Monday, October 16, 2017

THE MEANING OF PURE by Peter Nolan Smith

This is a video of my story THE MEANING OF PURE.

In 1995 I crosse the Himalayas and traveled to Benares.

Swimming in the Ganges washed away your sins.

My bath in the Mother of India was dedicated to my baby brother who had passed from AIDS earlier in the summer.

Michael Charles Smith comes to me in dreams.

He seems happy in the Here-After.

Eric Marciano made this video and I thank the Springfield native for his insight.

To see THE MEANING OF PURITY, please go to the following URL

https://vimeo.com/83326329

ZOMBIE DREAMS by Peter Nolan Smith

Four springs ago Brock Dundee hired my driving services for a road trip across the Midwest. The Scottish filmmaker was seeking out the statues of a dying Irish sculptor in Middle America. His plan was to video the works and then film the artist seeing his works for the last time.

My boss at the diamond exchange wasn’t happy with my taking off two weeks.

“He’s paying me $1000 a week. You want to pay me that.” I had been asking for a raise for the last year.

“Have a good trip,” wished Manny. He had a good head for numbers and figured he was saving a week's salary too.

“Of course I will." I was glad to be off the Street. Business sucked in April with no promise of flowers for May.

A week later Brock and I flew to Chicago and hired a car at O’Hare. The Scot didn’t know how to drive, but he unfolded a map to plot out a route on the Interstates.

“No fucking interstates.” I ripped the map off his lap and threw it in the backseat.

“Aren’t the interstates faster?” Brock wanted to visit five statues in St. Louis, Kansas City, Des Moines, and Minneapolis and we had eight days to cover six big states.

“Only if you’re heading to shopping mall.” I-80 was rammed with SUVs and long-haul trucks. I pointed out a state trooper cruising in the opposite direction. “We want to stay far away from them.”

“Aren’t there speed traps on the back roads?” Brock’s vision of rural America had been formed by the movies DELIVERANCE and EASY RIDER.

“The cops go where the money is and that’s the interstates.” I turned off I-80 at the Peoria exit and turned to Brock. “Welcome to The Fly-Over.”

“Fly-Over?” The Scot was unfamiliar with the American term.

“This is the land you fly over from New York to LA.” The square states of the Midwest are mostly flat corn fields. They offer little for New Yorkers, Californians, and Europeans.

“I get it.” Brock relaxed in his seat. He had chosen me for my ability to take the least obvious course of action for the next week we avoided the Interstates like a plague.

Our path wandered along a flooded Illinois River down the broad Mississippi across the spring farmland of Missouri into the terra incognita of Iowa.

On long stretches through the farmlands my Scottish friend and I didn’t see a human for hours. The spring skies were low and the clouds carried rain. The straight roads were devoid of cars. Everyone was on the Interstate heading to a WalMart.

South of Des Moines I remarked to Brock, “Not many people living out here.”

“No reason for anyone to live out here.” The small towns were empty and the big cities looked, as if they had been blasted by a neutron bomb.

“Young people move out as soon as they finish high school.” The farmboys treated their boredom with crystal meth well of sight.

“Leaving only the dead and the dying.”

“Like we were in a zombie movie.” The real world had been replaced by scenes from MAD MAX II and I accelerated to 100 mph. We hadn’t seen any police cars in days.

“I haven’t seen any zombies.” Brock scanned the bare expanse of fields on either side of the road.

“They would starve out here.” Zombies liked cities. They had large populations of slow-moving fat people.

"They'd have to raid a Walmart."

"Or a McDonald's" Mickie Ds dominated the fast food feeding chain in the fly-over.

"The Undead eating the uneatable." Brock shuddered in his seat, although he was a sucker for KFC.

"Years ago I had a horrible dream about zombies.”

“What was it?” Brock took out his camera. "Let's have it from the top."

This trip was as much about us as the sculptor.

"Camera, action."

“In 1975 I spent the winter in Mexico. Toward Spring I had caught a Trois Estellas bus from Monterrey, Mexico to Texas.” I hadn’t thought about that bus in ages. “It was a long ride and I was reading a book by HP Lovecraft. THE TERROR AT INNSMOUTH. The bus stopped in a small town and I ate a potato taco. It tasted a little funny and that night I fell sick with food poisoning, so I checked into a cheap hotel at the border. That night I lay on the bed with a fever. I read my book and fell asleep. Sometime in the night I dreamed that I was being chased through an abandoned garden by zombies.”

"Fast or slow?"

"Slow."

“I hate the way zombies moved fast in RESIDENT EVIL.” My Scottish friend was a horror film buff and he zoomed for a close-up on me. A nod was the signal to resume my monologue.

“Fast is bad, but too many zombies was worst. They cut off my escape and I ran to a gazebo. Old screens covered the windows. I locked the flimsy door. The zombies huddled around the gazebo. Their breath smelled of rotting flesh. They scrapped at the screens with long yellow fingernails, then a voice deeper than a six-foot grave said, “Tell us the secret of human life.”

“The secret of human life?” Brock interrupted my spiel, since he felt the breaks gave me time to collect my thoughts.

