Summer Solstice 2021

Today was the official summer solstice for the northern hemisphere. The day lasted almost sixteen hours in New York and the sun never set in Murmansk, Russia. I woke well before the dawn and went to sleep far past sunset, as the Earth polar cap tipped toward the nearest star 93 million miles away from our home planet.

Five hundred year after the discovery of beer by the Celts the Druid priests gathered the tribes to erect this monolithic bluestone clock to record the rising and setting on the sun and the passage of the stars. To this day modern archaeologists will not attributed this great feat to the Celts, because the true tribe supposedly arrived in Britain in 600 before Caeser’s reign over Rome.

Fucking Brits haven’t even discovered its ancient name.

No one has come even close.

No one.

Not even us remaining Neanderthals.

The Avebury henges followed Stonehenge’s creation.

Back in 1994 I drank in a good pub at the northern entrance.

I also climbed to the top of the Sillbury Hill.

Scientist have calculated that its construction took five hundred men fifteen years.

And over two seas of beer.

The exact purpose of the hill remains unknown.

The view from the top is good, but nothing special.

Stonehenge has its rivals such as the Hopewell Project in Bangkok.

Or Manhattanhenge in New York.

And who can forget the eternal bliss of Foamhenge in Virginia.

It’s now 2:33PM

In Brooklyn.

I am ready for a nap.

Longest day of the year or not.

With my head to the west.

As it should be on the summer solstice.

# 17 by Peter Nolan Smith

One wintry December night in 1976 I stumbled home from a derelict bar at the corner of the Bowery and Houston. The icy wind slashed through my thin clothing and I was about to hail a taxi to my SRO tenement on 11th Street, when the thump of a frantic bass emanated from a white stucco building. The accompanying music was rock and roll at its purest and I pushed open the bar’s heavy wooden door.

The leather-jacketed quartet on the stage were covering the 45rpm version of The Rivieras’ CALIFORNIA SUN. The audience was heaving up and down, as if the floor was pulsating in time to the 3-chord progression. I stepped forward to join the frenzy.

A huge hand blocked my way.

“$5.” The monstrous bouncer wore a yellow construction hat.

“Who are they?” I handed over the fiver.

“The Ramones. They play punk,” answered the big man.

Everyone in the bar wore leather jackets and the girls had colored hair.

CALIFORNIA SUN was replaced by a fast-moving song with a chorus of I WANNA BE SEDATED. I rushed up to the front of the crowd. By the end of the band’s set I was hooked to the music and like that I became a punk.
The next day I bought a leather jacket on St. Mark’s Place and later had my cut my hair at Manic Panic. Those girls were punk from the points of their stilettos to the tops of their teased black hair.

Every night I hung out at CBGBs. None of the stars of the scene were my friends. They played music and my one talent was playing pinball, so I was a nobody, which was okay, since being a punk was all about not caring about being nobody.

Not everyone felt the same way.

Blondie was getting noticed by major record labels, the Talking Heads toured coast to coast to bigger and bigger crowds, and almost every girl loved Richard Hell for his song BLANK GENERATION and his nihilistic good looks. None of us knew how to be different, but we had a good idea about how not to be ‘me’ anymore thanks to Richard.

Our devotion to this faith failed to translate into record sales and the Voidoids’ forays into the Top 40 were mocked by an unknown power-pop trio’s song RICHARD IS A FORKHEAD. My own personal lack of success gained me nothing and in 1981 I left New York to work as a bouncer at a Paris nightclub on the Grand Boulevard.

One night a New Wave girl band from the East Village appeared as the Rex’s headliner. The lead singer had a crooked nose and bedraggled hair, but once the ugly duckling hit the stage, Claudia shone with a savaged beauty meant for a dark room and her lanky body encircled the mike stand like a boa crushing a stick. In some ways she was a female version of Richard.

After the show I introduced myself and offered her a drink. We spoke about CBGBs. New York was as close as her body. Claudia’s husband played with Richard Hell. She laughed upon hearing about the song RICHARD IS A FORKHEAD. After closing the club, we ate at an African restaurant in Les Halles.

“What do you miss about New York?”

“Nothing really. I come from Boston.”

I spoke about my hometown. I was a big Bruins fan, although I admitted, “I can’t play hockey for shit.”
“Really?”

“My father was teaching me how to skate backwards and fell, cracking his skull on the pond ice. There was blood everywhere. II never learned how to skate backwards.”

