Saturday, January 31, 2015

Survival Of The Stupidest

Charles Darwin was blessed to have circumnavigated the globe in the HMS Beagle.

His observations during the five-year voyage of the Southern Seas provided the young self-funded naturalist the time to develop with the theory of Natural Selection or Evolution as well as realized that throughout time Earth had experienced profound geological changes. No one in the western world was ready to accept his thoughts on Evolution and with good reason.

There is no such thing as survival of the fittest.

We are stupid creatures, but we can take a beating and learn nothing from it as evinced by the following photos of ladders.

Safety first.

Or "Let's get the job done."

"Aint' nothing better than drinking a beer after a job well-done."

ps. Darwin and the Bible don't know shit.

The stupid shall inherit the Earth, because they are stupid lucky.

THE ONLY YEH YEH GIRL By Peter Nolan Smith

The stars of the 1960s were transported by TV and radio to my three red-light suburb south of Boston. The teenagers of the 50s worshipped Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Buddy Holly as dead gods, but my generation’s focus was dedicated to the living.

Bob Dylan’s BLOWING IN THE WIND knocked Elvis off his throne and the Beatles enthralled girls with I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND. The Ronettes defined hot with BE MY BABY, but young boys worshipped movie actresses as wingless angels fallen to Earth, even though their visits to Boston were plastered on the silver screen.

Julie Christie won our hearts in DARLING in 1965 and a year later my older brother chose fur-bikinied Raquel Welch as his muse after her debut in 1,000,000 BC. The seductive virtues of various starlets were debated by the boys in my high school. I held my sand, because I was searching for a goddess to call my own.

One cold January night my hand slipped on the radio dial and the antenna caught a signal from Quebec transmitting a wavering female singing ‘La maison où j’ai grandi”.

This song had nothing to do with DOMINIQUE by the Singing Nun.

This singer was telling a story of love.

I cursed myself for not paying attention in French classes and looked over to my brother’s bed. He was asleep on his side. I turned up the volume and rode the magic radio waves to the last fading notes of the guitar. The Montreal DJ announced with breathless admiration, “C’etait une autre tube par Francoise Hardy.”

I didn’t understand a word, but understood that Francoise Hardy couldn’t be anything other than beautiful.

For the next two hours I remained glued to the distant station and the DJ rewarded my patience with LE PREMIER BONHEUR DU JOUR, QUI PEUT DIRE, and L’AMITIE.

“Bonne anniversaire, Francoise.”

Somehow my brain translated those words into ‘happy birthday, Francoise’.

The DJ said Francoise was twenty-three. I was fifteen. She lived somewhere French. Paris was three thousand miles away.

“Turn off that Frog crap.” My older brother mumbled from his pillows.

“Okay.” I shut the radio and went to sleep confused by conflicting images of Francoise Hardy.

I saw her as a blonde. I fantasized about her as a redhead. I woke early to a dream of her as a brunette.

I dressed and wandered down to the kitchen.

“You’re awfully quiet,” my father said at the breakfast table.

“Thinking about changing my language from German to French.”

“I thought you liked German.” My father had studied French at college.

“I did.” I spoke it with a Boston accent much to the chagrin of Bruder Karl. My best grade had been a D+. I had no feeling for Marlene Dietrich.

“Any reason for the change?”

“Maybe I’ll have more use for French.”

“Like for when you’re ordering French Fries.” My older brother joked and my younger brothers and sisters laughed along with my father.

I didn’t mention my restless night to my car pool friends, as we drove on 128. My daydreams of Francoise Hardy consumed the morning math and biology classes. I had a study hall for the third period and went the library to search through the record collection.

Brother Jerome, the librarian, was in his office. A freshman was sitting on his lap.

I wandered over to the record trays and flipped through the LPs without finding a single French record. A few music stores in downtown Boston sold foreign records and I planned on heading to Washington Street after school.

“I’m not going home today?” I told my car pool.

“Where you going?” My best friend, Chuckie Manzi, wanted to join me.

“To see the dentist.” No one liked the sound of the drill.

“You’re on your own.”

My friends dropped me at the Forest Hills T station and got off at Washington Street. None of the big department stores had any French 45s or LPs. On the way to the Park Street Station I chanced upon the Commons. The owner was an old man with a beard. The forty year-old looked like a beatnik. I was dressed as a mod.

“Can I help you?” The walls were stacked with records according to genres.

“Do you have any Francoise Hardy?”

“How do you know about Francoise Hardy?” The old man was mystified by my request.

“I heard her on a Canadian station.”

“Must have been a strong signal.” He went to the French section and pulled out a plastic sealed LP.

“Francoise Hardy dropped out of the Sorbonne to record OH OH CHERI with Johnny Halliday. He’s the French Elvis. She became one of the biggest stars of Ye-Ye music and her hit TOUS LES GARCONS ET LES FILLES made the charts in the UK. I think it was 1964. Here’s that LP. It came out in 1962.”

He handed me the album.

I held the cover in both hands.

The name had a face and that face belonged to an angel. A cinnamon strands of hair streamed across feline eyes. An ivory hand held an umbrella with a detached interest. Francoise was a woman made for a rainy afternoon.

“Can I hear a little?”

“Sure.” The old man r slipped the LP onto a Garrard 401 turntable. “This is LE TEMPS D’AMOUR.”

A patter of drums opened the song. A twangy guitar and solid bass joined on the next bar. The singer wasted no time getting to the lyrics. They must have been about love. 2:27 passed in a second.

“What you think?”

“I’ll take it.” Her pose sold youthful innocence. I gave him $5. “Is that the only one you have?”

“Of that LP, yes, but I can get some of her other records, if you’d like.”

I nodded my answer and promised to return on the weekend.

