Jumat, 13 April 2012

TOO LATE FOR THE HAIGHT by Peter Nolan Smith

The bus from Sacramento crossed the bay in light traffic. Most everyone in the Bay Area had off Memorial Day. The uniformed driver exit off the bridge and entered the Transbay Terminal five minutes past 1. Once it parked in the depot, I grabbed my bag from the underneath storage compartment and entered the station.

Holiday passengers were forming queues for destinations north, south, and east. Most were military on leave or college students. Commuters had stayed home for the day.

A bus for Santa Cruz was leaving on the hour. The fare was less than $3. Taking the bus was easier than hitchhiking out of the city, but my friends and I had spent the last six days driving across country. My friend AK had headed south on I-5 this morning. I was meeting him in Encinitas sometime next week.

Buses and trolleys traversed the peninsula to the ocean. I intended to cover the short distance by foot. I was in no hurry to be anywhere fast.

I stepped out onto Beale Street. The temperature was much cooler than the torrid Central Valley and I set my canvas travel on a wooden bench to pull on a light leather jacket.

“Man, you looking for a place to crash?” A scraggly long hair in dirty denim jeans and a soiled paisley jacket approached me, while scratching a sore on his neck. I recognized the type. Junkies were taking over the cities.

“No, I’m good.” I slung my bag over my left shoulder with a winch. The muscles and joints of my right arm were bruised from the security guards in Reno tossing me from a casino last night.

“Everyone is good.” The junkie picked at a rotten tooth. He was in bad shape.

“I’m just passing through.” I didn’t want any trouble and headed west.

“It’s a clean place and you get your own bed. You give what you can afford. My name’s Omo. Stands for On My Own. We’re a cool commune. Lots of chicks too. You into chicks?” Omo followed me at a safe distance.

“Leave me alone.” I glared back with the promise of a punch.

“Suit yourself. You don’t know what you’ll be missing.” Omo stuck his hands into the shredded jacket and returned to the station muttering curses.

“Fucking Junkies.”

The Summer of Love ending seven years ago was stopping the junkies and speed thieves from preying on unsuspecting hippies following the acid trail of 1967. The wide-eyed faithful were easy marks for the vultures haunting the bus station and I crossed the street headed toward Mission Street with the slender spire of the Transamerica Building rising to the north.

Several blocks later I stopped at a small Mexican diner for a lunch of enchiladas, rice, and beans. The waitress kept supplying me with extra tortillas. I paid with a twenty-dollar bill and tipped the young counter girl a dollar on a $2 check. She deserved more.

“Mucho gracias.” She smiled with gleaming white teeth.

“Da nada.” Jack Kerouac had picked grapes in a migrant camp before he wrote ON THE ROAD. The beat writer had fallen in with a girl who probably might have related to this one. Mexicans have big families just like the Irish.

I veered off Mission at Haight and switched on the south side of the street to avoid the sun. Almost a hundred thousand young people flocked to San Francisco in the Spring of 1967. The gathering of the tribes lasted one long summer with Haight-Ashbury as their psychedelic playground. The Fillmore West had been shut for two years. Quicksilver, Moby Grape, and the Jefferson Airplane had abandoned this city for the country. Empty houses bore the scars of arson and the hard-faced gangs lingered on the stoops of boarded-up apartment buildings. Heroin and speed had ripped the heart out of Haight-Ashbury. Anyone was wearing flowers in their hair this summer was a fraud.

“Yo, man, it’s me, Omo.” The hippie from the bus station shouted from the grassy slope Buena Vista Park corner. A very thin teenage girl in a filmy dress held his hand. She wasn’t wearing any underwear.

“Yo man, wait up.” Omo and the girl jumped onto the sidewalk. “Yo, man, this is Floral. She’s one of the girls at the commune. She likes young guys like you, don’t you, Floral?”

“You have nice eyes.” Floral spoke with a zombie voice. The pale-skinned redhead was about 15. She sported shooting tracks on the inside of her stick arms. My youngest sister was her age.

“Thanks, but no thanks.” I kept walking at a steady pace, having noticed another long-haried junkie on the opposite side of the street. He was watching the three of us with too much interest to be a passer-by. This was a set-up.

“Yo, man, where you going? We live around the corner. Let’s go up there and chill.” Omo wasn’t giving up on me. Opportunities at the bus station were slim on Memorial Day. His voice was on edge. He needed a score. I was it.

“Leave me alone.”

“Yeah, man, come with us and we can all get it on.” Floral pulled on my arm with the strength of a blood-weak vampire. “I’ll do anything.”

“She really means anything.” Omo lifted her dress to the waist. The gap between her legs was wider than a hand. “Anything is Floral’s specialty.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I got places to go.” I shrugged off her weak grasp and broadened my gait.

“$20 will get you an hour of heaven.” Omo wasn’t giving up so easy. “$30 gets you paradise. You look like you want it.”

“So you’re her pimp?” I hadn’t been with a woman for a long time, but I had never paid for sex.

“Pimp’s an uncool word.” Omo smirked with unwavering perseverance. “I’m her coach. What about it? You can do a lot of anything in an hour.”

“No.” I was at the end of my patience and pushed him hard.

“Sorry, to bug you, man. I didn’t realize you were queer.” Omo shouted in a loud voice and gave me the finger. He was a sore loser.

“Fuck you too.” I muttered under my breath to avoid any escalation of this encounter.

Two years ago I had hitchhiked in San Francisco with a friend. The hippie scene had been on its last legs. Now a few decrepit head shops lurked along the famed strip. The Hippie Era had given way to openly gay men in plaid shirt, tight jeans, and work boots.

These men had brothers in New York and Boston. They stared at my crotch and commented as lewdly as sailors on leave. Judging for the shortness of their hair, several might have been stationed on Treasure Island with the Pacific Fleet.

I kept walking west to Golden Gate Park and strolled through the empty parking lot Kezar Stadium. The gates were locked with chains. The start of the 1974 football season was a long way away from the end of May.

It was still a beautiful day.

Mexican families burned meat on barbecues and a dozen baseball games between Latino squads were in progress on a well-trodden fields. A few hippies tossed frisbees on the edge of the lawn. Marijuana wafted on a cool breeze scented with salt. The ocean was getting close.

Few pedestrians strolled on the paths past Stow Lake. Collarless dogs ran in packs through the underbrush. A wilderness was thriving at the edge of the city. It was not safe and I noticed three men and a woman behind me. Two of them were Omo and Floral. This was not a coincidence.

A fist-sized rock lay in the dirt.

I bent over, as if to tie my shoe.

The four of them were too far away to notice that I was wearing boots. The rock was smooth in my hand. I stood up and continued in the same direction. There was no place to run.

The confrontation came the other side of a small lake. Omo and Floral blocked my path and the other two approached from behind. I didn’t put down my bag. The young girl stood in back of Omo. She was pushing him forward. The other two were a Latino in a leather vest with a bandana around his head and the long-hair from the Haight. A scar bisected his face. It had not come from a duel. He was the first one to speak. Scar had nothing good to say.

“Man, I heard you didn’t want Floral.” Scar spoke slowly, as if every word was important.

“I wasn’t in the mood.”

“That’s too bad, because that would have made life easy for everyone.” Scar whipped out a knife. The blade was four inches long. The Latino balled his fists. Omo smiled behind needy eyes and Floral prodded Scar and Latino, “Do it. Do it.”

They were a team. Four-on-one was a winning formula on paper. None of them had seen the rock in my hand.

“Give us the bag and your money.” Scar flourished the knife with a shaking hand. The greasy-haired hippie was jonesing big time.

“Okay.” I slipped the bag off my left shoulder and held it out.

“Good boy.” Scar reached out with his left hand. His friends were pleased with my surrender.

“The best.” Their esperation left a big opening and I swung my fist in a wide loop to open-palm Scar’s skull with the rock in my hand. I hadn’t pulled my punch and Scar collapsed with the grace of a puppet losing his strings. The knife and his body hit the ground at the same time. I picked up his weapon and turned to Omo.

“Are we done?” I slipped the rock inside my jacket pocket. It had served its purpose.

“Yeah, man, we’re cool.” Omo lifted his hands in submission. The Latino robber backed away several feet.

“Then have a nice day.” I pocketed the knife and kicked the fallen thief in the ribs twice. It was not for show.

I walked away from my disappointed attackers looking over my shoulder several times until I reached the South Drive. Cars sped along the park road. I was safe again.

“Hey, you.”

Floral ran up to me.

“Can I go with you?” She was out of breath.

“Where you from?” I didn’t expect her to tell the truth. She was a runaway.

“Kansas, same as Dorothy. Where you going?” She bit her lip, hoping I might say Hollywood.

“Nowhere special.” In her state Floral couldn’t make it much farther than Route 1 before going to the village of Cold Turkey. I pulled $10 out of my pocket. She didn’t deserved it, but today was the day after my birthday. “This get you straight.”

“A little.” She snatched the bill like a banana-hungry monkey in a cage. “Another ten and we can go into the bushes.”

“Thanks, Floral, but I really have to be going.” She was trouble and I had no desire to find out how much trouble. “You take care of yourself.”

“I’m tougher than I look.” Her smile was missing a tooth. Life was tough on the street.

“I’m sure you are.” I was on my summer vacation and Floral wasn’t the type of girl to save in a single day.

I left her on the roadside and ten minutes later crossed the Great Highway to stand on a sloping strand of sand. The sun was three hours from setting in the west. The cold from the ocean came straight from Alaska. No one was swimming in the surf. I pulled the rock and knife from my jacket and threw them into a wave. Neither appeared from the surge.

I turned around to San Francisco.

Cars were heading north and south on the coastal road. I walked to the curb and stuck out my thumb. My luck was determined by location. The road was straight and the shoulder wide enough for a car to stop without danger.

A Tempest convertible stopped within two minutes. The marine on holiday was headed to Daly City. I jumped in the car. Ten minutes later we left the city by the bay and sadly leaving San Francisco felt good.

The hippie might have been dead, but the road lived on forever and I was heading south to Big Sur.

The wind swept through my hair.

The sun was warm.

California was mine and I was willing to see how much it was mine.

After all yesterday had been my birthday.

Friday The 13th


The number 12 symbolizes completeness for numerologists and 13 has a reputation of a prime number steeped with irregularity. Thirteen is further tarnished by being the number of people at the Last Supper of Jesus. The Turks went so far as to ban the number from their language and the Vikings feared that if thirteen guests sat to dinner, all of them would die within a year under the curse of Loki, their god of mischief. Some humans have rejected this belief as superstition.Manhattan has a both East and West 13th Streets, however most high-rises on that fabled island are missing the 13th floor.

