IN DA GADDA VIDA ON SNOW

In winter of 1969 I went skiing in North Conway with a bunch of people. We hit Wildcat hard. The coolest girl and I listened to IN DA GADDA VIDA in my bedroom. Her name was Susan. She smoked weed. I was straight.

At the end of the song she said, “I leaving for San Francisco with some ski bums, you wanna come.”

“I wanna ski tomorrow.”

“Up to you.”

I woke in the morning and she was gone. I can never hear Iron Butterfly without thinking of Susan.

I used to remember her last name.

Tuckerman’s Ravine is still crazy this time of year.

I don’t ski anymore.

But maybe tomorrow.

To hear IN DA GADDA VIDDA please go to this URL.

A Susan is waiting for you.

COLD AS IT GETS by Peter Nolan Smith

Mount Washington is far from the tallest mountain on the face of the Earth, however in 1934 the summit observatory recorded the strongest wind on the planet at 231 mph or 372 km/hr. Winter temperatures on Agiocochook, or “Home of the Great Spirit” regularly dropped as low as -50F. Death from hypothermia can occur within an hour at that sub-zero temperature, but a human can freeze in less time, because one early morning in February of 1971 my friends and I headed north from Boston to ski the various slopes of the White Mountains; Attitash, Intervale, and Black Mountain.

As we neared North Conway, Mark fiddled with the radio dial and found Bill Withers AIN’T NO SUNSHINE.

“He’s right. It’s not even dawn,” I said behind the wheel of my VW Beetle. It had good heat.

“Not yet,” Mark responded before lighting up a joint. “But soon.”

We reached Cannon in Franconia Notch around 8. The sun shone behind the mountain. We bought tickets and quickly booked a room and consumed a stack of pancakes for fuel.

The aerial tram carried skiers to the 4000-foot summit. Several complained about the cold. The four of us were comfortable with 10F and the fluffy snow presented well-groomed conditions. We hit the steep speed trails of Rocket, Zoomer, and Polly’s Folly, broke for a chili lunch, and then finished with long runs on Taft Slalom, Ravine, Cannon, and Cannonball.

We called the day early and drove back to North Conway before sunset, because driving through the mountains was treacherous at night.

“Good day.” Tommy nodded, as we loaded the skis and clunky boots in the front trunk.

John blew in his hands.

“Damn, I think it’s gotten colder.

“We’ll be snug in the Bug soon enough.”

VWs had air-cooled engine and I started the car on the first attempt.

WBZ played Janis Joplin’s ME AND BOBBIE MCGEE, as we drove up the notch to catch 302 to Crawford Notch. The four of us sang every word. Snow fell in clumps. The VW skidded on the drifts, as plows fought to keep the road open. Some days it was a losing effort.

“I’d hate to drive off the road.” John sat in the front holding his hands over the heaters.

“I’m not crashing.”

“You never know.”

“I see it this way. We slide down the slope to the Saco River and land upside down. We can’t get out and the car is buried by an avalanche. We end up eating each other to survive.”

Stop already, buzzkill.” I wasn’t driving fast. “I’ll get us to Conway alive.”

We unloaded our equipment into the cheap motel and ate hearty meal at a local restaurant.

Stepping into the night I was surprised by a severe temperature drop and said, “-5 and that’s with no wind.”

“It’s just the night,” Tommy assured us.

“But sunny tomorrow.” Tommy was an eternal optimist, but checked his watch. “Time to sleep.”

The winger wanted to watch his show.

Back at the motel we broke out the bong and turned on the TV.

THE MOD SQUAD.

Peggy Lipton.

We crashed during HEE-HAW.

The next morning John, Tommy, Mark and I woke early and they ate oatmeal drowning in maple syrup.

I had toast and coffee.”

“What’s with the diet?” asked Tommy with a spool of gruel in his hand.

“I hate oatmeal. Always have since reading OLIVER TWIST.”

“Can’t I ‘ave some mo’e?” John held out his empty bowl.

“Yea, you can have my share of drool.”

“All the more for me.” John refilled his bowl.

“I understand, but it’s never good to ski on an empty stomach. You want to smoke some weed? Nothing like it for eating something you don’t want to eat.”

I shook my head.

“I’m good.”

Hitting the parking lot the cold bit at my face and I hurried to the Beetle.

Tommy and Mark scrapped the ice off the windows.

“It’s even colder today.” John shivered like a malaria victim.

He was right.

It was colder.

A lot colder.

The 1300cc engine started on the first twist of the key. I beeped the horn. Matt and Tommy jumped in the car. Johnny regarded the other skiers struggling to start their Detroit V8s and said, “Suckers.”

“Good girl.” I tapped the steering wheel and drove up 302 to Attitash. Mt. Washington’s summit was draped by a cloud. At 6000 feet the observatory was almost in space. Snow swept across the road. Other cars struggled up the Notch. With the four of us serving as ballast the VW was the fastest car in Northern New Hampshire.

We arrived at the base of the mountain just as the sun peaked over the steep horizon. An overnight snow had dusted the trails and coated the pine trees with white. Getting out of the car we swiftly zippered up our parkas.

The untouched snow on the glades was ours. Our skis deflowered Tightrope and Saco.

“It’s well below freezing. The thermometer at the lodge read -20.”

“At the summit it was -30.” John was suffering in his Filene’s Basement ski gear.

“I felt okay.” I had traded an ounce of grass for Hart Outer Clothing.

“Me too.” Tommy fussed with his new Roffe parka and gloves. He played hockey for a prep school in Maine. A booster paid him under the table for winning goals.

“Fuck you both.”

The cold sucked the life from our bodies and we finished the day early.

We drank Whiskey toddys with dinner at the restaurant across from the motel

Everyone in the restaurant discussed the cold.

They were locals.

One older man argued for 1968 winning the record for cold.

“It hit -32.”

“I remember that winter.” The waitress pulled shut her sweater. “My husband and I stayed in bed most of the winter. We had twins in the fall.”

Upon leaving the restaurant we hurried to our room.

