Inspirations and Humiliations
This is my memoir: It’s a collection of essays I’ve penned over the last 40 years in no special order. I sense the Irish in me has inspired my storytelling.
Most of what’s written here is true or is presented as best I can remember, yet perhaps in some instances, certain facts might be a tad embellished. Only I know which are and which aren’t.
I can’t say I am proud to be part of some of these stories, no worries on my part since I don’t think I will ever be running for political office.
Yet as stated, to the best of my knowledge, almost everything written here is true and despite some embarrassment on my end I’m sticking to it.
Table of Contents
1. Lou Christine’s Uncle Lou (2003)
2. Being With Selma (1994)
3. The First Time I Saw Elvis (1993)
4. The Day John Lennon Saved My Life (1989)
5. The Cobras (1989)
6. Saint Anthony: A Guy You Can Count On (2004)
7. Friday, November 22, 1963 (2013)
8. The Hat (2009)
9. Steph’s Luncheonette (1998)
10. Paddy Lee (2007)
11. The Elusive Banana Split (2003)
12. Lou’s 52nd (1999)
13. A Day With The Yankees: August 1979 (1979)
14. A Christmas Story (2000)
15. Boyhood Mentor (1987)
16. Pussy: A Perspective (2000)
17. Another Mentor (1991)
18. Buy ‘em Lunch (2001)
19. Super Bowl Woes (2005)
20. Throwing Caution To The Wind (1990)
21. A Day At the Museum (1994)
22. Scamming A Scammer (1994)
23. The Wall (1987)
24. Person Of The Century, 20th Century (1999)
25. The General And The Sergeant Major (2002)
26. What Was The American Way (2004)
27. Reflections Of Day Of The Dead (1996)
28. Tales From San Miguel – Critters That Come Out In The Middle Of The Night. (2000)
29. Taking A Walk Out By The Lake (2000)
30. Sounds Of San Miguel (2009)
31. Haleakala (1989)
32. Absence Of Family While Living In A Foreign Land (1998)
33. Mexico City’s New 21st Century Skyline (2008)
34. Hilary Clinton: Nobody’s Fool (1999)
35. Heart Attack, Something To Avoid (2008)
36. Speaking The Spanish (1998)
37. Impromptu Moments (2003)
38. Spring Is In The Air (1999)
39. Men In The Kitchen (2006)
40. Doing Something For Grand Pop (2007)
41. Sareda is Toughening It Out (2004)
42. September Of My Years (1998)
43. Leap Of Faith (1998)
44. San Miguel Writers: Diverse and Notorious (2005)
45. Golden Autumn (2005)
46. Out of Cuba 2007 (2007)
47. Major-League Baseball’s Legacy (2008)
48. Old Bull, Young Bull (2003)
49. Majestic In Their Own Right (2014)
50. Motoring Mexico (1995)
51. William Spratling—Father of Mexico’s Silver Jewelry Industry (2001)
52. Praise That Has Meant The Most (1997)
53. Reflections Of The 4th (2010)
54. Mr. Acapulco (2005)
55. Writers Epiphany (2010)
56. Gotta Go For Now (1997)
57. Lupita (1999)
58. Jerzy Kosinski (1991)
59. “Me Fixie Good” (2017)
60. “The Dragon City” (2018)
61. “Second Chances” (2018)
62. Another Second Chance” (2019)
63. Email to Thomas, Easter 2020 (2020)
64. Learning Lessons (2018)
65. Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1997)
66. You Can Call Me, Darlin, Darlin (2020)
67. A Defining Moment (2010)
68. Kid’s Today (2020)
69. Louie Zerillo (2020)
70. Once a Bear Always a Bear (2020)
71. James Bond Reading & Writing (2020)
72. Goodbye 2020 (2020)
73. Mooning (2021)
74. My Arnawood (2012)
75. Mary Mickles (2021))
76. Stevie Wonder (2021)
77. Bless me, Father (2021)
“Lou Christine’s Uncle Lou” (2003)
The estrangement between my father and me took place eight days after I was born. My Mother suddenly passed away while recovering from the blessed event. Unbeknownst to the hospital staff (or anyone for that matter, other than God) dear ole mom had developed a blood clot in her leg. While leaving the hospital bed to visit another woman sharing her maternity ward, the clot ran amuck. Before she could take three steps the clot bullied its way through her veins and attacked mom’s 26-year-old heart, killing her instantly.
Obviously, my status instantly changed. Lifetime handicappers, if there were such seers, might have posted sinking odds predicting a normal childhood for me. Other complications surfaced. Naturally, I was unaware of the goings-on as a helpless infant, with no confidants or sense of clarity, my future was being decided. Soon enough I’d be branded with a litany of not-so-flattering adjectives. From the get-go, “bastard” had already been established. The pegging of “motherless” then could be added to the list.
When I reached the age of comprehension I began to hear how “poor-little” was placed in front of my first name. Thus, I entered the world social workers coin as dysfunctional. At the first stages of reasoning, sad explanations filled in some of the blanks. My mother was dead! My father was nowhere to be found.
Most kids, I suppose, are subject to a bonding and sense of familial assemblage—-at least before the old folks split up or a parent dies. Such comfort wasn’t readily available in my case. I realize certain scars linger, yet I believe they’ve been far from debilitating; other than a constant paranoia, that significant women in my life might suddenly desert me.
As for the idea of such parental comfort: I once heard children might perceive parents as an impervious barrier, a buttress standing between eternity and them. Once their tour of duty expires, survivors are abruptly bumped up to the front ranks, then on their own and then standing on the very edge of the abyss and ever after only to face on their own the dark spookiness of eternal order.
So, there I was, just out of diapers lacking joined parents, stung with sobering knowledge and struck with the advent of inevitable mortality. But let’s get back to dad—-he’s the real star here. You see, I was a love child and dad was burdened with other commitments, like raising his own family, with a wife and a couple of kids. For my father, with events rapidly coming to a head, things surely needed to be sorted out. As far as I’ve been able to determine and from what I’ve figured out myself, it wasn’t even a gimmie, dad would leave wife #1, get divorced, and then marry who would become wife #2, my mom. With the essence of new life unfolding before him, and while dealing with the pangs of lost love, the big boy was forced to make some moves. Who knows?
Any foundation being formed between us was as best, “iffy.”
I’ve harbored questions. Did he beam with a “that’s my-boy” pride up to the catastrophe? Or did he decide to just wash his hands of the matter? Was he paralyzed by heartache, or succumbing to guilt and fear? Frankly, knowing the facts as I think I do, and after having my own falls from grace, I’ve never envied the man.
Adding to the mix: Dad was Jewish, Mom was Irish Catholic. I also had a half-sister named Toni, who was nine when I was born. As a little girl, she had to deal with her own sadness over mom’s death. Toni settled in with her natural father. Grandmom Mickles and Aunt Dinny stepped forward for me. Grandmom had a lot of grit. She bore 14 children, and then raised six more of her grandchildren and always proclaimed herself as Irish and Catholic as Paddy’s pig, proud of a lineage stemming from County Armagh in Ireland.
Beforehand, there weren’t any Jewish fellows involved with the seven Mickles girls. Mom’s first husband was Italian! There was plenty of disparaging talk around the kitchen table about that one. My uncles did a lot of verbal finger-pointing while flicking their cigarette ashes on the linoleum floor. For the most part the seven Mickles boys were a clan of uneducated, beer-swilling factory workers, who often got in-peoples-faces arguing, race, religion, and politics—-subjects within their realm yet their spin on them were out of this world. They held fast to ignorance, myth and prejudice.
So Grandmom and Aunt Dinny raised me. They were good women, damn good women. I didn’t lack love and care, but it was evident when comparing myself with other kids and other families, elements of the norm were nowhere to be found. There was a natural yearning to link with my father. Father-son days during scout outings weren’t my favorite venues. Kids ask intruding questions, and there seemed to be a particular stigma attached.
I knew something of my father’s legacy. But how much is explained to a toddler? Because dad was Jewish, Grandmom and the Church took action, fearing I could be indoctrinated into Judaism. Gradually, it was explained how Lou Christine, Sr., already had another wife and kids. They said the man was crazy about my mom. And to save him some additional face perhaps, I was told he went berserk and had to be restrained from attacking the doctors when first learning of the awful news.
I was told my father was an independent taxicab owner, and operated under the banner of United Cab of Philadelphia, with identity number #425. Starting around the age of six, when one of those red-and-beige cabs came into view, I zeroed in on the decals pasted on their front-quarter panels. As often as my eyes searched there was never a trace of cab #425.
On my birthday, at the age of seven, I was informed my father was going to visit. The day passed slowly. I unnerved the household moving like a caged tiger while pacing in front of the living room’s window. Grandmom said, “Will you settle down or go out and play, we’ll call you out the back door.” It was a cold, cold day. Yet the oncoming visit gave me an opportunity to brag to my play friends “my dad’s coming!” a boasting that might legitimize me in front of my peers.
The magic moment came. A big man stared down at me. He smiled, said something non-profound, and then took notice how my little boy’s hands had turned a ruddy red from the cold. A nervous-looking woman wearing a black overcoat sat close by. She sized me up. The big deal that he was fished into his pants pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. He handed me a note, along with advice to buy myself a pair of gloves. The rest of the visit melded into a bunch of boring grown-up talk. As fast as mom left this earth, so went dad’s visit, and he faded into the winter’s day. The magic moment left. Latched onto him was the small-nervous lady, draped in a black coat, who didn’t say much
You see, right away mom went and signed my birth certificate Louis Christine, Jr., to legitimize me. During those days hospitals stamped the word “illegitimate” on one’s birth certificate if the parents weren’t married.
Out of curiosity, often I opened the white pages to view my father’s West Philadelphia address and phone number. The listing was published under the name Rose Christine. I would touch the print and ponder the “what ifs,” wondering how it would have been if things would have panned out. There was a certain thrill for me to see my surname in print. Take into consideration Grandmom’s last name was “Mickles,” my sister’s “Iaquinto,” and my Aunt Dinny’s, “Altieri,” due to a previous marriage. I was the sole Christine I knew of.
Another birthday came. I received a card addressed to Master Louis Christine. Inside, along with a five-dollar bill, were signatures: “Uncle Lou and Aunt Rose.” Grandmom snatched the greeting, read the signatures and became livid. In a rage, she insisted I dial a sequence of telephone numbers, my first call ever. I was to ask why the card was signed “Uncle Lou.”
A man’s voice answered. Shaking with doubt, I eked out Grandmom’s request. First, there was a dead silence, and then nothing more than the click of disconnect. From that day on my father never made another attempt to contact me.
But that’s not the end of the story. There were a few crossroads where dear ole dad and my path have crossed. Permit me to share them with you.
Years pass, I’m 19, in the Army, home on leave with orders for Vietnam. The thought naturally manifested how I could be killed. As an adult, I maintained a curious desire to look into my dad’s eyes.
On a whim, I drove out to West Philadelphia and walked up to an apartment house. Unsure, I stood at the entrance, where I could see a row of rusty mailboxes just inside the building’s vestibule. The place wasn’t that spiffy. There was an assortment of faded names pasted next to the bank doorbells, names mostly yellowed and bent with time. In scrawny writing, I spotted “Christine–Apartment 204.” I rang. The main entrance was set free with a let-me-in buzz. I headed up stairs and moved down a creaky, wooden-floored hallway leading to apt. 204 as to get a grown-up look at my dad. The door had yet to open.
When the door opened the man appeared, cigar in mouth, fingering the end, wearing glasses, somewhere in his sixties. To me, he looked more like LBJ. He said nothing and offered less, except for a cigar-chomping scowl. I gathered my voice and asked, “Are you, Lou Christine?” He released his lip lock on the cigar and spoke in salty Edward G. Robinsonese, “Who wants to know?”
“Me, Lou Christine!” I said evenly.
He was ice water, expressionless and without so much as a blink as he slowly turned, reentering the apartment, leaving the door ajar, as if for me to follow. He just mumbled in the same wise-guy manner,
“C’mon in. Ya wanna a drink or something?”
He pulled down from a cluttered mantle a bottle of VSQ brandy and poured two glasses. I fitted myself into a worn club chair, and he did the same while he confidently puffed on his stogie. He placed his legs and bedroom-slippered feet on a tattered vinyl hassock. I told him how I was in the Army with orders to be shipped out.
I stayed for about two hours. He spoke fondly about my mother. He professed in a tender sort of way how she was a wonderful girl, a “real sweetheart.” He asked some about my sister, my aunts and Grandmom. Yet “Mock the Louie” as my uncles had often referred to him, couldn’t help but flout, speaking mostly about himself, how he was a big deal at one time, how he once owned a fleet of cabs, but then he said he owned just one. Said he was semi-retired, and he said how my uncles were bums and how he helped them out of jams, lent them money and got ’em jobs.
The guy never bothered to ask if I had a girlfriend, or if I’d ever been laid, or if I ever hit a home run or scored a touchdown. He seemed to have no interest about what I thought or who I was. He never referred to me as “son”. The experience was surreal. He truncated the mostly one-sided conversation when he announced he had to break it off and run to the bank before it closed.
On that note, we rose from our chairs. Again he fished into his pocket, duplicating the same body language I remembered from the past, as he yanked out some bills. The wad didn’t look as large as it had 13 years before. He plucked a twenty, handed it over and said in a disconcerting tone, “Go buy yourself a meal. Good luck over there. Better watch yourself.”
I made a weak attempt to give it back. Said, I wasn’t there for a handout. “Whattaya crazy? Go ahead. Don’t insult me, and don’t be a putz.” I suppose he possessed some power of persuasion, or maybe I came to my senses, son-like, I pocketed the Jackson.
There was a sense of disappointment. The man was self-centered, boring, ugly, with oversized features; big-eared with curly-cue gray hairs sprouting out of them. You’d only want a nose like that if it were plumb full of nickels. He was bald the way I’ve become. And despite being a big man, well-over six foot, a sagging belly screened any sign of a belt buckle. He wasn’t dressed all that sharp either with out-of-date trousers wrinkling down to his blue-veined, swollen feet that were stuffed into cracked-leather slippers.
On my way back to the car I tortured myself for not asking the “how comes.” Yet the dufus that he was never took the time to offer me an opening to speak my mind. Before turning on the ignition, I took a moment, lit a smoke and I stared hard into the rear-view mirror: “What if I make it to his age and turn out to be as unsightly?” But it was more than the aging process and winding up with hangdog looks that I had seen: the man was ugly to the bone.
More years pass and I led my own life relatively happy with a wife. I was helping raise her boy, who I first encountered when he was ten months old, a kid with no visible father, same as me. Part of the lure, toward he and his mother, was that I didn’t want that boy to live a fatherless existence. One day out of the blue, with my-then adopted three-year-old Robby tagging along, while cruising West Philadelphia; I decided to make another cold call to dear old Dad. I suppose something inside me desired to show the old buggar that I had the right stuff to raise a boy, any boy, regardless of the circumstances.
His wife answered the door. Without me uttering a word, she knew precisely who I was. Her first words at the door, “My! My! You’re all grown up.” The visit was uneventful with predictable awkward moments. Rose showed a cheery, nice side. She whipped up some refreshments, asked no intrusive questions and treated my son and me with dignity and kindness. The old man didn’t say much, other than asking if I was making a decent living. He seemed more interested in the newspaper folded on his lap as if he couldn’t wait for us to get out of there so he could get back to it.
On the way out, even Robby might have sensed we’d never return. No big deal, I’d grown accustomed to that particular emptiness. I no longer thirsted. If for some reason, after we departed if my old man would have peered through the dusty Venetian blinds and watched us disappear into the darkness, he would have never caught so much as a glimpse of us looking back. We wuz free!
But wait! Some years later, despite being on the road to material success, I created some of my own headaches with unpaid traffic tickets. I received threatening letters. Scofflaw officers rapped on our door, warning my wife of serious implications. My wife harped on me to take care of issues. I obtained a hearing date to wipe the slate clean. In those days Philadelphia’s traffic court was located in a bad neighborhood with nonexistent parking. It was a catch-22 situation. More than likely one received a parking citation while inside court.
I showed at the designated courtroom packed with about 100-waiting defendants. A bailiff barked, “Louis Christine!” I began to approach the bench. The bailiff ignored my advance, and further barked louder, “Louis, A. Christine.” “That’s me!” I said. Then, just behind me, a third voice piped in. My ears picked up that wise-guy spit, “That’s me!”
There stood my father. The packed courtroom let out a chuckle, so did the judge. I looked back toward my father. “Hey! What are you doing here?” Lou Christine, Sr. volleyed and echoed, “What are you doing here?” Our tit-for-tat Abbot and Costello routine set off another round of laughs even louder than before. Perhaps people thought that earlier, that very morning, we had sat around a cozy family breakfast table and pretended to go our separate ways. The judge shook his head and smiled down toward his paperwork. He grabbed onto his gavel and announced a hardy, “Dismissed, bailiff call the next case.”
With the court session over and the fading sounds of a beckoning bailiff calling out another sequence of docket numbers, both found ourselves standing next to one another just outside the courtroom. I asked, “How, ya, doing?” He mumbled, “Fair to middling.” I gulped for a deeper breath and took a further step, “Wanna get a cup of coffee or something?” All I got was a “Nah, busy . . . Gotta, go.”
It was cold, man. On top of that, don’t ya know, I was in traffic court on the wrong date. Don’t know to this day if my showing was a form of destiny attached to my mistake, with me being in court a day early. So I get another parking ticket, and there’s no way I’m going to wade down into the vice of the city to face the music all over again. I was in more trouble, yet an annoying thought lingered: dickhead Lou Christine, Sr. got out of his ticket at my expense without having to give the judge an explanation.
More years pass. My Aunt Dinny suffered from cancer. She was treated each Thursday. I’d chauffeur her to a huge medical center. I was about 30. I normally would escort her up to a top floor then go back downstairs because who wants to wait around a doctor’s office? It was wintertime. I sported a Greek sailor’s hat and a black leather jacket. I would mope outside; smoke cigarettes and eyeball passing chicks. I normally planted myself in the middle of a busy plaza’s landing, near the entrance of an active pharmacy. The pharmacy boasted tracked-glass doors that ran the entire width of its front entrance. During business hours, because of the heavy traffic, the doors remained wide open. A heating system shot a curtain of hot air downward as a buttress against the cold. I stood close enough to feel the heat while panning the action. I just happened to notice, down by the curbside, a Taxi parked in a “No-parking zone.” It was a United Cab. Low and behold, #425 was embossed along with the name, Lou Christine!
Now the pharmacy had a pay phone just inside, to my right only a few feet away and there he was, cigar in mouth, mumbling into the phone’s receiver. I probably looked away at first, not sure if I was displaying any sort of ultra-kinetic, body language. Then I grabbed onto my senses and peered toward that once illusive cab. The joyful anticipation of such a find had by then long faded. I gathered myself, a defining moment, dictating that during this encounter I’d be the one who wouldn’t show a glint of emotion.
A “whatayaknow” smirk may have formed on my young man’s face, with me maintaining my cools, one hand in pocket, collar up. Surely a machismo surfaced in the form of a deserted son’s demeanor hardened by time, which by then was accustomed to paternal disappointment. I chose to flash a street kid’s bravado; now-and-then taking deep drags off my smoke and maybe spitting hockers toward the curbside. Trying to appear inscrutable as my stare was as hard as Pennsylvania coal peering right through the man, same as I’d be if facing a nameless pug on a crowded subway. On the surface my shit looked together, my insides were in turmoil and my mind was spinning.
The conversation on the phone didn’t seem that affable. He too stared through me, seemingly sensing nothing. He continued a mostly one-sided conversation. My ears were privy to a series of grunts and wise-guy sounding “yeahs.”
A rush came over me during the bizarre encounter “Wow!” I thought, “Imagine, after all these years, standing just a few feet away is the very man, and he has no idea!”
A question came center stage inside the theater of my mind: How many other sons have ever experienced such? As weird as it sounds is as weird as it was. Seems his phone conversation was lasting long enough for me to finish my smoke, offering me an opportunity to go ahead and flick the butt in the direction his cab, maybe to see if it would raise an eyebrow or perhaps initiate provocation. It didn’t. He remained engrossed in his phone call, yet he stared directly at me, seeing my image as no more than wallpaper while continuing to issue into the phone the series of grunts and “yeahs.”
Passively he placed the receiver back on the hook, let out a sigh, and headed right toward me. My eyes tracked his oncoming presence. Sounds emanating from the busy plaza muted. A pulsating drumbeat played in my mind. All actions shifted to slow motion. He loped toward me. He appeared deep in thought. The intensity of the moment hit a crescendo as he coasted in near my personal air space. I could taste the smelly cigar and sensed an empty soul-—with him never paying me the slightest of mind. The thumping sounds in my brain finally subsided as he moved on.
Funny, there was one positive impression as he floated on by; you know a trite thing, perhaps a futuristic silver lining. I admired the spunky moves springing from the old fart, how he gambled down the steps of the plaza, doing so in an athletic manner. Then I watched him duck out of sight as he entered the cab. Like that, he was gone.
One of the pharmacy’s clerks dashed from behind the counter. Mouth agape, the clerk held up in front of the payphone. He glared down at strewn cigar ashes about the astroturfed carpet and then his eyes angrily darted towards where the old man’s cab had been parked. The clerk shifted his glare and gave me an inquisitive look as if to share with me his indignation. “Did ya see that fucking asshole? He comes in here every day, asks for change, never so much as thank you, only a grunt, and he drops his stinking ashes all over the floor. Who do you think has to clean them up? I hate that creep!”
It was as if the clerk was looking for some sort of reaction. I shrugged my shoulders and offered, “Takes all kinds, I guess.” I never saw dear-old dad again. I did come to learn that over the course of a distorted lifetime he pandered his life away and burnt every bridge extended toward him. He died penniless of a heart attack at 73, wallowing in the crummy bed of a 23-year-old woman who was a heroin addict.
I’ve wondered a plenty about the man, his demise, and if his fatherly sins would trickle down to the son. In many ways, they have. Because of other fundamentals, certainly not provided by him, I’ve had opportunities and chose a higher road, not that I’m beyond sin. Surely I’ve sensed a void, that perhaps I missed out on something of value over my lifetime, but now, when it comes down to it, I’m convinced that in the long run, it was dear old dad who was the poor guy who missed out on me.
“Being with Selma” (1994)
When I was five years old I had yet to see my first motion picture. I had no idea the art form of film even existed. By 1952 our family had yet to buy a television, that would come later, in 1953, so we could watch the coronation of England’s Queen Elizabeth. My aunt and grandmother were rearing me in a row home inside a deteriorating North Philadelphia neighborhood. By then the neighborhood was beyond checkered with just three white families remaining on the 2300 block of North Gratz.
One Saturday morning there was a sudden knock on the front door. We had few visitors. Grandmom tossed the dishrag into the sink and went to answer the knock with me dragging along hanging onto her apron strings.
A serious-looking tall and lean black girl stood on the marble stoop. There was no smile. This was no girl scout run.
She began, “I’ze takin’ the kids to the movies. My momma sez I should invite your youngin’.”
She spoke in an almost defiant manner as if she didn’t want to be on our doorstep in the first place. “If he wanna go? You don’t hafta worry about nothin’.”
Some older girls and other tykes meandered by the curbside.
The girl glanced back as if she had been challenged to knock on the white folks’ door.
Grandmom’s Irish, pale-blue eyes remained fixed on the girl as if she wanted to hear more. Grandmom asked questions like what was playing.
The black girl continued, “It twenty-five-cent for the matinee, ten-cent for goodies, and ten cent for me . . . I’ze make sure I’ze take decent care of him.”
Grandmom’s poker face gave away nothing. Her exchange with the girl offered no clues, but Grandmom’s forehead wasn’t wrinkled, a clear sign of her not being perplexed. Evidently with the Q & A the black girl and Grandmom had established a connection despite the girl sounding terse.
Grandmom Mickles was renowned for possessing communication skills. As the neighborhood changed from working-class white to working-class black, rather than shunning newcomers she sparked numerous conversations when out front Ajaxing the marble stoop.
She turned and asked a wide-eyed me; “You wanna go to the movies with these kids?”
Shoots, for the sense of adventure, I would have run off with Charles Manson if he had been around. I eagerly nodded my head up and down.
Aunt Dinny and Grandmom had been very protective. I rarely stepped out the front door since the area changed. There was good reason. There had been a shoot-out at some dope-selling joint on the corner. A deranged neighbor went berserk with a hatchet down in the coal bin and chopped his wife into bits then deposited body parts down sewers on both ends of the block. My uncles’ shook their heads at what the neighborhood had become, calling it a jungle, begging Grandmom to move, referring to its newer residents as jungle bunnies.
I wondered about this place called the movies and why Grandmom was permitting me to go. Maybe Grandmom desired some private time or thought I was ready for my first adventure with other kids. She roughed-up my face with a damp, stale-smelling washrag. I always hated that part. Then she let two quarters escape from her souse’s ear purse and handed them and me over to the girl.
As if I was captured and cuffed the girl latched onto my hand. In safari fashion, our troupe headed down the block. The sky was sunny. Gratz Street’s residents were out and about. Fast-moving black men soaped up cars. There was that distinct sound of tin buckets scraping the cement sidewalk. Honky-tonk music blared from an open window. A mean-sounding dog threw itself up against a screen door. The curious checked us out.
There seemed to be a sense of pride imbuing from the girl as if she had been the chosen one, entrusted with that rarely seen little white jewel who lived at 2356 in the middle of the block. I remained silent and obedient as did the other boys and girls. We sensed no real tenderness, figuring the big girl was in it strictly for the dime.
It would be the first time I’d be seeing just what was around that particular corner. You see, Gratz Street was one-way. We were going against the grain. Beforehand I had traveled off the block only inside machines, that’s what Grandmom called them, and they always headed off in the opposite direction.
Selma and the other girls ordered that we stay close as we turned the corner. I waded into the unknown. Now we were on a much wider and busier avenue. There were tarp-covered stands. The avenue was active. My little boy’s nose inhaled unusual aromas. A big man in a grisly looking bloodstained apron scared the Dickens out of me. I still hadn’t forgotten the chopped-up woman down the block. It wasn’t just his frightful appearance; he startled me when he came to life with a booming voice, “Hog mogs! . . . Chitlins! . . . Hog mogs! . . . Chitlins!. . . Three for 50 cent! Three for 50 cent!”
There were no other white people on the avenue.
We passed stripped-down cars, charred after being put to the torch. There was strewn trash and broken glass. A swaying and disturbed wino blocked the middle of an intersection. A half-filled, label-less bottle with pink fluid swung from his arm. He took dramatic swigs then shouted curses to no one in particular. Motorists shouted, “Get out the way, fool!” A red police car screeched its brakes. Two overweight white cops confronted the drunk.
“Pay no attention to them,” warned the girl, “The poh-leece is dangerous. Just keep moving.”
Our small group moved mostly unnoticed up Susquehanna Avenue. Each vignette unfolded new slices of inner-city life. It was far out like that alien bar in the Star Wars saga. Right then I was years away from knowing about Star Wars. We came to a larger boulevard called Broad Street. I knew it was Broad Street because I recognized the steeple atop of Our Lady of Mercy.
Black teenagers in crisp-white tee shirts leaned up against what were once stately, three-storied brownstones. The teenagers clowned with toothpicks protruding off their full and liver-colored lips. The waistlines of their trousers were tugged almost chest high, tugged way higher than Grandmom ever fitted me. Felt fedoras capped them off with each plopped a certain way depending on the wearer’s fashion statement.
They were jiving, acting like Cock Robins, waving just-lit cigarettes, focusing unsolicited attention upon themselves. Choosing marks, the boys sprung from house fronts with palms extended engaging targets from the never-ceasing parade of bent-over old ladies and old men in suit and tie.
“Loan me dime, motherfucker! Loan me dime!”
The thugs’ shakedown had a blatant hiss with the punks hip to their own shakedown power, a deviousness that stuck fear.
They continued to motherfuck “this” and motherfuck “that” during their continuous quest for ten cents. We sheepishly passed, perhaps skipped over for fatter targets, yet they remained in my vision and my eyes stayed with them as we moved onward and as long as they could. Seemed all their mean-sounding sentences began and ended with that combination of bad words . . . Whispering into my ear, after sensing how the thugs commanded my attention my chaperone cautioned, “You pay no attention to them either, ya hear? They’re bad and stupid.”
Our group merged with a larger movie-going hoard made up of teenage girls and drag-along kids. I had yet to see a white face other than the two pissed-off cops. Boys 10, 11 and 12 sprinted and zigzagged through the crowd of kids while playing grab-ass.
Despite the fact I was going to the movies, no one had yet to fill me in on precisely what a “movie” was. I got somewhat of a clue when I saw the gigantic, cardboard cutout perched on the theater’s marquee . . . The word, “Kong” had been mentioned along the way but
I paid no mind. Heck, I was checking out the world. But right then I couldn’t keep my eyes off that colossal cutout and my little boy’s neck craned as far as it could to stay with the cut out until we were well under the marquee of the theater.
Selma sliced a convincing path through the sea of unruly kids delivering our lot in front of the ticket booth. Only then did she release my hand, but only after ordering me to hold onto her white cotton skirt. She counted heads. Like a bank teller she tallied the coins she laid out atop the counter. I sensed her mind tallying. The pile of change stayed put, as did the fat lady in the ticket booth’s collecting hand until the girl signaled it was OK.
Once inside, next came the candy counter. There was pushing. I continued to hold tight to her skirt. Penny-pinching skills had Selma scoring the most-est for the least-est. Nobody had a choice. Not so tenderly she slammed into my hands a box of gumdrops.
We entered a carpeted tunnel of darkness. The big girl rushed us down a carpeted aisle. Ushers, merely older kids in over-sized marooned-colored tunics with gold-trimmed epaulets, brandished flashlights threatening kids to cool it or they’d be thrown out. The only seats available for our gang were in the front row.
The screen was still covered by large curtains. The action was behind us. The movie house was gigantic, maybe bigger than Our Lady of Mercy. The Uptown was built during the golden age of film and boasted a balcony. Behind me, I could only make out moving popcorn boxes with them appearing as luminous, dancing blockheads in front of where little kids faces should have been. Rat-like the kids ferreted into popcorn boxes, slurped straws and tore open candy wrappers with chewing and slurping that sounded like a rhapsody in nosh.
A huge curtain was drawn back and music began. The screen lit up and the movie rolled. At first it was boring, idle talk by adults. Most of the kids hardly paid attention. The real action was in the seats.
Events became interesting when the film’s players entered the deepest, darkest Africa and a time-forgotten-terrain. The film’s eerie score indicated something dramatic was about to occur. The peanut gallery piped down. All eyes I slowly plopped gumdrops into my mouth.
In the film, scary-looking African natives kidnapped a blonde lady with milky-white skin from the white men’s camp swooping her off to their village, a village showcasing a huge, imposing wall, made from timber that loomed over the place. The wall had doors just as foreboding, reinforced with heavy chains, like those used to hoist anchors on ocean liners. The tribesmen, acting in a frenzy, forced the girl behind the doors and dragging her deeper into the jungle. Then they strung her up by the wrists to some pole atop a giant rock. A large brass cymbal swung from ropes. A native with a big hammer pounded out a series of ominous bongs. The woman remained frantic with the movie’s speakers amplifying her ear-shattering screams. With her tied up the natives, scared themselves, deserted the girl leaving her to the elements
Then there was a thunderous shaking. A drooling “ookie-looking” dinosaur came monstering in. Kids screamed and jumped out of their seats. Others hid their eyes.
Then came a thumping, a deafening roar, that gave notice that the film’s headliner was going to front the silver screen in dramatic fashion.
King Kong was absolutely magnificent. He thumped his chest and roared to the heavens, a roar so ferocious it sounded worse than Mrs. Keanen’s next door when she hollered at Mr. Keanen for coming home drunk. That commotion set off another round of kiddy screams. Kong’s overwhelming girth seeped into every corner of the screen. Kong and the slimy dinosaur-sized each other up.
There was no doubt in this little kid’s mind that Kong and the creepy dinosaur were sworn enemies. The script called for them to settle with one another before dealing with the girl. Kong punctuated events when he separated the jaws belonging to that done-for lizard, securing his reputation and remaining the undisputed “King of Beasts.” Kong flaunted his win, pounded his chest and roared again, reminding all of the law of that jungle and setting it straight about just who was the boss.
White men attempted to rescue the girl. Kong wouldn’t have it and made quick work of them. After killing many he focused on his prize. The big ape appeared gah-gah by the dainty, porcelain-skinned beauty. He removed her restraints and gently placed her in his huge gorillas hand. Traumatized the actress never stopped screaming. The shrieks of the kids then equaled those of the actress.
Then, Kong, while carrying the girl, attacked those huge wooden doors that used to hold him at bay. His gorilla fury turned the timber into splinters. There seemed to be a price to pay as King unleashed his revenge for years of captivity. Those who hemmed him would be dealt with. Kong crushed straw huts with foot and fist. Native women, with eyes bugging out, ran for their lives after swooping up errant children. The surviving men stood helpless as Kong carried the girl away.
Meanwhile, I was becoming disoriented. My mind started to figure that maybe, well just maybe, when I entered the carpeted tunnel I could have actually entered deepest-darkest Africa! Well, that’s what five-year-old little Louie began to assume.
It was as if, if adults outside had asked for directions from the butcher who sold the hog-mogs, he may have told ‘em: “Africa? Yeah, why it’s right off Broad Street, go right through the Uptown’s lobby and take that dark tunnel and keep going.”
This kid was swept away in the not so real. Besides me, the only other white people in the scenario were the cast of characters in the film. Evidently, I could no longer differentiate what was flashing on the screen and what was going on around me.
The screams coming from the kiddy audience matched the chaos on the screen. From my viewpoint the village natives and those hysterical kids jumping up and down in their seats merged into one hybrid of humanity, consisting of both petrified natives and a scared out of their wits peanut gallery.
King Kong was going to step from the village and plant one of those big-hairy feet into the front row of that theater! Petrified natives up on the screen were storming toward me. Soon enough I’d be engulfed in a vortex of native destruction!
I conjured that more than likely Kong would ransack the movie house, leaving a wake of twisted bodies and discarded popcorn boxes. Once out front, he’d create major havoc. He’d just go ahead and rip off the steeple of Our Lady of Mercy with one mighty swipe, giving Broad Street the gorilla show of its life! Let’s see if the thugs on the corner would hit up Kong for a motherfucking dime? He’d move down the avenue, growling and pummeling. He’d swoop up the big black man in the bloodstained apron and gobble him up along with all of his chitlins. He’d be impervious to the bullets shot off by the fat white cops but for some reason, he’d probably let the wino slide.
