Tuesday, October 28, 2014

NO UP OR DOWN


The 1960s Space Race between the USSR and USA exterminated young boys' worship of westerns. Cowboy hats, vests, guns, and holsters were retired to the closet next to toy boats and teddy bears.

During the autumn of 1962 I pleaded with my parents to buy me an astronaut costume for Halloween and my father answered my request with a gleaming John Glenn space suit complete with a visored helmet. My older brother dressed up as a green-skinned Martian. Frunk had fabricated a ray gun from a broken egg-beater. After dinner we were eager to trick or treat, but before leaving the house I purloined sunglasses from my father's dresser without asking for his permission.

"You sure that's a good idea?" My brother was better at following rules than me.

"Sure I'm sure. He won't know anything."

My father was leading my younger siblings around the neighborhood.

"Why do you need sunglasses."

"They're extra protection from your death ray." I pointed to his weapon. I had seen INVASION FROM MARS ten times. The Martians' main weapon vaporized soldiers into carbon.

"I don't think this is a good idea."

"We'll be back before you know it."

"It's your funeral."

"What can happen?" We lived in the suburbs, a land of two-car garages, good schools, and beautiful babysitters.

"I guess nothing."

"Other than getting a lot of candy."

"We left our split-level ranch house. My best friend, Chuckie Manzi, joined us on the lawn. He was a young Frankenstein.

"First things first." He pointed across the street. Mr. Martini's house drove truck for Arnold's Bakery. His wife put out cake instead of candy.

The moonless night was dark. We climbed the brick stairs. There was no metal railing. My brother rang the doorbell.

Mrs. Martini acted scared and offered a selection of cakes. I chose orange spice. Chuckie and my older brother were grateful for chocolate cake. We thanked her with filled mouths. I slipped on my glasses and shut the visor, then turned around and walked off the stairs, smashing my head into the wall and mutilating my little finger.

I sat up in the flower bed. Blood all over my astronaut suit, but I was more concerned with my father's sunglasses. They had fallen off, but luck was with me. They were intact.

My brother led me back to our house, careful not to let any blood drip on his costume.

My mother admonished my dangerous behavior. She had six kids. We were always in jeopardy. A band-aid stemmed the blood and my mother refused to let me leave the house again." the sunglasses

"One accident is more than enough for tonight."

And she was right and since that Halloween I have only worn sunglasses at night when I can't find my regular glasses and I still bear a jagged scar on my little finger from that fall, proving the Earth we fall, but no one ever fell in Space.

There was no up or down off this planet.

Especially boys from the South Shore of Boston in the fall of 1962.

The Ghost Of Pumpkin Trotsky

Two weekends ago thousands of New England college students converged on Keene, New Hampshire. The annual Pumpkin Festival ended in a riot. My nephew attended the celebration of the Jack O'Lantern. Eric told his father that he had left before the disturbances flared into violence. Paddy and I looked at each other. We had been young once.

In 1965 three friends and I had vandalized an abandoned missile base on a hill south of Boston. That skein of destruction had nothing to do with politics. We trashed the missile silos, offices, bunkers with a Hun's delight and that same spirit ruled the blooding running through the veins of Pumpkin Fest rioters.

The euphemism for this outlaw behavior is 'blowing off steam' and William Osterweil of Alzaara.com pointed out this week that "the white college kids in Keene flipped cars and threw bottles at cops for the fun of it, the media called them rowdy booze-filled revelers and all sorts of other euphemisms. By contrast, when Ferguson protesters aggressively confronted the police, the media framed the actions in terms of rioting, thuggery, destruction of their own community and other harsh verdicts. The two incidents offered an object lesson in the media’s racial bias."

I was not there.

I was not at Ferguson.

But I condone any resistance to the will of the police.

Ferguson or Keene. TO READ AL JAZEERA'S ARTICLE ON KEENE, PLEASE GO TO THIS URL.

http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/10/ferguson-keene-pumpkinfestpartyriotspoliceviolence.html

Whose streets?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Juvenile Mobile Lock-Up


The Catholic Church promoted procreation in hopes that those of the faith would demographically overwhelm the other religions. My mother was a devout Catholic. She gave birth to six children through the 1950s. Our family car was a Ford station wagon and my father child-proofed the spacious car by affixing aluminum tubes to the windows. Other motorists regarded the pale blue vehicle as undercover transport for the Maine reform school system.

I stared back at them with prison eyes, even if my parents were taking us to Old Orchard Beach, the Pine Tree's State playground by the sea. The other drivers' expressions shifted from pity to horror, as they wondered what heinous crime had been committed by the children incarcerated in the Ford station wagon.

"The youngest convicts in Maine," my grandmother joked every time we departed from her house in Westbrook and I sat in the back planning my escape. None of my attempts succeeded in gaining freedom. My father and mother were vigilant, but on one trip from Boston I wandered from the family car at a rest stop to go the bathroom. when I came out of the toilet, the Ford wasn't in the parking lot.

Free at last and within two seconds I was near tears. I was seven. Kids my age were told every day to not speak with strangers and now I was surrounded by only strangers. Luckily a toll booth operator spotted me before a band of gypsies kidnapped me for the carnival. They waved from their Cadillac carnival.

Ten minutes later my father returned to the rest area at 100 mph.

Top speed for the Ford.

I was glad to see him and sat back in the moving cell with relief.

Freedom would have to wait until I was ready for it.

At age 11.

By then I would be ready to run away and join the circus.

Forever.

SCHNORER / BET ON CRAZY by Peter Nolan Smith

On a late October afternoon in 1994 I hurried from the subway to the diamond exchange on 47th Street. A cold drizzle dampened the sidewalk. My leather jacket fought off the cold and my boots prevented the wet from touching my feet. It was 9:25 and I would have arrived to work on time, except a slovenly beggar wearing a soggy yamakah stepped into my path.

“Damian, can you spare a few coins for a drunk?” Lenny pushed his busted glasses up his nose.

Other diamonds dealers were hurrying to their stores. The GOP still controlled the House, although Bill Clinton ruled the White House. It was a good time to be making money.

"Isn't it a little early to get shikkah?"

"Yashim doesn't wear a clock and neither do I, besides the money goes to a good cause."

The homeless schmiel smelled like a slave ship. His wardrobe consisted of a stained tee-shirt, soiled gray flannel pants, and torn sneakers.

"Such as."

"For me to take care of my crazy sister. She's even more verkocht than me."

"Here." I gave him all my change and a dollar.

“Bless you, Damian.” The empty brandy bottle in his hand needed filling. “Can you tell me why your boss hates me.”

“Manny doesn’t hate you. He just doesn’t have any use for bums.” Manny’s life was his work.

“I wasn’t always a bum.” Lenny shivered in the cold.

“I know that.”

I didn’t have the time to hear the retelling of his tragic tale.

Manny stood in the front window of the exchange, tapping his watch.

I waved for him to wait.

“Lenny, you want me to bring you a coat?”

“No, the other bums in the shelter will only steal it. Make a sale today."

"Thanks."

I watched the Hassidic schmiel waddled down the sidewalk with an outstretched palm and I hurried to the door of the exchange. The guard buzzed me in and I stepped behind the counter.

“Nice of you to show up.” Manny was at the safe with the combination in his hand. The tumblers rolled without a click.

“I’m only a few minutes late.” The door opened to the public at 9:30. It was 9:35, but Manny operated in a different time zone than the rest of us. He hated tardiness.

“Late is late.” Manny twisted the tumbler to the right and then the left.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Domingo or your sons?” Opening the safe with only two people was an open invitation to the thieves of 47th Street constantly on the prowl for a slip-up.

“Wait till when?” Manny spun the tumbler again. “Shut up for a second. I need to concentrate on the combination.”

It took five attempts for Manny to open the safe and I laughed aloud.

“What’s so funny?” The safe tumblers clicked and Manny yanked open the safe.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?” Manny lifted a metal box from a shelf. “Start setting up the window and try not to smudge the jewelry with your greasy fingers.”

“My fingers aren’t greasy.” I hadn’t stopped at Veselka’s Diner on 2nd Avenue for breakfast or else I would have been really late.

“You touched Lenny.” Manny stood next to aisle counter. “Why you give that schmendrick money anyway?”

“Lenny’s my charity.” I laid out the glittering diamond rings. One tray was worth more than $500,000. “It’s not like I’m paying taxes.”

“Enough.” Money issues were no one else’s business. “Just set up the window.”

I obeyed Manny and later he gave me several manila envelopes to deliver to the setters and polishers.

"I don't like leaving you alone."

"Where Domingo?"

"I don't know."

"And my hero son?"

"I don't know." I had left Richie Boy at a Soho club around 2am.

Fuck 'em both. I'm fine by myself."

"Are you sure?"

“I come from Brownsville. I was fighting in a gang at age of 15.” Manny opened his jacket. My boss had a license to carry and his .38 was in a shoulder holster. “Who’s going to rob me?”

Manny was on the wrong side of 70 and I sat down.

"Could be anyone, so I'm not leaving you alone."

In the Diamond District criminals outnumbered the customers.

"I'm not alone."

His partner's daughter walked into the booth wearing sunglasses. Eliza looked as beautiful as a Caribbean dawn, despite my having put her in a taxi around 1. We were just friends.

"Morning." Eliza went to her desk. She wasn't a big drinker, but she loved her sleep.

"Watch Manny for me."

"You got it." Her phone was rang and she sat at her desk. We would talk later.

"Get going." Manny liked giving orders. He had started out as a schlepper on the Bowery and his smarts came from someplace other than school or schul.

“You’re the boss.” I picked up the NY Times.

“Where you going with that?”

“Sometimes the pen is stronger than the sword.” Rolled up the newspaper packed a good punch.

“Everyone’s a hero.” Manny lifted his eyes to heaven. “Don’t go disappear.”

I completed the rounds in record time, stopping to gaze at the our competitors' glittering windows. Some stores specialized in high-end diamonds and other dreyed dreck. Manny’s store offered the in-between and our big diamonds came from his partners, the Randolphs. They were old money on this street of nouveau-riche hazars from Central Asia.