“You know we don’t have to ski tomorrow.” John’s skin was as white as the corpse of a drowned Titanic passenger rescued the the icy Atlantic.

“It’ll be fine.” Tommy played prep school hockey in Northern Maine.

Aroostock County was another kind of cold.

The next morning we woke to a brittle white light rising over the valley. I went to the window and felt the glass. It was colder than ice.

Several skiers stood before their cars.

The engines were frozen solid.

I turned on the TV.

The Three Stooges were yucking it up. I kicked the beds. Mark and Tommy swung their feet to the floor. John was stuck under the covers.

“It’s my off day.” His hand reached up to the window. A brief touch and he dropped his hand. “Oh, yeah, I’m sleeping in.”

“Is it that cold out there?” Tommy was tough, but even hockey toughness had its limit.

“It’s Siberia out there.” I thought of the gulag prisoners and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOSVICH. The USSR would have loved the White Mountains.

“John, you’re coming with us whether you like it or not.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are,” Tommy wasn’t taking no. “Get dressed. We have a mountain waiting.”

The four of us stuffed our bellies with a hearty breakfast of pancakes and sausage.

Exiting from the motel restaurant we got in the VW, then ascended Pinkham Notch to Wildcat opposite Mt. Washington. The snow along the road rose above the guard railing and I opened up the heating vents to full. Mark acted as co-pilot and scrapped the frozen condensation from windshield.

“Leaving Earth.”

“To the Planet Pluto,” groused John.

“I think Pluto is warmer.”

“Today for sure.”

We reached Wildcat at dawn. Mount Washington rose across the valley. Agiocochook was breeding weather with the sky.

Getting out of the car we zippered up our parkas and hurried to the ski lift after buying our tickets.

“Damn, this is cold,” said Tommy.

“You think this is cold. Wait till you get to the top.” The red-faced gondola operator pointed to the thermometer on the wall reading -20.

“On top it’s -30 and then there’s the wind. Have a good day, boys.”

On the trip to the summit the gondolas shivered in the wind. Mark and I stared at the empty slopes.

“Doesn’t look like anyone’s fool enough to come up here.”

“Guess we’re the first.” He tightened his scarf and tucked his arms over his chest.

“Or the only ones.” I blew on my gloved hands and lifted my scarf over my face as a mask. The cold seeped into the oblong transporter and chilled my bones to the marrow. My Hart parka was not made for this temperature. “I wonder if this was as cold as when Robert Scott crossed Antarctica.”

“Not even close.” Mark lit a cigarette and exhaled the smoke, which dropped to his lap like a submarine submerging below the sea. “The South Pole gets down to -100 below zero.”

“But it’s a dry cold.” My words misted in the air.

Oxygen was scarce atop Wildcat.

“Dry or wet. This is cold.” Mark clapped his gloved hands together. We were approaching the summit station and he tugged down his cap.

“I’m ready for it.

“Me too.” We were New Englanders and New England only had two seasons.

Summer and winter.

We knew which one was longer.”

We exited from the gondolas and snapped our boots into the bindings.

The thermometer read -40.

The frigid wind ripped through our parkas like sandpaper scrapping the flesh. Mark shouted over the biting gale, “The shortest way down is the fastest. Follow me. Ready?”

“Never readier.”

Having skied Wildcat before Mark charged down Upper Wildcat to the black diamond Lynx Lair connecting to the other Lynx trails. None of us dared a fall and we reached the base lodge in less than fifteen minutes.

The three of us ripped off our skis and clumped into the cafeteria.

Each of us ordered two hot chocolates.

The scalding brew soothed our inner core.

“Damn, that was cold.” John’s skin was a boreal white, as if his blood had sucked dry by a vampire.

“Anyone ready for another run?” Tommy practiced ice hockey outside every day. Cold was second nature to the right winger’s daily routine.

Mark, and I regarded the blaze in the fireplace with an affection reserved for our girlfriends.

All three of us shook our heads.

“Chickenshits. We didn’t come up here to toast marshmallows.”

Tommy shamed us and we drained our hot chocolates, then exited into the boreal bitterness for another assault on the slopes.

A grim overcast settled over Wildcat and the morning was worsened by the damp mist whistling through the pines. Each of our runs was more punishing than the previous. None of this was fun.

At lunch even Tommy admitted that he lost his enthusiasm for the day’s outing.

“This sucks.”

“Big time.”

We ate our chili in silence.

Finally Mark said, “Let’s we give it one more try.”

“What for?” Tommy shook his head. “I feel like I’m being tortured by Old Man Winter.”

“What for?” Mark held his hands to the fire. “Because after this weekend I go back to work at the shipyard and John will be doing double-shifts at the gas station. Tommy will be playing hockey seven days a week and you’ll be going to college in the day and driving taxi at night to pay for it.”

“Thanks for painting such a pretty picture.” I stepped closer next to the fireplace. Mark was right and I said, “I’m game if everyone else is.”

“We do Irish coffees at the motel on me.” Tommy nodded his commitment to our endeavor. He got a little money under the table for each goal scored, which he split with the opposing goalie.

“Last one down pays for the first beer.” Mark ran out of the lodge and grabbed his skis from the rack.

“You guys, this will be the last run for the day.” The operator was posting the ‘CLOSED’ Sign. “The wind’s picked up on top. Management figures the temperature with the wind is down to -50.”

“I’ve never been in that kind of cold.”

“Most people haven’t, because they can’t live in it.” The operator sealed us in the gondola. “Hope you don’t end up as popsicles.”

“We’ll be fine.”

Mark and I sat as close as Eskimos waiting out the season of good sledding.

“You know that we might never be this cold again.”

“My favorite book as a kid was SOUTH by Ernest Shackleton.

The British explorer had been struck on the ice for a year. Temperatures in Antarctica had been lower than this, but this must be how it felt like being lost on the Ross Sea.”

“Let’s not talk about the cold.” Mark detoured from our misery to discuss last April’s trip to Florida.