“I didn’t know the secret of human life and there was no stalling the zombies either. When they’re hungry, they’re hungry. They broke through the screens. I shut my eyes expecting the worse.”

“You’re not supposed to die in dreams.” Brock was listening to every word. We were coming to a turning.

"Freud said everything was driven by pleasure or death and death in dreams was a way of understanding your personal sexual repression levels.” I put on the left-turn signal. That road led to Kansas City. The Irish sculptor had a large statue at a local university.

“Freud’s full of Oedipal shit. I’ve seen photos of his mother. She wasn’t worth killing his father, of course Jung had a different take on death in a dream.

“Screw him.” My story had no place for dead psychiatrists.

"So what happened?"

“I tried to wake up, but couldn’t and I heard the voice say, “Tell us the secret of human life and I’ll let you live for another minute.”

“And?” Brock was expecting a horrible demise.

“I realized the secret of human life was that no matter how bad the 61st second would be I still wanted another 60 to satisfy my urge to live.”

“And did you tell them the secret?”

“No, I woke up and foiled their attempt to destroy Mankind."

"A hero."

"It's not everyone who can save humanity in their sleep." It had seemed so real, but my flesh had borne no teeth marks. " So I’m not really scared of zombies.”

“No?” Brock asked, as if he wasn’t convinced about their status as myth.

“Zombies exist in movies and video games. Not all of them bad. You ever see SHAUN OF THE DEAD?”

“That’s not a real zombie movie.” Brock was a traditionalist as was to be expected from a Scot.

I agreed that the British flick wasn't scary, but it was funny and after my dream I like funny zombies better than scary ones.

We drove west toward Kansas City.

In 1959 Wilbur Harrison sang that they had some pretty women there and in every one of my dreams pretty women were always more fun than zombies.

Texas Guide to Life


Here's some very useful Texas wisdom.

Don't squat with your spurs on.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.

Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.

There's two theories to arguin' with a woman. Neither one works.

Never slap a man who's chewin' tobacca.

Always drink upstream from the herd.

When you're throwin' your weight around, be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else.

Never miss a good chance to shut up.

There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Classic.

Texas Tower Massacre


On August 1, 1966 Charles Joseph Whitman started the day by killing his wife and mother. He left a note in his apartment.

"I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts."

Charles Whitman departed from his apartment and drove to the Texas University. The ex-Marine climbed the 307-foot tower with a cache of weapons. From this aerie he shot dead 13 people and wounded 32 others with telescopic rifles. This rampage lasted for hours. Finally two Austin police officers broke through the barricaded door and put down the killer with shotguns.

"We got him."

At his autopsy medical examiners found a brain tumor in his head. He was also on speed and rumors abounded about his abuse as a child by the Catholic priests from his home parish of Lake Worth, Florida.

No one blamed the guns.

Not then.

Now now and not when gunmen assail 'soft targets' such as school, fast food chains, and malls or a concert at Las Vegas.

Strangely no deranged gunman has ever attacked a gun show.

Guns and guns and guns.

Not once in America has a mass murderer assailed a gun show, proving that either the madmen are scared of not accomplishing their murderous mission or gun shows calm the burning blood of a killer's brain.

Don't get me wrong. I like shooting guns. Just not at people.

Unless they are after my family, then it's open season.

Lock and load.

41 BLANCO STREET AUSTIN by Peter Nolan Smith

In late January of 1975 I drove a blind piano-tuner in a Delta 88 from Miami Beach to the East Texas. Everyone at the Sea Breeze Hotel on Collins Avenue had warned me about Old Bill’s driving. I thought that the old coots had been kidding, but outside of La Grange the blind man ordered me to turn off Route 71 onto a dirt road.

Gene Ammons was playing on the cassette deck.

“This is it.”

“Here?” The cotton fields were bare brown earth.

“My lady friend lives a couple of miles down this road.” Old Bill motioned for me to get out of the car.

“You know where you are?” There wasn’t a single house in sight.

“Road 4123, right?”

“Yeah.” I didn’t ask how he knew, having witnessed the blind man’s extraordinary powers on more than one occasion.

“You’re really going to drive?”

“It’s my car. Of course I’m going to drive.Now get out of my vehicle.”

I stepped out of the car and Old Bill slid over to the driver’s seat.

“You’re not serious?”

“More serious than a heart attack. Good luck, motherfucker.” Old Bill had a way with words.

“You too.” I shivered thinking about the impending car crash.

“Don't worry about me, Hippie Boy. I'll be fine.” The old piano-tuner twisted the wheel, as if he were reading the braille from the pebbles on the road. “Hippie boy, am I pointed straight?”

“I left you on the crest of the road. Anything off that is the ditch.” The hard-scrabble two-laner ran straight as a strand of dry spaghetti to the hazy horizon.

The white orbs of his eyes blinked with radar precision.

“Then I’m good. See you, when I see you.” Old Bill drove off slowly, weaving from side to side.

After a minute the black speck of the wavering Delta 88 was swallowed by its rooster tail of yellow dust.

A half-hour later a trucker stopped and drove me to Austin. We arrived in that college town close to sunset with the horizon boiling with splattered palette of color.

“I’m heading for El Paso. Ain’t much between here and there.” The trucker throttled down his big rig.

