No Cinco De Mayo

In the late Spring of 2013 my brother-in-law and I put the dock in the lake. The water temperature was 62 and the sunny air hit 72, which was warm for Southern Maine. David and I went into the water with hesitation, but it wasn’t so bad once we were in the lake. Coming out was another thing. Both of us shook from the long immersion in the cold water.

My sister ordered us to take hot showers and we obeyed her command to the tee. When we returned to the kitchen two margharitas waited on the table.

“Happy Cinco de Mayo.” My sister was a big believer in holidays, both national and international.

“Viva Juarez.” I raised my salt-rimmed glass to clink a toast.

“Why Juarez?” My brother-in-law smacked his lips. The margharitas were tangy with lemon.

“Juarez led a revolt against the Catholic conservatives and in 1861 declared a moratorium on debt payments to France, which claimed the previous government owed them over $52 million, but only had issued $1.2 million in actual money. Juarez protested that firstly the loan was made to a deposed government and secondly that the amount was based on usury. The family of the French Emperor owned the paper on this debt and Napoleon III convinced England and Spain to defend its right to get paid.”

“Sounds like that could happen now.” My sister taught finance at a college in Boston. Sovereign debt had crushed countries across Europe and her students were buried under credit card bills and student loans.

“England tried to force Iceland to pay the debt of its banks and they kicked out the government. The banks punished Iceland by closing all the McDonalds. France in 1862 showed up with an invading army, which pursued Juarez forces toward Mexico City. On May 5th the Mexicans stopped running at Puebla and fought French forces twice their force. They achieved a great victory and thereafter celebrated Cinco de Mayo.”

“Let me guess.” David was enjoying his margharita. “The French sought revenge for this defeat.”

“How well you know the French. They installed a Habsburg emperor protected by an imperial army.”

“Second guess. This ended badly.”

“Maximilian I was executed by the Mexicans ending all foreign intervention and Cinco de Mayo was important to the USA, since the Mexicans stopped the French from supplying the Confederates with arms.”

“Cinco de Mayo.” We clinked glasses again and my sister fixed another batch of drinks.

I like mine with salt.

We weren’t going anywhere on Cinco de Mayo than where we were.

Watchit Pond.

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FAMOUS FOR NEVER is a semi-fictional recounting of a ne’er-do-well living in the East Village during the 1970s, Paris through the 1980s, and Asia into the 1990s. Peter Nolan Smith’s ping-ponging around the world has ricochetted him through the ranks of the famous and near-famous such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Klaus Nomi without his ever having achieved success to threaten his firm grasp on failure, because there is no failure greater than premature success.

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It was all history in the making back then.

And still history now.

HUNG by Peter Nolan Smith

The Village in New York had always attracted a kaleidoscope of radical, deviant, and perverse characters considered abhorrent by mainstream America. The Reds of the 40s gave way to the beatniks of the 50s, who in turn evolved into the hippies of the 60s before surrendering the shattered counterculture ghetto to the junkies, artists, punks and sexual revolutionaries of the 1970s.

In 1977 I lived on East 10th Street with Alice, my hillbilly girlfriend, and my faux-sister Pip rented an apartment off Bleecker Street. She called me Pud. We had met at CBGBs, which was our Lincoln Center. The owner couldn’t figure out how we got so drunk on one drink. It wasn’t magic. Pip and I smuggled bottles of vodka past Merv at the door.

One spring evening the Ghosts opened for the Dictators. My girlfriend didn’t like either band, so I went alone. Pip was seated at a table near the stage. Our chairs leaned against the wall. Pip filled our glasses with vodka and coke. We had no ice.

The Ghosts played a blistering set and closed out the show with RICHARD IS A FORKHEAD. There was no encore and the band’s juvenile guitarist came over before heading to the dressing room.

“You mind.” Xcessive pointed to Pip’s glass. He had spotted our trick.

“Not at all.” My ‘sister’ was sweet on young punk rockers.

Xcessive drained the glass and coughed a little before wiping his mouth.

“Thanks.”

“Good show.”

“I tried.”