“Remember Florida last year. Sun burnt sin. Swimming in the sea off Fort Lauderdale with girls in bikinis.

“No bikinis here.”

“Never.”

Snow bunnies were for Colorado ski resorts not North Conway and the top of Wildcat wouldn’t see 26F until April.

Mark and I jumped out of the gondola and skied to the right. I pulled down my googles to prevent my eyelids from freezing shut. Tommy stopped beside us.

“A race to the bottom.”

As a hockey player he loved any kind of competition.

“We might as well make this run a long one.”

Mark plotted out the trails and we nodded in shivered agreement before lining up to the start.

“Let’s do it.” Tommy leaned forward to push off like Spider Sabich at a World Cup race.

“On the count of three.” Mark counted off the numbers and we burst forward with shouted ‘GO’.

Our style down green dot Upper Catapult was a pure downhill to offer the best aerodynamics as well as shield our bodies from the chill. Tommy grabbed the early lead by the start of the black diamond Upper Wildcat.I fought to catch up, but my fingers, toes, and ears were losing feeling and my tears formed ice spiders inside my goggles.

Mark overtook the two of us right before schussing onto Middle Wildcat. The steepening of the icy slope challenged our skills and I almost fell on a turn.

My fist punched into the packed powder to right myself.

My two friends were almost out of sight, as I reached Middle Wildcat, but I ducked through the trees to make up the distance and emerged from the forest to barrel down Copycat to the bottom.

The three of them beat me by a few seconds. They flicked off their skis and dashed into the lodge. I followed them inside.

I didn’t know who had won, but I had lost.

“Irish Coffees on you.” Mark stood at the bar.

“I thought it was first to the car.” Drinks were cheaper in North Conway.

I ran outside to grab my skis and shambled down to the parking lot, trailed by my friends running like drunken Frankensteins in their heavy boots.

I touched the back bumper and turned to the panting trio.

“I win.”

“Fucking cheater.”

“Just kidding. Drinks are on me. Now pray that the car starts.”

Every driver in the parking lot was struggling to start their car.

I sat in the VW and twisted the key in the ignition.

The engine coughed to life and we packed our skis into the car, then exchanged our ski boots for Frye boots. The heat took its time coming to life, but by the time we passed the Lost Pond Trail on Route 16, we shucked off our hats and gloves.

“Goddamn VWs.” I loved this car and pointed my car south.

“Goddamn VWs is right.” My friends loved this car.

“Nice and warm.”

“Sort of warm,” Mark shivered beside me, because warm was a long way away from North Conway, but with the right amount of heat we would call it Florida.

And not one of us questioned its location.

Especially not after skiing -50 on top of Wildcat.

After all we were New Englanders and we liked to dream of beach girls in bikinis.

Fort Lauderdale and the sun.

Not the cold of Agiocochook.

No one dreams of that.

At least not in their sleep.

Super Cold

THE PRETTIEST GIRL IN NORTHERN MAINE by Peter Nolan Smith

Scientists first warned the world about global warming with an 1975 article published in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN.

‘Inadvertent climate modification’ sounded like gobbledygook to the common man, who was more terrified by the possibility of a ‘nuclear winter’ produced by an atomic bomb exchange between the USA and USSR and American oil producers pooh-bayed the National Academy of Science findings on atmospheric carbon increases in 1979 as fear-mongering.

That opinion didn’t change through Ronald Reagan’s presidency throughout most of the 1980s and ‘Global Warming’ wasn’t mentioned before Congress until 1988, although US politicians dependent of corporate contributions for re-election ignored the potential shift in climate patterns with the eagerness of a football fan asked to change the channel from the Superbowl to a PBS special on Ice Skating.

People had their head stuck in the past, because on December 25, 1990 Bing Crosby couldn’t have sung WHITE CHRISTMAS in New York, for the city’s streets and sidewalks were bare of snow, sleet, slush. The unseasonable warm weather continued into the New Year of 1991 and thousands of Manhattanites flew south to celebrate the rebirth of Miami Beach.

I rejected the exodus to the reincarnated art-deco district east of US 1. Too many people who regarded themselves VIPs crowded Ocean Avenue for my tastes, plus I came from New England and wanted to see snow in the winter.

Two nights after New Year’s Eve I shared this desire, Philippe, who ran a rock nightclub in the Meat Packing District. The longhair Englishman was equally put off by the Miami Beach’s transformation into an artistic mecca.

“Nothing worse for tradition than fashion people.” The thin Englishman was wearing a Yojii sweater and a slick leather jacket.

“They put it back on the map.”

“I preferred it lost.”

“No one’s gone to Miami Beach since the closing of the Jackie Gleason Show.”

The big man knew how to have a good time.

“So what about doing the exact opposite of everyone and head north until we find snow?” I unfolded an old fishing map of Moosehead Lake in Maine. Earlier in the day I had phoned for the weather in Maine. The temperature was below freezing in Portland, the Kennebunk River was frozen solid, and snow was three feet deep in Fort Kent. “Winter is always winter up there.”

“How we get there?”

“I have a car in Boston. We drive up the coast to Bar Harbor and then swing inland hoping for the best.”

“My friend is making a film about ice-fishing up here.”

Bill and I went back to 1978. He was famous now. His biker movie was my older brother’s favorite.

“Do you know where he is?”

“Someplace off Route 1. Fish River Lake.” There wasn’t much up in Aroostook County off that road other than pine trees and frozen lakes. “We’ll find him.

“And if you don’t.”

“Maine has the best lobster in the world.”

“Then count me in.” Philippe had a good appetite for a thin man and he ordered two tequilas from the bar. “North.”

“As far was we can go.”

We clinked glasses and downed our drinks.

Two days later an Amtrak train transported us from Penn Station to Boston.

My father met us at the 128 and drove us to my family home in the Blue Hills south of the city.

The grass behind our house was a withered yellow.

My mother was cooking beef stew in the kitchen. My aunt was helping her. Sally was a Maine native.

I looked at the thermometer outside the window. The dial was stuck on 35 F.

