THE RULE OF MR. KLAUS by Peter Nolan Smith / Anthony Scibelli

New York City was a ghost town in 1978.

The Twin Towers rose over Manhattan, but the city was bankrupt.

Seven million people were living in anarchy.

The landfill along the Hudson was a long stretch of desolation.

Sand blew in all directions.
The wind obeyed no rules around the Twin Towers

The rich knew nothing of the poor.

The Concorde flew them direct from JFK to Paris.

Every morning in the East Village Sean Coll heard its take-off.

The Rolls-Royce engines were loud.

Sean was living with a blonde model in the East Village.

At night Lisa dated a tennis player.

“It’s good for my career.”

She came home at dawn.

Sean never asked any questions and wrote poems about the waiting.

Lisa never read his journals.

No one did.

Poetry paid nothing.
Sean worked at night.

When people wanted things, they called him.


Sometimes it was a girl.

There were plenty of girls in New York.

Most of them were good fun.

Lisa liked playing hard to get and she knew her role well.

They never mixed business with pleasure.

Sometimes his work was a breeze.

People did what they said they were going to do.

Other times people were cute.

Cute got them hurt.

Sean came from Jamaica Plains and kids grew up tough in the shadow of Mission Hill.

In the end people ended up being nice.

It was part of human nature.

But New York was New York.

This city had different rules from Boston. Sean understood some of the city’s game, but no one understood everything, although a Mr. Klaus thought he was smart enough to know all the answers.

Tony introduced Mr. Klaus at a party.

Sean was not in best form.

Lisa had not come home for two days.

“I might have some work for you.” Klaus had a German accent. “But I have one rule. You do what I say.”

“I don’t have a problem with that. You know my price?” I spoke pure Boston.


“Then call me.”

A day later he asked Sean to meet a woman named Clover at the New Lost Bar in Times Square.

Tony came over with the cash.

Sean gave the photographer his finder’s fee.

“You trust this Klaus?”

“I trust no one.”

“Me neither.” It was the first rule he had learned in New York.

Sean showed up on time.

Clover arrived ten minutes late.

The blonde teenager was no woman, but she was no girl either.

“I was a mistress to a Texas oil baron at 13. Does that make me bad?”

“No, but it doesn’t make you good. Let’s have a drink.”

Sean ordered a gin-tonic. Clover had a martini.

The bartenders at the New Lost Bar never checked any girls for ID.

“Do some of this.” She handed him a vial. “Mr. Klaus wants you to.”

“You always do what he says?”

She smiled with a laugh.

“When it comes to Mr. Klaus, yes.”

Clover danced at a bar.

Or at least Sean thought it was Clover.

In truth it didn’t matter, because Lisa was erased from his mind.

By the time they left the New Lost Sean was feeling no pain.

Times Square looked like a pinball machine.

Clover was the flippers and Sean was the ball.

Somehow they ended up in the subway.

Clover was taking him to see Mr. Klaus.

Sean asked the subway conductor for help.

“You don’t need any help, if you got her.”

Everyone in New York was an expert at minding their own business.

The next stop was at Mr. Klaus’ penthouse.

“Willkommen, time for some business.”

Sean was in no condition to refuse him anything.

“Do you feel different?”
“No.” It was a lie.

“Gut, I have a job for you. It might require violence.”

“I wouldn’t be here, if it didn’t.”

“An ex-associate has something of mine.”


“A ball on a box in a refrigerator.”

“But you only want the ball?”


“What does the ball do?”

“Does it really matter?”


“Clover really likes you.”

Mr. Klaus had the young blond show Sean how much.

Mr. Klaus drove him to a townhouse on the Upper East Side.

The street was quiet. The rich could afford order.

“That’s Cookie’s house. I’ll take care of her.”

“Why do you need me?”

“There’s a man with a gun.”

“Does he know who to use it.”


“Then he is just a man.”

“Why should I do this? Because of your rule.”

“Maybe, but more because things will go bad for Clover.” He showed a photo. It was Tony’s style.

And then another.

Mr. Klaus was worse than Clover’s Texas oil baron.

“Bring back the ball.”

Sean couldn’t say no.

Not yet.

The man with the gun was a young boy.

Sean strangled him till unconsciousness.

He was too young to die and too pretty too.

The steel ball seemed like a steel ball.

Until Sean held it in his hand.

He could see things.

He could break Mr. Klaus’ rule.

Mr. Klaus had Cookie.

She looked tough.

Sean could see the word Baltimore on her face.

Like Boston it was a tough town.

