Tag Archives: Copyright © 2005 Mitchell Geller

Street of Rogues—Freeing The Pieta



I could feel myself slipping into a funk at the thought of leaving the Europe I now thought of as home. Tito’s super highway was no help in lifting my spirits. It was a place where you needed to bring your own happy thoughts with you, for you wouldn’t find any traveling through the ass-crack of Yugoslavia. I tried to get into the Great Expectations of it all and ended up with a slide show in my head—a mental, Warhol-like display of things I missed about the States— with cross-fading pictures of cream-filled Devil Dogs, and Oreos (a plain, simple Oreo for a change over the exotic European choices), Mallomars, seltzer water, graham crackers, Ma’s box brownies and chocolate cake, and signs in English for which I didn’t have to deduce the meaning. For some reason a Hasidic Jew floated by in the mental castle I quietly built—one who didn’t know me and who wouldn’t even know I had been gone.

Even with all that, I only succeeded in attaining an anxious state of trepidation about getting the acid test back ‘home.’ My earlier confidence was quickly eroding the closer the reality of leaving Europe came. I tried to console myself by deciding that a little anxiousness was natural for someone with addictive tendencies toward mind-altering dependencies and the lifestyle that would certainly kill me sooner rather than later, rendering me useless along the way. I wasn’t afraid the all-inclusive them would corrupt me. I was afraid of me. Knowing that didn’t help deflect the apprehension I had about returning home.

As a last resort, I revived The Rue du Rogues I had cast aside as a trivial pursuit the last time I was in Paris. It was a game I invented to remind me there were great things in store for the romantic—those who were expectant of life’s inherent promises. There was always a place to remember for inspiration, the Rue du Rogues, where I’d someday receive my promised fulfillment—the sublime bliss I’d been given a taste of after meditating on a shaded bench in Geneva.

If the friendly confines of Europe taught me anything, it was that life, like art, is a process of deduction—a removal of the non-essential components of a composition, like Michelangelo freeing the Pieta from the quarry. If a painting or a sculpture or music can do that, I reasoned, then why shouldn’t we be able to remove the non-essential and retarding aspects from our own lives to create a better picture for ourselves? That was The Art of Living.

I tried to recapture the feelings I had while looking at the great paintings I had seen. All those monuments to innocent, everyday life that left me with a new sense of the moment. Rather than the moving picture of life I was used to, I was introduced to it frame by frame as I went slowly from one canvas to the next, tearing myself away from every one after wanting to jump into the scene. I came to know that what I was looking for was right in front of me—in the photographer’s eye, the painter’s moment in time, and on the poet’s lips. It was life’s everyday list of sequences taken moment by moment. Each scene when introduced individually was perfect within itself, needing no explanation or story, history or ending, but still connected to all life previous and forthcoming—which was already gone or not here yet and, as such, irrelevant. Those canvases represented the 3-foot sections of cement on the sidewalk of my life.

I knew the attainment of my dream was, after all, my destination—but when? And more importantly, how? When within all those connected moments would time stop, like Einstein had proved it could? When would I become a happy detail of the larger mosaic? Creation had painted all the answers pertaining to the Art of Living onto the canvas of life. As part of that canvas, the ability to decipher the bigger picture was inherent in all of us. The problem has always been that we’re left to our own devices when it comes to learning how to read, and at that point I felt like I was still discovering the alphabet. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Europe was chipping away my peers in order to reveal the David within myself. After two years, I had given up drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes, and hardly noticed.


Pretty-please Days With Sugar on Top (excerpt)

The greatest American author, Henry Miller, reached a point in his life when he proclaimed that he was “The happiest man alive!” He is dead and gone now, six feet under, so I hereby and unofficially declare myself to be the happiest man alive! This statement is all at once mantra, affirmation and state of mind.

Cinco de Mayo, 2005

When I turn on the music, It’s a Most Unusual Day will play, as if iTunes were now sentient—followed by: ’S Wonderful, Love Dance and At Last. Poetry and prose recites itself in my head, flowing through my mind like a jazz ensemble that shucks and jives at my slightest whim. I am missing turns on the road while the music plays up there, as if the Sirens of Odysseus’ time were straight ahead, singing full-tilt. A forum has materialized and the play is on. Curtains up! And I am naked in my own light—the light I shed when I created myself. I feel so fucking good that the next person who asks me how I am will receive an earful starting with: I AM THE HAPPIEST FUCKING MAN ALIVE!!! And should they ask: What are you, nuts?! I shall reply: I LOVE YOU! I love you as if you were myself.

Dare I say it, say it today, that Rue du Rogues is here to stay?

Strike up the orchestra, my regiment leaves at dawn! What has caused this tipping of the happiness scale to the Inspired side of the fulcrum? I am hoping this sticks permanently and is not just an emotional sparrow fart in the El Niño of my heart and mind.

What may come as a surprise,
Can open the eyes,
And galvanize the soul to do a selfless act.
When the act itself matters not to the giver,
The reaction of the action will last forever in their favor.
Somehow Love will be made new again, and I mean that Big Love,
The one that encompasses everything.

Yesterday I had a past—a medley of art, meditation, communication, sex, drugs, crime and rock-n-roll. Today I am living in the linear moment described as now, with no expectations for tomorrow. This triptych of perspectives is somewhat surreal. I’ve never had an acid flashback (though I was essentially promised I would some day). Having reached forty-nine years and eleven months old without one, could this finally be it? Will God rip the chair out from under my ass?

I am rewinding: A Master flies by on a Magic Carpet Ride, winks, and asks: “Any little birdies today?” He taps a rose with one hand onto the other and is sucked into the fan wearing the Smile of the Knowing. A first marriage rises like a phoenix, makes its course, crashes and burns in flames of redemption in California. A child is born. She lingers the longest so far—I have much mental-video footage of her. Her birth is the end of my immortality, not the next in a long line of Me. I watched it again in my mind, so perfect, and with her came The Fear. Fear comes with the placenta, and is never to be chatted about socially. It plops there and it just IS. Fear for her happiness. I could not bear thinking of this wholly harmless child of mine not being happy. Just happy, that’s all I want. And health. And good looks and etc. ad nauseum until you go crazy thinking about it and learn to let them have their own karma gracefully. Que sera sera and all that bullshit… Chronic crying dashes this reverie. The Sticky Lips graphic screams by in orange flames.

I get that feeling in my heart and I know what is coming next. I want to slow it down to just the right moment, the right second, the split-second that I fell in love again over a strong cappuccino where Babe and I often ate lunch together. Giant pink hearts bubble up, each with a different image of her stuck on them like schmaltzy little frames floating in one of those hi-tech aquariums with the permanent fish. All the impressed images I have of her are rising in front of me: in Kuaui standing in front of the eucalyptus tree… in her red flannel shirt, in the wrecking yard at night… reading a book by the lake and looking up to smile for me… buying a Xmas tree and holding it out for my opinion…. in her bathrobe, having a sleepy face… when she lifted up her shirt and flashed me her perfect, perky, champagne-glass-filling boobies… and the laughter that followed.

I am here to catch her tears should they fall and use them to water the seeds of Happiness that lie buried only a few inches below the surface of her thoughts. I am here to see that she keeps rising like those little bubble-heart picture frames that have captured her various likenesses. I am the force under her, trying to uplift her spirits at all times and, like Atlas, even though my neck hurts and with arms shaking under the strain, I am forever trying to hold her up. But I am not Atlas after all, and I waver and start to weaken. I feel like Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West, forced to hold the weight of his brother on his shoulders while he dangled tautly above in a noose. Collapsing with fatigue finally, he watched his brother swing in the breeze until there was no breath of life in him and there was no way to withstand the horror of it all but to close his eyes and only listen.

That is the micro-statement of my life—the Reader’s Digest, if you must—up to just before this point of writing. I am staring at my computer, thinking of the trip to NYC we have been planning for a year. This visit was to be a second, 2005 reunion of the nucleus group we were in ’02, to celebrate the years we all turn 50. I am the last to do so, the baby of the group.

It is then that the bubble mentioned earlier has reached the surface of my mind. Something occurs to me and I feel stupid when the light goes on: the Hot Fist syndrome is using me for a punching bag, again. My Babe has not had a good year—a year in which she has seen three siblings pass away. She is the baby of nine from her long deceased real father and the oldest of her mother’s four kids by her adopted father. She is all at once the baby, the oldest, in the middle, and an only child; since her real parents only made one Babe when they were together. One half-sister and her husband even offered to adopt her, they were so much older than she and even her mother. Her siblings are all step-siblings. She is the love child who has buried two fathers, one natural (‘Uncle Daddy’) and the other who adopted her. As a consequence, she has always felt a little on the ‘outside’ of her two families. Oftentimes it seems she is an afterthought in their plans, reunions and such. Some siblings have even come to town for one reason or another and not even called her while they were here.

She could never bear a child, probably as a result of suffering a burst appendix when she was fourteen… scarring some tube or another, making it impassable. She raised a step-son in her first marriage for fifteen years and he never calls her. He married and didn’t invite her to the wedding, or even tell her until it was already done. Some time after that, Babe was informed that she was going to be a step-grandma, which is all well and dandy until you find out they have been pregnant for eight months already. (Oh, by the fucking way….) I cannot begin to explain how this makes me feel; it is so sad it fills my eyes with tears and anger. This week her nineteen-year-old cat, Murphy, with whom she has lived with in dear friendship through times good and bad for 18 years, had to be put to sleep.

My Hawaiian Love,
Peaceful as a dove,
I long for your Joy,
And pray for your Peace.
You deserve much better than that.

When she thinks of Home, Hawaii is that place. In the meantime, Hawaiians are dropping like flies. The culture is diminishing along with the few hundred native Hawaiians still alive. Only a few hundred left! They are going the way of the dodo bird—flying off into another perfect sunset except they are not flying back in the morning. Soon there will be no sunrise the next day, not for her family there or for the Hawaiians who are disappearing. They will find themselves already absorbed into the Anglo/Japanese mix pervading the islands and Babe will be even more alone. No family, no roots, none of the old Hawaii she remembers as a happy child digging her toes in the warm sand. She will have no Youth to go Home to, visit, and refresh with. There will be only gravesites left, the tombstones telling the story of a culture that once supported an inspired, peaceful Utopia in paradise for 700 years.

I start to type out the following letter to my friends in NYC:


To the greatest friends a person could have in this world:

I have been stalling in my mind over our trip back east, couldn’t commit to a date, deposit and such and I don’t think I really knew why… weird huh? The fact was, and is, I feel incredibly guilty about buying a trip east when we really need to be going west. My poor lover, Babe, has seen three sisters pass away in the last year and we have not been to Hawaii since the spreading of her step-dad’s ashes in the sea some 2-3 years ago. She is my Island girl whose heart is there and never her body. Lately it’s all been, for lack of a better term, kinda morbid when we think of Hawaii. Babe thinks: how long before the rest of her siblings on that side are all gone? Hawaii has become a sad thought. I swear to you right now I am crying as I write this, and I think about how wrong that is for my Hawaiian Babe, my Tahini, as I like to call her, to feel that way about her Home. I haven’t cried in a long time, maybe it’s all come to a point and that’s why I can now write this to you. Perhaps there is Relief in those tears. I am going to take our meager monies for vacation and head west instead. I plan to have the best, most fun time I have ever had in that paradise. We are going to call this the ‘Create New Memories Trip.’ We are going to visit the living. I know this is the right decision. I am sorry my friends that I will not be with you this summer. And I apologize for jumping the gun and telling you all that we would be coming.

Fuckit, I guess there’s always next summer…

Babe, if you’re reading this at work on Monday pm, I love you. I’m sorry I didn’t realize this long ago…


A simple enough letter, I think. By the end of its writing, tears were rolling down both cheeks. I am not a man who cries. I absolutely REFUSE to let a movie, for instance, reduce me to tears. Real life is Karma and, as such, we all get what we deserve, good and bad. Even tragedy is a destiny. For me, personal tragedy is a living-out of someone’s karma and in that respect it is not only good and correct, it is evolution toward the greater goal of Enlightenment and, that being said, it’s all good. This is a concept that is easier to peruse than to live.

Why didn’t I think of this before? It is such an obvious idea. Where was that Hot Fist when I needed it to slap some insight into me? This might actually do the trick, this time—at least for two weeks and to introduce some current, better memories of Hawaii. Throw out the Jester, the Philosopher and the Guru and bring in the travel agent! I address the letter and CC a copy to Babe at work, hit Send. I lean back and smile, the tears still streaming. She will get it at the end of her hard day at work and hopefully smile for a split-second before succumbing to tears of joy.

Do good works without hesitation.

— Swami Brahmananda Saraswati Ji (‘Guru Dev’), Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath [1941-53]

The bubble of the Great Love pops just then and spills its juices all over me. I am awash in a feeling of Bliss. My heart feels so huge it is crowding out my stomach so that I couldn’t eat even were I to be served a broiled lobster, baked potato with sour cream and chives, with fresh asparagus on the side and a banana fosters dessert at the Stratton. Followed by a cappuccino, a Cuban cigar and a digestif. That reminds me, I have one last Cuban cigar a friend gave me. In a kind of celebration, I light it up, blow the fattest smoke ring on the planet at that second in time and watch it go through the fan into oblivion. Relishing its aftertaste, I check again for the Feeling, wondering, is it still there or will it, too, be only an aftertaste soon? At this writing it is still here. It is Here Now, that feeling. It’s not ‘in love’ but rather it is Love, surrounding and protecting us both as if our deflector shields were in place and James Tiberius Kirk was at the helm. It persists, pervades, permeates, and perfectly punctuates our love affair. It is the crowning glory of a short story and the beginning of another. It reminds me of a feeling I had in Geneva once.

Too bad Babe had already left work for home.


Lover of Love,
Lover of Life,
Lover of Nature,
Nurture and Sound,
Lover of Sight that knows no bounds.

Lover of flowers,
Lover of trees,
Lover of Everything,
All that she sees.

Lover that breathes,
Giving Sustenance and Life,
Lover that protects, guards you,
And diverts your strife.

Lover who does all that and more,
Lover, when you need Her, is at the door.

The car door slams in the carport. She gathers her stuff and heads for the door. “Babe!” I always say when she comes in and I’m getting ready to say it again as she heads up the driveway toward the door. I’m at the computer as usual, our daughter behind me. Incidentally, the step-child relationship is not an easy one. It takes two special people to make it work and the guy in the middle, me in this case, has ultimately no control over either participant. Damage control maybe, but that’s about it. Put one of them in full puberty/adolescence and make the other menopausal and sometimes the guy in the middle just wants to head for the fucking hills and die in peace. They have their challenges with each other, to be sure, but to their credit they have persisted, compromised and acquiesced themselves into what I might call a civil, accepting, even loving relationship. They are not the friends I had envisioned they might someday be, but they are at least sisters who, while arguing, are at least communicating.

