NOT A CHANCE by Peter Nolan Smith

On December 24, 1984 I flew home from Paris to celebrate Christmas with my family in Boston.

After the holiday I trained south to New York and my apartment in East Village.

The falling snow prettified the concrete city.

I arrived at 256 East 10th Street at sunset. My Yamaha 650 was buried under a snow drift. I climbed three flights. I entered the railroad flat and flicked on the lights. Thankfully the electricity hadn’t been cut, however the radiators and risers were frigid to the touch. I lit the stove and taped over the windows, dreaming of Florida. Key West was only a twenty-four hour hitch to the south.

My phone rang. It was Clark Hoseman.

The previous October I had assisted the New York fashion photographer at the Paris pret-a-porter. He shot the fashion models back stage for Women’s Wear Daily. At night Clark bought the girls to the Bains-Douches, where I worked as a physionomiste or doorman. The French were experts at having at good time. Clark was a star too.

“I called hoping you were in New York. What are you doing?” asked Clark and I told him, “Waiting to sublet my apartment and then return 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.

“I’ve never been too. Do you know how to scuba-dive?”

“Sort of. 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 American name.

“Never heard of her.”

“She’s going out with Jackson Browne.”

The singer had been on the cover of the September 1983 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.

“Still doesn’t ring a bell.”

“She played an acrobatic clone in BLADE RUNNER.”

“Ahhh, the Blonde.” I had loved her performance as an killer in Ripley Scott’s transformation of Philip K Dick’s DO ANDROIDS DREAM ON ELECTRIC SLEEP. “She was very cool. ”

“Then I have a late Christmas gift for you. 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 winter on a flight from JFK to Kingston, Jamaica with the LIFE Crew. Darryl was coming in from Hollywood. The jet’s passengers were predominantly Jamaican and as my body shook off the cold, I realized that we were headed closer to the Equator. I ordered a rum-coke from the stewardess. It was strong and the next two were even stronger. I fell asleep to the roar of the jet engines and woke with the gentle bump of the landing.

Hundreds of people waited outside the Kingston arrival terminal. None of the islanders paid us any mind. We were just tourists to them. Clark 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 movie actress.

“She’ll be here tonight.” Clark was clearly disappointed by her no-show and whispered to me, “She’s having troubles with Jackson, which might give me an opening.”

“An opening””

“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.”

“I’ll do what I can.” I was no pimp , but I was also good at faking lackeydom.

As a failed writer I understood Hollywood’s rules, since actor friend had once explained the pecking order of cinema.

“At a party the producer has first dibs 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, because an actress would rather go with the parking valet than a writer.”

We boarded the prop plane and thirty minutes later arrived at Port Antonio’s rundown airport. A rainburst drove us into the hangar. The driver appeared in a van. His name was Dave. The black man drove the LIFE team to the Trident Villas and pointed to a flowered villa. “That’s where Errol Flynn lived. He was good for Port Antonio.”

Errol had been a star in CAPTAIN BLOOD.

Jamaica had been a pirate island in the 1700s.

Port Antonio had lived enough of that history for every inhabitant to have buccaneer blood.

At the Trident Villas we registered with friendly staff and headed to our individual rooms. Mine overlooked a cliff. The waves smashed on the rocks. I breathed in the mist and heard a laugh.

“You Here?” Jerry was a famous Broadway choreographer. We knew each other from the Continental, an after-hours club. “Come and join me.”

We drank pina-coladas and smoked pot on the patio and traveled through the years to our youth. I missed the LIFE crew dinner and as I went to bed the morning Jerry gave me a bag of pot weighing over a pound.

“The hills are buried in ganga, but it’s not legal, so I’m not taking it back home. It’s yours and give whatever’s left to the next person.”

Jerry and I hit a farewell bowl.

“One love.”

I hit my comfortable bed hard.

The next morning I woke wanting more sleep, because a crazy old woman had been speaking in tongues 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 even bluer than Paul Newman’s eyes.
It was time to get ready for the shoot.

