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November 27, 2015 – 12:33 am
Every year on Black Friday American consumerism outgrossed the year’s gluttonous excesses, as shoppers descended on the XXXL malls to buy corporate crap at discounted prices. The hoi polloi in the millions fight over wide screen TVs, iPhones, and Barbie dolls. Having never participated in the capitalist frenzy, I left the Fort Greene Observatory on Friday and headed down to the nearest 99 Cent store on Myrtle Avenue only to discover that the management had opted out of the post-Thanksgiving Day tradition.
“Nothing is on sale.” The clerk waved me away from the counter.
I accepted my defeat and exited from the store with a 99 Cent roll go toilet paper.
No one on Myrtle was carrying a shopping bag, except for a frazzled mother. Her daughter had an iPhone. She was happy, but I had to ask myself, “Why doesn’t anyone fight over Ken dolls?
The answer is that it’s a Barbie World.
Naked or not
November 25, 2015 – 2:42 pm
In the late-70s the windows of Fiorucci on East 60th Street featured the latest flash fashion from Italy. These trendy threads guaranteed almost immediate entrance into Studio 54 or any exclusive disco in Manhattan.
The manager was a swishy part-time singer on the downtown scene. Joey ran the store with an iron glove. One afternoon I came to him with a simple question.
“How much for the suit?” A gold lame Elvis suit adorned the front window. I wanted it bad.
“You can’t afford it.” Joey sneered at my question. His store catered to the rich. This was the Upper East Side.
“I know that.” The price tag read $300, which was about twice my wages at Serendipity 3 where I worked as a busboy. “What about 50% off?”
“And why would I do that?” The haughty manager earned a healthy commission on every sale.
“Maybe I could get you a gig at CBGB’s.” I hung out at the Bowery bar every night.
“You’re not the booker.” Joey wasn’t falling for my spiel and walked off to get an espresso.
“I might be able to help you.” Joey’s assistant manager caressed my shoulder and eyed the changing rooms. “I like boys from Boston. You’re so so so tough.”
“No thanks, I’m no hustler on the corner of 53rd and 3rd.”
“No?” I was testing my nerve.
“I have a girlfriend.” Clara was a beautiful actress from Georgia.
“She wouldn’t have to know and I could get the suit for an employee price.”
“I don’t play that game.” She wasn’t really a girlfriend, but we slept together more than once a week.
“That’s what all you boys say, but my side know different.” Matt smiled, for that Serendipity 3’s waiter staff was pronouncedly gay.
“Forget it.” I resigned myself to torn jeans and a black t-shirt, then left the store and cut through Bloomingdales to 60th Street. The July afternoon was sullenly hot and the sun was melting the pavement to a sticky goo.
The owners of the precious ice cream parlor offered me ice tea. It was a quenching treat and I had the day off. Liza Minnelli was sitting underneath a Tiffany Lamp. She laughed with her friends.
“Good luck with your acting class.” The mustached owner knew everyone’s business.
“I’ll sprain an ankle.” Clara and I studied acting improvising at Hunter College.
I climbed the stairs to the apartment of my friends living above Serendipity 3. The two southerners laughed upon hearing about Joey’s refusal to discount the Elvis suit.
“That queen is so mean.” Andy danced with the ballet. His older boyfriend liked him in nice clothing. Fiorucci was the handsome Virginian’s Chanel.
“He’s just doing his job.” I wasn’t saying what I felt, because Andy and his roommate were loose-lipped with gossip.
“And why would you want to be Elvis anyway?” Tim was stumped by this desire. “He’s so declassee.”
“It’s not that I want to be Elvis, but I just like the way it looks.” Elvis was the King.
“Straight men. I can’t figure you out.” Tim returned to pinning together the dress.
“You should have stolen it.” Tim quipped from the corner. The graduate of North Carolina School of Fashion was cutting a dress for his autumn collection.
“And go to jail.” I passed a lit joint to the elegant designer.
“Jail.” Tim shivered at the thought. He liked sleeping in his own bed. “Heavens forbid.”
“Not to worry. I’m a law-abiding citizen.”
“Except for a little weed.” Andy took the joint. “And other things like adultery.”
“My affair with Carla isn’t adultery. I’m not married.”
“But she is.” Tim sniped at my sin. “But no one is going to throw you in jail for breaking that Commandment.”
“Not this far north of the Mason-Dixon Line.”
I hung around listening to the boys talked about their love lives.
At 6:30pm I left the apartment to head up to Hunter College at which I was taking acting classes.
The early evening sky was thick with moist clouds. Lighting and thunder were scheduled for tonight, but it was too hot for any relief from rain. I reached Hunter on time and climbing the stairs to the fourth-floor classroom.