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

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

Today is one of them.

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

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

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

The date had nothing to do with ladyboys.

Although with Ozzie you can never be sure.

A Devout Atheist

BERENTI MISTAH by Peter Nolan Smith

In 1991 I bought a round-the-world ticket for $1399 from Pan Express. The owner set up a magical itinerary."New York - LA - Hawaii - Biak - Bali - overland to Jakarta." John was reciting the trip from memory. He sold hundreds of these tickets every year."What do you mean 'overland to Jakarta'?" Their advertisement in the NY Times offered a flight between Bali and Jakarta. My foreign ventures had been limited to Europe and Central America up to this point."Oh, sir." His Hindi gentility was measured to assuage the traditional occidental temper and John produced an Indonesia brochure extolling the volcanic beauty of Mount Bromo, ruined temple of Borobuder, and ancient palaces of Yogakarta. "Many people prefer to travel overland to see the sights of Java of which there are many. I give you a flight from Jakarta to Padang.""Padang?""Yes, sir, in Sumatra." Another brochure praised the cultural heritage of the Batak, the awe of Lake Toba, and the jungle paradise of the orangutang reserve. "You fly out of Medan to Penang and Malaysia and overland to Bangkok.""Let me guess." I was falling into step with the program. "Many people do this overland.""Yes, sir, you see the picture better than most. What are you going to do on the trip?" Hindi are a curious people. John was no exception."I'm writing a novel." NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD was a story about a hustler forced into a contract murder of a porno producer by dirty NYPD cops and who avoids violating the 5th Commandment by escaping into the desert with two lesbians filming a movie about the last man on Earth. John didn't need to know the plot. Hindi men were in some ways very curious about sex."Oh, sir, I must warn you that many countries in Asia do not like writers. Especially journalists.""I'm not a journalist." My typing was atrocious and my grammar was even worse."Whatever you do, do not tell anyone you are a writer." His head bobbed side to side like a broken bobbing dolls. "Big people and police do not like journalists in Asia.""I'll keep that in mind."John was 100% correct about the overlanding. I saw the dawn from the rim of a volcano, met the sultan of Yogakarta, drove up to the vertiginous heights of the Dieng Plateau, endured the scorching equatorial sun riding a motorcycle around Lake Toba and watched male orangutang masturbate without shame. The females shunned the jerk-offs. I arrived at the Medan airport with my trip and book at the halfway state.I queued for the flight to Penang. The police spotted my typewriter."Berenti, mistah."Saya." I had learned a little Bahasa in three months."Yes, you." A short pineapple-skinned officer pointed my way. The three of them pulled me from the line. The other passengers smiled with relief. I was their sacrificial lamb. The police sat me in in an office and asked, "Journalis?"The trio wore grim faces. Torture was their specialty. A single overhead fan wobbled in its socket. "Tidak jounralis. Penulis buca." I claimed the higher status than journalist."You write books? About what?" The lead interrogator leaned forward with a metal sap in his hand. "About the mafia. Porno. Hollywood." I was one smack away from squealing the truth about any crime from Adam upward."Hollywood?" The three cops intoned the word with sanctity normally reserved for Allah. Indonesia was 90% Muslim."Yes, Hollywood." I followed the lead and told them about how JFK was killed by the CIA. They spoke about the betrayal of Sukarno by the present dictator. A bottle of Johnny Walker Black hit the desk. Red was beneath them. We drank toasts to freedom. "Beraka." I spoke every language with a Boston accent.Whiskey in hot weather was a hard slog. It was getting late and I asked the chief officer, "So I missed my flight, how do I get to Penang?""You didn't miss your flight. We held the plane. One more drink and tua jalan.""To whiskey." Without it the Irish would have ruled the world.The police drove me to the waiting plane. The other passengers were gobsmacked by re-appearance from the belly of the beast and even more so by the power fist salute of the police."Beraka."It was a small world after all.

Mini-Bikes Are Fun

"Mini-bikes are like fat girls a lot of fun to drive, until one of your friends see you on one." - old biker adage.I disagree.Fat girls are fun all the time, but I prefer mopeds.

TWO SECONDS LEFT WITH THE BALL IN MY HANDS by Peter Nolan Smith

Every high tide deposited beer bottles, oil containers, fishing lines, shiny candy wrappers, and plastic bags onto the sloping shoreline of Jomtien Beach. At low tide I harvested the trash into sea-worn rice bags. Within a half-hour the sand was devoid of any human refuse and I could smugly regard the pristine strand with pride.

While tourists rolled their eyes in disgust at my ecological efforts, the Thais from the beach cafes congratulated my work without ever breaking caste to aid my task. Such labor was beneath them and from under a parasol my girlfriend expressed her embarrassment by saying, “Tomorrow have plastic again. Every day have. You stop nothing.”

“Doesn’t matter. At least the beach is clean for now.”

Every day I expanded my patrol and the bending proved very therapeutic to my aging boy. My muscles ceased to creak and the aches vanished from my joints.

“Watch this.” I pressed my palms flat onto the sand.

“You only not hurt, because you stop play basketball.” Mam was unimpressed by my suppleness.

“I didn’t stop.” I shot baskets at the park in the elephant ranch near Sukhumvit at dusk,

“Yes, you stop.” Mam was less than half my age. Her belly was swollen with our son.

“No one plays basketball here.” Thais were mad about Man United. The courts at the schools were used for pick-up football games. Their backboards were warped by the tropical sun. Occasionally when I dribbled a basketball, the Thais waited for a show, except ballhandling had never been the mainstay of my game.

“You not play too.” Mam hated my picking up the trash on the beach. She said that I looked like a crazy man. right. I had not picked up a basketball in months.

Two weeks later when my cousin came out to visit, Mam asked, “He good playing basketball?”

Bish and I had played our last one-on-one game twenty years ago yet he answered without hesitation. “He’s the dirtiest player this side of Bill Laimbeer.”

The Detroit Piston was legendary, but the name meant nothing to Mam

“Sok-ka-phok.” She wrinkled her nose. “Dirty same not shower.”

My cousin gestured violently with his elbow. “No, dirty same the Mafia.”

“I played defense tight.”

“In your shirt and then some.” Bish was not far from wrong. My fouls on the street courts had to be approaching the half-million mark. Despite this record, I loved basketball and had so from even before I saw one.

In the 1950s I lived on a quiet street across the harbor from Portland, Maine. My brother, my best friend, and I spent summers playing baseball, chasing seagulls from the mudflats, and exploring the offshore islands in leaky rowboats. Autumn was dedicated to football and every winter my father constructed a hockey rink from long planks of two-by-tens.

My older brother, our friends, and I played hockey from the second we got home from school to the collective call to dinner from our mothers. We shouted back ‘five minutes’. It was more like ten.

One night my father ran into the backyard and declared that he had seen a rattlesnake in the front yard. We hobbled into the house on the skates and he called the State Police. The cops approached the suspected snake with drawn guns. The deadly reptile turned out to be the silhouette of a paper bag flapping in the wind.

During dinner we joked about the episode, however my six-year’s old mind filled the dark with snakes’ sibilant slither. Panic-stricken I ran into my parents’ room and leapt into the bed. “There’s snakes under my bed.”

“Maine doesn’t have any snakes.” My father was exhausted by this fiasco.

“You thought saw one tonight.” If he believed snakes in the winter, then they might have slithered into the house. “Can’t I sleep with you?”

“You’re getting a little old for this.” My father protested with closed eyes.

“He’s young.” My mother threw back the cover.

The disruptiveness of my nocturnal intrusion escaped me, until I was a little older.

The following day my father brought home two crystal radio sets shaped as rockets. They were made in Japan. My father explained the instructions.

“You attached alligator clips to a metal object. The signal is transmitted to the antenna and you tuned the radio with a retractable space needle jutting from the nose of the rocket.”

“They aren’t going to get electrocuted.” My mother’s fear was for our own good.

“There’s no electrical charge. The radios capture the airwaves.” My father was an electrical engineer for the phone company. He knew about these things. “These are better than TV. You can hear the rest of the world.”

TV reception is Maine was limited to three very snowy channels.

Okay.” My mother accepted their harmlessness and my father handed my older brother and me the sets.

At bedtime I dressed in my Davy Crockett pajamas.

Before I could plant the earpiece, my mother ordered us to hand over the sets. My brother surrendered his and rolled over to sleep. I needed any explanation. She held out her hand.

“But they don’t have any batteries.” I had read the flimsy instruction sheet. One side of it was in Japanese.

“At night they play things you shouldn’t hear,” she exhaled with adult exasperation.

“Things?” This cryptic comment reanimated my dozing brother.

As a devout supporter of Tailgunner Joe’s battle against the Reds my mother was deeply concerned about the subversion of the airwaves. Events of the Sixties proved her right.

“Yes, things.”

“There’s nothing on the radio that can hurt them.” My father came into the bedroom and contradicted my mother’s demand, “Let them listen to the radio. It’s a free country and the radio scares away the snakes.”

“You shouldn’t be telling them stories.” She gave him a withering glare.

“I just want a night’s sleep,” he whispered with a wink.

My mother begrudgingly returned my brother’s set and kissed us both.

“Sleep tight.”

“And don’t let the bedbugs bite,” my brother and I replied in unison.

Once the light went out, my brother fell asleep and I attached the alligator clips to the metal bed frame.

The airwaves soared with voices from Montreal, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Wheeling, West Virginia. Their accents scared away the snakes. Music and radio shows appeared between the squawks of static, until a hoarse man cried out, “And Cousy has the ball.”

I soon divined that ten men comprised the Seventy-Sixers and the Celtics.

Each play mattered to the announcer and the roar of the crowd was as bloodthirsty as the Romans in the Coliseum. I rooted for the Boston team, since my mother had been born in Jamaica Plains, but Bill Russell was not stopping the dreaded giant, Wilt. Luckily the Sixers were befuddled by the Jones boys and at breakfast I recounted how the two brothers’ defense stopped the Philadelphia team.

“When did you fall asleep?” my father asked and I answered, “Around midnight.”

“Don’t tell your mother or the Jones Boys will have a curfew.”

In 1960 we moved to Boston. My father took us to the Garden. It didn’t matter that KC and Sam Jones weren’t brothers.

