Wednesday, November 30, 2016

NOT A CHANCE by Peter Nolan Smith

In 1984 I flew home from Paris for Christmas in Boston.

After the holiday I headed south to New York.

The East Village to be exact.

New snow prettifying Tompkins Square Park would be cold dirty slush tomorrow.

My apartment was cold. The heat sucked. I had $200. Florida was 1200 miles away. Hitchhiking to Miami Beach took as long as the Le Mans Classic race and most of the trip would be cold.

My phone rang. It was Clark Hoseman, a New York fashion photographer.

I had assisted him at the Paris pret-a-porter in October. He shot the fashion models back stage. At night Clark bought the girls to the Bains-Douches, where I worked as a physionomiste or doorman. The French were experts at having at good time.

"What are you doing in New York?" asked Clark and I told him, "Waiting to sublet my apartment and then return to Paris."

"You ever been to Jamaica?"

"Only in THE HARDER THEY COME." I had seen the reggae movie in 1973 at the Orson Welles Cinema on Mass. Avenue in Cambridge. Jimmy Cliff transported me to a world far south of Florida. A world of Jah, guns, and ganja with a few palm trees and white sand beaches.

"Do you know how to scuba-dive?"

"Sort of. Why?" I had snorkeled in Florida and the South of France.

"Because I'm shooting the cover of Life Magazine with a young movie actress in Jamaica." He mentioned the very American name.

"Never heard of her."

"She's going out with Jackson Browne."

The singer was on the cover of the Rolling Stone. He had protested against the nuclear plant in Seabrook. Ground zero was about 40 miles from my hometown of Boston. Jackson Browne was cool.

"Is she good-looking?" .

"She was in BLADE RUNNER."

"Ahhh, the Blonde clone." I loved her performance as an acrobatic killer in Ripley Scott's transformation of DO ANDROIDS DREAM ON ELECTRIC SLEEP? by Philip K. Dick. "She was very cool. "

"So how'd you like to come to Jamaica, because I need an assistant who can dive and handle a camera underwater."

"Then I'm your man." I was an ace at faking expertise.

Three days later we departed from JFK to Kingston, Jamaica. White people were the minority at the arrival terminal. None of the islanders paid us any mind. We were just tourists to them.

Clark hired a small prop plane to fly Bernadette, the Life reporter, Irwin, the make-up artist, Deb, the hair stylist and two of us to the northern side of the island.

"Where's Darryl?" My eyes scanned the grassy runway for a blonde movie actress.

"She'll be here tonight." Clark was clearly disappointed by her no-show and said, "She's having troubles with Jackson, which might give me an opening."

"An opening."

"I want a shot at her. You help me and I'll double your bonus."

"Help you?"

"You're a poet. Make me look good."

"I'll do what I can." I was no pimp and a failed writer stood no chance with movie actress.

An actor friend had once explained the pecking order of Hollywood.

"At a party the producer has first shot at the actress. 15 minutes later it's the director's chance. A half-hour is slotted for the leading man, but a writer never gets any play. An actress would rather go with the parking valet than a writer."

We arrived at the rundown airport of Port Antonio. A quick rain burst drove us into the terminal. The driver appeared in a van. His name was Dave. The black man drove us to the Trident Villas and pointed to a flowered villa. "That's where Errol Flynn lived. He was good for Port Antonio."

Errol had been a star in CAPTAIN BLOOD.

Jamaica had been a pirate island in the 1700s.

Port Antonio had some of that history in its blood.

At the Trident Villas we headed to our rooms. Mine overlooked a cliff. The waves smashed on the rocks. Next door was staying a famous Broadway choreographer. We knew each other from the old days. Tim was leaving the following day and gave me a bag of pot weighing over a pound.

"I'm not taking it. It's yours and give whatever's left to the next person."

Tim and I hit a bowl.

That evening's dinner was a mist, but there was no movie star.

Only Clark and the crew from Life.

The next morning I woke wanting to sleep more. Someone had been talking in my dreams. It wasn't me and the room smelled of an old woman. I opened the doors to the Caribbean. The sea was blue and the sky was overcast with unthreateningly clouds. I felt no rain in the air.

It was time to get ready for the shoot.

Clark appeared on my balcony. We examined the four cameras and seven interchangeable lenses. All the batteries were charged to the max. The light meters were working well and our film had nicely chilled in the minibar.

"Ready?"

"All systems go."

"Is she here."

"She?" I was thinking of an old woman.