Claudia laughed and said, “Richard is a good tennis player.”

“I’m not good at that either.”

“Are you good at anything?”

“Some things.”

“I’m sure.” She touched my hands.

At dawn I walked Claudia to her hotel in La Marais. The rest of the band was waiting by a van and, she said, “I have to go to Lille.”

“Like Cinderella?”

“I don’t think Cinderella ever went to Lille.”

“I guess not, but the fairy tale never mentioned the name of Cinderella’s hometown.”

“No, but it wasn’t Lille.” She kissed me on the cheek and entered the van. No glass slipper marked her departure, then again I wasn’t Prince Charming.

That summer I visited Perpignan with a friend. Roland Garros was on the TV. His father asked if I was interested in tennis. My father had taught me tennis. I had him by thirty years. I couldn’t ever beat him, but my friend convinced the doctor that I had one time been the 17th ranked tennis player in the USA. I protested the obvious lie, but sometimes people prefer to believe something less than the truth.

Upon my return to Paris a musci industry friend introduced me to a tousled-hair French singer. Lizzie was promoting her new record and the African influenced single was climbing the charts.

“I know you.” Her eyes swam with recognition. “I lived in New York and you once threw me out of an after-hours club on 14th Street.”

“I don’t really remember that,” I answered, although a crazy French girl tumbling down the stairs of the Jefferson Theater wandered in the shadows of my memory. The infamous after-hours club was renown for confusion. “But why did I ask you to leave?”

“You didn’t ask. I was having a fight with my boyfriend. You tried to break it up. My boyfriend punched you. You tossed him down the stairs. I fell with him.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. It was our fault.”

“It was?”

“Ouais.” Lizzie didn’t hold the forceful eviction against me and later that evening in bed at my hotel in La Marais the wild-haired medusa told me about her affair with a spike-haired singer in the East Village.
“Richard?” Forkhead had a long reach.

“Yes, Richard.” She lit a cigarette and the tobacco turned her kisses into ashtrays. “Don’t be jealous. Richard and I were never boyfriend and girlfriend.”

“And what about us?”

“Nous sommes un stand de nuit or one-night stand.”

“Those are the best kind of affairs.”

In the morning I watched her leave like another Cinderella, thinking she was gone for good, but the next evening she showed up at the Rex with her Fender Jazzmaster guitar.

“TV?”

“Yes, I am famous in France.”

French stars fared better without the other people in their life and I kept our affair a secret. We had a good time throughout the fall, although our affair ended on a Christmas vacation on the Isle of Wight. My good friend Vonelli was in love with her. Lizzie was in love with him. My saying ‘bonne chance’ was my Christmas present to them and on Boxing Day I took the ferry to France from Southhampton to Dieppe. It was a stormy passage and I was glad to stand on dry land. Three hours later I was back at the hotel in La Marais.

I remained in Paris another two years before returning to the USA to write screenplays for porno films in North Hollywood. Within a month the quasi-mafia producer fired me for being too intellectual. I never thought that I was that smart.

Back in New York I rode motorcycles and worked at the Milk Bar. I watched the Bruins on TV. They went nowhere, but everyone came to the Milk Bar. It was the place to be from 1am to 4am.

One night Richard came to the door. I had never spoken to him before, but he said, “I think we have a mutual friend.”

“Who?” I knew exactly who.

“Lizzie in Paris says hello.”

“She’s a great girl.”

“She is at that.” I offered him a drink and was surprised by how friendly he was. After the second drink he said, “Lizzie told me about some American in Paris calling me Forkhead.”

“I said it, but the first person to call you that was Marky, the lead guitarist of the Ghosts.”

“I know their song too.” Richard no longer sported spikes. “By the way she called you ‘suedehead’, which is funny coming from someone with a hair like a crow’s nest.”

“More a bird’s nest.”

“Depends on your perspective.” Richard was taller than me. He tipped the bartender $5 before leaving the bar. She smiled at him in recognition of his legend. Punk wouldn’t be punk without him.

“I’ll see you around.”

We lived in the East Village and ran into each other on the street. He invited me to poetry readings at the St. Mark’s Church. Someone said that he edited several alternative magazines. I submitted short stories to each one. He never mentioned them afterwards. I didn’t blame him. My typing, grammar, and spelling were atrocious.

I returned to France in 1989.

