Sunday, March 31, 2013
During his youth my older brother was a pyromaniac. He came close to burning down each of our houses and those of our neighbors on several occasions. His fiery obsession boiled over to explosive devices and we would devise rockets from our mother's discarded hair spray cans. Our demolition area was a sandpit not far from our suburban development on the South Shore of Boston.
Chuckie, my next-door neighbor, Frunk, and I would tape the cans together. The fuse was a fire. Sometimes the can would explode in fiery separate burst, but occasionally the strapped cans would arced across the sky at low altitudes spitting toxic flames.
None of us suffered injuries from these experiments, however the town police warned our parents that we were constituted a danger to the community and y older brother obeyed their orders to abandon our emulation of NASA's failed rocket launches.
At my parochial high school I resisted the draw of the rocket club.
Instead I ran cross country in the fall.
The five-mile course took runners past an abandoned mansion. Our competitors were never forewarned that their runners had to leap a stone wall to cross through the estate, giving us an edge and my school won two consecutive state championships in 1967 and 1968, however our dominance was challenged by a mysterious government agency's purchase of the mansion. The men occupying the estate wore white shirts and black ties.
Chuckie Manzi said they were CIA experimenting on apes and we listened for the shrieks of chimps, as we panted across the fields for the start of the 1969 season. They were none.
Upon our arrival back at the gym, our coach informed us that the grounds were off-limits to the cross-country team.
"What about the wall?"
"No more wall," said Brother Jude.
Later that month we lost our first race in years.
"We want the wall." We protested to Brother Jude. He was on our side as was the principal, who asked for special access for these bi-weekly races.
The men in the white shirts refused this request.
Every practice session we passed the mansion calling them 'assholes', then trained harder to regain our edge.
Few of our fellow students cared about the track team.
Our school's football team was state champs. They had cheerleaders from the nearest Catholic girls school
Our only fans were the rocket club, who said that this matter was not over.
No one paid them much mind.
They were nerds and the cross-country team worried that nerdiness might be contagious.
We won our next race, although I barely beat out our rival's 5th runner to score a victory. Afterward the rocket club glared at the distant mansion and the cross-country team exchanged a conspiratorial glance with them. Whatever they had planned was more than all right by us.
The next day the school's rocket club announced an exhibition of their missiles. The 60s was the time of going to the moon and the brothers proudly assembled the students in the field behind the high school. The principal instructed the collective classes to stand a good distance from the launch area, fro these rockets were not small.
One of them was at least ten-feet long.
After running a series of tests, the rocket club signaled that they were ready and soon missiles were soaring into the sky.
Even the football team thought the rocket club was cool and the brothers beamed with satisfaction, thinking maybe one of these boys might end up at NASA.
Off in the distance a few of the men in the white shirts were standing outside the mansion.
The rocket club lined up this final missile, the ten-footer, with the mansion.
The men at the mansion started shouting and then the president of the rocket club lit the fuse. The men in the white shirts ran for cover.
The missile to cover the half-mile between the field and mansion in less than a second.
The explosion was muffled by out applause. Afterwards the men in the white shirts complained to the brothers.
The town police ignored the complaint, since some of their kids were on the track team and we regained permission to run through the field a week later and won the state championship for the third time in a row.
No one ever said anything bad about nerds in our school.
They were heroes, because they were dangerous.
At least to anyone not on our side and that's the way it should be when you're young.
ps my older brother was really pissed that he hadn't been there.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
THE LAST TEMPTATION by Nikos Kazantzakis was a revelation for a young boy living on the South Shore of Boston in the early 60s. I found the book in our town library next to his successful novel ZORBA THE GREEK. Reading the blurb on the dust cover I was shocked to discover that Kazantzakis had written this book to argue the innate weakness of the flesh in the Son of God. Books like this were regularly banned in Boston. The lack of due date stamps within the front cover revealed that the book had never been read by anyone in my town. I stuck it under my arm and walked to the check-out counter.
"This book has been here over seven years." The librarian examined THE LAST TEMPTATION, as if she had never seen it before. She opened the pages to the publishing date. "Came out in 1960."
"Maybe it was in hiding." I was a weekly visitor to the library. The librarian was familiar with my reading habits. She allowed me to take out adult books without question.
"ZORBA THE GREEK is very popular. Any time someone makes a movie from a book, people come into the library to read it. Afterward I have to hear how the book was better or the movie was better."
"THE TEN COMMANDMENTS were better than the book." I had seen the Bible epic at the South Shore Drive-In with my parents. I didn't tell them that I was a non-believer. Such an admission would have earned me the belt and not on the palm of the hand.
"That's almost sacrilegious." She frowned from behind her desk, then laughed, "I was kidding. I liked THE TEN COMMANDMENTS better too. Let me know how this book is."
I took THE LAST TEMPTATION home and read the entire novel over the weekend. My older brother grabbed it out of my hands and asked if it was a dirty book.
"No." Kazantzakis offered an intoxication more heady than sex.
The author contradicted the very teachings of the Church. Jesus was a man. He succumbed to the pleasure of Mary Magdalene. The devil tore at his soul. The Messiah lived in India after surviving the crucifixion. He woke from a dream to find himself nailed to the cross. His suggestions created a Fifth Testament complimenting my juvenile atheism.
My version was simple.
Jesus had been crucified on the cross. The Romans declared him dead, but he was in a coma. After the earthquake opened his tomb, the apostles discovered him alive and declared him the Son of God. Jesus believed them until Thomas returned from India. He pointed to the scars in Jesus' feet and hands and told his friend that if they did this once, then they will do it again. Jesus hadn't come back from the dead to be re-crucified and he fled to India with Thomas, his mother, and Mary Magdalene.
My version was also heresy, until I read in VS Naipul's AMONGST THE BELIEVERS that a tomb exists in Northern India containing the body of a holy man from Judea. Yuz Asaf or Issar had been a healer and lived to the age of 127. Muslims in Kashmir revere the tomb as the final resting place of Mary. Craved footprints of Yuz Araf on the gravestones bear wounds in the feet.
In 1988 Martin Scorcese released THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. The movie was banned in the Philippines and Singapore and a Paris cinema was firebombed by Christian extremists. Thirteen spectators were injured in the attack. The same number of people at the Last Dinner.
Christians are very sensitive about any questioning of the divinity of Jesus or blasphemous exploitation of his image.
The controversial photo PISS CHRIST earned Richard Serrano a hailstorm of outrage for its use of urine. He received hate mail and death threats. His grants were withdrawn despite counter-protests for the freedom of speech as guaranteed by the American Constitution. The work was thoroughly trashed by Christian Fundamentalists in France this Spring and they have mounted a similar campaign against a Paris theater for showing a play in which a portrait of Jesus is covered in shit at the end of the play.
As an atheist I refrain from attacking anyone's religion.
If belief in a mythical god makes the believers happy, so be it, but if they try to change the way I think, then I'll resist the bible-thumpers and jihadists every step of the way.
And here's how;
Why did Jesus cross the road?
Because he was nailed to the chicken!
Yes, if there is a Hell, we're all going to go there.
I think that comes from a Curtis Mayfield song.
If there is a hell, we're all going to go.
And I found the address in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST.
IT'S IN THE STATE OF MICHIGAN.
Several years ago I spent a quiet Easter at Donovan's Sports Bar on 3rd Road in Pattaya. The owner was sitting alone and I decided to join Steve for an cheeseburger. We discussed my upcoming trip to the USA and he said, "It's been three and half years since I was last in New York."
"Over two for me." And I had been putting off this trip for ten months at least.
"I don't think I could live there anymore." He sipped at his whiskey and soda, then added, "I see the faces of people on TV and they don't look human, not to mention that you can't say anything about anything to anyone without them getting offended."
Steve's brother walked into the restaurant with a friend from Texas and they argued with Steve's assessment of America's losing its title as the Land of the Free.
"You can say what you want as long as you don't offend anyone." Steve's brother lives in Dallas. People are real churchy in that Texan metropolis. We joked about Texas and then terrorists. I thought we were free and asked, "What has 6000 feet and is two inches tall?"
Neither had the answer.
"The World Trade Tower."
"Not funny." Steve's brother frowned with patriotic disapproval.
"Okay." I knew a few more WTC jokes, but decided to keep them under cover for a few years. Later Steve said, "Americans don't find that joke funny."