"Darryl." Clark shook his head. I was a bit of a fool in his eyes. "Let's get breakfast and hit the road. We have photos to take and remember what I said. She's mine."

Darryl arrived at noon tired from her trip. No one introduced me and I sat with the driver. Our first location was on a wave-tossed beach. A few mulatto school children picked through the flotsam for sea shells. Erwin the make-up guy lightly powdered the actress' face. The hair stylist let the wind do his job. I checked the light. It was 5.7 f-stop. I stole a glance at Darryl. Clark hadn't been lying. She was a goddess and he shot hundreds of photos.

None of them were overkill, because Darryl possessed an unquenchable beauty.

That night we ate spiny Jamaica lobster in a restaurant filled with white diners served by Jamaicans.

Te lobsters had no claws.

Clark said to Darryl, "My assistant's from Boston. They have the best lobster in the world there. Tell her."

I replied with New England pride, "This is wicked Lobstah."

It was not true.

The only wicked Lobstah came from Maine.

Back my my room I smoked a big joint.

Paul Newman was staying at the villa across the rocks.

The iconic movie star looked small in the dim tropical night and I wrote a poem about COOL HAND LUKE.

After I fell asleep, a woman whispered in my ear.

It was not Darryl and I fell asleep in a Ganga stupor.

The next morning was overcast. I ran into Erwin in the dining room and he said, "I didn't sleep last night. Fucking ghost."

"Ghost?" Coming from New England I was familiar with ghosts.

"It came to my room and wouldn't leave me alone." Erwin was gay and I asked, "Did it try and get into bed with you."

"Thankfully no, it was an old lady." Erwin sighed with relief, then added, "Say nothing to anyone else. They'll think I'm crazy."

"No problem." His secret was safe with me, because.

The sky over Port Antonio cleared after breakfast.

Dave the driver had found a trampoline, which the hotel set up on the lawn.

Darryl had been a gifted high school acrobat and Clark snapped two hundred shots of her bouncing in the air. I changed film like a machine gun ammo boy during a kamikaze attack. We broke for lunch at noon. Clark had me clean the cameras.

"I think I have a shot with her."

"Of course you do." I ordered a rum and coke from the bar.

It ended up being my lunch.

That afternoon Clark photographed Darryl on the rocks. Erwin struggled to freshen her make-up after every suit change. I checked the lighting and changed film with increasing skill. I was a fast learner.

During a break Darryl said, "I heard you're a poet."

"A bad one."

"Could I read something of yours?"

"Maybe later." I shrugged harmlessly, for Clark glared, as if I was poaching on his turf.

Darryl went back to the rocks.

Clark made sure that Darryl and I didn’t speak the rest of the day.

Every break I had chores.

During lunch I had to pick up more film at the hotel.

“Your friend have his eye on that girl.” Dave the driver wasn’t blind. “But she have no eye for him.”

“Who she have an eye for?”

“Who know the mind of woman?” Dave shrugged with a laugh.

"Certainly not me."

"Then you are a wise man."

I laughed with him, because no man is wise when it comes to women.

After a long day we returned at the Trident Villas and I smoked a big joint before joining everyone in the restaurant.

During dinner Clark recounted to the table about his shooting the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop.

"I love Iggy." Darryl hummed I WANNA BE YOUR DOG.

Clark winked at me and I left before dessert.

Three was a big crowd in this group.

Something woke me after midnight.

There was nothing in my room and the night was quiet.

I went out on the terrace with the joint.

Across the cove Clark's room was dark.

Someone whispered behind me.

"Darryl." It was wishful thinking.

I turned.

There was no one there, then Dave the Driver appeared out of the deep night.

"Nice sky." The Milky Way split the heavens.

"Lots of stars.

"More than any man can count."

"“Is that man your friend?”

He meant Clark.

"Yeah, why?” Whatever Clark's faults were mine were worst.

“Because he don’t talk to you like friend.”

“Yeah, he my boss now. You want some.” I handed him the joint.

And like that we grooved on the cosmos.

The next morning the clouds broke into threads of gray and the blue heaven ruled the sky. I ordered breakfast in my room. Clark showed up ten minutes later and drank my coffee.

“So this is the big shot.” Clark was breaking out the underwater cameras. “Have you ever buddy-breathed, because you’re going to be sharing your air with Darryl underwater.”

“Sure.” I had seen Lloyd Bridges save a friend on the TV show SEA HUNT using the same method.