Lizzie was dating an art dealer. Vonelli was going out with my old roommate. Paris was a small world. The singer and I played squash in Les Halles. She beat me without mercy, despite wheezing after every shot. I spoke about Richard during a break.

“Richard is so funny. I think he was jealous of you.”

“Jealous for you being with me.”

“You told him about that?” Our affair remained a secret on my end.

“Maybe, it isn’t important anymore.”

“No.” I had been in love several times in the interim. None of my romances had been a success.

“Then let’s not worry about the past.” Lizzie served the ball against the wall for an ace. After her victory we had dinner in the Marais and she said, “Loser pays.”

“That wasn’t much of a game, considering I heard you once were
the 17th-ranked tennis player in the USA.”

“I never was, but a friend of mine from Perpignan lied to his father about my ranking. He believed his son.”

“Do I look like I could have ever been the 17th ranked tennis player in America,” I said it, so she wouldn’t believe me and added, “Plus I let you win fair and square.”

I’m not sure.”

“Up to you.”

We said good-bye in Les Halles. Neither of us suggested a nightcap. We had become just friends.

Nothing more, but friendship lasted longer than love in our world.

In the 90s I began taking around-the-world trips.

I ran into Richard at a gallery opening. He was fascinated by my tales of opium dens on the Burmese border. I thought about writing a down-and-out travel book. I gave several chapters to a literary agent. He hated my typing and I worked selling diamonds on 47th Street. It was a 9-6 job. I wore a suit and tie. The money was good. I went out at night, but not late.

One autumn night at a reading of Richard’s poetry at the St. Mark’s Church I spotted Claudia at the bar. I hadn’t seen the singer since Paris. Richard kept looking at Claudia and I asked, “Are you two a thing?”

“Richard’s no one’s thing. You have a girlfriend?”

“I was living with a Spanish girlfriend last summer, but she more than a little unfaithful, so I threw her out. The problem was that Elena was good friends with the old Puerto Rican woman living next to me. A bruja.”

Claudia didn’t understand the Spanish term for sorceress.

“A witch.”

“Witch?”

“Yes, Santeria.” The magic was practiced by the Caribs throughout the Lower East Side.” Senora loved her and the old woman cursed me by saying I would never love again and I haven’t since Elena.”

“Really?”

“100%.” There was no other explanation for my celibacy.

“Maybe I can help you change that.”

We left for my place. Her divorced husband was taking care of their son. We spent the night together and she left before dawn.
and she spent the night.
“Like Cinderella?” I joked with a towel around my waist.

“Cinderella didn’t have a kid.”

In the morning Claudia kissed my lips and walked down the hallway to the stairs. Mrs. Adorno opened the door. The old bruja had witnessed more than a few women come and go in and out of my life. Her one good eye squinted in my direction and spat something in Spanish before mumbling, “Sex not love. Siempre.”
and she spent the night.

“Not always,” I said, because I wanted more from a woman than sex. Claudia and I went to the movies, made love twice a week, took hiking holidays with her son. She fellated me during the NHL playoffs. I wore my Bruins shirt. They went nowhere, but I wasn’t prepared for her saying after they were ousted from the playoffs, “This isn’t working out.”

“What isn’t?”

“You and me. I want something more from a relationship than this and someone wants to give it to me.”

“Who?” I had to ask.

“Richard.”

“Forkhead.”

“Yes.”

“Oh.” I was growing to used to finishing in second place.

“He called to say he really wanted to be with me. I have to give it a chance.”

“I understand.” I stood no chance against a rock god, especially since Mrs. Adorno’s curse was stronger than me.

I gave Claudia my blessing and started a course of hard-drinking. Drunkenness wouldn’t lift the curse, but I stopped my thinking of Claudia. Of course an affair with Richard wasn’t destined to last forever and a month later Claudia phoned to say it was over.

“Can I come over?”

“The answer is yes, but I’m leaving for Thailand within a week.” I had sold a 5-carat diamond and bought a round-the-world ticket with my commission.

“All you men are alike. You leave when the going gets tough.”

Claudia hung up before I could defend myself. She never came over to my apartment. Mrs Adorno was triumphant.

Six months later I returned from Asia to sell diamonds on West 47th Street during the Christmas season and bumped into Richard on East 11th Street. Neither of us spoke about Claudia, but he said, “We should play tennis sometime.”

“Tennis?”

