Friday, January 31, 2014

WHAT IS HAPPINESS by Totie Fields

Totie Fields is a lost genius of Borscht Belt comedy.

I reincarnated her from the past this evening, finding a 1974 clip from the Mike Douglas Show on which she puts Gene Simmons from Kiss by saying after he denied being Jewish, "The hook don't lie."

See this URL

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHTz3sJOqSQ

I then sought out more Totie Fields and found WHAT IS HAPPINESS?

Check out this URL

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbjoFFlY2Tg

The big girl knew her stuff and acceding to Wikipedia Ed Sullivan gave Fields her first big break when he booked her on his show after seeing her perform at the Copacabana in New York. She made multiple appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Merv Griffin Show, as well as a fifth season episode of Here's Lucy starring Lucille Ball.

In 1972, Fields wrote a humorous diet book titled I THINK I'LL START ON MONDAY: THE OFFICIAL I'll Start on Monday: 8½ OZ. MASHED POTATO DIET.

Laugh laugh laugh.

Black Ice

Yesterday smug northerners ridiculed the snowbound paralysis of Atlanta.

"There was only two inches of snow," sneered Jon Stewart of Comedy Central.

'Maybe we should airlift Maine drivers down to the South to teach them how to drive in winter conditions," joked a friend at Frank's Lounge.

My grandfather once said, "There are two seasons in Maine, the season of good sledding and the season of bad sledding."

No one south of the Swanee River ever entertained thoughts of good sledding or bad sledding, but it wasn't a question of snow.

The goal accumulation in Fulton County was from 2-5 inches.

The real problem was two-fold.

The mayor of Atlanta and the governor of the Peach Tree State advised their people not to worry.

"We have it covered."

And they might have, if the temperature at commuter departure time hadn't dropped to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, which froze the melting snow to black ice.

Black ice is a terror.

According to Wikipedia black ice, sometimes called clear ice, refers to a thin coating of glazed ice on a surface. While not truly black, it is virtually transparent, allowing black asphalt/macadam roadways or the surface below to be seen through it—hence the term "black ice".

Tires glide like hockey pucks on black ice.

In Atlanta, New York, Boston, or Montreal.

No one can drive on it.

Back in the winter 1974 I was hacking for Boston Cab to pay for my college tuition.

One frigid night I rounded the corner at the Christian Science Building to pick up a fare on Clearway Street. The rear of the Checker glided left and I corrected the veer with ease. The customer was waiting on the sidewalk at the end of the street. I rolled at a safe 5mph and tapped the brakes to stop, however the street was glazed by black ice and I passed the fare without losing speed. Directly in my path was a parked Boston Police cruiser in which sat two cops eating donuts. They saw my headlights. I pressed lightly on the brakes. The Checker slid into a slo-mo diagonal vector aimed at the driver's door.

Momentum took control and the cab stopped inches from the cop car.

My fare sat in the back.

The officers shook their head.

I shrugged an apology and drove the customer to the 1270 Club on Boylston without a scratch.

So I understand the Atlanta shutdown.

Southerners can't drive for shit in the snow.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

FAMOUS FOR NEVER by Peter Nolan Smith on Kindle

FAMOUS FOR NEVER is a semi-fictional recounting of the life of a ne'er-do-well living in the East Village during the 1970s, Paris throughout the 1980s, and Asia for the 1990s. Peter Nolan Smith's pingponging through the world ricochetted him through the ranks of the famous and near-famous such as Jean Michel-Basquiat and Klaus Nomi without success ever threatening his firm grasp on failure, for there is no failure greater than premature success.

Here's an excerpt:

New York City teetered on the edge of bankruptcy during the mid-70s.

The Daily News splashed the headline FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD, after the GOP president refused to bailout the Democratic metropolis.

Without federal funds the mayor was forced to slash every department’s budget to the bone and the city collapsed into a ruin rivaling Rome after the Goths burned it to the ground.

Subways broke down on the tracks. Muggers ruled the streets and parks after dark. Arsonists torched the Bronx and Lower East Side for fun and profit. Shooting victims overwhelmed Harlem's emergency wards, while heroin ODs became the Oueens' leading cause of teenager death. When Staten Island proposed a referendum to secede from the city, no one accused the distant borough of treason, because the worst was yet to come for the East Village.

The 9th Preceinct police rarely ventured farther than Tompkins Square Park. Shooting galleries outnumbered bodegas and hordes of thieves fearlessly prowled their new-won turf for victims. Nobody honest could survive in a neighborhood more burnt-out than a junkie’s vein and families of all races, colors, and creeds fled the outlaw DMZ for the suburbs.

The population of the Lower East Side shriveled from 120,000 to 60,000. It never hit zero, because cheap rents, proximity to the subways, and minimal police presence attracted a nation of malcontents disenchanted with the morality of the country’s Silent Majority and this diverse smattering of gays, drifters, artists, musicians, and addicts reversed the exodus from the smoldering desolation.

Stutterers read poetry to NYU coeds without ridicule. Hopeless derelicts squatted derelict buildings without fear of landlords. Teenager girls denied cheerleader suburban destinies were offered flesh ballerina careers at sordid go-go bars and graffiti artists painted heaven on charred walls with spray cans.

It was the place to be, if you were young.

The urge to vacate my SRO hotel on East 11th Street was stymied by my Irish grandmother’s adage, “Address is everything. Better a shack on Beacon Hill than a mansion in Roxbury.”
In the spring of 1977 my hillbilly girlfriend graduated with a drama degree from a college in Ohio.

Alice resembled an adventurous Shirley MacLaine. Her gold-flecked eyes were different colors and her skin was whiter than skimmed milk. She loved wearing a black plastic raincoat and white leather dress.

“I’m the poetry police and I’m spying on you to make sure you don’t write any poems.” Alice didn’t drink or smoke weed or do drugs, but during her orgasms the virginal actress cried out ‘god’.

I later discovered her divine evocation honored the strength of her climax rather than my sexual ardor.

One humid night Alice lay on my SRO room’s single bed and held up a New York Dolls Album cover. The band stood in front of the Gem Spa and she said, “I want to live there.”

“I’ve been waiting for you to say that.” My room was too small for the two of us and the bed was even smaller.

Two days later Alice found a one-bedroom apartment on East 10th Street. The rent was $180 a month. We signed the lease and moved into a third-floor railroad flat with creaky wooden floors slanting east and a tub opposite the gas stove in the kitchen. I wondered how many families had lived in this narrow space since the building construction in 1905.

“It’s a museum of 19th Century urban living.” The last tenant had been a hippie.

“We do have a view.” Alice stood at the rear windows overlooking a brick-walled alley filled with trees.

Birds sang on the limbs of a spreading cypress tress and I said, "On a park.”

Alice smelled of the spring and I was glad to sleep in a real bed in a real bedroom. The two of us were in love with each other and the East Village.

She was 22 and I was 27.

Punk rock was our opera.

CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City were twin La Scalas. The basketball court in Tompkins Square Park was my Madison Square Garden. Our friends were geniuses or mad fools depending on the dosage of their meds. We lived the night by a moral code erased every dawn, however once Blondie hit the AM charts, every loser east of the Bowery discarded their vow of poverty to seek fame and fortune as a birthright.

Alice answered TV casting calls for soap opera ingénue. A pianist friend angled to be the next KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND with a funk band from Crown Heights. My upstairs neighbor starred in a biker movie and I recited detective poems to college girls in local dives, convinced that the Tonight Show would book me as a star of tomorrow.

We all deserved stardom.

Late in the summer of 1978 an Upper East Side photographer asked me to write a photo-roman about a sadistic kidnapping. I cast Klaus Sperber as the black leather villain. The Gothic singer was the daytime pastry chef at a swishy ice cream shop of East 60th Street. I was a busboy there and Anthony lived upstairs.

The gaunt German sang forgotten castrati arias in West Village sex bars. His voice hadn’t existed for over a century. Upon meeting Klaus at the Kiev Coffee Shop, the photographer was smitten by his ghostly visage.

“You were made for film. My plan is to shoot this as a pitch for a movie about our times in the East Village. Wait till you meet Clover.” Anthony snapped shots, as we discussed the project.

Our female lead was late.

“But I don’t believe in movies. Too many frames showing the same thing when only one needs to show the true emotion.

“Like Gloria Swanson at the end of SUNSET BOULEVARD.” I loved Billy Wilder films.

“I can play her.” Klaus grimaced a stolen toothy smile and pursed his black-painted lips. He was a natural mimic. “Who is the leading man?”

“No one yet.” Anthony’s eye hadn’t left the viewfinder.

“What about him?” Klaus pointed my direction.

“He’s a little brutish.” Anthony swung the camera and focused the lens on my face.

“Like a caveman,” Klaus snidely commented about my hard-boned features. “You know his name at Serendipity 3 is Bam Bam after some stupid American TV show THE FLINTSTONES.”

“I’m not an actor.” I trembled like LA in an earthquake.

“You don’t have to act. All you have to do is pose.” Anthony shifted his camera to catch the second coming of Veronica Lake entering the diner.

Every man at the counter followed the click of the blonde’s stiletto heels. Her knee-length black skirt was slit to a vee revealing her white upper thigh and her black polka-dot shirt was unbuttoned to a vanilla navel.
Klaus, Anthony and I stood up, as she came to our table. My mouth was dry.

“This is Clover.” Anthony pulled out her chair. “We met at Club 82.”

“I like dancing with transvestites. They don’t hassle me like men do.”

Clover sat with the refinement of a well-educated tramp.

Anthony lifted his Leica.

Clover dropped her head for the sheet of hair to cover half an eye.

“Are you the hero?”

“Yes.” There was no saying no.

“Good. I like my men rough.” Her voice slurred this preference as a sultry demand for surrender.

“He’s also the writer,” Klaus said with a keen interest in his acting partner. He liked straight girls. They attracted straight men.

“So what’s the story?” The 19 year-old arched an eyebrow. “Something sexy I hope.”

“It’s about the three of us. Klaus is a rich opera singer jealous of his young lover, you, and I’m the detective hired to follow you.” I was making it up word by word from a cloud crammed with Hammett and Chandler.

“That’s sounds like the story of my life.”

“Really.”

“More or less. Is there a script?”

“Not yet.” The two syllables were muted with embarrassment. “I’ll write the rest when I see the photos.”

“That’s not how they do it in the movies.”

“Everything will be fine. The story will write itself with you three in it.” Anthony pressed the shutter button. The camera swiveled from Klaus to Clover to me. Its aperture clicked open and shut like a robot waking from a long recharge. “We can make it up as we go.”

“Like life. Like Art.” Klaus believed in keeping it simple and over the next week I refined the story to the kidnapping of Clover’s character to finance an opera about the last castrati on Earth.

We inhaled poppers for one scene.

Clover stripped near-naked in abandoned tenement for the next shoot.

Klaus sliced my eyes in another. Bandages transformed me into a blind mummy.

Clover lay on my bare flesh wearing nothing, but a scent of another man.

Her movement gave the scene dialogue.

“My sponsor had me when I was a little girl. He thinks I’m too old now. Nineteen isn’t old, is it?”

“No.” I was twenty-seven. When I was fourteen, Clover had been eight. “You were lucky to get out of Texas.”

“I never looked back.” Clover could make it to the bright lights of Hollywood. Nothing was pretend with her.
Our shoots ran late. Tenement fires provided our lighting. Sirens backed our sound. My girlfriend accused me of having an affair.

I wished that Alice were right, except Clover told me a secret during a scene in the subway.

“I make it with men for money.” The incoming Lexington Line train limited the range of her admission to my ears alone.

Anthony was taking pictures with his right eye on the view finger and his left hand focusing the lens.

“The Texan.”

