ONLY A GAME by Peter Nolan Smith

Argentina beat West Germany in the 1986 World Cup of Football. The victors reached the finals thanks to an unexpected quarter-final victory over England and the global memory of that grudge match was an illegal score off the fist of striker Diego Maradona. The media labeled the controversial goal ‘the Hand of God’.

Few people in the USA were aware of this infamous goal.

Soccer was a sport for foreigners.

Our national pastime was baseball and that June the two best teams in the majors were the New York Mets and my beloved Boston Red Sox. The Damn Yankees with a veteran lineup of Tommy John, Joe Niekro, Don Mattingly, Willie Randolph, Ken Griffey, and Rickey Henderson struggled to catch the surging Bosox and sell-out crowds flocked to Shea Stadium to cheer on their beloved Mets.

Later in the month a madman attacked passengers on the Staten Island Ferry. NYPD arrested him without a shot. The murderer was incarcerated at Bellevue Hospital. A psychiatrist friend was medicating the Zorro of mayhem.

I was working the door at the Milk Bar on 7th Avenue.

One night Doctor Bob showed me the cocktail of drugs suppressing his patient.

“They’d kill you or me, but a smaller dose would only impair your ability to operate heavy machinery.”

I gave it a try.

Scottie the owner sent me home at midnight in a cab.

On the 4th of July the nation re-opened of the Statute of Liberty. The glorious evening of fireworks announced New York City’s escape from bankruptcy and President Reagan announced from the deck of the USS JFK, “Let the celebration begin.”

His version of the good times were bankrolled by a Wall Street liberated to generate billions of dollars of new wealth. Happiness could not be bought, but it could be rented by the nouveau riche of the stock market and Reagan’s ‘trickle down’ theory revitalized the nightlife of Manhattan.

While discos dominated the dance scene, none of them recaptured the thrill of Studio 54, but The Milk Bar came close and dominated the night from 12am to 4am.

The triangular triplex’s decor had been designed by the legendary Arthur Weinstein and his wife Colleen to replicate the futuristic bar frequented by Alex and his sociopathic droogs from the movie CLOCKWORK ORANGE. The white plastic walls were backlit by color-gel lamps.

Sometimes red, other times pink.

Never yellow.

The plastic furnishings were a smooth throwback to the 60s.

Our door policy was simple.

“I don’t wanna see any suits or ties.” Arthur told me at the door. “No Wall Street at all.”

“Not a problem.” I did as I was told, although a $100 cuffed into my palm allowed in the occasional exception.

Griffbag the DJ played an eclectic musical melange of Art of Noise, Michael Jackson, James Brown, the Cure, Run D.M.C./Aerosmith, Berlin, Bananarama, Pet Shop Boys, Run DMC mixed with 50s R%B, 60s garage, 70s punk and disco, and 80s new wave, rap, and pop.

Paul McCartney, John “Cougar” Melloncamp or Lionel Richie were banned from the turntables.

Dancing was forbidden by the cabaret laws of the State, but the West Village PD ignored toe-tapping and soul-grinding in our basement lounge. They liked Arthur. He spoke their language.

Most nightclubs were hell for anyone living near them, but the Milk Bar was good to its neighbors.

The club had been sound-proofed by experts. Rejects were dispersed before they congealed into an unruly crowd. Customers were asked to be quiet upon exiting the club. Cops got in free as long as they were off-duty. Neighbors were comped two free drinks a night and we were even let in some of the bridge and tunnel crowd.

Griffbag liked girls with big hair.

Everyone had a good time and everyone consisted of models, ballerinas, artists, rappers, film and TV crews, pro athletes, doctors and nurses from St. Vincent, restaurant staff from near-by restaurants, and neighbor people.

The dress code was the color black.

The blacker the better, but the color had nothing to do with the bar’s popularity.

The Milk Bar had a reputation for luck.

Men and women, women and women, and men and men left the club together.

Couples fell in love.

Drinkers got drunk.

People had fun.

There was a cover on the weekend.

I collected the money at the door and only a little stuck in my pocket. Arthur and Scottie trusted my greed. We three went back to the Arthur’s Jefferson Theater and that mythic after-hour club had been all about coining cash.

My partner at the door was a giant Haitian bouncer.

Every midnight Big Joel and I gazed at the Empire State Building. The tower lights were extinguished at 12.Neither of us caught the turn-off. We were too busy taking care of business.

The Milk Bar escaped the attention of the media. Word-of-mouth handled the Milk Bar’s PR. Our max capacity was 250 and we rarely topped 300, because the fire marshals enforced that life-or-death restriction without exception and the manager insisted on obeying their unspoken edict.

Kilmer was their friend. There was no reason to push for an excess of success. None of us were greedy.

With the neighbors, police, and fire on our side The Milk Bar had a strong run throughout the summer, but we weren’t loved by everyone.

O’Sheas farther up 7th Avenue had been serving drinks to the artists and locals since the 50s. Museum-class paintings hung on the wall. Famous writers had carved their names on the bar. Faithful regulars were granted reserved stools, but the new crowd of Wall Street bankers and lawyers had invaded the legendary tavern like a flock of crows picking over the bones of a battlefield. They shouted to each other about million-dollar deals. Their ties hung halfway down their chest. I wouldn’t have let one of them into the Milk Bar.

Five top-of-the-line Sonys TVs hung over the long wooden bar. The expansive projection screens featured sports and more sports. The good-looking bartenders were ex-college jocks. The attractive night waitresses worked days as aspiring models and actresses.

It was a formula for printing money, but The Milk Bar had been hurting his till and Old Jim was saying things about us. None of them were good and only a few of which were true.

“Fuck em,” Arthur said to Scottie one July evening before opening for the night. “They’ll be here long after we’re gone.”

“I don’t like bad blood.” Scottie was Arthur’s best friend. He usually followed the older New Yorker’s lead.

“So don’t drink it.”

“I’m going to talk to them.”

“About what?” Arthur was an expert at letting people stew in their own sauce. “Baseball?”

“No, about live and let live.”

“Suit yourself, but don’t tell me later that I told you so.”

Two nights later Scottie and I walked over O’Sheas. A drizzle in the 70s gave a chill to the air. Our antagonist’s bar was crowded with Yankee fans.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” I never drank at O”Sheas. My team was the Red Sox.

“I hate people badmouthing us.

“I wouldn’t expect anything less from this crowd.

“Do me a favor and keep your mouth shut.” Scottie hated my mouthiness. He liked peace and quiet.

“I’ll try.”

We entered the bar and sat at the bar.

Robert Palmer’s ADDICTED TO LOVE was playing on the sound system. The bar’s softball team was celebrating a victory in the dining room. Every TV displayed the Yankees playing the Os. Not a single TV was turned to the Mets. We ordered cheeseburgers, which NEW YORK magazine had called the best in the neighborhood. I ate mine in less than ten minutes.

“What do you think?” Scottie signaled the blonde bartender for the bill.