By the time I returned to the store Richie Boy, his brother Googs, and Domingo were working three customers. I handed the envelopes to Manny. A walk-in customer entered the exchange. Before I could greet him, Manny gave me another sheaf of envelopes.

“Bring them back quick.” Everything was a rush with Manny. I hesitated, as the man surveyed the merchandise in the display case. Manny waved me out the door. “Go already.”

I wasted more time on this trip and the Gotham Book Store was a good place for killing a few minutes. I read a few chapters of The Curious Lore of Precious Stones by George Frederick Kunz. The bookstore wanted $15 for the Dover reprint of the original 1913 publication expounding on the magical aspects of gemstones. I bought Charles Williford’s A BURNT ORANGE HERESY instead and headed back to the exchange. It was lunch time.

Manny looked at his watch. I would have dropped the envelopes on his desk, except he was sorting through a packet of tiny diamonds.

“What are they?” I placed the envelopes carefully on a shelf.

“I have these loose diamonds. Anything less than .22 carats is what we call ‘melee’. Lesson over. Leave me alone.” Manny plucked a diamond from the pile with tweezers and examined it with a loupe, which magnified the stone 10 times. “Go already. You’re making me nervous.”

I sat at my desk and took off my leather coat. The Randolphs ordered sandwiches from Berger’s Deli. The delivery boy showed up fifteen minutes later. The aroma of pastrami reminded me of my sandwich and I sat down at my desk. Richie Boy snagged a slice of salami off my sandwich.

"Hmmm, good."

“I see you have no shame in being a schnorrer!” We had been friends for almost twenty years. Eating each other’s food before the other could get it in their mouth had been a contest that neither of us could win.

“Only because I learn from the best.” Richie Boy popped another peppery slice in his mouth and returned to fielding the onslaught of phone calls from friends and customers.

“What’s a ‘snorer’?” asked Myrah, the blonde girl working for the Randolphs. Her mother was a schitzah and her father Jewish, but she had been bought up agnostic and couldn’t get her mouth around the guttural ‘schn’.

“A schnorrer is someone who mooches off you.”

“Mooch?” This antiquated term also stumped Myrah’s English.

“A mooch or schnorrer is a beggar.” A passing Hassidic pearl dealer partial to blondes interjected his two cents.

“Yes, but not always,” I explained. “A schnorrer is more someone who eats off your plate, because he likes to have what you have.”

“You mean like how someone else’s potato chips taste better than those you buy.” Myrah understood this analogy and I turned to the Hassid. “Can you think of another word for beggar?”

“Not that I know.” The Hassid pulled on his long curly side lock. Richie liked to call ‘peyes’ ‘yidlocks’, then again he was a bacon Jew. Eating pork ran in his family.

“Marty,” I yelled to the retired principal, who schlepped merchandise for the Randolphs. “What’s the Yiddish word for beggar?”

“Have to admit I really don’t know.” Marty shook his head.

“So a ‘snorer’ is like those ladies with the canes begging on 47th Street?” Myrah was referring to the seemingly crippled women dressed in Hassidic attire

“No, those ladies are Palestinian Gypsies,” Marty frowned disapprovingly with an added shaking of his head. “They pretend to be Jews.”

“So there’s nothing wrong with them?” Myrah’s eyes widened in revelation.

“They have a school where they learn to walk like ballerinas with broken feet,” Marty explained without bitterness. He had nothing against gypsies other than they were thieves. They came into the exchange every day trying to steal. Robbing was an honest profession in comparison to pretending to be a Jew.

“I thought they were cripple.”

“They’re thieves running a scam.”

“So beggars are more honest.” Myrah had been giving them money. She was a little slow, but had a good heart.

“Beggars are just as bad.” Manny chirped from his desk. He had quit school at age 14 to slave on Canal Street humping boxes. He had no pity for any able bodied person who didn’t want to work even if they were family, but one beggar on 47th Street drove him insane. “Especially that schlemiel Lenny.”

“Not Lenny!” Slagging off my good luck charm was bad luck.

“Lenny was the worst of them all. He pretends to be mad, but he’s mad crazy smart. He has more money than all of us put together. Just like the goy. You have money socked away someplace. The goy fortune.”

“Manny, I wouldn’t be working here, if I had money.”

“No, you’d be here, because we make you laugh.” Manny was losing his temper.

“Manny, I’m broke. My bank account’s broke.”

“Dad, he’s so broke he can’t pay attention.” Richie Boy attempted to defuse the tension.

“Go blow smoke up someone else’s ass.” Manny was eager to bruise anyone’s ego. Idle hands bugged him and I put away my sandwich. Richie Boy backed off and I said, “Manny, you’re right. I have a pirate’s chest buried in the sand. Maybe a million dollars and I'll lend you some at 7% vig per week.”

10% was the standard hit from a loan shark.

“Such a hero.” Manny’s face was red. He had high blood pressure.

“Maybe Lenny could do better. How much money you really think Lenny makes in one day?”

“Fifty dollars easy,” Marty ventured and even Mr. Randolph entered the discussion. “Lenny doesn’t need the money. His family was rich.”

“Too drunk more like it!” Manny muttered, then added, “Don’t you have anything better to do than talk about that bum!”

“Yeah, the world’s a better place without him!” Mr. Randolph returned to his end of the booth.

Lenny certainly was no saint, so I dropped the subject to phone several customers about picking up their merchandise. Once I was hung up, Myrah came across the aisle and whispered, “Why did everyone get so angry about Lenny?”

“This street has plenty of bums,” I spoke quietly, not wanting to re-ignite another debate. “There’s a mad rabbi who always is shouting ‘Shalom!’ and another Hassid pretending to be asking for alms for the new temple in Jerusalem. Lenny’s the only Hassidic bum not running a religious scam.”

Manny walked past us to place a diamond brooch in the window.

“So Lenny is a good person?” Myrah asked loud enough for only me to hear.

“No, Lenny wasn’t such a nice person, but I like him.” Maybe because he resembled an overweight puppy.

."Me too."

Myrah left the store to deliver a diamond. Manny handed me a set of earrings.

“Go up to the setter and have him check these stones.”

“Can I eat my sandwich first?”

"Sure." Manny picked off a slice of pastrami. “Nice. Almost as good as we used to get on the Bowery.”

“I remember that place. The sandwiches came from an Italian deli.”

“I miss the Bowery.” He had been a big player on Canal Street. He looked at Myrah exiting from the exchange. “Why are you bothering to tell that girl stories about that gonif?”

“Because Lenny is special unlike your buddy, Tie-Coon.” Tie-coon was a well-dressed gentleman from Harlem selling name-brand ties and belts at a fraction of the price. Manny gave him $20 every time he came into the store, which was once a week on Fridays.

“Tie-coon provides a service.” Manny had a soft spot for Tie-coon and I had mine.

“Lenny always has a nice word for me.”

“Cause you give him a buck!”

“Yeah, well, it’s my dollar.”

"Money you get from me."

"Do me a favor and leave me alone."

For once Manny did as I told him, but the day worsens, as the drizzle became rain. No more customers came into the store and the Randolphs started packing up at 4:30. They always went home early.

Manny was desperate for a final sale and said we were staying till closing time. The guards weren’t happy to hear this news. Like Richie Boy, Googs, and Domingo and me they wanted to go home.

“Maybe we’ll get lucky.” Manny was eternally hopeful.

A hand slapped the glass door. It was Lenny. He pushed his way inside. His stench smelled more like rancid alcohol and everyone stepped away from the front door.

“Anyone have anything to give today?” Lenny blew on his hands.

“Get out! This is a place of business,” Manny shouted from his desk.

“What you have against Jews?” Lenny's voice was irritatingly high-pitched.

“We have nothing against Jews, only bums!” Mr. Randolph yelled from the other side of the aisle. “You heard the man, get out of here!”

“You’re both Nazis!” He faced me. “What about you? You’re a gentile, right? You got a dollar. I don’t do drugs. All I do is get a little schitkah.”

“You tell me the word for beggar in Yiddish and I’ll give you a dollar.” I dug into my pocket.

“Most people think its schnorrer, but they’re wrong. The more applicable word is bonsai or even belter. Of course the pronunciation depends on the accent of the shetl.” Lenny played the audience. “You know Mr. Randolph, there’s a very good book by Israel Zangwill. THE KING OF THE SCHNORRERS.”

“Enough already.” Mr. Randolph slapped a dollar on the glass counter top. “Go.”

"Lenny, you really should take a bath."

I handed him a dollar and Lenny took off his threadbare yarmulke. “Sorry, but I don’t wash in the shelter. It’s not kosher.”

“You're more than ripe.”

“I'm worst in the summer, but my ipish keeps anyone who wants to hurt me and in the shelter there’s plenty of people who don’t like Jews.” Lenny showed my dollar to Manny. “See how gentiles treat Jews.”

As soon as he left, Manny said, “I don’t want you giving that bum any money. Not in my place of business.”

“Okay,” I answered, but my money was my money.

The next morning I spotted Lenny in front of Berger’s Deli. It was below freezing and his skin steamed in the frost. He wasn’t speaking to anyone, but I listened to his articulate treatise on Microsoft stock, though I wasn’t banking anything on someone who smelled like a dead man’s shoe. As I began to walk away, the bum said to a passing Hassidim diamond dealer, “There’s the goy who gave me a dollar yesterday. The good goy, Damien.”

“His name isn’t Damien___” The dealer recognized me at Manny’s store.

“I like the name Damien fine.” I couldn’t resist Lenny’s utter helplessness. “You want my lunch?”

“From Berger? It's not really kosher," shrugged Lenny.

“Just what the world has been waiting for, a finicky bum,” The Hassidim laughed and Lenny shambled off with a mutter. “I’m not finicky, just don’t eat tref. See you, Damien.”

Berger’s was definitely kosher, though not dairy, and I said to the Hassid, “Lenny's is better on some days."

“Believe it or not, Lenny used to be a big stockbroker on Wall Street.”

“What happened?”