“My name’s Osberg.” He handed me a business card. “Call to find out when to come in.”

“Thanks.” I left his shop and caught the T to Ashmont.

That evening after finishing dinner and my homework, I went down to the basement and put the LP on my father’s record player. My brother had a better one in our bedroom, but I wasn’t sharing Francoise Hardy with someone in love with a woman in a fake fur bikini, even if Frunk was my older brother.

One play of her record and I became her biggest fan south of the USA-Canada border.

I listened to the Quebec stations in secrecy.

At school I hid my secret. My friends regarded our northern neighbors as Canucks and I didn’t want to risk their attacking Francoise. I bought several LPs from Mr. Osberg and he introduced me to the other Ye-Ye girls; Frances Gall, Sylvie Vartan, and Jacqueline Taïeb as well as the Sultans from Quebec and Serge Gainsbourg.

None of them were Francoise Hardy.

I dreamed about flying to Paris.

An airline ticket cost hundreds of dollars.

I settled for listening to her music with my eyers closed.

In 1968 Francoise Hardy released COMMENT TE DIRE ADIEU written by Serge Gainsbourg. Mr. Osburg said that he was the wicked man in France and played his hit with Jane Birkin JE T’AIME…MOI NON PLUS.

Sex dripped off the record. Mr. Osburg was right about this Gainsbourg man. He was as ugly as sin. I had to save Francoise and as soon as I arrived home, I asked my father, if we could vacation in France.

“They’re having troubles there.” My father was very conservative. He tolerated the length of my hair, but thought I looked like a girl. “Students in the streets. Worse than the hippies. We’re going to the Cape.”

Our family rented three motel rooms in Harwichport. The pool overlooked the small harbor. The beach boasted the warmest water on Cape Cod. The sea was 65 Fahrenheit by the 4th of July.

Every morning I read the Boston Globe. The newspaper covered the War in Vietnam with little mention of the student riots, but I was certain that Francoise Hardy wasn’t the type of girl to get mixed up in trouble on the Left Bank. Not unless she fell into the hands of the evil Serge Gainsbourg and I plotted a trip to France. A rumor was whispered across Boston about a jet plane leaving Boston every morning for Paris.

Its cargo of Maine lobsters was traded for eclairs, creme brûlées, and pomme tartes.

Two weeks before the start of school I emptied my bank account and took the T to Logan Airport. None of the terminals listed the ‘lobster’ flight and I spent the greater part of Saturday hunting for the mythic plane to Paris.

“Ha.” A Boston cop laughed upon hearing my query. “Once a week some kid comes up looking for the ‘lobster’ plane. There ain’t none. Some bullshit story someone invented for who knows why, but the weird thing is that all these kids want to meet the same girl. Francoise Hardy. You ever heard of her?”

“No.” These ‘others’ feelings for Francoise Hardy could never rival my love.

“Me too. Must be some kind of film star. Like Brigitte Bardot.”

I fought back an explanation, not needing any more converts to the faith, and returned home in defeat.

That summer America was deep mourning after the murder of RFK in LA.

MRS. ROBINSON replaced Archie Bell and the Drells’ TIGHTEN UP as # 1, while Simon and Garfinkel sang about an older woman from the movie THE GRADUATE. Francoise Hardy was eight years older than me. I changed the words from Mrs. Robinson to Francoise Hardy. I never sang it in front of my girlfriend. Kyla was the same age as me.

COMMENT TE DIRE ADIEU was not a hit and the radio station in Quebec played less and less of her songs.

Kyla and I went steady. I liked to think that Francoise would have approved of my selection, but I was stupid and left Kyla for no good reason in 1969.

That year Francoise released Françoise Hardy en Anglais. Like the Catholic Mass in English her songs lost their magic in my language.

My travels in the late-60s and 70s were confined to hitchhiking across America. None of the drivers played TOUS LES GARCONS ET LES FILLES, but I defended French music to hundreds of hippies, rednecks, and disco fanatics by saying, "You've never heard Francoise Hardy."

In 1973 she appeared in the film SAVE THE TIGER. The director failed to break the 29 year-old singer to America. She remained a creature of France.

The Atlantic Ocean separated America from the Old World. My opportunity to cross the waters came in 1982, when I was hired to work as a doorman at the Bains-Douches, a popular Paris nightclub. At first I was unfamiliar with the French pop stars, but over the course of the next year I met Johnny Halliday, Yves Montand, Catherine Denevue, Yves St. Laurent, Coluche, countless Vogue models, arms dealers, and other lightbulbs of the night, but never Francoise Hardy and I asked the owner about her absence.

“She doesn’t go out at night. Her husband, Jacques Dutronc, is very jealous.”

“Of what?” Dutronc was a rock star for the French. Nobody in the USA knew his name, but ET MOI ET MOI ET MOI was a great song. I had it on tape.

“Of other men.

“A boyfriend is a man’s best enemy.”

“Not Jacques Dutronc.” My boss warned that her husband was capable of almost anything against any man seeking intimacy with his wife. “He is very much in love with her.”

“Who wouldn’t be?”

My boss shrugged with mutual understanding, He was a Francoise Hardy fan too.

The nightlife was a small world in Paris and I didn’t mention Francoise’s name again. People had big mouths.

Jacques Dutronc visited the club on several occasions. A thick cigar hung out of his mouth. I hated the smell. He never came with Francoise. The rumor was that she was terribly shy after having been the Ye-Ye Girl for so many years. I made her husband wait to get in more than once.

Jacques complained to my boss, who laughed behind the singer’s back.

My job was to make French stars feel like getting into the Bains-Douches was a privilege, however my friends were granted an easy entry, especially Suzi Wyss, the mistress of a Getty Oil heir. On my days off I smoked opium at her oriental pad in the 13th arrondisement. The Swiss courtesan was superb cook and traveled through many cliques. One night she invited me to a dinner.

