Rabu, 30 November 2011

The Glitter Of Gold

In the summer of 1993 Tall Meg and I drove from LA to New York in her 1966 Studebaker Lark. Tall Meg was in love with a man in New York and I was returning to no one. She was in a hurry, but had never made the cross-country trip, so we detoured from the Interstate and headed into the desert. The first night I erred thinking that there were plenty of motel rooms in Monument Valley in Arizona. We arrived at dusk to discover the two motels were sold out. That evening Tall Meg and I crashed in the car parked off the road leading to Colorado. Both of us were too tired to travel any farther."At least the seats fold down." The night was lit by the cosmos. Kerouac and Cassidy might have traveled down this road."Don't say anything." Tall Meg was pissed at me. It was cold in the high plains. Cars passed every few minutes. I stepped outside and stared at the billions of stars clustered in the sky. I couldn't recollect ever having seen so many. Tall Meg joined me. "A lot of stars." She was still angry at me, but her eyes shined with the heaven.In the morning we continued on our way. People were happy to see her car. "What is it?" Most asked at the car stations. Tall Meg told them everything about her car. They waved good-bye and we entered the Rockies, stopping the night at a small hotel in Leadville, the highest city in the USA. We struggled to sleep in the high altitude. My lungs struggled to get my breath. Both of us woke at dawn. The road was downhill from Leadville. By the end of the day we would be in the plains. I stopped at a mountain stream that would become the Arkansas River and thought about swimming until Tall Meg pointing out that the crystal water which would was laden with the poisonous aftermath of gold mine owned by the Newmont Corporation."It's dead.""And been dead for a long time."Tall Meg and I left the river and I have thought about that sign on the Arkansas since then. There were few clear streams left in America and the mining entity known as Newmont has moved much of its operations overseas. Last week the Peru government yielded to demands of local residents to stop the development of a massive gold pit in the Cajamarca region some 3700 meters above sea level. Residents had set up roadblocks to prevent any attempt by Newmont to drain glacier-fed lakes to support their mining operation. Newmont had proposed another set of negotiations, dangling the prospect of jobs before the locals. Such promises have been before to the people in Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Ghana and Peru with success, for Newmont produced 5.4 million ounces of gold last year. With gold at an all-time high Newmont is the most successful gold mining operation in the world, however the locals living in the shadow of their mines have complained about deadly pollution and the failure to provide well-paid jobs to the community.Newmont has been ignored these protests with the help of the government who are in the pocket of the mining giant. They have escaped audits for taxes and royalty payment thanks to a legion of lawyers. Managers are adept at short-changing workers overtime in foreign countries and contributed to the danger of mining by avoiding adherence to safety regulations. The CIA has repeatedly acted in favor of Newmont to the detriment of the workers and local communities.All that glitters might be gold, but that gold is not for everyone.Not in America and not in Peru.

THE LIGHT OF THE MOON by Peter Nolan Smith

Tulsa was a very religious town in 1974. Sundays belonged to the Lord. The bedroom windows were open for the fresh morning air and the numerous church calling for the faithful bells woke me from sleep.

My good friend AK and I were guests of the Speare sisters. Both were long-legged blondes. Valerie had been going out with a schoolmate, Nick. He was out in the Philippines studying medicine. It was over between them, but she was happy to see me. Tulsa was a small town in the middle of the country. Long hairs like AK and I were an anomaly in Oklahoma.

Merle Haggard had scored a hit with I’M AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE in 1970. That city was one of the most diverse in the state, but Merle Haggard was right in saying that its patriotic citizens didn’t smoke marijuana, take LSD, wear beads or sandals. Okies had special words for people like AK and me. They were dirty hippies and we had bathed twice a day to prove the crackers wrong.

Mr. Speare knocked on the door. It was a little before 8am. His church was a walking distance from their tidy ranch house several blocks east from the Arkansas River.

“You boys awake?” The voice belonged to an older male.

AK groaned and pulled the covers over his head. Every free room had its price. I shut my eyes hoping that Mr. Speare would go away. The next knock was a little louder. I sat up in bed and told AK to do the same. My friend pushed his long hair out of his face and I scrapped order from my mop with a rake of fingers. We were Mr. Speare’s guests and I answered, “Yes, sir, we’re up now.”

The lanky banker entered the room in his Sunday finest. He looked like he could have played back-up for the Johnny Cash band. The family Bible was nestled under his arm. It was the Baptist Guide to the Universe and whatever wasn’t written in the Good Book wasn’t good.

“You ready for church?” His question was directed primarily at me, although Baptists regarded the conversion of a Jew as a great challenge and AK had the look of the Tribe, even though he ate bacon.

“No, sir, I’m sleeping in.” I hadn’t been to church in a long time. My Catholic mother prayed for my soul. She worried that her son was doomed to burn in Hell. My father was content that I kept my non-belief to myself. The government hadn’t put IN GOD WE TRUST on our money as a joke.

“Never to late to save your soul.” Mr. Speare had heard that I was distantly related to the founder of the Mormons and twice intoned what a great honor it would be his church to bring Joseph Smith’s ancestor back into the faith. This was the second time since we left LA that someone was desperate to save our souls. The last attempt had been by a Jesus freak promised salvation with cute hippie girls. It had sounded too much like heaven to be true and we had kept traveling east.

“I know, sir, but I have a head cold.” Valerie had taken us to a speakeasy last night. They served their own alcohol. The owner swore that it wasn’t moonshine. AK had played piano for the wicked and Marilyn had danced an Okie boogie to his rendition of LOUIE LOUIE. I stopped them from getting serious. Marilyn was only 17. The night had ended someplace called the Boom-Boom Room.

“Well, that old shine will break your head good. Believe me I was once young too. Drank the Demon Rum with my evil friends. I could have ended up in a bad way. In prison or dead or both, but I found the Light and God loves a sinner that has found his way back home.” The fifty year-old turned to AK what an outstretched hand. He was about the same age as our fathers. We had been brought up to obey our elders and I recognized the wavering of AK’s resolve. “I know that you young people thought that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, but it’s four years since they broke up. Jesus is God. God never breaks up.”

“I was never into the Beatles. I was more into the Rolling Stones.” This was as close as I could come to telling Valerie’s father that I did not believe in God.

“The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll band. They played here in 1965. The Stones were my band too, but I gave them up for Jesus.”

“That’s quite a sacrifice.” Almost as much as the Jews and Muslims rejecting bacon.

“You can’t always get what you want with the Stones, but you can with Jesus.” Mr. Speare wasn’t giving up on both of us. He turned to AK. “I know you’re a Jew, but my church has sent many missions to your people in hopes of bringing them back to the Way of God. Get out of bed and come with us. It will do you good.”

“Thank, you sir, but I’ll sit this morning out.” AK was half-Jewish. His mother was a Yankee same as my father. He existed a step down from the hierarchy of atheism on the plane of agnosticism. Doubt was much more acceptable to the believers than downright dismissal of God, however AK’s sacrament was marijuana and no preaching could make him abandon his Search for the Ultimate Holy Bong of Reefer.

“Can’t say that I didn’t try.”

“It’s the first syllable in triumph.”True Believers in the My wife, the girls and I will say some prayers for your souls, then come back here with some nice young people for a fried chicken dinner with all the fixings.”

“Your wife’s fried chicken?” I swung my feet onto the floor.

“The word KFC is sacrilege in this house.” He moved to the door. We’ll be back around 11.”

“We’ll be waiting.” I had eaten Mrs. Speare’s chicken on my previous trip to Tulsa. The taste was beyond finger-licking good.

Mr. Speare shut the door and AK faded back into the pillows.

“That felt like a sermon after a Salvation Army dinner on the Bowery.”

“No one forced you to drink last night.” He was a lightweight when it came to drinking and last night he had downed three tequila sunrises. “Another hour sleep, a shower, Mrs. Speare’s chicken, and we’ll be ready for the road around 1.”

“That’s a late start.” AK was eager to get back to Boston. His girlfriend was waiting at home. He hadn’t had sex once on our trip across America.

“Days last long this time of year.” It was only three weeks after the summer solstice. Depending on where we were in time zone, sunset could be as late as 9 O’clock. I pulled out a map. “Eight hours of travel puts us in Illinois by dark.”

“And where will be stay?” Our nights in the Speare’s house were the only time that the road hadn’t been our place of rest.

“We’ll find someplace.”

“Great.”

There was another knock on the door. It was Valerie. She came into the room and sat on my bed. Her sister was standing by the door. Both of the long-legged blondes were dressed in virginal white dresses. The hemlines were hanging at mid-calf. Their ankles were covered by sheer white sox. After a summer with hippie girls the Speare sisters were a breath of straight American sex appeal.

AK stirred under the sheets. He was having trouble hiding his erection. My problem was even worst, since I was sitting on the edge of the bed. I pulled the covers over my lap. Valerie and i were just friends. I didn’t want her to think any different. Even with Nick on the other side of the world, she was still his girl.

“Both of you. Out of bed.” Her voice expressed an unexpected urgency. “We have to be at church in ten minutes and you have to be out of the house in five.”

“What about the chicken dinner?” I hated hitting the road on an empty stomach and my funds were down to less than $10.

“My mother cooked the chicken this morning.” Marilyn held up a paper sack. She gave it to AK. “I packed you a doggie bag.”

“What’s the hurry?” I was up on my feet and pulling on my jeans.

“My father is coming back here with about ten Oral Robert football players dedicated to Jesus and they’re going to try to strong-arm you into becoming believers.” Valerie was stuffing my dirty clothing into my grandfather’s leather doctor’s bag. I rolled my sleeping bag tight and tied it shut with rope.

“Sounds like a lynch mob.” AK was dressing faster than a Polish Jew fleeing the Nazis. He looped his sleeping bag over his shoulder.

“My father has become a little too gung-ho about Jesus.” Valerie was apologizing for her old man. It wasn’t necessary. “Thinks the world is coming to an end. He’s not a bad man, but he’s worried that you’ll be condemned to Hell.”

“He should meet my mother.” She would have thanked Mr. Speare for the help.

“No time. We had a good time. Hope to see you again. Marilyn and I are getting our own place. We believe in God, but my father has gone off the deep-end. My mother is hoping that he’ll find a way back to reason, but that isn’t happening this morning. Hurry up and we’ll drive you to the highway.”

Seven minutes later Valerie jammed on the brakes of her Tempest convertible at the entrance to I-44. The sky was a blue eggshell from horizon to horizon. It was promising to be a hot one. Marilyn gave us two canteens filled with water. Valerie kissed me on the lips. Her were soft. She pushed something into my hand.

“We had a good time.”