Cookie yanked on the rope.

Mr. Klaus rolled down the stairs.

He didn’t stop until the bottom.

Sean left with the ball.

He was his own man again.

He found Clover in a bag.

He wrote on her thigh before freeing her.

“I thought you’d never come back.”

“You were wrong.”

“What did you write?”

“A poem. You can read it later.”

Sean took her to his place.

Lisa was gone.

She had taken everything, but the TV and a set of weights.

“Nice place.”

Clover picked up a dumbbell.

I want to be strong like you.”

It was a good idea.

New York was a tough town on the weak.

Sean turned on the TV.

Clover lifted the weights and read the words on her thigh.

“I like your poem.”

“I wrote it for you.”

Her smile told him that she would be a good roommate.

He had the ball and he had Clover.

And both were good things in 1978, because the windblown sand had no rules.

Not in New York.

Not anywhere.

Fotos by Anthony Scibelli and Peter Nolan Smith

Dear Grace

Dear Grace Jones played New York last week.

We will always be slave to her rhythm.

To hear Grace’s SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM, please go to the following URL


Two years ago the Diamond District on 47th Street was dead on the high holiday of Sukkot.

All throughout the shetls of Williamsburg families were commemorating the Hebrews’ wandering in the desert after the Exodus in Egypt by setting up sukkahs or outside dwelling to symbolize the tents on that decades-long journey to find someplace to call their own.

The Hasidic diamond dealers abandoned the Diamond District for the week. The day before Chol HaMoed Gabriel our broker left our store ten big diamonds in hopes that a goy might buy one. Richie Boy and his father weren’t so religious and saw the holiday as a time to operate with less competition.

On the first day of Sukkot I opened the safe and put Gabriel’s rocks in the window. They were in individual diamond boxes. None were under five carats and the total value of the goods was slightly over 500K. They made a big impression.

A half-hour later an over-weight gypsy in a Versace suit entered the store and asked, “How much for the big stone?”

“It ain’t for sale.” I had never sold to a gypsy.

“Everything is for sale on 47th Street.”

“Not this stone.” I had nothing against Gippos, but they hadn’t earned their rep for guile by being saints.

“Show him the stone.” Manny was sitting at his desk. He had dealt with hundreds of gypsies during his years on the Bowery.

“Okay, but everything has a price,” I grumbled, for the Roma were a WOT or a waste of time. Worse was the possibility that they might rob you.

“Which is?” I had seen Tony around the block.


“Can I see it?”

“Sure.” I went to the front window and plucked the stone from the tray. A zaftig, but attractive woman in a matching Versace dress smiled at me. She was Tony’s wife. They worked as a team. She came inside.

I show her the diamond without letting her touch it.

“I love this ring, Tony.” Her fragrance was Versace Bright Crystal.

“I love it too, but I don’t love $40K for a 6-carat F SI3?” He was top of the line Roma. “Would you take 20K for it?”

“Thanks but no thanks.” Gabriel had memoed the diamond for $35,000. Manny said that it was a lot of flash for the cash. My boss came from Brownsville. He had never lost its touch on his soul.

“I have the money.” Tony brandished a roll of hundreds thick enough to be 20K, unless the center was all $1 bills.

“Sorry, the price remains 40K. No haggling either.”

“I thought maybe you would want to do some business.” What Tony meant was that if I gave him the stone, I could stick the 20K and walked out of the store.

“Sorry, no deal.”

I sat at my desk and the gypsy exited from the exchange. Tony had other marks on his list. Maybe he would get lucky. My boss Richie Boy showed up a few minutes later.

“Anything happening?”

“A gypsy offered me 20K for Gab’s stone.” Manny stood up with a groan. His hip was killing the 80 year-old.

“You didn’t let him touch it?”

“Not at all.” Gypsies were skilled at switching stones.

“Let me check.”

I got the stone for Richie Boy.

“You’re lucky,” he said after weighing out the diamond on the scale.

“Lucky was, if he sold it.” Manny sat back down with a grunt. He wasn’t getting old, but some parts of his body were on strike.

“We were lucky.” Richie Boy nodded to me and I put the diamond back in the window.

Across the street Tony and his wife were standing outside a store. They were looking to get lucky.

Anything was possible on Sukkot.

Around noon the girls working for Manny’s partner wanted to order lobster rolls from the new take-out.

Coming from Maine I was eager to try the lunch special.

Richie Boy signaled that he was in too.

Lobster might be tref or unclean and unfit for consumption according to Jewish tradition, however only one member of our staff was religious. The rest were bacon Jews.

