ES TUT MIR LIED by Peter Nolan Smith

My high school German professor smoked cigarettes in the classroom. Ashes from his dying butts dropped onto his black cassock, as we read Kafta’s DAS URTEIL from a blue book.

“Du sprechet wie Arschloch.”

Bruder Karl’s cigarette ravaged voice grated the cinderblock wall.

“Jawohl, Bruder.”

Boston accents have no R and our class defiled the Teutonic language.

My 1st semester grade was an D-.

I was on academic scholarship.

The Principal and Vice-Principal suggested a change of language to Spanish.

I refused their offer.

My 2nd semester earned an F in German troubled by another F in religion.

I no longer believed in god.

The school withdrew my scholarship. My uncle was a lawyer. He persuaded them to reinstate half the scholarship and I remained at Xaverian to learn German.

My accent barely improved despite Bruder Karl’s tutorship and I graduated without any honors other than the annual delivery of Bruder Karl’s Christmas card.

“You were my star student.”

“Wahrheitsgemäß.” I doubted him.

“You were the only one who could speak Deutsch.”

“But you failed me.”

“Because you couldn’t read it.” He stubbed out his cigarette and clapped a hand on my shoulder. “One day you will speak German in Deutschland and maybe other countries too, for once you can speak one language you can speak them all, especially one as hard as German”

His prediction came true, when I took a job in Hamburg at the door of a pimp’s nightclub, BSIR.

“Es tut mir lied.”

I said that whenever I didn’t let in a nightclubber.

I said it in French more than once in Paris, but there I said, “Je m’excuse.” or ‘I excuse myself’.
I learned this phrase in Italian, Indonesian, Indian, and Chinese, because I have sinned around the world and I have been sorry for my transgressions, however I have never heard a Thai person say that they were sorry.

“Kor thod.”

The words do exist in Thai.

Your girlfriend can burn your house down with a burn-the-house-down smile.

No sorry.

Leave you for another man.

No sorry.

Say you don’t love them enough.

No sorry.

Their lack of contrition was a parody of the famous adage from the movie LOVE STORY.

“Being in love is never having to say sorry.”

Thais love everyone and we all know that Beauty never says sorry to the Beast.

TIME HAS COME TODAY by the Chambers Brothers

In the late-60s I attended a Catholic Boys high school ten miles away from my house. No buses or trains ran between the suburbs on the outskirts of Boston and only connection between these bedroom communities was Route 128 orbiting Boston from Nantasket Beach in the South Shore to the North Shore fishing port of Gloucester.

Boys from my high school had three choices of transportation from my high school. Freshmen and sophomore were stuck on expensive private buses, while upper-class students organized car pools sharing gas and driving. The final option was hitchhiking, which required walking from the school to 128. For some reason townspeople never picked up Catholic schoolboys, but getting a ride from the East Street exit was easy, since sex predators cruised the highway for teenage boys.

“You ever seen a naked man in the shower.” They loved that line.

Car pools avoided that sexual confrontation and mine was divided between my VW Beetle, Chuckie Manzi’s Plymouth, Frank Monaco’s Comet, and Tommy Dangree’s Mercury Cougar. Every afternoon we hit 128 to race the other teenagers on the eight-lane highway. My daredevil driving skills in the VW beat out more timorous drivers behind the wheel of muscle cars, but Tommy’s Cougar GT was powered by a 390 FE V8.

That car accelerated down the ramp and Tommy’s specialty was the speed record between East Street to Rte. 138 beneath Big Blue Hill. The distance was three miles. His best time for the autumn of 1968 had been 2 minutes and 21 seconds, until one spring afternoon WMEX started playing the Chambers Brothers TIME HAS COME TODAY upon our reaching East Street.

“How long is this song?” Tommy shouted back over the salt-marsh grit of the 50,000 transmission.

His radio had one volume.

Loud.

