Friday, May 31, 2013
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
“Sorry about the no 77 virgins. In this heaven we spend our days in the glory of God, who is non-denominational. You’ll meet the truly blessed evolving into the truly blissed.”
The Iman accepts this heaven in all its goodness, but after a few weeks he goes up to St. Peter and says, “Heaven is great, but all those years on Earth when I was preaching about the horrors of Hell, I was often curious what Hell was actually like.”
“Pretty much as you envisioned it.”
“IS there anyway I can see it?” The Iman was more than slightly bored with the communal utopia of Heaven.
“Of course there is.” St Peter opens the Pearly Gates and points to a set of endless stairs. “You can visit Hell on a one-time visa. Two weeks. Do anything you want. You earned this holiday by all the goodness you create on earth. Get it out of your system and then return to the bosom of the Creator.”
“And I can go now?”
“Anytime you want?” St. Peter walks the Iman to the stairs. He is greeted by doe-eyed houris and escorted to a bar where Jimi Hendrix is playing LITTLE WING. Hitler painting the walls and Marilyn Monroe working upstairs in the Satan a Go Go. It’s great fun and time passes in the blink of an eye. The Iman says goodbye to everyone and climbs the steps to the Pearly Gates.
“So how was it?” St. Peter asks peering down the stairs.
“Not like I expected it.”
“Well, at least you got it out of your system. Back to the eternity of bliss.”
Unfortunately his holiday infected the Iman. He can’t stop thinking about hell. Heaven is all communing with the great oneness. He goes back to St. Peter and asks if there’s a way he could go back to Hell.
“Sure, but if you go you can’t come back.”
The Iman looks over his shoulder at the fleecy clouds and praying angels.
“See you on Judgment Day.” St. Peter is all smiles like a dealer selling a hot shot and so is the Iman as he walks down the stairs, although this time the houris greet him with pitchforks. Fire laps his legs. His flesh is torn open by the demons.
“St. Peter, this isn’t the Hell I knew. Why’s it so different now.”
St. Peter shouts from the Pearly Gates, “That’s the difference between going someplace on vacation and living there.”
A week before Christmas of 1967 I received my midterm report card from Our Lord’s Health High School. Bruder Karl had been gracious enough to pass me with a D+ in German, but Brother Valentine failed me in religion. The accompanying letter stated that my scholarship had been revoked for the remainder of my sophomore year.
“Sorry.” I showed my mother the report card in the kitchen. My brothers and sisters were in the den watching TV.
“What is wrong with you?” She was sitting at our table. Her eyes blinked in disbelief. The devout Catholic had been so proud of my winning a scholarship to Our Lord’s Health High School .
“Nothing.” I hadn’t the nerve to tell her the truth.
“Nothing?” Her finger jabbed at my grades. I had scored B plus in History and Geometry. My other subjects were straights As. “A D+ in German I can understand.”
My Irish grandmother was only family member speaking in a foreign language, which was her native tongue of Gaelic.
“I t-t-t-tried my best.” German was too difficult for my stuttering tongue.
“Yes, I know you did, but how do you explain an F in religion?” My mother had me on the stand. There was no wiggling out of her interrogation.
“I got a 90 average in the t-t-t-tests.”
“What about your homework?” My mother was a true believer in the One True God.
“A B+.” Religion required faith. I had pretended to possess that virtue since the age of 8. My tests and homework were the best in my class, but they weren’t enough to get a passing grade from Brother Valentine.
“How can an altar boy get an F?” My mother threw the report card on the table.
"I don't know." I had served at Masses throughout grammar school.
"Even Stalin didn't failed religion." The late Soviet dictator was a famous altar.
“I know.” I fought off the urge to say ‘mea culpa’, however my mother wanted to hear the truth and not that I was sorry.
“What will Nana say?” She repeated the question.
“Why do you have to t-t-tell her?" don’t know.” My Irish grandmother had taken my older brother and me into Boston once a month on the trolley throughout the early 60s.
Our first stop had been St. Anthony’s shrine, where we had lit candles for the dearly departed. She visited the confessional to tell her sins. We followed her and mumbled our wrongs. The priest forgave my trespasses with five Hail Marys. I muttered the prayers without contrition. My sins had been only sins to the Church and I had ceased to be a Catholic in thought and deed after the drowning of my best friend.
“Stop saying ‘I don’t know’.” My mother picked up the phone.
“Don’t call Nana.” Nana's faith was a fire and mine resembled a dead match. She didn’t need to know about my apostasy.
“Heavens forbid I call my mother. I’m getting to the bottom of this.” Her finger spun numbers on the Princess phone and she said to the person answering her call. “I’d like to speak with Brother Valentine."
"PLease don't." In truth I was happy with failing religion.
"Go into the living room.”
Whatever she had to say to my teacher was for her ears only and I sat on the sofa. A plastic covering protected it from ruin.
My ears were not good enough to hear the muted conversation, but I heard her rack the phone in the receiver. She entered the living room and stared at me with disbelief. “Brother Valentine said he failed you, because you don’t believe in God.”
“I got all As in the tests and did all my homework. I don’t deserve that F.”
“But you don’t believe in God. Tell me that isn't true."
"I have doubts." Telling a lie seemed the easy way out.
"Brother Valentine didn't say doubts. He said disbelief. Which is it?"
I shut my eyes like a parachutist jumping out of a perfectly good plane.
"Disbelief." No righteous god would have allowed Chaney to die in Lake Sebago.
"My son is a disbeliever." Her sigh left her lungs, as if her last breath had been stolen by the Devil, and her right hand made the sign of the cross. The Church had burned heretics for challenging the divinity of Jesus and atheism was an even greater anathema than communism in Cold War America.
"You're fourteen years-old. How can you know if you don't believe in God?" Children were to be seen and not heard in her eyes. Free thought ran against her best wishes.
"I thought about it a long time." About three seconds after she told me, "Chaney is dead."
“But you were an altar boy.” Her head was spinning with my challenge to her beliefs.
“I did it for you.” I also served, because my older brother and I received $5 for funerals and up to $20 for weddings.
“Your teacher said if you recant, he will give you a B and your scholarship will be reinstated.”
My high school offered a better education than the town school, but it was all-boys. My girlfriend attended the town high school.
Failing religion seemed like the fastest way to end my Catholic schoolboy career and I told my mother, “I can’t do that.”
“Why not?” She was not used to any resistance to her will.
“I don’t believe in God.” The Christian god had exterminated non-believers. Genocide was wrong. I believed in anything, but Him.
“Wait till your father gets home.” These words were my mother’s standard threat of last resort.
Corporal punishment was my mother’s job, but I was scared of my father, even though the Maine native had never hit me in my life, for my fear was based on the desire for his love and I had a tendency to make mistakes.
My father was an electrical engineer. They liked order.
That evening I waited on the front steps. The night was cold even for December. I thought about running away, but the low sky promised snow and I liked sleeping in a warm bed.
My father walked up to the house and groaned upon seeing my face, “Now what?”
“I failed religion.”
“How did you fail religion?” He had played football in college. Discipline was a key to survival in his world.
“I don’t b-b-believe in God.” I struggled with each word.
"You don't believe?"
Are you sure?" My father had converted from the Episcopal Church to marry my mother.
Shaking his head my father lifted me to my feet.
“If that is what you believe, then that’s up to you, but don’t expect any Christmas gifts this year. Christmas is for Christians.”
My mother and he had words that night. My older brother put his hands over his ears. Frunk was a believer, but didn’t criticize my decision. He had been Chaney’s friend too.
