Thoughts, Musings and Observations
THE PURE ESSENCE OF ART, DISTILLED – PART 1
Aug 21, 2010
There’s nothing on this block but an old coffee shop on the corner, a lumberyard and an abandoned mannequin factory. I walk past a couple of transvestite hookers on the corner and turn into the coffee shop and speak to an old man in a paper hat. I get myself a black coffee with no sugar in a red and white paper cup, light a cigarette and walk to the middle of the block, to the building where my uncle Pasquale lives. An industrial loft at the end of a long set of stairs on the third floor. Notices from the landlord, long ignored…pinned to a door down the hall on the third floor. I open the door and see the whorls of dust in the late afternoon sunlight coming in from the windows on the west side. Paintbrushes sit in turpentine, in old cans of Martinson’s coffee. The scents of tobacco and oil paint hang in the air. It smells like black pepper but there is an ancient, burned-down nub of an incense stick poked into a nail hole in a wall. I brought Heinekens, but my uncle tells me that he prefers Ballantine’s. I take a seat in a ratty old turquoise and puce plaid sofa. One of the sofa’s legs is missing and the sofa rests atop a can of Delmonte sauerkraut. To my right, on a milk crate is an old porno magazine with the cover missing, a big titty woman in heavy mascara and a beehive hairdo sits on a wicker chair with a beguiling expression, staring back from the faded pages. Maxie, my uncle’s old gray cat sits curiously in a patch of sunlight on the floor. He regards me with his eyes of crazy emerald. My uncle tells me an old boxing story about my dad and the LaMotta brothers, hanging out on Belmont Avenue in the Bronx, back in the golden days, before my dad joined the army. I look into my uncle’s eyes and see that same crazy kid from the Bronx, breaking the lock and stealing beers… excuse me, Ballantine Ales… from the basement of the store on the corner. I look into the old man’s wrinkled face and eyes, cigarette dangling from his lips, crazy hair like a rooster’s comb, as he gestures wildly and nearly knocks over his beer. “Crazy old bastard”, I laugh to myself, put my arm around his shoulder, turn and start walking toward the hallway stair. The freight elevator sits open, but it hasn’t worked in years. The jazz music blasts out of the old man’s door and follows me down the stairs, Charlie Parker’s horn leading the way in front of me, like a lighthouse’s beacon in a storm.
THE PURE ESSENCE OF ART, DISTILLED – PART 2
Sep 21, 2010
I arrived at the loft on East 3rd Street. My eyes adjusted slowly, from the whitewashed wall of the Post Office next door to the darkened interior of the rehearsal space. Slowly, the room’s interior came into view. Bobo’s drums, the PA columns, the Sunn bass amp… The floor was littered with cigarette butts of all sorts, the brown Nat Shermans tell me that C.P. is on the scene – man, I hope he ain’t been drinking that wine, that motherfucker’s a real pain in the ass when he’s drunk. I made my way to the stairs and climbed up to the upper level of the rehearsal loft, where Bobo sleeps. The bathroom light was on and the door was ajar, I stood over the toilet to take a piss. Bobo must have a bitch in his room, I see a pair of panties on the floor beside the toilet. Hmmm. The medicine cabinet door is slightly open, there’s a couple sets of fresh works and a couple bundles of dope in a plastic cup. I took four of the bags of heroin and slipped them in my jeans coin pocket. Bobo was surely so fucked up right now, he’d never know it was missing. I crept out of the bathroom and walked quietly beside the upper level’s railing that looked over the stage. Bobo’s bedroom door was ajar, peering in, I saw the naked form of a tan, young, lithe blonde. Beyond her I could see Bobo’s dreadlocks in the hazy darkness just beneath the window with its shades drawn tight. The TV was on, showing leopards pursuing an antelope soundlessly. The leopards exploded through a cloud of dust and flanked the antelope from behind, bringing it down to its certain and inevitable demise. I looked back at the sleeping blonde, and recognized her as the German bitch Bobo had introduced me to last week. He’d bragged to me that she was a Countess or some shit, although when I’d met them in the McDonald’s on 23rd Street, she just looked like a young chick strung out on heroin. I made my way back down the stairs and opened up my saxophone case. I stuck the bags of dope into an empty reed packet and stuck it into the purple velvet compartment in the case.