“The cheese was barely melted.” I favored McBell’s on 6th Avenue or the Corner Bistro. “And the meat tasted of nothing.”

“The reviewer must have an open tab here.” Scottie paid with a twenty and told the square-jawed bartender in the Hawaiian shirt to keep the change.

“Is Old Jim around?” That was the name of the owner.

“Who’s asking?” the young man asked with an aggressive tone.

O’Sheas was a $200/night gig. The suits and ties tipped heavy to make people not hate them. Good-paying jobs were hard to find for struggling male models, ever since the hustler’s block on 53rd and 3rd had been closed because of AIDS.

“Tell him the owner of the Milk Bar.” The Charles Manson look-a-like smiled with disarming charm. “Just wanted to say hello.”

“Sure.” His sneer revealed long hours of acting lessons, although the depth of his expression suggested his teacher was a mime.

The bartender motioned to a slim blonde waitress and whispered in her ear, then attended to his bar. The customers were two deep. I recognized a number of faces. They drank at the Milk Bar too.

“Here he comes.” Scottie spotted the waitress leading a beer-gutted man in his late-30s to the bar.

“He doesn’t look that old?” I was 34.

Older than us.” Scottie was four years younger than me.

“Forever young.” I finished my beer.

Old Jim introduced himself with a firm shake. His grip was a little too strong for my tastes.

“What can I do for you boys?” The mustached owner drawled the word ‘boys’ with a derogatory insinuation, denoting Old Jim was a cracker from way back beyond Peckerwood City.

“We wanted to come over and say hello. Let you know that anyone working here gets in for free.” Scottie wasn’t offering them free drinks. O’Sheas had a huge staff.

“That’s mighty white of you, but my people don’t frequent pick-up joints and drug dens.” Old Jim was several inches taller than me and stared down into my eyes. “Fag bars either.”

“Really?” At 5-11 I weighed 185. I played streetball five times a week in Tompkins Square Park. Three hours a day.

Old Jim had a soft gut.

“Fags aren’t allowed in here either.”

“This is the wrong neighborhood to say ‘fag’.” I had lost more than a few friends to AIDS.

Two of the softball players quickly stood behind the owner. They weren’t twins other than in size and weight. 6-2 and 195. I figured them for Diversion 2 football benchwarmers and slid off my stool.

“Slow down, Rudie.” Scottie hated my temper and he turned to Old Jim. “I’m sorry if we got off to a bad start.”

“Don’t be sorry about anything. I know your history.”

Internal Affairs had raided the Jefferson and the FBI had closed the Intercontinental as part of an investigation into police corruption.

“I have nothing to hide.” Scottie stood a solid 5-9. His nose had been broken as a kid. Boxing was his sport, not baseball.

“Midgets rarely do.” Old Jim confirmed that bridging this gap was a lost cause.

“Midget?” Scottie was born in New York and he had to say something to show that no one threw his father’s son out of a bar. “Good luck with your softball team. They are good-looking boys.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Old Jim’s face tinted red at the contrary insinuation.

“Nothing.” Scottie pointed to the numerous softball trophies on the wall. “Looks like you’ve been lucky over the years.”

“Luck has nothing to do with it.”

“If you say so.” My boss turned to walk out of the bar. I had his back.

“You think your lowlife bar can beat us?” Old Jim fondled his mustache. It was an annoying habit.

Scottie looked over his shoulder with a ‘fuck you’ smile.

“Only one way to find out. There’s a park next to the bar.” The field had real grass. The base paths were at least 80% dirt. The right-field fence was at most 150 feet from the plate. Deep left was no more than 200.

“Jimmie Walker Park is our home field.” Old Jim hefted his chest like a rooster ready to fart dust. “So you dopefiends want to play a baseball game?”

“It’s only a game.”

“It’s never only a game to us.” Old Jim was dead serious.

“We’ll flip a coin for last bats.” Scottie took out a quarter and flipped the coin in the air. “Call it.”

“Heads.” Old Jim leaned forward to watch the result. His nose was red from drink. I hoped that the old sot was the pitcher.

“Tails.” Scottie showed the coin. Old Jim plucked the quarter out of his palm. Scottie snatched it back with the speed of a Sugar Ray Leonard jab. “Got a heads and a tails. You get to set the date.”

“Teams are staff and customers only.” Old Jim had his rules. “And no ringers.”

“Whatever you say.” Scottie handed Old Jim an invite for an Elle Modeling party. “Call me at that number. We’ll be ready whenever you are.”

Scottie and I walked out of O’Shea’s. Neither of us said a word until we were down the block.

“You know that they’re the best team in the Village.” O’Sheas had a four-year winning streak.

“And we’re the best bar.”

“I made up a team.”

“Let’s hear it.” Scottie hadn’t broken a sweat.

I named players by position; Arthur had pitched for St. John’s. Nick the Dick was at 1st. I couldn’t stand the low-level coke dealer, but he was 6-9 and his wingspan was wide enough to catch any errant throws. Scottie could cover 2nd. Ray Wood from Park Avenue was a sure shot for short. The buck-toothed DJ, Griffbag, was an eager beaver on 3rd and Georg Rage had the arm to chuck home from centerfield. Tommie White Trash, our barback, was quick on his feet for left and Doctor Bob wouldn’t hurt us in right, plus he possessed a wondrous stash of magic from the hospital.

“And what about you?”

“I’m catcher, but we’re not a team.” Nine men on a field were nine men on a field.

“Art can be the manager.”

“Isn’t he a little anarchistic for that role.”

Arthur believed in every man for himself as long as we worked together.

“You want to do it, because I certainly don’t.” Scottie was a firm follower of Arthur’s modus operandi.

“No.” I was no leader and I wasn’t much of a follower either.

“So we have a make-up team versus the best team in the Village.”

We stood on the sidewalk. The traffic on 7th Avenue was murderously fast. Half the cars bore Jersey plates. They were headed for the Holland Tunnel.

“The squares against us will be a classic.” Scottie liked long shots. They paid better odds. “Anyone is beatable on a given night, plus we have a secret weapon.”

“We do?”

“Big Joel.” Scottie pointed to my 6-8 partner at the door of the Milk Bar. The Haitian giant was sitting on my Yamaha 650cc XS. He had his arm draped around the mother of his baby. Darleen was the love of his life. All the other girls were merely practice.

“Big Joel is from Haiti. Just cause Rawlins wraps their baseballs there, doesn’t make him a ballplayer. You ever see him throw a ball?”

“No.” Scottie didn’t hang out after hours. He liked going home to the Chelsea Hotel. I couldn’t blame him. 14 hours a day at a club kill any desire for more.

“I have. He has a vodou zombie arm. One morning after work we sat in the park smoking a joint. An abandoned softball lay in the dirt. I underhanded it to Big Joel. He fumbled the toss and then tried to chuck it back to me. His throw barely made 30 feet.”

At 6-8 he was a big man, but no baseball player.