Seeing the game hooked me on basketball, despite my dribbling being rudimentary and my shooting abysmal. My skills didn’t improve in high school or college, yet my merciless ‘in your shorts’ defense allowed me to compete against much taller and more talented players.

In 1976 I wandered onto West 4th Street.

Truthfully I didn’t deserve to stand on that pint-sized court with its high-flying leapers, deadeye shooters, and dazzling dribblers, but the players recognized I didn’t give up on defense. This sacrifice allowed them to devote everything to offense. It was a fair trade.

One summer day a muscle-bound guard from Mott Haven drove toward the basket. I planted my feet and took the charge. He bounced off my shoulder and I passed the loose ball for my teammate’s easy lay-up. Before any congratulations were offered, the guard said, “Point don’t count.”

“Why not?” Incredible talent didn’t prevent players from calling outrageous fouls.

“You charged me, Opie.” He pushed me.

“You ran into me like a drunk driver hitting a telephone pole.” His grudge against Andy of Mayberry’s son wasn’t shutting my mouth.

“You think you’re funny?” The laughter from the line-up of ‘next games’ ignited the guard.

I ducked his punch and wrestled him into a headlock. His elbow cracked my jaw and my tooth was loosened by the blow. We dropped to the ground.

Our respective teams separated us and I shouted over the shoulder of the forward, “That was your best shot? Damn, that was a real Twinkie.”

“I’ll show you a shot, Oppie.” He reached into his bag for a gun.

I opted for discretion and fled the court.

When I returned to my SRO room on West 11th Street, my hillbilly girlfriend tended to my black eye.

“That’s it. No more basketball.”

“I didn’t do anything.” It was a weak counter.

“Like always.” She threw my old baloney-skinned Spaulding out the window.

The next week we moved to the East Village and I obeyed her edict, until hearing the familiar thump of rubber on Avenue A.

A Puerto Rican teenager was dribbling into Tompkins Square Park.

“Mind if I shoot around with you.”

“Not at all.” He bounce-passed the ball and I launched a high arcing shot. It missed the backboard, hoop, and net. He retrieved the ball at the top of the key and flicked the ball into the netless hoop.

“Shit, man, you better be good on defense.”

If he hadn’t been right, I might have been insulted.

“I can’t get my shot right.”

“A couple of hundred shots each day. You gotta improve. The name’s Izzy.”

Izzy was short, lean, and worked an early shift for the sanitation department. I was stocky and worked at a discotheque as a bouncer. We met every afternoon to play all-comers.

The picks I set in a two-on-two game created a bond between us. Izzy scored the points and I defended the hoop. Anyone big, anyone rough, anyone with weight, Izzy would say, “Stick ‘em.”

Before games opposing players dunked the ball for intimidation and Izzy warned them, “Don’t try that shit on the Rock during the game. Players have scored more points and others have more rebounds. No one has more fouls than the Rock.”

The dunker smirked, only to discover Izzy hadn’t been kidding.

Basketball became my refuge from the storm.

When my hillbilly girlfriend and I broke up over my infidelity problem, I treated the pain by shooting in the park. During the AIDS epidemic I shot baskets to forget my friends’ deaths. The only time my body and soul didn’t hurt was when I was playing ball.

The park was my gym, therapy, and social club. I met friends, we told stories, and shared future plans. Izzy and I played in any weather other than rain, sleet or snow.

There were a few other all-year players; Terri with the knot on his head, Carmelo with the sweet touch and the evil temper, Doug, the swing guard from Chicago, Jose, the mad Peruvian, Jim Thorne from Maine, the pure shooting Mark, crazy Hollywood with his fifty-foot swishing hook, JD’s devotion to winning, Big Ed with his sweet hook, Shannon’s swooping glide, Church Charles with his Walter Bibby perfection, Mouse with his slashing drives to the hoop, and they helped me win a few more games than I should deserved to have on my record and I played everywhere in the world.

I have squared against Chinese soldiers in Tibet, run full-court with heroin dealers in the mountains of the Golden Triangle, elbowed for position with French forwards in the dusty court inside the Parc de Luxembourg, fast-breaked barefoot with Filipino sailors in Penang, and faced baby gang-bangers in North Hollywood, but my home court was the three bent rims and buckled metal backboards of Tompkins Square Park in the East Village.

Some of the kids from the Boy’s Club across the street reached the college ranks. Their names went up in lights. Sadly I remained a dim 40-watt light bulb.

Teammates groaned at blown lay-ups, unchallenged tap-ins missed from under the basket, and long bombs rattling out of the cylinder. My opponents’ laughter inspired frenzied heights of defense. Great scorers gave lessons in cradling the ball, and I spent hundreds of hours shooting baskets, hoping one day the mechanics might click, yet I remained a 20% shooter

My teammates never went to me in the clutch.

I was losing more than I won and even Izzy was shunning me on the court.

One afternoon we had an insurmountable lead and Carmelo bounce-passed the ball to me. The ball struck my hand at an awkward angle and went out of bounds. Izzy pointed at my dislocated finger.

“You should go to the hospital.” Izzy was eying a rasta named Roberto to take my place. The dreadlock power forward had game.

“No way.”

I had popped knees, cracked ribs, shattered teeth, had my eyes blacked from elbows, twisted ankles, and torn ligaments from head to toe. So had the other players in the park. We were great believers in self-cures.

“I can fix this myself.”

“Hey, that’s your hand you’re talking about.”

“It’s my left hand.” I didn’t use my little finger for eating pizza and tugged it into place with the crack. “Good as new. Our ball.”

“Your ball?” our opponents crowed vainly, since I had the most seniority on the court.

Carmelo inbounded the ball and I spun to pop the ball toward the basket, a move I had been practicing for years without any success. This time the ball glided through the rim.

Carmelo blinked with disbelief and glanced at my left hand.

My grip had been altered and I nodded for him to pass the ball.

The other team was familiar with my awful shooting and didn’t bother to dee up. I released my shot at the top of the key. The ball actually had spin on it and dropped through the basket.

“It’s your birthday,” declared Izzy.

“It’s the finger.” I held up the swollen pinkie.

I won every game that day and walked off the court a hero.

Next morning I ran into Richard at the court. The mailman was a solid 6-4 power forward with a deadly shot from behind the arc. My losing streak against him stretched over a decade. After he scored three unanswered points, I rebounded an errant bank shot and launched my shot. It sliced through the rim with a whish. His eyes slitted with suspicion.

“Luck was what that was.”

“A football coach once said success is 95% hard work and 5% luck.” Anyone would trade 50% of the hard work for another 5% of luck and I was one of them. I dribbled the ball from right to left. My ball-handling remained a disgrace.

“Stupid, dumb white boy luck.” Richard spread his arms. His wing span rivaled a condor.

“Luck it is then.” I entered a space/time warp of probability. Hooks fell, three-points rained, and lay-ups spun around the rim to drop in the hole.

“It’s my finger.” I flexed the crooked digit and challenged Richard to another game. “Best out of three.”

He lost two straight.

My longtime friend, Andy Kornfeld, had beaten me for over twenty years and mockingly berated my newfound skills. I defeated him effortlessly. My nickname went for ‘Brick’ to ‘Comeback’, although I had never been anyplace from where to comeback. Players discussed defending me. Their strategies were a waste of effort.

I was on fire.

The other players on the court called out my name like I was a MVP free agent and I didn’t fail them either.

I beat my old adversaries.

Not with an inside game.

I stepped farther and farther from the basket.

Day after day the victories mounted. My thirty-game winning streak was challenging UCLA under John Wooden, but the long hour sessions of basketball were tearing apart my body. My doctor witnessed me limping into a restaurant.

“You’re almost fifty. You have to give your body a rest.”

“I’ll be fine.” Pros get a day off. College players rest after a game. I couldn’t stop. I was invincible. I would live forever. I would win win win.

The next day a college kid asked why I was playing at my age.

“Old man you should be in your wheelchair.”

“Wheelchair?” I beat him inside and outside, but on a crossover dribble God strummed my right knee. The shot fell for the win, as I dropped to the floor in agony.

“No.”

The pain boiling through my knee did not lessened, as Carmelo helped me home.

The next time out my knee buckled and I limped to my apartment, praying that tomorrow I might be the same man I had been a week ago, only a month passed and then two. My knee was too weak to handle the stress of a three-on-three. My doctor was pleased to not have to listen to my litany of injuries and suggested, “Take up golf.”

“No way.”

I decided to ink my name on an extended disabled list.

I had no other choice.

A year has passed since that Spring. Not one day has passed that I don’t want to have the ball in my hands. I haven’t told anyone. Picking plastic off a beach has been a workout and I’ve been practicing my jumpshot with plastic fishing buoys. My body’s suppleness improves day by day. My knees are flexible and my little finger remains crooked. New York is only 25 hours away by plane.

One day soon I’ll return to my home court. I’ll be greeted like a ghost from the dead. It will be the game of my life, because I have a basketball jones and the one place to scratch that itch is a day away over the North Pole,so start spreading the news, “I’m leaving today…..”

Tsunami Promo

Another serious earthquake struck of the coast of Sumatra. Banda Aceh and other coastal cities were warned about a possible tsunami from the 8.6-magnitude quake and a follow-up tremblors of 8.2. The people reacted to the alert by hitting the road to avoid another disaster. Photos of the gridlocked exodus revealed the futility of flight. Fortunately this earthquake was side to side along the seismic plates as opposed to the up and down motion of the 2004 9.1 quake, which killed over 250,000 people along the low-lying coasts of the Indian Ocean. KFC Thailand responded to the potential danger with an alert on its Facebook page along with a promotional earthquake bucket of chicken."People should hurry home this evening to monitor the earthquake situation and don't forget to order the KFC menu, which will be delivered direct to your hands."After calm replaced the panic, Thais were outraged by the brazen callousness of KFC's attempt to profit from fear, but I imagined the KFC drivers trying to accomplish their mission with a huge wave rising from the sea.Personally I'd be heading for the hills with all the chicken.I'm not a khohn khee khlaat or coward, but we're all chickens when the tsunami comes to town.Zroom zroom cluck cluck.

Kamis, 12 April 2012

CASSE TOI, BRIGITTE by Peter Nolan Smith

Working at a nightclubs I met a lot of people; famous, infamous, and nobodies. Sometimes I had no idea who was who. One night at Hurrah I tried to stop Mick Jagger from entering Hurrah. The singer of the Rolling Stones was wearing a beard. His bodyguard Tony steered me right.

At the Mudd Club Steve Mass had called down from his apartment. The quirky owner had seen Meryl Strep at the ropes on his CCTV and instructed me over the intercom, “Don’t let her in?”

