The Meaning of Pure

This is a video of my story THE MEANING OF PURE.

In 1995 I crosse the Himalayas and traveled to Benares.

Swimming in the Ganges washed away your sins.

My bath in the Mother of India was dedicated to my baby brother who had passed from AIDS earlier in the summer.

Michael Charles Smith comes to me in dreams.

He seems happy in the Here-After.

Eric Marciano made this video and I thank the Springfield native for his insight.

To see THE MEANING OF PURITY, please go to the following URL

https://vimeo.com/83326329

THE MEANING OF PURE by Peter Nolan Smith

In the summer of 1995 my baby brother died of AIDS.

I sought solace for Michael’s soul the Orient seeking solace for Michael’s soul by visiting the holy sites of Asia.

I lit candles before the Buddha in Chiang Mai.

I circumnavigated Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple.

Despite a lifelong disbelief in religion this pilgrimage comforted my sense of loss.

In November I crossed the Himalayas to fly south to Varanasi on the Ganges.

I booked a hotel room up the river from the burning ghats. Backpackers smoked ganga on the terrace. A sitarists at a nearby ashram played a raja throughout the starry evening.

In the steepening disk I wandered to the smoldering crematory pyres.

Untouchables gathered bones and dumped charred remains into the Mother of India.

My brother had been buried in a grave outside of Boston.

Here life ended in ashes not dust to dust.

In the morning I ate a khichri of rice, lentils, and spices. The tea was sweet. The water came from the holy river.

I returned to the ghats reading Hindu phrases from a travel guide.

The monsoon season was over and the faithful bathed in the low Ganges. Its waters washed away sins.

Scores of mourners stacked wood for the fiery funerals of their beloved ones.

There was little weeping.

My feet were muddy from the riverbank.

I decided to wash the mud off my feet and descended to the water’s edge.

The ghat fell silent.

“Mistah.” A young girl in a blue sari stood before me. “You have done a bad thing. The Ganges is sacred and washing your shoes is ‘varjita’.”

I read the meaning of ‘varjita’ in the circle of accusing eyes.

A hostile murmur replaced the stillness.

The mourners were on the verge of becoming a mob.

“Kheda.” My earnest apology did not penetrate the anger.

“You have to leave.” The young girl shouted to a passing boatman. “My uncle will take you to safety.”

“Dhan’yavāda.” I hopped in the rowboat and the man pulled on the oars.

His name was Ramsi.

“You are a very silly man.” Ramsi rowed to the middle of the Ganges. My disgrace had been swallowed by a surge of arriving pilgrims.

“Yes, I am very silly,” I explained how I had come to Varansi to purify my body.

“It is the best place in the world to cleanse away your sin, but not your shoes, sir.” Ramsi motioned to a broad sand bar. “The water on the opposite shore is cleaner and private. You want to go there?”

“How much?”

“Pay what you think is right, sir.”

“Accha.” I was okay with this deal, since he had saved me from possible harm on the ghats.

I took off my clothes and swam naked into the Ganges.

The water was fine and I got out to dry myself.

A vulture was fighting a dog for something lying half in the river.

It was a dead body.

Ramsi came up to me.

“The poor don’t have enough money to burn the body. They give the body to the river. See that’s a river dolphin joining them. He will help the dead man to nirvana.”

A dolphin joined the two combatant in the menage a trois feast.

Back at the ghats I gave Ramsi $20.

“Oh, sir, you are too good. Tonight come to my house for dinner.”

There was no saying no.

Back at the hotel travelers discussed the westerner who had washed his sandals at the ghat.

I didn’t give them my version of the scandal.

That evening I met Ramsi and accompanied the boatman to his one-room house. His wife was dressed in her finery. The meal was vegetarian and the water was fresh from the Ganges.

“It is holy water. I have drank it all my life and have never been sick once.”

“Saubh’gya.” Good luck was always good luck no matter if offered by a sinner.

I drank it and felt pure.

I hoped that my brother Michael felt the same.


Our sacred river was the Saco.

Only last summer its waters had washed over us.