“Did you get any snow yet?”

“Not once.” She smiled at me. “You boys hungry?”

“For your stew? Always.” Her recipe had been passed down from my Irish grandmother. It was a good winter meal, even if the season was more like autumn.

“Smells delightful, m’am.” Phillipe had good manners.

“Let me show you our ride.” I led him downstairs.

The gray 1982 Cutlass in the garage had good heat and a working stereo. The passenger window was paralyzed by faulty wiring, but the Detroit V8 was tuned for a long road trip.

“I only use it on weekends in the summer.” I told Philippe and we entered the den where my father was watching TV.

Even with six children in the back of a Ford station wagon my old man liked road trips and I asked, “You want to come with us?”

“I know what winter looks like in Maine.” The seventy year-old Maine native had spent two long seasons in Jackman for the phone company. “The trees crack from the cold. They sound like cannons. Why can’t you be normal and go to Florida?”

““I want to see Lake Manicouagan.”

Millions of years ago a five-kilometer meteor had struck the Laurentian Shield to create a circular impact crater.

“The roads that far north will be closed for the season.”

“It has been a warm winter.”

“This time of year there is nothing warm north of the St. John’s River.”

The four-hundred mile stream served as the border between the USA and Canada.

“And that’s why were going there. To see winter and a friend, who’s making a film about ice-fishing.”

“A movie about ice-fishing?” guffawed my father. “Can’t think of anything more boring than looking at a hole in the ice.”

“You’re probably right, but I want to see winter.”

“I understand,” my mother commented from the top of the stairs. She also loved to travel, but said, “Time to eat. Are you hungry, Philippe?”

“Always.”

We drank wine on the sun porch with my aunt Sally.

“Glad you like it.” My mother served Philippe a healthy portion of stew. “There’s not much open up north this time of the year and you could use a little more weight on you.”

“Thank you.”

Philippe ate with relish.

My mother smiled, for she liked a good eater as much as a young man with manners.

““You have lovely hair,” my mother told Philippe, as he cleared the dishes.

“My son had long hair once,” my father commented from his rocking chair. “He looked like a girl.”

“Couldn’t have been a pretty girl,” Philippe joked and both my parents laughed like he wasn’t off the mark. We told family stories for another two bottles of wine and they went to bed around 9.

I showed Philippe my younger brothers’ room.

I had slept in the bed as a child.

“Have a good night’s sleep. We have a long ride ahead of us tomorrow.”

I went to my bedroom and lay on the mattress to read Kenneth Roberts ARUNDEL, a forgotten novel about the failed invasion of Canada.

My eyes shut before I reached page 25.

In the morning my mother made us breakfast.

The sky was clear and the temperature had risen to 38.

“You won’t see snow until after Bangor.” My father put down the Boston Globe.

A blizzard had buried Northern Europe.

Scores were dead.

“We’re staying the first night in Camden and then north to waist-deep snow.”

“A waste of time, but have a good time.” My parents walked Philippe and me into the garage. We loaded the car with our bags and I hugged my mother.

“Buy yourself a nice lobster at the Porthole in Portland. It’s a good restaurant.” She kissed my cheek and pressed $40 in my hand.

“Darn good,” my father added, for he loved Maine cooking as would as native from the Pine Tree State.

“We’ll lunch there.” I gave my mother a hug.

“Drive safe.” My father was firm believer in defensive driving.

“I’ll keep the car between the lines.” I hadn’t had an accident since 1974.

Getting out of Boston took the better part of an hour and I stayed on 95 as far as Portsmouth, then exited onto Route 1 to cross the old bridge over the Piscataqua River.

“It feels good to be here.”

“How long you live in Maine?”

“Only seven years in the 1950s, but this state will always be home. When I was young, the pine trees were tall and now they are taller.” I thought of falmouth Foresides, the aroma from the B&M bean factory, the stench of the S D Warren papermill, my grandmother’s house on Main Street, Italian sandwiches, summering on Watchic Pond, and a good friend drowning in Lake Sebago. There were too many memories to recount to Philippe and I stepped on the gas.

Passing through York, Ogunuit, and Wells we listened to NEVERMIND. Nirvana sounded good on US 1, but there weren’t any patches of snow off the road.

“This isn’t looking good.” Philippe touched the window.

At least the glass was cold.

“We’ll see snow or else.”

Neither of us asked what ‘what else’ was, but we knew it wasn’t Miami Beach

The Canadian border was seven hours from Portland, but we weren’t going that far today and stopped for lunch at the Port Hole. The poached cod was exquisite and the halibut tasted of the wild Atlantic. We would have lobster farther up the coast.

After a coffee we got back into the car and drove to Falmouth Foresides to see my old house. The harbor was at the end of the street.

I didn’t get out of the car.

“When I was a kid, my older brother and I jumped from the roof into the snow drifts.” The house was painted white same as it had been in 1960.

“You would break your legs doing that today.” The grass was as yellow as my parents’ backyard.

“My grandfather used to say there were two seasons in Maine; the season of good sledding and the season of bad sledding.” The doctor had driven a horse sled to make his winter rounds. I put the car in drive.

“He never mentioned anything about the season of no sledding.”

“That was never a problem back then.”

Something was broke with the weather and I drove out of my old neighborhood, slowing while passing Chaney’s house. His family didn’t live there anymore.

A half-hour later we stopped at LL Bean where Philippe bought some winter clothing good for -20 Fahrenheit.

“What if there’s no snow.”

“Better to be prepared.” He looked warm in his lambskin coat.

“More like cooked.” The temperature in Freeport was a sunny 40.

“It has to get cold sooner or later.” He stashed the jacket on the back seat and got in the front.

“The farther north we go the colder it will get.” I started the car with the window open. I like the fresh air.

“And then we’ll see snow.

“You can bet on it.”

We off-tracked to Bailey’s Island.

We stood on the pier.

There was no one in sight.

It was bitter cold and we jumped in the Cutlass to continue north on the old two-laner through Bath, Wicassett, and Thomaston.