Lunch came, we ate, and then discussed the lobster rolls.

Cindy thought it was good. She had gone to UMass.

Richie Boy was unimpressed. He was nursing a hangover.

I had eaten better in Maine, but Lincolnville was an eight-hour drive from 47th Street.

A chubby hand slapped the window.


The Hassidic bum.

His yamakah was sliding off what remained of his greasy hair and his fingers were twitching for money.

“Fuck him.” Richie Boy had little patience for Lenny.

“He’s harmless.” Lenny was no Don Rickles, but he made me laugh.

“Tell him to go away. He’s bad for business.”

“Business? On Sukkot keep on dreaming.”

“Do me a favor and send him away. Lenny’s ruining my appetite.”

I put down my lobster roll and went outside.

Lenny seemed to have gained more weight and he smelled like he hadn’t been to a schvitz since before Moses freed the slaves.

“Lenny, you’re messing up the window.” His hand imprints were scattered on the glass like prehistoric paintings. “I’m the one who has to clean it.”

“Sorry, Damian.” Lenny was a slob in his filthy tee-shirt and ripped flannel trousers with sodden sneakers shaped like melted cheese. He has been living on the street for more than 20 years, but I had seen the fat bum deposit over $200 at the bank more than once. Some people say that his lunacy is an act, except his rhummy eyes told the truth.

“No worries.” I liked that he called me ‘Damian’. The name smacked of THE OMEN and the Son of Satan.

“Why Richie doesn’t ever give?” Lenny begged everyone on the street for money. He even took small change.

“Maybe it has something to do with you calling him a Nazi.”

“He is a Nazi. A country club Nazi who hates Jews like me.” Lenny was fondling an etrog lemon, which someone must have given him for Sukkot. I could smell it over his stench.

“Lenny, I hear you say that to a lot a people on the street. It’s not nice.”

“I’ll tell you what’s not nice.” Lenny pointed to Tony and his wife. “Over a million gypsies were killed by the Nazis, but no one ever builds a museum for them”

“The Roma are ‘travelers’.” That was the Irish word for them and it didn’t have a nice meaning.

“And the Hebrews wandered forty years in the desert and what about the Wandering Jew?”

“That’s a myth.” The Goyim had created the legend of a Jew cursed with immortality for taunting Jesus on his way to the Crucifixion.

“Ahasver might not exist, but the Jews have traveled the world for centuries same as the Roma and people talk about them the same way as they talk about us.”

Aren’t you celebrating Sukkot?”

“I sleep outside every night.” Lenny lived in the rough. He had no possession other than the clothing on his back. “Every day is Sukkot for me. Same as you, Damian. You wander the world.”

“My wanderings are more like Dion’s THE WANDERER than the Jews and Roma.” I loved the line from that hit, ‘I’m the type of guy’.

“I love Dion.” Lenny knew every homeless shelter in New York. They were his world and the sidewalks were paths for his travels.

“Me too, but I wish I didn’t.”

“Your kids in Thailand.” Lenny was crazy, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew my life.”

“Yeah, my kids.” The four of them were halfway around the world. There was something not right about that arrangement and I felt more sympathy for the Roma than was normal for someone born on the Coast of Maine.

Richie Boy rapped on the window.

“Lenny, I got to go back to work.” I had to make a little money.

“You got a dollar for the holiday?”

I handed him two bills.

He wished me luck and called for a blessing on my kids in Thailand.

“May you get home soon.”

“Thanks.” Seeing my kids was my greatest wish. Another month and I would have plane fare to Bangkok. I would count every day.

“Baxt hai sastimos tiri patragi.” Lenny shambled into the street. His eyes were on Tony and his wife. He saw them as a soft touch.

“What’s that?” I had never heard those words before.

“It’s Romani for ‘good luck.’”

“Sie gesund.” I wished him well in Yiddish and returned inside the diamond exchange hoping to close a deal in the final hours of Sukkot, because all wanderers are lucky as long as they were heading home.

International Write-Off Day

Last month I was dining at Bar Pitti with Richie Boy, our art dealer friend Starvie, and my landord Pollock. The restaurant on 6th Avenue was packed with stockbrokers thankful to have survived the day’s mayhem. Ferraris, Landrovers, and Mercs weaved through the traffic, each one is more of a hurry to be somewhere else. After appetizers Richie Boy told a story about his diamond exchange being robbed for a million dollars. 17 years later he still thinks I did it, which is why he always hires me back to work for him selling diamonds. He thinks I’ll come up with the box someday.