Clark appeared on my balcony. We examined the four cameras and seven interchangeable lenses. All the batteries were charged to the max. The light meters were working well and our film had nicely chilled in the minibar.


“All systems go.”

“She isn’t here yet.”

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

“Darryl will be here at noon.” Clark 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.”

At 1.20PM a double prop plane landed on the asphalt runway. Darryl stepped down the steps. Dave grabbed her bags.. She was clearly tired from her trip, but asked, “Let’s start.”

No one introduced me and I sat with the driver. Our first location was on a wave-tossed beach. A few mulatto school children picked through the flotsam for sea shells. 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. I stole a glance at Darryl. Clark hadn’t been lying. She was a goddess and he shot hundreds of photos.

None of them were overkill, because Darryl possessed a boundless beauty.

I wanted to swim, but Clark was possessed by the fashion gods of speed.

“We’re working. Not holidaying.”
That night we ate spiny Jamaica lobster in a restaurant filled with white diners served by Jamaicans.

The lobsters had no claws.

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

I replied with New England pride, “This is wicked Lobstah.”

It was not true.

The only wicked Lobstah came from Maine.

Back my room I smoked a big joint.

Paul Newman was staying at the villa across the rocks.

The iconic movie star looked small in the dim tropical night and I wrote a poem about COOL HAND LUKE.

“Small men can be tough. They can be smart. Few are COOL HAND LUKE.”

After I fell asleep, a woman whispered in my ear.

She was not Darryl and I resumed my Ganga stupor.

The next morning was once more overcast. I ran into Erwin in the dining room and he said, “I didn’t sleep last night. Fucking ghost.”


“No, ghost. An old woman. I’m not joking.”

“I come from New England. I’m familiar with ghosts.

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

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

“No problem.” His secret was safe with me, because anyone from the South Shore of Boston knew how to hold their sand.

The sky over Port Antonio shoned like a deep space cleared after breakfast.

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

Darryl had been a gifted high school acrobat and Clark snapped 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. Clark 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.

That one strong drink ended up as my lunch.

That afternoon Clark 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, as Clark glared, as if I was poaching on his turf.

Darryl returned to the rocks.

Clark made sure that Darryl and I didn’t speak the rest of the day.

Every break I had chores.

During lunch I had to pick up more film at the hotel.

“Your friend his eye on that gayl.” 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.

“Certainly not me.”

“Then you are a wise man. Tonight I take you Rooftop Club and dem girls like a fool.” Dave chortled and I laughed with him, because no man is wise when it comes to women, when they bshy as Darryl.

Right before sunset we returned at the Trident Villas and I huffed on a big spliff before joining the LIFE team in the restaurant.

During dinner Clark recounted to the table about his shooting the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop.

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

Clark winked at me and I left before dessert.

As promised Dave drove me to the Rooftop. Within ten minutes I knew the bartender’s name. I rub-a-dubbed with big women. I vaguely recalled Dave putting me to bed and thinking I’m going to regret the last two rum and cokes in the morning.

I regretted them earlier than that.

The hiss of fabric crossed the wooden floor. I sat up in bed. Something was in my room. I saw nothing, then footsteps raced across the terrace. I slipped out of bed and chaed the shadow outside to the night. The rock cliff was lit by a half-moon. The villas were dark across the cove.

Someone whispered behind me and I said, “Darryl.”

It was wishful thinking. Dave the Driver appeared out of the blackness beyond midnight.

“Nice sky.” The Milky Way split the heavens.

“Lots of stars.

“More than any man can count.”

“Is that man your friend?”

“Yeah, why?” Whatever Clark’s faults were mine were worst.

“Because he no talk like he bredren.”

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

“Herb is the healing of a nation; alcohol is the destruction.”

“I like both.”

“You’re a bad man.”

“Thank you.”

And like that I forgot the shadow and we grooved on the cosmos.

