for God’s sake.” Hakkim screamed with his head to heaven.

“Anyone want to save Hakkim’s ass?” a teenager in a black satin shirt mercilessly asked the onlookers.

The people in the windows shut them. Those on the streets walked away. The courts might accuse us of being accessories to murder, but that night we were a jury giving no other sentence than thumbs down and none of us lost a night’s sleep about our verdict. "What happened" Yanne was sitting on the futon at the apartment. She was wearing a white shift like Patricia Neal in HUD. Everything about her said hillbilly. "Hakkim's gone." I stashed the revolver in the closet. "Gone?" The question bristled with hope. "For good." I lay down next to her and pretended that I was Lil Abner. "I had nothing to do with it." "I know." Her reward was sweet. That night was a long time ago and I turned my head in time to catch Jamie coming out of the Gem Spa. He finished the egg cream with one long suck.

“Damn, that was as good as it ever was.”

“Glad to hear it?” I stepped aside for a quartet of retro punks dressed in new leather. They bumped into me as if to demonstrate their toughness.

“Watch who you bump into.” Jamie’s eyes locked on them and they ran off like rats with their tails on fire. He tossed the empty egg cream into the overflowing trash bin. “Wannabes.”

“Jamie, I didn’t need your help.”

“Didn’t say you did, just my way of saying thanks for not walking away while I was in the store.”

“Jamie, you be careful.” I had someplace to go.

“That might be asking too much?” Reacting to my facial expression, he added, “Don’t worry, you ain’t seen the last of me yet.”

To prove his statement, Jamie strolled across the avenue, daring the traffic to hit him. A cement truck lurched to a screeching halt and he yelled, “See, I’m invulnerable?”

Reaching the other side of the avenue, Jamie stopped to speak with a fat coed on the sidewalk. He must have told her a funny line, for she laughed with a hand covering her mouth. They vanished into the crowd of college students. He was lucky with girls, although it was the kind of luck that few people wanted anymore.

In the following weeks I expected to see Jamie again, except he had slipped into the cracks of the East Village.

He might be living in a squat with the fat coed. More likely he had lost his temper and the police had thrown him in jail. If not, I hoped he left town and whenever I went to the church on East 14th Street, I lit a candle for Jamie.

Maybe he’ll return, once the neighborhood reverted to its old wickedness, because all the angels in heaven can’t keep a devil like Hakkim in Hell until Judgment Day. He was made for walking the Earth, especially on the streets of the East Village.

I do miss junkies.

They keep the good people honest.