Christmas morning I received gifts and our family attended the 8 O’Clock Mass. The pastor’s sermon was dedicated to Christ’s sacrifice of divinity. His eyes fell on me several times. I didn’t not take communion. My mother told her friends that I was sick, but the rumors of my heretical stance were spreading around town. My girlfriend stood by me. Kyla loved me more than she loved God.
After New Year’s the phone rang every morning. The brothers at Our Lord’s Health wanted to speak with me. They pleaded for my soul.
“Come back to the faith and we’ll give back your scholarship.” The vice-principal was playing good buy.
“I don’t believe in God.” I belonged somewhere other than Our Lord’s Health High School and that was closer to Kyla.
I wasn’t biting at the bait.
"Then you'll be damned to Hell." The Vice Principal could switched to bad guy with the ease Mr Jerkyll.
Things got rough that January. Football players in my hometown called me a commie faggot. I was neither.
Our Lord’s Health suggested to my parents that I see a psychiatrist.
"Atheism was a sickness."
I agreed to this experiment for my mother's sake.
My mother and father drove me over to Commonwealth Avenue in our Delta 88. We didn’t have much to say and I looked out the window at the long-haired hippie girls of BU. They were the inspiration for the Standells’ hit DIRTY WATER.
We arrived at the Jesuit seminary ten minutes before our appointment. My mother was as devoted to punctuality as she was to Jesus. We parked before the Order of Jesus' main building.
“You’re my son. I will always love you, but you know how I feel about God. Please have an open mind.”
“I will.” Her God hadn’t lifted a finger to save Chaney, but I loved my mother. She knew me for nine months before I was born.
“And don’t slouch in the chair.” My father was a stickler for a good impression.
I got out of the car and walked into the building. The cardinal lived on these grounds. He chanted the Rosary every evening at 5. My mother joined his raspy voice along with thousands of other Catholics around Boston. He had anointed me on my Holy Confirmation and I lowered my head hoping that he wouldn’t see me.
The diocesan shrink had an office on the second floor. The chubby man in a three-piece plaid suit met me at the door.
"I'm Bob. Please sit down.” He pointed to a pair of leather chairs with a soft hand and shut the door.
I sat, but said nothing, because his head was covered by a thick mat of hair. Its color didn't match his sideburns.
"We both know why you're here." Bob sat next to me. “I’ve read your file.” “I see this problem all the time and it concerns the Cardinal when a gifted boy loses his faith. You were an altar boy and attended a few retreats for boys with a calling.
I looked at the huge crucifix hanging on the then and then out the window. Snow was falling on a withered lawn. The room was warm and the chair was too comfortable for a meeting about a young man's soul.
“Do you believe the Bible?”
I remained silent, because I couldn’t see myself as a Biblical figure, unless it’s was an extra in a BEN HUR chariot race and that movie had nothing to do with New or Old Testament.
“Are you going to tell me why you don’t believe in God.” His hands rested on my knees. He had a nice touch.
“I have nothing to say.” I pushed this hands off my lap.
“The truth will set you.” He leaned forward and his right hand settled his toupee on his head.
“Why should I tell the truth to a man who lies to himself about being bald.”
"Bald?" He was surprised by my audacity. Teenagers weren’t supposed to speak to adults with such irreverence.
"Yes, and you're wearing a rug." I stood up and ripped the toupee off his skull.
“You only believe in Jesus, so he can cure your baldness.” I threw the wig in his face before slamming his door.
I walked back to the Olds defiant in my lack of belief, until spotting my mother in the car. She was praying for my soul and my father was staring into the distance.
I didn’t care about the Holy Trinity, heaven, purgatory, hell, The Holy Eucharist, the infallibility of the Pope, or the Blessed Virgin.
My birth had taken twenty-two hours. My mother had gone down to the Valley of Death to bring me life and I wished that I was a six year-old boy in a white communion suit. Chaney had worn the same suit for our Holy Communion. We fought over something that spring day. My mother had order me to say that I was sorry. He was my best friend.
I opened the door and sat in the back seat, knowing the next few minutes would be hell on earth for at least two of the three of us.
“How did it go?” My father started up the engine. The 88 had a big V-8, but it wasn't loud enough to drowned out my answer.
“Not good. The man said I was damned.”
“Damned?” The word struck the pit of my mother’s heart.
“He’s not a priest. He can’t damn me.”
“My son damned by the church.” Her hands covered her mouth in shock.
“Sorry is not going to save you from hell.” My mother cried into her palms.
“The man touched me.” My only defense was the truth.
“Touched you?” My father turned around and studied my face for deception. He had never lied to me and I tried to return that gift to the best of my ability.
“He touched my leg and not in a nice way.”
“You’re saying he touched you.” My father tightened his fist. “No one touches my son.”
My father had nothing against queers. Arthur across the street lived with a friend. They had served in Korea together. Arthur took care of his mother. Neighbors whispered that he was not like the rest of the men in the neighborhood, but that didn’t stop my father from playing tennis with him.
“Are you telling the truth?”
“Yes, sir.” I felt bad about snitching, but I was an atheist and not a heretic.
“I have to make a phone call.” My father drove to the nearest phone booth and parked the car.
“Who are you calling?” My mother asked softly.
“Uncle Jack. He'll know what to do."
Uncle Jack was a lawyer.
"We can't sue the Church." My mother regarded the Church as never wrong.
"No one is suing anyone." My father got out of the car.
"Now see what you've done?" My mother was crying into a handkerchief.
"Yes, ma'am." Uncle Jack was my godfather.
Several days my Uncle Jack and I sat in the principal’s office. The ex-Marine told Brother Valentine on the freedoms of speech and religion guaranteed under the Constitution. He loved the idea of fighting the Church on this issue. His record in court was well-known throughout the state of Massachusetts. The previous year Uncle Jack had won $500,000 for a deaf girl in a suit against the nuns for torturing their students. The brothers had folded like a wet newspaper.
My teacher changed the F to a C. Brother Karl’s D remained a D+. It was an honest grade. My scholarship cut in half to seal the deal and Uncle Jack told me to keep my atheism to myself.
I wished that the brothers had stuck to their guns and I had been thrown out of school, but my girlfriend was happy that I remained at Our Lord’s Health. Kyla liked her space.
We stayed together until our senior year and religion had little to do with our faith in each other.
Talking about non-belief was difficult in America, which has IN GOD WE TRUST stamped on coins.
Friends and family remain deeply smitten by religion.
I tell them my lack of belief does not subtract from my spirituality, for I have visited some of the most holy sites on Earth and read countless books on devotion. Fundamentalists and born-agains have tried to reconvert my soul, but I was proud to hear President Obama mention non-believers in his first inaugural speech.
Our numbers are not a few weirdos. We are at least 20 million strong.
Two summers ago I was at a pool party at my doctor’s house on Staten Island. We had attended a big Catholic college in Boston. Nick was BBQing burgers and Italian sausages. I was glad to be out of Brooklyn and intended on sleeping over in the spare bedroom. After three Margharitas and a glass of wine I told his wife the story of my scholarship. Her religion was a comfort to her and I said nothing to disparage her devotion, so Rose laughed at the funny parts. We knew each other over twenty years.
Her husband told me to cool it. He had a hard enough time getting his four children to attend Sunday Mass.
"They like sleeping in late better than church."
"I can't blame them." Sleeping late was my favorite drug.
Two parents had overheard my discourse against organized religion and the father said, "Our 10 year-old son is a non-believer."
"And you want him to be a believer?"
