Memoir

MEMOIR
“Inspirations and Humiliations-A Memoir”
By Lou Christine
Prologue
This is my memoir. It’s a collection of essays in no special order I’ve penned over the last 30 years.
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 yet only in a few instances.
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.
I don’t wish to embarrass my two sons or my sister or some past lovers, all of whom I respect.
I sense my Irish has inspired me to be an avid storyteller. I recall leaving a party or a dinner with friends after some supped up recanting, and once back in the car on the way home saying to my then sweet girlfriend, Jamie, how I wasn’t so sure that perhaps my story may not have unfolded exactly as I presented it but was close, with me perhaps concerned I may have had some of the facts somewhat off.
Jamie was so reassuring stating, “Oh honey, don’t even worry about it. The story, and how entertaining it is, is what counts! Who is actually going to check it out anyway? If you have to exaggerate to make a story tastier, do so.”
Jamie’s sage advice has been my out. 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
2. Being With Selma
3. The First Time I Saw Elvis
4. The Day John Lennon Saved My Life
5. The Cobras
6. St. Anthony: A Guy You Can Count On
7. Friday, November 22, 1963
8. The Hat
9. Steph’s Luncheonette
10. Paddy Lee
11. The Elusive Banana Split
12. Lou’s 52nd
13. A Day With The Yankees: August 1979
14. A Christmas Story
15. Boyhood Mentor
16. Pussy: A Perspective
17. Another Mentor
18. Buy ‘em Lunch
19. Super Bowl Woes
20. Throw Caution To The Wind
21. A Day At the Museum
22. Scamming A Scammer
23. The Wall
24. Person Of The Century, 20th Century
25. The General & The Sergeant Major
26. What Was The American Way
27. Reflections Of Day Of The Dead
28. Tales From San Miguel – Critters That Come Out In The Middle Of The Night.
29. Taking A Walk Out By The Lake
30. Sounds Of San Miguel
31. Haleakala
32. Absence Of Family While Living In A Foreign Land
33. Mexico City’s New 21st Century Skyline
34. Hilary Clinton: Nobody’s Fool
35. Heart Attack, Something To Avoid
36. Speaking The Spanish
37. Impromptu Moments
38. Spring Is In The Air
39. Men In The Kitchen
40. Doing Something For Grand Pop
41. Sareda is Toughening It Out
42. September Of My Years
43. Leap Of Faith
44. San Miguel Writers: Diverse and Notorious
45. Golden Autum
46. Out of Cuba 2007
47. Major League Baseball’s Legacy
48. Old Bull, Young Bull
49. Majestic In Their Own Right
50. Motoring Mexico
51. William Spratling—Father of Mexico’s Silver Jewelry Industry
52. Praise That Has Meant The Most
53. Reflections Of The 4th
54. Mr. Acapulco
55. Writers Epiphany
56. Gotta Go For Now
57. Lupita
58. Jerzy Kosinski
59. “Me Fixie Good”
60. “The Dragon City”

“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 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 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 hand out. “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 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 “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 a series of grunts and sly “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 towards 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 pay phone. He glared down at strewn cigar ashes about the astro-turfed 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 everyday, 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. Grand mom 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 a 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-gorilla’s 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 a 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 an unquestionable chivalry, a 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 cup cake 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 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 cup cake I voiced with a newfound confidence, “I was brave, Grandmom. Selma and the other kids were scared but I wasn’t.”
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“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 side burns, 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 I bought 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 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 disect at modern music’s demise in a forensic sort of way there seems to be distinct culprits that 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 play land 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 copycats 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!
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“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 yingyang. 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, him 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 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 the 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, show casing 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 started 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 Stereo!
The “Double Fantasy” tape was playing in the Mazda’s tape playing console. The track playing was “Staring 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 “Staring 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.
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“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 myself 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 material letters to spell out cobras. In our cardboard headquarters on the property of a storm-window factory we 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 did!
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 accent. 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 climb 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 was that 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 real tough, I didn’t say much because I didn’t want my cousins telling their parents and having word get back to my Grandmom 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 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 verses Brickyard.
At headquarters we began making weapons from stuff we stole out of the storm-window factory. We made whips and filed down the 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 steps 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 as he walked a few steps then turned in an about face and prance all over again ready for who ever.
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 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 done 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 and the moment she saw me and the rest of our motley ilk she screamed out my name. “Louie, Louie, get over here. Does your grandmom 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 for being responsible for getting us in such a fix.
Once we felt as if we weren’t being followed and in the deepest park 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 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 a Cobra.
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“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 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 brow beating 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 everyday.
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. Anthony, 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.”
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”Friday, November 22, 1963” (2013)
November 22, 1963 began as a run-of-the-mill, mid-autumn Friday. That Friday, a welcomed 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” 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 toe the line. Those 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, buttondown-ness. Like Kennedy, other men were going without hats. Square jawed men who openly worshipped Christ 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.
* * *
Some time around the 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 backwards 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 backwards 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 the 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 Mr. Fitzsimmons hadn’t grasped that I was that guy they talk about, the guy who bears bad 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 a froggy 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 rider less, 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 some time. 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 . . .
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“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-along 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 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 myself 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 wore 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 me 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 Bernheardt 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 smoke like a Bogart and 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.
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“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 pin ball 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?
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“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 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, Maka. Maka is Hawaiian for eye. Maka’s birth name is 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 an 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 players 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 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 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 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 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 deep magenta, parlayed by the light while matching 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 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 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 a 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 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.
Years have gone by. Paddy Lee delivered a strapping boy 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.
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“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 lessons this adolescent learned over 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 looked 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 comeback to finish up on that bitter 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 up start 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 wasn’t a 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 shadow boxed 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. 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 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 broadcasts 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 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, Ali 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, 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! . . . . .”
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“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 everyday 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’m 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
zee bread.”

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!
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“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 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 the boys wearing pin stripes 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 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. Those were intangibles not found beneath the skin of many ball players 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.
Gehreg’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 cancelling 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 sees the flag’s 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 an 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 super sonic aircraft passing overhead. The crowd’s rumble reached new crescendos and became earth shattering. Yankee Stadium shook under foot. 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 let 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 ball player, 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 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.
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“A Christmas Story” (2005)
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 knock outs. They weren’t neighborhood girls. They weren’t unremittingly murdering chewing gum like most neighborhood girls did, while at the same time, 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 fingernails 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 but 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, who’s 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 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, as the yet to be digested Christmas buffet came erupting out of him splattering, wallpapered the walls, the lace curtains and all carpet at the same time raining 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 stockboy 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. Merry Christmas!
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“Boyhood Mentor” (1997)
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, J&B 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 a not-so-nice-manner 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 drive 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 passenger’s-side door while we cruised at 50 m.p.h. During his talk he wagged his index finger, and in 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 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 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 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 no 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 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 finatlly turn those: Don’t! Stop! into. “Don’t stop! My posturing has been a constant.
There were other pressures growing up in the 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 manuscript, “Pussy.”
Is writing about pussy the centerpiece of my writing? 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 book, memorandum or whatever, hopefully might place into perspective just what the hell has been going on. Help for me, and maybe help 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 book 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 my everyday literature 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 book 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 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 tact——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—— show casing 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 bodies are 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 rage 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 this book 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, 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 bounds of society and 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 a 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 the my own constant state and my 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 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 qualifies 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 isn’t at all 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 cast 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 have 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 them, who couldn’t wait to get somewhere private, he stopped and remind
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 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 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 then 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 HEARBREAK OVER PUSSY
God Damn You Tennessee Williams!
Tainted love, grandiloquence, indifference, deceit and betrayal are traits flashed by some of the seedier characters in Tennessee Williams’ plays. Those human weaknesses are often embellished within the over-the-top performances pulled of by the actors. 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 is the insatiable craving for What else? Mostly Pussy but then there’s also 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.
Pussy-wise, TW may have type cast my being as one of his tormented souls, considering some of the fixes I have gotten myself into. Who knows what numbered act I’m presently cast in? Yet I think I’m aware of my role. 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 drunkedness. 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, the first unwelcomed bastard to greet your consciousness.
Heartache can be distracted. 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! 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 knock-out power. The method of writing has me sensing as if I am slugging back!
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 with 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!” 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. Fat Chance!
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 as 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 avoiding mundane family events but the mandatory Sunday dinner was an absolute. At 3:45 I high tailed away 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 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 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 new found 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. She was devastated and our young love was 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 a tumultuous relationships built on dependence and lust. To a degree, despite our ages these days are usualy 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 tail spin 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 Jaime, 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 “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 usin to agonizing misery.
Go figure?
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 Bopeeps, 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-doler 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-dolers 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-doling, pissy dicks.
Those were the women I desired most!
Saps like me who thought on those terms normally had nobody to hold and 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!
What happened?
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, if I do win tonight, I promise, 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.
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“Another Mentor” (1991)
“What the fuck? Whaddaya want to do 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 provided 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 that I’d be able to provide what I’m advertising?” Longhi, who sometimes likes to talk like a wise-guy 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 stops his animated self then he makes a funny noise in his throat, 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 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…”
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“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, but his higher calling for strange pussy was very high 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, “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 go 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, mundane lives or about their brat kids or ex lovers, 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 and most of it in my mother fucking pocket and we are one happy family . . . Yeah, I take the bitches to lunch.
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“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 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 Steppford 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 I for one know 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 up front, 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, 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 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 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 faire 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, in 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 me 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 over indulgence. The interest of the game in itself peaked 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 a piece. 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 heading to the stadium. There were special shuttle buses and another type of 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 many more roaming outside the security zone. I was getting edgy and had yet to holding 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.
Afterwards 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.
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“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 about 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 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 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 a to deep magenta, parlayed by the light while matching 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 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.
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“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 backwards. 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 themselves. 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, 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 application 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 back 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 legacies, 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!
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“Scamming a Scammer” (1994)
A 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 hd 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.
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“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 cannon fodder 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, 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 is 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 how the body count 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, 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.
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“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 short list 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 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 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, those 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, street-city 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 school yards while enlisting as rubes, slicks, hicks and immigrants. There came a 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 McDonalds 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. A cluster of newspaper-and-magazine articles, Twainish literature, music, film with the majority influenced by radio. Yet etched into each and every American brain was that it was the fought-for U.S. constitution that guaranteed freedom.
Once equipped and trained GI Joe faced the awesome responsibility that was his and her’s 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 lock step with ordinary Joes from Elm-tree lined 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 it relentlessly without quarter, stomping down on 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 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 decent 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 blood thirsty 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, I’ll for now 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 wasn’t for GI Joe you may not have any of it.
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“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.
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“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.
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“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 a 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!’
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“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 hardedge 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 Gueverra, 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 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, 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 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 last-chance bastion for stay outs. When supper clubs and other boom-boom joints shut down the Cuc is an alternative. One shouldn’t be adverse 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 bar flies, 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-laws 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 may 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 sanmiguelenese. 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, 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 take 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 4am up in Paducah?
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“Taking A Walk Out By The Lake” (2000)
Picturesque San Miguel wasn’t agreeing with me. I was feeling blue. I wasn’t into people. I needed to escape, not for long, not even the weekend, but perhaps for a few hours.
I suppose I’m like most people. From time-to-time I too have to face bumps in the road. Last week was my turn.
Oh, it was the usual . . . me feeling sorry for myself. Hardly anything had been falling into place. My so-called projects were launching themselves sideways. The New York agent dropped off the face of the planet. Some significant relationships were rapidly sliding South.
Piling on: My eyes itched. My throat was bone dry and my nose seemed forever clogged, perhaps brought on by the combination of the bone-dry windy weather and swirling street dust.
So in the late afternoon I hopped into Chanticleer.
Chanticleer’s my trusty Ford Escort, a sturdy red rooster of a car, forever faithful. I wasn’t so sure where I was driving.
We negotiated over the chaise-torturing topes on Salida a Celaya. Just outside town, on the right, I steered Chanticleer into Los Frailes, San Miguel’s residential subdivision. We lumbered down to the lake’s edge.
For your information Lake Allende’s the body of water we’re able to see here from the higher elevations of this town. The lake varies in size throughout the course of the year. With Summer rains, its volume increases. The lake fans out from left to right. In the Winter time it shrivels more to the left affording its wildlife less of a watery space to reign.
While at the lake and while getting out of the car my focus remained fractured. I had yet to take in my surroundings. I began to walk with no specific direction in mind other than to skirt the lake.
The sky showed itself as cloudless, crystal-blue, picture-perfect. To the West the sun seemed suspended while fixing itself into the upper portion of a snap shot, hanging there before sinking behind the silent mountains. The fire in the sky had less searing power that afternoon. It soothed the skin rather than burned. The steady wind coming off the lake felt good, perhaps ironing out some of the wrinkles on my brow.
I nudged forward, dug my lowly heels into soft mounds of freshly worked soil. My sneakers crushed short and brittle stalks left behind from a past harvest.
The normally still waters, driven by the wind, created waves licking away at the shore line with one, incoming echelon after another. Out on the lake three-stately white herons with contrasting orange beaks cawed to one another while cruising just above the water’s surface. Other fowl, smaller than the herons, black in color balanced themselves upon the choppy waters.
Washed up shore line debris gave proof of civilization. I’ve seen worse. The debris was a potpourri made up of crumpled plastic containers and cigarette packs, with their flip open tops torn open looking more like open mouths, laying about, like battlefield casualties. There was a headless baby doll, various chunks of foam, an errant shoe, and countless pieces of shredded paper bleached by the sun and mixed in with the lake’s silt perimeter.
I wondered about that discarded shoe. I tried to envision the moment-and-reason, when-and-why those lost-and-tossed possessions departed from their rightful owners.
Something propelled me! I searched for the right-sized stones, amply shaped and flat enough, so to skip over the lake’s waters. The stone picking was slim due to the lack of rocky properties in the soft-turfed neighborhood. A few stones barely passed for the real deal and when it came to the test, and after a yeomanly toss, they miserably skimmed the surface and went ka-plunk. I skipped the skipping and marched along further.
Checkered about on the dried-out lake’s bed sat remnants of a deteriorating infrastructure made up of what were once bridges and some sort of man-made water conduits. Those crumbling abutments looked downtrodden. Perhaps they matched my mood. If they could, like me, they too might complain about feeling useless while stranded and stuck as relics mired in a state of funk.
I meandered across a small peninsula, a finger of land extending toward the lake’s center. My moping avoided prickly bushes appearing as if they were dying to stab somebody. They leaned out looking like scary-looking characters, parched and desperate whose boots or roots you wouldn’t want to be in, sapped of moisture and barely surviving in a sparse existence.
I came upon disinterested cattle, chaperoned by a shabby herdsman, seemingly oblivious to all, including my oncoming. I moseyed pass his point of view. He stayed squatted, staring straight ahead, within his own thoughts perhaps, and for the sake of silence’s gold, we hardly acknowledged one another. His forlorn cows and one scraggly bull foraged atop the nothingness to munch upon the scraps provided by nature.
Once again I was at the water’s edge. With the sun waning additional birds returned to roost.
I decided to give the rock skipping another try. To my advantage the stone pickings were better. With renewed enthusiasm I snatched some rounded beauties and further tested my arm’s strength and eyes’ aim. Working on my side arm I got off some good ones! I was getting action! . . . Skip! Skip! Skip! . . . Skip! Skip! Skip! Skip! Skip! . . . I found myself almost sprinting about, and bending over to replenish my ammunition.
I was thrust back in time recharged with memories belonging to my sweet bird of youth. I thought back to the long-ago idea that kids think that kids surely are guaranteed a happy life and rosier existence. Taking away the backdrop of the Mexican mountains it was as if I was back on the banks of the Delaware.
I had walked some ways. I peered back to find my spot and check on Chanticleer who then was a mere red dot, parked alone, somewhere down the shoreline.
The squeals of children echoed from a nearby village had me envisioning kids with their cheeks turning red while playing their hearts out before a Mexican supper.
Out by the lake all was at peace and granted my woes a needed intermission, by providing this star a life’s break, as if having me munching on goodies and buttered popcorn.
The facts presented themselves. As corny as it sounds the facts were: In the scope of things I was no worse or better off than those taking off herons or the drifting birds balancing their fragile lives atop that lake. And I wasn’t washed up like the junk on the shoreline, nor was I stuck in the mud like those dried-out bushes. I was no richer or poorer than that lone disheveled herdsman, nor was I hungrier than his emaciated stock.
Thoughts: While clutching those prized skipping stones I realized our methods aren’t always at first shaped to skip over life’s problems with just one or two heartless flings. Unlike inanimate objects, like the concrete ones stuck out in the middle of the lake, we possess the abilities to contour life’s path and have the wherewithal to balance things out as not to sink and drown with the weight of life’s turmoil.
Those sounds of glee in the offing insured happiness was somewhere and by the sounds of the children, happiness was alive and well.
I stopped and placed my hands on my hips and did a complete 360. Behind me, the jewel of San Miguel glistened in the distance. The lake’s wildlife scurried home settling in for another starry night. The herdsman slowly came to life, mustered his flock, then scooted them back to somewhere behind the tree line. The sinking sun’s rays stretched my likeness in its shadow. Time had come to move on, to go back to San Miguel, and deal with the deal.
It was simple, refreshing! My innards had been ridded of exaggerated woes. I merged with nature, a selfless encounter, offering nothing more than the miracle of life, proving that the very best things in life are absolutely free. Who was I to complain? Who was I to take myself so seriously?
My step livened and my lips formed and began to whistle a sweet tune. Back in the car while scooting home Chanticleer took on a peppier nature too, as if he had caught the spirit.
So there you have it. I went for a ride and I took a walk around the lake not the most exciting of endeavors, yet far-far from the worst that can happen. Why not try it sometime.
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“Sounds of San Miguel” 2009
There are certain sounds most of us can immediately identify. A rolling bowling ball smashing into pins; the flushing of a toilet; pool table balls dropping from the coin activated mechanism; jet planes; trains; whistling teakettles; even people having sex, etc. There are too many more to mention.
There are distinct and prominent sounds in San Miguel. They vary. Ringing church bells and pre-dawn fire works are a “gimmie” two sense-rousers, not always embraced by all, especially when it comes to light sleepers and jittery canines yet, still, most adhere to “When in Rome . . .” The clanging screeching of the kettle bell gains attention, signaling that the trash truck is close by can startle a late sleeper.
Sometimes, after being away for a spell, those familiar sounds insure my psyche I’m back on dry land once again.
Sanmiguelenses, along with often time visitors can differentiate those certain noises rising from the calles. Ever hear that shrill-sounding whistle? It’s not Zamfir’s panned flute; it’s the knife-sharpener! . . . The tweet-tweet-tweet human driven whistles say there is someone on the street hawking food, more like tacos, tortas or tamales. There’s the certain, sounding, pick-up truck with a horn signaling the delivery of unpasteurized goats milk.
If you reside on the pathways to schools there’s the chirping of commuting students coming and going. Just before or just after class, including the pounding of the drums and flurries of bugles indicates marching drills, remnants of past Spanish and French Colonialism.
Up on the jardin, study the adventurous tykes charging a flock of foraging pigeons, the flock flies away. There’s that flapping coming from the birds, in unison. Sit on the cast iron benches and hear the pleasantries delivered by the residents of this town, mostly in Spanish. Later, during early evening hours, if there’s any doubt you’re really in Mexico the spiffy outfitted mariachis break out the brass. Violins merged with trumpets as exuberant male voices serenade jardinenites. Yet across the jardin, perhaps in front of the parroquia, dressed in 16th Century Iberian, lively and smiling, Estudiantinas, in valor sashes sing out toward those gathered. The troupe strum their vintage stringed instruments to the delight onlookers. With “mi casa, su casa” generosity they pass out samples of complimentary wine.
From late June until Early October, decibel wise, fire works can be trumped by the thunderous thunder crackling over San Miguel during pre-sunset or pre-dawn storms.
Walk on some of the main thoroughfare and we’re all subject to the growl of the urbanos bullying their way across town, from Mega to the road going towards Dolores. It’s often difficult to continue conversations over the grinding engines. Reside near the caracol and there’s the roar of 18-wheelers down shifting to brake their decent.
How about the hombres trudging the streets with the Pavarotti voices, “ELOTE! ELOTE!”
We did have a stand out voice selling papers up on the jardin but sudden death has silenced him. Yet the long-time, standing dude, on the corner of Hidalgo and Mesones’ patented, “Chiclets, Puros! Cigarettos, Chocolate,” is as familiar to me as is a “Call for Phillip Morris!”
Roosters “cockle-doodle-doodooling,” near the break of dawn? We got ’em. Roof top dogs a-yelping? We got ’em. Teenage hot rods, packed with young dudes and dudettes, moving at a crawl’s pace, cruising Hernandez Macias, with the recorded voice of Jose Alfredo singing about heartbreak with cry-in-your beer sadness resonates and vibrates from auto’s audio system’s heavy-bass perhaps shaking the foundation of the Bellas Artes.
There’s that sound too of vehicles tires going over both cobblestone and adaquin. Now and then horses hooves clip pity clop through town. As for car horns, we’re pretty laid back except for taxi drivers. I don’t know where they get their edginess. But have a heavily followed futball team kick their way to an important win, at any time day or night, futball fans explode from casas jam-packing themselves in vehicles motoring around town beeping horns and waving their team’s colors.
Our transito (traffic cops) employ a foghorn sounding beep to get attention of drivers and they toot their own whistles that say, “move it and move it now!”
Then folks, there are places both in and out of town when it can get real quiet and real peaceful and one can admire the postcard picturesque the cityscape with spot lights reflecting off churches as a starry sky calls out for the sound of silence . . . maybe that’s my favorite kind of San Miguel sound.
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“Haleakala” (1989)
The Hawaiian island of Maui was my adopted home for 16 years. I think of that magic place from time to time. When living on Maui I’d be in awe of balm, the aromas and exquisite panorama especially the distinction of west Maui’s terrain verses east Maui’s. Mt. Haleakala dominates the east side of the Valley Isle. The mountain’s face is a mighty wall looming over the valley. Haleakala’s summit is 10,000 feet with a width that spans 20-miles, ocean-to-ocean, splitting Maui in two.
Hawaii is known for perfect weather, pristine beaches, the roar of the ocean and stunning sunsets. Then there are perceptions that bring on visions of outlandishly dressed tourists aimlessly wandering around Honolulu’s Waikiki, draped in conflicting attire, who are more like affluent refugees with fish-belly white feet strapped into cheap sandals, a mush of mixed-flowered, polyester gawking and appearing bewildered while lost on the promenade an awful long way from Bumfuck USA.
There are syrupy-sounds of Hawaiian music with the tinny strumming of the ukulele, and the sight of hula girls in flowered leis. Don Ho’s singing his famous rendition of Tiny Bubbles. I don’t mean to single out, Don, now passed away, served up much that’s sumptuous about Hawaii. Don’s was a heavy cat and there was considerable substance to the man. Yet Upcountry Maui is not where one finds Do Ho or those saps roaming the concrete jungle of gaudy Waikiki.
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Maui leases space to Haleakala.
From down in the valley it’s impossible to measure the mountain’s magnitude. It’s only when one begins to make their way up the mountain’s spine on a stretch of tar known as the Haleakala Hi-way that’s when one can begin to measure the mountain’s diversity.
At first, both sides of the hi-way are lined with sugarcane. The fields sprout millions of thin, long, green leaves that identify the hardy crop. Strong trade winds are steady force breezing in non-stop from as far away as the Arctic vibrating the cane’s leaves to their own tune.
Further up cane gives way to pineapple. A snapshot view has acre-after-acre dotting the landscape for as far as the eye can see.
At thousand feet above sea level civilization comes back into play as one enters a new world.
Upcountry Maui’s peppered with small towns, landscapes, and ranch lands Turning back one’s eyes are soothed by the blue Pacific fanning out in every direction. The back end of Molikai, a neighbor island is visible with its dramatic cliffs. That back end of Molikai is the last land visible for thousands of miles in what seems like an eternal offing. In another direction sits the island of Lanai, often topped off with a silvery hat made up of lingering clouds.
In the yonder is the island of Kaahooawe, remaining silent, perhaps healing, no longer absorbing military bombardments, when the small-island was ground zero for ordinance flung by allied battle ships.
Mt. Haleakala is home to cloisters of housing developments, robust farms that form a lively zone situated between the 1,000′ and 3,500’ level, spanning across the mountain’s face.
There’s hardly anything-indigenous living in Hawaii. Not the palms or other trees growing out of the moist floors of forests, nor the blades of grass; nor the unique vegetation. All arrived as one-time stowaways from someplace else. Before they arrived the girth of the mountain was beneath the sea. The lava finally broke the surface. In geologic terms it was just a short time ago if one measures time of evolution in the scheme of things.
There’s an array of microclimates with good-sized patches of bamboo jungle on the windward side. Climates vary only meters apart going from tropical to bone dry. The arid areas sport hardy cacti and other succulents. If those variations aren’t enough, higher above, at the 4000 and 5000 foot level rests damp cool redwood forests.
Across the valley are other island sharing mountains jutting to the sky. They’re a stunning sight, with plush-emerald peaks as if upholstered by some synthetic material. There are crevices and openings here-and-there, permitting one to sneak peeks into the lush, mysterious valleys.
All while moving up Haleakala one passes purple-blooming jacaranda in picturesque settings. Some include dairy cows casually grazing or shading themselves under the drooping-branches of monkey pod and banyan. Jabbered and Cardinal, Mynah and Egret cruise the sky. Rooster, peacock, mongoose run wild, poking, foraging, drilling with their beaks and noses for their next meal, to devour the too-many-to-mention species of insects, that make Mt. Haleakala their home.
As one drives further, one comes upon a place called Ulapalakua, a magical place, so different than anything imagined or advertised about Hawaii, where herds of sheep with no set itinerary lumber down long slopes of close-cropped range. One might forget they are in Hawaii and place themselves in the yonder of New Zealand or Scotland — yet it’s Maui.
There are vineyards with a winery that bottles a local wine and credible champagne. The old winery’s perched on a bluff, a place where Jack London, Mark Twain and Michener have come and gone; so to hang out, so to talk story, so to become inspired.
In addition, because of past volcanic activity, there are vast barren fields covered over by the hardened crust of lava, punctuating the mountain’s character, a face seared, etched and aged from renegade lava flows leaving incredible ravines once excavated by fast-flowing molten lava.
A few thousand feet below, the earlier passed-by sugar-cane fields appear as if they are the mountain’s well-mowed, grass green lawn.
Waddle trees with their yellow-berried flowers sprinkle the mountainside. Eucalyptus and pine huddle. And there is an abundance of others; avocado, guava, mango and cherimoya. Passion fruit or what is called lilikoi amply exists.
Residents on Haleakala are permitted to hold claim to exquisite lawns and gardens, cornucopias of botanical finery that include unsurpassed orchards, jammed-packed with exotic orchids. Wild bushes seem bigger than life with super-sized poinsettias, exquisite feather like protea, along with a plethora of deep-shaded ginger and colorful bougainvillea.
Tuberose and gardenia send off an alluring aroma. Morning glories and wild-mountain flowers need no special care. They checker the mountain’s face like providence-placed ornaments on God’s Christmas tree. The century plant in Hawaii never takes that long to bloom; their huge white blossoms open fully and gloriously in the moonlight.
Further up, past the tree line, turning and turning, via a dizzy switchback road, purple-and-yellow wild flowers flourish high above the clouds.
With the change in elevation, a different climate gives way, clumps of fern, ohia and lapa-lapa bushes rule. Fog can envelope the upper ranges, providing a damp moist curtain over those who have ventured that far.
And there’s even more folks; ‘cause if you’re ever fortunate enough to get that far you’ll be in for an epicurean treat, to view first-hand the famous Hawaiian Silversword plants, plants that merely thrive in a few choice spots on Earth.
From the very top, almost all the other Hawaiian Islands can be seen on a clear day. If it’s wintertime, the Big Island’s snow-capped peaks are quite a contrast.
What might be more magnificent and significant, depending on the viewer is a grand scale crater rests inside of Haleakala’s crater, a crater unpopulated and not visible while driving up the mountain.
The crater’s a sudden inversion with a floor that’s a sea of red cinder, fined and colored by sun, wind and time. Its day-in and day-out occupants are but few like Hawaiian ne-ne birds, and wild goat, primarily because there’s not much to eat. It’s immense, with towering walls, large enough to fit the entire island of Manhattan inside of it, skyscrapers and all.
Spaced apart, dormant cinder cones are visible from the summit and appear like large-scale anthills. The moon-like surface, the cinder-cones, the shadows all conspire to hide entrances leading towards bottomless lava tubes. They too hold onto secrets about the island, about Pele, about Hawaii, and about the Earth, and what happened there long ago, but that’s another story.
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“Absence of Family While Residing in a Foreign Land”
Recently a film grabbed my attention. It unreeled one of those heart-warming scenes. You know, where the silver-haired grandfather and grandmother are surrounded by their sons and beautiful daughters along with their happily married spouses and don’t forget the gang of spunky grand kids.
As you can imagine the old folks beamed seeing such a proud clan break bread together. Good-natured ribbing and the reminiscing of stories of old filled the air. As tender as it sounds it was just about enough to make me want to throw up.
Real live instances such as those are a rarity, especially these days. Yet it got me to thinking. A good percentage of expatriates living in San Miguel don’t enjoy the comfort of having immediate family at hand.
Much distance and time now separates those events that used to make up peoples’ everyday—-along with the inter play that took place between them and nearby family.
Some who live down here in Mexico pried themselves away. Others ran for the hills. For certain people there’s nobody left alive back home. San Miguel has its share of widows and widowers or one-time couples who pioneered on down with the glint of promise yet may have been narrowed down to just one surviving member with someone now living a sole existence.
For one reason or another people with a certain wanderlust threw caution to the wind up in Doodah and have migrated, retired, or have just dropped out. Some came to recapture youth. Many have done so with no resources either tangible or emotional as to bolster doubt. Many are construed as misfits, or escape artists by family and associates while pegged as rogues and malcontents.
I’ve overheard expatriates express how their children aren’t especially thrilled about mom or dad abandoning the old homestead, saying how they’ve abandoned the opportunity to witness smiles flashed by grand kids and how they’re sacrificing such for the lure of Mexico—that’s when children become more like parents and the runaway moms and dads are pegged as prodigal children.
Back in the real world, the death of a spouse or parent, along with divorce and even graduation day instigate newfound freedoms. Each situation is different with a myriad of “whys” and “how comes,” yet they’ve made it all the way to San Miguel primarily because free-will still prevails. Yet there’s a lonely-ville price to pay for wanderlust, especially during down moments and such can take its toll.
Down here people do hook up, meet somebody special and even marry. Many develop new life-long friends. Still though, there is a distinct absence of immediate family. Many live alone, eat alone and too many sleep alone. Fact is, without family of sort, people tend to get blue.
In most cases we can no longer visit and sorely miss that irreverent-sassy sister living right down the block who you might drop in on for no particular reason other than for a leisurely cup of coffee. Nor are we able to leap over our brother’s backyard fence to share a beer and take in a ball game. Fishing with dad on the banks of the Tallahatchie and having tea and crumpets with mom at Nordstrom’s have faded into distant memories. Barbecues and outings don’t have the ring of nephews and nieces running about while bonding with their kin. We’ve decided to pass on the notion and are no longer able to sip that sweet-tasting iced tea on that ever-so-familiar back porch, a stone’s throw away from where we used to run and play. It’s difficult to bring to mind the lip-smacking flavor of aunt Sadie’s key-lime pie. We’re no longer attending births, christenings, cousin Joey’s first little-league game, nor during the height of crisis are we able to muster familial forces and join in lock step with our brethren. Down here there’s not as many shoulders to stand on. Stuff like that is the adhesive that keeps good families strong and together.
There’s a one-of-a-kind sensation while enveloped by family. Seems those members care more, or at least, tolerate our quips and quirks with no strings attached. Normally it’s an unconditional love, not predicated on what we’ve accomplished or what we might be able to do for somebody else. There’s genuine concern by our families for our benefit, to share our aspirations and shore up our falls—-not because we’re handsome, connected or charismatic, but because we’re one of them, a living-breathing extension of the jovial Johnsons, the vivacious Vaughns or the fabulous Fishmans. That’s one of the beautiful things about family existence. Amongst relatives there’s an inert togetherness or perhaps an obligation that one feels toward the family’s namesake.
Certain issues crop up which are difficult to discuss or explain even with our closest friends. They may not understand the history, details and traditions that mark families for generations. Even with trust, our friends may not grasp the colloquialisms, customs or raw humor, pertaining to your kind back in Paducah, Toronto or Auckland. When back at home there comes a solid cozy feeling, as if we possess an inherent right that we belong. We all remember what Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz…
So where does that leave us loose cannons who have made a choice and departed from the world? At times my friends it’s a fallen-branch existence. We’ve given up plenty. Our spirit on the most part is left stark naked—with our backs no longer feeling the warmth exuding from the family flame burning thousands of miles to the north or across the blue sea. With the advent of long-distance telephone and internet it’s easier to keep in touch, but nothing equals that riveting reassuring bear hug from your jolly Uncle Louie, nor are we able to smell the aroma of aunt Tessie’s perfume—its essence unable to make it all the way through a fiber optic. The clear, bright-eyed stare back of a grandchild’s photo isn’t the same as being face to face. Your mother’s soothing touch can’t, and will never be duplicated by science or technology. Each day lost with loved ones will never be regained.
That’s why perhaps when we sit on the jardin we see the pride imbuing from our town folk as they introduce and show off sons and daughters, moms and dads and other relatives who have come from afar for an abbreviated visit, a brief lapse that will never catch up with the moments once shared in the long past. I guess our lot has chosen quality time over that of quantity.
And maybe when we see our Mexican hosts involve themselves in family life, a tinge of jealousy might rise, if just a little. ‘Cause with us, who are too often tabbed as the privileged, it’s as if they have something we don’t, the contentment of having their immediate loved ones at their beckoning call.
So be it, as we live here with our existential family, the Waltons we ain’t, the Waltons we’ll never be. I suppose we’re an ad hoc family of mavericks who may have sacrificed the prospect of being dealt pat hands while playing it safe. We have otherwise chosen to live out chance and draw from the essence of life all while existing in a foreign land.

“Mexico City’s New Sky-line” (2008)
Postcards mailed from the world’s second most populated city showcase images of the capital’s enormous zocolo or the Taj Majah-like majestic dome topping its artistic Bellas Artes, the prestigious presidential palace, or Mexico’s Sixteenth Century Cathedral. Yet what’s has risen on the city’s western edge flashes a completely different look, unlike anything built in Chapultepec or erected alongside Reforma. The jet-age district, Santa Fe, could be a tribute to prudent risk-taking, high finance, and modern architecture. Now coined Commercial Santa Fe, the vicinity has literally transcended from an urban ugly duckling to 21st Century shimmer! To be exact, just a few short years ago, most the area was a wasteland in the form of the city dump.
These days, the powers-to-be focus is, that the upscale quarter evolves as Latin America’s most fashionable and influential business district. We’re not talking about a building or two. It’s a mini-city. At first glance there are too many to count. The dramatic skyline’s a far cry from other mundane, cookie-cutout municipal projects, too often red-taped, stifled monstrosities like those erected in U.S. and Soviet cities in the 50s and ‘60s
Santa Fe can be described as ultra urban, with a suburban flair. Night and day the cityscape rivals Dubai’s, Singapore’s or Brasilia’s or some other Oz like megalopolis rather than the older and more familiar surroundings of Mexico City. It’s hard to fathom that, not so long ago’ “Dee-Effy’s” now bleak and tattered Pan American Building was considered the Empire State Building of the world south of the American border. Today, if the iconic Pan Am Building would be situated in close proximity, the new and more sparkling boys on the block would dwarf the worn-out landmark.
The district is a sterling example of what humongous sums of capital can create, along with thought-out planning. The assortment of gleaming glass, cement and steel jut skyward. Most boast rooftop heliports. Major players, international and national, have anointed Santa Fe, wishing to it to be their Western Hemisphere headquarters. Three universities have sprung up, training a needed talent pool. The local Office Depot is larger than most supermarkets. Spiffy convertibles and other trendy roadsters wait on and pose for perspective owners, shamlessly posturing in the windows of luxury dealerships like Audi, Mercedes, and Lexus. Latin America’s largest and most grandiose shopping mall sits in the middle, the centerpiece of the area’s commerce supported by anchor stores: Saks Fifth Avenue, Liverpool, and Sanborns along with swank boutiques and eateries, not counting the 14-screen multiplex theater and a sports club that houses an Olympic size pool.
Stadia Suites is a spanking-new, business/pleasure hotel, one of the first to open with others on the near horizon. Stadia pampers guests offering spacious suites with king size beds, with sheets whose thread count might be infinite, with a slew of other amenities, big-screen TV, a marble-laden bathroom, terry towel robes and slippers included, full kitchen, security up the ying-yang, in-room safe, a spa, a gym, a five-star Brazilian restaurant and a bright cafeteria offering complimentary buffet breakfast, that’s way more than scrambled eggs and frioles. The staff stands ready to provide tours and services in and beyond Mexico City.
Discussing the future, Stadia Suites’ director, Pedro Cancino, sounds upbeat. “Despite the turn down on a worldwide basis, we’re still ahead of expectations. We’re experiencing the positive effects from seeds planted long ago. Santa Fe is becoming a major hub for the entire hemisphere offering opportunities for Mexicans and business people from around the world. A lot of serious and smart people have invested fortunes and resources. Of course there’s always room for hope. If there are limitations, they are few! We’re on track!”
The only recognizable downside to this cornucopia of modernism is that the area isn’t all-that pedestrian friendly. There’s virtually no public transportation. Taxis can be a bit pricey, considering if one employs radio cabs for security sake. Cars whisk by at high speeds zooming off exit ramps like in the old cartoon The Jetsons.
Sidewalks and stoplights have yet to be continuous. Like mature shrubbery, independent eateries and hip nightlife have yet to bloom but one can sense they’ll sprout up soon enough. With finishing-up construction, the area remains checkered. Passable sidewalks suddenly turn into dirt paths. Having an auto makes being stranded in the burbs a moot point.
Soothsayer tycoons peered into the future. They determined the future is now! Yet floor after floor still remains empty. Company personnel is still moving in. The occupancy rate appears to be about 20%. Many buildings are waiting for finishing touches. Those donning of hard hats are aplenty. Working within a mishmash of tools and equipment, sunk into excavated giant holes in the ground, the hard hats maneuver with new construction’s rough edges, avoiding pointed rebar and other workplace trepidations. Their ant-like activity provides cheap working-hours entertainment for onlookers peering down from the upper floors.
With the downshift in the world’s economy and its impact practical minds sum that all is cyclical. As normalcy returns Santa Fe glow as Mexico City’s crowning jewel, as a testimonial to new-age thinking, ready to grow with this century’s next crop of entrepreneurs, students and world travelers.
See Colonia Sante Fe while it’s still young.