The following morning the dawn clouds broke into gray threads beneath a blue sky and I ordered breakfast to my room. Clark showed up ten minutes later and drank my coffee.

“You look like shit.” Clark was preparing out the underwater cameras.

“I’m fine.

“Today is no joke. Today we scuba-dive. 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 by that method on the TV show SEA HUNT.

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

Every island in the Caribbean had a Blue Lagoon.

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

Darryl had auditioned for the role.

“But I was rejected for being 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.

The castig director had been right.

Clark suited up for dive. Darryl sat with the make-up man. The writer scribbled in a notebook. Her skin was lobster red. The dive instructor stood with Dave. I approached them loaded with diving equipment.

“You dive before, man?” I shook my head.

“I thought so.” Ernest gave me a five-minute lesson.

“You got it, man. No worries.”

Yeah, no worries,” I tried to mimicked his speech, except no one with a Boston accent couldn’t fake Rasta.

The LIFE reporter, Darryl, Clark, and I boarded a small diving boat. Irwin remained on shore and the light-skinned boatman powered away from the beach to a sheltered cove.

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

“There was a ghost in my room too,” Bernadette mentioned without any humor.

“Ghost?” Clark stifled a laugh.

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

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

Underwater sea turtles floated past us. Fish bragged vivid colors. Darryl posed as a mermaid. Clark frantically snapped shots, as the current dragged us out of position. I passed my mouthpiece to Darryl. Her spit tasted better than mine.

After thirty minutes we returned to shore.

I packed the equipment, while Clark walked down the beach with Darryl snapping candid shots. He kept touching her shoulder. The movie actress shrugged off his fingers.

She wasn’t getting close to him, but this shot was scheduled for another three days and three days was less than half the time God took to create the world.

We arrived at the hotel at sunset.

During dinner everyone discussed the ghost.

Darryl asked about my poetry again.

Clark cut short my reply and ordered me to clean the cameras. He leaned into Darryl. She ignored whatever he had said and looked at me, as if I was an extra in BLADE RUNNER.

I stood up from the table and said my goodnights, but I had already cleaned and loaded the cameras. I walked through the garden to our van. Dave smiled seeing me.

“Weh yaw seh.”

“‘Mi Deh Yah, but I got to get away from the Broni?”

“Yeah mon, The Roof Club again?” asked Dave. “Sometimes there be trouble deh deh.”

“Nothing I haven’t seen before.”

“This is Jamaica. Trouble be different here.”

“Trouble always different everywhere, but I know what to do when trouble get too much.”


“Better to walk, because Jamaicans are too fast on their feet.”

“Yeah, Ray Steward be fast. I drive slow.”

“Faster than I can walk?”

“Faster sure.”

Once more I danced with fat women and skinny girls to old school reggae. I brought two rounds at the Rooftop. They called me ‘White Chocolate’. They probably called all semi-cool whites that, but I sang along with JOHNNY TOO BAD and drank with the old men drinking 151 rum and Red Stripe beer.

The trip home was a blank and I passed out an old woman sitting on my bed.

She didn’t say a word, but shook her head with disapproval.

“You’re not my mother. Leave me alone.”

Pillows covered my head and the woman said a prayer.

“And now go.”

A second later I was KOed by a right from the ghost of Livingston Bramble.

The next morning Clark woke me with a shove to blinding sunlight.

“Where were you last night?”

“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 thought you were going to wingman me to the aircraft carrier, but I ended up alone. No Darryl. No you.”

“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 the Trident Villa for the day.

On an idyllic beach Clark caught Darryl in the money shot. She was wearing a red bathing suit. The light was an idyllic 5.7 f-stop.

“That’s the cover.”

“I think so too.” Darryl had exhausted her beauty on camera.

She sought solitude and sleep.

On the way back to the resort we stopped to pet some goats.
Darryl said to me, “Dave told me you went to the Roof Club. Clark 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?”

