Wednesday, April 30, 2014

ONLY A FEW REGRETS by Peter Nolan Smith

"Regrets I have a few, but not too few to mention." Frank Sinatra sang in MY WAY. I myself only have regrets about the things I have not done for I can live with those I have done; the good, the bad, and the in-between, however other people are not so self-forgiving.

The other day I ran into female friend from the 80s at a restaurant in the Meat Packing District. Cece had once graced the covers of fashion magazine. Men fought over her with fists and money. Cece was skilled at fending off her admirers. Few were chosen for love. I wasn't one of them and resigned our relationship to mere friendship.

It had been very frustrating.

She gave me a kiss on the cheek.

I remembered her perfume.

Chanel # 5.

We hadn't seen each other in years. I had been living in Thailand, while Cece traveled between France and Africa for business. She was still beautiful in the way that beautiful women are when they refuse to surrender beauty.

We had a few wines and then a drink. I was feeling a little more of the wine than the drink. Her hand touched my arm.

"You want a night cap at my hotel?"

"I have to go to work tomorrow." It was almost midnight and the trains to Brooklyn were shit after the witching hour.

"You could always sleep over." Her touch became a caress.

I had wanted this woman so badly twenty years ago, that I would have set myself on fire to get her attention.

Now I could only say, "Not really."

"Not really." Her face adopted hard lines. No one had told her no in a long time. "You know I was talking about you and several of my friends. We all asked why none of us slept with you."

"And what the answer?" I could see Cece at a table in Paris with her model friends reviewing their love affairs. I had been with none of them.

"We always thought you were with one of us."

"One of you."

"Yes, a great beauty."

"Hah." Looks had never been a problem, but no one ever called me beautiful.

"You think that's funny?" Cece lowered her voice. "Your beauty was in that none of us slept with you. We called you the virgin and I guess we can call you that still."

"Oh." It was too late to relive the past and I pulled away my arm.

"Guess it is getting late."

"I guess so." I escorted her to the hotel.

Cece was gracious enough to not repeat her request and I kissed her on the cheek, smelling the same perfume I had breathed 20 years before. There will always be regrets, but only for the past and not the present and I'll avoid those to prevent getting run down by those fantasies, becasue they are too many to count on any man's fingers.

Rainy New York Dry LA

The forecast for the evening from the Fort Greene Observatory calls for more rain.

This prediction for precipitation stands for tomorrow.

No flooding has been reported at the General Fowler Square, but the rivers, creeks, tidal marshes, and streams of the Northeast must be bursting their banks.

Anyone in the Far West has to be jealous of such a downpour.

There the snowcover of the high mountains are melting into the great western rivers. The rivers are running low. The lakes and reservoirs are parched and this summer looks like the Great Drought will hit the Central Valley of California, where over sixty years of suburban expansion have sucked the land dry and it will over get worse.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bugis Street Selama-Lamanya

The Bugis people were great voyagers from Sulawesi. They sailed small crafts from Padang Padang to many ports of the Far East ranging from Burma to Northern Australia. Many practiced piracy and as Thomas Forrest wrote in A Voyage from Calcutta to the Mergui Archipelago, "The Buginese are a high-spirited people: they will not bear ill-usage...They are fond of adventures, emigration, and capable of undertaking the most dangerous enterprises."

Most westerners are unfamiliar with the Bugis and especially their complex five gender society.

Men and women are joined by 'bissu' which combined all five genders, 'calabai' a false woman, and 'calalai' a masculine female.

Thriving Bugis communities existed throughout the Orient, although few as famous as Singapore's Bugis Street on which calabai transgenderettes gathered in the 1950s to sexually entertain randy sailors and curious travelers. According to legend the easy way to discern which working girls were female and which were trannies was that the calabai were beautiful and the female hookers were ugly.

Singapore banned wanton behavior in the 1980s to transformed the tawdry area into another worthless shopping mall.

I got there in 1990 and stayed at a cheap Chinese hotel on Bugis Street.

The trannies were few.

The sidewalks were clean.

The Long Bar at Raffles was undergoing renovations.

I left the next day for Penang.

Each time I returned I stayed for the time to catch the train.

Singapore has nothing to offer anyone looking for a walk on the wild side.

It's the most boring big city in the Orient, but not in the 60s.

It swung with the best of them.

Bugis Street selama-lamanya. Forever.

When We Were Young

I didn't work that often in the late-80s.

In fact I can't remember what I did for money from 1987 to 1989.

I was in my mid-30s.

I hung out at nightclubs, but I didn't sell drugs.

I drank for free and hung out with beautiful women.

Was that a crime?

Because I seem to be paying for it now.

Out Of Work

I haven't had a job since the New Year.

I have looked for work without success.

Men my age are viewed as refuges from the retirement roles.

I have retired many times in my life.

I have unretired as many times as well.

Yesterday I sought employment on 47th Street. I know diamonds. Everyone was crying the blues. Passover was a tough of year for selling jewelry mostly because April 15th is Tax Day.

I called the metal shop. Mr. Tem wasn't hiring until May.

I phoned several galleries.

Goose eggs.

It's a tough time, but not for the rich.

They never sing the blues.

DEMO DERBY Paintings by Jane Dickson / Writing by Peter Nolan Smith

On a summer night in 1969 a high school friend Dave Quaan drove my older brother, next-door neighbor and me to Norwood Arena in his family’s station wagon. The Ford Country Squire hit its top speed of 115 on Route 128. We got off the highway onto US 1 and headed south to a ball of light glowing under the stars.

Norwood Arena featured weekly drag racing and demo derbies.

We parked the Ford and hurried into the stands.

Dave bought four beers with a fake ID. We drank them fast. My brother spotted a boy from our hometown. Joe Tully had bullied me in 8th Grade. Three months ago he had been arrested for joy-riding and his father thought a short stretch at Billerica Reformatory would teach his son a lesson, only Joe was not the learning kind.

The six-footer was hanging with a bad crowd.

The announcer called the first demo derby with a hoarse throat. Detroit clunkers rooster-tailed across the dirt. Fenders flew in the air and bumpers battered doors. The coup de grace was a rear-end smash into the radiator.

After the third heat Joe came over looking for trouble.

“I bet I could win one of these.” He poked my chest.

“In whose car?” I knocked away his hand. I wasn’t 13 anymore.

“My car.” He pointed past the fence to a 1969 Chevy Station Wagon. “It has a 327 V-8 and is faster than any of those wrecks on the track.”

“Then go for it, unless you’re a pussy.” I remembered his every punch and kick, but I had grown since grammar school and Joe didn’t scare me now.

“Who you calling ‘pussy’?” His fists were white knuckles. “I’m no pussy.”

“Prove it.”

“Screw you.”

Joe staggered from the stands like he was in a hurry to reach the men’s room.

“Leave him alone.” My older brother didn’t like fights.

“Okay.” I prayed that Joe drowned in the urinal.

Right before the start of the next heat, a late entry roared into the arena. It was Joe’s station wagon.

“No way.” His friends hooted their support, as Joe circled the arena in the undented Chevy.

“He’s no pussy.” This was wicked and even I shouted for Joe, as the cars battled on the oval track.

Several seconds later the station wagon was sandwiched between white trash roadsters. Joe stepped on the gas to break free, only to be t-boned on his first pass through the Figure 8. The Chevy 360ed through a puddle of mud. Norwood Arena liked a wet track.

The speedy Chevy avoided another collision, but a 64 Ford Fairlane pinned the station wagon against the wall. The cracked radiator spewed steam and Joe crawled out of the crumpled car with a huge grin.

The spectators cheered Joe as their hero.

“I’m fucked.” Joe climbed into the stands.

“That you are.” I forgave him everything, as a tow truck hauled the totaled Chevy out of the arena.

“But it isn’t the first time I fucked up, so gimme a beer.”

We all got drunk, but his glorious evening ended upon getting home. That station wagon belonged to his aunt and she was pressing charges.

His father paid for the wreck and sent his son to a military school in thick forests of northern Maine. Winter in Aroostock County was as cold as Siberia. There was no escape, although Joe tried seven times.

After graduation he was forced to enlist in the army. His fare-well party was held at Norwood Arena.

“I’m sorry,” Joe told me at the end of the night. His hair was crew cut short. He was ready for war.

"For what?"

“Bullying you was fucked up, but no worse than you tricking me into the arena with my aunt's car.”

“Did you really think you could win?”

“Yeah, so I guess we're even.”

“You be safe over there.” Forgiving was easy once you had your revenge.

The next week Joe was airlifted to Viet-Nam. After his second tour he came back to marry the prettiest girl in town. Joe became a cop and they had kids. He lives in my hometown to this day.

Every Christmas Eve Joe tells the story about the demo derby. We all laugh too, except for his father, because some things are never funny to people who weren’t there.

BETTER LUCKY THAN GOOD by Peter Nolan Smith

A greasy nor-easter ruined Columbus Day weekend for New York. I shut my windows for the first time in months and dressed to leave my apartment for breakfast at the Veselka Diner on 2nd Avenue. The shoes and jacket seemed unnaturally heavy after a season of shorts and sandals. Luckily Global Warming guaranteed that New York would heat up once more before the leaves fell from the trees.

After exiting from my building I dashed along East 10th Street, dodging the raindrops.

Halfway down the block a young man and an attractive older woman walked underneath an umbrella. A pale scarf covered the woman's head and the long black raincoat acted as a chador for her body.

Her handsome escort made her laugh.

I stopped running.

That laugh belonged to Marie.

As she neared, I almost said hello, but the elegant Quebecois appeared happy and I sidestepped out of their path.

Marie must have recognized my walk, for she called my name with a touch of disbelief.

"Is that you?"

"Yes, I live on this block." She had been there once in 1988. "I'm surprised to see you in New York."

I'm shooting a film here." Marie tugged off the scarf and unleashed her casually coifed blonde hair. Her beauty remained as intoxicating as our final kiss good-bye in Paris.

"You haven't aged a day."

"Most men say that." The timeworn compliment rang leaden on her ears.

"And it's the truth."

Several night ago I had seen her in a film by Claude Lelouch. It had been rented from Kim's Video.

In one scene Marie had been naked.

Her breasts lay flat against her chest.

Blonde hair hung down her back.

The memory of her body was too familiar to endure the entire sex scene.

"Thanks." She introduced the handsome young man as the lead actor in the movie. "I'll hit it big."

"Only if the camera lets me." His eyes were Paul Newman blue and his smile shone with a desire for the silver screen.

"The camera never lies," I opined without conviction. I was a failure as a writer.

"It's the lighting that helps hide the truth." The actor started a discourse on acting, but I cut him short with a question to Marie. "How long are you in town?"

"Just another week. Maybe we can meet for lunch." She stepped closer to the young man for shelter under the umbrella.

I stuck my hands in my pockets.

"I'm at the same number and the same apartment?"

When we had been contemplating of a life together, she had visited the three narrow rooms of 3E. A loft or a hotel room on the park was suitable for her beauty. "I've been living there since 1977."

"Except for when you stayed with me in Paris" The blonde actress lilted her head to the side and a golden curtain slipped across her face.

"And a couple of other places."

Marie and I might have spent part of a lifetime with each other instead of less than a half-year. It took me a long time to discover that she gave me many more months than other lovers. Wanting it all had been asking too much.

"Your friend, Jeffery, he introduced us." She touched my hand as a silent apology for our failed romance.

"Jeffery's dead almost seven years and his girls are almost grown."

"And he's not the only one." Paris and Manhattan were populated by ghosts of both the living and dead. I heard you died in a motorcycle accident."

"A truck hit me head-on in Burma and killed me instantly." I lifted my bent left wrist and she shook her head. "You're joking?"

"I'm too old to lie." It was easier to remember the truth. "I hit the windshield and flipped over the truck to land on a pile of rice and an old woman. The old lady looked in the air for the airplane from which I had fallen>"

"You were always lucky."

Her words aged me a hundred years, because I had never been lucky in love and asked, "How's your pig?"

"Doe-Doe passed away a couple of years ago." Doe-Doe was a French expression for sleep. Her pig loved a good snooze and it was funny that her pig never snored in its sleep.

"Sorry, you really loved that pig." Doe-Doe had a sense of humor and danced to Jacques Dutronc like a drunken legionnaire.

"You had a pig?" The young actor understood his role in this scene was as straight man to two old lovers.

"She considered cats and dogs dirty."

"And pigs are clean?"he chuckled and Marie narrowed her Atlantic green eyes.

I answered for her.

"Pigs only wallow in the mud to stay cool. Her pig was toilet-trained."

"So you're a pig-lover." The actor winged the improvised scene.

"Why not? They saved my life."