“Lizzie said you were good at squash. You must be able to play tennis. I belong to the club over on the East River. We can play whenever you want.”

“I haven’t been on a tennis court since 1975.”

“The cold scare you?” This was a challenge.

“Not in the least.” I was from Maine. We had two seasons. Winter and preparing for winter. “Name the day.”

“Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny in the high 40s. Say noon.”

“Noon it is.”

The next morning I called in sick. My boss Manny let his employees have ‘drunk days’ and I slept for another hour.

By noon the temperature warmed up to almost 50. Richard was waiting by the riverside court. He had brought an extra racket.

“Your choice.”

I selected the one more tightly strung without knowing if that was better or not. I was no Arthur Ashe and lost two sets in record time.
“You don’t play often, do you?” Richard smashed an ace to my left.

“Not for years.”

“Lizzie said you were once the 17th-ranked tennis player in America.”

“That was a joke. I was once down in the South of France during the Roland-Garros tournament in Paris. I was watching Yannick Noah’s set and my friend told his father that I was the 17th-ranked tennis player. I denied the claim, but his father thought I was being humble and scheduled an exhibition at the local tennis club. I was presented to the town’s mayor and the club president. My friend whispered that they expected me to play the provincial champion.”

“And did you?”

“No way. I said that I was under contract and couldn’t play anywhere without signed agreements. A little later his father found out the truth. He didn’t think it was funny at first, but everyone else in Perpignan got a good laugh. I didn’t think it was funny either. You never do when you?re the punchline of a joke.”

“Now, I feel the same way. I really thought you a good player.” The way he said that revealed that this was not about Claudia, but Lizzie.

“Maybe I am. Maybe I was taking it easy on you.” I knew the truth.

What about another match?” He wanted to know it too.

“Sorry, I’m under contract.” I handed back the racket and walked away from the court with a smile on my lips.

After that day Richard and I didn’t see each other for several years. I was either working or away in Asia writing novels no one wanted to publish. At least my typing was getting better. Finally I left the States to live in Thailand. I had a baby with my wife In Pattaya.

In April 2004 I returned to New York. My Israeli subleasee had squealed to my landlord in hopes of getting my apartment. An eviction notice was issued in both our names. I threw my tenant out on the street.

Mrs. Adorno said nothing this time. My landlord paid $8000 to speed up my departure from the flat. I was 50 and New York was a tough city for the old. The day before my flight to Bangkok, I spotted Richard on 1st Avenue.

He smiled upon seeing me, then frowned, “I got bad news. Lizzie died this week.”

“No.”

“It was the cigarettes.”

“Shit.” I really liked Lizzie.

“They had the memorial in the South of France. Her ashes floated out to sea with the flowers.” He shuffled several folders of manuscripts between hands. “That leaves only you and me.”

“And Claudia.”

We had nothing else in common than these two women, but his words burned like a fire left unwatched.

I told him that I was leaving the city for good.

“No one leaves the city for good.” He had been living there for over 30 years.

“I just got rid of my apartment.”

“That doesn’t mean anything. You’ll be back, if only to prove you’re the 17th ranked tennis player.”

“Yeah, there’s always that. See you around, Forkhead.”

“You too, Suedehead.”

I waved good-bye.

Richard was right.

I did come back to New York.

We still see each other another time, because none of us were leaving New York. Not even our ghosts, for the dead lived forever in the past for those stuck in the present.

Even the 17th-ranked player in the USA.

Perpignan 1982


In the summer of 1982 my college friend Nick Napoli came to Paris. Walter D was DJ for the Rex Club’s final 24-hour marathon of new wave and ethnic bands featuring Toure Kunda and Virgin Prunes. We weren’t straight for any of those hours. The club’s manager Olivier had a family beach home on the Cote Vermillion i.e. Perpignan on the Spanish border. Nick rented a car. We greeted the next morning on the Autoroute Du Sud.

Here are fotos of my friends.

We are still good friends.

England was taking back the Falklands, Israeli was aiding massacres in Lebanon, and Roland Garros was featuring championship tennis.

It was on the TV.

Olivier told his father that I was the 17th ranked tennis player in the USA.

He believed his son.

Dodo told the entire town about his guest

To this day I am # 17 in Perpignan.

Perpignan was an old city.

Old people lived within its walls.

For fun Olivier suggested Collioure. The old port was down the coast to Collioure. Nick didn’t trust Olivier behind the wheel.