I have told Katy that we are (finally) going to Hawaii. She’s never been there but has heard all the stories about this paradise of sun, beach, warm water and tanned surfer studs. I told her of my experience while writing the letter to my friends. I can’t remember if she has ever seen me with tears running down my face and I think not. When I tell her my feelings, and how disproportionally deep they were considering the whole picture (Christ, all I did was change travel plans!) and that I even gushed tears in the process, she did a double-take—flashing a look of surprise and an open, uncommonly mute mouth.

“Awwww…” was all that came out, and she seemed to mean it. Katy is already on the fast track to Love.

“Don’t say anything to Babe,” I told her, allowing myself the luxury of getting teary-eyed again but not looking at her. In her real life (that is, her exigent social life wherein all else is superfluous) she is a love-meddler and feeds on this kind of energy the way piranhas down a cow. She will even meddle electronically, in chat rooms across the country, when she can’t be physically present to perform this critical, self-imposed task. She is Cupid with a computer, armed with all the slings and arrows that go with the position. Now she is pushing from behind for me to get a move-on and show Babe The Letter already, before she has even made it to the door.

“Babe!” I call as the door shuts behind her. A tired but pleasant “Hi…” in return as she enters. She always ends her Hi on the up-side of the note, making it sound almost like a question. She starts unloading her shit—the purse, the bag of books she is reading all the time, the coffee cup, the CD player with all its motivational/inspirational cds, the empty container that was once her lunch… I watch, while coming up from behind, and slip my hands under the crescent moons of her wonderful breasts. (I’m not sure why, but a thin slice of moon in the night sky always reminds me of Babe’s breasts.) I squeeze, move some of her thick hair out of the way, kiss her neck and offer the traditional greeting:

“Hi Lover, how was your day today?”

“Oh,” (again ending on the up-side of the note), “the usual…” (down-side of the note), she offers tiredly, and accommodates another kiss to the neck. “How about you?” she asks as usual, reaching for perk and optimism.

I don’t really have to think about that, as my heart starts to feel even bigger than before. The sensation in my chest reminds me of Alien and I’ve never seen the movie. I force back a hiccup of laughter, pause, take a deep breath, collect myself and do a quick internal check. Yep, the feeling is still there—I am drenched from this Fountain of Love, can’t she see that I am soaking wet? I cannot hold back a smile; I know it’s coming soon and I’m going to watch it unfold. It’s not redundant to think I’m going to enjoy this smile. When it comes, it will be unforgettable.

Once I saw a woman walking along Lexington Ave who was so beautiful I stopped and stared at her. Then an even more incredible thing happened, she looked my way and I could see her full face. She wasn’t looking at me, she was just going her own way, but for some reason at that particular frozen moment of time she chose to SMILE. I don’t think she was even looking at anybody when she did, she just did so of her own free volition at what must have been a thought that overwhelmed her to the point where she simply had to SMILE. Her expression is stuck in my brain—an image file on my hard drive I couldn’t delete if I wanted to.

I say this because I have been on the other end of a smile like that, a TRUE HAPPINESS smile—one that is for no apparent reason. The SMILE that surfaces and you’re not sure exactly why and wonder: Did I miss something? Were every single person to have a GENUINE SMILE experience, just once, how much would this earth (as we give it the bums rush to an early demise) change? If that were to happen and someone then gave a War, no one would show up to fight, finally!

I have had two such SMILES in my lucky life heretofore the one I felt with a certified prescience was about to emerge. Once in L.A., after meditating for half an hour on the beach leaning next to a garbage can. I opened my eyes and my mouth, well, it just SMILED, and I remember thinking, Hello! What the hell is this? My old friend come to visit me? I hope to hell it lasts! Woo-hoo!

It didn’t matter who you were or what you looked like or what you were doing, if I looked your way you were going to get the SMILE and there was nothing I could do about it. People jogging by lost their pace when they saw me. Cafe patrons looked up from their Variety and trade mags as I passed by—for I was on the move now, trying it out like a new luxury car.

I surprised a beautiful blond waitress with my darshan gaze and was rewarded with a SMILE of her own in return! Of course I fumbled the ball, all I could do was SMILE. I couldn’t SPEAK. Mostly I sat there and just SMILED at her until she must have finally thought I was a lobotomy patient, or perhaps might benefit from such an operation. I had to be physically dragged away from the table. I remember someone saying as they did so, my heels scraping along the floor behind me, Man you’re BEAMING! Less than an hour later, I was back to ‘normal,’ but with the addition of the new and improved question in my head: When am I going to be that way again?

There was always Geneva in the back of my mind also, where I had the first such SMILE rammed from me by a cute girl wearing a red fez. I looked around in the street for it afterward but it must have melted back into its source.

I let it come, surface, whatever, from that place in my gut—my old friend, whom I had not seen in nearly (checks calendar to see what year it is) 34 years! My long lost SMILE… When it brushed past my heart it tickled and I nearly chuckled, thinking: This better not be a fart.

I had to say something pretty quick after all this reverie, so in response to Babe’s seemingly mundane, perfunctory question I let the lotus open up, SMILED, and said: “Oh, not bad…”

She had just been introduced to the SMILE, and noticed it. “Oh really?” She scanned me suspiciously.

I just SMILED, ear to slapstick, moronic ear, unable to help it and not wishing to. “How about a drink?” I offered, knowing the answer. I saw Katy in the near-distance roll her eyes. C’mon! she said telepathically, show her the letter! I decided to revel in the anticipation a while longer first. “Why don’t you slip into something more accessible and I’ll make you one, ok?”

“Oka-a-a-a-y…” she replied slowly, catching my sly innuendo. Katy had her arms crossed and tapped her foot like an impatient mother hen, wearing a SCOWL.

I bring the gin and tonic with a slice of lemon into the bedroom for The Babe. I am whistling and singing a little bit while trying not to be too obnoxious. We chat for a few minutes while I watch her undress, something I have always loved to do. I tell her to slow down, to peel it off, and she can’t help but pass a tiny smile my way while she unbuttons her shirt, knowing that’s my favorite part. Mmmmm… I purr. She still gets me going. As usual, by the time she’s bare-breasted I’m heading her way with both hands outstretched. I have to get there before the t-shirt goes on and I lose my window of opportunity. I probably look a little like Frankenstein’s monster on my approach, without the neck plugs.

She allows me to perform my ritual of kissing each breast, once on the top part and once on the nipple—each. She waits dutifully to put on her shirt until I am satisfied that they (both) have had enough (or not) attention. To her relief, I let her pull the shirt over her head so she is that much further away from work and closer to being really home now in her sweats and t- shirt, but I don’t give her much room to do so. I am literally breathing down her neck. She emerges from her shirt and I’m there, ready to take her face in my hands, look in her sea-green eyes and plant sweet kisses on her lips, cheeks, neck….

“I sent you a letter today,” I say, our faces so close together you couldn’t slide a slice of processed cheese between us. “You must have left work before reading it.” A questioning look ensues. “Come read it when you’re ready.” I give her a soft, loving kiss because I can’t resist. I want to be inside the same body as her instead of standing on the outside. I can’t seem to get close enough and our eyes are inches apart. Were it not for our noses getting in the way, we would be standing there trading eyelash kisses and I would be wearing her shirt, backwards. I didn’t want the bubble we were in to break. I take my leave, backing away, and the effort required to do so feels like the pulling apart of two magnets.

Katy is still sitting by the computer, arms crossed and tapping, tapping, tapping…. She sees me coming and the SCOWL changes to a look of query. “Is she coming?” she asks impatiently.

“Of course, she’s just changing… and bathroom, you know….” I trail off, preferring to wallow in the soft clouds of Love and not speak.

HUFFING SIGH…….. Those are her words for: “I’m patient!” But I think she notices, or ‘groks’ something through me she may not have been too sure about before. I think she sees in me what the definition of Love is and how it actually looks, the physical manifestation of it all. She can see it in my eyes and perhaps even empathetically feels some sensation in her chest— the Expanding that goes on there. More importantly, I believe it causes her to take a second look at the woman who has overtaken her father from her mother and with whom she has sometimes had trouble understanding and communicating with in the past. I am hoping she sees the difference between loving someone and being dependent. I am hoping there will be a small but important brain-file stashed in that craw, an image of authentic love that she can use to compare with her own experience in that venue.

“…Dad? Here she comes!” Katy stage-whispers a little too loudly. I open the letter and put it on-screen, and turn the swivel chair, my throne, to await Babe’s butt—fussily picking off a few cat hairs. She stops to read the newspaper! Katy almost panics (that could take fifteen minutes!), but I put my hand up before she can say anything. It’s time.

Going to Babe, I take her shoulders and start to guide her over to the computer. “Come read this letter first,” I implore politely.

Katy holds out the chair. She loves this shit. She is in ‘love’ every few weeks and when she is between loves she is helping someone else find some of their own. She is already a love-junkie and I’m hoping that’ll turn out to be a good thing, as it has for me. Babe has that questioning, almost concerned look as she sits down, finally. She swivels the chair and it is in S-L-O-W-W-W-W-W…….. M-O-O-O-T-T-T-I-I-I-I-O-O-O-N-N-N-N………

Slowly she turns… and Katy and I are The Christmas Story on that morning, getting crushed by the BIG present. Babe spins P-A-A-A-A-A-S-T the letter and grabs a smoke. Katy and I lock eyes, screaming silently: WILL SHE EVER READ THAT FUCKING LETTER? I grab the nearest lighter and light it for her, holding it out, because sometimes she’ll sit there and hold it for ten minutes before lighting up.

She takes her hit and is now ready. “What’s this all about, anyway?” “JUST READ IT!” Katy and I say in unison. So Babe turns, starts to read, and Katy and I share the wide-eyed and smiley anticipation of it all. I am watching Babe’s face as she begins the letter she had just missed at work. She reads….

I have been stalling in my mind over our trip back east….

(Her brows furrow just a bit, taking it in, concentrating.)

My poor lover, Babe, has seen 3 sisters pass away…

(Now I can see the definite lip-quiver, the saddening of the eyes, the downward turn of the mouth as she fights back tears.)

…I am going to take our meager monies for vacation and head west instead… We are going to call this the ‘Create New Memories Trip.’

(Her mouth is an upside-down U, eyes blinking through the welling tears as she tries to speak. “I… can’t… do… this!” She starts to sob.)

Fuckit, I guess there’s always next summer…

“It’s… your… birth…day… present…” sniff, sob…

“I changed my mind,” I said, the tears starting to well up in me now. I am afraid they’ll fall out and smear my SMILE. I don’t look at Katy; I only see those crying eyes, that down-turned mouth and hear the sobs and sniffing. “It’s what I want now,” I say. “I just feel foolish for not having thought of it before.” Taking her face in my hands and peering in her eyes, I sincerely do feel that I was slow to discover this notion.

Babe lets the full impact of it all settle in. She is sobbing fully now, her head in her hands and her shoulders heaving. I bend down and hug her, lifting her face and tell her I love her and that I am so sorry again for not having thought of this before today and we are going to have the BEST FUCKING TIME IN HAWAII WE HAVE EVER HAD! Ten days minimum. And lo, as I uttered the words, it was the dawning of her new SMILE. We were both smiling the SMILE of the BIG LOVE just then, wet though they were, and it was GOOD. Tears of relief…. tears of joy…. tears of Love….

Brushing a few aside, I shot a thumbs-up at Katy, who was visibly near tears herself as she watched our display. We were, all three of us and for a moment, sharing the same SMILE as it enlarged itself to accommodate us all.

Soon the two of them were pouring over the timeshare book looking at places to go, possible places to stay—heads close together staring at photographs and pointing at this and that. I step back to watch and listen and I feel HUGE. My chest is full, my vision still a little blurry through the tears, but I am living in this moment and the moment is Perfect. It is at once the Greatest Moment of All-time and the quintessential Moment that Stopped Time. It has both Yin and Yang, Light and Dark, Blissful Ignorance; and like chocolate and vanilla that has been blended into an ice-cream swirl, I am licking from a cone of frozen time and letting it drip down my hands like a grateful child.

Hug your loved ones as if your lives depended upon it.
Hug like you have never hugged before and will never hug again.
Hug until the cows come home and it rains flying pigs.
Hug until there is no more war or vengeance of wars passed.
Hug the Ignorance and Darkness away.
Hug your fuckin’ brains out before it’s too late…


Street of Rogues Ch. 12—Days of Blunder

Rated PG (language, situations)

(Previous Chapter, 11—Chuckie’s Sweet Sixteenth)

Chapter 12—Days of Blunder


Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.—Albert Einstein.


I managed to creep home without incident, taking as many side streets as I could and going four blocks out of my way to avoid the obscenely large 112th Precinct. After that obstacle and Queens Boulevard, it was all downhill. I could afford to dream a little on the homestretch, to make plans. It was June, which meant we had all Summer to unload the stuff, eat in restaurants, go to concerts… Then? If I saved enough money I could take a red-eye to London and hitchhike my way through Europe to Paris, the city of my dream-to-come-true in the land of Rue du Rogues—my kingdom within, although I didn’t verbalize it as such at the time. It was more a feeling than anything else that always accompanied the memory of my dream—one that promised freedom, love and happiness.

Temptation increased in direct proportion to the potential accessibility of the idea. For the first time, I was in a position to make a dramatic impact on my own life rather than being at the mercy of some clown (other than myself). Even though I was fifteen, I could be captain of my own ship, setting sail and steering my own rudder to places unknown. I would have to wait and see how much cash unfolded in this deal before making any concrete plans. I’d probably have to get my parents to sign something in order to get a passport, but I’d deal with that at the appropriate time, or forge it if I had to.

News of a successful haul like ours traveled fast in our world. The word was all over town before I even took to the streets again, which was thirty-six hours later. To say that I was mobbed for drugs would be an exaggeration, but there were times when mini-mobs crowded around to buy and barter. Before long I was wheeling, dealing and trading with people from several neighborhoods. A lot of them I had never laid eyes on before, not once. Even an out- of-state acquaintance of mine got wind of the haul and approached me to front Blue Cheer acid for him. It added a little more variety to the product line, so I agreed and took sixty tabs to unload.

The conversations went something like this: “A hundred downs? Twenty bucks. I don’t have them on me though. A cab? Sure, if you pay for it. Want some acid to wake up with? No?” On an average night I cleared eighty to a hundred bucks. Stashed at home, a quarter-ounce of black, tarheel hash waited for me like a nest egg—a feeding spot for his highness. It got to the point that I couldn’t pull the goods out of my pockets without money falling out. Chuckie and I ate lobster at The Stratton on a regular basis, and fat burgers at the Hofbrau for lunch. We’d order pitchers of beer and toast ourselves into a drunken state of revelry, then head off to the piano bars in the West Village and McSorleys for more beer.