The young guitarist thread through his admirers by the stage and I said to Pip, “Isn’t he a little young for you?”

“He’s just a friend. Same as you.”

The cheery NYU coed had a crush on most of the men on the scene and many of the girls at CBGBs suffered the same affliction. This was the 70s and not the 50s. None of us were going steady and I struggled to be faithful to Alice.

“Besides I have my eye on my new neighbor. He’s really cute. His name’s Marc Stevens,” cooed Pip.

“Marc Stevens?”

“You know him?”

“I don’t know him personally, but he’s known as Mr. 10 1/2.” The well-hung actor was John Holmes’ rival in the XXX film industry.

“Mr. 10 ˝?”

“Yes, 10 ˝ inches.” I had seen him dancing naked covered in silver body paint at Studio 54. His penis had looked a normal size that evening.

“Oh, that’s big.”

“He was the star of THE DEVIL AND MRS. JONES.”

“I don’t know that film.” Pip was studying literature at NYU. Her professors expected their students to read MADAME BOVARY and Camus’ THE PLAGUE, not stroke books.

“And I wouldn’t expect anything else.” The francophiles intellectuals had no use for pornography other than THE STORY OF O and I gave Pip a 10-minute course in XXX films from DEEP THROAT to BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR. Her eyes shined with joy. She loved celebrities.

“He’s living with this girl, Jill Monro.”

“Jill’s no girl. She had an operation to change her penis into a vagina. She’s the first tranny movie star.”

“No, I can’t believe I know a transvestite.”

“Transsexual.” They were two different creatures.

She kissed my cheek for explaining the birds and bees of a hidden sect.

“I love you, Pud.”

Not everyone held porno actors in esteem, but I haunted the Times Squares peepshows in search of arcane films. My hillbilly girlfriend had no idea about my research. It was a secret I kept close to my heart.

That May Pip decided to throw a party for several Geminis. An underground designer of nightclubs decorated her apartment. She invited a hundred people. Over 200 crammed into the duplex. I knew many of them, since I was one of the birthday boys.

“I hear Mr. 10 ˝ is coming,” Klaus whispered in my ear. The German opera singer was a fiend for size and he shivered saying, “10 ˝. Divine.”

Klaus and I discussed gay porno films, as if we were voting for the Oscars.

My hillbilly girlfriend wandered off to CBGBs to see the Mumps. Alice didn’t like drinking and liked me drunk less.

A minute later a curly-haired man came up to me and said, “I thought she would never leave. My name is Mark.”

“Pip talked about you.” I looked through the crowd. His better half wasn’t in the room.

“She talked about you too.” Marc wore a white jumpsuit. He was the thinnest person in the room. His hand touched my ass. “You want to do some blow?”

“Yes.”

I was as used to gay guys hitting on me as they were accustomed to seducing straight guys.

“Not here. There are too many vultures.” His soft brown eyes darted over the crowd, as if he were looking for someone special. “Let’s go to my place.”

Two men leaving a party together was no scandal, although Pip leaned over to Klaus and pointed out my departure. The singer gave me the green light with a wink and shouted out,“Gluck.”

“I don’t need good luck.” I was straight or at least that’s what I told myself, but everyone in the Village was a little bent in one way or another.

“Your friend is cute in a strange way.”

“He likes you.”

“All size queens like Mr. 10 ˝.”

“I bet they do.”

Marc lived down the hall.

“I don’t want any of the neighbors seeing me. My wife is very jealous.” He opened the door and pushed me inside.

“My girlfriend is the same way.”

“Everyone is so hung up about sex. Sex is just sex. Nothing more.”

Marc shut the door. The one-bedroom apartment was decorated with dark brown furniture favored by gays for hiding stains from intercourse.

The XXX actor went into the kitchen to fetch a Pond’s cream jar from the cabinet.

It was crammed with a white powder with a pinkish glow.

“What is that?”

“Bolivian flake from one of my admirers.”

We sat on the soft sofa. The cushion sank around me like a Venus Fly Trap. The music from Pip’s party thumped the wall. I recognized the song as UP BONDAGE UP YOURS.

“You like that music?” Marc spilled out a mound of blow. The lines were thick as rope.