“Don’t tell anyone, but Francoise Hardy will be coming.”

“I thought she didn’t go out.” This was a miracle.

“She doesn’t, but she loves my cooking and I am always discreet. So not a word.”

“Silence will be my vow” I wanted her to myself. “Will her husband be there?”

“Not for dinner, but he might come for dessert. He has a thing for my Swiss chocolate torte.”

Suzi’s piece de resistance was a culinary delight and I prepared like a nameless suitor for this rendezvous with Francoise Hardy.

I bought a white shirt from Agnes B and a gray suit from Cerruti. No tie was better than pretending to be a business man and I purchased Cuban heels from the flea market. They dated back to the time of her greatest success. I cut my hair short and didn’t bathe for two days to emulate French men, who avoided bathing in fear of losing their masculinity.

That evening I showed up on time with a bouquet of roses. Suzi loved flowers. We smoked hash. Opium was for after the dinner. The door bell rang at 9.

Francoise arrived at the apartment with a young gay man. We opened a bottle of wine. She wasn’t a drinker, but was amused by my stories of New York nightclubs awash with beautiful women and crooked cops.

“It would make a good movie.”

“Only if you played the lead.” I envisioned us on the podium of the Academy Awards receiving Oscars.

“I’m too old to play that role.”

“You’re never too old to be a star.”

Suzi lit another joint. We smoked it before dinner.

I was falling in love again.

In fact I had never stopped loving Francoise.

She spoke about her music and picked up a guitar from the corner. The Ye-Ye girl sang two new tunes. I was in paradise and was about to tell her about hearing her music on a little radio twenty years ago.

A knock on the door trashed my moment.

The guest was Jacques Dutronc.

Francoise’s face said that she loved him and no one else.

Any man would have been a fool to not love her the same.

“I know you.” He pointed his cigar. “Bains-Douches. Doorman.”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“A writer too.” Suzi was on my side.

“Pouoff.” Dutronc had witnessed thousands of writers attempt to seduce his wife. “Women only love directors and producers. They prefer chauffeurs before a writer.”

Francoise laughed at her husband’s joke. Suzi thought it funny too. I might have joined them, if the riposte hadn’t struck deep. We rejoined to the living room, where Jacques Dutronc picked up the guitar.

“Francoise and I did a song in 1978. BROULLIARD DANS LA RUE CORVISART.”

He put down his cigar and sang the song’s opening lines. Francoise accompanied him on the song. I applauded their duet as well as their shared love. I didn’t stand a chance. The odds were stacked higher against me than the records in Mr. Osburg’s music store.

An hour later the famed couple left with the gay friend.

Francoise didn’t even said good-bye.

Jacques winked to me. I wouldn’t make him wait at the door any more.

“Poor Boy.” Suzi patted my cheek. “Everyone loves her.”

“Yes, I suppose we do.”

“And I know how to make you forget, if only for a few minutes.” Suzi handed me a pipe. Opium was a good doctor for a broken heart.

The three of us met several more times at Suzi’s apartment.

The same routine as always, dinner, wine, and a joint or two.

Jacques came late and they departed ensemble.

I imagined myself being him, but I didn't like cigars and my French was even worse than my German. Francoise loved Jacques and that was good enough for me, because all men at one time in their lives need a goddess to teach them about love.

Even if they were another man’s woman

To Hear Francoise Hardy's LE PREMIERE BONHEUR DU JOUR please go to the following URL

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITYVXUvMtHI

Faster Than Light Beauty

I wish for a time machine to take me back to London.

1968.

Francoise Hardy on a motorbike.

I would have had a lot of competition and even though I would have only been 16, a good time would have been had by all.

Je l'adore.

In 1968 through eternity fast than speed itself.

To hear Francoise Hardy's version of the Kinks' WHO'LL BE THE NEXT IN LINE, please go to this URL;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S31Fe6BrFy8

Light Stops On A Dime

According to Wikipedia the f-number (sometimes called focal ratio, f-ratio, f-stop, or relative aperture[1]) of an optical system is the ratio of the lens's focal length to the diameter of the entrance pupil.[2] It is a dimensionless number that is a quantitative measure of lens speed, and an important concept in photography.

The constriction of light through an aperture has nothing to do with its constant speed, however German scientists at the University of Darmstadt have claimed to have frozen light for a single minute to test its quantum coherence properties (i.e. its information state) in hopes of someday breaking the speed limit of light.

This phenomena naturally occurs in diamonds, in which light slows to half-speed.

Another reason why diamonds are a women's best friend.

They stop time for their beauty.

The Germans under their group leader George Heinze brought the speed of its light to zero, proving they are no constants in this universe.

Only variables of constancy, then again anyone who has lived with a woman knows that oh too well.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Vanishing of Belief


My aunt Gloria loved to tell the story about my baptism. The christening was on a hot June day in 1952. Her husband was my godfather. He wore Marine officer whites and a smile. Uncle Jack was glad to be back from Korea. The priest recited the rites and my aunt said as soon as he mentioned Satan that I started bawling like I was possessed by the Devil.

"You didn't stop crying until you were out of the church."

My aunt was a good Catholic as was my mother. They sent their children to Our Lady of the Foothills to educate us in the Ways of the Church and I had entertained an avocation for the priesthood until my best friend drowned in Lake Sebago. Chaney was a good boy. No god should have let him die, however my friend had perished without any divine assistance and I rejected the existence of god from that day on.

I was 8.

I refrained from telling my mother about this apostasy. She would have been devastated by my atheism and I acceded to her wishes that I serve as an altar boy at our local church.

"Who knows? Maybe one day you'll be a priest like your uncle." The priesthood was a favored destination for second sons.