Soapy Buicks wouldn’t get hosed down cause the “hoser-downers” would toss their buckets and be running for their lives.
I had had enough. I dropped my gumdrops and bolted towards the back of theater running as fast as my little legs could take me. It wasn’t until I hit the lit lobby at a super sonic speed when I felt a strong tug on the back of my striped-polo shirt. Oh Lord, it had to be King Kong!
“Whatchu doing, Silly? Where you running off to, you little fool? It only a movie!”
After some tears, my chaperone, Selma, showed the first hint of compassion. She promised to protect me, said I could sit on her lap, “No giant gorilla goin’ to get ya’ll if I’ze got anything to do with it!”
I reasoned, other than from the screams coming from inside the theater, the atmosphere within the lobby was calm, and I figured if anybody, Selma flashed certain grit that could stave off that Kong. I gained a shaky confidence.
I watched the rest of the movie plopped in the center of Selma’s lap, with a new box of gumdrops.
My little boy’s noggin rested against Selma’s chest. I took sniffs from the recently washed cotton of her dress as the white men gassed Kong capturing him. I marveled how the ape was brought across the Atlantic to America inside a big ship. My innards discovered yet hatched kernels of lust emulating from the sultry actress whose name was Faye Wray. And my little boy’s mind mustered compassion for the lovesick monkey. I applauded his escape after bad men provoked him and I was intrigued how he sought out the blonde girl. I became awestruck taking in my first dose of special effects marveling how a five-story high gorilla was contrasted against a fragile and unprotected cityscape. On a tear, Kong tore up Manhattan, derailed the elevated train and showed no quarter, the same way I envisioned him ripping up Broad Street. He was “The King of Beasts!”
“New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town . . .” But then, it was getting busted up. Oh, how Kong shimmied up the Empire State Building, effortless and undaunted, all the while holding on dearly to the absolute love of his monkey life.
I measured the will of man. Even back then I could have predicted that Kong would be done for, despite his strength, despite his dexterity and despite what would become unquestionable chivalry, chivalry that showed its selfless self when Kong placed the girl safely on the building’s ledge just before going up against with menacing aircraft. A volley of machine-gun bullets penetrated Kong’s pelt and sent him toppling to his end.
The great one lay in a heap with peons of men standing over him like conquering heroes, along with news photographers flashing their bulbs. All that remained to do was to back up the truck and lug the ape off to a Kong-sized mortuary.
Unbeknown to me at the time Kong became my very first role model. As years have passed I’ve realized that Saturday afternoon had a profound effect on me. Since then I have been in awe with the art of filmmaking and in my view and up to now, no filmmaker has recreated a character with the notoriety of Kong. Kong and his legacy will live way beyond me. King Kong deserves to be immortalized, as all greatness should be.
Once safe and back on Gratz Street while munching on a cupcake there was an obvious twinkle in Grandmom’s mischievous Irish eyes, a certain tell that perhaps had her insides chuckling at the scenario, her responsible for me being in a white knuckle situation while the midst of all those black kids. Perhaps grandmom’s wise foresight envisioned my outing as a memorable experience or maybe she saw my excursion as a youth’s first right of passage as to test my little boy’s mettle.
Grandmom gave me a look and said, “Whatchathink?”
While nibbling on the chocolate chips atop the cupcake I voiced with newfound confidence, “I was brave, Grandmom. Selma and the other kids were scared but I wasn’t.”
“The First Time I Saw Elvis” (1999)
It’s said music is one of the three great pleasures. At age nine, back in 1956, you couldn’t have sold me. I hated music. To me, it was a mush of blaring horns and boring singers. Yet Grandmom listened to Arthur Godfrey on the radio every morning. How many times does a kid want to hear Eddie Fisher sing “Oh, My Papa?” or listen to an insipid line-up of Perry Comos or Julius La Rosas?
So it was summertime and Saturday night. The weekly Jackie Gleason Show was on vacation. Tommy Dorsey and his band subbed for Gleason with a variety show.
Grandmom tuned into Tommy Dorsey. I wasn’t so enthused about a trombonefest but television was television.
Without any fanfare, Dorsey introduced a new entertainer. When Tommy Dorsey announced the name Elvis, well that got my attention! Up ’til then I had never heard of anyone named Elvis. (The Ed Sullivan appearances wouldn’t come until the following winter. This was Elvis’ national TV debut.)
The moment came. The curtain rose. There’s still an indelible image planted in my brain. He was something the likes I had never seen: A guitar player, with a high-and-mighty pompadour, cheek-hugging sideburns, dressed in pegged-pants showing himself as an eclectic mix of hill-Billy hip and street-corner slick.
That was nothing, ’cause when Elvis began moaning out that riveting voice’ a voice that would become one of the most distinct and shameless of voices of all time; the shakin’ Cajun turned up the heat with a stage presence more apt for a voodoo ritual than TV!
I became absolutely mesmerized. I shelved my Tastykake! Elvis yelped, “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog,” his feet pulling off a white-boy, slide-shoe shuffle that was knocked out, him having his feet going in every direction at once at what seemed like warped speed! (James Brown and Michael Jackson have had nothing on the guy).
Up to that point I had never seen or heard anything like Elvis. He was primal, an unleashed talent wielding sudden impact.
Elvis’ second song, “Don’t Be Cruel” sounded serene yet substantiated Elvis’ range. Even so Elvis punctuated his style with seductive vocals and some kiss-me-baby quivering of the upper-lip as if shivering-from-denial as his shoulders shimmied at the same time. Smart money could sense the dude was a full package and far from a one-trick pony.
Soon enough with hordes of gah-gah, screaming girls at his every live appearance Elvis took the rest of the world by storm. Within a year’s time, Elvis Presley was crowned, canonized and anointed as the undisputed “King of Rock and Roll.”
Since that moment almost every other rocker has stood on Elvis’ shoulders.
Near the end of the show, Tommy Dorsey announced that Elvis would make an encore performance the following Saturday. Like some converting evangelist, I must have called every one of my 36 cousins. I harped on them that Elvis was a “must-see” the upcoming Saturday.
That very week with my paper-route money and savings purchased my first 45-rpm record player along with a copy of “Hound Dog” with “Don’t Be Cruel” on the flip side. I snatched up Elvis’ then newest release, “I’m All Shook Up.”
I was hooked. I wanted to hear more of Elvis, see more Elvis, look like Elvis, act like Elvis! With broomstick in hand and alone in front of Grandmom’s full-length, bedroom mirror I mimicked those patented yet kinetic moves.
Elvis alone jump-started my love for modern music. From that moment I followed the Doo-Wop recording artists ala Frankie Lyman and a host of others, yet there was just one Elvis. Motown came along and the Beatles further upped the rage, yet no one could deny Elvis’ perpetual place in the annals of Rock. The man set the stage.
We all know the rest of the story as Elvis’ popularity wilted with the influx of hippies and with the King himself losing focus by going from a hip-shaking cool guy to a tawdry, rhinestone-laden, Vegas showboat, donned in goofy white-bellbottoms. Elvis’ on-stage karate kicks came up empty compared to what was once fresh and exhilarating. Who would have predicted? At 42, while bloated and weighing in excess of 250 pounds, the King of Rock and Roll died on the throne, a porcelain throne that wasn’t bejeweled, a sad lullaby proving that idols do have clay feet.
* * *
With the state of today’s music one might ask: What happened to modern music? Remember when there was at least one snappy tune seemingly coming off everybody’s lips? Remember when the hits kept on coming? Remember when music painted vivid pictures that were both compelling and inspiring? There seemed to be an infinite songfest that had us snapping our fingers or tapping our feet.
Sorry to say, it ain’t no more! So much of our pasts are attached to certain tunes, to where we were and what we were doing! So what the hell happened?
I’ve been doing some polling amongst peers and even with younger people. Hardly anyone can remember what was the last big hit.
Going as far back as World War II an assortment of bands, along with lyricists, were cranking out popular tunes. Things were swell. The jitterbug generation followed, and then came Elvis, to be followed by group-after-group and star-after-star. Fabulous musicianship and burgeoning technology had popular music rising to high-water marks of epic proportions and popularity. Who would have guessed that in a span of 50 years most have been reduced to Oldies but Goodies?
During popular music’s heyday in the mid-70s, I was listening to a progressive radio station. A fabulous tune had just ended and the D.J. voiced in typical, deadpan, FM-DJ fashion . . . at the same time warned . . . we were living in a golden age but the DJ then had the audacity to predict that one day it would come to an end!
“Bull!” I thought, “The Who” was coming out with a new album, as was “Steely Dan,” as was “Boston” and a myriad of others. Rock & Roll would never die. Little did I know?
Well, sad to say, popular music has bit the dust. There are pockets very much alive on college campuses or by listening to NPR or on the Internet but they are no longer on the popular scene.
Music motivated me, took me to certain highs, having me envision my own illusions of grandeur. Even when one’s heart had been stabbed by mean ole Mr. Heartbreak, those cry-in-your-beer tunes offered a certain soothing, or worse, doses of torture in concert tearing down, hand-in-hand, with waning love sounding more like a melancholy serenade of “wouldas” “couldas” and “shouldas.”
When I dissect modern music’s demise in a forensic sort of way there seem to be distinct culprits who have conspired to assassinate it. Suspects are apparent. One anonymous witness testified, in song that, “Video Killed The Radio Star.” How ironic! Elvis became an unknowing conspirator credited as the feature back in Rock’s first video “Jail House Rock.” Yet modern music’s cutthroats didn’t just knock-off music with videos.
Other forces chomped at the bit to do Rock in. The CD and DVD ganged up and aced the LP! Then “the suites” muscled in for-profit over quality. It was and is a crime!
During its eulogy, it could have been said that modern music was the delicious combination of “the beat” teamed up with untamed melodies and fabulous orchestrations, a magical ensemble that created sumptuous scenes that also lent visual interpretations. Once the video hit the screen, with a distorted slant, perhaps provided by some maniacal Hollywood director, the deal was down. Rock had been hijacked. Our playland of imagination was kidnapped. Our own innocent and original interpretations then lay dead.
Then came the dizzying camera work with a pedal-to-the-metal focus, not permitting viewers time enough to train eyes on anything for more than a few seconds, a lame method custom made for weak attention spans. Without consideration, rock videos have become nothing more than cheap vignettes, consisting of cut-to, and cut-to, and cut-to . . . “Forget about it!”
Greed too was one of the perpetrators: LPs were selling for $4.99, $5.99 or $6.99 maybe a sawbuck for a double LP. CD costs soared to the teens, a rip off and bunk. The fidelity was no better and ya had to buy a CD player. There were no more album covers to scan over. Cheap, flimsy jackets broke and made for a plastic mess. CD’s are daintier than Christmas ornaments and they also skip. Music lovers weren’t given a choice. LPs and turntables were on the hit list, a list neither wanted to be on, a hit list that may as well been filled out by Chicago mobsters.
Then the “suites” got into the act, acting more like ghouls, more interested in a bottom line than love for music. Less-and-less groups were afforded exposure. Radio station program directors crammed in shorter tunes with more commercials, while playing less compelling music while shoving the dreck down our throats.
Incredible, Rock mainstays such as Eric Clapton’s “Layla” or Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven” or even The Beatles, “Hey Jude,” in today’s listening world would never be allotted that sort of air time. Patience is no longer viable.
Consider what we now have, “Rap!”
I hate sounding like an old fogy but Rap mostly sucks. It’s got bad attitude. It’s redundant. It’s a one-beat behemoth. It’s demeaning, with continuous and pulsating vile lyrics, lyrics that should only be voiced in public when the hometown quarterback throws an interception or while whispering erotic passages toward a like-minded lover while in between the sheets.
Looking back I’m fortunate, man! I am way luckier than the kids of today. I witnessed a defining moment during that Saturday night long-long ago. In a world of copy-cats, there’s no one near like Elvis, there was no one like him before and the likelihood of an Elvis-alike seems highly unlikely. He was genuine. After God made him he or she, lol, broke the mold at least for a millennium.
So, the world may be waiting for a new messiah . . . who has a vision that may render us all awestruck, whether it be in music, education or world affairs? LOL, looking around, I’m not counting on it. Shoots! Why should I even bother?
Hey, Baby, I saw Elvis the first time he was on national TV. What more could an aging rockster want? So as the song goes: “Rock and Roll with never die I’ll dig it ’til the end.”
After seeing Elvis, at such a tender age, how would I have known? Music-wise my life was already complete!
Long Live Rock and Roll!
“The Day John Lennon Saved My Life” (1989)
John Lennon once saved my life! After reading this piece you can determine if John Lennon literally or figuratively saved my life. As far as I’m concerned John saved my life on October 8, 1984, his 43rd birthday, almost 4 years after his untimely death.
You see when the Beatles first made it on the scene back in 1964 I pretty much didn’t care for them. Well, first of all, my girlfriend was crazy about them. She annoyingly squealed in front of the TV and even in front of me like when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. The idea she could be so bonkers over four, long-haired, Lymie nobodies who couldn’t, in my short-sighted view, hold a note to the rock-and-rollers of the day.
Yet, while in the Army I too eventually came around especially when the Rubber Soul and Revolver albums hit the charts and I too became a devoted fan. If you’ve ever read any of my short stories or rock and roll columns you know music has been a major in my life since Elvis hit the scene back in 1956.
By 1980 I owned every Beatles’ album, plus each of John’s, Paul’s, George’s and Ringo’s solos. By 1980 I was married to Lauri, lived on Maui and possessed a good-sized record collection. My collection was my prized possession as I cranked out tunes on my digital turntables, with a center console mixer, and Sony’s best reel to reel tape machine, clear as a bell speakers, power amps, with other boosters and receivers up the ying-yang. I was, by all means, an audiophile.
Sometime around 7 pm. on December 8, 1980, the awful news jolted my senses while visiting a friend’s house in Kula, Hawaii. John was dead! Shot by some whacko carrying a copy of Catcher in the Rye. Shot dead outside the Dakota, his Manhattan apartment house. It was a bummer. I was devastated, as was my wife, Lauri and son, Rob. We all loved John and loved the Beatles and their music was a constant in our household.
Also by 1980, after ten years of marriage, there was some trouble in paradise. The queen and I weren’t getting along. We had a slew of pressures since storming the shores of Maui the year before. Maui can be difficult, not always so new-people friendly, with only the then few established human resources and high cost of living etc. We were in business and those pressures too were taking their toll on our marriage.
Up to that time, Lauri had pretty much given me the reins when it came to the music being played in our household. She went along with most of what I bought and as stated, music was a constant. Yet for some reason, the recent John Lennon album “Double Fantasy” had some profound effect on Lauri. She both pleased and surprised me by acting on her own and buying the album to add to my collection.
There was a poster-size keepsake photo that came with the album taken by famous New York photographer, Annie Lebowitz. Don’t you know, and surprisingly for Lauri she pasted the photo up in our walk-in closet. There was a naked John, atop a clothed Yoko, he curled up, hugging his Yoko,
So the tragic news hit home and hit hard. I don’t think I ever cried over anyone’s death, not any family member or a fallen one while in the Army or even President Kennedy but I recall my eyes welling up in tears for a number of days when struck with John’s loss.
Lauri and I owned and operated a couple of Philadelphia style sandwich shops on Maui. From that moment on, on John’s birthday, October 8th, we would run an ad in the local paper with John’s photo on it adding the heading, “Give Peace a Chance.” It was our small way to pay tribute to the music icon.
In addition, we heard that Yoko was planning a special place in Central Park, in Manhattan, right across the street from the Dakota, just a patch to be named Strawberry Field. She asked people worldwide to bring or send in the form of a stone or rock from where they resided to be placed there in honor of the rocker John.
Upon a trip, in 1982 to the East Coast, Lauri, Rob and I gathered a rock from Maui to be added as a contribution and planned our own trip to the Dakota as we wanted to personally give our offering to Yoko. Unfortunately, Yoko was not at the Dakota that day but we left it with the doorman with a note explaining our devotion to John and how we were from Maui and were chipping in a small piece of Maui.
Soon thereafter, Lauri received a heartfelt note from Yoko and the two would write back and forth, and when Yoko came to Maui some years later, showcasing some of John’s sketches at a local gallery she made sure Lauri was invited to a special luncheon.
So, there it was October 8, 1983. An ole buddy, Texan, Alf Taylor and I were cruising Maui on our way someplace in the midst of buddyville. I stopped my Mazda 626 at a stop sign at a busy but rural intersection. I began to ease across the road when all of a sudden I heard, “LOOK OUT!”
Holy-moly! Unbeknownst to me, a giant pineapple truck was rumbling through the intersection at that very moment. I always considered myself an extra alert driver and can’t recall how I missed the huge yellow monster barreling down the hi-way and coming right toward us. I jammed the brakes!
The truck, with right of way, roared past our point of view. It startled me! I gathered my composure and I crossed the hi-way, turned left heading towards Lahaina. I shouted out, “HOLY SHIT! I didn’t see that friggin’ truck! I can’t believe it, Alf! Thank God you saw it and warned me!”
Alf, who too was panic-stricken by the almost catastrophic event but at the same time evenly said, how it was a close one yet added, “Lou, I didn’t say, ‘LOOK OUT,’ but I heard it!”
Wait a minute I thought as we continued down the road, we both heard “Look Out!” but it was just us two with the windows up, no people were around the rural intersection, plus the air-conditioning was blowing and the stereo was on full blast.
The “Double Fantasy” tape was playing in the Mazda’s tape playing console. The track playing was “Starting Over.”
Alf said nothing further as I pressed the rewind button. Don’t you know, on the recording, in between, choruses, John, just extemporaneously shouted, “Look Out!” the way rockers do!
Still, on the road, Alf and I looked at each other and there was no doubt in our military minds’ that John’s voice had saved the day.
To think it was John’s birthday. To think my family and I had ventured to NYC. to deliver the token rock and to further substantiate what could have been some Divine intervention. Then to think the photo of John and “Give Peace a Chance” message was published in the Maui News that very day.
Who could have predicted at the precise two-minute and forty-second mark of “Starting Over” that Alf Taylor and myself would have been entering the crossroads with a two-ton pineapple truck speeding down the hi-way with us in its path that would have likely smashed my Mazda to smithereens?
As far as Alf Taylor and myself are concerned John’s voice saved our asses. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
“The Cobras” (1989)
The moving pictures continued to influence me and it hasn’t always been for positive effects. Around fourth grade, my friends and I went to see some movies that depicted tough guys who belonged to gangs. Blackboard Jungle was one such movie and there were a few others where guys in motorcycle jackets climbed some fence to face off with another group of teenage toughs in a back alley to rumble.
Our gang came away from one of those flicks determining that we had to establish our own gang. Chris and Ray were two older kids who were already in junior high. The rest of us attended parochial school. With Chris and Ray leading the way it was established we’d be called “The Cobras.” Other things had to be established, like who would be in the gang and what initiation would be. Titles had to be established. Ray would be the gang president and Chris its vice president. A my age, named Spanky, insisted on being Secretary of War and me Secretary of State and some other bogus titles were handed out but not until everybody went through an initiation.
First, between ten or eleven of us, was to have a cigarette put out on our knuckles. If no cigarettes were available we put the end of a nail to the flame and that scarred the knuckle enough to show a badge of courage. Also much to my chagrin, due to my extreme fear of heights, was to climb a water tower in the neighborhood and walk around the plank surrounding the tank and then climb down.
We pooled our money and bought denim jackets or as we called them, dungaree jackets. At a variety store up on the avenue, we found patches of cobra snakes and bought embroidered-letters to spell out cobras. In our cardboard box headquarters on the property of a storm-window factory, we learned how to and secretly sewed the letters and image of the cobras on our new jackets. Normally inside the headquarters, we smoked cigarettes and even pretzels if we had no butts and leafed through girlie magazines somebody rifled from their father.
I didn’t mind so much the lit, king-size, filtered Winston being crushed out into my little boy’s knuckle, but then I held off as long as I could the idea of climbing that water tower and thought I might be able to get away with not climbing it and still remain a member of the Cobras. Ray insisted I climb it like everybody else!
One cold afternoon, after school Ray, Chris and I went to the tower. “Up ya go,” ordered the two older boys. With no confidence whatsoever I began my ascent. The higher I got the weaker I felt as the ground got further and further away. Just prior to the high up walkway around the tower, the ladder pitched itself at an angle, as to get around the walkway to gain access and that was the scariest part as my body weight and gravity tugging me backward. There was a moment I felt as if I had to let go and that would have meant either sure death or every bone in my body broken.
I made it and walked around the walkway. It was getting later in the afternoon and dark. The worse part was to come, the decent. Both older boys showing little patience ordered me down but I stayed frozen about a hundred feet off the ground. I just couldn’t bring myself to place my foot back on that ladder, at such an angle to make my way down. Ray and Chris began to curse. It made no difference I was going nowhere. I even uttered, “Call the fire department, let them come and get me.” That seemed to infuriate Ray and I saw him toss his cigarette butt aside and begin to climb up the ladder. I could tell he was pissed. His teeth snarled with each determined ladder’s step climbing up to me.
When he got to the top he showed no mercy and said, “Climb down.”
I said, “No.”
Ray barked, “Climb down you little fucker or I’ll throw you off the tower! Ya got two choices!”
Shaking like crazy I began to make my decent. But somehow with some grit, I made it and then I was a full-fledged member of the Cobras, scab on my knuckle and all.
The next business that was decided, in order to be a gang we had to have a gang war with another gang just the way we witnessed the films. There weren’t any other organized gangs in the neighborhood that we knew of plus it was decided we had to find a gang that wasn’t in our neighborhood as to not have our parents find out and other kids in school.
Easter came early that year. I would have to accompany my grandmom and aunts over to my cousins for Easter Sunday. For some reason, Spanky accompanied my family and myself to the family Easter gathering at Uncle Kenny and Aunt Peggy’s in a section of Philadelphia called Germantown. It was another working-class enclave like West Oak Lane where I lived at that time.
While outside playing with my cousins and their friends the talk of gangs came up with my cousins saying something how there was a gang called “Brickyard.” Right away Spanky spoke up, him being the Secretary of War and all, and it being his job to declare war on another gang. Spanky spoke really tough. I didn’t say much because I didn’t want my cousins telling their parents and having word get back to my Grand mom and aunts.
Spanky gushed as he boasted we were the Cobras and itching for a fight. Before we departed Uncle Kenny’s and Aunt Peggy’s, Spank had arranged for a rumble between us Cobras and Brickyard. The gang fight was to take place on Ascension, Thursday, at 2 o’clock, exactly 40 days after Easter. Since most of us went to a Catholic school that was the next holiday.
Spanky was ecstatic and so proud of himself as he told the other Cobras back in the neighborhood and he gushed when he blurted it out to Ray and Chris about his coup. It was set, Cobras versus Brickyard.
At headquarters, we began making weapons from stuff we stole out of the aluminum storm-window factory. We made whips and filed down the strips of metal that made up the windows as sharp knives and everything was more or less jury-rigged.
On D-Day we were going to walk back to Germantown, that was a few miles and on the way, we’d pass through Wissahickon Park, a somewhat rare, rural, with trees and paths smack in the middle of the city. Not to draw attention we split up in pairs and did not want to be recognized our gang colors instead, having our denim Cobra jackets wrapped around our hips, inside out. Out weaponry was shoved down our pants. We were about a dozen.
A few blocks from the intersection where the battle was going to take place we began to notice a lot of activity. The atmosphere was that of a ballpark crowd or that that takes place for a big parade or something.
Unbeknown to us Brickyard was an old-time gang from back in the prohibition days. Also unbeknown to us it supposedly had a membership that ranged in the hundreds. Our small tribe sort of fitted in with the throngs of people all heading to the same intersection that we were headed because by that time, word had spread, how there was going to be this gigantic gang war between some gang called Cobras against Mighty Brickyard.
As we approached the very corner where the action was going to take place there were carloads of young men, men not boys, packed in cars lined up on all around the corner. Tough looking men smoking cigarettes with tattoos jammed themselves on the multi-stepped, stoops of the houses near the corner. We saw one guy, probably in his early twenties, walking back and forth in the very front of a candy-store that was the headquarters of Brickyard. He looked mean and determined and he was pounding his fist into his other hand and pranced like a caged Tiger, bent some while aimed forward as he walked a few steps then turned in an about-face and prance all over again ready for whoever.
By then there seemed to be hundreds of people lined up on both sides of the street. We were more or less, the gang of mice who roared yet no one even suspected or heard us little snot noses were the very gang who had challenged Brickyard. We were just a pack of little kids and fitted in with the other spectators. And we had yet to don our colors and ready our weapons for the gang fight.
Seems my cousins had “dimed” on us and especially me. In the crowd was my Aunt Peggy. The moment she saw me, and the rest of our motley ilk, she screamed out my name. “Louie, Louie, get over here! Does your grand mom know what you are up to?”
For us, the gig was up and then our cover blown. And it was obvious we were no match for such a formidable force as Brickyard. Immediately the dirty little dozen that we were, did a quick about-face, and began to run our little asses off back to where we came from. We ran and ran and ran and ran back into Wissahickon Park, all of us panting, out of breath and scared shitless including Ray and Chris. All along the way, Ray and Chris were punching Spanky on the run hitting him anywhere they could for being responsible for getting us in such a fix.
Once we felt as if we weren’t being followed and in the deepest part of the park we stopped. Some kids were even crying. Ray and Chris grabbed Spanky, pushed him to his knees and now came the worst. Spank had to pay! The cruelty of misguided youth nodded its ugly head. His punishment was that he had to blow us all right there.
Poor Spanky with tears flowing down his little boy’s cheeks was forced to suck all our little dicks and even those of us who didn’t want that for Spanky, even though we were mad at him. Well it made no difference. If we didn’t let him blow us according to Ray and Chris, it be one of us who would also have to do some cock sucking, thus poor Spanky paid his dues in the park.
Even before we got back to the safer confines of our neighborhood we threw away our jackets and abandoned our weapons into some dumpster. That was the end of the Cobras. By the time I got home, Aunt Peggy had called my house and I was in big trouble.
From that day on Spanky was never the same, and he pretty much stayed in his house and no longer played with us in any capacity. Every other boy and girl in the entire neighborhood knew the story including Spanky’s punishment, and the poor kid was ostracized and paid an awful price to be The Secretary of War for The Cobras.
“Saint Anthony: A guy you can count on” (2004)
I have this belief in Saint Anthony. It’s a sense one might possess about a tried-and-true buddy you can always count on, like the faith one places in a certain kid from the old neighborhood. I suppose my devotion to St. Anthony stems from my parochial education; one of those silver linings that’s emerged despite the obvious pitfalls.
Catholic school was twelve years, seemingly more like an eternity while in the throes of it. There were eight years with nuns. Then I served hard-time with 3000 other pimple-faced, sophomoric morons at
Northeast Catholic H.S. for Boys under the thumb of priests and brothers from the order of St. Francis de Salles. It was tough. Only the Army and parts of my marriage were worse.
Early on I was subject to the browbeating and regimental aspects that included endless kneeling. Then there was the bullying and intimidation. They saddled me with uncalled for guilt. There were yardsticks across the knuckles and even the face including the distinction by being punched out by Bishop McCormick, our pastor at St. Stephen’s.
The constant drilling reminded one that their eternal soul was under some puritanical gun was the sort of fear-mongering rhetoric that commanded and held onto a little kid’s attention.
My take: Spirituality is a personal matter perhaps better kept close to the vest. Within certain beliefs, my plus marks might not be so hot. On some holier-than-thou score-cards, I’m penciled in as heathen yet that alone has never had any bearing on my heartfelt devotion toward St. Anthony! My special relationship has become a steady comfort that comes with intangible perks.
You see, I call on a stand-up guy like St. Anthony when I misplace something, a common occurrence. Truth is St. Anthony rarely fails with a success rate that boasts some pretty gaudy numbers.
“Who hasn’t lost something?” It’s inevitable and part of the process.
“Dude!” The dude comes through which is more than I can say about some people and most utility companies. It’s uncanny—the lost keys, those important FM-3 papers, the $300 pesos, that T-shirt I don’t look so fat in—¬¬ seems to appear right after I direct dial “Ant-nee!” Just like that I’ve got those lost items back in my possession!
Only bartenders out serve him, only because I employ the service of bartenders more often. Yet having it over barkeeps, St. Anthony never closes, available 24/7. My dedication to St. Anthony is so devout I relish opportune moments when overhearing friends or even total strangers yelp, “I can’t find my…”
I’m right in there like an accommodating busybody and a helping-hand Johnny, with me piping in. Say, “Dear St. Anthony, come around, something’s lost and can’t be found!” I can’t bite my tongue.
Recently a tourist reported losing a rug she had just purchased at an Instituto Allende’s Arts and Crafts Fair here in San Miguel a fair of which I play a part in. You bet I gave her the religion, told her to return to the hotel and repeat the mantra. Low and behold that rug was handed in, in no time!
So I called her at the hotel. “Hey, lady, St. Anthony found your rug!” I gushed over the phone. Don’t you know she told me she actually said it! That’s just one testimonial with too many more to mention where I’ve witnessed St. Anthony wields his magic.
St. Anthony’s powers “do” have limitations. If the item has been stolen or it’s “lost-lost”… But most of the time by just thinking to yourself, “Dear St. Anthony…” then sending it in . . . just like you do to your local bookie, the lost item usually appears… or there’s a self-serving, mental flashback recalling where the item was stashed. Go figure!
Beware: One Saint Anthony disclaimer is: St. Anthony can’t retrieve lost love. I’ve “911-end” that one in too many times. That’s St. Valentine’s territory. Saint Nick and Saint Patrick have their own special days, yet Saint Anthony’s day is every day.
I did some research on St. Anthony. He came from a well-to-do family somewhere in North Africa. At 20 they left him their fortune. He eventually gave up his worldly possessions and is credited to being one of the first hermits. His writings became doctrines and someone decided the dude was holier than holy, so I guess that is why he became canonized. How he got in the lost and found business, I have no idea.
It’s also legend when selling property one buries a statue of Ant-knee upside down in the garden. It’s also rumored he’s a friend of the Sadie Hawkins crowd and can procure a righteous mate for ladies in need. Well I have no property to sell and I’m not in the market for a husband.
And I do have this notion. I know it sounds silly. If this whole deal is true and St. Peter is guarding the gates of heaven, and I show for my day of judgment and if ole St. Pete just gives me a scowl and extends a stern finger toward the express elevator, the hot one, with the arrow pointing downward; I have faith that my main, man, St. Anthon will rush to those pearly gates and whisper into Peter’s ear, “Petee, Baby, it’s only goofy Louie from the old-neighborhood. He’s not all that bad. Give the sap a break. He won’t make no trouble. He’s been faithful. Do it for your buddy, Ant-nee.”
”Friday, November 22, 1963” (2013)
November 22, 1963, began as a run-of-the-mill, mid-autumn Friday. That Friday certainly was a welcoming prelude to the upcoming weekend chock with football fun and more football. I was a 16-year-old running back, playing for the Venango Bears, and at the same time a junior at Northeast Catholic High School for Boys, in Philadelphia. At 12:30 Eastern Standard Time the bell sounded ending the class period. Storming out of classrooms, an exuberant 3,000, anticipating Friday night’s lights or Saturday night dances.
My fifth period was first-year “Bookkeeping” with Mr. Fitzsimmons. Right then, I had no clue the forthcoming bookkeeping class would evolve as “no other” with me never suspecting for a moment I’d be writing about that fateful day some 50-years later. I trudged up the three-flights of stairs merging with the herd of mostly pimple-faces, them noisy, them sporting ’60ish style sport coats-and-tie, yakking about a twisting Chubby Checker, or the silky softness of Natalie Wood or predicting the touch downs scored by Cleveland’s Brown then unstoppable Jim Brown
Mr. Fitzsimmons was a no-nonsense teacher, always in the present and very much a Catholic layman. He may have mentioned he was married with a couple of children. Thinking back 50 years and guessing, maybe he was about 30, an ex-Marine, crew cut, built like a pro linebacker. When it came to class behavior while enrolled in Bookkeeping, the smartest ass had better tow the line. Those, the disrespectful, while testing the patience of the other priests and brothers, soon enough came to realize Mr. Fitz was not to be toyed with. There was order. There was decorum, no instances of grab ass, not even a whisper while in Mr. Fitz’s class and no sleepy heads would ever be seen atop their forearms. The man remained frightfully alert and intense.
The Kennedy presidency, along with the Camelot atmosphere, had brought Catholics into the mainstream. Laymen like Robert Fitzsimmons looked to fashion and fasten themselves to the likeness of JFK, perhaps emulating his modern-day, button-down-ness. Like Kennedy, other men were going without hats. Square jawed men, who openly worshipped Christ, who defeated Hitler and Tojo were elected and led the free world. Mr. Fitz and JFK were the same generation, young men, like millions of other fellow citizens, with beautiful wives, and beautiful children with hopefully a beautiful American future. That dream was thought as attainable by millions of Americans during the early hours of November 22, 1963.
* * *
Sometime around 1 p.m. just when the differences between assets and liabilities were being pointed out on the blackboard, I raised my hand asking permission to use the bathroom. Mr. Fitzsimmons, annoyed, made a condescending face and perhaps spit, “Why didn’t you go during lunch?” Begrudgingly he granted permission with a “get going,” sharply angling his head backward and then to the side.
The washroom was in the school’s basement, next to the bookstore. On my way back to class upon exiting the boys’ room and passing the bookstore I noticed students and some faculty huddled around the radio with ominous looks on their faces. A kid turns to me and says, “Kennedy’s been shot! Looks like he’s dying or already dead!”
By the way, it just so happened that the president of our student body at North Catholic was a Kennedy. He was Jimmy Kennedy.
I said, “Jimmy!”
“No! The President! . . President Kennedy has been shot and killed in Dallas!” the kid re-hammered home, totally exasperated with a dotted line of perspiration appearing on his upper lip.
“Oh, my God!” I thought! Class!
I bolted up the three flights of stairs with the most shocking news I had ever heard or ever had to deliver up to that point of my life. I double stepped those three flights like my life depended on it. I ran down that hallway and stormed into the classroom!
I can still see the moment as if frozen in time. Mr. Fitzsimmons, chalk and pointer in-hands, diagramming ledgers in front of about 40-something, 15-and-16-year-olds. There’s still the image of this Italian kid, with great hair with his chin propped up by fist and elbow, him sitting right in front appearing totally disinterested.
Breathless! “PRESIDENT KENNEDY HAS BEEN SHOT AND KILLED IN DALLAS!”
Scores of eyes immediately honed in on me yet there was no immediate reaction. I decided to cry out a second time. Before I could finish the second shout out, out of nowhere I was clocked smack on the chin! It was a Joe Frazier type of roundhouse, coming from my right, off a fist from Mr. Fitzsimmons! The wallop propelled me backward and slamming me up against the blackboard simultaneously bumping my head on chalky slate somewhere in the liability column of Mr. Fitzsimmons’ bookkeeping diagram.