“I might stay the night here.” I had read about Austin in Rolling Stone magazine.

“If you do, go down to the World Armadillo Headquarters. Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson are regulars there."

“So I heard.” The club had been anointed the musical navel of the Southwest.

“Wish I could check it out with you, but I'm on a tight schedule.”

"I don't have to be in California for another week."

“Then have that first beer for me.”

"Will do." I jumped down from the cab and the truck hauled out to the west.

A dented red Ford pickup with Texas plates approached from the east. Two hippies were in the front. I had long hair. We flashed each other peace signs. They stopped on the shoulder.

“Where you headed?” asked the red-eyed passenger.

“California's destination. I have a girl out there, but for tonight the World Armadillo Headquarters.”

“Us too. We just got done working on the ranch." The driver had a battered straw hat.

"Shovelin’ horse shit all day." The passenger wrinkled his nose.

"And now we want a beer." The driver thumbed for me to jump in the back. "Commander Cody’s playing with Asleep At The Wheel.”

“First rounds on me.” I sat in a flatbed smelling of cow manure. I smelled the same by the time we reached Barton Springs Road.

The Armadillo was located next to a roller rink. I brought my bag inside with me. The two hippies knew the man at the door. We entered for free.

A dazed hippie girl checked my bag and I walked inside the enormous club. Joe Bob, the pickup’s driver, informed me, “The Armadillo used to be an armory.”

“The acoustics suck, but the bands are kickass.” His scrawny friend lit up a joint. "You wanna hit."

“Nothing for me.”

Marijuana possession was a serious crime in the Lone Star State and Huntsville Prison was infamous for the harshness of incarceration. My hosts could easily be narcs.

“You sure?” Joe Bob sucked heavily on the thick stick.

“It’s from Oaxaca.” Ray-El wore a battered cowboy hat and shit-covered boots.

“No thanks.” I wasn’t wasting a couple of years in Huntsville Prison for a joint.

“Don’t worry, there ain’t no one gonna bother you in the Armadillo about weed.” Billy Bob passed the reefer to Ray-El, whose inhale expanded his lungs to the bursting point of a thin balloon. He exhaled, coughing out, "Narcs didn’t inhale."

“Cops, lawyers, judges, everyone comes here to hear the music and drink beer. I thought you said that first round was on you.” Billie Bob took the joint.

“That’s right.”

I surrendered my caution and bellied up to the bar with the joint in my hand. Lone Star was the beer of choice. I ordered six. I toasted Austin and told stories about the blind piano turner. We drank with other cowboy hippies, who were well over 6-feet. Most looked like they had played college football for an angry coach.

I don’t recollect the opening bands, since Joe Bob, Ray-El, and I tossed back shots of tequila to get in the mood for Commander Cody, except Joe Bob had the wrong date. They were playing the next night, but Asleep At The Wheel proved to be a killer band.

I went to the payphone to call Emma in California. Like always there as no answer. I returned to the auditorium.

Most of the audience watched from the floor, but I was dragged onto the dance floor to perform a country version of the Hustle with a redheaded woman in a filmy black dress.

“You’re new around here?”

“Just got into town today from the East Coast."

"Smells more like Texas to me."

"That must be the cow shit."

"Damn straight, my name’s Ginger. Where y’all stayin’?” she asked after a breath-taking swirl.

“Nowhere.” I hadn’t slept with a woman in over two months.

“I live on Blanco.” Ginger was thin and still a waif at 25.

“I don’t know where that is.”

“It’s not a walkin’ distance.”

“I don’t have a car.”

“Me neither.”

“You have your horse here?”

"Horse?"

"This is the West and a horse is much easier to ride than a cow."

“Funny, we got taxis here. Probably one waiting outside.” Her fingers graced the inside of my elbow. Seduction was her mission. I was an easy target.

“Then let’s go to your place.” I was 23, 5-11 with long brown hair. Ginger and I were made for each other.

I informed Joe Bob about my plans.

"Quick work. That redhead is a looker."

"You city slickers are fast on your feet." Ray-El winked his approval.

“More she’s faster than me.”

"What about that girl in California?" Joe Bob ordered two more beers.

"She's a thousand miles away from here."

"That's the god-awful truth. If you need someplace to stay later, call us.” Joe Bob wrote his telephone number and address on a napkin.

22nd and Chestnut.

“We have a commune. One more or two more people ain’t gonna kill us.”

“He won’t be needin’ us tonight, but if you do get up our way, just ask for the hippie commune. The peckerwoods will show you the right way, if they don’t shoot you first.”

“Maybe I'll see you tomorrow.” I told them, because tonight I was destined to be deep in the heart of Texas.

Ginger’s house was a bungalow not far from Shoal Creek. The classic western decor testified old cattle money. Her two family names echoed the importance in Texas history. Her bed was brass. The sheets were scented with spices. The mattress was soft. I piled my clothes on a chair. My bag lay at the foot of the bed.

"Where you headed anyway?"

"West."

"Y’all in a hurry."

"Not tonight."

"Good, because there's nothing west of here, but more Texas."