THE PURE ESSENCE OF ART, DISTILLED – PART 3
Oct 16, 2010
Susie peered into the mirror, pulling at the lines under her eyes. She turned on the water, adjusting the temperature until it was just right. Cupping her right hand, she covered a nostril and sniffed the lukewarm water into her sinuses. The sweet but gasoliney taste of cocaine flooded the back of her throat, making her cough. Flecks of blood showed in her sputum when she spat into the sink. She walked into her kitchen and fished a pack of Newport 100s from the purse on the table. She lit one and walked over to the window looking out over Avenue C. She’d moved to Manhattan from Fair Lawn, New Jersey two years ago to live the life of an artist and to ‘make connections’, as she had told her friends and family back home, but what she didn’t tell them was that the only connections she was making were with Pepe, the coke dealer who worked in the bars and clubs along Avenue A, and the drug-addled losers she brought home from time to time. She looked at the canvases she had painted stacked in a corner, beneath the window. Rudimentary shapes and patterns, painted in flourescent day-glo colors on flat, black backgrounds. She had only sold a handful since moving to the East Village. Her aunt Rosie had bought a couple, and hung them in the basement rec room. Thank God Suzie had the job at Record Explosion on Saint Mark’s Place, or she’d have had to pack it in and run home with her tail between her legs a long time ago. She pulled a white-handled switchblade out of the wall. That was Joey Zero’s. She wondered where he was. They’d been together for six months. She even let him move in, until she caught him in her bed with Robert..
THE PURE ESSENCE OF ART, DISTILLED – PART 4
Nov 5, 2010
Ian walked through the automatic doors of the supermarket and lit up a cigarette as he walked through the parking lot towards the bus stop on Mott Avenue. In his knapsack were a six-pack of Budweiser and a warmish roast chicken from the Deli counter. His work day at the supermarket had been rough. Ian debated silently whether to pick up a pint of Smirnoff or Jim Beam. He still had enough weed for one joint, and they were having a ‘Tales From The Crypt’ marathon on TNT tonight. He sat at the bus stop and his phone rang. It was Adam. Ian and Adam had been in a band together in high school called Contraband. At one point they’d been called one of the most talented jazz/rock fusion bands on the East Coast. Ian had been routinely compared to guitarists like Steve Howe, John McLaughlin and Al DiMeola. Everybody else in Far Rockaway had hit the big time. Fuck, Steve Stevens had won a Grammy. Ian was pretty sure that Adam had called to try to talk him into getting the band together again. Fuck that. Tomorrow was a delivery. All cases of canned vegetables. He was gonna need his energy. Anyway, these days when Ian pulled out his Les Paul Deluxe and his amp, all he felt was depressed. He looked at the knapsack sitting in his lap and pulled open the zipper and fished out one of the beers. Tilting it to his mouth, he drained the contents. The comfortable warmth of the alcohol moved through his veins and began to course through his body. Yeah, fuck it. Tonight felt like a Jim Beam night. Definitely…
THE PURE ESSENCE OF ART, DISTILLED – PART 5
Jan 8, 2011
Efrain woke up in the darkened loft and looked over the low-slung glass coffee table at the take-out containers of leftover Vietnamese food and the empty bottles of Belgian beer that littered the tabletop. He saw that the girl he’d had over left her iPod on the coffee table, he turned it over in his hands, inspecting it, and then placed it gently down on the table again. He picked up the huge remote in both hands and ran his fingers over the touch screen, silently marvelling as the images from the channels ran through the tiny screen in the remote. He smiled silently to himself as he remembered the tiny black and white tv he had growing up in the projects, with the broken channel selector knob repaired with bubble gum and the coat-hanger antenna. He thought back to the first graffiti tag he ever did, on the side of the Associated Supermarket on Avenue D and 5th Street across the street from his family’s apartment in the Lillian Wald Houses when he was 11 years old. Efrain’s mind started to wander over the years, the time those two cops, Batman and