The way I began to see it, the second phase of his attack was on his dance card. Mr. Fitz leaped to it, snarling, all over me, with an “I’ll kill you,” expression on his face! He bared his teeth while only inches from my face. He hissed. His muscular forearm pressed hard against my windpipe!
“That’s not funny, Mister! You some sort of clown?”
Oh, I knew I was in real trouble while coming to grips and Mr. Fitzsimmons hadn’t grasped that I was that guy they talk about, the guy who bears bad the news.
I assumed, that he assumed I was pulling off some sort of sophomoric tomfoolery. I sensed I could have been in store for a real ass whooping! Back then, strict discipline and corporal punishment in parochial schools were the norm.
Talk about being saved by the bell. Miraculously, the school’s intercom came to life, with the principal, Father Whatshisname, announcing the tragic news to the entire student body.
As events unfolded and as the truth sunk in, even in the early stages of the catastrophe we all somehow realized that moment would stay with us for the rest of our lives. Fitzsimmons’ girth continued to press on my throat, yet with each woeful word streaming out of the intercom, his rage against me depleted.
The entire classroom went from stone-cold silence, and shock, to total mayhem. Emotions erupted from many in the room, “Fuck Texas!”
“Kill everybody in Dallas!” and other cries for revenge erupted and streamed out into the hallway from bookkeeping’s Room 307. Similar shouts rang out into the hallways from other open door classrooms.
With eyes welled up and by the froggy sounding voice coming from the man he slowly pulled back and sort of whispered, “I’m sorry! Go back to your desk.”
I gathered my own wherewithal, summed up, “what a bummer!” I got roughed up a little. So what? For almost 11 school years I had been pummeled by ruler and yardstick and on the wrong end of smack-downs provided by some pent up fury stemming from priests and rosary-bead clad nuns. My jaw hurt, it was sort of numb. Surely there was a bump forming on the back of my head.
I looked back at Mr. Fitzsimmons. There was a certain calm between Mr. Fitzsimmons and myself. Before I moved to take my seat I mumbled, “That’s all right.”
The prez took a way-harder hit than me. He was dead! Who could tell what major havoc may have been taking place nationwide at that very moment? What else was going on?
Even as a punk kid I sensed Mr. Fitz’s shock and pain. Mr. Fitzsimmons regained his composure and took control calming the class.
Shortly thereafter, school was dismissed.
Everybody was screaming along with the sounds of locker doors being smashed closed and even punched by youthful rage and calls for retribution continued throughout the locker room. Students scampered down Torresdale Avenue to take the elevated trains, buses and trolleys all wanting to get home with family and friends.
The next three days most of the cognizant would be riveted to what would turn out to be indelible black and white images on TV. The suspension of regular programming across the board; the various news bulletins, Walter Cronkite, the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald and murder of officer Tibbets, the book depository, Parkland hospital, LBJ being sworn in, the site of Jackie, still in her blood-stained ensemble accompanying the casket off the plane at Andrews, AFB, Dallas city cops in ten-gallon cowboy hats, then Jack Ruby guns down Oswald on live TV inside a Dallas police station, the rotunda, the casket, the vigils and streams of visiting of dignitaries including France’s President de Gaulle, the caisson with that riderless, rambunctious horse in tow, the honor guards, the cold wind, the persistent drumbeats that hammered inside my head for days hammering home the reality and consciousness of a shocked nation and then there’s little John’s poignant, good-bye salute.
It’s all still with me, crammed up there in my own store bank. The world stood still.
Some of you elders recall exactly where you were and what you were doing when hearing Pearl Harbor was attacked or when President Roosevelt died, or of more recent vintage when Neal Armstrong walked on the moon, the white Bronco chase and sadly, most remember their whereabouts on 9/11.
And as the years have passed, 50 of them now, with me in my 66th year for some time now I am aware that it was I who broke the news to my classmates and Mr. Fitzsimmons.
Funny, I can’t remember one member of that class other than Mr. Fitz. A slew of memory lane moments will occur nationwide on the 50th anniversary, done so by millions of Americans and perhaps millions of others around the world. They’ll regale to their children and even grand children or whoever will listen about their very moment.
In my case, or my ex-class mates cases, for those who were present in Mr. Fitzsimmons’ “Bookkeeping I” class, those still breathing air, if asked or volunteering about such on this November 22, 2013, they might be heard saying, “That Louie Christine kid came running into class and shouted out that Kennedy was killed!”
When it comes to the JFK assassination I’m part of those folks’ memory.
I wonder sometime. Thinking, it was just November. Mr. Fitzsimmons was my bookkeeping teacher for the rest of the school year and also my senior year for Bookkeeping II.
Age serves up the past. I believe there’s validity harboring the vivid memories linked to that heart-wrenching event that took place 50 years ago. Mr. Fitzsimmons never talked to me or recalled our moment, as far as I remember, nor did I ever see or hear of the man after graduation.
50 years . . .
“The Hat” (2009)
Over a lifetime many take on an appearance that becomes a signature, a trademark so to speak, a look or a particular panache that defines people much like that mustache sported since college or by accessorizing in such a way that sets people apart. Mine, I guess, is my hat.
I didn’t embrace hats early on. Mostly old men wore them but on the home front from tyke to manhood, I was constantly harped on–to wear a hat. Aunt Dinny was always concerned I was going to catch a cold. No matter if it was sunshine, blue sky or well into spring, she had me looking more like Nanook of the North than the smooth, young sharpie that I was with the perfect pompadour. Around the age of nine Aunt Dinny bought me a spiffy Halloween, Superman outfit, state of the art, not one of those cheapo plastic ones sold at discount stores. The cape was woven together with a sturdy material; on the front, the chest was embossed “S,” while the Superman boots were sewed right onto the bottom of the pant legs.
I arranged the locks of my hair into a super curly cue with the help of “Olivo.” With candy bag in hand, I was ready to hit the block and load up on goodies. “Not so fast,” barked Aunt Dinny, her charging me armed with some dorky leather hat with earmuffs attached. She capped me, then double-checked that the earmuffs functioned, flipping them up and down a few times just in case there was a sudden blizzard, in October no less. I may as well have been going out to trick or treat as “Louie Stupid Hat”\ with earmuffs.
“That hat” was kryptonite. “Superman don’t wear no hat!” I yelped, “Clark Kent might, but not Superman!” My argument wasn’t so super.
I went out appearing like a dork but before you could say, Lois Lane, I stuffed the hat inside a bush on the front lawn, After “tricker-treating,” I plopped it back on before Superman reentered his Chamber of Solitude.
It was a hatless time. JFK was to become the first hatless president. Elvis or James Dean didn’t cover their hair dos. Hats were for yucks, unless worn by The Lone Ranger, Hop-a-Long Cassidy, Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays, yet for the rest of my youth, to appease my aunt’s mother-Henning, and to satisfy my sense of vanity, especially while ogling with teenage girls, I possessed one of those wool roll-up caps that I stuffed into my jacket’s pocket.
“Don’t forget your hat!” was the usual send-off until I was of draft age. The Army had me fitted into a selection of head gear from fatigue-type baseball caps, to helmets, to the infamous overseas caps that most GIs’ had an unprintable name for, and those Army dress hats that made us look more like a bus drivers or Pepsi Cola cops.
Civilian life offered me another chance to go hatless and to let my hair grow long.
Little did I know that a new shtick of hat identification would plop onto my noggin’ at another juncture. I was 26 and had just bought my first new car. It was a beauty, a 1973 Gran Prix, specially ordered, chocolate brown, a coup, with a tan vinyl roof and tan leather upholstery, candle opera rear windows, AM-FM, air-co and mag wheels. Right away the queen wanted to take a road trip as to celebrate,
“Let’s go to Cape Cod!”
We took another couple along and headed from Pennsylvania up the Eastern seaboard. There was the new car smell and the accolades from our friends and with the queen proudly perched in shotgun, I sensed something just wasn’t right. The Grand Prix seemed to be running hot and there was something in the feel of the engine that didn’t mesh.
We stopped at a Pontiac agency in Connecticut. They performed some type of inspection and sent us on my way. The problem persisted when we limped into Falmouth, Mass., and I dropped it off at another dealership. After two days they handed it back over with Mr. Goodwrench’s stamp of approval. While driving out to Provincetown, for what was supposed to be a splendid dinner and some sight seeing, the Grand Prix’s engine blew up just outside Hyannis. There was my beauty, helpless, hood up, smoking, mouth wide open with fluids pouring out! I went so whacko I would have kicked in its grill if it weren’t so pretty.
What’s to do? Call a tow truck; send it off to the nearest Dealership. But we were miles from home. So I rented a clunker from the nearby gas station, a bland American Motors, white Matador, four doors, no radio, no pick-up, with me no longer feeling like the king but more like a dweeb. How many people aspire to drive a Matador?
Two hours later we are in some swank seaside bistro in Providence. I wasn’t very good dinner company but the queen and our friends were trying to make the best of it with upbeat dinner conversation. I sulked, toyed with my twenty-dollar fish, worried about the car; would the warranty hold up, us being stuck many miles away from home, with shrinking funds to be spent on extra food and lodging and I was chock with worrisome thoughts me being absent from my business.
After dinner, we strolled along the promenade. I still wore a pissy face. By then the queen probably had had it and in a sweeping move, she plucked one of those Greek sailor hats off a hat-rack display stand outside a clothing store and planted that hat on my head! Her queen like wisdom mandated, “Here’s a hat! Get out of your mood. Be somebody different. You’re boring me and ruining my holiday.”
Unbeknown to me, that wool, black Greek sailor’s cap became my signature hat for almost twenty years. For practical reasons and with the winters getting colder and longer, and as the hair thinned, the hat gained a purpose. I either grew into it or it grew into me and I wore it regardless if it were with suit and tie or at a family barbeque.
For me, arriving in San Miguel was like a new dawn. I shed much of my past, including the signature hat with me bestowing it atop a pretty face in Mama Mia’s one night her voicing she liked the hat. Of course, by then I had a few tequilas. She got the car story and the hat but not what I really wanted her to have later on.
On another Halloween, I decided to dress as one half of The Blue Brothers, doing so in a tux with the sunglasses. The words “love” and “hate” I inked onto the back of my fingers the way the character Elwood did in the buffoon epic. Still, I needed that tight-fitting black fedora. I remembered a friend who owned such a hat. He gladly lent it to me. It was a memorable Halloween.
Before I had a chance to return the hat my friend departed San Miguel for almost a year. I never wore the lent hat, but one night, just before going out, the hat sort of beckoned me from the nightstand. It brimmed with a sort of smirk that said, “Hey, why not take me with you? Remember the fun we had last Halloween?” So I plopped it on my head.
Don’t ya just know it? It was the very night my hat-lending friend returned to San Miguel. So he catches me red-handed, wearing the very sky I borrowed from him. After shaking hands and giving each other buddy hugs I was quick to eke out, blah, blah, blah, that I hadn’t worn the hat since the past Halloween.
The mensch that he is says, “You know, that hat fits you better than me. I think it enhances your demeanor.” He flashed a buddy wink. “Why don’t you keep it?” Such compliments have a way of boosting a guy’s confidence and they don’t occur that often. He not only left me off the hook but also gifted me. The hat and I then became a steady fixture.
A few years back I was invited to pose nude in the premier edition of Petite Journal, a San Miguel magazine dedicated to the local art scene. One caveat, at the publisher’s request, it was mandated that the fedora had to be included in the photo. I came to figure the hat was the star and a shameless naked me was merely a prop. The nude pose brought notoriety yet coupled me with the fedora. So these days it’s the hat and me.
I own a number of fedoras. I still have the black gabber dean jump starter, along with a couple of natural fiber jobbies, and my prized felt Stetson, marked with a striking feather that I wear for special occasions, one I picked up at a flea market.
The fedora came into vogue during a stage play somewhere around the turn of the Twentieth Century. Famed actress Sarah Bernhardt had the starring role. The costume designer created a special hat for her to wear during the performance. Her name in the play was Fedora. So the yet to be labeled hat took on the name of the play’s main character
The same way there is a lid for almost every pot, I suppose there is a hat for every man. In my view baseball hats only look good on youths, cowboy hats are for cowboys and silly hats are just that. Seems a fedora parallels with my image or perhaps accents the image I might be trying to project. After all, I smoked like Bogart, 250,000 or so and I am somewhat of a barfly. I’ve come to admire Sinatra and I suppose my aging face has evolved into being, fedora fitting. Maybe Aunt Dinny was onto something? I wish she were still around.
“Steph’s Luncheonette” (1998)
I used to spend countless hours inside this dingy luncheonette leaning on a pinball machine and grubbing cigarettes. My mindless buddies and I spoke mostly about what was unlikely for the moment . . . the possibility of getting laid. I suppose I was about 14 or 15.
This woman owned the fluorescent-lit dive–Steph was her name. In reality, she was a floozy: Mid-forties, swollen, dyed-red hair, heavy make-up, but even with the high mileage and dwindling charms she often flashed tinges of girlishness. She possessed an astute business sense. She was always nice to me. Now and then she gave me a free soda.
Steph and her bleached-blonde, bubble-butt sister ran the joint. The sister usually fitted herself into tight, come-fuck-me, hip-hugging, leather, motorcycle pants. Steph shared the upstairs, in crammed quarters, with her sister and a volatile, motorcycle-riding brother-in-law and a couple of forever-crying, pissy-diapered kids.
The biker and sister shamelessly groped at each other behind the counter. He’d rub the cheeks of her ass while she fried eggs and scooped up greasy home fries off a messy grill. The sister planted an intriguing smile on her young but hard face, without a trace of embarrassment, as her spatula stabbed at runny eggs, as the wild one buried his face in the nape of her neck.
They involved themselves in frenzied arguments in front of everybody. “I’ll kill your fucking ass, bitch!” he’d threaten. She’d grab an errant butcher knife and scream at the top of her lungs, “I’ll cut your nuts off!”
The guys at the counter, in dirty clothes with crud under their fingernails mostly ignored the outbursts and just munched on the grub. Some men made wisecracks. Out of earshot of the biker the working-class men would say stuff like, “She better watch it or I’ll hafta throw a fuck into her.”
I’d watch the younger sister and her mate with interest. I realized they were uncouth and low lives, but it didn’t matter. They possessed something, an intangible, sordid passion, seasoned with the right amount of tension that’s needed to make lovers gel. To a degree I was jealous–wondering if a woman–if any woman–even one situated a rung or two down the ladder of life as the sister–and I wondered plenty–if some woman would ever gaze into my eyes the same way she did towards that whacko when they were on lovey-dovey terms.
I attended a neighborhood affair one evening. The bathroom was around back. As I came out of the john I was surprised to find the motorcycle guy and an unknown chick in the back-alley darkness. He had her pinned up against the wall. It was clear he was ramming his tongue down her throat. Her blouse was unbuttoned. He wiped his motorcycled, zippered self all over the front of her. I shouldn’t have given a fuck, but something on the insides clawed at me. I felt cheated and let down. Even back then I always rooted for the idea of romance, perhaps because it was an emotion lacking from inside my own household.
One day another dude appeared on the scene. You see, nobody was permitted behind the counter at Steph’s, and after school, with a couple of loose quarters looking to escape from the insides of my pants pocket I checked in to play the pinball. This new guy was cooking up something on the grill. It smelled way better than the everyday fare offered by the greasy spoon. The guy was stout but flashed movie star looks. Like “Dudley Do-Right” he was square-jawed and boasted thick, black, wavy hair combed in a Hollywood hairstyle. He was humming a jolly tune as he stirred the contents inside a steamy pot. He even wore an apron.
I needed five nickels for the machine. He was the only one there. He provided the change. “Here ya go, handsome. Go break some records.” After a short time, I recognized that this guy was alert and affable, much different than the types who normally frequented the luncheonette.
Ole Steph had taken on a lover. His name was Tom. He had been raised in the neighborhood and knew just about everybody who came through the door, but long before, he joined the Navy or something and went off to discover the outside world.
Rapidly he established himself. He spoke as if he and Steph jointly owned the dive. He unfolded new plans . . . The elaborate renovations he spoke of—-I couldn’t perceive taking place. I began to sense undertones and friction brewing among the sister, the biker and this new guy named Tom.
Oh, that Tom was a different sort. He held kiddie court with us young punks. He’d rest his elbows and girth on the Formica counter. He spoke of many things we weren’t accustomed to hearing. He chronicled history in an eloquent, sure-minded manner, spoke about the Egyptians and Romans, and he painted landscapes with words about exotic places he had been: Havana, Paris, Rome. And make no mistake about it, we were all ears when he spoke about pussy, and the idea that one day, for each of us he guaranteed, oodles of deliciously naked, steamy, wrap-their-legs around you, dripping pussy–a then untouchable commodity for us young guys who had yet to lay our little-horny eyes or cruddy little hands on a woman in the flesh.
Leafing through girly magazines inside the safe confines of Stango’s barbershop didn’t count. “In just a few years, each of you will be banging truck loads of broads. Don’t worry, fellows, there’s a lid for every pot.”
We’d say, “Hey! This, Tom, is OK.”
Oh, that Tom was unlike other tribesmen. He marched to his own beat. He was unlike Steph and a far cry from the sister, and polar-regions apart from the terse, crummy, brother-in-law, who was a nasty fucker, especially towards me when the ladies weren’t around. With Tom on the scene, the brute didn’t seem all that interested in rubbing the sister’s ass anymore. Instead, he began to beat the Julius out of her when he came speeding home in drunken rages on his Harley. Tom on the other hand, always seemed in good spirits. But I figured Tom couldn’t be immune to the turmoil. I could only imagine life upstairs. I’m sure he too had to watch his Ps and Qs.
So, Tom fitted back into the neighborhood. At one time he was a local kid same as us. At night he drank at the Venango Republican Club and now and then, late, I’d catch glimpses of him staggering back to the dark luncheonette. It nauseated me to think of him placing his spinning, boozed-up head on a tattered pillow next to the beat, drunken, lard-ass Steph.
I came to realize Tom was a bust out. Wherever he had been and whatever he had done was no longer a factor. All that the talkative big man, with the skinny arms lacking muscle, then possessed was a wealth of experience. Right then he was sentenced to a handout existence, as a “kept man” sharing a stinking-sagging bed with another beer swiller. I summed the poor lout was subject to all the mundane within the insipid luncheonette, including dealing with the wild pair and the cranky, pissy-diapered kids.
So, we had a man, who at one time had the grit to break away from the drab existence of a broken-down neighborhood. Perhaps the outside world roughed him up and nodded its ugly head back when he had the strength and resources to sword-fight destiny. I suppose after failed businesses and marriages, along with the facts that it all didn’t pan out—-he then had nowhere else to turn except return back to the run-down, littered-streets of Philadelphia.
Tom’s story is one of my fears, maybe the hole in my own donut with me being terrorized by the thought that I could become so reduced. Worse, if events dictated, that I’d eventually have to depend on and wind up with somebody like the saggy-titted Steph, a doormat herself, whose only alluring powers, other than serving up greasy food and plucking nickels out of a pinball machine was to take in a sorry-ass like the affable Tom, who cooked for her and fucked her, a sorry son-of-a-bitch who was probably forced to go down and eat what had to be one of the-rankest of pussies this side of the Mississippi and hafta do it for his stinking room and board.
Somewhere along the line Tom fucked up and was shown the door. The biker killed himself by running his Harley into a stonewall. The sister got herself another biker. Steph brought in a new lover-boy. The new guy was just another drip, far from the likes of Tom who I missed.
Tom meandered around the neighborhood for a time. Later, I remember he was running number slips for a local bookie. When I returned from the Army, Tom wasn’t around anymore. Hardly anyone remembered the guy.
As I struggle with my own theater, I have a meeting with myself almost every day which sums up that “this motherfucker” wasn’t born to wind up as a kept man, frying eggs and doing some drunken, lurid fucking with some dog-bag like Steph. Then to think, if one finds them self in such a fix, what’s a sorry ass to do?
“Paddy Lee” (2007)
I impregnated Paddy Lee Carvalho! But before I lay out the details, about how it occurred, let me provide some background. Paddy Lee Maile Carvalho, came to work for me at my restaurant somewhere in early 1982. She was a mere 17 years old and in the past November 7th had given birth to her daughter, Brandi.
Fact is it was my wife who hired her. And after working a day or two she phoned in sick and missed a few days work. I was all for firing her but the wife said, “No, this one is smart, I like her” In retrospect, it is probably a decision she regrets until this day.
I never fooled around during my marriage other than perhaps run-ins with few thoughtless passing ships in the night. We got married on November 1st, 1970. All during my marriage I never flirted, made overt statements to other women or said anything suggestive. Sure I looked like most men do but all and all I was a pretty faithful husband.
Paddy Lee became a cracker-jack employee, paid attention to detail and quickly learned the job as to become the manager of my restaurant on the island of Maui. She was born in Hana, on the far rural side of the island, a Hawaiian gal from a large Hawaiian family. She boasted a young woman’s full figure, and most notable was her large, root-beer-brown eyes and high set brows. She inherited those great eyes from her father named, Maka. Maka is Hawaiian for eye. Maka’s birth name was also Paddy. She showcased jet-black Polynesian hair that easily curled and large exquisite hands. She was always, as she still is today, quick to laugh and joke around.
In those days I was hell-bent on doing business. I was especially hard on Paddy and often ordered her back to the office and chastised her about something probably insignificant about how business might have been being conducted in my restaurant. I guess, looking back, I was somewhat of a prick.
At the time Paddy had a thug of a boyfriend named, Mahi. Mahi was a brooding Maui local boy who blamed most of his woes on the large influx of haoles (white people). He was extremely jealous and word spread around the restaurant how he bullied Paddy and mostly made her life miserable. One time Paddy called me at home at about 3 a.m., from an emergency ward, in tears, saying she didn’t know if she could make it to work the next day because of some beating Mahi laid on her.
Much of that did not faze me but I did have empathy for her and remember even trying to fix her up with a few young men who often frequented my restaurant.
By 1983 I opened a second restaurant. I also was in on the video game craze and converted my back rooms to the latest ala, Pac Man, Space Invaders, and a litany of other games that young and old were stuffing quarters into. Business-wise, things were great. I was pulling in serious coinage. Yet the home life wasn’t so hot.
Frankly, during my entire marriage, there seemed as if something was missing. We gelled as a couple, had many common interests and many good friends yet there was something about the lovemaking that was lacking. I couldn’t tell if it was I who held onto high expectations about the erotic side of life or if my wife was holding something back. Lauri, my wife, was far from a prude sexually, a modern woman who assumed all the positions, who never denied, other than if she was totally passed out at 4 a.m. and I woke up with a neutron but even those moments she normally responded. She was petrified though, about taking-the-charge when performing oral sex with me but that was just one of those things I learned to live with and that wasn’t a major factor, certainly not enough to have me step out and begin a sordid affair behind her back.
By 1983 I turned 36 and began to do a lot of thinking, thinking strongly about a certain passion and intimacy that I felt was missing in my life. I wondered that maybe it could be me and began to question if I’d be able to arouse another woman or be aroused to a state I always anticipated. I found myself masturbating more and more despite the fact that my wife was available to me at my beckoning call.
I reflected about how when I was a teenager and used to play poker with older folks and there was this married couple. There was always sex banter going around the card table and one of the women asked about Murph, who was another player’s husband, who too sat at the table. One woman asked about Murph, who was all of 42 at the time, and Dot, his wife shamelessly belted out, “Murph, aw, Murph, he’s done!” Murph sat there like a lug and the same woman who asked the question asked if that was true and Murph just weakly eked out, “Yeah, I’m done.”
I quickly did some arithmetic in my head and I too could become like Murph and there I was just in the very infancy of fucking and it dawned upon me back then that maybe I had only 25 years of fucking and that would be it, I would become a Murph.
For some time I remained distraught and one day I awoke and premeditated I was going to have an affair! With who I had no idea but I had to find out some answers or was I becoming like ole Murph back in the old neighborhood.
Yeah, back then, when I’d been married to this, Lauri, I chose the Hawaiian one. We began taking notice. I swear, in the two years prior to our thing, I never once voiced anything off-color, nothing provocative. But, as my married relationship became more distant, those tom-toms began whipping up the juices and those enticing sounds drummed closer.
I called the shop on the phone the way I normally did, so to check things out—my female employee, Paddy Lee answered. She’d give me my messages and continued to update me about the goings-on.
“What else ya got for me?” I’d spout, a redundant saying, me wanting info quick so I could get off the line. One particular time when I spouted, “What else ya got for me?” I swear, I heard a low-voice mumble the word, “Me!” I said, “What?” She said, “Oh, . . . nothing.” If it was true or not, the question and the supposed answer fitted themselves together. I then sparked a flicker of a fantasy!
Months later, I throw an employee-Christmas party on the beach. Everybody’s there: My wife, my son’s sixteen, the girl is present, two crews attended, ’cause by then we were running two joints. Everybody brings luau food, potluck style. We cut up fresh-caught Ahi. Then we wolfed down the Ahi in the form of carved sashimi using chopsticks after we swirled the raw fish in a puddle of soy sauce and wasabi. (wasabi a smooth and soft, puddy-like-textured, green-Oriental, horse radish.)
Some brothers with ukuleles showed up and played Hawaiian music.
Now, I’ll tell ya, only because I mentioned it, there’s an awful lot to Hawaiian music! After I’m dead, and then when my writings are famous, (Ha). . . ya might want to pick up some of my Hawaiian stuff. Within those writings, there are passages where I’ve tried to expound on Hawaiian music. It’s haunting and moving and I’m stirred getting goosebumps often when listening to those sweet tunes composed and sung from the heart, or, as they say in the Islands, ‘I wen’ get ‘chicken skin,’ brah.’
It was a great day. We played football on the beach and I got a little drunk. With me feeling spunky and playful, my employees locked my arms behind me and dragged my ass down to the ocean for a throw-the-boss-in dunk. I was a hell of a sport, shit, I loved it and loved everybody, except maybe my wife.
By sunset the wife became bored. She didn’t get along with the kids and thought they were mindless. She wondered aloud what I was going to do and how much longer I wanted to stay around the party, plus she was forced to hang in there a bit longer ’cause we’re about to open our Pollyanna presents.
We witnessed one of those postcard brilliant sunsets. A religious person may have felt so moved by the sunset they may have even contemplated building a temple on the spot and praise God, the Lord, or whatever for putting together such glorious vision sinking into the horizon.
In concert the sinking sun’s reflection with the waning light shimmered off the sleepy-looking faces of the mountains. Green peaks took on a purplish hue. The clouds whiteness, altered by the light turned to puffs of terra cotta, and pink a to a deep magenta, parlayed by the light while matching green landscape and blue sky into a magnificent mural of a full-spectrum.
After the toned-down time, us, then somewhat dazed sun worshipers broke from the symbolic ceremony and began ripping away at the wrapping paper. I leaned up against a car with a beer and was engrossed in the spirit of things, then she, the chosen one, began to slowly situate herself closer, slivering towards me. She made pit stops offering idle talk to others.
She stopped directly next to me; she leaned against the car, same as me.
Despite no sense of touch, I felt the electricity sparking off her folded arms, arms-folded same as mine just inches apart.
Out of the blue she, said, “What are you thinking about?”
Without reservation, without embarrassment or the idea of being rebuffed or being out of character and in such a way I replied, “To tell you the truth, Paddy, I’ve been thinking about what it’s like making love to you!”
* * *
She had never been off Maui, knew mostly about nothing, thought a car’s heater worked without the engine running, but her eyes seemed centuries-old, deeming her a sage and she knew well-enough about the fire-down-under and all the mumbo-jumbo and dilly-dallying that’s been going on between men and women since the fucking-beginning of time.
With those eyes, peepers that could have belonged to Mother Earth herself, she peered straight into mine and she spoke with the voice of Lauren Bacall or Ingrid Bergman, you pick one—she put systems on go and in a defining moment replied with words of encouragement, revealing her own inner thoughts and she voiced, “At least we’re talking about it.”
My wife’s had enough, deciding to return back home with my son. Told me to go ahead and party with my employees. She implied she could give two shits when I returned.
Not another word was said between the girl and I during the remainder of the party. It wasn’t ‘til the crew and I loaded up every case of leftover beer, and the beach chairs, the grill, and cleaned up the trash, and it wasn’t until everybody packed up and left in separate directions; it wasn’t until then when I walked up to her car and the driver’s side where she patiently sat and perhaps plotted. In silence, I just placed my giddy head inside the car’s window and planted a big one on her thick, full, and then hungry-for-me, Hawaiian lips. It felt so fucking good!
She and her budding youth and her giving mouth and her aroused strength, and her flowing passion felt so fucking good!
And Goddamn it, we went and did it, on a blanket under a palm tree, fanned by the gentle-warm breezes coming off the pounding ocean, and it was as if I languished in a delectable dream, and she glistened in the dark, stark naked, except for a sweet-smelling gardenia planted in her hair, one she picked fresh on the way. We swam in the ocean, I didn’t give a shit about sharks, rather, I savored the star-filled sky. It was December, and as years have passed I’ve wondered how many other men have been fortunate enough to have ever had such a moment.
* * *
Before saying aloha for the night she expressed how I was exclusively hers, she said so in a punctuated way. Her words exactly: “Anywhere, anyplace, anytime!” She said further in a forthright manner that she wildly desired to do it all. Said she viewed porno flicks with her boyfriend, but he was too selfish and macho and she was breaking up with him. Said she admired Lauri, but sensed I wasn’t happy, said she didn’t care for the way my wife treated me. Then, while taking a bolder step, she wasn’t going to permit the state of my domestic situation to hold back our desires. We wuz in love!
Six months of cheating began on my part. I never lied so often, even in the furniture business. Affairs are awful. And they make us such . . . Eventually, I was found out, only after sneaking around Maui in cowboy hats and other ridiculous disguises, ’cause it’s such a small-town atmosphere.
We used to hang out at gay bars. There we both maintained our anonymity. We could slow dance while surrounded by a bunch of hugging Bruces and Geralds, as Madonna belted out a mushy ballad on the jukebox inside the fruit bar.
Once we snuck away for a fuckarama weekend in Honolulu, her first time on an airplane. We traveled separately, with me first to depart Maui as to procure the car and a room.
So, there I was swaggering around, with my teenager in the big city, pretending I’m a big deal, a goofy-looking, bald guy, prancing around Honolulu with a kid on his arm. We even made a scene.
Back on, Maui I was always the one in total control, ya know the boss, the big toad in a small pond who seemed to have a wise guy answer for everything. So, we’re in the hotel in Honolulu. I smoke a big joint just before we’re to go out to a steak house where the Japanese guy chops all the stuff up on the grill right before ya. I’m disoriented ’cause I’m completely stoned. Driving was difficult. I jumped the curb outside the steak house mistaking the spot for valet parking.
That wasn’t the restaurant’s M.O. I freaked everybody out by driving up on the pavement just inches away from the restaurant’s doorway. People coming to-and-fro were squeezing themselves around the rental’s front-and-rear quarter panels. The departing and arriving patrons were catching their clothes on the edges of headlights and bumpers. I was so loaded I could hardly get out of the car. The valet guys picked up on my drift and they didn’t seem to appreciate the haole guy with the glued to him local chic half his age. Plus, I was reeking from the aroma of burnt herb.
When we were thrust smack in front of the hostess’ stand. I was so ishkabible. I could hardly speak, still disoriented, still fumbling.
The sizing-us-up hostess said we had to wait. I stumbled to sit on one of the benches set up like pews. There we flopped to wait for a table. The place was crowded with vacationers.
The sight of me losing my wherewithal must have been a turn on. I mean, the kid’s all over me inside the restaurant. She, straddling my lap face to face while I sat straight up, then she giggled and revealed she never witnessed me in such a state, doing so while kissing my face and forehead. She professed how she loved me and she was involving herself doing other naughty things with her hands and then rubbing her delectable self against me in such-a-way. Such actions had faces blushing.
Parents pulled their children toward them and faced them away. ‘Fuck ’em!’ ran across my mind. I was throwing caution to the wind and living life.
Yeah, I prepared for that one all right. Almost lost my marriage, pissed some people off, let others down and worse. Up to that point, I had pretty much been a standup cat during most of my adult life. A sergeant in the Army, a father, an athletic coach, a good businessman, joined the Jaycees, worked for George McGovern’s presidential campaign, a real-life, All-American, idealistic working Johnny.
Years have gone by. Paddy Lee delivered a strapping-boy whose name is Travis Lee born January 21, 1985. Today She and I are good friends. There’s much in between those times yet now is not the time to elaborate on such. Paddy Lee is a great woman, much more mature and she has led a productive life, raised three children, owns her own home on Maui, drives a nice truck and is in solid tune with her life and Hawaiiana.
I am a lucky man to have known her and love her and she never seemed to hold any of those misgivings against me.
“The Elusive Banana Split” (2003)
This story is about a kid’s desire for a banana split, a sports bet, a champion, and about unveiling a life-altering lesson this adolescent learned over a span of a few hours.
It was February 25, 1964. I was seventeen a junior in high school. I helped this guy Louie Zerillo by being a “go-for” performing various chores helping him remodel a house. I got 50-cents an hour and as many of Louie Zerillo’s Lucky Strikes I could smoke.
February 25, 1964 was a weekday. That past weekend Louie ordered me down into a damp cellar to hand sand filthy, cobwebbed, wooden joists looking like they had not been cleaned in decades. It was grueling work. There were splinters and I even had nosebleeds from the coats of dust and soot coming off the rafters. The job was mundane and seemed endless. I only put a dent into the assignment with me probably taking more smoke breaks than called for. I promised to come back to finish up on that bitterly cold February day, plus I wanted the money.
Ever since the first time I had seen one I dreamt about banana splits. They cost 55-cents at Hecker’s corner store but my allowance was only 50-cents a week. Besides, the lure of ten games on the pinball machine outweighed me scrapping up another nickel. Nevertheless, I fantasized about the three scoops of ice cream on a sliced banana, smothered with Hecker’s special, hot-chocolate sauce, topped with gobs of whipped cream, sprinkled with nuts and topped with a cherry. The lust for the split almost equaled my desire for the “hotties” I dreamed about in the girlie magazines I leafed through inside Stango’s barbershop.
A banana split was more likely to materialize in those days than those like-wow-chicks.
Also on February 25, 1964 the world heavyweight championship bout was to be held between upstart yet undefeated, Cassius Clay and World Heavy Weight Champion, Sonny Liston.
