FAMOUS FOR NEVER by Peter Nolan Smith on Kindle (EXCERPT)

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

Here’s an excerpt:

New York City teetered on the edge of bankruptcy during the mid-70s.

The Daily News splashed the headline FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD, after the GOP president refused to bailout the Democratic metropolis.

Without federal funds the mayor was forced to slash every department’s budget to the bone and the city collapsed into a ruin rivaling Rome after the Goths burned it to the ground.

Subways broke down on the tracks. Muggers ruled the streets and parks after dark. Arsonists torched the Bronx and Lower East Side for fun and profit. Shooting victims overwhelmed Harlem’s emergency wards, while heroin ODs became the Oueens’ leading cause of teenager death. When Staten Island proposed a referendum to secede from the city, no one accused the distant borough of treason, because the worst was yet to come for the East Village.

The 9th Preceinct police rarely ventured farther than Tompkins Square Park. Shooting galleries outnumbered bodegas and hordes of thieves fearlessly prowled their new-won turf for victims. Nobody honest could survive in a neighborhood more burnt-out than a junkie’s vein and families of all races, colors, and creeds fled the outlaw DMZ for the suburbs.

The population of the Lower East Side shriveled from 120,000 to 60,000. It never hit zero, because cheap rents, proximity to the subways, and minimal police presence attracted a nation of malcontents disenchanted with the morality of the country’s Silent Majority and this diverse smattering of gays, drifters, artists, musicians, and addicts reversed the exodus from the smoldering desolation.

Stutterers read poetry to NYU coeds without ridicule. Hopeless derelicts squatted derelict buildings without fear of landlords. Teenager girls denied cheerleader suburban destinies were offered flesh ballerina careers at sordid go-go bars and graffiti artists painted heaven on charred walls with spray cans.

It was the place to be, if you were young.

The urge to vacate my SRO hotel on East 11th Street was stymied by my Irish grandmother’s adage, “Address is everything. Better a shack on Beacon Hill than a mansion in Roxbury.”
In the spring of 1977 my hillbilly girlfriend graduated with a drama degree from a college in Ohio.

Alice resembled an adventurous Shirley MacLaine. Her gold-flecked eyes were different colors and her skin was whiter than skimmed milk. She loved wearing a black plastic raincoat and white leather dress.

“I’m the poetry police and I’m spying on you to make sure you don’t write any poems.” Alice didn’t drink or smoke weed or do drugs, but during her orgasms the virginal actress cried out ‘god’.

I later discovered her divine evocation honored the strength of her climax rather than my sexual ardor.

One humid night Alice lay on my SRO room’s single bed and held up a New York Dolls Album cover. The band stood in front of the Gem Spa and she said, “I want to live there.”

“I’ve been waiting for you to say that.” My room was too small for the two of us and the bed was even smaller.

Two days later Alice found a one-bedroom apartment on East 10th Street. The rent was $180 a month. We signed the lease and moved into a third-floor railroad flat with creaky wooden floors slanting east and a tub opposite the gas stove in the kitchen. I wondered how many families had lived in this narrow space since the building construction in 1905.

“It’s a museum of 19th Century urban living.” The last tenant had been a hippie.

“We do have a view.” Alice stood at the rear windows overlooking a brick-walled alley filled with trees.

Birds sang on the limbs of a spreading cypress tress and I said, “On a park.”

Alice smelled of the spring and I was glad to sleep in a real bed in a real bedroom. The two of us were in love with each other and the East Village.

She was 22 and I was 27.

Punk rock was our opera.

CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City were twin La Scalas. The basketball court in Tompkins Square Park was my Madison Square Garden. Our friends were geniuses or mad fools depending on the dosage of their meds. We lived the night by a moral code erased every dawn, however once Blondie hit the AM charts, every loser east of the Bowery discarded their vow of poverty to seek fame and fortune as a birthright.

Alice answered TV casting calls for soap opera ingénue. A pianist friend angled to be the next KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND with a funk band from Crown Heights. My upstairs neighbor starred in a biker movie and I recited detective poems to college girls in local dives, convinced that the Tonight Show would book me as a star of tomorrow.

We all deserved stardom.

Late in the summer of 1978 an Upper East Side photographer asked me to write a photo-roman about a sadistic kidnapping. I cast Klaus Sperber as the black leather villain. The Gothic singer was the daytime pastry chef at a swishy ice cream shop of East 60th Street. I was a busboy there and Anthony lived upstairs.