Each coastal town held a story from my childhood and I told Philippe about Navy ships sliding into Kennebec River and showed him the forlorn schooners wallowing in the tidal mud flats of the Sheepscot River.

The day was fading from the sky, as we reached the frozen quarry before Thomaston.

The water at the bottom of the pit was rimmed with white.

“Snow.”

“Yes, snow.” We were finally getting someplace.

We arrived in Camden at dusk and booked a motel room overlooking the harbor. The picturesque seaside resort was asleep for the winter. A few boats waddled on the wake of a trawler getting a late start. The temperature was below freezing and hoar frost skated on the rocky harbor.

After settling in our rooms we walked outside.

Our breath hung on the night air.

“Getting cold.” He pulled on his parka.

“Just wait.” Maine had a lot more of north left in the state. “It will get colder.”

We ate at a restaurant by the falls.

We ordered lobsters from the redheaded bartender in her late-twenties. The waitress promised that it was fresh. In Maine fresh meant an hour off the boat.

The waitress and bartender wore a flannel shirt and overalls. The other women in the bar looked like dykes to me.

“Is this the norm style for women up here?” Philippe lifted his head from his lobster.

“Firstly this isn’t up. This is Down East, but yes, everyone down here dressed for comfort.”

“I can’t tell the difference between the men or the women.”

It’s easy. Any woman in Maine is twice the man either of us will be.”

“So no pretty girls?”

“They leave here quick. When I was 8, I was in love with Cathy Burns. She was cute. I did everything to make her notice me.” I still had a picture of her from 2nd Grade at Pine Grove School.

“And she didn’t know you were alive?”

“She only had eyes for my friend, Chaney.”

And where is she?”

I haven’t seen her since the age of 8.” She could have been any woman in the restaurant.

“Here’s to Cathy.” Philippe poured more wine and lifted his glass. “And snow.”

We clinked glasses and I noticed the bartender eyeing Philippe like she wanted to be more than a friend. When he went to the men’s room, she approached me and asked, “Has anyone told you that your girlfriend looks like Francoise Hardy?”

“The singer?” I had had a crush on the Yeh Yeh Girl ever since hearing LES PREMIERE BONHEURS DU JOURS on a Quebec City radio station.

“Yes.”

“”I don’t see it, but maybe Charlotte Rampling.”

“Yeah, I can see that too.”

I didn’t tell Philippe about her mistaking him for a woman.

After all wintertime was slim pickings for straight men and lesbians on the prowl.

I left them at the bar. A light snow was falling. Philippe would be happy to see that and I returned to the motel to read ARUNDEL.

The November march up the West Branch had been hell for the Revolutionary soldiers under Benedict Arnold, but I thanked that I was nice and warm under my blanket. On page 54 I mumbled ‘Quebec’ and fell into dreams about blizzards and Cathy Burns at age 39.

The next day the temperature hovered around freezing in the morning fog.

After breakfast I stood on the dock.

Philippe showed up twenty minutes later.

“How’d it go last night?

“That bartender kept on buying me drinks last night.”

“She must have liked your accent.”

“No, it was something else.”

“And did you go back with her?”

“I walked her home, but she got weird when I told her my name was Phil.”

“Old memories.”

“I guess so.” I didn’t tell him about his resemblance to Francoise Hardy. “Let’s get going.”

To the right of US 1 ice crept into the sea. We stopped at Lincolnville. The Pound was closed until summer.

“When are we going to have lobster?” Philippe shivered blowing into his hands.

“In Bar Harbor. We’ll get there for dinner.”

We took our time driving up the coast. There wasn’t much snow on the ground, but we passed some buffalo in a pasture. They didn’t look cold.

“I bet they make great coats.”

“I bet they do, but as a kid I had a caribou parka from my next-door neighbor. Her father had discovered the North Pole. Nothing warmer than that.”

“Marie had been good friends with my grandmother.”

“Didn’t Peary have an Eskimo wife?”

“Yes, but no one ever spoke about Ahlikahsingwah or her child.”

“But you know her name, so someone must have said something.”

“Maybe I read it someplace.” I couldn’t recollect how I knew Ahlikahsingwah’s name and we headed north on the empty US 1.

Snow accumulated on the sides of the road and we listened to Tom Rush’s URGE FOR GOING.

His version of Joni Mitchell’s hit was a good road song.

We reached Bar Harbor mid-afternoon and booked a cheap motel room. We were the only guests.

After unloading our bags Philippe and I headed over the Shell Beach.

The polar air was crisp as a potato chip.

Small waves rippled onto the snowless beach.

“This was the first time that I had been cold this year.”

Philippe was happy in his sheepskin jacket.

“It will get colder soon enough.”

“You keep saying that.”

“Only because it’s true.”

I pointed out the massive Beehive rising from the marsh.

“In the summer bears harvest blueberries from atop that rock.”

“And now?”

“They’re waiting for the snow.”

“Just like us.”

That evening we ate lobsters.

Philippe and I were the only two diners.

No one was drinking at the bar.

“What you boys doing here?” The hefty blonde bartender looked like she had spent the summer gorging on salmon.

“Trying to find snow,” Philippe said before sipping his beer.

“It’s been Christly warm this year.” She was missing a front tooth. “You’re Outta Stata, ain’t you?”

“I am, but my friend is from Portland.” Philippe pointed to me.

Out the window snow was drifting into the harbor.

“Where?”

“Falmouth Foresides.” I didn’t tell her that I had been born in Boston. To Mainers foreign birth excluded any inclusion to being a Mainer and there was nothing worse than being a Masshole.

“That’s almost Outta Stata, but I ain’t got nuttin’ ‘gainst flatlanders. Name’s Billy.” She proved that by cuffing the next round.

We reciprocated with tequila shots for Billy and the skinny waitress called Shirley. Her nose was as crooked as a moose antler, but she had a nice smile and I pushed my short hair into shape.

After three more shots Shirley started to look like Audrey Hepburn, which I mentioned to Philippe.

He laughed at my attempted seduction.