"How?" The actor feigned interest.

"Knowing you it's a probably a long story and we have to rehearse our lines." Marie leaned forward to kiss me.

"More than a hundred words."

I turned my head. The twin pecks on the cheeks were a far cry from making love in the shadows on the Tuileries.

"Another time then." She pulled away without asking for my phone number.

"Still wearing Chanel." Marie had been their spokesperson.

"Some things stay the same."

The tolling from the St. Mark's steeple broke the spell of the past and she tucked her arm under her escort's arm.

"Good seeing you. You take care."

"Don't worry about me, I'm indestructible." I walked away to be soaked by the rain.

Once Marie and I had lain naked in bed for days. I had bought her flowers and she had cooked me meals fit for a deposed king. She sang her songs of love with a reedy voice and I played Gene Ammons records on her stereo. I hadn't been a younger man in 1988, but I had confused lust for love. It was more a talent than a fault.

I turned around and watched the two of them cross the street. They belonged here more than me, for Marie was right about my immortality.

None of my friends, enemies, or family had expected to live long enough to have gray hair.

I had been drowned by a double-overhead wave in Bali, beaten to a pulp with baseball bats on the Lower East Side, drunkenly blown the red-lights on Comm. Ave in Boston, and survived an Olds 88 t-boning my VW in front of the Surf Nantasket.

I missed death on countless other occasions.

A second sooner or later crossing a street and a car might have crushed me on its fender.

A slip in the bath and I drown.

Fitness had no influence on my survival and I believed in luck, which is little protection against the deadliest assassin of all.

Yourself.

In THE COMEDIANS Graham Greene writes, "However great a man's fear of life, suicide remains a courageous act, for he has judged by the laws of averages that to live will be more miserable than death. His sense of mathematics has to be greater than his sense of survival."

In 1974 I had gambled in Reno on my twenty-second birthday. I lost everything and woke on the banks of the Truckee River wishing I was dead. It wasn't the first or last time I challenged my mortality, yet nothing prepared me for a sudden lurch toward the brink of self-destruction in 1988.

The summer had started with my faux-cousin, Olivier Brial, throwing me the keys to his family's beach home. Carnet-sur-Mer wasn't the Riviera. Only the Riviera was the Riviera, but I wrote during the day, swam in the Med in the afternoons, and ate with his family in the evening.

The town had no nightlife outside the cafes and by the end of August I had completed my collection of short stories. I thanked the Brials for their hospitality and bid Perpignan farewell, fully confident of my book's success in Manhattan's literary world. I hitchhiked along the Autoroute to Avignon and headed into the Luberon, where my friend, Jeffery Kime, was renovating an ancient villa on the outskirts of Menerbes.

Summer ended slowly in Provence and I took a taxi from the national route up an old Roman road. Jeffery's dog barked out my arrival. His wife and kids shouted warm greetings from the terrace. Lunch was set for ten guests. Jeffery introduced me as an 'author'.

After a long repast of fresh vegetables, succulent fish, and melons accompanied by countless bottles of red wine, I read them a story of swimming in the Quincy Quarries.

Jeffery's wife claimed I was the next big writer. Their friends toasted my upcoming success. We ate fresh foods and drank cheap good wine from bottles emblazoned with stars. The day lingered with the regret of a season's end and I sat at the table, admiring the scenery of ruined towns stretching through the Luberon Valley.

That evening I went to sleep in the attic. I was happy and expected to be happier in the morning, instead I woke in an unexpected state of deep despair.

This depression was not the result of a mere hangover. I was inflicted with a disease and swiftly diagnosed its source by peeking out the attic's tiny window. Jeffrey's youngest daughter was holding onto the tail of their Golden Retriever and relieved herself au natural. Her mother joyously declared, "Matilda's getting toilet-trained by a dog.”

The couples at the breakfast table laughed without restrain. The women were beautiful. The men had successful artistic jobs. Their lives were moving towards a reachable goal and I was going nowhere fast.

I bid them good-night with a faked smile and secluded myself in the attic completely devastated by this flipflop of moods, asking myself, "What next?"

I stood at the window and my eyes crossed the night sky.

Jeffery's house nestled under an escarpment separating the Luberon from the coast. A dirt trail climbed through the vineyards past a quarry. The centuries of backbreaking work had created a three-hundred foot cliff and the sheer white face murmured a single syllable.

"Jump."

Not like David Lee Roth sang in Van Halen's second album.

Simply, "Jump."

The next morning Jeffrey sensed my dismay and didn't leave me on my own for several days.

He was a good friend.

His surveillance wavered with the preparations for a Sunday dinner. His wife demanded that he accompany her for shopping in Avignon. His two kids begged me to come along. I smiled and said, "I'm going for a long walk."

"Will you be here, when we return?" Jeffery opened the door to his Volvo. His wife corralled their two daughters into the rear and said, "Where else can he go?"

"I'll take a walk in the beautiful French countryside," I answered with a smile.

As soon as the car disappeared around the curve, I set out for the path skirting the white cliff face. I rested atop the hill.

To the West the River Rhone shimmered as a silvery snake under the late August sun and the northern horizon wore the broken toothed snowy Alps. Not a single cloud spoiled the blazing blue sky and fragrant wildflowers scented the wind. It was too beautiful for any more words and I walked toward the edge, determined to exorcise the word 'jump' from my vocabulary.

Only twenty feet from eternity primal snorts shivered the underbrush. The bushes rustled apart for two little pigs. They were unusually hairy and cute.

I took a single step toward them.

The babies squealed in alarm and a louder snort trumpeted from behind a rock.

I turned my head in horror.

A massive boar with two yellow tusks curling from her snout and coarse black hair coating her sinewy spine trotted before the piglets. The black pearl eyes glared a maternal hatred, as the beast scrapped the earth with a cloven hoof before lowering its horrible head to charge me in a slather.

Screaming I fled across the plateau to climb a wizened tree. The boar rammed the trunk several times. Each impact shuddered the trunk.

After its babies scooted into the bushes, the ugly brute vanished from the plateau.

Not sure it wasn't playing a trick, I swayed in the tree for another minute, realizing my will to survive this boar attack had triumphed over my desire to die.

A priest might have deemed the incident a miracle and I might have offered a prayer in thanks, only I wasn't sure which saint was the patron of pigs, so I dropped out of the tree and returned down the hill to Jeffrey's house.

The kids were chasing each other in a squall of shouts, the guests were drinking rose and conversing about a nearby neighbor's book about life in Province. Jeffrey's wife was slicing a slab of meat for the barbecue and my friend was peeling potatoes. Relieved by my reappearance, he asked, "Where have you been?"

"Out for a walk." Explaining my mad dash from suicide was a topic for another day and I helped chop the potatoes with a knife. It was sharp and I was careful not to cut my fingers. "What are we having for dinner?"

"A nice roasted pork." Jeffery beamed with a lean hunger.

"Pork?" I protested and Jeffery scowled, "You convert to Islam?"

"Not a chance, just a change of heart." Grateful to the boar's intercession, if only momentarily, I said, "I"ll stick to the potatoes for today."

"Suit yourself," Jeffery shrugged and I drank a glass of wine.

It was good to want to live again.

Later that fall in Paris Jeffery introduced me to Marie.

I was happy for a while and smiled approaching Veselka. Bacon was sizzling on the grill. A greasy breakfast was a good start to the rainy day for a man in his 50s and asking for anything more from life than breakfast became risky, but I can deal with surprises.

I've had many, for while pigs can't fly, they sometimes can save your life.

MAYBE TOMORROW a punk novel by Peter Nolan Smith on KINDLE

CHAPTER 1

The November sun flashed off a West Village window. The wavering reflection stalked the Christopher Street pier to a lone youth tuning a battered guitar. The twenty year-old in a battered leather jacket broke into a sly smile, as the sapphire shimmer transformed the blonde leather boy into a fallen angel regaining his halo.

This heavenly mirage disappeared with a windmill slash against the steel strings of his Les Paul and Johnny Darling shut his eyes to envision a small stage. The overhead lighting enveloped a drummer, bassist, and keyboard player. A teenage Lolita rasped words of love and no tomorrows in imitation of the Velvet Underground’s Nico. The imagined feedback of Marshall Amps buzzed in his ears and the audience almost materialized within his eyelids.

“Hey, man.”

A young boy’s voice shattered Johnny’s trance.

This time of night only gay bashers and leather freaks frequented the derelict docks. The guitarist waited for the last chords to fade beneath the subsonic range before turning to address the intruder.

It was Frankie.

The Puerto Rican teenager in a distressed leather jacket was two inches shorter than Johnny and his slanted eyes hinted the taint of Chinese blood.

Some Times Square johns found Frankie Domingo pretty, despite the scars crisscrossing his seventeen year-old body.

“Thanks for letting me finish?”

“I been waiting thirty minutes.”

A gust of wind blew a shank of greased hair across Frankie’s face.

“That a new song?”

“Just three chords strung together.” Johnny thumbed his calloused fingertips.

“Doesn’t get more basic than that.” Frankie rattled off a drum roll with frayed sticks. “Got these from Jerry Nolan at Max’s Kansas City last night.”

“How were the Heartbreakers?” Johnny had skipped the last night’s show to entertain a customer.

“Great and the crowd loved them.” Frankie hunched his shoulders with a shiver.

“They got paid a $100 each. When we gonna have a band?”
“Now I have my guitar back, we can audition for the other members.”

“Great.” Frankie stepped from side to side. A cold damp seeped through his sneakers’ paper-thin soles and he stammered, “Johnny, you got ten dollars?”

“The pawnshop took my last fifty.” Johnny slapped his guitar.

“Damn, I wish we could get out of here.” Frankie moaned like a runaway in need of a dime to phone home.

“To go where?”

“What about Florida?” Frankie glanced south, as if the Sunshine State lay beyond the New Jersey docks. “How far away is it? Five hours?”

“More like twenty–four by car.”

“What about by plane?” The young Puerto Rican’s teeth chattered at a 10/10 beat.

“Where we getting the money for two plane tickets?”

“We could hijack a plane. Tell them to give us a million dollars like in DOG DAY AFTERNOON?”

Frankie had seen that movie five times on 42nd Street and pumped his fist in the air.

“Attica, Attica.”

“Aren’t you forgetting how the cops shot Pacino’s friend in the head?”

“Movies aren’t real.” Frankie had seen enough of films on 42nd Street.

“DOG DAY AFTERNOON was based on a real bank robbery.”


“It was?”

“Yeah, it didn’t have a happy ending either.” The guitarist grabbed the young boy’s thin arm.

“Your parents live in Florida. That sounds like a ‘happy ever’ after to me. If you called them, they might wire you money to come home?”

“Yes, and tomorrow night we’d be eating my Mom’s homemade apple pie.”

“I love apple pie.” Frankie licked his lips.


“Only one problem.” Johnny gestured toward Manhattan.


“Don’t say what I think you’re going to say.”

“I’m not leaving this behind.”

“Fuck this city?” Frankie spun on his heels and chucked the battered drumsticks into the river. “All I got here are hustles, an empty stomach and the smell of old man’s hands on my skin, and you don’t have it much better.”

Johnny placed the guitar into its case and walked toward the elevated highway.

“I ran away from Florida for the same reason you want to run away from New York.” Johnny stopped on the curb of West Street and turned to Frankie. “Me and you are going to make it here as rock stars.”

“But not tonight.” Frankie kicked an empty beer can into the gutter.

“No, not tonight.” Johnny couldn’t lie to Frankie. “Tomorrow Max’s will put on a turkey feast for us orphans.”

“What about tonight?” Frankie could handle anything as long as he was with Johnny.

“Tonight we go to work.” The uptown light on West Street was changing to green and suburb-bound cars accelerated to catch up with the synchronized signals.

“53rd and 3rd?” Frankie had had his fill of the sissies at those piano bars.

“We’re not competing with the Midnight Cowboys.”

Across the street men prowled the sidewalks in search of nameless sex. A few lurked between the trucks parked underneath the elevated highway. How they were celebrating the night before Thanksgiving was no mystery.

“Times Square then?” Frankie sighed with resignation.

“It’s all about luck.”

“Luck being heads I win, tails you lose and never give a sucker a break.”

“You’re learning fast.”

“I try.”

“How I look?” Johnny slung the case’s strap over his shoulder and pulled up the collar of his leather jacket.

“Like a prince.” Frankie blew on his numb hands.

“Where anyone from Jerome Avenue meet a prince?”

“My grandmother read me fairy tales. They really have princes and princesses?”

“Real as you and me, except they were born in a palace.” The chilled air scrapped over Johnny’s right lung like a boat striking a reef.