"Maybe one day."

But there was no chance that I would regain my faith. My soul was lost to heaven and hell. My godless spirituality was a secret to friends and family for years, since most Americans couldn't get their head around the idea of life without religion. Non-believers were considered heretics to be avoided by the faithful until President Obama recognized non-believers in this inauguration speech.

We were on the map and neither the Vatican nor the Baptist ministry could deny our presence in the modern world. Our numbers are estimated to be about 15% of the US population and our ranks are growing so fast that the Vatican has proposed a meeting in Paris between believers and non-believers, although I can't see any reason for dialogue with our persecutors.

They can go their way and I will go mine.

A man at peace with the cosmos.

We are not alone.

We are together.

Humans and the stars.

For I was only crying at the Baptism because I was rejecting not only Satan and all his deeds, but god and his too.

Moonshine, Masturbation, and Eclipses By Peter Nolan Smith


Children are cruel by nature. Young boys and girls instinctively bully the weak and ridicule the infirm. There was nothing funnier than a cheap trick at the cost of a poor unfortunate in keeping with the ageless adage, "Comedy is when a beggar falls down the stairs. Tragedy is when a duchess does."

In the early 60s our teachers and parents offered the blind/deaf/mute idol Helen Keller as an icon of individual triumph. Anne Bancroft won the Academy Award for her portrayal of the teacher who brings light to a young Alabaman girl without the power to speak, hear, or see in THE MIRACLE WORKER .

It didn't take long for Helen Keller jokes to hit the grade school circuit.

How did Helen Keller's parents punish her?

They moved the furniture.

Her triple affliction gave healthy children comfort that they were normal, however our parents and teachers swiftly instilled a new fear in callous youth unafraid of the Devil.

At age ten my sins were small; mostly disobeying my parents and telling lies. The priest in the confessional announced my penance in a hushed voice, "Ten Hail Marys and two Our Fathers."

These prayers cleansed the black spots from my soul, however my innocence was soon challenged by a deadly scourge signaled by waking in the middle of the night with pajamas soaked by a sticky substance. This oddity was a terrible embarrassment for a 12 year-old.

Bed-wetting was for babies.

I hid my shameful affliction by washing my PJs the next morning.

My father was dumbfounded by my obsession with clean bedwear.

"You're pissing in his bed," my older brother kidded me about a regression to infantilism.

"No, I'm not." I threatened him with a beating. I was taller by two inches.

"I've seen the wet spot."

I didn't know how to handle my shame, until my best friend Chuckie Manzi solved the mystery by opening the Boy Scout Handbook to a small section entitled NOCTURNAL EMISSIONS.

"It's when your balls are too loaded with semen and you shot a load without even knowing it."

"That's not what they say in the Handbook." I showed him the text.

"At times the glands discharge part of their secretions through the sex organ during sleep. This process is called a nocturnal emission or a “wet dream”. It is perfectly natural and healthy and a sign that nature has taken care of the situation in its own manner.

"There you have it, even the Boy Scouts say it's normal."

Normal was important to us. No one wanted to be weird.

I read more from the Handbook, which stated that there are boys who do not let nature have its own way with them but cause emissions themselves. This may do no physical harm, but may cause them to worry.

Any real boy knows that anything that causes him to worry should be avoided or overcome. If anything like this worries you, this is not unusual – just about all boys have the same problem. Seek the correct answer to any question which bothers you about your development from boy to man. But be sure to get your information from reliable sources – your parents, your physician, your spiritual adviser.

"I'm not talking to the priest or my parents about this."

Chuckie shook his head.

"Keep your confession to the normal and never tell the priest about that."

"Why not?"

"Because some of them are not right."

By 'not right' Chuckie meant that they liked to touch boys. None of our parish priests were that way, but I limited my confession to swearing and disobeying my parents, even after I osmotically learned how to effect nocturnal emissions.

No boys told the priests about touching themselves after dark, for masturbation was a mortal sin threatening the immortal soul.

For the Church sex was strictly for procreation. Pleasure in the act disrupted the natural order of life and the priests warned their young male parishioners that wasting the holy seed of life endangered the sense of sight.

"You could go blind or suffer from effeminacy."

The man across the street from my parents' house was queer. Arthur flew jets for Eastern Airlines. His boyfriend, Joe, coached football. Chuckie and I suspected them of masturbating each other.

"It's what queers do, isn't it?"

"How should I know."

That spring the mystery of men with men was solved by the discovery of rotting stroke books in the woods of the Blue Hills. Queers did everything married couples did in bed and more according to the moldy paperbacks titled 'JOCKS ON FIRE' or 'COCK-MAD COACHES'. I whacked off to pages 75-78 of THE ITCH about seven hundred times without losing my eyesight, although my sight worsened throughout the end of grammar school.

My seat was moved to the front of the class. I got good grades. Bullies didn't like smart kids with glasses. The beatings were painful, but at least I hadn't had my eyes plucked from their sockets like Tyrone Power in PRINCE OF FOXES. Orson Welles played Cesare Borgia.

Blind teenagers were sent to a special school for the blind, deaf, and dumb. The nuns taught them how to live in the normal world. People said those school were more special for other reasons and none of them good.

In high school the brothers were hip to drugs. The vice-principal held an assembly to inform us of the danger of looking into the sun. The guest speaker was an acid head who had stared into the sun during a total eclipse.

"All I can see is the sun. Nothing but the sun."

I used my savings to buy prescribed sunglasses. Eclipses were rarely announced on teenage TV. Being an ex-Boy Scout I had been trained to 'be prepared', plus Ray-Bans were the height of style in the 1960s.

Girls thought that they were cool. The bullies stopped hurting me. They liked the girls who liked my glasses. The nuns tried to stop me from wearing them in classes. My optometrist said I had sensitive eyes.