“She’s no Audrey Hepburn.”

“Maybe Cathy Burns.” Skinny was better than big in my book.

I sucked the meat out of the lobster’s knuckles and joked with Shirley.

“She’s uglier than sin.” Philippe had eaten every morsel of lobster and his shirt was stained by butter.

“Nothing wrong with ugly.” I had drunk enough to make me good-looking in the bathroom mirror.

“You’d regret it in the morning.” He was scared of having to share the room with rutting Mainiacs. As I paid the bill, the bartender asked Philippe, “You want some wicked fun?”

Billie was starting to look like Dollie Parton and I called Shirley Cathy twice.

Philippe paid the bill.

“Thanks, but we have a lot of road to hit tomorrow.” Philippe shook his head.

“You remember me when you’re on your death bed and you’ll think, “Maybe I should of.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You boys have a good time up north, it’ll get nippy up in the willy-wacks.” The fat bartender winked, as if she knew a secret.

“Willywacks?” The expression stumped the Englishman.

“The sticks.” Down East possessed its own language.

“Thanks for the warning.”

The bartender went to the kitchen to join the males of the staff.

A cook and dishwasher.

“Thanks for killing my night.”

“You were only leading her on.”

“Aren’t there any attractive females in this state?” Philippe asked under his breath.

“Not according to tradition.” I watched the skinny girl, who was talking to the chef. He looked, as if he thought he was going to get lucky tonight.

I started for the kitchen.

“Where you going?’

“To try my luck.” I wasn’t expected it to go anywhere further than holding hands and tossed down my last drink. I was catching a good buzz.

“Not tonight.”

Philippe dragged me out of the restaurant before I could do something stupid. A million stars traversed the clear sky and my breath was the only cloud in the air. A stiff wind breezed off the harbor.

“You’re a real downer.”

“You’ll thank me in the morning.”

“Hard tellin’ not knowin’ what I didn’t do was wrong.”

My bare fingers were cramped by the cold, which was a good sign. We were getting north.

A million stars traversed the clear sky and my breath was the only cloud in the air. The temperature had to be in the 20s. My bare fingers were cramped by the cold on the walk to the hotel. It was a good sign. We were getting north.

Back at the hotel I sat in the old-fashioned telephone booth and looked for a Cathy Burns in the phonebook.

There were none in Bar Harbor and in my bed I dreamed of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY, which was better than freezing in ARUDNEL’S plains of Quebec.

“You talked a lot in your sleep,” commented Philippe after breakfast in the car.

“I was someplace else.” I didn’t feel like sharing Audrey Hepburn’s nakedness with him. “Someplace good.”

“And what about snow?”

It’s coming.” I could feel it in my bones.

Throughout the morning we traversed the barren potato fields of Aroostock County. A few battered pick-up trucks sped south and burned houses bore the sign of a general migration south. Northern Maine wasn’t South Beach.

The snow cover was thin past Dover Junction, but the gray skies didn’t renege on their promise of snow. Thick flakes clotted the air. The highway was plated by the tire-trampled residue of a recent blizzard.

“Are we going to see your friend?”

Bill had given me the name of the hunting lodge serving as their base for the movie.

“Yes.” And we turned west off US 1. The Cutlass slid over the icy road several miles to a snowed-in fishing lodge. We stopped at the office surrounded by chest-deep drifts and the owner laughed when I asked if I could see Bill.

“They’re out on Fish River Lake. Only way to get there is by snowmobile. I wouldn’t suggest it. Tonight’s gonna be a cold one.”

I didn’t like missing Bill and John, but the owner was right. The night would be deadly cold and we got back in the Cutlass to continue north.

Old US 1 ended at its northern terminus of Fort Kent. Key West was 2377 miles to the South. Snow drifted chest-deep against the houses. Philippe tested his new jacket.

“It works.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything else from LL Bean.” I was wearing layers. Heavy boots were a must. We had reached winter and night fell fast and frigid this far north.

We got a room at the motel nearest to the ice-clogged river. The grinding floes filled the black air with horrid crunches.

“Tomorrow we’ll drive to the St. Lawrence and catch a ferry to the other side.” Icebreakers kept the seaway open for shipping throughout the winter.

“We can reach Manicouagan Lake in two days and maybe make Newfoundland. It’s no Miami Beach.””

““I can’t go to Canada.” Philippe held his hands over the motel’s radiator. The interior surface of the windows were glazed by ice. A naked man wouldn’t last thirty minutes outside.

“Why not? Winter will only get more winter farther north and French-Canadian girls are very attractive.”

In my youth the sexiest girls at Old Orchard Beach were vacationeers from Quebec City, who looked like either Brigitte Bardot or Francoise Hardy.

“I don’t doubt it, but I have a problem.”

“What kind?”

“My visa is out of date.” He was embarrassed by this admission.

“How long?” Mexicans were called ‘wetbacks’.

“Two years.”

“Damn.” We were 673 miles from Manhattan.

I had been dreaming of standing on the shores of Manicouagan Lake for years and grabbed Philippe’s arm.

There’s always walking.”

“In this weather?”

“Yes. Put on your coat.”

“It’s cold,” Philippe protested without conviction.

“This is northern Maine. Of course it’s cold.” I forced Philippe to walk up US 1 onto the snow-covered steel truss bridge. The wind off the frozen river was ten degrees south of zero and Philippe’s long hair whipped across his face.

“That’s Quebec.” I pointed to the black bank across the St. John’s River.

“I know.” He refused to look at the other side.

“They have good food in Canada.” I appealed to his weakness for good food. Fort Kent has only got doughy pizza and greasy burgers. And there’s a great French restaurant in Clair. The Resto 120.”

Fine cuisine was a specialty of the lost tribe of France and the restaurant had been recommended by the motel manager. Her last name was Quellette.

“Tourtires, soupe aux pois, et pommes persillade. Cheese. Wine. Good bread.”

“Really?” Philippe licked his lips.


““And like I said French-Canadian girls are cute. I dated one in Paris. 1989.” Gabby had been too beautiful for my own good.