"But what the hell, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."
One day we're going to laugh again only it wasn't going to be this year.
Friday, March 29, 2013
For Catholics around the world Ash Wednesday kicked off the Easter Season. Forty days of abstinence from a favorite pleasure was a token of their devotion to the upcoming sacrifice of the Messiah. On Palm Sunday the faithful brandished palm fronds to honor the Son of God entering Jerusalem. The New Testament recounted how his triumph was transformed into horror by the infamous crucifixion on the Mount. As a youth the priests and nuns led a mournful procession around our parish church stopping at each station of the cross to intone prayers, dispense incense, and light candles. There was nothing joyful about the ceremony.
Most other Americans understood the solemn weight of the day.
God's son was dead.
Good Friday was a day of buzzkills.
This Friday I was greeted during my visit to the diamond exchange by several recent emigres with a 'Happy Good Friday'.
"And Good Friday to you."
I didn't have the heart to tell these non-Christians from Asia about how Good Friday was about suffering.
Mostly because I'm an ex-Catholic.
So it's Happy Kill A God Day.
My mother wouldn't like that, but I became a heretic at the age of 8.
Happy Good Friday indeed.
In many ways books are much better than DVDs. While used ones in Thailand cost about 160 baht as opposed to 100 baht per DVD, movies rarely last longer than 2 hours, especially if you hit the fast-forward button. The BLACK DAHLIA flashed before my eyes in less than 12 minutes. It sucked.
Reading a book is a journey of days, unless the book was no good, however last year I was lucky enough to find THE LAST EXECUTIONER by Chavoret Jaruboon, the Thailand's last prison executioner.
The functional writing recounted Mr. Jaruboon's life as a teenage rock musician, soldier, prison guard, executioner, and finally monk. Neither of his first three careers prepared him for the fifty-five executions that he performed at Bang Kwang prison.
To him the job of poo sam-re?t toht or executioner meant more money.
2000 baht a job.
In the book he outlined the crimes which led the condemned to their fate. Their crimes were often heinous. On the day of execution they were tied to a crucifix and shot up to fifteen times by a machine gun. This humble man respected the dead for fear of their ghosts. In the end Khun Jaraboon was glad to see the deadly fusillade replaced by fatal injection.
His last job was on 12/8/2002.
Eight bullets into the back of a murdering rapist.
After that Jaruboon became a monk.
His favorite band was the Beatles.
One more thing.
Paperbacks are better than hard-covers.
You can swap mosquitoes with them.
Norman Mailer wrote his 1979 Pulitzer-winning EXECUTIONER'S SONG about Gary Gilmore's execution by the State of Utah.
His crime had been murder.
Gilmore had a slim choice of methods; shooting squad or noose. He opted for the shooting squad rather than the noose and refused any reprieve from his fate. “Death is the only inescapable, unavoidable, sure thing. We are sentenced to die the day we’re born.” Norman Mailer considered this insight extraordinary, yet didn’t extrapolate further to the fact that everyone was privy to the hour of Gary Gilmore’s date with destiny, especially the shooting squad. He walked the Last Mile on the morning of January 17, 1977. His last meal from the Utah State Prison consisted of steak, potatoes, milk and coffee and a six-pack of beer. He ate nothing and drank the milk and coffee. Smuggled Jack Daniels was his last sustenance on Earth. The Death House was an abandoned cannery. Five riflemen from the local police served as the Death Squad. His last words. “Let’s do it.”
Chavoret Jaruboon, Thailand's # 1 executioner, was familiar with such bravado.
Thailand's method of capital punishment has combined a ritual crucifixion with shooting the victim in the back. The target was the heart and the state killer shoot his victim from behind a screen. Fifteen bullets were allotted for each occasion. Even the best get sloppy with a blind shot.Chavoret Jaruboon's total number of kills was 55.
55 victims are less than the 150 Texans killed by GW Bush's stroke of a pen.
Americans rationalize that death by injection as a merciful method.
Personally I'd choose a hot shot of heroin over a chemical concoction of dubious origins.
The majority of this country also consider the death penalty as an effective weapon against murder. The FBI reports that each execution deters at least 3-17 extra victims. Guess they aren't taking into account Columbine or Virginia Tech, where the killers don't make it to court.
China kills thousands of criminals each year. None of them can make an appeal. The manner of death comes as a bullet to the head and the family has to pay for the bullet.
Back in 1995 I witnessed a parade of trucks in Chengdu transporting about thirty death row inmates to the nearby sports stadium. People watched the procession from the sidewalks without comment and the resignation on the condemned faces betrayed none expected a last minute reprieve.
Neither had any of GW Bush's 150.
China even has a mobile execution van.
Death is by injection with comfortable sitting for six witnesses and no body damage for better organ harvesting.
During the lead-up to 2008 Beijing Olympics the Chinese cut their executions from 12,000 to about 7500 per annum, which was more than all the other countries in the world combined.
Thailand tried to do its part in reducing the criminal population.
A bullet is better than previous methods.
Until 1934 Thailand decapitated criminals. A swordsman would leap from behind the victim and lop off their head. This ambush was to designed to prevent the dead man's ghost from haunting the killer. The head was then stuck on a pole and the bodies fed to birds of prey i.e. vultures. This was an improvement on earlier techniques such as inserting a red-hot iron in the brain or immolating a bound and impaled prisoner.
Unlike Gary Gilmore, none of the prisoners on Thailand's Death Row are told the time of their death. Guards show up one morning and select a victim.
No last meal.
No phone calls. Just, "Mung, bpai."
Most are dragged kicking and screaming according to Mr. Chavoret, who was promoted to Warden of the Foreign Prisoners' Section at Bangkok's Bang Kwang Central Prison. He deemed that capital punishment acted as a deterrent to crime, despite its prohibition by Buddhist teachings.
"An eye for an eye," he quoted the old Hebrew standard of retribution.
Of course no one speaks about the 3000-plus killings during Thaksin's War of Drugs.
Not if they know what's good for them.
Gary Gilmore's last words were 'Let's do it."
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Top Ten Reasons That Beer Is Better Than Jesus:-
a) No one will kill you for not drinking beer.
b) Beer doesn't tell you how to have sex.
c) They don't force beer on minors who cannot think for themselves.
d) Beer has never caused a major war.
e) When you have a beer you don't knock on people's doors trying to give it away.
f) Nobody has ever been burned at the stake, hanged or tortured over a beer.
g) You don't have to wait 2000 years for a second beer.
h) There are laws saying beer labels cannot lie to you.
I) You can prove you have a beer.
j) If you are devoted to beer then there are groups who can help you stop.
ps rick santorum doesn't drink beer
Skinny girls were an anathema in America's buxom 50s. The overt sexuality of Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and Brigitte Bardot created a resilient male obsession for full-figured women and their curvaceous silhouettes cursed millions of patriotic men with a disdain for ingenues, method actresses, and slender showgirls throughout the Eisenhower years and the early 60s promised more of the same until the breastless Twiggy was selected as the fashion iconette of Swinging London and New York's Andy Warhol responded to the thin trans-Atlantic phenomena by selflessly promoting the anorexic heiress Edie Sedgwick as his Factory's Girl of the Year.
New was new and old was out.
An elegant Audrey Hepburn attained universal stardom playing a mercurially vulnerable Holly Golightly in the film version of Truman Capote's BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS, Julie Chrystie symbolized sleek beauty in DARLING, and shooting up a bank regained its sexuality with the blonde goddess Faye Dunaway in BONNIE AND CLYDE.
Thin was in and Frank Sinatra mainstreamed the trend with his marriage to the strikingly boyish Mia Farrow. I resisted the flow by remaining true to my hometown's most beautiful cheerleader. Kyla Rolla attended the town high school and I went to a Catholic all-boys high school. The stacked seventeen year-old brunette dragged me to church every Sunday. My attendance was considered mandatory by my parents. They had no inkling that I was an atheist.
The 60s were the 60s only in New York and California, for Boston's devotion to religion was based on another century during which heretics had been burned at the stake. Declaring my lack of faith would have incurred the current version of that awful punishment.
Worst Kyla would have shunned me.