I wouldn’t say selling stolen drugs was all gravy. It was accompanied by the paranoia that comes with the territory. At night, when I couldn’t get a cab and was left to meander home on foot, I’d have to watch over my shoulder for unfriendlies as if I was listening for an avalanche. My instincts told me to lie low, to blend in, if that was possible. I kept expecting Miller to show up around every corner, waiting for me, and it wouldn’t be with spaghetti hanging out of his mouth this time. For over a month it went like that. Life was great, we had everything. Rather than sell all the acid I was fronted, the Blue Cheer, I bought it for use at concerts. Life was a smorgasbord of parties, pills, pot, acid and pleasure.

Money bulging out of our pockets, we were in a hurry to piss it all away. We took the elevated line to Coney Island and spent all day there—walking the moving stairs, falling down in the revolving tunnel, bumping the shit out of each other in the bumper cars, rolling skeeballs, trying to be the last one on the giant turntable in the funhouse, eating candy apples and foot- longs smothered in onions that you tasted for three days afterward, and cruising humanity on the beach. We watched the little kids dive for change as it rained down from peoples’ pockets under the Cyclone’s most terrifying curve, the same thing we were doing only the year before. Now that change was small pickings.

On a lark, I had a palm reader look at my hand. She told me I would have three children, that’s all I remember. After that, I didn’t hear a word. The thought stabbed at me. Three kids? Me? Adulthood couldn’t be that close.

On the subway home, with our eyes swimming in ketchup, ordinary people waved fan-like in their seats while the city screeched by on the turns. One dreamlike experience followed the next like glassy-eyed commuters through turnstiles. Time waited out the summer, also on vacation. Billboards smiled specifically at us. The city sang a life of its own and we were caught up in it to the tune of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

We bought the barflies drinks and stayed until the bartenders threw us out. These were times of much spilling out onto the streets and eruptions into ridiculous song and buffoonery. We laughed until we barfed and then we barfed some more; until it came out our noses and I thought for sure I was gonna spit up my stomach and die. In the Bowery after a particularly hard night of drinking and smoking, I was on my hands and knees in the gutter, barfing again. I heard a rattling, scraping sound, like metal rollerskates on cement, and saw a guy flying down the sidewalk toward me on a dolly. He had no legs, but pushed himself with his hands; and at a good clip, too. He went by at eye level, said, “Hiya, Mac!” and kept going. The sound of rollerskates faded rapidly.

I mentally took stock of myself. That guy probably has his shit together more than I do. Speaking of shit, was I needing to fart just then? I sent out a little tester. It was shit. My whole life had evolved to this wonderful moment of now, and all I had to show for it was a fudgy, ass-crack brownie.

Soon it would be time to go back to school and the summer of ’70 was officially over. I checked my pockets after the three of us lined up at Sammy’s bar and produced three twenty- dollar bills, along with a few ones mashed in-between. Normally this would seem like a lot of money but now I felt broke again, and depressed. After all that, this was my savings. The stash was gone. I held the crumpled cash glumly in one hand, checking it one last time for any pills that might have gotten mixed up with it. Chuckie and Lewis were in the same boat. We nursed our drafts at Sammy’s bar, not saying much.

I was pissed at myself. “Damn, sixty bucks don’t seem like much right now.”

Forever the positive one, Lewis looked into his beer and with a determination born to be wild, said: “It’s time for another heist.”

With that, my Rue du Dreams reverted to old schemes.


Summer turned to Autumn, then Winter. The next school year was a course in ‘Stoo-pid.’

Lewis decided that he and I would go back to the clothing store we noticed during the drugstore robbery in search of a new wardrobe. It was cold the night we busted through the bathroom window and crawled inside. The alarm had gone off but we couldn’t hear it because it was frozen. It hung outside and hummed like chattering teeth. I noticed it as I made my way to the front of the store to check out the window merchandise. What’s that buzzing? I wondered. Then I realized it was the alarm, trying desperately to un-freeze. A cop car rolled by, its windows thankfully shut against the cold.

“We better get the fuck outta here,” I said to Lewis, explaining why. We grabbed a few dozen pairs of brown corduroy bell-bottoms and ran all the way to Lewis’s place, more than a mile away.

Once we were safely in his basement, we tried them on for size. None of them fit. They were all too tight and too short. We never wore shorts, and it didn’t seem worth it to make them into six-dozen pairs of corduroy cutoffs to try and sell to gay hookers at Times Square. I started to laugh as Lewis stood there in his underwear trying on the last pair just to make sure, but it was all a big joke by then. (Advice: if you’re going to steal clothes, try them on first.)

Mother! showed up at the top of the stairs. “Lewis? Is that you? What are you doing down there?” Her foot appeared as she made her descent. The stolen bell-bottoms lay in a dead, mangled heap in the center of the floor—a mass graveyard where brown corduroys go to die. The pile of disheveled pants stood three-feet high. You couldn’t miss it.

We froze.

Lewis stood with one leg in his pants and started to tip forward. “Shit! Gettum-inda- closet!” There was no time for that. I dove for the closet—leaving him there to explain why he just crash-landed on a heap of brown corduroy bell-bottoms in his underwear.

“Don’t come down, I’m changing!” he pleaded in a vain, desperate attempt to stall her. I slapped my hand over my mouth to muffle the laughter (my automatic response for all things uncomfortable), and cringed in anticipation.

“Lewis? Why are you in your underw… What are all these pants!?”

“Mother!” (He always called her Mother!)

“Where did you get them?”

Here it comes, I thought, the only possible answer is

“I found them, by the dumpster!”

Bingo! But stoo-pid. That was what I would call a stupid night—more so for Lewis than for me, but still. The only one who made out good in that heist was the owner of the clothing store. I was told by Sis’s boyfriend (who still worked there) that he cleared off the rest of the shelves for himself and his employees before calling the insurance company to claim the loss. Everyone but us got lots of new clothes. Sis got a leather handbag, which was more than I got. (Much later, Lewis’s younger brother was told about the corduroy episode and decided: Hey, that’s a pretty good idea! It was still a bad idea. He followed in his brother’s fingerprints and got caught. That clothing store was a regular family outing for those two—a real fun center. In a way, little brother’s added episode would make this two stupid nights in one.)

By the winter of ’71, the park had thinned out dramatically. Some people enlisted, got their license to kill, and went to Nam. The drugs were cheap there. Another score of poor saps were getting drafted or fleeing to Canada as a result. The recommended drug to take for the Army physical was downs. Sis’s boyfriend fell asleep during the hearing test with his finger on the buzzer and was declared 4F. Unfit for service, the lucky bastard.

A guy we called Big Bobby joined up because he didn’t want his younger brother to get drafted; the Army wouldn’t take your last boy back then. Lured by readily available drugs overseas, little brother enlisted anyway, so Big Bobby shot a hole through his own foot to get back stateside—where he hobbled around on crutches for a while before they sent him back to the jungles. Meanwhile, little brother had been diagnosed with ‘desk feet,’ and wasn’t infantry material after all. So it goes… We all had stupid days.

Many were busted for one reason or another and fled the state, most going to Florida and California. Some went to California to be-in at the love-in and wallow in free sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Some even went off to college, mostly party schools upstate.

Billy Spivak, the only guy I knew with an actual pair of blue suede shoes, was tricked into going to Spain for a ‘vacation’ by his parents. We never heard from him again.

Some couldn’t freeload anymore and had to get real jobs.

Little Levine was shot dead by an off-duty cop he had antagonized and then threatened. They even ran a photo of him in the Long Island Press, lying prone on our handball court. Technically, that was a stupid morning for Levine—his last.

Jeff Stark was found stabbed to death in the old World’s Fair grounds, where we had gone to see Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly concerts; and where Billy King climbed the unisphere to bring thorazine to some poor, tripping sap stuck halfway up it so he could get down and on with his stupid night. They said it probably took Jeff two or three hours to die. We all knew who did it, too, on a drug deal gone sour.

Ronny Rosenthal got a mysterious bullet to the brain. He could still walk around with it lodged permanently in there, but he wasn’t the same.

I can’t remember one overdose that someone didn’t pull out of. If anything, we knew how to get stoned without killing ourselves.

There was, however, one addition to the park clientele. Margaret was pregnant. All I could think of was her father padding my shoes with cement and tossing me over a bridge into the cold, dark Hudson when he found out. I’m afraid I didn’t handle the situation very well.

“We can still get an abortion, right?” Which was less of a question than a hope on my part.

Margaret knew about as much as I did. “I don’t know…” She stared past me, through big, blue, red-rimmed eyes. She was in shock.

Take birth control seriously, or be prepared to make a hard decision—at the end of which there’s no guarantee of happiness. I should have asked her what she wanted to do instead of assuming she would get an abortion, especially since I knew how much she loved kids. For a while we even had a name picked out, but ultimately opted on the side of reason. Margaret was sixteen, her father was Sicilian—we didn’t want to die. Not knowing what to do, I confided in my parents. At the time you could still get an abortion for three hundred bucks in a hospital downtown and go home the next day. Ma drove us, and I felt stoo-pid. According to the palm reader at Coney Island, I had two more kids left to come.

Looking back on it now, I am conflicted. On the one hand, I miss the child who could have been. On the other, I’m happy with my life the way it is, so who’s to say this might not have been a disaster and heartbreak for all concerned? Perhaps this defines me as a pessimist, I don’t know. At the time, I had no such foresight about how I might feel later.

Winter didn’t help; it contributed to our downfall. The only warm place that would put up with us without spending any money was the local pool hall—a denizen of junkies, thieves, sharks, pushers, pimps, freaks, psychos, armed robbers and killers. All of us went there except Oscar, who had been caught robbing the till on one of his days of blunder and was promptly banned. He hid under a pool table when they were closing, then cracked the safe—a skill he perfected on his old man’s, the one with the stamp collection he used to have before Oscar pawned it. The plan was to stay there all night, then mingle with the crowd when the place opened and simply walk out. Once the proprietor found that he’d been robbed of his cash, he couldn’t open the doors that morning. When the cops arrived, they found Oscar under a pool table and before he could say oh, stoo-pid me, they hustled him to the precinct. The owner of the pool hall decided not to press charges. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Oscar’s last stupid day.

Oscar usually waited outside wearing his thin leather jacket. He’d freeze his ass off, but he’d also be first in line when the blue balloon came up the subway steps—indicating that Blue-Morphan Fred was open for business. If we were lucky he didn’t bring his girlfriend with him, who was just about the ugliest person I’d ever seen—of either sex. A hooker, we all knew her daughter, Sally Syph, who could give you a hickie just standing next to you. You’d find it later on your stomach or under an armpit and wonder how it got there.

We spent a lot more time waiting around for that pharmaceutical morphine than getting high on it. If we were lucky enough to cop some, we hightailed it to a safe apartment stairwell and broke out the gimmicks: the bottlecap to cook in, some water from the basement sink (preferably clean), cotton from a cigarette filter, a belt to get those veins to stick up, the stuff, matches to boil it down, paperclip wire to hold the heating bottlecap and a set of works you hoped had a clean, sharp needle that didn’t go pop when you stuck it in. We used either a regular plunger-type syringe or the makeshift nose dropper and pacifier bulb to boot it in. I hit the mainline on my second attempt and never missed again—a benefit of good eyesight and wiry arms. Afterward we might have a snowball fight, or simply hang around on the streets with our jackets open to the cold air.

When Fred and his balloon didn’t show, we sampled the smack. One day a dime bag would set you straight, the next day a nickel would knock you on your ass. That meant you had to sample it first, if you were patient enough, which left twice as many tracks in your arm. I never liked to shoot anything alone. Two people were safer; it gave you a better chance of getting an air bubble out of your vein before it reached your heart and killed you.

Oddly one night, when we were feeling particularly jonesy, it was Kleinberg’s father who saved our lives. The Kleinbergs had gone to play bingo and, more importantly, big brother Ira wasn’t home. It started out innocently enough with some barbituates and beer, but that wasn’t good enough. We had to snort the goofballs, so they’d come on quicker. Problem with that, Kleinberg found out, is that it’s like lighting a butane lighter up your nose, so we decided the best way was to shoot them. We’ll ram them right up mainstreet even if they don’t cook—which they didn’t, not very well at least. That is, if they don’t dissolve into liquid it’s impossible to shoot congealed lumps straight into your vein. We tried anyway. The first one foamed up, ruined. The second try produced a liquid when we coaxed it over the fire slowly and used it fast, before it turned to whipped cream.

Somehow we must have decided it’d be a good idea to nod out and die in the living room. The Kleinbergs came home and saw their fuckup son unconscious on the floor with his face resting in a cupcake (the kind with the white squiggle down the middle), and an abscess the size of an ostrich egg already turning black on his arm. Closest to the door, suddenly I was getting the bum’s rush and landing on my ass outside in the hallway. Mr. K. turned and went back for Chuckie, who quickly whipped out his knife. I remember thinking how glad I was that Kleinberg’s older brother, Ira, wasn’t home for the festivities. Mr. K. pulled up short at the sight of the shiny shiv. I watched him through the open door.

Chuckie waved it menacingly in his direction. “Don’t touch me, man! I ain’t bullshittin’!” Oh great, Chuckie, antagonize him some more… I thought, wondering if Kleinberg’s old man might simply pull out a pistol and put an end to this. He was from the South Bronx; this was just like the good ol’ days for him.

“Soooo, ya wanna play with knives, do ya?” he yelled, flying through the dining room toward the kitchen. Chuckie took that cue to show his heels to the door, while Mr. K. fumbled in a drawer for just the right knife to hack us into little, Hoffa- sized pieces. As we tumbled down the staircase together, Mr. K. came out brandishing a meat cleaver even Tarentino would have thought was overkill. We bolted and didn’t look back.

They managed to revive Kleinberg at the hospital; but that abscess… very nasty. With that under his belt, he was out on the streets again in two days looking for more. None of us, including Kleinberg himself, had seen Ira since the unfortunate encounter with Mr. K. The three of us nearly ran into him at the pizza place, but recognized his huge mass from half a block away and kept our distance. Kleinberg, showing some real backbone and pluck, went up to his brother while Chuckie and I hung back, far enough to flee at so much as a hiccup from him in our direction.

“Yo, I—” Little Brother managed to say. Ira’s arm was a blur. His upper body hardly moved as a vicious, open-handed clubbing came out of nowhere. With a whipping smack it actually lifted Kleinberg parallel to the ground before he crashed to the sidewalk like a piano dropped from a crane. Chuckie and I winced. We could see stars spreading copiously around poor Kleinberg’s head, and little birdies. In real life, only the crickets spoke.

While Kleinberg attempted to stand, Ira looked over murderously at Chuckie and me. From somewhere deep under unforgiving, malevolent brows—a searing, dangerous glare—he pointed at Chuckie and growled: “If you’re ever within arms reach, I’ll kill you.” It was plain and that simple. I knew pulling a knife on Mr. K. would backfire. Then he looked at me and just shook his head. I was poised on the balls of my feet, halfway turned and ready to haul-ass. Ira didn’t have anything further to add. I would have moved to Zamboanga had he told me to.