“Us too.” It was a $20 bill.

“Be careful on the road. This state has some funny laws. Like no spitting on the street or taking a bite from someone else’s hamburger.” Valerie was showing off her education as a law enforcement major.

“Or wearing your boots to bed.” Marilyn added from the passenger seat. Her skin shone with the glow of an angel.

“Call us from Boston.” Valerie waved good-bye and then stamped on the accelerator. The two girls looked like holy virgins of desire. Before AK and I could jump back in the Tempest, the V8 spun the rear tires at with a squeal of rubber. The both of us covered our faces to keep from breathing the dust.

“That’s what I call a bum’s rush.” AK put down his canvas bag and stuck out his thumb to a passing pick-up truck. The farmer glared at us, as if he had been cheering for the rednecks in EASY RIDER. AK rubbed his face. “What a great way to start the day.”

“You want to wait for a football squad of Bible-thumpers?”

“No, those Jesus freaks forget the Messiah was a Jew a little too easy for my tastes. At least we have fried chicken and water.”

“A miracle.” I was starving, but resisted tearing into the chicken. It would taste even better when I was really hungry.

“A better miracle would be us getting a ride out of here.”

“I agree.” Muskogee lay to the south. I wrapped a rubber band around my long hair and AK followed my cue. We slipped on baseball caps. Any motorist not looking to closely might take us for college kids instead of long-haired hippies and ten minutes later a Cadillac stopped in the breakdown lane. The driver was heading to Justice, Oklahoma. It was about forty minutes up the road.

I jumped in the front seat and AK spread out in the back. The AC chilled the interior to a spring in Maine. The crew-cut driver was late for church. He had spent the night in Tulsa with a cousin.

“We drank beers until dawn.” His driving was a classic example of what law enforcement officers called weaving. I grabbed the wheel at least once a minute to prevent us from veering off the highway.

“Sorry about that. I couldn’t find my glasses this morning, so I can see shit.”

“Damn.” AK muttered from the rear. He wanted to get out of the car. I was in the same mind, but north of Tulsa was the middle of nowhere and a lot of it.

Luckily traffic was light, but the windows of passing cars were filled with angry faces. The driver slurred out swears in return.

“Damn Methodists think the road was built for them.”

“How you know they’re Methodists?”

“Because all good Baptists are in church. Damn Methodists.” We were barely going 30 mph.

It took an hour to reach Justice.

We got out of the Cadillac and AK kicked a stone in the wake of the exhaust.

“I hate America.”

“You don’t want to say that. It’s a big country. There’s the good and the bad in every country.” He had enough money in his pocket to take the bus back to Boston. “You could catch a Greyhound home from here. Let us do the driving.”

“And what about you?” AK was a true friend.

“I’ll make it to Boston when I make it.” I had nothing waiting for me back in my hometown.

“I’ll stick it out with you.” He looked to the right. Justice was a small town.

“I’d wait with you till the bus came.” A gas station was a few hundred feet from the exit. It probably doubled as the bus stop.

“No, I’ll take my chances on the highway.” He was cursed by having read Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD.

“Let’s see if that gas station has food.” I cleared my mouth and spit on the ground.

We were lucky. A small diner was open for breakfast. AK and I ate a full breakfast of bacon and eggs. The price of a bus ticket to Chicago was $20. I was down to $27. AK didn’t offer to loan me the money and I didn’t ask for the $20. I was committed to the road.

We washed up in the bathroom and headed back to the highway. The temperature had risen several degrees in the low 90s. The sun was getting strong and the only shade was beneath the underpass. A state trooper backed up the ramp. His cruiser was a Plymouth Grand Fury built for speed.

“Where you boys going?” The young officer spoke through the open passenger window. He was about our age. His radio squawk out bulletins instead of the Rolling Stones.

“Back east. We just left our friends in Tulsa. The Speares.” At least Mr. Speare hadn’t reported us for missing church, but it was against the law to spit in the state.

“I don’t know any Speares in Tulsa, but I don’t want to see you down on my highway. That’s against the law in Oklahoma.” His sunglasses were the same ones that Boss Godfrey sported in COOL HAND LUKE. “Stay up here on the ramp and you don’t get no trouble from me. Have a good day.”

The trooper accelerated down the ramp. We stood in the sun. Only three cars passed us in the next hour. Two of the drivers pointed to the right and exited onto a dirt road a half mile in the distance. The third gave us the finger. Two hours later a Greyhound bus heaved up to the gas station. AK looked over at me.

“I’ll buy you a ticket.”

The panel across the top of the bus said CHICAGO. We had taken a bus out of Victorville. The temperature had been in the 100s. People at the back of the Greyhound smoked unfiltered cigarettes. Neither AK nor I were into tobacco.

“Thanks, but I feel good about this place. We’ll get out of here in a little while.”

The Greyhound passed us a minute later. The driver and his passengers on the right side of the bus regarded us as if we were the descendants of the hobos. This was Tom Joad country. THE GRAPES OF WRATH started in these farmlands. I looked at the fields stretching to the hazy horizon. Dirt roads ran straight lines through the crops. Back out beyond the highway still was 1930.

A steady processions of vehicles exited from the highway. Most of them were hauling speedboats. Two dammed lakes provided water recreation for the Tulsans. A couple of cars passed us in the next hour. Their plate were from Oklahoma. The drivers didn’t look our way. I suspected that the police officer had aired a warning to motorists about two hippie hitching a ride. AK suggested walking to the next exit. It didn’t have a name.

“We are where we are.” I finished off my water. The sun was sucking sweat from our skin. AK’s canteen was empty too and I went to the gas station to refill them. The gas station attendant said that he had seen two longhairs wait at this on-ramp for over a day.

“How they get out of here?”

“Don’t know. They were there one second and then they were gone the next. Might have been extraterrestrials.” The boy seemed a little touched by the isolation. “You’ll get out of here sooner or later.”

“Thanks for the good thoughts.” I planned on keeping this information to myself, but if another Greyhound bus showed up, I fully intended on taking up AK’s offer of the $20 or pay for the fare myself. As I approached AK, a car screeched through the stop sign. I turned my head to witness a Ford Falcon bat-turn into the gas station. Three men piled out of the midnight-blue convertible. They wore new jeans and their hair was short.

“What you think?” AK asked with the right degree of apprehension.

“I think they’re drunk.” It was barely noon. I picked up a rock in my right hand. AK started to do the same. I warned him ‘don’t. He wasn’t a fighter.

The attendant filled the car with gas and I saw the driver give him money. At least they were trying to imitate Charles Starkweather on a Nebraskan killing spree. The for of them got back in the car and AK said, “I hope they’re heading for the lake.”

The driver wasn’t the type to use his turn signal. The Falcon swerved right at the last second and the car fishtailed down the ramp. AK backed away from the road. I stood my ground. The car came to a stop and the three young men examined us, as if they were making up their mind whether they wanted to make today a bad day. They were born crackers and would die crackers, but the radio was playing FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY. The driver with the slicked back hair lifted a beer and said, “Damn, we’re fucked up. Can either of you drive?”

“Say no.” AK whispered behind me.

“You like the OJays?”

“You mean this music. Shit, we listen to anything as long as it don’t have no Jesus in it,” the pale-faced passenger in the rear right said with a laugh. “I hate God.”

“Shut your mouth. It’s the Lord’s Day.” The heavy-set man with tattoos writhing up muscular arms punched the blasphemer.

“My apologies for my passengers. I just picked my cousins up at McAlester Prison. They finished their sentence and are respectable citizens now they have been rehabilitated. Ain’t that right boys?” The driver raised his PBR and toasted their release.

“Definitely no.” AK was ready to flee into the cornfields.

“Yes, sir, we’re good citizens now. We done learned our lesson.” The thin rake on the right had an easy smile. He might have been the brains, except the strongman possessed sharp eyes. “Can you drive or what? We’re wasting gas.”

“Hold your horses, Garrald.” The driver wasn’t in such a hurry. “We’re heading to Springfield, Illinois. That out of this cow-paddy state through Missouri and halfway up to Chicago. It will be a little tight, but we had more people in this Fal-coon that six.”

“I can drive.” The Falcon had custom rims. I dropped the rock on the ground.

“Shit.” AK hated crackers.

“Then you get behind the wheel. My name’s Earl.” He popped open his door and stumbled to the ground. He gave me the keys and I opened the trunk. They had no bags, but wrapped packages with OSP stamped on them.

“OSP. Oklahoma State Prison. You got nothing against cons, do you?” Earl flipped back a fang of jet-black hair with his hand.

“Not me.” Something about the way the engine purred dissipated my reservations.

AK had his eyes shut. I told him to get in the back. I put our bags in the trunk and got behind the wheel. It had a four on the floor.

“Earl, what year is this?” Garrald had switched to the back seat with his brother. AK was between them. He didn’t look very happy.

“This here is the 1964 Sprint with a 302 Cubic Inch Windsor V8. It got a stiff suspension and a loud pipe. I probably shoulda got a Mustang, but the dealer gave me a deal I couldn’t refuse. Nothing down.”

“It ain’t hot.” I adopted a twang to make the accusation.

“Not stolen. My uncle sold it to me. The papers are in the glove compartment.” He whipped out his license. “You think I’d drive a stolen car with my cousins just out of Big Mac. Even I’m not that stupid.”

“I don’t know about that?” The one with the grin leaned forward. He smelled over harsh soap. “You’re related to us.”

“Only on my mother’s side, Jay Bob.” Earl shoved his cousin back from the front.

“We goin’ or we goin’?” Garrald asked from directly behind me. His spit hit the back of my neck.

“We’re goin’.” I shoved the stick into first and stamped on the gas. The Falcon was light even with the weight of five men and the tires peeled an extra layer of rubber on the hot asphalt. I turned up the music and we hit the highway, the fastest car of the road.

“Try and keep it under 70. The cops hate hippies.” Earl advised popping open a beer.

“Okay.” It was hard throttling back on the speed, but any police officer searching this car was bound to find something wrong.

The two boys in the back dedicated their new freedom to sucking down beer. AK wasn’t keeping pace. Earl handed me a cold PBR. The wind blew back my hair.

“Where you comin’ from?”

“The Coast.” It sounded better than San Diego.

“I never been out there. Girls fun out that way.”

“Fun enough.” I told him the story about meeting two lesbians in Big Sur.
“Whoowee. Better not say that too loud. My cousins ain’t had a touch in years. Felt the same way they did only three months ago.”

“You were in prison?”

“Same as them. It’s a hard place, but it used to be harder.” Earl rubbed his face. He was tired from driving, but he kept on talking. “Back in the bad old days the guards liked to torture inmates more than kill them, so the prison commissioner sent two squads of inmates to build a new prison. The women at that time were held in Kansas, so the warden had them build a women’s prison.”