“The AM single is 2:37,” I answered knowing that WMEX’s format never allowed the 11-minute-plus version.

“I’m going for the record. Time it.” Tommy stamped on the accelerator. His tank was filled with Sunoco’s best octane 100 from a musclehead gas station near Wollaston Beach. The tachometer redlined and the speedometer swung right beyond 100.

110.

We had an open road.

120.

The other cars were a blur.

“Time has come today.” The four of us sang with the windows shut for aerodynamics.

He hit 126 heading up the incline to 138 and Tommy braked for the exit. The Cougar fishtailed into the cloverleaf followed by the smell of burning tires and us singing the final chorus.

Now the time has come
There are things to realize
Time has come today
Time has come today

“How fast?”

“2:05.” According to my Timex.

“I’ll break that one day,” Tommy boasted with high hopes.

Speed was his drug, however he failed on numerous occasions to better that time. Traffic or weather interfered with his many attempts and twice state troopers stopped him for violating the speed limit.

My efforts in the VW Beetle were pathetic. Its top speed 85 with a tailwind and the 60s ended without any one bettering Tommy’s speed.

The record seemed as safe as Babe Ruth’s home run record, then in the Spring of 1973 my favorite cousin dropped off his prom date near my high school. Her name is unimportant. Errol was wearing a black tux. His shirt had ruffles and his red tie was undone. He might have had a few beers before getting behind the wheel of his father’s Sky-Blue Lincoln IV with a white hard-top. A 460 in³ (7.5 L) Ford 385 series V8 engine was under the hood. The twenty-foot long sedan was a monster.

It was 3am.

There was no traffic on Route 128.

Errol tells the story this way.

“I gave the beast the gas and saw the fuel gauge drop a few inches.” The Mark IV sucked gas like a black hole. “Zero to 60 in two seconds. I stomped the pedal to the medal and within a few seconds I’m at 100 mph. The speedo went to 160 and I kept both hands on the wheel, as the car hit a small bump in 128. Only at that speed with that car’s suspension there are no small bumps. I was launched into the air and the Mark IV hit the highway in acceleration mode. I swear on our grandmother’s grave that I made the 93 exit in 35 seconds and 138 in a minute-ten. I must have broken the sound barrier. I was traveling that fast.”

Errol loved telling this story and I sort of believe him, since for me all stories are true if interesting and no one is going to break his record.

Not on 128.

Not with all the traffic.

Not in this century for some pleasures have been lost to the 21st Century like driving a Mark IV Lincoln at full speed without worrying about the police. That sensation is lost forever, but not the excitement of hearing TIME HAS COME TODAY and to view the Chambers Brothers classic hit, please go to the following URL

MISSILE AWAY by Peter Nolan Smith

During grammar school my older brother was the top of his class at Our Lady of the Hills, but he was also a pyromaniac and on several occasions Frunk came close to burning down our suburban house underneath the Blue Hills. Each time my mother punished us both with a wooden spoon and my father sternly admonished our incendiary behavior, yet my older brother was undeterred by cracks across the knuckles and hards words.

The early 1960s was the height of America’s Space Race with the Soviet Union and Frunk abandoned his fiery endeavors to conduct missile experiments with discarded hair spray cans collected from garbage cans in our neighborhood. Our blast site was a secluded sandpit, where Chuckie, my next-door neighbor, Frunk, and I taped the cans together and positioned the ersatz V-2 of Aquanet hair in a bonfire.

Sometimes our rocket would explode in fiery, yet separate bursts of colored flames, but occasionally the strapped cans would arced into the sky at low altitudes spitting toxic fumes.

None of us suffered injuries from these experiments, however we came close to setting the woods on fire and the town police warned our parents that we were a danger to the community. My father forbade any further research and we abandoned our emulation of NASA’s failed rocket launches.

Even at my parochial high school I resisted the draw of the rocket club. They were interested in achieved height and not destruction, so I ran freshman cross country in the fall of 1966.