It had been pure too.

And that night on the Ganges I went to sleep content.

Somewhere in the Here-Before my brother was pure.

In some ways I was too.

Texas Tower Massacre

On August 1, 1966 Charles Joseph Whitman started the day by killing his wife and mother. He left a note in his apartment.

“I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.”

Charles Whitman departed from his apartment and drove to the Texas University. The ex-Marine climbed the 307-foot tower with a cache of weapons. From this aerie he shot dead 13 people and wounded 32 others with telescopic rifles. This rampage lasted for hours. Finally two Austin police officers broke through the barricaded door and put down the killer with shotguns.

“We got him.”

At his autopsy medical examiners found a brain tumor in his head. He was also on speed and rumors abounded about his abuse as a child by the Catholic priests from his home parish of Lake Worth, Florida.

No one blamed the guns.

Not then.

Now now and not when gunmen assail ‘soft targets’ such as school, fast food chains, and malls or a concert at Las Vegas.

Strangely no deranged gunman has ever attacked a gun show.

Guns and guns and guns.

Not once in America has a mass murderer assailed a gun show, proving that either the madmen are scared of not accomplishing their murderous mission or gun shows calm the burning blood of a killer’s brain.

Don’t get me wrong. I like shooting guns. Just not at people.

Unless they are after my family, then it’s open season.

Lock and load.

ZOMBIE DREAMS by Peter Nolan Smith

Four springs ago Brock Dundee hired my driving services for a road trip across the Midwest. The Scottish filmmaker was seeking out the statues of a dying Irish sculptor in Middle America. His plan was to video the works and then film the artist seeing his works for the last time.

My boss at the diamond exchange wasn’t happy with my taking off two weeks.

“He’s paying me $1000 a week. You want to pay me that.” I had been asking for a raise for the last year.

“Have a good trip,” wished Manny. He had a good head for numbers and figured he was saving a week’s salary too.

“Of course I will.” I was glad to be off the Street. Business sucked in April with no promise of flowers for May.

A week later Brock and I flew to Chicago and hired a car at O’Hare. The Scot didn’t know how to drive, but he unfolded a map to plot out a route on the Interstates.

“No fucking interstates.” I ripped the map off his lap and threw it in the backseat.

“Aren’t the interstates faster?” Brock wanted to visit five statues in St. Louis, Kansas City, Des Moines, and Minneapolis and we had eight days to cover six big states.

“Only if you’re heading to shopping mall.” I-80 was rammed with SUVs and long-haul trucks. I pointed out a state trooper cruising in the opposite direction. “We want to stay far away from them.”

“Aren’t there speed traps on the back roads?” Brock’s vision of rural America had been formed by the movies DELIVERANCE and EASY RIDER.

“The cops go where the money is and that’s the interstates.” I turned off I-80 at the Peoria exit and turned to Brock. “Welcome to The Fly-Over.”

“Fly-Over?” The Scot was unfamiliar with the American term.

“This is the land you fly over from New York to LA.” The square states of the Midwest are mostly flat corn fields. They offer little for New Yorkers, Californians, and Europeans.

“I get it.” Brock relaxed in his seat. He had chosen me for my ability to take the least obvious course of action for the next week we avoided the Interstates like a plague.

Our path wandered along a flooded Illinois River down the broad Mississippi across the spring farmland of Missouri into the terra incognita of Iowa.

On long stretches through the farmlands my Scottish friend and I didn’t see a human for hours. The spring skies were low and the clouds carried rain. The straight roads were devoid of cars. Everyone was on the Interstate heading to a WalMart.

South of Des Moines I remarked to Brock, “Not many people living out here.”

“No reason for anyone to live out here.” The small towns were empty and the big cities looked, as if they had been blasted by a neutron bomb.

“Young people move out as soon as they finish high school.” The farmboys treated their boredom with crystal meth well of sight.

“Leaving only the dead and the dying.”

“Like we were in a zombie movie.” The real world had been replaced by scenes from MAD MAX II and I accelerated to 100 mph. We hadn’t seen any police cars in days.

