Sunday, September 28, 2014

HUNG by Peter Nolan Smith

The Village in New York had always attracted a kaleidoscope of radical, deviant, and perverse characters considered abhorrent by mainstream America. The Reds gave way to the beatniks. They evolved into the hippies, who surrendered the counterculture ghetto to the junkies, artists, punks and sexual revolutionaries of the 1970s.

In 1977 I lived on East 10th Street with Alice, my hillbilly girlfriend, and my faux-sister Pip rented an apartment off Bleecker Street. She called me Pud. We had met at CBGBs, which was our Lincoln Center. The owner couldn’t figure out how we got so drunk on one drink. It wasn’t magic. Pip and I smuggled bottles of vodka past Merv at the door.

One spring evening the Ghosts were opening for the Dictators. My girlfriend didn’t like either band, so I went alone. Pip was seated at a table near the stage. Our chairs were against the wall. She filled our glasses with vodka and coke. We had no ice. The Ghosts played a blistering set and closed out the show with RICHARD IS A FORKHEAD. There was no encore and the juvenile guitarist came over before heading to the dressing room.

“You mind.” Xcessive pointed to Pip’s glass. He had spotted our trick.

“Not at all.” My ‘sister’ was sweet on young punk rockers.

Xcessive drained the glass and coughed a little before wiping his mouth.

“Thanks.”

“Good show.”

“I tried.”

I watched the young guitarist thread through his admirers by the stage and said to Pip, “Isn’t he a little young for you?”

“He’s just a friend. Same as you.”

The cheery NYU coed had a crush on most of the men on the scene, but many of the girls at CBGBs suffered the same affliction. This was the 70s and not the 50s. None of us were going steady, although I struggled to be faithful to Alice. “Besides I have my eye on my new neighbor. He’s really cute. His name’s Marc Stevens.”

“Marc Stevens?”

“You know him?”

“I don’t know him personally, but he’s known as Mr. 10 1/2.” The well-hung actor was John Holmes’ rival in the XXX film industry.

“Mr. 10 ½?”

“Yes, 10 ½ inches.” I had seen him dancing naked covered in silver body paint at Studio 54. His penis had looked a normal size that evening.

“Oh.”

“He was the star of THE DEVIL AND MRS. JONES.”

“I don’t know that film.” Pip was studying literature at NYU. Her professors expected their students to read MADAME BOVARY and Camus’ THE PLAGUE, not stroke books.

“And I wouldn’t expect anything else.” The francophiles intellectuals had no use for pornography other than THE STORY OF O and I gave Pip a 10-minute course in XXX films from DEEP THROAT to BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR. Her eyes shined with joy. She loved celebrities.

“He’s living with this girl, Jill Monro.”

“Jill’s no girl. She had an operation to change her penis into a vagina. She’s the first tranny movie star."

“No.” Fame and weird was exciting to the young student from the suburbs of Greenwich. “I can’t believe I know a transvestite.”

“Transsexual.” They were two different creatures.

She kissed my cheek for explaining the birds and bees of a hidden sect.

“I love you, Pud.”

Not everyone held porno actors in esteem, but I haunted the Times Squares peepshows in search of arcane films. My hillbilly girlfriend had no idea about my research. It was a secret I kept close to my heart.

That May Pip decided to throw a party for several Geminis. An underground designer of nightclubs decorated her apartment. She had invited a hundred people. Over 200 crammed into the duplex. I knew many of them, since I was one of the birthday boys.

"I hear Mr. 10 ½ is coming," Klaus whispered in my ear. The German opera singer was a fiend of size and he shivered saying, "10 ½. Divine."

Klaus and I discussed gay prone films, as if we were voting for the Oscars. My hillbilly girlfriend didn’t drink and Alice wandered off to CBGBs. A minute later a curly-haired man came up to me and said, “I thought she would never leave. My name is Mark.”

“Pip talked about you.” I looked through the crowd. His better half wasn’t in the room.

“She talked about you too.” Marc was wearing a white jumpsuit. He was the thinnest person in the room. His hand touched my ass. “You want to do some blow?”

“Yes.”

I was as used to gay guys hitting on me as they were accustomed to seducing straight guys.

“Not here. There are too many vultures.” His soft brown eyes darted over the crowd, as if he were looking for someone special. “Let’s go to my place.”

Two men leaving a party together was no scandal, although Pip leaned over to Klaus and pointed out my departure. The singer gave me the green light with a wink and shouted out,“Gluck.”

“I don’t need good luck.” I was straight or at least that’s what I told myself, but everyone in the Village was a little bent in one way or another.

"Your friend is cute in a strange way."

"He likes you."

"All size queens like Mr. 10 ½."

"I bet they do."

Marc lived down the hall.

“I don’t want any of the neighbors seeing me. My wife is very jealous.” He opened the door and pushed me inside.

"My girlfriend is the same way."

"Everyone is so hung up about sex. Sex is just sex. Nothing more."

Marc shut the door. The one-bedroom apartment was decorated with dark brown furniture favored by gays for hiding stains from sex.

The XXX actor went into the kitchen to fetch a Pond’s cream jar from the cabinet.

It was crammed with a white powder with a pinkish glow.

"What is that?"

“Bolivian flake from one of my admirers.”

We sat on the soft sofa. The cushion sank around me like a Venus Fly Trap. The music from Pip’s party thumped the wall. I recognized the song as UP BONDAGE UP YOURS.

“You like that music?” Marc spilled out a mound of blow. The lines were thick as rope.

“I’m a punk.” I had been since seeing the Ramones play CALIFORNIA SUN. Their speedy version of the Rivieras’ hit opened my eyes to a new world and CBGBs became my second home.

“I like leather, but not that music. I’m more into disco.”

He unzipped his jumpsuit to his bellybutton and handed me a straw.

“Enjoy.”

I hit the first rail with an athletic gusto. This was not street gear and the coke burst into my nasal capillaries with the intensity of an Incan sunrise, then scorched my veins with a rush of euphoria. I fell back into the sofa with my bones sizzling on a Peruvian hot plate.

“Good, huh,” Marc whispered in my ear. His lips were tender on my neck. He spooned a small pile into my other nostril. “Breathe.”

I obeyed his order.

The coca renewed its assault on my senses and the universe shimmered out of focus.

I was in no condition to resist Marc’s advances. He was a veteran of porno movies. Millions of men and women fantasized about lying in bed with him. I gripped his thick member with the tenderness of a butcher preparing to cut a steak. Millions of XXX viewers had seen him in MICHAEL, ANGELO, AND DAVID. The photographer Robert Mapplethorpe had immortalized this penis in a black-and-white shit titled MARK STEVENS MR. 10½, 1976.

I gave it a squeeze.

“It’s not hard.”

“Rough trade gets me erect.” Marc’s admission was not a confession.

He pinched his nipple and his cock stiffened with a throb.

"I like being the queen," murmured Marc. "You wanna be king?"

Before I could answer, keys turned the lock of the front door.

The actor sat up straight and zipped up his jumpsuit.

“It’s my wife. Do some more blow.”

I snapped out of my trance and turned my head.

The statuesque brunette entering the apartment had a couple inches on us in her stiletto heels. She regarded the coke and then the two of us.

Her smile was marred by the awkward unease of seeing her man with another man.

"Marc introduced us.

“Please to meet you.” His wife held out her hand with a tilted wrist.

I offered mine, expecting a limp handshake.

Jill crunched my knuckles in a vise.

Marc was her man.

I winced with a pained grin and ripped my fingers loose.

"I met him at the party next door. It was fun."

"I can see that." Jill sat down with the surrender of accepting Marc for what he was.

“Nice meeting you too. Time for me to rejoin the party.”

“So soon.” Marc was in no position to pursue his desire.

“It’s getting late.”

“Thanks for coming.” Jill smirked with the pleasure of re-establishing her dominance over my host.

“Sure, just one more thing.”

“What?” Jill straightened her posture, as if she was ready for a fight.

“A good-bye gift.” I bent over and snorted the other two lines within two seconds.

Marc laughed and Jill joined him.

“Sure you want to leave?” She spread her legs to invite a touch.

“I already have a lover.”

“Lucky girl.” Jill kissed Marc on the cheek. "Same as me."

He spilled out more blow. She did the first line. They looked like such a nice couple.

I returned to the party.

Pip grabbed me and asked, “What happened?”

“His wife came home.”

I poured myself a vodka.

“And what were you doing?”

“Talking that’s all. I have a girlfriend.” Pip was a spy for my hillbilly girlfriend. They were good friends. “And I’m not gay.”

“And you’re not straight either.” Pip shrugged with disappointment. She had been all ears for some good dirt. I stayed for another hour. The coke ran its course. I left the party with Klaus. He lived in the East Village. We shared a taxi to St. Mark’s Place.

“So how big was it?” The German was all ears.

“Have you seen his movies?” I could tell Klaus anything. He loved secrets.

“Yes.” His eyes widened with delight.

“It was that big and thick." I didn't mentioned the softness of his penis. Some things were best left unsaid.

“Wunderbar.”

"He said you were cute."

"Really?"

"Maybe you'll get lucky one night."

"I can only wished and hope."

"Klaus dropped me on St. Mark's. I walked to 10th Street.

My hillbilly girlfriend was asleep in our bed. I took off my clothes and slid next to her.

"How was it?"

"What?"

"MR. 10½."

"Big and thick."

"Too big for me?"

"Yes."

"And you?"

"I was strictly there for a look-see. I came, I saw, I went."

"You're a good boy." Alice cuddled up to me with a childish tenderness.

