Hotel Des Ecouffes 1982

In the early 80s I often resided at a Marais hotel particular on Rue Des Ecouffes off the Rue Des Rosiers. As a true Shabbas Goy I loved waking to the gangs fighting on the street and the nearby Hamman The owner, an old Jewish woman, always had a room for me.

The top floor with a view of the rooftops of the Marais.

The white-haired owner had lived in a cave underneath the sous-sol during the Nazi occupation. She was a doll, but after two months would always kick me out. “Mssr. trouvez un autre hotel, mais tu es toujours bien invitez pour les prochain fois.”

And she was always true to her word.

Strangely no one in Paris knew the meaning of ecouffes, but I think it means chokes.

One night I took a tall red-headed model from Baltimore back to my room. We made love and in the morning madame served us coffee and croissants in bed. I really liked this woman and we engaged again after which I said, “You know what I like about you.”

“No.” She was hoping for a poetic caress, but I said, “You’re big enough to carry me down the stairs if this place was on fire.”

Her eyes widened and she jumped from the bed, dressing as if the hotel was ablaze.

“Fuck you.”

I was persona non grata and the madame de hotel explained later, “No woman wants to be called ‘big’. Souviens ca.”

And I have remembered that always.

MAUVAIS MECS by Peter Nolan Smith

That year winter had been mild in Paris.

Farther to the North snow covered Germany and I was glad to have been detoured from Berlin to Paris by an urgent phone call.

Vonelli was in trouble.

When I got off the train in Gare Du Nord, no one waiting at the station, which was a good sign, since not everyone in Paris was my friend.

The taxi ride to Bastille took fifteen minutes. The driver didn’t say a word. At 51 Rue Basfroi I climbed the stairs to Vonelli’s apartment.

“Thanks for coming on such short notice.”

“You caught me between jobs.”

The art dealer knew well enough to not ask about those jobs.

Vonelli was a tough guy, so I wasn’t ready for his collapse.

“She’s gone.” His head rested in his hands.

“Who?”

“Bella and she won’t be coming back, unless I give someone something I can’t give them.”

“Who’s them?” I was starting to sound like an owl.

“Kroutchee.”

“I know the name.” The exiled African prince was an expert at low-level kidnappings and never demanded more in ransom than what the ‘sucker’ could afford to lose, however Vonelli was no ‘pigeon’. He knew ‘people’.

“Snap out of it.” I yanked Vonelli to his feet. “You have a photo of Bella?”

Vonelli pulled out a naked shot from the Piscine Deligny. The girl was pretty and young, but his being with her wasn’t a crime in France.

“I got another from Kroutchee.” He handed me a picture.

Bella was prettier in lingerie.

“She’s not scamming you?” I trusted no one.

“No, she loves me.” Vonelli trusted his heart more than me.

“And how much does Kroutchee want?” This deal was a question of easy math.

Vonelli said a number and gave me an address where to get the cash.

2 Avenue Gabriel.

“Really?”

“You think I have that kind of money?”

“No.” I muttered a swear and left the apartment.

I hated the US Embassy and Vonelli’s team was happy with the shortness of my visit.

They were still fighting the Cold War and picked up the case. It was light, then again, $50,000 US doesn’t weight much in hundreds.

I conceived a plan.

Kroutchee operated with a tight crew; two tough mecs and a blonde model. One man carried a gun, but they preferred to drug their victims.

I needed back-up and phoned Brial. The music producer came from the South of France. He knew how to keep his mouth shut and I told him to meet me in the Marais.

“How you like my car?” It was a T-Bird

“A little too obvious.”

I sat down at the cafe and order an expresso.

When I mentioned ‘Kroutchee’, Brial said, “I know where they hang out. The Chat Noir.”

“I know it.”

In fact everyone in Paris knew the popular cafe on the Boulevard St. Germain.

“So?”

“Jist hold the money. Half is his. The rest is ours, if everything worked out in the end.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.”.

Afterwards I went to a pistol booth in Bastille.

Marcel asked if I want ‘un flingue’.

“Non.” Guns complicated matters. “But thanks for offering.”

I called the number Vonelli had given me. A Swedish girl told me to go to Le Privilege. Someone named Black Jack would meet me at the bar.

“Cool.” Le Privilege was the chicest club in Paris.

Black Jack was waiting for me. I ordered a gin-tonic. The bartender poured a double. Claude liked me the way most men like him liked men like me.

The entire crew was at the table; Kroutchee, the blonde and a Finnish tough guy, plus a junkie.

“Where’s the money?” Kroutchee cut the chase.

“Where’s the girl?” My drink went down smooth.

“She’s safe.”

