Category Archives: Street of Rogues

(Excerpts from completed manuscript. Unpublished.)

Street of Rogues (Prologue)—Intro and Reverie

R Rated (language)

Street of Rogues, Intro and Reverie


Everything is true, on some level.—Maharishi Mahesh Yogi


Cinco de Mayo, 2005

So there I was, minding my own business, wondering just what my business was, anyway? I was smoking another butt, blowing what might have been my millionth smoke ring of all time and watching it get sucked through the fan in the window with nary a thought for such a one-time and propitious occasion. Unrecognized, it drifts toward the computer screen, veers to port, turns egg-shaped and exit stage left in a wimpy puff of no-glory—taking with it all my yesterdays and tomorrows—until all I was left with was the hole.

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Your youth. Remember?

I remember all right. At the time it was a damned pain in the ass. The further it slid away, the more I wanted it back. That’s what a will to live is, as I see it; it’s all about preserving our happy, carefree youth—our potential (which most of us hardly realize). I’m not here, after all, to protect my mediocrity. Eventually, after decades of ‘normalcy,’ one wonders if their glass is half full or almost done. It took me forty-nine years and eleven months to answer that question.

I’m going to be 50 next month. Being one month away vaults the idea into a new stratosphere. I hadn’t thought about it very much until now. Fifty. Am I a glass that is half full or half empty? So what? I check my body parts… Okay so maybe they suck compared to thirty some-odd years ago when I was running along rooftops, but they’re better than should be expected after what I’ve done to this poor, reliable, plod-along piece of Fine Art I call my body. Suddenly someone pulls the proverbial rug from under you and you are barred from the Pain-Free Club of Youth. My body went south two months, three days and some-odd hours after I got out of high school and showed up for a company picnic/flag-football game that I’m sure I never fully recovered from. There is no ceremony—you don’t even know you’re getting the bum’s rush while it’s happening. All you know is one day there’s another knock-knock at the door:

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Sorry, what?

Would I still run the bulls in Pamplona today? No fucking way, probably. But the mental/emotional/spiritual/sexual/sensual parts (you know, the most important parts) are all present and accounted for in full regalia. I am comfortable with my spirituality, stable with my emotions, and sexually speaking, peeping in titty bar windows still turns me on. So I think that qualifies me as a reasonably young, stable, happy forty-niner with relatively few hang-ups who may even be slightly ahead of the curve in those respects should you put them all in a blender and call it Me.

Mentally, well, I admit I may not be as big a sponge in the ocean as I once was, but I would not trade that for the life wisdom that has taken its place. At nineteen I believe I could have memorized the Bhagavatam. At 49, I’m trying to remember if I’m looking for my glasses, or what? And of course they are in my pocket or I’m already wearing them.

Daydream: I am drifting through my past 49 years (and 11 months) like a smoke ring heading toward the fan… as if my whole life is flashing in front of me and it’s taking forever. I watch myself as a toddler try to flush Kitty down the toilet. Kitty want a swirly? (She didn’t.) In my mental hot-flashes, my first girlfriend (after Betty Boop) is already impressed with my red cape and matching, big red ‘S’—and the fact that I can fly! Yes, back then I could fly! (I didn’t care for smashing through windows though, preferring them to be open already.) Child years where I cling to my mother and cry when she sends me to kindergarten for the first time, the second time, and the third. I see myself being taught by a neighborhood kid how to throw a rock the correct way and hitting the target, a stop sign, on the first try. I remember cutting school, in freakin’ Kindergarten, for twenty-six straight days—hiding in the closet when my mother came home from her secretary job for lunch.

It is the beginning of The Fear, fear even in the dream state. In my personal, mental swirly, I graduate from Raw Fear and move to a new neighborhood: More Complicated Paranoia, Queens, NY. My new school is four stories tall, made of brick, and surrounded by fences.

Visions of prisons with dank, green walls,
In them we’re led, like horses to stalls.
The pretzels are stale, the playballs flat,
Your dreams of glory are crushed like that.

A kid we made fun of for stuttering floats by in my mind. Flashes of guilt. I want to apologize; he flipped me the bird and floated on, replaced with visions of old girlfriends—like girls on trampolines! Kathy, Margaret, Ruthie, Judy, Sarah…. I am poignant for a moment with each name, then chuckle and wonder when The Man Show will be on again.

I see a teen with addictions and stupidly long hair. Oh wait, it’s me! I hardly recognize myself. I am performing all the old crimes in my past. First I am stealing from candy stores—black licorice and Bazooka Joe bubble gum. Then from department stores, clothes and record albums mostly. The clothes will never leave the store. We take them to Gift Wrapping, put a freshly stolen cashmere sweater in a box they give us for free, bring it over to the return window and trade it for cash by saying it was a gift and too small, or big, or didn’t match our eyes.

What a sweet racket that was. I smile with a little bit of shame stuck in my teeth.

Now I am breaking into drug stores at night, stealing them blind and walking away with grocery bags full of pills. I’m trading those pills for hash, pot, acid, heroin, morphan and anything else someone says will get me high. I’m stealing from friends and they are stealing from me. We are stealing anything that’s not locked down and rushing to the pawn shops with the stuff. I’m eating lobster every night and pissing away my 100-percent profit drug money on food, booze, record albums, concert tickets and more drugs. I am living the Paranoia balls-out. Cops are picking me up, frisking me, then driving away with the contents of my pockets still on their trunk. Neighborhood junkies are looking for me with no good intentions. My two-year-old brother is finding phenobarbitals on my bedroom floor, holding them up and exclaiming: Candy!

I’m busted and I don’t care. That is, it is nothing I didn’t expect to happen sooner or later. I’m floating face down in a sea of confusion, paranoia, drugs, sex, crime… and I know it will be the death of me. Try as I may, I cannot change this model of behavior. There are too many people in my life on this pattern for me to stop. I despair that I will never shed this skin until I lose the body that lies within it. Demolition sounds so peaceful by comparison. My soul wants to move ahead and my body is raising a death knell I ignore.

Friends are murdered. People are dying young. I learn to keep overdosed junkies alive by smacking the shit out of them and packing their balls in ice so they don’t fall asleep and never wake up. I see Valachi, who, as I did so with him one day, slamming him against the bathroom wall and slapping, slapping, slapping his face to keep him awake, when he rolled his eyes over, tongue lolly-gagging around in there, and said: You’re enjoying this. His image wafts by in my mind and I say: No, it scared the shit out of me, and wonder if he’s still alive. Friends are leaving for Nam and coming back junkies, or not coming back at all. I’m next. I want out and don’t know how to leave.

At sixteen I am strung out, with no hope of climbing out of the pickle barrel of Temptation I’m in and I know it. It is Death or Begone for me. I know that to be all too true. I am weak and undisciplined in my home, I need to move out. I need the fresh air of a place I have never been before to distract me from what I should leave behind in the mud I call my life. The meditating is my only peace and it is elusive and fleeting.

I lapse back into the old ways and look for heroin or The Blues every night. I am a ‘second story’ guy, breaking and entering drug stores, doctor’s offices, and all my friends’ medicine cabinets. I mainline drugs when I don’t even know what they are, hoping they will get me high. I sell stolen pills without knowing what they are, telling people what they want to hear and raking in the cash to spend on other, better, more reliable drugs.

I tell my parents I hate them for all they haven’t done. I’m on the quick path to the Ultimate Burnout of no return and can’t look back, can’t slow down… I am literally lost in the street, so much so that cops are giving me rides home. I am a limp towel between two honor guards when they knock on my parent’s door and shove me inside. Cops are taking me to my bed. I’m waking up with scabs on my head and wondering How did that get there? There are burn holes in my fingers where I have fallen asleep holding a lit Marlboro. Pills litter my floor, my bed, my drawers. Like Kitty in the toilet, I am going down in a swirly of excrement. All that’s left are the sucking, gurgling sounds.

Enter Peter Max, stage right, drifting like a cloud in the sky. Suddenly all is silent. There is a head floating above the cumulus, well into the sunshine above. It is smiling and peaceful. Better, it is inspired. I stare at the poster for a long time.

Time waits for me, standing in front of that poster. Why am I transfixed so intently on that serene smile floating blissfully above the clouds? It is because I want and need that state of mind for myself. An inspiration begins to unfold the lotus petals of my mind. It is an inspiration corroborated by the feelings of my heart. Suddenly there is hope in those clouds. I see… wait, it is becoming clearer… I see… my potential. I see the potential of all humans in that beaming, placid smile. I realize that not only can I be happy, but that it should be my natural state. I resolve that I, too, shall be a head above the clouds of this difficult, relative life of temptations. I see hope where there once was the beginning of despair. I smile the smile of relief. It is true, I know now. I know that I can, somehow, separate from all that is maya and illusion and elevate myself to a unification of serenity, inspiration, love, peace…. It is at once our potential and our destiny, our purpose. Stop the mandala, I want to get off.