I was surprised she believed me, but I didn't mentioned the temptation.

She was strictly GP-13 and I fell into a wired maze of dreams. None of them were XXX and that was probably better for Alice.

Better for me too, because 10½ inches was as a big penis in dreams as it was in real life.

Klaus and me at the party.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sleeping Hermaphroditus by Peter Nolan Smith

Back in the early 80s the Louvre belonged to art historians and lovers of the finer things in life. Few common people visited the former Bourbon palace and once a week I wandered the museum's dusty corridor without any disturbance to my admiration of its vast collection.

At that time I was le psychionomiste of the Bains-Douches nightclub and my friend Alabama Tony tended bar at Paris' only Mexican restaurant. We threw his football after closing. The chestnut tree on the courtyard restricted throws and the cobblestones were murder on our feet, but the French clientele loved our rendition of Joe Namath and Don Maynard in Super Bowl III.

Margharitas.

Mexico.

Models. The Studio on Rue du Temple was a grand success and Tony was happy to be away anyplace close to Mississippi, but Dixie had a tug on his soul and after he locked the doors he played Lynard Skynard and Blue Cheer on his guitar to homesick Southern models homesick. They loved him for being Alabama Tony in a city of Yves.

"You come all the way from Birmingham to hang out with girls from below the Mason-Dixon line?"

"A pretty girl is a pretty girl, but even prettier with a drawl."

"Can't argue with you about that." I was having an affair with Tony's sister. The blonde army sergeant was stationed in Germany. I had a thing for women in a uniform.

After hearing about the Louvre's desolation Tony said, "I'd like to go with you'all."

"You like Art?"

"Not even as a name for a boy, but I'd love to chuck a football in the Louvre." Tony had a good arm and I was fast on my feet. The Studio's touch football team beat every squad this side of the Seine. Tony strummed the opening chords of FREEBIRD.

"Then let's do it."

Next day the two of us entered the Louvre with a football in Tony's backpack. We walked to the second-floor galleries on the river. The afternoon sun glowered through unwashed windows the height of a three-story building. Epic paintings scaled the walls to the vaulted ceilings.

"The king used to live here?" Tony was slightly awed by the regal surroundings.

"Until 1682 then the Sun King moved to Versailles."

"Louis Fourteen, right?" The City of Light had worked its magic on a redneck.

"One and the same. It stored their art collection until the Revolution."

"Damn, the rich were rich back then." Tony tugged out the football. No one else was in the long hall and he waved his left hand "Go long."

I sprinted across the wooden floors and caught the long spiral around a secondary Delacroix. We were a little careful with our passes. These paintings were worth millions. A group of Japanese tourists appeared in the distance and Tony stashed the football.

"You'all know this 'art'?"

"A little." I had taken Art Appreciation 101 at university.

"Then give me a tour."

"Okay, but don't look at any of the paintings. There are too many. Let them look at you. We are only here to see a statue."

"Of what?"

"You'll see when we get there."

We ignored the Davids, Vermeers, George de la Tours, artifacts from ancient civilizations and royal jewelry.

"Can I look yet?"

"Soon."

We arrived before the Mona Lisa. A score of foreign visitors were admiring the work. Leonardo's masterpiece was considered the most famous painting in the world. The great artist's muse Salai had sold the painting to Francis I for 4000 ecrus of gold, but we had not come here to see La Joconda.

"Turn your head to the right," I told Tony and pointed to a reclining marble figure on a matching buttoned mattress. "The Sleeping Hermaphroditus."

"Hermaphrodite?" Tony was no simple grit.

"Half-man, half woman."

Tony abandoned the Mona Lisa and examined the sleeping enigma of sexuality.

"How old?"

"Roman, the mattress was done in the 17th Century. It's known as the Borghese Hermaphroditus. The Borghese family was one of the richest in Europe."

"Where are they now?"

"Not here." It was our statue now.

"And you consider this the most important thing in the Louvre?"

"That and throwing a football."

"Cool." Tony caressed the cold stone. "And smooth."

That night I was at the Studio with Tony's sister, Eliie. Her brother suggested to a runway beauty from Louisiana that they visit the Louvre.

"What for?" the blonde asked with a bayou accent.

"Because it's as lonely as a graveyard and I want you to meet someone."

"Who?"

"It's a surprise."

"Sounds scary," Tony's sister was kidding. Ellie wasn't scared of anything.

"I like scary." The blonde signed up for the tour and we agreed to meet in the afternoon.

Ellie and I went back to my hotel in the Marais and Tony took the blonde to the Latin Quarter.

The following afternoon we met in the courtyard of the Louvre. Pigeons swirled in the air and a few tourists wandered in the courtyard. Tony and I paid for the girls and guided them to the riverside galleries, where the diffused southern light off the Seine suffocated the Louvre's forgotten passages and Tony told our guests, "Don't look at the paintings."

He was a good student.

"Why not?" asked Ellie, expecting a good answer and Alabama Tony said, "They have seen hundreds of thousand of people and they are tired of eyes.

He fixed his gaze on the blonde.

"Forget Michelangelo, David, or Delacroix. You're more beautiful than any of theses paintings and you'll be more beautiful if you don't let them steal your beauty."

"Like a camera stealing your soul," asked the rookie model.

"Everything gets older faster when someone is watching."

Alabama Tony meandered through the Louvre and the blonde believed anything he said with that mush-mouthed drawl, since he sounded like 'home'. We lingered

""Where Tony learn that shit?" Ellie was holding my hand.

"I gave him a lesson or two."

"I thought the bullshit sounded familiar." She had gone on two of my walking tours of Paris.

"Merde peut-ĂȘtre, mais regardez pas les tableaux."

Our eyes-down tour passed Bellini's sculptures, Raphael's cherubs, and the treasure of France, and at the Mona Lisa where Tony announced, "Don't lift your head, but you'all standing in front of the most famous painting in the world. Everyone knows its name. It's a woman. She has a smile. No one knows why."

"The Mona Lisa." Even the blonde knew that and she was only 18.

The girls wanted to see the Mona Lisa, but Tony and I blocked their field of vision.

"The Mona Lisa is better known famous than the Crimson Tide football team and everyone wants fame, but to your left is the most exquisite statue in existence this side of the Boll Weevil Monument in downtown Enterprise, Alabama."

"I hate that creepy thing." Ellie shuddered with disgust.

"Well, this ain't that."

Tony played his grits card with vingt-et-un cool and his French was impeccable for someone brought up north of Mobile. "Fermay tes ewes and donned moi your hands."

Our 'dates' obeyed his instruction and we led them to the statue of the Hermaphrodite, where he positioned their hands on the statue's naked marble ass.

“This is the Borghese Hermaphroditus.” Alabama Tony knew what he knew. “It’s not famous like the Mona Lisa, but the Hermaphrodite survived the fall of Rome. The Louvre is filled with Greek and Roman statues without noses, arms, or legs, but this statue escaped all harm. Two thousand years without a blemish to its flawless stone flesh. It is eternal.”

Alabama Tony had the timing of a delta tide and paused for a span of time not needing a count.

“You'all can open your eyes.”

Its whiteness was startling in the evening dusk.

"Maybe a boy, maybe a girl, but certainly not the Mona Lisa." Alabama Tony pointed back to Da Vinci's immortal painting.

"No one can touch the Mona Lisa, but anyone who touches the Borghese Hermaphroditus will fall in love. "

That line was my cue to finish up the tour.

"You girls care to drink some drink in the Palais Royal?"

Ellie said yes and we retreated to a renown cafe at the northern end of the garden. The barman knew our names. We toasted the magic of the Borghese Hermaphroditus. Everyone was happy.

We perfected our non-seeing tours of Le Louvre with models, Sorbonne painters, dancers from the Crazy Horse, and wandering heiresses. Our best time from the entrance to le Hermaphrodite was twelve minutes, but our luck couldn't last as long as the existence of a naked transvestite's statue.

That winter Alabama Tony started spending time with one girl. Tracy was a brunette from Vermont. Her smile was too lovely for a cover girl. She was a teenager dripping with North Country innocence. Tony was in the sights of her maple syrup brown eyes.

"I think she wants to get serious."

"How serious?"

"I'm not seeing anyone else."

Those words explained the sad faces on the Dixie girls at the Studio. Tony wasn't playing FREEBIRD for them anymore.

"She wants to go to the Louvre."

"You going to show her the tour?"

"What you'll think?"

"You like her?" I thought she was a good girl.

"More than like."

"Then do what you think is best as long as you remember the danger of the Hermaphrodite."

"You mean I'll fall in love?"

"It happens to us."

For me more than once.

"That falling love story's a bunch of phooey." Alabama Tony smirked at my caution. "Besides Traci's from Vermont."

"What's that have to do with it?" I was a New Englander.

"She's just another Yankee girl."

"And you're Johnny Reb. Every statue in the town squares of Vermont had a Union soldier defiantly facing the South. The South will not rise again."

"We will, you damn Yankee."

The next day Alabama Tony walked our route through the museum. Tracy was smart for a teenager. She had been to a real school. She pouted at his warning to not regard the other paintings.

"I didn't come to Paris to be told what to do. I could have stayed in Vermont for that." Tracy pointed to the wall. "That paintings's English. That's French and that's Delacroix's LIBERTY LEADING THE PEOPLE."

"How you know that?" Tony had come to the Louvre on his own. He looked at the paintings then. The color of the light showed him the truth about art. Paris had that power.

"I've been here before." Tracy stepped closer.