The gaunt German sang forgotten castrati arias in West Village sex bars. His voice hadn’t existed for over a century. Upon meeting Klaus at the Kiev Coffee Shop, the photographer was smitten by his ghostly visage.

“You were made for film. My plan is to shoot this as a pitch for a movie about our times in the East Village. Wait till you meet Clover.” Anthony snapped shots, as we discussed the project.

Our female lead was late.

“But I don’t believe in movies. Too many frames showing the same thing when only one needs to show the true emotion.

“Like Gloria Swanson at the end of SUNSET BOULEVARD.” I loved Billy Wilder films.

“I can play her.” Klaus grimaced a stolen toothy smile and pursed his black-painted lips. He was a natural mimic. “Who is the leading man?”

“No one yet.” Anthony’s eye hadn’t left the viewfinder.

“What about him?” Klaus pointed my direction.

“He’s a little brutish.” Anthony swung the camera and focused the lens on my face.

“Like a caveman,” Klaus snidely commented about my hard-boned features. “You know his name at Serendipity 3 is Bam Bam after some stupid American TV show THE FLINTSTONES.”

“I’m not an actor.” I trembled like LA in an earthquake.

“You don’t have to act. All you have to do is pose.” Anthony shifted his camera to catch the second coming of Veronica Lake entering the diner.

Every man at the counter followed the click of the blonde’s stiletto heels. Her knee-length black skirt was slit to a vee revealing her white upper thigh and her black polka-dot shirt was unbuttoned to a vanilla navel.
Klaus, Anthony and I stood up, as she came to our table. My mouth was dry.

“This is Clover.” Anthony pulled out her chair. “We met at Club 82.”

“I like dancing with transvestites. They don’t hassle me like men do.”

Clover sat with the refinement of a well-educated tramp.

Anthony lifted his Leica.

Clover dropped her head for the sheet of hair to cover half an eye.

“Are you the hero?”

“Yes.” There was no saying no.

“Good. I like my men rough.” Her voice slurred this preference as a sultry demand for surrender.

“He’s also the writer,” Klaus said with a keen interest in his acting partner. He liked straight girls. They attracted straight men.

“So what’s the story?” The 19 year-old arched an eyebrow. “Something sexy I hope.”

“It’s about the three of us. Klaus is a rich opera singer jealous of his young lover, you, and I’m the detective hired to follow you.” I was making it up word by word from a cloud crammed with Hammett and Chandler.

“That’s sounds like the story of my life.”


“More or less. Is there a script?”

“Not yet.” The two syllables were muted with embarrassment. “I’ll write the rest when I see the photos.”

“That’s not how they do it in the movies.”

“Everything will be fine. The story will write itself with you three in it.” Anthony pressed the shutter button. The camera swiveled from Klaus to Clover to me. Its aperture clicked open and shut like a robot waking from a long recharge. “We can make it up as we go.”

“Like life. Like Art.” Klaus believed in keeping it simple and over the next week I refined the story to the kidnapping of Clover’s character to finance an opera about the last castrati on Earth.

We inhaled poppers for one scene.

Clover stripped near-naked in abandoned tenement for the next shoot.

Klaus sliced my eyes in another. Bandages transformed me into a blind mummy.

Clover lay on my bare flesh wearing nothing, but a scent of another man.

Her movement gave the scene dialogue.

“My sponsor had me when I was a little girl. He thinks I’m too old now. Nineteen isn’t old, is it?”

“No.” I was twenty-seven. When I was fourteen, Clover had been eight. “You were lucky to get out of Texas.”

“I never looked back.” Clover could make it to the bright lights of Hollywood. Nothing was pretend with her.
Our shoots ran late. Tenement fires provided our lighting. Sirens backed our sound. My girlfriend accused me of having an affair.

I wished that Alice were right, except Clover told me a secret during a scene in the subway.

“I make it with men for money.” The incoming Lexington Line train limited the range of her admission to my ears alone.

Anthony was taking pictures with his right eye on the view finger and his left hand focusing the lens.

“The Texan.”

“Him and others. Don’t ask how many. I don’t tell the oilman about them. He thinks he’s the only one, but his friends pay me $1000 a night and I’m worth every penny.”

“Why tell me?”

“Because I want you to know.”

The roar of the exiting train allowed me to respond with silence.