She read good books, danced like a Shindig go-go girl, and was built more like a Playboy centerfold than a Vogue model. Her divorced mother dated a foreign-born musician and their evenings out lasted well past midnight. Kyla and I had the run of the house for hours. Our relationship was the envy of our respective classmates.
That summer we listened to the Velvet Underground and Boston's own Ultimate Spinach on the living room couch. Our making out was well advanced beyond Second Base, but not close to Third Base. Sex without stripping naked was a physical impossibility.
I was committed for the duration. Teenage lungs were built for endurance. We rarely broke surface for air. Her hands explored my body without fear. I offered no resistance to her limited exploration like a dog in heat. Something more had to happen and one warm April night Kyla spread her legs as an invitation to another level. I had no idea how to proceed.
"Let me show you." Kyla led my hand between her thighs. A primeval instinct guided my caresses. Her beatified sigh signaled my success in helping her attain bliss. A Neanderthal gene demanded my humping her thigh like a greyhound. I fought off the urge, thinking 'ladies first'.
After I bought her over the edge for the tenth time, my finger dipped below her rosebud.
Kyla pushed my body off hers and said the most devastating words that a young man could hear from his girlfriend.
"I'm saving it for my wedding night."
"Your wedding night?"
I was no Albert de Salvo, so no meant no, unless a girl's date was the Boston Strangler.
"A church wedding means a lot to me." She loved Jesus.
That winter she had entered our names for a weekend retreat for young people seeking a life serving God. My best friend rescued my soul from eternal salvation by playing Led Zeppelin's first LP on a portable stereo. I packed my bag for an early departure. Several other boys joined my exodus. Kyla was disappointed by my defection. She had been enraptured by a vision of her as a nun and me as a priest. One listen to GOOD TIMES BAD TIMES cost Kyla her avocation, but she forgave my introduction to apostasy.
"Plenty of non-virgins get married in churches." Her plans were to get married after the 3rd year of college. 1973 was four years away from 1969. I was good at math. Our wedding bells were 1460 days away in the future. Tonight's frustration would be repeated on hundreds of other occasions
"I won't be one of them."
Kyla slipped off the couch and arranged her clothing to regain the illusion of unsullied innocence. The blush of a defended virginity suited her skin color.
"I respect your wish." I stuck my hands in my pockets, which trembled with caveman desire.
"And that's why I love you." She kissed me with bruised lips and the many nights I walked the three miles to my parents' house in a maelstrom of untapped lust. I was doomed by circumstances beyond my control. Our parish priest extolled the purity of my future bride. He had never seen the quiver of her bare breasts. My parents considered the athletic cheerleader their 3rd daughter. She prayed to Sweet Jesus in a state of passion. Our friends called us Mr. And Mrs. I didn't think it funny, mostly because I loved Kyla. She would make some man the ideal wife.
That night I went to sleep a free man.
In the morning I rode the T into Boston for my weekly visit to Skippy White's in Cambridge. I flipped through the LPs by alphabet starting with A. My fingers stopped shuffling in the Bs.
I picked up Blind Faith's debut release on Atco. Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker of Cream had joined with Stevie Winwood of Traffic and the bassist Ric Gresch from Family to form rock's first supergroup. I didn't bother to look at the list of songs on the back, for I had suffered a mesmerized demi-coma upon seeing the album's front cover.
A simple glance at the bare-breasted nymphette with the wavy blonde hair converted my preference from Jayne Mansfield to Mia Farrow. The sleek steel model airplane in the angel's hands translated as sin into my flesh. I had to have her, but this obsession didn't blind me to her being in England and I stood stunned in a record store, for I was trading one impossibility for another.
I paid the long-haired clerk with ten-dollar bill. The staff at Skippy White's breathed music as a religion and every genre of rock flowed in their veins. The clerk handed over my change and hesitated before putting the record into the store's paper bag.
"How old are you, kid?"
"17." None of the Combat Zone XXX shops checked my age. "Is there a problem?
"Not really, just that some do-gooders complained about the nudity."
"Seems harmless to me." Other than turning around my world.
"She is a little young. 12 years old."
"My youngest sister is 12." We had bathed together as children. 6 kids from 10 to 2 splashing in a tub. It was like the Garden of Eden.
"Your sister looked like this girl."
"She has dark hair." My younger sister was a beauty, but I told the hippie clerk, "My sister is a Catholic schoolgirl."
"Nothing wrong with uniforms on a girl." He smiled with a sinister grin and tapped the flat belly of the girl in the photo. "Don't worry, I'm into girls my age. Not like this 12 year-old Lolita."
"She have a name?"
"Not that I know of. The band wanted a girl full of youth. Someone sported her sister on the Tube. That's what they call the T in London. She was dressed like your sister. A schoolgirl. 14. The photographer asked if she wanted to be on an album cover for Eric Clapton. Supposedly she asked if it required nudity."
"Does Clapton like young girls?" Slowhand had stolen George Harrison's wife. No woman was safe around him.
"Who doesn't." The clerk slipped the record into the bag. "Don't let your mother see this. Sammy doesn't like trouble."
"So this isn't the 14 year-old schoolgirl?"
"Aren't you listening?" The hippie clerk was losing his peace and love feeling. "The sister wasn't home, so they used the young sister. The record company was scared about e controversy, but Clapton is God and the girl got 40 pounds."
"Which is how much?" I had about 500 dollars in my college savings.
"Maybe a hundred dollars. Why? You thinking about flying over to London to meet her."
"I already have a girlfriend." School opened in less than three weeks. Kyla was good to me and she had her heart set on her being named Prom Queen in the Spring. I could last until then and thanked the clerk for his help.
"No sweat. Have a good listen."
I brought the record home and hid it under my mattress. It stayed there for months. I only looked at it on special occasion. Each time I thought about Frank Sinatra with Mia Farrow. A old man with a woman that young was enough to turn my stomach.
I remained true to Kyla until the Spring and then I did something stupid.
I refused her invitation to the Senior Prom. My older brother thought that I was an asshole. My parents called Kyla's mother to apologize for my behavior. Kyla was escorted to the prom by the quarterback. Joey and she were named King and Queen, A month later I heard that she was pregnant with his baby. They had a church wedding.
I kept my distance and finally opened the Blind Faith LP.
It was good, but nothing special.
The special was the girl and she changed my life.
A miracle is no small thing.
Not like that girl's breasts.
They were non-existent and existential at the same time.
Neither here nor there.
Lost in eternity and found in Blind Faith.
"It is written in the book of ISIAH that Jesus would have no physical attributes that would be physically attractive to others. Jesus did not have long hair and look effeminate, He was a carpenter, strong physically and probably what we would term as 'ugly'."
Next she'll tell us that he wasn't white.
On the opposite side of the road was an American soldier in a similar but less serious state.
The soldier was conscious and alert and as first aid was given to both men, the platoon leader asked the injured soldier what had happened.
The soldier reported, "I was moving north along the highway here, and coming south was a heavily armed insurgent. We saw each other and both took cover in the ditches along the road.
I yelled to him that Saddam Hussein was a miserable, lowlife scum bag who got what he deserved and he yelled back that GW Bush is a coke-sniffing, Israeli-loving Jesus freak and that Barack Obama takes it up the ass from his wife.
So I said that Osama Bin Laden dresses and acts like a frigid, mean-spirited lesbian.
He retaliated by yelling, "Oh yeah? Well, so does Hillary Clinton!"
"And, there we were, in the middle of the road, shaking hands, when a bus hit us."
This joke was thanks to Nik Reiter of Tottemham Hotspurs Infamy.
Go you yids.
Once I lost my faith in the Virgin Mary I theorized that she had been knocked up by a passing Roman soldier and Mary declared a virgin pregnancy to prevent the village of Bethlehem from stoning her to death. Joseph was an old man happy to have an heir. The lie saved her life and that of the baby.
Supposedly in banned New Testaments Jesus had two brothers.
Izzy and Moise.
No one ever heard of them.
Immaculate conception was a good myth for the faithful, but back in 2006 r Nguyen Thi Oanh, a death-row inmate, held in solitary confinement in Vietnam for almost a year was declared pregnant by prison authorities. The heroin traffickess was pardoned to give birth. Officials were at a loss to explain the mystery. None of the evidence pointed to the guards and her husband was in another prison awaiting the firing squad.
Someone isn't telling the entire story, but this story had no follow up.