Doctor Shaw wasn't scared of the nuns. He was Jewish.

The last threat to my eyes was moonshine.

Two year ago I bought a gallon from a Mississippian hanging around Frank's Lounge in Fort Greene. I tried a few sips of Homer's concoction and the corn mash burned a light in my stomach. A match to a spoon filled with the illegal alcohol ignited a blue blaze. This meant the 'shine was clean.

A yellow fire was cause for caution, for rotgut moonshine can blind or kill the unsuspecting, mostly if the manufacturer isn't too tidy with his contraptions such as a car radiator, which offers a deadly concoction of lead and anti-freeze.

A high-minded distiller will 86 the 'foreshot' of the batch i.e. the first offering from the still. After that it's white-line fever and I see the light.

And I still suffer from nocturnal emissions.

It's only natural.

THE SMELL OF MOONSHINE by Peter Nolan Smith

Back in the late 50s my Irish grandmother took my older brother and me for a monthly visit to downtown Boston. We left from her house in Jamaica Plains and rode the trolley into Boylston Street. The El from Forest Hills to Washington Street was quicker, but Nana preferred the trolley. My late grandfather had driven them out of Forest Hills. Once on Washington Street she headed to St. Anthony's Shrine for a ritual of lighting candles. The priest on duty heard her confessions. Her penance was five Hail Mary's and one Our Father. Nana asked if we had been good boys. We nodded yes. At six and seven Frunka and I were too young to have broken any of the serious Commandments, especially since my childhood atheism was a secret to my family and friends.

Next stop was WT Grant for hot dogs and then we went over to the Orpheum Theater.

Nana liked handsome movie stars and she was particularly partial to Robert Mitchum. THUNDER ROAD was a hit in May 1958. The actor played a Korea war veteran running moonshine through the hills of Kentucky. A hot-rodded 1951 Ford, illegal whiskey, hillbilly gangsters, and a rocking title song.

"Don't tell your mother about us seeing this movie." Her accent was pure County Mayo.

"No, Nana."

Neither of us were brought up to be rat finks.

We sat in the darkened theater and heard the rocking title song.

BALLAD OF THUNDER ROAD

And there was thunder, thunder over Thunder Road
Thunder was his engine, and white lightning was his load
There was moonshine, moonshine to quench the Devil’s thirst
The law they swore they’d get him, but the Devil got him first.

We left the theater singing the chorus. Nana warned us not to sing it in front of my mother.

“She doesn’t like whiskey.”

Years later I heard from my aunt that Nana had brewed whiskey and beer during Prohibition. Our Irish blood was true to our devotion to spirits. My juvenile encounters with alcohol were restricted to beer bought by the town bum, Red Tate, and hard liquor siphoned from our parents’ bottles. My next door neighbor and I rationalized this abasement of vodka saved the adults from drunken misbehavior.

Moonshine remained beyond our reach.

Only white trash drank ‘busthead’.

In 1970 I was attending BC. My college friends from the South extolled the virtues of ‘popskull’. Al Wincent and Hank Watson drove taxi together for Checker Cab in Boston. We were hippies, but liked to finish the night’s work waiting for the go-go dancers from the Combat Zone.

One night a blonde from Tennessee invited us to her apartment in the South End. We drank distilled alcohol from a jug. Its strength content was near-lethal, but Al slurred, “It might kick you in the head, but it doesn’t have the light. I can’t explain something you can’t touch unless it’s in your hands. Once you taste it, nothing else will taste like it."

I accepted his explanation and in the summer of 1971 I hitchhiked to Virginia from Boston. The trip took 7 hours from Mass. Ave. to the Tap o Keg in Georgetown. Al was waiting for me. It was almost 1am, but the bars along Wisconsin Avenue stayed open until 4. The southern girls were friendly to long-hairs. A red-headed coed from hill country knew where to get some ‘shine. Her name was Billy.

Al made a call from the payphone and twenty minutes later we met a thick-tongued grit in a alley. He was standing next to a rusted Ford pick-up.

“You ain’t no revenuer?” His accent was Appalachian. He smelled like his burly body had been dipped in medicine. A .38 was in his waist.

“Jimbo, put away that gun. He ain’t no police.” Billy laughed at his accusation, but I understood his concern. The federal government frowned on the sale of untaxed alcohol.

“$15 for three.” Jimbo pulled a tarp off a crate in the flatbed loaded with clear glass jars. Al cracked one open.

“Smells like good shine. Watch.” Al lit a match to the liquid. A blue flame. “Good color. Won’t make you go blind.”

“That’s right.” Jimbo finished the transaction with the speed of a snake needing to take a piss. He drove away with a rumble. The V-8 under the hood was not stock.

“Here’s to ‘shine.” Al chugged a sip. His face went sour and then his body shuddered with spasms to every muscle. “Now that’s ‘shine.”

He handed me the open jar. I offered some to Billy. She waved it away.

“Ladies don’t drink ‘shine. It makes them crazy. You go right ahead.”

I brought the jar to my lips. Mountain Dew wasn’t made for sipping. I pour a good swallow down my gullet. White lightning splashed down my gullet and flashed against my spine.

“Now I understand.”

“I thought you would.” Al toasted my conversion to ‘shine.

Billy accompanied us through the night. She felt responsible for the two of us. The last thing I remembered was singing the chorus to THUNDER ROAD over and over until it faded to a mumbled lullaby. Morning came ten hours too early. I was in a strange bed in a woman’s room.

Al lay on the floor.

“How you feeling?” Billy lay next to me. She was older than us by a few years. 22 to our 19.

“Okay.” My hangover was survivable and I sat up in bed. There were no spins. “Did we drink it all?”