“Him and others. Don’t ask how many. I don’t tell the oilman about them. He thinks he’s the only one, but his friends pay me $1000 a night and I’m worth every penny.”

“Why tell me?”

“Because I want you to know.”

The roar of the exiting train allowed me to respond with silence.

A grand a night was out of my price range and I had to be satisfied with the fantasy of sleeping with her. I never said her name in bed with Alice, but my girlfriend was not pleased with the illusion and neither was I.
The final shoot was on 42nd Street.

After midnight Times Square was awash with wickedness. We posed on the sidewalk with the pimps, whores, and drug dealers. Clover looked the part of a rich man’s mistress and I passed for a detective in my pinstriped suit. Anthony paid the clerk of a XXX shop $20 to shoot in a private booth.

“Just don’t take all night. #24 is our big earner.”

“We’ll be quick.” Anthony set up his tripod and posed us inside the pine-scented compartment. “Put some quarters in the slot. I want this to look right.”

“I got a pocket full.” Clover fed a stack of coins into the machine and an 8mm loop presented the ravishing of a young blonde by an older man.

When I imitated the on-screen action, Clover whispered, “On my fourteenth birthday the oilman raped me. He bought my parents a new house the next week. He’s been taking care of me ever since. You ever rape anyone?”

“No.” I was a soldier of the Sexual Revolution. We raped no one.

“Do you think you could? If it was me?” Clover teasingly shut the booth door. “If it was a game?”

“No.” I snatched at her arm.

“Too bad.” She opened the door.

The camera strobe captured our struggle in a blinding white.

“Cut and next scene.” Anthony was not kidding about his quickness. “Outside on the street. You two are going to meet Klaus.”

“I was wondering, if I would ever get the call, Mr. DeMille.” Klaus picked up the tripod. I grabbed Anthony’s bag. He exited from the porno parlor speaking to Clover. She carried nothing.

Several of the porno parlor’s clientele followed us. We were a free show.

The shoot wrapped past 3AM.

Klaus, Clover, and Anthony asked for the story line.

“I’m a detective sent to protect your mistress from harm, but she wanted to be hurt to hurt you, which is why we were here.”

“I love it.” Clover hugged me. “This will make us famous.”

“Famous?” That’s asking a lot from a photo-roman.” I flashed on the three of us with Johnny Carson on THE TONIGHT SHOW.

“Andy Warhol said that everyone gets famous.”

“For fifteen seconds.” I held up my finger and counted to fifteen.

“Better that than nothing.”

“She’s right.” Klaus was pleased with his work. “We don’t have to be famous for ever. Just for now.”

Anthony proposed that we celebrate the completion of this project with a late meal. My girlfriend was waiting in bed, but I accompanied everyone to the Kiev Diner on 2nd Avenue. We sat at a front table. The restaurant staff was waiting the rush from the bar closings.

The waitress took our orders. The four of us ordered bacon-and-eggs over easy. Antony opened a large manila envelope and showed the series of grainy black & white shots under the diner’s bright lights. Klaus’ skeletal sneers portrayed a Nazi malevolence in the over-stylistic pictures. Clover was who she was and I menaced every picture.

Anthony had captured our best and worse. He handed me a set of the previous photos, as the waitress delivered our bacon and eggs.

“Write something good.” Anthony handed me the photos.

“It won’t be hard.” Each shot had its own song. I would write short detective tales to match each photo. “Us in in fifty words or less.”

“With one picture worth a thousand words.” Clover held out her hand and I passed her the print of us leaning against a steel pole in the subway. The conductor looked into Anthony’s camera like he belonged to another world.

“Then Hollywood.” Klaus handed his co-star a photo of him bandaging my head. Our teenage starlet turned to her other co-star and asked with the ambition of turning a gay man straight, “Anyone ever tell you look like Josef Goebbels?”

“All the time.” Klaus’ leather jacket and close-cropped hair heightened his resemblance to Hitler’s Propaganda Minister.

“The resemblance is uncanny.” Clover sieg-heiled with a laugh.

“I am not his illegitimate son. My father disappeared on the Russian front. He was no war criminal.” His indignation wasn’t a fake.

“Es tut mir lied fur dich.” I apologized in my high school German.

“Fur was? You Americans think we are Nazis.” His face warped with a misogynistic smirk aimed at Clover.

“I love hearing you speak German.” Clover was speaking to Klaus.

“You have a Nazi fetish, nicht war?”

“No, I have this dream to rip-off my oilman and flee to Berlin. East Berlin.” She shut her eyes. “Away from all this.”

“She’s so dramatic.” Klaus whispered a dirty German phrase in my ear.

A floating hand wandered my thigh.

Her apartment was only around the corner.

The waitress brought the check, as a young black boy with a Rasta ragtop entered the diner. His oversized wool coat hung below his knees. Spray cans were crammed into its pockets.

Klaus asked him to join us.

“This is Jean Michel. He’s a graffiti artist.”

“You’re SAMO.” Clover leaned forward with keen interest. The young painter’s enigmatic messages stretched along the crumbling walls of the Lower East Side to an audience was mostly junkies. “I love your tags.”

“That’s something I do with someone else. It means ‘same old shit’, but I’m going to trying something new.” He positioned a tape recorder on the table. The other diners were watched his every move with interest.

I couldn’t figure out why. He was barely twenty.

“Turn off the tape recorder.”

“Andy Warhol records his phone conversations. I decided to tape real life.”

“Warhol’s a has-been!” No icon was sacred to a punk and especially not the Pop Messiah.

“You’re jealous, because he’s a genius!” Klaus spoke to the tape recorder like Warhol might later listen to this conversation.

“Genius?” Warhol manipulated the desire for fame like a sculptor.

“And so is Jean-Michel!” Klaus harbored a soft spot for pretty boys.

“I’m more crazy than genius.” His voice shrank to a Thorazine whisper.

“Craziness has its own genus.” I had witnessed its beauty. “In my last year of university I was living in a commune with an engineer from Bose Speakers, his wife, and their family. The girls were wild. My affair with the seventeen year-old didn’t last long, but I didn’t move out either. One afternoon I entered the house. Water was flowing down the walls. In the upstairs bathroom the teenager stood naked in an overflowing bathtub and her hand madly scribbled a fuck poem over the wall. I would have joined her, except her mother and stepfather came into the bathroom.”

“They probably thought that you were after more than a bath.” Klaus squirmed with sexual sarcasm.

“That’s what it looked like, but we brought her to the hospital. The doctors medicated her and the family erased the poems. I told them it was a sacrilege. They ordered me out of the house.”

”Do you remember any of those poems?” Clover glowed with a voyeur’s envy.

“I pray for my tongue to grow thick so I can lick myself, while you fill me.” Nothing in Times Square’s XXX shops approached the lucidity of her blue prose. “When she was released from the madhouse, her mind was blank for months. She got better later.”

“I spent several months in the hospital. They dosed me to quiet the voices in my mind. Now I carry this waiting for them to speak again.” Jean-Michel held up his tape recorder. “You have other stories?”

“Shut it off.”

“I’m doing this for Art.” His face was mystified by my resistance to his charm.

“Warhol said Art is a good name for a man.” It was the only Warhol quote locked in my brain and I reached to flick off the tape recorder.

“Don’t touch my shit!” Jean-Michel whipped out a switchblade. The thin fang of a blade was about eight inches long.

I slapped the knife out of his hand and his weapon clattered off the table onto the floor.

Jean-Michel asked with wet eyes, “Why did you do that?”

“I told you to shut it off.”

“I only wanted to hear your voice.” The nappy-haired teenager ran from the diner.

Clover chased him with the tape recorder.

Anthony trailed her, snapping off shots with his Leica.

I picked up the switchblade.

“Jean-Michel is going to be famous and you act like ein Assloch.” Klaus was spitting mad.

“One of the great things about good manners is knowing when not to use them.”

“If you think violence is good manners, then you’re crazier than him!”

The German stormed out of the diner and I gathered up Anthony’s photos, vowing to show them my best.

On the way to East 10th Street I rewound the scene with Jean-Michel.

From every angle my actions were tainted by asshole behavior.

I entered my apartment with larcenous stealth, but my girlfriend lay awake on the couch.

“Another late shoot?” Both white arms were folded over her chest.

“The last.” I handed her the envelope with the photos. “We had something to eat at the Kiev. This kid sat with us. Jean-Michel."

“Samo?”

“One and the same.” I recounted the scene with Jean-Michel.

She agreed with Klaus about my temper. We went to bed without her looking at the photos and I fell asleep intent on apologizing to Jean-Michel. After all he was only a kid.

Several nights later he attended a performance of my one-act play about homosexual cannibalism at Alice’s club on St. Mark’s Place. The crowd’s laughter surpassed my expectations for THE HUNGER THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME. After the show I approached Jean-Michel at the bar. He frowned for a second and I lifted my hands.

“I want to apologize about the other night.” I gave back his switchblade. “I get a little crazy sometimes. I don’t know why.”

“If anyone understands crazy, it’s me. No bad feelings.” Jean-Michel pocketed the knife and smiled with childish satisfaction. “I liked your play. It was funny. It should be on Broadway.”

“I have to blow it out another seventy minutes for three acts.”

“That’s a lot of time for the audience to chew on people-eating.” His 50s suit was splattered with paint.

“Maybe you should write something new.”

“Probably.” I still had some living to do before I could write something that long.

“Andy said I should concentrate on turning these into paintings.” He pulled out a sheaf of drawings out from a leather bag. His work combined the simple finger-paintings of autistic children with Asmat headhunters’ tribalism.

“Your mentor is right.” No other painter in the East Village approached his multi-level skills and I felt like a shrunken head about my writing for Anthony’s photos.

“I don’t know whether to call him mentor or Svengali, but I’ll figure it out. You mind if I speak with your girlfriend?”

“Not at all.” Alice loved his work, plus their conversation would create a diversion for me to visit Clover. Her apartment was less than a minute’s walk away. She would want to hear the accompanying words to the photo-roman. I had written them for her.

I tucked the envelope under my arm and ran the distance in twenty seconds, then climbed the two flights of stairs in less than ten. I stopped in the corridor.

A painting was on her door.

The style was unmistakable.

Jean-Michel had shackled the chains of slavery to smears of paint hinting of Kandinsky.

“Do you like the painting?” Clover opened the door with tousled hair. A Chinese silk robe hung off her shoulder.

“Yes.” I had never seen anything like it.

“He did this in an hour.” She pulled me inside the apartment.

“Did you have sex with him?” Her bed was unmade.

“He paid with this painting.” Her hands clutched at the robe, as if to indicate I had nothing equal to offer.

“You know I don’t do it for free, unless someone takes it.”

The statement was more than an invitation and I threw Clover on the bed. Photos slipped from the envelope onto the floor. She slashed at my face with her nails. A knee fiercely thumped into my upper thigh. I blocked her fist and pinned her to the bed.

“Don’t stop. Not now, Daddy.” Clover clasped my arms.

Other men had played this role and I rose from the bed.

“Sorry, I can’t do it this way.”

“Sorry?” She pulled on her bathrobe. “So your violence is only for show.”

“No, it’s real, but for real situations, not play.”

“Weakling.” Her pout dated from childhood.

“I guess so.” I went to the door. “But I can live with that weakness.”

An empty perfume bottle broke near my head and splattered the dregs of Chanel on my leather jacket.

“You’ll never be anything.” Clover meant it as a curse and I slammed the door before she could throw anything else.

I walked back to St Mark’s Place and checked my face in a car mirror. There were no scratches and I descended to the basement, figuring the cigarette smoke in the club would mask the perfume.

“Where were you?” Alice was at the bar with Jean-Michel. Her noses wrinkled like Samantha in the TV show BEWITCHED.