I was going to collect a sawbuck, go off to Hecker’s and order my first banana split, buy my own pack of Luckies and then play the pinball machine to my heart’s content, plus listen to the fight with the older men on Hecker’s old Emerson radio. That’s unless Hecker eighty-sixed me, which the cantankerous old salt often did for no apparent reason other than he thought I loitered around the candy store too much without spending money.
I mostly hung around to watch other kids play pinball but also to listen to the older men tell their stories. Old men tell great stories. All the talk had been the upcoming fight. Cassius Clay was young and brash. He had won the gold medal in the light-heavyweight division at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Clay had the audacity to predict he’d be the next heavyweight champion of the world.
Detractors coined him the “Louisville Lip.” On top of that Clay proclaimed himself as “pretty,” gave outrageous interviews, and composed extemporaneous and witty poems about himself. He often predicted what round his opponent would fall. He poked fun at Liston, calling him a big, ugly bear. Clay was no Gentleman Jim nor a Joe DiMaggio.
Liston was a homegrown Philadelphia fighter. Before he won the title by pulverizing Floyd Patterson. He was denied a title shot by the boxing council for something as insignificant as being a convicted murderer. Like most Philadelphians and by being a youthful idealist athlete myself, I wanted Liston to give this Cassius Clay a lesson and tear him apart. Liston was mean, imposing, with catlike moves. He boasted knockout power in either hand.
Deciding just what flavors of ice cream I was going to order I showed at Hecker’s. I got the typical, “Whatta you want?” from nasty Hecker, him never giving me a sign of respect and to think, I had real money in my pocket. Summer or winter Hecker’s day-in and day-out uniform was a sleeveless undershirt, usually filthy and stained from the ice cream counter. Double-chinned, Hecker had unsightly warts dangling from under his armpits.
Hecker ignored my request. He was holding court. The older men who bummed there, most of whom were chomping on half-lit cigars, them seemingly mesmerized on his every word. Hecker was prepping for the fight. “That mouthy nigger is gonna get the beating of his black-ass life and be put back in his place! You’ll never hear of him or about him again after tonight’s fight. He’ll be a used-to-be. He’s no Marciano! He couldn’t make a pimple on a real fighter’s ass!”
It was strong talk yet most of the older men in my neighborhood spoke in such a way. Hecker punctuated his statement, “Tell ya what, since I’m such a nice guy, I’ll give any of you hair-lips 10-1 odds on Clay. Your ten to my hundred.”
Nobody took the bait but I did some fast arithmetic in my head.
What propelled me to step up to the plate and for-go the banana split and my own pack of Luckies, along with countless pinball games was beyond me? Perhaps I wanted to gain Hecker’s attention and impress the other men who seemed stuck in the mud. I measured odds and recognized opportunity. My adolescent voice eked out an, “I’ll take that bet, Hecker!”
“Where you gonna get ten bucks from? Ya ain’t got a pot to piss in or a place to throw it!” spit Hecker.
I fished into my pants pocket, yanked out and handed over the crumbled up Hamilton.
At ring time we gathered around the radio. Cassius Clay eluded Liston the first few rounds, but still peppered the champ’s face with his blinding speed. Defensively, Clay danced and mostly played keep away. Around the fourth round, something was wrong with Clay’s eyes! He couldn’t see! Blows by Liston may have been delivering some debilitating substance coming off Liston’s gloves. Clay was fighting blind and just trying to survive!
But suddenly, recovering from temporary blindness, Clay became dramatically alive and began to out-point Liston, even getting in some telling blows. My youth showed as I danced and shadowboxed in front of the radio. The mesmerized older men watched me while their ears were pasted to that old Emerson. “Knock it the fuck off or I’ll throw you in the street!” growled Hecker. Then, to the surprise of the boxing world, he Mr. Sonny Liston the World Champion, who seemed indestructible, refused to answer the bell for round seven. It was over! Clay was crowned Heavy Weight Champion of the world.
It’s all history now.
I was ecstatic on the insides but my inner senses also warned me to cool it. I had yet to collect. The older men patted me on the back, told me I was a for-real player and I basked in the glory, a hundred bucks! Hecker’s looked more like he had been slapped in the face. He was so peeved he just threw the C-note on the counter along with my buy-in. Before I had a chance to further enjoy the limelight, order the split and play the pinball, Hecker threw me out.
After that night, maybe because it was “I” who took the challenge Hecker treated me differently. He actually was nice to me, as nice as grouchy Hecker ever got. The older men also saw me in a different light as the story spread throughout the neighborhood how that punk, Louie (The Gunk), took Hecker for a C-note.
I learned a heap of life’s lessons that day. I learned that hard work pays. I came to realize that I didn’t care for the ugly hiss of racial prejudice. I could root for somebody different. I savored the glory of victory and found out by mustering up a bit of gumption one can put down a bully who’s an intimidator without tossing a blow yet there are always risks. I seized an opportunity and put my money where old Hecker’s mouth was. Perhaps it wasn’t a night of infamy but within my realm and 51 years later the moment is still embedded in my memory.
The name change and the embracing the Black Muslim movement meant little to me. Shoots, I was Catholic. Whether if my ear was pasted to a radio, or my eyes glued to the TV, or while attending a closed-circuit broadcast or being at ringside, I never missed another round of an Ali fight for the rest of his career.
“The Greatest,” not so long ago, popped up in the news. Muhammad Ali was awarded the highest honor afforded a citizen of the United States, “The Medal of Freedom.” He’s 73 now. Parkinson’s disease has eroded and dulled his sparkling dynamics. Still, his legacy lives on.
Most know he was stripped of his championship by refusing induction into the military. (“I got no beef with no Viet Cong!”) The struggle to attempt to regain his title had him fighting in a different venue, with him going all the way to the Supreme Court to win his right to fight. After the four-year-plus layoff and vindication, Ali eventually won back his crown by knocking out George Forman during the famous rumble in the jungle in Zaire. Then he lost it again, that time in the ring, during in a half-hearted, crown defending effort against one Leon Spinks but only to regain the crown in another bout months later by beating Spinks. The four-year layoff in the prime of his career denied Ali further grandeur. He may have broken Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record, which still stands if it weren’t for his indictment.
With it, all Ali captured the imagination of young and old worldwide. Not only did he talk the talk, but Ali also walked the walk. Speed, passion, charm, tenacity, desire to win, style, lightning-quick wit and having the heart of a champion substantiated everything desirable about athletics. He was, and in my view is, “The Greatest,” and a true American hero of which we could use a few more in this day and age. As a one-time sports columnist I have probably written more stories about Muhammad Ali than any other athlete and one time, during a personal encounter The Champ challenged me to punch him in the stomach . . . and I did . . . but that’s another story.
I can’t recall when I eventually got my first taste of a banana split. Hecker is long dead. It’s also more than likely also gone are those older, cigar-chopping men who gathered around the radio on that cold winter night inside the candy store. I lost Louie Zerillo three years ago at 92. But in my case, and I am sure in the minds of other fans, the same as it is sung about Rock and Roll, Muhammad Ali will never die. I can almost bring back the chants echoing off the rafters witnessing one of the greatest shows on Earth… “Ali! Bum-bi-ay! Ali! Bum-bi-ay! . . . . .”
“Lou’s 52nd” (1999) Letter to Arnawood, (1999)
Tomorrow I’m heading toward Mexico City for an upscale party that will go on until the wee hours. My pal Alejandro Sierra is having an art opening in the Zona Rosa (Mexico City neighborhood). During the daytime, I’ll go to the library to do some research. Plus, the goddess, Annabella, is down there and
it’s also the goddess’ birthday. She has a case of the ass with me
’cause I was going to the beach with Claudine.
She also invited me to Acapulco for the week, all on her mother, but the chick is also always trying to bust my balls. Regardless about the fact that she’s might be one of the most sexually erotic female this side of the Mississippi or the Rio Grande for that matter, depending upon your perspective, but who needs the aggravation?
You know she’s a Buddhist, and like Lauri Christine, she’s a Catholic hater. Both have accused me of being Catholic. Just because I’ve been baptized, and I’ve have had a Catholic education . . . She doesn’t understand that a lot of fish have been fried since and that was a long time ago but these broads have their hang-ups. Then she spits out that the time frame I’ve been away from my one-time religion is no excuse, ‘cause I’ve been influenced forever. What a crock!
Anyway, she calls to bust my balls, then shifts gears and tells me how wonderful it was when she went to see the pope in MC, bragged that two million people were on the streets, then she dug in her gringo hating nails when she said that when the pope went to US only 20,000 showed, “Just like the Americans, ” she says. I said that’s because everybody in the US is working in the daytime and they’re not a bunch of out of work Chilangoes. (nick name for Mexico City residents) I just hung up I didn’t wanna hear it. But the cup cake that moi is will go down tomorrow afternoon and make amends with her. . . .
So on my birthday, ’cause Claudine and I canceled the trip to the
beach, because I’ve been down with the flu, I wasn’t going to do
anything and just chill. Claudine, as you know, lives in Paris and is
living here for a month and she says, “Btz, Lou, swee have su do
zomting for surr birthday!”
I felt terrible, my throat hurt head pounding, sweaty and had the
shakes but I’d rise for the occasion, have some close friends over and I decided to cook my famous pesto pasta, plus chicken plicate. I normally blow everybody away during such occasions with my limited esoteric talent. Know I only prepare 3 meals a year. Everything turned out fab, except for me getting sicker.
It was a hectic day.
Carmen is a sweet Mexican senorita who I spend some quality time with mostly in the sack, was sick too, a blessing in disguise, ’cause I felt a little funny having Lori and Claudine at my party but no Carmen, Lori is another woman I hang around with and neither Carmen or Lori have ever seen each other and you have to remember that this place is small town.
They both realize I see somebody different, but I never talk about
either one in front of the other. They both know about Annabella, and they laugh and smirk about at the idea of her. Everybody laughs at Annabella. But oh, they wouldn’t snicker if they knew what a fantastic blowjob and hot piece of ass she is. You see the chicks don’t get that part, so let them laugh.
Carmen called me on the phone and evidently was really sicker; she called me just before I was to go and do business and then hafta go shopping for my birthday dinner. She was crying, said she needed help ‘cause she was so down with the flu. She doesn’t have a phone and she had to find a pay phone down on the street from where she lives.
“I’m on my way baby,” I say, “Hold tight!”
I hopped over her place, which is a real pain in the ass with the
streets all dug up, there were countless detours, ruts; I bottomed out a couple of times driving over. Don’t forget I’m sick too. I get
there. She’s flushed with fever, sweating. I held her hand, went to
the pharmacy for her, bought her some pills, then promised to return later then ran back to my house.
As soon as I hit my place, Lori was on the phone to wish me a happy birthday. She wants to go swimming. “Right!” I’m on the verge of burning up with a fever myself. Plus, don’t forget, I had to do the shopping to cook, then I had a 3-hour meeting with the translator for my Chinese Astrology scrolls, so Claudine, while filing her nails, said she was willing to go shopping for me while I met with the translator. She’s been giving me the evil eye while staying with me, ‘cause half the nights I’m not coming home, and I think her pussy is getting itchy.
So I gave Claudine use of my car and specific orders including a list with brand names needed for recipes in both Spanish and English for ingredients, plus a map for her to reach the proper markets. I spring for a taxi to go and do my shit. When I returned home in the cab at about 3:30, I see the door of my car left wide open outside my house and that my license plate is missing?
The moment I came through the door, while my head is pounding,
Claudine is all exasperated. The fuckin’ Frenchy gave up on me when trying to purchase fresh basil, instead, she got some powered shit, which wouldn’t do the deal. For pine-nuts, she went and got canned pineapples. She’s stubborn as hell and he didn’t follow orders, plus she got my license plate taken, that’s the form of a ticket ya get here. The transito cops take your plate. The fine gets doubled every day you don’t come to pick it up. Now you have to understand, they’re quite liberal here, and one has to park in someplace that’s an absolute no-no for them to abscond your tag, like blocking the entrance of an Emergency Room.
“Lou, zits snot my fault! I shop . . .(she holds up her hand and
flashed three fingers) “I shop for sree hours, Lou!”
“You fucked up, Claudine!” . . .
I’m out the door motherfucking this and that. My head is killing me. As for my car, there’s hardly a drop of gas. I’m running on fumes and storming over chaise jolting topes all over the place, and ya just can’t speed to the local 76-station like you do on Maui. (“Topes,”) they’re speed bumps and ya gotta know when driving around here that this whole town is like driving over endless lava fields out at Makena.)
Now I know fresh abacca sells out quick, that’s the Spanish name for basil. There’s not that much of it in the first place, and the Tuesday Market is the only place it’s sold in the whole town on Tuesdays, and I specifically told that otherwise, sweet and sexy French chick where to go, and I specifically told her to go to the Tuesday Market. You know the bitches, they don’t listen and she’s French, and I forgot how she’s wanted by INTERPOL ’cause she has outstanding parking tickets half-way around Europe.
I got the basil from some farmer up at the Tuesday market, I snatched the last few bundles, but then I’m still short of the pine nuts. There’s only one place sells them in town, but I’ll chance it on finding it at another market to avoid further aggravation for driving sake, you know right then during that particular part of the day, it’s like being on Dairy road at the height of the rush hour madness. So I go to this other place for pine nuts. I’m feeling really taxed and shitty, No luck. I head for Super Bonanza. I fight my ass off for a 3-block-away parking spot, and I still feel like shit. Turning the wheel of my car is a burden. I get to Bonanza. . . I forgot it’s siesta time. The place won’t open for half an hour. I can’t wait, gotta get back. I got tons of prepping to do and the clock is a ticking.
Upon returning, Claudine is still in hysterics ’cause I roughed her up on the way out the door, voicing my disgust that she didn’t complete the list, especially since I drew maps and gave her precise instructions. I jumped on the phone, for somebody who is downtown and coming to dinner might pick up the pine nuts.
Ah shit! Further checking what she bought . . .the Frenchie forgot the briquettes for the garlic bread. Can you believe it? She’s French!
“Lou, zu never tell me where?”
“Look on the list, shit for brains!” Further checking, she bought only a thimble full of olive oil. “Yigh! Yigh! Yigh! Yigh! Yigh!”
In tears, “Iz go down Lou. Iz get everything. I buy zee olive oil and
She’s on her way and I can’t help but say, “Put some fucking gas in it will ya!”
I begin to prep the chicken. Originally had sent her to this Mexican
lady who kills chickens every Tuesday. It’s Tuesday, my birthday, and I feel awful and the empty head wasn’t listening to a word I said, nor did she read my notes and she didn’t go to the butcher lady that I said, and neither did she have the breasts of chicken de-boned. Yigh, yigh, yigh.
I give Katalina, she one of the housemaids, a full-faced blowjob,
doing so up against the kitchen sink, (just kidding) pleading with her so she’ll stay an extra hour. So far, during the give and take, the maid looked petrified, she didn’t say jack shit, and acted all the
time as if she scared shitless, cause in three years at the house
she’s never once heard me raise my voice.
The maid stays with me and I have her de-bone and pound out the
chicken breasts. I begin doing all the prep for the sauce. Claudine
rushed away in my car to finish up. Lor calls, asks if she can bring
her 17-year-old son? No problem he’s a good kid. Claudine is back,
mission accomplished, I’m running on empty . . . Prep done, all I have to do is cook up the grub when the guests arrive, but then, don’t forget, I promised Carmen I’d come back and check up on her since she’s so sick, plus there’s some subterfuge bullshit I gotta pull off, ‘cause she doesn’t know it’s my birthday. I figure, she’s sick anyway and wouldn’t have been attending.
I’m back on the road and bouncing over the lava fields, then while
sweating and out of breath I’m sprinting up the stairs and checking on Carmen, who’s sitting up in bed feeling a little better. I hold her
hand and run my birthday-boy fingers over her sweaty forehead and through her hair for half an hour. I give her a little hugging, no wet stuff though. Even my dick has the flu. She’s both thankful and thoughtful and she shared with me her penicillin. I split back to the house, with dry mouth and feeling weaker than weak, smoke a jay, lay down, and then decide to meditate for twenty minutes, then shower and then shave.
Claudine and I settled down and we had a let’s make-up belt of tequila before the guests showed, and I finally finished the job except for the actual cooking, which takes a certain amount of split-second coordination when one is cooking for 14. David Wright the famous artist showed with a bombastic-looking black chic from Jamaica. Michelle was kind and generous enough to bring a bottle of Tequila. Tommy Vincent brought tequila too, plus wine, plus a tasty dessert. Sandra and Ernesto, the salsa dance team brought fresh cut flowers. Jeffery Brown another artist graced the place, said he’d catch me later when he sold a painting or two. Lor came, looked beautiful too with nice gifts but not with her son. Claudine was stunning in her black, plus Marilyn McAvoy, the Canadian artist, who created the paintings for Cameron’s Titanic, sashayed in. New York Steve never got the message, and who the fucked missed him?
But let’s face it the stress of the day took its toll. I still got
drunk, danced around the house with guests and had a great time. We all departed mi casa and went out around 1:00 a.m. to the boom-boom joint.
After some time, and after being drunk, the sport that I am picked up all tabs. The day cost a fortune. Lori and me, plus a gift bottle of tequila, wound up at her house at around 4:00 a.m. We played
two-and-a-half games of gin and then went to bed. I woke up feeling as if Hoover Dam was inserted inside my head while I hugged Lori’s skinny ass. I then struggled over the bumps back home and promptly hit the sack. This is the first moment I’ve been able to function. All the bitches are happy and I’m wiped the fuck out. Oh yeah, I’m on my way to Mexico City. Whoopee!
“A Day With The Yankees: August (“1979”)
They say New Yorkers are a tough bunch with their renowned sweaty gruffness that often surfaces during the dog days of summer. Take into account there’s little relief from the heat and humidity. The stench of a crowded city rises. The air is often tainted. New Yorkers are taxed up the ying-yang. Its citizens cope with both national and world problems so with it all New Yorkers tend to be cynical.
For those New Yorkers who have chosen to follow the exploits of the New York Yankees Baseball Team, what has evolved during times of stress has been a welcoming time out. Despite the times and woes of a collective people the Yanks roared along with the ‘20s and became the town’s silver lining during the busted out depression. The Bronx Bombers became symbolic uniting a nation during WWII and then came further crown jewels sparkling for the boys wearing pinstripes hammering them to further greatness during the fabulous 50s and still prevailed even when much of our society become unglued during the turbulent and tumultuous 60s.
Regardless of style and trend the Yanks sought titles and have maintained a focus while remaining on a championship course through thick and thin. They’ve established themselves as the pride of the Big Apple and have become the most recognized sports franchise on planet Earth.
The Yankees, in an uncanny way, have united the many, many factions inhabiting Gotham City. When it comes to Yankee talk; shoeshine boy and Wall-Street broker converse with parity on equal ground. Hispanic and black come to terms and can be caught sitting together in the bleachers sharing beers and baseball stories, temporarily forgetting the deep-rooted animosity they’ve lived with most of their lives.
Yankee Stadium is where people from New Jersey cheer along with Staten Islanders and Long Islanders, where Bronx meets Poughkeepsie, falls in love and lives happily ever after.
During the summer of 1979, a pennant flies over the house that Ruth built, The Yankees once again are the reigning world champs. It’s nothing new. The Yanks themselves are expected to maintain high standards, respect, and status.
But as of a few days ago there became new twist! Baseball fans everywhere are in shock upon hearing and reading the headlines about the death of Thurman Munson. The 32-year-old captain of the Yankee ball club dies while attempting to land his airplane in Canton, Ohio, his hometown on a day off.
Munson played his entire career as a Yankee. Accomplishments: Rookie of the year, league MVP and while playing on two-straight, world championships teams. Mangers of other American league teams, when polled, considered Munson the most dangerous hitter to face in a crucial situation.
In return, with a one-of-a-kind type of dedication, Munson provided unwavering inspiration, astute leadership and a keen sense of the competitive spirit. He was Yankee through-and-through, who if sliced open would bleed, Yankee blue pinstripes. Those were intangibles not found beneath the skin of many ballplayers these days and attributes not specified in any Major League contract.
History has noted that the New York Yankee organization denied themselves and their fans a team captain for some time, specifically since 1939, ever since the untimely departure and unfortunate death of the “Yankee Iron Horse,” their beloved Lou Gehrig.
For decades the organization refused to offer such a lofty, namesake and laurel to any of their stars including iconic Yanks, the likes of DiMaggio, Rizzuto, Mantle, Maris, Howard, Berra and Ford.
Gehrig’s death left them cautious, careful whom they might eventually take up with, perhaps like the still young, beautiful, healthy and vibrant widow who still harbors and grieves due to tragic lost love. The Yankees and their fans would wait carefully for Mr. Right, for another Ulysses, someone who once again could emulate and duplicate the strings of Gehrig’s pure heart.
Along came Thurman Munson!
The house that Ruth built would once again have a worthwhile provider. Munson was young and with someone such as him at the helm, on the field and imbedded in the organization, the fans felt secure and had no qualms about placing such fanatic faith in one individual. As fate would have it he too was taken away suddenly and tragically and way before his time. With the memory of Gehrig the Yankees remained cautious.
Now in the early days of August, their beloved captain is missing and dead! The Bronx Bombers are 14 games off the pace and that far out of first place. With the sudden demise of Munson the team along with the faithful must prepare to go on. The day after Munson’s death the Yanks were scheduled to host the division-leading Baltimore Orioles, inside Yankee Stadium. As for the game, the Yankee organization contemplated canceling the game altogether out of respect for Munson. Yet, like a sour-faced boxing referee announcing a split decision, the Yanks opt to go on with the game.
The management announces it’s “business as usual.”
Certain respectful arrangements came into play with the organization giving into pressure to eulogize and even reflect. Munson’s locker would be sealed, his number permanently retired and the team would wear the traditional black armband for the remainder of the season.
Despite the looming gloom stadium personnel and fans went about their business. The crowd lined up to purchase tickets yet there was less pushing and shoving. New Yorkers, no universally known for politeness, solemnly stood in line as if readying themselves for the confessional at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
No one seemed in much of a hurry to get to seats. Fans meandered in the corridors outside the stands.
Vendors weren’t all that intent as usual while obnoxiously hawking souvenirs. Many appeared to be in some sort of trance perhaps not knowing what to expect or maybe they wondered why they were there in the first place.
Whatever, there certainly could have been a certain apprehension about coming to terms including that empty and helpless feeling when focusing on who should have been standing behind home plate. Missing will be what they’ve been used to seeing their team’s catcher’s, ole number 15 anchoring the squad that had just taken the field.
Still, a packed stadium, standing room only, barely 24-hours passed since the great house has lost one of its own. Fifty-one thousand plus see the flag at half-staff. The chilling truth is: Thurman is no longer with them, no longer their captain, no longer alive! The crowd became fidgety and unsure of itself perhaps embarrassed. Who was in the mood for baseball? Who wanted to sense the sickening lump crop up in one’s throat at the first mention of Munson’s name over the stadium intercom? Time froze. What was in store?
Mercifully the voice coming over the public address system took charge announcing that a moment of silence would honor the Yankee hero right before the throwing of the first pitch. So silence prevailed. It was a painful, remorseful silence but that silence lasted what seemed solely for an instant . . . this crowd was too smart!
The rough, tough, seasoned and wise New York City mob knew damn right well that Yankee heroes weren’t born and placed on this earth to hear the sound of eerie silence. They’ve never been accustomed to such harshness during the team’s glorious past. Cheers are what New York Yankee champions live and die by! It’s only their followers’ rip-roaring cheers that have the ability to sustain larger-than-life sports legends. Ruth, Gehrig and Stengal could attest.
Suddenly, Munson’s likeness appeared on the scoreboard! Simultaneously the packed stands became vividly alive. The initial silence gave way. A stirring leaped and unfolded into something that could make Yankee sense. A low-hard whine along with a steady-as-she-goes bray escalated around the stadium and bolted skyward into a bold roar!
The noise intensified and sounded more like a squadron of supersonic aircraft passing overhead. The crowd’s rumble reached new crescendos and became earth-shattering. Yankee Stadium shook underfoot. The roar became deafening. What began as a moaning wail transcended into an unbelievable frenzy . . . three minutes . . . four minutes . . . five minutes . . . no let up!
The clamoring echoed from the deepest bowels of the stadium and skyrocketed up past the light towers and onward toward the heavens. The only force that could envelope such an upheaval would be the infinite vastness of space. The wild spontaneous demonstration continued. Visible to passive onlookers were swollen pairs of eyes, with salty tears pouring over the most hardened and even the most sophisticated of faces. Expressions became distorted and contorted from up inside the deluxe boxes all the way down to the busted out screaming in the bleachers.
In T-shirts and business suits, low heeled and high heeled had punks and priests screeching whistling, moaning, stamping their Larchmont feet, cutting through the roar with a myriad of makeshift catcalls with Bowery boy, leather-lunged humans each participating in their own Yankee way. Despite the gloom, few remained stoic, fewer stayed silent, some turned away to hid their faces while on the verge . . .
Perhaps it dawned upon them at that instance that they couldn’t have stayed away and it also may have dawned on them just why they attended. It came down to one pragmatic soul searching reason . . . six minutes . . . seven minutes . . . eight minutes. There was not the slightest hint of letting up.
It was the appropriate time to let it all out with the human composite in the throes, not necessarily that of agony but merely to shout away the pain and wipe away the big wrench-your-heart-out hurt, in unison, as if complaining in New York fashion to their main man: “God damn it, Thurman, we loved you! You were our type of ballplayer, our type of guy!”
Finally, after ten minutes, the crowd eventually subsided, hopefully therapeutically soothed. Those who attended the ad-hoc wake that parlayed into a celebration may have experienced one of the greatest examples of genuine affection ever witnessed by fans within the sport. The throng could then assume and tuck away the memory of Thurman Munson and be partially satisfied his spirit received their poignant remembrance and send off.
The fans did not necessarily attend to watch a ball game but rather to pay homage to a fallen hero. He was a righteous boy from Ohio who won over the fickle and cynical hearts of New Yorkers solely by the way he vivaciously played the sport, a kids game that fatefully planted him in one of the roughest neighborhoods on EARTH having him establishing a fundamentally decent legacy within the voo-doo land of the lower Bronx.
Yankee fans have tested time. They witnessed their heroes bodies deteriorate with the passing of time, They too go by the wayside, but with conviction, they do insist that their spirits remain, if only to be immortalized, to sparkle and mark the passing time into the future. As earlier stated, New Yorkers are a tough bunch.
“A Christmas Story” (2000)
Often during this time of year many reflect on Christmases of the past. I have memories, like way back when it was a couple of days before Christmas, when Johnny Alfano and myself took the 89-bus up to the Avenue. Johnny wanted to get his mom a 45-rpm featuring the Singing Chipmunks’ Christmas song. We were both around 15.
While at Woolworth’s fingering through the record department we noticed two girls. They were a little older but knockouts.
They weren’t neighborhood girls. They weren’t unremittingly murdering chewing gum like most neighborhood girls did, while making crackling, gum-popping sounds. They were slim and stylishly dressed. We shadowed them for a bit, too shy to strike up a conversation. Still, they gave us enticing glances. Finally, one of us mustered up nerve inviting them to have a couple of cherry cokes at the soda fountain.
We lied about our ages. We found out they attended private schools. They had long brown hair that sparkled with a sheen that only teenage girls possess and their finger nails were long and clean and both flashed perfect sets of ultra-white teeth. They said they were from Oxford Circle, a more upscale neighborhood than the blue-collar enclave we came from. We tagged along on Kensington Avenue like a horse and pony show. We would have invited them to the movies but with us springing for the cherry cokes and the record for Alfano’s mom we were busted out.
They said they had to go. One of the girls said her parents always had an open house on Christmas Day and she invited us to stop by them saying they’d be there.
Christmas Day came. It had snowed a few days before. It was bitter cold. For us guys Christmas was just another day, except everything was closed and we couldn’t even play the pinball over at Hecker’s candy store. You could have rated our motley ilk somewhere between Our Gang and the Bowery Boys, only with less talent and less class. So about seven of us ragamuffins stood on the corner, hatless, smoking our butts, talking stupid talk, with our ears turning red from the cold and with our busted-out hands stuffed into our busted-out pockets as we complained how guys our age in California were probably surfing on Christmas Day.
“Odash,” and “Johnny the Lover” were cruising the neighborhood in Odash’s ‘54 Chevy. Odash was about 17 and Johnny the Lover was 18. Only reason Johnny the Lover hung out in Odash’s car was to keep his own butt warm but it also gave Odash a chance to pick up girls by hanging with Johnny the Lover.
No matter how cold it was Odash never permitted any of us younger guys to sit in his pigsty car. The twosome made pit-stops in front of us guys, puffing on their smokes in the comfort of the car, heater on, and the radio playing cool tunes as we froze standing on the street corner.
Odash, whose real name was Adam Kukowski was an unsightly kid. He was fat. He had yellow, chipped front teeth, pimple-faced with gross white-heads from forehead to chin. His fatness never wore an overcoat no matter how cold. He constantly perspired. There was always half-moon wetness below his armpits. Upon further inspection one could surmise he was bad breathed, b.o.-smelling, toe-jammed, itchy-footed and probably had number eleven marks on the insides of his Fruit of the Looms. He coughed a lot. Often he rolled down the car window spitting out thick, icky lungers.
It suddenly dawned upon me about the Christmas invite from the foxes from up on the Avenue. I had the girl’s Oxford Circle address on a napkin from Woolworth’s. I reminded Alfano and the others that those girls had actually invited us but we had no way to get to their house, other than telling Odash.
The-far-from-the-magnificent-seven piled into the Chevy. I may have said something worrisome about all of us suddenly showing up on their doorstep but Alfano rested my concern saying, “No big deal. It’s Christmas.” Realize our social graces were far from refined, and invited or not, we usually crashed parties.
We showed at the doorstep of what looked like a nice home. A man answered the door in a white shirt and tie. I asked for whatever her name was and while speaking fast, said she invited us over for Christmas. The father, maybe thinking we were classmates let us in.
A hodgepodge of snow-covered motorcycle boots, wet-soled, box-toed shoes and canvas Converse sneakers trudged all over the wall-to-wall carpet while storming into the small nicely furnished home. The girl, flashed a look of shock after being summoned by the father, after seeing our crew in such numbers. The mother wore a scowl, as did other family members. I observed the girl, now on the spot, in the kitchen, waiving her hands while explaining to her mom as we awkwardly milled around the living room, smoking our smokes and probably flicking ashes on the carpet.
The living room was chock with relatives, mostly old fogies, taking up all the room on the sofa and side chairs. It was standing room only and we didn’t remove our coats with our noses still running from the cold. The father remained gracious telling us there was food in the kitchen. We hit the buffet and began wolfing down everything in sight. And we didn’t take our beady eyes off the two, half-gallons of Canadian Club Whiskey sitting on the kitchen table!
Odash pointed out the whiskey. The father, struggling to find a sense of decorum and graciousness, yet appearing perplexed offered each of us a shot. The weasels we were knocked down the booze.
Not having anything in common with these people we remained loud, sophomoric, gauche and unwelcome, yet we squelched common sense, remaining oblivious how we were ruining a family get-together. Each time one of us fingered a knick-knack or some other household keepsake one of the adults wisely yanked it out of our hands. An old lady with coke-bottle glasses and blue-coiffed hair snarled and I overheard her say, “Who are these thugs?”
Somewhere along the line we heard what sounded like a slap in the face and saw the daughter and her girlfriend running up the stairs with their faces buried into hands. Meanwhile, Odash and Johnny were rifling the Canadian Club by sneaking more shots. Some guys were stuffing deviled eggs in their coat pockets. We remained shamelessly undaunted with the father handcuffed by decorum not able to figure out just how the hell to get rid of us. It was apparent we were testing his patience.
Sensing it was becoming a bad scene Odash suggested the father offer us a goodbye snort, indicating how perhaps a “one for the road” would graciously evict us. Odash was bombed. In the living room’s heat, a profusely sweating Odash wanted to lip, toward the then aggravated “Whoevers,” his sweet and sour dose of insincere thanks for their hospitality and then to wish all a Merry, Merry Christmas. These peoples’ tolerances were at an end.
Odash swayed in the middle of the crowded living room. He lifted his glass. The adults didn’t. He slurred, “I wanna thank everybody and Mer . . .” But right then Odash’s appeared as if struck! His eyes bulged. He became big bodied. He quivered and let out a noisy and smelly belch. He began to spin. Then he erupted and projectile vomited everywhere in every direction while his fatness went into a twirling tailspin. There were screams. That was it!
The mother screamed, “Herb, GET THESE SONS OF BITCHES OUT OF HERE!”
The older woman with the coke bottle glasses and blue hair pulled an umbrella out of a stand and began whacking Odash over the head. His girth continued to spin out of control, moaning. His yet to be digested Christmas buffet came erupting out of him splattering, the wallpapered walls, the lace curtains and all the carpet at the same time while raining down on anyone within range. Somebody knocked over a lamp. Older men, relatives, had heard and seen enough and now acted like club bouncers springing into action.
It was major-havoc. While being herded towards the kitchen, by what had to be righteous indignation, the jackals that we were laughed and hooted. We just tossed our half-filled shot glasses of Canadian Club into the air to get the hell out of there. I heard glass breaking and shouts. The incensed mother was cursing like a paratrooper calling us every name in the book while kicking us out the back door. It became a stampede with us notorious seven knocking the aluminum screen door off its hinges and having us tripping over each other tumbling down three-or-four snow-covered, back-door steps, a heap of foolishness falling atop one another in the snowy backyard.
We hopped over the backyard fence still laughing like idiots making our way back to Odash’s Chevy never to return again.
I guess that’s almost all of it. It wasn’t my proudest moment yet no doubt, it’s a Christmas story. Somewhere along the line, I grew up, well hopefully.
Weeks later I applied for the stock-boy position at Woolworth’s. I was led to the manager’s office. It was then empty. I waited for the store’s manager to interview me. In walked the very girl’s father. He took one look at me and I took one look at him.
End of story.
“Boyhood Mentor” (1987)
Louie Zerillo has left an indelible impression on me. He taught me many things besides how to wield a hammer or stain thick wooden beams supporting a ceiling. He taught me to recognize some of the finer things in life like Portuguese marble, Czechoslovakian crystal and bone china. Yet, despite the needed refinement and tutelage, there was an uncouth, primal side of the man that showcased a warped sense of humor that was ever so delicious.
Louie was a charismatic personality unique in many ways. I met him when I was about 13 while he was in the midst of refurbishing a home nearby a street corner where I used to hang out.
Louie was sharp. Because of street smarts and keen intuition he befriended us, kids, figuring in Louie-Zerillo fashion, it be best to make alliances as a way to protect his investment. You see he’d have to knock out the house’s front wall, leaving the structure left open to the elements including human elements for some time. Well, since we hung on the corner for all hours.
