Collect Call to the After-Life

This summer my brother visited me in a dream. My deceased mother and I were sitting in a ramshackle cottage on Cape Cod. My brother said he was going to meet friends. He looked happy, as he ran out the door. It was a little too short, but I was happy to see him and so was my mother.

I hope he’s having a good time.

ps Michael Charles Smith is the smallest and I am the tallest of the boys.

TORA TORA TORA 2016


Like JFK’s assassination everyone of a certain age remembered where they were during the announcement of the Japanese attack on the US Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor. Many had to ask, “Where’s Pearl Harbor?”

This morning to commemorate their ignorance I posed the same question to younger people on the streets of Manhattan. Few of them had a clue other than two Japanese punks who said it was a group from the 1970s.

“As we get old, we forget. As we get older, we are forgotten.”

TORA TORA TORA

ps Pearl Harbor and The Explosions released their debut single, “Drivin’”. It was backed by “Release It” on Nov. 21, 1979. I have no idea where I was, but I think it was CBGBs.

Torah Torah Torah by Peter Nolan Smith

TORA TORA TORA was one of my mother’s favorite films. The infamy of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor burned bright in her memory. Her friends from Jamaica Plain enlisted in the Marines, Army, and Navy by the scores. Many of them failed to return to Boston. Their bodies rest on islands across the Pacific.

The 1970 film flopped at the box office. Hippies didn’t want to see a war movie, but I went with my mother and father. She cried at the sinking of the Arizona. My father had joined the Army Air Force that January much like many young Americans volunteered for the armed forces after the 9/11 attacks.

The producers of MAGNUM PI and NYPD BLUE manipulated the Japanese Navy’s radio command TORA TORA TORA into TORAH TORAH TORAH for episodes about stolen Torahs. It has never been used by the IDF, who have been trying to draft Yeshiva students into the army without any success, for they consider the Torah trumps any secular laws.

Last Friday I was on West 47th Street and ran into Rondell, a religious diamond dealer.

“So nu?”The heavy-set Hassidic diamond broker was happy that I had a new job. We boasted about the health of our families and after a few minutes I asked his opinion about the power of the Torah over the laws of man.

“The Torah was dictated to Moses over the forty years in the desert. The words come from a divine source.” The Torah was the law for Rondell.

“What about the last eight lines? Some scholars considered that these were composed after the Death of Moses.”

“They are all sacred.” The youngish father of six was a true believer from a schul on Eastern Parkway and said proudly, “You know that the Torah is one of the most important school books in Korea. Its truth is taught to many of the young.”

“The Torah?” I understood how the five books of Moses formed the backbone of Hassidic tradition and the Christian accepting the Pentateuch into their Old Testament as well as the Muslims regarding the ancient text to be the words of Allah, but Korea was on the other side of the world and while 22% of its people claimed to be Buddhists and almost a third profess to be Christian, almost half the country adhere to no religion. “What’s the Torah have to do with Korea?”

“The Korean ambassador told Israeli TV that Talmud study is a mandatory part of the country’s school curriculum and almost every home in South Korea boasts a Korean version of the Talmud, and mothers commonly teach it to their children, who call it the “Light of Knowledge.”

“I know many Koreans are Christian. I had several baptized in my youth.”

My old boss shook his head. Manny had heard this schtick before.

“You were a missionary?” Rondell knew of my devotion to atheism.

“No, but as a child in Boston the nuns offered us a chance to support Korean infant orphans. $15 took care of them for the first month of their life and you got to name them.” Somewhere in Korea were four men in their late-40s with my name. “Koreans are also prone to Evangelism.”

“Evangelism?” Rondell was unfamiliar with Christian subsects.

“Born-Again Christians.” Manny was listening to my every word.

At the mention of these words my Brazilian co-worker turned her head. Ava believed in the God of the Only Faith and she prayed for my abandoned soul, so I won’t burn in Hell. I looked at her, as I said, “Yes, Born-Agains back Israel 100%, for without Israel there can be no Apocalypse and the Apocalypse bring back the Messiah to battle the forces of Satan. Ava, do you have a Torah in your house?”

“Yes, it’s called the Book of Light.” Ava’s was guided by the Bible. To her every word was true, especially the Apocalypse. She noticed her boss glaring at her. He hated my bullshitting.

“Thanks.” I respected her faith. This country the Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion and from religion. “The Talmud gets around and so does the Koran.”

“Not according to the Korean Ambassador. He says no Koreans read it, because it’s a book of Islam.” Rondell hated the Arabs; Christians as well as Muslims.

“That’s not true. I have traveled through Korea’s main airport on my many trips to Thailand and seen a few Muslim Korean in Inchon Airport, but no Hassidim. They prefer to fly through Tokyo or Beijing on the way back from the Hong Kong diamond shows Jews either, but then you don’t have to like pastrami to be Jewish.”