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“Hillary Clinton: No Body’s Fool!” (1999)
Many Americans have a headache. They’ve absorbed rhetoric and the sweeping statements. Never have empty barrels made more noise. They’ve engaged themselves in long-winded conversations. Many opinions have been brought forward from the ridiculous to the sublime. Apathy, ambivalence, disbelief, cynicism, skepticism, acceptance, disgust, idealism and even hoorays have poured off the lips of people everywhere.
Yet no one has taken the hit the way Hillary Clinton has. Figuratively she’s been slapped in the face!
Regardless, if the stunning accusations turns out as merely face-slapping innuendo or they pack a wallop’s worth of knock-out cheating truth; it’s a sordid reminder that Hillary marriage has been stormy and such stinging accusations has to surely hurt.
What goes through the first lady’s mind? Does she have blind faith? Is she biting her bottom lip? Does she pepper Bill Clinton’s ears behind the White House’s bedroom’s doors with a wife’s wrath of “How can you be so stupid?” Could she have a private pact with her husband, like go ahead, just don’t get caught? Is she oblivious or is it just water off a duck’s back? Could be she’s more concerned for her own agenda, ignoring facts and humming a ‘That’s Life’ tune while going about her own way? Is she shielding Chelsea like a fierce lioness protecting her young? Who knows if Hillary Clinton even loves President Bill? Loyalty and devotion aren’t always dripping with unmitigated love.
On the surface it appears so. We’ve observed the presidential pair acting in unison, seeming in bliss while holding hands, even doing a two-step on a beach, publicly touting the supposed attributes of her husband. Then don’t forget that’s what she’s paid to do.
Under the scrutiny of the media she has been constantly reminded. She has had to back stroke through the sewage and then trudge through more solid waste like the Paula Jones quagmires and the Jennifer Flowers messes.
Can she remain impervious to a Noah’s-worth of drenching rain, a deluge that now threatens to pull her under? She’s smart enough to fully realize if Bill Clinton sinks she won’t be able to out swim the tide; she too will drown and eventually be washed up on the beaches of public opinion as water logged cuckold.
Yet despite taking such a bashing from potential, marriage-shattering surf she’s decided to womanize the wall, remaining steadfast and she continues to be a team player perhaps if anything, to help plug-growing disbelief. Her perseverance and what must be incredible moxie won’t relent, nor permit herself to be saddled with such a stigma as being reduced to a “Poor Debbie!”
I suspect those of us who have tested the trials and tribulations of marriage, while having our reputations linked to significant others, have shivered at the sickening thoughts that our spousal unit might indulge in extracurricular sexual activity, especially if such dillydallying becomes the very talk of the town or beyond. In this case the backyard fences are vastly universal.
And some of us have dipped our toes in forbidden waters and we’ve swum upstream to murkier waters. Many of us live with it and stay afloat as we hopelessly wade in a sea of lies. The beat goes on. Are we supposed to be shocked? So what’s different here?
Hillary Clinton’s married to a dynamic, successful man, someone ultra sensitive, super intelligent, the father of their daughter, the de-facto leader of the free world. As a student of the world she too is well aware how the wise Solomon came up empty headed when it came to Sheba, and how a buttress of a man as-strong-as Samson turned into a sap because of Delilah. Six inches of mucous membrane has reduced many a powerful man. Idols have clay feet and times and tides are chock full of Marc Antonys’.
Take into account on the dawn of the Twenty-First Century from the first family all the way down to Joe and Mary Schmoe; we all are merely the by-products of our own society. As much as history denotes Hitler as a mad man: He was coughed up by a tragically sick Germany. Saddam Hussein and Khomeini are-and-were warped spores growing from a dominating, radical, Islamic movement. Our elected leaders are the bread crust formed by our collective oven’s production.
Then on the other side of evil the very evolvement of the Abraham Lincoln and Mohandas Gandhi substantiate positive burgeoning.
The idyllic within this generation surely wondered how John F. Kennedy could have constantly cheated on the stunning Jackie? Surely many patriots have wondered how he could have been entrusted with the faith of a nation and it must be bothersome how behind those lusting eyes he could have spoke about family, faith, truth and decency, then gone to mass and taken the holy sacraments while all the time planning and conniving to spend and yank on the girly charms belonging to little nothings?
The jaded side of us remains numb, now summing up such as merely the day-to-day. Perhaps moral scruples aren’t all that necessary to properly govern. Some of us need to separate those aspects of the game while true politicians find the need to paint different pictures of themselves. Some wonder why people even bother to continue to take vows. Does such jumping the tracks earn corporal privileges that come with vast power?
Perhaps things searing and sinister have been branded into our generation?
Lets look at history from Hillary and Bill’s view, their standard of higher morals were perhaps permanently splattered as pieces of then worthless matter as Kennedy’s brains on a Dallas boulevard? Maybe that terrible instant changed everything forever and perhaps was the benchmark of lost innocence? Then came Vietnam, Water Gate and a laundry list worth of other embarrassing moments including a couple of needless wars. Seems today, contracts, rather they be oral or formal, have to be interpreted by lawyers and judges. Word no longer matters.
Hillary Clinton publicly accuses that there’s a right-wing conspiracy. That pegging might be perceived as a red herring. Down deep she’s hip. She’s cognizant of a more formidable and mightier force. An opponent that has always been there, her glass ceiling so to speak, is that of ‘the male conspiracy.” Regardless of how far womankind has thought they have come — inside corporate boardrooms, out on golf courses, in male locker rooms and within the neighborhood tap rooms, men, regardless of their matrimonial status and decent convictions have tolerated their fellow brethrens’ ongoing exploits. She damn right knows that within the boundaries of ‘buddyism’ benevolent digression rises over valor, similar to the Costra Nostra whose members aren’t about to squeal or chastise. In man’s world scoring is scoring, and few are willing to patch in the notches on one’s gunbelt.
It’s not just a man thing ’cause it takes two to tango. The sisters are also willing to sell one another out. It’s supposed to be human nature?
In this case Hillary Clinton’s no body’s fool. She has a position to protect. If her husband is chased from office she will no longer be the nation’s first lady, unless she spins her own web and somehow figures a way to marry Al Gore. Perhaps there’s something better on the horizon?
Such a fall would have her pet programs going down the drain along with the prestige. She’d be forced to forfeit the perks. The presidential air around her will suddenly evaporate. Where will she be?
When it comes down to it, it’s no body’s business, other than her own. She’s decided to go to the wall, hold tight and not be budged off her spot regardless if stone-throwing detractors, blood thirsty prosecutors, the scrutinizing media and the public all try and make her business their business.
So really, why is Hillary Clinton holding firm?
Try this for an angle. Well it’s just a far-flung hunch. When the rain stops and the clouds clear and just maybe, try and envision another platform, a candidate, someone loyal, someone justifiably divorced, with the grit of Truman and Illinois-decency and up-bringing of a Lincoln?
Ladies and gentlemen: Permit me to introduce to you the very unflappable and the next candidate forthcoming from the Democratic Party. My fellow Americans let me present you with the next President of the United States: Mrs. Hillary Rodom Clinton “Nobody’s fool!”
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“Heart Attack—Something to avoid” (2008)
Heart Disease is the number-one cause of death worldwide. Sorry to say, I have it. Yet with treatment and change of lifestyle the malady can be checked and one can live a fruitful life regardless of the prognosis.
In my case, late last year, I began experiencing shortness of breath and sudden fatigue. There was tightness in my chest but no real pain. At first I suspected the symptoms might have been connected to hangovers. Those symptoms cropped up more often. Having my head in the sand I discounted that five of my uncles died from heart attacks between ages 58-63. Yet they lived blue-collar existences, were saddled with woes from ex-wives, debilitating debt and life’s disappointments. I eased into age 60 figuring my adventurous worldly lifestyle somehow made me exempt. I’d been warned about a high cholesterol count. I smoked tobacco. I was a fool’s fool.
I visited a local physician for a chest X-Ray, blood tests and even an EKG. “You’re a picture of health for your age,” the doc proclaimed. Symptoms persisted. I decided to obtain a second opinion, an opinion that riveted me. “You’re flashing all the signs of coronary heart disease,” said the second doc, “You need a stress test! You don’t want a heart attack! If you enjoy life, prefer activity, crave sex, avoid doctors or constantly be in need of side-effect causing heart medication for the rest of your life, you had better get yourself checked out. You don’t want to be a heart cripple!”
That ominous warning was enough to scare the Julius out of this hombre. I traveled to Queretaro’s heart clinic for a stress test that proved positive and soon thereafter I headed north, to the VA, my primary medical provider.
Further tests at the Audie Murphy Medical Center in San Antonio, substantiated the second doc’s suspicions. They admitted me immediately. I was on the verge of a major heart attack.
Despite obvious heart problems, at that point, the doctors didn’t know the extent of the disease or damage. The miracle of modern medicine enables doctors to perform what is called a cauterization. A thin tube is poked through the groin into the femoral artery. There’s a camera attached to a tube snaking its way through the body. The patient’s awake, alert and provided relaxers as to render them anxiety free. The heart and its arteries are visible to the medical team and patient.
It was determined that blood was not properly flowing through my heart to provide oxygen. All three of my coronary arteries were clogged 80-90% due to plaque build up, probably due to heritage and lifestyle. It was further determined I would have to undergo a radical procedure in the form of quadruple bypass surgery.
The gruesome process has the medical team cracking the patient’s sternum like a lobster then to jack open one’s ribs. The heart is actually removed from the body, as the patient, moi, was placed on life support. They cauterized my heart’s three, blocked arteries, placing them out of business, forever. Then they removed a vein from behind my knee that became the new conduit that sends the flow of blood to my heart. When I awoke, it was like I had a dagger in my chest. Thankfully, I wasn’t in the mood for laughing but coughing or belching hurt like the dickens. Sneezing was lights out
Regardless of the trauma I’m a very fortunate man. The healing process began. Rather than a Superman’s “S” carved on my chest, it’s the zipper-look for me along with a couple of puncture wounds. Luckily, I suffered no real heart damage. Damaged hearts, unlike lungs or livers, do not rejuvenate. If I watch myself, my future looks normal. I’ve quit smoking. I am about to embark on an exercise program. I’ll watch my diet. I’ll need to take a few benign drugs like Isosorbide and Metroprol for the duration but I am not subject to further doctors’ care. I can drink, have sex or even train for a marathon if I so desire.
Smoking: Now it’s a no-no! I enjoyed tobacco, especially with my coffee in the morning, after a meal or after closing a business deal or after having dreamy, fulfilling, well you know . . . but no more fags for me, a small price to pay for one’s life.
Eating: I’ve eliminated mayonnaise, replaced it with balsamic vinegar. I eat more baked chicken, have a cheeseburger only when I lust it, without cheese. Eating meats are OK but the leaner the better. It’s healthier to have whole wheat bread and pasta products over white flour ones. Yet who the hell wants to eat whole-wheat pizza? Not me and I won’t. Pizza will be a treat. Yogurt and fruit, or oatmeal with raisons, bananas and brown sugar has replaced that morning bagel, with jelly and cream cheese. Eggs are not off limits yet should be limited. I haven’t given into 2% fat milk in my coffee. Deep fried food is out and I no longer enhance the so-so taste of vegetables with gobs of butter. Eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce are a memory.
Exercise: San Miguel’s mile-high elevation is a great place to strut one’s stuff. Walking 45-minutes a day is super. Weightlifting, bike riding, swimming, yoga and other forms of strenuous exercise are suggested, mostly for weight control and in order to lower cholesterol.
Treatments and preventive measures: Part of my daily is baby aspirin; it thins the blood and aspirin’s blood-thinning, mysterious properties could save one’s life in the midst of a heart attack. Some swear chelation’s a preventive remedy. It’s taken intravenously and supposedly melts away plaque and metals flowing through the bloodstream. Some health professionals consider Chelation quackery, others swear by it. Two tablespoons of flax seed, stirred in water, morning and night, is another measure said to help prevent build up.
Many with heart disease, via cauterization, have had surgical stents (mesh artery expanders) inserted in their pluming or they’ve undergone angioplasty to keep arteries open. The downside from the more-gentile procedures is that drugs such as Plavix are essential, likely prescribed for life in order to stop plaque build up on the synthetic inserts.
Ironically, those who are stricken by heart disease must come to realize that the heart is not the only place that calcium deposits form. Plaque within the arteries accumulates in the brain, neck, legs and other arteries that run through the body. Breakaway plaque can cause a stroke. Seems the heart’s arteries are the first telltale sign of overall blockage.
The upside. These days I feel terrific. My energy is up big time. Before the radical procedure I just sensed that I was getting older. I’m 61 and now feel like 40. Look out world! I urge anyone reading this article to heed and not ignore any of the signs I’ve written about. If ya got them, please, see a qualified doctor ASAP, take a stress test and get yourself patched up. I did and am so glad I did. Salud!
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“Speaking the Spanish” (1997)
It’s no secret that there are people living in San Miguel who hardly speak Spanish. Some have resided here for as long as 20 years. It’s easy enough to do. Since San Miguel has gained worldwide notoriety this pretty Mexican mountain town has attracted a larger number of foreigners, especially Americans. To make it easier these days there are also a slew of business-oriented, bilingual Mexicans who provide year-round goods and services to those non-Spanish speakers.
Despite San Miguel having renowned Spanish learning schools, many newcomers don’t bother attending—and for those who do, the drop out rate is high. Yet Spanish isn’t totally shunned. Basics like “gracias” and “buenos dias” are often lipped; yet those niceties are the extent of some peoples’ Spanish vocabularies. Recently a friend of mine told me her well-meaning husband bid a nighttime farewell to their taxi driver with a hardy, “Buenos Aires!”
I’m not a guy qualified to toss any disparaging stones when comparing my own Spanish. I’m serving what’s likely to turn out to be my own life sentence, with me locked in the “present tense.” My vocabulary’s so-so, repetitive and infantile, perhaps better described as a Spanish “Goo-Goo! Gah-Gah!” There are panic-strewn instances when I am not sure what the hell I’m saying. Still, Spanish is this nation’s official language and that alone mandates respect and attention, so I do my best to wing it.
If you’re like me, there’s a likelihood you have a sense of guilt and even shame. Still, bare in mind, when it comes to learning, enthusiasm is a major ingredient.
I have my excuses. I’m too old, too stupid or too lazy. I hardly speak Spanish in front of bilingual Mexican acquaintances because of personal embarrassment, and they often politely wonder aloud, “How come, Lou . . .?” When feeling cavalier I’ll valiantly toss in words I am sure of: “Entiendes?” I take bolder risks inside tiendas. Yet I usually lead off my spiel with a humble sounding, “Lo siento, mi español es no bueno!”
On top of that, Spanish comprehension is my weakest suit and has been so since day one. When first arriving in Mexico, Spanish sounded to me more like ice in a blender (hielo en la liquidora). Mexican friends say English sounds more like “washawashawasha!” Until this day, when rapid-fire Spanish is directed toward me, I appear more like the proverbial deer frozen in headlights.
In my case, when it comes to learning a new language, total immersion—or the sink or swim adage—holds little water. I’ve been there done that, drowning in Andalusia, Spain, where hardly any English was spoken.
I’ve attended Spanish courses, read self-help books, watched cartoons, viewed TV novelas, and even had a non-English-speaking girlfriend. (We didn’t talk much). I have no idea what the TV announcers are saying during sporting events.
Then there’s verb conjugation that creates a never-ending thought process in one’s mind that’s exhausting. An additional hurdle: Dealing with syntax while fixing adjectives directly after the nouns. I mean, “the man, big” or “el hombre grande” doesn’t always compute.
There is a sense of adventure living amongst a people while having no idea what most of them are saying. For the tenderfoot, speaking Spanish offers intrigue, even a tinge of danger, and also offers up some genuine comical moments. If one drives the wilds of Mexico it doesn’t take long to figure out what “Curva Peligrosa” stands for. A slip of the tongue can get one in trouble. I never ask my Mexican friends how their mothers are doing. As a matter of fact, I never use the word “madre” or “mama.” Any reference to mother said the wrong way can get one punched in the nose. And I know by now that one never, ever enters a tienda and says, “Tienes huevos?”
Worse perhaps, a friend’s daughter asked me to pick her up a lollypop at the tienda. On the way I kept asking myself, “What’s the word for, lollypop?” At the checkout counter I brazenly spit out, “Tienes aguna cosa, esta dulce, para mummar?” The fool that I was had my head bobbing as I orchestrated in-and-out hand motions near my mouth. The shopkeeper appeared shocked. All of a sudden I sensed what I had just said. In a panic I screamed out, “LOLLYPOP!” Changing his expression and with a quick sense of relief the merchant echoed, “Oh, lollypop!” We both had a good laugh. By the way, the word for lollypop is “paleta.” Don’t forget it!
During the early days, while overhearing street talk, I thought everything took place on Mondays. Seemed everybody was saying “Monday.” In actuality, those people were saying “mande,” which translates as, “What did you say?” I used to think, when I phoned people and they weren’t home, that “no fifty,” was some sort of code. In actuality the term is “no se encuentra.” While in my apartment, I have also wondered about vehicles outside with loudspeakers. I usually assumed it was the circus or something, but what if it was a warning? “Evacuate the neighborhood immediately. There’s a poison gas cloud on its way . . .!”
Sometimes we have to shed logic. Realize that in Spanish “things” don’t work; only people work (estan trabajan). Instead say for “things”: “Estan funciona.” And around here one doesn’t “pay attention.” In English you pay with blood or money. Here,“Usted pones atención—with “pones” standing for “put.” Frank Sinatra wouldn’t have sung, “Mi Camino,” pero, “Mi Manera!” There’s “the way” (via) and “the ‘way’ to do things.” Tell a Spanish-speaking person you’re “mixta ariba,” they will have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.
In Mexico we Americans exist in a foreign nation whose culture we hopefully respect, desiring that our hosts see us as fertile-minded, eloquent representatives of our own upbringing and here we, the collective we, just might too often flicker ignorance and perhaps arrogance, while vomiting out gibberish.
Yet, as they say around here, it’s poco o poco. Most survive, function and survive not being bilingual. Nevertheless, I do live with some apprehension, and there are “what ifs”: What if one day my ears hear the sounds but I don’t understand, “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
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“Impromptu moments” (2003)
Most expats in the know will tell you it was Stirling Dickinson who initially put San Miguel on the map. San Miguel’s most famous expat was an art director and educator from the ‘30s and until his untimely death in 1999. It was Dickinson who encouraged and paved the way for mostly American art students and others who were enthused about Latin Culture while encouraging them to “Come On Down!”
Yet the artist, writer, baseball player, botanist, caregiver, educator, anthropologist and all-around Renaissance man is only partially responsible for what has become a mini invasion of eclectic artists and oddballs!
Dickinson arrived just before dawn on February 7, 1937 primarily because of an invite he received almost four years before during an impromptu meeting.
Dickinson and writing companion/Princeton classmate, Heath Bowman, were aboard a passenger train heading south. The train made a routine stop in the wee hours of the morning. Glancing out the window Dickinson read the terminal’s sign, San Miguel! San Miguel rang a bell.
Jose Mojica, the famed opera-singer/movie-star lipped the casual invite years before. Because of tight scheduling Dickinson and Bowman were obliged to decline. Yet on that particular morning Dickinson elbowed Bowman awake and instructed the porters remove their luggage.
Four years before, in 1933, Bowman the writer, and Dickinson the illustrator, were exploring Mexico while piecing together a Mexican travelogue. Their mission: To objectively describe places, individuals and events they encountered on-and-off the beaten and unbeaten paths. In 1934 Willet Clark and Company would publish their book “Mexican Odyssey,” The by-chance previous meeting between Mojica and Dickinson also took place a train in the State of Oaxaca.
Dickinson, an opera aficionado recognized the famed tenor as a fellow passenger. Conversations were struck. That’s when Mojica invited the pair.
Dickinson and Bowman departed the train that February morning in San Miguel for a look-see. They understood Mojica owned a villa, thus it was Dickinson’s first venture into San Miguel. In later years Dickinson often recounted when he first gazed up during the dawn’s initial light at our town’s parroquia. He commented about the pre-dawn transition and how the church’s towering spires contrasted against the royal blue sky . . . Dickinson voiced, “My God, such a beautiful sight! I could stay here!” Maybe that was the defining moment when Dickinson fell in love with San Miguel
On the other hand, Jose Mojica was born in San Gabriel, Jalisco, Mexico in 1896. After his father’s death, at an early age, his mother moved them both to Mexico City. The youngster possessed a golden voice and made early use of it. The tenor’s mother, who he remained devoted to for life was a doting mother yet it was she who first recognized his talent and jump-started his career and nudged her boy into influential circles. Then it was San Miguel’s own native son, Pedro Vargas, who first took notice.
The then popular Vargas, whose own voice was deemed a national treasure, bolstered the ranks of Mexico’s frontline tenors, he mostly renowned for an emotional rendition of the Spanish-speaking-world’s version of “Ave Maria.” Vargas’ rendition often moves believers to tears. Vargas took Mojica under his wing seeing that Mojica attended the national music conservatory. After standout performances in the production of “Barber of Seville,” and a stint at Teatro Ideal, various career opportunities presented themselves. It’s said that Mojica’s radiant voice could hit towering notes! His career skyrocketed.
Soon enough he was performing inside New York City’s Metropolitan. Enrico Caruso, the then Babe Ruth of tenors worldwide befriended Mojica and made him an admired protégé.
Mojica, young, with movie star looks, proficiently bilingual was rapidly achieving operatic stardom. His voice was said to be a tour de force.
As a young man, the cultured Dickinson developed acquired tastes due to his high-society background in hometown Chicago. When he ventured off to New York City as a prim and proper Princeton man he attended the opera. Mojica was prominent in both New York and Chicago.
It so happens all three men just happened to be in Oaxoca one night in 1933. The next day they found themselves on the same train, in the same passenger car, an impromptu coincidence no less!
Mojica was going Hollywood, relocating residence out west in Santa Monica, California, a then beachside community. Never forgetting his mother he resettled Senora away from Mexico City in a setting more apropos for the mother of an up-and-coming super star. Perhaps because of his affiliation with San Miguel mentor, Pedro Vargas, Mojica and with his income on the rise Mojica elected to build a villa here, in San Miguel, aptly naming the new villa in honor of his adopted American city, calling it Villa Santa Monica, as it stands today as a local hotel with its name still in tack just across the way from Parque Juarez.
Mojica went on to star in about a dozen, B-grade films from 1930-34, the majority in English, with him portraying a swashbuckling leading man with the most notable being “One Mad Kiss.” The tenor turned actor could handle a horse, throw a right cross and play a romantic lead; he did away with the bad guys and got the girl, but for some reason, perhaps a quirk stemming from disinterested audiences, or perhaps just lame material, Mojica wasn’t embraced by the adoring public. The Cagneys, Gables, Bogarts, Waynes and Tom Mixes were the talk of the silver screen, a Mojica wasn’t.
Still popular in his home country, Mojica with home-field advantage turned to Mexican made films for additional fame and fortune. He starred in the Spanish speaking “Captain Adventura,” in 1939. Regardless of not-so-positive reviews, there was no need for anxiety. Mojica had a solid singing career to fall back on. He composed a well-received bolero “Only Once,” a dedication to famed Mexican composer Agustin Lara.
As fate would have it (and it always does) on that particular February morning in 1937 Mojica just happened to be in San Miguel visiting his mother! Mojica, happy to see his American guests, became the perfect host. Villa Santa Monica’s presented itself as a terrific welcome mat.
Who knows? Who knows what would have happened if Dickinson had never attended an opera? Who knows, would San Miguel have become the crowning jewel it is today? Would San Miguel eventually become a World Heritage Site or be proclaimed as the number one city in the world by a top line travel magazine? Who knows, if the writing pair of Bowman and Dickinson weren’t investigating crafts in Oaxaca and on that other train? Who knows what prompted Dickinson to look out the train’s window some years later to read a sign in the wee hours of the morning? And who knows what prompted them to get off that train, unsure of resources, nor did they know if Mojica was even in San Miguel that February morning? Who knows?
Mojica’s mother was a major in his life. When she passed, in 1942, he became incredibly distraught. Her death crippled him, unable to perceive himself as a performer, star, or as prominent or as privileged.
Stranger yet, Mojica went through some sort of metamorphosis and embraced a religious vocation! In a little more time than it takes a flamenco dancer to render a clap, Mojica ridded himself of personal riches, then became sequestered in the dreary confines of Franciscan seminary.
During 1942, most young men in the free world were going Infantry or Airborne to fight Hitler and Tojo, Dickinson caught the spirit; enlisting and went Naval Intelligence. Mojica went Missionary.
Come 1947, the then ex-tenor, ex-movie star, ex-celeb, a one-time glitzy spoke in Hollywood and Mexico City circles took his holy vows, ordained then as Fray Jose Francisco de Guadalupe! In the name of Jesus Christ he invaded Peru as a sandal-footed, rosary-bead clad, front-line missionary. He was impoverished. He felt free.
By then, ten years after his first arrival Dickinson had established firm roots in San Miguel. Many are aware of the story how Dickinson, after being here only a week, bought a house up in Santa Domingo for a mere $90. Both men kept in touch by mail. Mojica would return to San Miguel from time to time, mostly to raise funds for the poor in Peru. While here he and Dickinson spent quality time together.
Mojica penned a critically acclaimed autobiography “I Am Sinner,” made into a feature film in 1959, starring himself titled “El Portico.” Mojica also was instrumental influencing and encouraged another Mexican/Hollywood actor, Humberto Almazan, to realize his own religious vocation, then to follow his footsteps and join the Franciscans.
Mojica lived out the rest of his life in South America, doing yeomen work for his church and order. He appeared in a few films during the later part of his life, playing himself. In bad health, with a bad heart it’s said an older woman cared for him during the last five years of his life. He died in Peru, in 1974, at the age of 78. He was penniless.
So, today, when we come to the realization, if it weren’t for Stirling Dickinson, San Miguel might not be a haven for international artists and other free spirited people who love its charm and atmosphere. Knowing the facts as I see them, It’s also safe to surmise that if it weren’t for Jose Mojica that the San Miguel we know today might have a completely different atmosphere. What the 2013 version of San Miguel is, or what it has become since 1937, is mostly due to an impromptu moment.
Viva Mexico!
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”Spring is in the air” (1999)
It was a typical beautiful San Miguel day. A friend of mine who operates an upscale San Miguel Hotel invited me to take cafe with him and to talk story. Earlier mi amigo said he wanted to tap me for some information regarding Chinese Astrology, a subject I dabble in.
Sitting with my busy friend sometimes presents gaps in buddy talk because he’s often summoned away or pestered with telephone calls.
My buddy more or less carried the conversation. In lieu of Chinese Astrology he wanted to speak about women, primarily his. Despite how he worships her everything and described that soft voice, the sheen of her hair and that effervescent smile… his pleasant features soured somewhat when he complained how conflict now-and-then comes storming into their lovey-dovey bliss with everything turning topsy-turvy.
He lamented, “Just in the last few days, it’s as if she’s turned crazy or something!”
Before my friend could utter more he was whisked away via telephone. For the time I was deserted. It wasn’t so boring. I had my tasty cafe Frank Sinatra, cappuccino sin espuma, done “my way,” and the well-kept grounds of the hotel are pleasant to the eye.
I kicked back and enjoyed the ambience.
I noticed . . . Why the bees were a-buzzing and crickets a-scooting and butterflies fluttered, some actually giving others piggyback rides. And while my buddy spoke Spanish in machine-gun fashion over the phone and waved his hands in exasperation, I gazed over at the line-up of standing birdcages that amply grace the one-time home of a famous Mexican opera singer who turned movie star.
Staring through the bars of the birdcages I observed how the vibrant blue budgie was chasing the yellow one round-and-round the rim of the cage and doing so with bird-dogged determination. Low-and-behold when my eyes panned the gardens and up toward the trees and further the whole place was rocking-and-rolling, bugs were a-hopping, stunning white egrets cruised the sky like crown princes of fertility. All on the ground and up in the trees and the sky teamed with life!
By Jove, despite what the weather might be up North in Paducah, Poukeepsie or Portland, right here in Central Mexico, Spring is in the air.
It got me a-thinking since my buddy was still engrossed in his telephone call, providing me an opportunity to reflect some about Spring and what my friend and I were discussing.
Spring is in the air!
Ah, a time for romance, a season perhaps where even half-an-old man such as myself can dig a little deeper and a ferret out a romantic tingle from within his own cynical heart.
Oh, I’m far from jaded. I’m an eternal optimist, actually a sentimental fool, (cross my heart) who similar to you-and-you-and-you, who has harbored a love-boat’s worth of craven desire for that special sweetheart.
Spring is but a moment.
While my buddy spoke low into the receiver I thought how recently, while driving around San Miguel in the evenings, especially in places that aren’t illuminated like up near the mirador or down the darker calles, how I’ve spotted young couples romantically embraced. I can only imagine those young guys whispering sweet-Espanol nothings into those senoritas ears, saying stuff like “mi-amor-mi-amor” or “baby-baby,” over and over. And with such tantalizing dilly dangling occupying my mind-set, a smile probably formed a wide seam across my face and rekindled, how this boy’s libido used to beat a similar drum and further, how I relished speaking on such terms toward the girly items of my interest.
I became stirred then lost myself for the time being with lingering thoughts of such silliness.
Think of the excitement to meet somebody new and the spending titillating moments sharing common pasts. There’s the cavalcade of leisurely lunches along with the romantic candle-lit dinners and ah, the day trips, and ooh, the steamy overnights! While drifting in gah-gah land we go ahead and send the flowers then call on the phone if it’s only to say “Hi.” There’s that warm cozy sensation that’s bubbling within, feeling so right for the moment and so sooooo good.
Yet we have to be somewhat cautious and take heed because there’s a chance of us possibly getting in over our heads and hoodwinked with us believing perhaps there’s a new reason to live.
Yowza! Hope Springs Eternal. As we become more vulnerable we’re ever-so willing and ready to share more. Ah, Spring, it’s a lovely time laddies and lassies.
As I lounged within the splendor of the hotel’s grounds I took a deep breath but became distracted as I turned my attention toward a dark cloud forming in the distant sky.
A cold chill ran through my many-Springtime innards, considering the recent past, and then how quickly the screws can turn. And buddy boy, just when you think you might be onto something, something so nice, something so real and something perhaps so worthwhile… out of the blue your whatever she’s turning out-to-be might toss that debilitating bolt of lightning your way and then rock the shaky foundation stilting your flimsy fantasy world and she does so without quarter. She’ll all of a sudden spit out something mind-boggling and acerbic having the punch to knock you down a rung or two with phrases that in all actuality are the “kisses of death.”
With the precise calculating coldness of a surgeon’s blade they’re able to say, “You’re a very nice man but… You must understand, I don’t wish to get involved… Further sex is absolutely out of the question…” And then there’s that dreadful ultimate hammering of the final nail sealing romance’s coffin, “Can’t we just be friends?” It’s enough to make a guy want to vomit.
With grim reminders of the past my boyish grin was all but wiped out. My capuchino chilled (Christ it iced.). The sky darkened. The buzzing and chirping ceased. I saw myself in a light that was foolish and silly letting myself become a syrupy chump while being bullied and nudged by ole Mother Nature. Nah, not this old salt, I won’t get fooled again, not me, I’m too smart for that mushy kid’s stuff.
My buddy finally disconnected. He appeared to stand taller, chest extended outward, more handsome and seemingly more relaxed. He gave me a wink and stated with exuberance, “That was my baby on the phone. Oh, I love that girl. She‘s coming up from Mexico City this weekend. I just can’t wait. Love is beautiful my friend! You should try it sometime. She’s bringing along a girl friend, a real guapa. Would you like an introduction?”
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“Men in the kitchen . . . sometimes they need to be given a chance” (2006)
As stated earlier, I grew up in a household of women, a grandmother and two aunts. They loved each other dearly but that “old familiarity breeds contempt thing” rose from time to time. Seems kitchen is where all that “whatever” would synergize. While preparing dinner the fast moving trio, with arms flailing and tongues wagging, partook in a sort of verbal slugfest like some linoleum-floored Olympics. As if choreographed they slammed shut cabinets, spun, scooted over to the fridge, opened it, closed it, and then shifted themselves in their house dresses over to the next duty station. Another would then follow, almost duplicating the other’s moves, them heading for the fridge opening it, bending over, scanning, standing up and then redo the obligatory slamming-of-the-door routine. I forget if they ever retrieved anything.
Their mouths never stopped yapping. They rarely looked at each other. In the midst of the havoc progress was made, them standing still long enough to wash, pound, chop or mix something. Shortly thereafter they be off to a drawer or pantry often crossing in each other’s paths. “Watch your step, Gorgeous, I might have to give you a makeover,” that’s what my sweet grandmom would mouth to Aunt Bess, with butcher knife in her hand. So I opted for TV and street games outside on the block.
The chow was great and the fridge provided for late-night snacks. I grew up, got drafted, moved back home, did the single scene, met a girl and got married. Before the bliss and happy union, the extent of my domestic, bachelor life style was spending a night in a motel room a couple of times a month, that’s if I was lucky. No Kitchen
That honey-pie wife of mine, why that little sugar-buggar ruled that kitchen didn’t she? It wasn’t all that bad. I was eating. Yet the kitchen was her altar. Once in awhile I was summoned to mash the potatoes under the scrutiny of Mrs. Lombardi. Between dining hours she turned into some junkyard dog. “You get outta there, Lou!” she’d bark, “I know you, you’ll make a mess?”
Sheesh! Those were stinging and humbling moments for a young warrior, a vet, who played semi-pro football who in actuality was a cupcake of a guy who just wanted to make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Come to think, the poor girl was uptight about HER kitchen 24/7. My paper-towel and Whisk bill went through the roof. Time of day didn’t matter, for me sneaking into the kitchen was going behind enemy lines. And I had better cover my tracks, that Holmes guy had nothing on this broad.
Anyway, fast forward. The family’s gone and the queen departed the castle. What’s a King to do? Learn something about cooking.
My saving grace, afterwards, during the leisurely day-to-day I hung out with some guys with flair and panache. There were about five of us, all in the same boat, yet with means and with too much idle time on our hands. We threw dice and played cutthroat backgammon for hours. We’d watch an endless parade of sports, curse at each other, smoke lots of joints, lie about our legions of women and we’d eat. EATING!
Each guy was as good of a chef as the other, other than, “moi”. And rather than being exiled from where the food was prepared, like before, I learned a thing or two about cooking. I’m no galloping gourmet but I’ve overcome hopelessness in the kitchen.
Some guys because of their maybe present circumstances can relate. And the guy’s-guy that I am has some tips. Some of this will be obvious. Now, don’t you gals begin to laugh.
Buy the best ingredients available. One reason men sometimes make better chefs, guy-wise, is that they give little thought to price when it comes to food shopping. It’s a very-good, bad-habit to have. . . Got it? . . Stay away from anything frozen other than ice cream. Never buy anything that says, “lite,” “fat-free,” “sugarless,” “de,” or “sin,” anything. You want it all.
OK, OK! Have a cast iron skillet if you can. If new and store bought, you might have to season it. Get a Julia Childes cookbook to find out how. Everybody should have a decent knife, perhaps they’re a bit pricey, but they’re efficient. Take care of it.
Use only butter or Italian, olive oil. Forget that cooking oil stuff unless you’re deep-frying, but that’s a whole new ballgame. We’re in Spring Training here.
Let’s talk spaghetti sauce. First ya heat the pan. Never put anything into a cold pan. Add butter or oil. Add your fresh garlic, lots of it. Wooden spoons are good. Guys like mixing stuff, makes them look both manly and sexy. Never measure. Real guys have a killer eye, they know the right amount of salt, oregano or more cloves of garlic to be added, it’s inbred, handed down from Adam.
If stuff becomes too salty, you can drop in a pinch of sugar, or if too sweet, a dash of red wine or always more garlic. Everything can be fixed. Never panic.
There’s sauces; white, pesto, red etc. Use fresh tomatoes but that vacuum-packed, boxed puree sauce around here works fine. Add onions or peppers, clams or whatever meets your fancy. Add fresh herbs, such as basil and do it late into the process, so not to burn off the flavor. Parsley can be wonderful when fried first and added. Never sprinkle pepper on anything while it’s cooking, it’s an agitator, only pepper foods before serving.
Making pasta: Add some drops of oil and salt in the water. Bring water to a boil. Throw in the pasta. Never break it. It’s ready when you toss strands against the wall and they stick. IMPORTANT! Scoop pasta out of water and just mix it into sauce pan. It makes a lot of difference, mmmm, the bottom of the pan. Forget the tureen.
When it comes to meats, chicken or fish. . . remember, never-ever place cold food into a hot pan. Imagine the shock for the poor food. Add everything at room temperature that means getting items out of the fridge beforehand.
Marinating items can add pizzazz. Fresh onion, olive oil, garlic, grapes, other fruits, white wine, teriyaki sauce, butter, Parmesan cheese, herbs and spices all do well.
If feeling extra ambitious, try breading. Dump flour in a bowl, add spices, crack an egg in another bowl, dip meat or whatever in egg, bread it, go back and place the item in egg again and then double dip it back into the flour. It’s a little messy, but look who’s humming in the kitchen?
Quick! When making pancakes I mix the syrup into the batter, this way the syrup is already inside, same with the butter. I also mix the ketchup and onion and even cheese in with my raw hamburger before grilling. Don’t put your eggs in the fridge; it kills the taste. Don’t believe those wives tales. When was the last time you smelled a rotten egg that wasn’t breathing? That Barbecue Bob has nothing on me. Maybe next time we can do meatballs or my specialty, the second greatest hot-dog you ever tasted in your life.
Only thing you’ll probably create some mess. I’ll tell ya, that’s a valid reason every master chef needs a good woman in the kitchen.
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“Doing something for Grand Pop” (2007)
The World Basketball Championship kicks off in Japan this month. The USA’s domination of the sport faded during its embarrassing showing at the 2004 Olympiad in Athens. Even the most casual basketball fan was shocked and it seemed inconceivable the US could only must a third-place Bronze Medal in the sport that has its roots in America.
Yet the world has caught up to USA style basketball and today there is more than just a trickle of foreign players making up the squads of the National Basketball Association. Basketballs are dribbled around the globe. Europeans, Asians and South Americans have become proficient enough to perform on a stage that once was exclusively reserved for US kids
The USA’s 2006 roster is a far cry from the Dream Team that awed the world, in 1992, at Barcelona with the likes of: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Larry Byrd.
The current team, consists of younger, lesser-known NBA stars, yet they are determined and eager to bring back the crowning jewel in the form of a World Basketball Championship.
There is one young player I recommend basketball fans keep an eye on. His name is Chris Paul. During the regular season Paul plays point guard for the New Orleans Hornets. Paul was chosen as the NBA’s rookie of the year last season. After Katrina, Paul was one of the few bright spots to shine on the beleaguered Crescent City. Yet there’s an additional story that goes along with Paul that not too many people know about. Let me share it with you.
Paul grew up in North Carolina. He began playing competitive basketball at nine years old. His number one fan was his grandfather. His mother and father supported his athletic endeavors but it was granddaddy that attended just about every significant game the young man played. Paul credits the elder for teaching him all aspects of the game, including the subtler nuances, such as sportsmanship and the importance of being a team player, saying there is no letter “I” in the word “team.”
Grandfather owned an operated the hometown gas station as a well-known and trusty mechanic. Old Man Paul was a big Wake Forest University fan. He constantly sported, atop his head, a greasy Wake Forest baseball cap.
Paul honed his game and became a four-letter all-star while leading his high school team into the playoffs every year. Naturally his grandfather was a steady fixture at games. His booming voice could be heard rooting for his grand son.
Paul’s high school’s mailroom was stuffed scholarship offers from basketball powerhouses across the nation. Considering his grandfather’s allegiance to Wake Forest his choice of colleges became a no brainer; he was going to attend Wake Forest. The day Paul signed his letter of intent at Wake Forest there was a well-attended press conference.
Wearing suite and tie and while signing his letter of intent, young Paul then was topped off wearing granddaddy’s old Wake Forest cap.
A few days latter was Grand Pop’s birthday. He turned 61. Tragedy struck, Grand Pop, while going about his business at the gas station as thugs with guns held up the elder. The crime went askew and Grand Pop was shot to death.
Nevertheless, North Carolina’s high school basketball championship game was scheduled a few days later and the younger Paul and his squad were going to vie for the state championship.
Prior to the game Paul told his sister, uncle and an assistant coach he was going to score 61 points that night in honor of Grand Pop, no small feat, considering, Paul had never scored more than 37 points during his high school career. Actually he was more of a playmaker than a scorer.
In the waning moments of the game, after being fouled, Paul stood at the foul line to shoot two free throws. His team was well ahead. Up to that point and during an amazing performance Paul had scored 60 points, just a few points away from breaking the state’s individual scoring record, which was 65 points.
Paul seemed, as a matter of fact, took the ball from the referee, concentrated on the foul shot and sunk the first free throw.
Then something very unique took place. Rather than attempting and probably making the second free throw, then staying in the game to perhaps go down in infamy in North Carolina high school sports history; Paul did not attempt the second shot and in a casual manner purposely bounced the ball on the court, then turned toward a stunned crowed as he humbly walked off the court and culminating his illustrious high school career. He secured a state championship for his team and got his 61 for Grand Pop!
Those attending said it was as if Paul was somehow possessed that night with his spectacular dribbling, him going air borne, spinning 360 degrees being down right awesome and equally scary by being some sort of poetry in motion. At both ends of the court while being immersed in a basketball playing frenzy Paul overwhelmed his foes. He stripped the ball from opponents and scooted down the floor to make easy lay ups. On offense he sunk shots from way out. At times, regardless of being draped by three defenders, it was as if his determined young mind willed balls in the basket after taking what best could be described as circus shots. He was unstoppable!
Certainly, with the circumstances of a Grand Pop in mind, many a grand son might say “I’m gonna score a touch down, or hit a home run, or slap shot a goal, or win a race for my Grand Pop to celebrate his birthday and life, but for Pistol Pete’s sake, scoring 61 points takes more than a defining moment or a momentary rush of adrenalin. Even if Paul sunk nothing more than three-point shots he would have had to sink at least 20 shots, plus, yet Paul that night made baskets in a myriad of ways.
Paul did attend Wake Forest. After two seasons and making all conference he decided to turn pro. The 6’ 1” player made immediate impact with his new professional team playing all season like a crafty veteran. For six straight months the NBA named him Rookie of the Month in the Western Conference.
Paul symbolizes what’s tremendous about athletics. Rather than bolstering his own ego he told the press he could not have achieved the award without the help of his teammates. The 21-year old already lends his celebrity to a number of worthwhile local charities and he remains very close to his family.
Too often these days we hear mostly about self-centered athletes, who because of God given talents, act as if the world owes them something.
I look forward to the upcoming world championship and also the next professional basketball season, and hopefully, many more with Paul’s number three leading his team. Shoots, I just might become a New Orleans Hornets fan.
Paul says his now focus is to bring a the championship back to the States, and to the City of New Orleans, which would be a city first in any sport at the professional level and he wants to play for Team U.S.A. in the next Olympiad and hopes to bring back home the gold there too. You know, I got this gut feeling he will do all three before his career is over and now he’s got a believer in this sports fan.
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“Sareda’s toughening it out” (2004)
Sareda Milosz is dying. It’s no secret. Sareda knows it. I know it. Her family and friends are coming to grips with it. She’s aware of this impending article. She’s well into the late rounds in an uphill struggle but she’s hanging in there. The effects from procedures and therapies, along with the illness itself, have taken their toll. Sareda’s weak and emaciated. Sareda has no choice but to go the distance while coming to terms with the inevitable. Despite the dreary prognosis she holds fast to a glint of “hope springs eternal.”
The malignant melanoma was diagnosed back in 1998. Surgery, chemo, radiation and every other “_ation” connected to medical science haven’t been able to turn the tide. She’s been treated on both sides of the border, often commuting back and forth from here to Nevada for treatment and to be near family.
She’s now here in San Miguel. It’s for good. There will be no more probing, no more procedures nor the dread of going back under the knife. Sareda says, “Thank goodness that part is over.”
Pragmatically, she says sees this moment as pocket of time and space, to reflect and savor what she’ able to. Long ago she sold the car. If her strength is up, and it’s not too hot, Sareda enjoys a stroll through centro.
These days those pleasant interludes are fewer and fewer. “Seventy-five percent of the time I feel lousy. . . I’m often nauseous. The pain’s mostly in my abdomen. It’s the toughest part. It’s more frequent. . . ” she tells those in her corner while catching her breath in between the painful and punishing rounds. During the most challenging moments she prefers to go it alone, riding it out and holding on until the next breather.
Admired for her upfront honesty Sareda has overtly addressed her plight. “When first diagnosed I never felt more alive. I was willing to fight. The first few years weren’t so bad.” Still, she has no regrets. She’s proud how she’s chosen her own life path, like when she threw caution to the wind, passed on financial security and embarked into the unknown. Perhaps such reflection tempers the many medicines’ bile-like after-taste. She’s satisfied with the ride, what she’s seen, and with the essence of her existence. Those aspects, within the bouquet of life, leave a better taste in her mouth.
She brays some too. Why not? Her aspirations to write lie dormant. Says she’s lost desire. “If healthy I’d love to be involved in local media. . . . Even this, I’d even write about my fix, since it’s something you don’t hear much about, I’d write what it’s like dealing with cancer but unfortunately I haven’t the strength.”
A portrait of Sareda during healthier times is one of an independent friendly lady with energy, enthusiasm, talent and moxie. She’s known for having quick wit and possessing a delicious, warped sense of humor. She’s always rooted for the underdog and stood up for the little guy. She’s as tough as a tow truck driver if challenged and as tender as a pediatrician when called for. She’s always been hands-on and a welcomed collaborator amongst peers.
Sareda Milosz was part of the flamboyant wave of colorful nomads who trail blazed into San Miguel during the late 70s and early 80s. Sareda escaped the trappings of the rat race north of the border and serendipitously discovered Mexico,
Right away she embraced Mexico’s language and culture and involved herself in journalism and theater. She became a tireless volunteer. Born Sareda Goux Ludwig on June 19, 1946, in San Francisco, California, her father was Jewish, from Russian extraction, her mother’s Swedish-American.
She and her younger brother Richie were extremely close, them sharing a love of the theater and a joint scatological sense of humor that continues ‘til this day.
Religiously, the family was basically non-observant, but otherwise extremely strict. They lived in upscale Woodside, a suburb on the Bay Area’s peninsula. Strict family discipline erased any sense of privilege. No potato chips or candies or sodas – addictions. The family had a swimming pool mostly off limits to her and Richie.
In high school Sareda developed the two lifelong loves, journalism and theater. She acted and edited the school paper, attended U.C. Berkeley and earned a B.A. in journalism. Always a prolific and diverse writer she even contributed to Catholic periodicals.
After graduating, in the tumultuous sixties, she married Tony, the bad boy son of a Polish émigré poet. Later on, in 1980, her father-in-law, Czeslaw Milosz, was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Tony and Sareda lived an alternative lifestyle where heavy partying was part of the make up. After seven years it finally sunk in that the party was over; they amicably divorced yet are on friendly terms.
Despite talent and education Sareda opted to work at the U.S. Post Office. During the time, having to eat and pay bills out paced flower power. Busted out hippies found employment within San Francisco’ s postal system. Sareda found the job perfect. Despite the divorce her party mode was still in tack, providing her a lifestyle to burn the candle at both ends, having her socializing into the wee hours, then shaking it off and then showing up at five a.m. to sort and deliver mail.
Sareda speaks fondly about her postal career. She discovered something invigorating and social. The job was mostly outdoors and offered good exercise. The money was considered good and she was building up a pension. She saved money and bought and sold several houses that enabled her to eventually move to Mexico while in her mid-thirties.
In the late seventies Sareda took an unexpected vacation in Puerto Vallarta. The trip left an immediate impact, wiping away any previous perceptions about Mexico. For Sareda Mexico’s atmosphere and mannerisms meshed with her own lust for life. It was an eye-opener. Sareda marveled that someone could actually go into a farmacia and buy just one band aid, or one aspirin, or just one cigarette The simplicity of everyday Mexican life she found refreshing, way more so than the super sizing taking place back in her society. Returning to Oakland she sold her house, tidied up affairs, and moved to Puerto Vallarta.
Immediately she tackled Spanish, not just the formal version but the offbeat puns, and slang, mostly lipped on escinas, during street talk. Although modest about her bilingual talents, during healthier times, many tapped her for translation.
Later on Sareda visited San Miguel and instantly fell in love with this old town. Puerta Vallarta was great but here presented an additional appeal. San Miguel possessed a sense of community, a trait lacking in transient beach towns such as PV.
Sareda immersed herself in Playreaders, the Player’s Workshop and contributed articles and proof read for Atencion. Countless hours were spent working at Don Bosco’s and Betsy Schell’s orphanage. A true sucker for street animals she’s unable to ignore a sickly or deserted dog or cat. She’d whisk them home, fatten them up, and then find them caring homes. Even today, despite her illness, Sareda has her four dogs and two cats.
Sareda has had two runs at editorship at Atencion. Past contributors attest: She’s been a terrific editor. She employed her special knack while remaining on the same page as authors, a keen sense, supporting the writer, figuring out the writer’s slant and what they were trying to convey even though their angle may not have been apparent in original drafts. Sareda worked her magic by inserting more appropriate word choices, tinkered some with phrasing, and most of all, did so without the author losing their original voice.
Sareda quit Atencion the first time. She did so in a huff, culminating a dispute with Biblioteca’s board, with her going to bat, or should we say going to war, by peppering the-then Biblioteca’s board with logic that a long-time employee deserved a proper raise. Her replacement didn’t work out. She was asked back. Nevertheless, her earlier stance substantiated an eagerness to perpetuate justice and reward loyalty. Her second stint showed a Sareda less likely to bite her tongue. Familiar disagreements persisted. She was terminated after little more than a year.
Her beef with the Board had little effect on the surface and didn’t dampen her spirits when it came to community service. She served as the local president of PEN, a worldwide organization supporting writers who have been censored or imprisoned. Good causes, human rights and activities involving the healthy state of children and animals remained high on Sareda’s dance card. Her face and voice added flavor to local theater. Directors counted on her uncanny talent to mimic. She delighted audiences, by imitating accents in an over-exaggerated manner, or by going kinetic, comically copy-catting a character’s supposed body language.
Sareda also reentered the world of local publishing and founded El Independiente, a San Miguel bilingual-biweekly. Her paper focused on cultural events. Issues concerning both the Mexican and expatriate community were front and center. The paper enjoyed a strong local readership. Yet financially a biweekly wasn’t feasible. She and her team didn’t want to take on the heavier workload to produce a weekly. The paper self terminated after two years in 2000.
Sareda went on to write for magazines and moonlighted as San Miguel’s correspondent for Universal.
Until recently, Sareda remained committed to theater as both an actor and proficient producer. She remains on the Board of Directors of The Player’s workshop.
Her yeoman’s work at orphanages hasn’t gone unnoticed. She visited frequently, socializing with kids and staff, contributed clothes, food (often that favorite, pizza), and kicked in any extra money that came her way.
All those times and events are behind her now. How much time Sareda has is anybody’s guess. She’s slugging it out. She no longer possesses a knock out punch to beat this thing. Those she’s helped and those who love Sareda would cherish the chance to jump into the ring with her and help her fight the fight, but that’s out of the question; she’s in this alone. Other than the Almighty, no referee will mercifully step in stop this bout. She’s prepared. Everything’s in order; the 24-hours society has her last wishes. She still smiles, still laughs and can talk up a storm when having the strength. She loves life and loves people and her animals. There are no more timeouts; she can’t be saved by the bell. Sareda fights on!
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“September Of My Years” (1998)
This day and age, like other baby boomers, I find myself living The September of my years. Often when I peer into my rear view mirror of life, what often comes to mind are the carefree days and the tempo of music during the sensational ‘60s. That very music I then believed was shaping my future, especially the countless finger snapping be-bop tunes that were sandwiched between Elvis and the Beatles. That’s when Doo-Wop evolved, when Motown’s tinny and scratchy sound grabbed the attention of the nation’s youth.
It was an innocent yet formidable period, before Vietnam and way before the forthcoming addictions that enslaved us along with the never-ending lust for material things. Pop music captured my attention early on and became my inspiration while seemingly offering promise, a reason to live perhaps. The music and lyrics were seasoned to enhance the possibility for romance, along with molding ideals about the possibility of love. It could take volumes to write about those aspects alone.
The solo artists and groups, mostly black, amplified the freshness of youth. Those tight orchestrations were so hip relating to the then youthful ways of thinking. They provided a certain hope, suggesting, as the Four Tops did, to just reach out to whomever and they would be there. I was both mesmerized and tutored by lofty expectations with my young heart pitter-pattering with visions of the opposite sex in my arms during a slow dance. After all, it was The Delphonics who first informed me that La, La, La, La, meant I love you.
Nobody sung like Frankie Lyman with a falsetto voice, instructing me about the “ABCs of Love,” that had me asking who wrote “The Book of Love?”
The great Mary Wells fortified my teenage machismo with her memorable rendition of “My Guy,” her belting out, “Nothing you can do could make me be untrue to, My Guy, My Guy, and nothing you could say could make me stay away from My Guy. . . ” Her song had long faded when I received the proverbial “Dear John,” letter while in the Army. The incomparable Temptations adapted the same song with their rendition of “My Girl.” (I still like to hum or sing “My Guy” in the shower.)
Yet Mary Wells torpedoed the heart when she also sang “I Got Two Lovers” and for reasons I then couldn’t understand, she voiced how she loved them both the same? Little did I realize she was singing about the same lover?
Who could equal the sweet voice and the smooth, buttery sound of sexy Marvin Gaye? Marvin had all the answers since he heard it through the grape vine and Marvin took us to new heights of young love when he expressed “How Sweet It Is.” Then he clamored for answers when asking “What’s Going On?” and then reinforced the idea of romance further, especially when he teamed up for a duet with Kim Weston to advise that ”It Takes Two, Baby.” Like perhaps many of you I was thinking about the idea of my baby, whoever she was supposed to be and doing it night and day.
Despite the rhythm and harmonies, what too often came flooding in was a tear-jerking downside, while arriving at the precarious crossroads, frustrated, as Jackie Wilson sung about having his face distorted by “Lonely Tear Drops,” sentenced to loneliville moments, an empathetic composition thoughtfully and tenderly written by the great Sam Cook and Barry Gordie. Smokey Robinson too touched on the debilitating doses of heartbreak as he traced the tracks of his tears. What young lover hasn’t lamented about wilting love, realizing the helplessness of going down love’s drain and trying to hold onto to some intangible that just kept them hanging on? So with the damage inflicted many of us began to wonder “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?” if we were all of a sudden bunched within the lowly ranks of the jilted.
Some pleaded the same way James Brown did with his agonizing, “Please, Please, Please.” So desperate were the cries that some lyricists enlisted the help of the U.S. Postal System, planted in their front doorway with sad eyes yearning, “Please Mr. Postman,” mostly because somebody really had a hold on us and Smokey Robinson was quick to relate to the dilemma by seconding that emotion. I for one, got so wrapped up by such infatuations the blue side of me asked if it was “Just My Imagination?”
We were mandated to “Stop In The Name Of Love!” and we wondered aloud about “Where Did Our Love Go?” Yet the rights of passage didn’t stifle us entirely. We held tight to hope springs eternal if only “Just to See Her,” and that momentary vision alone placed us on “Cloud Nine,” well, that’s according to the Temptations. The Supremes attempted to temper our ridiculousness with “Baby Love,” and sometimes the songs offered enticing options if things didn’t pan out with another enticing beckoning with “Come See About Me,” rather than just standing in the shadows of love. There was practical advice spinning off those 45s too when The Miracles advised we had better shop around or by being forewarned by The Marvellets with “Don’t Mess With Bill.”
Some humbleness came into play when discovering we weren’t too proud to beg or when we screamed out for “Bernadette” or even by being stuck in the mud, as our mercurial Rene just walked away regardless of how we pleaded for her to stay. Yet for the sake of our uphill quixotic quests for the sake of bliss there was no mountain high enough. And if we were able to rekindle that torch, faster than you could say “bee-bop-shu-wop” we were back on “Cloud Nine” and once again singing “How Sweet It Is,” (to be in love with you), because there was nothing like the real thing, baby and making up wasn’t all that hard to do.
Maturity kicked in when realizing one can’t always hurry love.
Even in familiar terms it became somewhat of relief to know that the old man, who may have walked out on the family, wasn’t that much of a lout but merely, “Papa Was Rolling Stone.”
Maybe all-and-all they were just, the same, the same old songs, with the same redundant theme, nevertheless, during Martha and the Vandellas reign and during the heat wave of youthful passions; Martha and her back-up dynamic Vandellas had us “Dancing In the Streets.” We became so over our heads and in gah-gah land as we’d embraced a significant other and slow danced with our baby while lost in “who knows where” so overwhelmed we were only being able to eke out “Gee Whiz.”
Yet in the back of our minds’ throughout the course of romances, the marriages and divorces, the careers, the alimony or by being jilted and by having no other choice other than to pick up the pieces Gloria Gaynor offering of “I’ll Survive,” has become a time tested composition and resolve that’s become an anthem to anyone who has lost love! It’s still a tasty tune and gets us off our asses to go out on the floor and shake it and sometimes think that, just maybe.
With all that has come and gone and when stuck with Sinatra singing “The September of My Years” we can still let loose now and then, bust a move, to prance down memory lane, form a smile on our aging faces that are no longer seamless and latch onto the tunes of those oldies but goodies that still maintain an eternal capacity, enough to whisk us back to those magic moments having us tapping our feet, snapping our fingers and swinging our hips and realizing it isn’t always the destination that has made the difference but it’s really been the adventure of it all and the glory of life’s ride.
Long live Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues.
***********************************
“Leap of Faith” (1998)
This is a love story. A story of brotherly love and unbending faith that’s true and a joy to share; a story that transcends international politics and the turmoil of war; a story where a friend wasn’t going to abandon the other under any circumstance, and a friendship that was further fortified and galvanized, all because of a leap of faith.
Mexico has beckoned many a man from across the ocean’s blue. From Cortes to Maximilian, to William Spratling to Teddy Stauffer, adventurous men have thrown caution to the wind to seek fame and fortune in this country, while creating their own unique notoriety. Yet ordinary men have also found their way to Mexico, on a smaller scale perhaps, and they too have settled in this enchanted land.
Some have shown up without resources and have had to carve out a new life. Yet this country is known for its incomparable hospitality. Many a friendship between newly arrived foreigners and Mexicans endure a lifetime. Two such men’s paths crossed here in the early-thirties. Ernest Sanders hailed from Germany. He was an engineer desiring a fresh start in the new world. Calixto Corro was a young Mexican attorney. The two men quickly formed a friendship.
For Sanders, Mexico was a newfound utopia—with its climate, beauty, romance and way of life. Sanders settled in Cuernavaca, while Corro resided in the nation’s capital.
Later in the decade, war erupted back in Sanders’ left-behind homeland. Hitler began his madman quest to dominate Europe and points beyond. Still, those catastrophic events had a minimum effect on the two young men whose interests had nothing to do with ideology or something as warped as world domination.
With the attack on Pearl Harbor, nations in the Western Hemisphere were drawn into the war. On May 22, 1942, Mexico declared war on Germany, so as to join other allied nations to begin a noble quest. That’s when the rush of events changed their lives, especially that of Sanders.
The aggressive acts of Germany never became a wedge between the two men’s friendship, nor did unraveling events interfere in their business dealings. Yet soon enough the state of the world would shake the foundation of Sanders’ existence in Mexico.
The Mexican government issued a directive that German citizens who belonged to the Nazi Party had to leave Mexico. Sanders, never politically affiliated, but when leaving Germany a new Nazi law mandated all passports be stamped with a Swastika. Affiliated or not the stigma indiscriminately attached to his documents.
The chief of police, in Cuernavaca, was to seek-out a basically disinterested Sanders and mandated that he board an ocean liner in Veracruz by a certain date that would return him to his one-time homeland. Sanders, perplexed, had then lived in Mexico for almost ten years. He had a livelihood. Events thousands of miles away were of no concern to him. Mexican bureaucracy didn’t see it that way.
Sanders tapped influential resources for support to no avail. His friend Corro also intervened, eventually approaching the Cuernavaca police chief, peppering him with persuasion, emphatically stating his friend had no allegiance to Germany, to any political party or its quest. A bribe was not out of the question. Nevertheless, the chief told Corro he had specific orders to escort Sanders and to insure he’d board that ocean liner. Orders were orders. The chief stated that Sanders’ name and the names of other German nationals who were on his list and all were to be handed over and checked off a manifest that had to match with photos and documents.
Corro further queried, “You’re saying as far as you’re concerned, if Sanders boards that boat your responsibility in the matter is over?” The chief concurred.
Corro approached his friend with the bad news, telling him he would have to board that ship. Corro was not about to let his friend be shipped off that easy. He told Sanders to accompany the police chief on the appointed date and board the ship. Then he said, “Exactly 45 minutes after that ocean liner leaves the dock, I want you to jump off the back of the ship. I will be there!”
Naturally, Sanders cringed at the idea, but both men, together, had been through some scrapes inside some seedy cantinas. Sanders always had Corro’s back, as Corro had Sanders’—an impervious bond had been formed not shared by most men.
The day of reckoning arrived. Sanders bid a tearful good-bye to his girlfriend and associates. The men had not disclosed their plan, so as to not raise false hopes or to be snitched on.
The chief escorted Sanders to the dock, handed him over and watched him march up the gangplank. As schedules went in 1942 Mexico, the ship sat for more than a week, its set departure delayed, waiting for latecomers slated for deportation. Sanders, then aboard ship, was then left alone solely with thoughts of gloom and doom.
Without advance notice on a moonless night, somewhere around midnight the ocean liner came to life and began to move out of Veracruz’s harbor.
What had to be going through Sanders’ mind? He hadn’t had any contact with Corro, since he departed Cuernavaca. With the delay, was Corro even in the vicinity? More so: Would he be there? What was Sanders’ fate, to jump into a dark ocean and become nothing more than a memory or fish bait? Yet his friend specifically told him that he’d be there.
Sanders eluded guards and snaked his way to the ship’s stern. Exactly 45 minutes after the departure he stood on the precipice. All his scared-shitless eyes could make out was a black sheet of eerie darkness, with no sign of lights in the offing, no sign of movement no glint of anything visible. He gulped, embraced some blind faith and then tossed himself into the abyss. He hit the water’s surface. He gained his composure, having no idea about his fate and bobbing on the ocean’s surface. He soberly watched the lights and safer confines of the ocean-liner moving east towards Europe.
Out of nowhere came a sports-fishing yacht. Suddenly, a strong hand yanked the German from what had to be a sure death. It was Corro! They both took swigs from a bottle of tequila and then returned clandestinely to the shores of Mexico.
Once back in Cuernavaca, as far as the police chief was concerned, he’d done his duty delivering Sanders to Immigration for deportation. He could wash his hands of the matter. The chief knew Sanders and had no personal beef with him. Besides, Sanders employed people, gave to charity and was a plus to the community.
Sanders was given a second chance and was unmolested by immigration officials for the rest of the war. He married a Mexican woman, had children, accumulated a massive fortune building railroad bridges and continued his life in his adopted homeland.
Sanders and Corro shared Christmases, birthdays, vacations and life with their families up to Corro’s sudden tragic death in an automobile accident. Today, they are both buried in Mexico.
***********************************
“San Miguel Writers: Diverse and Notorious” (2005)
San Miguel de Allende, in the State of Guanajuato, Mexico has attracted various artists since the mid 1930s. Painters and photographers praise the light. Jewelers, especially those working in silver, have easy access to raw material. San Miguel’s 16th century European architecture inspires.
San Miguel is also a writers’ town, although the writers presence are less apparent than that of visual artists. Figure: When it comes to showing off artwork visual artists have an advantage. If your neighbors are painters they can just lean out their windows, show you their latest works and ask, “Whatcha think?
A novelist might have to ask someone to spare a mere 17 hours.
 Here’s a rundown about what makes San Miguel a writers town. Part of San Miguel’s lore is that icons of the Beat Generation hung their berets here in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Urban legend swears accompanying Kerouac from time to time were novelist Ken Kesey, poet-guru Allen Ginsberg, junky philosopher William S. Burroughs, and Gonzo-journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Old timers will tell you the lot raised hell in the original Cucaracha when the bar was located where Banamex stands today, under the portals on one corner of San Miguel’s central jardin.
Color in Neal Cassady as part of the literary lore. He wasn’t a writer, even though he typed an autobiography but Cassady blossomed to be the inspiration behind the “Boss of Beat,” plus a major figure in Kerouac’s novels doing business as Dean Moriarty. The Moriarty character appeared in a number of Kerouac’s novels mostly as an outrageous rogue.
In real life Cassady became Kerouac’s mentor urging Kerouac to shed that structured bullshit and perhaps “not cop out.” Cassady probably said something like, “Hey, Man, tell it like it is. Don’t sell out! Be far out and tattoo them with lingo the cool can dig. . .”
Cassady died in San Miguel. It was no death of a distinction. The then 41-year-old burnout died in a drunken stupor on the railroad tracks at the edge of town. Over time Cassady has been elevated to cult hero. Some of this rascal’s shenanigans were chronicled in Wayne Greenhaw’s memoir “My Heart is in the Earth.” (More about Greenhaw’s connection to San Miguel later.)
Vance Packard first burst upon the scene as far back as 1957. San Miguel was his base for over 20 years. He is mostly known for the best-selling “The Hidden Persuaders” a non-fiction ground breaker that revealed psychological manipulations used by advertisers.
“The Hidden Persuaders” sold over a million copies. Those were mighty gaudy numbers considering the time considering the book’s subject matter. Packard was known for his tongue-in-cheek slant on pop sociology. “The Hidden Persuaders” revealed how advertising marketers whipped up sneaky subterfuges to hoodwink consumers. Packard, a witty writer, remained admired by his peers for being innovative with homespun perspectives regarding human nature.
Speaking of the notorious, novelist Clifford Irving made San Miguel his base for a number of years on more than a few occasions. Unfortunately, Irving is often remembered for his fake biography about recluse billionaire Howard Hughes. He claimed he interviewed Hughes extensively but unfortunately for Irving, Hughes wasn’t quite as reclusive as Irving initially thought. Hughes issued a denunciation from his Las Vegas penthouse. In 1972 Irving was convicted of fraud, sentenced to prison and compelled to reimburse his publisher $765,000. After paying his debt to society, Irving, a fine writer and thought of by most including myself as an overall nice guy penned a number of successful novels here.
Gary Jennings, wrote portions of his bestseller “Aztec” in San Miguel. Many wrongly thought Jennings was just a wanna-be-writer. Late nights, after a number of tastes in local cantinas, Jennings sometimes slurred that in the light of day he was researching and composing a historical piece about Mexico. Some people scoffed.
Today, Jennings’ novel “Aztec” is regarded by Meso American historians as one of the most significant novels ever written in English about Mexico. Jennings’ novels were fat, often consisting of more than 500,000 words. Historians and literary critics have praised Jennings’ research and attention to detail. His curious nature prompted him to learn and then interpret ancient drawings. He taught himself to read Nahuatl. He’s lauded for having an authentic written voice while Jennings’ portrayals of violence and sex are graphically vivid. The author’s bias sided with accusations substantiating injustice towards indigenous people made for solid arguments. Jennings spent twelve years living in Mexico and went on to write other popular novels about the Aztec peoples in the time following the Conquest.
Short-story teller and novelist Hal Bennet lived and wrote here until close to the time of his death, just before the beginning of the 21st century. He voiced the black man’s perspective. At first Bennet composed poignant stories about rural life in the segregated American South.
Later he wrote “mean-street” brays. “Lord of Dark Places” written in 1970 was Bennet’s most acclaimed novel. The piece is perverse yet brutally honest, illuminating the black stereotype drenched with “anything-goes” sexual encounters, as well as hisses of “Shame on you, Whitey!” The novel revealed the seedier side of life in New York City’s tenements during the 1950s. A cult-following is currently resurrecting Bennet’s writings. Talking about taking walks on the wild side was more of living day-to-day during his lifetime. Bennet, within his writings or while talking story wasn’t shy about claiming that he rubbed more than elbows with Truman Capote in 24-hour, movie houses inTimes Square,
Walter Tevis wrote portions of his novel “The Hustler” here in San Miguel, later to be adapted into the film classic staring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason. Acclaimed screen-writer Bill Wittliff can be spotted from time to time futzing with his old box camera up on the jardin taking photos of his favorite landmark, our Parroquia, the pink-stone gothic-inspired church that dominates towns skyline. Wittliff adapted Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Lonesome Dove” for a television mini-series and wrote screenplays: “Barbarosa,” “Legends of the Fall,” “Black Stallion” and “The Perfect Storm.” His latest screenplay is for the film “A Night in Mexico” currently under production.
In the recent past, writer Joy Nicholson made San Miguel her home. Nicholson hit pay dirt with her first novel “The Tribes of Palos Verde” a female surfing saga set in California, also about growing-up in a dysfunctional family. Nicholson optioned the novel to a movie studio. Last I heard she was somewhere around Cancun wrapping up her second novel “The Road to Esmeralda.”
Yet when interviewing Nicholson about her initial success she confessed she wasn’t that enthused about writing but was thinking of becoming a veterinarian.
Australian born and award-winning sports journalist, George McCann, graced the pages of local English language newspaper Atencion with his personal slant on the sports world, along with other tidbits about notable people he’d interviewed over his career up to the time of his death.
The lure of San Miguel continues to draw writers. Pulitzer Prize winning poet for “Heart’s Needle,” 1960, W. D. Snodgrass makes San Miguel home half the year.
Non-fiction best selling author Joseph Persico spends part of his winters in San Miguel. The acclaimed writer has published an impressive line up of biographies: “My Enemy, My Brother,” “Men and Days of Gettysburg,” “Piercing the Reich,” A Biography of Nelson A. Rockefeller,” “Murrow: An American Original,” “Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial” “Roosevelt’s Secret War” and “11th Month, 11th Day, 11th Hour: Armistice Day, 1918.”
Persico was “the with” in the autobiography of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell did the talking and Persico did the writing.
Novelist, journalist and playwright Wayne Greenhaw, a one-time Neiman Fellow at Harvard, is another part-time sanmiugelense. Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird” said Greenhaw is one of the South’s finest living narrative fiction writers when she awarded him the Harper Lee Award.
Greenhaw’s non-fiction books have gained attention with in-depth works such as “Montgomery-The River City” an unflattering expose undressing George Wallace former segregationist governor of the State of Alabama. Greenhaw followed up and then delivered an eye opening literary body shot in his “The Making of a Hero,” the saga of Lt. William Calley held responsible for the massacre at Mai Lai during the Vietnam War.
In the late ’50s, right after high school graduation, Greenhaw took a train from Alabama to San Miguel traveling alone. Greenhaw wanted to be a travel writer and attended Instituto Allende taking his initial instructions from wordsmith Ashmead Scott.
German-born, Swiss-Turk, Soledad Santiago, who immigrated to the U.S. at age 12 spent considerable time in San Miguel. The activist/writer’s prose zeroed in on everyday life in American society, first with immigrating Puerto Ricans and then with New York City’s Hispanic community. Santiago’s heart-wrenching work “Streets on Fire” mirrored much of her own life and family. Her novel was acclaimed as a crossover expose well worth reading.
One down side: living and writing in San Miguel has become too pricey for many impoverished writers. When I first arrived, a blast of repasado tequila ran 15 pesos, now it’s up to 80 and more. The time has passed when an upstart writer can eke out an existence and create a masterpiece on a couple of hundred bucks a month.
Tony Cohan has highlighted San Miguel in his best-selling memoir “On Mexican Time,” a thoughtfully written depiction shimmering with descriptions, offering an inside look of San Miguel de Allende, sauced up with servings of Mexican culture. These days Cohan resides in Guanajuato, an hour and one-half drive to the north, yet he often adds muscle to the San Miguel writing community.
Beverly Donofrio is a townie and the author of “Riding in Cars With Boys.” The title alone may have said it all, yet Donofrio’s memoir about growing up Italian-American and early motherhood and marriage was sassy enough to have Donofrio’s story made into a film starring Drew Barrymore.
Canadian based film writer Karl Schiffman hangs out here. His film credits include “Riddlers Moon” “Dead End,” “Back in Action” and the soon to be released sci-fi “2Human.” Recently his latest script “The Murderer Down the Road” was read aloud by some of San Miguel’s most noted actors.
San Miguel hosts scores of other good writers, and there are too many to mention plus I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out since I still have to drink in this here town. Some San Miguel writers are overtly visible while others choose to remain obscure. Who knows? Maybe a soon-to-be best seller is being pumped out this very minute behind the walls of a San Miguel casa.
Writers continue to arrive in San Miguel. They formulate their thoughts, chronicle events and develop plots in stories that, who knows? After all—stories and tales that just might live forever all composed here within the boundaries of our fine town.