After first befriending the gang, Louie took some special interest in me and then enlisted me as his sidekick. I performed “go-for” chores for 50 cents an hour. Louie had a day job as a furniture repairman. During the summertime, rather than wasting my life away on a street corner, I’d ride shotgun with Louie as he went on repair jobs.
At 15 I was chauffeuring him around the city and suburbs to complete his furniture-service stops. Said, he hated to drive anymore. Said, driving had become nerve-racking with the traffic and all.
At fifteen I possessed no valid drivers license. Louie paid little mind—referred to me as a capable young man. When we worked on refurbishing the house, he’d pour me potent shots of what he called “sure-fire belts.” Maybe we took one blast of J&B Scotch an hour. I can almost bring back the tingling and warmth after swallowing that pale yellow substance brought on by those “sure-fire” belts. I smoked his Lucky Strikes. He footed all tabs. “Have another piece of pie, Louie,” he’d say.
One of his favorite expressions was, “Fuck ‘em in the ass!”
“Fuck ‘em in the ass!… Fuck ‘em in the ass six times, Louie! See if I care!” Then he’d laugh and laugh and laugh.
He always called me Louie, a nickname I’ve taken exception to. Bear in mind, my Lucky-Strike smoking, JB drinking, tired-of-driving, fuck ‘em in the ass six times mentor’s name too was “Louie,” and he preferred the sound of it to my name. I permitted it to slide.
He delighted me with rich, colorful stories jam-packed with the essence of youth and life. He’d tell me, kick-the-Japs-off-the-end-of-your-bayonet stories, incredible tales about heroics and chance when he served in the South Pacific during WWII. They were solidly told and chockfull of excitement. He gave me a rip-roaring account about a bare-fisted, drag-out fight he took part in with the company brute, one Corporal Connors, and how they rumbled in a marathon slugfest like mad dogs after two days of round-the-clock combat.
With his eyes getting bigger Louie, played out the scuffle. His muscular Italian, middle-aged man’s arms showed off, shadow boxing, rearing back with both fists clenched he demonstrated how he landed a haymaker, flooring Connors for the count, then to be revered by his platoon because he whooped the ass of the once-feared bully.
When I hit 17, I was madly in lust with Diane Pazdunkiewicz. Diane and my budding passions came to bloom simultaneously as we probed each other’s young bodies. Louie would lend me his four-door Buick, and he even let me keep it over night. The back seat Diane and I used as our steamy-love chamber at drive-ins.
One morning when I picked Louie up it was apparent he and the “old-lady,” that’s what he called his wife, had just had an argument.
That morning Louie plopped his girth in the passenger’s seat, lit a Lucky, let out a sigh, and then in not-so-nice-manners barked-off orders, including what direction to drive. He turned quiet, a rare moment. I sensed the tension.
He broke the silence, “Louie!”
By him barking “”Louie”” in such a way was a signal it would be a “Louie discussion,” having him doing the lion’s share of the talking.
“Louie, my young man, sometimes ya just gotta throw caution to the wind! Now, listen to me. I’m going to tell you exactly what you do. Pay attention, ‘cause when the moment comes, you better be ready!”
I paid attention.
“I tell you what you do,” he told me. “Ya get yourself a beautiful bride and ya plan a bombastic wedding.”
Louie whistled, long and slow, exhausting his wind supply. “Ya throw a blast, with all the trimmings. Ya have handsome ushers and ya insist on big-titted brides’ maids.”
He whistled again, “Ya rent a fucking hall. Ya look like a Greek God in your rented tuxedo, and ya dance away the night, have a blast. Ya don’t leave the party either like lots of them schmucks do. Ya make everybody stay. Pay the door guy extra 300 bananas. At dawn, ya go to the diner with your pals and your bride. Ya have two cups of coffee, shake hands, and then hug your gumbas good-bye. Then you-and-your-bride drives off to Atlantic City. Ya spring for the honeymoon suite. OK. Got it so far, Louie?
“Once you’re up in the suite, ya tip the bell boy. As soon as he’s out the door ya say, ‘Oh, honey, look I’ll be right back, I forgot to pick up a pack of butts.’
“So this is what you do. I’ll tell ya what ya do, no madder how crazy it sounds, ya stay away for 24-hours! I mean it! The whole fucking night and ya don’t go back–no-madder how much you’re tempted!
“When you return in the morning you’re gonna find your new bride in tears. She’s gonna tell ya she’s been frantic, worried sick. She’ll say how she’s called the cops, all the hospitals, and members of your family. She’s been crazy with worry!”
I was all-ears. Louie shifted his position. He leaned against the passengers-side door while we cruised at 50 m.p.h. During his talk, he wagged his index finger, and on the other hand, he held a lit Lucky. For the sake of drama, before uttering another word, he spit an errant piece of tobacco off his bottom lip. It landed on my pant leg, the leg with the foot pressing the accelerator.
He continued. “First thing ya say is that you love her. Say, while you were walking through the hotel’s lobby, you know, while getting the smokes, ya ran across an old buddy. Tell her ya can’t go into details right then, but your buddy had a major problem. Tell her you two go waaaay back and for the sake of buddyism ya had no choice and it was a big deal, and you just had to help. There was no time to call.
“Now, Louie, this girl will believe ya, ‘cause she’s your new bride. Don’t forget she loves ya. She’ll be thrilled you’re back. Don’t worry she’ll come around. Now listen to me! The instant she softens up . . .”
Louie then slapped the back of one hand against his left palm making a crack-like sound. The long ash of his Lucky fell to the car’s floor. “Ya say, ‘Honey look, I just have one thing to clean up. It will only take five minutes. I’ll be right back I swear. Don’t concern yourself, sugar plum, you know I’m crazy about ya!’”
I turned to give my mentor a look. Louie waited for a few beats as if indicating to himself a particular curiosity as to hear if I might have a reaction? yet I kept mum and didn’t say “jack shit!”
Once not hearing a peep from me, Louie delivered the upshot. “Then, Louis, like the courageous son-of-a-bitch that I know you are, ya stay away another 24 hours!”
I couldn’t think of anything to say!
As if he was telling the story to himself he continued. “Ya know why ya pull off such a stunt Louie?” As if on the verge of hysterics, he rocked and belly laughed. I almost lost total control of the car when like a cat mugging a mouse he sprung himself at me, face to face, blocking my view of the roadway all while I braced the wheel!
He screamed out the answer to his own question: “Cause, Louie, if that fucking bitch is still there the second time, well then buddy boy, she’s fuckin’ well-worth keeping! And as for the rest, fuck ‘em all in the ass. Fuck ‘em in the ass, six times!”
Relieved that I didn’t crash the car and after calming myself Louie quietly immersed himself into some sort of reflective, peasant-philosopher nirvana, sitting back bathed in some sort of weirdo look.
In my view, it was the most bizarre, bad-sounding idea to ever spout from Louie’s lips. But as years have passed I’ve rehashed the outrageous advice a number of times for my-own sake. And now, I have to say, little by little, it’s all beginning to make prudent sense.
“PUSSY__A PERSPECTIVE” (2000)
I’ve been writing full time for over 15 years. Today, I’m almost 56. Seems my imagination has always had the best of me and I’ve developed a penchant to write, to tell stories, stories hopefully chocked with similarities and comparisons with built-in conflict.
While writing fiction or any story, it’s essential to have a premise develop, drive the plot so the tale eventually reaches a boiling point to eventually arrive at a resolution. Like many others, before me I’ve employed such methods.
Yet, for much longer than I’ve been writing, there’s been another constant, a yearning and desire–-a yearning and desire more powerful than the urge to compose, to publish, or win meritorious writing awards. As you can imagine the real lure is the burning want for women’s’ affections. It’s probably one of the main reasons I write in order to be understood or at least read by a particular audience. Yet it’s an elusive audience, not so lofty in numbers, numbers that I’m not so sure exists for my benefit.
Regardless, I’ve held onto strong hankerings, with “that something,” . . . that something that in my view is totally irresistible as the ridiculous and constant yearning for a woman’s intimate affection; those magic and precious moments with someone who is soft and sweet. To be frank, and from my standpoint, it’s the intimacy that ranks and overwhelms any other banal desires such as a nice-nice, vanilla relationship.
I’m talking about “Pussy!” I’m opening up here! I’m not speaking about hand-holding or tender and heartfelt pecks that say, “good night” or just cuddling, or being perceived by the fairer one as decent company or some other Edwardian, Downton-Abbey-type of give and take.
Do understand, in my view there’s nothing disingenuous about the beforehand mentioned and all past abd oresebt endearments should be appreciated and even embraced.
Yet in my case, it’s been that shameless “take-what-you-want Pussy” I’ve been seeking. Other overt activities I’m engaged in might be guises or smoke screens in order to get to the meat of the matter with schemes too often that’s often elusive and mercurial, yet again, I’m talking about steamy, wet-with-wonder, moaning and groaning, “stick-it-to-me, baby, Pussy!”
As a 21st Century man, one would think there would be a higher calling.
As I’ve tried to indicate, striving for riches or to affiliate myself within the halls of power are faded dreams that may or may not have occurred during this one-time sprint of life. And please, don’t give me any shit about past lives and the possibilities of reincarnation. Why take a chance? Besides, there may not be any Pussy available in the next life. And even if there have been other times or dimensions, what’s a memory’s worth, if one can’t savor the past?
During this go around, so far, it has been Pussy and solely Pussy that’s reigns as supreme! The very notion of its magnetic nature falls nothing short in my mind as amazing! How come?
Surely, life presents challenges and responsibilities as to work and attain achievements or, as stated, embrace a higher calling. But then again that depends. In my case, with my own pragmatism and sense of decorum it can get a practical guy like me thinking: Am I a fiend? Is the lust living within me an animal’s magnetism? What drives me? Can it be something as basic as “I like it?” At my age, there should no longer be an urge to propagate . . . or could it be . . . or could it be the unique rush one achieves from employing seduction?
There are nobler vocations. Why not emulate the likes of a Mother Theresa or some other universal icon, yet sorry-to-say they’ve never materialized nor have I aspired for such. As a youth in parochial school, the sanctimonious quest to save my immortal soul was the church’s priority. At around nine years old I butted heads with my Church. It was a secretive conflict between my religious conscious and myself. Risks came due to my behavior and mindset. According to the precepts of the church, any thought of Pussy would cast my eternal soul into the agonizing flames of hell!
Regardless, in true “Portnoy’s Complaint” fashion, behind the closed bathroom door, on the toilet, I leafed through the old folks’ paperbacks with eyes bugging out! With no older man in the household, I was assured of no girly magazines. As for the paper back novels, “What story line?” Turning the pages my eyes darted to the end of chapters where love scenes took place. Oh how I envisioned the delicious sights, sounds, peeps and quivers; my take on how grown-ups had the freedom and privacy to get absolutely naked while both “on fire” while “wet with wonder!”
Since the earliest memories, the threats and repercussions about sinning didn’t have fearful staying or stopping power as to stifle me. It was made clear by priests and nuns about the repercussions and I did pay keen attention to the threats with yet with little effect, ‘cause endless erotic thoughts saddled me with both guilt and fear.
For me, I saw those taboos as flimsy roadblocks. Whatever those holds, grips or hang-ups were, they didn’t stop me from having saucy naked images of girls spinning around inside my head, prompting me to fondle myself in a wicked manner in a sordid mind set that had me entwined in some carnal fuck-fest. I discounted any thought of the repudiated repercussions. While maintaining a free will with the pedal to the metal, non-stop, at the speed of lust, I ran those stop gaps like a bank robber in a getaway car on the cum-strewn hi-way.
With all the mundane talk of sin, the misgivings, the fear of rejection, the heartbreak, the idea of possible pregnancies, venereal diseases or whatever, yet none of those possible maladies ever dampened my appetite to pursue delectable Pussy.
There are rules for youngsters by adhering to parents, heeding teachers, coaches, and bosses and a whole laundry list of authority figures that placed me on track to mesh with society. Facts were they were normally tasks for me to please somebody else.
At first, the game was a youthful fantasy. Once I learned to comb my hair and honed my seduction routine and I got a couple of those girlies’ to take off their bras, and lift their skirts or to finally turn those: Don’t! Stops! into. “Don’t stop! My posturing has been a constant.
There were other pressures growing up in mid-20th Century America. There was doom-and-gloom lurking during the cold war with worldwide events unfolding like Cuban Missile Crisis, no matter, ‘cause no matter what I was doing . . . all was measured upon the speculation that eventually I’d be getting some Ass. Every move measured, such as “scoring touchdowns,” or the way I dressed or “my picaresque” or with whom I palled around with——all were driven and designed for the attainment of Pussy. At the same time, I’ve always been somewhat pragmatic and I began to wonder.
The first kernels of my sexual drive began to arise when I used to run around the dining-room table in front of the TV, thinking that the pretty brunette in the old black-and-white Flash Gordon episodes could somehow admire how fast little Louie could run around that mahogany table. I’d circle the table relentlessly, driving my grandmother crazy, me chock full of cock-sureness, believing that brunette marveled, admiring my dedication and endurance through some space-aged-seeing device. Once that was accomplished she’d surely show me her naughty spot.
I did my best to attract girls and women as a teenager, as a young buck, as a soldier, as a married man, and as a divorced/single man. I’ve had up and downs, lost sleep and have had fits of sadness and even sobbing brought on by only the lonely drunkenness, all because of “it.”
I’ve wasted a fortune, then maybe not, been the sap and the sucker, then maybe not. There’ve been high-water marks, triumphs with rushes not literally definable while fixing me atop the world or at least atop some Joan or Cynthia or some Kim. Perhaps it’s the reason I’ve titled this essay, “Pussy.”
Is writing about pussy the centerpiece of my stories? I don’t think so but looking back, especially when unattached it’s evident about its importance. It has been front and center as the focus and always has been as a day-to-day conquest from the very moment I open my eyes until I close them. I am the victim of the centerpiece!
Then consider I peg myself as normal, rather ordinary with common sense, with a strong will to survive, to propagate, to do business, to sport and sense I’m a well-rounded person. I have my achievements too. Good stuff with me employing tools for success going hand in hand with the pursuit of Pussy. Having someone who appears as fantastic on your arm accelerates a chump’s status amongst peers. Plus having downtown-looking babe on one’s arm is a convincing reinforcement within one’s own mind that women find someone like me attractive, at least attractive enough to sleep with. And I’ve questioned myself and shivered with tinges of guilt wondering if that desire to seduce a woman has been trite or strictly carnal or am I still in search of the affection of the right woman?
I’d prefer to sum things up in a few paragraphs. Yet employing brevity has never been my strong suite.
This memorandum, essay or whatever, hopefully, might place into perspective just what the hell has been going on. Help for me, and maybe helpful for you perhaps taking us back to our youthful years when forces of nature and culture drove us into situations. As teens, culturally, we were expected to have girlfriends or boyfriends, expected to court, date and then marry. Biologically, burgeoning, horny genes nudged us along. Buck-toothed guys and freckled-faced gals make forgivable mistakes. As kids, we often didn’t choose worthy partners. We may have participated in experimental foolish behavior for many reasons because we’re naive or idealistic. That is why after we have reached the so-called age of reason we are at times stifled from finding new and suited partners, partners who satisfy our true desires or visa Versa. As we get older, we are petrified about making those sorts of mistakes . . . The jury of peers won’t be that kind to us.
Two gals meet for lunch, late teens, early twenties, here let me stretch it, late twenties. “How is it going?” asks one, “Oh, I met, Joe, he is terrific; we didn’t leave the house the whole weekend. He’s the best!”
Two weeks later the teens or twenty-some-year-olds meet again. “How’s Joe?” asks “what’s-her-face. The other replies, “Oh, I’m so over him and we’re through but I just met this new dream boat . . .”
The point, younger people can get away with bouncing around. Having the sin of shit-for-brains mates is easily forgiving when it comes to youths. The same benevolent sentiments don’t hold true and sentiments might swing the other way later on in life.
Yet, let’s not get the wrong impression and get too analytical here, not to lose focus! This piece is about “Pussy!” I’ve been fortunate to experience fine-fine, super-fine pussy. I’ve also been cut down and paralyzed by the awful emptiness of “Pussy Lost.” And also, trolls like me with our indiscriminate tastes have come to put up with so-so pussy, that after the fact, I could have given a fuck about, but then, unfortunately, there have been the intangible.
There has even been Pussy that I haven’t bothered to pursue.
Within these writings, my attempt is to provide various accounts and explanations. Within the body of my writings most aspects of sexuality have been fitted into the plot as no more than colorful vignettes to mark events and arouse senses, surfacing more so as blue-collar prose and nothing more than decorative ornaments.
Within my stories, Pussy has usually been just a highlight or footnote. Never has the subject been the centerpiece, yet I can’t deny those undertones of sensuality have always been brewing. What the reader will find here will be all Pussy!
When I’m talking Pussy, I’m not just referring to the primal pursuit that takes place in the conniving minds of men with hard-ons.
Fact is, this essay is not solely designed for males. I hope to make some inroads with the feminine gender . . . those who possess that mysterious wealth of holy trim that consists of a few worthless inches of mucous membrane, representing to the ages the enigmatic cavern and a mighty enough tour de force to launch armies, cripple kingdoms and blow minds that has provided its benefactors out-of-this-world heights of ecstatic delight or mercilessly, has cast them down bottomless abysses to a world of disillusionment!
I’ll expound on Pussy and the hopeless void one might find them self in because of the lack of it. I hope to magnify the very mysterious nature of those genital areas. Therefore, I desire the forthcoming contents to cross gender lines.
Within this vomit, I will often use graphic explanations, yet steamy enough to get the juices flowing. I make no apologies; it’s just an uncouth style that exposes my cultural status or lack of such. And then, to be honest, I’m not always articulate enough to clarify terms into clinical language. Biology has never been an interest, even though Pussy is closely related.
Not that I’m that well read, but Henry Miller cast an indelible impact on my way of thinking, especially when it came to Pussy. Up to the time I was 19 while sequestered in the military during a short-on-pussy existence. Up to that point, I had yet to read about such searing and scorching moments men could wallow in with willing and lusty trim action, with it being written about in such tantalizing detail.
Henry Miller surely raised the literary bar when it came to writing about doing the oodie-ah-ah and he did so with his delicious, go-for-it adoration of that desired spot situated between women’s legs.
Yet it doesn’t take too much to realize that Pussy is way more than that clammy spot that turns men and women into fools. Miller may have gone overboard and exaggerated circumstances with courageous descriptions by using shame-on-you-boy language in such a cavalier manner while completely undaunted within the chapters of Miller’s “Sexus” or “Tropic of Cancer.” My mind was a-spinning and his erotic tales had my cock rock solid as my eyes gobbled up the titillating and explicit scenes painted by the rude-and-randy, Miller. Consider my-then age. Consider my situation and the frenzied competition with thousands of horny, pussy-denied men packed into a dusty Army camp. What did I wildly desire? . . . Was it my freedom from the rigors of military life? No! That ranked a far second. What was it? You got it!
I’d like to make this a handbook for single people, for those approaching middle age with me taking aim at the unattached and those deprived of rip-roaring sex.
For those of you who are younger what unfolds might be food for future thought. For those involved in long-term relationships, I’ll draft an honest picture and set terms about what you might think you could be missing and I’ll do my best to take a higher road to boast the merits of those attached and dedicated to significant others. For those of you who have bypassed the six-decade milestone, I might be able to rekindle your spirit if such a yearning lies dormant.
From time to time I’ll reflect, and even drift back as to resurrect past writings and insert my reflections as reference notes: I’ll repeat word for word for various reasons as the most self-effacing excuses will be laid out with me being my norm: Lazy, as I might copy and paste as to rehash already penned scenarios written by me in the past works. I am not always capable of improving onetime shots-from-the-hip and other off-the-cuff deliveries. Attempts by me to restructure past written passages may be overkill.
The first time out of the box thoughts are sometimes best, including too many to mention unraveled emotions, more so honest, extemporaneous boil-overs due to what we might refer to as an (ahem) “cause,” which led to an (ahem) “effect,” that led to various passages I‘ve written.
Lastly, I’d rather share them in their original form. I hope to cover material riling the senses, the fire down under, then change my tack——paint in the doubts and the feeling of shame stemming from the fear of rejection, the faux pas and then back to the shimmering deliciousness of it all when hitting pay dirt—— showcasing the naughty aspects, the guilt aspects, the essential need for entwining chemistry as I might reflect on awkward instances, like premature ejaculation, the sudden loss of arousal or the male thing.
Seems these days women too, in erotic instances, too are seeking the essence of Pussy, but mostly in the form of their own Pussy seeing to it that that mysterious part of their body is properly handled with care. Women express much about the heart yet, in the long run, they’re kidding themselves too often. Yet we can’t ignore some cultural changes that have been occurring right under our noses, case and point that more and more straight women are pursuing Pussy! I wish somewhere in here to explain my slant on this new-age complicated aspect of nature and how this modern age has become a fierce competition for males.
This story or yarn, or whatever it will turn into will be all-Pussy! I swear to tell the Pussy truth, the whole Pussy truth, so help me, Pussy!
For those of you who think this type of reflection is sophomoric muck, so be it. Yet, perhaps you have yet to realize in the scope of things the immense role that Pussy has played in your own existence regardless of your gender or age or religious views including even a moral conviction. Some of you will slam shut these writings at once. You have more important things to concern yourselves with rather than curling up with this self-indulging nonsense.
But hold on, here! . . No matter how pragmatic you are or what uppity opinion you harbor, and to what degree of sophistication you believe you have attained, regardless of educational degrees possessed or how many figures are crammed into your bank accounts; know that forthcoming notions are designed for those with “wonders,” and those who’ve asked in “time in memorial,” the “how comes?”
For now, I’m on the mission of the Pussy truth and to shed honest and even if incriminating, light, regardless if my sometimes obvious explanations turn into run-on sentences or not. How much fun would life be without dangling participles?
You might choose to relate. Maybe these writings turn out to be so self-indulging and they’ll just lend themselves toward my own warped therapy. Maybe some of you have discovered the answers on your own and have done so long ago. Maybe with the help of mentors or role models you’ve capped them off, cataloging them in the time capsule and have put them all aside doing so with big-person mannerisms. Take into consideration more important aspects to your existence like your belief in the All-Mighty or with children to raise, mortgages to pay, attending to the ills or that your minds have been properly encompassed in worthwhile projects like curing cancer or saving of a species or the complex developing some new, rapid-fire software.
Shit! Man, you just might have to drive a stinking rig through ice and snow or the blistering heat of summer. Then maybe in your case or mine, that the ambitious dreams and aspirations related to what’s paramount in your life, has come to be? Maybe all that you can hold claim to is that you’re a Pussy maven and you’ve had oodles of it and it comes along easy and that’s been the case all of your life? So regardless, if you’re a distinguished college professor with tenure, a nutritionist, or a State trooper or a traveling salesman, makes no difference, you’ve been like most of us, you’ve had the moral strength to keep that wild desire under wraps. You’ve been immune perhaps. Yet I haven’t.
I believe there are a slew of us in the same fix. I’ve overheard the conversations. I’ve driven past motels in the middle of the afternoon. I’ve had naughty conversations with just-as-horny females and viewed, read and have eagerly taken part in what takes place in chat rooms. I’ve been to girly bars and whorehouses. Shit, I’ve been to Cuba. Man, sex sells, and sex sells big time!
I have to take into consideration that way greater minds than mine have investigated sexuality; dudes like Freud and Jong invested countless hours to attempt to unravel the goop from the gobbly goop. I have to soberly ask. Have they told the truth or did they really figure it out, or have their investigations been eclipsed by these days by a more fidgety, fickle, pressure-packed society?
I want to speak only the truth. To a degree, I’ll sell out the centuries-old, male conspiracy, the unwritten rule of never selling out a brother that has reigned amongst the male gender throughout the ages. It’s a conspiracy that men hold fast to and it crosses the bounds of measured society, rich, poor, brains and dummies, young and old and then seeps into most relationships between men. We (men) listen and speak in hushed tones or shout to the heavens, when out of earshot of certain women as we mill around tables during card-games or on the corner. I don’t wish to become pyorrhea but if we are ever going to get anywhere we have to get it all out in the open. I’m proud but not so proud pointing out hard facts yet my heart tells me that now’s the time. Shit, everybody is selling out anyway, I may as well sell out what I believe in, that being my own constant state and my own constant pursuit of “Pussy.”
CHEMISTRY AND ITS IMPORTANCE
I was sitting and having a drink with a good-looking, strapping, 25-year-old friend of mine in a popular bar in the town where I live. He was complaining about the shortage of available pussy, well at least pussy to his liking or even more so, pussy that found him appealing.
Maybe the first issue all of us in pursuit of intimate relationships should consider is the proper chemistry needed to spark romance, regardless of its staying power. If you don’t get started with a potential partner there might not be presented the opportunity for the idea of carnal affection.
The notion of winning someone over, along with their delectable charms by some Herculean feat, is usually for fiction novels or the silver screen. Normally we suspect right off the bat that there might be something between you and that someone we might take a fancy toward, but back to my friend.
While sitting in the bar, which was crowded, I indicated that mathematically speaking, most of us fall in a category somewhere between 5 and 95% of the people of the opposite sex who find each of us appealing, well appealing enough to get more intimate with. We all fall in between those percentages. Hopefully we run closer to the 95% number than the 5%, still, though, we are all somewhere within that realm. Even Tom Cruise or some other thought of heartthrob, rarely qualify for the 100% category.
So, while speaking to my disgruntled friend I indicated such. I also spoke about how often many set their sights higher but in reality, we are wasting time trying to bed someone who doesn’t appear to be interested in us.
He asked, “Why?” I replied, “Chemistry.” In my view, if there is no chemistry, then one may as well forget about it, and that goes for men and women. Now, one could cast all that aside if really taken by someone and do their utmost to eventually win them over, but one would have to be struck with a gigantic dose of gah-gah type love for whatever reasons.
I went on to point out to my friend there were at least one hundred women in the bar. Now worst-case scenario for him, which wasn’t the case I’m sure, but worst-case scenario meant there were at least five women who found him
Those of us on the prowl should try and stick with what works for us. Once we forget about trying to lay Julia Roberts or some other diva out of our reach, more than likely the success rate of intimate relationships will dramatically rise. We all possess some appeal. Some of us, just a few, are the full package of sex appeal, finance, smarts and abilities that are appealing to all, and most of us have shortcomings.
My young friend seemed to have gotten it and since that sit down I see him doing well with women, attractive women. Actually, I forgot all about our conversation until one night when he was leaving arm in arm with an attractive female, who was wiping herself all over him who couldn’t wait to get somewhere private.
Enough said on this matter, now to the next venue but first some tell-all. I heard that way back in the ‘20s, Cornell University conducted a study on attractiveness. I am not sure it is true, more or less one of those repudiated assumptions. But for the sake of the subject at hand, women supposedly give off signs about their openness to men.
As the story or study goes, if a woman does not expose any palm towards a man in opening conversation or forthcoming conversations, men shouldn’t make advances, no matter how benign they might be construed. That’s bad timing my, Man!
Best advice would be to play it cool and wait and see if the woman might begin to show her palms while expressing herself. Folded arms, clenched fists, hands under the table, behind the back or hands stuffed in pockets are stop signs. Now if the woman in question does begin to show some palm action, as we will call it, then her arms to adjust her hair, twiddle an ear ring and show arm pit, my, my, my . . . after palm and arm pit action, there is only one pit left to expose!
LOSING OUR OWN PERSPECTIVE OVER PUSSY
Some years back a rock and roll star composed a song. Looking back, it was a masterpiece about young love and the riveting desire for Pussy. The song was titled: “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.” The hard-driving tune in places sounds as if one could be at the opera. It is apparent a young man has his gal inside a car with them listening to the radio at some secluded spot listening to a Yankee baseball game at no less and it is apparent with the song’s lyrics the young man wants to get into the pants for the first time and during this course of almost begging she keeps asking, “Will you love me for the rest of your life?” And it is obvious the young man is hesitant at making that sort of commitment but cleverly within the provoking song it becomes more apparent that the arousal level is becoming higher and higher and the young man is becoming more desperate, and the young lady in-turn is becoming more and more stubborn as not to let him get to the promised land without relenting.
There is a fabulous vocal give and take between the two strong singers and with a pitch that is glass shattering, the young woman keeps holding her young man at bay by continuing to lean on the guy. “Will you love me for the rest of your life?” And finally the young man can take no more and gives in and then in the singing portion he belts out, “I will love you for the rest of my life . . .” The singer hits pay dirt and then sadly the song ends with him braying after he has made such a commitment, how he wishes his life was through!
You see, our sexual drive is relentless and has us saying and doing things, for the time being, we can’t imagine ever saying or doing during normal times. We’ll actually say to a woman or a man they’re on the spot to explain how love will last for all time to come. We know it is an idiotic statement, completely ridiculous yet nevertheless, if the company, time-and-atmosphere are just right, we blurt it out.
This is what often happens. A young man sets his path, he plays sport, he works, he has pursuits and that special young woman becomes one of them. The first time he engages in no holds barred sex, to his liking, something more intimate or erotic than being in the back seat of a car, something that is prolonged, like delicious love making . . . he is more than likely done for.
He likes his football on TV. He likes his night out with the boys, weekly poker games. He shares such with his newfound sweetheart. That is good. We all should be honest up front. That is where the problem comes in.
So, it is supposed to be “his” night out. He and his new love have participated in prolonged love making during previous encounters. So, rather than going out with the boys because of some lack of confidence, our boy shows up on his sweetheart’s doorstep. She asks, “I thought you were going to go play poker, or watch the game?” Yet the sap answers, “I want to be with you!”
Why does he want to be with her? Why does he give up what is close to his heart? Does he really want to be with her or is he worried she might not hold out and while he betting on stupid spades or hearts, she is giving what he is getting to someone else . . . more than likely that is it.
For then his goose is cooked. You see, ‘cause sometime later when he is sitting home on a Friday night, bored to tears, wishing so much he could escape, watch that game, play that hand, drink down the beers in a carefree mood; he has given all that up because he once said, “I’d rather be with you!”
From that point, there is no going back. He is stuck. It is his fault. He said it, and in the minds of women, who believe him and us, he is then sentenced to want to be with them over anything else and it is a lie!
For reasons of insecurity or possessiveness, he said such way back. And there is no doubt, that when one looks into a woman’s eyes, telling her she is the world, that nothing else counts, that everything and everybody else is a piece of shit, other than them, one receives back from a woman a powerful response she believes in her heart and soul that those sentiments will last forever.
PANGS OF HEARTBREAK OVER PUSSY
God Damn You Tennessee Williams
Tainted love, grandiloquence, indifference, deceit and betrayal are traits flashed by the seedier characters in Tennessee Williams’ plays. Those human ticks and tells are often embellished within the over-the-top performances. Louisiana’s stifling heat and lean-on-you humidity are also part of the atmosphere stemming from the underbelly of Nawawlins or the murky backwaters of the bayou. Often portrayed are the insatiable cravings for wealth, power and the most elusive of them all, love. Fear of rejection and the thirst for affection trump all. Williams, in a not-so-nice way, cooks up an insipid gumbo awash with woes and heartbreak.
Considering my past, and now my most recent past, it’s as if TW has set me up as one of his tormented souls considering some of the fixes I have gotten myself into during my 67-plus years. Who knows what numbered act I’m presently cast in? Yet I think I’m aware of my role. I’m locked in the jaws of emotional circumstance. There have been challenges, emotional and physical. I’ve never shied away from the reality of defeat or challenge. Life without challenge is pasta without gravy.
Heart Ache: Mislabeled because heartache pains the mind more so than the heart, not fatal, but one might wish it were. Heartache is paralyzing! There’s no known cure. Pills won’t help. Neither will getting drunk. There’s no shut-off switch. No dope! No morphine! A well-meant conversation with a close friend is appreciated but usually comes up empty. Some say, “Go find another heart.” That’s a non-starter right now. Genuine heartache offers a one-of-a-kind, sinking sensation that remains a constant. It’s an everyday “du jour” and turns out to be the very last image the mind focuses upon when closing one’s eyes. There’s “no good night, Sweetheart.” Then . . .
Heart Ache is awake and up before you and the first unwelcomed bastard of a vision to greet your consciousness.
Heartache is impervious to distraction. Attention to work, Sport, being with friends are flimsy band-aids. Maybe writing it down and getting it all out helps. Bleeding one’s heart enables one to get in heartache’s face to make some sense of it all. Perhaps to duplicate tactics a seasoned prizefighter employs when going up against a more gifted and relentless opponent, and an opponent who delves out the punishment related to lost love. “In this corner . . . straight from Hell . . . weighing more than the elephant in the room! The Undefeated . . . ‘Kid Heart Ache!'”
What’s a guy to do?
Our boy can’t go toe-to-toe with Kid Heart Ache! The Kid has too much firepower! Our boy no longer possesses the stamina. He has to be careful and not act desperate or go swinging wildly praying for a jaw-connecting haymaker. Heart Ache’s too tough. Using such a strategy would have “our boy” along with his weepy sentiments, taking a whooping! The game plan is to get right up in Heart Ache’s fucking face, the closer the better. Cram his style! Writing down the facts acts as a distraction denying heartache the opportunity to occupy the mind and dominate the fight. It’s up to me to take away Heart Ache’s target areas, denying the son of a bitch’s leverage and his devastating knock-out power.
The method of writing has me sensing as if I’m slugging back! I have to stay on my feet.
But once the bell rings and the round ends and you’re back in your corner. There’s no swig of water, no cut man or towel boy and you’re alone with your thoughts.
When the fingers take a break on the keyboard, like a monster that won’t die, Kid Heart Ache shows up to mug your sorry ass invading your brain with visions—visions that include, She, the lost lover and another!
It’s a horror show seeing her, in my mind’s eye in all the familiar and sensual positions, doing what she does, making the noises and saying those “fuck me, baby!” words she’s lustfully directing to some faceless Palooka.
Tennessee portrays guys like me as saps, a sap with the tender heart. I’m weak too. “A drawn sword does not become a tender heart.” Yeah, hard to admit, I got one of those too! I’m a softy, a sucker for a female’s sob story, hating to see a beautiful woman cry, catapulting me to volunteer myself especially if the most recent Pauline and her perils stem from a great pair of tits.
My woes of the heart could be chronicled as tortuous slow dance to embrace heartache until the music’s over. Yet the sad song plays on. When Tom Waits rambles that the subject of the song might erase heartbreak, in his brilliant, “Step Right Up!” Tom Waits growls, “Christ, Buddy, you don’t know the meaning of heart break!”
It’s déjà vu! Ten years ago I made my own attempt to emulate playwright Williams. When I penned an original stage play. I wrote and produced, “Loose Ends,” a semi-biographical black comedy. I sensed, wrongly it seems, that that script capped off my romantic life.