“He went nuts after the 1987 Crash. Lost his fortune and his mind, but he really does know what he’s talking about.”

“So you would use his stock tip.”

“About Microsoft? No way they’ll beat out IBM.”

Of course no one listened to Lenny.

We all made fun of him, but no one picked on the schlemiel more than himself and he worked self-deprecation to a fine art. People would ask him to come home in hopes of salvation, but Lenny was beyond redemption and apparently happy despite his sufferings.

The following day I saw Lenny limping up the sidewalk and asked him what was wrong.

“You know I sleep outside, because the crackheads in the shelter will steal everything I have.”

“Lenny, what could they want from you?” Lenny possessed nothing even a crackhead would want, but desperation is the evil step-father of need.

“They think I’m rich, just like everyone here. The Nazis!” He unbuckled his belt and dropped his pants. “I was sleeping on a bench and a cop hit me.”

The bruises across his thighs were not self-inflicted and I told him, “Pull up your pants, Lenny. There are women present.”

None of them were looking, but Lenny chuckled, “Sorry, I forgot where I was.”

I held out five dollars and Lenny said, “You don’t have to, Damien. I know you don’t make a lot of money.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, I know everything about the street.” His eyes were clear. “Maybe one day I’ll tell you everything I know like how three years ago there was a drought in Angola. You know where it is, right above South Africa.”

The country had been suffering from a savage civil war since the Portuguese abandoned their old colony in 1975.

I nodded and Lenny continued, “Well, there was a UN truce and things were getting back to normal, but because the water was so low, people were able to go into the rivers and pick millions of diamonds from the riverbeds. Billions of diamonds and diamonds were getting about as rare as light bulbs, so deBeers got tired of paying out this money and paid Savimbi from UNITA to start up the war again. Don’t worry, you won’t find it in the papers. Thanks for the money, Damien.”

I had heard rumors about this. Lenny was filling in the holes. It all made sense.

He was no schnorrer about the truth.

He shared what he knew and what he knew Lenny knew.

Everything else was a Mystʻryʻ.

Alz.

Cowgirl In The Sand

Nothing says premature E-Jack-O-Lantern better than a cowgirl in the sand outfit at Ralph's Hardware Shop on a Sunday morning.

Strangely everyone in the 'hood thought my attire was too conservative.

"Maybe you should wear some pink," suggested Irene the young portress. "It works for me."

Pretty in pink?

To hear Neil Young's COWGIRL IN THE SAND, please go to this URL

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fAXl97-RFg

Sunday, October 26, 2014

TONIGHT IS NOT HALLOWEEN

Halloween had been celebrated on Oct. 31 for most of my entire life, but last year a Connecticut State representative floated an ill-conceived idea to change the holiday to always fall on a weekend.

"Halloween is fun night for the whole family, but not so much when you have to race home from work, get the kids ready for trick or treating, welcome the neighborhood children, and then try to get everyone to bed for an early school and work morning.”

Both Democrats and Republicans lambasted his suggestion, which included trick or treating in daylight for safety's sake.

I also disagreed, but this year New Yorkers have been sporting Halloween costumes for over a week.

Call me old-fashioned, but I considered celebrating Halloween on any day other than October 31st as a sacrilege and yesterday a friend phoned that he was holding the autumn fest a night early. We argued about the date, until Shannon explained Halloween's Celtic origin as Samhain, which marked the division of the year into halves of light and dark when the otherworld was nearest reality.

“It was a night of fire to cleanse the world.” I knew my Irish heritage. My mother’s family came from the West of Ireland.

"And it was turnips that were carved, not pumpkins," Shannon stated with authority. His fiancee Charlotta was smart. He had been busy mining Google's vast abyss of useless knowledge to impress the German artist.

"So the band should have been Smashing Turnips." The Chicago alternative band had been big in the 90s.

"No, once us Micks came here, we opted for pumpkins instead of turnips. They were bigger."

"Plus it’s hard to carve the Jack 'O Lanterns with eyes and mouth on a turnip.”

"You got that right." I had narrowly missed slicing off my thumb splitting a turnip the other evening.

“And hollow pumpkins smash easier.”

“Not if you carve smaller eyes and mouths on a pumpkin.”

“Why?”

“Because the pumpkin will rot within a day, if the holes are too big." I had been researching 'pumpkin soup' on the Internet. Getting smart didn't take much of an effort these days. "What are you going as this year?"

"Some kind of monster." Charlotta was hosting a Halloween party on the right night at Chez Oskar on De Kalb Avenue. She believed in tradition and so did Shannon. "The first Halloween in America was mentioned in 1911. Someplace in hockey-puck land."

"Canada?"

"Yep."

"Then Happy Hallowmas." I wasn't contesting his learning, but my Halloweens dated back to 1958 to Falmouth Foresides, Maine, when my mother warned that I couldn't go out 'trick or treating' unless I finished my beets.

Canned beats paved the path to chocolate paradise and I poured a glass of milk to wash down the purple vegetables. My older brother in his pirate outfit watched my struggle. I wore a skeleton costume. My younger sister was dressed as a ghoul. Gina and Frunk had finished their beets. They actually liked them.

"What are you waiting for?" asked my brother. "We're missing out on all the good chocolate."

"Nothing."

I put the first sliced beet in my mouth. My tongue skated around the jellied vegetable. The bittersweet chunk tasted twenty years old and I swallowed it whole. My throat constricted on the unchewed beet's passage, but I got it down.

Only two more to go.

"No more milk." My older brother pulled away the half-filled glass. He had a date with Sandy the girl next door. The five year-old was dressed in white up as a good witch.

My best friend Chaney was going as a clown. His sweetheart's costume was that of a ballerina. I had asked Kathy Burns to walk the rounds with me. She had decided to go with Jimmy Fox. They were going as Tarzan and Jane. I didn’t have a date, but I would have chocolate, if I ate the beets.

I stuck the fork in the second beet slice and stuffed it deep into my mouth. Maybe too deep, because I gagged on it. My father's clap on my back slaps hotted the beet back onto my plate.

My mother was not amused by my upchuck.

"Stop playing with your food."

"I'm not playing."

"You better not be. There are starving people in China."

Her family had gone through the Depression. Food on the plate was meant for your stomach. This was 1958. Eisenhower was President. America was a Land of Plenty. The beets belonged in the trash, but not in our house. Two slices took two minutes to stuff down my throat.

"That wasn't so bad." My mother grabbed my plate from the table.

"No." They came from a can and I vowed to never to eat beets again.

That evening our neighborhood was rich with candy and chocolate. My bag bulged with treats. My friends and older brother had done no tricks. Chaney had kissed Sandy on the cheek.

Reaching my house I went upstairs to get rid the taste of beets by stuffing four Baby Ruths in my mouth. I chewed them into mush and they sluiced down my esophagus into my stomach. The combination of chocolate and beets played havoc with a six year-old's constitution and I ran into the bathroom to empty my belly into the toilet.

The color of my upchuck was purple.

I drank a glass of water and returned to my bedroom. My brother was separating his candy into groups. I picked up a Baby Ruth and chewed it a little more slowly than the first four. It was not a beet or a turnip or a pumpkin or a kiss from Kathy Burns.

It was sweet chocolate.

And there was plenty of it.

As there will be forever as long as Halloween is celebrated on October 31.

Halloween in Pattaya

In 2007 Pattaya celebrated the old Celtic festival of Samhain with a singularly Thai flavor. Bar girls dressed in skimpy dresses and go-go girls painted fake blood on their faces. Farangs drank more than normal nights. It's a pagan holiday and nothing says pagan better than sex go-go girls, beer, and a devilish hang-over the morning-after.

That Halloween I got no farther than the Buffalo Bar.

I was wearing my Ramones outfit.

Torn jeans, Keds sneakers, a Ramones t-shirt, and Ramones baseball cap.

None of the girls made any comment, since I had worn the same outfit to the bar on innumerable occasions.

I drank five Chang beers. 6.9 % alcohol.

I asked three lesbians to short-time with me.

They laughed at my lewd suggestions

The scary thing about Halloween 2007 was my two-minute motorcycle ride home.

Which on five Chang beers was mighty scary.

Premature E-Jack-O-Lantern

What do you call celebrating Halloween before October 31st?

Premature E-Jack-O-Lantern

my younger brother Patrick Charles Smith told me that joke last week.

It works.

BULLITT 1968


Last night I returned from dinner. AP was in the TV room. His children were asleep. I poked my head into the room to say hello. AP motioned for me to sit down.

"BULLITT. It just started."

I needed no further encouragement.

No man had been cooler than Steve McQueen in 1968 and I joined AP on the couch. We put our feet up on the settee.

We were two men in paradise.

Widescreen TV.

A puff of marijuana.

Within seconds the terse movie directed by Peter Yates transported us to San Francisco of 1967. This was not the City of Love. Bullitt dealt with hard-nosed cops and killer crooks. He drove a muscle car and hung out with hip people, not hippies.

A young Jacqueline Bisset was Bullitt's girlfriend.

Cathy: "What will happen to us in time?"

Bullitt: "Time starts now."

Steve McQueen was always cool.

There were no special effects or gun ballets in his movies.

Just a stunning car chase with a "Highland Green" 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 CID Fastback versus a "Tuxedo Black" 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum at speeds up to 110 on the streets of San Francisco plus a great bike laydown by the legendary motorcycle racer Bud Ekins.

BULLITT won Academy Award for Film Editing.

Last evening I sat through this film without looking at the time. I doubted young people could do the same. Maybe, but what does an old man know about the young other than what they tell him.

I was 16 in 1968.

We all wanted to be McQueen.

And lay in bed with Jacqueline Bisset.

To see the car chase go to this URL

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sy5oyr4DRZ0

Very Seriously Cool

Jacquiline Bisset

Steve McQueen.

BULLITT

Steve had his hands full.

Steve McQueen How Cool

Steve McQueen was the coolest movie star ever.

Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood are living icons, but Steve was the champion of cool.

Dead or alive.