“Golden Autumn” (2005)
The green catalpa tree has turned
All white; the cherry blooms once more.
In one whole year I haven’t learned
A Blessed thing they pay you for.
The blossoms snow down in my hair;
The trees and I will soon be bare.
The trees have more than I to spare.
The sleek, expensive girls I teach,
Younger and pinker every year,
Bloom gradually out of reach.
The pear tree lets its petals drop
Like dandruff on a tabletop
The girls have grown so young by now
I have to nudge myself to stare.
this year they smile and mind me how
My teeth are falling with my hair.
In thirty years I may not get
Younger, shrewder, or out of debt.
Those are the first three verses from W. D. Snodgrass’ April Inventory, lifted from his 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning book of poems titled Heart’s Needle. For a number of years Snodgrass and wife Kathy have oscillated from their residence in upstate New York, wintering here in San Miguel. The affable couple have been both contributors and enabled other famous poets to read at San Miguel’s Poetry Week taking place here each January. Over a tumultuous lifetime the student, professor and scholarly poet has taken the pulse of human nature by penning a plethora of poignant poems with a number emphasizing the state of death.
At the time Snodgrass’ Heart’s Needle, focused on the loss of his daughter, not because of child mortality, but due to the initial epidemic of divorce that was sweeping the nation during the mid fifties. The sudden loss was so catastrophic Snodgrass felt compelled to bleed his own heart! To him, the loss was as traumatic as death itself.
Sad to say, these days, Snodgrass himself is facing the inevitable. He’s quietly coming to grips with his own mortality. He’s ever-so-cognizant that he’s soon about to join that eternal society.
Inoperable lung cancer was discovered in early September The prognosis: Forget about it! a death sentence chock with bone-chilling medical terms most would prefer to never-ever hear. Wife Kathy says, “De,” that’s what she and friends call him, “is a tough-minded realist and has taken the dreary forecast in stride.”
With the horizon shortened, the dignified wordsmith is hanging in there, tucked away at his home in upstate New York. He’s receiving tender, loving care from wife Kathy while remaining as comfortable as possible under Hospice home-care. Kathy says De’s spirits are high.
Kathy flashed her own grit with a stiff upper lip when she voiced over the phone, “De and I have the luxury of knowing the end is near, and more important, we’re together.” She went on to update his condition. “He’s not experiencing pain. I’m stuffing him with his favorite goodies, goodies that were taboo just a few months back.”
A few weeks after the grim prognosis a frail yet resilient Snodgrass gathered himself and stepped into the literary batters box at the Syracuse YMCA’s art gallery to give a reading. On perhaps a smaller scale, his riveting performance and steady delivery might be compared to Lou Gehrig’s Yankee Stadium swan song, with De sounding as if he was the luckiest man who’s ever lived! Snodgrass mesmerized an attentive and hip-to-his-condition audience. There was concern, would his strength hold up and could he pull it off? yet the luminary came through in the clutch, thrilling his audience and extending his reading into extra innings.
Back at home under the watchful eye of Kathy, when his strength permits, Snodgrass is giving interviews to journalists who report to the poetic world. He spends precious time with Kathy, reading, napping and listening to his beloved Mahler. The Snodgrasses have become one of Netflix’s best customers. When feeling extra frisky Snodgrass asks for pen and paper.
Born January 5, 1926 and reared in western Pennsylvania to a middle class family, young Snodgrass went into the Navy during WWII. Afterward he attended Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA., then off to the University of Iowa to become a student of Robert Lowell who was already a renowned big-timer in the structured world of poetry. Snodgrass tried his hand at play writing and other literary disciplines but eventually discovered that the musical cadence of rhymes and prose along with tasty rhythms was his true calling.
When at first sharing his creations with mentor, Lowell, Lowell scoffed criticizing his student saying his poems were nontraditional themes, not in the spirit of T.S. Eliot who professed poets are never to regale what’s personal or emotional while jotting down observations. The earlier negative critique by his mentor stabbed at his heart but Snodgrass was no quitter, and was not deterred while continuing to structure his poems and place emphasis on the touchier subjects more to his own liking. Today Snodgrass is referred to by his peers and admirers as the father of “confessional school of poetry” a mantle Snodgrass has never really embraced. Nevertheless, he’s noted and respected for magnifying guttural emotions, those stemming from amazement and awe or those from the pangs of rejection, reactions he’s proudly worn on his poetic sleeve. Even Lowell, the professorial mentor, became a fan and he too began echoing what Snodgrass was pontificating within his own writings.
It’s somewhat ironic that back in yesteryear that perhaps Snodgrass was placing his future in his past within the lines of April’s Inventory.
I haven’t read one book about 
A book or memorized one plot. 
Or found a mind I did not doubt. 
I learned one date.
And then forgot. 