“You meet one?” Frankie was oblivious to his friend’s discomfort.

“Not this side of the silver screen.” Johnny fought off the shakes, figuring his ‘jones’ was knocking on the door. “Princes and princesses are like any other suckers. We meet one and what we do?”

“We take them for everything.” Frankie snapped his fingers.

“And leave them begging for more.” The ache faded from Johnny’s chest and he draped his arm over the younger boy. “Just one more thing.”

“I know what you’re going to say.”

“You’re going to tell me not to trust anyone.”

“Trust no one is survival rule # 1 in New York.” Times Square killed people who broke that rule and he turned to Frankie. “That means me too.”

“I’m a big boy.” Frankie accepted the warning, for his childhood had revealed the worst of what the New York had to offer the young.

“Then let’s head uptown.” Johnny dashed onto West Street. “Watch out, Johnny.”

Two taxis swerved to avoid hitting the guitarist.

“For what? I’m going to live forever,” Johnny shouted from the other side of the street, for believing in anything other than his immortality would have been a sacrilege, at least until he reached twenty-one and that birthday was more than a year away and a year was an eternity when you were only twenty.

TO READ MORE OF MAYBE TOMORROW ON KINDLE PLEASE GO TO THE FOLLOWING URL

http://www.amazon.com/MAYBE-TOMORROW-Peter-Nolan-Smith-ebook/dp/B00HYEMNM8

MAYBE TOMORROW is my novel set in 1976 about a gay hustler, a teenage runaway, and a car thief, who form a punk band to rip off a rich kid, only to fail because they succeed musically for one night.

Several years ago I went to a Nan Goldin show at the Whitney Museum with a Park Avenue divorcee. Claudia came from a good famiily in Philadelphia and the black and white photos were a shock to her sensibilities.

"These people look so tragic."

Her assessment of Nan Goldin's subjects was true, but I knew many of them and said, "It wasn't like that. Back then."

And like that I wrote MAYBE TOMORROW to show how we lived in that era of errors.

There are few novels about punk and MAYBE TOMORROW is based on true stories from my life and those of my friends from CBGBs, Max's, and the Lower East Side.

They live on in MAYBE TOMORROW.

WHY MEN HAVE BETTER FRIENDS

This joke comes from the Old Roue in Bangkok

WHY MEN HAVE BETTER FRIENDS

Friendship Between Women: A woman didn’t come home one night. The next day she told her husband that she had slept over at a friend’s house.The man called his wife’s 10 best friends. None of them knew about anything about it.

Friendship Between Men: A man didn’t come home one night. The next day he told his wife that he had slept over at a friend’s house. The woman called her husband’s 10 best friends. Eight of them confirmed that he had slept over and two claimed that he was still there.

How true

Squares


At one time I thought that the world would consist of long-hairs driving GTOs with skinny blondes at their side. The music on the radio was Grand Funk Railroad. Once I graduated from college my delusion of grandeur narrowed to an aspiration of driving a motorcycle around the Lower East Side high on heroin with a raven-haired temptress. Paris with a movie starlet. Blonde thin and a good cook. Our car was a Fiat. Thailand. A go-go girl. Yamaha 400 cc. Beach sun beer. Forever cool.

Sadly my friends along the way have become square.

They worry about their position. They think they are important. Some of them really are VIP. Some of them could call a number. The next hour I would be dead.

If I was someone other than who I am that might be true.

But I have remained faithful to my code of ethics.

"No commercial value. No sellout."

Those are the words of James Steele and he knows the truth.

He ain't no square.

Ashes To Ashes

"It does not take a majority to prevail... but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men."

Samuel Adams

www.infowars.com reported that the Oklahoma Militia was willing to fight in support of Nevada rancher's grazing rights on federal land. Members of the right-wing militia says it has 50,000 volunteers ready to go, if the Bureau of Land Management once more attempted to confiscate Cliven Bundy's cattle. Their leader Scott Shaw said to the website, “Evidently in America we don’t actually own the property anymore if you ever did. A showdown is up to the feds. The ball’s in their court! You can do this legally or if you want to try to do a land grab violently, you can do that. We’re going to resist you! Just look around the country, they are doing it everywhere. If they can do it in Nevada, they can do it in Colorado, Texas. I mean, what’s to stop them from coming to Oklahoma? The only thing to stop them is ‘We the People’.”

Senator James Inhofe was quick to criticize the militia.

"You’ve got a bunch of people there trying to take the law into their own hands and they shouldn’t be doing that. And the Bureau of Land Management is not government-owned, it’s publicly owned. There’s a big difference there. I blame both sides.”

Me, I blame everyone involved, but armed insurrection against the USA is never a good idea.

Just ask the South.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Unmagic of the BBC

Varanasi on the Ganges River is one of the oldest cities in the world and considered by many to be the spiritual center of India. Archaeologists date its origin to over three thousand years ago and Siddhartha formulated the tenets of Buddhism upstream at Sarnath in a sermon entitled 'Turning the Wheel of Law' in 528BC. Mark Twain visited the storied city and 1897 and famously said, “Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

I visited the ghats in 1995.

The fiery funerary rituals offered a spectacle unknown to the West, but occidentals can not accept the beauty of the Orient without seeing fakirs behind the miracles.

Today a BBC reporter wrote that the sunset tradition of sadhus standing on plinths was enchanting, but added that he later learned that the supposed ancient rites were the invention of a hotel owner to spice up the evening on the Ganges.

According to his article he stated that 'a couple of days later I was sitting in the BBC studio in Delhi with a young Indian journalist who had come in to comment on the election campaign. He heard my report in his headphones.

"You were in Varanasi?" he asked.

"Yes."

"And you recorded something at the ceremony they have on the river bank there."

"That's right."

"In a boat?"

"Yes. It was wonderful."

"You know the whole thing was invented by the manager of a luxury hotel in Varanasi about 20 years ago. He was trying to drum up the number of tourists coming to town."

"I see. Right."

Journalists get lied to so often that they generally end up fairly cynical, or perhaps to put it more kindly, sceptical. And let me say straightaway that I am not accepting the journalist's account without question.

Even if I went back to Varanasi and investigated the matter I have no doubt that some people would insist the ceremony has been going on for centuries.

That's the way with these things. But still it was a bit of a shocker. Perhaps you can never quite go far enough in questioning why things are happening - what purpose they really serve.

I emailed my boss.

"About that ceremony," I said. "You might well have been right."

I told him what the journalist in the studio had said.

"Ah yes," he replied. "The invention of tradition. Happens everywhere."

The article ended there, but not all magic in life has to have an origin.

On my travels throughout Asia in the 90s I carried a worldband radio. At night I would listen to the BBC braodcast from London on the other side of the world. The World Service was a century old tradition for expatriates living abroad and now the Cameron government has been neutering the radio shows.

They will not be able to demystify India or Varanasi.

It is as old as time itself.

Same as radio waves traveling to the stars.

Kansas Shakes

Last year Oklahoma was hit by eighty-three tornadoes. Twenty-three citizens were killed on May 14 in Cleveland OK and on May 20 thirteen cyclones struck the state. No one in the state government mentioned global warming as a cause of the upswing, despite temperatures breaking records throughout the summer.

Oklahoma is not only the Buckle in the Bible Belt, but authorities are fiercely anti-science on evolution and climate change.

Kansas has no shortage of flat-earthers judging from the response from oil and gas industry about the increased number of earthquakes due to tracking across the state.

"In Kansas, there's no evidence that the earthquakes are being caused by fracking," said Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey.

Seismologists argue the opposite, since the fracking process requires the injection of 7.5 barrels of salt water to extract on barrel of oil.

Like putting ten pounds of cow paddy in a one pound bag.

Something is bound to break and Kansas is that egg.

Hot As Bangkok

I've been going to Thaialnd since the early 90s.

I quickly learned that April was the hottest time of the year.

2014 will be no exception and according to the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand this coming Sunday the sun will be directly over the City of Cmiles.

It should be a hot one.

Stay cool.

IN THE ABSENCE OF AMNESIA by Peter Nolan Smith on KINDLE

New York in the summer of 1981 was everything it hadn’t been in the winter. The 90+ temperature boiled the asphalt. New Wave had replaced punk and somehow the city had escaped bankruptcy. Money flowed on the streets and even the East Village exhibited signs of regeneration, since abandoned tenements can only be burned so many times before their ashes won’t catch fire.

People had work. Mine was menial construction on an after-hours club along the Hudson River. After paying rent I had enough money for Chinese take-out and beers at CBGBs. I lost weight and thought about robbing a bank. Whenever I entered one, guards placed their hands on the guns like they were armed with ESP.

I was no Jesse James.

Daytime employment was the logical solution to my desperate situation. I had a college degree. My permanent record was clean. I had worked nine-to-fives before and real jobs didn’t kill you, however Arthur, the nightclub owner, had promised the construction crew various jobs once the International opened its doors.

At our previous gig I had coined $500-700 a night. We hoped to open before Labor Day. On August 13th the club was $20,000 short of our goal and construction lurched to a halt, however the International was saved by a cash infusion from a criminal refugee from Odessa. His money was rumored to come from smuggling Tsarist icons. The source was unimportant. The club was a dead issue without his help.

Arthur said that Vadim had a beautiful blonde girlfriend.

“Almost cover girl pretty, but too short to succeed on the runways.”

“Sounds like your old girlfriend.” Danny Gordon, the DJ, had heard that the gangster’s girl came from Buffalo.

“No, that would be too much of a coincidence.”

Last November Lily had left for a modeling job in Milan. I hadn’t heard from her since.

No calls.

No letters.

When I spotted her in a French lingerie magazine, I almost flew to Paris, except she could have been in London, Milan, or Munich, so I remained in New York to be haunted by her imagined footsteps on cobble-stoned European streets.

“Coincidence is destiny crossing paths.”

“No chance of that. Lily’s gone for good.”

“No one leaves the City forever.” Native New Yorkers like Danny considered anywhere other than Manhattan to be purgatory. “She’ll be back.”

“I’ve been dreaming of that day,” I said, but in truth I had been forgetting her piece by piece. The smell of her skin after sex.

Her mocking laugh after I told a bad joke.

Buying leather jackets together. Hers white, mine black, yet some memories had lives of their own.

No matter how many drinks.

No matter how many days.

“Still it would be funny if it was her.” Danny wasn’t letting go either. He had a thing for her. Any man would if she looked his way.

“Funny, but not ha-ha funny.”

“Not for you, but me. I can’t wait to see your face when she walks through the doors.”

I chucked a hammer at his head. It missed by a foot and put a dent in an op-art sculpture from the 60s.

Arthur noticed the damage a week later.

We denied any knowledge of how it got there.

The Russian’s money accelerated the final stages of the construction. The walls were painted lilac purple and the sound system was wired through the club. A Labor Day opening appeared realistic and on the hottest day of summer Danny and I were tearing down a last section of the ceiling. It was a dirty job and rat dust caked my sweating flesh.

The door opened for three shadows.

We lowered our tools.

“Guys, I want you to meet Vadim.” Arthur shouted from the entrance.

A muscular man in his late-20s entered the club wearing a pastel linen suit. We muttered hellos. Mine was silenced by the sight of a slender blonde in snug Versace. Lily’s b-grade beauty was as haughty as a dethroned princess checking into a Holiday Inn.

“So much for the lack of coincidences.” Danny nudged my ribs.

“It’s a small world.” My throat tightened to a knot. “And a long life.”

“Think she recognizes you?” Danny wiped a layer of grime from his face.

“Not unless she looks my way.” My body was black with soot

Her head turned to our perch.

She recognized me and the dice roll of jade green eyes indicated my lack of social progress had not disappointed her low expectations for a punk poet.

“No, she hasn’t forgotten.” Danny laughed at my pained expression, as Vadim, Lily and Arthur disappeared into the office.

Right before our lunch break, Lily and Vadim exited from the office.

She covered her mouth with a scarf.

Vadim shielded his a thick hand and they left the site without a glance in our direction.

By 4pm the ceiling had been replaced and Arthur called it a day.

As the rest of the crew filed from the club, Arthur pulled me aside.

“This isn’t going to be a problem?”

“What?” I played dumb.

“You and Vadim’s girlfriend.” He was serious.

“Lily?”

Over the past year her name had floated in my mind a million times.

This was the first time I had said it.

“Is it a problem?” Émigré Russians from Odessa were notoriously violent.

“No, she’s nothing to me.”

“Good, then stay away from her.” He lifted a finger. “Vadim is a piece of work.”

Obeying his advice wasn’t hard.