"It's like soul kissing without the tongue. Let's go to Blue Lagoon."

Every island in the Caribbean has a Blue Lagoon.

Brooke Shields had starred in a film of the same name.

Darryl had auditioned for the role.

"But I turned it down. I thought I was too old," Darryl declared getting out of the van.

I did some quick math. She was 24. BLUE LAGOON was shot in 1979. She was 19 then. Brooke Shield had been 14. Darryl had been right.

“You dive before, man?” Dave stood with the boatman. I shook my head. Dave’s friend give me a five-minute lesson.

"You got it, man." A Boston accent couldn't fake Rasta.

The light-skinned boatman steered to a sheltered cove.

"Not to worry. Easy water dis." Ernest was on my team.

Irwin was back on shore. He had trouble with mal de mer.

“I couldn’t sleep last night. There was a ghost in my room.” Bernadette wasn’t joking.

“Ghost?” Clark stifled a laugh.

"Yes, she kept on speaking to me and wouldn't go away."

"Old lady?" asked Ernest and Bernadette nodded her head. The boatman said, "No ghosts on water. Sleep now. We dive."

Underwater sea turtles floated past us. Fish wore vivid colors. Darryl posed as a mermaid. Clark frantically snapped shots, as the current dragged us out of position. I passed my mouthpiece to Darryl. Her spit tasted better than mine.

After thirty minutes we returned to shore.

I packed the equipment while Clark walked down the beach with Darryl taking candid shots.

She wasn't getting close to him, but we had three days left on Jamaica and three days was almost half the time God took to create the world.

We got back to the hotel at sunset.

During dinner everyone discussed the ghost.

Darryl asked about my poetry again.

Clark cut short my reply and said I had to clean the cameras.

I stood up from the table and said my goodnights, but I had already cleaned the cameras and went outside to our van.

"Where's there to go?" I asked Dave. "For fun?"

"The Roof Club."

"Sometimes there be trouble there."

"Nothing I haven't seen before."

"This is Jamaica."

"I know." I was tired of being with white people and got in the van.

I liked trouble.

I rub-a-dub with fat women and skinny girls to old school reggae. They called me 'White Chocolate'. They probably called all semi-cool whites that, but I sang along with JOHNNY TOO BAD and drank with the old men in the bar; rum and Red Stripe beer.

Happy."

I didn't remember getting home, but recalled passing an old woman by my bed.

She didn't say a word, but shook her head with disapproval.

The next morning was bright and Clark woke me with a shove.

"Where were you?"

"I wandered off the reservation to the Roof Club," I recounted the evening to the best of my ability.

"Lucky you. I'm getting nowhere with Darryl." He sat on my bed next to the camera bag. "I ended up alone."

"You're trying too hard. Chill your jets. Girls like cool."

"Maybe you're right."

I could only be right or wrong and we left my room for the day.

On an idyllic beach Clark caught Darryl in the money shot. She was wearing a red bathing suit. The light was 5.7 f-stop.

"That's the cover."

"I think so too." Darryl had exhausted her beauty on camera.

She wanted to be herself.

On the way back to the resort we stopped to pet some goats.

"Dave told me you went to the Roof Club. Clark said it was dangerous."

"I was the only danger to me last night." I recalled dropping a split to JOHNNY TOO BAD.

"Maybe we can go tonight. You have some weed?"

"A little." I didn't want to say how much.

"I'm dying for a puff."

"Tonight then."

Clark was signaled me to get away and I obeyed his command, but not before saying, "And maybe we can go to the Roof Club later."

"I'd love that."

She wandered off to where Clark was playing nice with a baby goat.

I stood with Dave.

The teenaged herders were anxious about their goats.

"Nothing better than baby jerked goat." He smacked his lips.

Before we got into the car, Clark came over to me.

"What were you talking about to Darryl?"

"She wanted to go into town. She's bored with the hotel." I didn't mention the Roof Club or reefer.

"So we'll go after we get back to the resort. I think your strategy is working."

"I know women."
In truth I knew nothing about them, but he didn't want to hear that.

Back at the resort I showered and dressed in a white shirt and jeans.

Dave was at the desk.

"Where's Darryl?"

"She left with your 'friend', but I know where. You want to go."

"You bet I do." I had two big spliffs in my pocket.

Dave drove into town like I was James Bond chasing Doctor No.

"That girl is an island beauty. She deserves the best."

"Me?"

Dave's laugh hurt in a good way.