“What you do?”

“Do?” He looked over his shoulder. “I followed bad advice from my cousins. We cousins tried to rob a church. Stupid idea, since it was a Friday and if you’re gonna rob a church better you do it on the Sunday. All three of us were drunk. The judge was hard on us, since we were long-hairs and they don’t like longhairs in the Sooner State. Only reason we didn’t do more time was that we were related to the preacher. I got me two years and them got three. I was 19.”

Earl was my age. We were the same size. He had probably made more than one mistake, but he had to pay for his. I tried to explain about my life, but Earl had a motormouth to match the Falcon’s V8.

He told me about the first prison escape from OSP and how the killers were shot dead on a ridge.He played DJ with the 8-track. GIMME SHELTER set off a long rant about the Hell’s Angels subverting the prison system.

“They play the race card, but all they care about is themselves. Set poor whites agin poor blacks like they cud make Helter-Skelter come to pass. Fuckin’ Beatles. I hate the Beatles. They never played in Oklahoma. They did the goat-roper state, but never Oklahoma.” Earl hailed from Guynon in the Panhandle. With ten thousand folks it was the biggest city in the west of the state. “Rodeo and prison are the only two ways to get out of that town.”

I drove and Earl spoke. AK and I shared our chicken. The two cousins said that it tasted better than anything they ate in Big Mac.

“I wish I had the recipe.” Garrald picked off the last meat and chucked the bone behind the Falcon. It almost hit the car following us. The Chevy blew its horn and I picked up the pace.

We stopped for gas outside of Joplin, Missouri. His cousins stalked into the KFC like they were casing it for a robbery. Earl was in the store, buying more beer. AK was picking the wind out of his ears.

“I don’t know how much more of this I can handle.” Wedged between the two cousins couldn’t have been a party. “All they talk about is fucking women, but I don’t like the way Garrald’s been looking at me.”

“I’ve been listening to Okie 101 for the past hour, but them boys ain’t no trouble.”

“Since when have you started talking like an extra in OKLAHOMA?”

“I like to fit in with the locals. Listen, we’re heading in the right direction and I’m behind the wheel. If anything changes in that equation, then we get out of the car polite like.” It was a little past 2 pm. A regular car would take five hours to cross the Show-Me State. I planned to do it in three with the souped-up Falcon. I had a friend in East St. Louis.

“I would rather be with bible-thumpers than sitting between two cons.” AK had sat on the hump all the way from Justice.

“You’re only thinking about Marilyn. She’s 17.” The image of Valerie driving away from us was stuck in my mind.

“I know that she’s too young for me.” AK easily repented for evil thoughts. His mother was an Episcopalian. They were almost Catholics, which had been the religion of my youth.

“Not really, AK was twenty-four, which was a much more acceptable age differential than that between Jerry Lee Lewis and his ‘fifteen’ year-old bride, a cousin once removed too. “But neither of us want to live out here.”

Joplin didn’t look as prosperous as Tulsa. The woods surrounding the truck stop were yellow pine. The forest surrounded the city with a thick belt of green. Joplin was mentioned in the song ROUTE 66. No one ever sang about stopping here. The boys were taking their time in the store. I had the keys. Stealing the Falcon crossed my mind. It had nearly a full tank of gas.

The price per gallon had been about twenty-six cents before last year’s oil embargo. The cost at the pump in Joplin was more that twice that in the beginning of 1973. My $20 bought about thirty gallon of regular. The Falcon could make Chicago on that much gas. I showed AK the keys. He shook his head. Neither of us were Bonnie or Clyde.

A month earlier I had left Boston with the words of BORN TO BE WILD as my philosophy of the road. I had sought ‘whatever comes my way’ and found it in California and few other places. Now a little over a thousand miles separated me from my hometown. Back in Boston I would resume my life as me. Time for ‘whatever comes my way’ was running out.

The two cousins exited from the store, carrying cases of PBR and a box of fried chicken. They were wearing sunglasses. Earl followed them, holding a brown paper bag. Glass clinked against glass.

“Sorry about the wait, but the chicken took some cookin’, plus I had a special order delivered.” He lifted the bag. “White Lightning. Hard to find in the Sooner State.”

“It’ll be a welcome change from the Pruno we made in Big Mac.” Jay Bob was in the back seat, opening a beer. “I’m lucky I didn’t go blind from that shit.”

“Well, you look like Ray Charles in them glasses.” His older brother pushed AK back onto the hump.

“Do not. I’m better looking and a lot more white.” Jay Bob gave a big grin. He had most of his front teeth.

“Ain’t nobody 100% white in this world. The only reason white people think they’re white is, becuz artists painted their kinfolk white in them old pictures. Everyone got a bit of tar in them.”

“That’s some very advanced thinking you got back there. What you been doin’ at Big Mac? Getting educatified?” Jay Bob laughed to himself like he was on nitrous oxide. I drove out of the truck stop and the wind ripped through my long hair to baffle out the conversation in back.

Earl put on Deep Purple. The boys were more into rock than country. Earl drank his beer without talking. I guessed that he had driven down to the Oklahoma State Prison from the Panhandle last night. He might have slept in the car. He pulled sunglasses out of the bag and put them over his eyes.

“Don’t mind me none. I’m gonna get me some sleep.” He placed the open PBR between his thighs. Within a minute he was snoring like a buzz-saw through ice. I stepped on the gas. The speed limit had been changed to 55 around the nation with the passage of the Maximum Speed Law to conserve gas. President Nixon had wanted it to be 50, but his time in the White House was coming to an end. Nobody on I-44 was traveling less than 70. The country was too big for slow this far from the cities.

Sunday traffic through Missouri was heavy around Springfield. Church was out and the older people in their cars stared, as if we were monkeys in the circus, while their kids smiled like we had fallen from the sky. The land got very country on the way to Lebanon. Cars with boats on trailer hitches were heading south from the Ozarks. The weekend was fading with the setting sun. I pulled off the interstate and drove down old Route 66.

“Where are we?” Earl sat up in his seat.

“About four miles west of Cuba. I was getting tired on the highway.” I kept under the speed limit of 40. People like us made a Sunday for cops in small town America. “We need some gas and I want to stretch my legs.”

“I can drive from here.” AK volunteered from the back.

“Okay.” The last drinks at the Boom Boom Room had sapped my strength. It was time to take a break and I pulled into the Fanning Outpost. The stop offered gas, food, and lodging to travelers. Once spots like this dotted Route 66 from Chicago to LA. I-44 was putting most of them over the edge into extinction.

“Sad to think that one day there will be no Route 66.” I got out of the car and started pumping gas. My legs were stiff from sitting in one position for the past three hours. The Mother Road had run over 2400 miles from end to end. “Only a few parts left.”

“All the Okies drove to California on Route 66. Reckon I got a lot a family out there.” Earl stepped out of the Falcon. He wiped the hood with a finger. Dust was laying deep atop the steel.

“Probably.” People with his background would explain how the conservative streak in Orange County. Whittier was the home of Richard Nixon. “It had its time.”

“My grandfather worked on the Chain of Rocks Bridge crossing the Mississippi. That money saved my family from having to leave our farm. Plenty of times I cursed that old man. If he hadn’t been working, we would have moved to California and I might have ended up being one of the Beach Boys.”

“That’s a laugh.” Jay Bob was helping his brother out of the car. Garrald had no idea where he was and lifted his sunglasses. “Damn, we there yet?”

“No, we are not there yet.” Earl shook the cramps out of his back. “We’ll be in Carbondale some time this evening.”

“What’s Carbondale?” This was the first I heard of a destination.

“A college town in southern Illinois. We have family.” Earl and his cousins had family everywhere. “There’s work there and we need jobs. The police don’t like ex-cons that ain’t workin’. We’re not even supposed to be in the same car together.”

“Speak for yourself. We’re free men. We didn’t get out on parole.” Garrald scratched his head and examined his fingernails. They were crusted with dirt. “Our uncle promised us jobs in the university kitchen. I learned a lot about cooking for numbers at Big Mac. Maybe I’ll get lucky and get me a hippie college girl. I hope she shaves her legs. I don’t like hairy women.”

“Just as long as you don’t mistake any long-haired guys for girls you’ll be fine.” I didn’t like how he was looking at AK.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” He took a quick step forward. Earl got between us. AK stood behind me just in case.

“Just a joke. I come from Maine and the women up there are twice the men you and I will ever be. Moose women we call them.”

My insulting the female of the Pine Tree State placated the big man. AK headed off tot the Men’s Room and Jay Bob led his brother into the store. I finished pumping $5 worth of gas. “This one is one me.”

“Be careful with Garrald. He had a hard time up there. I got out last June and was glad to get out. Things were getting bad. The COs treated us like dead men. Food was crap. Something happened in the mess. An inmate shanked two officers. The cons took hostages. Buildings got burned to the ground. Three inmates ended up dead. Garrald and Jay Bob were lucky to be working on the grounds, when the trouble started. None of us want to go back again. Never. But it ain’t easy for ex-cons. People think of you as just waiting to go bad and they ain’t too wrong. You see how fast Garrald got in your face.”

“Yes.” My temper belonged in Girl Scout camp in comparison to Garrald’s volcano. I had been arrested in grammar school for vandalizing an abandoned missile base. The cop knew me, since I had saved his son from a beating. He cut me loose and never said anything to my parents about my crime. Earl never received that break.

Garrald came out of the store and shook my hand.

“Sorry, I have to keep my mouth shut more often.”

“Me, too.” I was surprised by his hug, half-expecting a knife in my back.

“You’re good people and so’s your friend.” He embraced AK with the love of a young man freed from prison.

We switched places in the Falcon. I sat on the hump between Earl and Jay Bob. We opened the jar of shine. It was clear as light in the dying rays of the sun. My first sip ripped a layer of taste buds from my tongue and it sluiced down my throat like burning lava.

“Damn.” I was reborn with the spirit of Moonshine and happy to not be driving a car. AK and Garrald were talking in tongues. Between patches of the wind I heard the words Sly and the Family Stone, Brooklyn Dodgers, The Battle of the Bulge, the Gold Rush, and a thousand syllables distorted by the breeze.

Night closed on the sky tight north of Bourbon. The chicken was finished south of St. Clair. The ‘shine just kept coming and I kept drinking until we were surrounded by bright lights of a city. A ribbon of steel owned the stars and a moon was straight ahead above the highway. I recognized it as the St. Louis Arch. A baseball game was being played under the lights. AK drove past the stadium without slowing down. His father came from Brooklyn.