Robin, caught his crew in the truck yard on Houston Street and dumped their supermarket ink over them and sprayed their paint into their faces. They stole his Air Jordans and his 18 karat gold chain that night before they beat him over the head with their radios as he was still in handcuffs. They spat in their faces and called them ‘Puerto Rican faggots’ (even though of the five of them in his crew, he was the only Puerto Rican), and then set them free. He remembered seeing them interviewed on the news a few months after that… They acted as if they were superheroes, saving the city from a cancer, fucking coward-ass hypocrite motherfuckers. He thought about the charges that brought them down a few years later… one of them was charged with soliciting an underage male prostitute and beating the shit out of his wife. The other one was busted in a no-show overtime scandal, sleeping in the precinct while on duty. The picture on the cover of the New York Post had the whole crew laughing, making phone calls after the years apart. Efrain sat and grinned silently to himself as he sat alone on the expensive leather couch in the darkened loft. He thought about the collaboration with Andy Warhol that led to the deal with Adidas. Everybody in the Lower East Side wore his sneakers that summer. Bored, he picked up the iPod again and then glanced at the FedEx envelope from his agent lying at the far edge of the glass table. He reached over and picked it up, removing the torn white envelope containing the check from its inside. He pulled the check out again and turned it over in his hands. Three million dollars. A t-shirt company from the Philippines was offering him three million to design a line of jeans and t-shirts. He’d heard the company was owned by a relative of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and employed child labor exclusively. He’d also heard about allegations of abusive conditions, toxic materials and environmental pollution in the small village that was home to the factory. Dropping his pants, Efrain ran the check through his ass, really wiping it thoroughly, before inserting it back into the envelope. With a marker from he table, he quickly wrote a note to his agent: “Brett: DO NOT OPEN!!! Just send it back – Trust me!”. He sat back on the sofa and lit a cigarette, and picked up the remote to shut off the tv… He picked up a framed photo of him and his daughter from the coffee table, kissed it and turned off the tv and stretched out on the sofa, stabbing the cigarette out in an ashtray and and shutting his eyes…
THE PURE ESSENCE OF ART, DISTILLED – PART 6
Mar 10, 2011
John loved the mornings alone with the baby. As soon as Linda left for work, he went to her room and stood over her crib, watching as she slept fitfully and contentedly. Baby Maggie gasped a little, then pursed out her lips and smiled. John reached for the pacifier beside her and gently worked it into her mouth. Reaching into the crib, he gently lifted her up and out and brought her to the changing table. Her eyes were open now, and Maggie was awake. She looked up at her father and grinned a goofy baby smile, her eyes crinkling and her tongue pushing the bobo out of her mouth. At that moment, John realized how happy he finally was. He removed the baby’s old diaper, heavy with ‘peepee-caca’, as he and Linda referred to the deposits. He wiped her down with a baby wipe, then lifted her up by her legs and put a new diaper beneath her bottom. Her gave her a dusting of cornstarch baby powder, which caused her to erupt in infectious laughter, then fastened the new diaper and carried her into the living room. He reached for the remote and switched on the tv, sitting down on the soft, supple leather of the sofa. Maggie laid her head on her father’s shoulder as he switched the channels until he found the Teletubbies. Maggie smiled in recognition as soon as she saw the angelically cheerful baby in the sun on the television. This was better to John than anything else he’d ever known. Better than any victory he’d ever known in his job as a commodities broker on Wall Street. Better than any of his cars, the Jaguar, the Benz or the Lotus.. Better than his collection of vintage guitars, the ten of them worth three quarters of a million dollars. Better than the night that his teenage punk band, the Piss Boys, blew the legendary Johnny Thunders off the stage