“Don’t worry, I’m going to teach him how to swing a bat.” Scottie crossed the street through the rush of traffic. Jaywalking was a very New Yorker thing to do and so was playing softball.

“You have your work cut out for you.” I waited on the sidewalk until the ‘white man walking’ gave me the go. I was reckless, although not with cars versus flesh and bone.

Scottie was speaking with Big Joel. A broad smile beamed from his face.

“Man, we gonna play baseball.” He was as happy as a kid getting his first glove. “Scottie gonna make me Dee-H.”

“Do you know what DH is?” asked Darleen. Her family had come from Port Au Prince two generations before Big Joel.

“Dee-Ate. Why that is the number 8 something?”

“Stupid.” Darleen was tough on her man. They fought at the front door in stiletto jabs of patois. The dialect was French only in name.

Ten minutes later Kilmer the bar manager announced that O’Sheas had scheduled a softball game for a week from tonight.

Kalline, Tommie White Trash’s girlfriend, poured Arthur a vodka screwdriver. Her barmate, Sunny, was cutting up limes, lemons, and oranges with a sharp knife. They both dressed like runaways from a biker gang; tight leather pants and Daisy Mae white cotton shirts tied above their midriff.

This look earned them big tips.

You’re playing a softball game.” Kalline stopped serving Arthur.

“Yes. Against O’Sheas.”

“I told you not to go there.” Arthur grabbed the bottle from Kalline.

“I was just trying to be friendly,” Scottie swiftly explained the confrontation at O’Shea’s. The bar staff muttered swears upon hearing how Old Jim had insulted the Milk Bar.

“The cocksucker said all that?” Arthur took off his glass. The right-handed curve-baller didn’t care what Old Jim said about him. The scandal behind the Incontinental had been published in the New York Times.

“Every word.” I was no snitch, but Arthur had to know the opposition.

“We are who we are and I am who I am.” Arthur admitted to us. “But you ain’t me, so this beer-belly Buddha has a lot of balls to say anything. We’re gonna kick their ass one way or the other.”

“What’s the team?” Kalline demanded, suspecting the worst.

I ran down the roster.

Everyone groaned with the mention of Nick the Dick.

“I know, I know, but he can cover the base like no one else.”

“And what about us?” Kalline came from a trailer park in the Everglades. They grew girls ‘gator tough’ out in the swamps. Kalline picked up the largest lemon on the bar.

“What us? This is a man on man game.”

“Really? Says who?” The skinny blonde wound up from the stretch.

“Shit.” I ducked and the lemon whizzed over where my head had been to smack into the wall. The light went out behind the plastic panel. Kalline had an arm.

“My father didn’t name me after Al Kaline for nothing.” She picked up another lemon.

“Girls get to play.” I raised my hands in surrender. The best player in my Maine hometown had been a girl. Sharleen had been banned from playing Little League. My father had fought for her right to wear a uniform, but Maine in the late 1950s was not ready for a girl on the bases. “Sorry for being so macho.”

“Macho is first nature for most men, which is why I love Tommie. He’s a pussy cat.”

Her reformed car thief sulked in the corner of the club. Nobody was lazier when there was nothing to do, but girls came to the bar to stare at him. The half-blood Sioux looked like Paul Newman playing a sullen Cochise.

“Everyone gets to play,” Arthur declared putting on his leather jacket. The AC in the Milk Bar chilled the basement to arctic temperatures, which our clientele loved on a hot summer’s night.

“Even me.” Big Joel clomped down the stairs and lowered his head through the door. Darlene was right behind him. Her belly was larger than the last time I saw her. Big Joel had been at her again.

“Even you, big man.” Arthur was on the same mind as Scottie. “You’re going to be our secret weapon.”

“I’m not hitting no one with a machete.” He shook his head. Like Scottie and Arthur he was a man of peace. I was the troublemaker.

“You’re my special project.” Scottie lifted his hands together in a batting pose. “Let’s see your stance.”

Big Joel planted his size 15 feet on the floor and bent his butt out in imitation of Scottie. He swung his fists through the air. The whoosh of their passage would be scarier with a bat in his hands.

“I am going to kill the ball.”

His words sent shivers to the bottom of my feet. The girls cheered his threat. Arthur scheduled a practice for tomorrow.

“Nothing early. Six ‘O’Clock. I expect everyone there.”

He gathered us into a huddle. Scottie was embarrassed by the intimacy, but put his arms around me and Sunny.

Kalline led us in cheer.

“Milk Bar 1-2-3 Kick them in the knee.” She thrusted an Olive Oyl thin leg in the air and her heel thumped into Big Joel’s head.

He fell to the floor in a half-daze.

Everyone laughed at him and he rose to his feet like Michael Spinks rising from the canvas after Mike Tyson had knocked him out in the 1st round.

It was going to be that kind of a game, because that was the kind of game at which we could beat O’Sheas.

Later that night Big Joel and I stared at the Empire State Building. The tower was shrouded by fog. The lights glowed through the mist. It was slow for a Saturday night, but the Milk Bar was against slow before midnight.

“You think I will be able to hit the ball?” Big Joel blew in his hands. 70s was winter weather in Haiti.

“It’s easy. The pitcher throws it under-handed. The ball can’t be traveling more than 50 miles per hour.” Tris Speaker had said that it was useless trying to explain successful hitting to anyone and I was far from a good batter.

“50? How fast you think I throw the ball?”

“20.” I changed the number seeing the hurt on his face and I lied to save his soul. “30. Maybe 40.”

“I like that speed better.”

I looked back at the Empire State Building. The lights were out.

People had heard about our game with O’Sheas and wished us luck in the upcoming game. They liked drinking at O”Sheas, but few of them cared for Old Jim. He was a piece of work.

My live-in guest Elena showed up at 2. The twenty-year old from Madrid had danced three shifts at Billy’s A Go-Go. Her pocketbook was filled with crumpled $1 bills.

The raven-haired seductress danced a solo flamenco for the late-comers at the bar.

Several men offered her money.

The Spanish girl rejected them for me.

We drove home on my motorcycle to East 10th Street.

In bed we pretended to be boyfriend and girlfriend. Each of us was too wicked to believe the lie longer than the dawn.

I had a hard time waking up the next day. My bedroom with drawn curtains was as dark as midnight. Elena wasn’t through with me either. It was almost 5pm by the time I crawled out of bed.

“Where are you going?” Elena lay with a sheet wrapped around her ballerina body. The early evening light bounced off the living room floor and she shielded her sleepy eyes with a lazy hand.

“To baseball practice and then come back here.” I threw some water in my face and grabbed my baseball glove from the closet. The leather was stiff from disuse.

“Beesball?” Elena laughed aloud. “You never play beesball.”

“I am tonight.” I pounded my fist into the glove and swung my right arm over my head. Several shoulder muscles agreed with Elena and promised pain, if I pushed them too hard. I kissed the dancer on the lips. Hers were bruised from last night. Mine were just as sore.

“I’ll see you later.”