“Why not?” The blonde actress had won an Oscar for KRAMER VS. KRAMER in 1979.

“I hated THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN.”

“Me too.” Especially her scene where she turns her head on the quai.

“Sorry, but you can’t come in.”

“Don’t you know who I am?”

“Yes, but tonight’s not your night.” I didn’t have to say why.

Doorman had that power in the 70s. We ruled the night and that privilege continued with my move to Paris in 1982.“Here you are not a doorman, but a physionomiste.” The manager of the Rex was a socialist. He wanted an eclectic crowd based on fun.

“No, problem, but I don’t know how to speak French.” Two years of grammar school French from a nun with a lisp had taught me how to ask, “Ou est le Bibliotechque?”

“Pas de problem,” Olivier shrugged with ease. He wanted someone not so French and said, “You only have to say two words. ‘Ouais’ or ‘non.” “Okay” I had learned that trick at CBGBs, Hurrah, and Studio 54. “But I don’t know anyone in Paris. Not the famous people. Not the people who go to nightclubs.”

“Bien.” His partner and he were tired of everyone getting in for free. “Make them pay. I don’t care if it’s Brigitte Bardot.”

“But how shall I treat them?”

“Like shit.”

“Like shit?” I didn’t think that I had heard him right.

“Comme le merde.” His accent was perfect and I said, “I’ll do my best.”Treating Parisians like shit was a dream job for an American and I followed his orders to the tee, except I treated my favorites with glory and I built a new clientele of rockers, punks, models, gangsters, pop stars, and just normal people too. For the most part the owners liked the mix and I was well-known as ‘le ras-de-ped’ or ‘homo’. It was verlaine for pederast. My French was getting good and the owners of Les Bains-Douches hired me to replace of Farida. The Algerian Amazon was leaving her post to pursue a career in modeling with Claude Montana. She was that beautiful.

The owners were a little more concerned about their clientele, who were more upscale than the Rex, but I still treated their regulars ‘comme le merde’. It was a tradition. I also liked to throw in a curve ball and one night a decrepit clouchard approached the entrance to the club.

The bouncers moved to prevent the derelict’s climbing the stairs.

“Stop.” I had a plan.

They were off-duty Legionnaires and followed orders.

“Why do you want to enter the club?” I asked the grizzled drunk in Boston-accented French.

“Because I’m a good friend of Moses. He told me to meet him here.”

“Come on in.”

“Are you serious?” This line mustn’t have ever worked before this evening.

“Mais ouais.” I had heard plenty of excuses from people seeking to enter the Bains-Douches. None of them were as good as this ‘friend of Moses’.

“I have no money.” The clouchard patted his pockets.

“A friend of Moses doesn’t need money. Here are two drink tickets. Have a good time.”

His raison d’etre granted him entry to the elite boite de nuit. I went inside from time to time to check that he was having a good time. The clientele of the Bains-Douches opened their hearts to the Friend of Moses. He wasn’t one of them. They liked different. I considered him harmless, until my boss stormed up to the front door.

“Are you fou?” Americans were crazy estrangers to the French.

“What’s wrong?” I didn’t have an idea what, but I was sure about the ‘who’.

“That clouchard drank a bottle of wine from Thierry Mugler’s table.” My boss had a sweet spot for the fashion czars of Paris.

“Really?” I thought they were a little full of themselves and laughed at the situation.

“You think it’s funny.” He mustn’t have been a Jerry Lewis fan.

“Just a little. I’ll show him out.”

“Why did you let him in?”

“Because he’s a friend of Moses.” The excuse wasn’t so funny to the patron, but he had never seen Charlton Heston part the Red Sea in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. I know it was special effects, but the real thing must have been very impressive. The god of the Israelis knew how to kill their enemies with unforgettable style.

I signaled the bouncers or ‘videurs’ escort the clouchard and he cried out, “You can’t treat the friend of Moses like this. Just wait till I talk to Moses. He has more plagues up his sleeves than I have fleas.”

Nothing as bad as the killing of the first born ever visited the Bains-Douches and I spotted the friend of Moses in the nearby environs hectoring passers-by about the 27 Commandments. I wish that I could remember his ‘thou shalt nots’, except I’m lucky if I can repeat Moses’ 10.

He cursed everyone with damnation at the very popular Cafe Pere Tranquille. The junkie and drunks laughed at his predictions of doom. I looked to the sky. The madman pointed a finger at me. “That Amerlot loves God.”

And I wish it were true, but I had been a non-believer since 1960, still I gave him 20 francs. It’s not a bad idea to have the friend of Moses saying good to the Grand Seigneur even if the drunk is completely mad, for while their Lord moves in strange ways, so do the mad and this episode led to my being let go at the Bains-Douches.

I wasn’t unemployed for long.

When Albert and Serge opened a dance club near the Paris Opera 1985, they offered me the doorman job. Le Reve’s plush décor harkened back to the glorious 50s. The young rich loved the mix of soul and classic French hits stitched together by Albert’s world hits.

They hired a young black bouncer to handle the voyous. Jacques had run with several gangs from the outer suburbs. A two-year stint in prison had not ruined his smile. The young girls from the good neighborhoods thought the muscular Martiniquean handsome and came in droves to try their luck.

These beauties in turn attracted men who brought them drinks. A glass of champagne cost $20 and Le Reve coined money.

My job was keep the crowd cool.

A week after the opening an older man entered with two dowdy women in fluffy coats. His nose was splayed across his upper lip like a wet sox. An argument ensued with the cashier about the cover charge.

“Give one reason you don’t have to pay and you can come in for free.” I could tell he had been someone once.

“We never pay,” the ex-middleweight rasped in a punished voice. He had won more fight than he had lost, but not by much. “Not to un putain Amerlot.”

“Fucking American.” The insult was rewarded with an immediate response. “Jacques, escort this old man out of the club and have him take the two old pallisons with him too.”

It was the word in French for doormat. The connotation was not good. My French was getting better every year, but puzzlement muddied Jacques’ face and the fiftyish blonde woman glared with disbelief.

“Casse-toi.” I had practice of telling Parisians to get out.

They left without a fight and afterward my boss came over to the door.

“Explain to me why you threw out Brigitte Bardot.” Serge was very non-plus.

“Brigitte Bardot.” The boxer’s companion re-assembled into the legendary sex symbol as would any woman who was Brigitte Bardot. AND GOD CREATE WOMAN and CONTEMPT were two of my favorite films of all time. I had dreamed about her as a boy. “That’s wasn’t her.”

“Ouais, c’est elle.”

“Merde.” I ran out to say they could come in, except they had already reached the boulevard. A taxi stopped for the trio and I returned to nightclub expecting a lecture, instead Serge suggest that I act with more tact in the future.

“We will be old one day too.”

The story of her rejection hit the morning papers and I expected the Paris Police to institute deportation proceedings for having insulted a national treasure, however the passage of time had rendered the animal lover’s beauty passé to today’s youth and our business doubled with their appreciation of my indiscretion.

A week later Mickey Rourke showed up at the club with ten friends. Mostly young junkies from the Bains-Douches. We never let them in for free. I made an exception this time and Serge came up to me.

“No Brigitte Bardot, but hello Mssr. Rourke.” He never let me forget this error in judgment and it remains a joke between us till this day, even more so now that the American actor slipped down the ranks from his heyday, although we both agreed on his best line.

“Drinks for my friends.” Mickey Rourke called out in Barbet Schroeder’s BARFLY.

It seemed to be a line he must have said in real life too.

“A guy like me changes hard, I didn’t want to change, but I had to change.”

Same as the rest of us.

We all get old some day. Desole Brigitte.Je suis con.

Brigitte Bardot Is Never Old

Four years ago I returned to New York after 5 years in Thailand. Culture shock has been minimalized by my refusal to leave my landlord’s $1 million Ft. Greene brownstone, however after a week I had acclimatized to the culture shock of fat people with loud voices and rendezvoused with my biographer to recount the circumstances of my exile from the Land of Smiles.“Come meet me at Lucien’s on 1st Avenue. I’m doing an interview with Taylor Meade.” Dannett was a man about town. He had been a child star as a child. As a man he was still a boy and so was I.I showed up late. The beat poet had drunk a bottle of whiskey. Dannett was conversing with a young Russian boy, who was clearly smitten with the respected obituarist’s infectious joi du mots. The magic of Dannett's perpetual youth had that effect on some people and the bon vivant introduced me with an ornate flourish, “Meet my new protege. He likes older women.”"Why doesn't he like older men?" Taylor Meade was upset with the inattention. “Older women are more intellectual than older men.” "How's that?" I asked in search of finding an answer to why I had divorced my feeling for a married woman madly in love with me."Because older men are only interested in younger cock." Chad was smart in a bookish way."Older men are rarely interested in anything older than themselves." My Thai wife was 24. She was pregnant with my son. I had come back to America to make another fortune. The last had been blown overseas."“But, truly, I have wept too much! The Dawns are heartbreaking. Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter.” The angelic boy quoted Rimbaud and purported himself like a gentleman. "I prefer 'I have stretched ropes from steeple to steeple; garlands from window to window; golden chains from star to star, and I dance' It's a little more cheerful." Dannett was an astute.Taylor and I contested their quotes with emptying our glasses.Silence was us at our best, but I was jealous of Dannett's protege. He was 23 and looked 12. His life was life ahead of him. I was almost three times his age and no one had called me young in decades.“An older women like cut cock,” I interjected from behind a glass of wine. We laughed, as Chad assessed the intent of the statement. None of us expected him to say, “That’s anti-Semitic.”“Anti-Semetic?” I was having none of this. “Chad, what does a cut cock have to do with Anti-semiticism.”His cheeks burned with indignation of the supposed slight. Americans and especially young ones had no sense of humor. It was the state of our disunion.“Lighten up, unless the mohel schobbed off too much prepuce at your Bris. You know it was reputed that the mohel was buried with all the foreskin he had ever cut off?”Prepuce.” Vlad had never heard the term.“Yes, the foreskin of Jesus.” The Holy Bris of Jesus was reputed to have been preserved in a jar of spikenard and this relic has passed hands throughout the royalty of Europe. “They rubbed it for good luck and it turned into a suitcase without any wheels.”After this quip Chad excused himself from the table and Dannett admonished me for riding him a little hard, however I do believe in the Freedom of Speech unlike France, whose courts had been seeking a $23,500 fine against the withered beauty, Brigitte Bardot for inciting anti-Muslim hatred in her letter to the then Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkosy accusing the nation’s #1 minority of destroying French Culture by not listening to Johnny Hallyday or eating crepes.I drank my wine, thinking that maybe Chad could help her with this problem. After all he has a thing for older women, as do I, especially blue-haired heiresses dipped in Botox, then again I’m no gentleman and Brigitte Bardot is never old in AND GOD CREATED WOMEN.