“Every last drop.” She pointed to the empty jar by Al. He looked comfortable in that position. “Your friend made sure of that. You feel like some breakfast.”

“Yeah, that sounds good.”

How about some bacon, fried eggs, and grits."

A southern wake-up dish.

"Sounds even better."

I was south of the Mason-Dixon line. My breath tasted of ‘shine. Billy’s accent was a drawl. Moonshine was good, then again I always knew it was, because like my Nana I liked Robert Mitchum too and he was a good ole boy.

To hear THUNDER ROAD by Robert Mitchum, please go to this URL;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdwUpxkfSJw

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ROADS OF THE FLYOVER Part 3 by Peter Nolan Smith

Threatening clouds huddled over the Iowa cornfields. Monstrous flashes strobed through the thunderheads. The still air was charged with electricity.

"Have you ever seen a tornado?" Brock asked with his video recorder out the window.

"Only in WIZARD OF OZ." Twisters killed people and I stepped on the gas. Brock studied the map. We hadn't seen a single human being for an hour.

We're heading north, right?" The Scotsman couldn't drive, but as a covert agent he knew the points of the compass.

"Yes." I was headed away from the storm front.

"You know where?"

"Roughly."

The unpaved rural road paralleled US 169. No one in New York or London had ever traveled this route through Iowa.

"When you think that family left that house?" asked Brock, as we passed a one-story farmhouse haunting an overgrown yard.

"Back in the 90s." The paint was peeling off its wood like potato chips.

"Stop."

Brock was the boss and I punched the brakes to batslide to a halt on the dirt road.

I got out of the rented Ford and shut of the engine.

The storm lurked farther to the south. The mutter of distant thunder invaded the still spring fields. I didn't feel safe.

Brock set up his camera and explained more about his documentary on a dying Irish sculptor.

"Barry once said to a journalist, “I enjoy the third dimension and I appreciate material in time and space. I find it exciting to the eyes.”

"Then he'll love this." The strengthening wind bent the trees. The four elements were gathering force.

"Barry will love this."

The Irish sculptor was losing control of his body back on Ibiza.

"Let's go." I didn't like the look of the sky.

Thirty miles down the road we stopped at the Blackcat Fireworks store.

The sky was clearing. We had outrun the storm.

Brock tried my cellphone.

There was no service.

"I love a little pyrotechnics." He entered the store and spent $100 on rockets and M80s.

Four days ago Brock had been in Afghanistan and he was homesick for the sounds of war.

Twenty minutes later we braked on a empty road. Iowa had thousands of them. We pulled out the fireworks. I lit the fuses and Brock watched the explosions.

"Not even close to the real thing," he said, as the report of the last M80 faded into the treeline.

"Much louder?"

"Much." He didn't want to talk anymore about it and we got back in the car.

Our next destination was Des Moines, which was Iowa's capitol.

We arrived after 5.

The city was devoid of people.

"Is America dead?" Brock said, as if a plague had killed my countrymen.

"After work people flee the cities for the suburbs."

Des Moines has suburbs?

"

They were the great social experiment of the 60s." I had grown up in a pink split-level ranch house south of Boston. It had a two-car garage. "Cars gave Americans freedom to go where they wanted."

"Away from blacks?"

"Yes." Iowa was 95% white. My hometown had a population of 25,000. Only three families were black. "Segregation is the American Way."

I drove to the Flanagan hare at the city's Art Center. I stayed in the car, as Brock focused his camera on the statue. He interviewed homeless people for their impression of the hare. No one else's was left in the city. I called Thailand.

My son Fenway was better.

His mother was angry at me.

"Why you go trip? Why you not see son?"

I said nothing, because a man is always wrong in the eyes of his woman and I missed Fenway

We spent the night on the outskirts of Des Moines. Brock and I ate ribs at the restaurant was next to the motel. The TV over the bar showed fast cars. This was Nascar Country. At the end of the meal I ordered a doggie bag. Neither of us could finish our ribs.

"Why did Barry sculpt hares?" I discerned no difference between hares and rabbits.

"One day he bought a dead rabbit from a butcher in England and remembered a jumping hare. To him the hare represented freedom. All kinds of freedom."

"Freedom is a rarity in America these days. All kinds of freedom."

"Better than Afghanistan."

"I'm sure."

"What about your hippie friend? Doesn't he live in Iowa?"

"Thanks for reminding me. No one was freer than Rockford back in the day."

I loved being a hippie almost as much as being young.

Before I went to sleep, I called my friend Rockford in Iowa City.

The old hippie was looking forward to seeing us.

"I have a surprise for you."

"What?" I hated surprises.

"You'll see when you get here."

The next morning we left Des Moines. Silos towered over the old highway.

"This is farmland." Iowa was the center of America.

"Corn and wheat."

"Tortillas and bread."

"And prisons. My friend Rockford spent two years at the state penitentiary. It's across the Mississippi from Illinois."

"I doubt he had a room with a view. What he get done for?" Brock was very open-minded for a spy.

"The police raided his farmhouse for pot." Rockford had been growing weed on his Back Forty. Someone had snitched him out on a plea bargain. Snitches were a problem everywhere. "Growing pot is a felony, but the police also found some cocaine and the judge hit Rockford with a three-year bid."

"Better here than Bagram prison in Kabul."

"Bad?." I had seen pictures. The government claimed the abuse was an isolated case, but the US military and CIA had tortured thousands.

"Very bad."

"Rockford doesn't talk about it.

"Most people don't. Are we're meeting him tonight?"

"But of course. Rockford and I go back to an acid trip on Moonlight Beach in 1974. "LSD? Do tell."

I told the story of speaking with seals, as we followed the train tracks out of Des Moines. Brock laughed upon hearing about my attempt to speak French with the seal.