Ginger lit candles and put Joni Mitchell BLUE on the Marantz stereo. The song was CALIFORNIA from the album BLUE. James Taylor played guitar on the song CALIFORNIA. Our young bodies recreated Big Sur on her bed and we didn’t fall asleep until dawn.

“Y’all have to leave before noon.” Ginger’s drawl was exhausted by her effort and mine.

"For the West?"

"No, just out of this house."

"Who you expecting?"

"No one in particular."

“Noon it is.” I mentally set an alarm in my head.

The bell failed to go off at noon and Ginger’s violent shaking ended my coma.

“Y’all have to go.” A silk robe was wrapped around last night’s body.

“Now?” I was very comfortable.

“Now.” The demand was urgent.

A pick-up truck door slammed outside. A man’s cowboy boots were lined against the wall.

They looked a size 12.

“My husband is back from the oil field.”

“Husband?”

A man called out her name.

I grabbed my bag and clothing.

Ginger pointed to the bedroom’s open window.

“See you at the Armadillo later.”

There was no time for a kiss.

I fled the bungalow naked without a backward glance.

A taxi took me to the commune. The driver knew the house. He came inside to smoke some weed. Billy Bob and his friend were sympathetic about my plight.

“Even cowgirls get tired of fuckin’ cowboys.”

Billie Bob and Ray-El belonged to a vegetarian commune. They introduced me to the clan. The girls came from the Deep South. They smelled of patchouli and didn't shave their legs.

Ginger kept hers smooth with a Lady Schick razor.

That evening we ate a feast of mushed broccoli and peas. My passport into their midst was a big bottle of red wine. They were a big family; eight co-eds from UT, Joe Bob and Ray-El. We all had one plate. That night we saw Commander Cody at the Armadillo.

Ginger arrived at midnight.

“Sorry about this mornin’.”

“Noon, not morning.”

“You poor thang.” She caressed my cheek. “Y’all lit out like a rattlesnake with its tail on fire.”

“I thought it was the right thing to do. What did you’re husband say.”

“My husband is dumber than a cow tied to a stump. A hard worker and a good church person, but not too exciting. Not like you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, Tommy only performs in bed as the Good Book tells him, but I have to fess up that you Yankees are a whole nuther thang.”

“We are.”

“I don’t know about them. I just know about you.”

I told her about Old Bill driving blind. She laughed at all the right parts.

We repeated the previous night with some deviations from the Bible. Ginger loved her Joni Mitchell. A noon departure cut it too close for comfort, so I woke with the dawn.

Before leaving I checked the closet. Tommy's shirts were an XXL. Dumb or not he was a big man.

“Don’t you worry about Tommy's. He’s roughnecking all week out on the Basin near San Angelo.”

“How far away is that?”

“Two hundred miles.”

Texans drove fast.

Ginger blew me a kiss from bed.

"See you later, Yankee Boy."

I should have been smart and hit the road, but Ginger played men like she had an ace as a hole card.

That week we explored the bars along East Sixth Street. Cowboys and black musicians drank early in that town. Co-eds From the University of Texas served cold beer. I played pool. Eight-Ball was a good way to kill the day.

A cheap hotel room across the Colorado River was a safer place than Ginger's house and I felt deep in the heart of Texas most of the afternoon.

“Y’all done tuckered me out.”

I could barely move and she kissed me on the lips.

I paid the hotel bill.

$20 wasn’t expensive, but my money was going fast with Ginger.

That night Ray-El and Billy Bob met me to eat cheeseburgers at the Victory Grill.

“We have to keep up our strength.” Ray-El liked his meat rare.

“Beans and veggies are animal food.” Joe Bob like his bloody.

It was tough being a vegetarian in Texas.

“You be careful of that Ginger. She’s no maverick.” Billy Bob soaked his burger in chili sauce.

“Huh?” I remembered James Gardener TV show from the 60s.

“She got an old man.” Ray-El draped jalapenos on his.

“And a big one from what I heard.” Billy Bob shook his head.

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere near her house.” Their accent was wearing off on me.

“Maybe not, but Austin is a small city and a smaller town, if you just hang out on East Sixth Street.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

That evening I went to the Armadillo early. The jukebox covered a lot of ground. Jerry Jeff Walker was setting up for the night. The bartenders knew my name. I tipped better than the goat-ropers. Jimmie Lee served me a Lone Star Beer.

“Tommy Gammage been lookin’ for you."

“I don’t know any Tommy Gammage.” The last name was familiar and I knew why.

“He's Ginger’s old man and he don’t look none too happy.”

“Thanks for the info.” I tipped him $5 and left the Armadillo by the rear exit.

It took me an hour to walk the back roads to Chestnut. The sun was down by the time I arrived at the commune.

The front door had been kicked in by a big boot.

Joe Bob was sporting a black eye.

My bag was at his feet.

“Let me guess. Tommy came looking for me?”

“You got that right. I didn’t say nuttin’, but we don’t want no more trouble. The sisters in the commune has voted you out.”

“Me too.” Ray-El shouted from the living room.

“I understand.” They commune was into peace and love.

Ray-El came to the door. The girls were shadows in the kitchen.

"Let me make a phone call."

"To Ginger?"

"It seems like the right thing to do."

I dialed her number.