On every visit Lily ignored me and I couldn’t blame her. To contunue reading IN THE ABSENCE OF AMNESIA please purchase this novella for $3.99 on Kindle, please going to the following URL http://www.amazon.com/ABSENCE-AMNESIA-Peter-Nolan-Smith-ebook/dp/B00JQSIZZ4

Portland Pee-Pee

Last week a teenager jumped the fence encircling a city reservoir in Portland, Oregon. CCTV caught the young man in the act of urination and the police arrested the perpetrator and his two friends for trespassing. The city water administrator decided that the city residents didn't want their water tainted with urine and emptied the reservoir's 38 million gallons, despite admitting that the health risk was small.

USA Today's headline ran the banner 'Man urinates in reservoir, ruins 38M gallons of water'.

People quickly calculated that the urine amounted to about 1/8 gallon in a reservoir of 38 million gallons amounts to a concentration of 3 parts per billion according to www.slate.com

Drink was most definitely part of this story and beer was probably the cause of his having to take a whizz.

As for the hysterical response by the water administrator and accusations of waste by the public we don't know if the young man had been eating asparagus, which as Babe Ruth once said, "I don't eat asparagus. It make my pee smell."

Actually that's the only Babe Ruth quote I know and it is very true.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Going To Hell

1. An Indian man dies and arrives at the Pearly Gates. “Yes, how can I help?” asks St Peter. “I’m here to meet Jesus,” says the Indian man. St Peter looks over his shoulder and shouts, “Jesus, your cab is here!”

2. What’s the difference between the real Jesus and a picture of Jesus? It only takes one nail to hang up the picture.

3. Did you know that after the crucification, Jesus pretty much lost his sweet tooth? The M&Ms kept falling through the holes in his hands.

4. What did Jesus say when they removed his hands from the cross? *waves arms frantically* FEET FIRST!!

5. What did Jesus say as he was being crucified? “Ahhhhhhhhhhh…!”

Is there any better way to celebrate Good Friday?

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez RIP

“My heart has more rooms in it than a whore house.” ― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

I know the feeling.

I loved reading A HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE.

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez first opened my eyes to South American literature with his novel from 1967 about his liberal grandfather's house in Columbia. The tale of one family careens through several generations living in "Macondo", a city of mirrors that reflected the world in and about it."

Success is trumped by failure and failure is trumped by resignation to destiny.

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez triumphed with this novel and like the family in A HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE he never achieved a greater success.

One is enough for most men and there are few better than A HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE.

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez died at the age of 87 in Mexico City.

In the words of former Columbian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez "Master García Márquez, thanks forever, millions of people in the planet fell in love with our nation fascinated with your lines."

Esta la Veritad.

A Bastion OF Non-Democracy

The Dispatch from U.S. Bogotá Embassy to the US Secretary of State, dated January 16, 1929, stated:

"I have the honor to report that the Bogotá representative of the United Fruit Company told me yesterday that the total number of striking banana workers killed by the Colombian military exceeded 1000."

And the rich got richer.

Lorenzo Dow Baker of United Fruit.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Taking A Friend Home

On the evening of April 15, 1912 the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage across the North Atlantic.

The unsinkable White Star ocean liner sank three hours later with a loss of over a thousand passengers and crew.

Mostly men following the old rule 'women and children first'.

Only 20% of the men survived the disaster.

According to the Bowdoin online magazine one of casualty was Richard White and his classmate and fraternity brother, Frank Arthur Smith, spent his thirtieth birthday in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His was not a pleasure trip.The families of the Titanic passengers had been informed that the bodies of hundreds of the victims had been recovered and trasnported by a steamer to Halifax for identifification.

Frank A. Smith traveled to Nova Scotia on behalf of the White family, who hoped to recover the bodies of both Richard and his father, Percival. Frank waited anxiously at the Halifax Hotel for several days before receiving a telegram from his friend's wife.

“Richard’s body reportedly found[.] better return with it at once... look sharp for my brothers body[.] wire me fully as soon as you can.”

What was thought to be Richard’s body was found clad in a brown suit, wearing white shoes. The man had fair hair and seemed to be carrying Richard’s effects, but the estimated age was listed as thirty-seven. Richard was only twenty-one. Bowdoin sent measurements taken during Richard’s last physical to assist officials in identifying the body.

Finally, after several delays, the steamer arrived in Halifax where the bodies were taken to a make- shift morgue in the city’s curling rink. Frank A. Smith waited as the remains of those in second-class and steerage were unloaded. The corpses were sewn into canvas bags. Unlikely ever to be identified, the men, women, and children were buried in the “the Survivors cannot forget the cry of tortured humanity, facing its death in cold and darkness, despairing, a shrill chorus that carried despair across the quiet starlit waters.”

Frank A. Smith was taken to view body number 169. It was indeed Richard White. The remains were so battered, so ravaged that it was understandable that the body had been thought to be sixteen years older. Richard’s possessions fared better. He had a gold watch, keys, a bloodstone ring, and his Delta Kappa epsilon fraternity pin.

After positively identifying the body, Frank A. Smith inquired about Percival White with officials and checked among the other passengers yet to be identified. There were no bodies matching his description and it was assumed that Richard’s father was lost at sea.

Frank saw that the coffin was sealed and prepared for travel. In Portland he met members of the White family. Richard’s remains were then transported to Winchendon, Massachusetts, and were interred in a private ceremony on May 2.

Frank A. Smith was my grandfather.

He served in WWI as a dcotor.

He married my grandmother Edith.

Sadly he died several months before my birth.

This story was told me by my father.

No one in my family believed it until now.

Then again all stories are true, if interesting.

Winter's Hold

This winter New York's first snow was a light dusting on November 12, 2013.

Two days ago I woke to a white blanket on the backyard below the Fort Greene Observatory.

There wasn't much of an accumulation, however this evening I walked out onto South Oxford Street and muttered, "Damn winter."

The hard season won't release its grip and only last week I enjoyed the warmth of Spring along the River Arno in Firenze.

And that warmth was heaven.

The End Of New York

Last week I walked past the Rizzoli bookstore in Milan, which is located in the Grand Galerie next to Duomo Cathedral. Customers have been walking in and out of that address since 1927 and all they sell are books. The same went for the Rizzoli in New York, until the owners of the building on 57th Street announced that the Manhattan landmark was closing for good and will probably end up as condos for the rich, despite Vornado Realty Trust telling the media that they had no intentions of tearing down the building.

New York is also losing Shakespeare & Company, a bookstore on Lower Broadway.

Its monthly rent was going up to $50,000.

Pearl Paint’s building on Canal Street is joining the ranks of the closed.

This city and especially Manhattan is coming to a point where it's only for the rich.

And they don't deserve it.

Good-bye the piers.

Good-bye Pussycat Lounge.

Good-bye Victory Theater.

They aren't ever coming back

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bullshitters Unite

Last week Francois Nel reported on his blog that more people work in Public Relations than as journalists.

He added that the same goes for the USA and that PRs earn 40% more a year on average than journalists.

Public Relations agents or flaks tell people what to think and journalist tells people their version of the truth.

After the Iraq War I don't see much difference between the two.

It's all bullshit to me.

LONG GONE LONG by Peter Nolan Smith

Paris suffered through a horrendous bombing campaign in 1986. Explosions rocked the French capitol with unexpected frequency. The attacks killed and maimed innocent people throughout the winter and spring, while the Gaullist government played tough guy with the terrorists demanding the release of their imprisoned comrades. The Prime Minister Chirac announced on the radio that France would not submit to blackmail, although everyone in the city understood that a few more victims were destined to join the casualty lists before the two parties agreed on a final price to end hostilities.

The summer passed without any detonations, but that lull was broken by four deadly blasts in September.

One Sunday night explosion on Rue Faux had destroyed the lobby of the Israeli bank on the corner of the Grand Boulevard. No one had been injured in the blast, however the fiery shock wave had shattered every window on the block, torched a dozen cars, and ravaged our nightclub’s ornate entrance.

On Monday morning the owner and I surveyed the wreckage.

“On a la chance.” Serge ran his finger over the heat-blistered interior.

“Yes, we were damn lucky.”

If Le Reve had been open for business, the casualty list would have run into the hundreds.

The comptoir had withstood the shock wave, but scores of bottles had been concussed to shards and the smell of alcohol overwhelmed the odor of charred wood. A mustached man in a rumpled suit clambered over the damaged interior with a callous deliberation. This was not his first time at a crime scene.

Serge introduced me to the police inspector as the 'physionomiste', which meant more a diviner of souls than a doorman.

"L’Amercain." The police investigator pronounced my nationality with an accusatory tone. Ronald Reagan had tested the bonds of 'Lafayette we are here' with an April bombing raid on Libya. The French government had refused the F-16s access to French air space. 1917 was a long way in the past from 1986.

"With an Irish passport and working papers." I presented my documents. Everything was in order.

"Irelandais." Irish translated to IRA and bombs to the cop’s dog brain. "I have a few questions."

“Only a few.” We sat at a charred table. Serge poured cognac from a salvaged bottle. The nightclub impresario was elegant even in his dusty paratrooper overalls.

“It is merely a formality.” The possibility of a thirty-two year-old American heading the ‘dead’ list didn’t deter a police inspector from interrogating 'un estranger' as the primary suspect. He asked the same set of questions a dozen times. I repeated my answers without deviation.

The truth was easier to remember than a lie.

"Thank you for your assistance.” The chain-smoking investigator had not interviewed anyone else on our staff.

They were French.

"Do I need a lawyer?” The French justice system considered everyone guilty until proven innocent and the policeman shook his head with a nicotine laugh. “Not unless you are guilty.”

"I'm not. I was in bed with my girlfriend."

"We will check out your alibi." The 'flic' folded his notebook and exited from the club.

I downed my cognac.

"You try to be so cool, but you run around like a chicken without feet after a few questions by the police." Serge had a knack for messing up American axioms.

"It's 'chicken with its head off'."

"I like my way better." The French were as infallible as the Pope, but his blasé demeanor evaporated upon hearing the contractor say that the repairs would take at least a two weeks.

“This is impossible. I have a business to run." Le Reve was extremely popular with the BCBG of Paris. The young rich from the 16th arrondissement spent their parents' money with an abandonment missing from their bourgeois lives. A bottle of cheap champagne cost 600 francs and a whiskey-coke 120 francs. Le Reve was a cash cow for all concerned parties.

"Today is Monday. Tomorrow I get supplies, Wednesday we take out the wreckage." The wine-nosed contractor recited the litany of this reconstruction to the centime.

"Enough, enough." Serge waved away the contractor, who shrugged with inbred Gallic nonchalance. After his departure he ranted against the sloth of French workers. A few cognacs redirected his rancor to the real culprits.

“C’est le guerre.”

He was right. It was a war.

I bid Serge good-bye and returned home on the Metro. The nervous passengers warily studied unattended bags. Bombs didn't have to be big.

Getting off on my stop in the 15th arrondissement deflated my anxiety. The only potential target on Rue du Basfroi was the Bureau des Objets-Trouves across the street from Maria's atelier and I doubted if anyone was turning in a bomb to Paris' lost and found.

Maria greeted me with a kiss. Her nose wrinkled with a twitch and the thin teenager pushed me away with both hands, as if the odor might have clung to her clothing.

"You smell like a pig barbecued in brandy." Her description of my scent sounded delicious.

"The bar was destroyed by the blast and the front was burnt by the flames."

I took off my jacket and hung it on a hook.

Maria hated a messy apartment.

"It'll be at least a month before we open."

"And you get 'chomage'?" Maria clapped her hands in eager anticipation of my answer.

"I guess I do." We had been together for a year. Sometimes I forgot that the half-French/half-Puerto Rican girl was young, especially in bed with the lights out.

"Then we can go on vacation." The eighteen year-old's and my schedules were in constant conflict. She lived in the day and I had the nights.

"What about your work?" Her modeling agency had been fighting fashion editors to get her a magazine cover. An innocent face surrounded by blondish curls should have been an easy sell, but the better-paying commercials and editorial work in France were reserved for girls with Caucasian roots.

Maria had no chance of passing for white.

"Work is slow." The bombing campaign hurt every aspect of life in Paris. "We could go to America for a week."

"Let me think about it." I hadn't been to my East Village apartment in three years. My subleasee said that Internal Affairs hadn't called for me in six months. Terrorism was safer than facing corrupt NYPD cops.

"You never want to go anywhere." Maria stormed upstairs and slammed shut the bedroom door. Teenage tantrums were her specialty.

At thirty-three I was old enough to be her younger uncle.

She didn't let me into the bedroom until 11. Our bodies didn’t touch that night. Maria didn’t want me around the atelier and I got dressed in heavy boots, jeans, and a leather jacket.