The Language Of Thieves

Back in the 80s I lived on Ile St. Louis with a South African model. Her husband paid the rent. He lived in the South of France, where he had a clothing factory in Biot. Vanesse had lied to her husband and said that I was gay. "I have nothing against 'gay'. Guy had fought in Algeria. "Just do not think you are my type.""I wouldn't make that mistake." He once told me that he had thrown a grenade into a locked mosque. The ex-parachuteer was better off thinking that I was harmless.His routine was one weekend in Paris with Vanesse traveling down to Cap d'Antibes the following weekend. He liked sex with her. Several other men enjoyed that privilege. The doors of the bedrooms were thin. Guy and her lovers were not loud, but I could grade their efforts by Vanesse's shrieks of pleasure. Guy beat all contenders and I was not one of his rivals, because if I wasn't her type either."You have to take care of my wife." The heavily muscled manufacturer warned me one evening, as he prepared to leave for the South of France. The flight to Nice lasted two hours. It was another country by the Mediterranean and his villa on Baie Doree vistaed the long arc on beaches to Nice."I will." I had little trouble acting 'pede', since Vanesse insisted on my wearing tight jeans and espadrilles with a beret."There are thieves in Paris." Guy was reared in Marseilles, a city renown for crime."I know." I worked at Les Bains. My main security guy ran a gang of voleurs in Les Halles. Jacques' gang of voyus specialized in snatch and run. "I make sure we always take a taxi home at night.""Not that type of thief." His expression mocked my naivete."What kind are you talking about?" A Jewish gangster from the Sentier robbed banks. We were drinking friends and Danny was very discreet. Guy couldn't have been thinking about him."Come with me." Guy lifted his valise. It was more a man bag than a suitcase. French men liked to travel light.I descended from the duplex to Rue des Deux Ponts and he pointed to a chalk scrawling on the door; a circle with an X."That means there's nothing to steal here.""Oh." There was more complicated sketching on the next portal."This place has already been robbed," Guy explained, as he waved down a taxi. "Take care of my wife.""I will."Later that evening I spoke to Danny about this secret silent language."Ah, I know it well." He drew many symbols indicating the richness of the pickings."Does they ever mention 'adultery'?""No thief cares about someone stealing someone else's wife or girlfriend.""Good." I breathed easy, because as the painter Paul Gaughin said, “In marriage, the greater cuckold of the two is the lover.”

Rabu, 11 April 2012

Faster Than A Ferrari

Several years ago I challenged a friend to a race across Manhattan. I was on my bicyle. He driving a Ferrari. We left the restaurant at the same time. He showed up at the bar twenty minutes after me. Then again I cheated. I ran the red lights."Everything is fair when you are trying to prove a point." James Steele

The Smell Of Durian

Many Asian foods are alien to westerners. Insects, horseshoe crab eggs, and sum tam or spicy mango salad easily come to mind as foreign to the tongues of farangs, however the most unacceptable Oriental delicacy is the ever-malodorous durian.

The stench of this squishy fruit is so disagreeable to non-aficionados that durian joined hand grenades and land mines on the list of dangerous objects you’re not supposed to bring into a hotel room.

Not anymore, for a Thai botanist Dr. Songpol Somsri has created a durian without the pungent odor, which he named Chantaburi No. 1. “No smell, good taste.”Personally I like the smell and taste of durian. At least in Thailand, where it is eaten in a soft state.

In Malaysia the natives prefer the durian in a near-putrid ooze. I sampled some in Penang which had the consistency of a fetid cheese left in the tropical sun ie it was runny.

Jungle animals can smell this fruit almost a half-mile away and the travel and food writer Richard Sterling said of durian, “ … its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.”

Whatever its negative points, this raja of fruits has been reputed to possess aphrodisiacal properties, for both the Malays and Thais say, “When the durians fall, the sarongs fly up.”

Partially since if one of the spiky behemoths dropped on your head, you’d be KOed for a week. Most plantations these days have nets under the trees to prevent damage to the durian.

Not that anyone cares about the unsuspecting pedestrian.

I tried the amorous technique of smearing durian pulp on my body as a cologne. Not a single woman or girl or man or dog came near me, although the mozzies zeroed on my flesh like I was a blood donor.

Another danger is the fruit’s rich combination of carbohydrates, protein, fat and sulfurous compounds, which can be deadly for anyone with high blood pressure.

My wife didn’t eat durian for a year after my daughter’s birth, because Thais think that durian breath can kill a baby, but this new breed may erase that threat for newborns. Workers say the new durian only smells a little and the taste remains the same.

In 1856 the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace wrote a much-quoted description of the flavor of the durian, “A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy.”

Not many westerners would concur with his olfactory assessment, due to the durian’s sulfurous stench, although no scientific study could prove why the durian smelled like Gandhi’s underwear.

So no smell durian are sort of like roses these days.

Beautiful flower. No bouquet.

A rose is not a rose if a rose doesn’t smell to the nose.

Could the durian lose its appeal if it doesn’t smell?I have to go to the old classic adage.

A rose is not a rose if a rose doesn't smell to the nose. - James Steele

Selasa, 10 April 2012

A Lie Is A Lie Is A Lie

America's First Amendment guarantees the right of corporation to deny the truth, for a lie is never a lie until the liar stops telling the lie. - James Steele

THE Id LOUNGE by Peter Nolan Smith

The next morning AK, Pam, and I took advantage of the cabin’s comfort and slept in late. We ate breakfast in the dining room with the owner of the lodge. The older man and I had spent the black hours of last evening talking about a place almost two thousand miles to the East. He was a good man and we heeded his advice on breakfast. Flapjacks and sausages were a hearty start to the day after a night of beer. Sipping our coffees Pam, AK, and I listened to Ralph’s counsel on the way westward.

“Following 14 up the canyon to US 40 is a more direct, but the more scenic route would be to drop down to Boulder and cross the mountains through Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a beautiful ride this time of the year. The traffic gets crazy after July 4th.” Ralph spread out our map on the table pointed out various highlights of the drive.

“Thanks for everything.” I tried to pay the bill. Ralph refused my money.

“You’re nice kids. I wish you were staying longer. Heck, I could use help here during the summer. It’s hard to get good help out here. Everyone is either a cowboy or a farmer. They’re good with animals, but suck with people other than their own.”

“Wish we could stay too.” The mountain air was pure and I had no job waiting in California or back in Boston. I glanced out the window. The river ran fast through the canyon bracketed by pine-covered slopes. Working the summer wasn’t such a bad option.

“But you have someplace to go.” Ralph handed the map to me.

“Yes.” The answer should have been ‘not really’. Our ages were almost thirty years apart and that gap meant nothing to either of us. We were New Englanders away from New England.

“I once had someplace to be, but here I am.” Ralph had no regrets.

“Maybe we’ll catch you on the way back.” AK finished his OJ. It was almost 10.

“I’ll be here.” Ralph walked us out the car. 

We loaded the station wagon and AK elected himself the driver. He got no argument from me. My hangover excluded the operation of heavy machinery and moving objects. Ralph waved good-bye, as the Ford Torino motored onto the road. Leaving someone new behind was becoming a familiar theme on this trip.

“Yesterday you thought about staying in Sterling. Today I was contemplating the same.” I looked over my shoulder and watched the Big Bear Lodge disappeared behind the forested curve. “Some of Lewis’ and Clark’s men must have felt the urge for staying on that expedition.”

“Except they would have been with savage Indians.” AK was being sarcastic. “Your scalp would look good on a tent pole.”

“I’m talking about now.” Hippies had been leaving the cities to live in communes ever since Altamont killed off Flower Power.

“I can understand the temptation of the mountains, but we have an ocean to see and swim in.”

“Yes, we do.” The Pacific was our destination just like it had been for Lewis and Clarke.

We descended to Boulder and then climbed into the Rockies on US34. Once past the alpine suburb of Estes Park we traveled higher on the Fall River Road. Traffic was light and the Torino handled the steep switchbacks with ease. There were no guardrails to prevent disaster should we leave the pavement.

“I’m glad you’re driving and not me.” AK was cautious behind the wheel. A flurry of flakes cut visibility to less than two-hundred feet.

“Anyone in a rush?” My friend asked with his eyes locked on the road.

“Not me.” Pam had pulled out her jacket. It was getting cold.

We stopped at the snowy pass some 11,000 feet above sea level. The frigid wind ripped through the stunted trees and the three of us fought to breathe in the thin air. I read the plaque at the pass.

“This road followed the Indian path.” We were passing above the tree line.

“Savages didn’t believe in tunnels.” AK was shivered in his jean jacket. He had not counted on running into winter until December.

“Neither did the engineers of the road. It was built by chain gangs using picks, shovels, and sledge hammers.” I was taking a guess. The plaque said nothing about the men who constructed this road, but its 1920 opening preceded Roosevelt’s CCC projects to give work to the poor. “They still have chain gangs in the South.”

“But none here.” Pam grabbed the keys out of AK’s hand. She had had enough of the tundra. “Let’s lose some altitude.”

The weather improved on the other side of the pass and she drove a little faster, but alert for elk feeding on the fresh meadow grass surrounded by aspen woods bordering the Trail Ridge Road. AK lit a joint and handed it to me.

“Might help your head.” He reached over to the radio. Static was playing on every station.

“I hope so.” The hangover wasn’t letting go of its pincer grip on my temples.

“It could be altitude sickness.” Pam offered her opinion. In the fall she entered her final year of nursing school.

“Probably both.” I took another puff and passed the join to AK. We re-entered the world of man. Resorts on Grand Lake were preparing for the holiday weekend.

We stopped several times at various scenic vistas. Serious hikers were setting out into the wilderness. They carried big packs on their backs, as if they were leaving civilization forever. They didn’t speak much under their heavy loads. Grizzlies roamed the high trails. This was mountain man land.

We zigzagged by the alpine lakes to reach US 40 in Granby. The valley broadened to cattle pastures and a state trooper was parked behind a large boulder. The young officer wore a stiff cowboy hat like he was related to Wyatt Earp.