"I've never seen you here." Tony held her hand for the first time. It held the softness of a stalled breeze.

"I've never seen you."

A vagrant ray of sunset struck the wall mirror. The lighting was perfect. The only camera was their memory. Time slowed to the pace of their breathing and she hushed, "What how?"

"I'll show you my favorite thing in the Louvre."

"The Sleeping Hermaphroditus."

She laughed like she had been waiting for this punchline.

"All the girls talk about how you bring them here and have them touch the Sleeping Hermaphroditus' ass to fall in love. funny, but they all did for a few days. Maybe that's the power of the The Sleeping Hermaphroditus. You willing to try?"

"I am if you are."

Tracy took his hand and led him toward the Mona Lisa. She had come here on her own too. They passed the gogging gaggle before Leonardo's painting and stopped before the blemish less statue.

"It's so perfect."

"Saved from a grave of dirt."

"To sleep on stone."

Traci held Tony's hand. She steered it to the statue. They touched the marble together.

That autumn the two got married at the Studio. The cobblestones were covered by leaves from the old Chesnut tree. We drank tequila and danced to the owner playing OLD ROCKY TOP on the fiddle. At the end of the night Alabama Tony and I threw a football in the medieval Marais courtyard. Two high stakes Ivy League lawyers challenged us to a game. We beat them like rented mules. Cobblestones were our home advantage. We toasted our victory, yelling "Joe Namath."

Tony stopped.

"What?"

"Look."

I did."

Tracy was beamed at her football hero. Neither of us had broken a window in the courtyard. At dawn the newlyweds went home.

The Louvre was never the same for me after that. People rediscovered the museum.

French first.

English.

Dutch.

German.

Japanese.

Paris was safe. It was the City of Light. In the day foreign crowds flocked to see the masterpieces. They all stopped at the Mona Lisa. Few looked at le Borghese Hermaphroditus, because the fame of Mona Lisa was a tough act to follow even for the cool stone of a sleeping beauty. A few dared to touch her.

But never me.

Nothing else had a better feel when you wanted to fall in love during football season.

Even in Paris.

Go long.

Frank the owner of Le Studio, Tracy, and Tony 1983.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Chocolate Chip Shiva

As 80year old Benny lay dying in his bedroom, he suddenly smells the aroma of freshly cooked chocolate chip cookies wafting up the stairs. They are his favourite. So he gathers his remaining strength, lifts himself from his bed and leaning against the wall, slowly makes his way out of the bedroom. Then, with great effort, he makes his way down the stairs, gripping the rail with both hands. Finally, breathing hard, he leans against the kitchen doorframe and stares in.

"I’m already in heaven," he thinks, as there, spread out in front of him, are hundreds of his favorite chocolate chip cookies.

"Am I really in heaven," has asks himself, "or is it an act of devotion from mine darling Rebecca to ensure that I exit from this world a happy man?"

Then with one final effort, Benny propels himself towards the cookies, but ends up on his knees near the table. His aged hand trembles as it makes its way to the cookie nearest the table edge, his mind already beginning to think about the wondrous taste that he will soon experience.

All of a sudden, Rebecca smacks his hand with her wooden spoon.

"Please don't touch them," she says, "they're for the Shiva."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Doomed But Not Done

Mankind might well be on the precipice.

We are seemingly doomed by man-made climate change , but that doesn't mean we have to give up.

Cut your energy costs by shutting off the lights, the voodoo transformers, and curtail your driving to a minimum.

The money you save is money stolen from the energy companies.

The best way to be Robin Hood is not let King John steal from you.

ps I'll be riding my bike in New York to the March.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Faster Than Fast

In 1908 the fastest car in the world was not powered by the internal combustion engine or an electric battery, but the Stanley Steamer Woggle Bug. This steam-driven speedster was piloted by Fred Marriott who traveled a measure mile on Daytona Beach at 127.66 miles per hour. A year later Louis S. Ross the company owner attempted to reach 180 MPH, but beach conditions caused a horrible accident. Fred Marriott was in a terrible state with his eye popped from the socket. According to http://saltofamerica.com a Dr. Parks of South Boston put back the eye and later perfect sight was restored.

Every spectator that day said they had never seen anything ever travel that fast.

180 in 1909.

Back then fast was fast.

XKE Jaguar In Reverse

The XKE Jaguar convertible was the epitome of 1960s British cool, but upon seeing this photo I somehow recalled two motorhead brothers in 1968 attempting to rearrange the sleek convertible's configuration in reverse. The twins from the South Shore of Boston switched the transmission and the steering to the rear. The adults on Anderson Street thought the teenagers mad for destroying the icon of English modernism. My cousin Cindy got the first ride. The kids in the suburban neighborhood applauded their achievement.

None of my family remembers this event.

Maybe it was all an hallucination.

I've had more than one.

Electric Not The Answer

Over one billion motor vehicles are in service around the globe. No one on the planet can recall a time without cars or trucks, although as a child I recall the ragman riding the streets of Jamaica Plain, calling out, "Bring out your rags."

I have taken rickshaws in Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Thailand.

But most of my overland travel has been done by cars and the other day I was at an opening for LC Armstrong. Her husband runs an energy acquisition company. Many of the invitees were business associates. An artist was arguing against fracking.

"It's a dirty business."

"We don't do much of it."

They were into slant-drilling in Long Beach.

"That's what all oil companies say."

Profits for the energy industry was up everywhere.

"For us it's the truth."

"It doesn't matter," I interjected with a glass of wine in my hand.

"Why doesn't it matter?" the artist had just returned from a successful campaign in Europe.

"Because we're already doomed. The world cannot sustain cars or this economy based on cars."

"And what will take its place?" The oil exec was wearing a hand-tailored suit. "Electric cars?"

"No cars."

"No cars?" exclaimed the painter.

"No cars at all. No electric cars. No gas powered cars. No cars." The auto industry loved building ugly electric cars.

My prediction unified the painter and oil exec.

"Cars will be here forever."

"They weren't here 200 years ago and that is part of forever. Fifty years from now there will be no cars. Maybe even sooner." I wasn't about to tell them that the world population with be reduced by climate change from the present six billion to 500 million. People aren't ready for that news.

"Never happen."

"Never has a funny way of not being never." I shrugged and went over to my host.

"Thanks for the lovely evening."

Philip loved my writing and I asked him for a job.

I wasn't a hypocrite about cars. I loved GTOs and needed money for my kids. They will see the time of no cars and I think I will too.

If I'm lucky.

Bonneville Salt Flats from BACK AND FORTH a hitchhiking novel from Peter Nolan Smith

The dawn sun burned misty shadows off the distant mountains and its stark brightness seared through my eyelids. I rose from my sleeping bag to drink in the austere surroundings. A white flatness stretched around me forever and a hissing wind pelleted my face with ancient brine. This was the Bonneville Salt Flats.

A quick swig of water from my canteen washed the dust from my mouth.

This was the second time that I had woken in the Bonneville Salt Flats. The dried-up lake had been a hard mattress on both occasions. I stretched my arms and legs without loosening their stiffness.

Today was my twenty-second birthday.

To the South cars and trucks sped east and west on a mirage of mirrors.

I walked to the Ford Torino.

AK and Pam were lying inches from each other in the back, but their positions betrayed that they hadn’t touched throughout the night.

I could have let the two of them sleep another hour, but there was a shower room at the truck stop in Wendover and I intended to be there within the next thirty minutes. Utah was a godly state and I felt like bathing in Nevada.

I opened the driver’s door and AK sat up with a jack knife in hand.

“Oh, it’s you,” the pianist sighed, sinking back onto his sleeping bag.

“Who were you expecting? The Manson family.”

Remnants of Charlie’s followers roamed the western deserts. It was a bad sign that whatever the renegades did out here never made the news

“Or worse.” AK sat up.

His eyes blinked in the increasing glare.

“So this is it?”

"What?"

"The Bonneville Salt Flats."

“The fastest place on Earth.”

Rocket cars and super-charged motorcycles ran a measured mile farther to the North. Gary Gabelich’s Blue Flame had hit 630 in 1970. It remained the land speed record.

“I’ve seen this place on TV. I didn’t think it would be so desolate.”

“It’s prehistoric.” The Salt Flats were uninhabitable for man or beast. "The salt is five feet deep."

“Didn’t you sleep here with Marilyn last year?” AK crawled into the front seat and handed me the keys.

“Who’s Marilyn?” Pam remained lying in the back. Her sleep tousled blonde hair reminded me of young Brigitte Bardot in AND GOD CREATED WOMEN.

“She’s how AK and I know each other.” I didn’t want to tell this story to Pam. Her roommate in college was my ex-girlfriend Jackie’.

“Last summer he was hitchhiking from Berkeley with a friend.” AK had heard two versions of this tale.

“The two of them were stuck on Telegraph Avenue for hours.”

“There were about thirty hippies heading east.”

Three of them had been stuck there for over a day.

“You were in a hurry.”

He repeated the story the same way that I had told it to him, but I needed to take over for my own good.

“I had to be at school and Nick was headed to Tulsa to pick up his BMW. He had crashed his car, while rubbernecking at the State Fair’s roller coaster. A Ford Maverick pulled over driven by a woman. She was leaving her husband. He had become a transvestite dancer in the Cockettes.”

“Cockettes?” asked Pam.

"They're a gay dance group in San Francisco. At least that’s what Marilyn told me. Her six year-old daughter was in the back. She was headed to Boulder, but had room for one person. She wanted someone to share the driving. I asked Nick if he minded me leaving him.”

"A better word was deserting." AK added, as he opened the map.