Kleinberg rubbed a huge red hand mark that covered the side of his face, neck and collarbone—but stood his ground. “Thanks, Ira,” he said. I was relieved that he was okay, and even more relieved he was taking Ira’s attention off Chuckie and me.

“How can you be so fuckin’ stoo-pid!?” Ira said to his flaming-red-haired brother. I took it as a rhetorical question. We waited for what was sure to be Kleinberg’s lame reply.

“So, this wouldn’t be a good time to ask you to lend me some money?” I closed my eyes, not wanting to watch anymore. Kleinberg was a little too quick for his older, more massive brother. The next thing I knew, we were all running for our lives down the block with Big Ira on our heels.

During the winter of this discontent, I managed to do something smart. When Sis’s boyfriend thrust Henry Miller’s Black Spring in my hands, I read it. From that moment on, I had a goal to become a writer. Though my habits didn’t change, my outlook was starting to. I tried to sit up and take note of all the stupidity in my life, but couldn’t seem to do much about. I had a mental addiction to getting high, and it was sure to lead me by the nose to places far worse than where my otherwise ordinary, middle-class life would have.

Street of Rogues Ch. 15—Transcendental Meditation

15—Transcendental Meditation


The crux of the biscuit, is the apostrophe.—Frank Zappa


January 1971. Ma parked the car and we walked down Bleecker Street toward the Transcendental Meditation (TM) Center. I carried my flowers, handkerchief, and fruit as offerings of thanks to the great line of teachers who had preserved the knowledge of the proper application of mantras, of meditation. I remembered the mugging I took on Bleecker Street at the hands of the not-so- Christ-like pupils attending ‘Our Lady of Pompeii’ Catholic school, and replaced that image with the Peter Max serenity-head floating above the clouds as we negotiated our way through enormous piles of dog shit. I was going to learn the practice of Transcendental Meditation, as brought to you by Guru Dev and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—Great Teacher Mahesh; Paul McCartney’s Fool On The Hill in union with life. All I had to do was give my ‘initiator’ the offerings and he (or she) would do the rest, I was told.

With Pop’s blessing and my acquiescence, Ma dragged me into Manhattan to learn. “It’s good,” they both said. “You should do it.” That was the extent of my knowledge as I walked in the door. That, and the fact that Peter Max meditated. That’s all I needed to know. If TM inspired the serenity-head, I wanted in. I was also told to remain off drugs for fifteen days prior to learning. It lasted one day. The night before, I shot a fat tab of blue morphan—the Blues, as we referred to them.

The learning experience was painless and quick. Jonathan, the initiator (who seemed a bit spaced), performed the puja ceremony of thanks to Guru Dev and the tradition of saintly people before him. Then he told me my mantra. I was to repeat this quietly until he asked me to close my eyes and think it. When thoughts come, he said, never mind them. Once you remember to think your mantra, begin again effortlessly, until another thought comes.

That’s how you meditate. There’s no strain to concentrate on a mantra—which is essentially a sound without meaning, or a sound whose effects are known—and no position to assume other than sitting comfortably. Repeating the mantra effortlessly calms the mind. When the mind is calm, the body follows. At the bottom of it all is a place without thought or mantra, but it is aware. Shakespeare described the feeling in two words: To be…

Brainwaves went coherent… Yeah, that must be it! If I could just be, I wouldn’t be mentally in another space and time, stressing about this or that and always wanting. I could appreciate now for what it is. It seemed to contradict itself, this feeling of wanting to not want anymore, but was self-perpetuated by the vision of my own head floating above the clouds.

The following three nights I went back to the center for further information about what I was doing, and to make sure I was doing it right. Basically, if meditating gave you a headache you were either straining or not taking enough time before getting up. Using too much concentration was never a problem for me, so I was always comfortable. And, I loved the feeling I got while meditating. It was a sinking feeling, a very pleasant one. When that mental dive to still waters took place, my body felt totally relaxed. Afterward, I felt clearer—as if my vision was better. Other than knowing my mantra and how to use it, I didn’t have to learn anything or study or go into seclusion or any of that. I just had to do it.

I meditated regularly for a few weeks, but before giving it a chance for the effects to accumulate, my meditations became intermittent. There’s no denying I liked the way it felt, but the results were too subtle for me to fully appreciate at the time, especially with my lifestyle of mixing narcotics and alcohol. When I meditated, I fell asleep—which may have been what I needed, but wasn’t what I wanted.

I didn’t care about their philosophy of life, their respect for the Vedic tradition, their holiness, reverence, cleanliness, their incense or their rice. I just wanted my head to be like the one in the Peter Max poster—floating above worries, paranoia and addictions. When that didn’t materialize after a few meditations, I cast it onto the back burner. Within a year, I would become the youngest teacher of TM.

Street of Rogues Ch. 11—Chuckie’s Sweet Sixteenth

(Previous Chapter: The Chinese Bar)

Street of Rogues Ch. 11—Chuckie’s Sweet Sixteenth


The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley.
—Robert Burns.


In my case, it was more a matter of running with the pack than it was any real desperation for drug money. Rumor had it that there was as much fun to be had burglarizing drug stores as there was profit in getting away with it. Case in point, the wild pill fight that took place during one of the burglaries. Wow, that sounds like fun! Plus, it would address the very heart of our daily reason for living, which was getting high.

While we panhandled and schemed for loose change, there were pots of pills in the local drugstores. It made sense to skip the middle-man and go right to the pharmaceutical source. Even a modest haul of unidentifiable pills could be bartered and exchanged for other drugs. And cash.

We were inspired by the challenge and its potential rewards, which could be a veritable windfall of pills and other assorted paraphernalia, such as syringes and needles—maybe even cigarettes. The stores were insured, so we thought of breaking and entering as a victimless crime. We’d rob from the rich and keep it because we were broke. It’d be our own version of ‘Robbing the Hood,’ and it put a twinkle in our eyes.

Chuckie, Lewis and I met up at the park the following night on Chuckie’s sixteenth birthday, stoked and primed to plunder. Chuckie wore all black. With his knitted hat, he reminded me of Michael Parks’s Then Came Bronson character from TV, the guy who aimlessly rode his bike across the country. I wore a navy blue, double-breasted suit jacket I had picked up at a second-hand store for seventy-five cents. In the forties it was a nice suit, and had lots of deep pockets. The old man who gave it up probably never expected Bozo would wear it on his way to a drugstore heist in 1970. Lewis wore what he always did, which was no more than a long-sleeve shirt, pants and sneakers. He slicked his hair back, ready to go. I cracked my knuckles and twisted at the hip, popping a few vertebrae. I was loose, alert, and amped-up to… Do what, exactly?

“How, exactly, do we break in?” I asked them both. Throw a brick through the window?

“Ready?” That was Lewis’s answer. They were ready, so I guessed I was, too. Lewis led the way.

For our first target we chose the biggest drugstore in the area—one that used to be a bank, in fact. I was skeptical but enthusiastic. We headed over and approached our targeted Bucket-o- Drugs from the dark side of the commuter railroad tracks, where Lewis mentioned the customary (though needless) warning about the third rail—the hot one that could toast your body into a smoking cinder and turn your hair blond. I had been putting coins on those tracks for years as a kid, running around trying to find them once a train had run over them. We had all heard hundreds of gory stories about the poor schmucks who were fried stepping on the hot rail. Chuckie told us about a drunk he heard of who pissed on one and got electrocuted through his dick. The tale was always followed by a long moment of silence.

What a way to go!

We climbed up a ventilator shaft to the roof, passing a window on the way up.

“Hey, I think this is the clothing store where my sister’s boyfriend works. They got some good shit in there,” I said.

“Some other night,” said Lewis, foretelling the future and beckoning us from above.

Once we were on the roof, we made our way across its shadows toward the drugstore half a block away at the corner. Lewis and Chuckie were lookouts while I went in for a closer inspection of what appeared to be a hatch. I had to climb to a lower section of the roof to check it out, and sure enough, it was a hatch door. It sat between two ventilators, semi- sheltering it in shadows from the lights on the street.

Lewis instructed me, “Pull it off.” I held my breath and lifted, slowly, ready to bolt with the first note of alarm. There was a momentary resistance as I tugged at it, a little snap, then it came free—dangling a thin, loose wire. I listened like a gazelle at the water hole, straining with every billimeter of both ear drums for any alarming sounds, perfectly still, not even breathing. There were no alarms that we could hear, so I took a peek inside and whoops! There were moving shadows down there! Quickly checking my watch, it was 11:00 pm on the nose.

I fumbled to replace the hatch cover. “Shit!” I stage-whispered, “Fuckin’ place is still open!”

“SHHHHH!” Lewis shushed from his lookout twenty or so paces away. I froze again, exposed on open terrain. Now I could hear bells coming from the street, faint from up there but sounding like they must be loud down below. No one had to say Run for it! Christ! as the three of us sprinted away like a covey of exposed quail.

How can we be so fuckin’ stupid as to break into an open store!? We dove off the roof at full tilt, slammed through the bushes, dashed over the railroad tracks like football players on tire drills, ran down the steps from the train station and around the corner, where we skidded on the brakes and strolled casually—idle boys out for a cakewalk, trying not to look sweaty and out of breath. We lit smokes, whistled affectedly and looked as innocent as possible as we approached the front of the store, the alarm still blaring.

Lewis hunched over and loped with his hands covering his ears. “The bells! The bells!” he said, as if Quasimodo impersonations might somehow clear us of all suspicion.

We could see two guys in the store presumably talking about it as we continued past and crossed the street to hang out in front of the pizza place, which wasn’t unusual, but not particularly inconspicuous. Meanwhile, one of the drug store guys disappeared into the back of the store. A minute later, the bells and sirens stopped. Then the lights went off, but we could still see him come back out front and chat with the other guy for a while. Apparently coming to a conclusion about what to do, they left the building. Locking it up, they just walked away.

“Figure they shut it off for the night?” we wondered among ourselves, strolling in a tight knot. There was only one way to find out…

We waited over an hour, cruising back and forth to check for cops or someone they may have sent to fix the alarm, but there was nothing; no one showed. Grabbing a slice of pizza before they closed, we reconnoitered the place some more with pizza juices dripping down our sleeves. We waited patiently, biding our time. We had all night if necessary, though I’d have to call my parents and let them know I was all right. Pretty soon we reckoned the place was wide open, beckoning to us like a native girl in front of a grass shack.

“It seems, gentlemen, and I use the term advisedly…” I pronounced, “…that the coast is as clear as it’s gonna get. Shall we do a little shopping?”

Chuckie rubbed his hands together. Lewis’s eyes were wide open and gleaming. This was the ultimate pot at the end of a gritty city rainbow. We had caught our leprechaun and were as prepared to let go as a pit bull might feel about a favorite body part.

I still couldn’t believe it could be this easy. How can we be so fuckin’ brilliant as to break into a store that’s already open!?

We went back, quietly and without banter this time, until we were in position —the three of us crowding the hatch as if it were a meeting on the pitcher’s mound.

Lewis offered some last-minute instructions. He hadn’t done this before either, but obviously researched it. “Watch out for tripwires and electric eyes. Oh, and cameras.” He looked at me, “You stay here and lookout, we’ll pass the shit up to you.”

“Right, got it.” Let them do all the work and I’ll just sit here nervously in the barely concealing shadows of the roof, from where I could see into the windows of the upstairs apartments across the street. I’ll just hunch here and try to look like a misplaced gargoyle.

Popping the hatch, its puny lock dangling along with the alarm wire, they made their way down the convenient ladder leading to pay dirt. “Stay low,” I whispered after them. Then they were the moving shadows below, friendlies at work.

The wait was interminable. They were down there a good eighteen minutes without a word. I needed a smoke badly but didn’t dare light up. Instead, I fidgeted with my lucky lighter, reading the slogan again. Life. To see life, to see the world, to eyewitness great events week after week. 

Another five minutes passed before Lewis finally poked his head out of the hatch and took a sniff around before climbing out. Chuckie quickly followed, and neither was carrying anything. I didn’t have to ask; something went wrong. “Can’t find the good shit,” Lewis said, wiping his hands. He was put-out and irritated.

Chuckie wouldn’t give up the chase until it played out its destiny, good or bad. “There’s a metal cabinet that’s locked,” he said. “It must be where they keep the good shit.”

“How big is it?” I asked.

Too fuckin’ big, that’s how big,” Lewis said, but he had an idea. “Van Heflin lives down the block. I know his old man has an acetylene torch. We’ll burn it open!”

“Torch it open?” I hazarded a wild guess, “That’ll take forever!” I could picture him with the face guard and leather apron going to work down there—a giant sparkler in the shadows.

“Got any better ideas?” I didn’t, after crossing off bashing it in with rocks such as cavemen might, or tipping it over and jumping up and down on it like chimpanzees.

Chuckie and I waited across the street while Lewis pebbled the correct window. Van Heflin lived in one of those upstairs apartments above the stores. His old man was a boozer and beat the crap out of him if he even suspected he was fucking up. Van Heflin, in turn, beat the shit out of anybody who might have given the old man that notion, so we retreated to the rear and let Lewis handle it. Van Heflin didn’t have weights to work out with, so he bench-pressed his living-room radiator fifty times whenever he walked through the front door. That sounded inconvenient, but it succeeded in giving him a body of steel. Eventually, the big, ruddy bulk of Van Heflin emerged from the front door, quietly carrying his shoes and a crowbar.

Lewis explained the deal to us. “I had to let him in on what we’re doing, but he doesn’t want a full split. He just wants something for the use of his crowbar. We’ll throw him a bottle of goofballs and he’ll be happy.” Van Heflin came up behind him, still adjusting his shoes.

Chuckie and I greeted him in unison. “Yo—”

“Let’s go, man. I gotta get back before my old man sees I’m gone.” We crept back again, professionals this time. Now it was personal. We couldn’t let this opportunity slip away into what-ifs. With the hatch away, and Van Heflin backing us up as lookout on the train platform well above the roof, down we went into the shadows. It didn’t take long this time. After Lewis notched the cabinet with the crowbar, Chuckie grabbed the door and ripped it open with his bare hands—proving an impatient adrenaline rush is more powerul than a iron rod. Inside, the thing was crammed full of the good shit. Big, bright bottles fairly sparkled under their own power in the dim streetlight and the shadows it cast inside. Seconals, Tuinals, Nembutals, Phenobarbitals—all the -als were represented, a great congress of them. There were legions of fresh pills—whole batallions of Dexedrines, Miltowns, and what we called Cartwheels and Black Beauties, shining behind color-coded labels.

“Resplendent Drugs,” I would have called the photograph, had I been able to take a picture. We giggled in awe, if that’s possible. It was beautiful. Before long all of them were being hastily swept into three large grocery bags that were open at the top and overflowing. I was stuffing the leftovers into every pocket I had until we literally had all we could carry up the ladder, a conga line of pills and other saleable pharmaceutical stuff.

I caught Lewis topping off his sack with a box of surgical gloves. “What the hell are you going to do with those?”