“Me neither.” The French tended to drive like every trip was a qualification for Formula 1.

At a bar Walter spun records. Nick and I danced with two girls. They were cute and in their 20s.

We brought two girls back to Carnet-Plage

They were good fun.

But only in a non-Biblical sense.

For some reason William Buckley, Jr. was in town. He followed us around the city. I don’t think he was after me.

Oliver agreed.

When he asked about wearing espadrilles, I said, “They look good on you.”

It was the South of France.

Espadrilles sucked for climbing around the Templar ruins of the Langue d’Oc.

I thought it was funny.

Olivier was less amused.

But he didn’t stay angry. Olivier, Walter, Nick, and I returned to Collioure. The two girls were at a harborside cafe. The six of us drank pastis till sunset and switched to wine. I don’t remember those girls names or the ride home to Carnet-Plage, but I woke in bed alone.

A lucky man.

Walter, Nick, and I said ‘au revoir’ to the Brials.

Olivier was staying home.

Les Americains auto-routed north to Paris.

It was a different France than Perpignan, especially for the 17th ranked tennis player in America.

FEAR OF HEIGHTS By Peter Nolan Smith

At the end of the summer in 1989 I ended my stay in Perpignan by the Spanish border and hitchhiked east to visit English friends in the Luberon.

We had a great time touring the historic valley.

I survived a suicide attempt when a wild boar attacked me atop a wind-scoured plateau. My friends said nothing, but I had retrieved the will to live, however my money was running out and I left le Sud de France to hitchhike through the Alps to Paris in late August.

Two resistance fighters in their 60s gave me a ride to Col d’Iseran. At 2,764 metres the Haut-Alpes pass was the highest mountain crossing in France. The Marquis combatants spoke of ancient battles, as their Peugeot fought up the steep incline. Like humans the old car performed better at sea level.

Neither man spoke of Nazi reprisals.

The SS had massacred civilians in the thousands in revenge.

The resistance had known the cost of freedom and France had learned that lesson as well.

The Germans abandoned France in the summer of 1944.

Now they came as tourists.

Same as me.

“Au revoir,” the two wished me at the pass. I waved good-bye and pulled on a sweater before setting out on a path leading up into the mountains. Drops of rain fell from a gray sky to dot the dust.

Autumn came early at this altitude.

The boulders along the trail had been rolled from the heights by Gods. The sun came out and torched my skin. Meandering goats gnawed grass to the nub and I headed into the sky.

I reached a false col. One more step brought me off the cliff. The drop was a thousand feet. I stood at the edge, overwhelmed by the desire to fly and stepped away knowing the landing was fatal. Suicide had fled my blood.

The sun was dropping behind the western peaks and I descended on the narrow path to a small village in the valley.

I smelled the treeline before seeing the firs. The fragrance odor of burning wood marked the return to the land of Man. The sigh of the wind disappeared with the buzz of a chainsaw.

The next day I hitched a ride to Bourg St, Maurice and caught a train for Paris. At the station I turned to gaze at the mountains. Clouds obscured their peaks. I was sad to think I might never see them again.

I liked the City of Light.

The French capitol worshipped life.

I worshipped it as well before returning to New York and winter.

After the death of my mother in 1997 I toured France with my father. She had wanted me to go to Ireland and find a woman like my sisters or aunts to marry. I would have rather flown to Thailand, but no good son can refuse a mother’s last wish. I found no one.

I later met my father in Paris. We wandered through the Val De Loire drinking more wine and touring the chateaus of ‘le Ancien Regime’.

We ate oysters and drank wine on the walls of the old corsair port of St. Malo.

I guided him through Versailles. He lowered his head and said, “Your mother would love this.”

“I know.”

Sam Royalle showed up unexpectedly in Paris. The Englishman was on the run. He had a serious problem with a gang of Yardies and France was a good place to hide from Brixton thugs.

After dropping my father at the aeroport I said to Sam, “I have another week before moving to the far west of Ireland and the rented car is ours for that time. What about a road trip to the South of France?”

“An excellent idea. The farther from England the better.”

I phoned the Brials in the southern city of Perpignan.

They said come on down without hesitation.

On the drive south we listened to French pop music.

I loved Etienne Daho. I knew him from Paris. He was a gallant fumeur.