“If I am not practicing dance.” She taught a class next door in the art school. Normally I watched her from my rear window. Elena traced a finger down the side of my face. “I want to see you look at me.”

Shivers flashed through the marrow of my spine. Elena was getting under my skin. The slender girl was trouble, because being faithful to one man wasn’t in her gypsy blood.

“I’ll see you later.”

I left my apartment.

Sunday’s weather was a repeat of Saturday. Drizzle slicked the streets and drops of rain dotted the sidewalks. I arrived at James Walker Park expecting to be the only one there. I was surprised to find the whole crew. This game was becoming serious and I went to crouch behind home plate.

Arthur pitched batting practice. I hit five balls off the fences. Georg snagged my grounders with ease and Nick the Dick snatched errant throws with his condor wingspan. Scottie coached Big Joel with the bat. Kalline hit the ball where they ain’t on the field. Doctor Bob struggled with high flyballs. Kilmer and Ray Wood made out in the stands. Sunny had a bet that they were in love. She was so right that no one took her odds at 5-1.

At 7:30 Arthur called it quits. The doors of the Milk Bar opened at 8. I was glad to be off on Sundays. I headed back to my apartment and bought Chinese. I sat on the window sill with a bowl on my lap. Elena swirled across the floor in school across the alley. She was a better show than TV.

For the next few evenings the Milk Bar team practiced on the ball field between other games. Arthur bargained for the time with free drinks to the teams scheduled to play. 30 minutes wasn’t much, but it was more productive that drinking at the bar.

On Thursday night the pseudo-twin bartenders from O’Sheas scouted us. They laughed at Scottie’s batting lessons with Big Joel.

When I pointed them out to Arthur, he walked over to the pair with my partner. Big Joel’s vodou scowl dissolved their humor and they fled the park.

“Milk Bar, Milk Bar,” the girls shouted from the dug-out.

Our game was in five days.

Georg and I rode uptown to catch an O’Sheas away game against an Upper West Side bar in Central Park. Both teams wore on spotless uniforms and cleats. The Milk Bar would be playing in sneakers.

Their curvy cheerleaders belonged in DEBBI DOES DALLAS. They almost looked professional. Old Jim walked over to us with three players behind him. They had bats on their shoulders.

I stood my ground.

“You’re the little runt’s sidekick. Robin, Batman’s fag.”

That line won a good laugh from his players. I wasn’t thinking about a funny come-back, but grabbing a baseball bat and smacking his head into the outfield.

I counted to 10 instead.

“What’s wrong? Can’t speak.” His hand went to the mustache. Old Jim actually thought that the pussy-duster looked good on him.

“Nothing wrong.” I spoke soft and slow, eyeing the tallest of his team. A boot to his knee would put him on the permanent disabled list.

“I did a little research on your boss. Not the runt, but the real one. I read that he wore the wire against the police. A lot of them lost their jobs. In my book we can him a snitch.”

After the murderous reign of the Westies was broken up by the arrest of Jimmy Featherstone, a gang of twisted cops assumed control over the Irish gang’s territory. The uniformed arm-breakers were involved in protection, loansharking, and robbery. Every bar and nightclub on the West Side donated to their weekly fund. They were not good people. Arthur did what he had to do. I didn’t have to make any excuses for him to a man with a silly mustache.

“You weren’t there.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“That you don’t know shit.”

A loud thonk broke the tension and Old Jim turned his head to the field. The ball was soaring in the air. It disappeared into the trees. O’Sheas was up 3-0.

“I know one thing, Robin. That boy played in the Cape Cod league. He can hit the hell out of the ball. What position are you playing?”

“Catcher.” My legs were no good for running after years of basketball on the city courts.

“Then Robin will have a good view of the game.” Old Jim cocked his head and returned to the field. One of his players pointed his finger at me. It meant ‘after the game’.

“Tough team.” Georg knew his baseball. We attended Mets games without tickets, since two of the Shea Stadium ushers were carte blanche regulars at the Milk Bar and one hand washed the other.

“You think we have a chance?”

Another thonk of the bat and the score was 4-0.

“On a scale from 1 to 100 with 100 being the best.” Georg could call pitches without seeing the catcher’s signals. “I have to give us a 5.”

“Don’t tell Arthur or Scottie or any of the girls about this.” They deserved to live in hope. Despair would come soon after the first pitch on Sunday. It was only three days away.

Friday and Saturday were peerless days of summer in the high 80s.

Arthur’s wife surprised us with tee-shirts and hats. They had numbers on the back. I grabbed # 4 for Bobby Orr. I was a Boston fan through and through.

Saturday night the bar was packed with anyone who didn’t have a place in the Hamptons. Those people out East weren’t our crowd. The girls poured double-shots. Elena and her fellow dancers from Billy’s arrived in cheerleader outfits. Victory was a dream for tonight, but the agony of defeat loomed large for tomorrow.

I had already inked an L on my permanent record.

The next afternoon Elena shook me awake. I didn’t remember coming home. My head felt like William Tell had missed the apple and the arrow was stuck in my forehead.

“What time is it?”

“5:30.” Elena was wearing her cheerleader outfit. Without make-up she passed for jail-bait. “You have to get up.”

“We’re not going to play in that.” I looked out the living room window.

Thunder boomed out a homage to Rip Van Winkle’s bowler along the Hudson River and rain was slobbering down from a coal black sky.

“It will stop raining soon.” Elena threw me the Milk Bar shirt and my glove

“How do you know?” I had fought too many fights. Flexing my knuckles predicted the weather. No cracking indicated that Elena might be right.

“Because I feel it in my blood. Get dressed.”

Arguing with a gypsy was a losing proposition and I climbed out of bed. Elena practiced her cheerleader routine to ROCK ME AMADEUS. She tapped her wrist. There was no watch, but I got the message and showered in three minutes. We were out the door in ten.

The rain was a drizzle by the time we reached the West Village and the clouds cleared for the evening sun, as we arrived at the park on Leroy Street.

the clock tower of a nearby church rung six times.

It was game time.

O’Sheas had commandeered the home-field dugout. Their team resembled a casting call for a soap commercial. Each of them was better-looking that the other and a self-absorbed narcissism beamed from perfect teeth. Their cheering squad consisted of Stepford Wives versions of the boys on the field with lustrous Farrah Fawcett hair shining in the sunset light. The stands behind their dugout was packed with regulars, who waved signs saying GO O’SHEAS.

The Milk Bar team was down the left field line.

Arthur had torn the sleeves from his tee-shirt. Ray-Bans hung off his nose. Sunny and Kalline had shredded their tee-shirts. They were bra-less. Arthur’s wife and very young daughter sat in the stands. Dahlia begged her mother to let her do the same to her shirt. Colleen said no.

Someone had to wear the pants in the family.

Elena kissed me and joined the girls from Billy’s a Go-Go to lead a cheer laced with curses.

High-fives greeted me into the dug-out.