“Out to show Clover the photos.” I held up the envelope. “I saw your painting. It was great.”

“Thanks.” He smiled in naive triumph and he turned to Alice. “I’m playing at the Mudd Club tomorrow. I’ll put you on the list.”

“Plus one?” Her smile belonged on a girl who had jumped out of a cake to discover it was her birthday.

“Your boyfriend can get in for free. So bring a friend.”

“Yeah, I get in for free.” I knew the doorman.

“I can’t wait.” Alice touched his hand. Guilt restrained my jealousy and Jean-Michel walked us home to East 10th Street. The pot dealers on the corner knew his name. He was famous for more than his art. At the steps he gave Alice a drawing of a skull filled with scrawls.

“Keep it. One day it might pay your rent.”

“Thanks.” Alice rolled up the drawing and watched Jean-Michel head toward Avenue A. This time of night only shooting galleries were open in that direction.

“You’re not jealous, are you?” My girlfriend asked, as she showered in the bathtub.

“Jealous of what? He’s a painter. I’m a writer. You’re living with me. What else could I ask for in life?”

After sex I lay in bed answering that question.

My upstairs neighbor’s movie had been released in New York. Strangers asked for his autograph. Warhol bought Jean-Michel’s paintings. Alice had scheduled Klaus to appear at Irving Plaza with the B52s.

Nobody knew my name.

To purchase the Kindle version to read the rest of this novella on Kindle for $1.49, please go to the following URL

http://www.amazon.com/FAMOUS-NEVER-AFTER-HUNS-BURNED-ebook/dp/B00BH38JQQ

Atlanta Driving School

The polar vortex stabbed south and wreaked havoc with traffic in Atlanta. The mayor should have called off school, because thousands of students were stranded by the storm. People down there don't know how to drive in snow. But they're going to learn.

Fire Fire Fire

It's cold outside.

23F.

Yesterday was even colder.

10F.

I wish I had a fireplace.

I dream of fires.

Fires of any kind.

And all that's left is ashes in the winter wind.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Christmas Tree Burning

When I was a kid in Maine, every family on Falmouth Foresides, Maine dragged their desiccated Christmas tree to the town dump. My father unloaded ours from the rear of the Ford station wagon and dumped it over the snowy bluff to join a score of orange spruce trees. My younger brother was a pyromaniac and Frunk lit a piece of paper on fire.

It floated afire into the pile of trees and the brittle needles caught blaze as if they had been sprayed with gasoline.

Whoosh.

All the adults and children gaped at the brilliant bonfire.

My brother stuck his hands in his pockets.

My father looked at him.

I almost said, "He did nothing.", but that sentence would have been an admission of guilt, so Frunk and I stared at the fire with admiration.

It was a sight that I've never seen before, but in Fort Greene there are countless piles of Christmas trees.

I do have a book of matches.

If only I had the nerve.

9th Floor by Jessica Dimmock

My friend Shannon Greer sent a link for THE NINETH FLOOR by Jessica Dimmock.

The site describes the series of photos as documenting a group of addicts who moved into the apartment of a former millionaire in a wealthy neighborhood in downtown Manhattan. Joe Smith, in his mid 60s, allowed a young addict to move into a spare bedroom in his large three-bedroom apartment in hopes of gaining rent. Several years later, a fully addicted Joe no longer had a bedroom and as many as 12 to 15 young addicts stayed at any given time. All electricity and hot water had been turned off and anything valuable had long been sold to feed habits.

This project documents the residents of this space leading up to their eviction and follows several of them after as they face jail and sickness, fight and love, attempt to get clean, sink deeper into addiction, go to jail, start families and struggle to survive.

This photo series doesn't pull any punches of a world without glamor.

I had lived through the 1970s. Every junkie in the East Village thought they were indestructible.

Youth dared death.

Heroin dared back so many times the winner.

Friends refused to believe a drug could be stronger than them.

They were proven wrong in so many way and THE NINETH FLOOR by Jessica Dimmock shows a world lost by the lost.

To view THE NINETH FLOOR please go to the following URL

http://viiphoto.com/articles/the-ninth-floor/

Boom Boom

Last night I heard a rumble from the river. The thunder sounded like a battle. I worried that the Canadians had attacked New York City. I called several friends living on the Hudson. The growling grew louder. Finally Rod Longprong answered his phone.

"I heard the same thing. It's fireworks."

"Fireworks for what?"

"For Super Bowl Weekend." I was thinking some rich banker's engagement party.

"Oh." I felt foolish about fearing an invasion, then again The Patriots weren't in the Game, so I could care less about the SuperBowl in the Meadowlands.

Broncos versus Seahawks.

I'm picking the Seahawks.

Anyone but Peyton Manning.

THE PIGPEN A GO GO by Peter Nolan Smith

Life is the sum of a person's experiences. Work and family dominate the sculpting of a soul. Days are defined by routine and years by the seasons and weather. En masse we are the same, but different thanks to our participation in special events liberating our souls from the shackles of perpetual monotony.

Woodstock lasted three days. The freedom shared by the young celebrants of Aquarius remains an icon of peace and love to millions of young people. I was washing dishes at a hotel outside Boston that weekend. I bought the record and watched the movie. No number of joints can transport my body to the past glory of Max Yasgur's farm.

I will never be able to say that I was at Woodstock, but I have been lucky enough to have seen the first screening of APOCALYPSE NOW at the New York's Ziegfeld Theater, dropped LSD at the Mudd Club's Acid Party, and caught the Whorelords’ one-night stand as well as attended every night of CBGB's Johnny Blitz Benefit and witnessed Rahsaan Roland Kirk stunning performance for the hippies at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival.

“I’m blind, but I know there’s more than five of you motherfuckers out there,” the sax player shouted into the microphone with a tenor, flute, and clarinet draped around his neck. The long-hairs cheered his bravado and he rewarded their applause with a 17-minute long version of THREE BLIND MICE. After a last blast on the sax more than ten thousand of us leapt to our feet to give the jazz legend a standing ovation.

So I missed Woodstock, the Red Sox-Reds 6th World Series game in 1975, and the opening of Studio 54. No human can be everywhere and after 40 the drive to see and be seen gave way to the comfort of sitting in a bar with a cold beer in my hand.

The stagnation was all-powerful.

40 would become 50 and 50 would run into 60.

I was a nobody in danger of becoming even more anonymous to others and even myself.

Something had to change and in 1991 I quit my job selling diamonds on 47th Street and bought a round-the-world ticket. I dropped my name of birth in Bali to become Pascha Ray, explorer of bars in the Far East. Beer and gin were my poison. I recounted tales of CBGBs to backpackers. The 20 year-olds thought of me as a legend or a liar. The choice depended on my sobriety.

By the time I turned 50, my body was exhausted by the annual circumnavigation of the globe and my wanderings marooned me in Pattaya, the Last Babylon on Earth.

The Go-Go bars and brothels of the infamous Thai beach resort offered lonely middle-aged men from the West a last chance at youth. A night with a girl without a name passed for love. A hang-over was more easily attained than nirvana and our motto for next morning was 'another day in paradise'.

Even Adam got tired of paradise and after a year I had had my fill of naked girls dancing to HOTEL CALIFORNIA, although my friends were happy every day of the week with that fate. They were oil diggers, anti-intellectual lager louts, a few bank robbers from Germany, and an assortment of international fugitives from justice. Our local was the Buffalo Bar on Sai 3, where we rehashed ancient adventures in slurred accents to leggy bar girls in slinky dresses.

I always brought my Shi-Tzu.

The froggie owner and a few patrons didn’t like a furry dog lying on the bar, but the girls said Champoo had a nah-lak or lovely face and none of the old geezers dared to argue with a pretty girl.

Anywhere else in the world women would have avoided the Old Geezer Lounge like an ex-husband looking to borrow money but the bargirls of Pattaya have the uncanny skill of blinding themselves to man's pros and cons.

To them all men, Thai and farang, were the same.

Bad.

Every night my friends deserted the Buffalo Bar for the go-go bars of Walking Street. I promised to join them later. My true destination was my bed up the street.

My 'ex-wife' and I slept together with my daughter. Angie lay between us. Her mother and I never had sex. All Thai wives suspected their husband's infidelity. She would never believed that I was faithful. Pattaya offered too much opportunity and I was weak.

Months became years and the rainy season of 2006 entered September with a vengeance.

One night Champoo and I were trapped at the Buffalo Bar. Monsoon rain drummed off the tin roof with a deafening intensity to flood the side street. The girls were shivering in their thin dresses.

My drinking companion was New. She shivered in her thin dress.

"We go upstairs. We get warm."

"Sorry." There was no way that I was going upstairs with New. The 18 year-old wanted 5000 baht. In New York City she was a bargain, since she looked like Natalie Woods. I tried to tell this to New, but she has never heard of SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS or REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, so I asked New, if she wanted to be in a movie.

"Dirty movie?" New shook her lovely head.

"Not dirty." Shooting a sex film in Thailand was almost as foolish as buying property.

"Movie called MY DOG SINGS THE BLUES. Champoo is the star."

"Champoo sing?"

"Listen." I whistled a high pitch and the little howled with a lifted head.

This got a good laugh from New, who turned her head, as a brand-new Toyota Corona pulled up to the entrance and a scrawny man jumped out of the passenger side with a towel over his head. He was drenched in a second.

The greeting girl called him a ngao with a mocking laugh.

The man took off the towel.

The fool was none other than my old New York friend, Jamie Parker.

New got up from the stool and meandered toward the pool table. She didn't get very far.

“You ever think about breeding Champoo who a pit-bull?” Jamie ordered two vodka-tonics. “That way you’d get a pit-zhu.”

“Nah, Champoo took a vow of virginity.”

“Like that girl you were talking to?" The gaunt 50 year-old nodded to the table where New was entertaining an elderly French man.

"New."

"Nice." Jamie sat next to me and Champoo licked his hand. She was a friendly dog. "And nice night for it."

"Monsoon season." I hadn't seen Jamie in several months. Rumor was that he was building a go-go bar in a vacant lot off Soi Buah-Khao and that Fabo, the Belgian oil explorer, was financing the project.

"You sound happy." Jamie wiped the wet from his face. The car waited in the deluge. He wasn't staying long.

"Happy as a clam."

"You want to be happier." The lithesome waitress brought him a gin-tonic. He bought her a drink. The girls at the Buffalo liked a man like Jamie. He spent money.

"I'm not into drugs." Pattaya was awash with speedy Ja-bah, meth Ice, and wretched cocaine. Opium might have worked, but Pattaya was too far south from the Golden Triangle.

"Not drugs, but the Pig Pen A Go Go." A soggy flyer flashed over Champoo.

PIGPEN A GO GO OPENING 9/11
UGLY GIRLS
ANYTHING GOES
FREE BEER FOR NEW YORKERS

"What's this?" The rumors were true.

"Fabo didn't mention anything?" Jamie hooked his arm around the waitress' waist.

"Not a word." Fabo and I had spent the afternoon at the Welkom Inn on Soi 3. We talked about everything, but their project.

"He said he could keep a secret and did. Not many of the losers in this town can hold their sand." Jamie was glaring at two football hooligans at the end of the bar. He hated English soccer fans.

"Better change your mindset. That type loves go-gos." Pattaya's countless go-go bars generated billions of baht of income for the owners, dancers, bar staff, and police on the take. The clientele was strictly farangs.

"They won't be coming to the Pigpen. I'm appealing to a niche market."

"How so?"

"I'm hiring ugly girls who will do anything for anyone. The fatter and uglier the better. A horror show to wake up the dead and we're opening on 9/11 to commemorate the five years since the day."