“Shit.” Pam She was driving a little over the limit, but this far west enforcing 55 was a joke and the Statie waited for a faster violator of the road.

“Of course it would have been difference, if we were black.” I didn’t bother to check on the cop. That would have been a sign of guilt and a joint was a serious offense for the police in 1974. The spokesman for the MC5 was sentenced to ten years for giving two joints to a narc.

“I haven’t seen a black man since Omaha.” AK commented after filling up the tank in Craig. At 55 cents a gallon the bill came to a little over $10.

“I saw one in Fort Collins. He was mowing the grass.” Coming from Washington Pam had a good eye for color. DC wasn’t known as Chocolate City for its candy.

“Maine has one minority. Canucks from Quebec.” They had worked as cheap labor in logging camps and lumber mills.

“Every place has someone underneath them.” AK pulled into a Sunoco station to fill the Ford Torino. The owner liked the big V8 running on the full tank. “Mexicans are the minority for the cowboys and farmers, even though there were before the White Man.”

“Indians were here before all of us.” I got out of the car and the other stretched their legs. AK handed the teenage gas attendant $5 and wandered over to the Coke dispenser. He bought us each a bottle. It was cold as ice.

“I haven’t seen any Indians yet.” Pam took off her jacket and examined the map for reservations. “They have to be someplace.”

“Look in the bottom right corner and you’ll find the Ute reservations.” I had received a map-reading merit badge from the Boy Scouts. “Back before the West Was Won they roamed from Wyoming to Northern New Mexico.”

“Back before the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” AK had watched his share of cowboy and Indian movies. We were both children of the 50s.

“General Sheridan said that after a Comanche Chief told him. “Me good Indian.” Sheridan replied, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.”

“That’s fucked up.” Pam used the f-word for the first time on this trip.

“Very fucked up.” When Woody Guthrie sang THIS LAND IS MY LAND he meant everyone, red, white, black, brown, and yellow.

“This is white people country.” AK was half-Jewish. The Nazis shared the same sentiment about his people as Sheridan had about the Indians.

“We haven’t had any trouble yet.” Pam was 100% white.

“Hippies are the closest thing these people have to a black person.” EASY RIDER might have ended in the South, but bad things happened to longhairs this far from the cities. “Good thing there aren’t that many people out here.”

The gas attendant was talking with his friends. They were ogling Pam. She wasn’t wearing a bra.

“Let me see that map.” The next real city was Salt Lake. US 40 ran through small towns. None of them had many inhabitants. “We shouldn’t have any problems. As Neil Young sang, “Everyone knows this is nowhere.”

We downed the cokes and put the empty bottles in the crates. The young boys were muttering about hippies. AK eyed me. Nowhere was no a place to have a fight over the length of our hair or the beauty of Pam’s breasts. I sat in the back. AK and Pam switched driving duties. We left the gas station and I was proud to have succeeded in resisting giving the boys the finger.

We crossed over the Continental Divide at Rabbit Ears Pass. The western slope fed the Pacific and ski trails scarred the mountains above Steamboat Springs. Not a flake remained on the slopes. The land grew more parched to the west and greenery survived along the trickle of a shallow river and its many oxbows. After Dinosaur the dessert dropped a boot on the terrain and the few wizened inhabitants appeared bred by the harsh seasons of the High Plains.

They were all white.

At sunset we crossed the Colorado border into Utah. Night fell fast on the high plains. and darkness erased the desert scenery. Two-lanes of black asphalt straightlined into Roosevelt, Utah. It was a speck on the map.

I was at the wheel and slowed down seeing the lights of the Id Lounge on the left. The long ride had cured my hang-over.

“What are you doing?” AK asked from the back. He didn’t like strange places. In truth no one did at night.

“We’re stopping there.” I pointed to the upcoming bar. One cold beer was my reward for a day’s long drive.

“We’re not stopping.” Pam had had her one fling in the parking lot. She was not interested in testing her fidelity for the second time in two days.

“We’re not stopping at the Id Lounge? My best grade in university had been an A in Psychology 101. Ego, Superego, Id.”

“How do you know it isn’t the ID Lounge?” AK was in accord with Pam for giving the bar a miss.

“Small d on the sign.” I pulled into the uneven parking lot. Tomorrow was my birthday. “I’m celebrating my last day of being 21.”

“This is a bad idea.” AK tucked his hair under a NY Mets baseball cap.

“It will be fine. We had a good time at the Inferno Lounge.” I crammed my hair under a Red Sox cap. There was no sense in taking chances.

“That was yesterday and this is tonight.” Pam pulled on a jacket to hide her breasts.

“If it gets bad, we leave, plus we owe Freud one drink in his name.”

The uneven dirt parking lot was filled with dusty pick-ups.

We walked into the Id Lounge and sat at the bar. The clientele at the tables was a mixture of farmers and cowboys. The jukebox was playing MAMA TRIED. I ordered three Olympias. We toasted Sigmund Freud and I sang along with Merle Haggard. Andy shook his head. He hated the way I tried to meld into the crowd like I came from nowhere.

“Stop worrying so much.” I was comfortable with the beer in my hand.

“Easy for you to say.” AK kept his back to the tables, fearing someone might recognize him as a Jew.

“If anyone says anything, go out to the car and start the engine.” I handed him the keys.

“And wait for you?”

“You’re my friend, right.” I was wearing heavy Frye boots. No one was touching Pam or AK.

The goat-roper and sodbuster at the nearest table were arguing about who was the strongest. Devoid of blacks, beaners, and Jews the Non-MOrmon residents of Roosevelt, Utah had stratified into its own caste system.

“Ain’t nothing hard about rasslin’ cattle.” The huge farm boy could have started as linebacker for an NFL team. He was that big. The only way I could take him was with a bar stool to the back.

“And nothing tough ‘bout plowin’ dirt with a truck.” The young cowboy looked like he had been constructed from barbed wire, but their diatribes sounded friendly to my ears.

“One way to settle it.” The farmboy rolled up the sleeve of his flannel shirt.

“Yeah.” The cowboy spat on the floor.

“Arm wrestle,” the two of them said at the same moment and posed their hands over the table.

“One out of one,” the heavy-set bartender declared with a baseball bat in his hand. This was not a good sign. “Ready, set, go.”

The two locals strained with every muscle in their bodies to force the other’s hand to the table. Backers from each clique shouted out drunken encouragement. I was rooting for the farmboy. The cowboy looked mean.

“I got a bad feeling.” AK nodded at the jostling between the two groups. Pushes were replaced by elbows and stomping boots. The bartender tugged down a chicken-screen wire over the liquor bottles against the wall.

“You might have a point.” I motioned for them to go to the door and put down $5 to cover our tab, but remained transfixed by the contest.

Pam left without saying a word. AK was two steps behind her. We looked at each other. Our eyes confirmed the belief that these people probably knew each other from childhood and if they didn’t have any trouble fighting each other then they would even be more willing to stomp hippie strangers.

“I’ll be a minute.” I didn’t see AK leave.

The cowboy threw his weight into the table.

The farmer lost his advantage and the back of his hand wavered an inch from defeat. He gritted his teeth and shouted like a steer trying to free itself from quicksand. His hand rose inch by inch. The cowboy was sweating bullets and a beer bottle toppled off the table to break into shards on the floor. The farmers sensed victory and a second later their hero slammed the cowboy’s hand to the table.

“I might have lost that contest.” The cowboy stood from the table and rubbed his wrist. His face was warped by a wicked smile bent on madness. “But I could kick your ass in the alley out back.”

The big farmboy said nothing and launched from his chair to punch the cowboy’s skull with a massive right. I felt the crack of flesh and bones in my teeth and the young cowboy collapsed at my feet. His friends swarmed over the farmboy, who tossed their bodies right and left like bales of hay.

The bartender bonked heads to even out the fight. He was batting .500 with his swings. A bottle broke my trance and I exited running from the Id Lounge. The back door of the Torino was open. I jumped in the station wagon.

“Go, go, go.”

AK bottomed out the gas and the Torino’s tires spat dirt in our wake. The station wagon hit 100 within twenty seconds. The V8 was built for speed. Two minutes later we were leaving Roosevelt, Utah. Any police would be headed to the bar.

“Nice bar.” Pam checked the rearview mirror. The lights of the Id Lounge were gone.

“Was for a few seconds.” I liked the Merle Haggard and the beer was cold.

“No more bars on this trip.” Pam was interested in narrowing the distance to her boyfriend.

“If you insist.” I accepted their judgment. I had gotten my way on this one.

“We both insist.” AK and Pam said at the same time. There would be no vote next time.

“None of us got hurt.” I tried to put the stop in a positive light.

“No more bars.” AK was a lover and not a fighter.

“Okay, okay.” I slumped into the backseat and wondered who won the fight in the Id Lounge. My money was on the farmers. They had bulk.

US 40 swung south into the desert. The Torino was the only car on the road and the sky had a billion stars. The universe was black and they were white.

Pam put on BLUE. Joni Mitchell sang ALL I WANT. It sounded like California and CAREY made me glad to be back on the move, because beach tar on my feet was only one or two days away and one of them was my birthday.

The Unfreedom of Speech

The Constitution has offered protection for the Freedom of Speech for centuries, but that guarantee has come under fire more often in recent times. People can not speak their mind without follow-up condemnation of their statements. Russ Limbaugh damned a woman testifying before Congress on contraception as a 'slut'. This rude and abrasive comment evoked countless demands for an apology as did Robert DeNiro's statement about having a white woman in the White House. No one is America can say what they want anymore, as in the case of a Marine sergeant's criticism of the President and most recently the manager of the Miami Marlins saying in an ESPN interview that he respected Fidel Castro for having stayed in power for so long. Positive thoughts about the Cuban leader have been banned in Southern Florida since before the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Marlins organization acted swiftly to punish Ozzie Guillen for failing to keep his mouth shut about his political beliefs. They demanded an apology and suspended the Spanish speaking manager for five games without pay.Guillen responded to this personal crisis in another ESPN interview."I'm sorry for what I said and for putting people in a position they don't need to be in. And for all the Cuban families, I'm sorry I hope that when I get out of here, they will understand who Ozzie Guillen is. How I feel for them. And how I feel about the Fidel Castro dictatorship. I'm here to face you, person to person. It's going to be a very difficult time for me."Back in 2008 Guillen said the following in Men's Journal."Fidel Castro. He's a bull---- dictator and everybody's against him, and he still survives, has power. Still has a country behind him. Everywhere he goes they roll out the red carpet. I don't admire his philosophy. I admire him."By this time I hope that Ozzie Guillen has learned his lesson.Americans are free to speak as long as what they say is what everyone wants to hear.Such as 'Desi Arnez amo.'