“Welcome to St. Louis. We’ll be turning on the other side of the Mississippi toward Carbondale. You can come with us to Carbondale or we can drop you at the Indian mounds. I’ve crashed there once or twice. It’s a good night for sleeping under the sky.”

The moonshine erased the decision ability from my mind and fifteen minutes later AK and Earl helped me from the Falcon. I was in no condition to walk and stumbled into a grassy meadow. The world swirled around my feet and my head hit the ground without me feeling a thing as I fell through the Earth to bury myself in a stupor designed to last eternity.

I woke with the dawn. It took me forever to find my glasses. A large grass mound rose from behind the line of bushes shielding AK and me from sight. There was no mistaking that the shape of the mound was a pyramid. I rose to my feet. The taste of sick was in my mouth. I had slept on my bag. It was clean, but my jeans and shirt were covered by dirt.. AK and Earl must have dragged me here last night.

“How you feeling?” AK asked from his sleeping bag.

“Not good.” My speech was reserved for sentences missing verbs and articles. My head pounded with flashes of drum thunder. “Damn, that mound is big.”

“You tried to climb it last night.”

“Any success?” My legs and back must have been bruised by several falls.

“None.”

That explained the dirt.

“Earl and the boys said good-bye.”

“I wish I had stayed in the car.” My arms were dotted by mosquito bites.“Probably better that you didn’t. You got sick last night.”

“Yeah, I guess as much.” I picked up my canteen. It was empty.

“You offered your last water to the gods.”

“I guess they spared my life. You have any left.” The sun was a red ball to the east. The morning air was thick with humidity. Today was going to be hot. I said as much to AK.

“If we’re lucky, we can get to Boston tonight.”

“If we’re lucky.” I walked forward toward the mound. It rose a hundred feet from the ground. “I’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”

“I know.” AK shucked his body from the sleeping bag. “You have nowhere else to go.”

And nowhere else was the truth for the right now.

Selasa, 29 November 2011

Barney Frank Quits

I'm used to being in the minority. I'm a left-handed gay Jew. I've never felt, automatically, a member of any majority. - Barney Frank, Massachusetts CongressmanOld Barney is calling it quits in the Congress after twenty years of service for 4th Congressional District.Barney Frank defended the Combat Zone, was pro-Choice, backed reparations for Japanese-Americans imprisoned during WWII, supported the NAACP, forwarded legislation to protect the rights of women and gays, and proposed the legalization of marijuana as well as a needle exchange program aimed at lowering the transfer of HIV between addicts.Republicans hated him.In 1985 he started an affair with a rent boy which grew into a deep relationship, but once it ended the man tried to sell his story to the Press. The House led by Congressman Larry Craig voted to censure Frank. Craig later was arrested in the toilet of a Minnesota airport for soliciting sex from an undercover agent. The hypocrite was ousted by the voters. Barney Frank retained his seat with an overwhelming majority in his next election.I wish the fat man a fine time in Provincetown.He was a good man.For someone left-handed like Billy The Kid.

Mistaken Identity

Whenever I mentioned to my friends in the USA or Europe that I was moving to Luxembourg, they immediately stated, "Luxembourg is the most boring city of Western Europe."Actually nearby Brussels won the prix d'or d'ennui in most competitions followed tightly by Zurich and Warsaw. Birmingham has supposedly given all three a run for the money with the added detraction as the most unromantic city in the EEU. I've actually had a good time in Bruxelles on several occasions in different decades. I don't know Zurich or Warsaw, but they are not on the top of my 'must see' list or even in the middle and nothing short of $2000 could get me to visit Birmingham, England's Venice of the North.I can only say that during the last three months in Luxembourg I have not made a single friend from local population. The people are well-mannered to tourists, but they have embraced the Germanic coldness of half their make-up instead of Gallic warmth, so I was happy to meet the new American ambassador. Bob was my age. We shared similar tastes in books and he loved art. "What are you doing for Thanksgiving?" He asked at the US Chamber of Commerce Turkey Dinner."Nothing." I had no plans. Madame l'Ambassador was visiting her oldest daughter in Paris. I was on my own."Not any more. You're with us this Thanksgiving."I thanked him for the invitation and showed up on time with a Paris Guidebook as a gift. His wife and he were planning a trip to the City of Light for the New Year. The guards confiscated my iPad, but allowed me to enter the embassy with my camera and telephone. Bob was waiting at the entrance. His guests were his daughter and her boyfriend, a niece, the Marine contingent, several couples working at the station, and assorted other invitees. The food was a classic holiday offering of turkey and all the fixings."Sorry about the paper plates, but I don't feel like washing dishes." Bob apologized before the meal. At least we had real silverware. I ate to my heart's content and drank a little more wine than i would have, if Madame l'Ambassador was present. As a teetotaler her appreciation of a good buzz are limited to the effects of a bar of chocolate. Bob and I were having a talk about Obama's chances in 2012. Both of us were supporters of the president. He had spoken with 'Barack' earlier in the day. I was duly impressed by his proximity to the POTUS and toasted the president with a plastic cup of California chardonnay."You know from the first time I saw you I thought you looked like someone.""Really?" Not many people have said this, although once at Max's Kansas City two kids from the Student Teachers came up to my table to tell me that they were playing PSYCHOTIC BREAKDOWN, which was a New York Dolls song. They had obviously mistaken me for David Johansson, but that wasn't the case with the US ambassador."Has anyone ever said that you look like Al Franken?""Al Franken?" Comedian and now senator from Minnesota. I was slightly horrified by the slight. "No.""You have the same hair.""A full head of hair and glasses." But Al Franken was much older than me. One whole year and totally more successful than me. I was supposed to be an outlaw and Bob thought I resembled a US senator. I took it as a compliment, but when Madame l'Ambassador heard the story upon her return from Paris, she go a good laugh. More a chortle."Al Franken, you."More laughter and most of it derisive.It is definitely time to get a haircut.Who knows who I look like with short hair.A slightly younger Barney Frank?

AN EAR FOR THE ROAD by Peter Nolan Smith

A dawn of rain, drizzle, snow, and ice pellets greeted Boston on the first day of 1975. The skies on the second day of January were overcast, but the temperature rose to the 40s, as I walked with a canvas bag over my shoulder to the Mass Avenue onramp of the Mass. Pike. It was the best place to start a trip out of Boston. The highway went for thousands of miles either West or South.

Dropping my bag at my feet, I tucked my newly-shorn hair under a watch cap and stuck out my thumb.

A hippie in a VW van stopped within two minutes. He was headed to Ohio. My destination was California, but the prairie states were gripped by sub-zero weather and I sought a more southern route to LA.

The hippie dropped me at Sturbridge and I caught a long ride to Washington DC. A blizzard was dumping snow on Tennessee. I was halfway to Florida. I-10 from Jacksonville was the warmest course across the continent.

My next lift was going to Richmond. I entered the Deep South without the watch cap. I cleaned my black-framed glasses with my shirt. The grease from the road painted a smear on the lenses.

Rides came easy on I-95. Truckers wanted company on the long stretches of highway and salesmen needed someone to keep them awake between cities. I hid my Boston accent with a broad drawl. The Civil War was not forgotten south of the Potomac.

22 hours after leaving Boston I crossed the Florida state-line. The palm trees swayed in the balmy breeze, as I drank a complimentary orange juice at the Welcome Center. I stuck my leather jacket in the canvas bag. A tee-shirt and jeans was a welcome change from heavy winter clothing. A Chevy SS stopped on the shoulder. The big engine throbbed with power. I jumped in the passenger side.

“Where you going?” The long-haired redneck was wearing a Lynard Skynard shirt. The residue of reefer smoke mixed with the fuel fumes. JJ was my kind of people.

“California.”

“What for?” He stomped on the gas.

“To see a girl.” I adjusted my glasses on my nose.

“Long way to see a girl.” JJ gripped the wheel with a stranglehold.

“I know.” Over three thousand miles from coast to coast.

Diana was studying film at UC Santa Barbara. We had spent our Xmas holiday together. The blonde athlete was the kind of girl that slept around, but 6 days and nights in a cold-water apartment on Beacon Hill had seemed to soothe the wanderlust in Diana’s heart. When I had called to tell her that I was coming out west, Diana had said it was a good career move.

I agreed, since I was employed as a substitute teacher at South Boston High School. The city was on the verge of a race war and that school was the epicenter. I needed out, because I was a race traitor and hell had a special place for my kind in South Boston.

“LA’s west, not south.” JJ pointed to the right.

“There’s ice storms and snow in Iowa. The passes through the Rockies are snow-packed, plus I’m a little too white for LA.”

“Too white.” JJ was a die-hard cracker.

“Yeah, I need color before I hit Hollywood.”

“If you mean sun, then you come to the right place. This is the Sunshine State.” He stuck in the Allman Brothers in his 8-track.

“Newcomers were easy to spot in Southern California.” They had no tan.

5 days in the Miami sun would transformed a pale-skinned hippie into a bronzed godling. Prescription sunglasses, a hair cut, a convertible car, and a movie studio job would complete the metamorphosis from substitute teacher to screenwriter. I had big dreams.

Hollywood treasured young minds. My name would appear on ‘coming attractions’ ads under the words ‘Written By’. Fame and fortune were within my grasp at the age of 23. I had $1300 in my pocket.

“Plenty of sun here and plenty of other things.” The hippie cracker turned up the MIDNIGHT RIDER on the stereo and shifted into a higher gear. We were rolling at 100. “Where you thinking of going?”

“I already been to Fort Lauderdale.” I had stayed across from the Elbow Room during Easter Break 1971. The bar was famous from the 60s movie WHERE THE BOYS ARE. We thought that we would meet Yvette Mimieux, the blonde star of the film. My friends and I drank beer the entire week. None of us got a tan or kissed a blonde. It had been my only trip to Florida.

“You should check out Miami Beach. Good town. Cheap hotels. Try the Sea Breeze.” Speed ate up the road fast paced by Dicky Betts’ guitar.

Around midnight he turned off the highway.

“Goin’ see my baby too. You have a good trip.” The muscle care was aimed into the swamps.

“You too.”

The moon was rising in the east. This exit was about 100 miles short of Miami. I didn’t like hitchhiking this late at night. Crackers get mean when they were drunk and weirdos thrive in these hours. A golf course lay across the highway. The 17th green served as my motel for the night.

The next morning a spray of sprinklers spurted from hidden hoses. Soaking wet I scurried to the rough. A red sun rose over the low horizon of the grassy fairways. I had breakfast in a little Cuban diner and then stuck out my thumb on Dixie Highway. My clothes were dried in a tropical wind from the South.