“Loose Ends,” the play, introduces its main character, Tony Zerillo, an old and broken man, impoverished, suddenly stirred and awakened, a scene likely perceived by audiences as a “Ghost of Christmas-like experience,” Dickens-ish. Co-starring along with Tony is Debra, Tony’s one-time wife from 35 years before who suddenly storms into his hovel during the wee hours. She’s the same age as when first married! Initially Tony, or the audiences are not sure if he’s dreaming, dead or hallucinating. Debra is followed on stage by six other loves from Tony’s past.
All the women, different ages, covering a 35-year span since he divorced Debra, including two others from even beforehand, enter the stage at various intervals. Each takes turns hammering away at Tony, exposing his lies and manipulative ways, with the drama pointing out and substantiating it was Tony who eventually threw away their genuine loves.
At the time of the production, I was in a strong relationship with a woman named Lisa who made me swear to the heavens I’d never write about our time together, so I won’t elaborate and that that eventual breaking with Lisa too was very difficult. Loss and heartbreak followed that relationship.
So, since then, ole Mr. Living It, Loving It, Loving It, Living It, actually thought he was done with the pangs of heartache like those dramatic performances portrayed in my stage play Loose Ends.
Yet, before yesterday and before the idea of My Latest, and before Lisa and before those portrayed in Loose Ends there’s been a diverse cast of lovelies and it was before, Jamie, and before the Hawaiian mother of my love-child, Paddy Lee, and long before I ever met my wife of 18 years, one Lauri Christine . . . and before my wartime sweetheart, Diane, yet it was even way before that that I was first introduced to ole Mr. Heart Ache, a genuine ass kicking I absorbed before I turned 13.
The call came at about 10 o’clock on a Sunday night. I was far from asleep, tormented but in my bed. One of my aunts called up and said there was a Mary Ann on the phone. I was in seventh grade, she in, eighth. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “It’s just that, Chickee, is a challenge!”
That was it. CHICKEE, A CHALLENGE! WHAT THE FUCK!
We’ve heard the challenge thing before. Somebody’s a fall-down drunk or a slacker who shits in the boat, how sexy; yet he’s a challenge or the disillusioned bitches offer other lame excuses for lame men is their out . . . sensing they’re absolved. That’s the excuse according to empty-headed broads who mistake kindness for weakness.
The aloof brooding assholes who those dummy dames see as sexy are challenging all right, especially when they wind up pacing the floor and threatening suicide while later saddled with severe money problems or all exacerbated over nothing than becoming worse, a brute, beating the Julius out of them a few years later. The gambler, the womanizer, the drug addict, and the liar are all challenges better left unchallenged but don’t tell that to those who believe they can change men. Don’t tell that to Her at this state because we do know that mental illness comes into play when falling into or falling out of love!
The Mary Ann/Chickee abomination was my first encounter with mean old Mr. Disappointment. That’s where mean old Mr. Disappointment, aka Heartache, takes you by the scruff of your neck and tosses you down this fucking hole and you keep falling and falling dreading final impact. Only thing, the constant terror, the fear and dread remains fixed in time. The drop accelerates and perhaps you just wish you’d wind up like a World Trade Center jumper and impact might be a relief. Yet heartache gives you no break and you just keep on falling
Mary Ann was the first girl I kissed like a girl friend. I remember she was brunette, smart, and a good girl, who amply filled out a cable knit sweater! The kissing was moist and passionate, but still innocent enough while keeping our tongues to ourselves. She voiced, after my first try to slip her some tongue, she was holding off kissing that way until she met who she thought was Mr. Right. I’d have to earn such a title.
We, with the rest of our schoolmates, attended the double feature matinees each Sunday. Mary Ann and I kissed away through the features, disregarding Godzilla and The Mummy until our lips turned numb. It was great. She smelled so good and was so sweet and I felt so lucky and so good. My idealistic Catholic rearing and good boy manners held back my pangs of lust. For the moment I was happy to be her guy and consider, a snot-nosed seventh-grader having the heart of an eighth-grade girl!
One bummer that truncated our steamy encounters, in-the-dark-of-the-Orpheum turned out to be that I had to be home for a 4 o’clock dinner with the family. I was a maven on coming up with ways to avoid mundane family events but the mandatory Sunday dinner was an absolute. At 3:45 I high tailed out of the darkness of the movie house and, tearing myself from Mary Ann. I arrived at the dinner table just in time, wolfed down my meal, blitzed out of the house as I rushed back to the theater to be with my Mary Ann. It took a moment to adjust my eyes in the darkness.
I wish my eyes never adjusted. There was my girl, my precious Mary Ann with that thug, Chickee Devlin, a true scallywag, a fucking no-good, who couldn’t be compared to me in any way as far as a decent human being was concerned, and there he was with his fucking, faggot, punk tongue jammed into the precious once-pure mouth and what seemed like down the throat of my Mary Ann as his greedy, filthy paw squeezing her right breast!
I was frozen, in disbelief, punched in the chest, spit in the face, hit over the head, stabbed, knocked down, kicked, brutalized and fucked in the ass, all at once. Somehow Mary Ann got a glimpse of me standing up against the red velvet drapes, under the Exit light at the back of the movie house. Her mouth broke from Chickee’s became agape, stuck in the open position as her eyes giving away to that just-got-caught look. I ran home.
A brand new terrible sensation invaded my every thing. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t anything. I didn’t want to do anything. TV was just a din. School was nothing but me acting out yet the inner pain was a constant. Worse, a smug Chickee, an eighth-grader himself, was flaunting to all the other hair-lips about his newfound conquest, Louie’s girl. I wasn’t going to fight for her and it became a sad saga. As I could have had predicted, knowing Chickee Devlin as I did, a kid of no substance who probably wound up doing hard-time, Chickee just played her and told locker room stories about the most private attributes of my Mary Ann Wynn, surely lies. He humiliated her in public and told other hair lips lies about her that included bare tit.
When word got back to Mary Ann about Chickee telling guys she touched his dick, se was devastated besides our young love laying in ruin, destroyed.
It wasn’t ’til we moved to a new neighborhood that I was able to get over her, but the scar tissue remained. I remember that pain, while now in my own pain, and I remember it like it was 15 minutes ago.
Oh, I bet I could have kept TW on his typewriter for another full lifetime. And the hits keep coming with the latest go-around with the Shes and me; often described as tumultuous relationships built on dependence and lust. To a degree, despite our ages, these days are usually youthful in need of what we sense has been lacking in our lives even if sober Frank and Avas, or Dick and Lizes or some other up-and down-couple who just can’t get along I sense Tennessee could surely portray me as one of his perfect saps. Why not? With TW knowing the facts I’ve been flawed from the get-go, a Jew bastard, the Jews won’t have, a man with limited talent, yet enough ambition raw talent and drive, along with an ample and pragmatic fear of failure, with street smarts and a touch of paranoia, a diamond in the rough with enough dashes of panache to get into trouble.
Now here I am 55 years after Chickee Devlin bullied his nasty, piece of shit tongue into my Mary Ann’s mouth in the darkness of that movie theater and it’s been 45 years after Diane Pazdunkewicz sent me into a sure-death tailspin, by fucking my best boyhood buddy while I was in the Army, and 31 years after I suffered the loss of Paddy Lee, she being my first mid-life crisis at 36, with me then regretfully going back to my wife, Lauri, after I impregnated Paddy Lee during our affair, and even though I envisioned leaving Lauri during and after the divorce that too was painful and heartache surfaced its ugly head.
Leaving my Jamie, the one girl who may have loved me the most was excruciating, yet the separation and leaving my Hawaii was a suicidal leap of faith as I left her for the tainted love of New Jersey’s Kim Mossman back in 1995. Even losing the frivolous air-head like Kim propelled me to write my novel, “Throw Caution to the Wind,” that too covers much about heartache and male and female relationships while entwined within a fictional novel inserting a sub plot including the planning and subsequent heist of an Atlantic City casino while the author throws in for good-measure some notion while proclaiming affection for actress/ writer Carrie Fisher.
Then there’s been the other experiences, trials and tribulations etc. from lost loves even if it were fifteen minutes of puppy love with a host of qualified others who tugged on my heart strings, and now . . .
IT’S UP TO US
When it comes to the game there’s not a good taste in my mouth.
The yearning for the softness of the bosom has been consistent with the entire quest always aiming beyond the bosom toward my idea of the Promised Land. The way I’m beginning to figure, us sad sacks suffer from the “black-widow syndrome.”
The girls wish for us to love them; to adore them, to place them on a pedestal and continue to whisper sweet-nothings near their ear lobes and to willfully listen to them, take interest, and to perpetuate and echo their trite bullshit to the end of time, and then to promise to never leave their sides for fucking ever.
But sadly, once we capitulate; once we cross over into voodoo land of commitment and once we erase doubt within their conniving minds . . . and once we prove we do love them unconditionally . . . and further sellout and express to them that their mundane world is our world . . . well, my fellow humans, that’s when something eerie gets coughed up and comes gurgling over and ruthlessly, they decide to pull the fucking trigger, toss us guys off a cliff, and cast us into agonizing misery.
Maybe as they say, ‘it’s all in the hunt.’ Someone once said, “Women! They could be aliens. Who else profusely bleeds for three solid days and lives?”
Actually, they’re conniving Bo-peeps, willing to suffer, to wait it out and to tolerate the jejune shit men do, only for them to earn one-shining moment.
I remember cocky guys who treated the chics the shittiest; those shit-delear-outers seemed to have the best of worry-free times . . . conscious-less—insensitive guys, with no thoughts of karmic retribution!
How many times had I seen a buddy fuck broads over?
And as for those getting shit on . . . after taking abuse, the gals seem more than willing to take those shit-delivers back, maybe whimper a bit, and then, just close their dumb cow eyes and express themselves either by words or actions. The weak sluts that they are express just how happy eating shit makes them feel.
Those shit-on-gals kowtowed with open-arms, open everything . . . with their mouths puckered, puckered round, as if commanded, to suck those guys’ miserable shit-dealing, pissy dicks.
Those were the women I desired most!
Saps like me, who thought on those terms, normally had nobody to hold or caress or to have our miserable little pricks done anything to, not counting on the fact that in turn, we’d have no one else to dole shit on.
So where’s the fairness?
Well that’s what I’ve been preaching, about how woman can turn out. For me, it seems those courses of events follow the same path, a Solar System deal shrunken down to me? And I ask, how come a chump like me who thinks he’s been so bright, so special, so new age—how come a chump like me has bounced down the primrose path to nothingness?
We’re creatures of habit.
I’ve questioned the how comes when I’m with one of those so-called babes. I’ve envisioned myself at the height of estrus; in the midst of the oodie-ah-ah, screaming to the Heavens, and saying silly shit like, baby, baby, baby over and over me with a dufus face, with my twisted mouth, my eyes closed tight, and looking more like a god-damned, smacked ass than any Casanova, desiring so much for that humping cynosure pinned down in a glorious state of nirvana being rammed and riveted to the mattress taking it all in. As usual, in my mind she’s absolutely fantastic; perhaps the-most-sensational lay of my life!
And! Just like that . . . almost instantaneously . . . after my ejaculation, when I’ve peered down at the taking-it-all-in woman, who’s wet with wonder, and whose been wiggling lovingly beneath me, and when the high-water mark of my raging passion goes the other way . . . I can’t wait, to get the fuck out of there!
I’ve been shockingly overt here perhaps as I share my inner thoughts with ole, You; I’ve confessed about being possessed with the idea of sex.
All of my life, every time I’ve been introduced to woman, my mind instantaneously sees the woman and I both wrapped in a sexually compromising position.
In most instances the vision disappears as quickly as it began, it’s just for an instant, yet the vision always shows itself. It occurs no matter who I’m introduced to; single-women, married-women, my friends women, even the first lady, even Carrie. It’s out of my control. Fortunately I do come to grips, and if the woman is off limits I permanently erase the scene.
Why? Perhaps because the very-first thing any of us warm-blooded animals touch or have been embraced-by is warmed-by, or protected-by what has been when inside the comfy confines of a warm-wet womb!
For most men, we have cast ourselves as Sir Galahads, back in search of the Holy Grail. And we’ve charmed and strived and lied and fought, and we have opened our eyes each morning perhaps with just one goal, one more crowning moment for the ordinary guy, or wealthy guy, or talented guy, to just get back in there, back where it’s safe and warm.
As for my sought-after lease on a not-so-sure life: Taking into consideration, if the gods of good shine upon me. I am going to alter the course, do some nifty, dead reckoning, rather than just treading water and then as usually drifting into the vortex of the status quo.
Maybe, it’s about time. Maybe, I should be the one who begins to change my drowning formula of misery. Maybe, it’s me who’s been taking the wrong course, sailing to nowhere, and to think of it, it’s only when I’ve thrown caution to the wind that I’ve been able to channel myself to more tranquil currents.
Just maybe I’ve been the phony, and I’ve pretended for my own selfish reasons that I’m solely interested in them, because in the long run, what I’ve wanted to do is squeeze their little fuzzy pussies and then have them do shit back to my dick. Maybe I’m the one who’s fucked up, and my history dictates that once I’ve had my fill, I’ve gotten lazy, lost my desire to squeeze them and hug them and have lost interest to listen to them out, and usually it is I who winds up caring less what they might do to my genitals, ’cause in actuality, I’ve lost the pure satisfaction of their carnal offerings.
As my captain’s log reveals they eventually get the vibe. And despite the male’s armada that deluges them with shallow lies, consisting of the most disingenuous of ‘I love yous,’ and after time, those empty words no longer blow a stiff-wind to stretch the sails of love.
Consider, maybe the poor girls have no choice. Because of the shallowness stemming from men’s insincere minds they manifest themselves into female Captain Bleighs. They then have but no choice.
Those women, chics, trim, broads and quiff are forced to play the end game. After having their fragile, inner nature pierced, there’s the awakening, a darker spirit that forces them to counter-attack that has us pitiful men walking the plank.
Oh, it’s a praying mantis routine . . . you see the poor deprived gals are programmed, with no alternative, but to bring their own misery to a concluding end.
They can go ahead and just bite off our sorry-assed heads and cast us, along with what’s left of our warped souls off toward oblivion. When you think of it, it’s been us guys who have egged them on they’ve had no alternative but to save themselves.
Fact is: It’s men who are hung up. We’re possessive while always boosting ourselves and setting the agenda, crazy with jealousy and too often concerned that the apple of our eyes might get the hots for others.
We might consider the Eskimos, ’cause it’s said that when at the end of the day, during a winter hunt, one of the men of the north might shout out to his fellow seal slayers, “Hey, amigos! I got a great idea! Let’s all go back to my igloo and fuck my wife!”
Western men would never do that and don’t brandish the confidence to do such because of a fear of their own incapacity. What if Rose or Linda or Cecila begins to feel that somebody else’s whale fat is more intriguing? She may no longer desire MoWat or Herb. Eskimo men never worried about that stuff. Love and linking were considered infinite and eternal.
“Another Mentor” (1991)
“Wha the fuck? Whaddaya think this is a library? You want to read or eat?” That’s the kind of response perspective diners might get from restaurateur Bob Longhi when they wonder aloud why there’s no printed menu available at Longhi’s. The famous eatery is strategically located on Front Street, in Lahaina, on the Island of Maui. Founder and owner Bob Longhi insists on a verbal menu and has always since the inception of his establishment back in 1976.
Longhi’s quick to explain: “In the beginning I wasn’t able to guarantee what was on the menu. We couldn’t count on our suppliers to provide fresh product. When it came to food purveying on Maui, we weren’t as sophisticated back then as we are today. Plus, product has to meet my specifications. What kind of restaurateur would I be if I printed up a menu, and not be sure I’d be able to provide what I’m advertising?”
Longhi, who sometimes likes to talk like a wise-guy, does so in barbs: “In the beginning it was driving me nuts… especially when overhearing customers asking for what I couldn’t provide! You know, one of my own pet peeves is… when I go out to a restaurant see something on the menu that I fall in love with… and then, they tell me that item isn’t available. It makes me just want to . . .”
Longhi holds up with his animated self then he makes a funny noise in his throat, yanks on his ear lobe three times, then just looks away, rather than get stuck in what he calls “the negative.” In Longhi’s presence, one is quick to learn some of his tweaks, wit and eyebrow-raising rationalizations.
The up-scale eatery is internationally renowned and as far as independently owned restaurants Longhi’s ranks in the top ten nationally for its dollar volume. His restaurant has been tabbed as “the restaurant created by a man who loves to eat,” and it shows. Bob, for a slightly built man, sports a good size mid-section.
By his earthy demeanor, it’s hard to tell that Bob Longhi is an ex-Ivy Leaguer. He comes from a well-to-do family in New England. He went into the insurance business right out of the Army. He worked within the stuffy corporate structured world, mostly in New York City and Washington D.C. After making a bundle he hightailed to Hawaii and decided to open a restaurant one that would meet his own desires.
With Longhi, it’s a simple philosophy, “no ‘chicken-shit’ rules. He insists and says, “Everything is casual, never skimp, never, never substitute quality for price! People will pay the price if the food is worth it,” he boasts. “There’s a full menu all-day. You’ll never hear at Longhi’s,” he further preaches, “that we’re between breakfast and lunch, or lunch and dinner. We’re always ready to make our customers fresh food.”
Longhi’s takes no reservations. Even when tennis-brat John McEnroe called and insisted on a seat he was politely told that he had to take a chance on getting a table like everybody else.
Bob’s far from being star-struck and he doesn’t pick up the checks for famous people either. Bob laughs how funny-man Don Rickles made a big-to-do one night, after dinner, while leaving the restaurant. Within earshot of almost everybody in the packed restaurant Rickles’ mocked, “Thanks so much for the wine, Bob… you’re too kind.” Of course; both Longhi, Rickles and those familiar with Longhi’s style knew well enough that there had never been any complimentary wine sent to the star’s table. After being reminded of the story by a buddy Longhi quips, “He can afford it… the guy makes a bundle. The only stars around here are the cooks. I should buy them a bottle of wine every night.
It’s hard to tell what is more appetizing; Longhi’s mouth-watering cuisine or listening to Longhi’s cock-surety philosophy, which he doses out in a most entertaining manner.
During a recent visit to Longhi’s, I found him as usual, bare-foot, and holding court at a center table. He appeared disheveled; his hair stirred rather than combed, an open shirt exposed his “Buddha-like white belly,” and his droopy, pull-string pants re-enforced the fact that he’s “no slave to fashion.” Yet when kidded about his attire, he’s quick to point out that he once owned a fashionable clothing boutique up in Kapalua.
At the table, he’s surrounded by a pack of cronies who sound every bit as irreverent as him. The conversation around the table is lively and the language colorful. The subjects can range from local gossip, to the stock market, to national sports, and on to the metaphysical benefits of Chinese herbs. Longhi has an amazing memory and rattles off in machine-gun fashion a plethora of facts and figures pertinent to the conversation.
When the food arrives, all the men at his table, especially Bob, go into some sort of food-eating frenzy instantly, the laid-back atmosphere takes a turn to the archaic; conversation stops… the feed becomes a free-for-all. Nobody’s plate is sacred including Longhi’s.
There’s a story around Longhi’s about how once time movie star Danny DeVito had just been served lunch. In poor judgment, DeVito offered Bob a sampling of his entree. As the story goes Bob picked up DeVito’s fork and wolfed down all of Hollywood guy’s meal before Danny could get a bite for himself. Longhi “hmmed” in delight then swaggered on his way out of the restaurant. Of course Bob, who down deep is a gentleman, hollered back towards the staff, and out the side of his mouth: “Quick! Get the poor guy another plate of that pasta… and put his bill on my tab.”
An array of pastas, fish, and salads took up almost every inch of space on the round Koa table. Baskets of warm bread, fresh out of the in-house, Longhi’s bakery backed up the other dishes. While the food was being served it may have been the only time that Bob got serious. His epicurean eye inspected each dish carefully.
“Try the Ahi Toreno, it might be the best in the world…” touts Bob without any reservation, then he closes his warm brown eyes, but at the same time, keeps chewing, as to savor his own mouthful. This reporter took Bob up on his recommendation and he may have been right… it was delicious. I soon wised up and dug in wasting no time getting my share.
Bob doesn’t keep his eyes closed too long ‘cause the others at the table are gobbling the tasty food down as fast as it comes out of the kitchen. Fishes, smothered with wine sauce and grapes arrive adding to the feast. Homemade manicotti looked too pretty to stick a fork into. When it was all gone bus boys cleared the table and brought out cappuccinos and a delicious-looking dessert tray.
Bob looked at his watch. He’d sacrifice and skips the sweets. With tongue pressed hard up against his cheek, he says, “I’m kinna watching myself, besides… the Warriors are on in fifteen minutes. I’m going down the house… you guys coming.” Longhi satisfied pushes himself away from the table.
Oh yeah, Longhi has a piece of the Golden State Warriors, a professional franchise in the National Basketball Association. The guys make affirmative noises that they are going as if nobody wants to make a firm commitment, but more than likely they’ll all be there because they know that there will be some card playing and backgammon and then there will be supper.
As the men get up, they start fishing into their pockets. Then Bob utters his “when you eat with Longhi salutation.” Longhi, again talks out-the-side of his mouth, “Aye.. got it… somebody leave a tip.. will ya…”
“Buy ‘em Lunch” (2001)
I was once in the furniture business. I owned and operated a store just outside Atlantic City, New Jersey. My partner and I operated another store in Trenton, New Jersey. The delivery truck and warehouse were based in Trenton about 80 miles away and the truck made runs to the Jersey shore about twice a week to deliver merchandise for the shore store.
Yet now and then customers wanted or needed quick delivery so I had to find a local delivery service to accommodate customers for that type of service.
One day a muscular black dude shows up at my store, he’s roaming around with a young, foxy woman eyeballing the inventory. Politely he pulls me aside and asks how much was a particular lamp and in a hushed tone tells me he does deliveries on the side and could he make a deal with me, to perhaps trade his services for merchandise? His timing couldn’t have been better. Orlando wound up becoming my primary delivery service for the next five years.
He was quite a guy. His daytime job was that of a jitney driver in Atlantic City but he had a sparkling clean white pick up truck.
Initially, he told me that he did delivery for a big-time Atlantic City appliance store. He eventually became big-time, with warehouses and moving services and many clients with his fleet of immaculate white trucks to go with his white ranch house, his white Versace suites and white Lincoln. He eventually had a diamond necklace drooping from his neck that spelled out his name. The man took care of business and possessed a cornucopia of peasant philosophy angles and sayings that he’d share with me. He’d say stuff like, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot . . . and too many fools mistake kindness for weakness, and when it came to talk about race, Orlando was specific, “White, black, yellow, spic . . . what the fuck do I care, money is green!”
Yet, despite having a beautiful wife, and despite his lust for money, his higher calling for strange pussy remained constant on his “things to do” list.
He’d say to me, “Take ‘em to lunch, that’s all you have to do, that’s what I do.”
Well there was a little more to it than that. You see Orlando was able to get items pretty close to cost from me and the other stores he delivered merchandise for. How he worked it was that he would bring his latest fancy to one of the showrooms, ask them if they or their momma needed a micro-wave or new air-conditioner, or mattress, or lamp or some other appliance and have them pick it out. That’s before he took them to lunch.
“How about one of these color TVs?”
His take, on the scheme of things, “I take the bitches to lunch. Fuck that dinner shit along with staying out all night.” Orlando would say, “Besides, if you say you’re taking them to dinner, well somehow you have to make up some excuse with the wife and lie as to stay out. Then consider you got to get a haircut, have the motherfuckin’ car washed, get the threads out of the cleaners, make the dinner reservations etc.
Once there you tip the valet-parking dude and the hatcheck girl. Then you’re looking at 40 dollars in drinks along with the lobster or steak, so add on another half-a-C-note or whatever, but worse, you have to sit there for about three hours and listen to boring details of their no-where, puny lives or about their brat kids or ex-lovers or, their mother’s gall bladder problems or shit you could give a fuck about and all the time you’re thinking about when she’s going to suck your dick?
“After dinner, ya got to take them to some boom-boom joint make a mother fucking fool of yourself to do some pagan-ritual bullshit dancing and all the time you’re worrying that no body who knows your wife sees you.
Now today, drugs too are part of the scene, the young bitches all want to get high, like the bottle of Mums wasn’t enough so you have had to invest another c-note for a gram of the white powder, and for back-up, because you’ll be drinking you better invest in some of that stay-hard shit they pawn off at the drug store. Motels aren’t free and by the time you get your rocks off, get the bitch back home and further lie by telling her you’ll call tomorrow you come staggering home stinking and sneak into your bed with the wife about 3 a.m.
The next day you feel like shit, hung over, shit breath with that Russian army boot taste all day and you could be out as much as $500 or more all for what might turn out to be nothing more than a so-so piece of pussy.
“So what I do . . . sheeeet, I tell the bitches I’m taking them lunch, but first I take them to your place, ask them if they think that lamp is pretty and if they want it for them or their momma? It winds up costing me maybe half a c-note. Once we get outside in my truck, me still in my work clothes, shit I don’t even know if I wiped my ass that morning, we smoke a little reefer and I take them down by the back bay in my pick up and have them waxing my Jimmy in no more than fifteen minutes and more times than not I don’t even take the bitches to lunch! “Cause all that bitch wants to do is get home and turn on that lamp.
“Come dinner time, I’m home with the family, I feel good and strong, no hangover got my mother fucking money that I work for… most of it in my mother fucking pocket and we are one happy family . . .
Yeah, I take the bitches to lunch.
“Super Bowl Woes” (2005)
The publisher called and asked if I would be willing to write a story about my trip to Super Bowl XXXIX.
I barked into the phone, “Eagles lost to the Pats, 24-21.”
“Yeah, I know that Lou, I watched the game too, but how about a piece, you know, paint the picture for our readers what it is like going to a Super Bowl. I mean, how many people are lucky enough to attend a Super Bowl?”
“OK! OK!” I thought. So ya want a Super Bowl story?
Here goes: Gus, Babe and I attend Super Bowls. So it was pretty much a gimmee that we attended this year’s since our hometown team was playing in the game. The three of us grew up in an industrial, blue-collar neighborhood in North Philadelphia.
From Pop Warner Football, through the rites of passage, the service, marriages, kids, divorce, fortunes made and fortunes lost, throughout it all, the three of us have remained solid. We’re not much on happy birthdays and stuff like that, but when football season comes around and the super bowl we gear-up.
During past bowls, we’d rev ourselves up for the game in the host cities as we pranced New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, or we checked out the “like wow” chicks on Miami’s South Beach and us Three Amigos, have staggered over the border in San Diego to raise hell in Tijuana
This past trip to the Super Bowl turned out much different. You, know, we all get signals, that at first might be subtle, but nevertheless, they’re warnings so to speak.
When speaking with Babe, the week before, he growled over the phone, “There’s no space in Jacksonville. We’re staying in Orlando. It’s about 140 miles south. It’s you, me, and Gus, plus I’m bringing my daughter and my sister, Chrissie, and her daughter, Jennifer. We’re staying at the Polynesian in Disney World. See ya Thursday.”
I thought about the situation with us staying at Disney, him bringing the family, I thought about all that while on Orlando’s airport’s shuttle bus. Taking the shuttle was the thriftier $17 option over a $50, twenty-minute, cab-ride to Disney World. Yet the shuttle made multiple stops, pick-ups at all the terminals taking almost an hour. Worse, the Polynesian would be at the end of the run. The night before had been my birthday, a celebration, that was a whoopity doo and I left San Miguel around 4 am., drunker than drunk. Besides, it was cold in Orlando and I had a killer headache.
I mean, what were ten tequilas and no sleep the night before? Those were some of my summations on this packed shuttle bus from hell surrounded by snot-nosed, noisy tots and their parents. “Where’s Mickey! Where’s Mickey?” the little monsters shouted for two and a half friggin’ hours on the shuttle ride that would never end.
Figuring, the kids were all revved up themselves, them just flying in from somewhere. Finally, “The Polynesian.” Yet when it is in the low 40s. All that running water in fake waterfalls and the whole Pacific scene seemed off. Right off the bat, the hotel didn’t seem like my type of place. Top that off with an aggressive team of hotel greeters, all with Stepford wives smiles saying, “Aloha! Aloha! Aloha!” over and over so syrupy it could make a guy want to puke. I lived for sixteen years in Hawaii and me for one knows that in actuality, “Aloha,” means, “Fuck You,” in Hawaiian.
I tried to get my bearings in the hotel lobby and, turned down opportunities to have a tawdry paper lei draped over my shoulders. I needed to find the gang who had checked in the night before. I didn’t pick the place. My buddy Babe thought the location would be perfect for his daughter and other family members and he desired a fun-filled trip for them.
I found Babe’s daughter, Gabriel and his sister, Crissy, in our suites. Gus and Babe were out the airport to pick up their game tickets from some guy flying in from New England. Seems Babe’s niece had paid for four tickets upfront, to the tune of 12K. Seems it was turning into an E-Bay scam. Seems my buddy was onto the possible scam beforehand and found out through his street smarts by calling airlines that the suspected bunko artist was going to be in Orlando two hours before he said he was supposed to be and Babe and Gus wanted to catch up with him in case there was any funny stuff. Seems things got funny, no consequence to me but I hated to see Babe’s niece, Jennifer, getting ripped, she’s a nice girl, a devoted Eagle fan and she saved her hard-earned money for such a trip.
I was beat. I still had a headache. The venture hadn’t created an auspicious start. I needed a smoke. Smoking has become more difficult in the States. The suite was no smoking. The whole area was no-smoking. I felt like a common criminal sneaking a butt under a tree, next to a man-made lake on Disney property, which is about umpteen something square miles and as far as the eye can see. The Magic Kingdom was in view just across the cold waters of a Disney-made lake. I had my smoke and watched bundled up Disney goers board the ferry. I could hear the loud speakers giving instructions to those boarding the ferry, a ferry without a pilot which had me thinking further how everything ran either on automatic or by robotic acting drones that have been conditioned so. Hitler would have relished such an operation. He could have really racked up some serious numbers because of Disney’s people moving skills.
Gus and Babe showed back at the suite. We did the hugs and lied about how good the other looked. The bad ticket guy was in jail. Still, there was no refund or tickets. All, except Gus, had to get new tickets. Gus has had his ticket for every Super Bowl since its inception. In the past, we had paid between $1200 and $1500 for decent seats. Face value of every Super Bowl ticket from the front row to the nosebleed sections is one price. Up to this year that was $400. This year it was bumped up to $600. The disturbing news was that the few available tickets were being scalped for 3 to 4 thousand. Figure there was a pair of big, East-Coast metropolitan areas that had teams in the Super Bowl, a game being played on the East Coast. It was a supply and demand thing. Word was that every working-class hero from Philadelphia was going to make it to North Florida “no-madder-what!”
The status of such had me counting my money. I needed sleep but more so I needed stiff tequila. I had a few belts from the bottle of Traditional I brought in from Mexico. The gang wanted to eat. Rather than sampling the mouth-watering local fair that we were used to in fabulous cities that the bowls take place in, our options were reduced, due to only two institutional joints at the Polynesian. No taco carts in Disney, brah.
They offered the buffet for $25 or the buffet for the $25. Oh, it was another sickening round of “alohas” from every passing of the shit-eatin’ grinning staff. I did wolf down a lot of pork and poi and pineapple. I kept away from beans as not to have Hawaiian music later in the close quarters of our dual suite, with respect to my buddies and all. But I did pack it in.
I think I had a few more tequilas back in the room. By then I’d been up a day and a half, two days, who knows? The rumbling occurred around 3 a.m. I must have caught a chill. But there was a further rumbling coming from below in my innards. As I scooted to the bathroom with fever and chills, the thought came back to me, like on the bus, like a bad feeling, about those kids blabbering, “Where’s Mickey?”
I’ll tell you where Mickey was while unmentionables were pouring out of me in the most disgusting manner. Images of too many to mention Mickey Mouses were staring at me while I was in agony, him, with that smart-ass Mickey smirk on his punk face. His embossed image was on the water glasses, soap dish, soap, shampoo, towels, wallpaper, everywhere, with no escape other than closing my eyes and his image even began to show up in the confines of my mind.
It was almost enough to drive a guy insane. And I would have gotten off for temporary insanity in a court of law when I testified the reason I gave Mickey such a vicious, awful, non-forgiving, ass-kicking all over the grounds of the Magic Kingdom if I caught his punk ass the next day. I just know I would have gotten off.
It was beginning to occur to me this whole family-style trip didn’t fit our normal criteria. I figured this bowl would be different when my buddy mentioned bringing family.
Well you know us guys are getting up in age, and Gus quit drinking because being a bookie has a way of giving the poor guy ulcers. And Babe, who’s in construction, does have a great relationship with his daughter and she’s a big Eagle fan, ‘cause he made her one, and these days I have a girlfriend, so I guess our yearly jaunt didn’t have to be a four-day orgy of opulence and overindulgence. The interest of the game in itself piqued my interest with the Eagles being in it. There’s a lot more to a Super Bowl than just attending the game. There’s a feeling of the big-time.
The next day I stayed in bed knocked down by whatever I picked up. The gang went and did the Magic Kingdom routine. It was just as well I didn’t go in case I ran into Mickey.
As a matter of fact, all day Friday and all day Saturday, your reporter did not leave the room, other than trying not to be a total party pooper (excuse the pun) as I attended a group dinner at none other than Mickey’s Café at what was called the Contemporary Center. It was still cold. We took the monorail, all automated with recorded voices saying the same monotone messages over and over before each monotone stop. The monorail was packed with strollers and kids. The kids were still braying for Mickey.
I never want to see another pacifier in my life. At the restaurant, I just ordered a coffee but quickly had to excuse myself because there was no escape. Everywhere I looked, there he was, on the menu, table cloth, etched into the architecture of the building, decals pasted to cash registers, everywhere was Mickey. Hiding my eyes as not to get dizzy, I escaped back to my room. The only solace was that early in the morning we were escaping creepy Disney World and all of its trappings going off to the game.
It was going to take two-and-half to three-hours in the Buick rental to get up to Jacksonville. Babe had been on the phone with trusty scalpers of the past and paid through the nose for four tickets to the tune of 3K apiece. I was still ticketless. I had some anxiety since our sources were saying that loose tickets barely existed.
Heading north began to become somewhat exhilarating. Fifty miles south of Jacksonville one could have sensed they were involved in charge and invasion of Iraq during Desert Storm. Seemed every other car storming towards Jacksonville had Philadelphia Eagle flags blowing in the wind. Occupants of cars, vans-and-buses were uniformed in green football jerseys with names embossed on their backs, names like McNabb, Westbrook and Owens, all Eagle stars.