"No, as the Jesuits used to say, "Get a boy when he's young and he's ours forever." The father must have studied under the black robes.
“Could you talk to him, so he knows he’s not alone.” The mother was concerned about her son's divorce from the norm.
“No problem.” I walked over to the young boy, who was playing a video game.
The other kids were cannonballing into the pool.
The young boy looked like he was winning his game, which probably meant killing aliens or bad people.
“Your parents wanted me to speak to you?” I flashed back to the shrink in 1967.
“About what?” he sighed, as if he had more than one problem.
He lowered his head and asked with resignation, “Are you a priest?”
“No, an atheist. I don’t believe in God and I wanted to tell you that not believing won’t kill you.”
I kept it short and sweet. 10 year-old boys rarely want to hear anything for a man in his 50s. I certainly hadn’t at his age, but I didn't have a sweep-over.
"Everything will be fine." It had been for me.
“Thanks mister.” The boy was genuinely relieved that I had stopped talking. Religion and especially lack of religion was a private matter best left to the soul.
“No worries. I just wanted you to know that you aren't alone."
"I already know that." He motioned to two kids at the end of the patio. They were Goths.
"Then have a good life."
I took off my shirt and bellyflopped into the pool. The impact wave washed over the rim. Nick's children screamed with delight and I almost felt like Moses parting the Red Sea, but only almost like Moses. He had a big beard.
I got out of the pool and pushed back my hair.
The kids screeched for me to repeat my feat.
“Only if we do it together.” I pointed to the young atheist.
The others called him by name.
He put down his video game carefully to not let it get wet.
“On the count of one, two, three. Cannonball.”
Our combined impact create a wave to make Noah proud and I broke surface with a smile.
It was good to be a kid again. I only wished that Chaney was with me, then again he was with me always, for memories of the Here-Before live forever in the Here-Now.
Monday, May 27, 2013
Memorial Day traditionally kicks off the summer holidays in America. Parades are held to honor the nation's soldiers and sailors, who have fallen in battle, after which families gather for BBQs before creating massive traffic jams on the highways of the USA. Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30, which preceded my birthday by one day, so as a child I looked forward to the holiday with doubled anticipation.
As a Boy Scout in the early 60s we marched into the town cemetery with veterans from the country's many wars, firefighters, police, and politicians. A prayer was said at the Civil War monument and a military color guard shoot blanks into the air.
Somehow I thought that some of the accompanying veterans had fought in the Civil War, but the last survivor of the War between the States had been Albert Henry Woolson, who died in August 2, 1956, so maybe these ancient soldiers were the last veterans standing from the Spanish American War.
Memorial Day was first held in Charleston South Carolina, when colored townspeople laid flowers on the graves of dead Union soldiers. Decoration Day was popular with the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic, as the remains of the dead were moved from where they fell to their home states.
Today I raise my glass to the hundreds of thousands of dead.
They are not forgotten.
A Memorial Day Thought:
"Obviously what causes war is the desire for power, position, prestige, money; also the disease called nationalism, the worship of a flag; and the disease of organized religion, the worship of a dogma. All these are the causes of war; if you as an individual belong to any of the organized religions, if you are greedy for power, if you are envious, you are bound to produce a society which will result in destruction. So again it depends upon you and not on the leaders - not on so-called statesmen and all the rest of them. It depends upon you and me but we do not seem to realize that. If once we really felt the responsibility of our own actions, how quickly we could bring to an end all these wars, this appalling misery!"
13 year-old boys get into trouble. It's the nature of being a boy, but sometimes they have help and it usually comes from the opposite sex if they're lucky. Of course my high school sweetheart wanted to save her virginity until marriage. I respected her wishes. Why we broke up I don't recall, but two weeks later she was shagging Pal Monahan. I remained a virgin until I was 18.
They married later and I wandered the world looking for love.
I found it on several occasions.
So I'm a lucky man too.
Several years ago during the monsoon season I sought refuge from an early evening deluge in a very ordinary beer bar off Pattaya's Soi Excite. I parked my motor scooter under an awning and scooted for shelter. The rain cascaded off the roof like a curtain of water. No one could see in or out.
The girls at the Jeddi Bar were older and fatter than any establishment in the Last Babylon. Their cosmetic masquerade failed to hide the disdain for the old geezers at the bar. Most of the farangs were over 70 and these old veterans nursed their beers with practiced misery. The atmosphere was overwhelmingly depressing enough for me to contemplating returning to the rain.
The door to the ladies room opened for a sight for sore eyes. A 20 year-old sex goddess in a pink skimpy tube top and red hot pants emerged from the toilet and surveyed the bar for victims. Her dusky eyes found no takers until falling on me. At 55 I was younger than the other beer-drinkers by 15 years. She sauntered up to me and asked with a hush, "You buy me drink?"
"Whatever you want?" I had seen this vixen before on Walking Street. She had been the star performer at a popular go-go bar's lesbian and S & M show. Sam Royalle said her bar fine was 1500 baht and short-time cost 3000. Way out of my price range.
"Tequila?" She led me to the bar. Each step in synch with the pop song on the stereo. Her sinuous body had been created to defy the music of a snake-charmer. The ancients would have labeled her a succubus on a mission to have intercourse with men. Repeated intercourse with this female dream demon sapped a man's body and soul to the brink of death.
I was in no condition to resist her charms and we eliminated the usual chit-chat about origin, work, and romance within seconds. Her name was Nathalee. I was right about her age. She had been dancing since she was 15. We clinked glasses and Nathalee downed her drink like she had just been ransomed after a year's imprisonment by the Taliban.
Natalee was sexy in a beach resort whose commerce revolved around sex. Her piercings and tattoos telegraphed a clear message to the male contingent of Pattaya that she was on the game and if they wanted to play then they had to pay. Riding her had to be like driving a Ferrari on ice and a man's skill levels had to be honed to a professional level.
If they weren’t, Natalee didn’t mind as long the customer or kak paid his way
My history was short and sweet. American writer, 55, and single. I gave my name as James. Pattaya was a good town in which to use an alias.
"James Steele." I was alone in Pattaya. My wife had abandoned me for a Thai lover in Ban Nok. My resistance to temptation was weak.
"Like James Bond. 007." Her hand hovered a millimeter over my skin. My flesh tingled with want. Her teachers had instructed an excellent student.
"More 0069." Succubus derived from the Latin word succubare "to lie under". This Lilith believed in more positions than missionary. Most of them mercenary.
"I like that." A serpent's tongue flittered over her glittering lipstick. "I like everything.
"I've seen you before. On the stage of a go-go bar."
"And you thought I was sexy."
"You were much more than sexy." I had caught her act on several occasion. She was no fake and his devotion to the exotic dancing earned top dollar for the owners. "What are you doing here?"
I ordered a beer and bought Nathalee another tequila.
"I have too many boyfriends in town. They have fight in Walking Street. I not want trouble. Maybe only trouble with you." She looked at the rain. "We go short-time? Have good room. I show you good time."
"I'd like too, but I have no money." I only went out of the house with 1000 baht. The bar bill was already 300 baht and this dump's bar fine was at least 200 baht. "Only 500 baht."
"Oh. Too bad I like you." Without a reward awaiting her sexual favors Nathalee shut down her powers. There was no sense wasting them on me. "I not always like this."
“I know. Everyone was a young once.” I had spent a week at a seminary in my youth. My mother had prayed for a priest in the family. I had failed her, but for some reason people sensed his wishes for my devotion and confessed their sins to me for some form of absolution. Nathalee was in need of penance. Everyone in Pattaya was a sinner.