Senin, 09 April 2012

UP HIGH by Peter Nolan Smith

After my fourth beer the Rockies blurred in the window of the Inferno Lounge. AK tapped my shoulder and I swung my gaze away from the distant mountains to the interior of Sterling, Colorado’s only bar. The long room was more crowded than before. Most of the bar stools were filled by heavy men in dirty overalls. Their faces were weary from hard labor. Johnny Cash was playing on the jukebox. Pam was nowhere in sight.

“It’s time to go.” AK whispered in my ear. We were the only strangers in the bar.

“We just got here.” My fifth beer was half-full. It was going down slow.

“We’ve been here two hours.” AK nodded to his left. Three big farmers in the corner were eying us, as if we had rustled their cattle. This was Nixon country and his followers blamed us for Watergate. My friend repeated, “It’s time to go.”

“You might have a point.” Our hair was longer than the two women with the pig-faced sodbusters. They were trouble spoiling for a fight and I was the best target within sight. I finished my beer and signaled the bartender for the check.

“Let’s find Pam and get out of here.”

“You leaving so soon?” The bearded bartender was happy to see us go. AK wasn’t drinking and the supply of trouble met demand fast after his customers downed a few drinks.

“We’re trying to reach the Rockies before nightfall.” I dropped a $20 on the bar.

“Best you take 141 out there to Fort Collins, then head up Route 14 to Big Thompson Canyon. Try the Big Bear Lodge.” The old bartender made change. “No police are on this road too. It’s almost a straight line to the Rockies.”

“So we won’t get lost.” I picked up my cash and left a $2 tip.

“You’ll reach the frontline in about ninety minutes. Better get your girl or else Billy Bob will kidnap her to his farm.” The bartender knew his clientele. “He won’t make a fuss. Billy Bob’s a good boy unlike some of these fellas.”

We rescued Pam from a Chevy pick-up. The blonde re-arranged her clothing, as we walked to our drive-away car.

“Write me.” The young cowboy hastily wrote an address on a piece of paper.“I’ll try.” Pam blew him a kiss.

“I really like you.” Billy Bob stood in the dirt like he was waiting for our station wagon to turn into a pumpkin. I opened the passenger door for Pam and sat in back of the Ford Torino. She was no Cinderella.

“Sorry, I disappeared.” The blonde nursing student was flushed red from a make-out session with the lanky teenager.

“Nothing to be sorry about. We’re on the road. We don’t have to be who we are or who you will be once you get to the coast.” I was planning on introducing myself as ‘James Steele’ to the next stranger.
“Nice bar.” I settled into the backseat like a cracked egg. I was drunk for the first time since leaving Boston.

“You are right about being someone else. Billy Bob asked me to say with him and for a little while I stopped being me and became Billy Bob’s girlfriend. We’d get married, have kids, and get old looking at those mountains.” Pam hadn’t forgotten the boyfriend in Mendocino for the last hour. The intern had just slipped her mind. She threw the paper with Billy Bob’s address out the window.

“Living someplace like this is not the worst thing in the world.” The truth was that small towns get much smaller once you lose your way out of them, but most people don’t discover that until they’re stuck someplace like Sterling for the rest of their lives.

“It’s not the worst thing in the world. Living someplace like this.” The truth was that small towns get much smaller once you lose your way out of them, but most people don’t discover that until they’re stuck someplace like Sterling for the rest of their lives.

“Yes, but then I realized that I was like Dorothy clicking her heels in THE WIZARD OF OZ, except I wasn’t back in Kansas.” Pam was saddened by losing this little dream as well as guilty for having betrayed her boyfriend.

“No, you’re in Colorado heading west to California.” The frosted teeth of the Frontline loomed larger, as the Ford Torino station wagon sped along the two-laner. 141 possessed a few curves hugging the rising elevation of the prairie. The roadside fields were fuzzy with spring wheat. By mid-summer the new crop would be reaped by the combines. This was the end of the Great Plains. “Don’t think nothing bad about you and Billy Bob. It was Cinderella’s last dance.”

“Hopefully not the last.” Pam was amused by the fairy tale comparison. “And it was more like a wrestling match than a waltz.”

“Okay, not the last, but I won’t say anything about this to anyone.” This was 1974. Women had the right to do what they wanted with their bodies. The Pill had freed them within a decade. Losing their chains would take much longer.

“Me neither.” AK broke his silence. Billy Bob was behind us. He was glad to be rid of him. One rival for Pam was already enough.

“Two days ago we left Boston and now we’re almost a mile high.”

“By night time we’ll be even higher,” AK said with a sidelong glance at Pam.

The pianist was hurting from our companion flirting with the cowboy in Colorado. He had fallen for Pam hard, but so had every man who had seen the blonde on this trip. Even in her hippie outfit he co-ed was the epitome of the girl next door.

“Wait until tomorrow.” I checked the map. Every day brought something new. “The passes through the Rockies topped out at 9,000 feet.”

“I’ve never been that high,” Pam said with enthusiasm. “Is it hard to breathe?”

“I don’t know. The highest I’ve ever been was the top of Mount Washington and that was as a little boy.”

“Same as me.” AK stepped on the gas. Three seconds later was the first time that AK had driven over the speed limit on this trip. We had an open road ahead of us.

The three of us sang ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH. Pam knew all the words. I joined her and AK for the chorus. They spoke with eager anticipation about the mountains and I enjoyed my beer buzz in the back. The air pouring in Ford’s open windows smelled of earth, wheat, and the road.

At sunset we drove up the Big Thompson Creek. The mountains were bigger than anything in the east. The shadows of peaks formed an uneven crown beneath a darkening sky crowded with stars. The Big Bear Lodge had fifteen cabins by the river. The owner knew the bartender from the Inferno Lounge and gave us a big cabin for the night. The motel had a small restaurant overlooking the powerful stream.

“Where are you from?” Ralph recognized my accent.

“Boston.” It sounded better than my suburban hometown on the South Shore.

“I’m from New Hampshire.” The thick-muscled owner was a Manchester native.

“How’d you end up here?”

“I was hitchhiking back to New England after serving in Korea. I met the woman cooking here. She was the boss’ daughter. We fell and love, then had kids. Sounds fast when you don’t include the ups and downs.” The fifty year-old pointed to a busy woman in the kitchen. The happiness in his eyes showed that they had survived for better or worse with flying colors. “Have a seat. I suggest the trout.”

The fish wasn’t frozen and the apple pie was close to heaven.

After dinner AK and Pam retreated to our cabin. They had separate bedrooms. I was sleeping on the couch, but wasn’t tired. Ralph patted his wife on the shoulder.

“Don’t stay up late.” Her voice was an instrument of love. “I know how you New Englanders get when you run into your own.”

“I’ll be in bed before you know it.” Ralph grabbed a few beers and we sat by the river driving Coors.

“Nice place to end up.” The Big Bear Lodge had a good grip on happiness.

“I see hundreds of hippies coming up and down this road. Thousands of families taking their summer vacations. Every day I fight the urge for going. How the White Mountains looking these years.” He hadn’t been back East in ten years. His wife hated flying.

“I camped in Tuckerman’s Ravine last June. Snow stayed until July. There’s more cars and motels there, but once you’re on the trails, you’re in the woods.”

We spoke about the Saco River, the bars in Berlin, skiing Wildcat in below zero, playing pond hockey, and meat balls subs by the factories in Manchester. On the second beer we veered onto sport. The Boston Bruins had lost the Stanley Cup to the Philadelphia Flyers earlier in the month. Neither of us were happy about that defeat, but the Celtics made up for the loss by beating Milwaukee in seven games to win the NBA championship.

“I didn’t think hippies liked sports.” We admired the clearness of cosmos balanced by beers in our hands.

“We are who we are no matter how hard we try to be someone else.” I was my parents’ son. My hometown was Boston and I preferred the Rolling Stones to the Beatles. None of that would change in the years to come.

“Now if only the Red Sox could win the World Series.” Ralph had high hopes.

“Let’s not push our luck.” The curse of Babe Ruth was stronger than the power of the universe.

“Have a good night’s sleep.” Ralph went inside the office, which served as his home.

“Should be a problem.” I put down my beer and walked back to the cabin, expecting my two companions to be asleep. Pam was sitting on the porch. A blanket was wrapped around her. The night was cold this high in the mountains.

“Are you okay?” I pulled up the collar of my leather jacket.

“I couldn’t sleep.” Pam played with a loose shank of hair. “I spoke with my boyfriend. He said that he loved me. This afternoon was wrong.”

“Nothing really happened, did it?” Billy Bob and her going all the way wasn’t possible in the front seat of a pick-up truck.

“No, but I wanted it too.” Her head lowered in shame. “What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing is wrong with you. Same as nothing was wrong with Jackie going back to her old boyfriend. People do what they want, even if that not what other people want. It’s called freedom of choice.” I sat on the steps. The pines were tall on the other side of the creek. “Do yourself a favor. Stop thinking you did something wrong. It was only kissing, right, and even if it wasn’t, then that wasn’t wrong either. The birds and bees do it and so do we.”

I couldn’t believe that I had said something so stupid.

“The birds and bees.” Pam laughed at the mention of them. “My mother tried to explain sex with the birds and bees. She didn’t have a clue. Why you think they use that allegory?”

“Because it makes no sense. That way you don’t know nothing, but what you learn yourself.” I stood up and took Pam by the hand. “C’mon, it’s time to sleep. We got a long day ahead of us.”

“Thanks for listening.” She kissed me on the cheek. It was as tender as a mother’s good-bye.

“It’s what I’m here for sometimes.” Her gratitude made me feel good and hitting my bed felt even better.

It had been a long day.