And one by one the solid scholars 
Get the degrees, the jobs, the dollars. 


And smile above their starchy collars. 

I taught my classes Whitehead’s notions; 
One lovely girl,
a song of Mahler’s. 
Lacking a source-book or promotions, 

I showed one child the colors of 
A luna moth and how to love.

I taught myself to name my name, 
To bark back, loosen love and
crying; 
To ease my woman so she came, 
To ease an old man
who was dying. 
I have not learned how often I 
Can win, can love,
but choose to die.
Snodgrass’ interpretations in regards to April’s Inventory, in real life have seemingly evolved into a golden Autumn. Those interpretations are evident in his work and the quixotic way he’s led his life. Snodgrass says, “At times I sing out my verses!” explaining that by singing out extemporaneously enables his initial thoughts to become more concise. In these waning days his example and work ethic will hopefully prompt other poets to take hold of the guide-on that’s about to be abandoned. It’s their duty to pick up any slack and perhaps post appropriate tributes to the poet who’s become an icon, yet who’s still an ordinary man in so many ways, made up, just like us, as flesh and bone and heart and soul.
Author of over twenty books of poetry and countless magazine articles, a respected and sought-after, popular professor at Cornell, Wayne State, Syracuse, Wayne University and the University of Delaware, W. D. Snodgrass is placed in extraordinary light. For over half-a-century he’s been a steady, sober and pragmatic voice, astonishingly creative but never hesitant to be self-effacing when pointing out to his own misgivings. There’s been a lifetime’s worth of ups and downs, a mixed bouquet, loves and loses and at times being the target of spiteful, thrown stones along with the adoring accolades that he’s clearly earned.
The Snodgrass collection is a diversified body of work that most writers would relish as their own rather he’d be putting together a tender simple piece about children arranging a funeral for a house mouse or pointing out the wonder caused by the illumination of fire flies. The controversial Fuehrer Bunker grabbed some attention in 1976. Never one to work with a safety net, Snodgrass’ imagination and literary license reflected a series of monologues, a personification that could have been lipped by the high echelon Nazis during the last days of the Third Reich. All the notables like Goebbles, Goering, Speer, Himmler, Eva Braun and the big Nazi himself vomited out their at-the-end-of-the-line thoughts and regrets. The series was produced off Broadway prompting mixed reviews. Some thought those monsters should never have been given a voice, even ones that might be cathartic.
Yet poetic aficionados with historical backgrounds were so taken by the piece that Snodgrass was in line to receive the coveted National Book Critics Circle Award. Ironically, Snodgrass’ mentor and friend Lowell passed away just before the award’s announcement, having the glory go to the dead rather than W. D.
I have not learned there is a lie 
Love shall be blonder,
slimmer, younger; 
That my equivocating eye 
Loves only by my
body’s hunger
That I have forces true to feel, 
Or that the lovely world is real. 


While scholars speak authority 
And wear their ulcers on their sleeves, 

My eyes in spectacles shall see
These trees procure and spend their leaves. 
There is a value underneath 
The gold and silver in my teeth.
Though trees turn bare and girls turn wives, 

We shall afford our costly seasons; 
There is a gentleness survives 

That will outspeak and has its reasons. 
There is a loveliness exists, 
Preserves us, not for specialists.
One might find it ironic, even inconceivable that W. D. Snodgrass might valiantly embrace these final moments while sensing mortality and the culmination of a full life with what may be the quintessential poet’s final observation. His contemplative manner enables De to place his fading existence under his own microscope while remaining a student of nature and while riding his comet’s tail to the far reaches of who knows where? It’s a god-damn shame that the nice and decent man has to leave us, leave his Kathy and not to be on hand to witness the fresh blossoms blooming this coming Spring, yet the man’s well aware, and there might be a certain solace, knowing we are all right behind him.
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“Out of Cuba 2007”
The consensus is that the one time architectural marvel called Havana is a decaying city coming apart at the seams. Havana is hot and humid. The place is a bit pricey and there’s hardly anything to buy. The food’s insipid but the music’s spicy. The women do live up to their erotic reputation! From my perspective, after spending five days in Havana, all the above rings true. Yet my slant here is strictly a thumbnail sketch of Havana and can’t be compared to the whole of the nation and its people.
The economic effects from the 40-some-year, U.S. embargo and Soviet pull out have both isolated and reduced Cuba into an impoverished existence. Havana’s past splendor is apparent, as is its present anemic condition. One could bray, “What the hell happened here? Who’s in charge?”
Putting those negative aspects aside it’s the Cuban people and their unique spirit that makes the place fascinating.
I skipped the government provided tourist hotels deciding to rent a second-floor apartment (casa particular) in a run-down barrio of old Havana. The neighborhood could be compared to tenement sections of the South Bronx. Despite the rough surroundings I found Cubans friendly, accommodating and hospital. Hardly anyone seemed serious, if anything most acted sophomoric other than the downtrodden that have been crushed by the system or bad fortune.
My landlords were Jesus and his wife Dora. The apartment wasn’t spiffy yet clean with essentials. The affable couple had me feeling welcome and comfortable as I began to experience a slice of life in old Havana. For some reason they both called me, Louie.
“Louie! Louie!” was shouted by a voice in my direction as I bopped down the block the following day. It was Jesus. In Latino fashion he hand signaled me to hold up. Catching up he latched onto my elbow only saying another “Louie” while leading me into the back patio of a dingy bar. The TV blared. Some Cuban pretty boy was up on the screen singing his heart out. Jesus ordered two cold cans of Crystal and got down to business.
Jesus said, “Louie,” two more times. We were up to five Louies and I still didn’t know what was on his mind. Evidently the night before I mentioned an affinity for baseball when Jesus clicked on the apartment’s TV with a baseball game in progress. Sipping his beer and moving his hands in a certain way Jesus began to paint a vivid picture. It was in 1951, Yankee Stadium, the top of the ninth and the great, Boston Red Sock, Ted Williams, was at bat. The Yanks were ahead by a run with one out and a runner on third. Jesus’ uncle had promised the then nine-year-old a trip NYC. to see a big-league game and his favorite player, Yankee, Joe DiMaggio.
Jesus paused his story to elaborate how he revered DiMaggio and how jolting Joe was “El Mejor!” After the brief DiMaggio eulogy Jesus continued telling me how he was seated in the left-center-field bleachers. Williams launched a screaming line drive seemingly out of centerfielder DiMaggio’s range and reach, yet the Yankee Clipper got a good jump on the ball and made a spectacular run-saving catch. Jesus became more animated describing how the Red Sox runner on third tagged-up and began to race home to tie the game. Gracefully, according to Jesus, DiMaggio maintained his wherewithal, retrieved the ball from his mitt, and rifled a bullet toward Yogi Berra, the Yankee catcher to make the tag out and to win the game!
Jesus slowly nodded his head and looked away for the moment as he savored the past.
Those are the indelible, first-hand memories the Cuban has of his hero, Yankee Stadium and his beloved baseball. Then Jesus extended his chest somewhat telling me how he went on to become a hard throwing pitcher and a pro prospect saying he threw a number of no hitters. In 1958 he signed a $5,000 minor league contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers but all changed with the revolution and his dream to become a big leaguer died.
From the looks of things, in present day Havana, many dreams died back in 1959. I am not qualified to judge if Uncle Fidel’s system is a travesty of justice, or a continuous-and-challenging socialist experiment, society saddled with a severe case of spinning wheels disease. On the surface things don’t look all that prosperous. Yet discounting the obvious pitfalls when ferreting a bit deeper, there’s something striking about the place.
Up to the point with Jesus I was having a love-hate relationship with the city. I almost wanted to leave after fifteen minutes. There were waiting lines at immigration and customs and longer lines for everything else. But regardless I could also sense there’s a special feeling, being in the mix with the multi-racial Cuban people that had me feeling so alive!
In Jesus’ case, most of our conversations covered the golden age of baseball. He doesn’t think much of today’s big leaguers. We searched our brains making a list Major-League 500 home-run hitters, those with 3000-hits and 300-game winners over their careers. Once back home I checked. Jesus and I nailed about 90% of the 60-some baseball playing icons. I seemed to be the called-for soundboard to talk the about the sport we both love.
I was living mostly a one-block existence. Fellow sanmiguelense, Jeffery Brown, who was also in Cuba at the same time, surprisingly turned out to be my neighbor, him renting just across the street. We shared shots of Vodka with some men out of the trunk of a ‘54 Plymouth resting on its axles. There was Yasser, mid-twenties, strong and handsome. He inquired about gyms and weight-lifting equipment in the States. He hates his name. Seems he was born on the day Yasser Arafat visited Cuba and therefore stuck with the moniker. One of the men, Manuel, Jesus’ brother-in-law wanted to know about present day cars. He frowned some when I told him today’s autos are all about computers and that back yard tune-ups are out of the question. He and his cronies were then installing a clutch into a ‘49 Hudson. The men had us feeling at ease and the Vodka helped. We took more swigs and posed for buddy-buddy photos. I asked about the Soviet influence. Were they still around? Manuel said the Russians never really fit in, that they built decent roads but ugly buildings along with bad running cars, motorcycles and tractors, then the Ruskies left them in a lurch. All and all the men agreed that the Russians presence meant little one way or another, other than the introduction of Vodka.
After a day and a half “Louie! Louie!” peppered my ears from various directions each time I took to the street. I smiled. They smiled back. Take in part it’s their block and residents on such close-quartered blocks don’t miss a blink. Ironically I was residing on Calle San Miguel, the length of your average street here in San Miguel. The row homes were three-storied, with six-to-eight apartments in each. Most were occupied with Havanans yet I observed tourists with luggage exiting taxis then disappearing behind doors.
To appreciate Cuba one has to seek out the silver linings from what seems like a hopeless situation. The system offers Cubans little incentive, so goes a desire to upkeep buildings and infrastructure. The streets are teeming with life 24/7. That memorable, far-out alien bar depicted in the film, Star Wars seems pale compared to the outlandish street scenes in Havana. There’s big-time stoop life primarily because of the stifling heat and humidity; kids play baseball and grab ass using home-made baseballs fashioned from rolled up white tape and broom sticks, and sticks of all kinds are swung bats. A parked, banged up ‘55 Chevy might be first base and broken manhole cover second, a curbside third, while home plate might be a cutout portion of a cardboard box. Some kids just play catch or handball. With the 50ish cars and street baseball alike my own boyhood memories flashed in my mind’s eye. I could have been any one of those kids. I saw some sun-baked basketball courts, mostly deserted, marred with potholes and lopsided backboards, minus baskets. Kids played soccer with makeshift balls and even tin cans.
The plethora of street scenes are both poignant and heart breaking; men get haircuts in the street, transmissions from vintage American cars, now jalopies, are yanked out with brute strength and then jury-rigged as to get them back on the road. The shelves of the few available tiendas are bare, except for nine or ten items; people look disheveled and beat except for the exquisite smiles they dole out toward neighbor and stranger alike; the pulsating beat of Latin music pours out of barred windows and open doorways.
One day I went out to the avenue and bought eight, pork sandwiches. Problem number one: The sandwich maker didn’t have a bag. I think I’m resourceful and tried to buy a bag but didn’t possess the right currency but a kind lady gave me one. Then I was in search for mayonnaise or mustard. I would have been better off seeking out the Holy Grail. None was to be found, but low and behold in the basement of a foreign investment market I found mayonnaise. Viola! But didn’t you know the computerized cash register system crashed and there would be no more sales that day, mmmmm, dried pork sandwiches.
Tourists are forced to buy a currency called CUC. It’s a government sponsored rip off regardless if cashing dollars, Mexican pesos or Euros. Now there’s an extra 10% vig off Yankee currency. Ten to fifteen percent comes off the posted exchange. You’re getting a Cuban CUC for about a dollar-thirty. Prices in tourist joints are more expensive than here and food wise it’s mostly lousy, ill prepared with inferior ingredients. I ordered Chow Mien in a Chinese restaurant, only thing there were no noodles.
As earlier noted, countless old Fords, Chevy’s Hudson’s and Studebakers rumble along Cuban boulevards as rusted hulks held together by who knows what? The state of public transportation is atrocious. People are crammed tight into deteriorating buses with no room for their guardian angel. With the heat, sweat and mass of humanity one can only gasp and say, “but for the grace of God!” Taxis are too expensive for most except for community cabs that are packed to full capacity, dropping some off and taking on others. Many hitch hike, standing in droves off sidewalks, waving down anyone who might pick them up. As the pecking order goes the young and better looking chance to hitch a ride rather than the elderly or decrepit.
The men are forward and the women receptive. I eyeballed mostly women whose dress is alluring and enticing, dolled up in some tawdry chic that beckons, with the “hotties” featuring enticing curves and plunging necklines primarily, because in reality that is all they have. In most other places chicks wiggling their behinds in such a way while planted in exaggerated high-heels and wearing Daisy Duke, short-shorts would be perceived more like cheap strumpets. Inside Havana that particular look is hardly out of the ordinary. Men’s dress on the most part, shabby and wrinkled. I suppose in the men’s case their well-defined bodies do the talking.
Love or lust is constantly in the air. Even the most unsightly tourist, fat, bald or snaggle-toothed can be seen as a desirable Romeo, that’s of course if he has fresh or wrinkled money in his pockets. That easy availability of women is available primarily out of hunger and need. Cuban women do show case a certain one-of-a-kind sensuality that seems inbred. Such overt actions later on might place a few extra staples on the family table. Horny men attracted to such vivacious women might just shrug their shoulders and sum, “When in Rome…” or those men with conscious may ask themselves if they are taking advantage of an undeniable female commodity or participating in some sort of lurid exploitation? I don’t have the answers.
Under the surface breathes an oppressive state. Jesus warned me there are street-corner snitches and police everywhere. A woman just sharing a taxi or walking down the street with a foreigner can be whisked away by the police for doing either. Often consequences have females spending a couple of months in the slammer and a mark on her record to boot. Girls constantly talk and worry about the police.
The government is well aware of the prostitution yet for the hooker in Havana it’s a Catch-22 situation. They have to be tricky to procure tricks. Cuban women of any profession are discouraged from frequenting with tourists other than in the daytime in public places. Only female employees are allowed in hotels. Yet just outside on sidewalks of some tourist-oriented, boom-boom establishments, sanctioned by the government, the girls gather in bouquets and are permitted to enter if accompanied by a tourist. Then it seems the government turns a blind eye that makes the whole man-woman thing seem ambiguous at most. Many, in actuality, are not professional streetwalkers but country girls merely in search of a meal, some drinks, a nice time and pocket money. Yet the pocket money they receive for their charms often equals a month’s pay. For men, reciprocated affection offered by women is almost automatic; “You were nice to me so now I’ll be nice to you.”
Cuba does hold claim to the world’s lowest AIDS rate. Reason being: Random HIV tests. At first people infected with HIV were whisked off to a sanitarium, for life. In 1998 the government permitted patients who have been properly indoctrinated and treated to return home but under a state of house arrest.
Many young gals from the countryside apply and anxiously wait for coveted visas permitting them to stay in Havana up to two or three months. They apply for the get-away visas under the guise of schooling or to visit relatives. Yet on the most part, probably because of the wireless coconut, they know Havana has brighter lights and a slew of generous men from around the world who seek female company—their possible escape. Cubans do not have access to the Internet’s super hi-way. They can e-mail and telephone but are kept much in the dark about what is taking place in the outside world. They see only what the regime wants them to see, period!
I queried some about their impression of foreign men and men in general. My sampling had some of the gals telling me they don’t like Italian men, especially those from the south. Women, even streetwalkers, have their dignity and the girls said Italian tourists were rude and presumptuous in a place where being presumptuous is a gimme. The French, Greeks and Spanish, in their view, act stodgy and above them. German and Scandinavian are said to be polite yet distant. When I asked about Mexicans or other Latinos the girls pointed to their elbows and patted them with their other hand, a sign that indicates cheapskates. “And they lie!” said Magalia, saying how they promise marriage faster than the rest. She likes American men, primarily because they are generous but they are loud and brag too much. As for Cuban men, Magalia made a face and extended her open hand and counted off her fingers one by one emphatically, “Uno, dos, tres, quatro novias, siempre… ellos el pejor!”
During multiple conversations with Havanans the men were more restrained about Cuba’s situation and I refrained from pushing the subject. Men of age wanted to speak about glory of the past. Taxi drivers openly spoke about long hours but the money was great. Only one cabbie tried to sell me that Cuba is a wonderful place where everybody is equal and it’s only getting better. There are devilish billboards showing Bush and Hitler as equals. Posted images of Che are everywhere yet there aren’t many images of Castro. Women looked to the future and were more expressive about the state of things. “Get me out of here!” shouted out from within them.
“Everybody’s afraid of the police,” one woman told me in a low voice inside a tourist restaurant as two cruised outside. “They make us go to rallies.” For bigger rallies thousands are bussed in from the countryside with a 48-hour pass to stay and party in the capital city but only after attending a mandatory rally. “We cheer real loud, because if we make the government happy maybe they will cut short the rally and we can go party.”
I find it ironic that the Marx and Engle’s utopia of socialism has failed worldwide and today that sort of none functioning lifestyle hardly survives other than in a few bastions of repression like Cuba. I find it just as amazing that a taxi driver or tour guide can make ten times the money compared to the government stipend trickled down to a trained doctor, engineer or scientist. The general population is rationed some rice, beans and few other staples on a monthly basis that lasts no longer than a week. That’s the reality of life in today’s Cuba.
Then, in spite of the failed dream, there is the elite who enjoy the status of privilege due to government appointed professions and housing. Cuba claims to have a 100% literacy rate and free medical for all. Cubans expressed to me that the bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through for health care isn’t worth the hassle unless there is an absolute emergency.
Havana’s embassy row is as stately as it gets, where upscale embassies bask along side botanical finery while facing a wide, sparkling thoroughfare.
Hotel Nacional is a first class hotel. Its staff is bilingual and sharp. Black, sleek, Mercedes’ taxis wait outside for tourists or big wigs in the government. Yet the gal tending the bar yakked on the phone and finished her smoke before waiting on us. There are a few square blocks, surrounding the capitol, impressively restored and pristine. Hotel Raquel glistens with marble floors and columns’ indicating a gentrification is in vogue yet out of the reach for the average Cuban. The Museum of the Revolution and Art Museum are well cared for as are a few other buildings and cathedrals in the vicinity. That’s about it.
.
Maybe I should have done more clubbing or drank where Hemmingway once did, or maybe I should have delved more into the artsy social scene and eat at trendy tourist traps or rode around in a horse drawn carriage. Maybe next time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the music. One has to be dead to not appreciate the hot Latin tunes along with the enticing lyrics and tight rumba rhythms. That part of Cuba’s soul can never be replaced or squashed by a warped system. It’s their national treasure. When Cubans play or sing music they appear as free as birds. But when I peer into the tired and worn down faces of Jesus, Dora and the all the others who have been denied the advancements of modern society, regardless of Capitalism’s own pitfalls, I can’t help but think about Cuba’s once glorious past, minus henchmen such as Batista, and what would have occurred if Cuba wasn’t so abused and neglected.
Perhaps my mind-set parallels Jesus’ the same way he pooh-poohed today’s spoiled and pampered Major-League baseball players who he doesn’t think that much of. Just as Jesus wonders about what happened to his beloved baseball, I wonder about what happened to the first city of the new world which might have us both asking, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?”
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“Major League Baseball’s legacy” (2008)
One doesn’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate the significance of how the game has woven itself into the American psyche. “Stepping up to the plate” or “getting to first base” and “keeping your eye on the ball” are euphemisms even lipped by international diplomats in the United Nations. The names: Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Mays, Williams, Musial and Aaron have been lionized, icons of the game, who’ve been admired and emulated by those just out of diapers an onward throughout their rights of passage to adulthood and onward further to the grave. Immortalized, the boys-of-summer evolved to the men-of-autumn to eventually become immortal souls who perhaps still play nine innings in that big game in the sky.
We’ve been discovering for some time their earned legacies are being diluted and accomplishments pushed backward, not by those who’ve excelled further, but by cheats who’ve ingested or shot up anabolic steroids to bolster their speed and power. Stilted by illegal substances they’re displacing those whose very shoulders they stand on! The big question remains: In the near or far future should they be entitled to bask in lofty positions and adoration of fame?
Anabolic steroids have enabled certain athletes to achieve some Frankenstein type edge over the more deserving. Worse, who’s watching out for the kids? Use sends the wrong signal and perhaps forces otherwise clean athletes to also defraud in order to compete! Body-builders, track and field participants, football and baseball players along with other bilkers have attempted to hide the evidence by using masking agents giving off false reads cleansing their blood streams or remnants encased inside their bladders before detection. The swindlers and their accomplices are too often one step ahead of the game’s watchdogs. There’s big money for the pharmaceutical thugs and more money and fame in it for the pseudo athletes.
Many say, “Who cares?” Or Manny is just being Manny! Athletes do take supplements that may enhance. Lookie here, Samson! We’re talking anabolic steroids; we ain’t talking Wheaties or Vitamins; we’re talking about an unnatural build up in the body’s cells and a warped increase of testosterone a freak of nature supplement that could turn a pipsqueak into some no-neck Hulk with refrigerator features. Apply that to someone with basic athletic talent and there’s the creation some super raced android, a look that may have placed a fiendish gleam in Hitler’s eye.
Back to Baseball: The average sports fan more-or-less ignores track-and-field other than the Olympics. Same goes for bicycling, except perhaps the Tour de France. American Football, well they wear helmets and other bulky equipment and are envisioned more so as body crashing robots. In reality with the barbaric nature of American football, fans could justify steroid use other than the long-term health issues and the toll it might take on minds and bodies later in life, but Baseball? There’s something pure about baseball, pitcher against batter, bat against ball, fielding, the eternal game, that “ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” so says Yogi, where manager dresses same as player, where caps are worn rather than helmets, where runners are just trying to make it safely home.
Know that each and every at-bat by every Major-League player has been recorded since the game’s inception. Even if one were to have played in just one big-league game and had just one at-bat, just look into a Major League baseball encyclopedia and it’s all documented. Baseball is a game of statistics: Batting Average, wins and loses, runs scored, runs batter in, homers, steals and errors; it’s all there chronicled for the ages, chronicled and recorded for those who aren’t even born yet.
Manipulating true stats with drug usage, in my view, is cheating the past and future at the same time.
The absolute arrogance of Barry Bonds and hubris flashed by Roger Clemens, the fool’s denial first flashed by Mark McGwire who has finally admitted doing, the audacity of Jose Conseco and blatant finger waving retort and then blatant lies by Raphael Palmeiro, amongst the bold face lying lipped by A-Rod; at first his denial and then him saying, he was just a kid, just 25, and that at the time he didn’t know any better are examples of the types who’ve turned to selfishness to increase their wealth and fame. A-Rod’s a guy who collects about $57,000 dollars each time he steps up to the plate and does so on average of four times a game, six nights a week over the span of 162 games. Well baseball fans, the likes of me, and perhaps you, were raising a family at that age not counting on steroids to make me a better furniture salesman or a better provider!
Some will argue, well you still have to hit the ball. Medical science says steroids mutate the trigger nature of muscles, makes them leaner and faster enabling one to have a quicker jump on a pitch.
Who’s gonna stand up for the great Joe Sewell? He struck out less than any man who played the game. One year he had over 600 at-bats and struck out just four times the entire season. What happens if some juicer ever tops that? Who’s to explain to Cy Young and Ty Cobb at their grave sites or explain their kin or kids coming up that the secret is in the lab and not in the field or dedication to the game? What’s Koufax saying, or Gibson or Schmidt?
We know that for too long the overseers of the game turned a blind eye. The sports writers and many fans did too. I say, big fat bold asterisks for all black listed. Yes, their stats will probably hold rather than be scrubbed or eradicated but when it comes to getting into the Hall of Fame their actions should speak for themselves. I’d vote in a thousand Pete Roses before a Sosa the others who have disgraced the game, disgraced the legacy and disgraced themselves. Play ball!
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“Old Bull, Young Bull” (2003)
There’s that story: The young bull and old bull lumber up to the mountaintop. Looking down the other side they view a heard of cows grazing in the pasture. The young bull’s beside himself, shouting, “Let’s run down there and do one of them!” The old bull surveys the situation and in a steady voice says, “Let’s just walk down and do them all.”
Let’s eavesdrop in on a make believe San Miguel bar conversation, old guy, young guy.
“Dude, I don’t get it.”
“Whatchu mean?”
“Dude, there’s like no chics.”
“Whatcha mean there’s no chics, you must be blind. You sound like a guy who has a paper ass.
“There must be at least a hundred nice-looking women scampering around here.”
“You know what I mean, Dude. Like the ones I’m interested in.
“How’s that?”
“Dude, up in Austin, I’m the tits. I got ‘em sucking up to me. You know what I am saying?”
“You’re saying Selma Hayek hasn’t come over here to lick your face.”
“Nah, it’s just that it’s lame, half of them are beat anyway.”
“So, young Dude here sees himself as some fucking prince and most of the ladies aren’t good enough for you?”
“Dude, I’m a man of taste and distinction.”
“Claro! But at the same time, you’re coming up empty and going home with your dick in your hand.’
“Hey Dude, don’t play me like that.”
“Why not?”
“Cause, Dude, you’re supposed to hand over all that wisdom before you cash in and go to worn-out old dude heaven.”
“Oh yeah? Well, I think I’m hip to your problem . . . Let’s size you up, young Dude. So, I’d say you’re about 24.”
“You’re in there, Dude.”
“So then I’d say your overall scope on women is somewhat narrow and I further suspect, somewhat jaded.”
“Whatchu getting at, Dude?”
“You’re interested in nothing over 30, unless she’s Sharon Stone, but even then what the fuck would Dudeface say to Sharon? “Um, ah, um, dah, Sharon, you like Eminem or what?” and you’ve sworn off teenagers. You’re into what I’ll call a hankering for that real women’ phase.”
“Don’t try and fence me in, Dude.”
“Older men, like me, tend not to limit possibilities.”
“Yeah, ‘cause old Dudes are happy to take anything they can get.” [chuckles]
“You’re locked in numbers, Kid. You should pay more attention to percentages.”
“Do tell, Master. About the percentages, old Dude?”
“Ok Grasshopper. All of us rank somewhere, guys, chics, young and old. You got to look at percentages besides that other stuff.”
“Like what other stuff, Dude?”
“I can’t go there…that part gets too weird. You’ll find out for yourself. But I figure everybody falls in between 5 and 95% as far as the scale of their sexual appeal. For instance: Let’s say you’re a hunk, el chido, every-woman’s dream. Still, your top grade can be no better than 95%, and there’s always that 5%. Then let’s go the other way, you’re uglier than dog shit, saving grace is that at least 5% will dig your sorry ass. So if there are a 100 babes in this place, worst case scenario, there’s at least 5 that might find you appealing and even “do” your sorry young ass!”
“What’s that shit mean?”
“Unlike the “10” scale that’s related mostly to chics, the percentage factor makes more sense than the “10” thing. ‘Cause employing the percentage even if a sod like you has hound dog looks, nobody gets pitched a shut out.
“But let’s take you: you’re young, decent features, you look in condition, plus you can afford your own drinks. Let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and say that 65% of the mujeras in here could find themselves having a decent conversation with you and perhaps give you signals that things could progress.”
“Dude, I think you’re coming up a bit short on me, but go ahead.”
“That means, there could be 65 women in this room who might find you appealing. ”
“And?”
“But what I see is a young man shelving the possibilities, trying to achieve the unachievable to score some Bambi, who’s more than likely out of his league, a pitch he is less likely to hit, yet still, he’s butter-flying all around her, trying to be impressive, yet getting nowhere, being merely wallpaper as she looks right through you in search of Justin Timberlake.”
“I got news for you, old Dude, Justin ain’t showing up.”
“Oh, yeah, in your case, they’re all Justins. You ain’t!”
“Hey Dude, don’t give me that. I know what I have to do!”
“That’s the trouble, maybe you don’t.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Dude?”
“Your process of elimination narrows your percentages. She’s got to be a knock out, have a body to die for. She has to be smart, but not too smart, but smart enough to pay for her own drinks and all the time acting like she’s interested and half crazy about your sorry ass.”
“Get out!”
“Consider your competition. You think these other guys are asleep at the switch? They’re working men too. How do you spell “bilingual,” Fool? And there’s a lot more going on than you think these days. The women got the word, read that shit in Vanity Fair. Consuelo don’t get all starry eyed no more when you play, ‘I want to make you the mother of our babies.’ The empty heads might but whatchu going to talk about after the deed?”
“Yeah, but . . .”
“Yeah, “but” my ass, Dude! Stick in your territory with the ones within your grasp, and deep down you know where that is and you’ll be a lot happier. Now if you go head over heels and “She’s the one”, you got to give that one your best shot. They say true love conquers all, but that’s not what we’re talking ’bout here.”
“Yeah, Dude, but I like ‘em fine, full, ruby lips, eyes a-sparkling with that come hither look. Yeah, that’s the ticket!”
“Fact is every women has a particular beauty. Each seems to possess some appeal. So you zero in on those finer aspects and ignore whatever warts or disfigurements they may have–not that she has to have any.”
“Dude, you mean, like if she doesn’t have a downtown ass, but she’s fun and spunky and makes ya laugh? You must be talking about my sister.” [laughs]
“Right, and when you are in that old comfort zone she appears radiant, and in her eyes, so do you, ‘cause you shed that superficial cover-girl bullshit. Stay within your percentages. Like I said, it’s all a number game.”
“Wow, Dude, right on, I never saw it that way.”
“When a woman feels truly appreciated you get a chance to see her become strikingly beautiful. And when a chump like you takes time to listen and shut the fuck up, and especially when they’re in love, they get this glow. You should try it sometime.”
“Who’s talking about love, Dude? I just wanna get laid.”
“…Right! What’s wrong with me? I must be hallucinating. Why haven’t you slapped me? Forget about it! My, my, my, look at that fine-looking mother-daughter team that just came through the door. Let’s go say, hola, and offer them a drink.”
“I’m with you, old Dude.”
“Solid, Grasshopper. You got the mom.”
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“Majestic in their own right” (2014)
At first glance while attending the Warrenton-Round Top experience one can’t help but marvel at the continuous array of tarps and stands and multitude of tents with all the hoopla going on for miles all along and on both sides of Texas Hi-way 237.
What an outsider’s eye might not initially notice, with the carnival-like atmosphere, are some of the area’s other towering, year-round inhabitants. I’m not talking human inhabitants. If one shifts their eyes away from the distractions one might become aware that “tree wise,” we got some strapping Oaks throughout the area.
It literally becomes a matter of “seeing the trees through the antique show’s forest of canvases and quilts, and sideboards and Texas BBQs!” When we’re talking Oak trees here, we’re talking Quercus virginiana, ‘the big local fellas’, with hefty trunks, coated in a thick, dark bark and as much part of Texas as Tex Ritter.
Arbor Society aficionados would attest there’s genuine finds. I first took notice observing a small grove sitting out front of Betsy McCormick’s house, at the Granny McCormick venue, across from Warrenton General. That day my focus was on my job, hustling as a (glorified paper boy). Yet my alpha-male needed a time out. While having a robust coffee at the Coffee Bug their presence dawned upon me and dwarfed my senses, “Wow, those are some trees!” I was a bit taken back becoming in awe of the splendor, enabling me to shelve my material ambitions, if just for the moment to absorb nature’s grandeur!
It was liberating taking in the Oaks’ silent dignity as their sturdy branches spread themselves in all directions like toned biceps stemming from the out-stretched arms of body builders. And I listened to the peeps and caws chiming from their feathery tenants. I thought a bit further and considered, depending on the time of year, how persistent winds whip through their evergreen leaves in such a cadence having them dance a Texas two-step. I summed, while sipping my cup of Jo that that planted handsome hunk of wood was very much alive, actually an old sage, maybe older than me, yet sentenced by nature to do stationary hard time. The stark life of a tree has it subject to blistering heat, torrential storms, winter’s cold, with no choice but to tolerate the chill of morning’s dew, that’s if those gentle giants sense anything at all. During occasional drought, regardless of season. Even thirsty Oaks are relied upon to provide the comforts of shade while digging in their roots as to cast shadows from both the sun and moon. They oversee all, majestic, perhaps deputized as the pasturelands’ silent sentries
There’s a notable grove of Oaks French impressionist Monet, my have forgone his morning coffee and croissant as to illustrate. Entering Warrenton, coming from Oldenberg, the grove is fixed about a 100 yards off and across the road from the appropriately named restaurant, The Oaks. Morning’s initial sunlight has the trees’ branches and leaves reaching out to embrace the new day. Then hours later, just before sunset, the grove’s visual backdrop show cases deep-orange beams of light shooting out from the sinking sun those rays refracting and ricocheting when colliding with the trunks and limb.
More . . . Oh, there’s a magnificent example of an Oak at the entrance of Somerfield showplace, just across from Lone Star Gallery. You can’t miss it, but yet, you can. The mighty timber, so regal and so erect, inches itself close to the road, reminding one of an eager, thumb-flashing hitchhiker looking for a ride to Carmine. That tree is a beautiful specimen!
Heading towards Round Top, just past Marburger Farms, one can spot other grand Oaks on both sides of the road. Then, around the Round Top library and within the residential neighborhood you’ll find a number of other examples, all dignified, all representing a slow and steady growth with natural splendor.
So if you want to take a break from shopping or huckstering, look around for yourself. I’m sure there are hundreds and even thousands peppered all throughout Fayette County. Who knows if they’ve taken note about all that has taken place around them, the changes, the progress, the good and perhaps some bad, the continual and fragile relationship between nature and man. Come to think about it, if I were looking for answers I bet those Oaks know all. Too bad I don’t talk tree talk.
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“Motoring Mexico” (1995)
Chanticleer’s my trusty, 87, Ford Escort. From time to time we have driven from the safe haven of San Miguel and ventured onto to the wilds of this country. Over the past three-and-a-half years we’ve made sudden dashes into 22 of Mexico’s 31 states. Some of you who are adventurous and have use of autos might wonder what’s out there to the south, east and west. I’ve chronicled some of our trips in this publication to share our experiences with readers who yearn to travel.
Natural anxieties ride along with foreigners while motoring Mexico. Sometimes there’s good reason, yet take note; if one’s visa and auto-registration papers are in order, and if you stick to the better roads, then such sojourns can be a worthwhile experience. Woeful tales of intimidating military roadblocks and roving bandits are on the most-part, few and far between. Yes, be alert, they do exist. Traveling Mexico often presents a certain sense of intrigue, but perhaps that’s a reason there’s a feeling of a distinct excitement while living in this fascinating country. I find, if you’re stopped by authorities and operate from a position of respectful strength, you’ll more than likely receive a salute and a “muchas gracias” and be on your way.
This time out of the box, our final destination would be Acapulco, exactly 413 miles to the south.
A bit of additional advice: Driving at night in this country can be a white-knuckled affair. Drive in the daytime. It’s not just fear of bandits, but at night the roadways serve up additional hazards. After dark, you could be sharing the roadway with vehicles with either no lights or blinding high beams. Wandering stray animals venture onto the roads; there are stealth-like bicyclists and unseen potholes, along with a cavalcade of other dangerous spots that can’t be recognized beforehand.
We departed San Miguel around 1:00 p.m on our way to Acapulco.
Take Salida o Queretaro for about 20 miles to Highway 57. Rather than going directly to Queretaro, go straight, cross Highway 57, over the overpass, which is a more-direct route to Mexico City. This way saves a half hour of travel time and about 33 kilometers.
Unfortunately you’ll have to travel through hectic Mexico City. In an effort to cut down on air pollution, “your car” is prohibited from driving through M.C. one day a week. The no-circulation day, as it’s referred to is determined by the last number printed on your license plate. Make sure you find out the precise weekday your car is not permitted within city limits. M.C.’s transito maintains a heavy-duty patrolling force, especially on the look out for those who don’t heed. Don’t sneak it. There’s the possibility of a hefty fine if caught; like losing your car forever.
With that in mind, once crossing Highway 57, you’ll be on a toll road. I should tell you, the tolls to Acapulco are by Mexican standards expensive, tallying up to about $50 US. each way. For time, convenience and security, it’s well worth it. Gas round trip should run about 400 pesos.
Follow Highway 57 all the way. The time frame to M.C. should run from two-and-a-half to three hours. Chanticleer and I hit the outskirts of MC around 4:00 p.m. The time of day you enter D.F. should be given some forethought. It can be bumper to bumper if entered during rush hour.
Highway 57 runs right through the heart of DF. When you’re well into the south of the city, and when the urban sprawl begins to thin, look to your right for a huge Mexican flag. At that point begin to think about using the right-service lane, because in a mile or two, there will be a cut off and a ramp heading to Highway 95, for Cuenavaca. The sign isn’t that obvious. It’s the only crossroads on the way that’s a little tricky.
Once you’re on Mexico 95 heading south, it’s a no-brainer and a straight shot to Acapulco. Quickly, the flow of traffic leans out, and it’s then one can begin to appreciate some of the finer scenery of Mexico. The high chaparral south of M.C. offers splendid vistas and things turn fir-tree green. The area might remind one of northern Arizona, like around Flagstaff.
Because of the hour and the unknown, we chose to pull into Tepozlan for the night. There’s a clear exit and a short-distant toll road heading directly to the picturesque town.
Tepozlan is placidly tucked away into a quiet valley. Looming above Tepozlan are dramatic cliffs, rising straight up like columns amply covered with vegetation. At sunset and sunrise the cliffs’ rocky formations give off a colorful glow. The town has a somewhat-cosmic, new age reputation, known in certain circles as a place of healing. There are a number of health spas. The place boasts an international community and if you ask, a number of locals will attest to seeing UFOs. High-spirited folks flock there for solar celebrations; such as those marking the equinox. The place is not as sophisticated as San Miguel. Still though, there are a number of hotels, restaurants and shops, but on the most part, other than weekends, it’s a sleepy tranquil place.
Reinvigorated the next morning, we proceeded for the final leg and off to Acapulco. On the cuata or toll road, other than driving outside Cuenavaca, the traffic is light.
The road south is smooth, but there are steep grades in both directions, along with a number of curves and hairpin turns as one motors across a continuous echelon of mountainous territory. The area is arid and beautifully stark. Take water along just in case, and keep the tank full, ‘cause in some instances Pemexes can be far apart.
When one crosses the final mountain range and through the tunnel, Acapulco unfolds as an alive and vibrant city, a crescent shaped beach going on for miles hugging the Pacific sitting below majestic mountains. The beach is ultra clean and the water is pristine. The sand is somewhat course and if you have tender feet it’s not a bad idea to take along rubber tabbies or even sneakers so to roam the beach. There are water parks for kids and those young at heart. The renting of jet skis, parachute rides, boat excursions and fishing trips are abundant. There’s ample nightlife. The town never seems to sleep. At a resort, right off the beach, one can swim with dolphins.
There’s a fair amount of huckstering, but it’s not all-that intrusive. Beach vendors of all ages go so far as to braid women’s hair locks in the fashion Bo Derek decked herself out in, in the movie “10.” There are roving fire-eaters and only the imagination can match the ways these enterprising people have learned to earn money. Close by beaches, such as Puertas Marques, are nice, but the vendors there are more aggressive and fact is, they become a pain.
I found prices for lodging, food and drink reasonable and even less expensive than here in San Miguel. If you chose and have a kitchen where you are staying, one can find numerous fish markets a few blocks behind beaches. Fresh caught tasty treats from the sea can be bought, more than enough for two for a mere 30 pesos. Same goes for shrimp. I scored half-a-kilo of good-sized shrimp for another 30 pesos. There’s a 24-hour a day Wallmart that’s gigantic, including a pharmacy, and it offers a wide variety from alcohol to zapatos.
Like all big cities, there are movies and hordes of restaurants for both day and night time dining. There’s Para mutual betting on Jailai. The trappings of Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Cafe exist. I found the people aggressive but friendly, who have become mavens at handling tourists from all over the world. I was pleasantly surprised, since I normally shun big-time resorts for obvious reasons.
Upon our return, we left Acapulco at 9:30 a.m. We took breaks only for gas and eats. Drive time for Chanticleer and I was seven hours and fifteen minutes back to SMA.
Any seasoned traveler in Mexico will tell you to watch yourself. Leave nothing of value in your vehicle, watch your money at all times, but odds are you’ll have a fabulous time.
Vaya con dios and happy trails.
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“William Spratling–father of Mexico’s silver jewelry industry” (2001)

Same as its northern neighbor various people have migrated to this nation since Hernan Cortez and his conquistadors first set foot on Mexican shores. The human influx continues. Some came for adventure and riches, others in search of a new beginning, or to pursue a dream, while some felt compelled to spread what they thought to be the Lord’s will. Yet only a few have left a lasting imprint. William Spratling was such a man and his legacy lives on.