“What'd he say?” Pam asked, then sipped water from my canteen.

“He told me to go and I went with Marilyn.” Boulder was almost halfway across the country and I was down to my last twenty dollars.

“That’s good friend.” Pam regarded me with tired eyes. “And?”

“And we drove till we crashed here.”

“And then what happened?

AK was dying to tell Pam about my making love to Marilyn on the salt flats, while her daughter slept in the car crowded with all their possessions. Anything I said now would be told to Pam’s roommate. She had been my girlfriend in 1973. I cut the love scene from my tale.

“The next day she drove me to Cheyenne, saying that she might come see me in Boston.”

“And here comes the weird part.” AK offered his angle on this story. “He and I lived next to each other in Boston. We didn’t know each other, but one day a Maverick pulls up in front of his house and this woman gets out of her car with her daughter. My girlfriend and I were surprised, since we had gone to college with Marilyn. Only she’s coming to see him, instead of us.”

“But once she sees you two, she decides to stay at your place.”

Marilyn and I had never made love again.

“We had a bigger place.”

“After that you and I became friends.”

“Unlucky in love.” AK handed the canteen to Pam. “Lucky with friends.”

“Marilyn and I weren’t in love.”

“Was this after Jackie broke up with you?” The blonde wanted to get the facts straight.

“Jackie had left me earlier in the summer.” I shrugged the acceptance of my fate and asked, “You know what today is?”

“Let me guess. It’s your birthday.”

“You helped celebrate my last one in Buffalo.”

I had hitchhiked back and forth from Boston to Buffalo to see the doctor’s daughter.

“Jackie, you, and me drank tequila on the American side of Niagara Falls. Later that day we played softball against her ex-boyfriend’s team in Delaware Park. You knocked two balls over the railroad tracks. Her boyfriend had been playing centerfield.”

“That night Jackie said that she felt sorry for Jerry. It didn’t take me long to find out how sorry.” Not making love for my birthday had been a bad omen.

“Maybe today you’ll have better luck.”

“Yes, maybe I will. You know I shared the same birthday as JFK and Bob Hope. It was also the day that the Turks stormed Constantinople.” History had been my college minor.

“Happy Birthday to you.” Pam sang the entire song. She had a good voice and AK backed her lead with a solid baritone.

“And you know what I’m going to do for my birthday.”

“I can’t wait to hear.” Pam shivered in fake anticipation.

“I’m going to drive this car as fast as it can go.”

“I’m not sure the owner would appreciate your putting his car to the test.” AK was the more cautious of us.

“Jake would love it.” The ex-Marine had boasted of the Torino’s Cam-Jet injection and 428 FE V8 back in Boston.

“What the fastest you’ve driven?” Pam had exhibited a heavy foot on the gas throughout this trip. Her destination was a boyfriend. Ours was the beach. Neither was going anywhere without us, although the ocean was more faithful than a man.

“About 110 in my father’s Olds 88 on a straightaway in my hometown.” The road crews prided themselves in the condition of Route 28 from the parish church to the Blue Hills.

“This car should beat that.” AK drove a Pontiac Firebird. “It’s your birthday. Knock yourself out, but if anything goes wrong, you pay for the damages.”

“Nothing is going to go wrong.” I started the special-edition V8 engine. “If you want to play it safe, you don’t have to come along for the ride.”

“He doesn’t, but I do.” Pam jumped into the front seat between us and strapped on the seat belt. “I want to see how fast it can go too.”

AK’s reservations were overruled two to one and clinched his seatbelt tight.

“Roll up the windows.”

Speed was all about better aerodynamics.

I revved the Cobra-Jet engine and stepped on the gas with a young man’s mercilessness. The tires responded to the acceleration on the salt surface without any shimmy from the steering wheel.

The speedometer in the second dashboard pot climbed to 60 within seven seconds. The needle hit 80 and my hands tightened on the wheel. At 110 we were traveling almost two miles per minute and I gritted my teeth, as the speedometer passed 120. The saltpans shivered in the morning light and I pinned the needle at 125. The car had more goose in its go, but there was no way of telling how fast was its fast and I lifted my foot off the gas.

“That was fast?” AK was a convert to the religion of speed.

“I figure it topped out at 130.” We were rolling to a long stop and I lightly tapped on the brake.

“Now it’s my turn.” Pam was eager for her attempt and I pulled up the rear seats.

125 seemed faster in the back and I think that she might have hit a top speed of 135. AK didn’t come close to her best, but drove the Torino with a broad smile on his face.

“I didn’t think it would be that much fun.”

“Some cars are built for speed,” Pam said with admiration for the V8’s power.

“I’ve always wanted a GTO. My friend had one and Moon would bet people $20 that they couldn’t grab the bill off the dashboard before he had shifted into fourth. He never lost.”

“They’re about $4500 new.” AK burst my balloon. “And a second-hand one costs $2000.”

“Maybe I’ll be lucky one day.” I owed $7000 in college loans. I had to start paying them at the end of the summer.

“You’ll be lucky as soon as we stop for breakfast. Bacon and eggs are on me.” AK turned on the radio.

A country station from Wendover was playing Ray Stevens’ THE STREAK. We shuddered at the topical hit’s banjo picking. AK twisted the knob finding only static.

We were on the wrong side of nowhere.

“There’s a town with an Air Force base at the foot of those mountains. Wendover, Nevada. It will have someplace to eat and wash up.”

“I forgot you’ve been here before.” Pam was digging for facts about my night with Marilyn.

“Twice.” I wasn’t squealing on myself. “The motorhead with the Super Bee drove this route two years ago. I have no idea he was going.”

“Maybe 200 miles per hour.” AK still doubted this tale, since it was the truth.

“Lucky liked 300 better, but the speedometer only went to 125. Same as this car.”

“Shame we couldn’t go 300,” said AK and he got a laugh out of Pam.

I was tired of being the butt of their jokes and sulked against the door, knowing none of us would ever drive 300.

Electric Zroom

This week an engineering team from Brigham Young University broke the world speed limit for an electric car in the "E1" racing class at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

200 MPH

The Buckeye Bullet holds the top speed for all classes with a speed of over 300 MPH, although in the 1900s the Baker Electric Car was capable of 120 MPH.

Almost nothing was faster, which was fairly impressive once you see the Baker Electric Car.

No one believed in aerodynamics back then, when a car had to be high enough for a driver with top hat.

Zroom indeed.

Watchic Autumn by Regina Rutter

The end of the line for summer. Fall is ravenous for cool days, The crunch of brightly, colored leaves underfoot, The smoky sweetness of wood fires, And the sharp, crisp bite of fresh picked apples. The loon's soul-filled cry at night mourns with me the passage of another season And the loss of the symphony of children's laughter, As they barreled off docks and rope swings Into the warm, golden waters of Watchic.

Forlorn

New York is a city of eight million. Every day millions of commuters, truckers, and travelers pass through the five boroughs to a myriad of destinations. The residents of this mighty metropolis look up into the sky of a day and think that we are spared the smog of LA. Today's Air Quality Index is 40 ppm, while Beijing, China registers 250 ppm, which is considered to be hazardous to the health of all living creatures.

I suppose a Zero Air Quality Index is impossible, but I imagine that the air quality around this forlorn ice cream stand in the middle of the desert must be a good break for city lungs.

I wonder where this is.

Somewhere out West where the buffalo used to roam.

Maybe I'll get there one day.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

War War War

Hawks in the media and military establishment are calling for America to address the threat of ISIS after the video beheadings of journalists covering the civil war in Syria.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News commentator, "Now, are we going to pull yourself up by our bootstraps and get on with the business of destroying ISIS, or are we simply going to sit back and agonize every time they commit another outrageous act?"

Army general Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported at a media conference, "ISIS is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.”

President Obama has responded to the crisis by condoning more drone strikes, which led to the vengeful decapitation of the reporters, and ordering hundreds of soldiers to Iraq to bolster the National Army's resolve against the fanatical invaders from Syria.

The situation on the ground is fluid with various factions probing each other's weaknesses before committing to a coalition designed to oust ISIS from Iraq. Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis, militants, communists, and the national government are bartering for larger stakes in the country without any longtime commitment to the cause of national unity.

Fox News has been fear-mongering about retaliatory attacks on the White House and an ISIS invasion across the Mexican border. People are talking about the radical Muslims as if they are grouping in Nogales to take over Tucson, but Iraq is thousands of miles away from the USA. Mexico already has an armed rebellion on its hands with drug traffickers, who will not allow ISIS interlopers to interfere with their business, and the US military is shot after a long war in Iraq and an endless conflict in Afghanistan.

The last thing America needs at this time is another war, but sadly that will probably be what we get next, because the Pentagon and the military-industrial can fight a war at home, even though they are willing to try as seen in Ferguson, Missouri.

End the war in Afghanistan.

Bring the troops home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I Blew The Shofar

Last weekend I was out on Montauk with Richie Boy. We worked around his cottage in the morning and hit Ditch Plains at noon. The waves were ankle-high, but the surfers were discussing the upcoming swell on Wednesday.

"There's a hurricane out there."

"Biggest waves of the season."

"I'm taking off the day. I think it's Rosh Hashanah."

Nobody argued with his choice and this morning I woke up thinking that today was the High Holy Day of Awe.

"No, it's next Wednesday," my landlord AP told me.

"I blew it."

"Better than blowing the chauffeur."

I made a mistake, but what can you expect from a goy?

ps the ocean was flat last weekend, but lovely all the same.

Blowing The Shofar

Ron, a Catholic chauffeur was bragging to his friend how well the Jewish family who employed him treated him.