at the Mudd Club. That was the night the band began to fall apart. Their singer, Joey Zero was shooting heroin openly by then. There was friction in the band because the four of them were travelling in four separate directions. Joey was getting weirder and weirder, with hard drugs, experimenting with bisexuality and God only knows what other freaky shit. He’d been running around with a transvestite ‘Superstar’ from Andy Warhol’s crowd. At first John thought the whole thing was for publicity, but as they drifted apart, he came to realize how little he knew his friend. Bobby, the drummer, seemed very disillusioned. He seemed to be getting more and more involved with his father’s welding business in the Bronx. And Gil, aka Jet Suicide, kept saying he was getting tired of this ‘rock bullshit’. He’d been playing in samba and bossa nova bands and seeing a Brazilian girl for a while now. The Piss Boys had gone from being four Italian Catholic boys from the Bronx to the international darlings of punk rock. John remembered how their creepy manager, an old man named Bob Semen with an office the size of a broom closet in a building in Times Square that housed a porno theater on the first floor – had gotten them the opening slot when the former Sex Pistol, Sid Vicious played a bunch of shows at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s. John thought wistfully back to those wild days of his youth. He was never in it for the fame or the money. He just wanted to have some fun with his boys. Maybe get some free beers or get laid. The Piss Boys had become regulars in the pages of Creem and Rock Scene. It was more than they’d ever expected. When they got together for the first time, in Joey’s basement, the Son of Sam was on everybody’s mind. John remembered asking what kind of music everybody wanted to play, they were a bunch of 12 year olds playing music with other people for the first time. They’d tried to play some Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith and KISS tunes, but growing frustrated with the rigorous demands made of their musicianship, just started playing rawer and more primitively and aggressively, until it finally dawned on them that they were punk rock. They’d played at some pizzerias and bowling alleys in the Bronx. They’d never played a whole show. They’d always been sent packing by thrown pizza crusts, half-full cups of soda and half-eaten sandwiches. In that part of the Bronx, in those days, openly claiming any sort of allegiance to punk rock was like openly claiming to be a Satan-worshipping, Communist Faggot transvestite. John thought back to those memories and smiled to himself and even laughed a little bit, which seemed to tie a little ribbon and a bow around his reminiscences. He zipped Maggie into her little pink fleece hooded jumpsuit. He put her hat on and then zipped her into her little snow suit and placed her gently into her carriage. He put his own coat on and then walked across the lobby of his apartment building towards the front door. The doorman held the door open for him. He liked the kid, an Italian kid from Morris Park. Reminded him of himself. Grinning, the doorman spoke “Good morning, Mr. D’Amico. You heard Steinbrenner is gonna get that kid from Philly, that pitcher. The Venezuelan”. “Ah, fuhgeddaboutit, Gino. That kid can’t pitch a whole nine innings”. John and the doorman smiled at one another as he walked through the door. “Hey, Gino. You want a coffee?”, John yelled over his shoulder. “Nah, Mr. D, I’m good, I could go for a Bloody Mary, but I’d lose my job”. John and Gino looked at each other and laughed. The morning air was cool and brisk. Maggie chattered, cooed and gurgled happily as they passed several people walking dogs. A squirrel standing in the grass lawn of Washington Square Park made Maggie squeal hysterically. These were the moments that John absolutely lived for with Maggie. His heart welled up with warmth as he watched the baby reacting to the squirrel, who for his part looked curiously yet indifferently back at the happily kicking Maggie in the stroller. In the corner of his eye, coming down Washington Square North over by the Arch, approached a dirty, shambling form in a filthy brown blanket, wearing an ancient Yankees cap bleached by sun, and a pair of holey Pro-Keds, John could smell the vagrant approach long before he was within fifty feet. He smelled like a combination of rotten meat, provolone cheese and wino feet and ass. John’s stomach crept up towards his mouth as he started to turn so the baby wouldn’t have to endure this fucking degenerate’s ungodly body odor. As he turned, the wino hailed him.. “Johnny! Johnny is that you?”