Sweat dripped from my every pore.
The windows were open for an errant breeze and fans stirred the humid air. Eric, the overweight experimental drama teacher, wiped his face with a towel. Carla was sitting at a table with her estranged husband Chuck. The other students were across the room, almost as if they were an audience for the couple’s reunion.
“Glad everyone could make it.” Eric put down the towel and resumed his instructions for A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. Thunder rippled over the Hudson like tin sheets falling down stairs.
“Carla, you’ll be Stella, Chuck will be Stanley, and you’ll be Mitch, except we’re going to detour from the usual course of the play and have it so both Stanley and Mitch are after Stella.”
“Wasn’t that implied by Tennessee Williams?” Carla asked from her seat. The attractive brunette displayed no signs of discomfort from the heat or the proximity of her husband, the heir to a Wisconsin butter fortune.
“This will be overt.” The teacher handed out copies of the new scene to the class. “Forget everything. Read this, act this, be this.”
Eric was renowned for his distortion of plays. He was gambling on the inner tension between Carla, Chuck, and me to dredge a new meaning to the classic theater piece. She and I had spend the previous night together at her studio flat on East 23rd Street.
Flashes of sheet lightening stripped the dusky sky, as we reciting the lines word for word. Sunset passed with our struggle to find the new direction. Night fell on our failure to connect the characters. I was planning on taking Clara to the Plaza Hotel for drinks. The bartender at the Oak Room was a friend.
“No, no, no, I want fire. Read the words, but speak your own. There’s no copyright on creativity.”
I became a punk rock Mitch, Chuck revived Stanley as a man of the people, and Carla sold Stella as a woman whose madness was in the wrong time.
“That’s it, people.” Eric clapped his hand together and out went the lights, as if the Tennessee Williams’ future ghost had cancelled our mutation of his famous work.
The room went pitch black. The windows of the school were dark and the evening sky was devoid of city’s glow.
“Is everyone okay?” Eric asked, lighting a match.
“Yes, what happened?” One of our fellow student lit his lighter.
“We might have had a blackout.” Chuck suggested, as if he didn’t want it to be the truth.
“I think you might be right.” It was the first time he and I had ever agreed on anything.
“Then we had better leave the building. You with the lighter. Lead the way.” Eric was good at giving orders. He wanted to be a director.
Escaping the darkened building took the better part of a half-hour. The chaos of Lexington Avenue revealed the extent of the outage. Cars were stalled at the traffic lights. Several people were directing traffic.
“You think the lights will go on soon?” the student with the lighter lived in Brooklyn.
“No one knows.” I was glad to be living in a SRO hotel on East 11th Street. No electricity meant no trains and I asked Carla, “You want to come home with me?”
“No.” She wasn’t walking to Park Slope and looked over to her good-looking husband. “Chuck’s place is closer.”
They linked arms and strolled toward Central Park. He had a penthouse on West End Avenue. She had told me about the view from the terrace many times. They were a couple again.
“Win some, lose some,” Eric commented on the sidewalk.
“Mitch knows all about losing some.” I shook his hand and walked back toward Serendipity 3.
I found my friends upstairs at their apartment. They had run out of ice for their vodka tonics.
“There’s no ice anywhere,” Tim complained bitterly with crossed arms. He was already drunk. “I want ice.”
“Stop bitching, bitch.” Andy had been keeping pace with his tipsy roommate, Frank.
“Maybe the Plaza has some.” I suggested since the hotel was the epitome of elegance. It had to have an emergency generator. Ice was less than five blocks away.
“Let’s go.” Andy, Frank, a young boy from North Carolina, Kurt, and I hurried through the darkened streets.
Passers-by spoke about looting in Harlem. They looked to the North. A radio reported that Flatbush was under siege. There were no police in sight. City dwellers were marching home. Some said they had been in the subway for hours. The light canyon of Park Avenue was without illumination and Andy pointed to the sky.
“I can see stars.”
“Orion.” I spotted the constellation most nights.
“Also the Big Dipper and the Bear.” Andy drew the lines between the points of Ursa Major.
“Looks more like a pig to me.”
“It’s a bear.” Frank had gone to art school.
We stopped arguing soon as we turned the corner at 59th and 5th.
The three of us stopped in shock.
“It’s the end of the world.” Andy stared at Plaza Hotel without lights.
“Or we’re back in the Stone Age.” Frank was excited by the chaos.
“When ice only came in season.” Andy shook his fists at the Plaza, angered by its failure to preserve civilization.
For some reason this new truth angered me and I said to Andy, “Let’s go to Fiorucci.”
“They won’t have ice.”
“No, but they do have a gold Elvis suit.”
“No one will be working there now.” It was past 11.