Coolers of beer lined the wall. Kilmer was handing out ice-cold Heinekens to our supporters. Ray Wood was making sure none of them went to the O’Sheas backers. Georg was the only player with cleats. Griffbag had a boombox set up with speakers. He popped in ROCKAWAY BEACH by the Ramones.

“Oh, oh, here comes trouble.” Griffbag looked over my shoulder

Big Joel strode up to the end of the bench. A thick-ended bat rested over his shoulder. He wore a straw porkpie hat, dark glasses, and a blue denim shirt over the Milk Bar tee-shirt. The uniform was pure Ton Ton Macoute, the death squad of Papa Doc.

“Joel, what are you doing?”

“I am the secret weapon.” He glowered at the nearest O’Sheas player. The Calvin Klein model wannabe dropped his head to the ground. Big Joel laughed from his chest. “Vodou not voodoo. I’m Haitian, remember.”

I checked his outfit for dolls with pins. His girlfriend lifted her bag. There was no telling what Darleen was carrying in it.

“Heads up, boys and girls, it’s game time.” Arthur walked onto the field, after the referee from the Parks Department called for the captains. Old Bill met him at home plate. His mustache drooped in the humidity.

“Visitors get the call.” The ref had been at our bar until closing. His eyes were a nice color red.

“What call?”

“Who bats first.”

“We’re the home team.” Old Bill whined in protest.

“This is Jimmy Walker Park. Beau James was my kind of mayor.” Arthur surveyed the park. “I don’t see your name anywhere.”

“You lost the coin toss the other night. Heads.”

The ref caught the quarter and turned to Arthur. “What you want?”

“We’ll bat last.”

“You heard the man.” The ref hiked his thumbed over his shoulder at Old Jim. “Batter up.

Our team scattered over the field.

I stood behind the plate and pulled on the catcher’s mask. Arthur underhanded a few practice throws. They struck my mitt with force. He nodded to the ref and O’Shea’s 1st baseman came to home plate. It was the guy with the finger.

“Hello, Batman. Suck Batman’s dick lately?”

“Keep it clean.” The ref warned him and said to me, “And you don’t lose your temper. It’s only a game.”

Arthur’s pitch tweaked to the left or right and he sent the first batter down on two swings. The second batter popped up to Griffbag. The third batter swung at the first pitch. The ball screamed off his bat into centerfield. Georg caught it with both hands. He wasn’t a showboat.

It was our ups.

Kalline led off for the Milk Bar. Old Jim underestimated her. It wasn’t hard with her wearing a torn tee-shirt and black leather hotpants. She banged his first pitch into deep center and Kalline reached 2nd base standing.

“Milk Bar, Milk Bar.” Our crowd cheered in the stands.

“You’re next.” Arthur clapped my shoulder.

I picked up a bat designed for speed of the swing. I planted my feet in the dirt and studied the position of the defense. They were playing back and to the left. Someone had seen me hitting in practice and I adjusted my stance to hit into the rightfield gap.

The first pitch was a strike. The next two were called balls. I lined up a low toss between 1st and 2nd. The 1st baseman leapt to his right and snagged it by the tip of his glove. I was out.

Elena yelled something in Roma.

It wasn’t a love call.

“Way to go, Robin.” Old Jim punched his fist in the air.

“What’s with the Robin shit?” Arthur grabbed the bat from my hand.

I explained in twenty words or less and Arthur mumbled, “Forget about it. We’ll make him pay somewhere down the line.”

Old Jim got Griffbag out on pitches and Tommie White Trash swung at the first pitch. It squibbed to short. He was out at first.

“I told you not to swing at the first pitch.” Kalline cursed him for not driving her home. She was tougher than she looked by a long shot.

“Keep it down. The score is still 0-0.” Arthur cautioned in the dug-out. “We got five more innings to go.”

We celebrated the score with beer. O’Sheas was playing straight. We ran onto the field with beers in our hands. The temperature lingered in the high 80s and the evening air was muggy as a weightwatchers’ sauna.

The ball didn’t travel far off the bat, but Old Jim had spotted our weakness in right. Doctor Bob had finished a double shift on the psycho ward and his eyes were at half-mast.

They scored three runs in the top of the 2nd. The bases were loaded and their rally could have become a rout, but the their man on third tried to steal home. Georg peppered the ball to the plate and I tagged out the runner. Old Jim challenged the play, but the ref pointed to the black polish on the ball.

“Old Jim.” I tossed him the disputed ball.

“What?” He was playing with his mustache like it was a giant hair sprouting from his nostril.

“You ain’t no Rollie Fingers.” His mustache was a homage to Oakland’s ace reliever. “Wait till my next at bat.”

“Fuck you. Robin.”

“Nice language, loser.” I was under his skin and continued the verbal assault throughout the next two innings.

Arthur’s pitching kept us in the game, but they scored another run off a long shot to left. Nick the Dick saved the inning with a graceful gazelle leap off the bag to trap a sharply hit ball.

We returned to the dug-out with empties. Griffbag cued up AC/DC. Old Jim complained about the music. Sunny told him to shove it. Passers-by floated into the park and sat on the Milk Bar side. Free beer bought their loyalty. The cheerleaders from O’Sheas were glomming beer too. The night was sucking sweat from everyone with a vampirish thirst.

Sunny ran out a punt and Tommie swung on the very next pitch. The short bobbled the play and we had runners on the corners. Arthur came to the plate without taking off his shades and pointed to the right-field fence.

“You think you’re the Babe.” Old Jim directed his outfield to shift to right.

“I’m a Yankee fan. I could be anyone. Maris, Jackson, or Bucky Dent.”

I groaned at the mention of that name, but Arthur caught them off-guard and hit a zinger over the 3rd baseman into left.

He really was a Yankee fanatic.

Sunny scored easily with Tommie and Arthur stuck on 2nd and 3rd. Scottie popped up to the catcher and Doctor Bob struck out.

“I’m shot.” He retired to the beer cooler.

Scottie signaled for Ray Wood to take Doctor Bob’s place in the next inning, as he stood in the batter’s box.

“Batman the runt.” Old Bill was feeling good about himself. No one had ever called him a bad name.

“Batting with the scoring run at the plate.” Scottie dug into the dirt and spit in his hands. He looked like he played the game every day. “Let’s see your stuff.”

The next two pitches were called strikes, then Scottie fouled off three pitches. The count was full. Elena and her girls chanted, “Batman, Batman.”

Their outfits were wet with perspiration and it was obvious that none of them were wearing anything, but tattoos underneath their uniforms.

The next pitch was straight down the pike and Scottie struck the ball with the sweet of the bat. It missiled direct back at Old Jim. He put up his glove a little too late and the ball smacked him in the forehead. He dropped on his back and the ball fell to the ground right before the 2nd baseman. Tommie and Arthur crossed the plate and we were within one run.

4-3

Old Jim was a shadow after that at-bat.

He walked Kalline and me, but Nick the Dick tried to be too much of a hero and the 3rd baseman caught a sky-high foul.