Even down in Orlando, we heard that Philadelphia fans were making a strong showing. The Eagles had only made one other appearance in The Bowl when they were whooped and embarrassed by the Oakland Raiders and that had been 24 years ago and you got to know that Philadelphia is a football town. By the time we got to Jacksonville, it was still a full six hours before kick-off. I would have to wait until the last minute if I were to be able to catch a scalper doing a liquidation sale and then I would have to have my skills sharp to Christian the sucker down. Yet everybody wanted a ticket. The streets were strewn with Eagles fans with signs reading, “I need a ticket!”
We opted to go to the NFL Experience $15, that is sort of an NFL exhibit with memorabilia, films, gear, football-related games for kids, lots of corporate sponsors and stuff like that. It wasn’t as if there weren’t any Patriot fans, but they seemed fewer and further apart and Eagle fans were boisterous.
The time was nearing and we had to make our way to the stadium. There were shuttle buses; this time not packed with snot noses, but with rough and tumble NFL football fans. The city of Jacksonville kept regular traffic off all roads leading to the stadium. There were special shuttle buses and another-type of a monorail. After getting off the bus we merged into a green stream heading towards the game. Just before the security checkpoint, where you have to show your ticket and become humiliated and searched just like at airports, I had to leave my gang and begin my pursuit for a ticket.
In past Super Bowls, by this time, there would be lots of scalpers roaming within the crowd asking, “Who needs tickets?” It wasn’t happening. There were hordes of people with little signs or big signs asking for tickets and much more roaming outside the security zone. I was getting edgy and had yet to hold up my hand like others looking to get in. I decided to make some allies of people with signs saying to them, if they ran across anyone with more than one ticket or if they weren’t willing to pay what someone might be asking, to turn them over to me. And that is how it went down about fifteen minutes before kickoff, having me miss Alicia Keys entertainment beforehand. Yet, I don’t go to Bowls, to see no Alicia Keys.
Just so happened one kid couldn’t afford the ticket and the seller was waiting for the last minute that his buddy could make it up from Daytona Beach. He asked $1200, I held out a G-note and we made the deal.
So I sat in the best seats I have ever had for the bowl, Eagles side, 45-yard-line, row N. It’s all history now, the Eagles lost. To tell you the truth I can hardly remember halftime and Paul McCarthy. I didn’t go to see Paul McCarthy either. I was focused on football and my emotions oscillated from sure-fire jubilance, when the Eagles went ahead or tied, to coming to grips with defeat as time began to run out with the sinking feeling they were going to lose the game. Tell you the truth most memory of the game is a blur now. From the get-go, I never hit a comfort zone, with the shuttle buses, Disney crap and that punk Mickey, with my illness, the ticket fiascos and not really staying in the host city. Plus I had to constantly watch my language. Talk about not having any fun.
Afterward another agonizing loss (what else is new?) I bolted out of the stadium on that cold, dark, sad, Sunday night. Mi Amigos got waylaid on a bus that got lost and didn’t make it back to the car somewhere around 1:30 a.m. as I waited and shivered in a then empty spooky parking lot. Making it back to Orlando we hit a terrible traffic jam of fans heading south that had us bumper to bumper for fifty miles. I had the worse headache in the world, my team has lost and all I wanted to do was get out of icebox Florida, get to the airport and get home. I surmised the time, effort, spending of money and anxieties, and for the first time ever at a Super Bowl I had a shitty time.
So there’s the report. Sorry I am not reporting about the skills of the players, the strategies employed by coaching staffs, the pageantry of the event, the laughs, the camaraderie or anything relevant to the game. Yet I guess in all honesty, in a heartbeat, if the Eagles make it to the Super Bowl next year, I’ll do it all over again, in Detroit of all places, since I am a die-hard Eagle fan. Go Eagles in 2005.
“Throwing Caution to the Wind” (1990)
It always has been a mystery to me how quickly women turn.
When my wife and I first met, she was well aware of who she was running around with someone who was a-smoking, gambling, stay-out, who loved sports.
For a crazy reason, rather than luring in some scientist, librarian, an ice-skater, or maybe a male ballerina, the kind of men who appealed to her—or even a fucking plumber—she chose me!
Examples: She surely could have reeled into her lair legions of suitors, with her then-flowing, blonde hair, and delectable, uplifted ass . . . Still, she chose me?
The then aggressive young buck was looking to be anchored. I was swept away by a beautiful, bright, young woman, sexually liberated, with a ready-made family.
Or maybe I didn’t want that kid attending any of those Cub Scout outings without a dad’s hand to hold onto. Hey, as I said, it was a package deal, with a slew of sterling aspects coinciding with the deal. It wasn’t all hell.
Now, today, I don’t wish to burden that boy with my sorry-assed woes; he isn’t even aware that I departed Hawaii.
Yeah, back then, when I’d been married to this, Lauri, I chose the Hawaiian one. We began taking notice. I swear, in the two years prior to our thing, I never once voiced anything off-color, nothing provocative. But, as my married relationship became more distant, those tom-toms began whipping up the juices and those enticing sounds drummed closer.
I called the shop on the phone the way I normally did, so to check things out—my female employee answered. She’d give me my messages and continued to update me about the goings-on.
“What else ya got for me?” I’d spout; a redundant saying, me wanting info quick, so I could get off the line. One particular time when I spouted, “What else ya got for me?” I swear, I heard a low-voice mumble the word, “Me!” I said, “What?” She said, “Oh, . . . nothing.” If it was true or not, the question and supposed answer fitted themselves together. I then sparked a flicker of a fantasy!
Months later, I throw an employee-Christmas party on the beach. Everybody’s there: My wife, my son’s sixteen, the girl is present, two crews attended, ’cause by then we were running two joints.
Everybody brings luau food, potluck style. We cut up fresh-caught Ahi. Then we wolfed down the Ahi in the form of carved sashimi using chopsticks after we swirled the raw fish in a puddle of soy sauce and smashed wasabi. (wasabi’s a puddy-like, smooth-textured, green, Oriental horseradish.)
Some brothers with ukuleles showed up and played Hawaiian music.
Now, I’ll tell ya, only because I mentioned it, there’s an awful lot to Hawaiian music! After I’m dead, and then when my writings are famous, (Ha). . . ya might want to pick up some of my Hawaiian stuff. Within those writings, there are passages where I’ve tried to expound on Hawaiian music. It’s haunting and moving and I’m stirred getting goose-bumps often when listening to those sweet tunes composed and sung from the heart or, as they say in the Islands, ‘I wen’ get ‘chicken skin’ brah.’
It was a great day. We played football on the beach and I got a little drunk. With me feeling spunky and playful, my employees locked my arms behind me and dragged my ass down to the ocean for a throw-the-boss-in dunk. I was a hell of a sport, shit, I loved it and loved everybody, except maybe my wife.
By sunset the wife became bored. She didn’t get along with the kids and thought they were mindless. She wondered aloud what I was going to do and how much longer I wanted to stay around the party, plus she was forced to hang in there a bit longer ’cause we’re about to open our Pollyanna presents.
We witnessed one of those postcard brilliant sunsets. A religious person may have felt so moved by the sunset and the moment and may have contemplated building a temple on the very spot and praise God, the Lord, or whatever for putting together such glorious vision sinking into the horizon.
In concert, the sinking sun’s reflection with the waning light shimmered off the sleepy-looking faces of the mountains. Green peaks took on a purplish hue. The clouds whiteness, altered by the light, turned to puffs of terra cotta, and pink to a deep magenta, parlayed by the light while matching the green landscape and blue sky into a magnificent mural of full-spectrum colors.
After the toned-down time, us, then somewhat dazed sun worshipers broke from the symbolic ceremony and began ripping away at the wrapping paper. I leaned up against a car with a beer and was engrossed in the spirit of things; then she, the chosen one, began to slowly situate herself closer, slivering toward me. She made pit stops offering idle talk to others.
She held up directly next to me. She leaned against the car, same as me. Despite no sense of touch, I felt the electricity sparking off her folded arms, arms-folded same as mine just inches apart.
Out of the blue, she said, “What are you thinking about?”
Without reservation, without embarrassment or the idea being rebuffed or being out of character and in such a way that Carrie would be proud of I replied, “To tell you the truth, Paddy, I’ve been thinking about what it’s like making love to you!”
She had never been off Maui, knew mostly about nothing, thought a car’s heater worked without the engine running, but her eyes seemed centuries-old, deeming her a sage, and she knew well enough about the fire-down-under and all the mumbo-jumbo and dilly-dallying that’s been going on between men and women since the fucking-beginning of time.
With those eyes, peepers that could have belonged to Mother Earth herself, she peered straight into mine and she spoke with the voice of Lauren Bacall or Ingrid Bergman, you pick one. She put systems on go and in a defining moment replied with words of encouragement, revealing her own inner thoughts and she voiced, “At least we’re talking about it.”
My wife’s had enough, deciding to return back home with my son. Told me to go ahead and party with my employees. She implied she could give two shits when I returned.
Not another word was said between the girl and I during the remainder of the party. It wasn’t ‘til the crew and I loaded up every case of leftover beer, and the beach chairs, the grill, and cleaned up the trash, and it wasn’t until everybody packed up and left in separate directions; it wasn’t until then, when I walked up to her car and the driver’s side where she patiently sat, and perhaps plotted.
In silence, I just placed my giddy head inside the car’s window and planted a big one on her thick, full and then hungry-for-me, Hawaiian lips. It felt so fucking good!
She and her budding youth and her giving mouth and her aroused strength, and her flowing passion felt so fucking good!
And Goddamn it, we went and did it, on a blanket under a palm tree, fanned by the gentle-warm breezes coming off the pounding ocean, and it was as if I languished in a delectable dream, and she glistened in the dark, stark naked, except for a sweet-smelling gardenia planted in her hair, one she picked fresh on the way.
We swam in the ocean, I didn’t give a shit about sharks, rather, I savored the star-filled sky. It was December, and as years have passed and I’ve wondered how many other men have been fortunate enough or as unfortunate as it turned out, in the long run, to have had such a moment.
“A Day at the Museum” (1994)
In my late ‘80s, I used to run with this Kim. She’s a major character in my novel “Throw Caution to the Wind . . . almost a true story.” To protect the innocent, lol, in the novel, I referred to her as Mik, Kim spelled backward. Here’s an excerpt.
“On my days off, I rented a spiffy-red convertible, and we took day trips to Philadelphia. We’d stroll the Benjamin Franklin Parkway’s tree-lined boulevard. We gazed at the white-stoned columns in front of the buildings.
Further along the parkway, I introduced Mik to the works of Auguste Rodin. Representations of his art were housed in the Rodin Museum flanking the parkway. I spoke of the man’s legacy. She seemed impressed.
Hand-in-hand we passed the water fountains. Their mist suppressed the heat of the sun. We enjoyed the lazy summer day.
Adrenaline pumped through our veins as we sprinted in front of oncoming traffic blitzing across circles with zooming cars. We broke our handholding. It was each person for themself. Once across and while breathing heavy we laughed about surviving and making it to the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. The museum’s the one with the long flight of steps, the stairs of Rocky fame.
Inside the museum, I directed her attention towards the paintings and works of the masters. I turned her on to Monet, Renoir and Cezanne.
She was aware of my background, at least part of it. My buddy must have revealed I was an author, yet she saw me strictly as a city slicker, a hustler, and she never expressed any curiosity about my writing aspirations.
I’ve always been aware of my blue-collar upbringing. I shelved that aspect of me when in the museum. There had always been a sense rumbling within me, something that defied definition, the way I felt and thought, when I placed myself in front of those masterpieces. They let loose a calming effect on my psyche.
While trying not to sound full of myself, I expressed those mostly hidden emotions, hopefully in the sincerest of terms.
Then and now, when my eyes have gazed at those impressions, I’ve tried to place myself back to the moment at the artist’s studio as to capture the essence.
I expressed the same toward, Mik, how I’ve envisioned my very self as stark naked, being immersed and mixed in the swirl of pastel-colored paints. It would take a mush of words to paint the picture. Yet I said that I saw myself as miniature, wet, a mere swirl on the painter’s pallet. I spoke in such a way that I could almost see myself being soaked up by the painter’s brush and then dabbled-on the canvas, as a sticky base, or to be expanded as a glob of gooey paint, or how perhaps I’d be melded behind the painted values. Maybe I’d eventually evolve as a chalky figure, tucked in the shadows of a drawing, depending on the cadence and will of the creator. It would be similar to an acid trip I suppose being brushed-and-smeared smeared-and-brushed and smartly blended atop. Wow! all those colors!
I placed into words for the sake of the story my impressions of those artists, and about how I suspected they might orchestrate the process during the height of their creativity, and how they integrated those unbridled emotions as they arranged spectacular landscapes.
I spoke about the tips of the brushes, the bristles on the canvas and how they spread or fanned out on paint already applied. I did so in such a way and I wasn’t even stoned.
For Mik’s sake, I mimicked how I perceived the method and tight-quartered-control wheeled by the maestros, and did so in an animated manner, as if I was applying the applications myself. My moves became abbreviated and supposedly precise as I took a shot at demonstrating the technique used for cubism while referring to Picasso and Duchamp.
My words highlighted my perception of perfection and I expressed not as eloquently as I may have preferred how the finished product depended on the steady hand of the master. While feasting my eyes and talking my spiel I did my best to bring the moment back for Mik as I saw it.
Then I grew quiet. She did too.
The notion of it all!
And with us standing there, with me right next to her, and her next to me, I could feel the static electricity amongst the splendor . . . We were spellbound. I strongly suspected that thoughts of eroticism were running concurrently throughout our libidos. I sensed such by the sounds of brief breaths being let-out, as we breathed through our mouths-and there’s no doubt in my mind, that somehow, right then, we were on the very verge of fucking, well at least fucking each other inside the boundaries of our minds’.
My hunch, right on the money . . . she ‘fessed up later (an intimate private moment between us) those were her exact sentiments! And she bravely said how her pussy twitched and she was wet with wonder when we were both planted in front of Claude Monet. . . .
Said, she too felt the tension, the amount essential to ignite the spark of romance. She confessed further her insides were on absolute fire. In so-many words she admitted that she would have just loved it, and may have squealed with delight, if I would have taken the initiative and thrown her right-the-fuck down on that dusty, marble floor and done the deed–fucked her brains out and done so without inhibitions in front of the “oh, my goodness,” geriatric, tea-toddler crowd–done so ferociously, in front of the Negro, uniformed guards, who would have said, ‘shame-on-you, boy,’ and done it all fully clothed, only after exposing the essentials, and done it directly in front of the priceless and oh-so colorful images left behind by those sexy Frenchmen.
After learning about those particular painters passions and zest for life, I believe they may have created such scenes to perhaps entice perspective lovers. . . to stir the juices, to spark, to prompt, to incite the action and to welcome such impromptu moments of ecstasy.
The left-behind artwork perhaps became the long-ago artists eternal price-of-admission as reflections of their spirits to be perpetually savored as paintings that might entice incidents in front of them brought on by the fruits of their labor. The ghosts of the messieurs would have had front-row seats, a special viewpoint, so to dabble and amuse themselves while they were in the beyond.
Hopefully, they would have desired to capture our scene and interpret such by their own means, while wildly aroused themselves, taking quick glances, while oscillating back and forth between our erotic happening and the accepting canvas. Hopefully, they would have attested that we would have really been something!
“Scamming a Scammer” (1994)
Once upon a time when I was helping a friend liquidate his furniture store:
My buddy had done steady business with an artist from Florida, with the store selling as many as 10 of his paintings per week. One night the artist shows out of the blue. He was trying to pawn off forty paintings crated and boxed inside a hitched trailer. Says in a pushy wise-ass manner he’s looking to unload all of them. Says he has a high maintenance babe he’s hoping to hook up with before returning to Florida. His pain-in-the-ass, old lady, who he said was a spend thrift was driving him crazy. Said he needed some mad, throwaway money. My buddy called me for my thoughts. We could use the inventory.
But, right then, the checking account couldn’t afford the outlay of cash. The artist was hip to our situation and he empathized with us but because it was liquidation promotion he wasn’t gonna leave one painting without payment. He went on and on about how he got screwed by taking people at their word, we’ve heard it all before. The compromise: My buddy would give him four checks, all but the first one post-dated. My buddy instructed him if he desired to unload all of his merchandise with us, he was not to deposit the checks right away. The artist agreed, left the paintings, hooked up with his babe and then returned to Florida.
As soon as that twerp scalawag got back to Florida he went back on his word, was pussy whipped by his bitch wife, and immediately like a good dog deposited all four checks.
The bank didn’t notice the post dates and all cleared for about $12,000! The checkbook went into a tailspin. Unbeknown to us we were bouncing checks! The account was wiped out.
We called the bank and complained that the checks were post-dated.
They said “tough luck” and turned me over to their legal department.
They too voiced, “ditto!”
I put my expertise to work, did an in-depth investigation, went to Atlantic County’s legal library and found an obscure law. The federal banking commission in one sweeping paragraph indicated in precise words that all postdated checks were considered legally as “nonentities.” The law was clear. Those three postdated checks were worthless pieces of paper until such a date matured.
I threatened the bank and peppered their ears with articles and the very paragraph that said, “don’t fuck with us or else” forcing the spineless bank with reason. I bullied them to replace the funds into our account and they had better do it quick!
The balance of power swung. We had the money back, and still it was us who possessed the paintings.
It was time for a little pay back, in the form of a practical joke.
The artist’s studio and home were about 200 miles from Orlando. I phoned him. He didn’t recognize my voice ‘cause he didn’t know me and while not identifying myself as my buddy’s associate I pretended to be somebody else, representing myself as the General Manager of Merv Griffin’s, Resorts International Hotel and Casino.
With conviction I said Mr. Griffin browsed through a local furniture store and Merv was quite taken by the art and the storeowner provided me his phone number. I said Merv desired for him to provide his art during a restoration of Merv’s other resort casino hotel, one located in the Bahamas. I said Merv was prepared to decorate the hotel’s walls exclusively with his paintings, with me saying how the hotel had over 350 rooms and Merv suggested at least two paintings in each room. Then there were hallways, lobbies, restaurants and meeting rooms!
The artist had no idea about the validity of my pitch. But oh, was he wide open.
I don’t believe he had knowledge that we knew he had gone ahead and cashed those postdated checks, nor was he aware the funds he absconded were being vacuumed out of his account and soaked back into ours.
The fool gushed over the phone. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” He yessed everything! Said he’d be able to provide the inventory, and acted flabbergasted that someone the likes of Merv Griffin found his paintings fantastic.
Smoothly, I told him I was optimistic and all that stood between him and a solid deal were a few formalities, like a signed contract and for him to have a chance to meet and hobnob with Merv. Most importantly it was essential for us to show our good will, and to present him with a down payment.
I expressed how I had made arrangements for him to be picked up in two days, by Merv’s private jet, as it would be flying near Orlando while coming down from New Jersey while on its way to the Bahamas.
“Four a.m.!” I stated. I remained emphatic, indicating that he was to be at Orlando’s airport at precisely that time if he didn’t want to miss a chance to go over to the Bahamas to spend a day with Merv.
The fun part, I added a dash of burn-your-ass, Texas Chili to the simmering farce. Speaking into the phone with good-ole-boy enthusiasm, I told the artist that his visit would coincide with Merv’s employees’ annual cook out. This year the theme was the old West
Over the phone, “All hotel personnel, including Merv and myself and our wives will be donned in full cowboy attire. ” . . . A good idea, I mean, if you really desired to fit in and make a big impression with Merv, it might be worth it to come aboard the Lear duked-out in such a get up.” I assured him, Merv and I would already be dressed in our get-ups adding, “Merv’s favorite color is red.”
Bubbling over the phone, thanking me for the insight, brimming with greed, the chump said he was going to rush right out to a Cowboy emporium and was fixing to get himself some sizzling duds, “boots and all.” He put a twang in his voice, how he and his cowgirl of a wife, somebody named Madge, would be there, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and be more than willing to lip congenial “howdy partners!”
I gave him my cellular number, told him to call if there’d be any problems. I’d be sure to see him at the airport, in two days, at the ungodly hour of 4:00 a.m.
My own warped sense of humor giggled myself to tears, at the sight of him and his wife, two yucks, waiting on Merv while dressed like fools.
My buddy monitored the call, holding his hand over his mouth. After hanging up he and I sent shock waves of raucous laughter throughout the store. Our ruckus startled the shopping crowd. The office girls too were bent over with laughter. Even my buddy’s bitch wife, who as you know was a hit-below-the-belt broad, was tickled with humor and intrigue, impressed by our nasty get-evenness. While laughing the bitch almost appeared attractive.
My buddy complimented me for maintaining my composure not giving it away and shedding the ongoing temptation as to laugh out loud. We were aware of the prick’s greed. We relished having the chump as our mother-fucking puppet. Such a pulling off added a charge. We wuz two-solid guys not to be fucked with. We wuz bad!
We squeezed humorous juice from the farce often. My buddy and I would be at lunch, or on the road, or sitting around the office and we’d look at each other and crack up. We savored fucking over that Morton. Images about the dufus waiting around a deserted airport, along with the old lady, looking ridiculous in the early a.m. with them whining, how there must be some mistake. “I don’t understand, we’re waiting for Merv Griffin’s private jet.”
By noon that day, the scammer placed two and two together. Earlier I had turned off my cellular. I wouldn’t have been able to repeat the performance. He must have contacted Resorts and then he called.
“How dare you con me! My secretary deposited the checks by mistake. What about my paintings? I don’t find it funny. Do you know how much those outfits costs? The custom red leather boots ran $300 a pair.
I’m calling my attorney . . . ”
I told him he was a fucking crumb, a piece of shit, and a dope for taking it all in.
While he was screaming about lawyers and cops and everything, I told him to shut the fuck up, and listen and to listen good! I tough talked saying with impunity that he’d never-ever see his money or his paintings. We had him. He was powerless.
“The Wall” (1987)
This year will mark another anniversary of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. Unfortunately the United States is bogged down other messy conflicts. Despite politics, despite variable ideals and special interests, despite right or possible wrong, young men and women in uniform refrain from asking the reasons why; they just honor their sworn oath and do their duty.
That’s the way it has been for all front-line troopers throughout the ages, rather if in the ranks of Patton’s divisions, Bonaparte’s Calvary or Caesar’s Legions. That’s the way it was for kids back in Vietnam.
I’d presume most people reading this remember the time but I can’t estimate how many of you have seen The Wall and have come to appreciate its significance and have come to grips with the sacrifice made mostly by draftees, primarily thought of by many as cannon fodder in the lower ranks consisting of the poor and downtrodden, college and high school drop outs, dead-enders, farm boys, rubes, blacks, Latinos, Hawaiians, and even none citizens, caught in the draft’s net and who were yanked off the street by Uncle Sam.
Charlie Sheen’s character, Taylor, in Oliver Stone’s Platoon, may have best described the disheveled lot when within the film he narrated a letter he was about to send off to his grandmother. Nevertheless, those sorry asses became heroes despite their social and economic back grounds. Sad facts are, too many nice kids died.
After a first-time walk-by of the Vietnam War Memorial aka: “The Wall,” emotions might vary, depending on one’s association with the Vietnam Generation and the era. Yet too many of our fellow citizens were absolutely oblivious to the conflict like the nation’s politicians’ sons or spoon-fed Ivy League types, Senators sons or those who could afford to dodge the draft via deferments. Some have remained oblivious, to this day, clueless about how the war impacted and rattled individual lives and families.
Yet, if one gives the Wall a second gander, the enormity of the conflict and the Memorial itself, kicks-in. If compared: The Wall’s design parallels the very pace and escalation of the war itself.
The Wall’s length and stature are laid out in such a way. When one first approaches the memorial, from either end, the Memorial appears somewhat inconsequential, perhaps not as grandiose as might be expected. The initial black marble slabs are about knee high with a few names etched on them.
Yet with each step, the height of the Wall inches upward, one slab next to another, and then another, and another, chock with more names. That aspect in design is an intricate and well-thought-out part of the Memorial—-the Wall’s gradual escalation—-a sobering reminder of how the body count went and rose along with the war’s escalation. After about 25 yards the Wall looms large. Onlookers then have to lift their heads to read the names, dwarfed by the Wall of doom.
Vietnam escalated from a small flammable skirmish that erupted into an out-of-control inferno. The firestorm gained an appetite and was fueled by body count and with our boys and girls who may have survived crippled by additional psychological and physical residue permeating for decades in the form being disabled or while wrestling with hideous nightmares.
On the most part, those whose names are on the Wall were given little thought back then. While GIs were mired up in knee-deep mud, with danger lurking behind every bamboo shoot providing a mean case of the Willies, most of them could not understand why they were there in the first place.
Back in the good ole USA the masses were screeching for the Beatles while latching onto whimsical fads, admiring, Twiggy, and speeding toward upper mobility. The nation basically ignored the bumpy ride until the wheels began to come off. It was only when too many working-class families became blood-splattered and when college students and citizens took to the streets, well, that’s when the brass and government begrudgingly chose to back away from the war, a war its leaders never intended to win. It wasn’t until the cries to stop reached a fever pitch that that particular war began to deescalate.
Before society took stock too many thousands of death certificates had already been signed.
* * *
Those now marbleized on that Wall are sentenced. They’re all brothers and sisters, for all eternity a family fostered by circumstance, sentenced to never again ride a wave or yelp a Merry Christmas or a happy birthday, or take a lover in their arms, or give a hardy, “Morning, Mom!” never again to do anything but perhaps be remembered.
That’s all we can do for them now.
Pre-Vietnam War memorials honored those from past eras. If alive, most of the names on the Vietnam Wall would have been entering their prime when the memorial was unveiled back in 1982.
The Wall is a sea of etched letters compiling of 58,000 plus names. At the mid-point, the Wall reaches its pinnacle as the war did. Then the Wall takes a 90-degree turn, as one heads away from its center. The Wall begins to slope downward. Each slab now descending rather than the ascending that took place on the other side, deescalating in precise scale, the same way the war did.
The brilliance of the monument, designed by Chinese American architect, Maya Lin, holds up as a simple artistic emulation in sync with the time frame of the war. The Wall just dwindles down and ends, the same way it began.
Today the dead are still on duty. They’re there day and night and night and day as eternal sentries where the rain will fall and the sun will shine and snow will stick, but perhaps more so, as fateful reminders to us all.
“Person of the Century, 20th Century” (1999)
Remember that Twentieth Century? It produced some notables.
Who was the “Person of that Century?” Think of the choices. Why it’s mind-boggling. A shortlist is a contradiction. Scratch the surface: Roosevelt, Einstein, Salk, Churchill, Gandhi, Gates, Jobs, Mandela, Susan B. Anthony… even Hitler. There are scores of other worthwhile and notorious candidates.
For me, cutting to the chase it boils down to “GI Joe.” Das right, I‘m taking Joe hands down.
I realize Joe’s a composite, an iconic faceless symbol. Yet GI Joe was unique to the era, diverse, armed with an uncompromising spirit forged by righteous values that galvanized an unwavering will to win. Those attributes etched in eternal’s history catapults GI Joe over other all candidates.
The Axis powers claimed themselves as a master race, and as invincible while eating up entire peoples’ raping, robbing and pillaging . . . stamping out cultures at an alarming rate.
Then storming out of the land of the rising sun came an equally radical fanaticism that honed itself for conquest and war. Oppression nodded its ugly head. They brought the world to its knees. Evil was winning out! Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo were gobbling up the world’s real estate.
They whacked Pearl Harbor. With many sunk and others charred the Pacific fleet laid in ruin. Shattered ally armies surrendered, or scatted in a retreat, with no longer a toehold on mainland Europe. Axis Power forces and tools of war seemed superior. Blitzkriegs seemed unstoppable. Torpedo laden U-boats terrorized the seven seas. Nothing we flew could out-maneuver the Zeros. Things appeared as bleak. For years to come, if there wasn’t a quick reversal of fortune, today’s world could be speaking in German and serving rice with each meal as a staple.
There was a call to arms. Yet on the home front, people were struggling, still trying to pull themselves off the canvas from wallop they absorbed from the Great Depression. For too many Americans, “Grapes of Wrath” was no fiction novel.
But yet, pumping within the veins of a culture was a rich ethnicity, a hodgepodge of customs that varied in tongue and prayer united by the idea of freedom. What was chipped into the mix stemmed from every creek and cranny while calling a nation’s citizens to arms.
They came from all walks of life races and creeds, farmers, city boys, fatsoes or just skin-and-bone, withered down from the nothingness of the dust bowls. They brought to the cause a generation’s worth of tradition, purpose and devotion, Ivy League and West Point, with street-smarts, mixed in with a pioneer spirit and log cabin logic, cowboy and Indian, something indelible that would evolve in tight spots as American know-how.
When a jolted nation and frazzled government begged for help and reached out to its most precious treasure, it’s youth, GI Joe hop-scotched in from schoolyards while enlisting as rubes, slicks, hicks and immigrants. There came an eclectic gathering, if not the greatest coming together of all time and thus was born: “GI Joe.”
America had yet to become homogenized as a one-size-fits all society populated by what’s become a herd of trendy sheep. Gap jeans, network-and-cable TV, places like McDonald’s and computer-linked “dot.coms’” were but years away.
Back then it was strictly colloquial. A few blocks over, everybody spoke Lithuanian or Brooklyneese, some had never laid eyes on a Catholic or a Jew. In certain towns or counties no less, hardly anybody wore shoes or everybody wore a hat. Hairdos varied from place-to-place as did dress. Common threads were a mixed bag.
Back in 1941 the accumulated knowledge shared by most Americans were from a cluster of newspaper-and-magazine articles, Twainish literature, music, film with most of the majority then being influenced by radio. Yet etched into each and every American brain was that what we all had was a fought-for U.S. constitution that guaranteed freedom.
Once equipped and trained GI Joe faced the awesome responsibility that was his and hers alone. They were the only force standing in the way of a tidal wave’s worth of tyranny.
GI Joe became an in sync legion that spoke “brogues and twangs.” GI Joe stemmed from lineages with surnames such as Kozlowski, Smith, Whitecloud, Johnson, Schultz, Rizzo, Rodriguez, Miyasato and Goldberg. Even those who appeared as the more “genteel” or the geez-wiz, by-golly, college-Joes, with Peter-Lawford-like mannerisms, got into lockstep with ordinary Joes, from elm-treed streets. Josephs and Joses, Josefinas and Gesepies along with “Here’s-to-you-kid,” Pal Joeys, with Bogart persuasions kept their chins up while measuring up to last century’s luminary: GI Joe.
I don’t have the talent to place into words nor can I begin to form the proper accolades to describe the grit it must have taken to storm fortified beaches, to climb treacherous mountains, to fly flimsy tin cans with wings filled to the brim with combustible fuels and bombs, or to define the courage it took to have gone down underneath the icy seas in submarines whose air supply was rapidly being poisoned by stale air and carbon monoxide.
GI Joe suffered enormous casualties and hardships. They faced obstacles that few ever fathom let alone consider. They froze and shivered, sweated, bled and died. They sacrificed life and limb for loved ones and the idea of a free world. I believe they were armed with more than lethal weapons. GI Joe was fortified with a fundamental decency and maintained a disciplined loathing to stop a warped philosophy that was attempting to suppress people by diabolical means. On the most part, they were good boys and girls who soberly realized that in order to defeat evil . . . that what has to happen . . . is that “Good” has to become “Eviler-than-Evil” . . . and do so relentlessly without quarter, stomping down on the oppressor’s neck until that particular evil eventually screams, “Uncle!”
Just read the wartime accounts of Hawaii’s 442nd. It’s enough to give ya what Hawaiian call “chicken skin.” They were a combat unit made up of American born Hawaiian and Japanese boys who themselves and their families suffered prejudice from their own countrymen. Regardless, they were hell-bent to get at the core of what was causing them problems. They had no choice but to fight in the European theater for obvious reasons. Their motto, “Go For Broke” The unit accumulated more casualties and battle ribbons than any other outfit.
When a Texas Division was surrounded by the Gerries, it was the small-in-stature Asian Americans of the 442nd who broke the enemy’s grip by throwing themselves against a curtain of flying steel with a ferocity hardly witnessed on battlefields, not just to rescue the Lone Star Boys, but to prove they had the right stuff to galvanize in the minds of others that they too were worthwhile all-Americans. Yet in actuality, it wasn’t Hawaiians of Japanese descent rescuing Texans, but GI Joes coming to the aid of other GI Joes.
There’s no doubt about it in my mind the choice of Person of the Century is a hands-down no-brainer . . . GI Joe saved the world in the middle of the last tumultuous century. Today’s creed of “What’s in it for me?” wouldn’t have sounded so swell to their ears. They were paid peanuts for Christ’s sake. The mantra of “Hell no, we won’t go,” would have been enough to make a pug face scream, “For crying out loud!” If one didn’t have the righteous gumption or desire to kill the enemy they could become conscientious objectors. GI Joe was no saint and no sinner, not black or white, or Chicano, not rich, or poor, nor brilliant, or moron, not handsome or hound-doggish, but just a faceless patriot, molded and fire tested as one into a fighting force, a force that staunchly stood on the side of good at any cost.
When people fell, regardless of the above descriptions, GI Joe didn’t ask “what if?” or “who says?” nor did they read Gallop polls. GI Joe didn’t splinter himself into special-interest groups or backbiting PAC Committees. GI Joe was pro-life but that depended on whose sides you were on. GI Joe didn’t have an agent and more than likely sued nobody. GI Joe went into action and did what had to be done.
What GI Joe did do, was hold the line. They bled in jungles, fought like hell along flowered trails and died in bombed-out streets. When mortally wounded they cried alright, perhaps not for themselves or because of excruciating pain, but for their mamas’ broken hearts for the horror of it all aware about the forthcoming bad news that would eventually be sent back home.
But with it all, for GI Joe, no matter how much he shook in his combat boots—whatever that awful monster was out there breathing in the night’s bushes or what was laying in wait just over the hill and no matter how awesome and bloodthirsty it was, there was no way on Earth that GI Joe was going to permit a single one of them to penetrate American shores nor hurt or enslave their loved ones. So GI Joe joined the cause showed absolute resolve and finally won.
As corny, and Frank Capra-ish, as this all sounds. When it comes down to Person of the Century?” I gotta go with GI Joe!
As stated, GI Joe on the side of Good had to become Eviler-than-Evil for a defining moment, and “Good” had no choice but to go against his nature and drop the big one, and then my friends the evil manifested by GI Joe had to . . . for the sake of the common good and that of mankind, stop the killing and revert back to Good.