"How appropriate." I had been standing on my roof in the East Village after the first airplane crashed into the WTC. The second attack was a shock shared by thousands. Their collapse had been witnessed by millions around the world. It was a 'had to be there' event that I wished could be exorcised from history.

"Come early. We have a special sunset show."

"Free beer, ugly girls, and a 9/11 show. Who can resist that?"

The car horn beeped loudly and the high beams flashed into the bar.

"Looks like your driver is in a hurry." Her face was obscured by the water sluicing over windshield.

"Ort has to get back her 'boyfriend'. Some British bodybuilder."

"You're still with Ort?"

"More or less." Ort and Jamie were made for each other.

"She's going to dance at the Pigpen?" The vicious go-go dancer barely into her 20s had a snake's rhythm flowing in her blood.

"Opening night only." Jamie released the waitress and patted Champoo on the head.

My puppy whimpered with pleasure.

Jamie hadn't lost his touch with other half of the species and he ran out into rain, shouting, "She'll be dancing naked under a chador. As Bin Laden's wife. You won't want to miss that."

"I see you there." Nudity was against the law in Pattaya, unless the police received their tea money to turn an eye and they were experts at being blind.

I was home by midnight. My daughter was asleep in bed. Her mother was watching a Thai soap on TV. She offered no greeting and I wasn't expecting one. I joined my daughter in the bedroom and read Nick Hornby's FEVER PITCH. I was out cold in minutes.

The next three days passed with the sameness of the previous months.

Work, eat, kisses and hugs from my daughter, the cold shoulder from her mother, beers at the Buffalo, and sleep.

I could have repeated the routine without a break, if I hadn't noticed the Bangkok Post article mentioning the 5th Anniversary of 9//11.

Five years of two wars.

Five years of OBL on the loose.

Five years of GW Bush and the worldwide war on terror.

Thailand was twelve hours in advance of Eastern Standard Time.

It was 9/11/2006.

Five years ago the attack squads had booked into airport motels. Some of the hijackers passed the last hours in prayer. The others sought solace in go-go bars to train for their reward of 77 virgins in the afterlife. Mohammad Atta exited the Mass Pike without paying the toll. Letters were written to friends and family. I spend that evening at home. The forecast from the Weather Channel predicted cloudless skies. It was right on the money.

The hijackers probably woke at 5 on 9/11 to a black morning with stars in the sky.

Five years later I left my house for the Pigpen. My daughter was napping on the couch and my 'wife' was speaking on the phone in a low voice. Her boyfriend was probably on the other end. I said good-bye without any acknowledgment for her and whistled for Champoo.

The afternoon sky was sullen with heavy black clouds.

Even a blind man could predict tonight's weather.

I drove over to Soi Buah-Khao on my scooter with Champoo in the basket. Thais called out her name. She would have been a prize-winning Shzi-chu, if the next-door neighbor's mutt hadn't torn off her left ear.

The Pigpen was located at the end of a row of unoccupied beer bars. The front of the bar resembled a pig stye. A long table was loaded with good food and a pig roasted of a spit. Balloons waved in the wind. They were a Pattaya tradition indicating free food to the Cheap Charlies on a tight budget. A dozen fat girls sat on their haunches wolfing down spicy sum tam salad. None of them had been cute since birth.

Two aluminum billboards rose from the vacant lot across the street.

Fabo and Jamie were flying radio-controlled airplane around the two billboards touting a bankrupt property deal. A few Thais watched the aerobatics. They oohed at the close passes.

I parked my bike and lifted Champoo out of the basket. She barked at the looping planes.

The two owners nodded to me and I walked over to Jamie.

"You're not really going to do this?" I directed the question at Jamie. He was completely absorbed by the flight of the replica planes. Neither looked like jet liners.

"Do what, Yankee?" Fabo's grin was besotted by mischief.

"Re-enact 9/11." It was the epitome of bad taste and I stepped forward to snatch the controls.

Fabo darted out reach.

"This is only practice, Yankee." His plane buzzed the metallic billboards with inches to spare.

"Jamie?"

"What? You wanna play FBI or CIA? They didn't stop the hijackers and GW Bush let the Bin Ladens out of the country. And five years later nothing's changed in America other than we drive bigger cars and are getting fatter." Jamie was not all there at the best of times, but off his medicine jacked up his meanness.

A pick-up truck rolled down the dead-end street.

"Our first guests."

Jamie landed the plane and greeted the five over-sized men. They collectively weighed over 1500 pounds and weredressed like off-duty fat men from a freak show. Each of them hugged Jamie and Fabo. When I joined them, Jamie whispered, "Americans, but none of them are from New York."

"I am not either." A glop of rain splattered on my face.

The clouds had darkened from gray to black.

"Boston-born, so no free beer."

"Almost 30 years in the East Village."

"Doesn't matter. You're Red Sox fan till the day you die. But we'll overlook your birthplace for one night."

Jamie clapped his hands.

"Girls, it's Showtime."

The Pigpen was decorated, as if Fabo and Jamie were trying to imitate the old peckerwood TV show HEEHAW.

More girls emerged from the back rooms dressed like Daisy Mae of LIL ABNER.

A white plaid shirt bursting with size 45 DDD breasts and shredded denim hot pants.

The DJ put on the Clash's ROCK AND ROLL WORLD.

"You won't be hearing HOTEL CALIFORNIA at the Pigpen, Yankee." Fabo ordered beers.

Ten bone-ugly men in their late 60s stumbled through the door and beelined to the food table.

"The hierarchy of the balloon chasers. No one gets to free food faster than these freeloaders and they drink, as if the Taliban was enforcing Sharia law tomorrow."

"That will never happen here." I sympathized with the plight of Palestine, but as an atheist I raised my beer and loudly announced, "We shall defend our beer, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight the sober bastards on the streets, we shall fight in the bars and we shall never surrender our right to drink beer. 9/11."

The fat men and the freeloaders clinked glasses with grim determination.

We were Americans far from home.

The DJ played Chuck Berry's MAYBELLINE.

A solitary dancer shrouded in a chador took the stage. The movement within evoked the struggles of a young girl stuffed into a burlap bag by Arab white slavers. It could only be Ort.

A round of tequila and the another to Love's HEY JOE. Champoo was into her first beer.

A party of trim Thais entered the bar.

Jamie greeted the off-duty cops with a wai and installed them at a table with a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue. Police on the take only drink the best. Jamie waved for me to join them.

Half-Irish I had a way with cops and spoke Thai with a Boston accent.

The captain asked about 9/11 and I told him about watching people jump from the windows of the World Trade.

"Yet Islam." The South of Thailand was under martial law. Bombs and bullets were the court of justice.

I explained about living in Yala during the 90s. The insurrection was flickering with the intensity of a match until the Prime Minister had evicted the common people from land. They were Buddhists and Muslims. The rich are egalitarian in the mistreatment of the poor.

"Fucktherich," I babbled fast on tequila.

"Fucking GW Bush." Jamie blamed the president for 9/11.

"Fucking Bin laden." A fat man shook his fist. The Al-Qaada swami was Wanted Dead Or Alive # 1.

"Yet Myanmar." The Thais hated Burma. Their neighbors had burnt every Thai capitol at least three times.

We drank more.

I danced with a fat woman twice my size. Her sweat smelled of chili and burned my eyes.

The DJ played SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL. Two vans of antique golfers entered the bar. Jamie poured them tequila. They drained their glasses and banged the bar for more. Time slipped into the future like it was lubricated with KY. Champoo licked my face. It was good to feel love.

A tap on my shoulder.

"It's time." Jamie had the plane in his hand. He tapped his watch. The bar was empty.

"Time for what?"

"It's time to fly. Remember 9/11."

"Five years ago." I picked up Champoo.

"Exactly five years ago." Jamie and I walked outside the bar followed by fat girls and an assortment of farangs. A hundred Thais joined the crowd. Fabo launched his plane into the night sky. Jamie's aircraft followed 20 seconds later. They were lost in the murk for several moments.

"Krung-Bin."

The model plane buzzed across the garbage-strewn lot and smashed into the billboard with a thwack. The billboard withstood the crash.

"World Trade. World Trade," I shouted the words with tears in my eyes.

The North Tower was good. No one had died in Windows of the World. Jamie's plane was on a steep attack approach for the South Tower. The Thai cops pulled out their guns and fired at the model. A bullet clipped its wing and the plane spiraled to the ground.

"Thailand. Thailand. Chai-yo."

The sky opened for Noah's flood and we ran into the Pigpen chanting those words. Whiskey flowed like water. Lightning and thunder split the heavens, as if time had been rent in two. No one was going anywhere.

Jamie gave the old geezers Cialis.

The girls drank tequila like Pancho Villa’s relief column. Ort took the stage to the Cure's TO KILL AN ARAB.

A busload of Arabs entered the bar. Everyone froze, then the Arabs ordered drinks for everyone.

They could have cared less about the 77 virgins.

They were after fat girls, which was what Jamie offered in spades.

I don’t remember when the first person got naked.

I think it was when the DJ spun KC’s THAT’S THE WAY I LIKE IT.

Old guys, fat girls, and Arabs dancing to 70s disco, then Jamie had the DJ segue to the Sex Pistols.

ANARCHY IN THE UK.

The old guys were mostly British and knew every word.

It was getting ugly and I took off my glasses to prevent seeing how ugly, as I sang, “I want to be born Anarchy.”

LOUIE LOUIE, STREET FIGHTING MAN and then Sinatra’s MY WAY.

The Arabs were cursing Osama Bin Laden for making everyone in the West hate Muslims and the farangs showed their forgiveness by calling out, “FREE PALESTINE.”

It was at that moment that my phone vibrated in my shirt.

It was my 'wife'. She never called me. Something was wrong with my daughter and I slipped out the back of the Pigpen with Champoo under my arm. It had been a memorable night.

The rain was pelting down hard and I drove home through a rushing river. My 'wife' lifted her head from the TV and said, “Maoh?”

"Chai." I was drunk and felt like telling her what my thoughts on our 'relationship', except my daughter called out from the bedroom. I went to her and laid on the bed. Big storms were scary for three year-olds.

It had been a fun night, but not as much as holding her in my arms

Angie wasn’t scared as long as I was with her or at least that is what I wanted to tell her before we fell asleep.

The next day I called Jamie. His phone was shut off. I drove by the Pigpen a Go-go. A police sign in Thai said it was closed until further notice.

I couldn’t be happier, because a place like that should only be open one night.

To repeat last night would have been a sin.

Just like re-living Woodstock.

A SENSE OF LOSS by Peter Nolan Smith


American women are fairly unforgiving about adultery. If their husband cheats on them, they rape him for 50% of everything. American men cry about this loss of material goods, however Thai women react in the extreme to their mate's infidelity.

Back in 2008 I was sitting in a West Palm Beach Thai restaurant with my friend Lisa, who was berating my indecision about whether I should tell my wife about mia noi, with whom I was having a baby.

"I'm 9000 miles away from Thailand. Who knows when I'll be back?" I ordered a Singha beer from the patroness, a 50ish woman from Bangkok.

"You can't avoid the situation forever." Lisa was a single mom. Her husband hadn't dropped a dime on the upbringing of his son. She had a right to be angry at men. "You're going to have to tell them both."

"Not good idea," the restarurantowner said with a shaking head. "Thailand not America. Man tell wife he have mia noi. Wife cut off penis."

"Yes, cut off penis. Feed penis to ducks."

"Why ducks?" Lisa was acquainted with Japan, who are more like Swedes to the Thais.

"Feed to duck, because pigs not eat penis. Duck eat everything else, but not penis."

Lisa didn't believe her and I told the owner that I was keeping my mia noi a secret.

She smiled a blessing, since it was common knowledge that I was taking care of both families.