Nguyen Thi Oanh has disappeared into the past. Her child would be almost seven. It's almost as if it never happened and that is the best thing about legends.
There are never the truth until someone starts believing them.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Two old men are living in Miami Beach. Their hotel is undergoing renovations. The entire neighborhood has been transformed by young people. Izzy and Moishe sit on the terrace of the Breezemore Hotel and watch the parade of revelers. They are feeling their age and Izzy says, "You know Moishe, we've had a good life, but I've been wondering about what's next?"
"What's next is we die. One of us first the other second." Moishe was more pragmatic than his friend. He had been an accountant. Number added up to a total sum. No more. No less.
"What about Sheol?" Izzy had been a lawyer. He still believe in good and evil. His wife Miriam had been good. Her mother was evil incarnate.
"A bleak afterlife, feh?" Moishe was too pragmatic to be pessimistic.
"What about Olam Ha-Ba?"
"The world to come where we are rewarded for our good deeds. Feh. And Gan Eden is a fairy tale."
"But what if there really is a heaven and hell?"
"I don't know." Moishe had no questions, but there was always doubt, especially at the age of 87. "Listen, I tell you what, if one of us ides and there is a heaven or hell, the one who dies should come back to tell the one staying whether there is a heaven or hell. Is it a deal?"
"For you, anything." The two friends went back to 1st Grade in Brownsville NY.
Neither man thinks anything about the oath until Moishe dies two weeks later.
"At least he went in his sleep." Izzy tells the children who are transporting the body back up north. No one gets buried in Florida. The ground is tref.
A week goes by, then another. A month and then more.
A year to the day of Moishe's passing, the curtains of Izzy's windows billow inward without a breeze. The temperature was in the 80s, but the room is freezing. Moishe can see his breath and asks, "Izzy, is that you?"
"Of course it's me, who else were you expecting?" The voice sounds like it's coming from across the universe.
"Only you, so tell me, are you in heaven or hell?" Moishe is eager to hear the answer, since then he can tell Izzy that he was wrong about heaven and hell.
"Neither?" Moishe hadn't expected this response. "So what do you do all the time?"
"I eat, I fuck, I eat, I fuck, I eat, I fuck, and then I go to sleep."
"Well, aren't you in heaven?"
"No, I'm a rabbit in Montana."
Back in the last century the USA celebrated Memorial Day on May 30 to honor the fallen dead of the Civil War, however in the 70s the government shifted Memorial Day to a convenient Monday or Friday to create 3-day weekends. Other national holidays followed suit, although Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye has led a lonely fight to return Memorial Day to May 30, so I could sleep off a birthday drunk with a paid holiday.
Jewish holidays tend to roam the calendar like gaunt Indian cows on the streets of New Delhi.
In 2012 Passover began on April 6 and in 2011 Passaich fell on April 18.
This year the High Holiday started on a March Monday and after finishing work on a small film, I ventured uptown to visit Manny on 47th Street. It was snowing in the city. Winter was taking its time saying goodbye to the East Coast.
His son Richie Boy greeted me with a hug and I congratulated him on his twins’ first birthday.
“When you going home?”
“Ask the old man.” Richie Boy shrugged with resignation to his fate. Most of the booths were closed in the Diamond District, but my former boss was staying to the bitter end of the day. The only people on the street were commuters hurrying home.
“Manny, it’s Passover.”
“And what’s that to you? You're a goy.” Manny shared my anti-religious beliefs. “When you pay my rent, then you can tell me what time I close my business.”
Manny’s desk was cluttered with the usual piles of paperwork. In all the years I had worked for their firm, the pyramid of papers rose and fell without ever disappearing in entirety.
“Close now and I’ll buy you a martini.”
“I’m busy.” The octogenarian was devoted to his business. It was his home away from home.
“Manny thinks he might make a sale.”
"No one is buying nothing today."His son shook his head and signaled his two employee to pack up the merchandise. Hlove and Deisy didn't have to be told twice. ”That’s it. We’re going home.”
This decision started a fight between father and son.
I went outside to wait for Richie Boy.
“Damien, you have something to give for Passiach?” Lenny the bum shambled up to the window. His face was shiny with sweat and strands of hair were plastered across his balding skull. Snow melted on his skull, but Lenny was dressed in his usual attire of a tee shirt and shabby trousers.
“For you, I always have something.” I dug into my pocket for a dollar. “Where are you celebrating Passaich?”
“I’m working the street.” Lenny was a workaholic like Manny. “I have to earn money to take care of my sister.”
“You’re a good brother, Lenny.”
“Plus I don’t really celebrate Passaich.” Lenny didn’t look healthy, but he had disproven many rumors of his demise.
“Why not?” Lenny was no atheist.
“What does Passaich celebrate?” Lenny leaned over to whisper what he had to say, as if it were a secret.
“Passover commemorates the Angel of God passing over the Jewish houses in Egypt.”
The nuns had taught me my Old Testament. They had blamed the Jews for killing Jesus.
“You know I saw THE TEN COMMANDMENTS at the South Shore Drive-In. A drunk teenager threw a rock at our station wagon. My father chased him into the brush. He came back red in the face.”
“It was a good movie, but Charlton Heston was no Jew.” Lenny rocked back and forth on his heels. "Plus there was nothing good about the Ten Plagues. Especially the death of the first-born of all Egyptian humans and animals. Yahweh instructed the Hebrews to sprinkle lamb’s blood on this doors, so his spirit would skip their houses in his search for the first-born males of the Egyptians.”
“You know I was taught that god was all-knowing and all-seeing, so why couldn’t he see which houses were Jewish?”
“Damien, Yahweh moves in strange ways.” Lenny accepted some profane thought, but he glared at my apostasy.
“Most people think the killer of the male first-borns was an angel, but it was actually Yahweh blundering through the night killing young boys. Do you think there was any collateral damage like how our smart bombs hit schools in Afghanistan?”
“How should I know? I wasn’t there, but enough of this narishkait, because Passaich is a celebration of death. Death of the guilty, but also the innocent. This I can not celebrate. Freedom, yes. Extermination,no.”
Several people had gathered around our discussion and a religious diamond dealer angrily demanded of Lenny, “You really think Yahweh was a murderer?”
“It wasn’t the first time.” Lenny didn’t like this attention. He depended on the kindness of this street to support his sister.
“Actually I think that the second-sons of Egypt plotted to kill all the first-borns to destroy the rules of primogeniture and then blamed the Hebrews.” I was talking nonsense to deflect the flak aimed at Lenny.
“Primogeniture?” The diamond dealer had a yeshiva education.
“Primogeniture is where the first born inherits everything from the father. Like Cain and Abel.”
“Cain killed Abel.” Lenny nodded in agreement.
“The second son plot. Maybe all the second sons killed the first sons in Egypt."
“Es iz nit geshtoygen un nit gefloygen.” The diamond dealer muttered in Yiddish.
“What’s that mean?”
“It never rose and it never flew.” Lenny smiled with the pleasure of speaking Yiddish. “In plain speaking ‘bullshit’.”
“It’s not foolishness.” I protested with the fervor of a devotee to the untruth. “The only logical explanation of passover is that the Egyptians killed the first borns.”
“It was God.” The diamond dealer spoke with words with conviction. “And his killing angel.”
“Isn’t that the same name they called Josef Mengele?”
“That fucking Nazi was called the Angel of Death.” Lenny soured on the mention of his name. He had lost family in the camps. “Passaich was over 3000 years ago. Who knows what it was? I can barely remember what I had to eat for lunch.
“Me neither.” I suspected Lenny had a pint of brandy for lunch. He was more than a little shitkah and I gave him a dollar.
“I love you Damian and pray you see your children soon.”
“And a Happy Bunny Day to you, Lenny.
The slumpy bum wandered off pestering the diamond dealer for a dollar. He was a hard worker.
“What was that all about?” Richie Boy exited from the exchange.
“The origins of Passsaich.”
“Passover? Feh.” He looked into the exchange. His father was still at his papers. “You hungry?”
“Yeah.” The shoot was low-budget and cheaped out on lunch.
“Me too. What about getting something to eat at the Oyster Bar?”
Shellfish were very tref.
Richie Boy and I headed for Grand Central Terminal, passing Lenny.
"I only celebrate the bunnies."