“Where are you going?” Maria asked from under the covers. Her agency had called to say it was closed for the duration of the bombing campaign.

“To check on flights to the USA.” I bought my tickets from an agency in Les Halles.

“As if we are going anywhere.” She pulled the blankets over her head.

I didn’t bother to reply and left the atelier for the Metro.

While we made love with regularity and I told her that I loved her once a day, I couldn't remember the last time the words 'je t'aime' crossed her lips. Something was broken between us and it felt like something neither of us could fix.

The train to Les Halles was empty. The randomness of the attacks frightened people. My travel agency was shut and its closing was not for lunch. I tried to call Maria from a cafe. The phone rang without an answer. She was playing a game and I slammed the receiver into the cradle.

Distant bells tolled the hour and I strolled over to the Marais to light a candle at Eglise St. Gervais. Old habits died hard, even for non-believers.

The sky was dotted with scattering clouds and the September sun warmed the streets. The few girls on the sidewalks sported short dresses. I decided to take a steam at the Hamman on rue Des Rosiers. Inside the sauna I fell asleep on a bench for several hours and then ate a pastrami sandwich at the Rosenburg Deli.

I tried calling Maria's atelier with the same result.

No answer.

It was getting late and I crossed the courtyard of the Hotel de Ville headed for St. Michel. I loved this walk over the Seine and I took off my jacket. The warm weather reminded me of Indian Summer in New England and I smiled at that memory, but not for long.

A powerful detonation knocked me off my feet before a subsonic thud rattled my body. I remained on my knees for at least a half-minute, then checked my limbs. There was no blood. I was untouched by the shrapnel.

As I stood slowly, the loud ringing in my ears was replaced by the screams. Several men and I ran to the nearby post office to wrestle the wounded from the debris. The firemen arrived within minutes. The police ordered us to leave. This was a job for professionals and Paris was a city for the French.

I arrived home and said to Maria, "We should go to America.”

“What changed your mind?” She seemed hesitant, as if she didn’t want to go anywhere with me.

“There was a bomb attack at Hotel de Ville.” I didn’t say that I had been there. “We can go to New York.

“You think I can work there?”

“They love girls like you there.” A mulatto stood a better chance in America, plus a friend was the photo editor for Details and another comrade shot photos for Elle.

"Fantastique. I want to see Disneyworld," she squealed with breathless delight. The French loved Mickey Mouse as much as Jerry Lewis.

"Yes, we can go see Mickey.” I didn’t have the heart to explain that Orlando was over 1200 miles from New York and reaped the benefits of that deceit in bed.

In the morning I opened the atelier windows. A soft breeze carried the traces of Africa. At noon Radio Nova announced that the Chirac government had freed the Lebanese prisoners. Hearing the news, Maria hugged a Mickey Mouse doll.

"Is it over?"

"Yes."

“What about Disneyworld?”

"Let me see what Serge says."

“You promise we see Mickey.” Her feet stamped on the floor. This was not just about Mickey Mouse.

“I have to check on the nightclub.”

Dishes flying at my head was a favorite reaction to not getting her way and I dressed quickly in the same clothes as yesterday. They still smelled of barbecue.

“You can sleep at the club tonight, if you love that place so much.” Maria flung a bottle at my head and I ducked in time.

“I’ll be back.” Flowers and a nice dinner worked wonders.

“Why bother?” Her cold green eyes revealed that we never had been more than two people sharing a bed.

“Why bother?” I blinked in disbelief, but I wasn’t the type to give up without a fight. “I’ll be back later.”

“Suit yourself.” She turned her back on me. I was no longer there even before I left the atelier.

I arrived at Rue Faux, expecting no progress on the club, however a new wall had been erected in my absence. The entrance had been restored to its gaudy glory, liquor bottles had been arranged over the bar, and the dance floor had been shined to the brilliance of a lacquered mirror. Serge stood at the newly refurbished disc jockey booth. Several milk crates filled with records lay at his feet.

“Surprised?” Serge was dressed in a 40s Zoot suit and dropped Willie Bobo’s SPANISH GREASE on the new turntable. The new speakers favored Latino Swing.

“Shocked.” When a French worker says, "Two weeks", he usually meant six weeks.

"A phone call here. A phone call there." His brother held office in the government, the club’s liquor came tax-free from a military base, two of our bouncers were off-duty marines. None of these favors were deemed ’ inappropriate'.

Serge’s head bopped to the flute hitting a high note.

“Opening date is in five days.”

“Damn, I promised Maria a trip to Disneyworld.” I rolled my eyes. “Now we’re opening I’ll have to cancel.”

“Ah, quais, Mssr. Mickey et les filles.”

Having known Maria since she was 14, the suave Parisian was surprised that I had lasted longer than her other boyfriends and cued up Maurice Chevalier’s THANK HEAVEN FOR LITTLE GIRLS.

“If you want to go, go. The workers will take another week at least.”

“Thanks.” I went to the bar to telephone Maria. She hung up a dozen times. Finally she answered and I blurted out, “I have a surprise for you. We’re going to Disneyworld.”

“I can’t. I have a job in Milan.”

“Then we can go to dinner at La Coupole tonight."

”My plane leaves this evening.”

ADDICTED TO LOVE was playing in the background. She hated Robert Palmer’s hit, since she hadn’t been chosen as an android model for the video. Something must have changed her mind.

“Oh.” I hung up and went over to Serge, telling him that I would see him tomorrow.

“Embrace your chouchette for me.”

"Better from you than me."

I exited from the nightclub.

The carless street resembled a scene out of the 1870s. A tent had been erected under a balcony and a young clochard was cutting vegetables into a pot. The thin bum was better dressed than the derelicts sleeping under the Seine bridges, yet a tremor sizzled in my spine, as he lit his stove. It didn’t explode and I flagged a taxi, elated to have survived my fears.

At the atelier Maria was alone. A stubbed cigarette lay in the ashtray. The filter was unstained by lipstick. A man had been here. Maria threw the butt in the trash and packed her bag for Italy. Her good-bye kiss was a peck on the cheek.

The next five days Serge and I worked twenty-hour days. I called the hotel in Milan every evening. The desk clerk explained in bad English that Maria wasn't in her room. I left a message about the opening with the number of Le Reve.

Back at the atelier the phone never rang for me.

The contractor had performed a miracle inspired by money, but five minutes before the doors opened, an electrical surge blew the fuses. Serge found the breakers and switched on the lights. We were ready for business.

Fun-loving Parisians swarmed before Le Reve. Jacques and the two marines held back the horde. I picked and chose old faces to mingle with the young. The crowd at bar piled up three-deep. Serge’s DJing drove the teenagers onto the dance floor and Paris' elite drank with a thirst spurred by surviving the bomb campaign.

Maria showed up unexpectedly with her Puerto Rican father. Johnny ran a small boite de nuit in St. Germain. She looked like an angel on the run in her tight white dress. I offered them a bottle of champagne. Candia's kiss was warm, but before I could hold her in my arms, Jacques tapped my shoulder.

“I need you at the door.” The handsome Martiniquean was quiet-spoken for his size. The young ex-con had already spent too much of his youth behind the walls of La Sante Prison and liked to avoid trouble.

"Someone?" I accompanied Jacques to the door and the black giant pulled apart the curtains.

The young clouchard from down the street was struggling with a lighter.

"He wants to see with you."

“He say why?”

“No,” Jacques had worked breaking and entering before my hiring him to be a bouncer. “You want I make him go away?”

"No." All I had to do was say the word for him to prove his gratitude, but a bum was no threat to anyone. I reached into my pocket. Twenty francs would buy the clouchard a bottle of wine and good luck for Le Reve. “I’ll see what he wants.”

Jacques unlatched the ropes for the quartet of golden youths from the 16th Arrondisement and I pulled out a few spare coins. The bum raised a smiling face and said in English "Hey, you don’t recognize me?"

Squinting I scrapped away the filth.

"Danny?" I hadn't seen Danny Wall since leaving New York three years ago.

"It's me."

I hugged the lanky DJ.

Our embrace was a short-lived, because he stunk of zombie dirt.

“When was the last time you bathed?”

“I didn’t think the French cared about personal hygiene.”

The tale about French men using only one bar of soap a year was no urban myth.

“Hey, I’m an American.” I opened the ropes to the amazement of several waiting customers. “We have a shower in the basement."

"I smell that bad."

"Like you crawled from a grave. Once you're cleaned up, I’ll cuff you a couple of drinks.”

“That’s an offer I can’t refuse,” Danny broke out of his slouch. “I ran into your cousin in New York last year. She said you were here. Didn’t you leave New York right after Viktor Malenski got killed at the Continental?”

“A week later.” An absence of almost four years hadn’t erased my involvement in that deadly night. “I’ve been working in Paris since. I get paid to act rude to the French. Can it get better than that, can it?”

“You’re my new hero.” He nodded to the buxom cashier, who held her nose, as I led the trumpeter to the basement changing room. I opened the taps of the washing room.

"It's all yours."

“Be a new man after that.” Danny stripped off his clothes and climbed into the steam-filled shower stall.

I left the washroom with his tattered clothes, dumped them in the trash bin, and then rummaged through a backstage closet. I found a musty suit from the 1950s, which I hung on the shower room and went upstairs with two cases of champagne.

Serge was waiting at the bar.

“So who is your guest?”

“A friend from New York.” I put down the champagne box and ordered a whiskey.

“So now the Americans are exporting bums to France," Serge scoffed with the immense pleasure of hearing that an Amerlot had plunged to the bottom of the barrel. His happiness was short-lived, for a twenty-minute shower and a suit transformed Danny into a modern-day Casanova for Le Reve’s haughty female clientele.

“You're a new man.” I led him to the bar.

“Same old me, just cleaner.” We toasted the East Village. Maria danced with him twice. Her father knew Danny’s dad. I had another drink. It wasn’t my last.

Maria announced her departure and I gave her a sloppy goodnight kiss.

“You are not so handsome drunk.”

“Everyone else is pretty.”

“Fool.”

“I Love you.”

“You say those words so easy," she spoke with an even sharpness.

“I mean it.” I escorted her to a taxi.

“Then what is love?”

The answer should have been on my lips, but she shut the door before I could think of a good one.

I drank the rest of the night with Danny. As the night drew to a close, I asked the New Yorker. “You have anything in your ‘room’ you want to keep here?”

“No, ain’t nothing worth stealing.”

“What about your trumpet?” His band’s deconstructed version of SONGS FOR MY FATHER with Danny’s neophyte trumpet stubbornly orbiting the free-style band’s chaotic non-melody had been a show-stopper at the Mudd Club in the late-70s.

“I hocked it in Spain.”

“Pawn it? You lived for your music.” If he wasn’t playing his horn than he was spinning records.

“Like you used to live for your poetry.” Danny chugged his whiskey.

“I couldn’t write in meter.” My grammar school nuns had beaten a respect for classical cadence and proper grammar into our knuckles. I had rebelled against the teachings and stopped writing to prove them wrong.

“Your stopping partially inspired my dumping the horn.”

“Please don’t follow my failures.” My blame plate was full. “You could have been another Chet Baker.”

“I’d rather be Horace Silver, but who was I kidding? We sucked and no one cared if we sucked. We were young and pretty. I don’t regret quitting music and DJing and I bet you don’t regret stopping writing either. All that ‘art’ shit was a monkey on our back. Now we can live as real men are supposed to live," Danny spoke with the coolness of a man who had abandoned a woman he didn’t love after seeing her with another man.

“Better than pretending to be Hemingway.” Ghosts of stories still lurked in my skull as half-built ships in dry docks.

"Or Chet Baker." The lean New Yorker pushed back his wavy hair.

"But why are you living on the street. You belong to a cult giving away their possessions?”

“I’m waiting for my ship to come in.” The ex-trumpeter nearly swooned off the stool. “The whiskey kinda went to my head. I’ll be fine once I’m out at sea.”

“Your parents bought you a boat?” His family had money. A fifty-foot catamaran was not beyond their means.

“I’m not taking their money anymore.”

“Yeah, fuck money.” I said, while wishing that his parents adopted me.

“I’m talking about fishing and not the rod-and-reel shit either. Nets and trawlers and thousands of hooks capable of tearing the flesh off your bones. And tons of fish on the wild sea.” His voice climbed an octave with an imagined voyage to the North Atlantic. “Fishing a la Captain Courageous for cod on the deep. Hacking fish from a line, as the ship plows into the sea and resurfaces streaming foam. Fishing in the black of night, the wind___”

“Stop already, I’m seasick.”

“Mal de mer has two cures. Land or drowning.” Danny was possessed by a convert’s devotion for his new profession.

“If you love fishing so much, what are you doing in Paris?”