I realize that perfection is possible, after all, for the human condition. Would the notion be quantifiable if it were not inherently attainable? Isn’t heaven perfection? Is it really as easy to achieve as the simple act of losing one’s body? Perfection is manifested for our viewing pleasure every waking day as Mother Nature herself—Life, the Universe and Everything, as Douglas Adams so eloquently said. I further realize that everything I think of, can conceive of, is possible to attain. Why else would it be conceivable? Truth is there for the taking—“for those with the vision to see it,” a wise man once said. I may not see the Truth yet, but I see its light through a crack in the door. And I know, finally, that there is a light and for the moment I believe it is ‘out there’ somewhere for the taking—not yet realizing it’s within me, obscured by my own shadow. If I brush away the fallen leaves, I know I will find a path within to peace. I continue to meditate.

Suddenly I am reading voraciously. I am the whale, devouring millions of printed words like they were so many Ishmael’s. I am ingesting, digesting, then sticking my finger down my throat to make room for more. My friends are now Hermann Hesse (and I am Siddhartha), Richard Brautigan (we go trout fishing together), Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller (who know my morbidly funny side so well), Baba Ram Dass (whose legendary mantra Pee Here Now can be read as urinal graffiti around the world, in English!), Leon Uris (the master biographer of the modern Jew), Tolkien (for all the fairies, elves, dwarves, wizards, demons and balrogs in my life), Tom Robbins (skinny legs and all), William Burroughs (whose Naked Lunch is the only book I couldn’t finish, out of disgust), Albert Camus (such a sweet voice!), Max Shulman! Bukowski (and his beer shits at the racetrack), Kerouac (The Over-rated), Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries, James Clavell (Tai-Pan!), Douglas Adams (a tea time for my soul), Roger Zelazny (whom I have sign my copy of Jack of Shadows), and the other giants of Science Fiction: Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Frank Herbert and Piers Anthony. I read Huxley’s Boring New World and Orwell way before his prophecy is laid to rest in 1984, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (because I felt literally, or literarily, obligated to read him), Seven Arrows (to capture my dreams), Steinbeck, as a sleeping pill, Shakespeare (so that I may speaketh in a manner of archaic romance and intrigue, shouldeth occasion requireth), Milton (never getting past Paradise Lost out of sheer depression), Dante (who’s Inferno made mine look like a bachelor party), Chaucer (we canter together and tell stories), Homer (to whom I just listen, enthralled, on the edge of my seat), The Upanishads, The Gita, The Bhagavatam, The Urantia Book (where verbiage, imagery and sound itself requires expert and enlightened interpretation), John Irving (praying for Owen Meany), Michener (a human camera into the past), Hemingway (yawn)—even King James’s version of the Bible! The only author I have literally thrown down in disgust is Herman Wouk. Through T.H. White I am The Once and Future King for a while. Van Gogh writes me letters.

And Henry Miller… especially Henry Miller. He has provided me with a new paradigm of behavior—one of many freedoms, both social and internal. He has told me I can paste cunt hairs on Boris’s chin. He has shown me a new voice and it liberates my first written words from their silent, mute source. He is also the fountainhead of my burgeoning vocabulary and reading list. I read everything he reads. I devour Dostoevsky with a fat dictionary at my side. Pasternak (and his wonderful poetry, and reading Dr. Zhivago after having already sat through the movie in utter awe, reveling in the author’s details), Celine, Rabelais (Some drink! Some drink!), Rimbaud, Tolstoy, Anais Nin, Knut Hamsun (Is it permitted to touch your muff today?) Chekov (yawns again), Nabokov… I am scouring Balzac for any references to my Street of Rogues. They are my playmates, cronies and mentors now (well, maybe not Nabokov). I have taken the Kool Aid Acid Test and emerged a Zen Motorcycle Master. My head is a sponge, my aching heart no longer a doormat. I am filling the vat of my mental attic and processing it into a heady liquor of thought, getting drunk. I am going places while sitting still…

…sitting still. That phrase lingers in my mental swirly. Like a reluctant turd it will not flush all the way. The thought hangs there like the eye of a hurricane; all at once unmoving, mute, and omnipotent. When it passes you are no longer the same person you were when it found you. The stillness changes you. You pick up your eyes and are more in awe of Life. You walk around looking like those paintings of the kids with the huge, hallowed eyes and scared expressions. If you linger long enough in the I of the hurricane and return to its center regularly you will eventually achieve a state of Perfect Awe-ness, which seeks to quantify nothing. Make it your home. Make it so that when you leave the house that day you are coming from a place of perfect calmness where there are no clocks and never have been, never will be. Be the hole in your smoke ring of life and spell it: Whole. You will find yourself laughing for no apparent reason. The sounds of life, the very vibrations of such, will play over your deepest sense of Self like the primal ooze of pure Bliss. You will float like a feather when you are Here Now, in the Eye. You will no longer be anonymous. Words like Loneliness, Fear, Despair, Shame, will be meaningless babble to you. You will hear the words: Unity, Universal Love, Inspiration, and God in their place—and the best part is you will always know where to find those things. They are in the ‘I’ of the hurrIcane, in the very middle of the word where they have always been, hidden and protected. They are in the center of the universe and the you-niverse is You.

Copyright © 2013 Mitchell Geller

Street of Rogues Ch. 1—Background Check

I’m the nine-year-old kid sitting down pointing to himself already as if to say Who, me? It was the kind of Polaroid you had to smear that pink, Chapstick-like finisher on that always smelled so intriguing. In 1964, my interests revolved around Soupy Sales, Willie Mays, The Three Stooges, and comic books.
I’m the nine-year-old kid sitting down pointing to himself already as if to say Who, me? It was the kind of Polaroid you had to smear that pink, Chapstick-like finisher on that always smelled so intriguing. In 1964, my interests revolved around Soupy Sales, Willie Mays, The Three Stooges, and comic books.

Rated PG (situations)

Street of Rogues Ch. 1—Background Check


I don’t care what they say, I won’t stay in a world without love.Peter and Gordon


When Winston Churchill resigned in 1955, life was black-and-white. Eisenhower was President. Polio was conquered. The AFL and CIO merged. Disneyland opened. The Bermuda Triangle was given a name. Ann Landers debuted, Bill Gates was born, and Oscar Mayer, who gave us baloney in a bag, died at 96. Lolita was published. CBS introduced The Johnny Carson Show. Captain Video was canceled but everyone loved Lucy and the Brooklyn Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in the World Series. As a reserved infant, I didn’t give a crap about any of this. I was sucking bottles—practicing for the cigarettes and coffee that came later.

Technically, if baby-boomers are considered to have been born in 1946 through 1964, then June of 1955, when I was born, is the dead center of those years. In 1957, my father decided to take his Commercial Arts degree from Los Angeles to Madison Avenue. His high school sweetheart, my Ma, readily agreed—that’s how badly she wanted to put some distance between us and my grandparents. One set was too controlling, while the other was busy cultivating dysfunction through beer. Then age twenty-four, Pop had landed a job at a big ad agency. He found a walk-up in Brooklyn Heights, and Ma followed with me and my four-year-old sister. At the time, they thought it was a wonderful idea. The Brooklyn Dodgers thought the opposite and moved to LA.

After several moves, eventually we settled in Queens. We lived in an attached house with a faux-Tudor façade. Now predominantly Russian, Rego Park and Forest Hills were a mixed bag of Italian, German, Jewish, Irish, and WASP back then—with a sprinkling of Puerto Rican and ‘Negro’ thrown in for color. As far as my own heritage, all I knew was that Pop’s parents were Jewish, and Ma’s weren’t. Always in the throes of searching, we seemed to be none of the above. All my relatives were in California. I didn’t know what we were, and didn’t really care except on school holidays. As far as I was concerned, sitting in Church was an uncomfortable mixture of Boredom and Fear. If I wasn’t trying to stifle a yawn, I was thinking about this “burn in Hell for eternity” thing. I just wanted to ride my bike, have fun, and be among people who were always laughing.

I was smoking by the time I was twelve and already Spinning the Bottle to kiss girls—a fifth-grade Hugh Hefner, turtlenecks and all. The drugs came later, at thirteen, in junior high school. By New Year’s Eve in ’68, I was drunk on hard liquor and asleep in a roll-top desk.

Huffing glue came next, which was always full of surprises: such as coming back to consciousness in a fountain, or finding myself in the middle of an alley in the pouring rain listening to a far-off voice repeating: Why are you in the rain? Why are you in the rain? followed by laughter and the strains of some kid practicing his trombone from an apartment window nearby. The weirdness began in those already weird enough, hormone-induced adolescent years.

By junior high the hangout had changed. New school, new hangout, more kids. In the summer of ’69 you would find two hundred people at the park on any given night. What we fondly referred to as ‘The Park’ was actually the cement playground behind the school—a monolithic brick enclosure housing 2800 kids in three grades. There wasn’t a blade of grass near it. It contained the basketball courts, handball wall, and one giant baseball ‘field’ we used for bottle-rocket wars. Upwards of fifty guys stood out there, taking sides, before throwing bottle-rockets at each other. It tested your speed, to be sure, and pushed your luck. Little did I know the park would turn out to be my Shanghai Noodle Factory—a place where I would be nowhere, doing nothing. Russell Sage Junior High School, where no one knew who Russell Sage was and, more importantly, didn’t care.