A grand a night was out of my price range and I had to be satisfied with the fantasy of sleeping with her. I never said her name in bed with Alice, but my girlfriend was not pleased with the illusion and neither was I.
The final shoot was on 42nd Street.

After midnight Times Square was awash with wickedness. We posed on the sidewalk with the pimps, whores, and drug dealers. Clover looked the part of a rich man’s mistress and I passed for a detective in my pinstriped suit. Anthony paid the clerk of a XXX shop $20 to shoot in a private booth.

“Just don’t take all night. #24 is our big earner.”

“We’ll be quick.” AAnthony set up his tripod and posed us inside the pine-scented compartment. “Put some quarters in the slot. I want this to look right.”

“I got a pocket full.” Clover fed a stack of coins into the machine and an 8mm loop presented the ravishing of a young blonde by an older man.

When I imitated the on-screen action, Clover whispered, “On my fourteenth birthday the oilman raped me. He bought my parents a new house the next week. He’s been taking care of me ever since. You ever rape anyone?”

“No.” I was a soldier of the Sexual Revolution. We raped no one.

“Do you think you could? If it was me?” Clover teasingly shut the booth door. “If it was a game?”

“No.” I snatched at her arm.

“Too bad.” She opened the door.

The camera strobe captured our struggle in a blinding white.

“Cut and next scene.” Anthony was not kidding about his quickness. “Outside on the street. You two are going to meet Klaus.”

“I was wondering, if I would ever get the call, Mr. DeMille.” Klaus picked up the tripod. I grabbed Anthony’s bag. He exited from the porno parlor speaking to Clover. She carried nothing.

Several of the porno parlor’s clientele followed us. We were a free show.

The shoot wrapped past 3AM.

Klaus, Clover, and Anthony asked for the story line.

“I’m a detective sent to protect your mistress from harm, but she wanted to be hurt to hurt you, which is why we were here.”

“I love it.” Clover hugged me. “This will make us famous.”

“Famous?” That’s asking a lot from a photo-roman.” I flashed on the three of us with Johnny Carson on THE TONIGHT SHOW.

“Andy Warhol said that everyone gets famous.”

“For fifteen seconds.” I held up my finger and counted to fifteen.

“Better that than nothing.”

“She’s right.” Klaus was pleased with his work. “We don’t have to be famous for ever. Just for now.”

Anthony proposed that we celebrate the completion of this project with a late meal. My girlfriend was waiting in bed, but I accompanied everyone to the Kiev Diner on 2nd Avenue. We sat at a front table. The restaurant staff was waiting the rush from the bar closings.

The waitress took our orders. The four of us ordered bacon-and-eggs over easy. Antony opened a large manila envelope and showed the series of grainy black & white shots under the diner’s bright lights. Klaus’ skeletal sneers portrayed a Nazi malevolence in the over-stylistic pictures. Clover was who she was and I menaced every picture.

Anthony had captured our best and worse. He handed me a set of the previous photos, as the waitress delivered our bacon and eggs.

“Write something good.” Anthony handed me the photos.

“It won’t be hard.” Each shot had its own song. I would write short detective tales to match each photo. “Us in in fifty words or less.”

“With one picture worth a thousand words.” Clover held out her hand and I passed her the print of us leaning against a steel pole in the subway. The conductor looked into Anthony’s camera like he belonged to another world.

“Then Hollywood.” Klaus handed his co-star a photo of him bandaging my head. Our teenage starlet turned to her other co-star and asked with the ambition of turning a gay man straight, “Anyone ever tell you look like Josef Goebbels?”

“All the time.” Klaus’ leather jacket and close-cropped hair heightened his resemblance to Hitler’s Propaganda Minister.

“The resemblance is uncanny.” Clover sieg-heiled with a laugh.

“I am not his illegitimate son. My father disappeared on the Russian front. He was no war criminal.” His indignation wasn’t a fake.

“Es tut mir lied fur dich.” I apologized in my high school German.

“Fur was? You Americans think we are Nazis.” His face warped with a misogynistic smirk aimed at Clover.

“I love hearing you speak German.” Clover was speaking to Klaus.

“You have a Nazi fetish, nicht war?”

“No, I have this dream to rip-off my oilman and flee to Berlin. East Berlin.” She shut her eyes. “Away from all this.”

“She’s so dramatic.” Klaus whispered a dirty German phrase in my ear.

A floating hand wandered my thigh.

Her apartment was only around the corner.