Today, Spratling designs, either those employed for practical purposes, or his stunning examples of stylized jewelry, are appreciated while holding onto to their original luster. Spratling’s aboriginal and pre-Columbian copied creations are recognized and admired worldwide. On top of that, he single handily forged an industry by transforming a sleepy Guererro village into a hotbed of commercial success! He’s basically responsible for what has evolved into a couple of generations of schooled and successful silversmiths! William Spratling is rightly referred to as the father of Mexico’s sterling-silver-jewelry industry!

His communication skills had him motivating peasants, that in reality, had him rescuing them from the drudgery of the mines! Bottom line, Spratling offered indigenous people opportunity to attain wealth and fame beyond their wildest dreams!

Original Spratling show pieces, like his famous Jaguar tea sets, are stunning examples of the man’s imaginative mind. Fantastic representations are on hand in museums, private collections and proudly displayed upscale galleries around the globe. Voicing, “it’s a ‘Spratling’ are buzzwords indicating exquisite quality.

Born in 1900, in New York State, Spratling was raised in Auburn, Alabama becoming a trained architect and draftsman at Auburn University. During the mid-nineteen twenties he taught at Tulane, in New Orleans. There he shared a home with William Faulkner who would go on to become Nobel-Prize-winning author. He lent his illustrations to Faulkner’s books and they both collaborated and co-published “Sherwood Anderson And Other Famous Creoles” during the same time period. With a thirst for the bohemian lifestyle Spratling drifted down to Mexico from time-to-time but then emigrated permantenly in 1929.

He set up his base of operation in the midst of silver mine country, in Taxco, in the State of Guererro, where the raw product was vastly mined but shipped out to someplace else as fast as the mineral came out of the earth.

The young illustrator became enchanted with Mesa-American motifs. With vast resources close-by, Spratling began drafting and arranging patterns creating necklaces, bracelets and other sterling-laden jewelry. Whether it be depictions of ancient masks to belt buckles he flashed diversity proving he was far from a one-trick pony as he further went on to fashion practical items also such as coffee-and-tea sets, salt-and-pepper shakers, hair-braids, flatware and a plethora of other beautiful and useful items. The Art-deco designs stemming from, that-then age and aboriginal lines, enhanced one another.

He quickly aligned himself with the likes of hallmark Mexican painters Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and David Siqueiros. He rubbed elbows and broke bread with the intellectuals of the day. When certain political forces had the Communist, David Siqueiros, on the run for his political affiliations, the muralist hid out at Spratling’s Rancho, El Viejo just outside Taxco. Soviet filmmaker Sergeri Eisenstein was a pal.

His legacy was growing in various areas north and south of the border. Spratling, through his U.S. Government connections, was personally responsible for the very first Mexican art exhibit entering the United States.

In no time his small tiende in Taco was flourishing and chock with young Mexican students eager to learn skills and hone their craft in silversmithing. From almost scratch the artist, architect, dreamer, shrewd businessman and good neighbor created a burgeoning industry.

With the support and curiosity of the ever-so hip and wealthy north of the border his strikingly clean designs enchanted a trendy clientele. With a lower-cost-than gold that too gleamed the preciseness attached to

Spratling’s designs stood out!

Spratling’s silversmiths went through rigorous apprenticeships. No detail was overlooked. The famous too were flocking to Taxco to buy and admire, as the old town evolved into some silver-jewelry Mecca and then gained the nickname the Florence of Mexico. Today it is said there might be as many as 10,000 silver outlets, with just about everyone of them stemming from the man who spoke slowly with a southerner’s drawl.

Eccentric and somewhat of an enigma Spratling set up a utopia at his ranch. Overtly generous, he entertained the likes of Georgia O’Keefe, Errol Flynn, Lyndon Johnson, Betty Davis, Marylyn Monroe, Orson Wells, Cantinflas and even Ethiopian emperor, Haile Sallase. Many became collectors.

Yet with brilliance, as it may, it’s been written Spratling at times became extremely odious with both guests and associates alike. Without warning, streeting a ranch guest, who may have over extended their stay or made some gauche faux pas, doing so without south of the border resources, was not uncommon at Rancho El Viejo.
He often acted mercurial for no apparent reason.

Despite those shortcomings, today, many Mexican families reap the benefits primarily because they were handed down the craft, from Spratling, due to the man’s personal instructions and sharing nature. Icons of the Mexican silver industry like the Castillo Brothers, Mondragon, Bustamante and Pyneda owe their continued success to Spratling.

What Stirling Dickinson was to San Miguel, William Spratling was to Taxco and maybe more so. Both San Miguel and Taxco are the only two towns in the country deemed by the Mexican government as National Treasures.

Yet despite the glory and appeal, personally, for Spratling, it was a roller coaster ride. In some circles he was admired and affectionately referred to as Don Guillermo but keeping as many as 700 silversmiths at one time happy under one roof proved difficult. As rapid as his stock rose, jealousy and underhandedness crept in. Some were out to get him. There were strong accusations about him being a pedophile. Others pegged him as an outrageous opportunist and being overtly flamboyant. Books were written, some full of accolades, others noted how he could be cranky didactic and pedantic.

He spread his creative wings by further employing goldsmiths from Iguala just south of Taxco to produce pieces made of gold. His sketches for wood and masonry products are rich in authentic pre-Columbian detail. He unearthed ancient artifacts from archeological “tells,” more for the joy of discovery and inspiration than reproduction. Spratling was one of the largest donators, after personally unearthing ancient leftovers from past Mesa-American cultures, then handing them over to museums as guardians for Mexico’s past.

Violante Ulrich, today’s co-owner of the old Spratling ranch south of Taxco speaks of stories heard from her father, Alberto Ulrich, Spratling’s friend who in his later years would regale about Spratling. “We’d be having coffee out at the ranch. Dump trucks would pull up full of loose dirt, then dumping their loads to the side of the house. Spratling seemed to forget everything and would sprint toward the piles that just returned from the “tells” and start digging ferociously with his bare hands to perhaps unearth idols that often were buried inside those piles.”

Spratling ventured off to Alaska in 1951, taking advantage of a program in conjunction with the U.S. Government, bringing a number of native Alaskans to Taxco to align and incorporate their Aleut designs with those of central Mexico’s aborigines. The ambitious plan that included importing additional native Alaskans, never really panned out. Yet some of those Alaskan designers remained in Taxco and they too left their mark.

Spratling went from millionaire to bust-out more times than you can yell “ay carumba.” One affliction, he could never quite get over once being a millionaire. Too often, flushed with false pride, he’d felt obliged to pick up tabs, or accomodate guests, for even those wealthy, the famous and none-famous all became part of those who sponged off him even when he was down and out.

In Spratling’s view perception was everything. He became a vivacious and virtual front man with almost empty pockets, yet down deep, Spratling was an eternal optimist. Each time he was counted out, somehow he would rebound.

There is said to be 520 original designs. He was often and is still, knocked off, as frauds have showed up stamped the Spratling trademark. When discovering his designs were being pirated . . . that quick, he’d change his company’s logo having to stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters.

In August ’67, as he had for almost 40 years, Spratling motored at high speeds through the Guererro countryside in his sleek Ford Mustang convertible. Spratling drove like he lived. He hadn’t inkling, that just around the hairpin curve, a large tree had fallen across the road. He was killed instantly. Ironically, once again he was on the precipice of bankruptcy but just happened to have a bailout check in his wallet he had recently received from a new investor and was on his way to the bank to settle outstanding accounts.

His friend Alberto Ulrich, who in his own right was a German-Italian industrialist, more of a fan and friend than a silver enthusiast, came to the rescue. He bought the Spratling ranch and acquired his designs. Today Ulrich’s daughters live at the ranch and continue the legacy including a restaurant. One left over living relic is Don Tomas Vega; one of the few Spratling trained silversmiths who still is employed at the ranch works.

Today in places like Santa Fe, San Francisco, New York and Texas, silver collectors and jewelry enthusiasts alike revere Spratling silver.

At the Yam Gallery exhibit in San Miguel de Allende personal items and keepsakes that Spratling himself utilized are on display. Items such as his personal phone book having the home phone numbers of Orson Wells and Marilyn Monroe can be read. Ironically, the number for David Siqueiros is still current posted in Spratling’s personal phone book. If you were to call it today, the Siqueiros museum would answer.
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“Praise that has meant the most” ((1997)
Writers often live, or could I say, drool, for feedback in the form of praise. When someone recalls a passage that’s like praise from Caesar. Writers hope that some of their compositions might be construed as thought provoking, planting images in the mind’s eye, or at least to be noticed by the reading public.
When a writer hears praise he or she is more likely to extend their chests knowing that they’re the “parent” of a verse, passage or premise. I’ve been privileged to be on praise’s receiving end yet there is one particular instant that gives me the most satisfaction. To me it’s the top accolade about my writing I ever received.
Living on the Island of Maui for a time I owned a sandwich shop. Philadelphia Lou’s sold Philadelphia style “Hoagies and Cheese Steak” sandwiches. My place became popular with the locals, number one; being off the beaten path when it came to attracting the tourist crowd and number two; we made kick ass, authentic-style, Philadelphia products.
This dude, an island boy, we’ll call him Ronnie was a steady customer. Ronnie, a handsome gregarious type whose smile replaced the sun at sunset, was hapa, meaning a mix of Japanese, Hawaiian, Portuguese and who knows what else? He drove a spiffy, white Porsche convertible. Rather than placing his Porsche in the outside parking lot stalls he would park half way up on the sidewalk outside my shopping center enclave.
Ronnie was often, if not always, bookended by two, like-wow hunnies with them show casing their 20-something breasts in Bikini, halter-tops while sarongs wrapped their shapely bottoms. Often one was beach party bingo blonde while the other looked more like some goddess out of a South Seas adventure whose white teeth contrasted against her smooth-as-butter, bronze skin.
Despite the two beauties when Ronnie’s bopped into my sandwich joint with his arms wrapped around them both, it was Ronnie’s smile that out shined the fluorescents’. I couldn’t help but be somewhat envious, consider, Ronnie had great looks, seemingly lots of cash, drove a super-cool car and had the like-wow chicks! He always appeared to be in a great mood, popular, shaking hands like a stomping politician just before Election Day and show cased an easygoing attitude.
Soon enough it became apparent that Ronnie was in the glamour profession. I’m not talking about him owning a model agency. Ronnie dealt drugs. Back in the early ‘80s cocaine was the rage and became the in-vogue, mood-altering drug of choice, that’s if one could afford it. Coke had yet to seep into the fabric of America to become the insidious Devil’s tool that it is.
Often when out and about in some of the boom-boom joints I would run into Ronnie, as usual, flanked by two foxes and him doing the hand shaking routine with just about anybody within arm’s reach. He usually sent me a drink, including a wink, that subtle man-to-man signal that he was going to have a special time that very night that probably included the two goddesses de jour.
Now and then I would catch Donnie at the beach, playing volleyball, and glad handling it with one and all. As always, he was surrounded by hangers-on including the dames. By then I had sold my restaurants and dedicated myself fulltime to writing. In 1994 I published my first novel “Kill ‘em With Kindness.” I had a book signing at a local art gallery. I was flattered about all those who attended and low-and-behold coming storming through the doors of the gallery, draped by a thick, golden necklace, bracelet and Rolex, dressed like the prince in came Ronnie with two knock outs on each arm. With true Ronnie panache, Ronnie didn’t want just one autographed copy he bought ten.
By 1995 I relocated to Mexico. I heard through friends that Ronnie had taken a bust. Yet since his family was well connected, as was Ronnie who everybody loved he just got six months and was enabled to serve his sentence on Maui rather than having to serve his time in the meaner State of Hawaii penitentiary over on Oahu.
I returned to Maui for Christmas of 1996. When attending a party to my surprise and delight there was Ronnie, big smiles, looking as fit and handsome as ever and with the appropriate twin company one was accustomed to see him with. When he noticed me he almost sprinted to me with the bimbettes trying to catch up. “Lou, Lou!” he yelled, bear hugged me then giving me a brother handshake then hugging me again. Ronnie spoke much of his dialogue with a pidgin accent.
“Ho, Brah, I wen read your book! You see, Brah, da-night before I need “for go” to the joint, Brah, I wen have dis list of what I can or not take inside the can. You know, like two pair socks, three t-shirt, stuff like dat. It wen say I can take one book. I no read da bible or noting like dat. So I look up and I wen see the ten books I wen buy from you.
“I got to tell you, Brah, it was the greatest book I even wen read in my life. Ho, Brah, dey wen let us out in the yard an hour a day, dats it. I got to tell you, Brah, I stay out for like ten minutes, Brah, then I wen ask the bull to let me back into my cell, Brah. ‘cause I was into that book, Brah.”
I was so stunned and very-very flattered at the idea of Ronnie giving up time in the yard to get back to my book. I responded, “Ronnie, thank you so much and I am so glad you read it, not that I was happy you got such a chance being in the slammer and all, but you’ve made my day. Are you a big reader?”
“Ho, Brah!” Ronnie responded to my question, “I nevvah read notin’ . . . your book is the first I read in my friggen’ life, Brah!”
My response was that, “So now you are reading more?”
“No ways, Brah, afters reading your book, Brah, no need for me to read anything else, I wen figure you book had it all!”
Well, that’s it. My man, Ronnie, drug dealer, lover of life, lover of too many women to mention had bestowed on me the highest of praises I can come to recollect and it was as good as that praise from Caesar.
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“Reflections of the 4th” (2010)
July 4th marks the 239th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The U.S.A.’s currently the world’s longest-running democracy. Back in 1776 the idea that free men could maintain law and order and forge a nation at the same time was perceived by most as a far-fetched endeavor.
Fifty-six signers, mostly wealthy men, fed up with King George, formed a union. There were 13 lawyers and 11 judges with 20-some merchants and farmers. Rounding out the 56: two physicians, a soldier, a surveyor, an iron’s man, a clergyman and one prolific inventor, Ben Franklin. Most had last names ending in consonants.
Looking back, the 4th offers tidbits. In 1826 the republic celebrated its 50th anniversary. Ironically, on that day, Thomas Jefferson died. Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence and was third president. More ironic on that very day, fellow signer and second U.S. president, John Adams, also died.
Adams and Jefferson were bitter rivals substantiating that founding fathers didn’t agree. It’s reputed on his deathbed Adam’s growled, “Jefferson still lives!” Unbeknown to Adams, Jefferson passed away down in Virginia just two hours before.
Another president, James Monroe, died on 1831’s 4th, while president Calvin Coolidge’s birth date reads 7-4-1872.
The 4th of 1856 also brought on the nation’s first rodeo. Serious fireworks exploded on the 4th of 1863, a grueling day, with the Confederacy’s having its fate sealed after same day defeats at Gettysburg and fall of Vicksburg.
Hawaiians might not embrace the 4th. In 1894, despite Hawaii being a sovereign nation, a rogue judge named, Sanford Dole, self-anointed himself and then wielded some gunboat policy and swiped the Islands forcing them to become an American pineapple republic.
Speaking of fights . . . 4 July 1910 . . . black-heavyweight-champ, Jack Johnson, knocked out the first white hope, Jim Jefferies, an ex-champ coaxed out of retirement by bigoted white men. The event spurred race riots nationwide. Times changed by 1934 when the beloved Bronze Bomber, Joe Louis, won his first professional bout on that 4th. On July 4, 1939, a retiring Lou Gehrig choked to a teary-eyed crowd, “I’m the luckiest man alive!” Soon after, the Yankees Iron Horse succumbed to a disease that now bares his name.
Many alive celebrated the ‘76 Bicentennial. Much was made of its coming. If I remember that 4th had Americans of all persuasion catching the spirit, a jollier spirit than what’s been wafting about these days. Sadly, examples of eroding liberties are evident, with airports being what they’ve become and the uneasiness knowing our mails and conversations are more than likely being monitored by big brother. Winston Churchill snarled that democracy was terrible form of government, while surmising it was the only choice.
On the bright side, I suppose we all have Yankee-doodle memories. We can easily drift off this page and back to yesteryear with memories of a particular 4th, reflections that has us almost tasting lemonade at a family picnic or remembering an Independence dance, recalling a tune, almost bring back the warmth of holding onto somebody nice under a summer night’s moon.
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 kow-tow to some king, which was a fat bone permitting 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.
And even in the now, 2015, challenges are arising all the time further substantiated by recent Supreme Court rulings and regarding events evolving constantly.
Figure: Liberty is an experiment, a flimsy project constantly under construction with no completion in sight.
As of this penning, I’ll fail to predict what took place 7/4/2015? I’m hoping nothing bad takes place.
The experiment continues. Will freedom prevail during my lifetime? Has the dream become warped and jaded by special interests? Have the sons and daughters of the land of the free become a geo-bully or have they become a last-ditch salvation against eternal evil? Or cynically, has the common man been bamboozled from the get go? Answers to such, I don’t have.
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 too often perhaps it nods toward the 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.
One ray of democracy’s hope occurred on July 4th, 1997 when The Mar’s Pathfinder landed on the very planet it was named after. You have to admit byproducts of democracy manifested that ole Pathfinder and set it on its ambitious mission! I’ll suppose here in my own way of thinking or dreaming: If mankind has any chance of promise and progress, democracy has to be part of the equation.
Happy Fourth of July!
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“Mr. Acapulco” (2005)

Much like the United States, Mexico has lured its share of people from afar; those who’ve left indelible marks on this nation. From Spain came the Aztec Empire’s conquer, Cortes, Taxco witnessed the arrival of the founder Mexico’s silver-jewelry industry, William Spratling, San Miguel gives reverence to Stirling Dickinson. Their groundbreaking actions influence and foresight were building blocks that remain in tack today. One Teddy Stauffer comes to mind as another trailblazer who almost single-handily parlayed a one-time, sleepy, fishing village on Mexico’s Pacific coast into a jet-age resort.
His hosts would eventually label Stauffer, or Mr. Teddy, if you will, as “Mr. Acapulco” crediting Stauffer for placing the seaside town and its picturesque bay on the map. The Swiss born saxophone player, band-leader, hotel operator, notorious womanizer, author, tennis champion, good-will ambassador and visionary was beyond question a driving force during his time, a man who rubbed more than elbows with the rich, famous and beautiful.
Despite the fact that he and his band, “The Fabulous Teddies,” enjoyed commercial success in the Mid-Thirties while being the rave in Berlin rathskellers, the new radical regime formed by the Third Reich pointed accusing fingers, black-listing Stauffer’s wind driven swing, as perverse tagging his musice as negro-sounding mishmash stemming from Jewish composers.
The U.S. seemed like a safe haven and a place to continue his musical career but because his passport was stamped with a swastika he was barred from residing north of the border. Next thing you know Stauffer was on a bus to Mexico City. To his delight on his first day in this nation’s capital, while passing a record store, he spotted his band’s album featured in the store’s window. As fast as you can say, “que padre,” Mexico absorbed the vivacious Stauffer the way a tortilla sucks up anything tasty. In no time he was operating his own Jazz club, “The Casanova” in Mexico City. Yet upon his first visit to Acapulco Stauffer realized his calling and vast potential.
The bandleader previously worked in hotels as a youth from dishwasher to headliner. With deep-pocketed backers he opened “The Casa Blanca Hotel” over Christmas in the seaside, soon-to-be resort town. Soon thereafter came Acapulco’s first nightclub “La Perla.” The post WWII crowd was ready to party. With Stateside contacts and Mexican amigos he imported other music stars, along with the famous, whose appetite for good times matched their stardom. Stauffer’s good looks and irresistible charm mesmerized most comers. The Guerrero Governor knighted Stauffer as the town’s good-will ambassador while coining him as Mr. Acapulco as the seaside portion of the town went from rags to riches.
Some circles credit Stauffer as the inventor of the Margarita. You see Teddy love hosting parties but he couldn’t always afford the better spirits and wines so they said he took cheap white and bitter tequila, added some lemon juice and the drink went far at parties.
Stauffer became famous for being the first hotel operator to install a swimming pool within the grounds of a seaside hotel. Many scoffed, said he was crazy, and asked, who wanted a pool when there was an ocean a stone’s throw away? Mr. Teddy wouldn’t permit detractors to sway him. He was hell-bent on making Acapulco a place that would be a spectacular gem second to none. His poolside parties outdid any beach party bingo.
Women: Stauffer was more than connected to beautiful women all his life. Married five times, with the longest coupling lasting just about five years, Stauffer played heavy-weight, huggy-face, kissy-bear and lots more with the likes of Barbara Hutton, Katy Jurado, Rita Hayworth, Gene Tierney with him marrying the sultry Hedy Lamar in 1951. He palled around with the infamous Errol Flynn and as a philandering duo both took great pleasure at stealing each others gals. Like Flynn, with an immense ego, a sense of panache and a lusty, shameless selfishness easily trumped any sense of humility. The fruits were for his picking.
Stauffer was the first to organize the young guys who fearlessly dove off of cliffs nearby. Thus began an entire industry and tourist attraction that he organized. One of the first performances at the cliffs was for President Eisenhower orchestrated by Stauffer.
Stauffer hosted grand tennis tournaments. World ranked tennis players flocked to Mr. Acapulco’s town for game and fun. In the 50s Liz Taylor and Mike Todd got married at his hotel and there was always a star-studded line up on hand. He opened Acapulco’s first disco “The Tequila a Go-Go.” He penned a well-received autobiography “Forever is a Hell of a Long Time.” Even in the ‘80s, while getting up in age, the 70-something entrepreneur opened El Patio, Acapulco’s first shopping mall.
Stauffer, Mr. Teddy or Mr. Acapulco, was one of those delicious rogues who lived his dream and parlayed his ambitions parlaying Acapulco into a world-class resort. The music finally stopped in 1991 when Mr. Acapulco passed away at 81.

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“WRITER’S EPIPHANY” (2010)
When Sheryl Dunn’s invited me to participate in her writing project, “a writer’s epiphany,” the very premise seemed daunting and had the ring of intimidation. My first thought: Wasn’t “The Epiphany” some Catholic holy day never really explained during my parochial education? Maybe I played hooky that day.
Then I read the criteria Sheryl outlined: Sheesh! . . Describe matching scenes! . . The elimination of adverbs! . . The structural issues! . . It seemed a bit high-brow for a wretch like me whose compositions might come up a short if attempting to stand shoulder to shoulder with some big-time San Miguel writers?
It’s not as if I haven’t had my share of notoriety. I’m talking about writing stuff. I am a writing fool; tears have welled in my eyes while penning sentimental events. And I’ve even become aroused while writing erotic dreck. I’ve been a collaborator for a Number-one best selling book on the New York Times list a standing that held onto first place for two weeks, then hit the top slot again a year later when the book enjoyed an encore. The novels, the scripts, the stage plays, the essays, the straight reporting . . . shoots! . . . I’ve summed, Mr. Epiphany here has done it all!
But thinking back, once upon a time, my writing caught a persistent case of “semi-colonitist!” Seems I was cranking out a bevy of dual sentences separated in the middle by a (;), Strunk and White and while smoking a slew of fat joints nursed me through. Aw, but that was no real epiphany.
Lots of my stories, both fiction and non-fiction focused on lost love. Some catharses’ or were they just getting-even, just some boohooing that came vomiting out. Yet while trying to hone my craft, there have been those instances of accomplishment that have blossomed after drudgery.
Often, while writing a major that’s more than 20,000 words and despite knowing in my mind the conflict’s beginning and its eventual resolution, I struggle with the bridge that connects the front end of the story with its concluding rear. “Shoots again,” I might say to myself, isn’t there and easier way to get there? Yet I realize it’s essential to fill in the reader so the story isn’t perceived as contrived. Shoots! That’s no epiphany either.
Seems I have had other writing epiphanies, especially when writing fiction. I think most fiction writers often ask themselves if their readership will peg their story as believable or conceivable? That’s often a dilemma. Yet when a fiction writer has the foundation of truth woven within his story, chock with instances and comparisons plucked from events that have actually occurred, why those can fortify the premise and legitimize the author.
Other epiphanies have cropped up, like after I’ve figured out an appropriate location where my protagonist and antagonist will have their show down. Or, create the defining moment where the main character will embrace a strategy or principle he or she may have scoffed at or ridiculed throughout the story. Yet all and all after giving all this much thought I have come up with the genuine epiphany and it has been there all the time and just had to be hatched.
I’ve come to realize that being an outsider has made me a storyteller. When one isn’t 100% anything and perhaps was never the star or center of early attention, it enables one to observe, to separate the real from the phony baloney while not being the main attraction. Writers observe and eventually chronicle while not being in the midst of the action. Perhaps that’s my writing epiphany.
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“GOTTA GO FOR NOW” (1997)
I gotta go north. It means leaving San Miguel. I certainly don’t wish to. No one in their right mind does, do they? For now, it’s one of those trips which deems itself essential. It’s a money thing. Gotta go up take care of business and sword fight in the land of barbarians.
Over a time, with my contributions to this publication, hopefully I’ve properly graced these pages. Some of you may have actually paid attention to the Lou Christine by-line. I’m pleased both The Atencion and El Independiente have offered a venue for me to express myself. I’ve had my fun and perhaps now-and-then I’ve stirred readers’ interest.
All this reminds me of a story.
Back on Maui, in Hawaii, the local newspaper employed a fabulous columnist who twice a week sprinkled his readership with wisdom and wit. His name: Tom Stevens. Same as me he was about to depart. Tom had to get off Maui for a spell.
Tom published an “aloha column.” In his swan-song piece he reflected back to another departing time, when he hosted a jazz radio program weekly somewhere in the ‘70s, smack in the middle of Iowa.
Tom said he lived about 60 miles from the town that broadcasted his program. So every Tuesday he especially picked out and packed up recorded gems from a vast LP collection. He played his records from inside a small radio station above the town’s butcher shop, the show’s lone sponsor. The butcher hated jazz but Tom sold him on the sponsorship.
In the daytime, the station normally broadcast Country and Western music and divvied out the going quotes on pork bellies and grain shipments, broadcasting primarily for farmers. Normally it closed down its transmitter at 7:00 p.m.
But on Tuesdays from 7:00 til 10:00 pm. Tom did this thing.
Tom stated how the station was Spartan, crammed. He spent no time in the town other than doing the show, got not feedback, and actually knew of no one from those parts.
Tom never missed a Tuesday evening in two years. He drove through snow and whatever. Said he enjoyed spinning the plastic discs. At times he was so taken by the compositions they brought him to tears, thinking Tom stated in his column how he hoped he was inspiring his listeners while mixing in his favorites and how his jazz songs were strung and linked together with sedge ways, with what he designed with thought-provoking leads and segments. He envisioned the time as shinning moments while highlighting obscure masterpieces orchestrated by the very likes of Theonios Monk and Cannonball Adderly, Myles Davis and Charlie Parker.
Tom was so proud and expressed how he shared his vast knowledge of Jazz. The one-man show became more of a labor of love.
As the world turns time came when Tom had to depart Iowa. There would be a final Tuesday evening in store. He presented a promotion to the butcher shop below that they might give away some door prizes, sort of a good-bye salute to Tom and his show.
The butcher even permitted the radio system to use his shop’s telephone, so Tom could pull off the promotion, perhaps offering some of Tom’s steady listeners a chance to call in to say goodbye.
During the course of the program Tom would give away butchered meat to callers, first prize; a $100 worth, then $50, and then $25 worth of meat.
All the callers had to do was call. There would be no games, nor would be a need for correct answers. The listenership wouldn’t have to rush to the phone. The lucky winners calls would be chosen at random, in no particular order, same as the show, loose knit, like jazz, cool and easy going.
Tom waited until about halfway through his show to begin the give away. Of course he talked the promotion up during station breaks, emphasizing on the graciousness of the butcher and imploring listeners to consider shopping at the location.
Tom wrote how he went so far as to touch the audience with his voice and reflected upon the past two years how grateful he was to have the opportunity to enrich their-listening pleasure. Tom spoke to the listeners from his heart and soul.
The time came for the give away. After five minutes the phone did not ring. He rechecked that he gave out the correct number? He made another announcement, told the audience if they were having trouble getting through to be patient, the lines were busy.
He even went so far as to call the telephone company, to see if the lines were OK… Still, no calls.
An uneasy hour went by. He stared at the phone, took a deep breath and then played his all-time favorites, and spoke to his audience tenderly. With no calls he pleaded for anyone to phone in and about how he had all that tasty meat to give away.
Nothing!
Tom banged out in prose during his farewell in the Maui News piece how it was an extra-extra long 60-mile drive back to his house despite having a trunk full of meat.
He reflected, that maybe… well just maybe, for two-full years perhaps his music-playing effort had been in vain. He wondered and wondered perhaps the same as a jilted lover reflects how they may have given their best?
Tom wrote how emotions came a flooding. Was he a fool? Had he been playing those records solely for somebody out on the interstate, a pure coincidence while they were heading towards Nebraska or Illinois? Or worse, had he been giving his precious time and talent solely towards an audience of one.
Don’t feel bad. You have to know Tom. He’s resilient and rather than envisioning himself as no more than a hardly listened to nobody, an eye-opening face-saving silver lining emerged.
Tom hammered home it became apparent that artists, regardless if they’re a painter, musician, someone who sculpts or a poet, that the only real audience which really counts is the audience consisting of the first person.
Thinking more clearly he put together those stunning record concerts for himself more so than somebody else. Tom summed, he sat in that small studio for two years and his own ears thoroughly enjoyed every whack of the snare drum, and each compelling rift delivered by a distorted guitar.
Tom Stevens made it back to Maui. And if you’re in the Hawaiian Islands and pick up a Maui News on either a Tuesday or a Thursday, I’m sure your innards will be tickled by this excellent writer.
So with the story unfolded it’s my turn to depart and I’ve used Tom’s story as my story. And somehow by repeating it, perhaps the net results will rub off on my forthcoming karma and help propel me back to this special place. With good fortune, soon enough I’ll return and share some of my zanier thoughts with you. For now though it’s Hasta luego y vayon con dios.
Say! Ah, Hello! Hello is a…ah, is anybody out there?
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Lupita: La verdadera Reina de San Miguel (1999)
There are elevated titles exclusively reserved for the fairer sex. Mother comes to mind—universally it’s probably the most endearing. Status wise, ranking above baby-baby, goddess, angel and princess is the ultimate: Her Majesty the Queen.
You wouldn’t think a squat-shaped, flea-bitten, fuzzy-coated thing, who’s built close to the ground, with bowed-hind legs and common markings, who sometimes opts to sleep in the street, could live-up-to such a lofty pegging. Yet Her Royal Highness, Lupita certainly does!
Despite being naked and peso-less, all of San Miguel is this nomadic dog’s domain. She’s seemingly is embraced by many. She’s a gadabout, a mutt, who gallivants at her own conveyance, who undoubtedly flashes a particular panache.
Lupita’s impervious to the net of the dogcatcher. She’s a regal enigma, who scavenges, and chooses not to bathe (others do it for her). Realistically, she offers no value, other than a sardonic, bow-wow smile. Lupita’s gainfully unemployed, and virtually does nothing for others. She’s not all that personable, usually by holding off well-meaning suitors with a royal aloofness. (I suppose those alone are regal traits.)
History’s most-noted monarchs have been known for their quips, ala; Marie Antoinette, Cleopatra, Catherine the Great and Isabella. Why should Lupita be any different? Yet, to be an absolute queen, certain criteria need to be established. Take into account; deservingly or not, women are often treated like queens. I’ve heard gay guys refer to themselves as such yet they do so without the benefit of coronation. Beauty pageant winners are merely lent the title. Lupita’s reign appears to be perpetual.
Lupita frequents the finest affairs without receiving a call or written invitation. She’s gets more juice than the likes of Sharon Stone. At juke joints with entertainment she’s never charged a cover like the rest of us saps. She dines at the trendiest restaurants and does so for free. She never tips. She comes and goes with a certain fanfare, being oohed and ahhed by an adoring crowd.
La Lola’s is one of her haunts, as is La Fonda and the Youth Hostel. I’m told by the staff at La Lola’s, it’s no Gravy Train for Her Highness. She wolves down lip-smacking duck and juicy steaks. Afterwards, if she so desires, she sashays through the restaurant and scoots upstairs where the gang is playing pool and hogs the damask-upholstered sofa taking an aristocratic, post-meal snooze.
She’s made a cameo appearance during Julio Ingleses’ music video shot here in San Miguel. The Spanish heart-throb is said to have played second fiddle. And when Naomi Campbell, the international super model, was photographed for Vogue Magazine, in front of the parroquia Campbell was forced to share the limelight. She’s a steady on Francesca Fisher’s casting-call list. Renowned artists have painted her imperial portrait.
What going on behind those root-beer-brown, marble-sized eyes is anybody’s guess. She speaks to no one. Stories about her subtle exploits flourish.
Once, she was deserted by her banda, with no room in a car, to attend a late-night party at a far-away colonia. An hour later there was a ferocious pounding at the front door sounding like a lumberjack wanting in. Surer than shooting, it was Lupita, livid about being forgotten. How she knew of the location remains a mystery.
Evos Furniture is one of her pit stops. Her Majesty can count on Evos’ Freddie Martinez, when skipping lunch at Maya Princess or Los Cazuelas, for reasons that’s strictly a queen’s prerogative, doing so for a yummy can of Pedigree. Then she naps on a $12,000 US Oriental carpet for a spell, and abruptly leaves without yelping a thankful goodbye. She also grants Martinez grand audiences at his home, at all hours confident her servant Martinez will likely bathe her. But there’s always that call of the wild, a doggie sense that remains confident that there’s another candle burning in a window elsewhere, with a comfy sleeping place waiting.
She seems to be everywhere, rather it be stretched out on the cool floor of Dan Rouffert’s gallery when it’s hot, or while sunning on the warm slate of the jardin. She’s shows out of nowhere at La Gruta or the pools of Encondidas during swim parties.
Her beginnings and namesake are somewhat sketchy. It’s said, she was first owned as a puppy by a Spanish gal living here. When the girl moved, she supposedly was adopted in a household with other dogs. There’s only room enough for one queen in a castle. So she took to the streets. There’s a sister named Girly who lives with Lori Nelson up on Chorro. I guess she’s Princess Girly by association and there’s a rogue brother living somewhere off Pila Seca. Yet it doesn’t appear Lupita has connections with either.
Sometimes she sleeps in at La Lola’s. Her Majesty, prefers not to be disturbed before alas dos. Other days, it’s like she has an appointment and she brays to get out. Fireworks grab on to her interest. Where other dogs cower, Lupita becomes starry eyed and rises to the occasion In the predawn she quickly scampers towards the pyrotechnic action or any action.
She has no beau or heirs. I’m told though, she’s given her heart to a human named Robbie, her Marc Antony, and when he comes to town they’re un-separable. Many have tried to adopt her, but she won’t have it. She’s been spayed twice. Concerned Gringos have taken her on too many occasions to be inoculated. The vets know her well and determine she’s the picture of health.
Her Majesty’s demeanor: “I only do what I want to do, when I want to do it,” and it’s not because of some affliction like Epstein Barr syndrome; it’s more overt, it’s a regal existence. Yes, my friends, if there is such a thing as “Queen” here in San Miguel, it’s indisputably Lupita.
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“Jerzy Kosinski”

Jerzy Kosinski was born in Poland in 1933. He arrived in the United States in 1957. He mastered English and became a renowned and award-winning writer whose works have been widely read while often critiqued. He died of his own hand in 1991 after discovering he contracted a fatal illness. In between birth and death his life consisted of bouts of trauma, intense academics and then fame. He was a man as serious as his past. A man convinced he could share those experiences with his protégées through his writings.