We enjoyed the park at all hours, occasionally loosening the rope around the school flagpole for a spin into nausea. We also played ‘Johnny on the Pony’ there, with fifteen or more guys on a side—where getting knocked out was common, kicked in the balls expected, and legs were broken. This was a game where one team lined up by bending at the waist and holding onto the guy in front of him and so on, leading up to the ‘pillow’—the one guy at the head of the line standing with his back against a wall or a tree, acting as a cushion. The other team stood back some fifty paces and sent one guy at a time to run and jump on the backs of the ‘pony’ to try and break the line, in which case the jumping team got to jump again. By the time the last guy jumped it was hard to hold on, so you grabbed any dangling thing that might help keep you from hitting the ground first. If the line team (the pony) held strong for a count of three after all the jumpers were on, it was their turn to jump.

Payback was brutal and oftentimes gameplay ended abruptly; cops and ambulances showing up will do that, while concussions were simply moved to the side. High flyers like George the Cuban could sail the entire length of the pony and still manage to hang on. Of course, when he went too far the pillow usually got knocked out. That was bad, because there weren’t many volunteers to be the pillow. Usually only Fish did that, and he wasn’t really volunteering. When One-Ball Paul pronounced him the park ‘Mayor,’ he took on the task more willingly but still whined. The title of Mayor implied there’d be protection along with it—from everyone but George the high-flying Cuban.

Drugs were bought and sold at the park. Fights happened. Other gangs would occasionally show up; gangs of junkies, or worse, the Irish, looking for a rumble. The swifter kids left the premises while the slow ones took the brunt. The big guys, some of them adults, stood around to watch the carnage. The speedy kids waited around the corner until the coast was clear before ambling back in small groups to take up the revelry where it had so unceremoniously left off—not unlike a flock of gulls regrouping after a widespread scatter from dogs running down the beach. Those times were the most troubling while on acid, when getting beat up would quickly bummerize a trip. I was thirteen when I took my first hit of acid, with some seventy-five or so subsequent trips over the next few years.

Soon I was no longer buying Justice League comic books but hash, pot, booze, cigarettes and glue. To supplement my allowance, I rifled the old man’s pockets for loose bus fare and subway tokens—you could cash in tokens for two dimes to rub together. When that wasn’t enough, there was always panhandling. A career day for me was making four bucks in half an hour outside the busy 34th St. subway station. What a haul!

Then came the amphetamines.

Imagine a teenage boy, in great shape from playing handball for three to eight hours every day, riding a bike all over creation and often locking it up, getting on the train to Manhattan and walking another ten miles on any given night, imagine the energy he has when given a couple three-grain Dexedrines! In a group, chain smoking a pack each off just one match, we had to take turns talking because NONE OF US COULD SHUT UP WE JUST KEPT TALKING AND TALKING and little balls of spit would form in the corners of our mouth but you didn’t wipe it off because it just came back again anyway and BLAH BLAH BLAH all through the night without any commas until day broke and you could see the soot from the incinerators floating down to earth and you knew it was going to be oppressively hot and another day which began with the question WHAT DO WE GET HIGH ON NEXT? Depression, the cotton mouth of an ashtray, the burrs in the eyes, they all came with the humidity of another summer’s morn.

Then came the barbiturates.

A drunk without the barf, how cool is that? In those days, pharmaceutical Seconal and Tuinal sold for three for a buck (an ‘ace’) on the street. You only needed two, otherwise you were worthless, so it made better sense to buy six for a deuce and split it three ways. Cheap high, and nothing hurt, ever. I fell asleep once holding a lit smoke and woke up with the filter butt, hollow and cold, between my fingers—and a raw burn-hole just above my fingernail.

On the heels of barbiturates came heroin and Blue Morphan, winter drugs. With a five dollar tab of pharmaceutical Blue Morphan (essentially morphine) you could weather a blizzard in a tank top. Mainlining was the only efficient way to truly take advantage of either. Over those five years, thirteen through seventeen, it got so that anything was worth trying to get high. At parties we scanned the parents’ medicine cabinet in the bathroom for anything ending in -al or -drine. Stuff we weren’t familiar with was taken first and asked questions about later—in one case ending up with blood pressure pills and ‘snappers,’ amylnitrate, which was used for jumpstarting someone’s heart if necessary. If I snorted one now I’m pretty sure my heart would explode, but at fifteen it was a nice, if short, rush. Romilar cough syrup, Carbona cleaning fluid, even separating the codeine granules out of a Contac capsule wasn’t too far beneath us. We were idle hands in the Devil’s pharmacy.

At fifteen I already had a moustache and long hair. Well, big hair would be more accurate. It didn’t grow long, it grew wide. Approaching six-feet tall, I weighed 110 pounds—in wet clothes. I was gaunt and haunted looking, maybe even a little scary. I looked old enough to be served in many bars in the city, which was eighteen at the time. My life revolved around scheming for drugs and keeping away from the Bad Guys in the neighborhood. And getting laid, of course.

My closest friends were all older than I was by at least a year, left back in school until we were all finally in the same grade, in the dumbest classes. My ninth-grade class consisted of druggies, rumblers, the dyslexic, the narcoleptic and epileptic, and the school basketball team. Classes were numbered from the smartest to the ‘most likely to fail.’ Our class, the last one, was 9-11—a numeric connection to future calamity. Teachers were afraid of us. Administrators left us alone in our cage with them—their backs against the wall and sometimes even shoved into a closet for the period.

Nothing was sacrosanct. We stole freely from each other. If someone pissed you off, even a little, it was okay to steal his TV or parents’ camera and pawn it downtown. Even if they didn’t piss you off, what they wouldn’t know couldn’t hurt us. Eventually the only Golden Rule was: Never give names to the cops. It was the pirates’ code; defy that and you’re fucked.

Friends, jonesing for smack, were stabbing friends over sour drug deals and leaving them to die in the bushes. Tough guys were murdered by tougher guys, or by cops. Jew, German, Irish, Black, Cuban—it didn’t matter, the Unbreakable broke. In those five years, the thieving got worse, the winters colder every year, and young teenagers were scattered in bars across the city like seasoned barflies with their heads down, nursing beers to keep from the cold, and scheming, always scheming.

By 1970, the era of “love the one you’re with,” the draft was in full force. Our once-proud cast of hundreds who gathered in the coliseum we called our park was losing the battle of attrition to jobs, Nam, murder, jail, and fleeing to Florida or California to escape prosecution for such crimes as possession and sale of drugs, breaking-and-entering, armed robbery and sometimes worse. Some fled to Canada after getting draft notices. Some went off to college, mostly party schools like New Paltz in upstate New York, where the beer was cheap and the girls plentiful—or maybe it was the other way around. I don’t know because I never went to college.

It was only a matter of time before my luck ran out, I knew that for a fact. It helped to have a dream.

Street of Rogues Ch. 2—The Dream and The Reality

Street of Rogues, Chapter 2—The Dream and The Reality

When you find yourself in the thick of it, help yourself
to a bit of what is all around you. —


It was a school day during the spring of my fourteenth year. At the time, I didn’t realize I had awakened with a présage—a sketch of my destiny. Ever since that otherwise normal night’s slumber, I used the following dream to bolster my faith that I would find true happiness. It dragged me in like a whirlpool, this search for Happiness, employing all manner of obsessions to attain it; dropping hints along the way that were no more than a Peter Max poster, a mantra, and an itinerary.


The Dream:

It was a summer evening in the city that never sleeps; life seemed to be glowing from within. People were behaving no longer as passersby, but more as a part of the Family of Man. As I strolled the balmy evening streets, the air palpable and thick, strangers became brothers and sisters. I caught them smiling at one another and at me, the way they did in genteel Victorian times while parading the boulevards with their parasols, fine top hats and monocles. Back then you were acknowledged on the NYC streets at eye level by your fellow man. In my Dream, humanity was suddenly and inexplicably transformed into one loving family.

Lovers passed by, oblivious to all and crooked together like swans floating blissfully on the still surface of an alpine lake. Others sat in warm coveys on park benches. Slowly tracing a path with no destination in mind, I strolled behind several silhouettes sitting in relief against the Metropolis skyline—a hot and cold, gray-on-blue outline spotted with twinkling lights. Edward Hopper could have painted the scene.

Although I was alone, my heart swelled with the certain knowledge that a great fulfillment was coming to me. The Promised Land of Happiness would be mine, and soon. I couldn’t nail down the specifics of what was going to happen in my dream, who among us can do that? Dreams are beyond control. All I knew was to keep walking…

Keep going forward and follow the heart. The thought came to me: Reach out, there’s something here for you. Keep walking and enjoying the moment. Everyone seemed so blissful in my dream, as if a long-fought battle was finally won and calm fulfillment the order of the day.

Musing along my undefined, pathless path, I glided into the Tunnel of Love. Before I would ever grasp the mechanics of the change, it was upon me: Primal Love, with its full complement of joy at my command, where I floated my own little boat in a heart-shaped Playland of dreamy shadows and gradating pinks. Emerging from the other side, I was reborn. A feeling of confidence and power welled up inside me. Like Dorothy in Oz, I had found Technicolor.

Then I knew why I had come into such grace: it was a preparation for the fulfillment of a promise made to my soul, an assurance made to me by God Himself that for every person there was a mate with whom to explore eternity. It was a remembrance of something I had once known and forgotten. I had found love in its essence, all I needed now was to find my soul-mate.