“I came here I 15. My mother work bar.” She downed the shot and signaled for a beer chaser. She let out her breath and the taut belly showed the early signs of a repeated investment in beer.
“You don’t need to tell me this.” My belly was worth millions.
“Tell you. Not tell you. Same.” Her hand rubbed an eye, as if a spot of dust was under the lid. "I see you before too. Have lady say you speak Thai. Have girlfriend and baby. She leave you for Thai man."
"You heard this story." I didn't tell it to anyone but Sam Royalle and the Brit knew how to hold his sand.
"Pattaya small town. Ladies pood mak." It was a good city for gossip.
“I’ve heard your story before. Girl comes to Pattaya. Has boyfriend. Boyfriend leaves her. She works bar. Can’t love anyone but me.”
“Not same story me. 15 not have boyfriend. My mother she not care me. Only care money. 15 she want sell me."
“And you were a virgin?”
“Never kiss a boy.” Her hand moved higher on my thigh. “Borisut.”
“So why you want to have sex?”
“Not me. Maih.” Natalie swung between pidgin and perfect English. She had lived in the UK twice and Sweden once. “Maih need money to pay mafia. She like play card. Have old man come to house. he give mother 5000 baht. Not hurt he know how to make love to virgin. I not like the first time. Second time too. After that. Love it all the time. You want me show you?
"Sorry, I not have money." Speaking bad English was contagious.
"I not care money." A Thai daughter has to obey her mother. No matter what. No explanation necessary. "Only want good man one time."
"Sorry." Nathalee was once a good girl and I didn't throw any rocks at her, for I'd only hear the breaking windows of my glass house. I wondered how many times she had told this story to a customer. Certainly more than once considering how sad I felt after hearing her confession.
"Sorry for what." She was resigned to my refusal. "I go with many man. Sometimes good to not go with man. We be friend. Good idea?"
"Good idea." I had survived my encounter with a succubus, but I recalled reading an explanation how some scientist considered the legend of a succubus to be a sign of alien abduction. I doubted it, since ETs never asked for a barfine.
"Here's a tip." I gave her 300 baht. Her story was worth more, but I wanted a pizza from Scoby's on Sai 3. It cost 150 baht.
“Now I go with old man. Easy money. Only worry they die on me.”
“Anyone come close?” Viagra, 60 year-old, and a young succubus was a fatal combination in Pattaya.
“No, but sometimes think man will die.” She puffed out her cheeks. “Luat-keung-nah.”
“Blood makes their face go red.” I waved for my check-bin.
“Like red light.” Natalie doesn’t want me to leave. Not without her. Rain was letting up. "You want virgin. I play virgin for you."
“Wish I could.” I wasn't ready for Nathalee. My heart was dust.
"Mai penh rai." She wai-ed gracefully as a 12 year-old tradition dancer and said, “You can run, but you can’t hide. One day I show you my pierced clit.”
“I’m sure you will.” I escaped before the downpour drenched the streets and came home to an empty house. My house will never know how hard I try to be good.
Only my soul.
Pattaya must be the per capita capitol of farangs with tattoos. Shirtless westerners parade the streets to exhibit the beauty of their body art, despite the collateral damage to the colored flesh from the tropical sun. Most tattoos are eagles, dragons, and declarations of never-ending love to go-go girls festooned with vows of fidelity to previous girlfriends. Occasionally you come across tattoos of incredible stupidity.
Several years ago I spotted a twenty year-old with the name DAVID tattooed down his spine.
"Why David?" I asked him.
“So people know who they just saw.”
"You're David?" Conventioneers wear a simple name tag to say hello.
"The one and only." A name tag through his pierced nipple would have been a more effective form of introduction.
"If you say so." David is the second most common name in America. The same has to be true for Britain.
Later I mentioned the stupidity of this particular David to my friend, Jamie Parker. We were sitting at the Buffalo Bar. More than a few of the girls had tattoos and a trio of British lager louts bore years of blue ink on their forearms, necks, and faces.
"Can't you imagine Michelangelo's Statue of David with a tattoo?"
"Good if it wasn't on that little acorn of a penis." Jamie hated male nude statues and their mini-cocks. "You know that I don't have any tattoos."
"Me neither." The nuns at Our Lady of the Foothills warned their students that any skin art banned them from heaven. I had none, even though my faith was atheism. The sisters were excellent teachers.
"Last thing I needed as a kid was an identification scar or body marking." Jamie had been a criminal in his younger years. "In prison cons tattoo to their bodies out of boredom or rebellion. I was always thinking that one day I'd be on the outside and I intended to stay on the outside, but a couple of months ago I was taking a whitewater rafting trip at the Sabaii Massage."
"I know the place." Whitewater rafting was the local euphemism for a soapie with a naked girl or two.
"This one spinner had the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE to the American flag tattooed on her back. Being with her made me feel a little patriotic."
"I can imagine the feeling." Neither of us had been back in the USA for years. "I have a friend who had MADE IN THE UK tattooed on his forehead."
"Stupid place for a tattoo."
"Even worse his mother told him he had been born in Poland."
"What about Thai tattoos?"
"I don't talk about that. I'm a guest of this country and those tattoos are magic." Jamie had a healthy fear of red-lom.
"Traditional Thai tattoos or 'sakyant' are supposed to protect the wearers from misfortune and evil spirits and anyone getting men tattooed are asked to obey the five following rules; honor your parents, be faithful to your wife, no drugs, don't eat any fruit from off the ground, and no oral sex with women."
"I'm good with honoring my parents, faithful to my wife, and fruit off the trees, unless you're hungry."
"I'm good with most of them too." The oral sex was impossible. "But my real problem with tattoos is finding one I could live with the rest of my life. 69, Born to be Wild, Mom, the name of my son or daughter might have fit the bill."
"But not the Pledge of Allegiance."
"Not a chance." I don't need to prove my allegiance to the USA. "I doubt that poor girl knows what she’s wearing."
"Probably true, but America salutes her patriotism."
We lifted our beer glasses to toast her.
"USA USA USA."
The Brits at the bar glared at us. Jamie glared right back. We weren't going to heaven, but we were in Pattaya and as anyone knows who has lived in the Last Babylon for more than two weeks it's paradise on earth.
Every country has their own Old Wive's Tales. Thailand is no exception. Some might seem crazy on the surface, but most have been based on solid logic, so farangs will still hear the following axioms being said today in some Thai families about dining etiquette and they have nothing to do with using the wrong fork.
* Don't eat a double banana because if you are a woman you will give birth to twins.
* Don't eat before your elders because in your next life you will be born as a dog.
* Don't eat food without rice because you will get rickets.
* Don't eat salt under a tree because it will make the tree die.
* Don't eat other people's food without permission because it will make your throat swollen.
* Don't eat the leftovers from your child because it will make the kid naughty.
* Don't eat before a monk because you will become a bad ghost.
* Don't eat corn when you have the flu because it will give you a higher fever.
* Don't eat all of the rice during your evening meal because you should leave some for the elves.
* Don't eat cold rice with hot rice because you will lose your way easily the next time you go out.
* Don't eat egg when you have cut yourself because it will make it worse.
* Don't eat chicken feet because it will give you bad handwriting.
* Don't eat chili sauce in the mortar bowl because if you are a woman you will give birth to a child with big lips.
* Don't eat turtles because it will make you walk slowly.
* Don't eat dog because the dog's spirit will possess you.
Source: Translated from "Boran Oo-bai" by Sanom Krutmeuang
This list is thanks to http://www.enjoythaifood.com/thaisuperstitions.php
I especially like the 'don't eat chicken feet' one.
