THE CLOSET OF LOST THINGS by Peter Nolan Smith

The Nuns of Our Lady of the Foothills taught their students math, English, religion, history, geography, and a scattering of other basic subjects. Their educational technique depended heavily on rote memorization and harsh discipline. The Palmer penmanship was beaten into our rebellious right hands. Laziness on small ts earned a wrap on the knuckles. The nuns were experts in teaching through pain.

A pinched arm opened our eyes to Math. The mysteries of adding, subtracting, multiplication, and division were boiled down to tables.

7 X 7 = 63.

How didn’t matter as long the charts were in our heads.

1 + 1 always equaled 2.

The flow of history was divided into dates important to the Holy Roman Church and America; 5 BC the Birth of Jesus Christ, 1215 the Magna Carta, 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, 1776 the American Declaration of Independence, 1914 the Start of the Great War, and the 2nd Vatican Council in 1961.

Questioning why the Birth of Jesus Christ was 5 years before Anno Domino or why Christmas was only four months later than the Immaculate Conception were grounds for a visit to the Principal. Sister Mary Eucharist corrected adolescence heresy with a yardstick. She expected the same iron hand from the nuns of her convent.

The mysteries of faith were solved by the memorization of the Baltimore Catechism; God made the world, God is the Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things, Man is a creature composed of body and soul, and made to the image and likeness of God and God made us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. God reigned over man with capital letters.

There was no detour from these tenets, until my 6th Grade teacher Sister Mary Osmond ignored the dictums of her superior. The ancient nun had taught in Egypt and entertained her pupils with tales of Africa.

“We lived by the Nile. After the harvest the children ran barefoot over the sharp stalks without slicing their feet.”

Closing my eyes I envisioned her students gliding over the fields of razors. Sister Mary Osmond opened our minds to worlds beyond Boston and we followed her new approach to learning like sheep.

Sister Mary Eucharist hated her.

“Fear. That’s how the Church rules the faithful. Fear.”

Sister Mary Osmond nodded to her superior with love and we reciprocated by scoring the highest test scores in the Boston Diocese. Her knowledge flooded our senses and she had an answer for everything.

Not all of it was true.

One afternoon Connie Botari cried in the back of the class.

Sister Mary Eucharist would have ignored the silent sobs.

Our teacher put down her chalk and approached Connie’s desk.

“What’s wrong?”

“I lost my headband.” Connie had looked very cute this morning with it on her head. She was pretty, although not a pretty as Kyla Rota. Neither girl knew that I lived and breathed on the same planet. I wore glasses and sat in the front of the class.

“Is that all?” Sister Mary Osmond tenderly touched the young girl’s head. “Don’t you worry about that?”

She paused for few seconds and I expected the venerable nun to tell the same thing that my mother told me when her six children lost a favorite toy.

“If you lose something than it wasn’t yours to begin with.”

My mother had learned that lesson from her mother. Nana had come over from Ireland in the Year of the Crow. She had been 14. Losing things was bad luck and she expected her family to avoid bad luck. Only St. Anthony had the power to help us find things.

“St. Anthony, St. Anthony, Please help me. Something is lost and can’t be found.”

I had rejected the belief in God at age 8 after the drowning of my best friend, but remained true to the powers of the saints. Most of them had pagan roots and St. Anthony of Padua had at one time lived in Morocco, which rendered his faith questionable in my eyes.

Sister Mary Osmond had a different take on loss and explained to Connie, “In heaven there is a closet with everything you ever lost waiting for you.”

“Really?” The cute brunette sniffed behind the swipe of her wrist.

“The closet has your name on it in gold letters. Nothing is truly gone. It remains in your memory, so you will enjoy seeing it again in heaven.” Sister Mary Osmond gave Connie a handkerchief with our teacher’s initials embroidered in a corner.

“You keep it. All possessions are transitory on this Earth. The only thing you need is a pure soul to get you in heaven. That purity is the key to the closet with all lost things.”