I barely had enough money to afford bad wine, but I had no intention of telling either wife anything.

Just recently a Belgian tourist had his penis mutilated by his jealous Thai girlfriend after he stupidly told her about having a 'geek' or girlfriend as she was fellating him. The doctors at Pattaya Memorial Hospital re-attached the organ. Police are seeking to arresting the woman on charges of aggravated assault.

The Thai Visa Forum was abuzz with the usual wankers castigating the Belgian for thinking he was a sex god. Their holier-than-thou attitude remains a sore on the Gulf of Siam. Maybe someday the killjoys will be rescue by Jesus and taken off this Earth for good.

That day can't come too soon.

Meanwhile all you infidels sleep with one eye open.

I know I will on my upcoming trip to Thailand.

KOSHER PIG by Peter Nolan Smith

Two years ago business in the Diamond District was spotty during the high holidays of Rosh Shananah and Yom Kippur. The Hassidim disappeared to the various shetls scattered around New York and tourists entered our diamond exchange to gawk at the diamonds and jewelry. At least twice a day out-of-towners asked in complete seriousness, "Are they real?"

"Everything is real," I answered before launching into a short spiel about the value of diamonds and gold. "Years ago we told the customers that diamonds were a good investment. It was sort of true then, but now diamonds appreciate in value better than houses plus they're easier to convert into cash at times of need."

The tourists nodded with sadness. Their homes had lost value three years in a row.

"What are you wasting time on these rubes?" My boss Richie Boy doesn't have the patience for these rubes,

"Because they sometimes buy and it's not like anyone is in the store."

Later that day I sold an Italian diamond bracelet to a Vermont couple celebrating their 60th anniversary. They lived a short distance from Richie Boy's ski shack and he warmed up to them. Selling turned him on like a drag car on nitro and on the Thursday after Yom Kippur he delivered a 31-inch diamond necklace set with GIA-certified .40 ct. diamonds to a hedge fund investor.

The magnificent platinum piece blazed with a rainbow of reflected light. His customer coined millions every day. He could have shopped at Harry Winston, but Richie Boy and he went back to the 80s. Both were loyal to each other. Richie Boy returned to the store after closing and said, "That's it. I’ve had enough of Yom Kippur. I'm headed out to my surf shack."

“What about tomorrow?” his father asked from his desk. Manny would have remained open 24/7, if the exchange didn’t close at 6.

“Fridays are dead and nothing is deader than a Yom Kippur Friday.” Richie Boy needed his rest. He had rescued the firm through a series of near-miraculous sales. I had helped with a few deals out of the blue and neither of us were broke.

“What about trying to run this store like a business?” Manny was frustrated by his son’s laissez-faire attitude.

“There’s more to life than work.”

“Like what?” Manny lived for his work. His father had been the same. Somehow that relentless devotion to the grindstone had been lost on Richie Boy.

“Surfing.” Richie Boy had a place on the beach out in Montauk. He could walk to Ditch Plains.

"What are you doing this weekend?" asked Marvin, the newly-married diamond dealer across the aisle.

"I'm having a kosher pig BBQ." Richie Boy

"How can pig be kosher?" The balding 50 year-old might have been a shrewd diamond buyer, since he figured everything was worth a third of its value, but he had been the president of the glee club of a summer camp in the Jewish Alps and was as gullible as a cheerleader on quaaludes.

“How?” Richie Boy liked answering questions with questions.

“Yes, how?”

Well, a special rabbi consecrates the pig before killing it in accordance with an ancient Hebrew tradition predating the Torah."

"Really?" Marvin was swallowing the possibility of kosher bacon with a kvelling smile.

"100%. Come out to my BBQ and I'll introduce to the delight of kosher pork."

Marvin promised to show up at the beach BBQ and returned to his booth.

We laughed at his schmielism and Richie Boy prepared for his early departure from New York, while his father kvetched like an old yenta.

"This store closes at 5:30." At 83 Manny's only choices were work or death.

"Which is why you and the goy will close the store." Richie was ready to go. "So I can be a human."

"My hero."

"Manny, we could close and join him?"

"Not a chance. There's no such thing as kosher pig."

A few minutes later Richie Boy left for the beach.

"Manny and I argued about closing early. We fought every day. I didn't mind, since our arguments flushed the blood through his body. I hoped that he lived to 103.

At 59 I had more in common with him than most of the people on the planet.

"You know the reason why pork is tref?"

"It caused people to have worms in the old days." Manny checked the exchange. The religious don’t have a funny bone over pig’s feet.

"No, it's because Yahweh asked the Hebrews to give up something really good and there's nothing better than bacon."

"That's bullshit and I don't expect any else from a bullshitter."

"It's in Exodus. Check it in your Torah."

"I don't have a Torah."

"What about a Bible?"

"Not a chance." Manny believed in one commandment, which was 'nimmt geld' or take money. "But I don't need a book to tell me that pork is tref no matter what. Leviticus condemned pig for its cloven food, so there is such a thing as kosher pork chops. Not for the Hassidim, unless you're starving and even then I think most of them would prefer to die than eat a cloven-foot pig."

"What if scientists genetically modified a pig to have feet instead of hooves." I had eaten pigs' foot in Berlin, which was considered the city's signature dish. "Pigs with little toes."

"Stop. That's sacrilege." Manny hadn’t been to the temple in years, but once a Jew always a Jew.

"Sacrilege and heresy are my specialties." I set the alarm and I started packing for the night. It was 5:30.

"Always in a rush to leave."

"I have places to go." Actually only home since I was saving money to visit Thailand. I hadn't seen my family in the long time. "What about driving out to Montauk for the kosher pig BBQ?"

"Feh, only one thing is more tref than pig and that's driving out to Montauk on a weekend.

"I know what you mean." Nothing was worse than sitting in a car for three hours at 10 mph.

"Beside I like steak at a BBQ."

"It's not ref."

"Never was, never will be."

Manny got out of his chair with a groan.

"Let me help you pack." He glanced at the empty exchange. "Tomorrow's another day."

And about this Manny was as right as Scarlett O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND.

Tomorrow was another day.

Kosher pig or not.

Malay Ban on Smiling Pigs

This weekend The New York Times published a small fluff story about how Switzerland has banned ownership of one guinea pig since they suffer from loneliness. This law is very protective of porkers, however not everyone loves pigs. Seal Beach in Orange Country has banned household pigs, which was directed at the one pet-owner in possession of a 240-pound pig named Bubba.

“We’ve had numerous complaints from citizens in the area about it making a lot of noise and odor."

No one in the City Council mentioned the pollution from the many oil rigs dotting the ocean.

This summer the pig ban hit England with an edict against pictures of pigs, since they were considered offensive to Muslims and Malaysia has joined Lesser Britain by blacking out two pigs in the International New York Times.

"This is a Muslim country, so we covered the pigs' eyes," a New York Times worker told the AFP news agency. "We usually do that for the International New York Times - also for pictures of cigarettes, weapons, guns and nude pictures."

I spent a lot of time in Malaysia throughout the 1990s.

The Chinese restaurants in Penang offered lovely pork dishes.

The Muslims kept their distance, but I never saw one eating babi, which is Malay for pig.

It is very haram or forbidden.

The same goes for Seal Beach.

Pigs are out, unless they are human and Orange County has plenty of them and I bet they're good eating for cannibals.

John DeSilvia / Builder

Last week my good friend John DeSilvia appeared on Katie Couric showing her viewers how to save money when building a house.

Here's his bio:

John DeSilvia is a tough-as-nails Brooklyn native and a former union carpenter. A licensed contractor, “Johnny D” earned a degree from the Pratt Engineering School. After graduation he learned the ropes with two of the world’s leading construction firms, then took the plunge and opened his own company, Brooklyn's Design Tech, for which he’s currently working on a high-end, two family home in Brooklyn. On DIY Network's new Run My Renovation series, John leads renovations for 13 different homeowners whose design fate is left up to DIYNetwork.com users. In Under Construction he demolishes, builds, renovates and refurbishes projects all over the Big Apple. And watch him show real homeowners how to cut up to $10,000 from their renovation and remodeling projects on DIY Network's series 10 Grand in Your Hand. In 2010, John also serves as the host of television’s first-ever interactive home building series, Blog Cabin.

Here's his website.

http://www.johndesilvia.com

Monday, January 27, 2014

I HATE PAUL by Peter Nolan Smith

The Beatles infested America in 1963 and the following April the Fab Four dominated the US charts with 5 #1 hits. I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND was followed by one chartbuster after another. My next-door neighbor favored John Lennon. Addy Manzi had seen the group at Carniege Hall in December 2, 1964. Her father had played with big bands in the 40s and his old music contacts had scored the tickets.

”I screamed John’s name a million times. He never looked my way,” the beautiful brunette told her brother and me after she came home from New York. My ex-babysitter remained flustered until seeing the Beatles at Boston Garden a week later.

“John played every song for me," she claimed in a swoon.

Every girl in the audience thought the same and the adoration of teenage girls transformed the English group into gods with the release of A HARD’S DAY NIGHT and RUBBER SOUL. No one in the rest of the world paid much attention to John Lennon's claim that the Beatles were more popular than Christ in the summer of 1966, but priests and preachers throughout the South organized bonfires to burn the Moptops LPs, however these righteous conflagrations were shunned by millions of virtuous girls willing to sacrifice their maidenhood to Beatlemania.

This defloration fantasy was shared by the majority of New England girls shared this defloration fantasy and by the millions they pined for Paul McCartney. My younger sister wrote a dozen letters to ‘the cute Beatle’.

She was not alone.

Kyla Rolla was the cutest girl in my 8th Grade class at Our Lady of the Foothills. She wore her blonde hair long like Paul’s girlfriend, the British actress Jane Asher. I had known Kyla since we were 8. She hadn't said three words to me in five years.

My favorite band was the outlaw Rolling Stones. I couldn’t tell Kyla that SATISFACTION was the greatest rock song of all time or that I loved the B-side of the 45, UNDER-ASSISTANT WEST COAST PROMO MAN. In order to gain her heart I committed treason to the greatest rock and roll band in the world and pretended to like the Beatles.

I stopped visiting the barbershop in Mattapan Square. My hair grew over my ears. Desert boots were abandoned in favor of Beatles boots. I wore a Beatles jacket without a collar. It cost $15. Matching pants were another $10. I wore the suit to school.

The nuns sent me home with a note for my parents, breaking my perfect attendance streak, but Kyla noticed my surrender to Beatlemania and after school on the bus ride home she sat next to me.

“Who’s your favorite Beatle?” Her uniform skirt was four inches over her knees. The nuns sent home any girl with a higher hemline.

“Paul.” There was only one answer.

“Me too.” Kyla moved closer.

Her skin smelled of Ivory soap and her hair bore the faint fragrance of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. Her green eyes were the color of the emeralds stolen by Murph the Surf from the Museum of Natural History in New York. I had loved her for a long time and prayed that she didn’t notice my breathing her scent, as our conservations revolved around Paul McCartney trivia.

Paul was a Gemini like me.

He was 22. I was 12.

His favorite color was blue.

"Mine too." It was the truth.

I told Kyla that she looked like Jane Asher.

She let me hold her hands.

I sang her songs off BEATLES 65.

‘YOU’VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY.'

Kyla closed her eyes dreaming that I was her Paul.

“Kiss me, Jane.”

“Oh, Paul.”

Our lips met at the red light before the local church. Paul’s soul invaded my body and my hand touched Kyla’s cashmere sweater. Her ribs felt like thick guitar strings. My fingertips inched higher.

“Oh, Paul.”

My hand grazed the bottom of her breast and Kyla gasped with outrage. A slap to my cheek devastated my imitation of Paul.