The five-mile course directed runners past a gloomy mansion surrounded by a high barbed wire fence. Our competitors were never forewarned that their runners had to leap a stone wall to cross through the estate, giving our team an edge and my school won two consecutive state championships in 1967 and 1968, however our dominance was challenged after a mysterious government agency purchased the mansion in 1969.

The men occupying the estate wore white shirts and black ties. They never left the building. We thought they might be aliens.

Chuckie Manzi said that they were CIA scientists experimenting on apes for the War in Vietnam.

When the cross-country team passed the big house, we listened for the shrieks of chimps. We heard nothing other than our panting lungs.

Upon our return to the gym, our coach informed us that the grounds were off-limits to the cross-country team.

“What about the wall?”

“No more wall,” said Brother Jude.

Two weeks later we lost our first race in years.

“We want the wall.”

We protested to Brother Jude. He was on our side as was the principal, who asked for special access from the men in black suits.

The men in the white shirts refused our request.

Every time we passed the mansion calling them ‘assholes’, then trained harder to regain our edge.

Few of our fellow students cared about the track team.

Our school’s football team was state champs. The cheerleaders came from the nearest Catholic girls school. They wore short skirts.

Our only fans were the rocket club and their president said that this matter was not over.

No one from the cross-country team paid them much mind.

They were nerds and the cross-country team worried that nerdiness might be contagious.

We won our next race, although I barely beat out our rival’s 5th runner. Afterward the rocket club glared at the distant mansion and the cross-country team exchanged a conspiratorial glance with them. Whatever they had planned was more than all right by us.

The next day the school’s rocket club announced an exhibition of their missiles and the brothers proudly assembled the students in the field behind the high school. The principal instructed the collective classes to stand a good distance from the launch area, for the rockets were not small.

One of them was at least ten-feet long.

After running a series of tests, the rocket club signaled that they were ready and soon missiles were soaring into the sky.

Even the football team thought the rocket club was cool and the brothers beamed with satisfaction, thinking maybe one of these boys might end up at NASA.

Off in the distance a few of the men in the white shirts were standing outside the mansion.

The rocket club lined up this final missile, the ten-footer, with the mansion.

The men in the white shirts started shouting and then the president of the rocket club lit the fuse. The men ran for cover. It was a wasted effort, for the missile covered the half-mile between the field and mansion in less than a second.

The explosion was muffled by out applause.

Afterwards the men in the white shirts complained to the brothers.

The town police ignored the complaint, since some of their kids were on the track team and we regained permission to run through the field a week later and won the state championship for the third time in a row.

No one ever said anything bad about nerds in our school.

They were heroes, because they were dangerous.

At least to anyone not on our side and that’s the way it should be when you’re young.

ps my older brother was really pissed that he hadn’t been there.

The Love of Gladiators


My older brother’s school was a trolley ride away from our suburban house. Boston College High School excelled at sports and academics. I wanted to join my brother in the following class of 1970, except I won a full scholarship to Xaverian Brothers located only ten miles away from our exit on Route 128. The distance seemed small to my parents, but I ran track and once the school bus for my hometown left the parking lot, my only option to get to 109 Harborview Road was to hitchhike from the East Street on ramp of 128.

My hair wasn’t long. I was good-looking in my school uniform and blazer. Balding men stopped for me. They smelled of Aqua Velva. After a few minutes on 128 the drivers never failed to ask, “Do you like gladiator movies?”

“No,” I said, fearing an escalating series of homo-erotic suggestions and the drivers dropped me at the dreaded I-93 cloverleaf.

Several long walks to the 138 exit taught me that saying ‘yes’ was better than ‘no’. I never told my parents about these or that Brother Jerome the school’s librarian asked the same question during Reading 101.

After graduation I didn’t hear that line until I saw the movie AIRPLANE in 1980, when Peter Graves of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE fame asked a young boy, “What do you think about gladiator movies?”