Still it had been a good inning.

Maybe too good, because the next inning was a debacle.

O’Sheas ran the batting order and we were down 9-3. Our bodies were sapped by the 4th inning’s final out and Big Joel said, “Now time for me to do magic.”

“Not yet.” Arthur was massaging his right shoulder.

“When, man, when?” Big Joel’s hands clenched the bat hard enough for sawdust to seethe from his grip.

“I’ll let you know.”

The ref called us to the bat. It was three up and three down with two innings left to play.

O’Sheas prepared to celebrate and their players came over to get some beers. Nick the Dick wasn’t going to give them spit, but Doctor Bob said, “I’m a doctor. These boys need some liquid or else they might get heat stroke. I have to obey my Hippocratic oath.”

“Bullshit.” Nick slammed his glove on the ground and left the park to make a deal in Soho. He was the kind of asshole that nobody cared enough about other than Arthur.

“It takes all kinds.” Arthur handed the beers to the opposing players.

They thanked him, saying they would take it easy on us.

“Get away from those fags,” Old Jim shouted at the top of his lungs.

His players muttered under their breath and returned to their dug-out.

Arthur turned to Big Joel.

“Looks like it’s your time, big man.”

“Oh, man, I am going to kill that ball.” Big Joel strode to the plate.\

“Not yet. You have to bat in order.”

“Seys who?”

Scottie explained the rules to Big Joel. The Haitian didn’t take the news well. He broke the bat and stormed toward the ref. Darleen grabbed his arm and he stopped like a bull with its nose ring stuck on a stump. She waved her finger at his face and s he sat on the bench, she winked at us and said, “Everything is going to be all right.”

We lucked out with a run in the 5th. Doctor Bob and Elena brought more beer to the O’Sheas dug-out.

Old Bill drank two.

It was that hot.

I felt like the marrow had been sucked out of my bones.

Doctor Bob offered me a little cocktail.

“What’s in it?” President Reagan’s wife had been telling America to ‘Just Say No’. She was preaching to the wrong section of the choir, for we all sang alto.

“A little this and a little that.”

“Just what the doctor ordered.” Arthur nodded with appreciation. If he liked it, so would the rest of us.

We ran onto the field with a renewed spirit.

Old Jim wavered at the plate and popped up to me. The next two batters reached base, but Arthur caught the one from the Cape Cod League napping at 1st and walked over to the bag to tag him out. The next at bat was the guy who pointed his finger at me. He slurred out something indecipherable and I looked over my shoulder to the ref.

“Too much beer.”

Arthur put him out of his misery in three pitches and the O”Sheas team lurched off the field.

Elena’s girls from the go-go bars put on a show to WALK THIS WAY by Run-DMC and I sidled up to Doctor Bob.

“What did you put in their beer?” Poisoning was a felony.

“A little of this and a little of that.” Doctor Bob eyed the tall redhead from Billie’s A Go-Go and beckoned to him with long fingers. “Nothing dangerous. They’ll live.”

“Will they finish this inning.”

“As long as you make it quick.”

And quick was how we scored our runs. Kalline bunted to the 3rd baseman. He slipped on the grass.

“Old Jim, anyone tell you that mustache is out of date?”

“Fuck you, Robin.”

“No, fuck you.”

I stroked a shot to centerfield. It was going out of the park until it hit a tree. The ref called it a ground-rule double.

I wasn’t Robin any more.

Ray Wood knocked in Kalline. Sunny was called out on strikes. Old Jim was basically throwing batting practice. Tommie hit the first home run of the game.

The score was 9-7.

Arthur and Scottie reached base.

With men on 1st and 2nd Arthur pointed to Big Joel.

Old Jim shook off his torpor and shouted, “No batter.”

“I not bat. I break the ball.” Big Joel stood at the plate like a man waiting for the subway to Brooklyn.

“All we need is one out,” Old Jim called out from the mound, almost losing his balance.

“Big Joel.” I shouted from the dug-out. “This one is for your babies.”

Big Joel threw off the hat and glasses. He ripped the denim shirt from his chest. He wasn’t playing for Papa Doc, but the Milk Bar. Darleen screamed at him in patois. He was her Bondye and she was his Euzulie Freda. Griffbag cued up BURNIN AND LOOTIN’. He didn’t have any Haitian mizik rasin in his cases.

“Easy batter.” The O’Sheas cheerleaders chanted in unison. “Him so big.”

I looked to Doctor Bob and he shook his head. No one was getting lucky with them tonight, unless the girls wanted to be lucky.

Old Jim regained his form. The ball zinged across the plate. Big Joel watched it without moving.

“Strike one.”

“Big Joel, just swing the bat,” Scottie shouted from the dugout.

“I know how to swing de bat and I know when.” Big Joel looked more like he was ready for a basketball tip-off and sat on the next pitch.

“Strike two.”

The Milk Bar was down to one swing and Big Joel turned around to blow a kiss to Darleen.

“This one is for you.”

Old Bill threw the ball right down the pike. It was fast and Big Joel swung his bat.

No one saw the ball leave his bat. No one saw it clear the trees or soar over the buildings across the street. No one saw it land wherever it landed. It was like the Empire State Building turning out the lights. Something that happened whether you saw it or not.

We swarmed onto the field and drowned Big Joel after he cross home plate.

Old Jim strode off the field in the same direction of Nick the Dick.

Maybe they had the same appointment.

“Drinks at the Milk Bar,” Arthur shouted with his arms raised over his head.

“Half price.” Kilmer added, but nobody heard the blonde manager. It was a night for deaf ears.

The players from O’Sheas confronted Doctor Bob about the beers. They took the loss with a good heart. It wasn’t on their real record.

Kilmer and Ray Wood disappeared for an hour.

When they returned red-faced, we had the answer where.

Kalline and Sunny served double shots. Tommie drank straight bourbon. Griffbag spun SEX MACHINE by Sly Stone and James Brown back to back to back. Big Joel left early with Darleen. The bat went with him. Scottie and I toasted each other with tequila.

He wasn’t a drinker, so I downed them both. The police came downstairs in uniform to congratulate our victory. Two of them worked the door for me and let in everyone, even Wall Streeters, but only for a price. My cut was 30%.

Arthur sat in the back with his wife. He looked at us repressing a smile.

Somehow the Damned Yankee fan had pulled out a miracle and I went over to him.

“Good win.”

“All wins are good and so are some of the losses. Now get back to having a good time, before I say something about your Red Sox.” He could be a hard man when it came to the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry. That comment about Bucky Dent hadn’t been aimed at Old Jim, but me.

“Sure, Arthur, sure.”

He was the Prince of the Night, because Arthur understood not one game is only a game.

They all are just a game.

ANCIENT PORNO by Peter Nolan Smith


The term pornography was derived from the Greeks linking two words; prostitute and I read.