Our friends laughed at his loss, as I disproved his allegations. The neighboring table was rehashing the meltdown after Sunday’s announcement that two of the largest banks in the world had vanished without a trace. They had opinions.

Collapse. Buy. Sell. The economy is sound. Invest in beer.

Pollock leaned over to me and acknowledged his indiscretion.

“No one knows shit.”

“Certainly not me.” I’d been broke since my arrest in Thailand seven ago. “But I’m willing to make a prediction.”

“Which is?”

“The Dow Jones will hit 9500 by the end of the month.” September had only 15 more days left. The stockbrokers on the other table had stopped speaking to hear my reasoning. “And on what do i base this forecast. A hunch. Nothing more and nothing less.”

Everyone resumed their conversation, except for Richie Boy, who said, “Anyone that knows isn’t saying and anyone that says doesn’t know.”

We all agreed to that.

Bad Debt Good

My first credit card was backed by the endorsement of Mrs. Carolina in 1995.

“An American Express for emergencies.”
She loved the way I kissed and visited me once a month in New York. Ms. Carolina told her husband that I was gay. His believing her mapped a faultline in my masculinity. Ms. Caroline was blonde and beautiful. In bed there was never a need for words.

When I moved to LA to help Scottie Taylor open the Beverly Hills’ Milk Bar, I used this card to purchase pastrami sandwiches from Jerry’s Deli and groceries from Trader Joe’s. Three months of this ran the bill up to $1000. The week before the opening of the Milk Bar, Mrs. Carolina flew out for a road trip to Death Valley.

“I don’t think I can pay that debt right now,” I told her at a steak house in Lone Pine.

“Don’t worry about it. You can pay me once you sell a book.” Ms. Carolina liked my writing. No one in Hollywood felt the same way.

Ms. Carolina might not have cared about my insolvency and seemingly neither did the credit card companies, who issued me a playing deck of plastic from Visa and MasterCard. I was credit rich with no standing debt.

I thought I was smart juggling various new offers of 0% interest between competing companies. My limit rose with my payments. I soon was given a ceiling on $70,000 despite no visible source of income or assets other than an elephant foot in my East Village apartment. By 2001 my debt was a mere $3000.

Manageable minimal monthly payments while I traveled back and forth to the Orient.

9/11 changed all that routine. I had no work for several months and lived on the cards, transferring debts back and forth like an off-shore banker, until I resumed employ at the diamond exchange.

My debt had grown to $15000.

The winter of 2002 I sold a Burma sapphire for big money and informed Richie Boy that I was heading for Thailand. I had a book to write. I was only 48. The future was still in my favor and Sam Royalle had promised to set me up with an internet website selling F-1 copy merchandise. Leaving America seemed like a good idea, especially since my Thai girlfriend and I were expecting a baby and GW Bush was in the White House.

The credit cards paid for the birth of Angie.

MY debt rose to $25000.

I faithfully paid the increasing monthlies with the money from my sublet of East 10th Street. Apartment 3E, while my business was generating enough income to support a family of three. The problem arose when I lost my ATM card with which I withdrew funds from

The other other option was to take cash advances from the cards, although I didn’t notice the small print of the contract stating that this move would bump my interest rate to 29%. And my debt started to balloon, so that by 2008 when the Thai police shut down my website for copyright infringement, I owed something like $70,000.

More money than I could pay back and I did the numbers. I had already covered the original debt, but was now servicing the interest. I called the credit card companies to ask for an abatement in the interest levels even though I had no income. They refused my request. I told them without this help that I would be forced into bankruptcy.

“New laws have been written to prevent that.”

“Laws?” I was living in Thailand beyond the reach of America. “Could I speak with your manager?”

“He won’t change a thing.”

“Then I guess this is the last time we speak.” I had no credit line. “Good-bye.”

And like that I was free from their debts. Different creditors phone from time to time. They have purchased my note at probably 5%. Maybe less. I’m not scared of speaking to these faceless voices from the Midwest. I ask them if they are willing to reduce my principal. They refuse and demand the full balance plus interest. I explained that I’m not in a position to pay them this sum. It is 100% the truth.

I have written off this debt in my mind on my own personal write-off day.

And I have survived without a credit card thanks to throwing out my TV. No strangers tell me what to buy. My purchases are generated by necessity; food and Shelter and transportation. A few beers too. I like the buzz of being an anti-consumer of any offering of globalization.

Broke, but free.

It was a good feeling and still is.