In the game of life Kosinski was dealt a mixed hand. Aces, held by him, were those of exceptional intellect, enabling him to excel in his studies. Yet his will to survive became his primary driving force allowing him to overcome bad fortune as a youth. Such a methodical willpower provided him a way to eventually escape from the Communist world.

Most notably he mastered the English language and parlayed his then newfound abilities into literary fame. On the other hand, for his own safety, he experienced abandonment by his parents, Jewish intellectuals residing in prewar Poland. Such an abandonment, at the age of seven, brought on an incredible loneliness at such an impressionable age! He then witnessed gruesome acts of cruelty brought on by tumultuous circumstance!

In 1939 WWII broke out. Soon enough, Polish Jews were being rounded-up by the Nazis, and so began the holocaust. As to not get caught in the net, Kosinski’s parents felt it better to abandon him leaving him with so-so foster parents. For the rest of the war Kosinski was pretty much on his own hiding and residing lonesome hours in the woods. Always, keeping just one step ahead of the Nazis, young Kosinski became traumatized. So traumatized from the nomadic lifestyle that Kosinski clammed up and never spoke a word for six years.

He was finally reunited with his parents after the war but it was evident that those experiences left an indelible mark on his life thereafter. Later, he was educated in Warsaw and Moscow. Naturally, they being Iron-Curtin countries, Kosinski did not have access to the freedoms provided by the Western allies. He developed strong and defining ideas about the world and was intrigued by life in the West. This led to a burning desire to immigrate to the United States.

After much planning, Kosinski came up with a clever yet risky scheme. The scheme was imaginative while courageous with touches of chutzpah. He manufactured bogus documents, elbowed and brown-nosed with higher ups plus forged necessary credentials. The party trusted him enough to permit him to attend a conference in Paris.

Kosinski arrived in New York City in 1957. He took on odd jobs, cab driver and ski-instructor while continuing his education and pursuing his mastery of the English language. Later, his work will demonstrate his fascination with the American life style that later developed into a philosophy from which he formed within his compositions. On the surface Kosinski sounds as if he came off the streets of Philadelphia or Chicago as if he’s just one of the guys. Nothing’s further from the truth!

Kosinski published four acclaimed works during his first nine years in the West. Two of these works were Sociological Studies; “The Future is Ours Comrade-Conversations with the Russians,” (1969) and “No Third Path-A Study of Collective Behavior,” (1962). He published those two works under the pseudonym, Joseph Novack.

His first two fiction novels propelled him into the literary world. “Painted Bird,” (l966) earned France’s “Best Foreign Book Award.” Steps,” (1966) achieved Kosinski the “National Book Award” for fiction. Kosinski then became a dual recipient, of both Ford and Guggenheim fellowships. The style and tone of his work was considered a breathe of fresh air. As a perfectionist his work displayed no flaws. His sentence structure was quick, short and when need be, delivered sudden impact. His life long lust to seek some sort of revenge remained constant, a common tone showcased by many of the time who suffered and lost much during the Great War.

On his early works Bruce Cooke wrote in The Observer”(Oct 68) “Language is a trick. Kosinski has mastered it! With English being his second language Kosinski has managed to develop a voice that is strictly his own.”

Kosinski wrote tight, precise sentences. He didn’t dilly-dally while still displaying a gruesome knack of portraying vividness when describing cruelty and pain, often in an almost clinical, yet still-agonizing manner.

Bruce Cooke’s Observer article paid homage to such style pointing out others have attempted such stunning descriptions before but again, according to the article, none so far measured up to Kosinski. Cooke further wrote, “Even though we can recognize a prose and writing style that we might associate with “Satre”. Cooke stated Kosinski boasted a fundamental voice that rings out as consistent and at the same time a one-of-a-kind voice that sounds new.

Much of Kosinski’s work, especially his initial work parallels his own life. Painted Bird demonstrates the pains still festering from Kosinski’s youth when abandoned during WWII. Kosinski’s main character wonders the countryside of a war torn Poland. There the youth witnessed the worst of atrocities. Kosinski isn’t shy illustrating how man can inflict ruthless cruelty. “Steps,” his other wartime piece show cases his own desire to escape to the West. Kosinski exposes the suspicious and warped minds that lurked behind the Iron Curtin. Here, Kosinski’s main character in the first person describes in detail how he connived his way out of Soviet Poland doing so in the same manner that coincides with his own life.

Kosinski, not one to be reluctant while painting an air of superiority, has never been the least bit shy while exposing his own diabolical ways of deceit in a what reads in almost a gleeful manner. Others who knew him and have reviewed his works have voiced the same impression. Despite being germane and essential to the story Kosinski added text strictly for shock value. Many reviewers who admired his talent nevertheless stated they wre repulsed by his stark presentations of sex and violence.

Geofrey Wolfe wrote in The New Leader in October of 1968,””Steps,” leaves no orifice unexploited. The shameful debauchery remains beyond guilt. Even though a beautifully written book being ever so precise, scrupulous and poetic, Kosinski and his retributions are ice cycles stabbings and shocking. There’s no chopping or hacking but rather measured surgical strokes.”

Kosinski’s work might be compared to that of a talented plastic surgeon. Beneath the neat rows of wordy sutures lies the disfigured tissue. Line after line of pretty prose does not cover up Kosinski’s deep-rooted mutations. l agree with Nolte. I sensed his matter-of-fact attitude towards violence as disturbing.

I read three other Kosinski’s works more recently: “Being There,” “Cockpit,” and “The Devil’s Tree.”

Being There” was off beat and less graphic than the others noted. Subsequently, the novella was adapted and became a major motion picture staring Peter Sellers, Shirley McClain and Paul Douglass. The book finds “Chance,” an elder simpleton who’s been secluded as live-in gardener within a secluded mansion all of his life. He has no family history that anyone knows of. Other than watching television Chance has no real concept of the outside world! For reasons never explained he’s remarkably refined. After being evicted due to the death of his eccentric employer Chance finds himself for the first time in his life in the midst of the outside world.

Soon thereafter, while wandering the streets of Washington D. C., then homeless, Chance is accidentally hit by a limousine belonging to a powerful D.C. insider. He’s not seriously hurt but the limousine’s owner is concerned for his welfare. The limousine owner insists Chance stay with them for a spell at his palatial estate. Chance, who is seen as so refreshing with his utopian innocent take on life becomes a permanent guest. The power broker host, his wife and the entire household are wowed by Chance simple approach to all things as if he has been dealt some infinite wisdom!

The story becomes more histrionic as the fool, Chance, is mistaken for pure genius. During a national crisis Chance is unexpectedly thrust into the limelight. Even the President of the United States of America befriends Chance during a private moment at the home of Chance’s host.

Chance offers a simpleton’s metaphor to the President who then quotes him in the media and Almost instantly, Chance is catapulted into the higher echelons of power and American society. He’s considered a mystery man to be reckoned with or even one for a high office. Brilliantly and almost Hitchcock-like, Kosinski’s Chance is subtlety able to “bullshit the bullshitters,” a mere fool, dumber than a door, yet influencing the highest halls of power. This is very well done but not original.

“Cockpit”, written in 1978 turns out to be a rambling narrative featuring, “Tarden,” the main character as Kosinski takes the reader on a non-stop yah-yah. I didn’t care for it.

There’s little to no story. The omnipotent protagonist is so taken with his narcissus self had this reader summing the novel wasn’t anything more than Kosinski mirroring the image he has for himself in “toot your own, literary horn.” Other than Tarden, all other characters are belittled by Kosinski and portrayed as a spineless pawns. He unfolds not an iota about their history or aspirations treating them strictly as stilted props supporting his flimsy scenarios.

“The Devil’s Tree” 1973 read as more of a reach that may have came off as too ambitious. The book tells of a silver spooned brat, oblivious, going off on his own merry way. Kosinski portrays a part of America with it small-minded, never-give-you-a-break, turds and robotic bureaucrats, along with jaded cops, stereotype drug-dealers and never resisting to any quirk, sluts. Those left are mostly sidelined remnants of a corrupted, greedy society.

Jonathan James Whalen is a disheveled hippie blitzing from one archaic situation to another. Kosinski throws up another antihero who finally gives into the temptations provided by blue blooded heritage. Not much sticks nor are there what seems like any redeeming factors stemming from the main character or a very sorry story, other than more tawdry sex, patty cake drugs and bad rock & roll, all in bed with big business. After reading Kosinski one might also be led to believe that only skinny, brooding’ guys get laid. Kosinski’s Whalen is an ass’ candy ass hero for other candy asses.

Kosinski was a guest on The Dick Cavett Show back in the early ’70s. That’s when he first intrigued me. He was the new poster boy and the darling of self-anointned intellects in post Viet Nam America, a newer segment of society who may have thought the pulse of the nation flowed from nebbish Cavett types. The approving and guilt ridden media gave rave reviews, in awe when referring to what they called fearless, precise, hard-hitting literature. Perhaps his youth was a baptism enabling him a license for literary revenge.

Despite the graphic violence, Kosinski pens in an almost gentlemanly fashion even when agonizing about injustice. Kosinski’s written word is so formed that it could coldly cut the heart out of Bambee, dupe the innocent and ruin a saint-likes reputation of Mother Theresa even by inserting the vivid illustration of a twisted of sex act, all for shock value! Examples such as mentioned never serve up any of mom’s apple pie.

In l962 a wealthy widow of a steel tycoon took interest in Kosinski’s writings, with she requesting an audience. Kosinski obliged but first, before the audience, he had to be interviewed by the widow’s personal secretary, as to set the agenda for the interview.

Unbeknown to Kosinski, for reasons never explained, other than Tomfoolery, the wealthy widow pulled a prank and disguised and impersonated herself as the secretary. Once found out Kosinski acted more amused when normally he would flash more contempt for ever being fooled. The two became close and eventually were married. They had a happy marriage until unfortunately she passed away in 1968.

Kosinski mourned and never remarried, another example another tragedy in his life. Many critics say personal loss gave him additional literary license. Perhaps Kosinski subscribed to the premise that “Freedom’s just another word when we have nothing more to lose,” as to paraphrase Kris Kristofferson’s classic lyrics. With Kosinksi’s parents’ dead, his wife dead and buried and no children, Kosinski owed no one. He may have sense he was free to write whatever he wished without embarrassing anyone.

While alive he had the fame, fortune and personality to cast caution aside. His works continued to pulsate and pierce the hardest interiors. A close personal friend of the director Roman Polanski, Kosinski found himself in the midst of Hollywood types. Being a Yale and Princeton professor and his history pegged Kosinski as a rising star intellect among even in the pipe smoke of genuine eggheads. Yet among the always in-vogue, pseudo, intellectuals residing in New York and L.A. he was the the all.

The fact: To a certain extent Jerzy was a literary thug with a fistful of degrees, not only those of achieved academics but he boasted a for-sure PHD in survival, and Sumu Cum Laude in “streetdom!” Kosinski was a man whose writings impressed a readership with preciseness and poise yet chock filled with revenge and disrespect.

In all, Kosinski wrote and published nine major pieces. Like other prolific writers’ works, his initial writings are considered significant. It’s difficult to totally speculate what precipitates his story telling. Obviously so much has to do with his history. Then, with all of his revelations, Kosinski was often very reluctant to reveal much of his own self, along with his own reservations and his own wants. He exposes others without ever exposing himself. In striving to be adored, to be loved beyond is evident. Among his contemporaries, or chums or mentors, it’s only Kosinski who wields the brush of enlightenment.

“Me Fixie Good!” (2017)

I was released from the U.S. Army in January of 1968 just before turning the age of 21. Honorably serving offered this then young vet a new founded freedom.

No more ‘Up and at ’em’ before dawn; I’d take no job that I’d have to arise before 8 am. There would be no more monkey suit, topped by a not-so-flattering Ralph Cramden, bus-driver’s hat; I’d wear no uniform. Most of all, the newly free and ever-so hip Louis couldn’t begin to conceive when he’d get his next haircut.

You see, back at Fort Hood I worked for this 3-star General. The job
was the best you could imagine especially considering I was a mere draftee. Many of the career officers referred to me as nothing more than Christmas Help. OK by me, working directly for “The Man” enabled me to be exempt from all notable duties along with the drudgery and degradation every pug face soldier has detested since soldiering began. No formations, no inspections, no guard duty nor the dreaded KP duty.

Even as a PFC I was provided my own room. Yet those exemptions didn’t preclude me from getting a weekly haircut, where as the “Old Man,” General Haynes, insisted that even his office-boy troopers be looking STRAC, 24/7! (ready for action).

During that day and age sandpaper white sidewalls above the ears alone set GIs apart from hot guys in the boom-boom joints. Nobody was gonna lick your face if ya sported that sort of look! So while chicks were gah-gah over the shaggy headed Beatles, Stones, Jim Morrison, Jefferson Air Plane and Zappa, soldier boys like us stood out like some Joe Palookas.

As a civilian I wind up working for the nation’s premier sofa bed manufacturer with stores in Philadelphia. Life is getting good. I’m making coin. I dress nice in the world of Polyester! I drive a chick-magnet Olds convertible. Some dollies like my style; I’m moving up in the company and my feathers ain’t been touched by no barber in over two years. I’m fucking Peter Frampton!

I quickly moved up from delivery-and-service clerk, to sales, to become an
assistant manger of a satellite store, to participate fully in the design and building of a new mall store as manger, to eventually becoming general manager of the five-store franchise operation! Fortified with a can-do spirit, probably due to working for that general, along with know-how and faith in my convictions, painted me in as the boss.

Eager Beaver, me, sent my latest furniture selling brainstorms, along with graphics directly to the ‘Castro Convertibles’ Factory in Danbury, Connecticut, sending them directly to Mr. Pryetezas the company president. Over the phone I chit-chatted with the production guys, truck loaders on the shipping platform. I was ruthless in my methods to expedite orders for our stores, barking my needs as if they were hearing it directly from the general!

What most didn’t know I had been around Castro Convertibles since the
age of 13. My boyhood mentor, Louie Zerillo, was a Castro serviceman
and during my youth with nothing much to do for my formative years, I smoked his Luckies and rode shotgun with the loquacious Louie. (Read some of my other stuff and there’s much about Louie.)

I’ll never be known for being that handy but because of Louie, a
master craftsman, I could dress down a sofa bed and fit it in
anywhere, sometimes squeezing it through a screen door or putting it atop the truck and taking it through a window by removing the upholstered back, or the arms, or front board and even breaking down the sofa-bed’s mechanism as proficient and the same way I used to breakdown and disassemble my M-14 rifle, while in an armor unit as a recon scout before I worked for the general.

So there I was, the boy wonder, at 22 running the Philly operation,
driving an Olds convertible with coin and chicks and long flowing hair. That’s just before the balding process. Word comes down from Danbury the big boys desire I visit the factory; they want to see and meet this Lou Christine guy in the flesh!

Cool! I’m gonna rub elbows with the Castro execs, all guys 20 to 30
years older. I’ve heard so much about them and than me to break bread
and having a few tastes from the guys who might hold the keys to my
future.

Now hold on, ‘cause here’s the real story. You see, when in the Army I
palled around with these guys from Queens, pure New Yawk, actually street corner philosophers from 44th & Astoria. There was Frankie DeAngelo and Dom DaMaggio, (actually Joe’s nephew), two other guys named Tate and
Goodwin and the brother of one Felix Cavalieie, front man for the then popular singing group, Young Rascals.. So I’m gonna motor up the Jersey Turnpike in my Olds convertible, have a whipty-do get together with my old Army pals in Queens, and then make my pilgrimage towards Mecca the next morning.

As you can image it was a hell of a night. When I woke up in a sweat
I had no idea where I was with a very bad taste in my mouth; I’m breathing heavy and there’s a cement block in my head. Not so pretty my face appeared pasty gray, swollen, with the look of someone who slept just two hours. Christ I could have passed for 40! Sorry to say Peter Frampton’s flowing locks looked more like Tiny Tim’s on a bad hair day.

To add to the mood, outside it’s raining like nobody’s business, you
know, one of those raw January rains. I’m in the Olds. The wind shield
wipers ain’t working so good and the defroster is for shit. I’m almost in the blind and lost inching the Olds around congested Queens, under
the elevated searching for a way to the Saw Mill River Parkway. I
start to think about the impression I might make. I look in the
rear-view mirror. Besides the puffy, dark shadows under my eyes, my
hair appears more like wire!

It was time, time to get down to business.

Just then. I not only get a glimpse of a storefront barber poll, barber stripes and all. There’s a parking spot right in front. Despite being 10 yards from the front of the barber shop, I’m still gonna get soaked and make my suit
look more rumpled, the suit I might remind you I slept in and it
wasn’t “no-wrinkle Polyester.”

So I bolt, from the driver’s side, around the car and make a B-line to
the door next to the barber poll. I storm into the room with the big
barber chair sitting in the middle of the shop. It appeared I both
rustled and startled an old gent, stretched out on the worn recliner, wearing horn-rimmed glasses reading the paper. Not another soul was in the shop.

I growl, as I plop in the chair, “Can you do me quick? I’m on my way
to Connecticut.” The old man hesitates, if just a moment and exits
the room; he scoots back into the room with a pair of scissors and comb.

While he was gone, all of 45 seconds, I looked around a bit, no Wildroot type bottles or creams, electric shavers or other solutions we were accustomed to on shelves in barber shops. Things are sort of dusty but he’s back by my side, like a matador before drawing his sword with a sense of bravado he removes his reading glasses laying them on the shelf and steps close eking out in broken English “Me fixie good!” He began to work on what had become something close to Weird Al Jankovik’s locks.

Despite his age I can feel his vigor with him trimming the edges
before he got to the meat of the matter. Next thing you know, I see in
the dusty mirror, the sweetest looking, small-framed, elderly woman
come out from someplace who couldn’t mask her astounded devotion
towards Mr. Me Fixie Good! Her soft looking tanned hands remained
devoutly folded while the expression on her sage face saying much
about her devotion to the old fella.

“Me fixie good,” must have been uttered at lest 20 times as the old gent
cut and shaped my mane.

Suddenly, in came storming, another guy, escaping the outside continual, icy, raw, torrential downpour.

The man came a lot further than from the confines of my Olds parked out side. The weather continued to drip off him. Midway into the room, he braked, extended his hands outward and with eyes bugging out, “Pop! What are you doing?”

“I fixie good! . . The man, ask . . . . I give.”

“But, Pop, you haven’t cut a stitch of hair for almost 30 years!” piped in the intruder who obviously turned out to be Mr. Me Fixie Good’s son.

Don’t you know . . . me not being familiar with the neighborhood . . . and with the downpour that had me sprinting from car to the front door . . . well those events and actions showed me just barging in that the old gentleman’s
living room that previously was the neighborhood barbershop, once operated by the old man for 30 years! Funny I was fooled I guess since the room still boasted the old barber chair and considering the still erected barber-striped poll just outside!

I took a gander at myself in the mirror and viewed the son with a sense
of pride while flashing a “what-a-ya-know?”. Mr. Me Fixie Good stood next to his sculptured work as if he was Michael Angelo, as Mrs. Angelo beamed. The big-shots at the factory weren’t going to come face-to-face and press-the-flesh with any Peter Frampton but the likes of Tony Curtis.

“How much?”

With the biggest smile that lit up his Latin face Mr. Me Fixie Good
blurted out, “Fifty cent!”

“The Dragon City” (2018)
By Lou Christine
I am here in Slovenia, in actuality the small nation´s capital, Ljubljana (Loob-blee-ana), situated in a picturesque valley east of the Alps. Like many small cities in Central Europe the town’s a medieval gem. Slovenia fits into the continent like a piece of a European jig-saw puzzle nestled between southern Austria, western Hungry with Croatia extending along the Adriatic to the southeast and northern Italy to the southwest. Slovenia became completely independent in 1991.

Ljubljana served as an important trade route back in the days of the Roman Empire. Yet I can only describe today’s Ljubljana that’s been recently discovered or maybe rediscovered by tourists and globe-trotters alike. Its inhabitants appear more than willing and able to welcome guests. Price wise, compared to the rest of Europe, everything seems like a bargain. I could never bring myself to employ the word cheap, as to cheapen the vibe, so I’ll peg the town as inexpensive when it comes to food and lodging.

There’s a good-size, tourist-oriented, no-drive zone dominating the town’s center with tight corridors, covey holes and passageways filtering people to and fro. The walkways surfaces are mostly smooth with pieced masonry blocks of various sizes and degrees to get around on, no way as torturous as some other ancestral zones in other cities chock with bumpy and uneven cobblestones. Those places ascetically may be perceived as quaint and charming but otherwise tough to walk on with ankle-twisting cobblestones. Too many to count restaurants and cafes, with a plethora of outdoor seating are sprinkled throughout the heart of town. Long bar tops fronted with bar stools that many of us are used to in North America are but few. Bar tops in this town are normally small in size, acting more as serving stations for the wait help. Patrons seem to prefer tables or being situated under umbrella-covered tables and chairs loitering just outside. A wide assortment of locally owned and operated shops appear as inviting enough to even attract a sod such as me.

From what I am able to deduce seems as if the town went through an architectural renascence in the late 18th and 19th Century. Earlier medieval builders laid a solid foundation of which many structures still stand. There’s obvious baroque influence with concrete edifices, perhaps once stately residences juxtaposition with one another. Throw in a mix of Second Empire, Gothic, old world and even Ziggurat superstructures, with many boasting attractive moldings and even statues further accessorizing their elegant appearance. Not to mention the alpine influenced, gabled roofed buildings with steeply slanted roofs sprinkled throughout and then old churches featuring reaching for the sky steeples. Some churches are domed. There are even castles. The most significant being Ljubljana’s noted citadel with its tower perched a couple of hundred meters above the said area highlighted with pole and usually waving Slovenian flag.

The completely litter-free emerald green waters of the Ljubljnica River eases through the heart of town, tranquil to the eye, where visitors cruise up and down on pleasure launches taking in the sites. If cleanliness is next to Godliness Ljubljana is surely going to heaven. The river’s banks support study concrete walkways also lined with restaurants and shops. The green or Dragon City as it is referred to is chock with healthy vegetation within the plazas, squares and good sized city parks offering shades along with robust plants. Clinging ivy inches up the sides of buildings.

The impressive main plaza showcases a monument along with two patina-coated statues honoring poet Preseren. A circular plaza also leases space to a stately church and other old world, well-maintained buildings. If Ljubljana is the heart of Slovenia its plaza is its heartbeat. The plaza teems with life. An American style Jazz group might be doing a version of Stormy Weather in one corner while a dreadlocked topped African drummer hammers out sounds nearby. Eastern European accordion music often fills the air as do the hearty voices of groups of jolly men belting out folk songs in what sounds like thick, Bavarian, accented voices giving one the impression one could be attending Oktoberfest, with them caroling the likes, “And Your Friend is my Friend” type of beer drinking lyrics as they swing their steins in unison. I viewed one kid getting rhythmic sounds out of what looked like a roasting pan, while close by, a waif strummed a ukulele with a handmade sign saying she’s playing for coins in order to go to Peru. Xylophones players? They got ’em.

There were a number of groups consisting of a half-dozen to a dozen young men-frequenting town. Their macho was apparent as an amused crowd of onlookers couldn’t help but notice the crew, in their 20s or 30s, diving off a bridge into the river with reckless abandon. There’s a large swath of visitors from around the world including many Orientals.

In the midst of a bevy of activity, people scoot in all directions, while youths like everywhere, joyride on skateboards, push scooters, roller skates and Segways, yet bicycling seems to rule for young and old, locals and tourists, pedaling their butts around town at various speeds. The bikes, called pony bikes, remind me of the old Schwinns that I used to peddle s a kid. Only thing, all bikes are what I once would have described as girls bikes without the crossbar. Yet most of the masses move on foot. As for driving on the local well-paved roads, they’re smooth and well maintained but they do drive very fast. My driver from the airport to the hotel weaved through heavy traffic and drove like a bat out of Transylvania.

The visiting crowd is international. I’ve seen tour guides hoisting flags of Russia, China, Sweden, France, Great Britain, Japan and Saudi Arabia. The language is something out of this world and is hardly spoken by foreigners even by those stemming from neighboring countries. Some words have four, five and even six consonants, before the first vowel, them being genuine tongue twisters. Some words don’t have vowels at all. My ears picked up the utterances of European languages. Ironically the common denominator is English. I would be sitting next to couples in restaurants them speaking German, Hungarian or Italian or another indescribable Slovak tongue yet when it’s time to place their food order they ordered in English and then once again after the waiter departed their table with their order they go back to conversing in their native languages. Yes, it’s the English, usually lipped by those working in hotels, restaurants and shops. I have gotten turned around a few times and each and every person I reached out towards for directions spoke to me in English. I’m told not only the help in the centro but if one goes out of town and into the countryside English is spoken since students begin learning in first grade. Oh, yeah, one can’t go wrong, by responding, “Viola” to and about everything.

The food and drink offer a wide selection. Choice cuts of meats and fresh fish are aplenty. Soups to nuts and other dishes, are hearty and bursting with flavor. Presentation is very nice and the portions are decent. If you have a hankering for great pizza; they got it, Oriental fare sizzled in woks; they got it, foot-long sambos to sushi; they got ’em, Vern. Turkish, Greek, Moroccan; they got it. Reasonable? I ordered a wonderful Caprese salad and then was served a tender and tasty mushroom-based gravy fillet of beef with sides and a tall beer: $30 Euros, about $35 U.S. or a perfectly seared and encrusted portion of fresh tuna including sides, $19 U.S. Hearty entrees go from about $17 to $25 in the town’s very finest restaurants. Five of us had comida corida that included Soup, Salad, a good portion of fresh salmon and dessert for 20 Euro a piece in a nice place .Later that night I sipped three Jameson’s for just over $10 U.S. Now mind you, it’s not a Mexican pour yet it still was Jameson. As for ice cubes in your drinks, the Slovenians aren’t as accommodating as in other places and act more like stingy Italians as they do about their Parmesan. Hold on here, Sugar, if your sweet tooth acts up have a mouth breaking strudel and other tempting Danish and Kalachi like baked items of sorts, stuffed with nuts, fruits and cinnamon, icings and creamy innards usually all homemade with no preservatives while employing the best ingredients. You like gelato, Gumba? They got ’em topped with sinful Nutella too. Before I forget, Irv, tipping is not required or expected. And, Duke, like the rest of Europe, the place is smoker friendly other than indoors.

Tourists run the gambit, young and old with numerous sporting Bermuda shorts and T-Shirts while planted in Nikes. Formally, the same way many men do in Europe, businessmen drape their sports jackets over their shoulders without placing their arms through the sleeves. I have seen some big dudes and dudettes too, far from fat asses but substantial in height and size and with men boasting footballers calves and log-like forearms echoing deep sounding voices. KGB “We have ways of making you talk,” came to mind but everybody seems so pleasantly friendly and by their tone, they sound like as if they are having the time of their lives. Laughter is everywhere. Now the older Slovenians’ tonality is somewhat boisterous. They sound very enthusiastic, use their hands to express themselves and do get into each other’s faces. One might think they are about to go downtown and then one notices even with the big body language they’re still smiling.

Believe it or not, ole ‘Lou the Hat,’ has hardly witnessed men topped off with head ware. Some of the younger dudes had them on by wearing baseball caps yet I saw just a couple of old farts like me topped with fedoras, none as hip as mine. The legions of young and attractive women with nice figures, of which I cannot tell apart from tourist to local can have a man my age wish he was 30 again.
There are numerous festivals year ’round and at any given moment and for reasons, I don’t know, a rhapsody of church bells can break out with riveting dongs enveloping the entire town. I passed by a giant hall where a symphony orchestra was entertaining a packed house. Live bands crank out rock, blues, reggae and Croatian tunes in nightspots while DJs in boom-boom joints turn the tables. Remember Hare Krishnas? They wen got ’em, Brah. Another observation, no matter if there’s no traffic coming either way, Slovenians on the most part do not cross the street when the signal’s red. One lady gave me a mean stink eye when I hit the other side of the roadway when the blinker was red.

Shopping: All the big boys are here: Armani, Pierre Cardin, Gucci, Cartier, Omega, Longines, Alexander McQueen, Versace, Escada, Kenzo, Etro, Roberto Cavalli, Ermenegildo Zegna, Polo Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, and Calvin Klein. Young fashion aficionados can choose from brands such as Salsa Jeans, Diesel, Supertrash, Drykorn, Michael Kors, Moschino, D&G in Tory Burch. Porcelain cups and plates to silver, to silk, to Italian lingerie, to books and shoes are all on hand in upscale shops, An independent contingent of artisans pepper the place with stands showcasing art crafts and jewelry. Department store types of storefront windows tout another name-brand garb for the well-heeled crowd. It’s a shoppers paradise and business appears brisk.

Yet take in mind, the dozen or so square block dreamland is just that. Don’t forget there’s a sturdy and thick husk of a city encasing the centerpiece, a real working town consisting of the nation’s seat of government While Ljubljana is also renowned for its financial institutions and universities. Perhaps not as pristine as the described crowning jewel in the center yet Ljubljana is still a very nice and functional town.

It’s safe! All who I queried insisted the crime rate is very low.

I can’t help but feel a slight tinge of guilt penning this article considering what good ink has done to my hometown in Mexico that these days is bursting at the seams with too many tourists and the problems they bring. Ljubljana is, of course, larger than San Miguel and might be better geared to absorb them and is geared for it. Get there before it gets ruined.

MEMOIR
“Inspirations and Humiliations-A Memoir”
By Lou Christine
Prologue
This is my memoir. It’s a collection of essays in no special order I’ve penned over the last 30 years.
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 yet only in a few instances.
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.
I don’t wish to embarrass my two sons or my sister or some past lovers, all of whom I respect.
I sense my Irish has inspired me to be an avid storyteller. I recall leaving a party or a dinner with friends after some supped up recanting, and once back in the car on the way home saying to my then sweet girlfriend, Jamie, how I wasn’t so sure that perhaps my story may not have unfolded exactly as I presented it but was close, with me perhaps concerned I may have had some of the facts somewhat off.
Jamie was so reassuring stating, “Oh honey, don’t even worry about it. The story, and how entertaining it is, is what counts! Who is actually going to check it out anyway? If you have to exaggerate to make a story tastier, do so.”
Jamie’s sage advice has been my out. 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
2. Being With Selma
3. The First Time I Saw Elvis
4. The Day John Lennon Saved My Life
5. The Cobras
6. St. Anthony: A Guy You Can Count On
7. Friday, November 22, 1963
8. The Hat
9. Steph’s Luncheonette
10. Paddy Lee
11. The Elusive Banana Split
12. Lou’s 52nd
13. A Day With The Yankees: August 1979
14. A Christmas Story
15. Boyhood Mentor
16. Pussy: A Perspective
17. Another Mentor
18. Buy ‘em Lunch
19. Super Bowl Woes
20. Throw Caution To The Wind
21. A Day At the Museum
22. Scamming A Scammer
23. The Wall
24. Person Of The Century, 20th Century
25. The General & The Sergeant Major
26. What Was The American Way
27. Reflections Of Day Of The Dead
28. Tales From San Miguel – Critters That Come Out In The Middle Of The Night.
29. Taking A Walk Out By The Lake
30. Sounds Of San Miguel
31. Haleakala
32. Absence Of Family While Living In A Foreign Land
33. Mexico City’s New 21st Century Skyline
34. Hilary Clinton: Nobody’s Fool
35. Heart Attack, Something To Avoid
36. Speaking The Spanish
37. Impromptu Moments
38. Spring Is In The Air
39. Men In The Kitchen
40. Doing Something For Grand Pop
41. Sareda is Toughening It Out
42. September Of My Years
43. Leap Of Faith
44. San Miguel Writers: Diverse and Notorious
45. Golden Autum
46. Out of Cuba 2007
47. Major League Baseball’s Legacy
48. Old Bull, Young Bull
49. Majestic In Their Own Right
50. Motoring Mexico
51. William Spratling—Father of Mexico’s Silver Jewelry Industry
52. Praise That Has Meant The Most
53. Reflections Of The 4th
54. Mr. Acapulco
55. Writers Epiphany
56. Gotta Go For Now
57. Lupita
58. Jerzy Kosinski
59. “Me Fixie Good”
60. “The Dragon City”
“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 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 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 hand out. “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 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 “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 a series of grunts and sly “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 towards 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 pay phone. He glared down at strewn cigar ashes about the astro-turfed 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 everyday, 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.
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“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. Grand mom 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 a 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-gorilla’s 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 a 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 an unquestionable chivalry, a 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 cup cake 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 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 cup cake I voiced with a newfound confidence, “I was brave, Grandmom. Selma and the other kids were scared but I wasn’t.”
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“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 side burns, 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 I bought 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 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 disect at modern music’s demise in a forensic sort of way there seems to be distinct culprits that 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 play land 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 copycats 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!
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“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 yingyang. 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, him 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 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 the 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, show casing 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 started 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 Stereo!
The “Double Fantasy” tape was playing in the Mazda’s tape playing console. The track playing was “Staring 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 “Staring 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.
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“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 myself 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 material letters to spell out cobras. In our cardboard headquarters on the property of a storm-window factory we 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 did!
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 accent. 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 climb 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 was that 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 real tough, I didn’t say much because I didn’t want my cousins telling their parents and having word get back to my Grandmom 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 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 verses Brickyard.
At headquarters we began making weapons from stuff we stole out of the storm-window factory. We made whips and filed down the 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 steps 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 as he walked a few steps then turned in an about face and prance all over again ready for who ever.
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 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 done 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 and the moment she saw me and the rest of our motley ilk she screamed out my name. “Louie, Louie, get over here. Does your grandmom 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 for being responsible for getting us in such a fix.
Once we felt as if we weren’t being followed and in the deepest park 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 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 a Cobra.
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“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 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 brow beating 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 everyday.
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. Anthony, 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.”
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”Friday, November 22, 1963” (2013)
November 22, 1963 began as a run-of-the-mill, mid-autumn Friday. That Friday, a welcomed 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” 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 toe the line. Those 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, buttondown-ness. Like Kennedy, other men were going without hats. Square jawed men who openly worshipped Christ 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.
* * *
Some time around the 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 backwards 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 backwards 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 the 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 Mr. Fitzsimmons hadn’t grasped that I was that guy they talk about, the guy who bears bad 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 a froggy 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 rider less, 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 some time. 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 . . .
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“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-along 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 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 myself 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 wore 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 me 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 Bernheardt 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 smoke like a Bogart and 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.
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“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 pin ball 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?
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“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 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, Maka. Maka is Hawaiian for eye. Maka’s birth name is 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 an 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 players 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 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 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 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 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 deep magenta, parlayed by the light while matching 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 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 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 a 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 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.
Years have gone by. Paddy Lee delivered a strapping boy 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 lessons this adolescent learned over 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 looked 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 comeback to finish up on that bitter 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 up start 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 wasn’t a 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 shadow boxed 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. 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 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 broadcasts 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 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, Ali 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, 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 everyday 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’m 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
zee bread.”