Chuckie snickered. “Sell ’em to a proctologist?” His mother was a nurse, so he knew what he was talking about. I had to gather the meaning from the context of his sick grin.

I laughed. “Maybe he uses them himself.” Lewis also had a box of cotton. I was pretty sure we didn’t need it. The cotton out of a cigarette butt was good enough to cook smack in.

Chuckie agreed. “He’s right. Lose the cotton, but keep the gimmicks!” There would be no argument from me about the syringes and needles; these were the finely-honed .22 pointers that went in so nicely. Having a ready supply of works sometimes bought you into a share with someone else’s stash. These were pharmaceutical grade, sterilized needles and, as such, much easier than having to put one together on your own with an eye-dropper and a baby pacifier. Besides that, anything you could offer a cranky junkie was just cause for carrying it around. It was always best to get on their good side from the onset. We looked around for smokes but they didn’t have any—which was just as well as we would have had to carry them in our mouths or smoke them all before we left.

“Let’s get the fuck outta here.” I split, teetering with my bag up the ladder. Climbing out, I looked for Van Heflin, gave him the thumbs up, and he disappeared into the bushes near the tracks to wait for us while we made our way across the roof. I stayed to grab the bags from above while Lewis and Chuckie came topside.

Lewis neatly put the hatch back in place, “So it’s not so obvious.”

“I think it’s pretty fuckin’ obvious already, man,” I told him.

Lewis looked almost offended. “From the outside.”

“Oh.” In case the cops decided to patrol up there, I guessed. I gestured grandly ahead with a wave of my hand, employing an old Groucho line, “Lead on, Kapellmeister, my regiment leaves at dawn! Ladies first.” Lewis smiled and got going.

We sloped along, trying to blend with the shadows. Ahead of me, Lewis picked up the pace once we got into more open territory. We were halfway across the roof to the jump-off spot and there were still no sirens or alarms going off, or red lights flashing on the street. I was beginning to feel like we’d make it, and what a fuckin’ haul! It was far more than I’d ever seen in one place, practically dump trucks full of the stuff! I tried a rapid calculation of how much money we held bouncing in our hands at twenty bucks per hundred pills, but failed. It was inconceivable, like trying to guess the number of jelly beans in three huge jars.

As we hit wide open territory, starting to giggle and laugh outright now, a sense of urgency overcame us and what started out as a slippery getaway soon turned into an unruly rout off the roof. The three of us tore across the rough tar-paper in peals of laughter. Bottles were trying to jump out of the bags and my pockets. I held tightly onto the top and bottom of my shopping sack, determined to not lose a single one, running like Groucho Marx. I looked over at Lewis just in time to see him kick his front foot with his back foot, tripping himself. I watched, horrified, as he hit the scratchy tar paper, where he stuck, with his feet falling over his head in some weird spider-like position. Hundreds of white pills scattered fan-like in front of him. Bottles rolled everywhere, but only the Carbotrals busted.

“Holy shit!” I said, stopping to help him get all the pills back in the bag, even the spray of Carbotrals that were lying so brightly against the black roof, and boom, just like that we were off and running again, trying to catch up to Chuckie waiting on an AC unit near the roof to help us get our booty down.

“You okay?” I asked while running, trying unsuccessfully not to laugh. I knew at least nothing was broken, which was good because I didn’t want to have to use him as a dogsled in order to carry him and all the goods to safety. Chuckie was belly laughing as he helped us down, trying not to tumble into the bushes. By the time we were back on the ground below the railroad tracks, we were in hysterics. To this day I can’t forget the sight of Lewis coming to such an abrupt halt on his chest. Even he was laughing, while checking for scrapes and skidmarks.

We made our way up the hill to the tracks, resting on a rail while waiting for Van Heflin to find us. With our hands on our knees, huffing for air, smiling and laughing between deep breaths, Van Heflin showed up and stood with his eyes and mouth wide open, staring at the haul.

Lewis handed him his crowbar, then fished out a giant bottle of three-grain Tuinals and held it up to him. There were three hundred pills in there, the best goofball money could buy and thieves could steal. “That okay with you guys?” he said, respecting his partners in crime by asking. Considering that it hardly made a dent in what was left in the bags, as well as all our pockets, Chuckie and I agreed magnanimously.

Van Heflin took the pills like they were a Xmas present. He smiled real big, turned and bolted for home. With a couple of those in his bloodstream, his old man could beat on him all day and he’d hardly notice.

First, we needed to organize ourselves. We stuffed bottles overflowing from the bags into more concealed places on our persons; bulking up by sticking them up our sleeves and down our pants, with some small ones in our socks. One friendly slap on the arm and I would be digging glass out of my armpits for a month. I felt extra vulnerable and slow to move. You never knew who you might run into in the streets at that time of night. Nobody good, most likely. There would be some embarrassing questions, some frisking, some running….

Looking either comical or deformed, depending on your outlook, we realized two loopholes in our non-plan. First, how do we get to where we’re going carrying three huge bags with pills without looking so guilty, and secondly, by the way, where are we going with all this shit? We had to sit down in the open somewhere just to see what was there and divvy it up so we all had the same variety. But where? Only my room in the basement was big enough to possibly get away with it, but I didn’t want to take the chance. Besides, I didn’t really have the facilities necessary to lay it all out in the care and luxury it deserved. I also didn’t want to get inconveniently busted by my parents and end up blowing the haul down the toilet as a result.

Lewis snapped his fingers and stood up. “I got it, let’s go.”

Chuckie and I looked at him without moving. “Where?” we asked.

“We’ll go to Jill’s apartment.” It took a few seconds for it to sink in which Jill he was talking about.


I interrupted Chuckie, “Jill? You mean that big-assed junkie with the crazy, four-year-old kid? The one whose husband keeps sending her stereo stuff from the PX in Nam that she keeps hocking for cash? The guy she never knows when he might come home? The Jill that—”

“She’s harmless,” Lewis said. “Got any better ideas?”

“—lives two miles from here, across the boulevard?” Queens Boulevard wasn’t just any regular boulevard, it was eight lanes of concrete you couldn’t get across on one green light unless you were running. I’d seen many an old lady dehydrate out there on a hot day before making it across. It was a windy no-man’s land, with cars whizzing by just inches from your kneecaps.

“Look, we’ll take the side streets after we get across the boulevard,” he argued, which was the only way to get there anyhow. Chuckie and I knew how to get there. Lewis was just pushing his case, and there simply wasn’t an alternative.

“The sooner we get there the better,” I said.

Chuckie jiggled a couple Tuinals in his hand and grinned. “And the sooner we find something to drink, the better.” We left the tracks and hit the bricks.

Stopping at Frankie the Bum’s favorite bar, we sent Chuckie in for a dixie cup of water so we could gulp down our sedatives. Lewis and I hung outside on the boulevard trying to look small, nonchalant, and nondescript—which was of course impossible with my big, very-chalant and descriptive hair.

Lewis sensed my unease. “Y’know, cops wouldn’t expect people like us to be out in the open—”

“Yeah, it’s too fuckin’ stoo-pid!” I said. We laughed at ourselves. Cops were only part of our worries anyway.

“No, really! It’s too obvious!” he said, as if that were a point in our favor.

“Most people would have at least cab fare,” I said, lamenting our non-afterplan some more.

Chuckie emerged from the bar carrying a cup of water. “Cheers! Ha!” he said, handing it over to our outstretched hands.

There were two ways to get across Queens Boulevard. We ruled out the underground tunnel because of its limited escape routes. We could get trapped down there by cops, or worse. The other option was crossing all eight lanes above ground with the green lights. As we waited for the light to change in our favor, I was praying we wouldn’t have to run too fast—not after the way Lewis handled the roof. I didn’t even want to look up, because if you don’t look up it won’t find you. The light turned green and we committed ourselves to the crosswalk, unwilling to risk even jaywalking right now. With fake yawns to try and look bored and normal, we walked as if we were going home after a late shift at the post office.

I tried to calculate the sheer worth of our carryings, to keep my mind positive. The street value must have been in the thousands. To someone such as me, who lived on a sawbuck’s allowance plus the change I could garner through various methods, that was a whole helluva lot! It could buy a lot of freedom, even a trip to Europe and a search for my mythical Rue du Rogues.

As usual, the light turned against us before we were all the way across, but there were no cars coming so we kept going until we were ‘safely’ on the other side. Finally back on dark streets, a huge weight lifted off our shoulders, we relaxed a little and started daydreaming.

Lewis finally voiced what we were all thinking. “We did it man, we robbed a fuckin’ drugstore!” He said it as if we had just achieved enlightenment. I was feeling a little blissful.

“Like taking candy from a baby,” Chuckie added, grinning.

Lewis beamed. “This is the start of something big!” We knew, we knew..! Or at least we thought we knew. Certainly things were going to change in the near future. Multi congratulations were in order for a job well done. Bartender! Drinks for everyone!

“There’s a lotta cash ‘n hash in these bags,” I said. “What are you gonna do with yours?”

Lewis smiled, taking a moment to think about it. “First I’m gonna trade some of this for that black, African hash that’s going around, the real oily shit…” We all agreed. “Then I’m gonna get me the best meal I feel like, wherever I want.”

“Yeah!” we all agreed again. “Lobster at The Stratton! Yeah yeah! Every night!” Chattering along happily, we turned a corner and there, about forty feet in front of us, sat a parked cop car. Instant silence as we all saw it at once. Without breaking stride, because that would be too obvious, we discussed what we should do.

“What the fuck do we do now, boys?” I offered constructively.

“Cross the street?” Chuckie wondered.

“No!” Lewis quickly nixed that idea, adding: “Then it looks like we’re trying to avoid them. Keep walking. They wouldn’t expect us to just walk by like this.”

Small consolation, I thought, wondering what my bitch-name would be in jail. Then he added something which sent a chill up my spine: “I’ve got a plan.”

“Great, I’ve got Nembutals sticking up my nose and you’ve got a plan? What, run like hell at the last second?” Lewis stuffed the pill bottle deeper in my breast pocket and didn’t say anything as we committed to getting closer to our impending fate. My only consolation at this point was that the Tuinals we took should be coming on nicely soon, probably by the time we were safely tucked in our cells. In a few steps, we would know one way or the other how good Lewis’s plan was.

There was a light on inside the car. “Good, there’s only one of them,” Chuckie noticed first. “He’s probably doing his shift report, so he won’t give a shit about us. He wants to go home.” Chuckie was optimistic, but guessing. As the cop inside loomed larger than life, it’s what I told myself to believe. Sure, he won’t give a shit

We tried to sound as if we were small-talking; still out of earshot, we mumbled garbles that we hoped sounded like normal, easygoing, natural conversation from a distance. Once we were right on top of him someone said (don’t ask me who): “Ummm-boy, can’t wait to get these steaks home after that double shift at the post office…”

Walking past, no more than three feet from our taxi to jail, I could see the cop scribbling on a clipboard. I don’t think he even noticed us until Lewis put his plan into action. Still clutching his bag, he practically stuck his whole head in the window, nearly tipping the contents into the cop’s lap, and said: “Scuse me sir, can you tell me the time?”

“?!” That was his fucking plan? I held my breath. With the break in stride, Chuckie and I almost collided into each other. My big hair felt like a circus tent with searchlights out front. The cop didn’t even glance up, but looked at his watch and said: “Two-fifteen,” without hardly a hitch in his scribbling on those important papers.

“Thank you!” Lewis added merrily, and walked away. We left the cop behind us, finishing his report about how he had kept the hamlet safe and sound that night from clowns like us.

I reminded myself to breathe. “That was your fuckin’ plan?” Chuckie thought it was brilliant. “What..? It was the stupidest fuckin’ thing you ever did, Lewis! And you’ve done some stoo-pid shit!”

Lewis defended himself. “It worked, didn’t it?”

“Did it? Only because he wanted to go home! Listen,” I told him seriously, “don’t you ever ask a cop what time it is after we’ve ripped off a drug store, okay?” Lewis laughed. “You’re fuckin’ crazy, man.” You couldn’t control Lewis. He was always going to do what he felt he should. I could only shake my head and keep walking.

Somehow we made it to the lobby of Jill’s apartment without further incident. Jesus, I thought, nearly exhausted physically but up-n-at-em mentally, I still have to eventually get home from here—some three miles away and across that fuckin’ boulevard again, alone. At least this stopover would provide a brief respite to the burden of success we had to endure, if she was home. Lewis pressed the buzzer. Painfully exposed like three pigeons on a fence, we waited.

“C’mon-c’mon-c’mon…” I muttered at the intercom.

“Come on, you lizard…” Chuckie’s greeting. We all snickered.

“Shhhh!” Without so much as a Who the hell is this? the door went BUZZZZZZZZZ and we scrambled for it, diving inside. I wish I had a photo of us as we rode up the elevator, the background music adding to the surrealism, waiting patiently for the eighth floor and grinning over our bags full of pills. Urban Gothic, I would have called it.

Jill gave us her best lascivious-slut look at the door. “Here a little late, aren’t you boys?” Wearing a loose robe and baggy night clothes, she looked like my idea of a gypsy fortune teller ready to mutter incantations over a large stromboli. Perhaps getting ready to read our fortunes on the carton of a frozen lasagna, she said: “Whatcha got there, food?”

We barged in, not answering. Once inside, there were hardy handshakes all around for a job done supremely well, beyond any of our expectations. We were ecstatic.

“Jill-baby,” Lewis said, “break out the brandy and three extra glasses. Oh, and a punch bowl, the biggest one you got!” He seemed to have an idea. “Let’s go in the living room.”

“Will a salad bowl be okay? I pawned the punchbowl…”

We hurried into the living room, where all celebration came abruptly to a halt. There, lying prone on the couch, was Miller, one of the neighborhood’s oldest, most thieving junkies. If he woke up and took a looksee at what we had going for us, pretty soon every thieving dope fiend around would be after our goods; and they wouldn’t pay or trade for it. This stash wouldn’t be worth a proverbial plugged nickel on the streets. It’d be up for grabs. Bargain day! At least while he was asleep there was still time for us to split, with him none the wiser.

On closer inspection, though, it was clear that he was more than just asleep, he was wasted. Spaghetti was falling out of his open mouth and slithering onto the couch. His girlfriend, a skinny blond with a bad complexion and dirty fingernails, sat nearby holding a bowl of the stringy stuff. Never fall asleep with spaghetti in your mouth, it looks bad.

“Yo,” we said, cautiously, unsure of whether or not to bolt.

As if answering our unspoken question, she told us he was hungry but too stoned to get up and eat. “He wakes up every once in a while and swallows, and I give him another forkfull,” she said. We looked at each other, then back at the spaghetti hanging out of Miller’s mouth, draped onto the couch. It was too funny not to laugh. We decided that staying was worth the risk, as he was probably too stoned to remember who we were even if he woke up from time to time to swallow. The bimbo we didn’t care about—she didn’t know us from Adam. “Whatcha got in the bags, anyway?”