“A long-line boat from Gloucester is supposed to dock in Brest and I’ll fish the Georges Bank.” Danny picked at a front tooth. It was a little brown with decay.

“When is that?” I had lived in Gloucester. Fishing was a tough both on and off shore.

“Maybe a week. The wait is unimportant, if I’m on a boat in the end.”

“I wish I could offer you a place to stay.” A week was a long time on the street, but even longer at my place.

“Thanks, I’m fine in my humble hovel.” Danny lifted a hand to forestall any extra excuses. “You remember what your cousin said about men wanting a virgin or a whore. Well, I have my girl coming from Madrid. A crazy girl. Young like your girlfriend. Her mother was a flamenco dancer. Elana likes having sex. Her body is insatiable____” Limb by limb Danny reincarnated an ancient sex cult’s goddess, finally accusing her of nymphomania. “It’s no Roman orgy. It’s hard work. You’ll see. Believe me, you’ll see.”

His prediction was almost a curse and that night a super 8 mm porno movie flickered in the shadows of my mind. Maria noticed my distraction and asked, “What are you thinking?”

“About how much I want you.”

"Ouais?" She rolled out of bed to vainly examine my clothes for the telltale signs of infidelity, however the only traces of another woman were in my mind. Unsatisfied by her search the teenager lay on the bed, fiercely clutching her Mickey doll. I reached over to her. She wasn’t having any of me and I fell asleep on my side of the bed.

Danny’s girl sounded too good to be true, but whenever models, dancers from the Paris Ballet, French actresses, artistes, and svelte students from the Sorbonne tried to seduce Danny, he told them, “I’m saving myself for Elana.”

One night Danny didn’t appear at his usual hour and I checked his shack. The canvas sea bag was gone. Paris was as tough a town as New York and two days later I reported his disappearance to the prefecture. The gendarme at the desk joked that people frequently vanished in Paris.

“Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes by mistake.”

I didn’t laugh, but should have, for the next night Danny approached Le Reve, newly shaven with his hair cut. When he hugged me, I smelled a woman’s perfume.

“Let me guess. Your girl came into town.”

“I told you she would." He beamed the joy of a shipwrecked sailor on his first leave.

“I was beginning to believe she was a fragment of your imagination.”

“No, Elana’s the real thing.” Danny looked over his shoulder.

A slender female in a cotton shift crossed Rue Faux. Her black hair was disheveled by the rough touch of a man. Several buttons had been popped from her dress and her cheeks were flushed from exertion. She personified the wraith from my dreams and even more so when Danny whispered, “We had sex on top of the Opera house.”

“Good view.” I envisioned two bodies atop the art-deco palace. One of them was not Danny's.

“We didn’t go there for the view.” Danny introduced us.

“He talks about you.” Elana's serpentine arm encircled his waist.

“What he say?” I led them inside Le Reve.

“That you’re a genius for not wanting to be a genius.” The two clung together to form one body.

“I specialize at failurology.” I ordered three glasses of champagne at the bar and fended off my jealousy. “Here’s to making Danny happy.”

“To everyone’s happiness." Elana stopped my raising the glass. "Yours, mine, and Danny’s.”

“Watch out, my friend.” Danny slapped my back. “Elana has you in her sights.”

“I have a strict rule about sleeping with friend’s girlfriends or wives.”

“I like a man of principle.” Her body melted into his and I feebly excused myself to count cash in the office.

When I returned, the staff and customers had vanished from the bar. Plastic Bertrand’s JET BOY JET GIRL was playing in the basement. I descended the spiral staircase and pushed my way through the bustling crowd to the dance floor.

Danny was in the DJ booth and Elana was writhing against a shining steel pole, then the song segued to The Kingsmen’s raucous MONEY and she stripped off the cotton shift and flung it to a wide-mouthed Serge. She deftly popped a flimsy bra to bare cupcake breasts and her fingers salaciously beckoned the men to join her dance.

My attempt to break through the mob came too late, because Danny leapt into the circle and yanked at Elana's hair. The club-goers were enthralled by the impromptu Apache dance and when the song stopped, the crowd applauded the two dancers.

Serge put on Gainsbourg’s LOVE ON THE BEAT and Elana bowed her head, so a string of black hair bisected her face. This apparition of a lost Mayan princess paralyzed nearly every man in the room and Danny held up an empty glass.

“Hey, man. You’ll break your eyes that way.”

“I liked her dancing.” It had emptied my soul.

“Only liked?” Elana stepped into her dress and stuffed the bra into Danny’s pocket.

‘He loved it.” Danny laughed hard. “And you owe us a drink for the show.”

“More than one.” I ordered the bartender to give Danny and Elana whatever they wanted before leaving the nightclub to clear my head in the cold night air, however a voice said with a Castilian lisp, “I saw your look.”

”What look was that?” I turned to Elana.

“Like devil was trying to buy your soul.” Her face glowed with energy.

“What’s the temptation?”

“You and me naked in warm weather so sweat will form on my belly and___”

“You’re Danny’s girl.”

“Relationships don’t prevent the work of the Devil.” Her hand grasped mine. “I'll tell you a story. I was born in Madrid. My mother she worked as a flamenco dancer and she also took men home. She came from a family of putas. One night she didn’t come back. Where she went, I never found out. My aunt and I moved to Barcelona and she worked the Ramblas. Men came to her room and I hid in the closet. At first I shut my eyes, thinking they were killing her. After a while I watched. Sometimes I had to wait in the corridor with the other children. We played the same games as our parents; only it was a joke, then when I’m twelve a man comes to my aunt. He is handsome. He wants me to watch. Nothing more. My aunt tells me to leave. I say I have already seen her do everything. The man gives us both money. I think one day he will take me too. He never does he touches me. Not when I was thirteen fourteen or even fifteen. I watch and he wouldn’t let me touch myself either. Watch. Nothing else and then one day he stopped coming to see my aunt. Maybe she was too old or I was too old. You know what?”

”What?” I was helpless.

“You look a little like him?”

“I've had never been to Spain."

“That shouldn’t stop you from making my dream come true.” She rubbed her body against mine like a stray cat seeking a home and then slinked into the club, murmuring, “Moi et toi.”

I bit my lip and followed her into Le Reve.

Elana pushed a handsome boy off a stool, as my hand trailed up her thigh hiking the short dress higher.

“You touching me while other men watch thrills every atom in my body." She arched her neck with eyes searing the ceiling. "They want to be you and I want you in me. Can we go someplace?”

A cheap hotel was across the street. No one would miss me for an hour, however my answer died with Maria's entrance. Seeing me with Elana she stormed out of the club and I leaped off the barstool in pursuit.

“What about us?” Elana caught me at the door.

“I’ll have to take a rain check.”

“Rain check?” I didn’t waste any time on translations and chased Maria to the corner. Our fight continued on the cab ride to Rue Danzig and in front of our atelier she tried to hit me with her high heels. I grabbed her arms and begged her forgiveness.

“Why?”

“Because I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve never been with another woman since I met you and you mean more to me than a warm bed.”

These words granted me a temporary absolution and we went upstairs to make love so frantically that our ardor massacred every woman in my life to a first kiss in kindergarten, however in my sleep Elana danced out of the mist, wearing a sheet of sweat. My tongue must have been licking my lips, because Maria punched my arm.

“If you dream about other women, sleep in another bed.”

I wandered into the living room. I was trapped by a ghost. One from the future.

The next night I constructed a bed of pillows in the nightclub office. My preparations were wasted.

Jacques handed a note from Danny.

The New Yorker was going down to his ship in Brest.

Elana was accompanying him to the sea.

Neither of them came back to Paris.

At the end of September Maria left for a photo shoot in the Alps. She phoned the first night to say her boss had invited the fashion team for a weekend hiking trip. I bit my tongue and drank heavier than normal that weekend.

On Sunday Maria called to say they were stranded by a snowstorm.

When she hung up, I convinced myself this was a fling and everything would be like it was before, otherwise she would have never bothered with the call.

The day of her return I cleaned the apartment, bought flowers, chilled a bottle of champagne, and sprayed a perfume on the bed.

Maria arrived late. A silver fur coat adorned cinnamon skin untouched by the alpine sun and my heart crumpled like a cheap beer can. The telephone rang and she snatched the receiver out of my hand. After several whispers Maria announced, “I have to meet a client at the Hotel Crillion for dinner.”

“Go ahead.”

She departed without mentioning what time to expect her home.

It wouldn’t be early.

I had dinner at La Coupole and took a taxi to the club. It was an off night and I ordered a whiskey-coke. By 3AM I drank myself partially deaf and dumb.

“What’s wrong?” Serge stopped my dancing on a stool to Arthur Lee’s HEY JOE.

“Nothing another whiskey-coke wouldn’t cure.” I shouted for a refill and Serge annulled my order.

“Go home and sleep this off?”

“A house is not a home.” I staggered to the entrance and a runway model from Baltimore waylaid my departure. “Care to join me for a nightcap.”

“Where?” A bottle of champagne was waiting in a bucket of melted ice back at the atelier.

“Where is unimportant.” She whispered an obscene proposal. Her idea of a nightcap differed from mine. “So?”

My girlfriend was probably making love to another man, however I preferred to hold the high moral ground.

“Another night.”

“Another night?” The beautiful redhead graced the cover of Elle. No male in their right mind had refused her favors. “You’re making a big mistake.”

“It won’t be the first or the biggest.” I weaved out of the club and trudged toward the Seine. The river lay between the two banks like a spill of octopus ink and I lifted my leg onto the parapet. I was in no condition to swim.

“Eh, vous.” A fat policeman appeared out of the gloom and I ran off the bridge, as the flic yelled, “Arrête, arrête.”

I outran the fat cop and marched relentlessly to the 15th arrondisement, realizing while I might not forget this trespass, I could forgive Maria's sin. I just needed the chance.

Reaching the Impasse Danzig I lifted my eyes. The lights in the atelier were off. My key turned in the lock. The door opened with a creak. An empty champagne bottle was on the floor between shiny Gucci loafers. They were neither my size nor style. A man moaned behind the closed bedroom door and I charged with a roar. A balding man lifted his arms too late to deflect my fist and he tumbled semi-conscious onto the floor. I threw Maria on the floor. The girl nursing my cold, the lover cuddling me after sex, and the dinner companion laughing at my jokes were gone.

“Why?”

“You know why,” she spat with an unrecognizable hostility. “You never loved me. You loved a ghost. A ghost of a woman that does not exist.”

I envisioned a deadly blow, police, and trial.

No French court had convicted a man of a crime de passion, but my blow would have been revenge for her speaking the truth.

I chucked the Mickey Mouse telephone through the window into the street. The man’s suit and shoes followed it out the broken window as a petty act of vengeance, after which I scourged the couple from the apartment with the frayed wire.

Maria's mother lived next door and I heard the two women yelling about the police. It was time to go and I packed my clothes, journals, tape deck, camera, and photos. Five minutes later I fled the apartment and hailed a taxi on the nearest boulevard. The hour and my bag explained the story and the unshaven driver shrugged knowingly, “Un hotel?”

“Ouais, le Hotel Marais.” My accelerated breathing worried the driver, who asked, “Mssr., vous etes okay?”

“Ouais.” I lowered the window. The cold air failed to pluck the splintered razors from my lungs. A bottle of tranquilizers rested in my coat. Three or four were on the menu. It took the driver 20 minutes to reach Rue Des Ecouffes. I paid with a 100-franc note.

“Keep the change.”

The morning sky was fettered by glowering gray clouds offering no dawn.

“Merci.” He drove away to pick up a couple holding hands.

I entered the hotel lobby with my hand gripping the bottle of tranks. An old woman was asleep at the desk. Waking her seemed a sin, except I had nearly broken the 5th Commandment twenty minutes before. I rang the bell and she blinked several times before recognizing my face from the previous stay.

“Ah, Mssr., je imagine que vous voulez une chambre.”

“Une chambre pour un nuit.” A room with a bath fulfilled my physical needs.

“Chambre 312.” She passed over a brass key and indicated the stairs.

It was the room from before.

I climbed the three flights and entered the room to sit on the soft bed and weigh my options. Downing the whole pill bottle was only one route. The window was another choice. Neither would save my soul and I dropped three pills. The rest would have to wait for a more desperate occasion.

I woke to the shouts of the little gangsters on Rue des Ecouffes. The bells from a nearby church toned out the noon hour. The throbbing of my hangover was replaced by the resurrection of Candia’s infidelity. She had brought her lover on purpose. Jack Lemmon must have felt the same way in THE APARTMENT when he realized Shirley McLaine was having an affair with his boss, Fred MacMurray.