With due respect when it comes to who really deserves to be lionized as the Person of the Century, for now I’ll shelve the inventors, statesman, entrepreneurs, athletes and philanthropists. Look around
Twenty-First Centuries, look around at what you have in your life, the faces in your family, or all that materialistic stuff but do take account and count Your Blessings. If it weren’t for GI Joe you may not have any of it.
“The General and the Sergeant Major” (2002)
This is a story about two patriot warriors, about Major-General Keith L. Ware and Sergeant-Major Joseph A Venable. Both became mentors of mine back at Fort Hood, Texas in 1967. Despite their common cause both men’s professional and personal demeanors couldn’t have been more different.
General Ware came across more like a college professor in rimless glasses or a CEO for a Fortune 500 company. His uniform’s fatigues were soft rather than starched. He looked dour rather than dashing. He loped rather than marched; he was an unmilitary looking as a General could get. On the other hand Sergeant Major Venable was a soldier’s soldier, ruggedly handsome, ramrod straight, lean, swagger stick in hand whose language was tough and often vulgar while chock with snippets of Army jargon.
Ware spoke eloquently in soft tone like a refined New Englander. As for Venable he was all about giving and taking orders as he barked with a no-nonsense, Cajun, Leesiana drawl.
General Ware was drafted in 1938. He became the first Officer Candidate School graduate to reach the rank of General and the last Mustang General, meaning he went from a measly private to become one of the nation’s most decorated and diverse, high-ranking officers. Sergeant Major Venable stemmed from the bayou country of Louisiana, drawn into the Army during WWII. Both served in the South of France during the big war.
Ware distinguished himself on the battlefield in France. For a defining heroic effort Ware won the Congressional Medal of Honor, his nation’s highest military decoration. Here is the official account of that action:
“Commanding the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry, attacking a strongly held enemy position on a hill near Sigolsheim, France, on 26 December 1944, found that one of his assault companies had been stopped and forced to dig in by a concentration of enemy artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire. The company suffered casualties in attempting to take the hill. Realizing his men must be inspired Lt. Col. Ware went forward 150 yards beyond the most forward elements of his command, and for two hours reconnoitered the enemy positions, deliberately drawing fire that caused the enemy to disclose their fortifications. Returning to his company, he armed himself with an automatic rifle and boldly advanced upon the enemy, followed by two officers, nine enlisted men, and a tank.
Approaching an enemy machinegun, Lt. Col. Ware shot two German riflemen and fired tracers into the emplacement, indicating its position to his tank, which promptly knocked the gun out of action. Lt. Col. Ware turned his attention to a second machinegun, killing two of its supporting riflemen and forcing the others to surrender. The tank destroyed the gun. Having expended the ammunition for the automatic rifle, Lt. Col. Ware took up an Ml rifle, killed a German rifleman, and fired upon a third machinegun 50 yards away. His tank silenced the gun. Upon his approach to a fourth machinegun, its supporting riflemen surrendered and his tank disposed of the gun. During this action Lt. Col. Ware’s small assault group was fully engaged in attacking enemy positions that were not receiving his direct attention. Lt. Col. Ware was wounded three times but refused medical attention until this important hill position was cleared of the enemy and securely occupied by his command.”
Earlier in the war Keith Ware commanded the famous Audey Murphy. Within the pages of Murphy’s best-selling memoir, “To Hell and Back,” Murphy recounted how he tagged along as Ware led a patrol behind enemy lines. In that action Murphy saved Ware’s life by knocking off an enemy who had Ware in his sights. That action bonded the two men over a lifetime and earned Murphy his first Silver Star. Murphy went on to become a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient too then a celebrity and movie star. Unassumingly Ware continued his military career.
Ware again served with honor in Korea earning additional citations for his valor and leadership. Ware continued the academic portion of his career while still in uniform. He attended and later taught at the Army’s War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He became the Army’s liaison to the United States Congress. He wrote manuals on tactical nuclear warfare respected on both sides of the Iron Curtain. He became the Army’s Chief in Public Affairs and today; the Keith L. Ware Award is annually bestowed on the Army’s top journalist. Back in 1966, as a draftee, I lucked out and was assigned to 3rd Corps Headquarters as the custodian of classified documents for the Corps’ Command Section.
On my first day I was to report to Fort Hood’s Sergeant Major the top kick of all top kicks on post. Sergeant Major Joseph Venable snarled at me. His tone wasn’t that flattering toward a then lowly PFC.
“Boy!” he yelped, “I work for one man, the Commanding General of the 3rd Corps, and you now work for me! Captains, Majors and Colonels around here are a dime a dozen, and on the most part, they mean nothing to me other than the military courtesy they are due. Now you work for me. From now on you are ED, exempt from roll calls, KP, guard duty, CQ, inspections and all the other duties taking place around the barracks. You’ll get a fresh haircut every week and break starched fatigues daily. You show your respect to all ranked above you, but if one swinging dick gives you any crap you tell me and I’ll take care of it. For that: ‘Me and the General’ expect your total devotion to duty. You have your sorry butt in this office 7 a.m. sharp and make fresh coffee or you can go back to where you came from as a sorry-assed recon scout like you was in the First Armor Cav. Understand that, Private?”
With gusto I, “Yes Sergeanted!”
The tough talking Sergeant Major kept his word. From then on, and without doubt, I was his boy. I had it made. The duty was choice. I learned firsthand about how the upper echelons of the military function. My company commander and first-sergeant never leaned on me because of my high-flatulent status at HHQ. I had unearned clout. Besides, everybody on post was scared of the Sergeant Major’s power and wrath.
During my stay at Fort Hood the Army decided to create a new position, The Sergeant Major of the entire Army. Venable became runner up for the position, only to be nosed out by a Sergeant Major Woodward, who already served in Vietnam, an assignment Venable had yet to achieve. Later on Woodward was indicted for being part of a syndicate that bilked the military out of millions of dollars of supplies that the crooks sold on the black market.
Venable was something to behold. He loved the Army. He even savored the panther-piss tasting coffee served in mess halls, him mmmming how it was so robust. His uniform was immaculate. He adored a beautiful, full-of-life wife with a couple of pretty daughters. If out the window he’d see an overweight sergeant he’d storm out of headquarters, approach the sergeant, lock the fatso’s heels and threaten him to lose weight or he’d have ‘em busted down a rank or maybe even thrown out of the Army.
Over time, with me, his tone softened. We had great laughs. When I would interject or give an opinion about the Army he’d rile me and say, “Christine, you’re nothing but Christmas help in this man’s Army, just do your job and then you can go back to your candy-ass civilian life and be somebody with all your ideas back on the block!” Venable was instrumental at having me attain my sergeant’s stripes. He pinned them on my sleeves himself on the day of my promotion, rubbing my head like you do a toddler’s, telling me I was then a full-fledged sergeant like himself.
One highlight of our service together took place when President Johnson visited Fort Hood. In a small conference room Sergeant Major and myself along with eleven General Officers braced at full attention as the Commander in Chief entered the room to be briefed on the readiness of Fort Hood troops slated for Vietnam. Rather than hobnobbing with the generals LBJ turned his attention to the Sergeant Major and myself offering astonishing small talk.
It was a few months later when then Brigadier General Ware came on the scene to become Deputy Commander of 3rd Corps. Part of my job was to go to the Adjutants General’s Office to pick up documents addressed to the Command Section. I entered the inner sanctum with a TWIX for General Ware. His Aide-de-Camp was not at his desk just outside the General’s office. I noticed Sergeant Major sitting with the General in a casual manner with his leg crossed. The General and Sergeant Major had struck up a friendship and spent much time together discussing training and other aspects of military life. Sergeant Major, noticing me, signaled me to come into the General’s office.
I handed over the dispatch to the General. I remained at attention and had yet to be dismissed. General Ware put on his glasses and opened the dispatch. While reading it aloud he stood up. He had been promoted to Major General and was to report to Vietnam for temporary duty at first and then take over the command of the 1st Infantry Division that was the Army’s buffer Division up on the DMZ separating North and South Vietnam, which was then one of the hottest combat spots on earth.
In those days to achieve higher rank it was essential to command a combat arms unit. Ware had yet to serve in Vietnam. There was a glow about the General. Right then, Sergeant Major exploded out of his chair. “Sir, nothing would make me prouder than to serve with you as your Division’s Sergeant Major while in harm’s way!” It was both a magnanimous and poignant moment. At the time I had about 54 days to go in the Army. As a 20 year–old, all I looked forward to, despite my good fortune was to get out, make some money, buy a nice car and date beautiful women, yet something stirred inside me to volunteer also, but soon enough I came to my senses and stifled any thoughts about asking to accompany the dynamic duo.
I was discharged on January 12, 1968. Some months later while watching the news Walter Cronkite reported that the command helicopter of the Big Red One was shot out of the sky and all aboard killed including its commander, Major General Keith L. Ware. Ware was just one of four American Generals killed in Vietnam. The news gave me a heavy heart but many of my friends, classmates and fellow soldiers also lost their lives.
Years later I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. I possessed my own list of those I knew who perished. General Ware was on my list. I found the ebony, marble slab where Ware’s name was etched in along with the other 58,000 plus on the wall. I scanned the marble slab and suddenly was shaken and taken to my knees to see the name of Sergeant Major Joseph A. Venable posted directly next to Ware’s. I could hardly breath and was lost for words. He perished with his General, with him to the end!
All I could think to do was get back up on my feet, close my eyes and place my hand over both those names and pay homage. Two men, two patriots, two warriors whose loyal combined duty spanned almost 60 years were wasted in one horrific moment!
I discovered some of the details how the General, his aides, the Sergeant Major and even the division mascot, a German Sheppard named King, all went down in a fiery crash near the Cambodian border on September 13th, 1968.
Like many who’ve served I‘ve asked why? Why was I plucked out of the First Armored Cav., as a scout with the Americal Division that served in Pleiku, at Camp Holloway? Why did I get that choice job with the Army’s elite? What if I would have asked to go with those two warriors? The what-ifs and how-comes are part of life’s mysteries and maybe the gist of it all is, is that I’d be able to share their honorable story with you.
“What Was the American Way?” (2004)
Recently, I was leafing through a National Geographic while waiting for a burger at Cafe Santa Ana, inside Biblioteca.
I happen to think Santa Ana’s Café burger in he library is one of the best in town especially if ordered with fried onions. I came upon a story, a story written about Mount Kennedy, up in the Yukon Territory, near the Alaskan border.
After reading a few lines my eyes darted to the story’s by-line, discovering that the piece was written by none-other than Robert F. Kennedy! I flipped over to the front page and to my chagrin the issue was dated somewhere in 1965.
The Canadian government wanted to honor the then fallen President John F. Kennedy by naming an unchartered mountain after JFK. The Canadian Government decided to send a National Geographic sponsored expedition to map out the mountain. They invited the two surviving Kennedy brothers to tag or should I say trudge along. Ted declined the invite, recovering from an airplane crash, but Bobby went along.
The article boasted a then sense of inner pride for family and nation. The article jump-started my present thinking about this upcoming Fourth, what it means to me and perhaps what it means to people all around the world.
Once upon a time, during the infancy of a fledgling democracy a key passage was inserted into the new nation’s creed, “…we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable, Rights, that these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—…”
What happened? Talk about erosion! If the polar caps’ were made up of those words the oceans’ waves might be lapping at our doorsteps.
The American society has taken some drastic turns from the route it seemed to be on 45 years ago. Nations don’t seem to be so eager to name rubbish strewn alleyways after U.S. politicians let alone pristine mountains. Yet I am an American, a proud American, not because I am a fool to hold onto some blind faith, even though if you cut me I am apt to bleed, red, white and blue.
I’ve concluded, in reality I have no right to be proud merely by being an American, but I can be proud of the American way. Being born an American is not a form of entitlement and shouldn’t be perceived as such, well in my view, but embracing the American way and practicing such gives good reason to make one perhaps extend their chests somewhat.
Democracy is an ongoing project that is flimsy in the best of times, yet today the United States of America is the oldest democracy operating on earth.
Despite debtors prison, slavery, a civil war, women’s suffrage, segregation and discrimination the idea of the American way has been the sought after recipe to success and individuality in the world as we know it. Millions have made their way to the shores of the U.S. vying for a chance to live that American way. Millions of American young have made their way to other shores, in uniform, desiring to preserve it. Thousands of American war dead are buried around the world who have charged up hills and down dales to render aid to the downtrodden.
No doubt there has been a certain atmosphere of bravado and kids in the USA have that cock surety instilled in them as a form of patriotism. Yet over time there is so much more gray area about who is right and who is wrong than issues just being black and white. By no means are Americans a greater people. B no means are Americans, smarter or more compassionate, more athletic or more sincere or more fun loving.
It has warmed my Yankee heart to hear that one out of three American families donated money to the tsunami survivors or how they ponied up millions for the Haitian after their devastating earthquake I have a pride knowing about the American Peace Corps, C.A.R.E. and to think how General John Marshall, after conquering all Axis Powers, changed his uniform into a business suit, became the Secretary of State, and how he rebuilt America’s one-time enemies with his Marshall Plan. Back in the late 40s it cost every American man woman and child $1500 US for that giveaway.
Yeah, dealing with the whys and how comes of these recent wars are unsettling and there is no doubt that American influence in forging countries hasn’t always been in some people’s best interest. True something is off kilter when as a people we stop becoming citizens and categorized solely as consumers. And something is wrong when provocateurs are penciled in as troublemakers and not viewed as patriots. Jefferson, Franklin, Boliviar, Hidalgo, Allende, Nelson Mandella, Martin Luther King and Jesus Christ also were seen as provocateurs.
What’s the magic that’s propelled what perhaps has become mankind’s greatest success story? Was it that the elitist leaders tossed a bone to the common man, a bone to pursue happiness, with them not desiring to kowtow to some king, a bone so fat it permitted individuals to worship as they please, or being permitted to pick a bone with an establishment and speak one’s mind? Those unalienable rights or bones, if you will, alone may be worth the price of freedom, regardless of what else takes place or who’s driving freedom’s bus. As stated the American way with liberty is an experiment, a flimsy project constantly under construction with no completion in sight.
It’s not so much about being an American it is more or less about embracing the American way no matter where you are, that all men are equal. Democracy is doomed to suffer sleepless times, tossing, turning and tormented by its imperfection. Still, democracy constantly takes stock to gaze inward, yet not often enough. Democracy back bites, it contradicts and too often delivers incredible power and responsibility into hands that don’t deserve it. During shining moments it is right and it becomes wrong, but nevertheless it’s saddled with a cumbersome bureaucratic liability that prefers to dictate and administrator man-made law rather than delving out true-freedom’s justice.
Then to think that the Kennedy brothers, and Martin Luther King and Lincoln died to maintain that special way of life, the American Way.
“Reflections on Day of the Dead” (1996)
Breathe easy. You’ve made it! You’re lived through another Day of the Dead. Actually, there are two Days of the Dead, they were the past Saturday and Sunday that provided as much as 48 hours to reflect somewhat and peer back in the rear-view mirror of life.
At least some of us can congratulate ourselves for stamina after the self-abuse we put ourselves through, we might feel as good as dead after ingesting a freight trains worth of junk food over a lifetime, washing it down copious amounts of alcohol and sugar and while puffing on couple-of-hundred-thousand cigarettes etc.
Considering: It’s ironic, then maybe not, the way Mexico pays homage to its dead. Perhaps it’s one of those subtle yet glaring differences that surfaces between two distinct cultures.
In the States, death is often treated like a taboo, something that only occurs to other people. People north of the border tend to exclude themselves from the notion. In the U.S. they do honor. There’s Memorial Day, Martin Luther King’s birthday, to name a few. Too bad the combined celebration of Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays has degenerated into a schlock, sales-promotion—-Madison Avenue’s reasoning to liquidate Wall Mart’s or Home Deposit’s post-holiday inventory.
If you’ve traveled Mexico during the first days of November you may have witnessed the tributes. Nationwide, dried flowers, seeds and prayer stones are respectfully placed on makeshift, candle-lit altars, livening up “Day of the Dead” living rooms, revered events taking place inside both exquisite haciendas and modest, dirt-floored homes. No matter. The sentiment’s the same. The installations are thumb sketches showcasing individuals’ lifetimes of the past further decorated with photos and cherished keepsakes. Tender reminders are showcased. Maybe it’s a bottle of tequila, a sports team’s jersey, or the passed-away one’s favorite snack.
Same as me, while witnessing such, you may have been stirred because of a bittersweet familiarity that honors someone admired by those left behind. Which brings me to a point: We’re as good as dead. Death is more inevitable than the bill coming at the end of a meal. I guess we’ve all wondered about death. I suppose, at one time or another most of us have been terrorized by the fact.
Yet in Mexico, there’s a breath of fresh air. It’s up-tempo.
Ancestral memories come to peoples’ minds. Every soul is collectively remembered. All souls are mindfully assembled and bunched into a refined centerpiece of the past, symbolically portrayed as a bouquet in a non-elitist manner. Those honored need not to have been president or an explorer or national hero, or some big deal.
Placing myself in the lethal-spirit of things as I normally do, I’ve got my own short list to reflect on. Of recent passage there’s my long-time buddy, Arnawood Iskenderian, a fiery and innovative pal to the end who was bigger than life, who constantly encouraged me and who remained chock with enthusiasm, and then two, specific, life teaching mentors, Bob Longhi and Louie Zerillo, totally different sorts yet both of Italian heritage, one an ivy-league-bred, dynamic whiz, wealthy in many ways who embraced the esoteric and led a charmed life and then the delicious Louie Zerillo, a WWII vet who recognized something in me when I was as young as 13 and took me off the street corner and placed me under his wing.
Louie was earthy, irreverent, uncouth at times, who dreamed on a large scale yet those dreamt about fortunes didn’t necessarily come his way, but no matter, he was rich in spirit. Then the incomparable Elena Shoemaker who directed my play and told me always what she really thought without pulling punches and all those others recently passed whose ashes might be sprinkled around the globe and then more recent, Oliver, my football talking and drinking buddy.
I’ll reflect back on the images I can remember. Within the silence of my mind, first I’ll say, “hi” to grandmom and Aunt Dinny, women who once beamed unconditional smiles down toward a little boy, smiles that so warmed the heart.
I’ll utter “hola,” “aloha” and some, “hey, mans’ and Philly-sounding “Yos,” to guys off the block like Joey Alfano, Stevie Kelso and names that might mean little to you, but nevertheless, they mean something to me. The list seems to get longer each year.
I figure you got your own list. And if you’re into it, or if I’ve become a friendly reminder you’ll attempt bring back memories. You might take a moment and recall a pair of once-shimmering, root-beer eyes, just the way you remember them.
Perhaps you’ll dig a little deeper and rehear a cozy voice of a dad, sensing how it resonated or you’ll rekindle another voice’s velvety texture that’s of a mom or special lady friend while being enveloped by their warmth, if just for a moment. The distinct aroma of an aunt’s perfume or an uncle’s smoldering pipe tobacco can ease into the senses along with other good stuff packed into a lifetimes worth of recollections making Memory’s Lane a popular destination during Days of the Dead.
There are past people to see in our mind’s eye; one-time coworkers who doubled us over with whacky humor, or sensational friends who were solid sound-boards or partners of the past who shared concurrent passions during those precious intimate moments.
No matter! Reel back time, say, “Hi, dad” or whisper, “Love, ya baby! You were the best!” Countless ears belonging to eternal souls, out there in the wherever, hafta perk up during Days of the Dead.
Maybe you’re like me and you quiz yourself from time to time and wonder, “Why on Earth am I, here, in Mexico?” And maybe like me, your answer isn’t all that obscure when you go figure . . . It’s special here. It’s healthy. I like the taste it leaves in my mouth. The keen thing seems to be that nobody gets left out in Mexico.
Later on, when it’s our turn, those gone before us could offer a helping hand or provide welcome mat to us new kids on here-after’s block and they just might soften up those who might sit in final judgment.
Disculpe, I don’t know a better way to say it, “Happy Day of the Dead!’
“Tales from San Miguel–Critters that Come Out in the Night” (2000)
The dingy bar, Cucaracha, doesn’t exude glamour. An exception might be the “hubba-hubba” pin-up of a sultry Marilyn hanging off the bar’s crumbling plaster. Marylyn’s naked, posed in a provocative position. To define San Miguel’s Cucaracha: It’s late-night personified situated on Calle Zacateros, a stone’s throw away from San Miguel’s spruced up jardin.
The word Jardin, means “garden” in Spanish. The actual jardin is San Miguel’s town-square showcasing smartly trimmed laurel trees and green-painted, cast-iron benches similar in color to the leaves on the trees. The square is situated across from the town’s landmark a gothic, pink-stoned cathedral referred to as “The Parroquia.”
A possible welcome mat at the Cuc, as it is often nicknamed by locals——a bombed-out campesino, down for the count, head-plopped, mouth open with the upper half of his torso sprawled atop a messy table. More than likely not much attention is paid to the unconscious one.
The cantina’s torn leather furniture appears more ready for the woodpile than drunken asses. The stark concrete floor’s usually littered with an always-burgeoning field of crushed cigarette butts. Cucaracha could be described as a concrete bunker with some wooden trim, funky, a common-man’s watering hole that continues to pour ‘til the wee hours, but there’s so much more!
Going to the restroom is a slippery slope, a murky adventure within a dank darkness. The floor’s a slosh as if earlier hosed down but we know better. A guy never knows who he’s elbow-to-elbow with while doing his business over the trough-type urinal. It’s best to stare straight ahead and maybe try to make out the scrolled graffiti written mostly in Spanish. “Puta su Madre,” is a hard-edge connotation demeaning one’s mother. “Todos hombres de Queretaro estan jotos!” a cruddy slur indicating all males from a nearby city are that of a different persuasion. There are even signs of aliens, “Philly guys rule!” Praise the Lord males don’t hafta sit down. Toilet seats are a luxury in public bathrooms in much of the country. Females! I don’t know what they do.
Forget the foo-foo crowd. It’s a far cry from a Mecca flashing designer wear. The hang out’s patrons don faded jeans and droopy tank tops. Headwear varies Stetson-Cowboy to New York-Fedora along with an assortment of caps with sports’ teams’ logos embossed on them, to do-rags, to commando-type caps worn by the likes of Che Guevara, to no hat at all. Those in muscle shirts don’t always live up to their name. Yet despite a seedy impression, there’s something intriguing taking place.
“Shaky Jakey,” nick named for obvious reasons, he suffering from Parkinson’s, a one time product of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is capped by a faded, corduroy football-Steelers-baseball-cap and is likely to be flashing a shit-eating grin, him almost toothless, while doing his shimmy in the midst of lifting and drinking his beer.
Jakey is likely to be reminiscing with Billy Blue, mid-50s, a strong-featured Mexican, with café ole features who’s also a Blues guitar player, somewhat burnt out and hasn’t had a paid gig in years. They hobnob.
Jakey talks “inside baseball” while Billy feints air guitar. Neither really listens the other out, but it doesn’t matter. They’re long-time friends and act that way all the time. Jakey lips to no one in particular, “Clemente probably had the best arm from right field,” while Billy nods and says, “Joe Pas said you could go anywhere you want as long as you could make it back.”
Local painter Johnny “the lover” Kilroy, after a number of vodkas slurs a distorted gringo-sounding Spanish describing while also boring a half-his-age Mexican goddess just what hippie life was like up the Hudson during the Woodstock era.
Johnny’s animated and can’t wipe the seductive smile off his wrinkled face. He keeps repeating a redundant English within his bastardized Spanish, “You know,” and “Like I say,” and “The point is,” were a mix attached to the “you-woulda, you-shoulda and you-coulda.” The wide-eyed goddess with Grand Canyon cleavage appears glassy-eyed and lost in translation.
On the most part, women aren’t permitted in cantinas but Cucaracha made the exception way back. Back when ladies of the night . . . well, some facts are better left unsaid.
There’s a distinct aura in the air. Why else would the joint be so popular? Cucaracha holds fast to its two-fisted, hard-drinking reputation.
Originally the cantina was located a couple of blocks over where the Banamex Bank sits today, where it’s said San Miguel crazies were knocking down booze almost ‘round the clock with the Cucaracha acting as their temple. Urban legend swears notables Kueroac, Burroughs, the infamous Cassady, Ken Kesey and the likes of Allen Ginsburg all hung out. Urban legend further says the all-star line up of Beats frequented the joint while residing part-time in town. Stories of the past swear marathon card games lasted more than a week and one arguable tale tells of a naked female hitchhiker brazenly exiting the backseat of a dusty Caddy that just made its way down from north of the border, she doing so in broad daylight as she strolled into the Cuc. Are they true? Who really cares but they’re fun to listen to.
Way-way back in the 1700s Cucaracha’s old location served as the home for the town’s wealthiest Spanish colonists, the De La Canal family. At one time in the early ‘60s the bar was internationally renowned, it being described in a chic, north-of-the-border bellwether monthly rating it as one of the top bars on planet Earth.
In the not-so-long-ago past actors, Mickey Rourke and Willem DeFoe made a cameo appearance, way after midnight. The twosome were in town shooting “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” a lame film, easily forgotten except by those who keep track and list the worst films of all time. As the lost-in-space actors acted as if they were welcomed they were mostly ignored, other than curious gapes and some idle finger-pointing. Sensing the uneasy vibe the acting duo quickly downed their club sodas and performed a “stage outta-here!”
These days Cucaracha’s stands as a last-chance bastion for stay outs. When supper clubs and other boom-boom joints shut down the Cuc is an alternative. One shouldn’t object to second-hand smoke. There’s at least a pack of burning tobacco wafting through in the air at any given moment. One can fulfill cravings for nicotine without flicking a Bic.
A contrast to the din . . . there’s a spiffy perpetual-playing jukebox spinning out diverse tunes of CDs with songs running the gamut. Mexican Folk plays compositions by the iconic and long-dead David Alfredo Jimenez. Even those who don’t understand a lick of Spanish can sense the anguish of a broken heart. His laments of lost love are familiar to every cry-in-your-beer Mexican. Nationwide, jilted lovers in cantinas sing along in a “misery loves company” environment. The mood can suddenly shift. Then it’s the eternal voice of Jim Morrison belting out, “I woke up this morning and had myself a beer . . .” half the place gets down and sings into their beer bottles using them as microphones.
Billy Blue gyrates, by swinging his arm and doing windmills on his imaginary guitar. Jakey looks away, shakes his head while staring into space perhaps embarrassed for Billy’s antics. Johnny the lover inches closer to the young Mexican goddess careful not to singe her dangling curls with his lit and fast-moving cigarette. Throw-caution-to-the-wind couples dance in front of the jukebox, or on tables, or on top the bar itself.
The staff’s laid back, basically disinterested, mostly oblivious, going about their business in zombie-like fashion in between backgammon or domino moves. Robotish-like, taking time from their games, they pop beers caps serving strictly on a COD basis.
The younger set nurse their Stolis with Sprite and their Bacardi and Cokes, while old timers puff on their Marlboros and sip straight pours of repasado tequilas like old time cowboys. Many just lean on the bar keeping to themselves them alone within their thoughts. As does Mysterious Mike, a probable American, heavy set, middle-aged, a solitary man, who wears sunglasses ‘round the clock, always dressed in a black T-shirt, black jeans and black, Durango, swirl-patterned, cowboy boots with silver tips. His tasseled, curly grey flops on his oversized head as does his full maim, a matching ensemble complimenting the grey straggles belonging to his eyebrows and mustache. Some insist he’s an ex-cop, undercover or CIA or something of sorts; some saying he’s on the lam while others profess, he’s in the “witness protective program.” He says nothing, asks for nothing and the staff’s aware of his drink. He communicates with nods or hand motions yet it’s apparent he doesn’t miss a trick.
I think if one of those T-shirted bartenders suddenly discovered a sparkling diamond stuck inside a bottle cap inside one of those going-out Negro Modelos, their blank expressions wouldn’t change an iota. As long as things remain copacetic, everything’s cool.
Around 2:00 a.m. San Miguel’s off-duty wait-help begin to storm through the dilapidated doors, mixing in their semi-formal work attire with those wearing denim, and wrinkled cotton. Waving peso bills at the staff eager to catch up with the other drinkers who got a head start.
Things get cooking.
The rest of the clientele’s a potpourri. They’re the new-aged and the disheveled, the tattooed and snaggle-toothed, in all shapes and forms, mostly local yet always hip. There are dread locks and super-gelled and spiked dos some dyed in shades normally reserved for parrots. There are a number of skinheads, some by choice, others due to the aging process. Having pierced body parts isn’t a prerequisite. There are the freshly scrubbed and seamless faces belonging to first time away from home art-students, fresas, who might be filled with exuberance while chatting away with wrinkled-faced maestros.
There are the like-wow chicas with hourglass figures pretending to let themselves be seduced by burnt-out writers who by all means have bad intentions. World travelers wash in, in search of good or bad company just for the sake of talking story. And there are the forever hand-shaking wanna-bes willing to speak with anyone, “Wanna buy me a drink, amigo?” With town’s international flavor, French might be being spoken in one corner while East-Coast big-city cackles from another.
Exquisite bouquets of vacationing Chilean gals often become all the buzz, attracting a hornet’s nest worth of barflies, who if given a choice, might try and out marathon the Monarch butterflies winging it to the foothills of the Andes. Those South American senoritas enjoy the ambiance. Some want to further perfect their Spanish accented English while far away from home while flirting with smiling and blue-eyed guapos from places like North Carolina while others hold true to their native Spanish tongues flirting with newfound Mexican, brown-eyed caballeros.
By 2:30 the joint’s a-jumping, chocked with foxes and coyotes, Romeos and Juliets, in-aws and outlaws, a hybrid, grooving to the blaring tunes. The pulsating beat from the jukebox along with the nudging of alcohol helps erase the disappointment or the lingering mundane from the previous day. By the-then-early-hour yesterday is no more than a mundane memory. Earlier proclaimed “one for the road Joes,” should be sued for false advertising, who still may be tasting away come the crack of dawn. After a certain hour, a “no-seeing-character” affectionately known as Blind George gains visual parity. Decibels rise.
A young Mexican hombre elbows and bullies his way toward the fellas at the bar. “What’s “shaken,” Jakey?”
Jakey continues to flash symptoms of a man tormented by Parkinson’s disease. Jakey rips off his baseball cap and whacks the wisenheimer over the head but then lips to the bartender, “Give this asshole a beer! My treat!” Billy Blue overhearing the crack, brakes from his guitar solo and chastises the wise-guy, doing so in machine-gun Spanish, saying how the-youngster shouldn’t make fun of a man struck with such a malady. The pendejo shirks and says, “Jakey don’t mind none. Gringos are good sports, No?”
Jakey smiles. Shrugs his shoulders. Somewhat amused he calms Billy indicating he hasn’t lost his sense of humor and that he likes this kid. Jakey voices he thinks the kid’s wise-guy line is funny as he repeats the line and laughs to himself, “What’s “shaken,” Jakey?”
Mysterious Mike almost cracks half-a-smile. Johnny, who by now is so close to the goddess, there’s no room for their guardian angels as Johnny the lover quizzes her if she knows what they’re talking about when it comes to Jakey. “No se,” voices the girl along with an I-don’t-know-look. Johnny spouts it doesn’t matter.
Now and then some brothers go over the top but there’s usually enough level headed types willing to step forward. There is that distinct air of tension. A pragmatic mind might ask, “What the hell am I doing here?” But ya gotta figure, “My, man, it’s the middle of the night and you’re boozing in a place where the name speaks for itself!”
Frequenting the Cucaracha is no Boy Scout outing nor will it be penciled in on the local Biblioteca’s House and Garden tour. A tour each Sunday that has San Miguel tourists visiting palatial mansions belonging to the gringo rich.
Perhaps hanging at the Cucaracha is “right of passage” for young sanmigueleneses. It boasts aspects one doesn’t discuss with dear ole mom or the parish priest except when whispering away inside the confessional. Yet for the most part Cucaracha’s a mellow place. One is likely to shake a thousand more hands before they would ever have to swing a fist.
After a time, while immersed with the hoi polloi there’s a euphoric marination taking-place. The body warms, the mind bends, yet it could be the tequila. The standard pour is a fat mother, equaling, forefinger to pinky, belonging to the meaty mitts of a stevedore. After a number of sure-fire belts, a pug face like me might see himself as more handsome, taller, thinner, wittier with more hair, a sexy dancer, a grinning fool who’s about to become bullet-proof . . . as so it might be for Jakey, and it might be for Billy, as well as Johnny and the newbie smart-ass kid and all the rest of the brethren as they slug down their booze.
By golly, it seems by 3:30 that that steamy photo of Marilyn all of a sudden has come alive! The provocative-posed diva beckons. There’s no doubt to the observer that her forever young-and-frozen, a sardonic smile is meant exclusively for them.
Other pictures hang. Operating far beyond the borders of Gringolanderia, a poster of a scowling, Uncle Sam takes a shot at recruiting guys with its: “I want you!” the vintage poster is still as intimidating as it has been for almost a hundred years yet the yellowed and faded paper recruiting poster is no more than history. There’s a full-scale mural of what else? a wild cantina scene. There’s a terrific cityscape showcasing ole San Miguel.
Each picture has particular significance I suppose. Somehow the management doesn’t give one the impression they’ve taken an art appreciation class. Yet somebody’s probably around, in charge, to make decisions.
There’s a standout painting above the bar that depicts a group of merry-making cockroaches raising hell on bar stools while toasting each other inside a surreal, roach-infested bar; it’s a weird scene created from the humorous confines of an artist’s imagination perhaps after they spent a sordid night inside the Cucaracha. By witching hour some goofy goings-on takes place; the rathskeller reminds one of that far-out alien bar in the film “Star Wars.” Or one might wonder, as a goof on mankind that the Almighty may have gathered the world’s whackos, misfits and loose-cannons and crammed them all into one dump.
Then figure, when whooping it up at the Cucaracha to a certain extent, including yours truly, we stay-outs become very much like those merry-making, antenna-laden critters in that painting. When you drink at the Cucaracha there’s a healthy vermin spirit.
Jakey and Billy click their bottles, then pouring down their gullets the last as they crush their smokes and decide to walk each other home. On the way out, while passing Johnny-the-lover, then entwined and slow dancing with the goddess. Jakey quips, “Ah, love! Will Kilroy get there?” Johnny winks.
Mysterious Mike lifts a finger indicating he’s ordering a nightcap rotating his index finger down toward his pesos for his bill but still, staring straight ahead paying no mind. At dawn, he’ll return to his small casita where Mysterious Mike will continue to fine-tune and edit what will become one of the most critically acclaimed, historic novels ever penned in English about Mexico!
For many of San Miguel’s young, and for those young at heart, the Cucaracha is a special gathering place, perhaps a not-so-appropriate or a fashionable conclusion to another dynamite day in Paradise, but what the heck… whatta ya think they’re doing at 4 am up in Paducah?