We moved to the dining room, an empty space without table or chairs, like most of the apartment, and dumped the stuff all over the floor. A moment of awestruck silence prevailed. Then we began emptying our pockets, pants and sleeves and the small bottles in our socks and under our arms until there lay before us a three-foot mountain of drugs, glistening and sparkling like treasure in their pristine, lily-bright, lemon fresh, prescription filling, pharmaceutically bulk containers. The awe lingered like a spiritual moment, followed by breaking smiles, laughing, and finally even some square dancing and singing.

“We’re in the money, we’re in the money!” we sang, hooking arms and dancing around until we were all laughing on the floor and running the bottles through our hands as if they were gold doubloons. Suddenly we were four-year-olds again, emptying our bags of candy on Halloween. Jill broke out a fresh box of wine, the extra glasses, and brought in the salad bowl.

Lewis guided us. “Everyone drink a shot of wine!” We did, toasting our success. “Now pour all the Tuinals in the bowl.” Wheeeee! we said, my favorite! while opening up all the Tuinal bottles, large and small ones, and pouring them inside. “Now everyone take three glasses full and put them aside in your pile.” There were more left over. “Now another. Now another…”

That was how we divvied up the haul—well into the small hours of the morning. “Now Seconals!”

“Wheeee!” Now we were eight-year-olds, toasting our first shoplifting of the five-and- dime. Now Nembutals! Carbotral! On Valium, Miltowns, Phenobarbitals and Quaaludes! With Santa driving the sled, we loaded the little pills into our holiday sacks. Miller woke up from time to time and bellowed, “More spaghet…!” The blond stick-figure shoved more spaghetti in his mouth and we’d get quiet.

Whispering, followed by giggles. Now the ups! Dexadrine, front and center! Black beauties, take the stage! Cartwheels, Benzadrine, three glasses full! Then we started with the stuff we weren’t sure about. There were irregular shaped ones, speckled ones, tiny white ones… We’d sell these on the street as beat shit to people we either didn’t like or didn’t know, for cash flow.

“What is it?” they’d ask.

“What do you want?” we’d reply.

“Speed, man.”

“Here, take this. Twenty bucks.”

“How many do we take?”

They’d fork out the cash and come back for more. We wouldn’t know what the hell they’d be taking. Try two and lemme know how it works out, ok?

By the time we were done splitting it up, gray dawn was rearing its creepy head. Lewis took Jill into the bedroom and started banging her, thrashing the headboard against the wall as they did it. “Oh-oh-oh…” came the cadence while I tried vainly not to listen.

Miller had spaghetti going up his nose, a sight I didn’t want to face if he woke up. Between the downs and the wine, I was starting to get a serious nod going for myself and didn’t want to risk falling asleep on the dining room floor of Jill’s apartment—especially with Miller on the premises. I couldn’t afford to have him wake up and see me with my arms wrapped lovingly around my new stash. Now was the time to make the long journey home.

I kicked Chuckie, who was also starting to nod. “I’m splittin’, man. I want to get this shit home before my parents wake up.” He agreed that would be a good idea. “Hey Lewis,” I called through the door, “we’re splittin’, man.”

They were thumping away in there. “Oh-oh-kay…” came his staggered reply. “Hey!” he managed to add, “Not a word about this to anyone, oh-oh-kay? We-hee gotta let the hee-eat die down.” It was agreed, mu-ums the word.

Chuckie and I loaded up our stash and split. Out in front of the building, ready for the last leg of our trek, we could taste the ashtray flavor of another monochrome morning. “Good luck,” we said to each other, and headed down the street in opposite directions.

A few feet away, I remembered something and called after him, “Hey man, happy birthday!” Chuckie turned to look at me and seemed to remember that fact for the first time. Technically his birthday was the day before, but we weren’t through with that day yet. He smiled and laughed, great big guffaws all the way home.

Street of Rogues Ch. 4—Playmates

Rated R (Language)

(Note: Although the following chapter is a true depiction of characters, technically it’s Creative Non-fiction in an effort to better describe the prevailing attitude of the time.)


All that is gold does not glitter. Not all those who wander are lost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken. A light from the shadows shall spring.—J.R.R Tolkien.


These were the years when the great street gangs of the ’50s were slowly infiltrating into regular society and their younger brothers and sisters were on the verge of becoming the Love Generation. My young parents were content to let the streets and public school system raise me while they sorted out their own lives. Leo Gorcey and The Bowery Boys were my heroes. Gang fights were at least regular, if not common. Personally, I had no interest in fighting. I simply couldn’t see the need for pain, of any kind, especially my own. To achieve this delicately balanced, relatively trauma-free existence, I tried to give the impression I was a tough-enough clown—more fun to hang around with rather than kick the hell out of for little or no reason. Such was my motivation, basically, molded out of self-defense.

The hot cars were GTOs, ’57 Chevys and Cobras. They were jacked up in the back, had fat tires on the rear and flames painted on the sides. They were four-on-the-floor and the shifters were skeleton skulls—don’t forget the glasspacks. I’d watch them go by sitting on my Stingray (with the ‘banana’ seat) and occasionally stick a baseball card in the spokes so I’d sound cool. The bicycle turned out to be my main mode of transportation for many years, until it couldn’t take me far and wide enough and hitchhiking took its place. The New York winters were notoriously tough for bike riding, but it beat walking with frozen feet on ice. When you get a new bike for Christmas in NYC you sit on it in your living room looking out the window until it’s nice enough outside to ride it—in March.

There were a lot of kids on the streets in those days. It wasn’t uncommon to find thirty of us lined up for a handball game against the school wall, battling our way to the serving spot. On a Friday afternoon, you could find fifty of us for a game of Tag. Once I realized I was the speediest kid in the neighborhood, it emboldened me in many ways. Whatever the situation, I always felt I could get away to safety with my feet. By the time I was in the second grade I could already outrun most sixth-graders.

That isn’t to say I never got beat in the school races. (‘Racing’ and ‘running away’ had two vastly different incentives.) The second grade was where I learned how to finish a race, having lost one at the last second I should have won. By the fifth grade, the competition got much tougher and I barely beat Melvyn in the 100-yard dash at the school races. He was so pissed he threatened to kick my ass. Fortunately, since he was bussed in I never saw him after school. We faced off again when the sixth-grade races came around. I ran my holy fucking ass off but he beat me fair and square, by an inch or two. Then Willie showed up in the neighborhood and I was the second fastest kid. That Puerto Rican could haul. No shit, the kid was Mercury in a jet pack. His feet never touched the ground.

The more kids there are, the more handicapped there are as well. Our public schools had special classes for those unfortunate people, many of them bussed in from all over the city. Most were simply ‘retarded,’ as they were generally referred to back then—’special’ hadn’t yet entered the American lexicon. They were funny-looking, but mostly harmless. Among the more benign and commonly found unfortunates who had been dealt a hand of lemons, there were others who were downright scary. They were either freakin’ TOO BIG, or they were angry! Usually these edgy and unpredictable types were accompanied by a school aide, but sometimes they’d get out of class and if you were caught in the hall with one of them you quickly ducked into the stairs and went down or up, then to the other side of the school, and back up or down again to avoid them. Some liked to throw chairs around the cafeteria when they thought you were staring. This was the beginning of learning to not make eye contact, especially if looking at someone meant you might have to dodge a metal chair. Now I don’t blame them. If I was fucked up like that I might have thrown chairs around, too.

Us ‘normal’ kids stayed away (by an unwritten code of conduct), avoiding any kind of incidental contact. I don’t know about anyone else because no one ever said as much, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry and downright sad for them, even a little scared for myself that I had escaped such a fate.

It was a long walk from my house to the park, I had time to think. Daydreaming on a humid spring evening while on my way there, I thanked my lucky fuckin’ stars that I wasn’t born a melonhead. God I felt sorry for them, and yet we snickered at their football-shaped heads and sublimated this very real fear with mockery and embarrassing name-calling. It was somehow slick to be better than the less fortunate.

By the time we were in junior and high school, roaming the streets and staying out late at night, we became friendly with some of the less fortunate souls of the city—some of whom lived and died outside. Many were not disadvantaged, but lived on the streets by choice. Those who visited the park became playmates, of a sort. We saw them regularly, and they were at least interactive types of rejects from society—like us.

After spending the winter underground, they emerged from the subways at the first signs of spring. When they couldn’t tell us their name, we gave them one of our own choosing. Mae the Poetess was one such playmate. Mae was a meager, toothless old hag who looked to be in her sixties and recited original poetry while bashing on a broken tambourine she must have found in the garbage. She roved the boroughs and even came with an entourage of faceless boobs that followed her, laughing and clapping and trying to keep up. Mae may have been the original rapper.

I turned the corner, hopped down the hole in the fence to the handball court and said Yo to everyone. Loitering in large and small groups at the park, we heard her coming from a block away. “Sh-h-h-h!” someone said, and we listened for the approaching telltale crashing of Mae’s busted but not-busted-enough tambourine. “Here comes Mae!” There were cheers from some and groans from others. We sampled her latest poetic offerings; some tossed coins her way until she wandered off—smashing and rapping her way through the night, leaving a dull throbbing in the heads of the people watching her go.

One-Ball Paul stared after her with his mouth open, “What the fuck did she say?” No one ever knew.

Panhandlin’ Pete showed up to re-tell stories of his fight with Jack Dempsey, and share other pug-like tales in exchange for nickels and dimes. “I fought him toe to toe,” he said, posing as if waiting for the pop of a photographer’s flash from our invisible cameras. Pete was also a most generous street person, and would give you the jelly donut out of his greasy trench coat pocket if he thought he spooked you.

At our hangout, the all-cement ‘park’ that produced mostly cracks and crackpots, you could get your Cons spit-shined and buffed with a greasy rag and have your shoulders whisked clean for a quarter by Frankie the Bum. “Going to the ball tonight?” he might ask, while brushing off your t-shirt. He must have been the first bum to come by the park, since he looked the oldest. Frankie’s fate was to be found frozen, hard as week-old biscuits, in the alley behind Mitchell’s Bar during a long-ago, forgotten winter.

Haba-cigar George was also in attendance that night. He seemed to materialize out of the thick, polluted air and stand quietly on the fringes of our group. The first night he showed up the ageless One-Ball Paul looked him over from the seat of his Harley-Davidson and finally asked, “Who the fuck are you?”

Haba-cigar George just smiled real big, showing yellowed teeth and brown gums, greenish in the street lights, and made a hand-to-mouth motion—back and forth, back and forth. “Haba cigar! Haba cigar!” he replied over and over, pumping his hand and smiling.

Paul looked confused, and a little disgusted. “Where ya from?” he asked. “Haba-cigar! Haba-cigar!” We quickly found out that was all he ever said and couldn’t help laughing at the poor, demented man from Nowhere. It was a slow night at the park. Kenny had gotten his draft notice that day and was depressed about it. In an effort to amuse himself, he looked at George and said, “Hey George, what should we do tonight?”

George blurted it out happily on cue, “Haba cigar! Haba cigar!” (hand to mouth, hand to mouth).

It was always good for laughs, but they faded quickly for Kenny, who looked at him with pity. “Anyone got a cigar?” he asked the rest of us budding thugs.

Someone produced a Hav-a-Tampa and gave it to him. George accepted it gratefully and smoked it right away. No one knew where he came from or went when he disappeared, but he was harmless so we let him stay. Besides, he was amusing, in a limited way.

Crazy Al brooded silently in a shadowy corner by the swing set. Al never spoke a word but had this thing about holding onto people. When I say holding on, I mean latching himself to a person—a person of our choosing, or victimizing, as it were. A man well into his forties and stocky, Crazy Al’s grip was vice-like.

He’d lay in wait until someone sicced him on an innocent bystander. “Go gettum, Al, go gettum!” we’d whisper in his ear, pointing to the mark, and watch in fascination as he mentally mapped his route to the prey, angling obliquely through the playing field, until he could grab the back of someone’s sleeve, or shoulder, always someplace hard to reach. Then began the stare process, which lasted as long as he could hold on. He would just stare, boring through you from under his pushed-up-in-the-front fur hat that only the disadvantaged wore. The dupes would struggle, of course, but there was only one way to free yourself of this snapper turtle, this pit-bull gone psycho. Crazy Al was the Japanese finger-lock of the insane, you had to ease out of him by appealing to his sense of right and wrong by saying things like: “Al, you’re being a bad boy!” and “NO, Al.” Once you got him thinking about that he loosened up for the split second you needed to make a break for it.

If he thought you were bullshitting him and you missed your window of opportunity to break free, you’d have to bring out the big guns: “Al, I’m going to have to tell your father you were playing in the subways again. I’ll do it!” This always succeeded eventually. He could never quite tell if we were serious, since we would see him and his father walking hand in hand down the boulevard from time to time. At those times, he wouldn’t even look at us, even if we said Hi.

In the glum silence of the evening I smiled, remembering the time we picked a particularly tense looking guy working his way through the oncoming crowd and told Al to “Go gettum!” He started his whole process while we snickered and laughed in the dark corners of the subway station. The man eventually ripped off his sweater and ran, leaving Al standing there with it hanging limply in his vice-like grip.  (Oscar, another partner in this sort of crime, got the sweater after shaming Al for terrorizing an innocent commuter.)

Of them all, Tommy Eat-Nyor was my sentimental favorite because I knew him since the second grade and was friendly with his younger brother, Allen, at PS 144. For me and the rest of the male population at the park, his arrival on his ancient truck bike was always a cause célèbre. All the women, however, eventually ran away screaming. Poor Tommy—whose real last name was Cackamont, but it sounded like Eat-nyor whenever he tried to say it—fell out of a quick moving car when he was just a baby and, the story as I got it, rolled along the highway for a while as a result. He was tall, skinny, wiry, strong, and very fucked up. At nineteen he had the mentality of a second-grader, and though his body was screwed by the fall, it didn’t seem to stop him from loving girls—he was apparently normal in that area. When properly instigated, Tommy could be convinced to go after any girl we chose for a ‘kish.’ Running after the poor girl singled out at random by us guys, he looked like The Mummy as he wobbled after them, drooling, with his arms out. Only a mother would kish poor Tommy. The girls were at our mercy when he came cycling around; they could live or die by our secret whispers to him.

“Heidi likes you, Tommy,” we’d tell him, pointing her out. “She said she wants you to spit on her.” Heidi was lots of fun to send him after; she was small, cute and squeaky.

“Oh no…” she’d hold up her hands. “Please don’t!” It was a well-known fact that if Tommy had anything going for him it was his memory, especially for a cute girl’s wishes that he should spit on her. Even if Tommy didn’t get to spit on poor Heidi, as she was running away and screaming, in twenty years he might see her on the street and clam on her as he rode by on his by-then-antique truck bike.