Keep walking… and as I did, Gotham City morphed to become Paris. I watched myself like a security camera, from behind, walking a bicycle down a cobblestone street. A backpack on my shoulders, my feet would not touch my dream lane. I knew innately this was the City of Love, as many had said. It was revealed by its light and infused the air with giddy flavors.

Rows of flats on either side of me glowed a sunrise pink. Filigreed iron rails boasted beautiful, flowering vines. Some had delicate bird cages holding fluttering finches, busily adding their song to life. Even a few spider monkeys were swinging around, effortlessly gliding from window to railing to pick a blossom and stare boldly into warm, inviting rooms. Light morning breezes sweetened the air, sending lace curtains to wave through open windows.

A big-busted woman softly spilling over her windowsill scrutinized me from above, smiling broadly at my inspired state. I showed my overflowing heart through the SMILE on my face. She called to her neighbor and said something about me to her in French that I couldn’t understand, then they both smiled and watched me pass.

As I approached the next corner, a market square busy with vibrant life slowly unfolded before me. I savored the moments, sweetly tantalizing myself before the Promised One I hoped would appear. I could feel that life was at a peak here; the market was the center of the universe and thick like honey. I surfed with the flow. Everything my eyes alighted upon was transformed, blessed, left enhanced after my acknowledgement.

Here was where we would find each other, a pair of souls made from the same stuff, to share in discovering the sublime secrets of life together—the Promised Answers that are no less than best friends to The Questions. We would mirror and inspire each other, and I wanted this destiny to take place now. There was a street sign; the letters were clear.

Rue du Rogues. This had to be the place.

I parked the bike at a lamppost and moved into the life-stream toward a small stall selling hot food, the scent drawing me there. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but doing something specific wasn’t important. I knew that to be true even with the compulsion to keep moving. Peering through the crowded streets, I made my way to the counter. Then I saw her, busily cooking over a grill. It didn’t take much to know; I only needed to see a small piece of the soul I hoped to find. A hand or a finger would have done just as well, or an eyelash. Without so much as a thought, I reached out with my heart to call to her. Not a beat passed before she turned, looking for me, scanning the crowd.

Over here, I thought. One heartbeat sounded as our eyes finally locked. A thousand-petaled lotus of love blossomed. It opened fully, enveloping us with a robust and essential love that was at once healing and petrifying. I could hardly stand still enough, so as not to disturb the fragile perfection of the moment. She SMILED, a beacon of light, and in doing so sealed my soul to the Perfect Ending.

Removing her apron, she came toward me as if she were a vignetted figure emerging from a photograph. People instinctively avoided crossing our path, as if Moses himself parted the crowd. She came so close it seemed we were sharing the same space. When she took my hand, I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want the bubble we were in to break. I couldn’t speak. She raised up on her tiptoes and kissed my cheek reassuringly. As that moment stretched and lingered, I knew we were permanently bonded. We both turned to walk into Life’s Fulfillment as two pieces of the grand puzzle fit perfectly together, helping to make it the whole, universal picture—never to be separate again. Our Love vibrating in harmony with the Cosmos, I watched us walk away from loneliness for the last time.


The Reality:

“Bacon’s ready!” called Ma from upstairs.

At thirteen, for the first time in my life I actually woke up on a school day refreshed and even inspired. I opened my eyes as if for the first time, wearing a huge SMILE. Even a school day couldn’t dampen my exaltation. I stayed in bed, allowing the feeling to continue washing over and through me—cleansing, I felt, as it did. I rarely remembered any of my dreams, but this one would linger for a lifetime. I knew I would never be the same.

Now I had, through my dream, certain knowledge of what love felt like—the primal stuff that’s independent of two peoples’ wishes and illusions but simply Is. I must have inadvertently remembered it was there for the taking, through some quirky wrinkle in my dreamlife’s fabric. I may have gone to some parallel universe or another dimension or something… Whichever, it certainly didn’t seem like normal reality anymore.

This must be Paradise Regained, I philosophized, never having read Milton’s great work but remembering the title from English class. I thought of the cute Miss Liptone, my English teacher. She never smiled enough.


Not only did I know that I wanted ‘something’ in my life, I knew what that ‘something’ was. I gained a subliminal direction. I often recalled this dream. What would it be like to go to Europe to find my ‘Rue du Rogues,’ my misspelled présage (that should have been ‘Rue des Rogues’), to hear new languages and walk about freely, to see other places and do other things that were prescribed by ME for a change? In doing so, I was pre-visualizing my destiny.

In my mind, The Rue du Rogues was my destination as well as my destiny. I couldn’t wait to feel the cobblestone streets underfoot and smell the European morning foods. Secretly I loved the impatient anticipation of it all, of That Which I Had Coming. When I thought about it on a conscious level, it put a little Gene Kelly in my step—reminding me of my premonition of finding true happiness. I was promised! The feeling transcended ordinary life; I felt above it all, released from the gray area of confusion I thought of as living. (Where are the answers? Come to think of it, what are the correct questions?) As I grew older, when I thought about my dream all the doubt-filled hopes about my future coalesced into anticipation of great things to come. The memory lingered like a perfume.

Street of Rogues Ch. 10—The Chinese Bar

Rated PG (Language, situation.)

Street of Rogues, Chapter 10—The Chinese Bar


“I don’t like jail, they got the wrong kind of bars in there.”—Charles Bukowski.


Wedged between those glory days of hardy-partying, I tend to overlook how bored we felt most of the time in those, ‘The Blunder Years,’ of my youth. School was busy teaching us to fall in line, shut up, and memorize. Parents left us alone and time seemed to hang heavy on our hands. Playing cards and handball pretty much filled in the blank spots—and drinking cheap beer and wine (which created a few blank spots).

If I combine all the long, boring days and divide them into equal parts, I find a Chinese bar with free hors d’oeuvres. We hung there many a night, mainly because they served us, but also because the clientele was slightly less seedy than Mitchell’s bar up the street (which was mostly old men in trenchcoats and one guy wearing an ascot who liked young boys)—the bar where Frankie the Bum fell asleep, was tossed outside in the cold and never woke up.

On a cold night, the Chinese bar was warm. On hot nights it was still warm, but had a soft spot for your butt at least; and it cost you a buck and a quarter for a draft pull of Bud in order to stay. It also had a juke box, which turned out to be a non-essential luxury item when you were already grubbing change for beers. With my ten-dollar-a-week allowance—a pittance, barely allowing me a few nights worth of pot, three packs of butts and four quarts of beer (or two nights of acid)—I had no hope of maintaining a ‘budget’ to last the week. If I wanted a five-dollar concert ticket and a tab of acid, I was broke the day I took the bill out of Pop’s hand and rifled through his coats for more change on my way out the door. In all cases, I was begging and borrowing by Sunday.

We’d start on cheap, store-bought quarts of beer—or screwtop bottles of wine—before going inside and taking up space for hours at a time with our one or two 12-ounce bar beers, listening to Levon and Billy Preston’s Outta Space with every extra quarter and trying to gigolo local patrons into buying us a beer every so often. It didn’t matter that I was fifteen and most of my close friends were no more than sixteen. We all looked older than our years, and a little run-down at times. I had the moustache going for me and the rules were lax. Except the titty bars—they were strict.

Sammy, the barkeep, looked out for some of us. I don’t know why, since we hardly bought anything, spilled a lot of what we did buy, barfed occasionally in the stairwell to the bathroom (Chuckie always blamed me) and never tipped. He was the greatest barkeep I ever knew.

“No mo’ fo’ you! No mo’ fo’ you!” he said to Lorraine, waggling his finger in her face while he wiped the bar clean of her beer spill. Chuckie, Lewis and I sat at the bar and watched Sammy’s slitted eyes disappear into two thin lines. “You spill two and no mo’!” Most of us illegals were quiet and respectful, so he’d let us stay. We didn’t want to risk blowing a good gig with the free hors d’oeuvres. To this day, I can’t find a shrimp toast that compares.

Sammy replaced Lorraine’s beer (who was now down to her last strike), gave her a fresh glass of ice, and ambled over to our end of the bar—clearly disgusted. Lewis and Chuckie had their heads together, scheming about how to get some pills while I concentrated on the beer nuts, only half-listening. Sammy spoke to me, “See her at the end of the bar?” He nodded in ‘her’ direction. A pale, sixty year-old grandma sat behind a mixed drink, smoking a cigarette and nervously swizzling her stick. “She pays,” he said. “She gonna reave soon, too.”

I watched Grandma’s jerky movements and darting eyes. She didn’t look like a happy, normal, well-adjusted person should look. Psychotic, neurotic alcoholic. That’s how I wrote her off in my head, especially if she hung out in this place—which was populated mostly by droopy barflies. I was more of a barfly on the wall, still in the cocoon of invulnerable adolescence. I knew this wasn’t the long-term me.

“Pays for what?” I finally asked.

At first Sammy looked taken aback, but quickly recovered and flashed a big smile. “Ha-ha! You funny-man! I see…” as if I had made a joke. He looked back at Grandma, who was stubbing out her smoke. “Seriousry, man,” he whispered to me on the sly, “she gonna reave now!” Grandma was putting her Salems in her handbag. “Yes?” Sammy wanted to know of me.