I hate them.
ps The last is about eating dog. I’ve feasted on dog in Indonesia. It doesn’t taste like chicken feet. It’s actually delicious, but Thais think if you eat it, then you will be possess by the dog’s spirit. Arf Arf.
Is that such a bad fate?
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Several years ago the City of London was thrown into a panic by a eye-searing cloud. Police swept the streets for the potential terrorist only to discover a Thai chef preparing his monthly supply of chilly sauce “nam prik pao”.>
Firefighters in bio-hazard suits removed the cooking pot to the protests of the chef.
"I was making a spicy dip with extra-hot chillies that are deliberately burnt. To us, it smells like burnt chilli and it is slightly unusual. I can understand why people who weren't Thai would not know what it was. But it doesn't smell like chemicals. I'm a bit confused."
Anyone driving a motorcycle by a Thai foodstand on Pattaya's Soi Buakhao has been subjected to chili peppers' choking fumes, however Thais regard the acrid aroma with the same delight Westerners hold for burning BBQ flesh.
I'm partial to chilis having been initiated into their benefits through Mexican food in 1970. The Phoenix Room on Commonwealth Avenue was the only Mexican restaurant in Boston. The one-armed Mexican chef prided herself in her blinding chili sauce and rightfully so because Mexico was the source of the chili pepper.
Thais refuse to believe their signature spice was farang, for peppers have been discovered in 13th century graves in Europe and Christopher Columbus introduced the Mexican chili to the 'civilized' world, so that 'Capsicum frutescens' spread along the trading routes into Asia, as people recognized its nutritional values as well as its propensity to accelerated the heart rate and facilitate the release of the body's natural painkilling chemical, endorphin.
Thois Londoners in Soho were not so receptive and neither are most farangs in Thailand, who regard chilis as a poison, especially when they exit from the other end of the digestive system.
Me I eat them regularly and can handle most everything in Thailand, except those chicken feet in the Chinese soup.
Run for your lives.
Ying Gai La-wang.
In the fall of 1973 my college comrade Paul Deseret and I worked at the Hi-Hat Lounge in Brighton. The pay for busboys wasn't much, but the girls were young, the drinks were cheap, and we could sell qualludes and mescaline at the bar. Neither of them were the best available in Boston, but we were always in supply, so the bands playing at the bars on Commonwealth Avenue came to see us before and after gigs. I sold LSD to AeroSmith and they invited us to their show at BU. They weren’t big, but the band attracted co-eds from every university within 25 miles.
Twenty minutes before the concert I announced that it was time to go.
“Can you drive?” Paul hesitated before getting my VW bug for the ride to BU.
“Of course I can drive.” I had been driving since I was 16 and only had 7 accidents. Most of them weren’t my fault. At least the way I told it.
"Are you sure?" Paul didn’t trust me behind the wheel. We had hitchhiked across America in 1971. A carload of drunks had begged me to drive their Riviera from Reno to San Francisco. Paul had sat in the back, while I had pretended to be Dean Moriaty and drank warm whiskey driving through the Sierras.
"I'm cool." Our three friends were yelling for him not to be such a pussy.
"Just don't drive crazy." Paul sat in the front with me. He turned on WMEX. The DJ was playing LAYLA. The boys in the back seat sang along with the Derek and the Dominos' song.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Peter buckled up his seat belt. No one in 1971 wore one. We had all seen too many films where the passengers burn in their cars, thanks to a defective seat belt.
"I'm fine." Something about his question bothered me and I said, "And to show you you how fine I'm, I'll run every red light to Kenmore Square."
“Don’t do that.” Paul's hand pulled on the door to get out, but I rammed the stickshift into first, then second, and finally third. "Like I said I'm cool."
Paul shouted to 'slow down'. while my other passengers cheered me on, then again they weren't in the suicide seat.
I blew the light at the BU dorms and then another by the Boston Club. The traffic was light, however the Charles River Bridge was a much busier intersection.
“Don’t.” Everyone cried out with good reason with wide eyes.
A Ford Mustang was speeding through a yellow light.
I swerved to the right, but a little too late to avoid tapping the back of a Mustang. I braked to a screeching halt.
"We're alive," one of the passengers in the rear sighed of relief.
“Asshole.” Peter was pissed at me.
“Are you hurt?” The buzz from the 'lude was temporarily stalled by the rush of a near-death experience.
“No.” He unbuckled his seatbelt and got of the car.
"Sorry." I realized too late what an asshole I had been for endangering his life.
"Save your sorry." He pointed to the Mustang. It was stuck in the intersection. The driver was checking the damge to his rear.
"Shit." I joined Paul outside and examined the damage to both vehicles. My fender was bent. Maybe $200 worth, but the Mustang bore a major dent. Maybe $1000, which was a lot of money. The driver took one look at me and then keeled over and puked on the sidewalk. He wiped his mouth and said, “Sorry, for running that light. Are you okay?”
The drunk thought the crash was his fault and he offered money to pay for the damages. His Mustang had a few more dents from fender benders. "I don't want any trouble with my insurance company."
"No worries." I took a hundred and twenty dollars. Paul shook his head and grabbed my keys. "I'm driving."
"That's a good idea."
"It was better five minutes ago."
"Better now than never."
Paul drove to the concert like a nun.
"You're still an asshole."
Paul wasn't going to forgive me soon. The concert was fantastic. We brought two coeds back to the Hi-Hat. I bought everyone drinks. After two beers we laughed about the crash and and Paul called me, “Boston’s worst driver.”
Maybe I was that evening, but then again I had competition.
I don't drive drunk no more. That was best left for the era of drunk driving hours. The cars were made of steel and drink was really drink, plus there weren't so many cars.
Ah, the memories.
My friend Jorge posted this photo and I thought 'pink elephant'.
Only one place had one and it was in Brighton, Mass.
In college I drank in a Commonwealth Avenue establishment with a mural of a naked woman riding a pink elephant over the bar. THe El Phoenix Room offered draft 'ganseets at 25 cents and drinks for $1. You could play three pinball games for a quart and got the same amount of songs from jukebox for two-bits. The regulars were Irish trolley drivers and the girls attended BU.
The Irish owners ran a Mexican restaurant up the short step of stairs. The cook was a one-armed woman from Monterrey. I tasted my first tacos and enchiladas there. Rosa served the spiciest food in Boston for years.
It closed years ago.
There is no trace of the El Phoenix Room online.
Ah, the memories.
The owners also had a bar underneath the Forest Hills train station.
Concannon and Sennetts'
Neither dive is there anymore.
Ah, the memories.
Friday, May 24, 2013
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
How do you know when you get to Oklahoma? You smell cow shit.
How do you know when you get to Texas? You step in the cow shit.
An old cowboy sat down at the bar and ordered a drink. As he sipped his drink, a young woman sat down next to him. She turned to the cowboy and asked, "Are you a real cowboy?"
He replied, "Well, I've spent my whole life, breaking colts, working cows, going to rodeos, fixing fences, pulling calves, bailing hay, doctoring calves, cleaning my barn, fixing flats, working on tractors, and feeding my dogs, so I guess I am a cowboy."
She said, "I'm a lesbian. I spend my whole day thinking about women. As soon as I get up in the morning, I think about women. When I shower, I think about women. When I watch TV, I think about women. I even think about women when I eat. It seems that everything makes me think of women."
The two drank in silence.
A little while later, a man sat down on the other side of the old cowboy and asked, "Are you a real cowboy?"