\

Olivier’s family was happy to see me. I reminded them of their dead son. We toasted my friend with Cote De Roussillon on Carnet-Plage.

Throughout the day Sam excused himself to speak on a payphone.

Dr. Brial looked at the unfinished wine glass and commented, “Is there a problem?”

“Woman trouble,” I whispered to them.

“Ah,” replied the doctor and then said, “That explains everything. It is good to see you again, Mssr. 17.”

It was an old joke.

Their son had claimed that I had been the 17th ranked tennis player in the USA. I had denied Olivier’s claim, but the doctor thought I was being humble. He later learned the truth, but to this day my friends in that Catalan city called me ‘Mssr. 17’. It didn’t matter that I sucked at ‘le tennis’. A laugh was a good laugh and I remained a member of the extended Brial clan.

Sam was happy to hang in Carnet-Plage, a nearby beach resort on the Med.

No yardie was finding him here.

I visited Oliver’s grave twice.

My future grave was on the South Shore of Boston.

Right next to my baby brother, Michael.

Our last evening at Carnet Madame Brial cooked up sardines on a wooden fire. The fire-seared fish was washed down with a cold bottle of chilled red. We ate more than we should as drank twice as much as was good for us, but woke in the morning no worst the wear. Good food and good wine can never really hurt you along the Med.

We bid adieu to the Brials. I had to return the rented car to Paris and get over to Ireland. They gave us food for the road.

“Reviens bien-tot.”

“I will. Promise.”

And I meant every word.

“So are we heading back to Paris?”

All of France lay before us.

“Not just yet. I have a hankering to see the Luberon Valley and the Alps. It’ll be a slight detour.” I liked driving the small Fiat Uno. It had good gas mileage and economy was really important at the expensive French gas pumps.

“I’m in no hurry, mate.”

The Brixton Yardies back in Brixton were not interested about a tour of France. They wanted their money.

We exited the Autoroute du Sud at Avignon. Tourists packed the old papal city. During the Middle Ages the enclave had been the center of knowledge in Europe and students still thronged to its university.

After a lovely lunch of steack and frites I drove along D901 to Ile-sur-la-Sorgue, a pretty market town. Sam had been a photographer. He shot me in front of a small canal.

“Are we stopping here?”

“No, I have a surprise for you. Let’s get back in the car.”

I put on the Velvet Underground CD. None of their songs were in French.

I turned north of D938 and then east on D25 in the direction of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. A river the color of cloudy emeralds ran to the right of the road bordered by sheer cliffs.

“What is this place?”
p

“We are approaching the Fontaine de Vaucluse, which flows from a bottomless grotto. Supposedly it’s the fifth largest spring in the world. The Latin poet Petrarch lived here and fell in love with a young lady of birth, Laura. He wrote several famous sonnets about her and love.”

“Do you know any?”

“No,” I answered, but I had memorized the highways and byways of the world on maps and through my journeys I knew my way around the world and said, “Get ready for this.”

I put on Serge Gainsborough’s MELODIE NELSON.

Every second and every note was sexy.

We turned a corner and the ruins of a religious castle nestled on a small hill across the fast-moving river. A massive limestone cliff walled the scenery and Sam shuddered in the passenger seat.

“What’s wrong?”

“I have a fear of heights.”

“We’re not high.” The road was wide and smooth.

“Yes, but seeing that cliff threw me for a loss.”

“You want to stop? We’re going into the Alps. They are much higher.”

“No, I’ll be fine.”

We parked at the end of the road and walked to the source. The summer in Provence was always dry and the water in the Font was low in the grotto.

“Come the spring and the water gushes over these rocks.”

“Have you swam in it?”

“Yes, but it’s cold enough to give you a stroke. Let’s go.”

After a glass of rose wine at a riverside cafe we got back in the car. I let Sam drive.

“I’ll be co-pilot.” I held a unopened map in my hand. I was familiar with this land and directed Sam up the Luberon Valley. Stray fields of lavender awaited a late harvest. In July they robed the valley with purple.

“Over there is Gordes. People drive hundreds of miles to see the charming little town.” The buildings to the north of D900 shone white in the afternoon sun.

“How do you know this road so good?”

“In 1989 I had spent the summer in Perpignan with the Brials writing a book of short stories. After typing the end I came up here to spent time with friends at Oppede-De-Vieux, a town of ruins under the cliffs. I thought I had written a masterpiece, but with my tying and grammar it ended up more a minorpiece.
“I like your writing.” Sam had finished grammar school and then attended a few seasons of English Private schools before dropping out to pursue his fortune.