“A little.” I didn’t want to say how much.

“I’m dying for a puff.”

“Tonight then.”

Clark signaled me to steo away and I obeyed his command, but not before saying, “And maybe we can go to the Roof Club later.”

“I’d love that.”

She wandered off to where Clark was playing nice with a baby goat.

I stood with Dave.

The teenaged herders were anxious about their goats.

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

Before we got into the car, Clark 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 anything about ignorance of the opposite sex.

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.”


“You no straight head, but not you, mon.” Dave’s laugh hurt in a good way.

I found Darryl on the sidewalk of a record shop. The stereo was pumping CRY TOUGH by Alton Ellis. Clark was inside flipping through LPs and 45s. He loved his music.

“You got weed?”

Indeed I do.”

Then let’s get out of here.”

“We’re going to the Roof Club,” I shouted to Clark.

“Me too.” Darryl walked away fast.

We wandered to the docks and smoked a thick spliff.

The blonde spoke about her life.

“It’s not easy being this beautiful, especially since I don’t think I’m beautiful.”

“Every beautiful woman can see the truth in a mirror, not a man’s eyes.”

“Worst is that 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 chuckly echoed in my ears. “I know my place. I’m the last man on Earth.”

“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.”


Her muscles were pliable to the touch and she writhed, as we swayed to THE HARDER THEY COME.

The girls in the bar taught her to rub-a-dub. I drank white rum with the young rude boys. The Shatta toasted the return of “White Chocolate’. We grooved to Lee Perry’s ZION BLOOD. I was ready for a long night at the Rooftop Club, then Clark walked through the door. One look at Darryl and me rubadubbing and he strode up and said, “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.” Clark snarled and Darryl shrugged surrender. I muttered under my breath, following them to Dave’s van.

Back at the restaurant Bernadette asked me to order wine.

“Why me?”

“Because you lived in France.”

I read the wine list and chose the most expensive wines, figuring them cheap at Eight 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 your massage. Maybe smoke some more weed.”

Everyone at the table was stunned by her request.

None more than Clark.

In my room I tried to tidy up the bed.

“No worries. I live in rock-n-roll 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 my skin.

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

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

Clark burst into the room.

“We have to clean the cameras.”

“Darryl proved that she was an actress with good timing and opted to ‘stage left’.

Once she was gone Clark exploded in a 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. The sum was the price of a second-class ticket to Paris.

“Fuck LIFE Magazine.”

I went down to the bar.

I was the only one there.

I asked the bartender to put on some deep reggae and he ran through WINEY WINEY by the Kingstonians, SLAVING by Lloyd Parks, and before dropping to the early 70s.

Each of the three rum and cokes tasted better than the last and I staggered down the flowered path to my room around midnight.

In my room I stood naked to the wind and then crashed into bed like a 747 running out of fuel.

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

A hand touched my shoulder.

I opened my eyes.


It was not her, but an old woman eerily moaning in pain. I tried to speak to her in English, French and German. Her words was indecipherable and I said, “Listen lady, I’m too drunk to deal with this now.”

I closed my eyes and left the ghost to the blackness storming through my skull.

The next morning the sea was calm. I swam in the warm sea under a hot sun. By evening I would be in winter.

Dave waited by the van. All the equipment and bags stored in the back. Clark sat 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. What about Darryl?”

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

At the airport I slipped Dave $40.

“Thanks, White Chocolate.”

“And you tell the old lady I said good-bye.”

“She like that.”

The prop plane took off for Kingston and I spotted Trident Villas under the wing.

No one was in the sea. The guests surrounded the pool.

Several hours later we landed at JFK. A sleety snow slashed across our faces.

Clark paid my wages along with a bonus.

“You did a good job.”


A month later Darryl graced the cover on LIFE.

I had never stood a chance with her, but neither had Clark.

But I had been close.

In February I returned 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 White Chocolate.


fotos by Peter Nolan Smith and Dustin Pittman and nameless others

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