“I bet.” I eyed the blonde. She was out of her depths, but men like Kroutchee were good at getting women to do what they didn’t want to do.

“Not with your life.” Kroutchee snapped his fingers for another drink.

I had eyes in the back of my head.

Black Jack poured something into my drink.

A knock-out punch.

I just hoped it was nothing pharmaceutical. I liked to be drugged by dope.

Kroutchee’s tough Ulf was a pretty Finnish boy.

My head lowered to the table.

Whatever they had given me was good.

Ulf’s laugh was the last thing I heard over Chic at the Privilege.

I sort of remembered Ulf and Black Jack carrying my body up stairs.

Three flights and they didn’t drop me once.

Someone stuck a needle in my arm.

After that more blackness.

I woke next to a warm body.

Bella was better in real life than photos.

Then Kroutchee entered the room.

“Where is the money?”

“What money?”

“The money to keep me from doing bad to Bella.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You will soon.”

Ulf liked a knife. Black Jack came from the ghetto of Paris. His eyes said that to him this was only a job.

Neither of them saw Brial at the window, as Kroutchee shrieked at me.

“I am a piano player. I will play you like a tango.”

Ulf lifted me to my feet.

Brial jumped through the window.

The fight lasted a few seconds.

I caught Ulf on the stairs. He asked for mercy. I didn’t like having a knife to my neck and kicked him down the stairs. He made it to the ground floor without stopping on the landings.

Black Jack I gave a free pass.

Kroutchee wasn’t as lucky.

I made him play piano.

His voice hit a High C when I closed the cover on his fingers.

Brial got rid of the blonde. He liked ice queens.

I freed Bella.

She was very grateful.

“Anything you want.”

I could think of one thing, but said, “Get dressed.”

Vonelli was a friend and friends didn’t collect rewards from the girlfriends of friends.

Brial drove us to Rue Basfroi.

Bella asked me up.

I said, “Maybe another day.”

“What about the money?”

I gave him half.

$25,000 was reward enough for me.

And I made my train at Gare Du Nord.

Like all the trains leaving from that station it was heading North.

FOTOS BY ARTHUR GORDON 1985

America Now Same As Ever

Today is an important day in the American holiday calendar marking the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., who fought the forces of racism, saying, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Sadly the forces of hatred ended the peacemaker’s life in Memphis. I would like to uphold his path of pacifism, however race hatred in America burns brighter than a KKK cross.

Today I was speaking with a white friend and said, “I have the day off.”

“What? National Nigger Day?”

“What did you just say? You’re Italian and I don’t consider none of you white.”
I was half-Mayflower descendant and 50% Black Irish.

“Sorry.”

“You better be.” Racism has been a hatred taught to us whites at an early age and later this afternoon I heard a rich white woman saying, “I hate the city. It’s so dirty.”

She wasn’t speaking about the litter, but the filth of the races.

I said nothing, because I was trying to sell her a diamond and the best revenge was to hit her pocketbook.

Money is all the rich have and I try not to hate them or white people, because there’s nothing wrong with taking cash off the rich.

Long live the man of peace and even a dead Martin Luther King Jr. is better company than the filthy rich.

He gave his all for the world.

For everyone.

Lorraine Hotel Fifty-Three Years Ago

In April 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis to address a gathering at the Masonic Temple. The city’s black sanitation workers had walked off the job to protest working condition and low wages. The speech keynoted by the phrase ‘I’ve been to the mountaintop.”

That night King stayed at the Lorraine Hotel with civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy.

As the group prepared to leave according to biographer Taylor Branch, King’s last words were to musician Ben Branch, who was scheduled to perform that night at a planned event. King said, “Ben, make sure you play ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.”

A shot rang out from across the street.

A bullet struck King’s cheek and detoured down his spine.

He never regained consciousness.

A white man fled the boarding house.

The FBI put James Earl Ray of the Most Wanted list.

He escaped capture in the USA only to be arrested in London’s Heathrow Airport two months after the shooting.

A good part of the nation was in mourning.

America was ruled by the gun.

Coretta King, his wife, showed dignity.

His followers acted with restrain.

Not the police.

They beat blacks without mercy.

The officers of the law only protected and served one group.

The KKK.

And Nazis.

Cities burned across America.

The USA was out of control, but back under the fist of white power.

But we have a dream.

Martin Luther King’s dream.

The dream lives on.

Martin Luther King Lives

Martin Luther King was a man of non-violence.

He led his people to greater freedom.

MLK showed others the righteousness of his beliefs.

His words ring as true today as back at the time of his death.

We Have A Dream.

To hear Martin Luther King’s Speech I HAVE A DREAM, please go to the following URL