“Thanks.” I pointed to a white gash on the northern face of the Luberon mastiff. “That’s a quarry. I almost threw myself off the edge in 1989.”

“Why?” Sam glanced at the drop and shivered at its height.

“After finishing that book I experienced a down like giving birth. My friends had family. I had no one. I thought ‘what’s the use?’ and climbed to the plateau.

I could see the Rhone River, the Mediterranean, and the Alps. It seemed like the right time. I walked toward the cliff….”

“I’ve heard this story before. A baby pig ran out of the bushes and the mother saving you by attacking you.”

“I was a lucky man.”

“I couldn’t have walked near the cliff. As a kid in England nothing scared me more than Jimmie Stewart hanging on for dear life in VERTIGO.” Sam loved the movies.

“Just out of reach, but the real sell was Kim Novak. Hitchcock loved blondes. According to him “Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.”

“Eve St. Marie in THE BIRDS.”

“Grace Kelly,” Sam spoke the dead princess consort’s name with reverence. She had died in a car crash over seventeen years ago.

“Monaco. TO CATCH A THIEF.”

“And Princess Diana.”

The woman who might have been queen had died in a car crash in Paris.

Less than a month ago.

Sam and I had laid roses on a chest-high pile of flowers before her Kensington palace.

The mourning tears could have filled the Thames.

We drove in silence listening to France-Inter on the way to Gap. I fell asleep and awoke on Route 85.

“Napoleon traveled this route to Waterloo.”

“Which he lost to Wellington.”

“Thanks to the Irish and the Scots.”

Over a third of the Duke’s army was Irish.

“Fuck off. We Brits did all the fighting.”

Even to this day the Brits don’t admit a debt, but Sam was a friend.

The car climbed the foothills of the Alps. The radio station faded in and out. Some of mountains were over 12,000 feet high. The snowfields on the peaks gleamed like a clouchard’s broken teeth. The beauty conquered his fear and Sam looked at me and said, “Magic.”

We stopped for the night in Bonneville-sur-arc, a stone village set in an alpine valley.

The hotel restaurant served trout. We ordered two plates and a two bottles of white wine.

Arriving in our rooms I opened the windows. The full moon glowed on the summits. I lay bed and mumbled, “Magic.”

That night I dreamed of Stephania in Barcelona. I had visited her several times during my 1989 stay in Perpignan.

She was no Princess Grace.

She was a good dream for someone without sex.

The next morning I woke early. Sam joined me on the terrace around 8.

“The Alps.”

“Nothing like it on the East Coast.”

“Nor in England.”
“Are you okay?”

“You mean my fear of heights?”

“Yes.”

Sam held up steady hands and answered, “I could stand on the Golden Gate Bridge without a problem.”

“It’s six thousand miles from here.”

“I’ll be fine.”

We ate a breakfast of croissants, coffee and Calvados.

“You think you can handle a small hike,” I told him about the resistance fighters and the false pass.

“Where?”

I pointed behind me.

I downed the rest of the Calvados. It tasted of Normandie.

A flat land.

With good apples.

“I think I’ll be okay.”

I ordered the l’addition from the waiter. The bill came to 40 francs.

Less than $3 each.

We had another Calva before hitting the road.

On the way up D902 Same turned to me and asked, “So now I realize this entire trip has been like reliving your past.”

“Not at all.” I was good at lying to myself.

“Perpignan, the Alpes, and then Paris. What do you want to relive there?”

I had never told him about Gussi. She was secret and I said, “Just drive.”

In 1989 I fell in love with her upon my departure from the Luberon.

We had six month, then heartbreak.

Paris was a city made for love.

Katie.

Karine was from Avignon.

Why hadn’t I called her?

And always Gussi.

My life was meaningless. Bob Dylan’s DON’T THINK TWICE played on the radio.

Every word was as familiar as the road.

My mind was talking to itself.

It wasn’t saying good things.

“Stop here.”

“You’ve been here before?”

“Yes.” I had been everywhere before.

1989. The Col d’Iseran.

On sunny day.

“It’s time for a hike.”

Sam studied the mountains and I said, “You can stay here.”

“Not a chance.”

We headed up the trail.

Same as before.

Sam wasn’t scared and neither was I.