My hands mimicked the act of strangulation. I choked her dead. Thin air was no replacement for Maria's’s neck, except I was only a murderer in my most grievous thoughts.

I spent the next few minutes tearing up the photos of Maria naked in the changing cabinets of the Piscine Deligny, singing in Clermont-Fernand, and visiting her grandmother in Vichy. The shreds built a pyre in the hotel ashtray and burned with a chemical speed. The flames wrinkled her face and an acrid fume corkscrewed into my nose. Fearing Maria might invade my body, I flushed the flaming photos down the toilet, and left the hotel for a drink.

The October wind hurried me to the Tartine on Rue Du Rivoli and I sat on the terrace sheltered by a glass wall. The waitress wrote down my order of a cafe au lait, croissant, and two shots of Calvados before disappearing inside.

Waiting for my breakfast I regarded the passing couples with hatred. Two more Calvados numbed my senses to the grisly weather and diminished the bite of Candia’s words. After a fifth applejack I failed to register someone sitting beside me, until he lit a cigarette.

“I’ve been looking for you.” Judging from the stubble Serge had not woken at his apartment.

“Why?” My face was numb from the alcohol.

“I called your house this morning and spoke with your girlfriend.” Serge signaled to the waiter for another round.

“More like my girlfiend.” Dropping an ‘r’ from friend was lost on the Frenchman.

“What the bitch say for herself?”

“She is worried about you.” Serge’s eyes pursued two schoolgirls.

“If she cared about me, why she bring home that man?” I blew into my hands, envying his freedom.

“You Americans treat women as men. They are women and we have to protect the double standard, otherwise the battle between man and woman will be lost.” Serge waved to a model heading to a casting call. “You allowed her to have affairs and she concluded you did not care about her.”

“I almost killed her.”

“C’est vrai, and now she appreciates you.”

“Appreciates me?”

“Yes, a woman is a horse. You hold the reins tight and the horse will throw you. Too loose and she will run away.” He slapped his hands together. “Yeei.”

“You’ve been watching too many cowboy movies.” My parents had reared me to not hit a woman and it was their one rule that I had obeyed without question up to last night.

“The caveman drags a woman by the hair to the cave.” Serge inhaled deeply on his cigarette. “They have a little corps-a-corps. She stays with him. Not the man who lets her ugh-ugh with another caveman.”

The only drawings of a Neanderthals dragging a woman by her hair existed as TV cartoons, however man’s dominance over woman needed no historical proof in France.

“This is the almost the 21st Century.”

“Eh, alors, the collapse of classic family structures reinforces the need to establish a rapport de force.” Serge stubbed out his cigarette. “Yell at her, hit her, and make love. She expects you to act like a man, not a Mickey Mouse.”

“Couldn’t I be another animal?”

“No, you are not a dog, you are not an ape. You are a man.” My passivity ignited his machismo for my own good. “I have seen you throw Brigitte Bardot out of a nightclub. Your friend Danny talked about your fights with the Russian mafia. Are you going to let a teenager push you around?”

“Sometimes you have to know when to do nothing.”

“If you let this wound bleed, you will be no good for the next woman you meet.”

”I’m done with women.”

“Ha, there is always another woman. A plus tard.”

To prove his thesis Serge stalked a fashionably-attired woman in her thirties.

Within a few paces she rewarded his boldness with a smile and they linked arms.

Serge was right and I sung I’M A MAN after paying my bill.

Restrengthened by the Yardbirds song, I shambled to the boulevard, foreseeing my kicking in the door, except every taxi was occupied and the urge to reclaim Maria was humbled by the wait. My problem with Maria had nothing to do with her infidelity and I returned to the hotel not wanting to leave my room.

Two nights later Maria came to the club and asked for a second chance. It was more like the fifth. I said yes. We slept together three nights and I got a venereal disease. She said it came from a toilet seat. Our final good-bye was at the VD clinic.

I bought a typewriter and wrote a novella about a nightclub owner being offered fame and fortune by Satan. A French production company invested money in a script of GO-GO GIRLS FROM HELL. Serge hired three models to cut a record TAKE ME HIGHER. The three models got pregnant from their boyfriends and blamed me for the miracle of Immaculate Conception. The hundred sample records of TAKE ME HIGHER arrived warped as potato chips and the film company lost interest without the girls. I had nothing keeping me in Paris and bought a one-way ticket to America from a travel agency on the Boulevard St. Paul.

A taxi got me to Charles de Gaulle Aeroport with an hour to spare. I dumped my spare change into the charity bowl for children. There were no good-byes.

My parents didn’t question my return and I celebrated a family Christmas with the usual trimmings. My brothers and sisters sensed my smiles were superficial and asked me to stay, except Boston was too small after Paris and New York.

The Amtrak train took five hours to reach Penn Station. A taxi drove me to East 10th street. My apartment was small after living in Maria's atelier, but the pizza at Stromboli’s was good and TV was in English. My friends initially greeted me with suspicion, since any absence from the city was regarded an act of treason to New Yorkers.

At the end of January I instructed Serge to sell my share of the club. He warned that this was an imprudent business move. I told him I needed the cash and the money arrived the end of January.

An albino producer hired me to write a screenplay. We spent the winter in the Berkshire Hills, fleshing out a tale about a young mistress inheriting an offshore island in the Keys. He had me sign over the rights to WHERE THE HIGHWAY ENDS for $10,000 and a 1964 Triumph Tiger. The movie never made it to film.

Life was comfortable. A doorman job at a nightclub paid my rent. I worked five days a week. My days and nights were a habit of routine. I saw them lasting forever.

In late April I was rolling on the Triumph along 3rd Avenue after a rainstorm. Not many people were on the streets; a trio of addicts on 14th Street, two junkie whores working the car traffic of 13th Street, and at 12th Street a raven-haired girl in a long leather trench coat struggling with a bald man in denim.

When he slapped her, I jammed on the brakes and the bike skidded on the wet pavement to halt a foot from the couple. Her assailant unbuttoned his jacket. A gun was tucked into his waistband. Any sane man would have roared away like an A-4 jet slingshot off an aircraft carrier deck, instead I warned, “Don’t touch the girl again.”

“You want a piece?” He wrenched apart her coat. She wasn’t wearing any clothes underneath. A vee of pubic hair fluffed below the pouting belly. The pimp forced her forward by a shank of hair. “Sometimes we have force them into what they like?”

The streetlight hit the face.

“Elana.”

“You two’ve met before?” The bald man relaxed his grip.

"In Paris."

"You really do get around."

"Fuck you." Elana dug a high heel into his foot and she jumped on my bike. “Go, go, go.”

We burned a red light at St. Mark’s and she snuggled against my spine.

“You happy to see me?”

“Yeah.”

"Take me someplace."

I drove to a bar far from 3rd Avenue. The three old drunks on the stools straightened their postures for Elana. I ordered two beers from the bartender and led her into a dark corner. Lifting the tail of her coat, Elana sat on my lap and her rounded ass settled into my crotch.

“I liked your lips in Paris.”

“I haven’t forgotten yours.”

“We weren’t so lucky that night.”

“Where’s Danny?” I had to ask. He was a friend.

“Danny and me go to Brest. His boat comes in. He says to meet him in two months. I wave good-bye and cry. I work in a dance bar in Amsterdam.” The intonation on ‘dance bar’ meant a strip club. “I make money. You like my dancing?”

“Who can I forget?” Her dance at the Reve was acid-etched onto my retinas.

“Never I hope.” Elana wriggled sinuously, as her reptile tongue slithered into my mouth and I fell without any safety ropes to haul me from the chasm. Finally she released her hold. “Many men love me in Amsterdam. I meet this bald man and he buys me a ticket to New York, so I can find Danny. We arrive this afternoon and this night two friends visit his place. They want a ménage a quatre. I refuse and he beats me.”

Elana pressed my fingers to the raised welts on her belly. The story was simple and they always are with the worst parts are left out. My muscles tensed into knots. She opened my fingers and guided my hand underneath her coat.

“That doesn’t matter any more. I need you. You tell me where first.”

No man can retain his sanity after hearing such an offer, but I only had time to lose half my mind, because the bald man shouted from three feet away, “You bitch.”

How he found us was unimportant and I shoved Elana at him.

She scratched his face. Her attack opened his defenses for a hard-swung beer bottle. Blood spurted from a gash in his forehead and he fell to his knees, pistol in hand. One kick to the skull and he flopped to the floor. The bald man had paid more for the sins of others as well as his own.

Elana deftly rifled the man’s pockets. The bartender shouted he was calling the police. Brandishing a wallet and keys, she jumped to her feet and grabbed my hand. We ran to my Triumph.

The bike started with a backfire and we roared away from the bar. My temples pounded faster than the pistons of the 650cc engine and I wondered if the entire episode had been a cheap thrill. A glimpse over my shoulder revealed the bald man wasn’t a joke.

“We go to his place, get my clothes, and then you can have me any way you desire.” Elana directed me along the empty streets to a decrepit three-story building in Chinatown, where she slipped off the bike.

“I’ll be a minute.”

The door slammed shut and my hand revved the gas. Leaving was the smartest thing to do. I waited. Two minutes later Elana emerged with one bag.

"I half-expected you to be gone."

"I'm not going anywhere this time."

"So this is a raincheck?"

"Yes."

"Good.” Her arms curled around my chest and she nipped at my ear. “Let’s go to your place. Fast.”

We reached East 10th Street in less than two minutes and climbed three flights to my apartment in thirty seconds. I opened the door and she scampered into the unlit bedroom. Shucking her leather coat she fell on the mattress to become a carbon-black shadow on the white sheets.

“Come to me.”

I knelt between her legs and she locked her ankles around my hips to guide me deep inside her, saying, “Oh, yeah.”

With each orgasm Elana shape-shifted from vivid temple whore to virginal lover to hardened streetwalker to an aging courtesan, and finally an old lover telling a dirty bedtime story. There was no bald man, no Danny, no New York, no Paris, no anything. When I tried to roll off, she held on. “Stay in me longer.”

She aroused me once more with her fingernails feathering my flesh. She hadn’t learned this technique at dance school.

“You bitch.” I grabbed a length of hair.

“I’m whoever you want me to be.” Her hands peeled her ass cheeks and I followed her darkest wish, this time for an hour and the next time to dawn and sleep.

I woke in bed alone, but Elana was no Cinderella. The water was running in the kitchen tub. Elana rested under a steaming surface with her black hair fanned on the curved edge, so she resembled a fairy-tale princess in slumber. With closed eyes Elana asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Would it matter, if I did?”

“Not this time.” She lolled her head and I pressed my thumbs into the taut muscles of her neck.

Her sibilant moan verified if I didn’t have a girlfriend, I did now and she stood up in the bath.

“Are you scared?” Elana was five foot-four and weighed a hundred pounds.

“I can deal with you.” I wrapped her in a towel.

“You know that story I tell you about that man. I go look for him everywhere last year. In the end I find is you.” She let the towel fall to the floor. "I will kiss your skin and kiss your heart. I will kiss your body.”

I let her fulfill this promise during our next three days in bed. The number of times we spoke could be counted on one hand, because words would have rotted the bonds of flesh. On the fourth evening Elana dressed in a black plastic dress and a matching coat.

“We’re going for a ride. I’ll tell you where, when we get there.”

The night air was warm and the trees were budding bright green leaves. My bike sped us downtown to under the Brooklyn Bridge. Elana tapped my shoulder and pointed to the concrete bumper encircling the Manhattan support tower. Upon reaching the concrete causeway to the bridge tower, she ordered me to stop.
“I have a special place to show you. It was in this movie WOLFEN.

“WOLFEN had a scene on top of the bridge.” I had seen the urban tale of werewolves several times. “There’s nothing here.”

“Only you and me.” She crawled through a breach in the chain link fence and walked out on the corroding concrete bumper. A tug hauling a barge blew its horn and its wake lapped at the pier. Traffic hummed overhead on the bridge’s steel gratings.

“I saw this pier in the background of the movie.” Elana placed her hands against the tower’s base. “You can feel the power of the city in the stones. Vibrating with a hum. Feel it through me now.”

“Here?” No one was in sight.

“Now.” Now had one meaning and afterwards she said breathlessly, “I have some more places to visit too.”

Elana was wild and I had no intention of taming her.

Out on a fire-twisted Hudson pier we coupled with total rejection of self-preservation.

Inside an elevator stopped between floors with the alarm blaring I brought her to orgasm with my tongue.

During a downpour we fucked against a post office wall, her skirt pushed above her hips and shirt opened to the waist.

Neither of us ever noticed the passers-by. Once we were joined together, nothing and nobody was pulling us part. After a handful of such episodes I understood that Elana’s insatiability was destined to break me and I was beyond caring whether the wreckage was my body or soul.