There was no answer.

“I vote me out too.” I picked up my bag. "Sorry, ladies."

“I’ll give you a ride to the highway.” Joe Bob handed me my bag.

I didn’t refuse his offer.

Route 71 was more than five miles away from the house.

I kept my eye open for any angry husband.

"One last beer at the 'Dillo."

"Not tonight."

"You want me to say anythin’ to Ginger."

I liked lying in her bed.

I liked the idea of lying with her again.

With any luck Tommy would be working in the north of the Texas Panhandle and Amarillo to Austin was a 500 miles ride.

"Tell her I'll be back in the spring, but don't mention that to her old man."

"I ain't saying nutthin to that redneck peckerwood."

The radio played FREE BIRD by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Joe Bob turned up the volume. We smoked a joint.

The pick-up stopped on the highway.

I grabbed my bag from the back.

It smelled of cow paddy.

I guess I did too.

"You be careful on the road." He handed me a joint.

"I will."

"Ain't nothin’ much out there."

"Ginger said the same."

"Have a good time in LA and stay away from married women."

"Thanks to the advice."

Billy Bob waited by the side of the road, until a westbound Camaro shuddered to a stop.

I waved good-bye to Joe Bob and got in the car.

The Mexican driver was a Marine headed west. He shifted into first.

"How far?"

"All the way to Camp Pendleton." Second gear came fast.

"And then?"

Anywhere, but Viet-Nam. My war days are over." 3rd gear lasted a second and we were cruising in 4th.

"Glad to hear it."

I told him my name.

Chaz was listening to a beaner station playing Freddie Fender's WASTED DAYS AND NIGHTS.

"You meet any women in Austin?"

"One. A redhead named Ginger."

"I love Pelliroja. They make my hot boil. Why you leave?"

"She had a husband. A big gringo."

"Hijo de la chingada, I hate husbands."

"Me too." I missed Ginger. "But I'll be back."

"Good man. Next stop is El Paso. I know a great place for heuvos rancheros."

"Anything in between?" I looked at my map.

"Just a lot of West Texas. Mind if I drive fast?"

"Not at all." I relaxed in the seat and looked back toward lights of Austin glowing over the trees.

The road head of us was empty.

Stars wrote a broad path in the night sky.

Chaz stepped on the gas.

There was nothing between here and El Paso, but more Texas.

Just like everyone said.

It was a big state.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

BEATEN BY BLONDIE by Peter Nolan Smith

Two boys bullied me the last year of grammar school on the South Shore. The daily beating were witnessed by friends and classmates. Joe Tully and Mark Scanlon were not in good shape. They stopped after a few minutes and everyone wandered home to watch WHERE THE ACTION IS.

No one ever tried to help me.

I carried those scars into my teenage years and beyond.

I fought countless times in Boston.

Nothing stopped me.

Not victories.

Not defeats.

I had a chip on my shoulder, but for the most part I protected the weak.

Fags, women, blacks, jews.

I was no superhero.

Just that if I fought that much, it looked better for a good cause.

This behavior scared women.

None more than my precious Alice from West Virginia.

In 1978 we lived together in the East Village.

Punks, artists, artists.

Alice's eyes were two colors.

Actually more than two, counting the sparks of gold, agate, and emerald.

Her skin was as smooth as Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton's moonshine.

I was more than in love, but my violent streak was an obstacle to peace in the valley of East 10th Street.

Never against her.

But she saw me at my worst.

Her gay friends called me rough trade.

Her girlfriends thought of me as a Neanderthal.

They weren't 100% wrong.

I liked a fight for a good cause.

I liked them for bad ones too.

Against all odds.

Joe Tully and Mark Scallon.

In the end it was against a fight against them.

In the winter Alice and her friends organized THE NEW WAVE VAUDEVILLE SHOW at Irving Plaza.

Klaus Nomi was the headliner along with a horde of starry-eyed rockers and artists.

I was asked to be the security.

With my friends.

None of us were paid, but we promised to drink for free.

The night of the show started slow, but by midnight the auditorium on Irving Place was packed with new wave affectionados. It was a complete success. Klaus killed the crowd. He was a star.

The stage lights came up, signaling time to go home.

I went from table to table telling the guests that they didn't have to go home, but they couldn't stay here.

The rest of the security was guzzling liquor at the back bar.

Alice and her her friends were flush with pleasure.

They had achieved glory for an evening and tomorrow the B-52s were playing a set.

Only one table remained and I approached the four rockers, telling the same thing as everyone else.

They didn't like what they heard and stood as one.

A thin-haired guy in glasses asked, "Do you know who I am?"

I had seen him someplace, but had to say, "No."

"We're Blondie and we're not going anywhere."

"Blondie?" I liked them a little, but not enough to be treated like a slave and said, "TruthfullY I don't give a shit who you are. Just do me a favor and finis your drinks."

I turned to walk away, but he grabbed my shoulder. I shucked off his grip and slapped the beer out of his hand.

"Just leave, you cunts. You guys suck."

I was no music critic and they attacked me as if one of them had said, "One two three four."

I seize the forelock of the rocker in the glasses and whacked him in the face.

He backed away and I found myself with a hank of hair in my hand.