I found Darryl on the sidewalk of a record shop. The stereo was pumping CRY TOUGH by Alton Ellis. Clark was inside flipping through LPs and 45s. He loved his music.

We're going to the Roof Club," I shouted to Clark.

"Me too." Darryl walked away fast.

We wandered to the docks.

The blonde spoke about her life.

"It's not easy being this beautiful, especially since I don't think I'm beautiful."

"Every beautiful woman does."

"Worst is that everyone wants me." She dragged heavy on the joint and her eyes rolled into her head like cherries on a broken slot machine. "Your friend thinks he's going to get me. Not a chance. You probably think the same."

"Not me. I'm a poet." Dave's laugh echoed in my ears. "I know my place."

"Good, let's go to the Roof Club."

We were the only white people in the bar.

Darryl bought two rum and cokes.

"My back's killing me."

"Let me give you a massage."

"Please."

Her muscles were pliable to the touch and she writhed, as we danced to THE HARDER THEY COME.

The girls in the bar taught her to rub-a-dub. I drank white rum with the locals. They toasted the return of "White Chocolate'. We grooved to Lee Perry's ZION BLOOD. I was ready for a long night at the Rooftop Club, when Clark walked through the door. One look at Darryl and me rubadubbing and he strode up to us to say, "We have to go. The others are expecting us back at the hotel for dinner."

"I'm cool here."

"Then you can stay here alone." Clark snarled and Darryl shrugged surrender. I muttered under my breath, following them to Dave's van.

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Back at the restaurant Bernadette asked me to order wine.

"Why me?"

"Because you lived in France."

I read the wine list and choose the most expensive wines, figuring them cheap at 8 Jamaican Dollars to the US Greenback.

At the end of the meal Darryl sidled up to me and asked, "You mind if I come to your room. You can finish your massage.

Everyone at the table was surprised by her request.

None more than Clark.

In my room I tried to tidy up the bed.

"No worries. I live in squalor back in LA." She stripped off her shirt and lay face-down on the bed with my journal in her hand. "Is this your poetry?"

"Yes." I kneaded her shoulders. The tropical breeze was soft.

"On a heel I turned to the hell of here."

That was the only line she read of my hitchhiking poem.

Clark burst into the room.

"We have to clean the cameras."

"Darryl was a good actress and read this moment as her time to 'stage left'.

Once she was gone Clark was livid.

"You tell me to chill my jets so you can zoom into my place. Thanks a lot. By the way the price of wine was in US Dollars, not Jamaican.

"Opps."

He slammed the door shut and I totaled the bill. The sum was the price of a second-class ticket to Paris.

"Fuck Life Magazine."

I went down to the bar.

I was the only one there.

I asked the bartender to put on some deep reggae.

WINEY WINEY by the Kingstonians, SLAVING by Lloyd Parks, and dropping to the early 70s.

Each of the three rum and cokes tasted better than the last and I staggered to my room around midnight.

In my room I crashed into bed like a 747 running out of fuel.

I dreamed about Darryl and me on the road. She was a good travel companion.

A hand touched my shoulder.

I opened my eyes.

"Darryl?"

It was not her, but a shimmering woman, who moaned in pain. I tried to speak to her in English, French and German. Her speech was indecipherable and I said, "Listen lady, I'm too drunk to deal with this now."

I closed my eyes and the ghost was gone.

The next morning the sea was calm. I went for a swim. The sea was warm. The sun was hot on my skin. By evening I would be in winter.

Dave waited by the van. Clark was packing the bags into the back. I threw mine in the front.

"You ready to go?" He acted like nothing had happened last night.

"I guess I am." I turned to Dave. "I saw the ghost."

"What she say?"

"Don't know. What about Darryl?"

"She left with the rest of them. It's just you and me." Clark slapped my shoulder to show there was no hard feeling.

At the airport I slipped Dave $40.

"Thanks, White Chocolate."

"And you tell the old lady I said good-bye."

"She'll like that."

The prop plane took off and I spotted Trident Villas under the wing.

No one was in the water. Everyone was around the pool.

It was snowing back in New York.

Clark paid my wages and gave me a bonus.

"You did a good job."

"Thanks."

A month later Darryl graced the cover on LIFE.

I had never stood a chance with her, but neither had Clark.

But I had been close.

In February I went back to Paris and remained a failed poet, which suited me just fine, because poets knew their place in the world and the City of Light was made for people like White Chocolate.

Me too.

Toujours.

fotos by Peter Nolan Smith and Dustin Pittman

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