I took her to see my favorite film, Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT with Jack Lemmon and Shirley McClaine, who was Warren Beatty's brother.

"Why do you like that film? The man gets hurt by the woman. He gets hurt by everyone. Is that what you want?"

"I liked it as a boy." I liked it as a man too.

"You're not a boy anymore

The word ‘love’ was forming on my lips and other people loved Elana too. The homeless people on Avenue A called out her name. She always had a spare change. The police cars whooped in passing. She flashed her ass. The kids in the park loved to see her dance. She befriended the old Puerto Rican lady across the hall. They would sit in Mrs. Adorno's kitchen and laugh at the Latin DJ’s jokes. Whenever I asked what was so funny, they laughed harder.

Elana attended the dance classes at the community center opposite my apartment. From my fire escape I observed her lewd spinning around a pole. This move offended the modernists, until a lascivious gesture dissipated their resistance and they gathered around the heretic like moths in a fiery maelstrom for a reward of raw abandonment to which I was no stranger.

Elana returned from these classes to perform Salome to the music from the movie, VAMPYROS LESBOS, an earth nymph to Joni Mitchell or a jazzy waif to John Coltrane. Sapped of her reserves, she would collapse on the sofa and softly beckon me to take her.

One night as we lazed in the sexual afterglow, she said, “You not love me for me.”

“It’s not that I don’t love you.”

“You are scared I can hurt you.”

“Sorry.”

“Not be sorry. You wanting my body is fine. I want you the same way. One girl in the dance class has seen you spying us. I told her you were my boyfriend. She wants to meet you. Can you do two women at one time?”

“I can satisfy you, can’t I?” I dragged her into the bedroom and my heart nearly burst through my ribcage to prove my ardor.

She was ready for more and said, “I win.”

She was right.

I wanted more from her. Walks in the rain and fireside chats were becoming more appealing than sex.

Tat evening I returned to the apartment with flowers and found Elana was underneath a heavy-bodied female. She reached out with a rehearsed lethargy. Walks in the rain were put on hold. I dropped the flowers on the kitchen table.

Powerless days elapsed with the decreasing need for what she was more than willing to give without my telling her that I wanted something else. We were locked in the language of sex. My fingers entered secret passages, my tongue explored caves, and my penis was swallowed to the root, then one morning the phone rang at dawn.

The ringing continued throughout her free-fall of orgasms and I tried to knock the phone off the hook. She blocked my hand and held the receiver to her ear. Hearing the voice on the other end she squealed with an unbridled joy.

“I’ll come to you.”

The caller was Danny and I smiled to hide my heart crumbling to dust.

“Where is he?”

“Gloucester.” She stroked my side. “Is it far?”

“Far enough? When are you leaving?”

“Today, if you give me the money for a bus.”

I swallowed hard.

“Not tomorrow?”

“No, I have to leave today.”

“Get packed and I’ll drive you to the Bus Terminal.”

She collected her few belongings and informed my neighbor about her departure.

The old bruja kissed her forehead.

“Buena Suerta.”

Driving to Port Authority I contemplated leaving her on the street, except too many women had vanished from the bus station and I bought a round-trip ticket to Gloucester, thinking one day she might use the return half.

At the gate for Boston, she said, “You knew one day he will call.”

“But not this soon.” I got no explanation how Danny knew she was at my place.

“I had fun.” Elana motioned for the driver to wait a second.

“Laughs too.” I was deaf to my heart begging her to stay. “You better hurry.”

She kissed my cheek and boarded the bus, which pulled away in a choking cloud of exhaust. I panicked and ran to my bike. The bus route was straight up 8th Avenue. I arrived outside to find a Midtown cop writing a parking ticket and he wasn’t buying any love story.

Back on East 10th Street I purged my apartment of scent-saturated sheets, soiled panties, stray stockings, lipstick tubes, make-up, nail polish remover, combs, brushes, and hairpins.

Within two hours my place was as devoid of female accoutrements as a Trappist monk’s cell.

Not the way I liked it, simply the way it was.

The spring rains washed the dirt from the streets. Thunder echoed across the city and lightning slashed jagged bolts through the sky like a celestial film crew was remaking THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW. Every song was written about Elana and I was tossed out of several bars for punching out the jukebox.

Other women had lips too thin and their eyes dead from too many boyfriends.

I begged the old Puerto Rican lady to exorcise Elana from my soul.

“You tell her stay?” Mrs. Adorno asked in broken English.

“No, she wanted to go, so she went.”

“Stupido, you no say no go, she go. You say stay, she stay.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I am a witch.” The old lady slammed her door. “Not your mother.”

May plowed relentlessly into June. Couples strolled hand in hand and I woke day after day alone in my bed. Summer promised much more of the same, then one morning someone jiggled my front door. The East Village was overrun by thieves. I grabbed my baseball bat and ripped open the door.

”Don’t hit me.” Elana cringed in the hallway.

“I won’t hit you.” It took a couple of seconds to lower the bat.

“You mad?” She leaned against the door.

“No, surprised.” She had a black eye and wore a thin cotton shift.

Everything else was in a paper bag.

“And Danny?”

Heart-rending sobs racked her body and the old señora leaned out her door, her left eye armed for a hex. Elana rattled off an explanation in English and added, “He’s not bad man.”

“You take care of her or else.” The wizened witch warned with a wavering finger.

“I will.” As a superstitious Irish-American I feared her ‘or else’ worse than any hell promised by the nuns and priests.

Elana was sitting on my living room couch.

I joined her and she laid her head on my lap. Her tears dried on my jeans and she regained her breath. The window was open and music played from the dance studio. It was Isaac Hayes' version of BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX.

“I get to Gloucester and Danny is very happy." Elana wiped her nose with the back of her hand and then continued, "We move to an old boat in the harbor and make love for many days. After two months I ask him to marry me.”

Her confession chipped at my heart.

“Danny goes crazy. He throws me out of the boat. He beats me, telling me I am trying to steal his freedom. I stay on his boat and cry myself to sleep. I wake up, Danny is gone to sea. I wait one week. He stays at sea. Where can I go? Not home. I come here. You are my only friend. Can I stay with you?”

“As long as you want.” Maybe forever.

“It has been so long.” She stripped off her clothes to reveal the fading belt marks and bruises, but she sighed, “They will leave. I will not.”

The door remained shut for days. She was my slave and I hers. Somehow the sex was different and I put my finger on this change one afternoon, as we lay naked on my bed.

Elana’s lips were moving in what I thought was a slattern incantation, but then I deciphered two repeated syllables. With her eyes closed I was Danny. This substituted identity sobered my lust and I rolled off her.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m tired.”

Like that the end began.

Each time she tried to seduce me with her hands or mouth or body, I said I wasn’t in the mood. Frustrated she would storm off to the old senora. I quelled my discontent with drink and drugs, a deadly combination on a motorcycle. One night I fell through the door in a near-stupor.

“You should not drive in that condition.” Elana helped me to bed.

“Why not?”

“I was waiting for you.”

“Why? Couldn’t you find one of your little dancers or another version of Danny?”

Her face went white and she ran into the bedroom.

Comforting her was a small price to pay. Perhaps one day she might have called my name. My pride argued I didn’t need her. It didn’t take long to discover the penalty of my self-deceit.

When I crawled into bed around dawn, ready to repent, she showed her back.

That afternoon I told her, “Elana, my sister is coming to the city.”

“I have to leave?” Her feet slowed across the floor.

“Do you have anyplace to go?”

“Yes, I will stay with friends.” She stood without mentioning who those friends might be and I left before I regretted my lie.

When I returned, she was gone. A quick check of my apartment revealed that she had stolen a couple hundred dollars. It seemed a small price to pay for her leaving, only I was hiding the real cost.

The old lady across the hall asked about Elana.

“No se.” There was no note.

Wicked Spanish hissed from her lips and I fled inside my apartment too late. Chicken bones were scattered on my door step and Mrs. Adorno's cackling curse filled the hallway.

"No more mujeres."

And I didn't have any women.

Some women sought to be friends and others thought I was gay.

Mrs. Adorno seemed to shrink every week of this curse and I searched the streets of the East Village for Elana. No one would say where she was, even though I could tell they knew.

In early autumn I ran into Danny at a gallery opening for his friend, Jean-Michel. His face was weathered by the sea. I lunged at him and people had to hold us apart, but finally I calmed down and he asked, “What did Elana say to you?”

“That you had beaten her.”

“I never touched her.” Danny grabbed at a passing glass of wine. I took another.

Like me he wasn’t a woman-beater.

“I wasn’t pissed at you for taking care of Elana. When she came up to Gloucester I could tell it was over between us. We only had sex that first night and the rest of the time she would look out the window at the harbor.”

“You lived in a house?”

“On a wharf really.”

I knew Gloucester and bet the wharf was on Rocky Neck. “She lied about that?”

“She tell you a story about her mother abandoning her?” Danny’s eyes went sad. “I met her mother and father in Madrid. They had a dance school. Nice people."

"What about the mystery man?"

"She tells that story, because she thinks that's what men want to hear."

"Why?"

"Because she thought she wasn’t enough to be who she wanted to be?”

“I didn’t see her that way.”

”Neither did I, but she did.”

“So now what?” The belt marks and bruises had come from somewhere, but that somewhere was not Danny.

“Let’s get drunk.” We drank whiskey at the Odeon. He slept over my apartment and in the morning left for Gloucester. I wished him luck.

Leaves fell from the trees. The air grew cold. I saw my friends, drank at bars, and told stories about Paris. Their laughter proved that tragedies could become comedies with time.

The night before Halloween I was sitting on my Triumph before Madame Rosa's near the Holland Tunnel. A yellow taxi pulled into the alley and stopped a foot from my bike. A blonde in a black leather cuirass and steel-strapped girdle emerged from the Checker. The Devil would have been proud of how this sadistic apparition paralyzed every man on the street and her unworldly eyes trawled for prey to settle on me.

“Elana.” I revved the engine.

“I’m happy you have not forgotten me.” She threw a leg over my bike. “Let’s go. Anywhere.”

My heart thumped through five gears. Within minutes we were on 10th Street. Twenty seconds after my apartment slammed shut, we were naked. It was like our first night. Neither of us held anything in reserve and the pleasure became a pain, which I quelled with a stuttered ejaculation.

As I strained to regain my breath, Elana explained, “You throw me out. These punks from the park live in a squat. We live as animals and are animals with each other. Not washing and eating food we find in the trash, fucking like savages. Soon the men only want me. The other women hate me. One day I meet this woman. She and I perform dominatrix shows for businessmen. They love us. We are the best. This girl and I start a business. I have a loft and a beautiful girlfriend. I thank you for throwing me out.”

“You didn’t come to tell me that.”

“No, the old senorita told me she had placed a curse on you and the only way for it to come off was for me to make love to you.”

“Thank you.”

"You fucked me, but didn't deserve that."

“Why the stories? About Danny? About the man in Madrid. About everything? Did you really love Danny?”

“Yes, and you too. You both only wanted me for sex and I gave myself freely, but not anymore. Men pay me $500 for an hour. There is no way even a thousand free orgasms can add up to an hour, but life is way too long not to fall in love and I have that with this woman. The sex is good. Everything else is so much better. Maybe you helped me to understand that. Maybe you didn’t, but I’m almost happy now. Happy to be me and not a fairy tale for someone else like your stupid movie THE APARTMENT. You told me to watch it, but it was just a movie. Nothing else and you’re not either man in the movie. You’re not bad and you’re not good. You’re just you and no one else.”

She re-attached the leather and buckles and clips with the care of a samurai suiting for battle and slowly counted out $400.

“I owe you that.”

“Where are you going?” I felt more like me than I had in a long time.

“Uptown. A priest needs a succubus to a ritual crucifixion.” She offered a full view of her body, as her gloved hand reached for the door. “Do I look like a goddess ready to die for her sins?”

“Yes, and one who will have a million worshippers.” I was one of them. Saying I love her might change everything. I said nothing instead. She already had someone to love.

“I’ll be seeing you.” She went to the door.

“I hope so.” This was a good an ending as I could hope for the both of us, although for weeks afterwards I searched the Daily News’ police reports without reading about the discovery of a crucified woman matching her description.

No one saw her again.

Not me.

Not Danny.

Not the old lady across the hallway.

At least the chicken bones vanished from my doorstep and this said Elana was fine.

I was too, but I had been a fool to love a woman who didn’t love me and an even greater fool to not love someone who loved me, but I was happy to know in the future I would be a fool again. Any sinner will be as long as they’re willing forget the past, forgive the present, and live for the future.