After that I was buried underneath them and their roadies.

Not a fair fight.

I was used to those.

Alice wasn't there when I got to my feet.

I had trouble breathing.

Two of my ribs were broken.

I went back to our apartment on East 10th Street and lay on the futon wheezing.

I coughed a little blood.

Nothing serious.

Alice returned at dawn.

She sat in the kitchen.

"A good night."

"Yes, but you had to ruin it all. Blondie wants to play, but both them and the B-52s won't perform if you're there."

"Really?"

"Yes."

"Well, the show must go on."

We sept in separate beds that night.

The following evening she went to the show.

I sat in the Polish Bar beneath Irving Plaza.

The Poles toasted me.

I toasted them back.

"Na Zdrowie!"

I spit up blood for the next two days.

HEART OF GLASS rode the charts to # 1.

I should have sued the band for a hundred-thousand.

Sadly I wasn't that type of guy.

Fighters never are.

We win.

We lose.

We never cry.

Never.

Dirtbag Hollywood

Hollywood is not Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The former is where dreams come true, where as the good people of the latter pray for the souls of the damned.

Even Dorothy Gale in THE WIZARD OF OZ recognized after the whirlwind carried her and her dog Toto to Oz that 'they weren't in Kansas anymore'

Hollywood doesn't pretend to be holy.

Fame and fortune are goals achieved by ruination, yet thousands of actors, actresses, directors, producers, make-up artist et al strive for greatness blinded by the allure of the bright lights.

Marilyn Monroe's tragic death scared no one from Topeka.

James Dean's gory crash glorified the cult of 'live fast and die young'.

Everyone thinks bad endings are for shitty movies or someone else.

Unfortunately the cast of characters include sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein, who has been outed for serial assaults on starlets and actresses. Some names are top rank. Many are bit players. His scumbag producers was allowed to pursue his perversion, because he put out successful films, Shakespeare in Love, Escape from Planet Earth, Who's Your Caddy? and dozens of other classics. Weinstein was powerful enough to squash any report and discredit any reporters or victim.

"You'll never work in this town again?"

The fat fuck.

All his defenders cared about was money.

Greed.

His brother had the balls to say he wasn't aware of Harvey's evil ways.

Bullshit.

But it's funny that the wall of silence has been broken this September.

He must have threatened someone bigger.

"I'm not going down alone."

It has to be someone really big, because a criminal can only snitch up to a whale..

Yes, Mssr. Small Hands.

But # 45 ain't alone.

DUST THEN MUD by Peter Nolan Smith

Bangkok was a different city in 1990. Shady trees lined the sois. The klongs led to the Chao Phyra River. Barges transported rice from up-country. After a short stay at the Malaysia Hotel I was ready to head north to Chiang Mai.

I booked a 2nd Class AC sleeper at Hualamphong Station. The train pulled out at dusk and slowly snaked through the trackside ghettoes into the central plains. I drank Mekong whiskey with off-duty cops in the dining car and crashed in my berth at 10.

The next morning I woke with the dawn. Sleeping past that hour was discouraged by the staff. They kicked everyone out of the beds. Breakfast was served by a porter. I finished the last of the Mekong in the watery coffee.

A tuk-tuk took me to the Top North Guesthouse. The hotel had a swimming pool. I spent most of day wallowing in the shallow end, but once the sun dropped behind Doi Suthep I wandered along narrow roads to ancient temples and beer bars.

Close to the old walls a farang bookshop at the Eastern Gate rented dirt bikes.

125 cc MTXs and 250cc ATXs.

$10 OR $12 a day.

None of them were new.

The owner was a Brit yellowed by malaria. His wife glowered in the kitchen. She clearly didn’t trust westerners.

“He’s an American. Not an Israeli.” Jerry wagged his nicotine-stained finger at his diminutive wife. He wasn’t planning on leaving a good-looking corpse.

“All farangs, all men, kee.” She wrapped herself in a wraith of wrath.

“Kee?” My Thai consisted of ‘sawadee kap’ and ‘eek nung kyat beer’ plus ‘u-nai hong nam’. Hello and more beer were almost as important as ‘where’s the bathroom’, since my stomach was having a hard time adjusting to Thai food.

“Kee means shit. The Thais are the French of the Orient. They think they are better than anyone else and in some ways they aren’t wrong. This country was never conquered by the west.” He smiled at his wife.

"The only country in Indochina to escape that fate." I knew my Far East history. "I was thinking about taking a motorcycle trip."

"Lanna Thai has great trails." He whipped out a map of the tribal hills on the Burma border.

“Mai Hong Son was one of the last market towns on the Silk Route.” The broken nail of Jerry's index finger tapped a location to the west of Chiang Mai. “You could fly there for $15, but the road there can take up to ten hours. Every corner is a turn into the 15th century. The Thais are trying to pave it, but the steep hills devour the road like land sharks.”

“This time of year the road has dust deep as your knees."

"Better than mud."

"Yes and no. What do you want rent?"

“I’ll take the 250.”

"Good choice." I gave him my passport as a guarantee and motored around town like Marlon Brando in THE WILD ONES. The bike's short pipes glowed red from the exhaust. The backfires spat a blue flames. I returned to the hotel and slept early. Ten hours on a bad road could become fifteen easy.

