NOT A CHANCE by Peter Nolan Smith

In 1984 I flew home from Paris for Christmas in Boston.

After the holiday I headed south to New York.

The East Village to be exact.

New snow prettified Tompkins Square Park.

Tomorrow it would be cold dirty slush.

I had $200. Florida was 1200 miles away. Hitchhiking to Miami Beach took as long as the Le Mans Classic race and most of the trip would be cold.

My phone rang. It was Dryell Hoseman, a New York fashion photographer.

I had assisted him at the Paris pret-a-porter in October. He shot the fashion models back stage. At night Dryell bought the girls to the Bains-Douches, where I worked as a physionomiste or doorman. The French were good fun.

“What are you doing in New York?” asked Dryell and I told him, “Waiting to sublet my apartment and then going back to Paris.”

“You ever been to Jamaica?”

“Only in THE HARDER THEY COME.” I had seen the reggae movie in 1973 at the Orson Welles Cinema on Mass. Avenue in Cambridge. Jimmy Cliff transported me to a world far south of Florida. A world of Jah, guns, and ganja with a few palm trees and white sand beaches.

“Do you know how to scuba-dive?”

“Why?” I had snorkeled in Florida and the South of France.

“Because I’m shooting the cover of Life Magazine with a young movie actress in Jamaica.” He mentioned the very American name.

“Never heard of her.”

“She’s going out with Jackson Browne.”

The singer was on the cover of the Rolling Stone. He had protested against the nuclear plant in Seabrook. Ground zero was about 40 miles from my hometown of Boston. Jackson Browne was cool.

“Is she good-looking?” The name was familiar.

“She was in BLADE RUNNER.”

“Ahhh.” I loved her performance as an acrobatic android in Ripley Scott’s transformation of DO ANDROIDS DREAM ON ELECTRIC SLEEP? by Philip K. Dick. “She was very cool. “

“So how’d you like to come to Jamaica, because I need an assistant who can dive and handle a camera underwater.”

“Then I’m your man.” I was an ace at faking expertise.

Three days later we departed from JFK to Kingston, Jamaica, where Dryell hired a small prop plane to fly Bernadette, the Life reporter, Irwin, the make-up artist, Deb, the hair stylist and two of us to the northern side of the island.

“Where’s Darryl?” My eyes scanned the grassy runway for a blonde. There were none in sight.

“She’ll be here tonight.” Dryell was clearly disappointed by her no-show. It had nothing to do with the closeness of their name and he said, “She’s having troubles with Jackson. I want a shot at her. You help me and I’ll double your bonus.”

“Help you?”

“You’re a poet. Make me look good.” Dryell had fought in Viet-Nam. He was no punk.

“I’ll do what I can.” I was no pimp, but a failed writer stood no chance with movie actress.

An actor friend had explained the pecking order of Hollywood.

“At a party the producer has first shot at the actress. 15 minutes later it’s the director’s chance. A half-hour is slotted for the leading man, but a writer never gets any play. An actress would rather go with the parking valet than a writer.”

A quick rain burst drove us into the terminal.

A driver appeared in a van. His name was Dave. He took us to the Trident Villas.

“That’s where Errol Flynn lived.” The driver pointed out a flowered villa. “He was good for Port Antonio.”

Errol had been a star in CAPTAIN BLOOD.

Jamaica had been a pirate island.

Port Antonio had history.

My room overlooked a cliff. The waves smashed on the rocks. Next door was a famous Broadway choreographer. We knew each other from the old days. Tim was leaving the following day and gave me his pot.

It weighed over a pound.

“I’m not taking it. It’s yours and give whatever’s left to the next person.”

Tim and I hit a bowl.

That evening’s dinner was a mist, but there was no movie star.

Only Dryell.

The next morning I woke wanting to sleep more. Someone had been talking in my dreams. It wasn’t me and the room smelled of an old woman. I opened the doors to the Caribbean. The sea was blue and the sky was overcast with unthreateningly clouds. I felt no rain in the air.

It was time to get ready for the shoot.

Dryell appeared on the balcony. He examined the cameras. We had four and seven interchangeable lenses. All the batteries were charged to the max. The light meters were working well and our film was nicely chilled in the minibar. Dryell liked to be prepared.

“She’s here.”

“She?” I was thinking of an old woman.

“She.” Dryell shook his head. I was a bit of a fool in his eyes. “Let’s get breakfast and hit the road. We have photos to take and remember what I said. She’s mine.”

Clouds rolled in fast from the north and the waves were higher on the beach.

Our first location was on a beach. Erwin the make-up guy lightly powdered the actress’ face. The hair stylist let the wind do his job. I checked the light. It was 5.7 f-stop. Dryell hadn’t been lying. She was a goddess.

Dryell was nervous and shot hundreds of photos.

None of it was overkill.

That night we ate spiny Jamaica lobster.

They had no claws.

Dryell said, “My assistant’s from Boston. They have the best lobster in the world there. Tell her.”

I spoke without holding back.

“This is wicked Lobstah.”

It was not true.

The only wick Lobstah came from Maine.

My dancer friend was gone. I smoked a big joint.