WHAT MUST BE SAID by Gunther Grass

Poetry by eighty-four year-old Germans is rarely read by anyone, however Gunther Grass's WHAT MUST BE SAID has reaped the Nobel Prize winner a firestorm of condemnation from Israel and Germany. The Israeli interior minister went so far as to declare the writer of THE TIN DRUM 'persona non grata' and demand that Norway stripped the novelist of his award for literature.The poem criticized both the Fatherland and the Mideast nation for endangering world peace through an arms race designed to attack Iran. Few people have read the poem, so here it is.Make your own judgment.WHAT MUST BE SAIDWhat is obvious and has beenPracticed in war games, at the end of which we as survivorsAre at best footnotes.It is the alleged right to the first strikeThat could annihilate the Iranian people—Subjugated by a loud-mouthAnd guided to organized jubilation—Because in their sphere of power,It is suspected, a nuclear bomb is being built.Yet why do I forbid myselfTo name that other countryIn which, for years, even if secretly,There has been a growing nuclear potential at handBut beyond control, because not accessible to inspections?The universal concealment of these facts,To which my silence subordinated itself,I sense as an incriminating lieAnd coercion--the punishment is promisedAs soon as it is ignored;The verdict of “anti-Semitism” is familiar.Now, though, because in my countryWhich time and again has sought and confrontedIts very own crimesThat is without comparisonIn turn on a purely commercial basis, if alsoWith nimble lips calling it a reparation, declaresA further U-boat should be delivered to Israel,Whose specialty consists of guiding all-destroying warheads to where the existenceOf a single atomic bomb is unproven,But fear wishes to be of conclusive evidence,I say what must be said.But why have I stayed silent until now?Because I thought my origin,Afflicted by a stain never to be expungedForbade this fact as pronounced truthTo be told to the nation of Israel, to which I am boundAnd wish to stay bound.Why do I say only now,Aged and with my last ink,The nuclear power Israel endangersThe already fragile world peace?Because it must be saidWhat even tomorrow may be too late to say;Also because we--as Germans burdened enough--Could become suppliers to a crimeThat is foreseeable, wherefore our complicityCould not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.And granted: I am silent no longerBecause I am tired of the West’s hypocrisy;In addition to which it is to be hopedThat this will free many from silence,Appeal to the perpetrator of the recognizable dangerTo renounce violence andLikewise insistThat an unhindered and permanent controlOf the Israeli nuclear potentialAnd the Iranian nuclear sitesBe authorized through an international agencyBy the governments of both countries.Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,Even more, all people, that in thisRegion occupied by maniaLive cheek by jowl among enemies,And also us, to be helped.THE ENDIt certainly doesn't sound like Robert Frost's A ROAD NOT TAKEN, but I don't write poetry any more and I don't have any plans to visit Israel in the future.And I'm sure that neither does Gunther Grass.Nu?

TOMORROW'S TOMORROW by Peter Nolan Smith

Every Tuesday morning Oil Can flew from Boston for meetings at his investment firm's New York office. Traffic on the highway from the airport was lighter than the previous month, which was a telling indicator of the failing economy. No wait at the Midtown Tunnel's tollbooths was another as well as the drive to 57th Street and Madison Avenue taking five minutes less than in 2008. The town car stopped before the gleaming skyscraper housing his firm's headquarters. Oil Can almost tipped the driver $5, instead he handed him a $10. Things were bad, but not that bad. Oil Can changed this assessment upon entering the lobby. Only one guard manned the welcome desk. Last month there had been three. Companies were cutting staff and not just from the bottom. He stepped into the elevator. It hadn't been cleaned this week and he held his breath on the brief trip to the 17th floor.

A firm believer in maintaining a good facade Oil Can stepped out of the elevator with the intention of exuding the confidence of a man who just penned an agreement with a billionaire, then almost stopped in his tracks upon seeing the brokers' glum faces.

"What's up?" Oil Can asked a sweating salesman.

"Market's tanking again."

"How bad?" It wasn't even 10am. There was no shouting from the trading pit and this was a crew that never shut their mouths.

"Bad." The trader shook his head. Oil Can glanced at a screen. The stock market had entered a dimension where every vector pointed down and the staff wore the misery of the last months like cheap margarine on Wonder Bread at a homeless shelter.

"Bad is good." Oil Can stood up straight, knowing it was one thing to be defeated and another to look beaten. He strode to his corner suite, as if it was still in 2005. No one else bothered to upgrade to his level of happiness.

"Good morning." His secretary greeted him without saying his name.

"Why the sad face? Everything is going to be fine." Oil Can handed his Brooks Brothers overcoat to Josie. He could smell massacre in the air and locked his office door before calling his boss.

"What's up?" Oil Can looked out the window on East 57th Street. Only a few pedestrians were on the sidewalk and the lights atop the taxis indicated none of them had passengers.

"Nothing special." His boss was a master of deception.

"Nothing special. Everyone in the office looks like someone strangled their puppy. Who's getting axed?" Oil Can's sales were down 10% from 2011, which was 200% better than the other earners in his firm.

"We're shaking of the tree to get rid of some dead wood. Not you. I promise." His boss spoke about the advantage of a leaner executive staff and the opportunities presenting by the current challenges. Oil Can thanked him for his honesty and thirty seconds later got on the phone with a VP of Sales for a Swiss Bank. They offered him a new position. The pay was less than he earned in 2010, but his income was based on sales, not salary.

"Whatever you kill, you get to keep." The VP of Sales used that expression, because every autumn he hunted moose in Northern Ontario.

"That's the way I like it." Oil Can had once accompanied the VP to the near-frozen wasteland. The banker had missed every shot. Finally Oil Can paid the guide to shoot at the same time as the banker. One dead moose and ever since then the banker had considered Oil Can good luck.

He hung up and asked Josie for the morning's calls.

"None of them are happy calls."

"This isn't a happy time of year." Oil Can shut the door and scanned the list. Everyone wanted cash out their investments. None of them were getting a cent. The money was staying where it was. One number stuck out in the list. It was his cousin. James Steele was working on 47th Street selling diamonds. Oil Can checked his calendar. Tonight was an open date and he dialed cousin's office. He could use a break.

"You open for dinner tonight?" Oil Can knew the answer. His cousin had no plans other than to return to Thailand.

"Where?"

"Your choice. Money's no object." Losing your job was one thing. Not eating at a good restaurant was another.

"Le Bernadin is 4 star. My friend is the maitre de, so we don't need reservations."

"I'll meet you at 6."

"Come to the diamond store. You know where it is."

"Of course." Oil Can had been avoiding the Diamond District, because his cousin wanted him to buy an anniversary present. His wife and he had been married almost 30 years. Last year they had been contemplating a gala event for a hundred. Now the plans were for a quiet dinner together. Tonight he could celebrate the anniversary of the his bachelor party. His cousin would be his best man and he eagerly said, "I'll see you then."

The rest of the day was punctuated by security escorting several people from the office. Survivors wagered bets on who would be next to go in this round of 'musical chairs'. The bloodletting didn't stop until the market closed with a slight rally. over for this day. Oil Can ended the day in the black.

"Good day. Good to have you here." His boss bumped his fist on the way out. Care to go to Philippe's for drinks?"

"No thanks. I'm going to meet my cousin." Philippe's meant footing a bill for Opus 1 wine. Each bottle cost $700. His cousin was a cheaper date and he didn't need to be in a restaurant packed with shouting investment bankers. The volume of their conversation increased according to their desperation.

"Your mysterious cousin." His boss asked to meet James on several occasions. It was better for those twains to never run into each other. His cousin didn't know how to keep his mouth shut about anything.

"I'll see you tomorrow bright and early."

A light rain accompanied Oil Can down Fifth Avenue. Few stores were crowded with shoppers. Abercrombie and Finch was the exception, however he noted those exiting the world-famous store were carrying smaller packages than previous years. The rain drops fell heavier, as he passed the Rockefeller Center. A couple of minutes later he rapped on the window of the diamond exchange. His cousin was closing up the shop. His boss was giving him a hard time. Work sucked everywhere. James signaled for him to wait at the Ocean Grill and that he'd be there in ten minutes. Both of them were good at reading lips.Oil Can went over to the basement bar in Rockefeller Center. The room was pleasantly decorated with floral arrangements. The management wasn't skimping on atmosphere, even though only a few customers was sitting at the bar. "I'll have a Cosmopolitan." Oil Can told the bartender and phoned his cousin.He could tell Derek was disappointed that he wasn't coming down to his shop. No one really wanted to buy diamonds in this economy. Beer seemed to be selling better than martinis at the bar, but even Budweiser was taking a hit this winter. Three bankers in a corner table were drinking tumblers of whiskey. A man and his wife were fighting over the bill. She had never paid before. Five British tourists by the window drank beer, as if England had won the World Cup. Oil Can drank half his drink in one go. Two seconds later he ordered another for James, who joined him at the bar.

"How's work?" James signaled the bartender for two more Cosmos .

"It's been a tough year, but don't worry, we're going to have a super dinner tonight. When can we leave?"

"I don't think yet." James looked out the window. The drizzle had intensified to a downpour.

Oil Can examined his cousin. He had gained weight since his return from Thailand last summer. His hair was grayer too.

"Life's been tough this year." Oil Can confessed without any guilt. "Same for everyone, but last year was worst. Always is if you start it with an arrest in a foreign country."

"But that's all over?" Oil Can had heard the story about James getting caught in Thailand for copyright infringement. He was lucky not to be in jail.

"Yeah, I'm still persona grata.""How's the food here?""Good.""Want to eat here?""Why not?" James settled the bar bill and they were escorted to the dining room by a fashionable blonde. Oil Can heeded the sommelier's suggestion for a Bourgogne and the two men drank two bottles throughout dinner. The chef offered them crepes Suzettes on the house. The bill came to $900 mostly for the wine. After calling his wife from the coat check, Oil Can and his cousin went outside to 59th Street.

The rain hadn't let up.

"Where to?"

"I have a big sale tomorrow." James was bailing on him.

"And what about going for a massage?" Oil Can was sure that his cousin hadn't had sex in months. "It's on me."

"No, I don't like those old hookers."

"What about a strip club?"

"Don't like Russians, but I'll tell you something. A friend of mine called today with a tip."

"A tip?" Oil Can remembered that JP Morgan said, "When your taxi driver gives you a tip, it's time to get out of the stock market."

"Yes, the market is really going to tank all week long."

"And?" He wasn't in the mood to hear more bad news.

"Then it's going to nosedive to 6000."

"Who's your informant?"

The name James whispered was well-known through the financial markets. "We did drugs together in the 80s. Of course this information can't help me and probably can't help you, but at least you'll be prepared if it comes true."

"To be honest it doesn't matter. The whole world is fucked right now. So what's the use?" Oil Can was feeling tired. Everything he knew was valueless. The meal in his stomach felt like dust. The wine burned his esophagus. This crisis was killing him and his cousin sensed his loss.

"Okay, strippers. But only for a few hours."

"That's more like it." Oil Can could forget today in the arms of a stripper. And tomorrow he could forget until then, because tomorrow would be today until tomorrow.