"What's for lunch?"

It was getting near noon.

"There's this old Pietist colony in Amana." Iowa had plenty of religious sects. We had passed through several Memmonite communities and seen Amish in horse-drawn buggies.

"Pietists?"

"An old German sect rejected Lutheranism back in the 1700s." I had no idea about their tents, but hazarded a guess. "The Lutherans were too zealous. They fought wars over their beliefs. The Pietists fled Germany and then America. Iowa is a good state for freedom of religion. They were skilled craftsmen and now make refrigerators."

"I knew Amana sounded familiar." Brock had lived in America for a decade as a playwright. The Arts were a good cover for covert agents. "Their food has to be better than McDonalds."

"We'll soon find out." I turned off the highway.

Only a few tourists were visiting the Heritage site. It was still too early in the season. I ordered chicken pot pie and Brock chose a ham steak. The waitress served us water. There was no beer on the menu.

Brock filmed our meals.

"Barry likes to see everything."

"How much longer you think he has."

He had been a young man as had Brock and I had once been back in the 70s.

"He might last to the end of the summer." Brock intended on visiting the artist in Ibiza after our return to New York and aimed the camera in my direction.

"Hmmm good." I knew how to act for Brock.

Nice and natural.

At the end of our meal Rockford called from his farm to make a rendezvous at a sports bar in Iowa City.

"What do you think he has for us?"

"I can only guess."

Something told me it was something good.

Rockford and his son met us at a bar on the outskirts of town. I hadn't seen John since he was a baby. He was a teenager now.

I gave John a Ferrari jacket from my defunct internet site. He loved it being red. His friends picked him up. They were going to a movie.

"What?" I hoped it wasn't a blood and guts slasher film.

"Star Trek."

"Cool." I had been a Trekkie from the beginning and said "Live long and prosper."

We ordered another round and spoke with the bartender. Jake was back from a 3rd tour in Iraq.

"It sucked and my commanding officer wants to go again."

"Bastard."

"You got that right."

Three right-wingers were drinking Bud-Lite at the bar and I overheard the chubby one said, "This country was founded on conservative values."

I slammed down my PBR.

"This country was founded on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, so shut the fuck up about your conservative values." I liked Obama as president. These three said nothing and drank their Bud-Lites.

Brock shook his head. He liked sleath instead of brawn.

"Was he like this when he was younger?" asked Brock.

"Our friend has always had a good temper, but with good cause." Rockford stared with eight ball eyes at the threesome and suggested we move to the Deadwood, which was Iowa City's best dive bar.

"Sounds good to me>"

Brock and I had more front teeth than any of the regulars at the Deadwood. The Iowa U co-eds danced to punk. They accepted our offers of tequila. After a few minutes Rockford broke out a small bottle packed with powder."

"Here's my surprise. Bolivian Pink 1975.

"No way." The Cali cartel had destroyed cocaine in the 80s with the help of the CIA an the Mexican gangs were even worse.

"I've been keeping it for a special occasion and nothing more special than an old friend visiting me." Rockford offered me the first blast. I did it at the bar.

1975 had been a good year.

"Was he a hippie back then?" Brock's 'he' was me.

I hated being third-person.

"Not even close, but he was good people." Rockford knew my soul.

I got another blast.

2009 was even better, because we were alive and alive was all there was everywhere in the world.

At closing the coeds asked, "Are you going?"

"Going where?" I was hoping a cheap hotel.

"To River City."

"What's in River City?'

"It's the future birthplace of James T. Kirk."

A minute later we were in a taxi heading south. Brock, Rockford, and I were in no condition to drive.

We arrived at the small town to discover that there wasn't a statue, but a plaque.

I cried just the same and had the taxi driver take us back to the hotel. I was ready to call it a night, but Rockford wasn't in the mood for sleep and poured out the rest of the Bolivian Pink. Brock and laid our heads on the pillow.

"This is a night to remember. The night you came to Iowa City and my ice let me out of the town.

I slept until dawn.

I sat up in bed and looked out the window.

Prairie grass ran up to the hotel.

"Hope I didn't keep you up." His voice was a growl native to the Hawkeye State.

"Not at all."

"I guess I'll be going. My wife will be real happy to see me, but I have a good excuse."

I was certain that my name belonged to that excuse.

"It was nice to meet you." Brock stirred from his bed.

"I wish you could stay longer."

"Me too." Brock was no angel, but a museum in Minneapolis was expecting him tomorrow.

Rockford said good-bye and drove back to his farm. We skipped the motel's complimentary breakfast. Our stomach were in no condition for food. We drank black coffee on I-380 northbound.

It wasn't a pretty road, but it was fast.

I pushed the Ford to 90.

We had to make some time.

And time was easy to make on the highway especially with James T. Kirk at my back.

He liked fast too.

Warp speed fast.

ROADS OF THE FLYOVER Part 2 by Peter Nolan Smith

“We have nothing like this in England,” Brock said, as he filmed the Mississippi spreading onto its broad flood plain north of St. Louis.

"Is this going to be in your movie?" I hadn't asked too many questions about his Barry Flanagan project.

"You never know what will mean something in a film." Brock was a one-man crew. Two, if you counted me a driver. He stopped shooting. "But this film is for Barry Flanagan. He's in the last stages of his disease. Imagine yourself trapped in a failing body. You'd want to see all this, wouldn't you?"

"And more." I had seen a good part of this world."

"Barry just has the view out his house on Ibiza."

"I imagine it's a good view." My French side of the family came from the northern Catalan of Perpignan. I had never crossed the seas to the Mallorca.

"Santa Eulalia del Río dates back to before the Romans. There are too many tourists, but this time of year."

"Same as here."