"I love chocolate."
I gave him another dollar, because he knew his audience.
My bible knowledge came from the nuns and priests. They thought that the Jews had killed Jesus. As a sinner I was willing to forgive everyone for everything, for to err is human, but to forgive that is a divine trait.
Only forgetting is more human.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Whacking a little ball around the world-class fairways gave many long-distance travelers something to do during the day, while waiting for the night to fall on the Last Babylon. Jamie Parker preferred sleep, however his girlfriend Ort had been poking his stomach for the last week, saying, "Uan."
"Fat?" Jamie looked in the mirror. His traditionally flat stomach was thickened by beer flab, but uan was an overstatement. "I've never been fat in my life."
"Now not never. Now you uan." Ort was wearing an imitation Gucci shirt and fake Levis. She weighed less than when they had met at the Paris a Go-Go. She wasn't the prettiest girl in town, but she was sexier than most of the girls on the circuit and Jamie was happy with her about 50% of the time.
"Really?" The New Yorker's nickname on the Lower East Side was 'el Flacco Blanco'.
"No problem you fat. No girl look at you."
"I thought Thai girls liked fat men." Jamie's belly hung over his belt.
"And you think they love you long time too?" Ort brushed her long brown hair, so it fell down her back like the mane of a mare.
"I'll show you 'love you long time'." Jamie threw her on the bed, but halfway through their love-making his lungs were depleted of oxygen.
Ort was right.
The 51 year-old ex-con was fat and out of shape. As a retired criminal both could be a death sentence and he fell asleep vowing to change his life of indolence. It was time to get back in shape.
That afternoon he rode his bike down to the Asia Hotel Driving Range. Ort was sitting on the back of the scooter. She didn't trust him out of her sight. He wasn't that fat.
At the range he picked out a driver and ordered two buckets of balls.
Neither of the pros commented on his wearing flip-flops.
"You play golf before?" Ort ate fiery sum tam salad in the shade.
"Only mini-golf." Jamie had played several games on summer holiday. He had lost each time to his younger brother. Nothing in the intervening years had diminished his ignorance and he observed a 70 year-old man swing at a ball. It traveled 200 meters in a straight line.
"Chok dii." Ort redevoted her attention to the spicy mango salad.
"I've always had beginner's luck."
Jamie balanced a ball on the tee and grasped the driver like a Louisville Slugger. The heft of the shaft was too small for his hands, but he instinctively understood that his thumbs were in the way. Jamie clutched the club like he was hitchhiking with two hands and spread his legs like the old man, who had whacked his next ball to the 250 m mark.
Head down Jamie swung at the ball and missed by two inches.
"What mean beginner?" Ort's face displayed her displeasure at his effort. Thais hate losing face.
"Someone who is learning to do something." Jamie adjusted his grip and stance.
"Meuu-ma." Ort rollercoasted her inflection through the word.
Jamie regrasped the golf driver like he was hacking a watermelon with a samurai sword.
Jamie had played baseball for Xaverian Brothers in Brooklyn. Nothing felt better than the bat meeting the ball with the sweet part of the bat and the euphoria of smacking the next golf ball 270 meters was an unexpected epiphany. The old man turned around to smile with appreciation of his tee-shot and Ort lifted her head from the plate.
"Sometimes beginner's luck takes more than one try."
That week Jamie began the day with a visit to the Asia Hotel Driving Range.
Ort liked one of the golf pros. He was Thai. Jamie didn't care, since he got free lessons out of her flirtation.
He switched the flip-flops for Nike Air Max golf shoes and bought a used Ping driver from the pro shop.
A few lessons from Ort's admirer pushed his drives into the 300 range.
Several golfers asked him to join them for foursomes at the various golf courses around Pattaya. Jamie thanked them for offers, but refused to venture further than Sukhumvit.
"Something about that road makes me think I might die on it." He had seen numerous collisions at the intersection of Sukhumvit and Pattaya Tai. Cars and trucks had a serious weight advantage over flesh and blood on bikes.
Ort was proud of his prowess at the driving range and home. His flab was gone.
"You are now a handsome man again," she whispered a hint of naughtiness.
"I was always handsome. I was just hiding under a little fat." He had cut down on his beer consumption. The carbs were near-fatal at his age.
"You not fat now. You man #1." Her tongue slipped into his ear like a sea snake seeking his skull.
They went home and didn't see daylight for three days.
Life was good. The weather was temperate. Jamie was treated by the staff at the Asia Driving Range with deferance.. He was a good tipper. The Thais called him 'Jame'. None of them could say 'Jamie'.
One day he stroked the balls almost 325. He thought nothing else in the world could be more perfect, until he saw Ort's face.
She was scared to the marrow.
"Bpen Arai?" He turned to see a group of stiff-faced Thais standing in front of a top-end Benz.
Their eyes glared at him.
"Are those people the problem?" None of the paunchy men appeared ready to fight, but they had money and money bought trouble cheap in Thailand.
"They want use tee." Her cautious nod was a timid wai to five Thai middle-aged men before the Mercedes.
They glowered at Jamie, as if no farangs should live in Thailand.
The headman wore a diamond-encrusted Rolex. His hair resembled a toupee, but he wasn't bald and he might have been good-looking 20 years ago. At 50 too much bad karma had passed his eyes.
"I'll go when I finish this bucket." He had 15 balls to go.
"No, we go now." She signaled the waitress for the chek-bin.
"No, we don't." He put all his muscle into the next drive. The ball sailed out of sight into the distant protective net. 350 plus.
"Okay, go now." Ort grabbed his hand.
"Why?" Jamie had a good idea why.
"This men khon yai." She whispered the words like she was an innocent slave caught in rebellion.
"Khon Yai." 95% of the Thai population had been chattel until 1905. The King had freed the masses with a signature, yet the khon yai or big people continued to regarded the people as animals.
Their greasy smiles threatened Ort with the long tradition of domination.
"I know who they are." People whose families overcharged the price of gas, sold cars for twice the cost in the USA, and stole land from the poor. Their type took turns at taking advantage of the lower classes.
Same as the rich in America.
Al Gore one year.
GW Bush the next.
"You not know these people." Ort was pleading for him to go.
"I also know they're not the king or anyone in the royal family."
Jamie respected the king with the reverence of a god.
He was the one true Thai and his family was deserving of the same respect.
Putting another gold ball on the tee was not an act of lese-majeste.
Only thumbing his nose at the rich, which Jamie had been doing that all his life.
"The only khon yai in your life is me. Now sit down." Jamie had been to prison. He was well-versed in talking tough and even more skilled at the art of staring down tough Thais. The boss looked over his shoulder to the drivers. The pros and staff of the driving range were visibly shaken by this silent confrontation. Ort looked ready to cry. Jamie gauged the distance to the fat man as less than 3 meters. With a gold club in his hand the man was less than 6 feet away.
"Jamie." Ort said his name.
She had been with a lot of men before him.
The word 'love' came out of her mouth too easily at the wrong time, but her eyes revealed she didn't want to see him dead and he picked up the bucket of balls. The Thia men snickered with the glory of their triumph.
Jamie said nothing on his way to the cashier.
Neither did he flinch hearing the word 'farang'.
Most Thais called all westerners 'farang'.
This was their country and he told Ort to get on the motorbike, while he paid the bill.
The golf pro wai-ed him.
His smile said sorry.
"Mai-bphen-rai." Jamie tipped him a 500 baht. "I know when to have 'jai yen'."
He wai-ed the golf pro and the five men laughed at his use of the Thai gesture.
Jamie had been in Thailand long enough to know how to smile in Thai.
Each smile had its own meaning.
His smile clearly said 'yet mung'.
A lot of teeth and narrowed eyes.
He got on his bike and Ort wrapped her arms around his waist.
"Thank you." She was happy that no one had died at the driving range.
Jamie was happy too, because it's one thing to have bad manners, it's another to know when to not use them.
The answer is never.
Especially in a foreign land.
A Chinese general was asked about the defeat of the People's Army by the Vietnamese in 1979, he replied, "We get up at 5am and they get up at 4."
The industry of NVA seemed to have been sapped by the torrid climes closer to the equator.