He replied, "I always thought I was, but I just found out I'm a lesbian."
An Arab, and American Indian, and a cowboy are sitting around a fire in the far West. The American Indian throws on a log and says, "Once we were many, now we are few."
"Once we were few and now we are many," The Arab boasts before throwing a log on the fire.
"That's only because you haven't played Cowboys and Arabs." The cowboy takes our his peacemaker and throws a log on the fire.
Every morning in 2010 I checked the weather for New York City. The forecast determined my attire for the diamond exchange, especially as the seasons of September seesawed between summer and autumn. The weather bureau predicted a temperature of 75 with rain later in the afternoon. I dressed in a lightweight suit. My umbrella was in the closet at work.
Morning passed into afternoon with the air growing heavy around 3. I stepped outside the exchange and studied the western sky. I tensed my fingers into a fist. None of the knuckles crackled with age, indicating a falling barometer. The air was thick with humidity. A storm was on its way and I figured it would hit around closing time.
I had to be at an art opening by 6:30 and I returned to my desk to old customers. It had been a slow day. The telephone rang at 4:30. Manny my boss was calling on his cell. My 80 year-old boss had taken off the day. His hip was bothering him.
"You be careful." His voice was edged with urgency. He was calling from his Midtown apartment rented from his second son.
"I'm always careful." 47th Street was plagued by thieves.
"There are reports of tornadoes."
"Tornadoes?" I dismissed his weather report as the hysterical reaction to the fear-mongering tactics of the TV news.
"Yes, severe thunderstorms are expected and the clouds are getting dark. I can see them from my window." Manny was from Brownsville, whose motto was "Never ran. Never will."
"You're not joking, are you?"
"No." Very little scared Manny, but he was worried about his son.
"Where's Richie Boy?"
"He's talking to a customer." Richie Boy was listening to a beautiful female client explain how her fiancee gave her the ring in Vietnam.
"Tell him to stay inside."
"I don't think there's any problem of that." The Ford model had long legged and girlish breasts. Richie Boy wasn't going anywhere.
"Go outside and tell me about the sky."
"Just a sec." I exited the store and checked out the western horizon.
It was very dark.
"I went back into the exchange and picked up the phone.
"We're not going anywhere until it's over."
"Good, because the TV is warning people to seek refuge in their cellars."
"Just like THE WIZARD OF OZ." Dorothy and her dog Toto had been sucked into the heavens by a Kansas twister. Their house had landed atop the Wicked Witch. The munchkin EMS had declared her dead on the scene. Manny was a life-long Democrat and I said, "Maybe if we're lucky the exchange will fall on GOP."
"I'm being serious." Manny sounded like one of the extras from LA tornado scene in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. "A line of black clouds is approaching."
Storm chasers describe this phenomena as the 'bear's cage'.
"We'll stay inside." Gloomy rain pelted 47th Street. Pedestrians sought shelter under the alcove of the exchange. Richie Boy's had yet to break from the tall model. He was close enough to smell her perfume.
It was an innocent flirtation.
Richie Boy was always faithful to his wife.
Same as me to mine.
The wind whooshed through the canyon of 47th Street. The storm blew past in five minutes. I called Manny to tell him that we were all right. The old man was relieved by the news. He was heading downstairs to his local bar. The model left and Richie Boy said, "Let's close."
It was only 5:15. His father never shut the store before 5:30. My co-worker Ava hit the interior showcase like a Pirate of the Caribbean. We were out of there by 6.
I got home to Brooklyn at 6:30. A tree had fallen on my street. My apartment was soaked by rain. I had left the windows open. An actual tornado had struck my neighborhood. I phoned Manny. He was in the bar.
"You were right. There was a tornado."
"I don't joke about shit like that."
"Are you okay?"
"Yes." I was drinking a little wine and eating yellow tomatoes.
"And my son?" Manny was a father of four and only one thing mattered to men like us.
"Fine I last saw."
I'll see you tomorrow."
"Barring wind, sleet, rain or snow."
I was glad to have the work. These were strange times in many more ways than the weather.
Monday, May 20, 2013
The term 'generation gap' was coined during the tumultuous years following World War 2 as the focus of the American media swung from the conquerors of the Axis Powers to their spawn, the Baby Boomers.
Bing Crosby gave way to Elvis and the King was deposed by the Beatles, as each succeeding wave of teenagers attempted to assassinate the influence of the previous generation and I find myself adrift in a sea of ignorance when it comes to popular culture.
My last landfall was Nirvana.
The year was 1991, so I was surprised when my nephew called from U Penn in the Spring of 2010 with a request to meet Taylor Swift.
"Huh?" It's the only Neanderthal word to survive their extinction.
"Uncle Bubba, don't tell me you have no idea who Taylor Swift is?" My nephew's voice was rimed with youthful pity.
"Let me guess. She's not a go-go dancer?" I once knew everything about pop culture.
"No." Franka had little patience with the old. His father had a year on me.
"A porn starlet?" I was a fan of Sasha Grey.
"Wait a second. She's a country singer." I recalled seeing her face on the cover of PEOPLE magazine at the 7/11 checkout rack. She was a young lovely blonde and I probably would have fallen in love with Taylor Swift when I was as young as Franka. "She's pretty."
"More beautiful than pretty." My nephew congratulated my celebrity acumen.
"But why are you calling me to meet her?"
"Because you have connections."
"I do?" Even my dealers had given up on me.
"Yes, you do. Who got me into Penn?" He had been on the waiting list for the pre-med school.
"You did with your grades." He had been the best student at a New England prep school.
"After you made a phone call to an old friend." He was accepted the next day.
"School are easier to conquer than a young woman's heart."
"But your friend works at Saturday Night Live and she's playing there in October after a show at the Garden. I already have tickets for that." He must have memorized her tour dates.
"I can get us into the show." Kleith had been a mainstay at SNL since the 70s. He and I had played softball on the Milk Bar team. His wife was my good friend. One of us had driven in the winning run of a midnight game two decades ago. Neither of us could remember who had scored that evening.
"And you can introduce me to Taylor there?"
"Franka, I'm a nobody." I was hoping that my nephew remembered the Emily Dickinson poem.
"No, you're Uncle Bubba." He wasn't allowing me to be a nobody.
"I'll see what I can do."
That evening I googled Taylor Swift. She was huge. Her shows sold-out across the country. She exhausted famous boyfriends in heartbeats. Franka didn't stand a chance, but the next day I phoned Kleith to get seats for her autumn show.
"No one's ever called me this far in advance."
"It's for family."
"Okay, you have first dibs on that show."
I called Franka and told him the news.
"You're the best Bubba."
"Don't expect me to remember this."
"I'll be your memory." His interest in the country western singer would have been spooky in any other person, but my nephew was too cool to be a stalker.
I hung up, remembering my juvenile fascination with Francoise Hardy. Her PREMIERE BONNE DU JOUR remained a French classic along with LE TEMP D'AMOUR. In the 80s met at a dinner in the 13e arrondisement. At 40 she was ravisssant. Her husband, Jacques, smoked a cigar. The French pop star thought that he was a genius. Selling a couple of million records of ET MOI ET MOI ET MOI can blow up your head.
That summer I traveled to Thailand and I forgot about Taylor Swift. My wife was my only vixen in my life and I never cheated on Mam in deed or thought.
I returned to New York in September and I worked selling diamonds 47th Street.
Somedays I had success.
Others were complete failure.
"No one was keeping score.
My cell phone rang in late-October.
"Uncle Bubba." It was Franka. He had not forgotten my pledge. "What about those tickets for Saturday Night Live. Taylor Swift is playing Madison Square Garden next week. She's going to be the host on SNL."