“Prettier than Cathy Burns?”

“Much prettier, so?”

The Londoner shook his head.

“I can’t risk it.”

“What’s the risk? On the way back you can hide in the trunk. It’s heated.”

If the technique worked for millions of wetbacks from Mexico, running a snowback over the Canadian border couldn’t be too much trouble at a sleepy border crossing.

“No way.” His nose was reddening from the cold wind.

“No way.” Philippe shook his head. His nose was reddening from the cold wind.

“It’s either that or a greasy burger.”

“Sorry.” He walked away from my grasp.

“Sorry?” I trailed him thinking about dragging him across the desolate bridge.

“You can come back in the summer.”

“I have no idea where I will be in the summer, you damn limey. I’ll tell you a story. Chaney and I had vowed never to go swimming unless we were together. I moved to Boston and a week later he drowned in Sebago Lake. I’ve always thought that like my mother said about me being her eyes that I would be Chaney’s eyes, which is why I want to go so bad.

“Sorry.”

“Me too, but I understand about not wanting to risk deportation.”

Philippe liked living in New York.”

“Burgers and fries tonight are on me.” Philippe scurried through the deepeningsnow to the nearest bar. Neon signs FOOD and LABATT BEER flashed in its window. I stared across the icy river with disappointment and then joined Philippe in the Moose Inn, which had a pool table, jukebox, and wooden bar with draft beer.

Giant moose antlers hung from the ceiling.

Philippe took off his hat and his hair fell to his shoulders.

The loggers, snowmobile sledders, and the state road crew in the bar were wearing theirs long too and I couldn’t tell the difference between the men and women.

“Fuck the Resto 120.” There were no pommes persillade on the Moose Inn’s menu. I threw my watch cap on the bar. “We’re here and I’m drinking to Chaney tonight.”

My first round was a Labatt draft and a shot of Canadian rye whiskey.

Labatt’s promoted beer at hockey games on TV. The first pint went down in less than thirty seconds. The second took two minutes. The third lasted almost a quarter of an hour.

We watched the Canadians played the Bruins. Theirs was a longtime rivalry. We ordered burgers and fries. My fifth beer washed down the hockey puck of a paddy and the sixth soaked up the sodden fries. At least I was warm and the cover band was playing GIMME SHELTER.

A storm was due in two days, so everyone was getting buzzed tonight. The dancing raised the room temperature.

The crowd cheered when the bartender stripped off his shirt. I bought drinks for the road crew. Philippe played DJ on the Jukebox. The crowd danced to LOUIE LOUIE. I was nearing forty. He was only twenty. Cathy Burns was my age, but in my mind she was still pretty. I wondered if she was here.

A bearded young drunk tapped my shoulder.

“What?” I clenched my fists for a fight.

“My name’s Rick.” The twenty-year old man had a cross-eyed squint.

“Please to meet you.”

“I was wonderin’ if I dance with your date?”

“My date?” I was confused for a few seconds, then glanced over my shoulder at Philippe.

“She’s better looking than any of the other girls in this town. Heck, she’s the prettiest girl in Northern Maine.” Rick lit a cigarette with a match, which flared over a calloused thumb. The townie didn’t register any pain and said with a dull vice, “Girls around here weigh as much as moose in a peatbog. I like them skinny.”

“Me too.”

“So you don’t mind?”

“Be my guest.” The Englander’s illegality in America had halted my exploration of the North and I smiled, saying, “But just a dance is just a dance with the prettiest girl in Northern Maine.”

“That’s savage good of you.” The townie staggered off to Philippe.

His mouth mouthed ‘you wanna dance’.

I put down my beer before I spit it out laughing and the bare-chested bartender asked why.

I told him about Rick’s mistake and he had a good laugh too.

The Brit came back to the bar and picked up his beer.

“Some guy just asked me for a dance.” Philippe was outraged by the offer.

“And you said no?”

“Of course I said no.” He was horrified by the thought that I presumed that he might say ‘yes’.

“Just so you know, he had the politeness to ask me if it was okay.”

“And what did you say?”

“I gave him the green light. Let’s face it, you have to be the prettiest girl in Northern Maine by a long shot.” I figured that we were even.

“Thanks.”

“Did he offer to buy you a drink?”

“Yes.” Philippe had said the magic word.

“So go get us a round for Chenay, Thelma.” I went over to the jukebox and dropped two quarters to play KC and the Sunshine Band and Nirvana. They were good dancing songs.

“Fuck you, Louise.” Philippe gave me the finger.

I returned the favor, for I was ready to party along the St. Johns.

Visiting the meteor lake was for another day or season.

I ordered tequilas and everyone laughed about Rick’s mistaking Philippe for a woman. The logger bought another round and announced, “I’m not gay.”

“Only blind.” I tossed down the tequila.

“Being blind helps when you’re mating with swamp donkeys.”

They laughed even louder, because swamp donkeys are tough to run down in any season.

“Drunk too for mating with a moose like you,” a fortyish woman with a nice smile shouted an inch from my ear. She had a nice smile. “But not the prettiest girl in Northern Maine.

She pointed to Philippe, who was dancing with a cute fat woman with a glowing red face. She was happy to have a stranger in her arms and I squinted to see if she was Cathy Bates. There was no resemblance and I returned to my beer.

None of the woman at the Moose Bar asked me to dance.

I wasn’t their type, but I was good with that, because Fort Kent’s dead of winter was 2200 miles from Miami Beach and I didn’t see anything wrong with humming WHITE CHRISTMAS for my old friends, Cathy Burns and Chaney Noyes..

It was a good way to end the night, because tomorrow would dawn on a good day for sledding, both for me and the prettiest girl in Northern Maine..

Fotos by peter Nolan Smith and others.

2014 For Worse And A Little Better

Some of 2014 was the best of years, but after New Year’s Eve the year had rough spots for old Christmas trees and me.