'You wouldn't believe it,' he bragged. 'I get tips galore, and they always buy me lunch or dinner when I drive. My salary is great, with benefits. I get off all holidays, including the Jewish ones, like Rosh Hashanah.'

'That sounds pretty good,' said Dave, a friend. 'But what's Rosh Hashanah?'

''Oh, that's when they blow the shofar*,' answers Ron.

'What?' spluttered Dave, 'You call that a benefit.'

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

FAMOUS FOR NEVER On Kindle For $1.99

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

Quitting was not an option for the writer.

Only dying.

Also included in FAMOUS FOR NEVER are stories about Jack Flood, a legendary Harlem gangster, Andy Warhol, the actor Vinnie Gallo, and Mr. Cool taking place in New York of the 1970s and 1980s.

To purchase FAMOUS FOR NEVER for $1.99, please go to the following Kindle URL

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BH38JQQ

It was history in the making back then.

And still history now.

Friday, September 12, 2014

DARK HUMOR

On the first anniversary of the World Trade Tower Attack I was sitting with two NYPD narcotic detectives in a bar on Avenue B. Rocco and I went back to the Milk Bar and his partner Stevie was telling us about his 9/11

“My sergeant said as we approached the north tower, “Be careful, boys, today a lot of people are going to die.” He barely finished that sentence and a body smashed in front of us and then another and another. We ran for cover. None of us were heroes that day, even though we tried.”

“Shut up, Stevie. You did your best. No one can ask for more.” Rocco drank heavily from his glass.

We each had stories of that tragic, but lost the thread as we eavesdropped on a group of firefighters toasting their fallen comrades.

“Fucking Boy Scouts.”

"Who?"

"Firemen. Everyone thinks they're heroes, while we're scum."

"You got that right, Rocco." Stevie had been partners with Rocco for eleven years. Rocco leaned over and started talking loudly about how the firefighters have looted the WTC before its collapse.

“You know there would have been no dead firemen, if someone had posted one sign on the World Trade.”

The firemen at the bar turned as one to our table.

“And what would be on that sign?” Stevie loved playing straight man for his partner.

“Nothing of value inside.” Rocco laughed and slipped a hand under his jacket, as a trio of behemoth NYFD approached us. We were friends of the owner, the firemen had their house around the corner, but this was an old fight between rivals.

“What’d you say?” The largest fireman demanded with clenched fists.

“Just that if the World Trade had nothing to steal, then none of you would have died.”

Rocco laid his Glock on the table without taking his finger off the trigger.

“You’re a fuck.” The biggest fireman waved for his comrades to ignore the insult.

"It was a joke," explained Stevie. He wasn't looking for a fight.

“It wasn’t meant to be funny.” Rocco had lost two friends in the collapse. None of us found much funny about that day.

“Now be happy campers and go back to your drinks. The next round is on me.”

“Fuck you and fuck your drinks.” The biggest fireman forced his friends back to the bar, but they drank Rocco’s round and sent us one too.

“Nice one, Rocco.” Stevie lifted his glasses. We were drinking vodka-tonics.

“To the gone, but not forgotten.”

We downed them in one go and ordered another round.

9/11 is that kind of day.

Remembered forever one way or the other.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

RETURN TO NORMAL by Peter Nolan Smith

Two weeks after the collapse of the Trade Towers the wind shifted from the west and a southern breeze directed the funereal plume of smoke into Lower Manhattan. The poisonous fumes smelled of BBQ. I caught a train north to Boston. My sister put me up in her basement. On the weekend she suggested that we drive to Newport. The yacht club was holding its annual boat show and her husband was thinking of purchasing a new boat.

"I supposed life must go on."

The TV had resumed its normal broadcasting and baseball was in the final stages of the wild card race. The Red Sox were too far out of first to gain a spot in the play-offs. 2nd place to the Yankees felt good after 9/11.

"I'm not really into boats."

"I'll bring my bike and you can ride around Newport." My sister understood my mindset. We were family.

"That'd be nice." I hadn't been to Newport since the 1969 Jazz Festival. Led Zeppelin closed out the show. My older brother and I left during DAZED AND CONFUSED to beat the traffic. The bass line thundered for miles, as we drove away in the night.

That Saturday was a tribute to a New England autumn. Clouds dotted the sky and the a balmy breeze clung to summer. We dressed for the season.

My sister's husband drove to Newport in his 3 year-old Audi. Work at his law firm had resumed several days after the planes hit the Trade Towers. The cars on the highway drove 10-15 miles over the speed limit. The radio was playing Gloria Gaynor's DON'T LEAVE ME THIS WAY.

I sat in the back seat with my 4 year-old niece. She was talking about her doll. Its name was Shirley. I listened to every word, wishing my name was Shirley too. Anything to get the image of a burning man hurtling out of Windows of the World.

We arrived in Newport around noon. The parking lots for the Boat Show were packed with gleaming Benzs, SUVs, and sports cars. I unloaded my brother-in-law's bike from the roof rack and my sister suggested a ride around the peninsula.

"We'll meet you back here around 4."

"It won't take him that long to bike around Newport."

My brother-in-law liked doing things fast. He had graduated from Harvard.

"I'm in no hurry." I had finished BC without any honors. I took my time. These days rushing around seemed senseless.

"Uncle Bubba, wear a helmet." My niece was well-trained in safety measures.

"For you always." I tugged on the plastic brain basket and waved good-bye.

I looked over my shoulder passing Brenton Cove. The Jamestown Bridge gleamed in the sunlight. The long span had replaced the old ferry.

I circled stone walls of Fort Adams. Several families were picnicking on the lawn. The aroma of hot dogs wafted through the park. People were having fun.

Farther along I passed the Country Club. Men and women stood on the fairways dressed in colorful clothing. A solid whack signaled a good drive for an older man. The ball flew through the air to land on the green. The golfer wore a broad smile, as he handed his iron to the caddie.

Upon reaching Ocean Avenue I headed east along the rocky shore and wheeled into Goose Neck Cove. The shimmering white sands of Gooseberry Beach were empty. The lifeguards had retired for the summer and swimming was prohibited by law. I ditched the bike in the dunes and swam in my underwear. The Atlantic felt good and the cold sea brought back memories of childhood visits to Newport with my parents. My mother loved viewing the rich people's mansions. I toweled dry with my teeshirt and continued on my route.

Surfers dotted the break beneath the Marble House. The waves stretched like corduroy to the horizon. I ate fried clams at Floe's Clam Shack. The fried batter complimented the clams' taste and I washed down the traditional New England repast with a Narragansett beer. It was 3 and I returned to the Yacht Club.

The boat show was winding down and many of the visitors were relaxing around the tables with a Bud. I rested the bike against a chain link fence and sat at a bar. The nearby conversations were mostly about boats, but a trio of overweight men in their 40s were talking about 9/11.

The subject quickly narrowed to revenge.

"We should go over there and kill them all," a bald-headed man spoke in strident tones. He looked as if no one in his family had left the USA since World War II.

"Why go anywhere?" His jock friend was red-faced from either drink or sun. "Press a button and nuke them to the Stone Age."

"And who are we attacking?"

"And you are who?" The bald man regarded me with suspicion.

"A fellow American curious about your choice on who we should attack.

"The president says Al-Qaada and they're in Afghanistan."

"That's a start," his friend added, signaling for a beer.

"And then Saddam in Iraq. He tried to kill the president's father. The Afghanis and Saddam." The more athletic of the group pointed in my direction with suspicion. He wanted more than an eye for an eye from the perpetrators of 9/11

"How many Iraqis and Afghanis were on the planes in 9/11?" I knew the answer.

"Ten." It was a guess.

"None. Not one."

"Bullshit." He was convinced of their guilt by the wrath of politicians and TV news reporters. America was out for blood. Whose blood didn't matter as long as it flowed from a Muslim.

"Not bullshit. The truth. The fifteen hijackers were Saudis and the four pilot came from anywhere else, but Iraq."

"Saddam financed it through those towel-heads in Afghanistan." The jock had a decent sense of geo-politics. "The Taliban were sheltering the enemy."

“Why do you think we were attacked?”

“It’s unimportant. Fucking the Arabs is what we have to do. Tora Tora Tora just like the Japs at Pearl Harbor."

"No mercy." I was into revenge too. The buildings had fallen less than a mile from my apartment on East 10th Street, although I wasn't giving the president a carte blanche for total destruction of the Middle East.

"They deserve whatever they get."

They clinked plastic champagne glasses and hooted like owls on steroids. My brother-in-law motioned for me to join him. I left the bar without any good-byes.

"You have a good ride?" His hand was filled with brochures.

"It was a good day for it."

And so were the days after it, because I was alive and alive was a good thing for anyone who have lived through 9/11.

There were billions of us.

The House of Hoax

The circumstances surrounding 9/11 was cloaked with conspiracies and hoaxes. Many people believe that the US government brought down the Twin Towers with the help of the Israeli military or that the planes were drone jets and not commercial liners.

Everyone with a half a brain has questioned the discovery of hijacker Mohammad Atta's passport in the WTC wreckage or the lack of plane wreckage at the Pentagon.

My favorite urban myth is that of a man surfing the debris on his desk to survive the collapse of the World Trade Tower.

None of these stories are true and neither is the above photo.

9/11 was a sad day for all of us.

And will be for the years to come.