I was on the verge of pubescence. Impure thoughts outnumbered evil deeds. Heaven was for only true believers. I was going to Hell and I was certain that Lucifer had a closet loaded with the things that I never wanted in the first place.

I lowered my head into my hands. My toy boat and teddy bear would remain trapped in their heavenly closet, but then I remembered what Sister Mary Osmond had said about lost things. They remained forever in your head and I smiled, because forever will be a long time in Hell without a teddy bear.

As I got older the number of lost things grew with my travels around the world. My possessions were scattered across two houses in Thailand, a mountaintop cabin north of Santa Cruz, two farms in upstate New York, my apartment in Fort Greene, and my sister’s house outside of Boston.

Upon my return to the States from Thailand in 2008 I emptied my storage space in the East Village.

Not everything was there.

I was missing paintings, first editions, color slides as well as my cowboy boots and collection of nightclub memorabilia or at least that was what I thought until visiting a good friend out in Easthampton several years ago. in 2009 I

“I have several boxes of your in my cellar,” Billy O announced on a bright sunny morning.

“You do?”

“Yes, you left them here after you gave up your apartment.”

“That was in 2002.” The rental management had offered $10,000 for my vacating the tiny apartment on East 10th Street.

“You were living in Thailand.”

“Remember what you said?”

“No.”

“You said that now I was just another guy from Boston who once lived in New York.” Twenty-nine years in the city didn’t make you a native to New Yorkers.

“Harsh words.”

“But true, I thought I put everything in storage.”

“Wrong, boyo.” Billy O and I celebrated St Padraic’s Day every year. We were both Irish in the right way.

“Damn.”

“You want to go check on them?” Both of us were recovering from LEAVING LAS VEGAS hangovers.

“No, let’s go for a swim in the ocean first.”

“You boys be careful,” his wife shouted from the pool. She came from the UK. Sara liked her ocean calm.

A distant hurricane was churning giant waves along the offshore sand bars. The water temperature was in the 70s. The salt air and danger of riptides had natural curative powers more important than a reunion with long-lost relics of the past.

“You boys be careful.” Billy’s wife shouted from the back porch. Two people had drowned the previous weekend.

“We’ll follow the buddy system.” The ocean was unforgiving to fools.

Amagansett Beach was ten minutes from Billy’s house via the back roads. His I-pod played John Lennon’s WORKING CLASS HERO, as we broke through the barricade of slow-moving SUVs and Porsche Reich sedans on Route 27. Billy is a local. He knows the back roads.

At the beach a parking space opened up next to the reserved handicapped spot. Billy grabbed it before an up-island vacationer could steer his Mercedes GL 405 between the white lines.

“Nice, huh?” Billy had a healthy disdain for the summer people, while recognizing his high-end real estate job survived on their largesse. He smiled to the irate driver of the luxury SUV and shrugged like he was sorry. It was a good act.

We walked onto the beach with towels over our shoulders.

Two men in their 50s wearing sun glasses.

The strand was crowded with weekenders enjoying themselves in the sun. Their blankets were surrounded by coolers. The sea air was tainted by a miasma of melting sun lotion.

“Straight into the water.” Billy was a good swimmer. He did laps at Guerneys three times a week.

“The only thing to do.” A single surfer bobbed on the waves beyond the nasty shore break. Few people were venturing farther than their knees into the sucking froth. I ran into the sea. Billy followed close behind.

The water was cold and the current grabbed our bodies like the Atlantic wanted us to see Iceland.

We ducked under the close-outs and stroked through the sets of double waves to the calm of the outer break. I couldn’t touch the bottom.

The lifeguard looked in our direction.

I waved that we were fine.

He nodded to say ‘be careful’.

Billy and I rode a few waves. One crunched my body into the sandy bottom, then tumbled me in an eddy of foam. My head bobbed to the surface. Billy was a few feet from me. We shared a glance and let the turbulent surge carry us to safety.