A Cuban farmer stopped in his pick-up truck. He was heading to Little Havana to see his sister. I gave him $5 to drop me at the Sea Breeze. It was almost 10 O’ Clock by the time we reached Collins Avenue.

The temperature was in the low 80s. The sidewalks were empty and the wide strand of sand was dotted with a few sunbathers. I could count them on two hands.

Decrepit beach hotels were lined the beachfront. The Sea Breeze was no different from the rest. The rooms were $15/night, $90/week, $250/month. There was no pool.

The breezy art-deco lobby embraced a decade of neglect. The open windows were covered with sea salt. Mold creep up the wall in the corners. The furniture had been battered by overuse. The absentee management was relying on the flaking pastel blue and chalky white paint job to carry the into the 1980s.

“I want a room.” I told the lank-haired teenager behind the desk.

“Day, month, or week. We don’t do by the year.” He spoke slow like he had to remember every word before he spoke it.

“Week.” I chiseled him down to $75 for a week. Dozens of keys hung on the wall. Vacancy was at an all-time high. Miami Beach had lost its luster for the American tourist. They wanted the Caribbean and not the Gulf Stream, so I could play hard ball with the clerk. “Beach view.”

“That’s ten dollars extra.”

“Five.”

“You got it.”

The desk clerk was the youngest man in the lobby. I was number two. The gap of age with the other guests was a chasm of decades. The white-haired men and women were in their late-60s and early 70s. They sat in groups of two or three. An elderly man wearing sunglasses plinked out STORMY WEATHER on the piano. He had a light touch with the ivories.

I hummed Etta James’ version on the elevator up to the 5th floor. Room 514 faced the ocean. The blue-white color scheme matched the view of sea and sky. I tested the AC. The old machine wheezed like a full TB ward. I shut it off and slid open the glass door for the balcony. The gulf breeze filled the room. The TV was a Zenith black and white. Three channels were available. One was in Spanish. The show was coming from Havana.

After a tepid shower I descended on the creaking elevator to the breezy art-deco lobby. It was too early for a drink, so I ordered a beer from the raw-boned desk clerk. He said his name was Nick. He looked like a young baseball player from the 50s. The can of cold Busch was a good wake-me-up for my first day in Miami Beach.

An old geezer at the scarred piano was one-fingering an unfamiliar tune.

The afternoon light bounced harshly off the tiled patio. A steady mumble fumbled off the piano player’s lips. Choice expletives dotted his tower of babble and the other residents steered cleasr of him and the sun-warped piano.

I tried calling Diana from the hotel lobby’s pay phone.

There was no answer from the other end of the continent..

The time was three hours earlier in LA.

I told myself that she was at class and went out to the veranda. My flip-flops whisked over the cracked tiles. A set of chairs lay in the shadow on the hotel awning. I sat on a distressed rattan chair and drank my beer sheltered from the noontime sun.

Pedestrians were scarce on the sidewalk. The midday sun torched the cement. Only yesterday my fingers had been numbed by the cold.

I dozed off to the pianist’s rambling monologue of the blues, bread lines, and riding the rails. He spun patches of praise for the smell of the sea in Texas, Florida, and a place called Tulum. It must have been in Mexico. Coughs punctuated his rant often enough to create a rhythm. I fell asleep for a good half-hour. The sun shifted beyond the tree and fell on my feet. I shifted out of the chair and I ordered another beer from Nick.

“Who’s the music man?”

“Old Bill’s been here since before I got hired. A pain in the ass. Do yourself a favor and give the old bastard a miss. He’s meaner than a snake with a wire up its ass.”

I shuffled back to the patio with the morning newspaper. Hippies waiting for Zeppelin tickets had rioted at Boston Garden. Damage was over $30,000. I had seen Zep at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival. I thought about asking the vile-tempered pianist to play DAZED AND CONFUSED except the gaunt septuagenarian exhibited a frightening mean streak just from his fingering of the keys.

No race was safe from his scorn, as he toyed with a tuning fork. No religion was beneath his contempt, while he tapped the keys. He called the male guests ‘bums’ and the blue-haired ladies ‘whores’. They ignored his epithets, as he riffed through EVERYTIME WE SAY GOODBYE.

It was a good track off John Coltrane LP MY FAVORITE THINGS.

His vile banter was getting on my nerves and I strode into the lobby for a third beer. I was on vacation and beer was better entertainment than TV.

“What’s with Old Bill?” I asked Nick without looking over my shoulder. “He’s got a serious dose of assholiness.”

“He wasn’t always like that so I hear.” The younger desk clerk whispered under his breath. “His wife died a year ago and since then he’s been on a roll.”

“Why doesn’t the management kick him out of the hotel?” I didn’t like bullies.

“First he’s blind and second he keeps the piano tuned and lastly the residents like his piano-playing. He even plays requests, if he likes the song.”

“Nick, what you and that hippie boy talking about?” Old Bill shouted from the piano.

“How he know I was a hippie?”

I had cut my hair before leaving Boston. The silent majority was in their seventh year of ruling America. They hated the counter-culture. Getting rides was what easier without long hair reminding the hicks of LSD and anti-war demonstrations. In their mind we had lost that fight and they wanted it to stay lost.

“Old Bill got good ears. Right, Bill.” Nick lifted his head, as if Old Bill could see the gesture. We were both impressed by the deductive powers of the blind man’s remaining senses.

“Hippie Boy, this C sound right to you.”

A crooked index finger poked at a key. I joined him at the piano. His t-shirt and khaki trousers were stained with fallen food and perspiration. Old Bill was not a man who cared much for his appearance.

“I think so.”

“Think so.” He scratched his buzz-cut. His hair was more white than gray.

“I’m trying to adjust the interval between tones to get the right interaction between notes. You ever play an instrument, Hippie Boy?”

“Sang a little and played bass.” My only musical training was singing in Our Lady of the Foothills choir and a three-month stint in a garage band. Neither really counted for much.

“You young people don’t know shit about music. Electric guitar solos by long-haired drug addicts. That ain’t fucking music. This is music.”

His spider fingers crawled across the keyboard. The tune was familiar. BLUE RONDO. His chording interpreted a more bluesy version than Dave Brubeck’s original track off TAKE FIVE. He stopped after ten bars.

“Hippie boy, you still there?” His head turned to me. Old Bill took off his sunglasses. His blank eyes were as blank as cue balls.

“Yeah.” My glasses were a testimony to lifelong myopia. Old Bill had me beat by miles, yet his eyes glowed like those of a statue coming to life.

“I know that, but was asking if you knew you were still there.”

“Yeah, I know that I’m still here.” I took a step closer and he flinched as if I was wearing a force field instead of a white tee-shirt and cut-off Levis. “How you know I was a hippie?”

“Everyone your age who stays at the Sea Breeze is a hippie. It’s cheap and close to the beach. Plus everyone your age is either a hippie or a straight or queer. You ain’t queer, are you?”

“No.” At least I didn’t think I was and you don’t sound like some uptight Jesus freak.”

“No, I’m not.” I kept my lack of faith to myself. America was a Christian nation.

“You don’t sound so sure about that?” Old Bill possessed about 50% of his front teeth.

“Oh, I’m damned sure enough about that.”

“You aren’t queer, are you?”

“No.” I had danced with a few men at the 1270 Club in Boston. Kissing them meant nothing. 1975 was deep in the sexual revolution, but I liked girls not gladiator films. I was annoyed by his accusation and I asked bluntly, “Are you queer?”

“No, but if I was I’d suck your dick?”

“Fuck you.” I took off my glasses. He may have been blind, but I didn’t take shit from anyone.

“I’d like snappy streak, Hippie boy. You have any requests?” His hands dropped to the piano. “A song.”

“What about IN-DA-GADDA-DA-VIDA.” I doubted if the bitter old coot had heard of Iron Butterfly.

Old Bill nodded his head and played the heavy metal classic’s strident opening chords. It was a peace offering.

“Surprised you, Hippie boy.” His self-satisfied grin was a tribute to no dental care. “I listen to everything on the radio. It’s my TV.”

“I like the radio too.” As a young boy in Maine I had listened to radio drama at night. My ears helped paint moving pictures on the interior of my closed eyelids. “All kinds of music too. I liked your rendering of BLUE RONDA.”

“Hippie boy is a music lover. You from Boston, Hippie boy.”

“That’s right.” My r-less accent was a dead giveaway.

“You be careful with that tropical sun. It burns northern white boys like you right to the bone.”

“Thanks for the advice.” I left him singing the words to IN DA GADDA VIDA to myself and went for a swim in the ocean. The water was ten degrees warmer than the beach at Harwichport in the dead of summer. I bobbed on the waves for a good hour and then returned to the hotel. The sun had had its way with my skin and I fell asleep in my bed before the sunset.

The next two days passed without incident.

The majority of the Sea Breeze clientele appeared to be harmless seniors with a short term on life. Nick, the desk clerk nicknamed the Sea Breeze ‘the Stairway to Heaven’. After the 3rd day people nodded hello with reservation. I was Old Bill’s friend and they maintained a distance.

My calls to LA went unanswered and my scorched skin deepened to a golden brown. I sent two postcards to Diana and paid for another week at the Sea Breeze. Old Bill and I spoke often at the piano.

More he talked and I listened to him.

His hometown was Baltimore. He had been blind since birth. His mother had taught him how to play piano. His father had died young in a dock accident. He was an only child. The state had sent him to schools for the blind. His entire childhood had been filled with the abuse from bullies.

“The punches came from nowhere.” He worked on the piano every day. It was never in perfect pitch to his ear.

His spindly nose wavered like a crooked road. Unseen fists had broken the beak more than once. His face wore scars, for Old Bill had not offered his assailants an easy target.

“I fought the bullies. They would laugh until I hit them. Made them think that i really wasn’t blind. The blows were easier to take than the whispers. My hearing is better than good. I heard them say everything. They thought they were funny. I could have hated their looking at me strange, but I had my music. It saved my soul.”

“I got beat up in 6th Grade. Every day.” The three boys didn’t like me for some reason. They never said the why.

“Then you know what I’m talking about. You fight back?”

“They were three of them.” Fighting only made the three of them meaner.

“Tough odds.” Old Bill shrugged with surrender. “I hate bullies. That’s why I hate most of the old coots here. Crackers used to lynching niggers and right-wing thugs looking to jail commies.”

“You seem to have a way with people.” The residents of the Sea Breeze were neither racists nor fascists, but Old Bill liked seeing things his way. “You have any friends?”

“If I wanted a friend, I’d buy a dog. I got my music. That’s my best friend now.”