“I haven’t seen any zombies.” Brock scanned the bare expanse of fields on either side of the road.

“They would starve out here.” Zombies liked cities. They had large populations of slow-moving fat people.

“They’d have to raid a Walmart.”

“Or a McDonald’s” Mickie Ds dominated the fast food feeding chain in the fly-over.

“The Undead eating the uneatable.” Brock shuddered in his seat, although he was a sucker for KFC.

“Years ago I had a horrible dream about zombies.”

“What was it?” Brock took out his camera. “Let’s have it from the top.”

This trip was as much about us as the sculptor.

“Camera, action.”

“In 1975 I spent the winter in Mexico. Toward Spring I had caught a Trois Estellas bus from Monterrey, Mexico to Texas.” I hadn’t thought about that bus in ages. “It was a long ride and I was reading a book by HP Lovecraft. THE TERROR AT INNSMOUTH. The bus stopped in a small town and I ate a potato taco. It tasted a little funny and that night I fell sick with food poisoning, so I checked into a cheap hotel at the border. That night I lay on the bed with a fever. I read my book and fell asleep. Sometime in the night I dreamed that I was being chased through an abandoned garden by zombies.”

“Fast or slow?”

“Slow.”

“I hate the way zombies moved fast in RESIDENT EVIL.” My Scottish friend was a horror film buff and he zoomed for a close-up on me. A nod was the signal to resume my monologue.

“Fast is bad, but too many zombies was worst. They cut off my escape and I ran to a gazebo. Old screens covered the windows. I locked the flimsy door. The zombies huddled around the gazebo. Their breath smelled of rotting flesh. They scrapped at the screens with long yellow fingernails, then a voice deeper than a six-foot grave said, “Tell us the secret of human life.”

“The secret of human life?” Brock interrupted my spiel, since he felt the breaks gave me time to collect my thoughts.

“I didn’t know the secret of human life and there was no stalling the zombies either. When they’re hungry, they’re hungry. They broke through the screens. I shut my eyes expecting the worse.”

“You’re not supposed to die in dreams.” Brock was listening to every word. We were coming to a turning.

“Freud said everything was driven by pleasure or death and death in dreams was a way of understanding your personal sexual repression levels.” I put on the left-turn signal. That road led to Kansas City. The Irish sculptor had a large statue at a local university.

“Freud’s full of Oedipal shit. I’ve seen photos of his mother. She wasn’t worth killing his father, of course Jung had a different take on death in a dream.

“Screw him.” My story had no place for dead psychiatrists.

“So what happened?”

“I tried to wake up, but couldn’t and I heard the voice say, “Tell us the secret of human life and I’ll let you live for another minute.”

“And?” Brock was expecting a horrible demise.

“I realized the secret of human life was that no matter how bad the 61st second would be I still wanted another 60 to satisfy my urge to live.”

“And did you tell them the secret?”

“No, I woke up and foiled their attempt to destroy Mankind.”

“A hero.”

“It’s not everyone who can save humanity in their sleep.” It had seemed so real, but my flesh had borne no teeth marks. ” So I’m not really scared of zombies.”

“No?” Brock asked, as if he wasn’t convinced about their status as myth.

“Zombies exist in movies and video games. Not all of them bad. You ever see SHAUN OF THE DEAD?”

“That’s not a real zombie movie.” Brock was a traditionalist as was to be expected from a Scot.

I agreed that the British flick wasn’t scary, but it was funny and after my dream I like funny zombies better than scary ones.

We drove west toward Kansas City.

In 1959 Wilbur Harrison sang that they had some pretty women there and in every one of my dreams pretty women were always more fun than zombies.

Texas Guide to Life

Here’s some very useful Texas wisdom.

Don’t squat with your spurs on.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.

Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.

There’s two theories to arguin’ with a woman. Neither one works.

Never slap a man who’s chewin’ tobacca.

Always drink upstream from the herd.

When you’re throwin’ your weight around, be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else.

Never miss a good chance to shut up.

There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Classic.