The next morning I ate a quick breakfast and the barman at the Top North Guest House said, “Rom Mak.”

And he was right. It was already 91F and I drank a 'bon voyage' Singha.

It was as cold as the air was hot.

After checking my bag with the hotel, I strapped a small daypack to the bike and pointed the front wheel north. The Trans-Asia Highway was unpocked by potholes.

50 K out of Chiang Mai was an elephant camp. Tourists rode them through the forests. I snapped a few photos and kept on going. It was a long way to Mae Hang Son.

Heavy construction trucks labored up the two-laner and I weaved through the swatches of destructed pavement in 2nd gear, climbing into the mountains scarred by the slash and burn agriculture of the hill tribes.

The centuries disappeared with every mile.

I made good time on the paved road to the turn-off for Mai Hong Song.

.

Outside of Pai the ankles-deep dust replaced the pavement.

I wrapped a scarf over my mouth and nose. Sunglasses protected my eyes, but a powdery dirt coated my denim jacket and jeans.

Opium trucks rolled past police barriers without inspection and I promised myself a taste in Mae Hong Song. Chasing the dragon would go good with beer.

The air was too hot to breathe and the sun was strong enough to make me think that someone was ironing my skin. I drained my water bottle and looked up the word for water in Thai.

It was 'nam'.

Bottle was 'kuat' and I repeated both, as I sped by dry rice paddies.

Water buffalo wallowed in muddy rivers.

They were called 'kwaii' like the movie BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAII.

The temperature had to be in the high 90s.

There were no towns.

I twisted the accelerator to the max.

The wind was no relief.

Ten miles before Mae Hong Son I entered a Lisu village. The young tribesgirls were selling water. I bought three bottles and gave them all candy.

They thanked me with a bowed 'wai'.

Two miles laters I topped the crest of a pass. The sun was scorching the slopes dry and the temperature was a touch under 100F. Three buses were parked at the bottom of the valley and I slowed down to a stop. Their passengers sheltered under the shade of withered trees. The drivers stood at the edge of a 25-meter stretch of dried mud in the middle of which was a 10 meter bog.

The Thais looked at me and I looked at them.

We all looked at the road.

A trickle of a stream had transformed a red dirt into a thick goo.

One of the driver smoked a cigarette.

He pointed to his knees to indicate the depth of the mud.

"Mai bpen Rai," I said, which was all-purpose Thai phrase meaning 'no problem'.

I revved up the engine and the Thais shouted out, "Farang Bah."

I thought it was encouragement.

I revved my engine.

A beautiful Lisu girl caught my eye.

I had something to prove and roared 200 meters up the road.

One of the drivers waved his hands, as if to say getting across this mire was impossible.

He hadn’t seen Evel Knevel leap Caesar’s fountains in Las Vegas and I u-turned the bike spraying a rat tail of damp earth.

The Thai men at the side of the road rose to their feet. The women stopped eating and their children ran closer to the edge of the soggy road. They knew that there was going to be a show. In their minds all farangs were crazy.

I revved the motor planning my route.

As long as front tire stayed up and the rear wheel spun at top speed, then I could hydroplane across the fetid mud. I torgued out the bike at 7000 rpms and tore down the pitted road, hitting the sloppy goop at 90 kph.

I wasn’t wearing a helmet.

My only protection was my courage.

"Farang bah!" I shouted and raced toward the muck at full speed. The front wheel glided over the mud and then buried itself up to the fender, catapulting me into the air with outstretched arms like Superman.

The is not good.

"I was no George Reeves and bellyflopped into the puddle.

I rose from the mud and Thais laughed insanely, because I was covered from head to foot like a troglodyte. The men helped hauled the stalled bike to the other side of the bog and I promised to buy them beer in Mai Hong Sing.

"Farang bah," shouted the driver.

"You got that right." I waved to the Lisu girl.

I shook off the slop like a wet dog.

The stranded Thai passengers laughed harder.

"Farang bah. Farang bah."

Later I learned that 'farang bah' meant 'crazy foreigner' and that I was.

A farang bah.

Seconds later I remounted the bike and punched my fist in the air before speeding away dripping goo.

Mae Hong Son was about two hours distant. The sun baked the mud hard and dust coated every inch of my body. I loved riding in the mountains. I was free. Just outside of Mae Hong Song I stopped at a grocery store to buy cold beer and insects.

I pulled into a restaurant by the bus station and waited.

The bus rolled into town at sunset.

"Chok dii."

Good luck.

"Chaii." I was happy not to have been hurt by my failed feat.

The Lisu girl came to my table.

She peeled off the shells of the insects.

I ordered ice for the beer, because cold Singha went well with fried grasshoppers and even better with mud.

The Thais retold my feat to each and every new Thai.

I gave the punchline and earned a big laugh.

Even in a remote backwater like Mai Hong Song they were used to 'farang bah'.