“But I thought that____”

“You thought wrong. You’re no Paul.” Kyla pulled down her shirt and stormed down the aisle to the girls her age.

My older brother had witnessed the entire episode. His eyes warned the other boys to not make fun of me. It didn’t stop their snickers.

Every day I begged Kyla for forgiveness. She ignored my every entreaty and went steady with Jimmie Lally for the rest of the school year.

His hair color was closer to Paul’s than mine.

I didn’t hate him or her, because they were accurate caricatures of the greater world beyond the confines of Boston’s South Shore.

Kyla broke up with Jimmy in May.

"You can write me in Florida," she said on the last day of school. Her parents were divorced and her old man was living in Miami.

"But why didn't you talk to me all this time?"

"Because I wanted to teach you a lesson."

"About what?"

"About wanting to hold my hand."

I wrote her letters that summer.

In September we were a thing again, but I could tell that her kisses were for Paul same as her caresses. I hated him and his poster over my sister's bed. I gave him the finger whenever she wasn't looking.

My parents bought SGT. PEPPER for my birthday. I listened to it once. Kyla had ruined the Beatles for me.

The Rolling Stones regained my devotion. I played HIS SATANICAL MAJESTY’S REQUEST twice a day, as if the Devil could transform Kyla’s love for Paul into stone, but the Beatles were more powerful than Satan.

Over the next few years Kyla and I never went all the way. She was saving it for our wedding night. Her mother was going out a man from Chile. They spent nights out in Boston. We had the run of the house until midnight. I was almost a man.

Kyla introduced me to WBCN on her FM radio. “Mississippi Harold Wilson” was the first DJ to play Cream’s I FEEL FREE. She loved the Velvet Underground. I was a big fan of the Jefferson Airplane.

We lay on the couch of her dark living room. Our nights were everything except have sex. My parents understood that we were in love. My mother was okay with our dating as long as I got home before midnight. I felt a little like Cinderella.

My hair grew longer. Kyla and I talked about running away to San Francisco for the Summer of Love. We got as far as Clam Shack on Wollaston Beach.

At summer’s end Kyla and I spent a long night on the couch. Time disappeared from our universe, as WBCN’s DJ played the Modern Lovers’ ROADRUNNER and Quicksilver’s MONA, then JJ Johnson announced over the air, “I have a special song to play this evening. A masterpiece HEY JUDE by The Beatles.”

I stopped rubbing against Kyla’s thigh. WBCN never played The Beatles. Paul McCartney, my old rival, opened with vocals and piano. F, C and B-flat. The second verse added a guitar and tambourine.

“I love this.” Kyla pulled me tight and our mouths met like octopi in a garden.

The four minute coda of ‘Hey Jude’ went on forever.

At the song’s end I was still a virgin, but only just. Kyla opened her eyes and sighed, “That was good.”

I read the love in her eyes.

Paul.

Always Paul.

I looked at the clock on the wall. It was 2:10. I kissed her lips and dressed fast, as if my speed could turn back the hands of time. Kyla waved from the door way. She was wearing a silk robe.

“Tomorrow.”

“Manana.” I had learned the word from her mother’s boyfriend. He let me drink wine.

The streets of my hometown were suburb quiet. There were no cars and all the houses were dark. My home was three miles away. I was on the track team and ran at a competition pace. I was late.

"Very late."

A car appeared around a curve. The VW was my father’s car. My mother must have sent him for me. I stopped in my tracks. The VW 180ed in the street with a screech and braked to a halt."

The passenger door shot open.

“Get in.” It was a command.

I sat down expecting the worst.

My father read the riot act.

"All you had to do was call. Ten seconds and say you were all right. But you were only thinking about yourself.”

"Yes, sir." Actually I was thinking of Kyla.

I never saw the punch coming. The VW never swerved, as his fist backhanded me. Blood dripped on my shirt. My father handed me a rag. I could tell that he was sorry for having lost his temper. He had never hit me before.

“You’re grounded for a week.”

“Yes, sir.” A month was punishment. A week was an apology.

He turned on the radio to WBZ. The disc jockey was playing DAY IN THE LIFE.

Soon The Beatles' song would be the only song on the radio. Kyla played the song at home. My mother and my father knew the words. I couldn’t get them out of my head.

At the end of my grounding I went over to Kyla’s house. Her mother was out on a date. I looked up at Paul. Kyla put on SGT. PEPPERS LONELY HEART CLUB BAND. She pulled me to her and I heard her favorite Beatle singing to her.

I should have walked out, but leaving Kyla wasn’t in my heart and I sang along with Paul. She smiled and kissed my lips.

I might not have been her Paul, but I was holding her hand and Paul never did that other than in her dreams.

Page 45

A friend of mine wrote that if you pick up the book closest to you and open to page 45, then the first line will describe your life.

The Taschen John Lennon book was at hand and I opened the paperback to page 45.

"Foreign-made pornographic material." summed up my life in a nutshell, but then I am an open book and so was John Lennon.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Playing With Fire

My young friends sometimes complain that these times are no fun.

Gwen O'Neils' comrades aren't like that.

To quote the band ART, "Our fun begins where other peoples' fun ends.

And they know how to play it safe too.

Notice the plastic cup filled with something.

Opps, I guess it was gasoline.

Burn baby burn.

Of course the best song for this is PLAY WITH FIRE.

Pyromania never goes out of fashion.

Fotos by Gwen O'Neill

To hear The Rolling Stones' Play With Fire, please go to the following URL

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HX3ZTRte6VI

Spam Appreciation

I get spam letters all the time.

Most are promoting viagra, baldness cures, penis enlargement, porno, or oxycontins.

There must be a tremendous market for those products in my demographics; white, male, 35-65, wanting to get fucked up.

Today this computer-generated comment appeared on mangozeen from an over-40 pregnancy counseling site.

"What I do not understood is in fact how you are now not actually much more neatly-appreciated than you might be now. You are very intelligent. You know therefore considerably relating to this subject, made me for my part consider it from a lot of various angles. Its like women and men are not involved unless it’s one thing to do with Girl gaga! Your individual stuffs outstanding. At all times care for it up!"

Not bad grammar and very appreciative of my efforts.

I could only hope that like the movie HER that my admirer was a nice succubus.

They are much easier to delete than a worm.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

OLD BROWNIE by Peter Nolan Smith

Yesterday was a quiet day on 47th Street. A winter snow was having its way with New York City. Snow piled up on the street. The porters had a hard time clearing the sidewalk and I was having difficulty looking busy. There was nothing to do.

No one came into the store.

No dealers, no gypsies, and no customers.

"I don't know I had you come in." Manny was at his desk. The 84 year-old had taken a taxi to work.

"Hlove is at the doctor and your son is stuck in Vermont." My work partner wasn't feeling well and Manny's son was trapped by snowdrifts in Stratton. Richie Boy was a better than good skier. "Of course we could close early and go home."

"You'd like that." Manny thought that I hadn't worked a day in my life, even though an eight-hour shift with him was like a week at a steel mill.

Heavy intensive labor like in A DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH.

"Why not?" It was Two O'Clock. Everyone else was packing up early.

"Because we're the only store open. Something has to happen."

I looked out the window. The snow was pelting pedestrians.

"You're right, but don't bother me."

"Why should I disturb you from doing nothing?"

"My thoughts exactly." I was here. I actually wanted to make a sale. I needed money.

Same as Manny.

"The next customer is mine," claimed Manny.

"Not a chance. You can't even hear what anyone is saying."

Manny had lost his hearing aid at his favorite bar.

"I can hear fine."

"But only when you're in a foul mood."

Then he heard what he wanted.

"A hero. That's what I have. A fucking hero." Manny and I went back over thirty years. We could say what we wanted about each other. It was never personal, only on this day an hour passed without us saying a word to each other. Manny was talking on the phone to his girlfriend in Fort Lauderdale. It wasn't snowing in Florida.

Only Big Dave was in the exchange. The other stores had closed for the day. Commuting was going to be hell.

Luckily I only had to go to Brooklyn.

Around 4 the door opened for a woman in a down coat. She was nearing 50. Her face was red from the cold. She shook off the snow and approached our counter. Her brown hair was streaked with gray. I liked her green eyes. They said she was a good person.

Manny struggled to get up from his desk. His hip was shot and I beat him to the shot.

"Can I help you?" I was wearing a suit and tie with rubber boots.

No one could see them from the other side of the counter.

"Yes, I'm looking for a 5-carat diamond." She took off her gloves.

A small diamond ring was on her wedding finger. The band squeezed her flesh. I sized the stone for under a carat. She was looking for a long-overdue upgrade.

"I have a beauty in the window. A JSI1 for $65000."

"I don't want to spent that much."

"How much do you want to spend?" Diamonds were a commodity. Price was determined by cut, clarity, color, and cost.

"$5000."

"$5000?" exclaimed Manny. "There's no way you can buy a 5-carat diamond for that much money."

"I have one stone for that much, but it's really brown."

"We have a stone like that?"

"Yes." I knew everything that was in stock and recalled an ugly stone hiding like a troll in the safe.

"It's a five-carat brownie oblong-cut." There was no designation on the GIA charts for its color.

"What's its clarity?"

"XB."

"XB?" the woman and Manny asked at the same time.

"Yes, extremely bad." It looked like someone stuck a cigarette out in a cup of coffee, which froze overnight.

"I'll show you."

I went into the safe and pulled out the diamond ring.

It was dreck and Manny examined it, "If you had that much black in you, they'd take you to the hospital."

"What's your name?" I asked putting the ring on her finger. It fit perfectly.

"Marjorie."

"I don't mind selling this to you, but it would be wiser buying a smaller stone on better quality."

"Like a one-carat? I already have that. I want a 5-carat diamond." She pointed to the stone. "That's five, right?"

"Yes."

"And it cost $5000."

I checked the tag.

Manny had paid $4000 for it.

"It's yours.

"I wouldn't buy it," said Manny.

"Then how did it get in the safe?" Marjorie pulled out a wad of $100 bills. They were all new.

"I did someone a favor."

"And I'm doing this woman a favor." I warned him with a glare to shut up.

Manny might have been old, but he knew that getting that much money on a snowy day was close to a miracle.

After Marjorie left, Manny warned, "She'll be back."

He hated giving back money.

"Maybe." Manny had a funny way of being right and the next day Marjorie showed up with a bald man in tow.

Her companion looked very contrite.

"See, I told you." Manny was happy to be right.

"Don't be so sure."

She was wearing the ring, which was a good sign, and she introduced the man.

"This is my husband. We've been married for 25 years and for the last two years he's said he'd get me a 5-carat stone for our anniversary, didn't you, honey?"

"Yes." His voice belonged to a beaten man.

Manny minded his business and dug through his papers.

We weren't giving back the $5000.

"And?" I had to ask.

"Last night we had a party for our 25th anniversary and I showed everyone this diamond. "

"I haven't heard the end of it." The man was beyond misery.

"25 years and this is what you got your wife? And that was from his family."

I could only imagine what the in-laws said.

"So?"

"So my loving husband wants to buy me a 5-carat stone. What do you have that's really nice?"

The man looked at me for mercy.

I sold him the JSI1 for $78,000.

The man wrote a check to Manny.

My boss was pissed that I was right about selling a mitziah.

I pulled the woman aside and asked, "Does the first stone figure into the deal?"

"Not at all. I sort of like it, because it makes him look bad."

After concluding the deal the couple left and Manny came up to me.

"Well, that goes to prove one thing. All stones are beautiful, if you sell them."

As always Manny was right.

Yardstick Of Morality

My older brother theorized that the length of skirts determined the bellicosity of a nation.

Long skirts meant peace.

Short skirts signified war.

Men like to know for what they are fighting.

Women in the US Army too.

I'll wear short pants for any women in uniform.