Winter came in the first week of January. Wind whistled through the drafty bedroom windows of the Fort Greene Observatory. Snow buried the soccer field in park at the end of South Oxford and the temperature dropped into single digits felt, as if the world had shifted on its axis to include New York City into the Arctic.

The East River froze by the Navy Yard. I wore heavy layers of clothing. The mercury in the thermometer descended below zero.

After Richie Boy returned from his holiday in Brazil, he let me go from the diamond exchange. There was no business on 47th Street. No one was buying diamonds. His father Manny shook my hand and said, “Things always work out for you.”

“Yeah.” I wasn’t as confidant as the old jeweler.

America was in a deep freeze in more ways than the weather.

That evening Richie Boy and I attended Dave Henderson’s opening along the Newtown Creek. Sounds from the crypt of noise emanated from the sculptured cones. I digged it. Richie Boy was more interested in a pretty art curator. He had a better eye for women than art.

Dave was happy with his work. The turn-out recognized his collaboration with his brother as special.

I like the way one piece felt and wished it had a magical power similar to Dorothy’s ruby slippers. It had been over a year since I had seen my son Fenway. He was my little boy.


I finished January in a rodeo bar.


I stayed on the Bull ten seconds.

My good friend Frank thought it was a good laugh.

2014 was okay. I had a little money in my pocket and my rent was paid.

With a little luck I could fly to Thailand.

Te snow fell heavy in February. Schools closed for days. My jobs were cancelled due to weather. My funds were low. 2014 was getting ugly, but not too ugly.

Jay Battle had an art opening. The paintings were of his favorite restaurants. He served pasta and bottles of wine warmed our hearts.

Jay was a good cook and a better family man.

Even better was Peter O’Kennedy’s video of a man cutting grass on an abandoned estate outside Dublin.

I had mowed my father’s lawn as a child.

This lawn was bigger and i told the artist that I loved his work.

He was a good father and I thought about my daughter Angie.

She was a long way away too.

More snow.

Even more snow.

I was cold.

Abe Lincoln came to visiting Fort Greene as a promotion for Verizon. Their reps gave me a $50 check. It was the first money I made that month.

All my money was going to my families in Thailand. I had none, but the bartenders at the 169 Bar liked my writing. $5 got me well drunk on Naragansetts and whiskey. Dakota and Johnny played in a punk band WEIRD WOMB.

They played sixteen minutes sets.

I couldn’t understand a single word, but loved the music.

Plus they knew pretty things.

The young girls liked my stories.

They liked me even better for not hitting on them.

I was faithful to Fenway’s Mom.

She was living in Ban Nok with a relative.

Life wasn’t easy and I had a feeling that life wasn’t going to get better.

I had no work.

The snow melted in March.

I called my friends for money.

I accepted $10, $20, $100 and more.

Without them I would have nothing to give my kids.

I didn’t need money.

Thanks to Henry Miller I knew how to get a free meal.

The chowdah at the Oyster Bar was good on a cold day.

I went to art openings.

I especially liked Walter Robinson’s closet of beauties.

He liked my writing.

AS did the Welsh obituarist Adrian Dannett.

We drank cheap white wine.

It was cold outside.

I rank enough to take away the chill.

It was a long winter.

My friend Bruce Benderson was in love with a young boy. Geoffery looked like a caveman. He loved my stories. No one wanted to publish them.

Miguel Abreau opening a new gallery at 82 Orchard Street. I had helped him painting the ceiling. It was a horrible job for me. I couldn’t tell where I had painted white and the concrete drank paint like a sieve.

The works on display were eclectic.

The old crowd showed up in droves.

Everyone had something to say about this and that.

Some more than others.

Jan Frank less than some.

And Miguel sold some paintings.

Enough for him to be generous.

“Take care of Fenway and Angie.”

He was a good father and friend too.

Devlin arranged a diamond sale to his Gulf State friend.

I put a good piece of change in my pocket.

It didn’t last long.

I paid my overdue rent and sent money to my families.

Devlin invited me to Europe.

The Maastricht Art Fair was opening in a week.

We flew to Heathrow. I had $150 in my pocket.

The financier needed my translating skills and we flew over to London, where we met his Arab friend for a night at the Mayfair casinos. Al-Shara played 21. The dealer flipped cards faster than the cook at Benihana’s sliced meat. No one won against the house.

The next day I met Peter Bach. We drank at the Soho House. Old faces abounded at the venerable old pub.

We told tales of now and then.

We dug names from the graves of our memories.

Pints were drank in honor of us all, those present and gone.

Devlin was dining with the Prince and his entourage at a fancy restaurant.

I met with my god son Fast Eddie and his mother.

We ate no place fancy.

They were good friends.
Fast Eddie was planning on biking from Paris to Dakar in April.

“Through Mauritania?’

“Yes.”

“They still have slavery there.”

“We’ll be fine.”

His mother didn’t seem to sure, but we toasted his venture and I returned to my hotel.

Four-star.

A soft bed and good wifi.

I called Thailand and spoke to Angie’s mom.

I fell asleep dreaming of the beach with my daughter.

The Gulf of Siam was always warm.

The next morning we flew out of London to Holland. Maastricht is one of the most important art fairs on the calendar. This was not Art Basel Miami. These people were the real rich. I saw familiar faces. Devlin had to ask prices. Neither of us saw anything of interest and we headed to the train station.

Luxembourg was within reach, but Madame l’Ambassadeur was hosting a state dinner at the embassy. Devlin suggest Antwerp.

“They have whores there.”

“I’m not into whores.”

Neither was he and we opted for Bruxelles, figuring on hitting Paris in the morning.

We love European trains.

Vonelli wasn’t in Bruxelles and we stayed at a cheap and cheerful hotel across from the Gare du Midi.

We dine outside.

Winter wasn’t winter in Belgium.

Cold, but not freezing.

The early TGV got us to Paris in the morning. We stayed in St. Germain. I had breakfast at Cafe Le Flore and called my friends. my old girlfriend Candida lived around the corner. Her husband was a successful publisher of art books. She offered to have a dinner for me.

“Invite who you want.”