As a child my brothers, sisters, and I attended Our Lady of the Foothills south of Boston. The parochial grammar school heavily tressed the Four Rs of reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic, and religion to repress any possibility of independent thought. Once a year Mother Superior picked a film to show the eight grades. We sat throughTHE SOUND OF MUSIC, HEAVEN KNOWS MR. ALLISON, and THE NUN STORY my first three years at the yellow brick school. The nuns hated anything that didn't have to with God, but in 1964 Sister Mary Josef announced over the loudspeaker that this year's movie would be THE GREAT ESCAPE.

My best friend, Chuckie Manzi and I looked at each other with puzzlement. We had seen THE GREAT ESCAPE four times at the Mattapan Oriental. The plot of hundreds of British POWs breaking out of the German stalag was devoid of any mention of the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin, or the Pope. Mother Superior's choice of blockbuster hit had nothing to do with celebrating the freedom of the human spirit.

None of us had free will, if we didn't believe in God.

We discussed the rationale behind her choice for days. Not even the upper class kids could decipher the harridan principal's decision and on the day of THE GREAT ESCAPE's screening we filed into the assembly hall with trepidation. Something was not right. The movie began with the Luftwaffe commander telling the British officers, "There will be no escapes."

Instantly every student in the hall realized that we were the prisoners and the black-clad nuns were the Nazis. Stalag Luft III was constructed to hold the worst of the worst; thieves, counterfeiters, tunnelers and more, but when Steven McQueen aka Captain Virgil Hilts entered the movie, we applauded 'the Cooler King' as if he were the Messiah. Even more shocking was that the nuns refrained from restraining our enthusiasm.

I looked over my shoulder. The sixteen nuns were standing together and their eyes swam with adoration. The brides of Jesus had lost their hearts to Steve McQueen.

He was that cool.

See ON ANY SUNDAY. The 1971 Bruce Brown film features Steve McQueen with Mert Lawwill and Malcolm Smith.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bl_6aeIRmGs

This movie along with BULLITT, THE GETAWAY, and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN cemented his status as the cool one for all eternity.

Brad Pitt is good, but he'll never be Steve McQueen.

Last time I was in England, I told the hair stylist in the small town, "Cut my hair like Steve McQueen."

And she did her best.

I always wanted a hair cut like his.

Also see PAPILLION. His acting steamrollered over Dustin Hoffman.

In THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN he was told by the producers that he couldn’t stand before Yul Brenner. McQueen accepted that edict, but in every scene he’s the only one moving while Yul Brenner talks.

Several years back his Persol sunglasses sold at auction for $70,000.

The glasses came from THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR.

Super Cool.

McQueen was always cool enough to admit his friend Bud Ekins leapt over the barbed wire in THE GREAT ESCAPE.

Cool people are cool enough to share in their coolness.

Steve McQueen - the king of cool.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Steve McQueen Wanted Dead Or Alive

Steve McQueen achieved national recognition for his role as Josh Randall in the TV western WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE. The King of Cool parlayed his anti-hero persona in this series to win a lead in THE GREAT ESCAPE, which catapulted his name into the bright lights of Hollywood.

His portrayal of a rebel sold well to the youth of America, however McQueen was a staunch republican, who strongly supported the war in Vietnam.

His conservative politics clashed with his riotous behavior leading to a 1972 arrest for driving while intoxicated in Anchorage, Alaska. McQueen was supposedly drinking on 4th Avenue, the city's toughest neighborhood and decided to do donuts in his rented Oldsmobile for the crowd of drunks, miners, hunters, and whores. The police stopped his antics and he responded to their request for a sobriety test by somersaulting down the street.

His audience applauded his exploits. They booed the police for arresting the entertainment. McQueen spent the night in jail.

It took a lot of get arrested for DWI back in 1972.

In the morning he paid bail and flew to California.

An arrest for Steve McQueen remained open until his death.

The star of BULLITT was a happy arrestee and flashed the peace sign for his mug shot, proving once more the veracity of Tom Wolfe's quote.

"A liberal is a conservative who has been arrested."

How true. How true.

DRUNK DRIVING HOUR by Peter Nolan Smith

During the early 1970s my college comrades and I drank at the Hi-hat Lounge in Brighton. The girls were young, the drinks were cheap, and we sold 'ludes and mescaline at the bar. Neither of them were the best available in Boston, but we were always in supply, so the bands playing on Commonwealth Avenue visited us before and after gigs. I even sold LSD to AeroSmith and they invited us to their show. They weren't big yet, but the band attracted co-eds from every university within 25 miles.

That night my friends and I crammed into my VW Bug.

"Can you drive?" Peter Gore asked from the passenger seat. We had hitchhiked across America in 1971. A carload of drunks had begged me to drive their Riviera from Reno to San Francisco. Peter had sat in the back. We drank warm whiskey through the Sierras. He hadn't trusted me behind the wheel since.

"Of course I can drive." I had only dropped a 'lude and guzzled several whiskey cokes. Something about his question bothered me and I said I was going to run every red light to Kenmore Square.

"Don't do that." Peter buckled up his seat belt. No one in 1971 wore one. We had all seen too many films where the passengers burn in their cars, thanks to a defective seat belt. The other passengers were more enthusiastic, then again they weren't in the suicide seat.

I blew the light at the first BU dorms and then another by the Boston Club, however we were approaching the Charles River Bridge. This was a much busier intersection with cars coming all directions.

"Don't."

Everyone cried out with good reason and I braked too late to avoid slamming into the back of a Mustang.

"Asshole." Peter was pissed.

"Anyone you hurt?" I pulled over to the curb..

"No."

Everyone was fine.

"Sorry, I was an asshole." I got out of the car to examine the damage to both vehicles.

My front fender was slightly bent.

My friend at a body shop in Dorcester could fix it for maybe $200, but the Mustang bore a major dent.

Maybe $1000, which was a lot of money.

Cars were swerving around the Mustang. The driver was puking out the open door. I walked up to him and he wiped his mouth, saying, "Sorry, for running that light. Are you okay?"

"I'm good."

"I'm really sorry."

The drunken fool thought the crash was his fault.

"Don't worry about it." I was lucky.

"How much you want to fix your car?" He pulled out a wad of cash.

"Nothing." Peter pushed me back toward my car.

"Nothing isn't going to fix my fender." Five $20 bills seemed fair.

"Thanks." The Mustang driver got back in his car and drove off toward Cambridge.

Later at the Aerosmith show we laughed, when, Peter calling me, "Boston's worst driver."

"But I met my match with Mr. Mustang."

Drunk driving hour was a weekend ritual in the last century, but several years ago the Palm County police had a world-class violator in their sights. The driver refused to stop for the officers in pursuit. He ran red lights, crashed into another car, a fence, fled the scene, and when they finally stopped him, the cops cited the offender with 50 tickets.

One was not wearing a seat belt.

All sounds too familiar.

I wonder if Peter Gore wherever he is thought the same thing.

"Asshole."

I don't drive anymore.

I drink no less.

Best for everyone if I walk and I'm sure that Peter Gore feels the same way too.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Drunk Driving Success

Winter comes early in Russia and a light snow fell on Moscow's Vnukovo Airport two days ago. A snowplow cleared the runway, but failed to leave a clear path for a corporate jet's take-off shortly before midnight. The Dassault Falcon 50 struck the snow removal machine and disintegrated upon impact.

None of the 3-man flight crew and its passenger survived the crash.

The passenger was Christophe De Margerie, CEO of the French oil giant TOTAL.

He was renown for his distinctive mustache and loyalty to Russian oil interests, saying in a July interview that Europe should stop thinking about cutting its dependence on Russian gas and focus instead on making those deliveries safer.

De Margerie, a strong proponent of fracking, had signed a multi-billion Euro contract with Russia to exploit northwest Siberia.

De Margerie also said in that interview that Europe could not live without Russian gas, adding there was no reason to do so.

His family had a history of fascism.

A rich man on his way home to celebrate his triumph of corporate greed at the cost of virgin Earth.

The driver of the snowplow was uninjured in the accident, although authorities stated that he had been drunk at the time.

A state of normalcy for a Russian male, but thereafter Mr. Martynenko's lawyer claimed that the driver suffered from heart problems and didn't drink alcohol. There was less than an inch of snow on the runway and according to a report from BBC Mr. Martynenko told Russia's Channel One TV, "When I lost my bearings I did not notice when I drove out on to the runway. The plane was preparing to take off, and I practically didn't see it or hear it because the machine was running. I didn't even see the lights, I did not see a thing, and then the crash happened."

Police had since arrested a senior airport engineer responsible for snow removal, an air traffic controller trainee and her supervisor, as well as a senior air traffic controller.

None of it makes much sense, but then nothing does when the truth is not the truth, still I applaud the snowplow driver's blow against Big Oil.

Hero of the People in my book, then again I live in the past.

PASSING GRADE by Peter Nolan Smith


My older brother worked too much. Frunk had a big house on Milton Hill and I was in Boston to visit my father. Frunk was at his office, as were most lawyers in Boston on a weekday.

"Meet me a Durgin Park." I loved their chowder.

"Can't." He sounded stressed.

"What about Jacob Wirth." Their Bratwurst special cost $9.95.

"Can't."

"Then I'll come see you."

"I'm busy."

His son attended an Ivy League school. The tuition for pre-med was astronomical.

"Then I guess I'll have to settle for a visit from your son."

"Franka's coming to New York?"

"Yes, he's a big fan of Taylor Swift and I got him tickets to see her on Saturday Night Live."

The blonde singer was a country-western pop sensation.

"This coming Saturday?"

"Yes."

"His mother and I were planning on driving down to Philadelphia and he said he was studying."

"Maybe he is."

"NO, he blew us off to see a singer with you. I can't believe this. I'm working seven days a week, so he can going to New York. What is he thinking?"

"It is a Saturday and I think Franka's in love."

"He's 18. How would he know love?"

"Taylor Swift sings love songs."

My older brother blew a gasket and ranted at his son and me. I held the phone away from my ear, until his voice resumed a reasonable tone.

"Sorry."