Having compassion today precludes guilt tomorrow. I want to apologize to all the people we unwittingly abused as entertainment for our own amusement. Humans are not toys. Andrew, if you’re out there (yes, you who stuttered so badly), I pray to all that’s holy you have the respect and success you deserve in this life. After having thought about some of the things I did during this time, the memories of ridiculing others were the ones I most wanted to erase. If you’re any kind of decent person as an adult, you’ll regret having made fun of anyone as a kid. Hopefully, my being more compassionate now will help improve the overall human condition.

That was fun stuff to do when there’s little else but other mischief at hand. By comparison to many other things we did, manipulating so-called playmates was seemingly harmless. Tommy Cackamont may still be happily riding his bike some thirty-five years later, but we had no way of knowing that poor Heidi would commit suicide in her twenties. I don’t feel as if we were the cause of her decision to take her own life, but I had only added to her misery when I could have very easily contributed to her happiness instead.

You were so easy with your smiles back then, Heidi. When did they turn to tears, and why? Were you spit upon once too much? I’m so sorry you couldn’t cope… so sorry I didn’t see it then, and so foolish… and I can’t hold back the tears for you any longer. Why didn’t I walk you home one night instead of helping chase you off? Why didn’t I walk you home, protecting you, and tell you what I really thought of you, my sweet, innocent Heidi? Why couldn’t I tell you that I thought you were so cute, and it made me happy when you came around with your giggles and easy laughter? Why did I make you scream and run away instead? Why must I seek forgiveness for these things when it’s too late?

It was this constant and unpredictable interaction that brought people from all over the city looking for something different in a hangout. For the locals who hung out there all the time, it was just another night’s entertainment with our human toys before they broke.

“Daddy, Why Can’t I Say ‘Ass?'” Ch. 1—Red Snapper

Rated R (language)

“Daddy, Why Can’t I Say ‘Ass?'” Chapter 1—Red Snapper


June, 2005—California; a large, shoebox mobile home a short, barefoot walk from the community pool. Modest, humble, almost cabana-like. Original paintings, prints and photographs cover every wall. I work at my computer, my throne, in a makeshift office that used to be a dining room. Stashed in an L-shaped arrangement of low bookshelves, this is where I proceed to fulfill my destiny—that of: the struggling writer. Living with my menopausal wife and 16.5 year-old daughter, I am the eye of the storm.


‘I smoke, drink, and don’t believe there’s such a thing as ‘dirty’ words—unless you count hate, bigotry, ignorance, abuse and politician among them. Religion ain’t so great either… Can we talk about Moral Arrogance and Death Penalty and Ten Commandments for a while? Let’s not, because I’m only interested in Truth,’ (The Guy) said.

(That’s good, said my inner, parenthetical, creative voice. I like that.)

(Get out of my head, I’m busy… I replied, also parenthetically, but without the italics.)

(I know you don’t mean that.)

(I told me: Yes, I do. Babe is stirring in the kitchen, I feel interruptions coming on.)


Babe, my Hawaiian tahini. My little almond butter. Her head is in the freezer. “What do you want for dinner tomorrow night?” she asks.

I knew that question was coming eventually, but this early? On Saturday? She is asking this about tomorrow, of a person who hasn’t worn a watch in nearly a decade; who so rarely knows what day it is he has divided the week in two: Weekday and Weekend. Someone who never, ever knows what time of day it is or even the day. I have a graveyard of watches hanging on pushpins on the wall, time of death precisely 6:47, 11:17 and 12:11. (I’m hoping to have one stop at 10:08, then it’ll look new.) They’re trophies. Mounted heads. A little monument to Einstein and Salvadore Dali. I’m never quite sure what I will feel like eating in some distant future.

The reality is I don’t care. “Uh… I don’t know. What have we got?” I never care what’s for dinner. When I’m hungry I’ll eat anything she puts in front of me.


(So what are you going to name this character?)

“I don’t know!” I say out loud. (Forget about that for now!)


“What?” Babe calls to me from the kitchen. I am on my throne, wiggling my fingers over the keyboard. “I bought fish yesterday.”

Sounds good. Not salmon, though. “What kind of fish?” I ask. Trout or catfish would do nicely. A perch, perchance?

“Uh…” She bought it yesterday. She knows what it is, just can’t remember what it’s called.

She’ll get it, eventually. Inspired, I continue:

‘(This Guy) fancies himself as ‘laid back,’ and maintains a very fine collection of Hawaiian shirts. He has a new one on today. It is a beautiful silk pattern of orchids, with koa buttons. More than that, the print lines up in places like the pocket, the yoke, the collar and down the front. A printer would say: the crossovers are dead-on. It is way too expensive a shirt for his means; it was a gift from his mistress of sixteen years, his Babe…’


(Do you know where you’re going with this?)

(Of course not, I say to myself.)

(I see, the Just Start method.)


“Tomorrow’s Father’s Day, what do you want to do?” Babe asks me, placing her hand on my shoulder.

I just want silence, and to sit on my throne and fondle my keyboard. “I don’t know…” I trail off.

“How’s the story going?”

“Hmm…” I trail off again.

“Are we going to Williams Sonoma today?”

I sigh, just a little bit. Not enough to be noticed because I’ve been married to one woman or another for the past thirty years and I know. I actually want to go to Williams Sonoma. I actually want to go to: The Mall. Every so often I like to share in this exciting world of hers. It is a modern day walk along the Boulevard. It’s the Easter Parade without eggs. It’s anything I can think of to make it something other than: The Mall, in my mind.

Babe can shop, there’s no doubt about that. She was a pro way before we ever met. I knew that. I didn’t care. She looks cute when she shops. I like to watch her try on clothes. I peek inside the dressing rooms, sometimes even going in with her, especially the small ones. It’s fun. She is sexy and exotic, and fills out her black, lacy bra.

Spending is not an issue. Since Babe is the major bread-winner in the family and the bookkeeper, I have narrowed down my association with the household finances to receiving an allowance. Pin money, that’s all I ask for and all I get. Butts, coffee and a keyboard are all I need. I feel lucky. Since I have nothing to do with the household monies, I no longer have to open mail.

I feel especially confident today. We’re not going to Shop, we’re going to return the popcorn maker she was given as a birthday gift five months ago. It’s an exchange, we should get out pretty cleanly. She wants a mango peeler. So do I. I know what this means. We are going to exchange a fifty dollar item and all we want is a twelve dollar mango peeler in its place. There will be a store credit—a credit impossible to ignore. To a woman who shops, a store credit is no less than a dare.

“Sure,” I assure her, reasonably excited. She has to take a shower first, that gives me forty- five minutes. I crack my knuckles and get back to work.


‘This Guy…’

‘This Guy…’

(Yes? This Guy? Haven’t thought of a name yet, I see.)

I hang my head. No.

(Don’t really have a plot yet either, do you… I say to me, not really a question. Time for a trip to the bathroom.)

I go there to not think. I assume the backwards position on the john, stare at my towel, and wait. It always comes to me in the bathroom. It never fails.

(Nuther cuppa joe?)

I chuckle. Ah, there you are, my Temptation. Time for a break. Mentally relax. Let it come…

(Have another hack at it first.)

‘This Guy…’


I return to my throne, where I Am Man and Master of My Kingdom! From here I control everything: music, TV, volume, picture, even the smell (incense or Marlboro, sometimes worse). I have no qualms about firing up a real Cuban cigar while on my royal chair, when lucky enough to have one. (Cigars are not a way of life for me, they‘re celebratory. Just having one is cause for celebration.) I am at the helm—ready for anything. Prepared, I am. Once my fingers touch the keyboard the “Just Start” method kicks in…

I hate TV. If it were up to me I’d disconnect the dish. I can’t even watch sports with background music anymore. You must take steroids and speed to compete, or you don’t compete at all. These are no longer games; this is lifestyle and greed. This is Status. This is young men trading their dick for a fat contract. I shudder at the thought.

They have taken the game away from me, like they took away the colors from my daughter at school. They took red and blue out of school. Imagine. I’m stunned. No red or blue. No gang colors. You can’t wear red or blue at school. I keep repeating that in my mind, incredulous. No red or blue anymore. You can’t have them. They actually took them away. Games have been replaced by big business with small members, and red and blue have been pronounced guilty. There’s no red or blue!! Goddamnit, NO RED. NO BLUE. YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ANYMORE! I weep for them.

(You weep?)

(Yes, it’s too sad, I tell myself. It’s not their fault! I want to scream. You’ve got it all wrong! I want to explain. It’s not them, it’s us!)

(So what about ‘This Guy?’)

I’m off to sit on the john again. Fuckin’ crips and bloods, you’ll never get uppercase out of me! You tried, Tookie, at the end, but the ball you helped put in motion ran over itself.


(Cat Box…)

(That’s it? That’s all you’re giving me? I came to the bathroom for this?)


Babe is in the shower. I peek.

“Hi Babe!” she says happily, pink razor in hand and looking slippery. She looks great wet.

Her naturally curly hair is long, dark and streaked with highlights of all shades. She is beautiful, and refuses to acknowledge that fact no matter what I say. I don’t qualify to make the call, because I love her. What I hate are those pink razors—the memory of a burn from one still etched in my craw. I’ll never run out of manly razors on vacation again. No, not ever.

“I’m almost done,” which is code for: Quit looking at me so I can finish. I take my cue and smile, stretching it out a little bit. I know the exact moment is near; when the loving, slippery look of demure sexiness turns to: Shut the fucking Mickey Mouse shower curtain and go back to looking at your towel. No boddah me! I know these things, and the timing involved with letting her shower in peace before, just before, it becomes annoying. The Art of Annoyance is something I learned at an early age and perfected on an older sister. I wish my daughter Katy wasn’t better than me.

I scan Babe from the top down and say, “I love it when you’re wet.” It’s a sincere compliment, not a double entendre. When you’re sincere, you’re understood. Dale Carnegie taught me how to win friends and influence people. She couldn’t help letting a small smile slip out. I slid the curtain shut and tucked the end around so it wouldn’t drip water onto the floor. Damn I’m good.

Fuckin’ pink razors… I don’t particularly care for hair gel either. It makes a terrible face moisturizer when you pick up the wrong tube.


(Cat Box.)

(I know, I know! But what about ‘This Guy?’)


(Will you quit that shit? Please?) Pause. My towel is green.

(It’s Sea Mist.)

(I come here for inspiration and you give me chores and color palettes? What kind of shit is this?)

(Both garbages.)


(And you’re almost out of butts.)

‘This Guy—’

(Don’t think about the name yet.)

(I wasn’t.)


“Hungry, Babe?” Babe calls me Babe, too. Yes, I am hungry. We’ll have hotdogs.


‘But Hamlet was cross today, not laid back a’tall. They had taken away his Red and Blue and he was PISSED about it.’

(Hamlet? That works, I like that…)

‘But Hamlet was cross today, not laid back at all…’

(They didn’t take away his Red and Blue, that’s STUPID… oh fuck, [sigh]. Oh no, please don’t turn on the teevee…)


Babe turns on the television and scans the stations. Guys play cards… soccer barely rates a kick… some guy… Oprah looks concerned… a fly-by over basketball… forbidding weather looms over the Carolinas… Finally, Peter Pan meets Hong Kong and the hotdogs are ready.

“This is the world’s longest moving sidewalk…” the teevee says. With that, I’m sucked in. I want to rollerskate along the world’s longest moving sidewalk. I’ve always wanted to rollerskate along the world’s longest moving sidewalk and never knew it. I learn much about myself eating hot dogs in front of the teevee.


‘Hamlet was not laid back at all, he never was while watching TV. At least it had Red and Blue. And Green.’

(Just give up.)


‘It was never about anger with Hamlet, it was always Passion, he would say. That’s what he liked to call his tirades over inanity: Passion. He would have run for office but was much too sane for that…’


“Ready?” Babe asks.

“Yeah, sure. Let’s go.” We can’t leave through the front door because it’s stuck shut—what with the house titling and all. When the front door worked, Katy’s bathroom door was stuck shut. Now that it doesn’t open, her bathroom door swings open when someone walks by. Babe shuts it, we exit, and I yank the back door closed—hoping the knob doesn’t come off in my hand, again. We’re off to: The Mall, and get in the car.

“Did you bring the popcorn maker?”

I go back inside and get it.


‘Harry/Hamlet/This Guy was a schmoe, but he liked nice shirts…’

‘Macbeth needed a drink…’

(NO! NO! NO!)

“Red light!” Babe advises me.

I slam on the brakes. “Oh, sorry.”


This place isnt a Mall, it’s a fucking Metropolis. “Parking place!” Babe points it out. Hard left, hard left, hard left, handicapped… “Oh, sorry.”


Othello is laid back, he doesn’t care. He’s wearing his gorgeous new Hawaiian shirt (Aloha shirt?) and it’s a beautiful day smack dab in the middle of the Left Coast.’


(I know but I like it here.)

(Othello? Is that a sly clue that your character is black?)

(Yes! Very good!)

(Will it have something to do with the plot?)

(Probably not.) “What difference does it make?” I say out loud.

(True enough, o wise one…)

“Well, about $400 bucks after it’s towed.” Babe told me, about the handicapped parking.

Hard left, so I’m driving in squares. I stalk a shopper heading to her car, toying with the idea of asking her if she wants a lift. We have to wait while she gets in. I wave off two other cars with intent to steal. Graciously, they acquiese. I’m hoping she’s not simply eating lunch in her car.

(Remember where it is…)

I remember this Mall when it was no more than a Payless selling prescriptions, flip-flops and Xmas trees. Twenty years ago it had an Outdoors. Now it was Little China in the Astrodome. Once inside, you’re in Tiananmen Square, with a catwalk. Squirrely asides cast you into Blade Runner on a shiny, silver platter. Who was real and who was Replicant?


Odysseus and his Penelope strode purposefully, boldly forward…’


“Which way?” I asked Penelope. I was pretty sure she didn’t know.

“Hmmm…” We merged with the current and veered left, always left, where it began to sweep us around its giant curves and alleys. Too many faces, too many things to look at. To continue walking meant to leave off looking at one thing as it was supplanted with another. What is it? What is it? Shoes. Crepes. Shoes. Phones in my path. Hawker… He’ll want me to buy a phone. I look him dead in the eye. Go ahead, make your pitch.

He eyeballs the popcorn maker. “Gonna have a party, eh?”

I slow down slightly. “Nope. I prefer to sauté my kernels,” and keep walking.

“Oh…” He doesn’t know what the fuck I mean. Gadgets. Knick-knacks. Shoes. Shoes. Shoes!