"Kleith said I was golden." We hadn't spoken since the summer.
"The art director." We went back to a softball victory over the Upper West Side's best team in 1987. He was ten years younger than me. His latest award was an Emmy. Franka was supposed to be study medicine.
"Can you get us tickets to next week's show? Taylor Swift is the host."
"Let me call Kleith."
"I expected to get blown off, but the show's art director was a man of his word.
"One hitch. I don't have seat for you."
"Shit." Getting tickets to the show was tough. Taylor Swift was in demand. Kanye West almost shouted her off the stage of the MTV awards. White outrage translated into sales. She was everyone's girl.
"But you can hang out back stage with me and my son."
"Cool." His oldest son was one of my proteges. Radwood was a big Cult fan.
"You don't really want to watch the show, do you?" The art director realized I was happy to sit backstage.
"Only certain sections. Like the opening." It was the best part of the show. If it sucked, then the rest of the show sucked too.
His job granted me wandering rights to SNL. My nephew was happy with this option, since the odds of his meeting Taylor Swift were greater in the working area than the third seat on the farthest right.
"What should I say when I meet her?" Franka actually believed that he was on a star-crossed rendezvous.
"Just be natural." This was good advice. Not great. Only good.
I mentioned the show to my older brother. He was not too happy about Franka's coming to see me. It was parents’ weekend at Penn. Tuition was 30K.
"Franka should be studying."
"I agree with you, but he's over 18."
"And I'm his father."
My older brother left the decision to see the show with Franka.
His mother called to say 'don't disappoint my son'. She knew how much seeing Taylor Swift meant to Frank and I was beginning to feel the pressure.
The day of the show Franka took the bus up from Phillie. He saw the concert at MSG. We met in front of Rockefeller Center. I explained to him about being back stage. "Be there but don't be in anyone's way. Don't say nothing to anyone, unless they say something first."
We were waved through the barriers at 30 Rock. Our names were on a list. The art director's son waited for us at the elevator. I introduced Radwood to my nephew. Franka blurted out his desire to meet Taylor Swift.
Radwood understood the situation. He was 18. They were of the same generation. Nothing they said made any sense and I wondered if they had been abducted by aliens. Upstairs I retreated inside the offices for the opening.
Franka needed this moment alone and I was giving it to him as long as he was with Radwood. He found me backstage with a glass in my hand. Radwood's father was familiar with my needs.
"How was it?"
"It was awesome. You made my year. I might not have met her, but she walked a foot away from me." Franka grinned like a paparazzi finally capturing a photo of a reclusive celebrity. "She was so cool. She even smiled at me."
"Good." I had watched most of the show on a monitor.
Taylor Swift smiled a lot. She had a pretty smile. Most 20 year-old beautiful country-western sensations are lucky that way.
Radwood's father proposed that we head over to the after-show party at Oceania, a restaurant not far from Rockefeller Center.
"Can we go?" Franka was enthused by the possibility of seeing his obsession another time. He also had a schoolmate in SNL on the show. Jenny Slate had been funny that night.
It was past my bed hour. I had less than $20 in my pocket. There was only one answer.
The party was filled with show members, guests, and friends of the crew. I only knew Radwood's father. He was speaking with the music director of MTV. I had nothing to add to their conversation and wandered out back to the table farthest from the action with a beer in my hand. Franka had one too. Radwood too. We sat down and Franka recapped his evening to Kleith's son, then I saw the two boys' eyes light up like they had sat on a fire.
Taylor Swift was coming our way. She sat down at the table next to us. She was right next to me. She was speaking with Jenny Slate. The trial member of the cast waved to Franka. She remembered him from Milton Academy. Taylor was having trouble with her cell phone.
"Maybe I can help." This was his chance and I gave him the green light.
Franka fixed the problem and spoke with Taylor for two seconds. I heard him ask for a photo. I took out the camera in my pocket. Her security saw it in my hand. I had to act fast. The first shot was a little out of focus. The second was perfect.
"I loved your show. Best wishes for your success." I told the star, as her bodyguards assume their protective shield.
"Thank you." Her smile wasn't fake and I had liked her performance. Franka was in heaven. We went to find Radwood's father. Kletih was ready to head back to Brooklyn.
Franka was good to go too.
He had accomplished his mission.
In the morning I made him breakfast.
"I don't know how I can go back to Penn and lead a normal life after last night."
"I don't know either, but you will find a way."
"Thanks, Uncle Bubba."
"No problem." I had only done what men nicknamed Uncle Bubba are supposed to do.
Come through with the impossible.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
3pm the ref will drop the puck for the Boston Bruins versus the New York Rangers in game two game of the Stanley Cup quarterfinals. THE NUTCRACKER SUITE by the Ventures rocked the original Garden in the 70s.
Go # 4 and let's not forget the great Derek # 16
To hear THE NUTCRACKER by the Ventures, please go to the following URL
The morning after my senior prom I drove my date down to Horseneck Beach in my VW Beetle. My schoolmates were having a beer bash, but I couldn't find them in the dunes and Patti suggested that we cruise the beach road.
"Maybe they went someplace more secluded." The junior's blondish brown air was sweeping back from her face. The sunroof was open and air smelled of ocean.
"Did anyone tell you that you look like Faye Dunaway?"
"You're joking?" Patti had accepted my invitation to the prom after I had broken up with my high school sweetheart. I had no idea where Kyla was today.
"Maybe not her age, but something like her if she was 17."
"I loved THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR." The diamond heist movie had been set in Boston.
"Me too, especially the dune buggy scene, where Steve McQueen blasts over the beach. You know that buggy was just a modified VW?"
"No, I didn't know that."
"I bet if I let out some of the air from the tires, we could ride on the beach." I pulled to the side of the road.
"You think that's a good idea?" Patti was a junior at the local Catholic girls school with my sister. She both had good girl reputation.
"What's the worse thing that can happen?"
"We turn over and die."
"I'm no Steve McQueen, but we're not dying today." I got out of the car and deflated the tires. Getting back behind the wheel I asked, "Are you ready?"
"Yes." Patti snapped on her seat belt.
"THeh let's do it." I shifted into first and steered the VW onto a path leading to the beach. I pushed it into second and we flew down the hard-packed strand with Patti laughing with every turn. A shallow inlet blocked our way and I twisted the wheel to return the way we came, however the sand higher on the beach was soft and the tires sunk into the sand bringing us to a halt. I tried to rock the VW out of the trap, but succeeded in burying the tires deeper.
"I think the tide is coming in." Patti was right.
"You wait here." I ran to the West Beach Bar. A derelict towtruck was parked outside. I entered the bar. The three men inside laughed at me and the oldest said, "Let me guess. You got your car stuck in the sand."
"You're the second one today. $15 to get it out." His face was lined with worries. Few of them were his own.
"I have $10." I guessed a lot of young men thought that they were Steve McQueen at this beach.
"Ten is it." He put his beer on the bar and walked out to his truck. We returned to my VW. The water was up to the engine in the rear. The man attached chains to the front chassis and hauled my car to the road.
"Thanks." Patti was grateful for the help.
"You wanna drink some beer with me." The older man was asking her.
"No, I came with him."
"Just thought I'd asked, because if you're stupid enough to go with someone who gets stuck in the sand, then I thought you might be stupid enough to go with me." The tow truck driver pulled away from us and Patti laughed with relief.
"I guess I'm really no Steve McQueen." I felt like a loser.