"I'm not blaming you, but Franka isn't getting into medical school with a B in biology."

"Maybe in the Philippines." MY GP had received his medical license from Dagupan City Univeristy and he hadn't killed anyone as far as I knew.

"I'm not paying for Franka to have a good time."

"It's just one night."

"You're right. Franka's a big boy. He makes his own decisions, but I have to pay for them."

I understood my brother's temper tantrum. I supported two families. I ate left-over. More than twice a week.

"So what about Jacob Wirth's?"

"Naw, I'm just going to wallow in misery."

"It does love company. Last offer. Franka's going to SNL. You're coming to Jacob Wirth's. I won't take 'no' for an answer."

"I'll see you in 15."

We spoke about our youth, eating bratwurst and drinking beer. Several lawyers were at the bar. We had a second beer. I had a third. My brother and I hugged outside on Boylston Street.

"I'll make sure he gets to bed at a decent hour."

"What's the use?"

Later that evening I called Franka and told him about the visit to his father.

"Uncle Bubba, don't worry. I'm doing fine."

"What about your grades?"

"They are what they are. I'm trying my hardest."

"That's all I can ask from you."

"See you this weekend. I hope you can introduce me to Taylor."

"I'll do my best." I had graduated 'sin laude' from Boston College in the last century, but I could get into SNL to see Taylor Swift and that was the only passing grade I needed to make Franka a happy boy.

And bratwurst at Jacob Wirth's worked wonders with his father.

As it does with any man.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN

Summer ended in 1966 on a Cape beach with me dancing with a girl on the last day of our vacations. WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN played on a radio. Her father beeped the horn. She kissed me and ran to the car. The back of station wagon was packed high. I never saw her wave goodbye, but her kiss lived forever.

Soulful as the song.

Foto of me, my brother and mother. Harwichport 1966.

To hear Percy Sledge's WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN, go to the following URL.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lp7FtJXp7k

Another Awful Afghan Autumn


Another autumn has passed for coalition soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. The Taliban rise from the opium fields and the fighting season this its stride. Hardliners in the Pentagon are pressing President Obama to stay in place. He has said yes. I am seriously disappointed by his decision, because most couldn't located Afghanistan on a map or find New York.

So what to do?

Pull out?

Not easy.

16,000 British troops withdrew from Kabul in the winter of 1842.

Only one soldier made it to safety.

Bomb the shit out of them.

The Russians tried that.

The USA too.

I hate to say this, but the best policy would be to reinforce the troops there with a plan to get the fuck out in the summer and pay the right people bribes for a safe exit.

Nothing else will work.

Nothing.

REST STOP by P Nolan Smith

On Saturday I traveled north from New York on a Chinese bus.

Greyhound really.

They charge $25.

7am departure.

I fell asleep on the Williamsburg Bridge and woke in the Storrs Hills on Connecticut

The driver was pulling into Burger King.

"Ten minutes."

I walked inside. Mickie D's rival was offering a breakfast burrito. I opted to eat the two bananas in my bag.

The other passengers were stuffing down fast food. The feeding fest was an ugly spectacle and I climbed over the barrier to a closed road. A land mover was parked on the asphalt. No one had sat in it recently. The only work in this town was at Burger King. Too many rich people. Too few jobs, but I had one for the first time since March.

New England had been scrapped to the stone bone by the Ice Age. Bogs and ponds and lakes are tattoos of that primordial time. Wetland in the autumn. The sound of cars and trucks on the interstate. The air was cool. Summer was one week back and nine months forward. I felt drops of rain.

The leaves were dull under the overcast. I breathed the air. The damp rot of vegetation was a black hole. In my youth I smelled this scent every October. It was Eau de New England.

I turned around to face north. The clouds parted for several heartbeats and I hurried across the cracked pavement to snap a photo.

This moment was only one.

There have been millions of seconds sliced into billions and trillions.

But only one of these.

The bus was ready to go

The North waited for me.

With patience.

Friends and family too.

I ran back to the bus.

It was good to be back in ageless autumn.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Da Friggin’ Quincy Quarries

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASqXeKkeY7Y

Jumping off Shipwreck in 1989

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVGscIW8Yuc

1994 death-defying leap into Swingles Quarry followed by low-riding from Rooftop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzJn-oVVKWc

How high from the Rail to the water?

120 feet?

We'll never know.

The Quincy Quarries were buried by the debris from the Big Dig.

All to save five minutes on the ride through Boston.

Monday, October 20, 2014

BIG FOOT by Peter Nolan Smith

In 1977 I moved out of my SRO room in Greenwich Village to the East Village with my hillbilly girlfriend. The third-floor walk-up on East 10th Street had a bathtub in the kitchen and a water closet off the living room. I carved Alice’s name on the wooden window sill. We lasted until 1979. The lack of privacy was not to blame for our break-up.

Alice got a bigger place on Avenue A and I kept the apartment, working at various nightclubs the next ten years. It was easy money and drinks were free.

I rode a 1964 Triumph Tiger and 1970 Yamaha 650 XS. My mechanic was Dmitri from the East 6th Street Bike Shop. The Russian emigre introduced me to Tim, who owned a bar south of the Holland Tunnel. The Californian had a Ducati and Norton. Our bikes were the loves of our lives, for neither of us had girlfriends.

Tim and I traded nights cooking dinner for each other, after which we would play gin rummy. He was a better cook and I was lucky at cards as long as the play didn’t involved money. Dmitri joked that we were man and wife. It was only funny the first time that the mechanic said it.

When Tim mentioned to a neighbor living farther into Alphabet City that I had been brought up outside of Portland, Maine the middle-aged woman extended an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner at their tenement building and I showed up on time with flowers at their building between Avenues B and C.

It was a cold night and a huddle of vagrant junkie warmed themselves around a trash an fire. The north side of the street was dominated by a row of abandoned buildings and rats lurked in the shadows. I checked the block for trouble and pressed the buzzer.

A scrawny Puerto Rican opened the door and pointed to a narrow set of stairs.

“Top floor.” His voice was dusty with dope.

I climbed the steps past offices and bedrooms. The decor was late-20th Century suburbia, as if this one family had failed to heed the call for White Flight in the 60s.

Jane and Carmine were older than the rest of their guests; an ironworker from Montana, an anti-Zionist writer, a female cop from the shooting range, a marine historian from the Natural History Museum, Tim, and me.

Their two kids were high school age.

Neither the tall boy nor the skinny girl looked much like Jane, who could have passed for a Mormon diesel dyke at the Cubby Hole in the West Village in her calico dress, but they didn’t bear much resemblance to their bald cigar-chomping father.

Carmine wasn’t a pretty sight in his tobacco-stained tee-shirt and baggy jeans and judging from the thickness of his glasses I doubted that the thick-bellied ex-merchant marine saw any reason to shave his scruffy beard.

“So this is my fellow Mainiac.” Jane hugged me, as if we had been separated at birth, and handed me a full glass of red wine. It was a pricey Barolo. “Where are you from?”

“Falmouth Foresides.” My town was across the harbor from Portland’s Eastern Promenade.

“That’s almost like coming from Massachusetts.” Jane elbowed Tim in the ribs. “I’m from Columbia Falls in Aroostock County, which is the last place God created before his rest.”

“Way Down East.” I had never been there. The nearest city was Ellsworth, the gateway to Bar Harbor. “Only Lubec is farther Down East.”

“You do know Maine.”

“Then you know Maine has the ugliest women in New England.” Carmine stashed his unlit cigar in the top pocket of his shirt. He sucked on his teeth and the upper deck came loose from the gums. His physical warranty had lapsed on several parts of his body.

“Thank you.” Jane seemed inured to this remark. “There isn’t anyone Down East uglier than you.

“But they try.” Carmine smiled without his upper teeth. He could never be a Christmas Santa, but that grin showed a streak of humanity more deeply-seeded than his hard facade.

“The key to triumph is in the first syllable,” I said without hesitation.

“It’s not everyone who can quote a Salada tea bag, you sit next to me.”

During the dinner of turkey, yams, pea, creamed onions, turnips, squash, and more wine Jane recounted her history.

“After graduating from University of Maine I had moved to New York to become a beatnik.” She looked to the head of the table. “Instead I met Carmine at a poetry reading.”

“It was Ginsberg’s queer lover reciting MARRIAGE ‘O God, and the wedding! All her family and her friends and only a handful of mine all scroungy and bearded
just wait to get at the drinks and food.”

I applauded his memory.

“Sounds almost like this dinner.” Carmine carved the bird with a vengeance. It was stuffed with raison, nuts, and garlic.

“Now you see why I married him.” Jane beamed at the first generation Sicilian. The two opposites were very much in love, but the cigar-chomping plumber regarded Jane’s friends as weirdos and growled, “I feel like I’m serving turkey at a Bowery shelter.”

“Shut up, old man. This is Thanksgiving, not Pearl Harbor Day.”

“I know what day it is.”

“My younger brother was born on December 7.” The juicy turkey smelled of over the river and through the woods, even though the only trees in the East Village were shivering in Tompkins Square Park

“In 1941?” He was looking for the right answer.

“No, 1960.” I could only give him the truth.

“You want white meat or dark?”

“Both”

“What do you know about Pearl Harbor?” Carmine loaded my plate with meat and passed it down the table.

“Just that none of our carriers were sunk there?” I had minored in history at university. “And we were lucky that the Japanese didn’t carry out a third attack.”

“They couldn’t, because the returning planes would have had to land at night and no one knew how to do that.” Carmine showed his knowledge of that Day of Infamy, then finished serving the rest of his guests, after which we ate to our hearts’ content. I pushed away from the table and undid my belt. The third helping had been overkill.

Waiting for desserts we discussed the 1948 Israeli-Arab War with his friend Ira. The slouched contrarian believed that the Zionist State shouldn’t exist until the arrival of the Messiah. If anyone knew weirdos, it was Carmine.

For post-dinner entertainment Carmine put on THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY followed by EL TOPO. We lounged around the cool glow of the holiday TV in turkey comas.