Nurses too.

The Peace Of Zion

Israeli leader Ariel Sharon’s life spanned the history of his country.

He was born in Palestine and joined the Haganah at age 14 in 1942. The teenager fought during the partition of Palestine and later joined Unit 101, which specialized in cross-border raids and committed massacres in revenge for attacks by the fedayeen. Sharon fought in Israel's many wars and served in many government posts including Prime Minister. He stood for Zionism right and wrong, however in 2005 he evacuated Gaza.

Later that year he succumbed to a stroke and lived in a vegetative state until this month.

His death was mourned by the western media.

The Palestinian said nothing.

His troops had slaughtered Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, and Lebanon without mercy.

He never believed in peace and sought to ghettoize the Palestinians from the world and he succeeded in this endeavor in hopes of creating a Jewish state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

While I understand Israeli opinion of Ariel Sharon as a protector of his people, they failed to comprehend the price of this esteem.

There can be no peace when you are constantly at war.

Someone has to recognize this.

On both sides.

( AFP/Getty Images / June 15, 1982 ) Ariel Sharon, right, as Israeli defense minister, rides with troops in June 1982 en route to East Beirut. Sharon had received Cabinet approval to thrust 25 miles into Lebanon, for a strike that was supposed to last two days, to thwart Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel. Instead, he instructed the army to drive all the way to Beirut, where it laid siege to Yasser Arafat and his forces for two months. The invasion drew international condemnation for the high number of civilian casualties.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Princess Pamela's Soul Food

My friend Emily Armstrong found a photo of 1969 Princess Pamela's Soul Food Cookbook.

She wrote the following:

"I was thinking smothered pork chops and remembered Princess Pamela's Little Kitchen near my first apartment on E 10th Street. You had to shout up from the street, "Hey Pamela!", and if she was in the mood she'd buzz you up to her apartment which was set up like a restaurant. She was terrifying, jazz musicians played there and the food was heavenly."

Princess Pamela had a well-deserved reputation for orneriness.

After ringing the buzzer, she checked you out and a woman in a white nurse's dress came to get you and walk you up to the restaurant that looked like it had been a railroad apartment. On a good night Pamela would drunkenly sing along with the jazz quartet. Their shining glory was a prominently displayed picture of Jackie Kennedy.

I lived across the street. My hillbilly girlfriend and I went a few times. Once we climbed the stairs. Princess Pamela took a look at us she said, "We're full."

I peeked inside.

There wasn't a soul in the room, but she said, "Come back tomorrow."

And we did.

I loved that place.

The food wasn't great, but she was really special.

Susan Hanneford tells a story about the place.

"When we went to Princess Pamela's, she was wearing a tight gold lame gown and had for a jazz combo to play for us. Unfortunately John Sex, who arranged this thing, didn't mention that we were renting out the whole restaurant. When we balked at the $300 bill for entertainment. She was more than ornery- she was down right scary. Luckily I had proceeds from Irving Plaza on my person to ransom us out. I thought the food was mediocre, but I had a Southern mother and this wasn't such a novelty to me."

Princess Pamela was a piece of work.

I couldn't find a single photo of her online.

A pianist wrote about playing there; "I accompanied a fat blues singer who would verbally abuse her yuppie clientele. I was fired for asking for a five dollar raise."

According to Potluck with Judy Princess Pamela was a philosopher as well as a cook, and each page of the cookbook is enlivened with one of her sayings: “One way to stop an argument is to fill a man’s mouth with good cookin’.” Or “Three things I find offensive—mean men, back-bitin’ women, and sloppy cookin’.” And “I prefer my meats firm but tender which goes for chicken, pork chops, and men.”

Another place disappeared from the fabric of the universe.

Of course no one remembers the name of the Chinese restaurant underneath Princess Pamela's, but they had an eleven-fingered delivery boy.

SAY IT LOUD, I'M BAD AND I'M PROUD

Martin Luther King Jr. was a great orator. His speech I HAVE A DREAM is recognized as a masterpiece of the spoken word. I know parts of it by heart.

Another voice for Civil Rights was the legendary James Brown.

His songs united blacks and whites, but the Godfather of Soul sang about pride and never better than his hit SAY IT LOUD, I'M BAD AND I'M PROUD.

Martin Luther King Jr. was super-bad and a champion of all, so today celebrate his life with love.

James Brown would want you too.

To hear SAY IT LOUD, I'M BAD AND I'M PROUD, please go to the following URL from PLAYBOY AFTER DARK

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKCsUWx-QoA

CHOCOLATE MAN by Peter Nolan Smith

Maine is the northern most state on the Eastern Seaboard. The distance from its southernmost border to the Potomac River is approximately 500 miles and in the winter of 1863 the 20th Maine Regiment crossed into Virginia to confront the Confederate forces at Fredericksburg. That summer they avenged the one-sided slaughter beneath St. Marye’s Height with a desperate charge at Gettysburg.

“At that crisis, I ordered the bayonet. The word was enough.” The bare steel of Joshua Chamberlain’s troops repelled the threat to the Union left and the 20th Maine fought with distinction to war’s bitter end.

The mayhem of four bloody years ended at Appomattox and Colonel Chamberlain and the 20th Maine were present for the formal cessation of hostilities. As the rebel soldiers passed to surrender their arms and colors, Chamberlain ordered his troops to attention.

His memoir THE PASSING OF ARMIES captured the solemn dignity of their submission to a great force.

“Gordon, at the head of the marching column, outdoes us in courtesy. He was riding with downcast eyes and more than pensive look; but at this clatter of arms he raises his eyes and instantly catching the significance, wheels his horse with that superb grace of which he is master, drops the point of his sword to his stirrup, gives a command, at which the great Confederate ensign following him is dipped and his decimated brigades, as they reach our right, respond to the ‘carry.’ All the while on our part not a sound of trumpet or drum, not a cheer, nor a word nor motion of man, but awful stillness as if it were the passing of the dead.”

More vengeful Northerners had regarded his chivalry as treason, however to his fellow soldiers Chamberlain’s gesture had signaled the resumption of brotherhood and the State of Maine had commemorated the sacrifice of their native sons with bronze statues of facing south. The defeat of the Confederacy had liberated millions of slaves. Few ventured north of the Potomac and by the middle of the 20th Century the black communities of Bangor and Lewiston numbered about 6000 out of a population of one million souls living within the borders of the Pine State.

In 1953 Maine was the whitest state in the USA.

That spring my father moved his family of five from Boston to Portland.

My parents found a newly-built three-bedroom house on McKinley Road. Eastern Heights lay across the harbor. The scent of the sea mixed with the fragrance of fresh bread from the Nissen Bakery on the Back Cove. Work at the phone company was a ten-minute drive down US1. The neighborhood was filled with young couples like themselves. The hordes of children from the Baby Boom played on the lawns result of the Baby Boom and my parents wanted this house on McKinley Road to be their home.

After the agent agreed to a closing price my mother asked, if there was a Catholic church nearby.

She was Irish-Catholic out of Jamaica Plains. Her family were city people.

“Are you Catholic?” The real estate agent made a face. Maine was also predominantly Protestant.

“Yes.” Our last name was Yankee, but my father had converted to marry my mother. He loved her that much. “You have a problem with that?”

“I guess it’s okay, we have a Jew living on the next street.” The man shrugged with indifference. He lived on Bailey’s Island in a house over two-hundred years old.

Catholics and Jews belonged in this neighborhood and not his.

“Thanks for telling us.” My father’s family had come over on the Mayflower.

“What about the house?”

“We’ll let you know.”

His comments had kiboshed the deal and my father sought out a real estate agency with a French-Canadian name. Canucks were Maine’s real minority. The woman selling the house was Mrs. Benoit. The petite brunette lived in the neighborhood and knew the seller. Hearing about the other agent’s comments, she loped a thousand dollar off the price.

“I’ll see you in church.”

We moved into the house and our family paid little attention to our minority status. My older brother, younger sister, and I were blonde-haired and blue-eyed. My mother’s Hibernian beauty and her soaring alto were a welcome additions to cocktail parties in the coastal suburb north of Portland

Mrs. Noyes' son was my age. Chaney, my older brother, and I attended a one-room schoolhouse off US 1. Mornings began with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. We were loyal American and the stigma of Catholicism was never mentioned in school, however my mother never failed to express her loyalty to her Irish blood with green milk on St. Patrick’s Day and the IRA call to arms, “Up the rebels.”

Our world was our neighborhood, the school, and church until my father brought home a Zenith black/white TV. My older brother and I were soon obsessed with the Red Sox, HOWDY DOODY, BOZO THE CLOWN, THE YOUNG RASCALS, and THE THREE STOOGES.

“Moe, Larry, cheese.” Curly’s cry for the calming cure of cheese was the height of humor for boys under the age of six.

“Idiots.” My father hated my comic idols and threatened to throw out the boob tube, however my mother had reserved Sunday evening as family night and on that night my father drove into Portland to buy two pizzas, which we ate in the living room watching LASSIE to THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW on CBS.

At Eight o'Clock my father ordered my older brother, younger sister, and me to bed.

One November night my mother let me stay up a little longer to see her favorite program.

“He should be in bed.” My father scrunched his mouth in frustration. His one-on-one time with my mother was governed by our sleeping.

“He wants to be with me.” My childhood was slipping from my bones.

“You’ll spoil him.”

“He’ll turn out just like you, won’t you?” Her hand brushed my crew-cut. Our town was plagued by lice. My father owned electric clippers and shorn our skulls to the bones twice a month.

“Yes, m’am.” I hugged her with all my might.

She smelled of fresh bread. The whole house smelled the same. The wind was from the south and Nissan Bakery was working a night shift.

“Be quiet and don’t ask any questions. Your father likes this show.”

Throughout the opening segment of THE JACK BENNY SHOW my parents laughed at Jack Benny’s stinginess and the man who said, “Yeeee-essss?”. I didn't laugh with them, but I came to life when a dark-skinned man appeared on the TV.

“A chocolate man.”

Jack Benny’s servant was darker than a Hershey Bar. His face was round and his hair was slick as a grease stain at the garage on Route 1.

“He’s not a chocolate man.” My father’s voice spiked with exasperation. He wanted to watch his program without my interruption. “He’s Rochester.”

“Rochester?” My teacher had taught the classroom a song about his kind. “You mean like Little Black Sambo?”

“No, he’s called a negro or colored.” My mother informed me.”His people came from Africa as slaves. A war was fought to free them.”

“Like Moses freed the Israelites?” I attended Sunday school after Mass. Our teacher had read us Exodus this morning.

“Yes, only their Moses was Abraham Lincoln. His face is on the penny.”

“Why’s he speaking different from us?”

A commercial came on the TV and my mother stood up to clear off the plates and dishes.

“They have their own way of speaking,” she said on her way into the kitchen.

“You mean like Chaney's grandmother?” Shane’s white-haired grandmother spoke German. She had been born in Europe.

“No, they speak another version of English. You know Amos and Andy?” My father believed in telling us the truth as he saw it.

“Yes.” I had heard them on the radio.

“Those are Negroes too.” He went onto say that their roles were stereotypes. We had an RCA record player. Mono. Not stereo.

“If blacks are on TV, why don’t they live with us?”

“Negroes live in their own communities. It’s better that way. Everyone staying with their own kind.” My mother re-entered the living room. She was from Jamaica Plain in Boston. Her neighborhood was Irish. She had met my father in the elevator of the 51 Oliver Street Telephone Building.

“You’re Irish and Dad’s English. Shouldn’t you have stayed with your own kind?”

“That’s different.”

“How?” I had no idea about kinds.

“Just is?” My mother’s patience was wearing thin. She wanted peace and quiet and most of all golden silence during these Sunday TV sessions and what my mother wanted she got from both my father and us.