NO SWIMMING ALLOWED by Peter Nolan Smith


The weather report for September 9, 2001 posted a sultry warm day for the lingering summer of 2001. My friend Alia had transported a Porsche Boxer from the UK. Her high-octane convertible was awaiting clearance at the Newark Customs. The British diplomat asked me to accompany her to the Jersey docks and I agreed on the stipulation that we drove up the two-seater along the Hudson.

“Where to?” The blonde mother of six had left the children with her ex-husband for the day. Alia was up for most anything.

“North. I know a place.” I extolled Lake Minnewaska Park. "I've been going up there since the 70s. Once I had jumped off the cliff into Lake Minnewaska."

"How high?"

"Sixty feet." It felt like 100.

"We won't be doing that."

"No, those days are over." I was almost fifty. "We're heading to the slanted stone beach at Lake Awosting. Standing on the edge you can see the power of the Ice Age and the water is delightful."

Twenty thousand years ago the ice shield had been two miles high.

“Fabulous, it will be my last swim before autumn.” Alia loved the sun.

The slim blonde and I taxied over to the Port of Newark. She conversed with the Tanzanian driver in Swahili. The Customs officials treated the beautiful UN under-assistant with the utmost deference. Oxford was her alma mater. Her family dated back to before the invention of sliced bread. The process of retrieving her car took about seven minutes. She beamed a smile of thanks and we sat in her Porsche.

“I bought this from my mother's inheritance. Sitting in it reminds me of her.” Alia pressed a button. The top folded into the rear. She gave the engine some gas.

“Sounds fast.” I appreciated the growl of Teutonic power.

“Wait until we get on the road.” Alia shifted into first and released the clutch, shedding her mother of six status for the illusion of a woman on the run.

Alia’s car had diplomatic plates. She ran the car below 90, except for the uphill runs on the Northway.

“No police anywhere man uphill radar traps.” Alia floored the pedal.
130 on an empty road was a thrill.

The wind ripped through our hair.

Her hand twisted the volume knob.

We made good time listening to her collection of 80s hits.

Our friendship dated back to London.

Leicester Square.

1986.

A young blonde girl arrived at the Cafe de Paris in a rubber dress. Her provocative attire earned immediate entrance and I was slow to realize that this sliver of a blonde was a diplomat for the shards of the English Empire. Her position never mattered to me.
Alia could quote Ovid in Latin.

Exiting at New Paltz Alia switched to the radio. NPR reported how America’s delegation at the South Africa conference on racism had contested the vote on Israel’s mistreatment of the occupied territories.

“That’s not good.” Our new president was a born-again Christian. Their devotion to the Second Coming was based on a Jewish Jerusalem.

“Israel has a right to protest any accusation as does the countries opposing it.” The blonde diplomat was 100% on the side of compromise to achieve peace.

“Theft is tref.” My thoughts on Palestine were similar to my feeling about the North Counties of Ireland, but didn’t mention Ulster.

We were on a road trip and the day was far too beautiful a day to ruin with an argument over oppression.

I directed Alice down the main road of New Paltz.

The Hudson Valley village was a pleasant college community. Newly arrived students crowded the sidewalks with smiles on their faces. None of them were going home until Thanksgiving.

A few miles out of town the sheer cliffs of the Shawangunk Ridge rose from the valley.

Alia drove slowly by the hundreds of car lined the shoulder of Route 55. Rock climbers challenged the sheer ascent routes.

"Is it far?"

"At the top of the cliffs."

We turned on the road into Lake Minnewaska Park. No one was at the ticket booth. The parking lot was empty. It was after Labor Day and school was back in session.

We threw towels over our shoulders and set out for Lake Awosting.

Few hikers were on the carriage road, which had been built for vacationers at the Lake Mohonk Resort.

Alia and I enjoyed the panoramic vistas of the Hudson Valley and after 30 minutes Lake Awosting came into sight.
The deep blue water was surrounded by evergreen pines.
No one was on the granite beach slanting into the lake.
A female park ranger on an ATV rolled up the trail.
The hefty officer in her 30s braked within a foot of us.

She eyed our bathing suits.

“Where you heading?”

“Lake Awosting.” I had been coming here since the 80s and once I had jumped off the cliff into Lake Minnewaska. It was a drop of 70 feet.

“You’re not going swimming there?” Her voice adopted a threatening tone of authority.

“Why not?” I was dumbfounded by her interrogation. This was America, the Land of the Free.

“Because it’s against the law to swim in the lakes after Labor Day.”

“My friend has been saying that Lake Awosting is the best swim in the Catskills. We thought that we might test his theory.” Alice’s accent was pure upper-class.

“There are no lifeguards.” The ranger gunned her engine, as if she had been instructed to enforce this mandate by GW Bush himself.

“I can swim three miles. What’s the problem?”

“The problem was that lawyers were waiting for some drunk fool to jump into the lake and break their neck, so they could sue the state parks for several million dollars.”

“It’s a stupid law.”

Alia touched my arm.

She possessed a diplomatic gift of knowing when to say nothing.

"Thank you, officer."

She drove down the road.

"I know you."

"What?"

"You want to go swimming?"

I shrugged a 'yes'.

"The law is the law and as a guest of your country I obey them."

"Me too."

We turned away from the forbidden pleasure of Lake Awosting’s crystal-clear water.

“I hate this America.” GTOs, fighting with your fists, and Schlitz beer were extinct.

“It’s the times. Not the country.”

“Let’s go back to New York.” The City was the last bastion of the Free.

On the trip home the radio announced that the USA bailing out of the Racism Conference in South Africa in protest of a nearly unanimous condemnation of Israel for their occupation of Palestine.

“Another thing I hate about America.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” Anti-Zionist talk was as legal in this America as swimming after Labor Day.

I needed a drink.

Alia and I stopped at a bar in New Paltz.

Three beers later I was ready to resume our return to New York.

Alia was sober. She never drank liquor and the Porsche hit 140 on the Freeway.

I sat back and enjoyed the ride, because speed was the only freedom left in America and Alia could drive fast.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A DAY FAR FROM NORMAL by Peter Nolan Smith


That September morning a jet roared above the East Village. I opened my eyes. Lots of planes and helicopters flew over Manhattan. None this low or fast or loud. Thirty seconds later the windows shook with a muffled thud more a boom than a crash. It wasn't too far away from East 10th Street either.

The screaming children in the alley day-care center buried any clues as to its origin and I dressed for breakfast at the Veselka diner.

The telephone rang in the living room.

It could only be my Thai ex-girlfriend wanting money.

Mem didn't deserve a single baht after leaving me for a young Italian tourist,

The angry statement roiling in my head was better left unspoken. I dressed in seconds and left the apartment without answering the phone.

It was a beautiful morning. The pear trees on East 10th Street were lush. Playing at the basketball courts in Tompkins Square Park was medicine for the pain in my heart. Being broke was unimportant. Manny, my boss had offered my old job at the diamond exchange. Everything would work out for the best.
My downstairs neighbor, Jim, ran up and sputtered, "A plane crashed into the Trade Tower!"

"You're kidding!"

In World War II a bomber had slammed into the Empire State Building during a storm. Today's sky was so blue that New York could have been atop the highest peak of heaven.

”No, you can see the smoke from First Avenue!" Jim pointed to corner. People stood in the middle of 1st Avenue staring downtown. My neighbor looked upward. I'm going to the roof."

"ll meet you there."

We bounded up the stairs two at a time.

I grabbed my camera and binoculars from my apartment before climbing another four flights to the roof. The fire door was open and several neighbors gaped south with good reason. Flames gushed from the shattered northern skyscraper and an apocalyptic plume of smoke trailed east over Wall Street.

TV helicopters fluttered around the stricken building.

All over Lower Manhattan sirens whined from fire engines, police cars, and EMS vans. This didn't make any sense.

The previous week I had attended to a concert at the foot of the Trade Towers. The two steel sheaths defied gravity without any threat from man, beast, or act of god. Now a two-hundred foot wide gash scarred the north tower.

"I can't believe this."

"The announcer said it was an accident," Jim had his ear to the radio.

A balding neighbor interjected without taking his eyes off the flames, "I live on the top floor and watched the plane fly right into the tower like this was a suicide mission."

"Someone trying to finish it off," Jim referred to the 1993 World Trade bombing. "But it's still standing tall."

"Yes, it is." I wished that I hadn't said that. I brought the binoculars to my eyes

Millions of papers floated in the wind and debris rained to the ground, then a strange object shot from a window shrouded with smoke.

It was a man in a suit.

More people followed his plunge from other floors.

The last was on fire.

"There are people jumping!"

"Why don't those helicopters rescue them?" A girl from the fourth floor was crying into the sleeve of her pajamas.

"Because there's too much smoke on the roof."

Jim pointed to a growing dot in the southern sky.

"There's another plane!"

I can't believe a pilot would actually fly closer to give the passengers a better look of this.". The bald-headed neighbor shook his head, only the pilot wasn't conducting a sightseeing tour, because the plane struck the South Tower and an enormous fireball exploded through the building to geyser like a volcano from the north face.

Jim dropped his radio.

"Oh, my God"

Seconds late the DJ confirmed a second airliner had hit the Trade Towers.

Jim shook his head.

”This only happens in movies.”

No James Bond or Bruce Willis had stopped the planes. I searched the sky for an F-16. Nothing.

The city was defenseless.

”This isn’t a movie.”

We had been warned about New York’s vulnerability to terrorist attack. None of us had ever anticipated such an extreme. My mind crunched numbers.

50,000 people worked in the WTC. Anyone on the top floors was trapped by the fire. Friends worked in those buildings. I borrowed a cell phone and tried to contact Andrew. He lived a street away from the WTC. There was no dial tone.