“I think I’m ready to look at those boxes now.” I was out of breath and exhilarated by the swim.

We returned to Billy’s house, listening to John Lennon’s IMAGINE. I was never much of a Beatles fan, but these two songs revealed the genius of John, although Billy and I had to both ask, “Why Yoko?”

My boxes were downstairs. One was covered in mould. A small carpet had rotted in the damp. There was no damage to the art work; cartoon series by Gaetano Liberatore, an oil painting from the Steaming Musselman Philippe Waty, two of Ellen Von Unwerth’s first photo or a suede jacket in a plastic bag.

“It still fits after all those years.”

“A little tight around the waist.” Billy’s wife said it in such a way that the truth didn’t hurt. The English are a polite people.

The next box was loaded with slides and photos from my travels around the world. Bali, Tibet, Laos, Peru, France, Ireland, China, Thailand, plus love letters dating back to 1976, the first year I moved to New York.

I read a few aloud.

“Sweet.” Billy’s wife was very sentimental.

The third box was a set of Wedgwood china from Bowdoin College. It had belonged to my Grandfather, who had graduated from the Maine College in 1912. I had served countless dinners on the plates at my old apartment on East 10th Street. The large serving bowl still bore the stains of a sauce. I guessed that it was tomato sauce for pasta.

The last box contained books; first editions of FRANNY AND ZOOEY, CATCHER IN THE RYE, MOONRAKER, and about twenty other classics. They would have been worth a fortune if signed or still in good condition. Thankfully I hadn’t put them in the box with the carpet.

“Thanks, Billy.” He could have thrown these out years ago.

“Well, we still have to discuss the storage fees.”

“Oh, Billy.” Sara was British. They had a different sense of humor from the Irish. “You can’t charge him anything.”

“I was just kidding.”

I wasn’t so sure. The Irish can be mean.

I told them about the closet of lost things.

“It was supposed to be in heaven, but there was one right here on Earth and it was in your basement.”

“Proving there is heaven on earth.” Billy O examined the copy of JUNKIE.

“And it’s where we find the things we love.”

Now if I could only find my lost teddy bear, my life would be complete.

I am a simple man.

ROCK STANDS TALL by Peter Nolan Smith

In August 1984 ACTUEL sent a Californian-born photographer and me to cover the Deauville Film Festival. This was my second journalism gig for the French magazine and I hoped that writing a good article might open the path to another profession other than being a doorman at La Balajo. he Deauville Film Festival was not Cannes, however the organizers were honoring GIANT and I arranged an interview with Rock Hudson, whose performance opposite James Dean in the 1956 George Stevens’ epic tale of Texas oil had been nominated for an Oscar, and I based the trip on the premise of whether Rock Hudson or James Dean was a better dinner companion.

“James Dean was James Dean.” Randy came from Los Angeles.

“He died and left a good-looking corpse.”

“Something tells me he didn’t have good table manners.”

“Me too, but we’re going to Deauville to speak with the living about the dead.” James Dean had fallen out of my favor, although I wished he had been in EASY RIDER instead of Jack Nicholson.

Randy and I took the train to the Normandy beach resort and booked into a hotel in Trouville.

We were issued passes to all the films.

After the screening of GIANT at the beachside casino the handsome movie star recounted to the Q&A audience, “You know James Dean was a wonderful actor. He had studied method acting under the legendary Lee Strasberg and had the gift of touching the pain and joy deep inside him. Every scene in GIANT confronted Dean with this conflict and I was in awe of his struggle to reach his character Jett Rink. My drama school was Universal International, where I learned all the Hollywood skills; acting, singing, dancing, fencing, and horseback riding and that riding came in handy on more than one occasion in my career.”

His words were translated to the French audience and they laughed at his joke, but Rock Hudson went on to reveal doubts about his talent.