Carmine mumbled stories about the East Village from the 50s interspersed with racial epitaphs. The marine historian’s girlfriend called him racist.

Rick defended his pseudo-uncle. Racism was a serious accusation.

“Carmine is an equal hater of everyone.” Tim knew that Carmine supported a number of blacks and Puerto Ricans. His bad mouth was a shock to squares. Their disapproval gave him great pleasure.

“That’s right. I don’t have a good word to say about anyone.”

Carmine lifted from his chair and motioned for me to follow him into his den. The ground-floor room smelled of old cigars and dirty feet. War books covered the walls. I picked out THE ENEMY AT THE GATE.

“What do you know about Stalingrad?” He was testing me.

“Just that in 1944 DeGaulle came to the ruined city and said to a Free French journalist, “Stalingrad, they are great people.” The journalist replied with a nod, “Yes, the Russians.” DeGaulle corrected him by saying, “Not the Russians. The Germans, because they got this far.”

“Where you read that?”

“I think John Toland’s book on Hitler.”

“You’re not as stupid as you look, scumbag.”

After that Carmine and I saw each other from time to time, trading war history books. I gave him GUNS OF AUGUST and he let me borrow ENEMY AT THE GATES.

The East Village native had learned pipe-fitting in the Merchant Marines. Plumbers from the five boroughs sought his advice. Carmine had pull with City Hall. The connections were a gift from his father. The old man had been a bookie.

Tim met a lovely jeweler from the Upper West Side. He moved out of the neighborhood. I was on my own. Dmitri called it a trial separation, but I knew the split was for keeps.

Tim was in love and I inherited his role as surrogate nephew for Jane, although at holiday time he resumed # 1 position at the table. He was family more than me.

She had me drive her to dog shows. They raised Neapolitans and grand mastiffs. Carmine and I dined at a small Italian restaurant on 1st Avenue. The two of us drank red wine and ate pasta, arguing over Lee’s second invasion of the North versus the relief of Vicksburg or the British surrender at Singapore. One night he looked around the dining room and asked in a low voice, “Can you hold your sand?”

“I know when to keep my mouth shut.” I had been arrested for working at an illegal after-hour club. The precinct cops had been on the take. I had said nothing to Internal Affairs.

“Good, then I have a proposition for you.”

He lowered his head and mumbled like the FBI might have wiretapped the restaurant. His scheme didn’t sound risky and I agreed to help him in a venture. We kept Aunt Jane and Tim out of the loop

Every month I dropped over to his cluttered office and handed him an envelope. He never counted the money.

Around that time I stopped the nightclubs and worked as a diamond salesman on 47th Street. Uncle Carmine bought jewelry with his extra earnings. He became a fixture in my life along with his wife.

Jane had tickets to the opera and Rangers game.

“I got another proposition for you,” Carmine mentioned the next autumn. We were heading out to the cheap Italian restaurant on 1st Avenue. “Jane needs someone to go with her to the hockey games and opera.”

“Ranger games?” I was pure Boston, but I did love hockey.

“They’re good seats.” Carmine played with the end of his cigar. It hadn’t been lit once. “But if you want to go to the hockey games, then you got to go to the opera, because I ain’t going to neither.”

“Opera?” I hadn’t ever seen any opera.

“Yes, opera. You can be the old lady’s walker.” He laughed to himself, as we left the house.

“This ain’t no Palm Beach.” 11th Street between B and C had no palm trees.

“Don’t I know that.”

I wasn’t too sure of this accommodation until I saw that the Rangers were playing the Bruins at home. Jane was adamant about Carmine’s deal. ”One hockey game. One opera.”

“I don’t know.” Fat people sang forever.

“Bruins-Rangers at Madison Square Garden and Pavarotti at Lincoln Center. It won’t be so bad.”

“Which comes first?”

“The opera.” She was too smart to play it the other way around. “And I want you to wear a jacket and tie. I’ll pay the taxi. You have ten seconds.”

“I’ll go.” I loved the Bruins that much.

I picked up Aunt Jane on East 11th Street and Avenue D. I was wearing a dark-blue pinstriped suit from Jaeger. Aunt Jane was in a flowing gown and a battered mink, which her husband called ‘dog’. We exited from the building.

The dealers on the street said about us. Aunt Jane’s husband had taught them better. Uncle Carmine had laws unwritten by courts.

A taxi took us far uptown. The crowd before Lincoln Center was excited like it was a Who concert. I searched the crowd for a pretty face. The women were wrinkled as turtles and Aunt Jane at 55 was the youngest in our section.

The seats were good and I made myself comfortable. Aunt Jane elbowed me with the power of a defenseman’s forecheck. “No, snorting or sighing. This is something special and I wanted it to be for you as much as me.”

I had never heard of Pavarotti, but when the curtain raised, the audience wildly shouted his name. The big man appeared in the first act. His strong voice was on the money. Aunt Jane was crying, because it was so beautiful. I didn’t look at my watch once and when the first act ended, Aunt Jane asked, “Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“No, how more acts are there?” The first had lasted about 40 minutes.

“Three, but each gets shorter.”

“Three.” Heaven would become purgatory somewhere in the second and hell during the third.

“Don’t worry, let’s get some champagne.”

“Champagne?”

“Yes, you didn’t think I’d let you stay sober that long, did you?”

“You know what I like.” And the rest of the evening passed pleasantly with each intermission celebrated at the bar. Pavarotti received a standing ovation for about ten minutes. I shouted like he had scored a hat trick.

Carmine lent me his station wagon to visit my mother during her last days. Jane lit candles at the local church for her passing. It was good having about family in your life, especially since mine was distant.

Tim and his wife had a baby, then another. Jane called herself their grand-aunt. Carmine thought that his wife was a kook, but wanted to buy her a pearl necklace for Christmas. I found one of South Sea pearls. It wasn’t cheap.

“How much you make on me?” He was eating his cigar.

“50%.” The real number was 10%

“Thanks, scumbag.” Carmine meant nothing by calling me ‘scumbag’. He called people who he didn’t like a lot worse. We had a profitable run of scores. Only a few of them skated across the line. We never got in trouble. It was a good sideline to my day job.

I thought that the old man would live forever, except in the mid-90s he started complaining about a stomach ache. He refused every entreaty to submit to a doctor’s examination. I supplied stomach medicine with fake scripts. The pills helped a little bit, but not much, because Carmine had something worse than a stomach ache. Neither of us said what.

In 2000 I left for my annual trip to Asia and Carmine said, “You take care.”

He handed me a small envelope. It felt like money.

“What’s this?”

“You have a good time in Bangkok for me. I was there in the 50s. It was a good time then and it’s probably a good time now.”

“Why don’t you come with me?”

“And leave all this.” He waved his hand in the air. “I already been everywhere. Just don’t go crazy, scumbag.”

Two months later I received a phone call at room 302 at the Malaysia Hotel.

It was Aunt Jane.

“Carmine’s dead.”

“Dead, you want me to come back?” I was only a little shocked by the news.

“No, he’d want you to have a good time, but we’re burying on October 12th.

“Columbus Day.”

“He wasn’t Italian.”

“Carmine’s father came from Sicily.”

“Not Carmine, Columbus. Carmine always said he was a Jew from Genoa.”

“Everyone comes from somewhere.” Aunt Jane actually was a Jewish orphan from Russia. A doctor in Maine had taken her brother and her for his own.

“We’re planting him in the blueberry patch above Schoonic Bay. I’d like you to be there. He liked the view from the hill.”

“I’ll be there.” I scheduled my return for late-September. The flight stopped in LA. I continued on to New York. My subleasee, a Swedish male nurse, had cleaned the place before leaving. Everything seemed to be in order.

I dropped my bags on the floor and walked two blocks over to Jane’s compound. Carmine had bought two buildings and a vacant lot for $15,000 back in the early 70s. The property was now worth millions.

Jane gave me a big hug and said, “Carmine wanted you to have some books.”

The best were 1st editions of TRUE GRIT, NAKED LUNCH, and THE ENEMY AT THE GATE.

“You’re going to help drive up to Maine?” Jane sat down heavily. She was not in the best of health.

“Wouldn’t miss it.” This trip would be a home-coming for both of us complete with lobsters and a funeral. She opened the closet in Carmine’s office and held out a ceramic urn.

“The old man.” Two identical urns were in the closet.

“Are those extra?”

“Those are the dogs. Carmine wanted to be buried with them.”

No markings were written on the urns to distinguish them from each other. Jane saw my eyes and said, “No, I don’t know which ones are which.”

“Never said you didn’t.” Jane was almost as near-sighted as me.

We went to dinner at the Italian restaurant and she outlined the funeral arrangements.

Burial was planned for atop a blueberry hill. Family consisted of Jane, her son and daughter. The latter two were not on speaking terms.

Tim, Steve the iron worker, Carmine’s workmates, and Ira the anti-Zionist would present a strange gathering for Schoonic Point any time of the year, but Jane said, “We’ll be welcome. It’s off-season.”

Two days before Columbus Day our convoy took off from the East Village under overcast skies. The rain held off throughout the journey.

We stopped in Brunswick for lobster rolls at the Chamberlain Inn. Tim and Steve were enthralled with the Maine delicacy. It meant more to Jane and me.

Maine was home and every mile was more like heaven. Pine trees lining US 1 broke open on long coves linked to the sea. The foliage was a little past prime, but the crisp air was champagne from Canada.

Jane had picked Ellsworth for our stay. The hotel was on the strip leading to Bar Harbor. It had seen a hundred thousand customers this summer. The rooms had yet to stop vibrating from the vacationers’ comings and goings.

“Nothing is open in Schoonic Point this time of year.”

She distributed room keys. This trip was on Carmine. We had a great lobster at the bridge leading to Bar Harbor. The pound was closing after this weekend. The lobsters were soft-shelled and delectable. We agreed that Carmine had made the right choice about being buried in Maine. Anything was better than some hole in Queens.

Upon re-entering Ellsworth, Jane said, “I checked out the bars for you and Steve.”

“What about me?” Tim was married with a kid.