Thais and Laotians are epic sleepers with an ability to find comfort in conditions better suited to a CIA rendition camp. Some farangs attributed this hyper-sleeping habit to lassitude, however their Eurocentric observations are way off mark, because most Thais wake before dawn to work in the rice fields until the heat hits treacherous body-sapping temperatures. 'Khon tam khao retreat from the sun for a good meal followed by a better nap or nge'ep before hitting the fields for the long late-afternoon session.
This rice farming tradition has been translated to the cities where workers labor from dawn to dusk six days a week.
Farangs laugh about the urban proletariat's ability to sleep within seconds of finding a comfortable position. Few westerners know the hold of total exhaustion and I often defended the Thais and other Asians' sleeping habits, having lived in the South of France, where siesta have long been a valued treasure of the culture.
Naps are good for you.
"So explain to me why bar girls sleep 20 hours at a clip," One bar-goers asked in Pattaya. Jim had been here for years. His vocabulary in Thai was limited to ordering beer and sex.
"Only can be several reasons." I'd been in the Orient 20 years. I didn't have all the answers. Just some of the right ones.
"Like what?" The bar-goer was eying his date. She seemed alert for the moment. He mustn't have paid her yet.
"First is that she's exhausted from having sex with you." Many farangs in Thailand exist on a diet of Viagra and alcohol.
"Could be." The bar-goer smiled with pride.
"Second, she could be on ja-bah and crashes after sex." His girl's fatness excluded her huffing meth. She was a healthy eater.
"No way. The cops piss-tested her at Marine Disco the other night. She came up clean."
"Well, that leaves only one other explanation and this comes from a very knowledgeable Mama-san of a go-go bar. She said the reason most of these girls sleep so much is that they're trying to escape the reality of having to have sex with a fat farang and would rather live inside a sleep world until they have enough money to rejoin other Thai people. Of course this couldn't pertain to you since you're such a sex hero."
Jim tipped the scales over 280 and his age was a 20th of Methuselah. No one had called him 'sexy' since he was in his teens and that person had probably been the parish priest. For Englishman Jim had good teeth. His smile possessed at least half the front ones.
"I'm not so sure about that." Even Jim recognized that he was no Apollo.
Me neither, but I like hearing girls tell me I'm the best I ever had.
It's a lie that improves with age and I sleep in peace content to accept a well-intentioned lie.
Sleeping well is a talent an old man admires with age.
Those damn Thais.
There is nothing like a good nap.
“No day is so bad it can't be fixed with a nap.” Carrie B Snow
In 1990 I got off the train from Surabaya a little past dawn and headed over to the port of Jakarta to catch the noon ferry to Sumatra. The inter-island ship was a big liner and I was looking forward to a cruise through the Java Sea to the Indian Ocean.
As I neared the dock, a man of indeterminable race approached with a smile. His greeting was in Hebrew to which I responded in Yiddish thanks to my reading the books of Isaac B. Singer.
Sholem Aleykhem." I readjusted the bag on my shoulder. I was traveling light, but also carrying a small electric word processor.
"Are you Jewish?" asked the portly man in his thirties.
"No, but I'm the shabbos goy." I had spent the previous year on 47th Street schlepping diamonds between the Ashkenazi and the Hasidim. My commish from the sale of a 5-carat FSI1 diamond bought a round-the-world ticket. I was coming from Bali and headed to Malaysia.
"Then you're the closest thing to a Jew in this city." Jakarta was 99% Muslim.
"I like pastrami and don't mix dairy with meat." The Javanese weren't too friendly to Christians and the imams reserved a special vitriol for non-believers like myself. "Some of my best friends are Jewish."
"And I'll be your newest." David Mussery introduced himself as a Syrian Jew running a nightclub called the Pink Panther. "Where are you going?"
"Padang." The port served the west coast of Sumatra. "By ferry."
"Have you bought your ticket yet?"
"I'll send my servant over to the ticket office, while you visit my club. Drinks will be free for a Landsmann. It's a fun place. Girls and sailors."
"Sounds irresistable." I liked bars like his. "But I don't want to miss the ferry. There isn't another for three days."
"No worries." He checked his Rolex watch. Business at his bar was either good or the watch was a fake. "I'll get you on the boat."
"Okay, I'll check it out."
"Great, you won't regret it." David grabbed my bag and motioned for me to follow him down a muddy street.
Jalan Macam Kumbang.
"Macam Kumbang means Panther in Bahasa Indonesian. Are you a journalist?" He pointed to my typewriter.
"No, I'm writing a novel about pornography in LA." I noticed that the sailors on the sidewalk were drinking tuak, a cheap sweet palm wine. Their eyes were glazed from the morning's drinking session.
"Shouldn't you be writing that in LA?" It was a logical question.
"Probably, but I wanted to see the world."
"Well, you've come to the right place." David held open the pink door to his bar. "This is the crossroads of the world."
It was barely 8am, but his rundown establishment was filled with sailors from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indian, Africa, and Europe and they were drinking with an assortment of Indonesian women ranging in age from young to very old. The music crackling from the jukebox speakers was loud garage Indonesian rock.
"Dara Puspita doing TANKA AKU. Those girls were big in the 60s."
Several girls were dancing to the song. Their partners were doing the Twist. Most everyone had a Bintang Beer, although several sailors were chugging brown liquor from small glasses.
"Palm Whiskey. 40 degree in strength," David explained in a hushed voice. "My customers think it's whiskey."
"After a few I guess they don't care what it is." I sat at the bar and a wrinkled woman chewing betel but poured David and me a 'whiskey'. Glancing at its effect on the sailors, I hesitated in lifting its to clink glasses with my host.
"I know what you're thinking." David laughed aloud. "You meet a strange man in Jakarta and you're thinking I'll slip you a sleeping pill and get robbed."
"The thought crossed my mind." My version had me shanghaied to Sulawesi on a Bugis prahu.
"I've been running the Pink Panther since 1974. It had been my uncle's place back then. He left it to me. I was the only one who didn't leave for Israel. I went once and came right back. Here I'm me. Back there I was only one on millions."
"And you have no trouble with the Muslims." Drinking and dancing were not condoned by strict Islamists.
"As long as I don't throw it in their face, everyone loves the Pink Panther. It's someplace you can come and not be yourself." He raised his glass. "It's good for you."
"Sie gesund." I toasted him and downed my glass. It wasn't bad and I ordered two more. David signaled for a waiter and ordered him to get a second-class ticket to Padang. I handed the man 40,000 rupiah. It was more than a month's wages on Java.
The jukebox switched to the same band performing A GO GO.
I started moving to the music. I like this place. It was rough on the edges and even rougher in the corners. A scary-looking tranny asked me to dance. David waved away the banci.
"Some things are always tref." He snapped his finger and a beautiful young girl emerged from the dance floor. She could have been Miss Teen Indonesia 1990. "Her name is Sandy. She's from Madura. They have a special way about them with men."
In the dim light Sandy looked about 16. She put an arm around my waist and stroked my thigh.
"Sorry, she doesn't speak any English. She's new to the scene." He smiled upon seeing my expression. "Don't look so surprised. Eveything goes at the Pink Panther. So where are you from?"
I didn't tell him Boston, but said New York and added, "I work selling diamonds for an old friend. Manny lets me work six months of the year and the rest I write."
"Diamonds? Maybe I should have slipped you something." David lifted his hands. "Just kidding."
A Javanese version of LOUIE LOUIE dropped onto the jukebox record player. Sandy pulled me onto the dance floor. She was a good dancer and loved a singer called Adnan Othman. When I came back to the bar, David handed me a 2nd class ticket. "My man says no one is in your cabin, so it will be like 1st class."
"So you speak ein bissen Bahasa?"
"Enough to keep from starving." I signaled to the bartender. "Tiga bintang."
"Make it two beers. Sandy doesn't drink. She's a good Muslim girl. Still a virgin too."
"Are there any virgins in here?"
"Just Sandy. She's a friend's daughter. She makes her money from tips. Nothing else. But you can always think about it. That's free."
I spent the next two hours dancing and drinking with David. We discussed Palestine.
"They'll never be peace there, until Israel accepts that it stole the land."
"They'll never do that."
"They'll never say it, but they will think it."
"Thinking it is not as good as saying it." I knew, because I really wanted to kiss Sandy.
"Thinking it is the frist step, but we're thousands of miles from Jerusalem. Here's to Peace on Earth."