“Nah, I don’t think so, not this time. Maybe next time. Thanks anyway,” I told him, replying politely but generically enough to cover up my naiveté. At the rate we were tipping, you had to thank him for everything at least once anyway—even if you didn’t understand what he was talking about.

Sammy looked disgusted as Grandma got up to leave. “Ach! Don’t unnerstan’ you. She pay if you go with her!” He wanted me to gigolo her! Oh, god… No! I admit to being a horny teenager, but I wasn’t that desperate. Sammy knew I had the most gorgeous girlfriend in the neighborhood, Margaret, but this one paid for it! I almost had to gag in the stairwell and blame Chuckie for it.

“Nah, kinda tired tonight…”

He shook his head, grabbed the bar towel and muttered his way to the other end of the bar.

There were some pretty cracked cases at Sammy’s bar. Cracked case in point: Chuckie and I were sitting at a table when this big guy teetered over and just stood there, peering down at us. Solemnly, without saying a word, he reached into his pocket, pulled out some change and a matchbook and held it in his giant, outstretched hand. I was hoping he was offering us the loose change (I didn’t need the matches), but didn’t trust the black, vacant look in his eyes as he stared down at us—as silent and unmoving as the Lincoln Memorial. We waited cautiously for him to say something until he finally challenged us with how he didn’t have anything to do with our money, and that he’d knock us down to our knees and kill us if we thought he did. He looked deadly serious, too. We had no clue where he was going with this, but we didn’t have any money.

“Hah?” we tried to reply. Then Chuckie got his fight-or-flight thing going and, pissed off now, screamed at the guy: “Hey man, we’ll pull you outta here by your fuckin’ hair, man, and stomp on your fuckin’ head! Get the fuck outta here, prick!” It took a lot to piss Chuckie off, but I was glad to see it just then. The big guy looked slightly chagrined, then turned and teetered out the door like a blank clone.

Chuckie and I looked at each other. “Shit,” I said, “I think Lurch had his body snatched.”

Just then the door flew open with a Bang! I jumped and looked over to see a dwarf stick his head inside. “All right,” he bellowed, “all you people in here owe me money!” It shut the place up for a second while all the barflies wondered: What the fuck? “All of you!” he screamed, pointing at all of us in a wide arc. Then he left, exit stage right.

I turned to Chuckie, “Is it my imagination, or did he sound like Sinatra?”

“What is it with people tonight?” he wanted to know.

“Remind me why we hang out here, man.”

“Because they let us,” he reminded me, shoving another shrimp toast in his mouth.

Rosie came in and took her place on a stool by the juke box. She laid a pack of cigarettes on the bar, put her purse at her feet and smiled at Sammy, who immediately went to fix her usual gin and tonic. Rosie was pushing forty-five but in a friendly, sexy way. Her favorite book was The Carpetbaggers and we both smoked Marlboro, back when they only came in one color. I slid next to her at the bar as she took a smoke out of her pack.

“Hiya Rosie,” I said, flipping my lighter open.

“Hello! Why, thank you! Care for a cigarette?”

I smiled. “Well, since you’re offering…” I took one and sat down.

Lorraine was silent at the other end of the bar. No longer a spring chicken and already three sheets to the wind, she staggered off her stool and walked unsteadily toward us, eyeing me lasciviously. Using several empty stools as well as Chuckie and Lewis along the way for balance, she wrapped her arms around my neck, pulling me off the bar stool. I knew what was coming and smiled weakly at Rosie. Lorraine enjoyed pronouncing to all and sundry that I “might be young,” but I “knew how!” I did know how, but not with Lorraine. For her I suddenly drew a blank. With her arm draped around my shoulders, mostly for support, she said for all to hear, “He might be young, but he knows how! Ha-ha!” and put her face close to mine. “Wanna hambugger at my place?”

I stalled. “Uh… On a bun?”

“Any way you want it, honey.”

“I’m kinda stuffed on shrimp toast and peanuts right now….” I told her, squirming onto my stool.

It was sad, but the barflies accepted us for what we were so we owed them the same courtesy. Especially since Lorraine bought me a beer from time to time and taught me you could put an ice-cube in it if it wasn’t cold enough. Plus, it’s hard not to like someone who likes you. Life for these people was essentially an ongoing nothing-going-on syndrome. Ask any one of them a serious question and you’d find they had dozed off, dreaming of a holiday someplace nice.

Lorraine wobbled back to her stool by Richie, a grizzled regular, and continued talking loudly while straightening her tight skirt. In the process, her blouse slipped a little at the shoulder, revealing a dingy bra strap. Lewis and Chuckie slid over with their glasses of Bud and sat next to me and Rosie. Rosie watched Lorraine, who was chattering about Yankee the horse to a very bored-looking Richie.

Rosie scowled, “What the hell is she talking about?”

“Ha?” Chuckie rarely said more than one word in public, but ‘Ha’ had several meanings. With a question mark, it meant ‘What?’ On the phone, ‘Ha’ meant ‘Hello.’ With an exclamation point, it meant ‘Bullshit!’ A plain ‘Ha’ could either mean he was agreeing with you, or wasn’t listening.

I leaned closer to Rosie, trying to be conspiratorial and cozy, “She’s telling the story of Yankee the horse.” Rosie smelled good, too. I enjoyed being cozy with Rosie. “Unfortunately for Richie, he’s already heard it several times.” Rosie laughed, a deep one that reeked of sensuality. I wished she would make me a hambugger. I’d put it in her cleavage and eat with no hands. Then I’d ask to see her buns. I chuckled.

Rosie smiled, “Is it funny?”

I shook my mind out of Rosie’s cleavage and summarized the story of Yankee the horse, as told by Lorraine. “Yeah, actually it is. She shwears it’s true.”

“It’s bullshit,” Lewis said.

“Ha,” Chuckie agreed, and sipped his king of beers.

“Still, it’s a pretty good story, ya gotta admit.” I told Rosie about Yankee the horse, who lived in Scotland and loved two things in life: mash and kids. Every day, Yankee saw the kids off to school, and was there to greet them when the bus returned. One day he got out of his field and went to the brewery, where he found large piles of mash, got pitifully drunk—”

“Sheeeee… pish-ass drunken ol’ sot. Yep. Drunker anna… anna… sumpin’,” Lorraine yelled in Richie’s deadpan face, loud enough to be heard a dozen stools away. Richie was in faraway Barbados, thinking about tan women in white bikinis carrying buckets of Bud.

Lewis was adamant, “That’s bullshit. Horses don’t get drunk on mash.”

“Yeah, and you’re an expert, I know,” I said. “Eddie’s the one to ask.”

“Ha!” Chuckie laughed.

I continued in Rosie’s ear, “Yankee was waiting when the bus arrived, allegedly drunk. When the kids saw him, they begged him to come over so they could pet him through the windows.” Rosie nodded, appearing still interested, but glanced at her nails.

Richie said something to Lorraine. “Fuckiff I know!” she screamed.

“But,” I went on, “Yankee decided he’d rather board the bus! And before the driver could close the door, he walked inside.” I could sense another Bullshit! coming, this time from Rosie. “Wait, it gets better. He walked up some of the steps, but he couldn’t make the turn into the bus, see?” Rosie could understand that it might be a difficult maneuver for a horse. I couldn’t see how even a sober horse could make the turn. “So Yankee went to sleep right there on the steps, sorta half in and half out. What a pain in the ass, huh?” (Moral: never let a drunken horse attempt to board a bus.)

There was a predictable pause before Rosie spoke the inevitable. “That’s it?”

Lorraine fell forward onto Richie, who saved his beer from tipping over in the nick of time. “Ha-ha-ha! Moofed him to Louisville! Yep-up!” She was hanging onto his arm while he tried to keep his beer steady and change hands.

I had to laugh. “Don’t you think that’s funny?” Rosie was politely amused but no, not really. “It’s better when Lorraine tells it,” I said, looking in Lorraine’s direction. Richie excused himself and headed toward the bathroom.

Lorraine was animated. “Hey! Less go skiing!”

Rosie turned on her stool, “I’m gonna play the juke box.”

I told Lorraine that we couldn’t go skiing. It was June. Besides, none of us could ski.

Lorraine looked crestfallen. “Aw, yer so cute…. I’m pretty-goo-too!”

“What?” I turned to Lewis and Chuckie for help. “What did she say?”

Lewis translated. “She said you’re cute.” He and Chuckie laughed. “And, she’s ‘pretty good, too.’”

“Yep-up! I went down this REALLY BIG MOUNT’NIN!” Lorraine shouted down the bar, out the door and halfway across Queens Boulevard. We had to cover our ears it was so big! She stared at us, each eye wandering off in different directions. “I cudden see SHIT, my gog-ules were fudsing…”

I appealed to Lewis for another translation. “Her wha? Was wha?”

“Her goggles were… fudsing, I guess.”

“Oh.” I figured it was a skiing term.

“I went ZING!” Lorraine thrust her hand down the slopes, knocking over Richie’s beer.

Sammy wasn’t too happy. “No mo’ fo’ you! No mo’ fo’ you!” He hurried over with a bar rag. We shook our heads. What a waste of Bud.