The waitress brought the check, as a young black boy with a Rasta ragtop entered the diner. His oversized wool coat hung below his knees. Spray cans were crammed into its pockets.

Klaus asked him to join us.

“This is Jean Michel. He’s a graffiti artist.”

“You’re SAMO.” Clover leaned forward with keen interest. The young painter’s enigmatic messages stretched along the crumbling walls of the Lower East Side to an audience was mostly junkies. “I love your tags.”

“That’s something I do with someone else. It means ‘same old shit’, but I’m going to trying something new.” He positioned a tape recorder on the table. The other diners were watched his every move with interest.

I couldn’t figure out why. He was barely twenty.

“Turn off the tape recorder.”

“Andy Warhol records his phone conversations. I decided to tape real life.”

“Warhol’s a has-been!” No icon was sacred to a punk and especially not the Pop Messiah.

“You’re jealous, because he’s a genius!” Klaus spoke to the tape recorder like Warhol might later listen to this conversation.

“Genius?” Warhol manipulated the desire for fame like a sculptor.

“And so is Jean-Michel!” Klaus harbored a soft spot for pretty boys.

“I’m more crazy than genius.” His voice shrank to a Thorazine whisper.

“Craziness has its own genus.” I had witnessed its beauty. “In my last year of university I was living in a commune with an engineer from Bose Speakers, his wife, and their family. The girls were wild. My affair with the seventeen year-old didn’t last long, but I didn’t move out either. One afternoon I entered the house. Water was flowing down the walls. In the upstairs bathroom the teenager stood naked in an overflowing bathtub and her hand madly scribbled a fuck poem over the wall. I would have joined her, except her mother and stepfather came into the bathroom.”

“They probably thought that you were after more than a bath.” Klaus squirmed with sexual sarcasm.

“That’s what it looked like, but we brought her to the hospital. The doctors medicated her and the family erased the poems. I told them it was a sacrilege. They ordered me out of the house.”

”Do you remember any of those poems?” Clover glowed with a voyeur’s envy.

“I pray for my tongue to grow thick so I can lick myself, while you fill me.” Nothing in Times Square’s XXX shops approached the lucidity of her blue prose. “When she was released from the madhouse, her mind was blank for months. She got better later.”

“I spent several months in the hospital. They dosed me to quiet the voices in my mind. Now I carry this waiting for them to speak again.” Jean-Michel held up his tape recorder. “You have other stories?”

“Shut it off.”

“I’m doing this for Art.” His face was mystified by my resistance to his charm.

“Warhol said Art is a good name for a man.” It was the only Warhol quote locked in my brain and I reached to flick off the tape recorder.

“Don’t touch my shit!” Jean-Michel whipped out a switchblade. The thin fang of a blade was about eight inches long.

I slapped the knife out of his hand and his weapon clattered off the table onto the floor.

Jean-Michel asked with wet eyes, “Why did you do that?”

“I told you to shut it off.”

“I only wanted to hear your voice.” The nappy-haired teenager ran from the diner.

Clover chased him with the tape recorder.

Anthony trailed her, snapping off shots with his Leica.

I picked up the switchblade.

“Jean-Michel is going to be famous and you act like ein Assloch.” Klaus was spitting mad.

“One of the great things about good manners is knowing when not to use them.”

“If you think violence is good manners, then you’re crazier than him!”

The German stormed out of the diner and I gathered up Anthony’s photos, vowing to show them my best.

On the way to East 10th Street I rewound the scene with Jean-Michel.

From every angle my actions were tainted by asshole behavior.

I entered my apartment with larcenous stealth, but my girlfriend lay awake on the couch.

“Another late shoot?” Both white arms were folded over her chest.

“The last.” I handed her the envelope with the photos. “We had something to eat at the Kiev. This kid sat with us. Jean-Michel.


“One and the same.” I recounted the scene with Jean-Michel.

She agreed with Klaus about my temper. We went to bed without her looking at the photos and I fell asleep intent on apologizing to Jean-Michel. After all he was only a kid.

Several nights later he attended a performance of my one-act play about homosexual cannibalism at Alice’s club on St. Mark’s Place. The crowd’s laughter surpassed my expectations for THE HUNGER THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME. After the show I approached Jean-Michel at the bar. He frowned for a second and I lifted my hands.

“I want to apologize about the other night.” I gave back his switchblade. “I get a little crazy sometimes. I don’t know why.”