“You’re a good boy.” Jane turned to us. Steve was divorced and I was perennially single. “There’s one that’s a fern bar and the other that is always in the police reports. I’m not letting you drive, but here’s a twenty for the taxi.”

We said our good-nights and headed to the fern bar. It was good for a single drink. The same taxi took us to the bad boy bar. The driver told us to watch out for the girls.

“They like strangers.”

Steve and I stood outside. Loud rock music blasted under neon lights. We had drunk beers on more than one occasion and he knew my tastes as well as Maine’s reputation for the ugliest girls in the USA.

“You can have all the skinny ugly ones and I’ll have all the fat cute ones.”

“It’s a deal.”

He opened the door and then shut it.

“What about the Big Foots?”

A she-man grabbed him before he could explain his comment. The two women dragged is inside the bar and was immediately set upon by a large woman. Steve was dancing to Deep Purple with a 200 pound-plus human version of a moose in heat. She wore size 14 boots. The men at the bar appeared relieved to drink without any female interference.

We were new meat.

Steve shouted one word. I couldn’t hear him, but I knew the word was ‘help’. The faces on the men at the bar said that we were on our own. They were wrong. We were with the Big Feet.

We stayed three beers too many and were driven back to the hotel in a van loaded with four seriously masculine women in flannel shirts. Steve was groping one of them and whispered, “I’m checking to make sure they don’t have any dildos.”

“Dildos?” Steve’s date asked with a smile. She wasn’t just trying to scare us.

The Big Foot women were talking dirty. Sex was a Sumo wrestling event. I told them that we couldn’t do anything and they said, “Date rape.”

Their station wagon braked before our rooms. Hands unbuttoned my shirt. Steve was dragged out of the car. We were doomed, until Jane appeared in a celestial nightgown.

“Leave those two men alone. They’re with me.”

“Gigolos,” they muttered, reluctantly letting go of us. Jane stood her ground until they left the room and then asked with a smile, “You boys have fun.”

“Yeah.” We were glad to have escaped Big Feet’s grasp.

“I’m sure Carmine would appreciate it, now go to bed. We have a busy day tomorrow.”

She was right. We buried Carmine without a priest on a blueberry hill overlooking Schoonic Bay. The sun came out as we lowered the urns into the earth. Jane cried and her children hugged her. They almost seemed like a family.

The post-funeral lunch was in a small restaurant and two of the waitresses were from last night’s Big Foot tribe. Work clothes tamed their savage side and they made no sign of recognizing us. We gave them a good tip.

Jane couldn’t help but tell Tim about last night’s scene and he was happy to tell everyone in the East Village that Steve and I had mated with moose.

Jane knew the truth, but said, “It’s funnier the way he tells it and Carmine would like that ending too.”

I had to agree with Aunt Jane, for Carmine was the kind of Uncle only a Big-Footed woman could love and Jane loved him forever. After all she was from the Great State of Maine.

How Fights Start


My wife sat down on the settee next to me as I was flipping channels. She asked, 'What's on TV?'

I said, 'Dust.'

And then the fight started...
******************************************
My wife and I were watching "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" while we were in bed. I turned to her and said,

"Do you want to have s*x?"

"No," she answered.

I then said, "Is that your final answer?"

She didn't even look at me this time, simply saying, "Yes."

So I said, "Then I'd like to phone a friend."

And then the fight started...
******************************************
Saturday morning I got up early, quietly dressed, made my lunch, and slipped quietly into the garage. I hooked up the boat up to the van, and proceeded to back out into a torrential downpour.

The wind was blowing 50 mph, so I pulled back into the garage, turned on the radio, and discovered that the weather would be bad all day.

I went back into the house, quietly undressed, and slipped back into bed. I cuddled up to my wife's back, now with a different anticipation, and whispered, "The weather out there is terrible."

My loving wife of 5 years replied, "Can you believe my stupid husband is out fishing in that?"

And that's how the fight started..
******************************************
My wife was hinting about what she wanted for our upcoming anniversary.

She said, 'I want something shiny that goes from 0 to 150 in about 3 seconds.'

I bought her a bathroom scale.

And then the fight started...
******************************************
When I got home last night, my wife demanded that I take her some place expensive... so, I took her to a petrol station.

And then the fight started...
******************************************
After retiring, I went to the Social Security office to apply for Social Security. The woman behind the counter asked me for my driver's Licence to verify my age. I looked in my pockets and realized I had left my wallet at home. I told the woman that I was very sorry, but I would have to go home and come back later.

The woman said, 'Unbutton your shirt'. So I opened my shirt revealing my curly silver hair. She said, 'That silver hair on your chest is proof enough for me' and she processed my Social Security application.

When I got home, I excitedly told my wife about my experience at the Social Security office.

She said, 'You should have dropped your pants. You might have gotten disability, too.'

And then the fight started...
******************************************
My wife and I were sitting at a table at my school reunion, and I kept staring at a drunken lady swigging her drink as she sat alone at a nearby table.

My wife asked, 'Do you know her?'

'Yes,' I sighed, 'she’s my old girlfriend. I understand she took to drinking right after we split up those many years ago, and I hear she hasn't been sober since.'

'My God!' says my wife, 'who would think a person could go on celebrating that long?'

And then the fight started...
******************************************
I took my wife to a restaurant. The waiter, for some reason took my order first. "I'll have the steak, medium rare, please."

He said, "Aren't you worried about the mad cow?""

Nah, she can order for herself."

And then the fight started...
******************************************
A woman was standing nude, looking in the bedroom mirror. She was not happy with what she saw and said to her husband, "I feel horrible; I look old, fat and ugly. I really need you to pay me a compliment.'

The husband replied, 'Your eyesight's damn near perfect.'

And then the fight started

Berth on Nantucket

Frank Sinatra brought his 21 year-old bride Mia Farrow to Nantucket on a rented yacht. My family was holidaying on that mythic isle at the same time. Mia had just finished filming ROSEMARY'S BABY.

Mia Farrow was five years older than me.

Not like Frank Sinatra, but my love was reserved for Janet Stetson, who was the head cheerleader for my hometown's football team. I was true, but when my mother insisted on a holiday detour to view Sinatra's yacht we were rewarded with a sighting of the two super stars.

Mia was so young.

So beautiful.

21.

So unique.

I tried to make eye contact with the wiafish blonde, hoping she would invite on board, so we could sail the Seven Seas.

I failed in my quest.

Later that week Janet asked if I thought she was beautiful.

"Not as beautiful as you."

"She smiled, knowing a lie when she heard one and laughed thinking that I was hers.

It was good to be young in the 1960s.

As long as you weren't in Viet-Nam.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ADAM AND EVE by Charlotta Jansen

Charlotta Jansen at the Sphinx Gallery in London tonight with her painting 'Adam & Eve, Greene County, GA 1941'. She is one of 30 artists up for the Young Masters Prize.

I love her work.

125 Kensington Church St London W8 7LP United Kingdom +44 20 7313 8040

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sad Day for the Vikings

Each end of promenade on Boston's Commonwealth Avenue honor heroic personages. The only one I can remember is Leif Erickson, the Viking outlaw reputed to be the first European to set foot in the New World. The Norsemen were great sailors ranging from Byzantium to Vinland. The owner of Jenny Bar on Soi Xcite in Pattaya upheld that tradition with 20 years service in the Norwegian Navy.

"We are sailors of the sea. Our people explored the great unknown. Skoal."

Lars was a great drinker, but his only voyages away from Pattaya were visa runs to the Cambodia border.

In 1983 I met a Danish sailor on the Isle of Wight. Kurt drank sixteen bottles of rose wine a day and wore a kaftan.

"It is very comfortable."

Kurt was a drunk on shore, but on the deck of sailing craft Kurt had no rivals. The only time he went aground was when he relinquished his yacht's navigation to Toby Bonham oj the approached to St. Malo. The hotel owner stuck the yacht on the rocks. Kurt saved them all by jettisoning his wine.

"It was either that or sink."

Sadly not all Scandinavians are great sailors as in the story reported in a 2008 Bangkok Post.

A Swedish man had been hired by a Thai nautical museum owner to tow a decommissioned Russian submarine from Sweden to Thailand for the sum of over 20 million baht. The Thai thought, "Swede, boat, ocean, mai pen rai."

Wrong.

The sub sank off the coast of Denmark in February, which was the stormy season in the North Sea. When the museum owner asked why the submarine went to the bottom, he learned that the Swede had used a pleasure craft for the tow instead of a tugboat. For some reason this didn't seem right and the Swede was asked to report to Thai authorities to explain his side of the story.

The twenty-nine year-old is in a lot of trouble.

But Vikings are a hardy breed, if not rare these days.

Years ago at the Viking Bar in Bangkok a drunken Dane swore that true Vikings have hair on all their knuckles. Even the one with the fingernails. Obviously the Thai businessman wasn't aware of this phenomena or else he would have entrusted his submarine to a real Viking.

Hairy knuckles and all.

Did them no good against the skraelings.

Goodbye Columbus Day

Before the arrival of Christo Columbo in 1492, the New World was filled with empires, confederations, republics, city-states, and tribal lands. These diverse peoples represented a broad scattering of cultures. The population of the two connected continents has been estimated by modern historians to be approximately twenty-five million people from the Bering Straits to the tip of South America.

Fifty years after the Spanish 'discovered' America 75% of the natives had been killed by disease, war, or slavery.

The Spanish, English, French, and Dutch sought to extermination the original inhabitants of America and almost succeeded in the 19th Century, however the 'Indians' survived the slaughter, which is why many Indians seek to celebrate Oct. 12 as Native American Day rather than Columbus Day. Both Seattle and Minneapolis altered the holiday to honor the survivors of the Great Extermination.

Italians are insulted by the slight, as they were when the City of Boston planted Leif Erickson's statue at the end of Commonwealth Avenue's promenade rather than the Admiral of the Oceans.

I honor the greatest of his voyage, while recognizing the havoc wrought by the colonists.

I am a Son of the Colonial Wars.

My people conquered New England.