I bought the bar a round. It cost me $20US. We drank to Meraka or Freedom.
"I love this place, because it has everyone from everywhere. We are all human. If only everyone knew that, the world would be a better place for everyone."
I drank to that and several more of his comments.
A little before noon he tapped his watch.
"Time to go, unless you want to stay." He offered me a job with very little pay. "A sheygutz like you could make a fortune."
"Money and I are distant cousins." I was counting on getting rich in my next life.
"I could teach you the ways of my tribe." David was lonely. I had lived in Hamburg during the winter of 1982. Everyone was a German, but me. I also knew loneliness, but I had a ticket for a ferry.
David accompanied to the port with Sandy. They bid me Selamat Jalaan with their hearts. Sandy cried on cue. I tipped her $20. David asked me to call him, if I passed through town again and the following year I swung by the Pink Panther.
Nothing had changed in the bar.
He was a good Jew, I was a good sheygutz, and Sandy was more indah than ever.
Both are a state of mind.
The myth of albino alligators slithering through the sewers of New York originated in the 1920s when New Yorkers returned from a Florida holiday with baby alligators. The tiny saurians grew into fierce creatures and the owners flushed the little monsters down the toilet. While this urban legend has been broadly dismissed as hooey, a sewer worker had reported an alligator sighting in 1935. A hunt was organized by the commissioner, who announced that the alligator problem had been solved by the hunters.
Thomas Pynchon wrote about this myth in his book V.
The myth still reverberates through the marrow of the city.
In October 1978 my good friend Mike S and I were wandering through the abandoned rail yards west of Hell's Kitchen. Freights trains ran along the tracks at a slow speed. Several hobo encampments were hidden under the concrete bridges. One settlement seemed to be laundering cast-off clothing.
Mike's fearless dog acted as point on this expedition. Merlin barked at a doorway in the abutment.
Mike opened it. The stairs led down to an unlit tunnel.
"You want to see where it goes?" Mike came from California. He was a sculptor. His wife had left him for another man.
"Can't see why not." My girlfriend had disappeared in Europe. She had written me a good-bye letter. It had broken my heart. We had nothing to lose.
Mike and I returned to his loft on West 45th Street for a compass, flashlights, batteries, baseball bats, and his .22 revolver. Mike stuffed his pocket with shells. There was no telling what lived underneath the surface of New York.
"Let's go." Both of us were wearing heavy engineer boots and leather jackets.
We almost left Merlin, however the valiant dog was as curious as us and we walked over to the mysterious door talking about alligators and lost colonies of mole people. The afternoon had another few hours to run until night and Mike pointed to his watch.
"Two hours and that's all."
"We have extra batteries for the flashlights, so two hours is more than enough." I had been in a few caverns in the White Mountains. They snaked into the granite shield for several hundred feet before narrowing into impassable crevices. "We run into anything dangerous. We turn back."
"Of course." Mike was broken-hearted, not suicidal.
"This might be like the entry to Hell." "Or the subterranean world like in JUles Verne's JOURNEY TO THE CENTER ON THE EARTH."
"Or a forgotten world like in ATTACK OF THE MOLE PEOPLE."
"I love that movie." It had presented on a semi-annual basis on the old UHF TV horror stations.
We descended the stairs. Merlin heeled at Mike's thigh. The walls of the Stygian passage reeked of urine and stench of shit rotored into our noses. Wrapping bandannas over our mouths and noses filtered the foul odor. As we walked farther from the stairs the smell of excrement was replaced by the aroma of damp dust. Puddles of rainwater gathered on the concrete floor. We came to a split in the tunnels. Savaged rat skeletons were piled in the center.
They looked as if something had bitten them in half.
"Which way?" Our flashlights revealed nothing ahead but more darkness.
"Merlin?" Mike asked his dog and Merlin barked to go straight.
The core of Manhattan.
We continued in that direction without speaking. It was, almost as if the city overhead had been bombed into oblivion and we were the last three creatures on Earth, but we weren't alone. An ominous scratching was coming our way. Merlin barked with terror. Mike pulled out his revolver. I lifted the baseball bat, expecting an albino alligator. Our twin beams caught a beast with a hundred eyes.
Thousands of them.
Mike's pistol barked out several times without stopping the gray mass of gnarled teeth and fattened bodies.
A bar hung from the ceiling.
"Mike, grab the bar." I dropped the flashlight and baseball bat. My hands grasped the rusted metal. Mike joined me. The railing creaked under our weight, as we lifted our feet to escape the scrabbling horde of rats.
Merlin was caught in action by the two flashlights. He snapped at dozens of the sewer squirrels, his teeth flashing with blood. The rodent deluge was over in seconds and the rats disappeared down the tunnel. Mike and I dropped to the ground. He checked Merlin.
Not a scratch.
"Let's get out of here."
“How?” The rats were headed toward their headquarters. Any direction other than that was good with me.
Merlin barked twice and trotted down the swamped corridor.
"Follow Merlin. "
Merlin reached a steel door. It looked like no one had touched it in this century. Mike and I manhandled open the rusted steel plate and we climbed the stairway to a sub-basement of a building.
It was a fall-out shelter. Dust lay decades deep. The entrance was not locked from the outside. We emerged from the underground on 8th Avenue. The pedestrians stared at us in horror. Michael held the pistol in his hand and I carried a bloody baseball bat.
"Four blocks in an hour." Mike checked his watch. The sun was setting over New Jersey.
"I don't think we have to do that again."
"No, what you think, Merlin?"
Merlin barked out his agreement and Mike bought him a bone from a 10th Avenue bodega. He was a good dog against rats and probably alligators too, for something had to be living on rats down there and I was happy to never discover whether it was big or small.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
There was no 1st day or 2nd day or 3rd or 4th or 5th or 6th or 7th day.
There was only always.
Day and night were part of infinity thanks to gravitational spin.
Life came onto Earth in the recent always.
The creatures of earth small and great are wonders of life and thereby marvels of infinity.
Women and men are part of that infinity.
We were not always and we will not be always.
We are now.
So enjoy every second of infinity.
It is a long time until forever.
So says James A Steele, Blasphemer
At summer's end radio stations compile the 1000 best songs of all time.
HEY JUDE was dethroned by STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN.
SATISFACTION by the Rolling Stones enjoyed a brief moment in the sun, however my choice for best song was always DARKNESS DARKNESS, which Jesse Colin Young wrote in 1969 and performed with the Youngbloods. The words reputedly were very popular with grunts in Viet-Nam for describing the fears of the jungle. DARKNESS DARKNESS has retained its power, whereas HEY JUDE is a joke.
Sorry Beatles fans, but how many times can Paul McCartney repeat two words and you think that it's cool?
Like a million times.
The Youngbloods scored #438 for GET TOGETHER in the KZOK Top 1000.
DARKNESS DARKNESS was nowhere.
To hear this classic, click on this URL
Two seconds after the woman hung up, Sean Tempo dialed 911.
"Yes, may I help you?” the 911 operator answered within ten seconds.
Sean explained the nature of the emergency and gave the operator the woman's address. Several seconds passed in silence before the operator stated, "EMS no longer responds to that address."
"What do you mean? No longer responds?"
>"EMS has logged seven suicide attempts, four domestic violence calls, and four reports of attempted break-ins from that address in the last year. Always from the same caller. Che Chasta."
The name strummed a chord in Sean's memory.
"No one will answer that call. Not the EMS, the Fire Department, or the police. Sorry."
"So what am I supposed to do?"
"Go over yourself,” the operator suggested and signed off saying, "Have a nice day."
If the State of California was abdicating its social responsibility, then he would answer this woman's plea, if only to take her to a hospital. Sean star-69ed the caller's number. The phone was busy, and he reckoned the caller had dropped it on the floor. He searched the Yellow Pages for a taxi service. A dispatcher informed him that a cab would arrive in less than five minutes and the ride over to Hollywood at this time of the afternoon would take no more than twenty-five minutes.
Sean hung up and stuck the sheets from the bed in the dryer, then plucked a real $100 bill in his pocket. He snatched a set of house keys off the kitchen counter and left the apartment. The door shut behind him. Maybe he should have left a note for the women, but every second counted in matters of life and death.