He considered himself lucky to have learned piano tuning in his teens. His travels around the country were aided by sick pianos.

“Bad weather and heavy hands take their toll on pianos. New Yorkers treat their pianos with respect, while Texans beat the shit out of theirs. Fingers dropping on the keys like bombs. I make a good living out there finding the perfect fifth. Miami Beach is good too. The sun, sea, and humidity play havoc pianos. And all those rich motherfuckers thinks their spoiled brat is going to be the next Glenn Gould. Not one of them silver-spoon rats can play a lick.”

Old Bill and I argued about greatest pianist. He favored Thelonius Monk, while I sided with McCoy Tyner. His chordal phasing with John Coltrane placed the Phillie pianist in the top ten of all time.

“You wanna know something, Hippie boy.” Old Bill never asked my name.

“What?” Hippie boy had a good ring to it coming from him.

“Maybe there’s hope for you after all.”

I had written a long letter to Diana. It ended with ‘see you soon’. I figured I would leave in another week. It was a long haul to the West Coast.

Old Bill hated the hotel’s food and every afternoon we traveled to Wolfie Cohen’s Deli. We could have taken the bus. Old Bill preferred the exercise, his slender walking cane tapping out the way. The counter staff greeted Old Bill with warmth. He never spoke to them badly.

“I don’t want them spitting in my food.”

One day he pointed out a tidy woman at a window table in the famed deli on 172nd Street. Her two friends and she were eating the jello.

“That’s Mrs. Meyer Lansky. She comes here everyday with two old bags.”

The waiter delivered bacon and fried eggs to our table. They were a special every hour of the day.

“Meyer Lansky the mob mastermind?” He had added the 00 to the roulette wheel to increase the odds for the house.

“That’s the one.” Old Bill’s fork picked apart the eggs. His eating habits were a sight that sored eyes.

“She doesn’t look too prosperous.” The tiny woman could have been a regular at the Sea Breeze.

“Lansky supposedly had no money when he died.” Old Bill stuck a dripping yolk in his mouth and swallowed without chewing. “Her son from her first marriage was shotgunned to death outside his restaurant in Bay Harbor. An old debt being paid. So much for Lansky’s luck. The murdering bastard. I tuned his piano once. Tried to chisel the bill. Cheap yid.”

He waved to the old woman on the way out. She waved back like they were old friends.

Old Bill had lots of stories. He loved telling them at the Ace of Spades, the bar closest to the Sea Breeze.

“This place smells like New York to me. Sour beer, whiskey sweat, cheap perfume, and cigarettes.” He inhaled the air with a love for intoxication.

“I ever tell that I loved Jackie Gleason?”

“No.” I had watched THE HONEYMOONERS with my parents. His interpretation of a luckless Brooklyn bus driver was hilarious. “He was a funny man.”

“He was more than funny. You know he did his show down here?”

“THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW.” Direct from Miami Beach.

“That’s the one. You hear people say that they worked on that show here. It was a big operation. I wish that I was one of them, but Jackie only worked with union guys. Although one time I had drinks with him. The big man was really into UFOs. He thought they were going to kidnap him into Space. You really know about Jackie Gleason?”

“I loved him in SOLDIER IN THE RAIN.” Jackie Gleason had played a cool sergeant. Steve McQueen had been his protege. The ending had made me cry.

“You were never in the military, Hippie boy.”

The words were almost an accusation. Vietnam wasn’t my war. I tensed up in preparation for an attack.

“No.”

“Chill out, Hippie boy. I wasn’t in the army either. I did get drafted. The draft board thought I was faking my blindness. Not only did I have perfect 0/0 vision, but they told me I had flat feet. Never knew that. Good thing I got a long nose. I can smell everything around me like a hound tracking a runaway slave.”

He raised his head and howled off-key. He was no singer.

The Ace of Spades was our bar. Old Bill drank Canadian whiskey and I downed Busch Beer. The rough and ready bar had a good jukebox, cheap drinks, and a clientele guaranteed to scare off any good citizens.

Old Bill’s favorite antic was to challenge a newcomer to a game of pool using his cane as a cue stick. All he had to do was sink one ball. The rube would accept the challenge and then Old Bill would accuse them of cheating. He was a good laugh.

Toward the middle of January I called Diana from a hotel phone booth. She was never home. LA seemed on the other side of the world.

We watched the Super Bowl at the Ace of Spades. Both of us bet on Pittsburgh. The Steelers covered the spread by 13. We celebrated our win with a long night of drinking rum and cokes. The bartender threw us out at dawn after an obscene toast to the MVP Franco Harris.

Walking back to the Sea Breeze he turned his head to the northern sky. A white contrail was pummeling the clear morning sky. A rocket was lifting from Cape Kennedy.

“Going where no one man has been before.” Old Bill chuckled when I confirmed his acute sense of hearing. He grabbed my arm, as he stumbled off the curb. “Damn, drunk doesn’t combo good with blind. Better watch where I’m going.”

Old Bill’s geographic memory prevented most accidents, but one afternoon he entered the hotel with blood streaming from a cut on his head. The piano-tuner went out for a job in Coconut Grove. His customer left him on the wrong side of the road and he walked into a coconut tree. His insults were aimed at his tropical surroundings and the bastard piano owner.

“Felt like Helen Keeler after her parents moved the furniture. Lucky a coconut didn’t fallen on my head.” He used his tee-shirt to wipe away the blood. “You know all pianists spread their notes over three or four octaves. McCoy Tyner was trying to stretch the sound. It’s all a question of string scaling.”

“Sorry, Old Bill, that’s Greek to me.”

“To most people too. I feel like the last of my kind, but that means I always have a job. You know the song HOUSTON.”

“Going back to Houston.” I sang the line from Dean Martin’s hit as best as I could.

“That’s the one. I got an old girlfriend out there. She wants me to come tune her piano. She’ll pay gas and food. You want to drive me there?”

“In what?”

“In my car. A Delta 88.”

“You have a car?”

“And why not? I bet no one asks Stevie Wonder if he has a car, Hippie boy. Fucking think I’m not normal?” These were the harshest words Old Bill had ever aimed in my direction. I tried to apologize, but he pushed me away.

“If you don’t want to drive to Houston with me, just say so.”

“No, I’ll drive you there.” I had originally intended to stay in Miami a week. That was a little more than two weeks ago. Staying at hotels, even one as cheap as the Sea Breeze, ate money. I thought about Diana in LA. Her blonde hair was flaxen gold. Her skin was smooth as the morning sea off Miami. Houston was almost halfway to the coast. “It’s time I moved along.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Hippie boy.” Old Bill was serious.

“No bullshit.” I had Diana’s address. She would be surprised to see me. The look on her face would tell whether the surprise was good or bad.

“Then pack your bag. We’re going now.”

“Now?” It was almost midday. Check-out was at noon. I could save $20.

“Yes, now. We can be in Houston tomorrow night.” Old Bill was heading for the stairs. I’ll see you down here in ten minutes.”

I showed up in five minutes. My bag was on the floor. I dialed Diana from the telephone booth. She answered after two rings. She sounded like she had been expecting someone else.

“Where are you?”

“Miami Beach.” I explained about the Sea Breeze and Old Bill. She laughed and said, “Sounds like it’d make a good film. I’ll see you in a few days.”

I paid my bill. Nick said that he was sorry to see me go. I was the only guest younger than 65.

“I’m driving Old Bill to Houston.”

“Whatever you do, don’t let him drive.” The clerk warned biting his lower lip. “That old man is dangerous. To himself no problem, but don’t let him kill you.”

“Stop talking about me like I’m not here. I’m blind, not deaf.” Old Bill entered the lobby with a leather satchel in his hand. He was wearing a black suit shiny with age. His rumpled white shirt was accessorized by a flashy red tie. The dust had been wiped off his shoes.

“You look good.”

“Of course I look good. I ain’t no Hippie boy. A man should make a good impression on the road. Let’s go. See you suckers in a week. Enjoy your vacation, but I’ll be back. I promise you that.”

No one in the lobby wished him ‘good luck’. They were happy to see his back.

Old Bill’s car was in the rear parking lot. I pulled the cover off the big Detroit boat. The Delta 88 steel was painted a somber gray. He walked over to the passenger side and opened the door.

It wasn’t locked.

“C’mon, get in. We don’t got all day. Hippie boys think the world one big Woodstock. Naked girls and LSD.”

“And would that be such a bad thing?”

“It would be for the clothing factories in the South and tobacco growers.”

We drove across the Everglades to avoid the Interstate. The noise of the semi-trailers hurt Old Bill’s ears. Small towns dotted the endless swamp. Clewiston, Venus, Lake Placid, Sebring, Lady Lake. He gave directions, as if the bumps in the road were written in Braille. We stopped every four hours for gas and a walk. I was given coffee and donuts.

Back on the road Old Bill fiddled with the radio. Florida radio was mostly country, but black stations ghettoed soul music at the end of the dial. Old Bill drank whiskey from a silver flask.

“None for you, you’re driving.”

By evening we passed through Ocala. I got on the Interstate after Tallahassee. Old Bill drunkenly bitched about the trucks. He stuffed wads of wet paper in his ears and fell asleep until Mobile.

“There’s a good crab shack before the bridge.” He lifted his nose to the open window. “The second one. We’ll eat there.”

Old Bill’s choice was on the money. He tucked a napkin into his collar and lay a handkerchief on his lap. “Only got one suit.”

The other late-night diners watched the ritual with interest. He gave them the finger. We ate succulent crab and drank cold beer. His table etiquette remained a disgrace. Shells and crab covered his side of the table. I averted my eyes from the horror of his enjoyment. At the end of the meal Old Bill wiped his mouth with the napkin.

“I get anything on my suit?” He stared down with an inquisitive sniff.

“Nothing.” None of the mess had touched his suit.

“I’m a lucky man.”

“How so?” I felt good too.

“I got me a full belly of crab.”

“Me too.” A warm wind was blowing off the Gulf and the road was open to LA. We got back in the Olds.

“This car belonged to my wife. She drove me everywhere. You might have noticed that I’m not an easy man, but she brought out the best in me. We must have stopped at this crab shack ten fifteen times. Tonight it was almost like she was there with me. She didn’t speak much and neither did you. That’s why I dressed up for this trip. She hated me looking sloppy. You have a girlfriend?”

“Out in LA.” Diana and I had yet to say the l-word, but she would that first night in Hollywood. So would I.

“That’s good. A man alone is not a good thing. Look at me. Old, mean, and alone. No one care a shit for me.” Old Bill scratched his nose, as if he were sharpening it to keen his whereabouts. “But I knew that would happen if I lived long enough. I thought Mary, that was her name, I thought Mary would outlive me. All women are supposed to outlive their man, but not Mary. I put her in the early grave.”