“I know it’s upstairs,” Babe says. I smell cookies. We go upstairs, hard left. Round and round we go… Now we are on a Walkabout. Sports Dugout. Dresses! I like looking at the dresses. Hmmm, nice manequin! Her hair is carved. Plus, she’s got big tits for a mannequin! Nice touch. She’s hot! I check for nipples… can’t tell, but the dress is nice. I’d like to see Penelope try the black dress on but Smart Enough to Know Better kicks in and I barely hesitate past it. We have a purpose. As a long-time married man I know, or rather I am hoping, that having a specific goal of going to: The Mall, to exchange a fifty dollar popcorn maker for a twelve dollar mango peeler, shouldn’t cost me much—another reason I am happy to shop with my beloved today. My almond butter

In place of empty stores, there are giant graphics mounted on thick foam-core advertising some such shit. I’m too close to be able to read the entire message, it’s so big. Two beautiful, blonde models, bigger than Shaquille O’Neal, allow me to look down their throats. Nice, but their free-throws suck. They look like they floss. Nice gums. No gingivitis here! A teevee show is being advertised: KYLE YX. I only read it because it’s illegible in the stylized font they’ve created to add to the movie’s Terminator-like aura. I force myself to translate it like it was an eye test, though I don’t cover one eye.

“Oh look, Hawaiian jewelry! Mmmm…” I hover while Babe peels off the track for a pitstop to ‘look.’ It’s one of those concession booths, too small for its own store. It is the tiniest layer of shopping in the maelstrom around it. The most powerful. Luckily, the sales attendant is attending the phone, sitting down, talking quietly. Her blouse is slightly crooked and I’m slowly heading her direction to circle back, hopefully to collect Penelope before she lingers too long. Babe is wearing her usual accoutrements: an ensemble of gold Hawaiian bracelets, her pala’oa, a smoothe, palm tree necklace and gold rings on four fingers. The gold is beautiful against her polynesian almond-butter skin. At just the right angle, I can peer down the attendant’s blouse as I pass. I check. It may be an A cup, but it’s a nice, pale blue. I am not a pig, this is my pastime and recompense for carrying a popcorn maker across the Kalahari.

(Please don’t ask me where we parked the car…)

I’m caving in—desperate now. There’s no choice anymore, nothing else I can do. I can’t keep going like this. I can drive for hours in a Lincoln Towncar through Boston until I end up where I started but I simply can’t do it here, not carrying a popcorn maker.

Unsteadily, I raise the torn and tattered white flag: “Don’t they have Directories here?” I completely capitulate, ashamed of myself, unable to look my Penelope in the eyes. I’ve asked for a map.


“Fuck,” I whisper, it’s color-coded. It may as well be three dimensional chess. I back off, let the pro handle this, feigning ‘no glasses.’ The perfect ruse. Damn I’m good. I rarely bring them with me anywhere. That way I avoid having to read anything small and important. Babe scans and translates the menus for me, automatically dismissing what she knows I won’t be interested in. She does this for the newspaper, the National Geographic, and nearly all the current bestsellers; providing concise, incisive summary of each. Saves me a hell of a lot of time and aggravation. Don’t misunderstand; I am not an ostrich. I read headlines.

“It’s downstairs now. They’ve moved.” I knew she’d find it. We depart the catwalk and take the stairs back to the lower level. It seems that when we want to change levels the stairs are always closer than the moving stairs. (Rollerskates wouldn’t work on moving stairs.) It’s so fucking crowded down there I wish the store would move back upstairs. Where did Babe’s mother ever get the idea we needed a hot-air popcorn popper? That suddenly seems so besides the point. We’ve curved twice since our first hard left into the Great Mall of China, now we’re heading back the way we came. Theoretically. Did I say Kalahari? I meant Sahara.

Shoes! Jewelry! Sickly Sweet Smelling Sticky Buns!


Out, damned Sticky buns! Out, I say!’ saith Mac, absconding his Lady’s line while fussing at the pearly grease of cinnamon on his freshly acquired silk Aloha raiment (Hawaiian raiment?) ‘Oh, I am fortune’s fool!’

Babe looks at me strangely. “What are you laughing at?”

“Nothing, fair maiden, I am but enamoured of you.” I would have bowed if I wasn’t carrying a fucking popcorn maker.

Suddenly we’re there, halfway past it before realizing. “Here it is.” I want to cry out loud: Olly-olly-oxen-free! (check sp.) and tag the first guy I see: a young kid with a bluetooth in his ear who looks like he ought to be in The City in The Clouds on a George Lucas set.

“Hi! Welcome to the store!” he says to me brightly, cheerily. Perfect. This is a good sign. Someone who worked there made eye contact, spoke, and offered help. The fact that he acknowledged me automatically qualified him as being an authority on what I needed to know.

“Hi,” I said with a genuine smile. “We’d like to exchange this.”

“What’s wrong with it?” he wondered, jumping the gun.

“I have no idea, we’ve never opened it.”

“Oh, right this way please.” Bluetooth walked us five feet to the registers and laid it out grandly with a fine, sweeping gesture. I would have bowed but…

(Repeat conversation with another boy at the register.) “Are you on our email list?” he wants to know. In a bit of quick thinking I tell him Yes. “Zip code?” I resist the urge to say Yes again and tell him my zip code, as if I have to. It’s one of the God-awful amount of numbers and passwords I have to remember. Social security, drivers license, three phone numbers, date of birth…

“Drivers license please?” like that really needs a question mark. I wonder why he wants to see my drivers license in order to return a popcorn maker, but let it slide. He works at my credit and I make use of his captive attention while my Penelope wanders off.

“You got that mango peeler thing?” Oops, he is not a multi-tasker. The question confuses him slightly but to his credit he recovers pretty well. I am the most critical customer in the known shopping world. Oh yes, I have every right—having spent many years in Sales, living on commission. I expect your full, undivided attention every time. If the phone rings and you answer it without checking with me first you’re fucked in my book. I won’t mind making extra work for you. I will ask you if I can try this sandal in a size 12 just to make you go get it. I’m the guy who wants honey in my coffee and a penny’s worth of jelly beans… Then, I laugh behind your back—good naturedly of course.

“I think it’s over…” he’s not certain where it is and that’s fine with me. You can’t know where everything is in a store. It’s moot. Babe already has another employee in her buying bubble and they’re chatting amicably near the Spoons. She’s already got something in her hand.

“I found it, Babe!” she calls to me. I smile and turn away. I truly am glad we found a mango peeler. I love mangoes and hate peeling them. I’m happy. Now comes the hard part.

I’m given a little plastic card worth $49.95 plus a lot of mental math at 8.25 percent sales tax and make my way through the kitchen bric-a-brac to Babe. “So you got the mango peeler,” I casual. “How much is it?” She tells me twelve bucks. I tell her she has $37.95 plus tax left on her credit. I say it not as a command, mind you, but as an accountant.

She reads me perfectly. “I wish I could find a Spoon like the one that broke, remember that?” Sorta, yes. Wooden spoon, kinda short, kinda flat, brown. She’s poking through slots after having already been through the rows of different styles of Spoons littering the aisle. She and the other employee, a woman this time, have been chatting about Spoons on a level way deeper than I could ever hope to join in on. They are talking edges and shapes and depth and…

I see one and try to help. “This one sorta looks like what I remem—”

“That’s a rice paddle,” both women say to me at once with seamless, natural, woman-to-man-dismissal and continue talking between themselves. Sheepishly, embarrassed, I put it back in its slot. I’m not offended. Men do the same thing, worse. I admit it, I don’t know the first fucking thing about Spoons. Or rather, the second fucking thing about Spoons—I think I know the first, but now I’m not sure. I may even be a little confused about Spoons. Maybe I should drift away

Finally, the women agree they are talking about the same Spoon. “I got mine in France,” says the helpful, sincere, employee Spoon specialist, adding a good-natured chuckle after realizing how pompous that sounded. “So my advice is, go to France!” and we all laugh together. It was pleasant. I wanted to ask her if she’d make me a turkey sandwich. Unfortunately, the Spoon on which Babe fondly reminisces is not among the wealth and battallion of Spoons at Williams & Sonoma in our: Mall Mecca.

That’s bad. It means our mission is over; we are simply standing in a giant: Mall, with no plan. We’ll have to drift… to shop. This is where it gets expensive, any man knows this. If you don’t, it tells me you have money but don’t know women. Which means you’re a sap. But I digress…


‘This Guy…’


‘Mac and Beth wore their matching Aloha shirts and were pleasantly sipping a blue drink at the bar by the pool. It was a people-watching spot and they chatted happily between themselves while the alcohol dripped intraveinously (sp?) into their love tryst. Pink flamingoes, real ones, looked flamingo-like and, I’m assuming, never having heard one, sounded that way too.

‘Oh honey,’ Beth oozed onto Mac’s arm like an alcoholic tiger kitten and purred in his ear: ‘Wouldn’t you love to have a Cuisine de Chateau stove? Deep, midnight-blue enamel… with brass trim, stainless top, and…’’


“Oh yeah, that’s beautiful,” I agree. I don’t even want to know where the price tag is for this epicurean ‘functional centerpiece to [my] kitchen,’ this stove. “Very nice,” I say, noticing a display of CDs and sliding towards it. “Have you seen anything you want?” I meant here, in reality; rhetorically.

The CD was called New York and had Keely Smith, Mo’ Horizons and Oleta Adams. Fifteen bucks. “This looks good,” I offered my considered appraisal for Babe to decide. It was her birthday gift, the popcorn maker, so it was up to her. Also professionally married with a trained eye and perfect ear for nuance, she agreed to the CD. “That leaves twenty-three bucks… What about that cake pan I ruined not long enough ago, have they got another one here you like?” After Spoons and the rice paddle faux pas, I wasn’t about to tackle cake pans without guidance. She scoffed at the idea, brushing it off casually and moving on. Cake pan indeed! I may have crossed the line with that stupid cake pan remark. Damn, I thought I was so good… Of course not a cake pan, schmuck. That’s a kitchen gift, as far apart from a birthday gift as two different Spoons. Oh my gawd, what a rookie mistake! She is too kind by blowing me off completely and moving on. She is a Saint. She shows me Mercy. She shows me kindness. She shows me a knife block.

I blatantly reveal my naiveté about Knife Blocks. “How much is it?”

She looks at me sweetly, demurely, with her disarming, changing-room smile and says with an otherwise straight face and without hesitation: “Seventy bucks.”

I must stammer here. “I… uh… it’s what? Seventy bucks!?”

She looks at it longingly. “My knives get so dull in the drawer and this will open up some space and…”

I notice a different sort of Knife Block, the kind you put in a drawer. “How much is this one?”

“No. That’s for a drawer.” Negatory. Roger that.

“Great! Let’s get it, if that’s what you want. You’ve been talking about this a long time and…”

I’m selling her on it because she wants it and this way it looks like it’s partly my decision, too. We have bought the Knife Block together and haul it and the mango peeler to the register, where I give the young boy back the card he gave me in our pre-Knife Block and mango peeler days. We owe him $47.95 plus tax. I wondered if I could get to like hot-air popcorn and paid him.


’Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almightly I’m free at last!’ Hamlet was in rare form for a hot afternoon and put on his new silk happy-shirt with the brightly colored mixed drinks all over it to celebrate. He couldn’t remember where he parked his car but didn’t care, he was too…’


“It’s this way…” Babe knows my question before asking.


‘Odysseus and his Penelope had just negotiated the Sirenum Scopuli and were leaving the Sirens to their dalliance with Persephone. With Orpheus plucking the lyre, the Argonauts rowed them to the safety of the parking lot.’


Babe: “…red dress. I always like…”


‘Odysseus straightened his new, silk tunic.’ (Toga?)


“…looking for…”

“…those barrels and…”


‘Naught but Nyx, Chaos or Hecate!’

‘…and cast the ropes to the deck in relief. The entrance they sought was two doors down from the store. They had sailed around the world, seen many sights together, and discovered: the Mall, was round. By Circe, what wizardry is this!’


“…charms. Here we are.”

I open the car door for Babe. Not so much out of chivalry but because the door lock on the drivers side doesn’t work. It’s been busted over two years. It looks kind of cool when we’re together, so gentlemanly and all, but when you’re driving alone it looks dumb and inconvenient. I throw the Block in the trunk, strike up the beatmaster, and row home.


Later that night…

‘This Guy…’ I write, tiredly.

(This guy goes into a bar and…)

“Oh, put a cork in it…” I tell my inner, creative voice—out loud.


“What?” Babe asks. She has tired eyes. Slits are one thing, but when they start crossing she is only 3.2 minutes removed from utter narcolepsy. The National Geographic is open on her lap to the page she turned to a half hour ago. Virtually asleep, she will not lose her place. She is a sleep-reader.

“Go to bed, Lover,” I say, employing her alternate pet name. If she doesn’t, she’ll pinch her neck in the chair. Then her shoulders will ache. She’ll nap like that until 1:00 in the morning and awaken with a second wind—enough to scratch her lottery tickets for the next thirty minutes. She won $1000 bucks once. When the eyes cross, it’s too late even for that.

“I’m going to bed…” She rests her head on my shoulder and kisses me on the neck, then the lips. “I love you.”

“Sleep perfectly, Lover.” I kiss her in return, and add two new ones—one for each breast.

“You too,” she tells me, and patters off to bed unsteadily.

The house is dark. I am on the throne. I am Man and… (Yawn.)

(Yeah, me too…)

I have to chuckle a little bit, remembering earlier in the evening when I needed a knife. Of course the drawer was nearly empty, the knives having been moved to the Block. Where was that thing… ah, here we go, stashed neatly near the toaster oven, the Magic Bullet blender, the bright red Kitchenaid blender-thingy, the coffee grinder, espresso machine and two elegant and lovely bottles of oily liquid with a bunch of shit floating around in them which we never open. We don’t even know what’s in them. The closest thing to a label on either of them is a rafetta string-tie. What was I looking for? Oh yeah, the knife. Of course, by their handle they all look alike. It was easier when they were in the drawer. So this becomes one of those Man/Woman things both sexes are obligated to reconcile if they wish to cohabitate successfully for any length of meaningful time. These are the ‘little things’ they talk about the moment our God signs the wedding certificate. You know what I’m saying, men. It’s the moment you lose the Garden Section of the newspaper as a placemat. I don’t care where the hell the knives are, really, once I get used to it. In fact, I’m pretty certain I won’t even be able to find the mango peeler when I need it, but I don’t care! If it makes Babe happy, Penelope to my Odysseus, I’m happy. The place could be filled with raffeta, oily bottles of unknown substance, bread-makers and ice-cream machines; Ab-loungers, Bowflex’s, Nordic Trax or train tracks; old lottery scratch-off’s, hair gel with foreign labels or cone incense; but without her my home has no Flung Shway (or whatever the hell they call it). So long as I have my pin money, coffee, butts and a keyboard, and you throw a clam at me once in a while, I’m good. Without Babe, I am almond butter without the jelly and liable to get stuck on the roof of my own mouth.


‘This G—’


“Red snapper,” Babe says quietly, sleepily behind me. I turn around and her eyes are closed as she stands, but she has come out of bed to tell me: red snapper. I can’t help it, I have to laugh. Dinner tomorrow. Babe starts to laugh too. Feeling better, she can sleep soundly now.

“Sounds good. Sleep perfectly, Lover.”

“You too. I love you.”

“I love you too, Babe.”