It was a bloody time and sometimes as I drive through the hills south of the White Mountains I can feel the bones of warriors lying in the woods.

Lost forever to the war to win America.

To read more about Boston's decision on Leif Erickson, please go to this URL

http://needhamhistory.org/features/articles/vikings/

October 13, 1492

FROM THE DIARY OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS

SATURDAY OCTOBER 13, 1492

As soon as it dawned, many of these people came to the beach—all young, as I have said, and all of good stature—very handsome people, with their hair not curly but straight and coarse, like horsehair; and all of them very wide in-the forehead and head, more so than any other race that I have seen so far. And their eyes are very handsome and not small; and none of them are black, but of the color of the Canary Islanders. Nor should anything else be expected since this island is on an east-west line with the island of Hierro in the Canaries. All alike have very straight legs and no belly but are very well formed.

They came to the ship with dugouts [canoes] that are made from the trunk of one tree, like a long boat, and all of one piece, and worked marvelously in the fashion of the land, and so big that in some of them 40 and 45 men came. And others smaller, down to some in which one man came alone. They row with a paddle like that of a baker and go marvelously. And if it capsizes on them then they throw themselves in the water, and they right and empty it with calabashes [hollowed out gourds] that they carry.

They brought balls of spun cotton and parrots and javelins and other little things that it would be tiresome to write down, and they gave everything for anything that was given to them. I was attentive and labored to find out if there was any gold; and I saw that some of them wore a little piece hung in a hole that they have in their noses. And by signs I was able to understand that, going to the south or rounding the island to the south, there was there a king who had large vessels of it and had very much gold. I strove to get them to go there and later saw that they had no intention of going. I decided to wait until the afternoon of the morrow and then depart for the southwest, for, as many of them showed me, they said there was land to the south and to the southwest and to the northwest and that these people from the northwest came to fight them many times.

And so I will go to the southwest to seek gold and precious stones. This island is quite big and very flat and with very green trees and much water and a very large lake in the middle and without any mountains; and all of it so green that it is a pleasure to look at. And these people are very gentle, and because of their desire to have some of our things, and believing that nothing will be given to them without their giving something, and not having anything, they take what they can and then throw themselves into the water to swim.
But everything they have they give for anything given to them, for they traded even pieces for pieces of bowls and broken glass cups, and I even saw 16 balls of cotton given for three Portuguese ceotis [copper coins], which is a Castilian blanca [a copper coin worth half of a maravedi]. And in them there was probably more than an arroba [around 24 pounds] of spun cotton.

This I had forbidden and I did not let anyone take any of it, except that I had ordered it all taken for Your Highnesses if it were in quantity. It grows here on this island, but because of the short rime I could not declare this for sure. And also the gold that they wear hung in their noses originates here; but in order not to lose time I want to go see if I can find the island of Cipango.

Now, since night had come, all the Indians went ashore in their dugouts.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

SUKKOT / BET ON CRAZY

Two years ago the Diamond District on 47th Street was dead on the high holiday of Sukkot.

All throughout the shetls of Williamsburg families were commemorating the Hebrews' wandering in the desert after the Exodus in Egypt by setting up sukkahs or outside dwelling to symbolize the tents on that decades-long journey to find someplace to call their own.

The Hasidic diamond dealers abandoned the Diamond District for the week. The day before Chol HaMoed Gabriel our broker left our store ten big diamonds in hopes that a goy might buy one. Richie Boy and his father weren't so religious and saw the holiday as a time to operate with less competition.

On the first day of Sukkot I opened the safe and put Gabriel's rocks in the window. They were in individual diamond boxes. None were under five carats and the total value of the goods was slightly over 500K. They made a big impression.

A half-hour later an over-weight gypsy in a Versace suit entered the store and asked, "How much for the big stone?"

"It ain't for sale." I had never sold to a gypsy.

"Everything is for sale on 47th Street."

"Not this stone." I had nothing against Gippos, but they hadn't earned their rep for guile by being saints.

"Show him the stone." Manny was sitting at his desk. He had dealt with hundreds of gypsies during his years on the Bowery.

"Okay, but everything has a price," I grumbled, for the Roma were a WOT or a waste of time. Worse was the possibility that they might rob you.

"Which is?" I had seen Tony around the block.

"40K."

"Can I see it?"

"Sure." I went to the front window and plucked the stone from the tray. A zaftig, but attractive woman in a matching Versace dress smiled at me. She was Tony's wife. They worked as a team. She came inside.

I show her the diamond without letting her touch it.

"I love this ring, Tony." Her fragrance was Versace Bright Crystal.

"I love it too, but I don't love $40K for a 6-carat F SI3?" He was top of the line Roma. "Would you take 20K for it?"

"Thanks but no thanks." Gabriel had memoed the diamond for $35,000. Manny said that it was a lot of flash for the cash. My boss came from Brownsville. He had never lost its touch on his soul.

"I have the money." Tony brandished a roll of hundreds thick enough to be 20K, unless the center was all $1 bills.

"Sorry, the price remains 40K. No haggling either."

"I thought maybe you would want to do some business." What Tony meant was that if I gave him the stone, I could stick the 20K and walked out of the store.

"Sorry, no deal."

I sat at my desk and the gypsy exited from the exchange. Tony had other marks on his list. Maybe he would get lucky. My boss Richie Boy showed up a few minutes later.

"Anything happening?"

"A gypsy offered me 20K for Gab's stone." Manny stood up with a groan. His hip was killing the 80 year-old.

"You didn't let him touch it?"

"Not at all." Gypsies were skilled at switching stones.

"Let me check."

I got the stone for Richie Boy.

"You're lucky," he said after weighing out the diamond on the scale.

"Lucky was, if he sold it." Manny sat back down with a grunt. He wasn't getting old, but some parts of his body were on strike.

"We were lucky." Richie Boy nodded to me and I put the diamond back in the window.

Across the street Tony and his wife were standing outside a store. They were looking to get lucky.

Anything was possible on Sukkot.

Around noon the girls working for Manny's partner wanted to order lobster rolls from the new take-out.

Coming from Maine I was eager to try the lunch special.

Richie Boy signaled that he was in too.

Lobster might be tref or unclean and unfit for consumption according to Jewish tradition, however only one member of our staff was religious. The rest were bacon Jews.

Lunch came, we ate, and then discussed the lobster rolls.

Cindy thought it was good. She had gone to UMass.

Richie Boy was unimpressed. He was nursing a hangover.

I had eaten better in Maine, but Lincolnville was an eight-hour drive from 47th Street.

A chubby hand slapped the window.

Lenny.

The Hassidic bum.

His yamakah was sliding off what remained of his greasy hair and his fingers were twitching for money.

"Fuck him." Richie Boy had little patience for Lenny.

"He's harmless." Lenny was no Don Rickles, but he made me laugh.

"Tell him to go away. He's bad for business."

"Business? On Sukkot keep on dreaming."

"Do me a favor and send him away. Lenny's ruining my appetite."

I put down my lobster roll and went outside.

Lenny seemed to have gained more weight and he smelled like he hadn't been to a schvitz since before Moses freed the slaves.

"Lenny, you're messing up the window." His hand imprints were scattered on the glass like prehistoric paintings. "I'm the one who has to clean it."

"Sorry, Damian." Lenny was a slob in his filthy tee-shirt and ripped flannel trousers with sodden sneakers shaped like melted cheese. He has been living on the street for more than 20 years, but I had seen the fat bum deposit over $200 at the bank more than once. Some people say that his lunacy is an act, except his rhummy eyes told the truth.

"No worries." I liked that he called me 'Damian'. The name smacked of THE OMEN and the Son of Satan.

"Why Richie doesn't ever give?" Lenny begged everyone on the street for money. He even took small change.

"Maybe it has something to do with you calling him a Nazi."

"He is a Nazi. A country club Nazi who hates Jews like me." Lenny was fondling an etrog lemon, which someone must have given him for Sukkot. I could smell it over his stench.

"Lenny, I hear you say that to a lot a people on the street. It's not nice."

"I'll tell you what's not nice." Lenny pointed to Tony and his wife. "Over a million gypsies were killed by the Nazis, but no one ever builds a museum for them"

"The Roma are 'travelers'." That was the Irish word for them and it didn't have a nice meaning.

"And the Hebrews wandered forty years in the desert and what about the Wandering Jew?"

"That's a myth." The Goyim had created the legend of a Jew cursed with immortality for taunting Jesus on his way to the Crucifixion.

"Ahasver might not exist, but the Jews have traveled the world for centuries same as the Roma and people talk about them the same way as they talk about us."

Aren't you celebrating Sukkot?"

"I sleep outside every night." Lenny lived in the rough. He had no possession other than the clothing on his back. "Every day is Sukkot for me. Same as you, Damian. You wander the world."

"My wanderings are more like Dion's THE WANDERER than the Jews and Roma." I loved the line from that hit, 'I'm the type of guy'.

"I love Dion." Lenny knew every homeless shelter in New York. They were his world and the sidewalks were paths for his travels.

"Me too, but I wish I didn't."

"Your kids in Thailand." Lenny was crazy, but he wasn't stupid. He knew my life."

"Yeah, my kids." The four of them were halfway around the world. There was something not right about that arrangement and I felt more sympathy for the Roma than was normal for someone born on the Coast of Maine.

Richie Boy rapped on the window.

"Lenny, I got to go back to work." I had to make a little money.

"You got a dollar for the holiday?"

I handed him two bills.

He wished me luck and called for a blessing on my kids in Thailand.

"May you get home soon."

"Thanks." Seeing my kids was my greatest wish. Another month and I would have plane fare to Bangkok. I would count every day.

"Baxt hai sastimos tiri patragi." Lenny shambled into the street. His eyes were on Tony and his wife. He saw them as a soft touch.

"What's that?" I had never heard those words before.

"It's Romani for 'good luck.'"

"Sie gesund." I wished him well in Yiddish and returned inside the diamond exchange hoping to close a deal in the final hours of Sukkot, because all wanderers are lucky as long as they were heading home.