Lorraine looked sufficiently contrite. “Fuckin’ fondaloop…”

“What’s a fondaloop?” Lewis wondered.

“It’s a skiing term, like ‘fudsing.’” I said.

The juke box fired up with a Perry Como song, “It’s al-l-l-ways fair weather, when hep cats get together…”

Rosie returned and sang along. “A hubba-hubba-hubba, hello Dad….”

Lewis nudged me with his elbow and leaned closer, his eyes big and bright, “Tomorrow’s Chuckie’s birthday. We’re gonna rob a drug store. Want in?”

“Well-a hubba-hubba-hubba, let’s shoot some breeze. Say, what-ever happened to the Japanese?”

I peeked across Lewis at Chuckie. “Ha?” He raised his eyebrows and took another sip of beer, indicating his blessing of the idea.

I thought about it. We had no idea how to rob a drug store. Still, it was his birthday… “Of course,” I told Lewis, and took a sip to seal the deal. My logic was simple. If we couldn’t figure out a way inside, then nothing was lost. However, if I didn’t go with them and they succeeded, I wouldn’t get a split.

Lorraine dropped her cigarettes all over the floor and was fishing around on her hands and knees for them. Richie got back from the bathroom, looked at the bar and said, “Hey, where’s my beer?”

The juke box blared, “It was might-y smoky over Tokyo…”

Street of Rogues Ch. 6—Exploding Invisible Goldfish

Rated R (language and situations)

Street of Rogues Chapter 6—Exploding Invisible Goldfish


I’m sure the reason such young nitwits are produced in our schools is because they have no contact with anything of any use in everyday life.—Petronius (d. circa 66 CE), The Satyricon.

I greeted Kleinberg outside the side door of the Junior High School we knew as the Titanic. “Wha’s happ’nin’, man?”

“Nuthin’, man.” We slapped hands. For all his high-strung unpredictability, Kleinberg just wanted to have a good time like the rest of us. I seemed to give him a few laughs, and in return for that he usually had a smoke for me when I needed one.

“Yo, Chuckie.” (Grunt.) “Yo, Sullivan.” (Giggle.) Hand slaps for everyone as I made my way up the line of forlorn faces getting ready to step into quicksand. “What’s on the menu today?” I asked, meaning, What’s the drug du jour?

I got the typical answer, followed by the usual question. “I don’t know man, nuthin’ I guess. Got any money?” Kleinberg knew I wouldn’t have any to speak of. I was lucky if I had a pack of smokes with enough left over for a Devil Dog and a package of black licorice Nibs. My finances at the time depended heavily on a meager allowance and loose change from Pop’s overcoat. It looked like another depressing day until Lewis came running up all breathless and sweaty, with glassy eyes and enlarged pupils. He blurted out the news in one gulp: “Robby Plott’s got this mescaline and guess what—it tastes like chocolate pudding powder and comes in this horsecap for five bucks and he won’t be there long and—”

“What!? Where is he now?” We needed to know at once, it was nearly time to go inside.

“Candy store, but we have to move fast. He’s leaving after his breakfast.” The five of us sprang from the gate en masse, as if a start gun had gone off, and beat feet up the street. It wasn’t often that I had five bucks on a school day, but I did have some contacts up that way I hoped to find as I sprinted along with the pack. We burst into the luncheonette candy store puffing hard-earned wind and scanned the stools for Robby. He was still there, finishing his English Muffin and egg-cream soda. Just as I had hoped, an old friend named Roth was also there. He was a good buddy from last year and due for a touch.

I always liked Roth. I used to spend the night at his house from time to time watching The Late Show movie on one of the three broadcast stations that constituted TV back in 1969. We’d eat Mallomar cookies and wash them down with real seltzer water—the kind Moe, Larry and Curly used with the trigger on the bottle. His parents were Jewish Hungarians with concentration camp tattoos to prove it. They were hard workers, the lot of them. While the rest of us were atrophying on smokes, booze, glue and chemicals, Roth and his brother got real jobs in their father’s produce business. Before long, both brothers were driving their own Monte Carlos.

Roth, me and a kid named Masloff—born of an Argentinian mother and a Nazi father— were inseparable for a time in seventh grade. Roth knew Masloff since grade school. For a full ten-month school year, Roth told me, they fought every Friday after school. It wasn’t anti- semitic on Masloff’s part, he was just a fiery kid who always got into fights. He’d fight anyone, usually did, and lost those bouts regularly. Routinely, Roth slowly removed his glasses and beat the shit out of him.

“The kid never learned!” Roth said with a laugh. That summer, Masloff finally cooled off and he and Roth became best friends. When Masloff died in a sailboat accident (he went sailing with someone who couldn’t swim, was knocked unconscious and overboard by the boom and drowned), Roth was the first one at his funeral—respectfully in suit and tie. That demonstrated a certain character to me which I quietly applauded.

Plus, he lent me a deuce, after I promised I wouldn’t say where I got it—which was a lot faster than panhandling ten, twenty-cent subway tokens. I was still short, but had one remaining chance of buying in if my girlfriend would show up at her usual time. Margaret lived across the street from the luncheonette in a thirty-story apartment building and, always fashionably late for school, was due to pass there any moment.

Christened Margaret Mary Magdalene Saint, she was the most voluptuous girl in school. At fifteen she was already a stunning woman. She had long, dark wavy hair, a full body, and swayed her hips sweetly when she walked. Her face was heart-shaped and had two blue glowing stars for eyes. Smiling all the time, she laughed with a grand gusto and held her liquor as well as the best of us, which she often proved. She may have been rough-cut, but she was genuine diamond. We loved each other deeply, and to this day I consider Margaret my first, true love.

The dicey part of our intermittent five-year affair was the fact that her father hated me. It was ironic, but most of my friends’ parents thought I was the rotten apple of the crowd, the big- haired instigator of everything. Unfortunately for us, Margaret’s father and I met before we were properly introduced. It was early in our friendship, and I’d gone with some guy to visit her in the old apartment she lived in. For some reason, this guy always went around in a straw hat and cape. I don’t remember his name; what was his trip anyway? I didn’t ask and never found out. In any case, as we sat on the lobby couch waiting for Margaret to make a chance appearance, this short, stocky guy comes over, takes a look at me and my hair and my pal in his straw hat and cape and says: “Whatta youse want?”

I didn’t know who he was, or that he was the Supe and Margaret’s father (The Supe was how we referred to all Superintendants, and they were a pretty dangerous lot if they caught you swimming in their pools at night or playing around in the elevator rooms. Some of them carried whips!), so I said something very much like: “Hey, it’s a free country, pal. If you don’t like it then take a hike.” The next thing I knew we were tossed out the front door by the scruffs of our necks.

Margaret described the encounter to me later, about how some ‘clods’ mouthed off to her Sicilian, connected father, who had a part-time business running vans full of unstamped cigarettes up from the Carolinas to re-sell in the city, and did I have any idea who the morons were? When I told her Yes, it was me, I believe that was when she fell in love with me. However, it would be years before I would ever see the inside of her apartment, and only when Cosa Nostra was in the Carolinas picking up butts.

Half Irish by her mother, who called her Margie, she was the oldest of five kids and sometimes took care of her baby sister—something I resented at first because two-year-olds need this constant attention, and it distracted my make-out concentration. Ultimately, I had to give up those designs and resigned myself to watching Margaret push a swing with little sister Kip on it. Somewhere along the line as I watched, I realized that this was one of the qualities I loved about Margaret—the way she knew how to nurture and love people. It showed in how easily she made friends, even in the way she walked. Her sultry stride was all at once casual, thoughtful, happy and sexy. She walked without a self-conscious bone in her beautiful, womanly body. I loved to watch her coming up the street to the park with those swaying hips; emerging from her building, walking toward the luncheonette like a cat on the prowl. I was The Thin Man to her Myrna Loy. Thank God she was being late on time! I ran over to intercept her. She smiled demurely when she saw me approaching.

“Hi Baby.” A little kiss. “Lemme see yer purse.” I started rummaging around in there, past the Kools, the lipstick, hairbrush, mirror…

“Gimme that!” She grabbed it back. “How much you need?”

“How much you got?” She had the fin so I traded her Roth’s deuce for it, coming out three bucks ahead. “Gotta fly, Baby. Seeya! Thanks, yer the best!

“Whatta my gonna do for lunch?” she wanted to know, following me with big, blue, rapidly receding eyes as I made the dash back to Robby’s pudding-flavored mescaline.

“Get from Julie, she always has money! Seeya at lunch?”

“K.” She waved, and I was a happy boy.

“Plott’s Pudding” did taste similar to chocolate pudding powder, but performed a hell of a lot better. By the end of the first period of class I was fully on it—a mellower hallucinogen than the Sunshine, Brown Dot, Blue Cheer, Barrels, LSD 25 and other Owsley-brand acids that were more prevalent at the time. It didn’t seem right, having to sit in a double period of science on Plott’s Pudding first thing in the morning.