Someone screamed and I joined them, as the South Tower collapsed in a fury of dust and smoke.

Within an hour the North Tower crumbled to the ground. The tragedy vanquished any worries about rent or my Thai girlfriend. This country was at war, but the victims of this first attack needed our help and I declared to Jim, “I’m going to Beth Israel to give blood.”

”Wait for me. I’ll write my wife a note and come with you.”

By the time we arrived at the hospital, the police had cordoned off the street. Doctors and nurses were assembling triage stations and orderlies wheeled patients from the hospital to accommodate the incoming injured.

People were slowly shaking off the shock.

Not forever, because everyone froze fearfully, as a jet’s high-pitched scream filled the air. It was an F-16. Too late to prevent what had occurred, but prepared to insure the day didn’t get any worse.

”Can we help?” I asked a guard. He was at a loss to do more than protecting this location. I asked directions for the blood bank and pointed to a building on 17th Street.

More than twenty people filled the third-floor office. None of our fellow donors had seen the second plane hit and were appalled by Jim’s account, which he ended by saying, “No one on those floors could have lived through that.”

”What kind of animals do this?” A Polish woman dabbed her tears with a Kleenex.

The list of suspects was small and everyone agreed that no American pilot could have been forced to commit such a heinous deed.

No one mentioned the Federal Building in Oklahoma.

Today was about today.

A harried aide handed out medical history questionnaires. I checked off being free of AIDS, Hepatitis B, drug abuse, anemia, but marked “Yes.” to having lived outside the USA. My last two years had been spent in Thailand.

The process of giving blood isn’t fast and the hospital staff asked for patience. Not everyone was listening and a white-haired man in his fifties fumed, “I don’t understand why they can’t give us the needles and bags, so we can take our own blood.”

With his clean clothes, cleanly shaven face, and polished shoes, he could passed for a normal citizens, if you ignored the bottle of vodka sticking out of the plastic bag at his feet.

”When can I give some blood?” His eyes sparkled with dementia. “Give me a razor blade and I’ll pour it in a bowl.”

”Excuse me.” A female doctor read his file. “Bob, you mind us taking your blood pressure?”

”Just as long as you don’t suck out all my blood, I’m good for anything.” Bob glared around the room. “The president of Nicaragua forced everyone in the country give blood and he sold it to the good old USA. Vampire, that’s what he was!”

”Bob, that’s old history.” The doctor was used to humoring the mad of Manhattan.

”You think I’m crazy, but I saw it with my own eyes.”

”You haven’t written a last name here.” The doctor brandished the form.

”They took it away, when I was a POW in Afghanistan.”

A young Asian nurse took his blood pressure.

”I lost my family today. To people like you.”

”I’m sorry, Bob, but you have low blood pressure,” the doctor stated blandly, as if her word was god.

”Meaning?” Bob wasn’t buying her divine pronouncement.

”Meaning you can’t give blood.”

”You don’t want my blood, because I’m an American, not like the rest of you.”

The faces in the waiting room were white, black, brown, and yellow. The accents originated from a score of countries. Their need to help trumped their birth in a foreign country and I said, “This has been a bad day and you’re frightening people with your talk.”

”Who elected you team captain?”

Jim punched my arm.

”Let it go, he’ll be gone soon enough.”

He was wrong.

Bob was warming up his act.

”And who’s to blame for this? The mayor, fucking Ghouliani, because he made New York too safe for terrorists. You can’t tell me that they wouldn’t have come here, if people were getting shot by crackheads. Those terrorists would have taken out someplace easy like Disneyworld.”

”Bob, I need to see someone else.” A doctor motioned for him to leave the waiting room.

”I’m not going anywhere.” Bob folded his arms in defiance of this command.

I had heard enough.

”Bob, there’s a lot of people wanting to give blood. Some of them can and some of them can’t. Right now you’re making a problem for everyone.”

Bob rose from his chair. He was three inches taller than me and poked at my chest.

I knocked away his hand.

”Don’t touch me, Frisky.” Bob glowered down a crooked nose with hairline menace.

I forgot where I was, why I was here, and what had happened, until the doctor separated us. “Not here.”

”Sorry,” I apologized and Bob went to the door. “You’re right. Not here, but I’ll be seeing you around, Frisky.”

The other donors sighed with relief. My heart choked with adrenaline. I didn’t want to fight. Not with him. Not today. The doctor wasn’t so sure. She read my chart.

”What country were you living in?”

”Thailand.”

”Thailand is one of the countries from which we don’t accept blood.”

”I suspected as much.” AIDS was rampant in Southeast Asia. Almost as bad as New York.

”What else can I do?”

She recommended volunteering at the Emergency Ward and motioned for another donor.

Jim was being drained of blood. He hadn’t left the country in years. “Where you going?”

”Someplace I can lend a hand.” I grabbed a donut. They were for donors, however I had skipped breakfast.

Outside hundreds of expectant donors jostled in a block-long queue. At the emergency entrance the doctors and nurses searched the avenue for the ambulances. No arrivals was not a good sign.

Downtown was where help was needed and I returned home to dress in heavy work clothes and boots. I had worked construction in my youth. This city needed every hand on deck. I tried calling my friend, Andrew, again. The line was dead.

I prayed he had escaped injury and rode my bike through the Lower East Side.

The subways were closed to guard against any further attacks.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers walked north on the car-less avenues. Very few of them spoke and those that were usually stopped upon turning their heads to the ghostly column masking the end of Manhattan.

Blockades had been erected on Canal Street to prevent pedestrians from proceeding closer to the disaster site. Every few minutes they were opened for incoming fire trucks and ambulances, however a stunned onlooker stated, “Nobody escaped alive. Supposedly they’re taking the bodies over to Jersey. More than two thousand already.”

”People got out,” a man in a business suit heavily covered with soot contradicted him. “I was on the eight-second floor in the south tower. As soon as the first plane hit, we ran down the stairs.”

”Where were you, when the second plane hit?” a young bicyclist with dreadlocks asked and people gathered around the survivor.

”Something like the twentieth floor. I heard this explosion and then felt the entire building shake. Stuff began to hit the ground. Glass and big pieces of concrete, then bodies. One of them almost got me. It was bad.”

He choked and the bicyclist comforted him. There would be a lot of that today. I asked the nearest policeman. “Where are they accepting volunteers?”

”Volunteers?” The young Latino officer was dazed by the morning’s events. This was his precinct. “Go over to West Street. Supposedly they’re taking people there.”

After another futile call to Andrew, I pedaled my bike toward the Hudson, grateful that that smoke wasn’t blowing north. There was no telling what was in that ominous cloud.

On West Street several hundred people were lining up to help. Mostly construction workers with heavy tools, but a good number were men and women from ordinary walks of life desperate to aid the rescue effort.

”Write your names on your clothing.” A volunteer shouted from the sidewalk.

”What for?” asked a young man in jeans.

”So they have someplace to send your body in case you die.” A bearded ironworker magic-markered a name and phone number on his jeans.

”Die?” The young man squinted like he hadn’t heard right.

”Over two-hundred firefighters are supposed to have died.”

”A lot of cops too,” a beer-bellied welder raised his eyes to the sky.

”And they’re people who practice rescues, so someone like yourself has gotta be real careful, because “˜down there’ isn’t any place for someone not knowin’ what they’re doin’,” the ironworker commented for the benefit of the civilians.

No one walked away. We were New Yorkers. The people in those buildings had been too. No one could change that. We had tolerated years of crime, bad subways, noise, dirt, rats, cockroaches, the disparity between the poor and the rich, and a thousand other petty annoyances, because the million other reasons to live in the city outweighed the bad. They would after today too, only an hour went by, then two.

Not a single ambulance headed uptown and the ironworker shook his head. “I’m not feelin’ good about this.”

”What?” a welder re-arranged the equipment at his feet.

”I think anyone who had a chance to be out is out.”

”That’s negative.” The welder spat on the sidewalk.

”Not negative. If there were people livin’, then they would have us in there right now tearin’ the place apart, but____you saw the thing come down. Ain’t no way anyone lived through that. Maybe one or two, but not a couple of hundred.”

”So you saying you want to leave?” The obliteration of the two beacons hurt everyone and little could stop the hurt.

”No, I wanna say a prayer.” The ironworker lowered his head.

Everyone joined him, despite our desperately hoping for the exact opposite. He was telling the truth.

I waited another hour, listening to heated accusations about who was to blame and how we as a nation should punish the perpetrators of this infamy. Some called for the immediate bombing of Iraq, while others condoned a-bombing Lebanon and Libya. I kept my accusations to myself. No one wanted to hear about a conspiracy.

I borrowed a phone. Andrew was at a friend’s apartment in Little Italy. Safe, but like many people in possession of a tale he would have preferred to have seen from someplace not so close to ground zero.

The other volunteers were glad my friend was okay and the ironworker said, “Go, man, now’s the time to be with friends and family.”

I felt like the deserter in THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE. The sight of Andrew, Alice, and my other friends at Billy O’s penthouse assuaged my dishonor. I hadn’t served in Viet-Nam either other than to protest the war.

It wasn’t the same and neither was today.

”It h-h-h-had been a near-thing,” Andrew stuttered on the balcony. “I mean my apartment is across the street. I heard an explosion and saw this paper floating in the air and I thought there was a parade, then the second plane crashed and I r-r-ran for my life.”

”You’re lucky to be here.” Billy opened another bottle of wine and his eight-year old daughter demanded of her mother, “Do I have to go to school tomorrow?