"But you were for a minute and I felt like Faye Dunaway. Thanks." She kissed me on my cheek and we went for fried clams in Westport.
I dropped her home before dark.
I never touched her.
Patti was a good girl and I was just a boy getting stuck in the sand, but for the briefest of time I was Steve McQueen and I went to sleep dreaming of Faye Dunaway at 17. She looked a lot like my prom date and that wasn't my imagination.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Few loves are more true than that of a high school sweetheart. Sophomore sessions of kissing on sofa were upgraded to petting during junior year and pledges of eternal devotion for the final year of high school. I was lucky enough to find myself in such a situation in the Spring of 1970.
Kyla Rotta was a cheerleader for our local high school football squad. Our hometown was south of the Neponset River. Boston lay to the north.
We had met during a CYO trip to the Montreal Expo in the summer of 1967. Our romance had outlasted the eternity of the late-60s with good reason. Kyla had a pixie haircut and lively eyes. Her figure rivaled the pin-ups on the Playboys hidden under my older brother's mattress. Better still her mother was a divorcee and dated a Portuguese composer. They stayed out late at night, so Kyla and I spent hours on her living room couch in a state of disarray.
On more than ten occasion we achieved sin without losing our innocence.
One night I stayed past 2am. I walked home through the quiet streets of our South Shore suburb. The stars above chanted a symphony of love, until my father flashed his highbeams in my eyes. There was no running from him. We were going the same place. He opened the passenger door and said harshly, "Get in the car."
I sat in the Olds 88 and he backhanded me in the face.
It was the first and only time that he hit me.
He was angry for a number of reasons. My mother was worried that I hadn't called. It was a school night. He ended the tirade pulling into our driveway. My parents' bedroom light was on. My mother was still awake. She had a hard time sleeping. My father parked the car in the garage.
"Go upstairs and kiss your mother good-night."
"And secondly I pray that you're not doing anything stupid with that girl. Kyla is a good girl. You remember that."
My father was talking about going all the way, which was something I wanted more than anything else in the world. My father had converted to Catholicism to go all the way with my mother. He knew the price of that pleasure. They had six kids.
I didn't tell anyone about how I got my black eyes. Kyla had her suspicions, but she liked my father. He was a good-looking man even in his 40s.
We were close. Our dates were movies, long walks, and dinners at the local dinners. Neither of us talked about the future. I was going to Boston College in the fall. She was attending UMass. We were still months short of 18 and time was measured by the change of semesters.
In April prom season fell upon us. Everyone was favoring Kyla and me to be King and Queen at the event. She asked me to the prom at church on a sunny April morning. I wasn't a believer, but pretending my faith was easier than telling the truth.
"Well?" Kyla had a clear voice. She was in the choir. Some people said she sang like an angel.
"Well what?" I was surprised by my asking this question for the answer was a foregone conclusion.
"Well, are you coming with me to the prom?"
Yes was the only answer to the boy who existed before she asked the question.
"No." I said the two letters, the one word, that no one had expected me to say, almost as if I wanted the world to shift on its axis.
"No?" Tears squirreled in the corners of her eyes. Saying 'yes' would wipe them away. Telling her that my refusal had been a joke would put a smile on her lips. She deserved both gestures. Instead I rose from the pew and walked out of the church never to take communion again.
My older brother later asked me, "What is wrong with you?"
My friends thought that I was crazy.
My mother yelled at me.
Everyone loved Kyla. I couldn't tell them that I loved her too, because that admission would brand me cruel instead of stupid.
She called several times that afternoon.
"It's not you."
"No, it's not." Julie was the perfect girlfriend.
"Is there someone else?" Heartbreak rained in her voice.
"There's no one else." Julie had saved me from the priesthood in my junior year by playing LED ZEPPELIN's first LP at a monastery. COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN and her hand bringing mine to her bare breast exorcised my final attempt to reconnect with Jesus. I owed her big time and said in all honesty, "I have looked at another girl the entire time we've been together."
"Then why are you ending us."
"I don't know."
"Fuck you. You know you know why, but you don't want to say." The phone slammed down in my ear.
I called several times to tell her that I didn't know why I wanted to end it with her.
It didn't make any sense.
That night I didn't sleep a second. Kyla and I were made for each other. I had told her no only to see what the world would be like without her. I was miserable.
In the morning rose out of bed at dawn. My father was sitting at the kitchen table. He didn't have to ask where I was going. He had loved my mother at first sight.
I walked from my house by 128 to her home by Route 3. Several of my friends on their way to school offered me a ride. I refused, for my walking was a sign of penance. I showed up at her house before 7:30 and knocked on the door.
Kyla's mother opened the door.
"I'd like to speak with Kyla."
"About the prom."
"Then you're a little too late. She asked Pal Johnny to the prom."
"Pal Johnny." He was the quarterback and had won a scholarship to the state university. She was going to the same college.
"Yes, so do Kyla a favor. Leave her alone. You've already hurt her enough."
"Yes, m'am." I knew when I was beaten and beaten by myself. I left her street and headed back to my house. No one was home. I sat downstairs in the den and put on Led Zeppelin. My hands touched the air.
I'd never touch Kyla again.
I deserved nothing better for making a prom queen cry.
"I'm not an artist. I''m a failed writer."
Artists are just as poor in Thailand as they are in the USA, unless you're a big star and I'm not even a 40 watt lightbulb.
Of course I didn't say I was a failure.
That 'nah sia' or loss of face would have sealed her opinion about artists.
Sometimes the best truth is the one you never say.
Mom sent me a photo depicting my brothers and me when we had yet to face the most troubling parts of life.
I was much younger than the others.
I believe that I had just been introduced to hard drugs the previous day as my body language would seem to indicate that I couldn't stop moving and I wouldn't shut up for a photograph with my favorite brother and the other one. Immediately after this was taken, John subsequently shot Bert Jr. in the leg with the gun that he kept in that Mazda directly behind us as Bert tried to leave to go to what I believe would have been his prom.
The last picture of all 3 boys together for many years.
Guns in America.
It's a family thing.
Friday, May 17, 2013
CBGBs was a rough bar. The Hell's Angels used it for away play and no one questioned their right to act like they owned the place,since they scared off most other asshole bikers, although not every night.
The night of the Cramps' first show at the Bowery club was packed with affectionados on garage trash music and the Cramps played, as if tomorrow the world was diving into the sun.
I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Sunglasses After Dark, Strychnine, and a cover of the Trashmens' Surfer Bird highlighted the show.
During the encore the scrawny saxist James Chance of the Contortions took the stage.
Not to perform, but to fondle two biker chicks from Jersey.
Their boyfriends were in the front row.
James stuck out his tongue.
The girls thought it was funny.
One of the biker boys had no sense of humor and jumped onto the stage.
It wasn't much of a fight. Chance was skin and bones, The biker had a body of of mechanic muscle. A solid right to Chance's nose sent the sax player into the drum set. Blood poured onto James' dirty white shirt.
Eric Mitchell, film actor extraordinaire, scrambled onto the stage to rescue his skinny friend. The actor was part-Cherokee and warned the biker to stop.
The band kept playing Surfing Bird.
The audience watched the show.
The biker looped a slow overhead right and his fist impacted on Eric's nose louder than the band. Blood splattered everywhere. Merv the bouncer threw out the bikers. He was 6-6 and looked like a family member of the Addams family. Even the Angels respected Merv.
The next night Eric entered the club with a black eye.
James was wearing the same badge of dishonor only for both eyes.
That night the two were everyone's darlings.
For that night and beyond for a bar filled with losers.