Even when I was straight I could never make a formula balance on both sides of the equals sign. There were only three people in the class who could do that; the rest of us had been guessing at the answers for the past three lessons. Sullivan happened to be one of the three who understood it, and it was pissing the insane Mr. Gerble off. (I think he had shell-shock from The Civil War. If you dropped a textbook, he ducked.) Gerble kept throwing harder equations at him and Sullivan kept rattling off the solutions from his head, adding a shrieky, mescaline giggle after each correct answer. When Gerble asked him to explain himself he’d rattle that off, too, adding things like: “It’s obvious…” followed by another shrieky giggle. He was starting to piss me off.

In my seat in the last row by the window, I returned to gazing outside—where it was threatening another autumn storm, getting windy and darker. Construction workers were beginning to leave the site where I’d been watching them build a huge, centralized cop station directly across from the school’s front entrance. Convenient. Good, I thought, about the impending storm, anything to slow that down! Our ‘park’ would never be the same once the 112th Precinct was ‘fully operational,’ like the Deathstar before its time. Cops would be parking their cars on our street and wearing civilian clothes, disguised as regular people. We’d have to speak in whispers and finally straggle off someplace else. There would be no more neighborhood-wide hide-n-seek games to occupy a hundred people. No more Johnny on the Pony, which was best when played wildly drunk and disorderly.

Maybe I can get outta here under cover of rain, I began thinking. If caught, I’d make up a story about how I thought our basement might be flooding. It was a perfect day to go to the NBC building and catch a few game shows. They always coached the studio audience, telling half of us to yell Buy it! or Come back! at the appropriate times so it sounded natural, I guess. Of course, we yelled our part slightly before cue and louder than everyone else. If we couldn’t be seen, we made sure we were heard.

Musing thusly, I chanced a peek at the clock. At eighty minutes, a double-period of Science was interminable. I didn’t even want to glance past Gerble, fearing the possible eye contact might make him call on me, but I had to know how much longer I’d be detained there. Moving slowly, I zoomed in on the wall clock in the front of the class, did the math (thirty-five minutes to go!), and made the mistake of accidentally looking at the blackboard. It was crawling with formulas and squiggles and all kinda signs and crap, but that wasn’t the unexpected part. Instead, I felt like if I didn’t hang onto my desk I’d go headlong crashing down into the thing from the back row, which quickly lengthened to about a block away.

Whoa… weird. I hung onto the front of my desk for dear life. Don’t giggle! My hair fell forward like blinders, until I was looking into a deep bowl with Gerble wrapped up in squiggles as if he were struggling inside a Whirlpool blender with nine settings. Then my stomach started getting the squiggles. I couldn’t let that happen; it wouldn’t do to blow my load now and lose five bucks in the process. I had to grab onto a piece of reality in order to restore equilibrium to my stomach, so I strained to catch a few words of the lesson for an anchor against the hallucinations and sea sickness—pushing thoughts of my animated friend Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent (a Bob Clampett Cartoon!) aside to concentrate.

Gerble: “Yes, if I thought a kid was a bad seed I’d go out of my way to get him in trouble.”

Student (Sullivan, in fact!): “You mean to say that even if they didn’t do anything?”

Gerble: “Yes, if I thought he deserved it.”

I couldn’t believe my ears, or the translating mechanism that was supposed to make it all make sense. Was this so-called ‘educator’ admitting to a class of thirty-seven witnesses that he’d deliberately fabricate a false set of circumstances in order to get someone he didn’t like into hot water with school authorities? He’d lie, with blatant disregard for the stain it would leave on the student’s ‘permanent record?’ I knew he was trying to bait a hook, but I was only going to nibble. I raised a finger to get his attention, snapping it back to the desk edge quickly to steady myself.

Gerble barked at me immediately. “What do you want?” (NYC educators were so polite back then.)

A cone of silence fell over the class. Thirty-six mugs all turned to look at me, staring intently—a little too intently for comfort. It’s odd how the complexion of a room changes when everyone in it turns to look at you; it’s almost as if you’re in a different room altogether. I knew they were counting on me to stand up for their honor and put this guy in his place. I found Sullivan’s face in the crowd. It was clear he was trying to hold back hysterics. Clutching his gut and shaking his head, he mouthed at me: “NO!

I wasn’t about to take the fall, though; I was going to finesse this jerk. “I just want to—”

“Stand up!”

“Wha..? Me?” It was something I didn’t want to have to do. Having to try anyway, I slid the chair back, stood up, and fell backwards into the closet behind me. The class roared, getting their money’s worth already. I must have overcompensated for the tunnel-vision vertigo I was having. Fortunately, the knock was a relative point of departure from which to stand straight—I knew what wasn’t working, so, crawling shakily across the floor and up my desk, I tried it again and managed to waver there like a buoy in a choppy bay.

“Slipped on a piece of paper…” I covered and went on, ignoring the snickers and completely ignoring Sullivan out of self-preservation to keep from laughing to death if I so much as looked at him. “Anyways, you mean that if someone hadn’t done anything, but just ’cuz you didn’t like ’em personally, you’d actually contrive a false set of circumstances to get ‘em in trouble?” My plan was to overstate the obvious, thereby showing the class what a sick butthead he was—something they probably knew beforehand and Sullivan had previously made clear already. He fell right into my trap.

“Yes, that’s right, if I thought he was a bad seed.” I couldn’t believe the shameless audacity of the man. That’s when I forgot myself and made one, tiny mistake.

“Man, you’re crazy.” I muttered under my breath as I sat down. After the ensuing cries of approval from the class died down, I realized I had only thought I muttered it quietly, but in fact had just written myself a ticket down to the Dean’s office. Gerble had a self-satisfied grin on his face and was waiting for the right moment to leverage his complete authority over me. I looked at Sullivan, who was looking at the floor and shaking his head.

Damn, I really did mutter under my breath this time.

You! Down to the Dean, boy!” and from the front of the classroom, Gerble’s gnarly finger extended all the way to the tip of my nose.

I got out of there fast, ducking into the nearest head for a smoke. I had to think about this and work out my story. If I hadn’t been pre-occupied I would have noticed the smoke coming out from under the door and turned around. Not knowing who was in there, and without backup, the bathroom could be a risky place. (No one ever took a shit in there. It was too dangerous to be so vulnerable.) It was too late to avoid it, and I ran into speedy Melvyn and his boys smoking their Kools.

All the black kids smoked Kools; the whites smoked Marlboros, hardpack—except for Margaret, who also smoked Kools, which sucked every time I ran short of butts. Melvyn and his boys smoked in there and sang a cappella. They were damn good, too, until they broke up laughing before the end of the first chorus. To me, their presence meant one of two things: either I’d get blindsided and left to rot, or they’d frisk me first, then punch my lights out. Either way I didn’t like my chances. I was pretty sure they weren’t there to perform for me.

Too committed to back out now and run like a nerd, I lit up, took the first hit gratefully and blew a smoke ring that shot out three feet and exploded on the wall as if it were a zit hitting the mirror. “Fuck,” I said to Big Gerard, “I just got sent to the Dean.” I thought this might deflect them into extending me the courtesy of at least finishing my butt before they mugged me. Big Gerard stroked his goatee, watching me severely. I wondered how many times he had been left back.

Finally, he said, “Whachoo smokin’, man?”

“Huh? Marlboro, why?” They all frowned, in perfect harmony. “Don’t smoke those, man, smoke these… be Kool!”

He held out his pack of Kools, bottom up, from where they liked to open them. Opening the pack from the bottom was supposed to keep them fresher—so they’d ‘last longer.’ Fuck that, a real smoker smokes them stale, or before they can get stale. The soft packs supposedly gave you two extra drags per butt, too, but I wasn’t so sure about that until I could measure for myself, something I still haven’t done to this day. Damn pain in the ass if you asked me, soft packs. Where would you keep your roaches? Nah, hardpacks were the best. I flicked the head off my Marlboro, stuck it back in the pack and took one of his nauseatingly mentholated Kools—in no position to be anything other than thankful for it. Looking for the blindside rabbit punch to the head as I lit up, it never came. Once we got to talking and smoking I told them what happened (leaving out the part about the pudding breakfast) and they commiserated appropriately with me. Well, I said, gotta go now, and made for the door.

I was dizzy as I wove through the hallways, followed by a trail of smoke. Eventually I made it down the three flights of stairs to the basement, past the sour smelling cafeteria, and found myself standing in front of the dungeon-like door that was the Dean’s office. I had it all worked out. I resolved to simply tell the truth and let matters lie where they landed. After all, this was irrational, wasn’t it? I stood there for a second vainly trying to brush away the paisley patterns twittering about like butterflies on the door.

I knocked. Knock-ock-ock. Knock-ock-ock… It sounded as if old WW II bombing footage was being replayed. I sucked it up and tried the knob. If it was locked, I could hang in the bathroom for half an hour and hope he didn’t come barging in looking for smokers to bust.

“Hiya, Dean. I was just comin’ to seeya!” I’d say, but the knob went ‘CLICK’ and opened right up. Why was everything so LOUD all of a sudden? I bravely went in on the side of righteousness.

Fortunately this wasn’t Dean Coupler—he was on a half-year sabbatical. Even Ma was afraid of Coupler and refused to see him anymore after he tried to put the make on her. He beat the shit out of Lewis that time in the locker room, too, so I was glad it was Winegrow sitting behind the desk. He had some paperwork in front of him and was engrossed in it. I stood there silently looking down at his bald, round head. Four model airplanes dangled on strings over each corner of his desk.