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 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 the boys wearing pin stripes 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 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. Those were intangibles not found beneath the skin of many ball players 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.
Gehreg’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 cancelling 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 sees the flag’s 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 an 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 super sonic aircraft passing overhead. The crowd’s rumble reached new crescendos and became earth shattering. Yankee Stadium shook under foot. 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 let 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 ball player, 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 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” (2005)
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 knock outs. They weren’t neighborhood girls. They weren’t unremittingly murdering chewing gum like most neighborhood girls did, while at the same time, 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 fingernails 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 but 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, who’s 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 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, as the yet to be digested Christmas buffet came erupting out of him splattering, wallpapered the walls, the lace curtains and all carpet at the same time raining 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 stockboy 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. Merry Christmas!
***********************************
“Boyhood Mentor” (1997)
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, J&B 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 a not-so-nice-manner 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 drive 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 passenger’s-side door while we cruised at 50 m.p.h. During his talk he wagged his index finger, and in 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 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 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 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 no 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 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 finatlly turn those: Don’t! Stop! into. “Don’t stop! My posturing has been a constant.
There were other pressures growing up in the 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 manuscript, “Pussy.”
Is writing about pussy the centerpiece of my writing? 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 book, memorandum or whatever, hopefully might place into perspective just what the hell has been going on. Help for me, and maybe help 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 book 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 my everyday literature 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 book 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 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 tact——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—— show casing 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 bodies are 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 rage 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 this book 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, 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 bounds of society and 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 a 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 the my own constant state and my 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 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 qualifies 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 isn’t at all 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 cast 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 have 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 them, who couldn’t wait to get somewhere private, he stopped and remind
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 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 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 then 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 HEARBREAK OVER PUSSY
God Damn You Tennessee Williams!
Tainted love, grandiloquence, indifference, deceit and betrayal are traits flashed by some of the seedier characters in Tennessee Williams’ plays. Those human weaknesses are often embellished within the over-the-top performances pulled of by the actors. 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 is the insatiable craving for What else? Mostly Pussy but then there’s also 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.
Pussy-wise, TW may have type cast my being as one of his tormented souls, considering some of the fixes I have gotten myself into. Who knows what numbered act I’m presently cast in? Yet I think I’m aware of my role. 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 drunkedness. 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, the first unwelcomed bastard to greet your consciousness.
Heartache can be distracted. 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! 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 knock-out power. The method of writing has me sensing as if I am slugging back!
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 with 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!” 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. Fat Chance!
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 as 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 avoiding mundane family events but the mandatory Sunday dinner was an absolute. At 3:45 I high tailed away 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 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 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 new found 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. She was devastated and our young love was 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 a tumultuous relationships built on dependence and lust. To a degree, despite our ages these days are usualy 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 tail spin 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 Jaime, 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 “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 usin to agonizing misery.
Go figure?
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 Bopeeps, 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-doler 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-dolers 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-doling, pissy dicks.
Those were the women I desired most!
Saps like me who thought on those terms normally had nobody to hold and 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!
What happened?
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, if I do win tonight, I promise, 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.
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“Another Mentor” (1991)
“What the fuck? Whaddaya want to do 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 provided 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 that I’d be able to provide what I’m advertising?” Longhi, who sometimes likes to talk like a wise-guy 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 stops his animated self then he makes a funny noise in his throat, 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 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…”
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“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, but his higher calling for strange pussy was very high 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, “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 go 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, mundane lives or about their brat kids or ex lovers, 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 and most of it in my mother fucking pocket and we are one happy family . . . Yeah, I take the bitches to lunch.
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“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 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 Steppford 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 I for one know 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 up front, 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, 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 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 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 faire 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, in 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 me 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 over indulgence. The interest of the game in itself peaked 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 a piece. 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 heading to the stadium. There were special shuttle buses and another type of 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 many more roaming outside the security zone. I was getting edgy and had yet to holding 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.
Afterwards 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.
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“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 about 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 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 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 a to deep magenta, parlayed by the light while matching 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 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.
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“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 backwards. 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 themselves. 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, 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 application 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 back 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 legacies, 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!
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“Scamming a Scammer” (1994)
A 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 hd 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.
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“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 cannon fodder 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, 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 is 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 how the body count 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, 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.
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“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 short list 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 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 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, those 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, street-city 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 school yards while enlisting as rubes, slicks, hicks and immigrants. There came a 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 McDonalds 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. A cluster of newspaper-and-magazine articles, Twainish literature, music, film with the majority influenced by radio. Yet etched into each and every American brain was that it was the fought-for U.S. constitution that guaranteed freedom.
Once equipped and trained GI Joe faced the awesome responsibility that was his and her’s 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 lock step with ordinary Joes from Elm-tree lined 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 it relentlessly without quarter, stomping down on 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 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 decent 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 blood thirsty 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, I’ll for now 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 wasn’t for GI Joe you may not have any of it.
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“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.
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“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.
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“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 a 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!’
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“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 hardedge 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 Gueverra, 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 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, 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 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 last-chance bastion for stay outs. When supper clubs and other boom-boom joints shut down the Cuc is an alternative. One shouldn’t be adverse 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 bar flies, 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-laws 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 may 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 sanmiguelenese. 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, 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 take 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 4am up in Paducah?
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“Taking A Walk Out By The Lake” (2000)
Picturesque San Miguel wasn’t agreeing with me. I was feeling blue. I wasn’t into people. I needed to escape, not for long, not even the weekend, but perhaps for a few hours.
I suppose I’m like most people. From time-to-time I too have to face bumps in the road. Last week was my turn.
Oh, it was the usual . . . me feeling sorry for myself. Hardly anything had been falling into place. My so-called projects were launching themselves sideways. The New York agent dropped off the face of the planet. Some significant relationships were rapidly sliding South.
Piling on: My eyes itched. My throat was bone dry and my nose seemed forever clogged, perhaps brought on by the combination of the bone-dry windy weather and swirling street dust.
So in the late afternoon I hopped into Chanticleer.
Chanticleer’s my trusty Ford Escort, a sturdy red rooster of a car, forever faithful. I wasn’t so sure where I was driving.
We negotiated over the chaise-torturing topes on Salida a Celaya. Just outside town, on the right, I steered Chanticleer into Los Frailes, San Miguel’s residential subdivision. We lumbered down to the lake’s edge.
For your information Lake Allende’s the body of water we’re able to see here from the higher elevations of this town. The lake varies in size throughout the course of the year. With Summer rains, its volume increases. The lake fans out from left to right. In the Winter time it shrivels more to the left affording its wildlife less of a watery space to reign.
While at the lake and while getting out of the car my focus remained fractured. I had yet to take in my surroundings. I began to walk with no specific direction in mind other than to skirt the lake.
The sky showed itself as cloudless, crystal-blue, picture-perfect. To the West the sun seemed suspended while fixing itself into the upper portion of a snap shot, hanging there before sinking behind the silent mountains. The fire in the sky had less searing power that afternoon. It soothed the skin rather than burned. The steady wind coming off the lake felt good, perhaps ironing out some of the wrinkles on my brow.
I nudged forward, dug my lowly heels into soft mounds of freshly worked soil. My sneakers crushed short and brittle stalks left behind from a past harvest.
The normally still waters, driven by the wind, created waves licking away at the shore line with one, incoming echelon after another. Out on the lake three-stately white herons with contrasting orange beaks cawed to one another while cruising just above the water’s surface. Other fowl, smaller than the herons, black in color balanced themselves upon the choppy waters.
Washed up shore line debris gave proof of civilization. I’ve seen worse. The debris was a potpourri made up of crumpled plastic containers and cigarette packs, with their flip open tops torn open looking more like open mouths, laying about, like battlefield casualties. There was a headless baby doll, various chunks of foam, an errant shoe, and countless pieces of shredded paper bleached by the sun and mixed in with the lake’s silt perimeter.
I wondered about that discarded shoe. I tried to envision the moment-and-reason, when-and-why those lost-and-tossed possessions departed from their rightful owners.
Something propelled me! I searched for the right-sized stones, amply shaped and flat enough, so to skip over the lake’s waters. The stone picking was slim due to the lack of rocky properties in the soft-turfed neighborhood. A few stones barely passed for the real deal and when it came to the test, and after a yeomanly toss, they miserably skimmed the surface and went ka-plunk. I skipped the skipping and marched along further.
Checkered about on the dried-out lake’s bed sat remnants of a deteriorating infrastructure made up of what were once bridges and some sort of man-made water conduits. Those crumbling abutments looked downtrodden. Perhaps they matched my mood. If they could, like me, they too might complain about feeling useless while stranded and stuck as relics mired in a state of funk.
I meandered across a small peninsula, a finger of land extending toward the lake’s center. My moping avoided prickly bushes appearing as if they were dying to stab somebody. They leaned out looking like scary-looking characters, parched and desperate whose boots or roots you wouldn’t want to be in, sapped of moisture and barely surviving in a sparse existence.
I came upon disinterested cattle, chaperoned by a shabby herdsman, seemingly oblivious to all, including my oncoming. I moseyed pass his point of view. He stayed squatted, staring straight ahead, within his own thoughts perhaps, and for the sake of silence’s gold, we hardly acknowledged one another. His forlorn cows and one scraggly bull foraged atop the nothingness to munch upon the scraps provided by nature.
Once again I was at the water’s edge. With the sun waning additional birds returned to roost.
I decided to give the rock skipping another try. To my advantage the stone pickings were better. With renewed enthusiasm I snatched some rounded beauties and further tested my arm’s strength and eyes’ aim. Working on my side arm I got off some good ones! I was getting action! . . . Skip! Skip! Skip! . . . Skip! Skip! Skip! Skip! Skip! . . . I found myself almost sprinting about, and bending over to replenish my ammunition.
I was thrust back in time recharged with memories belonging to my sweet bird of youth. I thought back to the long-ago idea that kids think that kids surely are guaranteed a happy life and rosier existence. Taking away the backdrop of the Mexican mountains it was as if I was back on the banks of the Delaware.
I had walked some ways. I peered back to find my spot and check on Chanticleer who then was a mere red dot, parked alone, somewhere down the shoreline.
The squeals of children echoed from a nearby village had me envisioning kids with their cheeks turning red while playing their hearts out before a Mexican supper.
Out by the lake all was at peace and granted my woes a needed intermission, by providing this star a life’s break, as if having me munching on goodies and buttered popcorn.
The facts presented themselves. As corny as it sounds the facts were: In the scope of things I was no worse or better off than those taking off herons or the drifting birds balancing their fragile lives atop that lake. And I wasn’t washed up like the junk on the shoreline, nor was I stuck in the mud like those dried-out bushes. I was no richer or poorer than that lone disheveled herdsman, nor was I hungrier than his emaciated stock.
Thoughts: While clutching those prized skipping stones I realized our methods aren’t always at first shaped to skip over life’s problems with just one or two heartless flings. Unlike inanimate objects, like the concrete ones stuck out in the middle of the lake, we possess the abilities to contour life’s path and have the wherewithal to balance things out as not to sink and drown with the weight of life’s turmoil.
Those sounds of glee in the offing insured happiness was somewhere and by the sounds of the children, happiness was alive and well.
I stopped and placed my hands on my hips and did a complete 360. Behind me, the jewel of San Miguel glistened in the distance. The lake’s wildlife scurried home settling in for another starry night. The herdsman slowly came to life, mustered his flock, then scooted them back to somewhere behind the tree line. The sinking sun’s rays stretched my likeness in its shadow. Time had come to move on, to go back to San Miguel, and deal with the deal.
It was simple, refreshing! My innards had been ridded of exaggerated woes. I merged with nature, a selfless encounter, offering nothing more than the miracle of life, proving that the very best things in life are absolutely free. Who was I to complain? Who was I to take myself so seriously?
My step livened and my lips formed and began to whistle a sweet tune. Back in the car while scooting home Chanticleer took on a peppier nature too, as if he had caught the spirit.
So there you have it. I went for a ride and I took a walk around the lake not the most exciting of endeavors, yet far-far from the worst that can happen. Why not try it sometime.
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“Sounds of San Miguel” 2009
There are certain sounds most of us can immediately identify. A rolling bowling ball smashing into pins; the flushing of a toilet; pool table balls dropping from the coin activated mechanism; jet planes; trains; whistling teakettles; even people having sex, etc. There are too many more to mention.
There are distinct and prominent sounds in San Miguel. They vary. Ringing church bells and pre-dawn fire works are a “gimmie” two sense-rousers, not always embraced by all, especially when it comes to light sleepers and jittery canines yet, still, most adhere to “When in Rome . . .” The clanging screeching of the kettle bell gains attention, signaling that the trash truck is close by can startle a late sleeper.
Sometimes, after being away for a spell, those familiar sounds insure my psyche I’m back on dry land once again.
Sanmiguelenses, along with often time visitors can differentiate those certain noises rising from the calles. Ever hear that shrill-sounding whistle? It’s not Zamfir’s panned flute; it’s the knife-sharpener! . . . The tweet-tweet-tweet human driven whistles say there is someone on the street hawking food, more like tacos, tortas or tamales. There’s the certain, sounding, pick-up truck with a horn signaling the delivery of unpasteurized goats milk.
If you reside on the pathways to schools there’s the chirping of commuting students coming and going. Just before or just after class, including the pounding of the drums and flurries of bugles indicates marching drills, remnants of past Spanish and French Colonialism.
Up on the jardin, study the adventurous tykes charging a flock of foraging pigeons, the flock flies away. There’s that flapping coming from the birds, in unison. Sit on the cast iron benches and hear the pleasantries delivered by the residents of this town, mostly in Spanish. Later, during early evening hours, if there’s any doubt you’re really in Mexico the spiffy outfitted mariachis break out the brass. Violins merged with trumpets as exuberant male voices serenade jardinenites. Yet across the jardin, perhaps in front of the parroquia, dressed in 16th Century Iberian, lively and smiling, Estudiantinas, in valor sashes sing out toward those gathered. The troupe strum their vintage stringed instruments to the delight onlookers. With “mi casa, su casa” generosity they pass out samples of complimentary wine.
From late June until Early October, decibel wise, fire works can be trumped by the thunderous thunder crackling over San Miguel during pre-sunset or pre-dawn storms.
Walk on some of the main thoroughfare and we’re all subject to the growl of the urbanos bullying their way across town, from Mega to the road going towards Dolores. It’s often difficult to continue conversations over the grinding engines. Reside near the caracol and there’s the roar of 18-wheelers down shifting to brake their decent.
How about the hombres trudging the streets with the Pavarotti voices, “ELOTE! ELOTE!”
We did have a stand out voice selling papers up on the jardin but sudden death has silenced him. Yet the long-time, standing dude, on the corner of Hidalgo and Mesones’ patented, “Chiclets, Puros! Cigarettos, Chocolate,” is as familiar to me as is a “Call for Phillip Morris!”
Roosters “cockle-doodle-doodooling,” near the break of dawn? We got ’em. Roof top dogs a-yelping? We got ’em. Teenage hot rods, packed with young dudes and dudettes, moving at a crawl’s pace, cruising Hernandez Macias, with the recorded voice of Jose Alfredo singing about heartbreak with cry-in-your beer sadness resonates and vibrates from auto’s audio system’s heavy-bass perhaps shaking the foundation of the Bellas Artes.
There’s that sound too of vehicles tires going over both cobblestone and adaquin. Now and then horses hooves clip pity clop through town. As for car horns, we’re pretty laid back except for taxi drivers. I don’t know where they get their edginess. But have a heavily followed futball team kick their way to an important win, at any time day or night, futball fans explode from casas jam-packing themselves in vehicles motoring around town beeping horns and waving their team’s colors.
Our transito (traffic cops) employ a foghorn sounding beep to get attention of drivers and they toot their own whistles that say, “move it and move it now!”
Then folks, there are places both in and out of town when it can get real quiet and real peaceful and one can admire the postcard picturesque the cityscape with spot lights reflecting off churches as a starry sky calls out for the sound of silence . . . maybe that’s my favorite kind of San Miguel sound.
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“Haleakala” (1989)
The Hawaiian island of Maui was my adopted home for 16 years. I think of that magic place from time to time. When living on Maui I’d be in awe of balm, the aromas and exquisite panorama especially the distinction of west Maui’s terrain verses east Maui’s. Mt. Haleakala dominates the east side of the Valley Isle. The mountain’s face is a mighty wall looming over the valley. Haleakala’s summit is 10,000 feet with a width that spans 20-miles, ocean-to-ocean, splitting Maui in two.
Hawaii is known for perfect weather, pristine beaches, the roar of the ocean and stunning sunsets. Then there are perceptions that bring on visions of outlandishly dressed tourists aimlessly wandering around Honolulu’s Waikiki, draped in conflicting attire, who are more like affluent refugees with fish-belly white feet strapped into cheap sandals, a mush of mixed-flowered, polyester gawking and appearing bewildered while lost on the promenade an awful long way from Bumfuck USA.
There are syrupy-sounds of Hawaiian music with the tinny strumming of the ukulele, and the sight of hula girls in flowered leis. Don Ho’s singing his famous rendition of Tiny Bubbles. I don’t mean to single out, Don, now passed away, served up much that’s sumptuous about Hawaii. Don’s was a heavy cat and there was considerable substance to the man. Yet Upcountry Maui is not where one finds Do Ho or those saps roaming the concrete jungle of gaudy Waikiki.
* * *
Maui leases space to Haleakala.
From down in the valley it’s impossible to measure the mountain’s magnitude. It’s only when one begins to make their way up the mountain’s spine on a stretch of tar known as the Haleakala Hi-way that’s when one can begin to measure the mountain’s diversity.
At first, both sides of the hi-way are lined with sugarcane. The fields sprout millions of thin, long, green leaves that identify the hardy crop. Strong trade winds are steady force breezing in non-stop from as far away as the Arctic vibrating the cane’s leaves to their own tune.
Further up cane gives way to pineapple. A snapshot view has acre-after-acre dotting the landscape for as far as the eye can see.
At thousand feet above sea level civilization comes back into play as one enters a new world.
Upcountry Maui’s peppered with small towns, landscapes, and ranch lands Turning back one’s eyes are soothed by the blue Pacific fanning out in every direction. The back end of Molikai, a neighbor island is visible with its dramatic cliffs. That back end of Molikai is the last land visible for thousands of miles in what seems like an eternal offing. In another direction sits the island of Lanai, often topped off with a silvery hat made up of lingering clouds.
In the yonder is the island of Kaahooawe, remaining silent, perhaps healing, no longer absorbing military bombardments, when the small-island was ground zero for ordinance flung by allied battle ships.
Mt. Haleakala is home to cloisters of housing developments, robust farms that form a lively zone situated between the 1,000′ and 3,500’ level, spanning across the mountain’s face.
There’s hardly anything-indigenous living in Hawaii. Not the palms or other trees growing out of the moist floors of forests, nor the blades of grass; nor the unique vegetation. All arrived as one-time stowaways from someplace else. Before they arrived the girth of the mountain was beneath the sea. The lava finally broke the surface. In geologic terms it was just a short time ago if one measures time of evolution in the scheme of things.
There’s an array of microclimates with good-sized patches of bamboo jungle on the windward side. Climates vary only meters apart going from tropical to bone dry. The arid areas sport hardy cacti and other succulents. If those variations aren’t enough, higher above, at the 4000 and 5000 foot level rests damp cool redwood forests.
Across the valley are other island sharing mountains jutting to the sky. They’re a stunning sight, with plush-emerald peaks as if upholstered by some synthetic material. There are crevices and openings here-and-there, permitting one to sneak peeks into the lush, mysterious valleys.
All while moving up Haleakala one passes purple-blooming jacaranda in picturesque settings. Some include dairy cows casually grazing or shading themselves under the drooping-branches of monkey pod and banyan. Jabbered and Cardinal, Mynah and Egret cruise the sky. Rooster, peacock, mongoose run wild, poking, foraging, drilling with their beaks and noses for their next meal, to devour the too-many-to-mention species of insects, that make Mt. Haleakala their home.
As one drives further, one comes upon a place called Ulapalakua, a magical place, so different than anything imagined or advertised about Hawaii, where herds of sheep with no set itinerary lumber down long slopes of close-cropped range. One might forget they are in Hawaii and place themselves in the yonder of New Zealand or Scotland — yet it’s Maui.
There are vineyards with a winery that bottles a local wine and credible champagne. The old winery’s perched on a bluff, a place where Jack London, Mark Twain and Michener have come and gone; so to hang out, so to talk story, so to become inspired.
In addition, because of past volcanic activity, there are vast barren fields covered over by the hardened crust of lava, punctuating the mountain’s character, a face seared, etched and aged from renegade lava flows leaving incredible ravines once excavated by fast-flowing molten lava.
A few thousand feet below, the earlier passed-by sugar-cane fields appear as if they are the mountain’s well-mowed, grass green lawn.
Waddle trees with their yellow-berried flowers sprinkle the mountainside. Eucalyptus and pine huddle. And there is an abundance of others; avocado, guava, mango and cherimoya. Passion fruit or what is called lilikoi amply exists.
Residents on Haleakala are permitted to hold claim to exquisite lawns and gardens, cornucopias of botanical finery that include unsurpassed orchards, jammed-packed with exotic orchids. Wild bushes seem bigger than life with super-sized poinsettias, exquisite feather like protea, along with a plethora of deep-shaded ginger and colorful bougainvillea.
Tuberose and gardenia send off an alluring aroma. Morning glories and wild-mountain flowers need no special care. They checker the mountain’s face like providence-placed ornaments on God’s Christmas tree. The century plant in Hawaii never takes that long to bloom; their huge white blossoms open fully and gloriously in the moonlight.
Further up, past the tree line, turning and turning, via a dizzy switchback road, purple-and-yellow wild flowers flourish high above the clouds.
With the change in elevation, a different climate gives way, clumps of fern, ohia and lapa-lapa bushes rule. Fog can envelope the upper ranges, providing a damp moist curtain over those who have ventured that far.
And there’s even more folks; ‘cause if you’re ever fortunate enough to get that far you’ll be in for an epicurean treat, to view first-hand the famous Hawaiian Silversword plants, plants that merely thrive in a few choice spots on Earth.
From the very top, almost all the other Hawaiian Islands can be seen on a clear day. If it’s wintertime, the Big Island’s snow-capped peaks are quite a contrast.
What might be more magnificent and significant, depending on the viewer is a grand scale crater rests inside of Haleakala’s crater, a crater unpopulated and not visible while driving up the mountain.
The crater’s a sudden inversion with a floor that’s a sea of red cinder, fined and colored by sun, wind and time. Its day-in and day-out occupants are but few like Hawaiian ne-ne birds, and wild goat, primarily because there’s not much to eat. It’s immense, with towering walls, large enough to fit the entire island of Manhattan inside of it, skyscrapers and all.
Spaced apart, dormant cinder cones are visible from the summit and appear like large-scale anthills. The moon-like surface, the cinder-cones, the shadows all conspire to hide entrances leading towards bottomless lava tubes. They too hold onto secrets about the island, about Pele, about Hawaii, and about the Earth, and what happened there long ago, but that’s another story.
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“Absence of Family While Residing in a Foreign Land”
Recently a film grabbed my attention. It unreeled one of those heart-warming scenes. You know, where the silver-haired grandfather and grandmother are surrounded by their sons and beautiful daughters along with their happily married spouses and don’t forget the gang of spunky grand kids.
As you can imagine the old folks beamed seeing such a proud clan break bread together. Good-natured ribbing and the reminiscing of stories of old filled the air. As tender as it sounds it was just about enough to make me want to throw up.
Real live instances such as those are a rarity, especially these days. Yet it got me to thinking. A good percentage of expatriates living in San Miguel don’t enjoy the comfort of having immediate family at hand.
Much distance and time now separates those events that used to make up peoples’ everyday—-along with the inter play that took place between them and nearby family.
Some who live down here in Mexico pried themselves away. Others ran for the hills. For certain people there’s nobody left alive back home. San Miguel has its share of widows and widowers or one-time couples who pioneered on down with the glint of promise yet may have been narrowed down to just one surviving member with someone now living a sole existence.
For one reason or another people with a certain wanderlust threw caution to the wind up in Doodah and have migrated, retired, or have just dropped out. Some came to recapture youth. Many have done so with no resources either tangible or emotional as to bolster doubt. Many are construed as misfits, or escape artists by family and associates while pegged as rogues and malcontents.
I’ve overheard expatriates express how their children aren’t especially thrilled about mom or dad abandoning the old homestead, saying how they’ve abandoned the opportunity to witness smiles flashed by grand kids and how they’re sacrificing such for the lure of Mexico—that’s when children become more like parents and the runaway moms and dads are pegged as prodigal children.
Back in the real world, the death of a spouse or parent, along with divorce and even graduation day instigate newfound freedoms. Each situation is different with a myriad of “whys” and “how comes,” yet they’ve made it all the way to San Miguel primarily because free-will still prevails. Yet there’s a lonely-ville price to pay for wanderlust, especially during down moments and such can take its toll.
Down here people do hook up, meet somebody special and even marry. Many develop new life-long friends. Still though, there is a distinct absence of immediate family. Many live alone, eat alone and too many sleep alone. Fact is, without family of sort, people tend to get blue.
In most cases we can no longer visit and sorely miss that irreverent-sassy sister living right down the block who you might drop in on for no particular reason other than for a leisurely cup of coffee. Nor are we able to leap over our brother’s backyard fence to share a beer and take in a ball game. Fishing with dad on the banks of the Tallahatchie and having tea and crumpets with mom at Nordstrom’s have faded into distant memories. Barbecues and outings don’t have the ring of nephews and nieces running about while bonding with their kin. We’ve decided to pass on the notion and are no longer able to sip that sweet-tasting iced tea on that ever-so-familiar back porch, a stone’s throw away from where we used to run and play. It’s difficult to bring to mind the lip-smacking flavor of aunt Sadie’s key-lime pie. We’re no longer attending births, christenings, cousin Joey’s first little-league game, nor during the height of crisis are we able to muster familial forces and join in lock step with our brethren. Down here there’s not as many shoulders to stand on. Stuff like that is the adhesive that keeps good families strong and together.
There’s a one-of-a-kind sensation while enveloped by family. Seems those members care more, or at least, tolerate our quips and quirks with no strings attached. Normally it’s an unconditional love, not predicated on what we’ve accomplished or what we might be able to do for somebody else. There’s genuine concern by our families for our benefit, to share our aspirations and shore up our falls—-not because we’re handsome, connected or charismatic, but because we’re one of them, a living-breathing extension of the jovial Johnsons, the vivacious Vaughns or the fabulous Fishmans. That’s one of the beautiful things about family existence. Amongst relatives there’s an inert togetherness or perhaps an obligation that one feels toward the family’s namesake.
Certain issues crop up which are difficult to discuss or explain even with our closest friends. They may not understand the history, details and traditions that mark families for generations. Even with trust, our friends may not grasp the colloquialisms, customs or raw humor, pertaining to your kind back in Paducah, Toronto or Auckland. When back at home there comes a solid cozy feeling, as if we possess an inherent right that we belong. We all remember what Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz…
So where does that leave us loose cannons who have made a choice and departed from the world? At times my friends it’s a fallen-branch existence. We’ve given up plenty. Our spirit on the most part is left stark naked—with our backs no longer feeling the warmth exuding from the family flame burning thousands of miles to the north or across the blue sea. With the advent of long-distance telephone and internet it’s easier to keep in touch, but nothing equals that riveting reassuring bear hug from your jolly Uncle Louie, nor are we able to smell the aroma of aunt Tessie’s perfume—its essence unable to make it all the way through a fiber optic. The clear, bright-eyed stare back of a grandchild’s photo isn’t the same as being face to face. Your mother’s soothing touch can’t, and will never be duplicated by science or technology. Each day lost with loved ones will never be regained.
That’s why perhaps when we sit on the jardin we see the pride imbuing from our town folk as they introduce and show off sons and daughters, moms and dads and other relatives who have come from afar for an abbreviated visit, a brief lapse that will never catch up with the moments once shared in the long past. I guess our lot has chosen quality time over that of quantity.
And maybe when we see our Mexican hosts involve themselves in family life, a tinge of jealousy might rise, if just a little. ‘Cause with us, who are too often tabbed as the privileged, it’s as if they have something we don’t, the contentment of having their immediate loved ones at their beckoning call.
So be it, as we live here with our existential family, the Waltons we ain’t, the Waltons we’ll never be. I suppose we’re an ad hoc family of mavericks who may have sacrificed the prospect of being dealt pat hands while playing it safe. We have otherwise chosen to live out chance and draw from the essence of life all while existing in a foreign land.

“Mexico City’s New Sky-line” (2008)
Postcards mailed from the world’s second most populated city showcase images of the capital’s enormous zocolo or the Taj Majah-like majestic dome topping its artistic Bellas Artes, the prestigious presidential palace, or Mexico’s Sixteenth Century Cathedral. Yet what’s has risen on the city’s western edge flashes a completely different look, unlike anything built in Chapultepec or erected alongside Reforma. The jet-age district, Santa Fe, could be a tribute to prudent risk-taking, high finance, and modern architecture. Now coined Commercial Santa Fe, the vicinity has literally transcended from an urban ugly duckling to 21st Century shimmer! To be exact, just a few short years ago, most the area was a wasteland in the form of the city dump.
These days, the powers-to-be focus is, that the upscale quarter evolves as Latin America’s most fashionable and influential business district. We’re not talking about a building or two. It’s a mini-city. At first glance there are too many to count. The dramatic skyline’s a far cry from other mundane, cookie-cutout municipal projects, too often red-taped, stifled monstrosities like those erected in U.S. and Soviet cities in the 50s and ‘60s
Santa Fe can be described as ultra urban, with a suburban flair. Night and day the cityscape rivals Dubai’s, Singapore’s or Brasilia’s or some other Oz like megalopolis rather than the older and more familiar surroundings of Mexico City. It’s hard to fathom that, not so long ago’ “Dee-Effy’s” now bleak and tattered Pan American Building was considered the Empire State Building of the world south of the American border. Today, if the iconic Pan Am Building would be situated in close proximity, the new and more sparkling boys on the block would dwarf the worn-out landmark.
The district is a sterling example of what humongous sums of capital can create, along with thought-out planning. The assortment of gleaming glass, cement and steel jut skyward. Most boast rooftop heliports. Major players, international and national, have anointed Santa Fe, wishing to it to be their Western Hemisphere headquarters. Three universities have sprung up, training a needed talent pool. The local Office Depot is larger than most supermarkets. Spiffy convertibles and other trendy roadsters wait on and pose for perspective owners, shamlessly posturing in the windows of luxury dealerships like Audi, Mercedes, and Lexus. Latin America’s largest and most grandiose shopping mall sits in the middle, the centerpiece of the area’s commerce supported by anchor stores: Saks Fifth Avenue, Liverpool, and Sanborns along with swank boutiques and eateries, not counting the 14-screen multiplex theater and a sports club that houses an Olympic size pool.
Stadia Suites is a spanking-new, business/pleasure hotel, one of the first to open with others on the near horizon. Stadia pampers guests offering spacious suites with king size beds, with sheets whose thread count might be infinite, with a slew of other amenities, big-screen TV, a marble-laden bathroom, terry towel robes and slippers included, full kitchen, security up the ying-yang, in-room safe, a spa, a gym, a five-star Brazilian restaurant and a bright cafeteria offering complimentary buffet breakfast, that’s way more than scrambled eggs and frioles. The staff stands ready to provide tours and services in and beyond Mexico City.
Discussing the future, Stadia Suites’ director, Pedro Cancino, sounds upbeat. “Despite the turn down on a worldwide basis, we’re still ahead of expectations. We’re experiencing the positive effects from seeds planted long ago. Santa Fe is becoming a major hub for the entire hemisphere offering opportunities for Mexicans and business people from around the world. A lot of serious and smart people have invested fortunes and resources. Of course there’s always room for hope. If there are limitations, they are few! We’re on track!”
The only recognizable downside to this cornucopia of modernism is that the area isn’t all-that pedestrian friendly. There’s virtually no public transportation. Taxis can be a bit pricey, considering if one employs radio cabs for security sake. Cars whisk by at high speeds zooming off exit ramps like in the old cartoon The Jetsons.
Sidewalks and stoplights have yet to be continuous. Like mature shrubbery, independent eateries and hip nightlife have yet to bloom but one can sense they’ll sprout up soon enough. With finishing-up construction, the area remains checkered. Passable sidewalks suddenly turn into dirt paths. Having an auto makes being stranded in the burbs a moot point.
Soothsayer tycoons peered into the future. They determined the future is now! Yet floor after floor still remains empty. Company personnel is still moving in. The occupancy rate appears to be about 20%. Many buildings are waiting for finishing touches. Those donning of hard hats are aplenty. Working within a mishmash of tools and equipment, sunk into excavated giant holes in the ground, the hard hats maneuver with new construction’s rough edges, avoiding pointed rebar and other workplace trepidations. Their ant-like activity provides cheap working-hours entertainment for onlookers peering down from the upper floors.
With the downshift in the world’s economy and its impact practical minds sum that all is cyclical. As normalcy returns Santa Fe glow as Mexico City’s crowning jewel, as a testimonial to new-age thinking, ready to grow with this century’s next crop of entrepreneurs, students and world travelers.
See Colonia Sante Fe while it’s still young.