“If anyone understands crazy, it’s me. No bad feelings.” Jean-Michel pocketed the knife and smiled with childish satisfaction. “I liked your play. It was funny. It should be on Broadway.”

“I have to blow it out another seventy minutes for three acts.”

“That’s a lot of time for the audience to chew on people-eating.” His 50s suit was splattered with paint.

“Maybe you should write something new.”

“Probably.” I still had some living to do before I could write something that long.

“Andy said I should concentrate on turning these into paintings.” He pulled out a sheaf of drawings out from a leather bag. His work combined the simple finger-paintings of autistic children with Asmat headhunters’ tribalism.

“Your mentor is right.” No other painter in the East Village approached his multi-level skills and I felt like a shrunken head about my writing for Anthony’s photos.

“I don’t know whether to call him mentor or Svengali, but I’ll figure it out. You mind if I speak with your girlfriend?”

“Not at all.” Alice loved his work, plus their conversation would create a diversion for me to visit Clover. Her apartment was less than a minute’s walk away. She would want to hear the accompanying words to the photo-roman. I had written them for her.

I tucked the envelope under my arm and ran the distance in twenty seconds, then climbed the two flights of stairs in less than ten. I stopped in the corridor.

A painting was on her door.

The style was unmistakable.

Jean-Michel had shackled the chains of slavery to smears of paint hinting of Kandinsky.

“Do you like the painting?” Clover opened the door with tousled hair. A Chinese silk robe hung off her shoulder.

“Yes.” I had never seen anything like it.

“He did this in an hour.” She pulled me inside the apartment.

“Did you have sex with him?” Her bed was unmade.

“He paid with this painting.” Her hands clutched at the robe, as if to indicate I had nothing equal to offer.

“You know I don’t do it for free, unless someone takes it.”

The statement was more than an invitation and I threw Clover on the bed. Photos slipped from the envelope onto the floor. She slashed at my face with her nails. A knee fiercely thumped into my upper thigh. I blocked her fist and pinned her to the bed.

“Don’t stop. Not now, Daddy.” Clover clasped my arms.

Other men had played this role and I rose from the bed.

“Sorry, I can’t do it this way.”

“Sorry?” She pulled on her bathrobe. “So your violence is only a show.”

“No, it’s real, but for real situations, not play.”

“Weakling.” Her pout dated from childhood.

“I guess so.” I went to the door. “But I can live with that weakness.”

An empty perfume bottle broke near my head and splattered the dregs of Chanel on my leather jacket.

“You’ll never be anything.” Clover meant it as a curse and I slammed the door before she could throw anything else.

I walked back to St Mark’s Place and checked my face in a car mirror. There were no scratches and I descended to the basement, figuring the cigarette smoke in the club would mask the perfume.

“Where were you?” Alice was at the bar with Jean-Michel. Her noses wrinkled like Samantha in the TV show BEWITCHED.

“Out to show Clover the photos.” I held up the envelope. “I saw your painting. It was great.”

“Thanks.” He smiled in naive triumph and he turned to Alice. “I’m playing at the Mudd Club tomorrow. I’ll put you on the list.”

“Plus one?” Her smile belonged on a girl who had jumped out of a cake to discover it was her birthday.

“Your boyfriend can get in for free. So bring a friend.”

“Yeah, I get in for free.” I knew the doorman.

“I can’t wait.” Alice touched his hand. Guilt restrained my jealousy and Jean-Michel walked us home to East 10th Street. The pot dealers on the corner knew his name. He was famous for more than his art. At the steps he gave Alice a drawing of a skull filled with scrawls.

“Keep it. One day it might pay your rent.”

“Thanks.” Alice rolled up the drawing and watched Jean-Michel head toward Avenue A. This time of night only shooting galleries were open in that direction.

“You’re not jealous, are you?” My girlfriend asked, as she showered in the bathtub.

“Jealous of what? He’s a painter. I’m a writer. You’re living with me. What else could I ask for in life?”

After sex I lay in bed answering that question.

My upstairs neighbor’s movie had been released in New York. Strangers asked for his autograph. Warhol bought Jean-Michel’s paintings. Alice had scheduled Klaus to appear at Irving Plaza with the B52s.

Nobody knew my name.

To purchase the Kindle version to read the rest of this novella on Kindle for $1.49, please go to the following URL


  1. Posted February 15, 2014 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Just acquired it on kindle thanks Peter!

  2. Posted February 15, 2014 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    thank you. enjoy

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