The corridor led to the elevators. The walls were unpainted sheet rock and the hallway smelled of damp concrete. Most of the doors to the other apartments had no knobs or locks. Light bulbs hung by a wire from the ceiling by a wire.
Whoever had financed this repair project had run out of money, but at least the elevator was working and Sean stepped inside the car.
When the doors opened on the ground floor, Sean ran through the dusty atrium to the waiting taxi.
He gave the driver the destination and the Sikh driver pulled out of the parking lot.
Rain bounced off the pavement of a broad boulevard lined with body, brake, and transmission shops. The lights ran in sequence to the Hollywood Freeway. Sean could barely see out the windows and cracked open the window. The driver chattered in Punjabi over the radio, as the taxi swerved through traffic. The cab narrowly missed sideswiping several trucks, although none of these close calls fazed the driver. At Highland he sliced across four lanes to the exit and slipped past the single queue of vehicles to stop abruptly at a yellow light.
Sorry, sir, there are too many policemen to burn the light." "No worries."
The driver waited out the oncoming traffic, then swerved right onto the boulevard, maintaining the speed limit until turning onto a street of sad bungalows. The taxi halted before a dull green house with an overgrown lawn. The rain had let up, but the air was thick with a cold damp.
"Just wait a few minutes." Sean opened the taxi door.
"No problem, if you give me something to hold."
"You mean like money?"
Sean was a little hesitant about handing the Sikh a hundred, but this woman might need a ride to the hospital, so he noted the driver's permit number and said. "I'll be right out."
"And I shall be waiting, sir." The driver held up the bill.
Sean got out of the taxi.
Several stray cats sulked through the lawn's high weeds, ignoring a crow pecking at a crumbled piece of trash. The only sound was a dog barking in he distance. People lived in these houses, but no one was walking around in this weather.
Overhead dark clouds were preparing for another downpour and a wet wind rustled through the bushes.
Sean tried the front door. It was locked. On a hunch he lifted the doormat and found a rusty key. It turned the lock.
The scent of musty mildew welcomed him into the living room. An old RCA TV was surrounded by stacks of videos and the furniture was buried under soiled clothing. The fireplace was filled with take-out containers and garbage overflowed from two trash cans. Whoever had called him earlier certainly didn't hold with cleanliness being close to godliness and he heard a phone off the hook.
No one answered him and he studied the life-sized posters publicizing the various adult videos. They featured a big-breasted blonde surrounded by muscular men. The photo told the storyline of the movie in one word.
Many men with one woman.
Sean connected the face and body with the name Che Chasta.
Six years ago he had seen her dance at the Triple Threat Theater in Times Square for ten men at the afternoon show. This had to be her place.
He pushed open the last door. The busy signal was coming from inside. The bedroom was surprisingly tidy in comparison to the rest of the house.
A video camera was pointed at the blonde woman on the bed. She was naked other than the cuffs restraining her to the bedposts. Che Chasta was in the proper position to perform her cinematic specialty, except Sean wasn't sure she was breathing. After shutting off the video camera and hanging up the phone, he touched her neck. His fingertips felt a pulse under the deathly cold skin. He tapped her face.
The blonde opened her eyes and croaked, "Who are you."
"Me?" Sean stared at how her unnaturally firm breasts were stretched to a translucent thinness.
"Yes, where did you come from?" Her eyes wandered in and out of focus. A needle mark reddened the inside of her elbow. Someone else had shot her up and tied her to the bed. The video was for fetishists into sleeping women. There was an audience for every genre in porno.
"From Sherri's." He resisted touching her breasts, but undid the cuff from her wrist and then loosened the restraints on her ankles. "I came, because you sounded like you were in trouble."
"I still am.” The blonde lazily rubbed her wrists, as her eyes drifted up inside her skull. The taxi blew its horn outside.
"The taxi." The smell of woman roiling in his nostrils. His arousal felt like a betrayal of Sherri and he stepped back toward the door. Sean was not the type of man to take advantage of a woman in this condition.
Even of a porno star.
"Where you going?"
"I was going to take you to the hospital."
"No hospital." An expression of recognition passed over her face. "I know you."
"You're the man from the highway."
"Yes, the man from nowhere."
"It seems to be my new name."
Che had fit in another piece in his puzzle.
He saw himself asleep in the back of a car with Lena and Che in the front seat. His mind played a dirty movie. Looking down at Che he started another. The horn blew outside. "I got to pay the driver. I'll be right back."
Sean threw a blanket over the blonde and ran to the street. The driver gave him the change and Sean handed him a $10 tip. He returned to the house and locked the door. When he entered the bedroom, the blonde said dreamily, "Funny, you showing up again."
"Why?" Sean sat on the edge of the bed.
"Just we help you that night and now you help me." The blonde actress touched his face, as if she were a blind person trying to read his features.
"So I guess we're even, but who did this to you?"
The blonde licked her parched lips.
"I'd love to tell you everything, but I need a glass of water first."
"Sure thing." Sean went into the kitchen. finding a clean glass was impossible. He washed a tea cup in the sink. When he got back to the bedroom, Che Chasta was crashed out in a distorted parody of Sleeping Beauty.
Sean rechecked her pulse.
It was stronger, but she didn't react to his touch and he surrendered to the temptation of caressing her breasts. They were as hard as they looked. His other hand fingered her soft hair. She was completely at his mercy, yet however easy as it was to think about doing it, which in many women's minds that was just as punishable as rape, he was incapable of executing the actual deed.
Sean pulled the covers over her body and unplugged the telephone, since Che needed sleep a lot more than any contact with the outside world.
Sean entered the living room and cleared off the sofa room. His body was shaking with frustration. He hadn't been with a woman in six months and nothing in the last two days suggested that this stretch of celibacy would end in the near future.
The only women he had met in Los Angeles were two lesbian lovers and a drugged sex star.
Both scenarios were promising in his fantasies, but not in reality.
He sank onto the couch and noticed the hundreds of videos scattered around the TV.
They were all X-rated.
Che was in every one.
Sean flashed Che Chasta watching these videos as Gloria Swanson had viewed her old black-and-white films in SUNSET BOULEVARD. He fought off the disturbing image, since he cast himself as William Holden, and picked out a box titled NEW PUSSY ON THE TOWN. The video dated back to the early 80s. The starlet wore her darker hair in a Farah Fawcett shag and her body mirrored the nubility of a teenager out for her first wild fling.
Sean decided to reward himself for saving her life by setting in motion a one-man Che Chasta Film Festival. He armed himself with a remote control and pressed the PLAY button for YOUNG AND BAD, which captured Che right off the pumpkin truck. None of the bearded studs were memorable, while Che demonstrated a star quality ready to blaze nova.
He fast-forwarded through the inane dialogues and the repetitive sex scenes. Hundreds of males spurted semen onto her breasts, backside, thighs, face, belly, yet never inside, for long ago someone in the porno business had decided that the money shot was more visually dramatic than the man just groaning in pleasure.
Psychologically this institutional coitus interruptus also helped the masturbating viewer regard his own onanistic orgasm as the greatest sensation a man could experience. None of it was the truth.
Somewhere in the middle of the retrospective Che Chasta's body artificially morphed the physical ideal the worshipped by brainwashed American males, though this corporeal modification thrust her into a maelstrom of more and more men and women.
Pornography was supposed to be sexy or maybe even erotic, yet Sean was unaroused, until selecting A THING CALLED LUST whose cover portrayed Che and Sherri embracing a nude statue.
They were both ten years younger and their eyes glowed with scorn for damnation. He slipped this video into the VCR and returned to the sofa, pressing the remote control's PLAY button.
The film's quality was low-grade, the dialogue worst, the lighting muddy, however the sex scenes between Che and Sherri was like watching two cougars fighting over the same kill and for the first time this evening Sean wished a time machine would transport him back in time to the two women on the TV screen.
Thwarted by temporal physics, Sean did the next best thing and undid his jeans. Part of him became Che, while his stroking hand mimicked Sherri's vagina and tightened. A lava flow surged from him with a shudder, though within seconds the fire died out and the dream was over. He was just watching a TV and zipped up his trousers, feeling emptier than ever, for there was something about the act that no longer fulfilled him. He was tired of being alone, but that was not going to change tonight or any time in the foreseeable future.
Worse was that he would have no warning, when it all went to shit, but then that fate went with his territory.
It went with the territory.