“I’m a punk.” I had been since seeing the Ramones play CALIFORNIA SUN. Their speedy version of the Rivieras’ hit opened my eyes to a new world and CBGBs became my second home.

“I like leather, but not that music. I’m more into disco.”

He unzipped his jumpsuit to his bellybutton and handed me a straw.

“Enjoy.”

I hit the first rail with an athletic gusto. This was not street gear and the coke burst into my nasal capillaries with the intensity of an Incan sunrise, then scorched my veins with a rush of euphoria. I fell back into the sofa with my bones sizzling on a Peruvian hot plate.

“Good, huh,” Marc whispered in my ear. His lips were tender on my neck. He spooned a small pile into my other nostril. “Breathe.”

I obeyed his order.

The coca renewed its assault on my senses and the universe shimmered out of focus.

I was in no condition to resist Marc’s advances. He was a veteran of porno movies. Millions of men and women fantasized about lying in bed with him. I gripped his thick member with the tenderness of a butcher preparing to cut a steak. Millions of XXX viewers had seen him in MICHAEL, ANGELO, AND DAVID. The photographer Robert Mapplethorpe had immortalized this penis in a black-and-white shit titled MARK STEVENS MR. 10˝, 1976.

I gave it a squeeze.

“It’s not hard.”

“Rough trade gets me erect.” Marc’s admission was not a confession.

He pinched his nipple and his cock stiffened with a throb.

“I like being the queen,” murmured Marc. “You wanna be king?”

Before I could answer, keys turned the lock of the front door.

The actor sat up straight and zipped his jumpsuit.

“It’s my wife. Do some more blow.”

I snapped out of my trance and turned my head.

The statuesque brunette entering the apartment had a couple inches on us in her stiletto heels. She regarded the coke and then the two of us.

Her smile was marred by the awkward unease of seeing her man with another man.

“Marc introduced us.

“Please to meet you.” His wife held out her hand with a tilted wrist.

I offered mine, expecting a limp handshake.

Jill crunched my knuckles in a vise.

Marc was her man.

I winced with a pained grin and ripped my fingers loose.

“I met him at the party next door. It was fun.”

“I can see that.” Jill sat down with the surrender of accepting Marc for what he was.

“Nice meeting you too. Time for me to rejoin the party.”

“Leaving so soon?” Marc was in no position to pursue his desire.

“It’s getting late.”

“Thanks for coming.” Jill smirked with the pleasure of re-establishing her dominance over my host.

“Sure, just one more thing.”

“What?” Jill straightened her posture, as if she was ready for a fight.

“A good-bye gift. Thanks.” I bent over and snorted the other two lines within two seconds.

Marc laughed and Jill joined him.

“Sure you want to leave?” She spread her legs to invite a touch.

“I already have a lover.”

“Lucky girl.” Jill kissed Marc on the cheek. “Same as me.”

He spilled out more blow. She did the first line. They looked like such a nice couple.

I returned to the party.

Pip grabbed me and asked, “What happened?”

“His wife came home.”

I poured myself a vodka.

“And what were you doing?”

“Talking that’s all. I have a girlfriend.” Pip was a spy for my hillbilly girlfriend. They were good friends. “And I’m not gay.”

“And you’re not straight either.” Pip shrugged with disappointment. She had been all ears for some good dirt, but left me to flirt with the Ghosts young guitarist. I stayed for another hour. The coke ran its course. Klaus lived in the East Village. We shared a taxi to St. Mark’s Place.

“So how big was it?” The German was all ears.

“Have you seen his movies?” I could tell Klaus anything. He loved secrets.

“Yes.” His eyes widened with delight.

“It was that big and thick.” I didn’t mentioned the softness of his penis.

“Wunderbar.”

“He said you were cute.”

“Really?”

“Maybe you’ll get lucky one night.”

“I can only wished and hope.”

“Klaus dropped me on St. Mark’s. I walked to 10th Street.

My hillbilly girlfriend was asleep in our bed. I took off my clothes and slid next to her.

“How was it?”

“What?”

“MR. 10˝.”