We traveled US 54 to Vandalia. We counted twenty-three cars and fourteen pick-ups on the state road. I turned northwest to Paris on US 25. The rental Ford hit 80 on the straightaways. The V6 could go faster given the right conditions.

"Aren't you scared of police?" Brock aimed the camera at me.

"They're out on the Interstates hunting revenue." I hadn't seen a cop car since a Highway Patrol cruiser in St. Louis stopped me for speeding. "Remember this is the Flyover, but it's not a wasteland."

Miles and miles of newly plowed fields wasn't much of a thrill, but a week's parole from New York was soothing to my eyes.

"No, I wouldn't say that." Brock put down his camera.

"How do people live out here?" Brock shook his head, as we passed an abandoned junkyard. Both of us were hungry, but US 24 offered little in the way of eateries. We were holding off for ribs in KC.

"Farming."

"I feel like we're remaking the last chapters of COLD BLOOD." Brock had chosen Truman Capote's opus about two drifters murdering a Kansas farmer as his travel book.

"Not much has changed out here since then." My book was Herman Melville's TYPEE. He had romanticized the Pacific cannibals of the Marquesas. They were good eaters, but I hadn't even opened the tale of a whaler stranded on a cannibal paradise.


"The last time I came through the Midwest was in 1994 in a Studebaker Hawk."

"That's why I wanted you with me. You're American."

I pressed PLAY for Arthur Lee and Love's IF 6 WAS 9 and my foot hit the gas.

The Ford was all go.

It hit 90.

Rain splashed off the four-laner. The sky was an ominous black. The tornado of THE WIZARD OF OZ belonged to Kansas. That flat state lay straight ahead.

"Stormy weather." It scared Brock.

"Nothing to worry about." I slowed the Ford to under 50 to prevent us from aero-planing into the scenery.

The rain stopped after a torrential deluge and the sun broke through the thick clouds. Kansas City rested on a hill. A golden nimbus transform it into Oz.

I was no Dorothy and stepped on the gas.

"I love America." Brock had been filming for two minutes.

I doubted any of it would make his film.

"My friend, Joe, ran away to Kansas City in 1965. He was 13 and wanted to see if there were any pretty girls there."

"As Wilbert Harrison sang in that song." Brock had a good voice typical to the Scots and sang the chorus.

"Joe found none and the cops sent him back to Boston."

"But he got here and here is a long way away from there."

"And that's the truth." I aimed at KC, thinking of pretty girls.

Downtown Kansas City mimicked St. Louis' purgatory. The pretty girls were heifer-fat from fast food. We booked a room in Kansas not far from Ray Santo's house. The South Shore native was free tonight and we met for ribs. Brock and I got sloppy. Ray stayed clean.

"I have to play later." Ray was a drummer in the KC scene.

"We're coming with you." Brock ordered another round. The three of us left the restaurant in a taxi.

"Good idea, Kansas City PD are always on the hunt for drunk drivers.

"But not drunks." Ray gave the driver directions.

"Not yet." I muttered, because Kansas was next to Oklahoma and that state didn't believe in curves, unless they were connected to a tornado.

Five minutes after we arrived at the crowded nightclub, Ray hit the stage. The band performed a tight set of country-western music. Brock yee-hahed during a break.

"How do you know Ray?"

"He went out with my sister." Ray had driven a red Corvette. He played good hockey and shoot better pool. My mother didn't approve of his dating my younger sister. "Back in 1970."

"That's almost thirty years ago."

"Yep." I hadn't seen Ray in too long. I yee-hahed and Brock joined me.

Drinking beer in Kansas was good and listening to country music was even better.

We were all friends for life and called it a night at closing. We dropped ray at his apartment and the taxi took us to our hotel. I fell asleep dreaming of my wife in Thailand.

Mem was not Dorothy and my son Fenway was my Fenway.

The next morning after coffee and donuts at the motel I drove us to Overland Park. Flanagan's Hare statue was supposedly in the middle of the Johnson County Community College campus. Everything about the school said suburbs, except for one thing.

Guns were not allowed on campus.

A uniformed guard gave us a pass. Our parking space was specified as 'visitor'. The art director met us on the walkway.

"School's not in session."

JCCC offered its student body of 37,000 the chance of changing lives through learning. It was a big school.

"That's fine. We're here to see the Hare." Brock broke out his equipment, as we entered the Administration Building.

"Well, here it is." The director stood before the 11-foot statue of a Hare on a Bell. I liked the one in St. Louis better. It had been more Nijinsky.

Brock asked our host about the Hare. I made myself scarce during the interview. I liked to know nothing and pulled out my cellphone to call New York.

No one answered, so I visited the Nerman Museum attached to JCCC. The sky was threatening heavy rain and hard winds. This was tornado country.

The statues and paintings appealed to the flatness of the Midwestern psyche. I tried to Vulcan mind-link with the atmosphere without success. I left the museum and reached the car before the sky opened for a deluge. I popped in a CD and read TYPEE.

An hour later Brock ran to the Ford in a downpour. He carried the camera bag under his coat. I was listening to Dave Van Ronk's BOTH SIDES NOW.

"Sorry about the wait." The Scot sat in the car. Rain dripped off him.

"The movie's more important than me." Brock wiped his face with a paper towel.

"That was great. I interviewed seven people. They really understand the Hare."

"So they don't think it's a rabbit?"

"They think it's something much more."

"Like what?" I was curious.

"You'll see."

"See what?"

"The difference between a rabbit and a hare."

"If you say so." I backed out of the parking spot. "Where to now?"

"North to Iowa." There was a Flanagan statue in Des Moines.

"Right." I headed toward the highway. It was the fastest way out of here and I was happy, because 'North to Iowa' was as good a destination as any and my friend Rockford would be waiting in Iowa City.