Paul Newman was staying at the villa across the rocks.

He looked small in the dim tropical night and I wrote a poem about COOL HAND LUKE.

When I was asleep, a woman whispered in my ear.

It was not the actress and I fell asleep in a Ganga stupor.

The next morning I ran into Erwin.

“I didn’t sleep last night. Fucking ghost.” He looked tired.

“Ghost?” I came from New England. It was famous for ghost. I had never seen one.

“It came to my room and wouldn’t leave me alone.” Erwin was gay and I asked, “Did it try and get into bed with you.”

“Thankfully no.” Erwin sighed with relief, then added, “Say nothing to anyone else. They’ll think I’m crazy.”

The sky over Port Antonio cleared after breakfast.

Dave the driver had found a trampoline, which the hotel set up on the lawn.

Darryl had been a gifted high school acrobat and Dryell shot two hundred shots of her bouncing in the air. I changed film like a machine gun ammo boy during a kamikaze attack. We broke for lunch at noon. Dryell had me clean the cameras.

“I think I have a shot with her.”

“Of course you do.” I ordered a rum and coke from the bar. It was my lunch.

That afternoon Dryell photographed Darryl on the rocks. Erwin struggled to freshen her make-up after every suit change. I checked the lighting and changed film with increasing skill. I was a fast learner.

During a break Darryl said, “I heard you’re a poet.”

“A bad one.”

“Could I read something of yours.”

“Maybe later.” I shrugged harmlessly, for Dryell glared at me, as if I was poaching on his turf.

Darryl went back on the rocks.

Darryl and I We didn’t talk the rest of the day.

Dryell made sure of that.

“Your friend have his eye on that girl.” Dave the driver wasn’t blind. “But she have no eye for him.”

“Who she have an eye for?”

“Who know the mind of woman?” Dave shrugged with a laugh.

It had been a long day and back at the Trident Villas I smoked a big joint.

During dinner Dryell told the table about his shooting the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop.

“I love Iggy.” Darryl hummed I WANNA BE YOUR DOG.

Dryell winked at me and I left before dessert.

Three was a big crowd in this group.

Something woke me after midnight.

I went out on the terrace with the joint.

Dryell’s room was dark.

Someone whispered behind me.

“Darryl.” It was wishful thinking.

I turned. There was no one there, then there was Dave the Driver.

“Nice sky.”

“Lots of stars.”

““Is that man your friend?” He meant Dryell.

“Yeah, why?” Whatever his faults mine were worst.

“Because he don’t talk to you like friend.”

“Yeah, he my boss now. You want some.” I handed him the joint.

The next morning broke with beauty. Breakfast was a coffee in my room.

“So this is it.” Dryell was breaking out the underwater cameras. “Have you ever buddy-breathed, because you’re going to be sharing your air with Darryl underwater.”

“Sure.” I had seen Lloyd Bridges save a friend on the TV show SEA HUNT using the same method.

“It’s like soul kissing without the tongue. Let’s go to Blue Lagoon.”

Every island in the Caribbean has a Blue Lagoon.

Brooke Shields had starred in a film of the same name.

“I turned down the role. I thought I was too old,” Darryl declared getting out of the van.

I did some quick math. She was 24. BLUE LAGOON was shot in 1979. She was 19 then. Brooke Shield had been 14.

“You dive before, man?” Dave stood with the boatman. I shook my head. Dave’s friend give me a five-minute lesson.

“You got it, man.” A Boston accent couldn’t fake Rasta.

The boatman steered to a sheltered cove.

“Not to worry. Easy water dis.” Ernest was on my team.

Irwin was back on shore. He had trouble with mal de mer.

“I couldn’t sleep last night. There was a ghost in my room.” Bernadette wasn’t joking.

“Ghost?” Dryell stifled a laugh.

“Yes, she kept on speaking to me and wouldn’t go away.”

“Old lady?” asked Ernest. Bernadette nodded her head. The boatman said, “No ghosts on water. Sleep now. We dive.”

Underwater was another world. Sea turtles floated past us. Fish had vivid colors. Darryl posed as a mermaid. Dryell frantically snapped shots. I passed my mouthpiece to Darryl. Her spit tasted better than mine.

We returned to shore.

I had only three days left on Jamaica.

We got back to the hotel at sunset.

During dinner everyone discussed the ghost.

Darryl asked about my poetry again.

Dryell said I had to clean the cameras.

I had done all my chores before dinner.

“Where’s there to go?” I asked Dave. “For fun?”

“The Roof Club.” It was reputed to be trouble.

I got in the van.

I liked trouble.

I rub-a-dub with fat women and skinny girls to old school reggae. I sang along with JOHNNY TOO BAD. I drank with everyone in the bar. I bought drinks.

I didn’t remember getting home, but recalled passing an old woman by my bed.

She didn’t say my name.

The next morning was bright and Dryell woke me with a shove.

“Where were you?”

“I wandered off the reservation to the Roof Club.” I recounted the evening to the best of my ability.

“Lucky you. I’m getting nowhere with Darryl.” He sat on my bed next to the camera bag. “I ended up alone.”