“Big and thick.”

“Too big for me?”

“Yes.”

“And you?”

“I was strictly there for a look-see. I came, I saw, I went.”

“You’re a good boy.” Alice cuddled up to me with a childish tenderness.

I was surprised she believed me, but I didn’t mentioned the temptation.

She was strictly GP-13 and I fell into a wired maze of dreams. None of them were XXX and that was probably better for Alice.

Better for me too, because 10˝ inches was as a big penis in dreams as it was in real life.

Klaus and me at the party.

Umphang Thailand’s Death Highway

Umphang in Tak Province has long been one of Thailand’s most remote provinces.

Well in the 20th Century the only access to the region was by pack horse, ox-cart or on foot.

In the late 60s the Thai government financed construction of road through the perilous mountains only to have rebels kill thirty construction workers. The other workers abandoned their machinery and it wasn’t until the mid-70s that Highway 1090 connected Mae Sot to the remote town on the Burma border.

I had always been curious about Umphang and one night in Ban-nok suggested to my wife that we take a drive to see the end of the road.

“It will be a road adventure.”

“Like Lord of the Rings.” my ex-wife commented, remembering a long-ago trip in a cheap car through the mountains north of Chiang Mai.

“More like Swordman of Ayuthayya.” I couldn’t think of another Thai movie.

“Oh.” Angie my eight year-old daughter groaned with dismay. Her idea of excitement was hitting the local shopping mall for a KFC dinner.

The next day we we set off north to Tak in our pick-up.

Before the Umphang turn-off, we asked the owner of a noodle stop at the beginning of Highway 1090, if she had ever been to Umphang.

“Mai. Mao lot.” Car sickness was a plague besetting the Thais, but this highway is renown for its formidable assault of 1219 nail-biting curves on the tender Thai constitution.

“Umphang mii arai?” Angie’s mom questioned the owner’s husband who had family in Umphang. He was part Karen, which was the major ethnic group in the area, who have been at war with Burmese government for decades.

“Umphang has nam-tok Thi Lo Su, a very beautiful waterfall.”

I was enheartened by that information and set off for Umphang.

It was only 160 kilometers away.

A long 160 and we were about to discover how long.

The road was worse than treacherous.

Work crews repaired damage from monsoon rains at various spots in the mountains.

Two hours into the trip a mudslide had washed out the road. There was just enough room for our pick-up to pass the obstacle. I looked across the valley. The road snaked up to the peaks. It took us twenty minutes to reach that spot.

We stopped at a waterfall.

The flowers were exquisite.

White.

Orange.

160 stretched longer and longer, as the day got shorter.

Coming around a corner furred with jungle another pickup was cutting the corner in my lane.

I tapped my brakes and skidded forward without any control. Coming from frozen Maine I didn’t turn the steering wheel to avoid a slide. The other driver was local. He was used to dirt.

My internal proximity alarms rang like the Titanic’s ‘warning’ claxons.

For the first milli-second I was totally convinced that my right bunker was destined to crush his driver side door.

A second milli-second later and downgraded the danger to kissing to a 90% chance of tagging his rear bunker.

A millisecond more and we miraculously passed each other without a scratch.

He braked to see that I didn’t plunge off the road, then continued on his way and me on mine.

“Close.” Angie’s mom was not happy.

I wasn’t either.

We stopped for gas at a Karen refuge camp.

The foreigners had been living in Thailand for decades.

Their houses were rudimentary.

They remained stateless.

A mile on the skies opened up, as we entered the home stretch.

Noahesque monsoon rains lashed the mountains. We descended into a valley.

At the bottom a motorcycle was stopped before a brown deluge. The turbulent stream raced across the road. The water appeared about hub cap deep, but I waited for an oncoming truck to test the waters.

The pick-up emerged from the angry torrent and I followed his route to the other side. The motorcycle driver was stuck in the rain. He was soaked to the bone.

We arrived in Umphang to discover not a jungle Shangril-lah, but a sleepy town accustomed to its remoteness. No restaurants were open and we had to make do with noodles, plus the road to the Thi Lo Su waterfall had been washed out by the monsoon.