Clearing my throat, I started. “I—”

“SHH-ush!” he said, waving me over to a hard metal chair without looking up. “Sit down and shut up.”

I sat there a few minutes getting more and more uncomfortable until I started to squirm, so I stood back up to take a closer look at the airplanes hovering above his desk. They were very detailed and looked to be miniatures of real, classic planes. “These are cool,” I said, testing the prop on one. It spun as if it had been freshly oiled, blurring into a transparency of its former self.

“Break those, and I’ll break you,” Winegrow growled in measured tones without looking up. Clearly, the paperwork annoyed him. Sighing at it, he then looked at me for the first time. He was so cross-eyed that one eye bulged out of his big, bald, pinkish, Charlie Brown head and appeared to be looking at the other eye. His upper body was thick, almost bloated; he was an exclamation point with a tiny waist and puny legs—so top-heavy that he looked as though you were viewing him from above through an ultra wide-angle lens.

I had to turn away to avoid the giggles, so I started looking at the many photographs he had on the walls. They were all pictures of airplanes, some of them with him standing next to them. Here he was next to a bi-plane, replete with oldstyle leather headgear. He looked ridiculous, wearing a crushed smile that burst out of that tight headgear, all pink and shiny but for those cumbersome eyes. I looked away from it quickly, to keep from losing it—a laugh attack not being advisable here. I had seen people go convulsive while laughing too hard on a hallucinogen, and didn’t want to go there. I turned to look at something else, anything.

There, on the credenza, I noticed the fish tank for the first time. It had water, gravel and a small, charcoal filter that bubbled inanely in the corner. There were no plants, no little plastic treasure chests to open up and reveal little plastic skeletons, and no fish. Just to be sure there weren’t really small fish in there, I moved closer to inspect.

Then I saw the sticker on the glass. INVISIBLE GOLDFISH, it read. I wondered, how did he know they were goldfish? Off to the side was a vial of Tetramin Fish Food and it had a sticker, too, which read, naturally: INVISIBLE GOLDFISH FOOD. I picked it up and hefted it, finding it empty.

Cute, methinks, and I started ‘sprinkling’ it over the water in the tank. “Hey Mr. Winegrow, how do you know you weren’t ripped off and sold guppies instead?” I said as I sprinkled, followed by: “Where’s the thermometer, also invisible? They could be cold… How do you know they ain’t dead already? I suppose if they’re still eating—” When he looked up and saw me littering his tank with invisible food he bolted out of his chair, sending it crashing against the wall, and rushed me.

Stop!” I stopped in mid-sprinkle, mouth open. Knocking me out of the way, he flung open a drawer and rummaged around frantically for a net, which he finally produced and dragged over the surface of the water repeatedly, back and forth, trying to scrape up the invisible goldfish food. “What are you doing, man!?” he bellowed. “These fish are stoo-pid! They don’t know when to stop eating, they’ll eat until they blow up!” (Note: The word written as ‘stoo-pid’ is occasionally used in this telling. For those who can’t extrapolate the translation, it means ‘stupid,’ and usually refers to something I’ve done. If possible, it should be read with a New York accent.)

I backed away cautiously. “These are exploding invisible goldfi…?” stopping myself before continuing on about his invisible goldfish or guppies or whatever the hell he thought they were, dead or alive. What we needed was a bigger net.

Clearly exasperated with me, he finally asked why I was there. “Why are you here? Quickly man, before you destroy the place!”

I stood there blinking at him, like that myopic girl in class. “I—”

“Wait!” He held up his hand for me to stop. Brushing me out of the way, he crossed the office and took a headlong dive into the closet. Scrambling around on all fours, he tossed out an old bean can with some dried-up tangerine peels in it, then a galosh, and an old calendar that fluttered out the way a startled pheasant might—his skinny butt waving enticingly at me the whole time. One well placed, steel-toed boot… Pay dirt turned out to be a wooden plank with an eye hook screwed into its dead center. Then he rattled out about five feet of heavy chain and a thick dowel about a foot long. For a brief moment I nearly panicked. If this had been old Dean Coupler I would have shouldered him into the closet and run for my meager life!

Fascinated by this display of incongruity, I stood bolted to the spot and watched as he put the plank on the floor, hooked the chain on the hook in the plank, then put the dowel through the top link of the chain. Then, while standing on the plank, he proceeded to try and lift himself up via the dowel with both hands. Pulling harder and harder, he started to strain. His reptilian eyes bugged out even more than usual and little beads of sweat erupted all over his head, hundreds of tiny sun-blisters getting ready to pop. As I watched, dumbfounded, he turned different colors; bright red at first, then he took on a musty shade of burgundy, until finally rifling through various shades of oxygen-starved purple until the veins in his neck started doing little dances. I thought he might very well just pull himself straight off the ground and levitate in front of me until he exploded like a gluttonous, invisible goldfish. I flinched just watching him. He looked as if he were blowing up a balloon too full, or someone had shoved a firehose up his ass.

He finally let go of the dowel with a bellowing “YAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaa…” that trailed off for an eternity, reverberating in pulses inside my head while he flexed his tiny hands and all the other blood he had in that dwarf body of his started returning to its regular locations. He changed back from purple to burgundy to bright red and then finally to just pinkish again. The chain lay crumpled at his feet, totally exhausted.

Jesus! I thought. Is this what seniority does to you!?

“What is it, boy? Out with it!” he commanded. “I haven’t got all day!” Obviously he had some pretty important shit to do; the fish tank may have needed invisible algae scraped off the glass for all I knew.

I stammered out my story, which I’m sure I would have totally forgotten by then were it not for the fact that all I had to do was remember the truth this time. “I told Mister Gerble… after he told us that he would get a kid he didn’t like in trouble…” Winegrow stifled a yawn. I was already boring him. “…who didn’t even do anything! I mean, for no reason…” Not particularly articulate but enunciated well enough, I told my lunatic Dean I had committed the heinous act of disrespecting the psycho Gerble by calling him ‘crazy.’

Bracing myself for whatever might follow, he walked to his desk, put the chair back on its legs, sat down and started shuffling papers again—dismissing me with a wave of his pudgy, doll-like hand. “Go tell him you’re sorry,” was all he said.

“?” Did I miss the tirade, or had he already killed me in a blinding flash of light I never even saw and this was to be my hell—feeding invisible food to nonexistent fish? “That’s it? Just like that? I mean, that’s all?” I stammered some more.

“Yeah, just like that.” Winegrow seemed calm now, placidly scribbling away about God- knows-what in disappearing ink under those dangling plastic airplanes.

I couldn’t leave just then. I had to ask him: “I’m right, aren’t I? I mean, what kind of teacher would do that?”

He looked up at me with heavy exasperation. “Hey, you called him crazy in front of his whole class. Just go apologize and give him this note to get back in.” He scribbled his initials the way a left-handed caveman might have on a stone tablet and walked it over to me, folding and crinkling it a little first. Then he said that thing to me which I will likely never forget.

“Look kid, he may be right or he may be wrong, but all that doesn’t matter. All you want to do is get back into class. Now get outta here.”

He backed me out of the room with a little shove and slammed the door. I stood there blinking at it for a while, not sure of what really happened, and for a split second wondered if I had imagined it all and hadn’t really gone inside yet. Then I remembered the note in my hand and knew I hadn’t dreamed it up.

Winegrow was right, of course. Being right or wrong won’t get me back in class, I thought. Whether Gerble was right or wrong, good or bad, the only thing that mattered was the goal, which was to get back in class, sit there and shut up so I could get my grade and be gone.

This was to be a mentality I would employ for years to come—keeping my eye on the goal and ignoring any other bullshit taking place that was a waste of time and out of my control anyway. That doesn’t matter. The idea is to keep your focus on what does matter and skip over the bullshit! I didn’t have to be right or wrong, I needed to do what I had to do in order to get what I wanted.

He was teaching me about the means to the end, and how we can control our desired results through whatever means necessary, and that means is superfluous to the end result. We have control over our lives by not getting distracted by irrelevant arguments and circumstances. He taught me that what I needed was more important than winning an argument; which can be not only a waste of energy, but can blindside you and even sabotage the end results. The end excuses any evil, Sophocles said, as a formula for success.

It was a revelation to me, standing there staring at a paisley-blank door, and it lightened my load somehow. It was liberating, this notion! I didn’t have to get sucked into some moron’s way of thinking, or risk trying to make them see things my way. I could just lump it and go about my business.

In a very real, tangible way, I learned more in school that day on mescaline by getting thrown out of class than I did my entire school ‘career’ afterward (although the invisible fish remain a mystery). Forget the fact that the source of this revelatory piece of information was bizarre, it’s all about what you make of it.

“Sorry about the fish,” I said to the door and left, badly in need of another smoke.

On my way back to class I ran into Chuckie in the hall. He was on his way to see Dean Winegrow. “What happened?” I asked him. He told me his desk caught on fire. “How’d that happen?” I wanted to know.

“Prolly ’cuz a da match I threw in it,” he told me, over-illustrating what Yeats said about education: “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.”

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.

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. 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. 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.

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—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.