Old Bill took out a handkerchief and blew his nose, as I drove into the western night.

“Sorry, any time I get near New Orleans I get a little misty, I met Mary there.” He told about playing piano in a bar. “Never knew its name. Only the smell. One night a perfume caught my nose. A lady. Not a whore. A lady. Mary. She liked my playing. We went out and I stopped seeing other women. 30 years together. And not once did I sniff at another woman. Are you still there, Hippie boy?”

“Still behind the wheel.” My eyes were fighting to stay open after almost 12 hours on the road. The last coffee was wearing off fast and I suppressed a yawn.

“Don’t pay for an old man to think too much about the past. The old sentiments sneak up on you like the Japs at Pearl Harbor. You’re not feeling tired, are you?”

“Just a little. I could manage another hour.”

After that I’d be resting one eye and then the other. Good way to find yourself off the road into a tree. Pull off the highway round Bay St. Louis. We’ll sleep by the beach. Nice to wake to the see breeze. Unless of course you want me to drive. The road gets mighty straight around here.”

“No, another 20 minutes and we’ll be there.” I drove the speed limit. Southern cops hated hippies.

Pass Christian was our final stop for the night. The gulf was lit by a frail moon. The night air was gentle. Old Bill handed me the flask of whiskey.

“You earned it. Sleep good.” Old Bill dropped his seat into a deep recline. He was snoring several seconds later. I listened to the mosquitoes hunting my blood. I don’t remember falling asleep.

A rap on the car trunk woke us at dawn. A police officer was standing next to the Delta 88. His hand was on his holster. The gun was a .45.

“You boys run out of gas.”

“Just steam, officer.” Old Bill was polite. He righted his seat. “My young friend here drove all the way from Miami yesterday. He had to get some sleep or else drive into the beautiful scenery.”

“Something wrong with getting a hotel?” The trooper was standing by my door.

“Just trying to save money.” Old Bill was doing all the talking. “We have ID. Have money too. This is my car.”

“What’s a blind man doing with a car?”

“This used to belong to my old lady. She’s dead three years now. This young fellow offered to drive me to Houston.”

“He’s got hair long enough to be a lady. You ain’t queer, are you, boy?”

Men in uniform hated queers even more than hippies.

“Officer, hippie boy ain’t no queer. I ain’t a bum. You want to see our registration?”

“No, a blind man and a Hippie boy seem harmless enough. Just get moving. Don’t need your type in our town. Have a good day.” The officer returned to his cruiser. It was a souped-up Chevy. He 180ed in the opposite direction.

“Don’t say nothing.” Old Bill spit out the window. “I don’t like eating crow, but that’s all the cops serve around these parts. Let’s do like he said and get moving on.”

We crossed the bridge between Pass Christian and Port St. Louis. Both were old towns. A sandy beach lined with trees was to the left. Vintage mansions lay to the right.

“Go north of New Orleans.” Old Bill ordered at the turning. “Don’t much like the Pearl City anymore. Like I said it reminds me too much of Mary.”

We skirted the lake and entered Baton Rouge around 9. Donuts and coffee were breakfast. I called Diana from a gas station. The phone rang ten times. No answer. The day was getting hot. Lafayette, Iowa, Lake Charles.

Texas was less than 20 minutes away. Old Bill had me pull into a gas station in Beaumont. The men looked at me funny. Cowboys didn’t like hippies either. They also thought Old Bill was weird. He could hear their mutterings.

“Damn goat-ropers.” He fumbled for coins from his pocket and gave me a slip of paper. “Dial this number for me.”

The area code was same as the pay phone. The call cost 90 cents. I put in the money. A woman answered on the other end. Old Bill had better luck than me. I handed him the phone. Old Bill spoke for several minutes and then hung up. Walking back to the car, he said, “Not far now. Maybe ten miles. We get off the highway next exit. I ever show you a picture of my Mary?”

“No.”

We got into the car and he fished out a tattered photo from his wallet. The woman was pretty. Her skin was jet-black. Living in the South as a mixed couple must have been hard on both of them.

“Good-looking woman.”

“That she was.” He put away the photo with a kiss.

When we left the highway, Old Bill smelled the air and said, “Stop here.”

“Here?”The straight two-laner disappeared to the north through bare fallow fields.

“Yeah, I know the way from here. I want to drive.” He pushed me hard.

“You sure that’s a good idea?” Nick had warned me against just this.

“This is my damn car. If I want to drive it, then I’ll drive it. You don’t think that I know what I’m doing? Get the fuck out of my car, you Hippie boy. I’m not joking.” His fists were tight balls of old bone and flesh. He raised one in anger.

“This is fucked.” I opened my door and started for the passenger side.

“Where you think you going? The highway is behind you. You ain’t coming with me. Where I’m going, I’m going alone. Don’t need no one hanging on.”

I grabbed my bag. I had been expecting a better good-bye. I should have known better knowing Old Bill.“You got everything. Good. Have a good life.”“You too, Old Bill.”“What’s your name?”I told him.“Hippie boy suits you better.” Old Bill turned on the radio. Booker T was playing GREEN ONIONS. It was good traveling music. Better for a car than hitchhiking.“Thanks.”Old Bill waved in the air and drove away slowly on that long road. The Delta 88 wavered between the lines without crossing into the other side or the breakdown lane. He was not driving fast, but within several minutes the Delta 88 was a little black dot. I turned to the highway. No cars or trucks entered from the country road. An hour passed slowly. The sun was hotter than in Miami. Finally a semi-trailer stopped for me. The bearded driver was headed to Austin, Texas. The capitol of cowboy rock was home for Commander Cody and Asleep At The Wheel.“What were you doing out there?” He shifted the big rig into gear.“A friend dropped me off.” I squinted at the far distance. There was no car on the road.“Middle of nowhere.” He squinted at the flat East Texas landscape.“He knew where he was heading.” To see an old girlfriend and a piano. I was doing much the same. “I’m going to the West Coast.”“Anyplace not cold sounds good to me this time of the year.” The trucker shifted into first gear. The big truck lurched from a dead stop and picked up speed through grind of the gears.I started humming IN-DA-GADDA-VIDA.Old Bill’s version was a song I couldn’t get out of my head.Just like a tuning fork sounding a perfect fifth.It was a hum made to last forever.

Losing The Trifecta

Last spring female friend had moved to the Eternal City after the failure of her marriage in the southern hemisphere. Summer had been glorious in the shadow of the Coliseum and the attractive photographer found favor with cinematographers and fashion stylists of Rome. The wine was sweet and Stasia was fluent in Italian. The leggy brunette forgot the macho behavior of her husband and hoped to fall in love, but the summer began autumn without such luck. Even worse was that the only Italian men who hit on her were a guy cheating on his pregnant girlfriend, a sexually dysfunctional misogynist, and a stalker.A daunting trio and I commiserated with Stasia, who was saving her money for a move to Berlin, and wrote, "Men the world around are dogs. When I was living in new York, women would ask, "Do you have any nice men to meet?" I thought about it for a while and said, "No." The only nice ones were married or attached and they needed no temptation to be bad. It's in their nature. Sorry, there are no saints, only Satan's little helpers." Stasia had sadly arrived at the same conclusion, but also added that at least dogs were loyal.I suggested that all things considered the sexually dysfunctional misogynist sounds promising, but she said he was ugly as a frog and no amount of kissing would transform the misogynist into a man. It goes without saying that Stasia was attracted to the unfaithful Italian's looks, but the idea of sleeping with a philander was too reminiscent of her abandoned husband.A friend said that Stasia had scored a hat trick.Despite having resided in Boston for many years, she hadn't understood the 'hat trick' reference and I explained that in the last century whenever a hockey player scored three goals in a game, the fans would toss their hats onto the ice to honor the feat. I saw Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita both score hat tricks against the Bruins on January 31, 1963. My father threw his hat from the stands into the rink. My brother and I almost added ours, except my father said that our mother would give us hell.He had been faithful to my mother every day of their lives together and beyond.Maybe the better allegory for Stasia would have been losing the Trifecta at the track. I can only wish her better luck next time, because there always is a next time.

Burning Credit Cards

The Mayor of LA has accused the Occupy LA protestors of damaging the grass in their campsite. Riots police have been deployed to protect the lawn from further harm."After 56 days of not enforcing three city laws that prohibit the use of that park, the time is now," announced Police Chief Beck, however the midnight deadline passed without the planned eviction, thus disrupting the security of the nation. Tear gas, billy clubs, and officers trained by Homeland Security to quell violent demonstrators remain at the ready.Banks are worried that the protests will disrupt the holiday buying frenzy, but shoppers faithfully swarmed to the malls on Black Friday to outspend 2010's orgy of consumerism by 7%. ATMs were flooded by consumers eager to rescue the economy from the recession, each time getting hit by a charge of $1.50. The banks reap over $2 billion from ATMs along with another $36 billion in fees from the masses. All of this is profit and in this country profit is the bottom line for the corporation.Carry cash, comrades.Never buy what you can't afford, unless the aim is to never pay the credit card bills.Don't worry you credit rating is shit.Burn the cards to the limit.You have nothing to lose but a good time.

Take It All

David Cameron touched the third rail of British politics in April 2009 with his address to the Tory Party entitled 'The Age Of Austerity' in which called for his fellow conservatives vow to cut spending in order to pay down the debt incurred by the Welfare State. Pension programs, clean water, and cheap housing were to be slashed from the budget once he seized power with the help of the Murdoch news machine. The Tories failed to win an all-out mandate, but the Liberal Party abandoned Labor to form a match plotted in the back rooms of Parliament. Austerity as opposed to prosperity became the rule of the nation and the government slashed services in concert with raising taxes. The British reacted with riots this summer, which the newspapers and government portrayed as looters and arsonists. The majority of the citizenry bought the explanation since the majority of the rioters appeared to have a race definition of 'other than white'. My favorite pinball machine in the 70s was SLASH. It had nothing to do with the guitarist from Guns N Roses. Slashing the budget has led the UK onto the slope of double-dip recession and David Cameron has turned to Chancellor George Osbourne to save the economy. Today his financial wizard will announce that his ministry will seek to attract billions of pounds to finance various infrastructure projects throughout the nation to provide jobs. His prediction of 30 billion pound sterling has been based on having the banks ravage the pension funds to support the austerity state. The government ante into the kitty has been reported to be a miserly 5 billion. His thinking of robbing from the masses to give to the upper-classes certainly worked for the past thirty years, but does England really need the A45/46 Round-about or the Kingerswell Bypass?The majority of the projects outlined for the scheme are devoted to the car with only three earmarked from rail.There have been no reports of refraining from cutting services.Welcome to the age of the Anti-Robin Hood and actually Henry III, the son of the usurper King John fought the tenets of the Magna Carta for almost fifty years. Sadly all I can see is more austerity coming for the UK and heaven help their stiff upper lips.Thanks the stars for beer.