Needless to say there were few happy campers in our guesthouse room that evening.

Today it was back to Mae Sot.

The same 160 kilometers.

The same 1219 curves.

The same dangers as before, but this time I had beer.

My daughter is poking me in the back.

Her eyes say one thing.

“Let’s go, I want KFC.”

“I know somewhere better.”

She didn’t believe me, but I had been to Mae Sot before.

The Moei river separated the border town from Burma.

And one place had good food.

“When?” asked Angie.”

I could only say, “Soon.”

And three hours was soon on the Highway Of Death.

May Day

May Day 2015 I was sitting at my desk in the Fort Greene observatory. I knew today was an important labor holiday, but I wish that I was working and said so yesterday to my old boss from the Diamond District.

“I wish I could give you a job, but there’s no business,” apologized the 82 year-old diamond dealer and he was right. No one was walking into the exchange. Without sales there was no money for wages.

“The rich have taken all the money and don’t know how to spend it..” I had been a economic major in college and believe money was better spent by many than saved for a few.

“I guess you have to blame it on someone.” Manny was an old curmudgeon, but I had counted on him for a job since 1989.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“That you worked all your life and never prepared for a moment like this.”

“Who could prepare for the the Greater Recession?” People my age were out of work in the millions.

“You were was lucky to have had a job all those years.”

“And now I’m not lucky.” I had worked for Manny as a salesman on and off since 1990. There had been some good years. None of those were recent.

“And you can’t find another job.”

“I only know diamonds and writing.”

“And you have never made any money on your books.”

“You have that right and now everyone around the world are grinding out a subsistent living. Workers have no rights.”

“And neither do I.”

“It wasn’t always that way. Once there was a marriage between labor and capital. Years ago unions protected the workers. Union instituted the 40-hour week, the end to child labor, and other workers’s rights, but since Reagan broke up the Air Controllers Union the GOP has tried to destroy every advance in workers’ rights.”

“The Democrats aren’t much better.”

“We’re on our own.” I shrugged and made to leave.

“Where are you going?”

“To the 169 Bar in Chinatown. They have $2 beers.”

“Have a good May Day.”

I showed him the clenched fist and headed to the subway, thinking that I had belonged to three unions; IBEW for the telephone company, IBT driving taxi in Boston, and the union of drifters.

I believe in the power of labor and every May 1 the workers of the world march to show their solidarity.

Originally the day was a pagan holiday for the first day of spring, although in a different month than the present Julian calendar. Peasants adherents to the old religions danced around the Maypole and the Catholic Church suppressed the practice by naming May the month of Mary.

As a child at parochial school the nuns paraded us around the church with the girls wearing white dresses and flowers in their hair. The boys were dressed in white jackets and slacks. Parents snap snapshots of their angelic children with Kodak Brownie cameras.

Years later we abandoned this pious procession to march in the May Day protests against the Cambodian Bombings.

1969-1970.

Washington, Kent State, and Nixon talking to the protesters.

To combat the rising anger of the workers, the government supported an eight-hour day in 1886.

Big business wasn’t happy with this new law and workers across the country staged a series of protests. Anarchists congregated in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. The gathering was peaceful until someone threw a bomb into the police ranks, killing one officer. In the ensuing violence more died on both sides.

The subsequent trial of eight anarchists was a farce, but evidence revealing the involvement of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in the bombing didn’t prevent the death sentence for seven of the accused.

Public pressure for leniency forced the governor of Illinois to commute the capital charges against two ‘conspirators’.

On the eve of the execution Louis Lingg suppsedly offed himself by exploding a dynamite cap in his mouth.

The remaining four, Spies, Parsons, Fischer, and Engel were publicly hung, but not before they sang the Marseillaise, the anthem of the international revolutionary movement.

All eight were exonerated in 1893 and May 1 became a rally day for labor throughout the world, although the USA government called it Loyalty Day.

Thailand gives the day off to workers, 70% who have decent jobs say they are happy with their present situation. Others are less so.

In honor of the Haymarket martyrs I’m taking the day off too.

Sadly it’s not by choice.

Power to the people.