The portrayal of sexual acts can be traced to pre-Ice Age. Scientist have claimed that a naked figurine carved from a mammoth ivory was man’s first attempt at figurative representation. Opponents to this thought counter that lurid images were not found amongst the thousands of neolithic cave paintings around the world.

I’m certain that the ancients hid their XXX material far from the prying eyes of society whether they were Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal.

In the winter of 1965 the Pentagon abandoned the hilltop missile installation in the hills above our suburban development. LBJ had no interest in protecting the previous president’s hometown from nuclear destruction. Teenagers from the South Shore flocked to Chickatawbut to vandalize the deserted army base. Within weeks anything of value had been trashed by our lawless legions.

My best friend Chuckie Manzi and I took advantage of the lull in destruction to seek out an opportunity to cause more ruin. We entered a dilapidated office not far from the missile silos. The corners were steeped with beer cans. The impact of bullets pocked the walls. Fire had scorched the entrance.

Teenagers had a hard time getting guns or beer in the 60s.

The parties held in the office had been for adults.

Maybe even older.

“Look at this.” Chuckie had discovered a a moldy cache of 1950s porno mags.

“These aren’t Playboys.” I opened one. The contents ventured to another dimension of perversity than the Playboys that we had found in Chuckie’s father’s closet. This was not the birds and bees. This was our introduction to the reality to sex.

We separated the magazines into genres with the care of the archaeologists handling the Dead Sea Scrolls. Most was straight. Some were homosexual.

“This is sick.” Chuckie had found a section of men whipped by women. We didn’t have a word for that perversity or those of men with women who were men. Chuckie and I didn’t have a word for that. In many of the photos the women were completely naked and the men wore sox.

“Why you think the men wear sox?” Chuckie was dumbfounded by this mystery.

“Maybe their feet are cold.” I wore my sox to bed in the winter.

“No, the girls’ nipples aren’t erect.”

“Why does that rule out the cold?”

“Because mine get that way in the cold.” It was simple logic at its best.

“Maybe the actors forgot to take them off in the excitement.”

“If a girl is naked, I’m going to be naked too.” Chuckie took some of the queer stuff. One of the boys looked like him. I didn’t comment on the likeness.

When I got home, I stuffed the magazines far under my mattress. My mother liked to tidy the covers after we went to school at Our Lady of the Foothills.

I shared the bedroom with my older brother. He fell asleep before me. I explored the magazines one by one. My fingertips smelled of their pages. The things on that paper inspired long evenings of masturbation and I dozed off during the morning classes.

My grades were slipping from As to Bs. Mother Superior examined my eyes. Her glasses were thick. Her nose sniffed at my hands. I washed them with Ivory Soap after every time I sinned in deed and thought. <

“What’s your excuse?” Sister Mary Josef had been born in Stuttgart. The 7th grade called her ‘Sister Hitler’. She beat students with a ruler and usually for no reason.

“For my grades?” I had been the #2 student in that class. “I reading all the assignments and finishing my homework.”

“Chuckie Manzi is having the same problem, only he’s slipped from B to C.” Sister Mary Josef was tall. I was scared of her. She also taught at a school for the deaf. I had heard stories about how she treated those girls.

Nasty as the magazines under my bed.

“I don’t know why.”

“Have you been touching yourself?” She seized my hands and turned up the palms. Her eyes pingponged across the whorls of my flesh, as if she was reading runes.

“No.” I answered with feigned horror. The sisters said that we would grow hair on out palms if we sinned with ourselves. I shaved every morning with my father’s razor. “That’s a sin and I’m an altar boy.”

So was Chuckie and my older brother. We were paid $5 for funerals and $10 for weddings. People died more than they got married in our parish. Three funerals a week came to $15. Levis cost $6 at Walker’s Western Store on Boylston Street in Boston. I had every color.

“Make sure you do nothing to lose your soul.” Sister Mary Josef released my hands. “I’ll be watching you.”

My nocturnal forays into the magazines became more clandestine. My older brother dropped off to sleep early, but my mother was insomniac. She didn’t shut off her lights until after THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Once her bedroom went dark, I slipped my hand under the mattress. My boy scout flashlight guided my travels through a maze of warped encounters. I read each magazine a hundred times that spring. Their images and words were memorized more fervently than the Baltimore Catechism.

And no one saw nothing.

Same as the anthropologists searching for erotic prehistoric paintings. They existed in the recess of unexplored caverns. Chuckie and I scoured the Blue Hills for more pornography. Our magazines were falling apart. We traded them back and forth to each other, but we needed something new.

Red Tate was the man to ask. He lived at the dump. His home a concrete bunker. Something bad had happened to him in the Korean war. My uncle said that Red was a hero. My uncle had won the Silver Star. He gave Red money for beer.

“I’m not giving you anything weird.” Red Tate exploded after hearing our request. “You’re good kids. How you think people would talk if they found out I was giving kids stroke books.”

“We’re not kids.” I protested since I was almost 13.

“You don’t even shave.” Red Tate touched my cheek. His fingers smelled like discarded cigarettes. The callouses were rough as a cat’s tongue. “Stay away from that shit.”

“But you must have some.” Chuckie was desperate.

“I’m not interested in sex. Not the real thing. Not the fake.” His family kept him in clothing. He actually didn’t look too bad if you ignored the scar jagging across his forehead. Red must have been a good-looking soldier in his youth. “Not any more.”

“Maybe you can answer a question.”

“Like what?” Red licked his lips. The talking made him thirsty.

“Like why do the guys in porno books never take off their sox?”

“That’s easy. They keep on their sox so they can put on their shoes easy if the police raid the studio. That’s where you get the expression ‘blow off your sox’.” red pushed me away roughly. Parents didn’t want him speaking with children. he was pure danger in their status quo minds.

Chuckie and I were disappointed by Red’s refusal.

By month’s end the magazines were in shreds. I threw mine away in the woods. Chuckie flushed his down the toilet. They clogged the pipe. The plumber didn’t say a word to Chuckie’s father. We returned our devotion to our studies. Chuckie was B+ and I was A-. Sister Mary Josef commented my dedication.

“I was saying prayers.”

“So was I.” And I continued by requests to a pagan god for more pornography.

Certainly the nuns’ god was not into filth.

He had more important things on his mind.

Me, I had only one thing.

And it wasn’t god.

Not then and not now.

Wicked forever.

THE PRETTIEST GIRL IN MAINE by Peter Nolan Smith on Kindle

In the winter of 1991 a British friend and I drove north from a snowless New York to find winter. Our trip took us through New England to the end of US 1 at Fort Kent, Maine. The river was frozen solid and the snow was chest deep. I wanted to forge on to Canada, but my friend had overstayed his visa. Disappointed by this setback we spent the night in Fort Kent, where we discovered that the prettiest girls in Maine are not all female.

It was a long way from New York.

And ever farther than from Miami Beach.

THE PRETTIEST GIRL IN MAINE is a photo-roman of that trip north.