Senin, 28 November 2011

THE LAST GO-GO BOY by Peter Nolan Smith

Wall Street judged the nations’s prosperity according to the Dow Jones. This economic barometer responded to the year-end prediction of 2% growth in GNP with a series of swaying ups and mostly downs. At this time of the year most financial investors and bankers were more concerned with their bonuses than the lot of the common worker. For that large segment of the US population the rise in GNP meant less employees once more producing more profit for their companies without compensation for their increased effort and no one protested the extra work for fear of losing their job.

The economy is still in the shitter and I ask myself what jobs are available for a 59 year-old man.

Very few is the answer and I have been lucky that Manny always has a place for me on West 47th Street. Our past amity transcended our enmity, although my boss was glad to have a rest from me this holiday season. Sometimes enough is more than enough.

Last season I sold some rings for a gay writer. I took them to a black gold dealer in another exchange to get the gay writer the best price possible. Going through Manny would have cut into the final number and the writer needed the money to pay his health care bill.

My friend showed his gratitude with a dinner at a Asian fusion restaurant in the East Village. Every seat was crammed with young people enjoying the fast life in the city. They were my competition in the morning for a subway seat. I was lucky that these ruthless youth didn't throw me under the train.

“I never see anyone my age on the subway.”

“Men our age are retired.” Bruce was a world-known novelist. He had won awards in Europe. Critics called him a genius.

“Or out of work. If I didn’t have this job selling diamonds, I don’t know what I would be doing.”

“You could always lose ten pounds and work as a go-go boy at the queer retirement home.” Bruce had a biting wit.

“More like twenty pounds.”

“Honey, those old wrinklies aren’t so particular about the weight. They like the young flesh.” He had written a book on the rough trade in Times Square. His tricks had called him Papi. None of them were under 20.

“Scary thought.” I felt my age and my young wife kept reminding me that I wasn’t 17 anymore. Mam was 25 and my son was two years-old. I couldn’t quit working until I was 78.

“Do you have a retirement plan?” He ordered with a darting finger from the menu.

“No.” My mind was on eating. “Other than robbing a bank in Norway. They have good prison there.”

“By the time you do that they probably will have instituted euthanasia for the elderly, so that’s not really an option. Sounds like you should start taking steel pole lessons from strippers.”

“Those old fags want someone young.”

“You are young.” Bruce had retired from the rent-boy game after Mayor Giuliani closed the strip bars of Times Square. He knew this genre better than most men in America. “Young for the old queens in the nursing homes. None of them have seen anyone young as you in decades. You could charge the homes $100 a visit. Has to be better for the old geezers than any other medicine.”

“Thanks for the idea.” My father lived in a retirement village for Alzheimer patients. The mostly female residents smiled at me, as if I might be someone they knew. My father was the same. He thought that I was his son still, but he was not sure why. I would be lucky if a son's best friend made the New Year.

“It’s not a bad idea. Hell, you could franchise it in Florida. How many retirement homes you think are in the Sunshine State. Thousands. There has to be a market for it.”

“Probably.” I ordered scallop and seaweed noodles, plus a glass of wine. The waiter was thin and handsome. He had to be 30 years younger than me.

“And who knows? You might be able to sex them up.” Bruce caressed the waiter’s behind. He was a regular here. The waiter laughed walking away content to know he would be receiving a good tip. Bruce liked to pay for sex in any form. Love was out of both our best range.

“No way.” I barely wanted to have sex with myself let alone with someone else.

“Why, because you’re too good to have sex with someone older than you. Like me.” He frowned at this unintended insult. “What about the woman you had sex with in Palm beach? You said she was over 70.”

“That was different.” Helen had been the publisher of a Florida magazine. We had smoked reefer in her apartment overlooked Lake Worth. The address was in West Palm Beach.

“How? She said she hadn’t had cock in her mouth in ten years. She begged for it and you gave it to her like you were doing a remake of SUNSET BOULEVARD."

“It was a mercy mission.” The lights were off, the curtains filling with the gulf breeze, and Helen was wearing sheer lingerie and satin high heels. On her knees she performed like she was entering the Porno Hall of Fame. She never asked for Mr. deMille.

“Maybe the first time, but what about the second time?” Bruce sat back to let the waiter deliver our appetizers. Fried calamari for him. Raw bluepoints for me. “Gore Vidal said about orgies that once is experimentation, but twice is perversity.”

“The second time was because I was drunk.” Two bottles of wine and a joint. Helen had her way with me. I was her slave. “They was no third time.”

“Only because you saw her with another man and found out she uses that ‘haven’t tasted cock’ line with all the fresh meat in Palm Beach, so don’t tell me you can’t go-go boy anymore. You’re the master of re-inventing yourself.”

“I’d rather rob a bank in Norway.” I sucked down an oyster. It tasted of the Atlantic. The boyhood border of my home in Maine.

“And end up a stick boy in prison.” Bruce was enjoying himself. “You do what you have to do to survive. Believe me. I know.”

“I know you do.” Bruce was in his 60s. His novels were in every bookstore. His tales of hustlers and go-go boys were cult classic within the gay community. His name in in Wikpedia. All that meant almost nothing. Bruce was forever broke. Same as everyone in America, except for the very rich, and they have no use for an old go-go boy.

Wall Street judges the nations’s prosperity according to the Dow Jones. This economic barometer responded to the predicted 2% growth in GNP with a series of swaying ups and mostly downs. At this time of the year most financial investors and bankers are more concerned with their bonuses than the lot of the common worker. For that large segment of the US population the rise in GNP means less employees once more producing more profit for their companies without compensation for their increased effort and no one protested the extra work for fear of losing their job.

The economy is still in the shitter and I ask myself what jobs are available for a 59 year-old man.

Very few is the answer and I have been lucky that Manny always has a place for me on West 47th Street. Our past amity transcended our enmity, although my boss was glad to have a rest from me this holiday season. Sometimes enough is more than enough.

Last season I sold some rings for a gay writer. I took them to a black gold dealer in another exchange to get the gay writer the best price possible. Going through Manny would have cut into the final number and the writer needed the money to pay his health care bill.

My friend showed his gratitude with a dinner at a Asian fusion restaurant in the East Village. Every seat was crammed with young people enjoying the fast life in the city. They were my competition in the morning for a subway seat. I was lucky that these ruthless youth didn't throw me under the train.

“I never see anyone my age on the subway.”

“Men our age are retired.” Bruce was a world-known novelist. He had won awards in Europe. Critics called him a genius.

“Or out of work. If I didn’t have this job selling diamonds, I don’t know what I would be doing.”

“You could always lose ten pounds and work as a go-go boy at the queer retirement home.” Bruce had a biting wit.

“More like twenty pounds.”

“Honey, those old wrinklies aren’t so particular about the weight. They like the young flesh.” He had written a book on the rough trade in Times Square. His tricks had called him Papi. None of them were under 20.

“Scary thought.” I felt my age and my young wife kept reminding me that I wasn’t 17 anymore. Mam was 25 and my son was two years-old. I couldn’t quit working until I was 78.

“Do you have a retirement plan?” He ordered with a darting finger from the menu.

“No.” My mind was on eating. “Other than robbing a bank in Norway. They have good prison there.”

“By the time you do that they probably will have instituted euthanasia for the elderly, so that’s not really an option. Sounds like you should start taking steel pole lessons from strippers.”

“Those old fags want someone young.”

“You are young.” Bruce had retired from the rent-boy game after Mayor Giuliani closed the strip bars of Times Square. He knew this genre better than most men in America. “Young for the old queens in the nursing homes. None of them have seen anyone young as you in decades. You could charge the homes $100 a visit. Has to be better for the old geezers than any other medicine.”

“Thanks for the idea.” My father lived in a retirement village for Alzheimer patients. The mostly female residents smiled at me, as if I might be someone they knew. My father was the same. He thought that I was his son still, but he was not sure why. I would be lucky if a son's best friend made the New Year.

“It’s not a bad idea. Hell, you could franchise it in Florida. How many retirement homes you think are in the Sunshine State. Thousands. There has to be a market for it.”

“Probably.” I ordered scallop and seaweed noodles, plus a glass of wine. The waiter was thin and handsome. He had to be 30 years younger than me.

“And who knows? You might be able to sex them up.” Bruce caressed the waiter’s behind. He was a regular here. The waiter laughed walking away content to know he would be receiving a good tip. Bruce liked to pay for sex in any form. Love was out of both our best range.

“No way.” I barely wanted to have sex with myself let alone with someone else.

“Why, because you’re too good to have sex with someone older than you. Like me.” He frowned at this unintended insult. “What about the woman you had sex with in Palm beach? You said she was over 70.”

“That was different.” Helen had been the publisher of a Florida magazine. We had smoked reefer in her apartment overlooked Lake Worth. The address was in West Palm Beach.

“How? She said she hadn’t had cock in her mouth in ten years. She begged for it and you gave it to her like you were doing a remake of SUNSET BOULEVARD."

“It was a mercy mission.” The lights were off, the curtains filling with the gulf breeze, and Helen was wearing sheer lingerie and satin high heels. On her knees she performed like she was entering the Porno Hall of Fame. She never asked for Mr. deMille.

“Maybe the first time, but what about the second time?” Bruce sat back to let the waiter deliver our appetizers. Fried calamari for him. Raw bluepoints for me. “Gore Vidal said about orgies that once is experimentation, but twice is perversity.”

“The second time was because I was drunk.” Two bottles of wine and a joint. Helen had her way with me. I was her slave. “They was no third time.”

“Only because you saw her with another man and found out she uses that ‘haven’t tasted cock’ line with all the fresh meat in Palm Beach, so don’t tell me you can’t go-go boy anymore. You’re the master of re-inventing yourself.”

“I’d rather rob a bank in Norway.” I sucked down an oyster. It tasted of the Atlantic. The boyhood border of my home in Maine.

“And end up a stick boy in prison.” Bruce was enjoying himself. “You do what you have to do to survive. Believe me. I know.”

“I know you do.” Bruce was in his 60s. His novels were in every bookstore. His tales of hustlers and go-go boys were cult classic within the gay community. His name was in Wikpedia. All that meant almost nothing. Bruce was forever broke. Same as everyone in America, except for the very rich, and they have no use for an old go-go boy.