“I just showed up on set and recited my lines. George Stevens, the director, would nodded and say fine after one take, but if it was a scene between me and Dean, then he would go into conference with Dean after each take. I couldn’t hear their conversation and I once went up to the director and asked, if I should do anything different like Dean. George repeated that I was doing fine and returned to Dean for what seemed like hours. I didn’t understand his difficulty. Acting to me was reading your lines and acting like you’re supposed to act, but what do I know? I’m just Rock Hudson. Thank you for going to my movies.”

The audience rose to their feet and applauded his graciousness.

Outside in the theater’s foyer I was introduced to Rock by his Paris publicist. The film star greeted Randy and me with a firm handshake. My friend mentioned his father’s bar in Hollywood. It was supposed to be a dive.

“I went there once.”

His blue oxford shirt helped his eyes shine with a fond memory.

“I had a good time, but it’s even better to hear Americans in France.” The movie actor gave us a huge smile. “There’s only so much French speaking I can take in one day. Do you speak French?”

“Sort of.” My Boston accent struggled with the Gallic rolling Rs.

“Then you can order lunch.” He was nearing 60, which was almost twice my age, but he was better looking than any man at the festival, including Ryan O’Neal, who was promoting a new film.

“Rock, a moment.” Randy stopped at the entrance to the Hotel Deauville and snapped several shots.

“You can shoot more after lunch.” Rock led us into the dining room.

The maitre de sat us by the window. Sunbathers stretched out on the broad strand. A man strolling on the balcony waved to Rock.

“Doesn’t look like Malibu,” I said sitting at the table, surprised to find a British tabloid reporter next me.

“I supposed nothing looks like Malibu.” The snarky reporter in his 40s was clinging to the polyester style of the 70s. His name was Bill. He placed a tape recorder on the table and smirked, “But then not all of us are movie stars, are we?”

“No, we’re not.” I was annoyed at his piggy-backing on my interview and the publicist explained in French that there had been a time conflict as well as his newspaper had a readership of one million.

“Everything hunky-dory?” Bill pushed down the ‘record’ button. “Mind if we get right to it?”

“Not at all.” Rock lit a cigarette. He could have been a Marlboro Man in his youth.

Bill dominated the flow of talk and his course had an unmistakable destination.

Rock ordered a bottle of crisp Meursault to accompany our Sole Meunière. I admired his styled skill of avoiding the hack’s trapdoors and waited for my chance to ask him about manners.

“You spent a lot of time with James Dean on the set of GIANT.” The Brit reporter was setting up our host. Rumors about his sexuality had been murmured from coast to coast in the gay community. Millions of them thought that he was one of them.

“Not that much. He was getting into character, so he hated me. I knew it was Jett speaking instead of James, so I didn’t let it bother me.”

“Did he have any women on the film?” Bill was angling to out Rock’s sexuality.

“You mean have sex? I didn’t ask.” Rock was no snitch and I respected his discretion about a long-dead star.

“Some people say that he didn’t have sex with a woman after that Italian actress dumped him for that Tony Bennett wanna-be Vic Damone.”

“I don’t know anything about it and____”

Bill didn’t let Rock finish his answer and asked Rock about Jim Nabors, “After all these years isn’t it time you let the world know about you and Gomer Pyle?”

“Know what?”

“That you and Jim were lovers. That you shared a place in Hawaii?” The reporter spat out his queries without losing a beat.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about?” Rock took a sip of white wine. This rumor had been bouncing around gay clubs for ages.

“C’mon, the young boys of our readership are dying to hear the truth.”

“You mind leaving the man alone?” I wasn’t gay, but I had danced with a few men at 1270 and my younger brother was a queer.

“I’m just trying to write a story, so piss off.” The thick-skinned reporter, then demanded to know who was king and queen in the Nabors-Hudson arrangement.

“More like tar and feather Mr. Hudson.” My mother had taught her children the importance of good etiquette, but sometimes good manners aren’t as useful as bad manners.

I brandished the silver knife in my hand.