“Exactly.” Kurt picked up a cinder block from a work site. “I’m shopping the old-fashioned way.”
“That’s looting.” Andy was wild, but never violent.
“Just like the Huns. Go for it.” I had Pictish blood in me. We were an old tribe well before the 10th Commandments were etched in stone by a bearded god.
We strode up to Fiorucci.
The gold lame suit shone even in the blackness of the surrounding anarchy. Studio 54 was at my fingertips. I would win back Clara. I wouldn’t be Mitch in the next acting class. I’d be a star.
“Stand back.” Kurt warned Andy and Frank and then heaved the cinder block at the window. The missile struck the plate glass and bounced right back, narrowly missing Frank’s and my skull.
Several guards pointed at us. I hadn’t seen them in the murk. We ran fast. Kurt not so fast. Frank, Andy and I hid in a doorway. We watched Kurt hobble past us. Andy lifted his finger to his lips.
The guards and Kurt faced into the murk. Andy, Frank, and I stepped out of the alcove chased us past Bloomingdales.
“Where should we go?”
“In here.” Andy dragged us into the Subway Inn.
The dive was packed with stranded workers. The bar didn’t have any ice, but there were cold beers. Andy, Frank, and I blended into the sweaty crowd
“God bless Mickey Mantle.” Andy raised his glass and nudged me in the side. “Join the toast.”
Several beers later we arrived to the apartment above Serendipity 3. The radio was telling tales of the black-out. It was ciity-wide and Andy recounted a breathless telling of our attempted theft at Fiorucci.
“You could have gone to jail.”
“Not a chance,” said Andy. “Kurt was slow as shit and I won the gold medal.”
“I took the silver,” crowed Frank.
“And Kurt?” I asked wondering why he wasn’t here, knowing fully well why.
A gold lame Elvis suit.
“Anyone can run faster than Kurt.”
“But I didn’t get the suit.” I was slightly shamed by my exploit, especially for not having helped Kurt.
“Yes, but we did get away and not going to jail is a good thing.” Frank liked the comfort of his own bed.
“Especially tonight.” The Tombs in Lower Manhattan would be packed with looters according to the radio.
“But you tried to answer the call of the wild and that deserves a shot of lukewarm vodka.”
Tim handed me a shot glass filled to the brim.
“To outlaws.” I downed the shot. It was one of many. I fell asleep on the floor and woke up in the monring with Kurt.
“are you okay?”
“The police caught me, but I cried.”
“Tears work when lies fail.”
“Sorry about the suit.”
“No worries> You did a good job.” I kissed him on the forehead and we went to sleep.
Later that afternoon I tried to enter Fiorucci, but Joey blocked me entry at the door.
“We don’t need thieves as customers.” The sometimes singer snapped his fingers three times. The guards stepped closer to me.
“At these prices I don’t know who’s the real thief.” It was the best riposte I could come up with hung-over.
I didn’t have to be told to leave by them and strode out of Fiorucci, knowing that the boys above Serendipity 3 had snitched out my failed trashing of Fiorucci’s window. They did have big mouths. Clara went back to her husband. The teacher suggested that I study acting at a different school.
“I think I’ll try something else.”
“Hopefully not more burning and looting.”
“No, not anymore of that.” That night have given me a reputation. It lasted a long time.
Fiorucci closed several years later.
I bought the dusty Elvis suit through Matt. I tried it on at home.
“That really doesn’t fit you.” My girlfriend at the time was a tall model from Baltimore.
“No, maybe it never did.” It as an M.
“What are you talking about?” Laura was about my height without the extra weight.
“It’s a long story. You have it.”
Laura tried it on. It was a perfect fit.
The gold lame suit got her into everywhere. I was not so lucky. I only went places where I knew the door. That was everywhere too, but I really wished I could have been wearing the Elvis suit, but some things just aren’t meant to be, especially Elvis Suits for men who are not Elvis.
November 24, 2015 – 8:07 am
Four years my friend, Pi-Noi brought his work crew down from Ban Nok to install an air-conditioning system in a Pattaya bar. The 400-kilometer drive gave them a healthy thirst and that night under my mango tree we drank a case of Chang Beer. Nearing midnight the bottles were empty, but the out-of-towners wanted more and I introduce them to cheap Russian vodka.
Aficionados of lao khao they downed the liter in minutes. The only evidence of being mao was the cranking up of our volume. Especially me and despite Pi-Noi’s claim that I’m the last surviving speaker of Neanderthal Thai, the vodka emboldened my tongue to disregard any linguistic failings and to my wife’s dismay I launched into a ghost tale.
“Phi?” Thais love ghost story.