I ceased to call Rochester a ‘Chocolate Man’, but at Underwood Primary School our classmates explored the borders of kind. Steve Gordon was a Yid. Shane Benoit was called a ‘Canuck’. My brother and I were Micks. There were no Negroes.

When Chaney joked in class about “Micks’, Miss Stange, our teacher, lectured the K-2 students on race.

“I don’t want to hear that word again or any of the other words,” warned the stout teacher.

"But they're the ones saying these words," Chaney said which earned him a session in the corner.

"It's true. Our fathers fought ‘Krauts’ ‘Wops’, and ‘Japs’."

I joined Chaney in the corner, but what I had said was true.

The enemy of Korean War veterans were labeled ‘Chinks’ and we fought a host of other races.

During our Davy Crockett phase we killed thousands of ‘Spics’ surrounding the Alamo.

Negroes were spared our bullets, because we knew none and Boston Celtics’ Bill Russell was a Negro. His stop of a Syracuse National player’s shot at the end of overtime had stolen the voice of Johnny Most, the Celtics radio announcer.

Steven Gordon had been to Boston Garden and informed us that the Celtics' Jones boys were not brothers. They weren’t black either.

“More brown like different shades of chocolate. And they don’t like being called ‘negro’ or ‘colored’. They want to called ‘black’.” Steven went on to say that he didn’t want to hear the words ‘kike’ or ‘yid’.

Steven was bigger than the rest of us and his father let us watch Red Sox baseball games on their color TV. The entire team was white. Only three teams in the American League had black players; Carlos Paula of the Washington Senators, Ozzie Virgil of the Detroit Tigers, and Elston Howard of the Damned Yankees.

That summer the Red Sox finished 3rd in the league. Steven Gordon’s father said that they needed a black player like Satchel Paige.

“Who was Satchel Paige?” I asked in total ignorance.

“Only the best pitcher of all time. He couldn’t play in the big leagues because of the color clause. No blacks. No way.” Steven’s father was a tall man with a big nose. He liked to fish by the dock at the end of the street. He gave his catch to the poorer families in the town.

“He played for the St. Louis Browns in 1948. Subbed for Bob Lemon. He took it soft on the first two batters, but struck out Whitey Platt so bad that he lost touch the grip of his bat and it ended up down near 3rd base,” Mr. Gordon recounted the at-bat, as if he had been there that day. “He would have been rookie of the year, except he was 42. Best pitcher ever was.”

Shane, my older brother, and I accepted his judgment.

Mr. Gordon knew his baseball.

After that every time my family went into Portland for dinner, I searched the streets for a black face. There were none downtown or on the docks. My Aunt Sally said that Westbrook had a black postman and supposedly migrant workers from Jamaica picked apples in the orchard farms.

No one else had seen one either, so I served as a substitute for our neighborhood, because the summer sun failed to burn my skin and my tan was darker than that of my brothers and sisters.

My mother called me ‘Black Irish’ and explained, “After the failure of the Spanish Armada the galleons sailed along the coast of Western Ireland. Many of the ship were wrecked on the rocks. Some of the survivors were Moors from Africa. Maybe a little of their tar got in your blood.”

Labor Day Weekend families deserted the Foresides. Chaney went to Sebago Lake. Danny Benoit’s family drove north to visit his grandmother in Quebec. My grandmother had a cabin on Watchic Pond. Steven Gordon spent the long weekend in Boston and when he returned from his vacation, he said, “There are hundreds of blacks moving into Roxbury.”

He made it sound like an invasion.

“Why?” I thought blacks stayed far from the north, because the climate was too cold.

“Because the KKK are hanging them from the trees. Lynchings. Murder. Burning houses.”

“Why?”

“Because they don’t know their place,” Steven said with sadness. “The Nazis treated the Jews the same”

“My grandmother had to leave Prague, because she was a commie.” Chaney’s grandmother was a sweet old woman. Her apple pie was spiced with cinnamon. It was good enough to be a sin.

“A commie?” Nothing was worse than being a commie in the 50s.

“Not really, but her name was on a list.”

She had told us many times about escaping the Nazis by riding on top of a train. Chaney’s mother had been 10. My grandmother left Ireland at age 14. Nana told a story about an uncle shot by the Black and Tans. My mother had few good words for the British.

That fall I watched THE JACK BENNY SHOW with a hidden agenda. Jack Benny’s character treated his valet more as a friend than a worker and with good reason. Rochester was smarter than the rest of the cast. My older brother and I laughed at his jokes. They were actually funny.

A few days short of the Columbus Day holiday my father, mother, and my younger sisters and brother traveled south to Boston. My older brother and I had school. My grandmother took care of us throughout the week. On Friday Edith packed a bag and drove us to Union Station below Western Promenade. She parked her new VW Beetle and we walked inside the granite building to buy tickets.

Only two.

“I’m not going with you, but don’t worry the porters will take care of you.”

Edith had met our grandfather in a medical camp during WWI. He had been a doctor and she was a nurse. Grandfather had been dead since 1952, but people still came to the front door for help. They said that he had been a good man.

“Porters?” Surprises were reserved for cheeseburgers at Simpson’s or a trip to Old Orchard Beach. I had never been with a stranger.

“Don’t worry, they knew your grandfather. He treated them like white people.”

Neither my brother nor I had the courage to ask the difference. My older brother and I were in a state of shock, as Edith sat us on a passenger car. There were three other travelers. They looked foreign, maybe Canadian.

Our tickets were stuck on the seat. Paper name tags were pinned to our jackets. Our grandmother handed us two Italian sandwiches without onions and peppers with two bottles of Orange Crush. Napkins too plus $5.

“Your mother will be waiting at the other end. North Station. Think of this as your first adventure. You know your great-grandaunt sailed around the world when he was only 8.”

I wouldn’t be 8 for another two years. Our days were supervised by parents, teachers, family, and babysitters. This couldn’t be right. Someone had persuaded our grandmother to sell us into slavery. This awful person must have paid here $1000. That was the price for a new Volkswagen.

Edith waved from the covered platform. The train pulled out of the station. My older brother clutched my hand as tightly as he had seized my body after our father threw us into the lake last summer.

His father had taught him the same ‘sink or swim’ technique off the same dock.

My brother climbed on my back. My head sunk underwater. He was in a panic and I fought to get him off me. My father came to our rescue and stood us up.

My grandmother, Uncle Russ, Aunt Sally, and my sisters and brother laughed as our discovery that the water was only shoulder-deep. My mother didn’t think it was so funny.

“Six inches is enough to drown in.” Mothers liked their children safe and we weren't safe alone on a train.

I turned around to see a giant black man in a uniform approaching our seats. His skin was the color of burnt coal. I tapped my brother on the leg.

“A chocolate man,” I whispered in the voice taught by older boys in our grammar school. The train was picking up speed. Jumping off was not an option.

“Ain’t no chocolate this dark.” His voice rumbled like the words were forged from thunder in his large belly. “I think of myself as the color of black coffee. No milk. No cream. But plenty of sugar. Black as Africa. You ever seen a black man before?”

“No, sir,” my brother and I replied with a machine gun stutter.

“Then the times there are truly a-changin’. White boys callin’ a colored man ‘sir’.” He pocketed our tickets and leaned over to check out the name tags. His over-sized body smelled different from that of my father.

“We’re not supposed to call black men ‘colored’.” My answer straightened up the porter.

“And who told you that?” The hands resting on his hips were the size of my head.

“Me and my friends decided that. We don’t like what the KKK is doing,” My older brother usually spoke with better grammar.

“Is that so?” His yellow-rimmed eyes were taking no prisoner.

“Yes, sir.” My hands trembled so fast that my soda was fizzling.

The conductor snatched the bottle from my hand and wiped the foam with a snow-white napkin.

“Sorry to scare you like that. You the grandsons of Doctor Smith. He was good to my people. I’ll be as good to you. My name is Leroy Brown. But you call me Leroy.”

His smile lit my heart afire like a nuclear bomb in the Nevada desert melting like frozen fear to molten metal.

“Good to meet you, Leroy.” I offered my hand. His swallowed mine.

In our family children were to be seen a little and heard even less It was the first time that I had called an adult by my first name and I asked without any hesitation, “Do you know Bill Russell?”

“Do I know Bill Russell?” His laugh shivered the windows. “This train’s final destination is North Station. Above the station is the Boston Garden.”

“The home of the Boston Celtics.” My brother had found his nerve too.

“The 1958 Champions and next year too.”

“The Jones Boys.”

"KC and Sam."

“You know your basketball. I see Bill Russell from time to time. He’s a warrior on the hardwoods and I’ll tell you why after this stop.” The train pulled into Old Orchard Beach.

Gordon’s Fried Clams was down the street. The amusement park was closed for the winter, which was a long season in Maine. My brother and I stuck straws in our sodas and unfolded the Italians on our laps. The smell was too enticing to wait for lunch. Leroy joined us half way through the sandwiches.

“I like them too. Good eating. Cheap too. Now where was we?” We lived the 1957 Championship season game by game through Saco, Wells, Dover, Exeter, Haverhill, and Woburn. He added an aside that Woburn was the birthplace of the fried clams.

“A trainman fried them up in batter. Woodman’s in Essex claims the honor, but we railmen know the truth. Your other grandfather was one of us. Trolley man out of Forest Hills. Anyway Game 7 had a few seconds left in regulation. Inbounds pass to Coleman. Russell is on the baseline, but blocks the shot. Overtime with only seven Hawks left on the bench. Game 127-125. Bob Petit’s shot rolls around the rim and out. Celtics win their first championship.”

The men listening to Leroy’s recounting of that game burst into applause. The Red Sox hadn't played in the World Series since 1918 and the Bruins were exiled to the lower ranks of the NHL. One black man brought Boston the Big Win.

Bill Russell.

The train crossed a river.

“Only a few more minutes to North Station. Been good ridin’ with you boys. Your grandfather was a good man and they ain’t easy to find. You have any idea how your kind treat us?”

“No.” I wasn’t sure what my kind was.

“You can keep a secret?” His voice rustled from his throat with a hush of dried leaves.

“Yes.” It was another year until my First Confession.

“Your kind treats my kind like we aren’t as good as them and I have to pretend that is the truth or else.”

His eyes seared fear into ours. Steven Gordon had spoken about the whips and chains. I shuddered with the horror that Leroy and his kind had been treated worse than bad by my kind and the laughter on THE JACK BENNY show was proof that my kind thought that Rochester was funny for another reason other than being funny.

I didn’t know what to say.

“Don’t say sorry. You ain't don't nothing wrong yet, have you?" He had been hurt in his life by the names white people called his kind and they had suffered pain worse than sticks and stones.

We shook our heads.

"Your grandfathers and grandmothers aren’t like the rest of you white people. They were good people.” Leroy stood up with a grin and this smile said a better time was coming. No one could say when.

The train pulled into the North Station. The passengers gathered their possessions from the overhead racks. Leroy escorted us off the train. My mother and father were waiting on the platform with my Irish grandmother. Nana gave Leroy a tip of $5.

“Thank you, m’am.” Leroy tugged on the visor of his cap with a wink of the eye. His secret was safe with us.

“You boys have a good time in Boston.”

“Yes, sir.”

“The name’s Leroy. It means King in French.”

Leroy walked down the platform into a crowd of white people.

My Nana hugged me, as if I had crossed the Atlantic.

I looked for another black face. There were none.

My mother kissed me on he cheek. My father pointed above us.

“That’s where the Celtics and Bruins play.”

“Boston Garden.” I looked for Bill Russell, as we walked to the trolley station.

His number was 6.

He was not a chocolate man.

No one was.

Not even the Black Irish.