“You can’t threaten me like that.” The reporter recognized the intent in my eyes.

“Gentlemen, no fists or knives.” Rock lifted his hands.

“I’m not saying another word.” I put down the knife.

“Faggots.”

Randy shook his head

“You say it with a smile.” I was itching for a fight. It was my forte.

“Or else what?”

“Or else he’ll break your nose.” Randy had seen me fight more than once. I had a good left.

“You’re joking.”

“Not at all.”

“Fuck you both.” The reporter stormed out of the dining room.

“Sorry about that.”

“It’s not your fault. I’ve been dealing with his kind for years.” Rock thanked me and ordered a brilliant Riesling to complement our Atlantique Sole.

We spoke about his work with Douglas Sirk in WRITTEN ON THE WIND and his movies with Doris Day. He signaled the waiter for another bottle of wine. His publicist looked alarmed, but he patted her hand, “Darling, no one lives forever and I want to feel good. That’s the true sign of a gentleman. The ability to make everyone feel comfortable.”

I wrote down what he said for the lead into my article.

Lunch lasted an hour more than originally scheduled and after the publicist paid the bill, we walked out onto the terrace. The sun was strong and the wind of the sea was scented with seaweed. Rock lifted his head and then turned to me, motioning to Randy to stop taking photos. He looked like he need a nap.

“Off the record I’d like to say something about me and Jim,” he whispered over my shoulder. “It’s not true. Someone made a joke about us getting married and then it became the truth. Jim and I are friends. Nothing more and nothing less.”

“Thanks.” I hadn’t asked for this admission and shook his hand.

“Nice man.” Randy shot his departure.

“My feelings exactly.” A real gentleman.

“So who wins? James Dean or Rock Hudson for dinner guest?”

“I loved the sole, but as Rock was a gentleman.”

That evening we met Russ Meyer, the director of FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL. I had seen the sexually charged film at the Neponset Drive-In and asked him about his influence of the fantasies of young boys.

“I was a young man in Hollywood in the 50s. No one was doing what I was doing. I wasn’t even sure of what I was doing, but I liked women and there was no place better to like women than in Hollywood.” The mustached director had hundreds of stories. We heard a few of them.

“Did you ever meet Rock Hudson?”

“Old Rock. He was a good man.”

“My thoughts too.”

In my hotel room overlooking the Atlantic I wrote about Rock Hudson’s manners and the pleasure of dining with him.

I avoided any negative comments about James Dean.

Dead man are better left dead.

The French magazine placed my Rock Hudson article in the next issue accompanied by Randy’s photos.

Actuel’s editors were happy with my writing, but I didn’t receive another assignment.

A London newspaper had reported on my behavior at lunch with Rock. They had complained about me and ACTUEL didn’t need any trouble from the UK.

I went back to the door of La Balajo and refrained from bad behavior.

Through the autumn of 1984 I spotted Rock Hudson at restaurants and galleries opening in Paris. He seemed to enjoy the City of Light. He waved once. Everyone looked at me. He seemed a little thin, but he was still the most handsome man in the room and Paris was a good place for a gentleman no matter what his age.

And it still is.

Foto by Randall Koral

Pryor Love

Bernie Wins NH

Senator McGovern won one state and the District of Columbia in 1972.

Massachusetts.

A journalist asked a Bostonian why the North Dakotan had carried the Bay State against the Richard Nixon tsunami and the townie said, “As a Bostonian we know a crook, when we see one.”

And we know what is right too.

Go Bernie Go.

$180 In 1978

In 1978 I moved into a one-bedroom apartment on east 10th Street.

The rent was $180.

The bathtub was in the kitchen.

By the time I left it was $450.

The realty company paid me $10,000 to leave.

The fucking lawyer took a third.

The realty company now charges $2000/month for an apartment with no character.

Which is perfect to the tenants of 2016.

They will never have a naked blonde taking a bath in their kitchen.