Fotos by Peter Nolan Smith

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday The 13th


The number 12 symbolizes completeness for numerologists and 13 has a reputation of a prime number steeped with irregularity. Thirteen is further tarnished by being the number of people at the Last Supper of Jesus. The Turks went so far as to ban the number from their language and the Vikings feared that if thirteen guests sat to dinner, all of them would die within a year under the curse of Loki, their god of mischief. Some humans have rejected this belief as superstition.

Manhattan has a both East and West 13th Streets, however most high-rises on that fabled island are missing the 13th floor.

Many superstitions have their base in gambling and many gamblers exhibit an extraordinary fear of the #13 aka triskaidekaphobia.

There are usually 1-3 Friday the 13ths in a calendar year.

Today is one of them.

Unlike the West Thais consider the number 4 unlucky, although you’ll notice on Thai Air flights there is no row 13.

Personally I think 13's reputation comes from the age at which Jewish boys used to be circumcised and nothing is more unlucky for a man than losing a piece of your penis, unless you’re a ka-toey.

Black Sabbath also released their first album on Feb. 13, 1970.

The date had nothing to do with ladyboys.

Although with Ozzie you can never be sure.

The Road To Umphang - Thailand's Death Highway

Umphang in Tak Province has long been one of Thailand's most remote provinces.

Well in the 20th Century the only access to the region was by pack horse, ox-cart or on foot.

In the late 60s the Thai government financed construction of road through the perilous mountains only to have rebels kill thirty construction workers. The other workers abandoned their machinery and it wasn't until the mid-70s that Highway 1090 connected Mae Sot to the remote town on the Burma border.

I had always been curious about Umphang and one night in Ban-nok suggested to my wife that we take a drive to see the end of the road.

“It will be a road adventure.”

"Like going to Mae Hong Son?" my ex-wife ase, remembering a long-ago trip in a cheap car through the mountains north of Chiang Mai.

"Better."

"Only be better. That trip no go AC, bad food, not nice hotel."

"It will be better."

She muttered something in Thai.

It wasn't nice.

“Oh.” Angie my eight year-old daughter groaned with dismay. Her idea of excitement was hitting the local shopping mall for a KFC dinner.

The next day riday the 13th we we set off north to Tak in our pick-up.

Before the Umphang turn-off, we asked the owner of a noodle stop at the beginning of Highway 1090, if she had ever been to Umphang.

“Mai. Mao lot.” Car sickness was a plague besetting the Thais, but this highway is renown for its formidable assault of 1219 nail-biting curves on the tender Thai constitution.

“Umphang mii arai?” Angie’s mom questioned the owner’s husband who had family in Umphang. He was part Karen, which was the major ethnic group in the area, who have been at war with Burmese government for decades.

“Umphang has nam-tok Thi Lo Su, a very beautiful waterfall.”

I was enheartened by that information and set off for Umphang.

It was only 160 kilometers away.

A long 160 and we were about to discover how long.

The road was worse than treacherous.

Work crews repaired damage from monsoon rains at various spots in the mountains.

Two hours into the trip a mudslide had washed out the road. There was just enough room for our pick-up to pass the obstacle. I looked across the valley. The road snaked up to the peaks. It took us twenty minutes to reach that spot.

We stopped at a waterfall.

The flowers were exquisite.

White.

Orange.

160 stretched longer and longer, as the day got shorter.

Coming around a corner furred with jungle another pickup was cutting the corner in my lane.

I tapped my brakes and skidded forward without any control. Coming from frozen Maine I didn’t turn the steering wheel to avoid a slide. The other driver was local. He was used to dirt.

My internal proximity alarms rang like the Titanic’s ‘warning’ claxons.

For the first milli-second I was totally convinced that my right bunker was destined to crush his driver side door.

A second milli-second later and downgraded the danger to kissing to a 90% chance of tagging his rear bunker.

A millisecond more and we miraculously passed each other without a scratch.

He braked to see that I didn’t plunge off the road, then continued on his way and me on mine.

“Close.” Angie’s mom was not happy.

I wasn’t either.

We stopped for gas at a Karen refuge camp.

The foreigners had been living in Thailand for decades.

Their houses were rudimentary.

They remained stateless.

A mile on the skies opened up, as we entered the home stretch.

Noahesque monsoon rains lashed the mountains. We descended into a valley.

At the bottom a motorcycle was stopped before a brown deluge. The turbulent stream raced across the road. The water appeared about hub cap deep, but I waited for an oncoming truck to test the waters.

The pick-up emerged from the angry torrent and I followed his route to the other side. The motorcycle driver was stuck in the rain. He was soaked to the bone.

We arrived in Umphang to discover not a jungle Shangril-lah, but a sleepy town accustomed to its remoteness. No restaurants were open and we had to make do with noodles, plus the road to the Thi Lo Su waterfall had been washed out by the monsoon.

Needless to say there were few happy campers in our guesthouse room that evening.

Today it was back to Mae Sot.

The same 160 kilometers.

The same 1219 curves.

The same dangers as before, but this time I had beer.

My daughter is poking me in the back.

Her eyes say one thing.

"Let's go, I want KFC."

"I know somewhere better."

She didn't believe me, but I had been to Mae Sot before.

The Moei river separated the border town from Burma.

And one place had good food.

"When?" asked Angie."

I could only say, "Soon."

And three hours was soon on the Highway Of Death.