“What does pastrami have to do with the Torah?”

“Nothing other than it isn’t tref.”

“Goyim.” Rondell was ecstatic to have stumped me on this issue and said, “Call me if you get a deal we can steal.”

“Will do.” We had made money in the past and I hoped that we made money in the future. We hugged as men equal in love of the world and I walked him outside the exchange. I wasn’t making any money on the Street today and shouted, “TORAH TORAH TORAH.”

“Say the word.” Rondell pumped his fist in the air. He was a good family man and loved the Torah as should any rebbi.

That evening back home in Fort Greene I searched for ‘Korea, torah’ and found the following;

Nearly ten years ago, the Korea Times reported: “Interestingly, there are at least two different books currently sitting on Korean best-seller shelves that purport to explain the Jewish Talmud. The popularity of these books initially came as a surprise. But Koreans aren’t converting to Judaism. They read those books because Jews have gained a reputation for hard work and success, two things Koreans relate to well.”

Reports of Korean schoolchildren reading the Talmud – or at least stories thereof – have also been known for several years. One American teacher in South Korea related that in 2005, his elementary school students told him that as children, they had all read the Talmud, which they called the “Light of Knowledge.” When asked if they had also read the Koran, they burst into laughter, saying, “Of course not, that’s the Muslim book.”

TORAH TORAH TORAH, but I prefer a good pastrami sandwich from Katz’ Deli.

Throw in a cream soda and I’m in heaven on earth.

12/7/1960

Seventy-four years ago Japanese aircraft attacked the US Pacific Fleet. Nearly every capital ship in Pearl Harbor was sunk of severely damaged by bombs or torpedoes and the Pacific Ocean became a Japanese lake until Midway.

The next day President Roosevelt declared before Congress, “December 7th shall live forever as a day of infamy.”

This morning I asked a score of NY teenagers what was special about December 7th.

“Today?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a Monday.”

“No.” I shook my head.

“It’s the start of winter.”

“No, that’s December 21st.”

I decided to give them a hint.

“It has something to do with Pearl Harbor.”

“Where’s that?”

“Hawaii, so you don’t know that December 7th is Pearl Harbor Day or what happened that day?”

The group of high school students shrugged with disinterest.

“It’s the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.”

“Are the Japanese Muslim terrorists?”

“No, the Japanese come from Japan?” I gave up on my attempt to comfirm that FDR’s Day Of Infamy has receded into the mists of history, proving that America’s blissful ignorance is a long-cherished national asset, but I know what December 7th means most to me. It was the birth date of my youngest brother, Michael. A day I remember better than most, because fifty-four years ago I was standing in the parking lot of Our Lady of the Foothills. It was recess time. The weather was cold for December. My classmates were kicking a big red ball for fun and warmth. Our family station wagon pulled up before the school’s front door. My father stepped out of the car. He waved for my older brother and I to join him. My younger sisters too. We were all in uniform.

“You have a baby brother,” he proudly told us. The nuns appeared annoyed by his unapproved appearance, being fiercely protective of their authority. My father was a late convert to Catholicism. His faith was newborn and he ignored their glare.

“We have a brother?” Our mother had exhibited no sign of pregnancy over the past months and I was mystified by this potential immaculate conception.

“Yes. Michael. Your mother named him after your uncle.” My father hugged my two sisters close. They were a little more than a year apart.

“The priest?” Uncle Michael was a monsignor for Cardinal Cushing. He had met my grandmother Nana at the Boston docks after her passage from Ireland at the tender age of 14.

Six years older than me in 1960.

“Yes, and he’s going to baptized your brother at the church. Go get your things. Your mother wants you to see Michael.”

The nuns protested his request to take us out of school, but my father’s greatest love was for his children and we piled into the station wagon. The drive to Boston Lying-In Hospital took less than fifteen minutes. My father liked to drive fast.

Our small tribe entered our mother’s hospital room. She was holding Michael in her arms. Nana was holding Padraic, the fifth of our brood. He was all of two. Our family was now six. A family of eight counting my mother and father.

“There goes my pony.” My older brother whispered in my ear.

Year in and year out Frunk had requested a pony from Santa Claus. I never thought that he had a chance of getting one since my mother hated animals.

I stepped closer to the bed. The red-faced baby in my mother’s arms looked more like a furless monkey than a human.

I touched his small hand. It was warm.

“Say hello to your brother.” My mother beamed with a Madonna’s love.

“Hi, Michael.”

He was my baby brother that day and has been every day since.

Sadly Michael passed from this world in summer of 1995. I think of him often and my father’s telling me that I had a baby brother. I still do have one, because December 7th is a day that will live forever in my memory as Baby Brother Day.

Michael Charles Smith RIP.