“You’re trying too hard. Chill your jets. Girls like cool.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

I could only be right or wrong and we left my room for the day.

Dryell caught Darryl in the money shot. She was wearing a red bathing suit. The light was 5.7 f-stop.

“That’s the cover.”

“I think so too.” Darryl was aware of her beauty.

On the way back to the resort we stopped to pet some goats.

“Dave told me you went to the Roof Club. Dryell said it was dangerous.”

“I was the only danger to me last night.” I recalled dropping a split to JOHNNY TOO BAD.

“Maybe we can go tonight. You have some weed. I’m dying for a puff.”

“Maybe.” Dryell was signaling me to get away and I obeyed his command. My wallet was dead meat after last night. “We can go before dinner.”

Dryell played nice with a baby goat.

I stood with Dave.

“Nothing better than baby jerked goat.” He smacked his lips.

Before we got into the car, Dryell came over to me.

“What were you talking about to Darryl?”

“She wanted to go into town. She’s bored with the hotel.” I didn’t mention the Roof Club or reefer.

“So we’ll go after we get back to the resort. I think your strategy is working.”

“I know women.” In truth I knew nothing about them, but he didn’t want to hear that.

Back at the resort I showered and dressed in a white shirt and jeans.

Dave was at the desk.

“Where’s Darryl?”

“She left with your ‘friend’, but I know where. You want to go.”

“You bet I do.” I had two big spliffs in my pocket.

Dave drove into town like I was James Bond chasing Doctor No.

“That girl is an island beauty. She deserves the best.”


Dave’s laugh hurt in a good way.

I found Darryl outside of a record shop. Dryell was inside flipping through LPs and 45s. Nothing that was in New York. He loved his music.

We’re going to the Roof Club.” I waved to Dryell and we wandered to the docks.

Darryl spoke about her life.

“It’s not easy being this beautiful. Everyone wants me.” She dragged heavy on the joint and her eyes rolled into her head like cherries on a broken slot machine. “Your friend thinks he’s going to get me. Not a chance. You probably think the same.”

“Not me. I’m a poet.” Dave’s laugh echoed in my ears. “I know my place.”

“Good, let’s go to the Roof Club.”

We were the only white people in the bar.

Darryl bought two rum and cokes.

“My back’s killing me.”

“Let me give you a massage.”

“Love it.”

We danced to THE HARDER THEY COME. The DJ knew white people.

Everyone was having a good time.

Then Dryell walked through the door. He took one look at Darryl and me rubadubbing, as I massaged her shoulders.

“We have to go. The others are expecting us back at the hotel for dinner.”

“I’m cool here.”

“Then you can stay here alone.” Dryell glared at Darryl and they left with me following them. He was a real buzzkill.

Back at the hotel Bernadette asked me to order wine.

“You lived in France.”

I read the wine list and choose the most expensive wines, figuring them cheap at 8 Jamaican Dollars to the US Greenback.

At the end of the meal Darryl sidled up to me and asked, “You mind if I come to your room. You can finish

Everyone at the table was surprised by her request, but none more than Dryell.

In my room I tried to tidy up the bed.

“No worries. I live in squalor back in LA.” She stripped off her shirt and lay face-down on the bed with my journal in her hand. “Is this your poetry?”

“Yes.” I kneaded her shoulders. The tropical breeze was soft.

“On a heel I turned to the hell of here.”

That was the only line she read of my hitchhiking poem.

Dryell burst into the room.

“We have to clean the cameras.”

“Darryl was a good actress and read this moment as her time to ‘stage left’.

Dryell was livid.

“You tell me to chill my jets so you can zoom into my place. Thanks a lot. By the way the price of wine was in US Dollars, not Jamaican.


He slammed the door shut and I totaled the bill.

My attempt had cost the price of a second-class ticket to Paris.

I went down to the bar.

I was the only one there.

Each of the five rum and cokes tasted better than the last and I returned to my room with the stars spinning in the cosmos.

I crashed into bed like a 747 running out of fuel.

I dreamed about Darryl and me on the road. She was a good travel companion.

A hand touched my shoulder.

I opened my eyes.


It was not her, but a shimmering woman.

She moaned in pain. I tried to speak to her in French and German. Her speech was indecipherable and I said, “Listen lady, I’m too drunk to deal with this now.”

I closed my eyes and the ghost was gone.

The next morning the sea was calm.

Dave was waiting by the van. Dryell was packing the bags into the back. I threw mine in the front.

“You ready to go?” He acted like nothing had happened last night.

“I guess I am.” I turned to Dave. “I saw the ghost.”

“What she say?”

“Don’t know.”

“That what everyone say.”

“What about Darryl?”

“She left with the rest of them. It’s just you and me.” Dryell slapped my shoulder to show there was no hard feeling.

It was snowing in New York.

Dryell paid my wages and gave me a bonus.

“You did a good job.”


Dryell became a big success.

And I went back to Paris and remained a failed poet, which suited me just fine, because poets knew their place in the world and the City of Light was made for people like me.

It was the City of Lights.

fotos by Peter Nolan Smith and Dustin Pittman

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