Every man in the audience laughed in solidarity. None of the women broke a smile. This was our little secret and males my age recognized the influence of gladiator movies on our pubescent libidos.

I don’t care what anyone thinks.

Steve Reeves the Hercules of the 60s wasn’t gay.

Tony Curtis on the other hand was very gay in SPARTACUS.

A slave to a Roman master played by Larry Olivier.

Very out and when GLADIATOR was screened in 1980, I saw the first show. My friends and I went to dinner and told the maitre de about the movie.

“It doesn’t sound like a real gladiator movie.” Marvin sniffed with disdain. He was 6-1 and weighed 145. Mussels were a dish served on a plate not on his bones. “They’re never a real gladiator movie unless two men wrestle naked.”

“Oh.”

That comment certainly shone new light on the wrestling scene between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed in the film adaptation of WOMEN IN LOVE. They were gladiators too, if only for that scene.

Naked men and gladiators might say something to some men, but Steve Reeves was not gay.

No way, but that didn’t stop him from being an idol.

To many.

THE FLIGHT OF HISTORY by Peter Nolan Smith

At Xaverian High School outside of Boston Brother Phelan taught history without any deviation from the path of the textbook. I was Brother Phelan’s # 1 student, since I had read the textbook from beginning to end during the first week of the semester. During class I stared out the window, thinking about my cheerleader girlfriend, Kyla. A month into the semester the old boxer requested his students to write essays about the Magna Carta, Napoleon, and the Civil War. My classmates turned in papers of various lengths.

“Smith, help me grade the papers.” Brother Phelan waved for me to join him after class.

“Yes, brother.”

He was no greasy chickenhawk.

The robed teacher and I gathered up the reports and we walked down the corridor to the stairwell. I thought we were going to his office, but the broad-bellied brother stopped at the stairwell and commanded, “Toss the papers one by one up the stairs.”

I didn’t understand the why, but like I stated earlier Brother Phelan had been a fighter.

Heavyweight.

They earned respect and I did as I waas told.

After two minutes forty odd hand-written and typed papers were scattered up the steps.

“Here.” Brother Phelan handed me a small notebook and said with a Connemarra accent. “Record the name and the grade.”

He started at the bottom.

“D-.”

He cleared the stairs and midway up he said, “C-.”

This went on until he reached the top, where he gave an A+ to a thick tome of thirty pages.

“Aren’t you going to read them?”

“What for? I grade them by weight. The heavier ones go farther. The lighter one less so.”

“So everything they write is unimportant.”

“You could think of it that way. The Magna Carta was signed by King John and he killed all the nobles.

“With the help of foreigners.”

“Correct.” He tapped the papers into a neat pile and came back down the steps.

“Napoleon loses at Waterloo.”

“Able I was ere I saw Elba,” I repeated the fallen emperor’s famous palindrome to his English doctor on the remote South Atlantic island.

“You show great promise, but I didn’t find your paper in the pile.”

“It wasn’t there.”

“Any reason.”

“I didn’t feel like rehashing history as we know it.” I reached into my bag and pulled out a treatise on the 1848 Revolution titled UP AGAINST THE WALL. I hadn’t wanted any of my classmates to see it. America was at war with the Viet Cong. My friends hated commies. I was an atheist. They hated us even worst.

“Four pages?” He flicked the paper like a poker player waiting the last card on stud.

“Succinct.”

“A C- according to my grading scale.”

“Better than failing.”

“I supposed you’re right, boyo, but I’ll give it a read.”

He bid me well. I had a track meet that afternoon. I ran the 440 and relay along with doing the long jump.

I finished 4th in the first, the team won the second, and I hit seventeen feet off the wood into a sawdust pit. Brother Phelan helped me to my feet. No one beat that distance.

“Now that’s history.”

“Yes, it is,” I answered, because history was all about how long history flew through time.

And time lasted forever for teenagers of the 1960s.