My baby brother is sorely missed by family and friends.

He would have been 54 today.

Forever young.

I’ll raise a glass for Michael later.

He was my Pearl Harbor Boy and I’ll never say to him or his ghost, “Sayonara.”

Only.

Up the rebels, boyo.

A Walk On A Bridge

On a grey November afternoon I was not in the best of moods. I hid my sadness with smiles and buried my sorrow with alcohol.

Life was hardly worth living.

I hadn’t seen my children for over a year. I missed them more and more with each passing day.

Especially little Fenway.

And Angie.

They were growing up without me.

The hurt wouldn’t go away. An inner voice spoke a dangerous language. It only had one word.

I looked out my window. Condos along Fulton Avenue blocked my view to the west. Thailand and my family lay on the other side of the world. I hadn’t left my room in three days.

My phone rang.

I answered hoping it was a job lead.

Instead it was Shannon, my old basketball friend. We hadn’t played in a long time.

My legs were gone.

“You wan to join me for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. We can have lunch in Chinatown.”

“I don’t know.”

“My treat.”

Shannon knew my weakness for a free meal and agreed to meet at the Masonic Temple in Fort Greene.

“Ten minutes.” We lived close to each other. Shannon with his wife. Me all alone.

Seeing a friendly face was a good thing.

“So we were walking across the bridge?” I pointed up. The sky was darker than before.

“You scared of a little rain?”

“No.” We were both dressed for the weather, although I was wearing sandals instead of boots.

“Then let’s go.”

“How’s work?”

“I don’t have any work.” I had been laid off from the Plaza store. “No one’s buying jewelry.”

“Any idea why?”

Millions of dollars of diamonds and gems sat in the window.

“My old profession is dying in the new century, but enough talk of business, let’s walk.”

The Brooklyn Bridge was thirty minutes from Fort Greene. Shannon and I spoke of the past.

Basketball games, fights, and long-gone loves, then he broached a forbidden subject.

“When are you going to Thailand?”

“No time soon.” I was living on food stamps and all my money went to my family. I was lucky to spend $40 a day. “I don’t know when I’ll get there.”

“One day you will.”

He knew how much I loved my kids.

Shannon had suggested the name ‘Fenway’ for my son. I had checked online for Fenway Smith. Surprisingly I found none.

“You know I was walking down Lafayette the other day and ran into a guy with a dog wearing a Red Sox hat. I asked him his dog’s name. He said, “Fenway.” Now I realized why people don’t call their kids ‘Fenway’. They call their dogs ‘Fenway’.

“Sorry.” Shannon was a Yankee fan, but a good friend and I said, “I still like the name.”

We had reached the pedestrian pathway and climbed onto the bridge.

Few tourists braved the damp mist. Shannon was a faster walker. I lingered at the railing. The height of the wooden walkway was 132 over the water. A thick obscured the city’s inner harbor. Its thick grey matched the color of my heart. The dangerous language repeated the only word in its vocabulary, as the wind strummed the steel cables and the grated roadway hummed with traffic.

I thought of Hart Crane’s poem about the wind and struggled to recall The Bridge.

One line stuck in my head.

“Under thy shadow by the piers I waited
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.”

Darkness was my only friend.

Hart Crane had jumped or drunken sailors had thrown the gay poet off the bow of Orizaba. He drowned in the Caribbean, confirming his prediction.

“The bottom of the sea is cruel.”

The height of the bridge was ruthless and the tide said the word.

“Jump.”

Shannon looked at me. He read my eyes and said, “The fog leans one last moment on the sill.
Under the mistletoe of dreams, a star —
As though to join us at some distant hill —
Turns in the waking west and goes to sleep.

Shannon had read Crane too.

The poetry mirrored my soul, but Shannon was too far away to stop me other to say, “Fenway.”

I didn’t budge.

He said another name.

“Angie.”

My mother was an Angie.

She was in after-life, but my daughter was here now.

Thousands of miles away, but there same as Fenway.

Shannon shrugged.

He was not playing fair.

Not with my life on the line.

We were standing underneath City Hall.

Are you okay?”

“Better.”

“Just remember you have something to live for?”

“I know.”

“Bringing Fenway to Fenway Park”.

“I’m sure he’d like that.”

“Tough getting swept by the Indians in the playoffs.” Shannon really was a Yankee fan, but they hadn’t been to the World Series since 2009.

“I really touched by your concern.”

“Shall we have a drink at your bar.”

“The 169.”

I was friends with the afternoon bartender.

“We deserve a beer after that walk.”

“It’ll be good to be off the bridge.”

Because I still had places to go.

We had more than one beer.

The 169 had pretty lights.

And pretty lights kept away the darkness.

For sleep and dreams of jumping off a low bridge into the Charles River.

The Charles