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“Hillary Clinton: No Body’s Fool!” (1999)
Many Americans have a headache. They’ve absorbed rhetoric and the sweeping statements. Never have empty barrels made more noise. They’ve engaged themselves in long-winded conversations. Many opinions have been brought forward from the ridiculous to the sublime. Apathy, ambivalence, disbelief, cynicism, skepticism, acceptance, disgust, idealism and even hoorays have poured off the lips of people everywhere.
Yet no one has taken the hit the way Hillary Clinton has. Figuratively she’s been slapped in the face!
Regardless, if the stunning accusations turns out as merely face-slapping innuendo or they pack a wallop’s worth of knock-out cheating truth; it’s a sordid reminder that Hillary marriage has been stormy and such stinging accusations has to surely hurt.
What goes through the first lady’s mind? Does she have blind faith? Is she biting her bottom lip? Does she pepper Bill Clinton’s ears behind the White House’s bedroom’s doors with a wife’s wrath of “How can you be so stupid?” Could she have a private pact with her husband, like go ahead, just don’t get caught? Is she oblivious or is it just water off a duck’s back? Could be she’s more concerned for her own agenda, ignoring facts and humming a ‘That’s Life’ tune while going about her own way? Is she shielding Chelsea like a fierce lioness protecting her young? Who knows if Hillary Clinton even loves President Bill? Loyalty and devotion aren’t always dripping with unmitigated love.
On the surface it appears so. We’ve observed the presidential pair acting in unison, seeming in bliss while holding hands, even doing a two-step on a beach, publicly touting the supposed attributes of her husband. Then don’t forget that’s what she’s paid to do.
Under the scrutiny of the media she has been constantly reminded. She has had to back stroke through the sewage and then trudge through more solid waste like the Paula Jones quagmires and the Jennifer Flowers messes.
Can she remain impervious to a Noah’s-worth of drenching rain, a deluge that now threatens to pull her under? She’s smart enough to fully realize if Bill Clinton sinks she won’t be able to out swim the tide; she too will drown and eventually be washed up on the beaches of public opinion as water logged cuckold.
Yet despite taking such a bashing from potential, marriage-shattering surf she’s decided to womanize the wall, remaining steadfast and she continues to be a team player perhaps if anything, to help plug-growing disbelief. Her perseverance and what must be incredible moxie won’t relent, nor permit herself to be saddled with such a stigma as being reduced to a “Poor Debbie!”
I suspect those of us who have tested the trials and tribulations of marriage, while having our reputations linked to significant others, have shivered at the sickening thoughts that our spousal unit might indulge in extracurricular sexual activity, especially if such dillydallying becomes the very talk of the town or beyond. In this case the backyard fences are vastly universal.
And some of us have dipped our toes in forbidden waters and we’ve swum upstream to murkier waters. Many of us live with it and stay afloat as we hopelessly wade in a sea of lies. The beat goes on. Are we supposed to be shocked? So what’s different here?
Hillary Clinton’s married to a dynamic, successful man, someone ultra sensitive, super intelligent, the father of their daughter, the de-facto leader of the free world. As a student of the world she too is well aware how the wise Solomon came up empty headed when it came to Sheba, and how a buttress of a man as-strong-as Samson turned into a sap because of Delilah. Six inches of mucous membrane has reduced many a powerful man. Idols have clay feet and times and tides are chock full of Marc Antonys’.
Take into account on the dawn of the Twenty-First Century from the first family all the way down to Joe and Mary Schmoe; we all are merely the by-products of our own society. As much as history denotes Hitler as a mad man: He was coughed up by a tragically sick Germany. Saddam Hussein and Khomeini are-and-were warped spores growing from a dominating, radical, Islamic movement. Our elected leaders are the bread crust formed by our collective oven’s production.
Then on the other side of evil the very evolvement of the Abraham Lincoln and Mohandas Gandhi substantiate positive burgeoning.
The idyllic within this generation surely wondered how John F. Kennedy could have constantly cheated on the stunning Jackie? Surely many patriots have wondered how he could have been entrusted with the faith of a nation and it must be bothersome how behind those lusting eyes he could have spoke about family, faith, truth and decency, then gone to mass and taken the holy sacraments while all the time planning and conniving to spend and yank on the girly charms belonging to little nothings?
The jaded side of us remains numb, now summing up such as merely the day-to-day. Perhaps moral scruples aren’t all that necessary to properly govern. Some of us need to separate those aspects of the game while true politicians find the need to paint different pictures of themselves. Some wonder why people even bother to continue to take vows. Does such jumping the tracks earn corporal privileges that come with vast power?
Perhaps things searing and sinister have been branded into our generation?
Lets look at history from Hillary and Bill’s view, their standard of higher morals were perhaps permanently splattered as pieces of then worthless matter as Kennedy’s brains on a Dallas boulevard? Maybe that terrible instant changed everything forever and perhaps was the benchmark of lost innocence? Then came Vietnam, Water Gate and a laundry list worth of other embarrassing moments including a couple of needless wars. Seems today, contracts, rather they be oral or formal, have to be interpreted by lawyers and judges. Word no longer matters.
Hillary Clinton publicly accuses that there’s a right-wing conspiracy. That pegging might be perceived as a red herring. Down deep she’s hip. She’s cognizant of a more formidable and mightier force. An opponent that has always been there, her glass ceiling so to speak, is that of ‘the male conspiracy.” Regardless of how far womankind has thought they have come — inside corporate boardrooms, out on golf courses, in male locker rooms and within the neighborhood tap rooms, men, regardless of their matrimonial status and decent convictions have tolerated their fellow brethrens’ ongoing exploits. She damn right knows that within the boundaries of ‘buddyism’ benevolent digression rises over valor, similar to the Costra Nostra whose members aren’t about to squeal or chastise. In man’s world scoring is scoring, and few are willing to patch in the notches on one’s gunbelt.
It’s not just a man thing ’cause it takes two to tango. The sisters are also willing to sell one another out. It’s supposed to be human nature?
In this case Hillary Clinton’s no body’s fool. She has a position to protect. If her husband is chased from office she will no longer be the nation’s first lady, unless she spins her own web and somehow figures a way to marry Al Gore. Perhaps there’s something better on the horizon?
Such a fall would have her pet programs going down the drain along with the prestige. She’d be forced to forfeit the perks. The presidential air around her will suddenly evaporate. Where will she be?
When it comes down to it, it’s no body’s business, other than her own. She’s decided to go to the wall, hold tight and not be budged off her spot regardless if stone-throwing detractors, blood thirsty prosecutors, the scrutinizing media and the public all try and make her business their business.
So really, why is Hillary Clinton holding firm?
Try this for an angle. Well it’s just a far-flung hunch. When the rain stops and the clouds clear and just maybe, try and envision another platform, a candidate, someone loyal, someone justifiably divorced, with the grit of Truman and Illinois-decency and up-bringing of a Lincoln?
Ladies and gentlemen: Permit me to introduce to you the very unflappable and the next candidate forthcoming from the Democratic Party. My fellow Americans let me present you with the next President of the United States: Mrs. Hillary Rodom Clinton “Nobody’s fool!”
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“Heart Attack—Something to avoid” (2008)
Heart Disease is the number-one cause of death worldwide. Sorry to say, I have it. Yet with treatment and change of lifestyle the malady can be checked and one can live a fruitful life regardless of the prognosis.
In my case, late last year, I began experiencing shortness of breath and sudden fatigue. There was tightness in my chest but no real pain. At first I suspected the symptoms might have been connected to hangovers. Those symptoms cropped up more often. Having my head in the sand I discounted that five of my uncles died from heart attacks between ages 58-63. Yet they lived blue-collar existences, were saddled with woes from ex-wives, debilitating debt and life’s disappointments. I eased into age 60 figuring my adventurous worldly lifestyle somehow made me exempt. I’d been warned about a high cholesterol count. I smoked tobacco. I was a fool’s fool.
I visited a local physician for a chest X-Ray, blood tests and even an EKG. “You’re a picture of health for your age,” the doc proclaimed. Symptoms persisted. I decided to obtain a second opinion, an opinion that riveted me. “You’re flashing all the signs of coronary heart disease,” said the second doc, “You need a stress test! You don’t want a heart attack! If you enjoy life, prefer activity, crave sex, avoid doctors or constantly be in need of side-effect causing heart medication for the rest of your life, you had better get yourself checked out. You don’t want to be a heart cripple!”
That ominous warning was enough to scare the Julius out of this hombre. I traveled to Queretaro’s heart clinic for a stress test that proved positive and soon thereafter I headed north, to the VA, my primary medical provider.
Further tests at the Audie Murphy Medical Center in San Antonio, substantiated the second doc’s suspicions. They admitted me immediately. I was on the verge of a major heart attack.
Despite obvious heart problems, at that point, the doctors didn’t know the extent of the disease or damage. The miracle of modern medicine enables doctors to perform what is called a cauterization. A thin tube is poked through the groin into the femoral artery. There’s a camera attached to a tube snaking its way through the body. The patient’s awake, alert and provided relaxers as to render them anxiety free. The heart and its arteries are visible to the medical team and patient.
It was determined that blood was not properly flowing through my heart to provide oxygen. All three of my coronary arteries were clogged 80-90% due to plaque build up, probably due to heritage and lifestyle. It was further determined I would have to undergo a radical procedure in the form of quadruple bypass surgery.
The gruesome process has the medical team cracking the patient’s sternum like a lobster then to jack open one’s ribs. The heart is actually removed from the body, as the patient, moi, was placed on life support. They cauterized my heart’s three, blocked arteries, placing them out of business, forever. Then they removed a vein from behind my knee that became the new conduit that sends the flow of blood to my heart. When I awoke, it was like I had a dagger in my chest. Thankfully, I wasn’t in the mood for laughing but coughing or belching hurt like the dickens. Sneezing was lights out
Regardless of the trauma I’m a very fortunate man. The healing process began. Rather than a Superman’s “S” carved on my chest, it’s the zipper-look for me along with a couple of puncture wounds. Luckily, I suffered no real heart damage. Damaged hearts, unlike lungs or livers, do not rejuvenate. If I watch myself, my future looks normal. I’ve quit smoking. I am about to embark on an exercise program. I’ll watch my diet. I’ll need to take a few benign drugs like Isosorbide and Metroprol for the duration but I am not subject to further doctors’ care. I can drink, have sex or even train for a marathon if I so desire.
Smoking: Now it’s a no-no! I enjoyed tobacco, especially with my coffee in the morning, after a meal or after closing a business deal or after having dreamy, fulfilling, well you know . . . but no more fags for me, a small price to pay for one’s life.
Eating: I’ve eliminated mayonnaise, replaced it with balsamic vinegar. I eat more baked chicken, have a cheeseburger only when I lust it, without cheese. Eating meats are OK but the leaner the better. It’s healthier to have whole wheat bread and pasta products over white flour ones. Yet who the hell wants to eat whole-wheat pizza? Not me and I won’t. Pizza will be a treat. Yogurt and fruit, or oatmeal with raisons, bananas and brown sugar has replaced that morning bagel, with jelly and cream cheese. Eggs are not off limits yet should be limited. I haven’t given into 2% fat milk in my coffee. Deep fried food is out and I no longer enhance the so-so taste of vegetables with gobs of butter. Eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce are a memory.
Exercise: San Miguel’s mile-high elevation is a great place to strut one’s stuff. Walking 45-minutes a day is super. Weightlifting, bike riding, swimming, yoga and other forms of strenuous exercise are suggested, mostly for weight control and in order to lower cholesterol.
Treatments and preventive measures: Part of my daily is baby aspirin; it thins the blood and aspirin’s blood-thinning, mysterious properties could save one’s life in the midst of a heart attack. Some swear chelation’s a preventive remedy. It’s taken intravenously and supposedly melts away plaque and metals flowing through the bloodstream. Some health professionals consider Chelation quackery, others swear by it. Two tablespoons of flax seed, stirred in water, morning and night, is another measure said to help prevent build up.
Many with heart disease, via cauterization, have had surgical stents (mesh artery expanders) inserted in their pluming or they’ve undergone angioplasty to keep arteries open. The downside from the more-gentile procedures is that drugs such as Plavix are essential, likely prescribed for life in order to stop plaque build up on the synthetic inserts.
Ironically, those who are stricken by heart disease must come to realize that the heart is not the only place that calcium deposits form. Plaque within the arteries accumulates in the brain, neck, legs and other arteries that run through the body. Breakaway plaque can cause a stroke. Seems the heart’s arteries are the first telltale sign of overall blockage.
The upside. These days I feel terrific. My energy is up big time. Before the radical procedure I just sensed that I was getting older. I’m 61 and now feel like 40. Look out world! I urge anyone reading this article to heed and not ignore any of the signs I’ve written about. If ya got them, please, see a qualified doctor ASAP, take a stress test and get yourself patched up. I did and am so glad I did. Salud!
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“Speaking the Spanish” (1997)
It’s no secret that there are people living in San Miguel who hardly speak Spanish. Some have resided here for as long as 20 years. It’s easy enough to do. Since San Miguel has gained worldwide notoriety this pretty Mexican mountain town has attracted a larger number of foreigners, especially Americans. To make it easier these days there are also a slew of business-oriented, bilingual Mexicans who provide year-round goods and services to those non-Spanish speakers.
Despite San Miguel having renowned Spanish learning schools, many newcomers don’t bother attending—and for those who do, the drop out rate is high. Yet Spanish isn’t totally shunned. Basics like “gracias” and “buenos dias” are often lipped; yet those niceties are the extent of some peoples’ Spanish vocabularies. Recently a friend of mine told me her well-meaning husband bid a nighttime farewell to their taxi driver with a hardy, “Buenos Aires!”
I’m not a guy qualified to toss any disparaging stones when comparing my own Spanish. I’m serving what’s likely to turn out to be my own life sentence, with me locked in the “present tense.” My vocabulary’s so-so, repetitive and infantile, perhaps better described as a Spanish “Goo-Goo! Gah-Gah!” There are panic-strewn instances when I am not sure what the hell I’m saying. Still, Spanish is this nation’s official language and that alone mandates respect and attention, so I do my best to wing it.
If you’re like me, there’s a likelihood you have a sense of guilt and even shame. Still, bare in mind, when it comes to learning, enthusiasm is a major ingredient.
I have my excuses. I’m too old, too stupid or too lazy. I hardly speak Spanish in front of bilingual Mexican acquaintances because of personal embarrassment, and they often politely wonder aloud, “How come, Lou . . .?” When feeling cavalier I’ll valiantly toss in words I am sure of: “Entiendes?” I take bolder risks inside tiendas. Yet I usually lead off my spiel with a humble sounding, “Lo siento, mi español es no bueno!”
On top of that, Spanish comprehension is my weakest suit and has been so since day one. When first arriving in Mexico, Spanish sounded to me more like ice in a blender (hielo en la liquidora). Mexican friends say English sounds more like “washawashawasha!” Until this day, when rapid-fire Spanish is directed toward me, I appear more like the proverbial deer frozen in headlights.
In my case, when it comes to learning a new language, total immersion—or the sink or swim adage—holds little water. I’ve been there done that, drowning in Andalusia, Spain, where hardly any English was spoken.
I’ve attended Spanish courses, read self-help books, watched cartoons, viewed TV novelas, and even had a non-English-speaking girlfriend. (We didn’t talk much). I have no idea what the TV announcers are saying during sporting events.
Then there’s verb conjugation that creates a never-ending thought process in one’s mind that’s exhausting. An additional hurdle: Dealing with syntax while fixing adjectives directly after the nouns. I mean, “the man, big” or “el hombre grande” doesn’t always compute.
There is a sense of adventure living amongst a people while having no idea what most of them are saying. For the tenderfoot, speaking Spanish offers intrigue, even a tinge of danger, and also offers up some genuine comical moments. If one drives the wilds of Mexico it doesn’t take long to figure out what “Curva Peligrosa” stands for. A slip of the tongue can get one in trouble. I never ask my Mexican friends how their mothers are doing. As a matter of fact, I never use the word “madre” or “mama.” Any reference to mother said the wrong way can get one punched in the nose. And I know by now that one never, ever enters a tienda and says, “Tienes huevos?”
Worse perhaps, a friend’s daughter asked me to pick her up a lollypop at the tienda. On the way I kept asking myself, “What’s the word for, lollypop?” At the checkout counter I brazenly spit out, “Tienes aguna cosa, esta dulce, para mummar?” The fool that I was had my head bobbing as I orchestrated in-and-out hand motions near my mouth. The shopkeeper appeared shocked. All of a sudden I sensed what I had just said. In a panic I screamed out, “LOLLYPOP!” Changing his expression and with a quick sense of relief the merchant echoed, “Oh, lollypop!” We both had a good laugh. By the way, the word for lollypop is “paleta.” Don’t forget it!
During the early days, while overhearing street talk, I thought everything took place on Mondays. Seemed everybody was saying “Monday.” In actuality, those people were saying “mande,” which translates as, “What did you say?” I used to think, when I phoned people and they weren’t home, that “no fifty,” was some sort of code. In actuality the term is “no se encuentra.” While in my apartment, I have also wondered about vehicles outside with loudspeakers. I usually assumed it was the circus or something, but what if it was a warning? “Evacuate the neighborhood immediately. There’s a poison gas cloud on its way . . .!”
Sometimes we have to shed logic. Realize that in Spanish “things” don’t work; only people work (estan trabajan). Instead say for “things”: “Estan funciona.” And around here one doesn’t “pay attention.” In English you pay with blood or money. Here,“Usted pones atención—with “pones” standing for “put.” Frank Sinatra wouldn’t have sung, “Mi Camino,” pero, “Mi Manera!” There’s “the way” (via) and “the ‘way’ to do things.” Tell a Spanish-speaking person you’re “mixta ariba,” they will have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.
In Mexico we Americans exist in a foreign nation whose culture we hopefully respect, desiring that our hosts see us as fertile-minded, eloquent representatives of our own upbringing and here we, the collective we, just might too often flicker ignorance and perhaps arrogance, while vomiting out gibberish.
Yet, as they say around here, it’s poco o poco. Most survive, function and survive not being bilingual. Nevertheless, I do live with some apprehension, and there are “what ifs”: What if one day my ears hear the sounds but I don’t understand, “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
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“Impromptu moments” (2003)
Most expats in the know will tell you it was Stirling Dickinson who initially put San Miguel on the map. San Miguel’s most famous expat was an art director and educator from the ‘30s and until his untimely death in 1999. It was Dickinson who encouraged and paved the way for mostly American art students and others who were enthused about Latin Culture while encouraging them to “Come On Down!”
Yet the artist, writer, baseball player, botanist, caregiver, educator, anthropologist and all-around Renaissance man is only partially responsible for what has become a mini invasion of eclectic artists and oddballs!
Dickinson arrived just before dawn on February 7, 1937 primarily because of an invite he received almost four years before during an impromptu meeting.
Dickinson and writing companion/Princeton classmate, Heath Bowman, were aboard a passenger train heading south. The train made a routine stop in the wee hours of the morning. Glancing out the window Dickinson read the terminal’s sign, San Miguel! San Miguel rang a bell.
Jose Mojica, the famed opera-singer/movie-star lipped the casual invite years before. Because of tight scheduling Dickinson and Bowman were obliged to decline. Yet on that particular morning Dickinson elbowed Bowman awake and instructed the porters remove their luggage.
Four years before, in 1933, Bowman the writer, and Dickinson the illustrator, were exploring Mexico while piecing together a Mexican travelogue. Their mission: To objectively describe places, individuals and events they encountered on-and-off the beaten and unbeaten paths. In 1934 Willet Clark and Company would publish their book “Mexican Odyssey,” The by-chance previous meeting between Mojica and Dickinson also took place a train in the State of Oaxaca.
Dickinson, an opera aficionado recognized the famed tenor as a fellow passenger. Conversations were struck. That’s when Mojica invited the pair.
Dickinson and Bowman departed the train that February morning in San Miguel for a look-see. They understood Mojica owned a villa, thus it was Dickinson’s first venture into San Miguel. In later years Dickinson often recounted when he first gazed up during the dawn’s initial light at our town’s parroquia. He commented about the pre-dawn transition and how the church’s towering spires contrasted against the royal blue sky . . . Dickinson voiced, “My God, such a beautiful sight! I could stay here!” Maybe that was the defining moment when Dickinson fell in love with San Miguel
On the other hand, Jose Mojica was born in San Gabriel, Jalisco, Mexico in 1896. After his father’s death, at an early age, his mother moved them both to Mexico City. The youngster possessed a golden voice and made early use of it. The tenor’s mother, who he remained devoted to for life was a doting mother yet it was she who first recognized his talent and jump-started his career and nudged her boy into influential circles. Then it was San Miguel’s own native son, Pedro Vargas, who first took notice.
The then popular Vargas, whose own voice was deemed a national treasure, bolstered the ranks of Mexico’s frontline tenors, he mostly renowned for an emotional rendition of the Spanish-speaking-world’s version of “Ave Maria.” Vargas’ rendition often moves believers to tears. Vargas took Mojica under his wing seeing that Mojica attended the national music conservatory. After standout performances in the production of “Barber of Seville,” and a stint at Teatro Ideal, various career opportunities presented themselves. It’s said that Mojica’s radiant voice could hit towering notes! His career skyrocketed.
Soon enough he was performing inside New York City’s Metropolitan. Enrico Caruso, the then Babe Ruth of tenors worldwide befriended Mojica and made him an admired protégé.
Mojica, young, with movie star looks, proficiently bilingual was rapidly achieving operatic stardom. His voice was said to be a tour de force.
As a young man, the cultured Dickinson developed acquired tastes due to his high-society background in hometown Chicago. When he ventured off to New York City as a prim and proper Princeton man he attended the opera. Mojica was prominent in both New York and Chicago.
It so happens all three men just happened to be in Oaxoca one night in 1933. The next day they found themselves on the same train, in the same passenger car, an impromptu coincidence no less!
Mojica was going Hollywood, relocating residence out west in Santa Monica, California, a then beachside community. Never forgetting his mother he resettled Senora away from Mexico City in a setting more apropos for the mother of an up-and-coming super star. Perhaps because of his affiliation with San Miguel mentor, Pedro Vargas, Mojica and with his income on the rise Mojica elected to build a villa here, in San Miguel, aptly naming the new villa in honor of his adopted American city, calling it Villa Santa Monica, as it stands today as a local hotel with its name still in tack just across the way from Parque Juarez.
Mojica went on to star in about a dozen, B-grade films from 1930-34, the majority in English, with him portraying a swashbuckling leading man with the most notable being “One Mad Kiss.” The tenor turned actor could handle a horse, throw a right cross and play a romantic lead; he did away with the bad guys and got the girl, but for some reason, perhaps a quirk stemming from disinterested audiences, or perhaps just lame material, Mojica wasn’t embraced by the adoring public. The Cagneys, Gables, Bogarts, Waynes and Tom Mixes were the talk of the silver screen, a Mojica wasn’t.
Still popular in his home country, Mojica with home-field advantage turned to Mexican made films for additional fame and fortune. He starred in the Spanish speaking “Captain Adventura,” in 1939. Regardless of not-so-positive reviews, there was no need for anxiety. Mojica had a solid singing career to fall back on. He composed a well-received bolero “Only Once,” a dedication to famed Mexican composer Agustin Lara.
As fate would have it (and it always does) on that particular February morning in 1937 Mojica just happened to be in San Miguel visiting his mother! Mojica, happy to see his American guests, became the perfect host. Villa Santa Monica’s presented itself as a terrific welcome mat.
Who knows? Who knows what would have happened if Dickinson had never attended an opera? Who knows, would San Miguel have become the crowning jewel it is today? Would San Miguel eventually become a World Heritage Site or be proclaimed as the number one city in the world by a top line travel magazine? Who knows, if the writing pair of Bowman and Dickinson weren’t investigating crafts in Oaxaca and on that other train? Who knows what prompted Dickinson to look out the train’s window some years later to read a sign in the wee hours of the morning? And who knows what prompted them to get off that train, unsure of resources, nor did they know if Mojica was even in San Miguel that February morning? Who knows?
Mojica’s mother was a major in his life. When she passed, in 1942, he became incredibly distraught. Her death crippled him, unable to perceive himself as a performer, star, or as prominent or as privileged.
Stranger yet, Mojica went through some sort of metamorphosis and embraced a religious vocation! In a little more time than it takes a flamenco dancer to render a clap, Mojica ridded himself of personal riches, then became sequestered in the dreary confines of Franciscan seminary.
During 1942, most young men in the free world were going Infantry or Airborne to fight Hitler and Tojo, Dickinson caught the spirit; enlisting and went Naval Intelligence. Mojica went Missionary.
Come 1947, the then ex-tenor, ex-movie star, ex-celeb, a one-time glitzy spoke in Hollywood and Mexico City circles took his holy vows, ordained then as Fray Jose Francisco de Guadalupe! In the name of Jesus Christ he invaded Peru as a sandal-footed, rosary-bead clad, front-line missionary. He was impoverished. He felt free.
By then, ten years after his first arrival Dickinson had established firm roots in San Miguel. Many are aware of the story how Dickinson, after being here only a week, bought a house up in Santa Domingo for a mere $90. Both men kept in touch by mail. Mojica would return to San Miguel from time to time, mostly to raise funds for the poor in Peru. While here he and Dickinson spent quality time together.
Mojica penned a critically acclaimed autobiography “I Am Sinner,” made into a feature film in 1959, starring himself titled “El Portico.” Mojica also was instrumental influencing and encouraged another Mexican/Hollywood actor, Humberto Almazan, to realize his own religious vocation, then to follow his footsteps and join the Franciscans.
Mojica lived out the rest of his life in South America, doing yeomen work for his church and order. He appeared in a few films during the later part of his life, playing himself. In bad health, with a bad heart it’s said an older woman cared for him during the last five years of his life. He died in Peru, in 1974, at the age of 78. He was penniless.
So, today, when we come to the realization, if it weren’t for Stirling Dickinson, San Miguel might not be a haven for international artists and other free spirited people who love its charm and atmosphere. Knowing the facts as I see them, It’s also safe to surmise that if it weren’t for Jose Mojica that the San Miguel we know today might have a completely different atmosphere. What the 2013 version of San Miguel is, or what it has become since 1937, is mostly due to an impromptu moment.
Viva Mexico!
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”Spring is in the air” (1999)
It was a typical beautiful San Miguel day. A friend of mine who operates an upscale San Miguel Hotel invited me to take cafe with him and to talk story. Earlier mi amigo said he wanted to tap me for some information regarding Chinese Astrology, a subject I dabble in.
Sitting with my busy friend sometimes presents gaps in buddy talk because he’s often summoned away or pestered with telephone calls.
My buddy more or less carried the conversation. In lieu of Chinese Astrology he wanted to speak about women, primarily his. Despite how he worships her everything and described that soft voice, the sheen of her hair and that effervescent smile… his pleasant features soured somewhat when he complained how conflict now-and-then comes storming into their lovey-dovey bliss with everything turning topsy-turvy.
He lamented, “Just in the last few days, it’s as if she’s turned crazy or something!”
Before my friend could utter more he was whisked away via telephone. For the time I was deserted. It wasn’t so boring. I had my tasty cafe Frank Sinatra, cappuccino sin espuma, done “my way,” and the well-kept grounds of the hotel are pleasant to the eye.
I kicked back and enjoyed the ambience.
I noticed . . . Why the bees were a-buzzing and crickets a-scooting and butterflies fluttered, some actually giving others piggyback rides. And while my buddy spoke Spanish in machine-gun fashion over the phone and waved his hands in exasperation, I gazed over at the line-up of standing birdcages that amply grace the one-time home of a famous Mexican opera singer who turned movie star.
Staring through the bars of the birdcages I observed how the vibrant blue budgie was chasing the yellow one round-and-round the rim of the cage and doing so with bird-dogged determination. Low-and-behold when my eyes panned the gardens and up toward the trees and further the whole place was rocking-and-rolling, bugs were a-hopping, stunning white egrets cruised the sky like crown princes of fertility. All on the ground and up in the trees and the sky teamed with life!
By Jove, despite what the weather might be up North in Paducah, Poukeepsie or Portland, right here in Central Mexico, Spring is in the air.
It got me a-thinking since my buddy was still engrossed in his telephone call, providing me an opportunity to reflect some about Spring and what my friend and I were discussing.
Spring is in the air!
Ah, a time for romance, a season perhaps where even half-an-old man such as myself can dig a little deeper and a ferret out a romantic tingle from within his own cynical heart.
Oh, I’m far from jaded. I’m an eternal optimist, actually a sentimental fool, (cross my heart) who similar to you-and-you-and-you, who has harbored a love-boat’s worth of craven desire for that special sweetheart.
Spring is but a moment.
While my buddy spoke low into the receiver I thought how recently, while driving around San Miguel in the evenings, especially in places that aren’t illuminated like up near the mirador or down the darker calles, how I’ve spotted young couples romantically embraced. I can only imagine those young guys whispering sweet-Espanol nothings into those senoritas ears, saying stuff like “mi-amor-mi-amor” or “baby-baby,” over and over. And with such tantalizing dilly dangling occupying my mind-set, a smile probably formed a wide seam across my face and rekindled, how this boy’s libido used to beat a similar drum and further, how I relished speaking on such terms toward the girly items of my interest.
I became stirred then lost myself for the time being with lingering thoughts of such silliness.
Think of the excitement to meet somebody new and the spending titillating moments sharing common pasts. There’s the cavalcade of leisurely lunches along with the romantic candle-lit dinners and ah, the day trips, and ooh, the steamy overnights! While drifting in gah-gah land we go ahead and send the flowers then call on the phone if it’s only to say “Hi.” There’s that warm cozy sensation that’s bubbling within, feeling so right for the moment and so sooooo good.
Yet we have to be somewhat cautious and take heed because there’s a chance of us possibly getting in over our heads and hoodwinked with us believing perhaps there’s a new reason to live.
Yowza! Hope Springs Eternal. As we become more vulnerable we’re ever-so willing and ready to share more. Ah, Spring, it’s a lovely time laddies and lassies.
As I lounged within the splendor of the hotel’s grounds I took a deep breath but became distracted as I turned my attention toward a dark cloud forming in the distant sky.
A cold chill ran through my many-Springtime innards, considering the recent past, and then how quickly the screws can turn. And buddy boy, just when you think you might be onto something, something so nice, something so real and something perhaps so worthwhile… out of the blue your whatever she’s turning out-to-be might toss that debilitating bolt of lightning your way and then rock the shaky foundation stilting your flimsy fantasy world and she does so without quarter. She’ll all of a sudden spit out something mind-boggling and acerbic having the punch to knock you down a rung or two with phrases that in all actuality are the “kisses of death.”
With the precise calculating coldness of a surgeon’s blade they’re able to say, “You’re a very nice man but… You must understand, I don’t wish to get involved… Further sex is absolutely out of the question…” And then there’s that dreadful ultimate hammering of the final nail sealing romance’s coffin, “Can’t we just be friends?” It’s enough to make a guy want to vomit.
With grim reminders of the past my boyish grin was all but wiped out. My capuchino chilled (Christ it iced.). The sky darkened. The buzzing and chirping ceased. I saw myself in a light that was foolish and silly letting myself become a syrupy chump while being bullied and nudged by ole Mother Nature. Nah, not this old salt, I won’t get fooled again, not me, I’m too smart for that mushy kid’s stuff.
My buddy finally disconnected. He appeared to stand taller, chest extended outward, more handsome and seemingly more relaxed. He gave me a wink and stated with exuberance, “That was my baby on the phone. Oh, I love that girl. She‘s coming up from Mexico City this weekend. I just can’t wait. Love is beautiful my friend! You should try it sometime. She’s bringing along a girl friend, a real guapa. Would you like an introduction?”
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“Men in the kitchen . . . sometimes they need to be given a chance” (2006)
As stated earlier, I grew up in a household of women, a grandmother and two aunts. They loved each other dearly but that “old familiarity breeds contempt thing” rose from time to time. Seems kitchen is where all that “whatever” would synergize. While preparing dinner the fast moving trio, with arms flailing and tongues wagging, partook in a sort of verbal slugfest like some linoleum-floored Olympics. As if choreographed they slammed shut cabinets, spun, scooted over to the fridge, opened it, closed it, and then shifted themselves in their house dresses over to the next duty station. Another would then follow, almost duplicating the other’s moves, them heading for the fridge opening it, bending over, scanning, standing up and then redo the obligatory slamming-of-the-door routine. I forget if they ever retrieved anything.
Their mouths never stopped yapping. They rarely looked at each other. In the midst of the havoc progress was made, them standing still long enough to wash, pound, chop or mix something. Shortly thereafter they be off to a drawer or pantry often crossing in each other’s paths. “Watch your step, Gorgeous, I might have to give you a makeover,” that’s what my sweet grandmom would mouth to Aunt Bess, with butcher knife in her hand. So I opted for TV and street games outside on the block.
The chow was great and the fridge provided for late-night snacks. I grew up, got drafted, moved back home, did the single scene, met a girl and got married. Before the bliss and happy union, the extent of my domestic, bachelor life style was spending a night in a motel room a couple of times a month, that’s if I was lucky. No Kitchen
That honey-pie wife of mine, why that little sugar-buggar ruled that kitchen didn’t she? It wasn’t all that bad. I was eating. Yet the kitchen was her altar. Once in awhile I was summoned to mash the potatoes under the scrutiny of Mrs. Lombardi. Between dining hours she turned into some junkyard dog. “You get outta there, Lou!” she’d bark, “I know you, you’ll make a mess?”
Sheesh! Those were stinging and humbling moments for a young warrior, a vet, who played semi-pro football who in actuality was a cupcake of a guy who just wanted to make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Come to think, the poor girl was uptight about HER kitchen 24/7. My paper-towel and Whisk bill went through the roof. Time of day didn’t matter, for me sneaking into the kitchen was going behind enemy lines. And I had better cover my tracks, that Holmes guy had nothing on this broad.
Anyway, fast forward. The family’s gone and the queen departed the castle. What’s a King to do? Learn something about cooking.
My saving grace, afterwards, during the leisurely day-to-day I hung out with some guys with flair and panache. There were about five of us, all in the same boat, yet with means and with too much idle time on our hands. We threw dice and played cutthroat backgammon for hours. We’d watch an endless parade of sports, curse at each other, smoke lots of joints, lie about our legions of women and we’d eat. EATING!
Each guy was as good of a chef as the other, other than, “moi”. And rather than being exiled from where the food was prepared, like before, I learned a thing or two about cooking. I’m no galloping gourmet but I’ve overcome hopelessness in the kitchen.
Some guys because of their maybe present circumstances can relate. And the guy’s-guy that I am has some tips. Some of this will be obvious. Now, don’t you gals begin to laugh.
Buy the best ingredients available. One reason men sometimes make better chefs, guy-wise, is that they give little thought to price when it comes to food shopping. It’s a very-good, bad-habit to have. . . Got it? . . Stay away from anything frozen other than ice cream. Never buy anything that says, “lite,” “fat-free,” “sugarless,” “de,” or “sin,” anything. You want it all.
OK, OK! Have a cast iron skillet if you can. If new and store bought, you might have to season it. Get a Julia Childes cookbook to find out how. Everybody should have a decent knife, perhaps they’re a bit pricey, but they’re efficient. Take care of it.
Use only butter or Italian, olive oil. Forget that cooking oil stuff unless you’re deep-frying, but that’s a whole new ballgame. We’re in Spring Training here.
Let’s talk spaghetti sauce. First ya heat the pan. Never put anything into a cold pan. Add butter or oil. Add your fresh garlic, lots of it. Wooden spoons are good. Guys like mixing stuff, makes them look both manly and sexy. Never measure. Real guys have a killer eye, they know the right amount of salt, oregano or more cloves of garlic to be added, it’s inbred, handed down from Adam.
If stuff becomes too salty, you can drop in a pinch of sugar, or if too sweet, a dash of red wine or always more garlic. Everything can be fixed. Never panic.
There’s sauces; white, pesto, red etc. Use fresh tomatoes but that vacuum-packed, boxed puree sauce around here works fine. Add onions or peppers, clams or whatever meets your fancy. Add fresh herbs, such as basil and do it late into the process, so not to burn off the flavor. Parsley can be wonderful when fried first and added. Never sprinkle pepper on anything while it’s cooking, it’s an agitator, only pepper foods before serving.
Making pasta: Add some drops of oil and salt in the water. Bring water to a boil. Throw in the pasta. Never break it. It’s ready when you toss strands against the wall and they stick. IMPORTANT! Scoop pasta out of water and just mix it into sauce pan. It makes a lot of difference, mmmm, the bottom of the pan. Forget the tureen.
When it comes to meats, chicken or fish. . . remember, never-ever place cold food into a hot pan. Imagine the shock for the poor food. Add everything at room temperature that means getting items out of the fridge beforehand.
Marinating items can add pizzazz. Fresh onion, olive oil, garlic, grapes, other fruits, white wine, teriyaki sauce, butter, Parmesan cheese, herbs and spices all do well.
If feeling extra ambitious, try breading. Dump flour in a bowl, add spices, crack an egg in another bowl, dip meat or whatever in egg, bread it, go back and place the item in egg again and then double dip it back into the flour. It’s a little messy, but look who’s humming in the kitchen?
Quick! When making pancakes I mix the syrup into the batter, this way the syrup is already inside, same with the butter. I also mix the ketchup and onion and even cheese in with my raw hamburger before grilling. Don’t put your eggs in the fridge; it kills the taste. Don’t believe those wives tales. When was the last time you smelled a rotten egg that wasn’t breathing? That Barbecue Bob has nothing on me. Maybe next time we can do meatballs or my specialty, the second greatest hot-dog you ever tasted in your life.
Only thing you’ll probably create some mess. I’ll tell ya, that’s a valid reason every master chef needs a good woman in the kitchen.
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“Doing something for Grand Pop” (2007)
The World Basketball Championship kicks off in Japan this month. The USA’s domination of the sport faded during its embarrassing showing at the 2004 Olympiad in Athens. Even the most casual basketball fan was shocked and it seemed inconceivable the US could only must a third-place Bronze Medal in the sport that has its roots in America.
Yet the world has caught up to USA style basketball and today there is more than just a trickle of foreign players making up the squads of the National Basketball Association. Basketballs are dribbled around the globe. Europeans, Asians and South Americans have become proficient enough to perform on a stage that once was exclusively reserved for US kids
The USA’s 2006 roster is a far cry from the Dream Team that awed the world, in 1992, at Barcelona with the likes of: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Larry Byrd.
The current team, consists of younger, lesser-known NBA stars, yet they are determined and eager to bring back the crowning jewel in the form of a World Basketball Championship.
There is one young player I recommend basketball fans keep an eye on. His name is Chris Paul. During the regular season Paul plays point guard for the New Orleans Hornets. Paul was chosen as the NBA’s rookie of the year last season. After Katrina, Paul was one of the few bright spots to shine on the beleaguered Crescent City. Yet there’s an additional story that goes along with Paul that not too many people know about. Let me share it with you.
Paul grew up in North Carolina. He began playing competitive basketball at nine years old. His number one fan was his grandfather. His mother and father supported his athletic endeavors but it was granddaddy that attended just about every significant game the young man played. Paul credits the elder for teaching him all aspects of the game, including the subtler nuances, such as sportsmanship and the importance of being a team player, saying there is no letter “I” in the word “team.”
Grandfather owned an operated the hometown gas station as a well-known and trusty mechanic. Old Man Paul was a big Wake Forest University fan. He constantly sported, atop his head, a greasy Wake Forest baseball cap.
Paul honed his game and became a four-letter all-star while leading his high school team into the playoffs every year. Naturally his grandfather was a steady fixture at games. His booming voice could be heard rooting for his grand son.
Paul’s high school’s mailroom was stuffed scholarship offers from basketball powerhouses across the nation. Considering his grandfather’s allegiance to Wake Forest his choice of colleges became a no brainer; he was going to attend Wake Forest. The day Paul signed his letter of intent at Wake Forest there was a well-attended press conference.
Wearing suite and tie and while signing his letter of intent, young Paul then was topped off wearing granddaddy’s old Wake Forest cap.
A few days latter was Grand Pop’s birthday. He turned 61. Tragedy struck, Grand Pop, while going about his business at the gas station as thugs with guns held up the elder. The crime went askew and Grand Pop was shot to death.
Nevertheless, North Carolina’s high school basketball championship game was scheduled a few days later and the younger Paul and his squad were going to vie for the state championship.
Prior to the game Paul told his sister, uncle and an assistant coach he was going to score 61 points that night in honor of Grand Pop, no small feat, considering, Paul had never scored more than 37 points during his high school career. Actually he was more of a playmaker than a scorer.
In the waning moments of the game, after being fouled, Paul stood at the foul line to shoot two free throws. His team was well ahead. Up to that point and during an amazing performance Paul had scored 60 points, just a few points away from breaking the state’s individual scoring record, which was 65 points.
Paul seemed, as a matter of fact, took the ball from the referee, concentrated on the foul shot and sunk the first free throw.
Then something very unique took place. Rather than attempting and probably making the second free throw, then staying in the game to perhaps go down in infamy in North Carolina high school sports history; Paul did not attempt the second shot and in a casual manner purposely bounced the ball on the court, then turned toward a stunned crowed as he humbly walked off the court and culminating his illustrious high school career. He secured a state championship for his team and got his 61 for Grand Pop!
Those attending said it was as if Paul was somehow possessed that night with his spectacular dribbling, him going air borne, spinning 360 degrees being down right awesome and equally scary by being some sort of poetry in motion. At both ends of the court while being immersed in a basketball playing frenzy Paul overwhelmed his foes. He stripped the ball from opponents and scooted down the floor to make easy lay ups. On offense he sunk shots from way out. At times, regardless of being draped by three defenders, it was as if his determined young mind willed balls in the basket after taking what best could be described as circus shots. He was unstoppable!
Certainly, with the circumstances of a Grand Pop in mind, many a grand son might say “I’m gonna score a touch down, or hit a home run, or slap shot a goal, or win a race for my Grand Pop to celebrate his birthday and life, but for Pistol Pete’s sake, scoring 61 points takes more than a defining moment or a momentary rush of adrenalin. Even if Paul sunk nothing more than three-point shots he would have had to sink at least 20 shots, plus, yet Paul that night made baskets in a myriad of ways.
Paul did attend Wake Forest. After two seasons and making all conference he decided to turn pro. The 6’ 1” player made immediate impact with his new professional team playing all season like a crafty veteran. For six straight months the NBA named him Rookie of the Month in the Western Conference.
Paul symbolizes what’s tremendous about athletics. Rather than bolstering his own ego he told the press he could not have achieved the award without the help of his teammates. The 21-year old already lends his celebrity to a number of worthwhile local charities and he remains very close to his family.
Too often these days we hear mostly about self-centered athletes, who because of God given talents, act as if the world owes them something.
I look forward to the upcoming world championship and also the next professional basketball season, and hopefully, many more with Paul’s number three leading his team. Shoots, I just might become a New Orleans Hornets fan.
Paul says his now focus is to bring a the championship back to the States, and to the City of New Orleans, which would be a city first in any sport at the professional level and he wants to play for Team U.S.A. in the next Olympiad and hopes to bring back home the gold there too. You know, I got this gut feeling he will do all three before his career is over and now he’s got a believer in this sports fan.
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“Sareda’s toughening it out” (2004)
Sareda Milosz is dying. It’s no secret. Sareda knows it. I know it. Her family and friends are coming to grips with it. She’s aware of this impending article. She’s well into the late rounds in an uphill struggle but she’s hanging in there. The effects from procedures and therapies, along with the illness itself, have taken their toll. Sareda’s weak and emaciated. Sareda has no choice but to go the distance while coming to terms with the inevitable. Despite the dreary prognosis she holds fast to a glint of “hope springs eternal.”
The malignant melanoma was diagnosed back in 1998. Surgery, chemo, radiation and every other “_ation” connected to medical science haven’t been able to turn the tide. She’s been treated on both sides of the border, often commuting back and forth from here to Nevada for treatment and to be near family.
She’s now here in San Miguel. It’s for good. There will be no more probing, no more procedures nor the dread of going back under the knife. Sareda says, “Thank goodness that part is over.”
Pragmatically, she says sees this moment as pocket of time and space, to reflect and savor what she’ able to. Long ago she sold the car. If her strength is up, and it’s not too hot, Sareda enjoys a stroll through centro.
These days those pleasant interludes are fewer and fewer. “Seventy-five percent of the time I feel lousy. . . I’m often nauseous. The pain’s mostly in my abdomen. It’s the toughest part. It’s more frequent. . . ” she tells those in her corner while catching her breath in between the painful and punishing rounds. During the most challenging moments she prefers to go it alone, riding it out and holding on until the next breather.
Admired for her upfront honesty Sareda has overtly addressed her plight. “When first diagnosed I never felt more alive. I was willing to fight. The first few years weren’t so bad.” Still, she has no regrets. She’s proud how she’s chosen her own life path, like when she threw caution to the wind, passed on financial security and embarked into the unknown. Perhaps such reflection tempers the many medicines’ bile-like after-taste. She’s satisfied with the ride, what she’s seen, and with the essence of her existence. Those aspects, within the bouquet of life, leave a better taste in her mouth.
She brays some too. Why not? Her aspirations to write lie dormant. Says she’s lost desire. “