”I don’t think so.”

Gee-Gee clapped her hands and danced out of the room.

Hers was the first laughter of the day and Andrew lit a cigarette.

”G-g-glad someone’s happy.”

We drank wine and told stories.

Billy had dined at Windows of the World with his parents, Andrew had drunk at the Greatest Bar in the World with his wife, and I had driven a motorcycle around the desolate landfill, which would become Battery Park City.

The sun set on the fumes rising from the ruins and even groping Billy’s wife on the balcony couldn’t stop my tears.

I was drunk.

$40,000 of credit remained on my credit cards. Thailand was only a day’s flight away. Mem would be happy to see me. Maybe whatever happened next wouldn’t hurt so much on the other side of the world.

I didn’t inform my friends of these plans and bicycled slowly up the Bowery. People were walking in the eerie silence created by the traffic ban. Some were talking and some were even laughing. I pedaled harder to return home and inform my family in Boston that I was all right.

A block past CBGBs a white-haired man sat on the curb.

He held an empty vodka bottle and sang GOD BLESS AMERICA. He was off-key.

It was Bob from the blood bank.

I should have ignored him, but was mad at the cruel genius who had destroyed the future and even madder knowing that I would never personally wreak revenge, but Bob, well, Bob was right at hand and I rolled up to the curb.

”Remember me?”

”Yeah, long time no see, Frisky.” He jumped to his feet more skillfully than could be expected from a man who had drunk an entire bottle of vodka, though he slurred with a gummy tongue, “I was wondering when you would show up.”

He dismissed any further talk with a roundhouse right.

I ducked the wild blow and Bob followed the flow of his punch to the pavement. His head clonked on the curb.

I hopped off my bike.

His eyes were swimming in the sockets, then his eyelids fluttered like butterflies and he asked, “Where am I?”

”On the Bowery.” I pretended I wasn’t with him, as several co-eds passed, however today was not a day for pick-up lines and I stopped holding in my stomach to upright Bob.

He pressed his hand to his forehead and blood seeped through his fingers to drip onto the asphalt.

”The Bowery, how the hell did I get here? Shit, I remember.”

He didn’t speak for a second and looked downtown. The deadly flume of smoke glowed in the night.

”Hey, I’m sorry about today. Sorry about everything. I’m a fuck-up, but I was someone once. Shit, a soldier. For this country. No bullshit, Frisky. I really was, then something went wrong in my head after I got shot in Afghanistan. I shouldn’t have been there with the Hazarah, but I was.” He lifted his hair to reveal a wicked scar.

”See, I wasn’t lying, but now all I am is an ornery drunk. What’s the sense? Where’s the pay-off?”

These were questions Bob asked too often and I probably did too. “It was a real bad day today.”

”Maybe it would be better, if there wasn’t a tomorrow. Like if I could let a car hit me.” He struggled to stand and I stopped him. “Bob, there aren’t any cars here and I don’t think you’re in any condition to walk to 14th Street to get hit by one.”

”Then kill me and do the world a favor. Hell, no one would notice in all the confusion.”

”I’m not killing anyone.”

”Then I’ll go over to the bridge and jump into the river.” Most people who talk too much about suicide aren’t serious. Bob wasn’t kidding and I couldn’t leave him alone. “You’re not going anywhere.”

”Well, what the sense? You tell me.” His index finger aimed at the glowing specter over Lower Manhattan. “What’s the sense?”

”I’ll tell a story about why you have to go on living.”

”I hope it isn’t a long story.” His attention span was rationed in half-minutes.

”Less than a minute.”

”Okay.” He raised the empty vodka bottle like he expected it to have been miraculously filled, and then rolled it into the gutter. “I’m all ears.”

”A long time ago I was traveling in Mexico. This shitty bus stops in a nowhere town. I ate a potato taco. Nothing happened until back in Texas, where I got sick. Almost like I was dying. I lay in bed hallucinating and had a dream about being chased by zombies. They trapped me in this cottage and scratched at the screen door with dirty fingers. I was scared and even more so when one of them asked, “What’s the secret of human life?”

”And what did you tell them?” Bob checked his cut. It had stopped bleeding.

”I didn’t know what to tell them, until a voice said, “If you tell us the secret of human life, we’ll let you live for another minute.” At that moment I knew the secret, but woke before I told them.”

”Thank god, you saved mankind from the dream zombies!”

”I guess I did.”

”So can you tell me the secret of human life?”

”The secret was that no matter how bad things were or what awaited me at the end of that minute, I still wanted to live.”

”I don’t have a place to stay. No one to take care of me. Nothing, so even if I had known the secret, I would have told the zombies to start eating.”

Despite being the world’s leading failurologist, I believed in my eventual triumph. “You really think it’s hopeless.”

”If you gave me enough money for a room, maybe I could forget the despair long enough to get me some hope.” Telling my story had excluded any refusal. I handed him a twenty. Jim made a face. “Where can I stay for twenty bucks in this city?”

”I think you know.” I steadied him on his feet.

”I guess I do.” He patted my shoulder. “You’re not such a bad guy, Frisky.”

He weaved off toward an SRO hotel like a sailor on land after a long sea voyage and I rode my bike to East 10th Street. While I hadn’t saved any victims of the crash, having helped someone in need felt good.

Maybe not enough to forget the horror, but I wasn’t going to run away from New York.

Not today.

Not any day.

It was my home.

Maybe not forever, but I knew its streets, its bars, its people.

Today had not been a day far from normal and tomorrow was another day and if those words could work for Scarlet O’Hara, then they certainly would for New York.

This city was tough.

Every day of the year.

Not Man Enough


Once I mentioned transplanting a donkey penis and my doctor scoffed saying, "Your body doesn't possess enough blood to engorge such a monster. You'd probably pass out before you had a half a Woodie."

Nick and I go back to university and he hasn't killed me yet, so I heeded his advice against such an operation, despite knowing that the greatest lie in the world is not 'the check's in the mail', but 'size doesn't matter' as the Thomas Cook Travel Agency discovered when a honeymooner on an African safari complained about feeling inadequate after witnessing a bull elephant frolicking with a female pachyderm.

I understand his pain, for according to National Geographic average length of an African elephant penis is about 2 meters and most of it is not visible. It weighs about 25 kg or 55 lbs.

It's a good thing he didn't go on a whale-watching trip.

Humpback whales are endowed with 10 foot cocks.

Worst than inadequate is 'insignificant'.

CIRCUS LIFE by Peter Nolan Smith

Whenever a married couple or single mother and kid visited me in Pattaya, I took them on a tour of the various tourist points of interest; the Khao Keo outdoor zoo, the Temple of Truth, the biggest wooden structure in the world, and Nong Nooch Gardens. while steering well clear of my usual haunts i.e. the Buffalo Bar, the Welkom Inn, and Heaven Above a Go-Go.

None of these family fare attractions were far away from my house on Moo 9 and they hide your true reason to partake life in the Last Babylon.

Sin sin sin.

I showed my friends flowers, temples, and elephants.

Back in the early part of the 21st Century my young nephew, Fast Eddie, and I went to see the Nong Nooch elephant show. We bought 50 baht of bananas from a vendor before the pachyderms entered the arena, The two of us sat in the front row under the shade. The music announced the first elephant. A giant tusker chained at his back feet. The beast took one look at our bananas and charged the stands. The minders had no chance of controlling him. I chucked the bananas at him and grabbed my godson’s hand before we were trampled by the rampaging behemoth. The crowd both Thai and farang laughed at our timidity, but even a 400-pound gorilla. The ape will get out of the seat to let the elephant sit down if it knows what is good for the ape.

Angie's mom was angry at me.

"Khang kill you. Who take care Angie?" We weren't on the best of terms, but I was staying with her for my daughter.

Angie started crying. She was scared stiff of elephants. Especially the ones from the tourist safaris who would strip our mango tree of fruit. Even the mahouts couldn't stop them from sating their appetite.

When I mentioned this story at my local, my French friend Bruno said, “You are lucky. Two years ago an English woman tried to hide the bananas and was stomped by the elephant. She was killed and the elephant fled the scene to Isaan.”

“That’s nothing.” An old-timer said putting down a glass of Mekong whiskey. “Back in the last century a circus dwarf was swallowed by a hippopotamus in a freak accident. He was a trapeze artist and dismounted onto the trampoline. The angle was bad and his disappeared into the mouth of a hippo. Hippos will eat anything and the beast swallowed the dwarf. Fucking audience applauded thinking it was part of the act. The handlers were unable to free the dwarf, but said the hippo was a vegetarian.”

No one laughed at the punchline, but Bruno muttered under his breath. “I heard that story before only the dwarf landed headfirst in the hippo’s asshole.’

“No.” This was starting to sound like an urban legend.

“Quais, and the dwarf survived, but quit because the circus owner wanted him to repeat the act every night.”

Which goes to show there’s no business like show business.

Especially in the circus.

FERTILE ELEPHANTS

Elephants have long memories.

Mostly because they have long lives.

I have met 100 year-old elephants in Thailand.

Not in Africa since poachers killed the pachyderms for their tusks. You would have thought somewhere along the line these ivory hunters would have invested in an elephant dentist, although I doubt elephants are very tractable for tusk extractions.

Thai elephants are different from Africans.

They are trained to perform certain tasks and are considered good luck.

Even as a fertility blessing.

Any woman passing five times under an elephant's belly is destined to give birth within the year, that is if she survives the ritual, because while elephants do have long memories, they aren't the most patient of animals, but it's definitely cheaper than a visit to a fertility clinic.