Photos by Peter Nolan Smith

To purchase THE PRETTIEST GIRL IN MAINE by Peter Nolan Smith on Kindle for $1.99, please go to the following URL

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LCC0L40

THANK YOU

Happy Gun Shooting Freedom Day

Today the USA celebrates the Declaration of Independence freedom.

24 hours of traffic jams, bbq, flag-waving, chest-thumping, nascar, bad beer, fighting, and fixing a crapped out car on the highway causing a miles-long traffic jam.

As well as American ingenuity.

Belly flops.

Flip flops

A house in the country.

And the right to be a man.

We so rule.

THE UMPTEENTH COMING by Peter Nolan Smith

“This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius”

These words were sung by the cast of HAIR in 1969 and millions of hippies dropped acid to touch the sky of Aquarius.

I wanted to be one of them and the Fourth of July 1970 my friends John Gilmour, Tommy Jordan, Mark McLaughin and I scoring a couple of hundred hits of LSD from a French-Canadian hash dealer in Montreal. We dropped the Orange Sunshine after entering the USA at Canaan, New Hampshire. The backroads were lightly traveled and my VW Beetle meandered down Route 3 toward the White Mountains. The acid came on strong at the T-intersection of 110 and 3 at Groveton.

We didn’t have a map and Mark asked an old farmer sitting on a lawn chair, which was the best way to Mount Washington.

“Are you in a hurry?” His accent was non-rhotic Granite State.

“We have all the time in the world.” I was 18.

“That’s what all young men say.” He took off his straw hat and looked at the intersection. “Most travelers take 3 down to Lancaster and east on 2, but a few head over to Berlin.”

Berlin was a logging town.

“Which one you take?” My voice shimmered with color, mostly green.

“Depends on where I’m going, but I like driving along the Upper Ammonoosuc River. It’s very twisted.”

“Thanks for the information.”

Mark and I looked at each other.

“Go left,” said John in the back. “Always take the road less traveled.”

It was the hippie way and I beeped the horn before heading down 110.

An AM radio station from Burlington played War’s SPILL THE WINE, Free’s ALL RIGHT NOW, Mungo Jerry’s IN THE SUMMERTIME before fading into static behind the airwave shadow of Mt. Cabot.

Berlin blurred under the blue sky and the pines wavered with the breeze. This was the North Country. The wind riffled across our ears. I drove slowly up 16 with snow gleaming atop Mount Washington.

A river ran to our right.

“Quiet.” I shut off the engine and coasted down a dirt road to the bank of the Peabody River.

“Me too,” replied the three friends.

We were on the same plane.

The four of us got out of the bug.

The mountain stream rushing over glacial rocks to create a primordial language. Our teenage ears listened to its teachings and we obeyed the command to submerge our bodies in the torrent’s lecture. Our communion with LSD immuned our flesh from the frigid winter melt. Time melted faster than butter in the sun.

“Speak, river, speak.” John was all ears.

Our skin was turning blue.

I strained to understand the river’s message.

A young boy in shorts appeared from the trees. He was wearing an Andre the Giant tee-shirt.

John Gilmour elbowed me.

“It’s him.”

“Him who?”

“Him.”

“I don’t who him is, but we don’t need him to bring us down. What you want, kid?” Tommie was a stickler for keeping crowds small while on LSD.

“Why are you were sitting in the water?

“To hear it speak,” Tommie answered without hesitation. He was a high school hockey star. On ice his skating was almost holy and Tommie was the was the most spiritual of us.

The eleven year-old stuck a finger in the river.

“I don’t near nothing, but the water.”

We cocked our ears to the current.

The boy in the shorts was right.

“We hear the water too.”

We were on an ancient quest.

“And it’s cold.”

“Yes, it is cold.”

We stood up with goose-bumped skin. The release from the river was a rush.

“Come out of the river.” The young boy ordered with biblical authority.

“Whatever you say.” Tommie Jordan chattered through this teeth.

Mark’s skin was death white and I shivered like I had been pulled from the Atlantic after the sinking of the Titanic. This boy had saved us from hypothermia. His coming here was no accident.

“Who are you?” I asked, blowing into my hands.

“Bobby.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Am too.”

“You’re someone else.” Someone famous and John’s retinas opened to the max, as he whispered, “It’s Jesus.”

“Jesus.” I might have been a non-believer, but I flashed on the 12 year-old Messiah in the Temple. Bobby was about his age.

“What are you talking about?” I was a firm non-believer.

“He’s the Second Coming.” John was on a vision.

“I’ve been here before.” The boy picked up a rock and threw it into the river.

“Here before?” I asked with time repeating over and over again like a reshuffled deck of cards.

Yes.” Bobby liked simple answers and before we could pose the right questions, a teenage girl in a tube top hurried from the underbrush. Red hot pants hung off her skinny ass.

“Bobby, you get over here.” The redhead was about 15. Her skin was milk white.

“I wasn’t doing nothing.” Bobby was a member of her family.

“What I tell you about speaking to strangers.” She grabbed her brother. Her tube top was no protection from our eyes.

“I wanted to know why they were sitting in the river.” Our prophet attempted to escape her clutches.

“Why? Because they’re stupid hippies.” She was teenage trouble to men and boys.

“We’re not stupid hippies.” I was enlightened by LSD. Bobby was Jesus. His sister was blind.

“I know stupid when I see it. You’re fucked up on LSD too.” The sister seized Bobby by the ear and our ‘Jesus’ squealed in defeat, as she dragged her brother away from the river.

“Don’t take him away.” John scrambled over the glacial rocks.

“Let him go.” Mark slipped on a mossy rock into the river.

“But he’s____”

“Look.” John pointed through the trees.

Bobby’s family was setting up a barbecue. His father regarded us with a command to keep our distance. This was their holiday destination.

Bobby had been here before, but only in this lifetime.

“So he’s no Jesus.”

“He was a for a minute.” John laughed with the LSD.

“He’s just a kid we thought was Jesus. Listen.” Mark was lying in the water.

The river had resumed its music. Its song were never played on the radio. We lay in the river and sang its lyrics until our throats were parched dry as the summer grass. Drinking the river was a sacrament. We clambered from the water and sat on the rocks. Bobby’s family left in the direction of North Conway. We came down under the pine trees. The night rose from the east.

“You know they’re lighting off fireworks on the Charles.” John loved watching the Boston Pops playing the 1812 OVERTURE. The fireworks were a wonder of pyrotechnics.

“We missed it this year.”

“But not our trip.” John smiled in the darkness.

The moon floated across a universe of nova stars.

“It was something else.”

We spread our sleeping bags and lit a fire.

“You know there is no God.” I had to say it.

“And there is no Jesus.” Mark had been quiet for hours.

“But there is a Bobby.” Tommie lit a joint. It was good Acapulco Gold.

“And he has a hot sister.”

Our heads bobbed in agreement, because even an atheist on LSD can believe a small boy with a sister in a tube top can be Jesus.

After all acid is only a drug and this everyday is the dawn of the Age of Aquarius.