I was thinking about the elements.

Life, Mountains. Heights.

Reaching the false pass I stood at the precipice and stepped closer to the edge.

Nothing had changed, not even my urge to fly.

Sam grabbed my arm.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“Nowhere.”

“Wrong, we’re going to Paris.”

“Paris.”

I stepped back from the cliff.

“I like Paris.”

“And so do I.” Sam crawled on his hands and knees down from the pass. At the car he regained his breath.

“You okay?”

“Yes, you?”

I nodded and handed him the key, then we drove through the night to the City of Light.

Nothing was tall in Paris other than the Eiffel Tower and we both felt safe at the Hotel Louisiane.

Even on the fourth floor.

Because Paris offered life and we knew just the bar to make that happen.

The Cafe le Flore.

Wine, women, and Welsh Rarebit.

And best of all it would never be the Alps.

“So where should I go now?” asked Sam.

“Not back to London. You could always come with me to Ireland.”

I was renting a haunted house from the Guinness family.

“Too close to England.”

“Then get on a plane and fly to Bangkok. Stay at the Malaysia Hotel. No Yardies go there.”

“Thanks for the advice.” He slid an envelope across the table. I hoped it was dollars, but we were in France.

“And don’t come back. Yardies have long memories.”

“I know.”

“Maybe we’ll take a trip to the Himalayas.”

“I like the lowlands.”

“Bangkok is below sea level sometimes.”

“Sounds perfect to me.”

“Up to you, because I have no fear of heights.”

Not in Paris, Ireland, or Tibet

July 31, 1988 – Perpignan

Last night Jacques Vial, my patron in Perpignan and cousin to Olivier Brial (Cousins could be anyone from the same town or village in Catalunya), had invited some forty people to a forest dinner. At a long white-clothed table his beau-frere, his wife, Jean-Louis, his employer, Francois, a compatriot, a sad carpenter, a skilled woodsman, doctors, painters, the Brials and waves bronzed by the Med sun.

No tan lines on the shoulders.

I was the only American there, but I was a cousin too.

Family covered a lot of ground in the South of France.

We dined on Sanglala, a Spanish fish dish, almost like a paella, however the fish was better.

Wine loosened tongues. Old stories transported to laughter. Everyone laughed at how Oliver’s father, Doctor Dudu, had thought I was the 17th ranked tennis player in the USA five years earlier. Everyone was a target. Everyone got their good-hearted revenge. No one spoke politics. The party lines were old fights for for a dinner or at least until several someones had drunk too much.

It was great to be Rousillion and even better to be away from the Reagan USA.

Despite my reputation of a nightclub thug, I had been invited everywhere; Prades in the Pyrenees, Toulouse, the casinos of Cardeques, and the bars of Barcelona and Coillierre harbor. Jacques had sold me as good people. He was a good salesman.

The bright southern sun blindingly lit the walls of the 3rd floor bedroom on Blvd. Wilson.

Carnet-Plage was only twenty minutes away, I called Serge to accompany me, however his girlfriend said, “He’s sleeping.”

“Another long night at the Playa de Argeles.” I hadn’t returned to the nightclub, since the weekend.

“Et toi?”

“The same.”

I hung up and phoned Alan Vaughan in Paris. Sleep drenched his voice. No one was waking early today and he said softly, “I can’t talk now.”
I suspected Mdme. Chenu was in bed next to him.

Friends stop talking to you once they fall in love.

Next call.

Pauline in Barcelona only two away from Perpignan.

“Come down. We can drink wine on the beach tonight.”

I packed up bag for a weeklong trip. Pauline was modeling during the day and I was writing a collection of short stories. I arrived at the train station with a single bag packed with my Aiwa tapeplayer and a Canon typewriter carrying case. The bag’s strap had broken in Luxembourg Aeroport. I lugged it in my hand. I wished I had left behind both and only had a bathing suit in my bag. Pauline liked the beach.

Three hours later I’m on a topless beach with my friend. Her cigar-thick nipples certainly change a man’s view on life. She touched my shoulder. I’ve been alone to long to be alone tonight. I love 1988.

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The Children Of Dead Friends

Sad to say I have outlived my most dangerous friends. They challenged Life. Faces turned to destiny and death seized them for eternity.

Junkies, bank robbers, normal people and psychos lifted from life.

We cannot surrender out souls.

We must live.

Forever or until the sun don’t shine.