I told them about a trip to Jamaica for an underwater photo shoot. LIFE had hired my friend to shoot the female lead of SPLASH. Bathing suits and bikinis. I was his assistant. I had never heard of her. She was the star of SPLASH. A comedy about a mermaid falling in love with a mortal man.
“Ngeuuak,” Pi-Noi asked with interest.
“Ngeuuak.” The mermaid myth was known to every sea-going culture.
“Suay mak.” Darryl Hannah was a blonde goddess. The photographer had the pole position to make a move. I explained to the Thais that I was his ‘thaat’ or slave. They understood this term, since all Thais had been slaves until 1095.
“We stayed at an old hotel. Hotel have ghost.”
“Pee ngeuuak?” Thais have scores of designation for ghosts; phee phohng ‘evil spirit’ phraai water ghost, bpee saat or ‘animal ghost’ et al.
“No, ghost old lady.” I continued how the actress had complained about a female ghost entering her room. She was barely visible. Her words were echos. Darryl was frightened by the encounter and wanted to sleeping my room.
“Sex with mermaid, good.”
“No, my friend is jealous. Says he won’t pay me, if I sleep with me.”
“Yes, he was bird shit. I get revenge by drinking rhum.
“I drink lots of Rhum.” 150 proof quelled the disappointment of not having sex with a movie star. “Mao mak. I go sleep. Someone touches my shoulder. I think it’s puying farang suay.”
I really did think it was Darryl Hannah.
Instead my visitor was a long-haired apparition of an 80 year-old woman.
“Mai puying suay. Phi gair. Phee.”
I acted out the part of an ectoplasmic old lady.
“Guah.” Pee-Noi and his crew shivered with collective fear.
“Not scared. Mao.” I dismissed the old ghost and fell back to sleep in a drunken stupor. The tale was meant to be funny, but at its end Pi-Noi demanded with a chill, “Ching?”
“True 100%. The ghost was as real as you or me.”
“You sex with her?”
“No way.” I was too drunk to do anything but tell her to fuck off.
“Mai shua.” He preferred to think that I had made love to a ghost.
A really old ghost.
His friends told it was funny, until I refused to open another bottle of vodka. Pi-Noi rolled his eyes.
“Didn’t you like my story?”
His face was set with anger. “You don’t make fun of ghosts.”
“They do in the movies.” Thais at the Big C Theater roared hilariously about headless ghosts chasing fools through the night. I laughed too.
“Not same. This your house.”
“You believe in ghosts?”
Pi-Noi shrugged, as if he take them or leave them.
I didn’t think so, but my Irish blood grants a special affinity for spirits and I don’t disrespect the beliefs of this or any country.
Every year thousands of Thais and tourists line the Mekong River to view the glowing gas balls floating into the air from the mythical Naga creature. Temple steps are often decorated by a representation of this serpent. Farangs tend to deride the Thais’ belief in creatures eating your intestines or a greedy man doomed to wander eternity with a worm-sized mouth without taking into consideration that 65% of Americans believe in guardian angels.
While not 100% convinced, I really did see a ghost in Jamaica and ten years ago during a visit to Isaan with my one-eyed girlfriend we drove to a mae-mod or witch’s house. The old crone’s house was located beyond the electrical grid. A score of women sat in the candle-lit hut listening to their fortunes, while men lingered nervously outside. At one point the oldest women were assembled in a circle. Lots were chosen and the most wrinkled of them was led into the jungle by two men.
“Where she going?” I asked Vee.
“Women had lottery to see who die so others live longer.”
“They’re going to kill her?”
“No, she picked every time. Other ladies never know or don’t remember.”
It was a scam, but a scary one in this setting.
The next morning a green potion was smeared on the rim of my glass. Vee said it was nothing and I drank some. We were both sick for two days. A year later we broke up and neither of us could leave the other. When I returned to the States for business, I didn’t sleep for three days and sweated out a fever. A Thai friend smiled knowingly. “Red-lum.”
“Magic?” Jack Nicholson had said the same in Kubrick’s THE SHINING.
He nodded. “At least she drink it too.
And like that I became a believer. Of course being half-Irish helped to convert me to waking at night to the slightest whisper, because not everything going bump in the night is a thief.
November 22, 2015 – 2:27 pm
After spending a lovely night in Houston, JFK and his wife boarded the presidential jet for a short hop to Dallas. The crowds lining the route applauded the president and his hostess, Mrs. Connolly, commented that Dallas loved him and the president replied, “That’s very obvious.”
A second later a single bullet and then another struck JFK.
November 22, 1963 was a bad day, however a video shows that he had a good time in Texas.
The love was real and real now too.
Johnny Boy we miss you.
To view the lovely night in Houston, please go to this URL