. Oh, fuck. How the fuck does he know my name? The vagrant covered the steps that separated them in a flash and suddenly stood right before him. “Johnny, it’s me. Joey”. The bum pulled his hood back to reveal the face of Joey D’Annunziato. Joey Zero. His childhood friend and bandmate from the Bronx. Maggie grinned happily at the stranger. When John saw this, he reached into his pocket for money. Coming up with a twenty dollar bill, he desperately put in in Joey’s hand and began walking quickly the other way, making excuses over his shoulder about a doctor’s appointment as he pushed the stroller quickly away. A pang of guilt overcame him and he stopped, then turned and walked slowly and deliberately back to his old friend. He pulled out a business card and another $20 bill from his wallet. “Listen, Joey. It’s good to see you. I gotta run”. He put his arms around Joey’s shoulders. They looked each other in the eyes and they were both teary-eyed. “Is that your daughter, Johnny?”. “Yeah, Joey. She’s my life”. “God bless her, Johnny. I’m glad to see you’re doing good”. And with those words, John D’Amico said “Call me, Joey”, and then he turned, pushing Maggie’s carriage towards home.
THE PURE ESSENCE OF ART, DISTILLED – PART 7
May 24, 2011
Rebecca Halliday sat in the waiting room and looked at her nails. She wore a smart, grayish-brown tweed pantsuit with an off-white shirt, the collars out. Her auburn hair was tied back, and she exuded and air of confident professionalism and intellectual sharpness. Her lips were painted a tasteful dark red, and modest yet tastefully elegant gold earrings and a pearl necklace graced her form as well. This was her second interview with the co-op board. Her first alone. She’d hired an expensive realtor, Linda Birnbaum, to help her get approved. She’d had her eye on the beautiful pre-war building on Central Park West since she’d been a little girl, growing up with Nana Bibi a few blocks away, on West 72nd Street and West End Avenue. Those were wonderful, simple times. Rebecca attended a school for intellectually gifted children on the East Side. Nana really never spoke much English but all their needs were met and they never lacked for material things. Mom and Dad were in Los Angeles most of the year, working on the scripts of a television sit-com, but they managed to spend about a week in New York every month and a half. Those visits were like Christmas, Hannukah and New Year’s rolled into one. They’d sit in the huge living room with the fire roaring in the fireplace and a huge spread of food no matter the time of year. Mama would tell stories about her childhood on Amsterdam while Nana Bibi looked on, smiling and lost in the reverie that the memories brought back. They’d talk about the hard times back home, and the degrading insults that came along with a performer’s life. Nana Bibi told a story in Dutch, which Mama translated, about a bitter cold winter during the war when they’d had to take shelter in a coal basement, as there was no work for performers. “Omah”, young Rebecca had asked,”why did you have to stay there?”. “Because there was no place else to stay, the church looked down on actors and the poorhouse wouldn’t help us either”. And when they’d finally arrived in the United States, things didn’t get much better for a long time.. Rebecca smiled to herself and remembered many many cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, shared alone with Nana, while her parents worked late nights writing jokes for a barrel chested comedian. Suddenly, she realized she’d come full circle. Nana and her parents were gone, but she’d gotten a role on the sit-com as a child actor and had never stopped working since then. Just then the door from the boardroom opened a crack and the board President’s face appeared in the slit. “Ms. Halliday, come in”. Rebecca entered the boardroom and once again stood beside the assembled board. “Ms. Halliday, we have taken your application under review, and while we wish you our luck, we think it best we return your deposit of seven hundred and thirty four thousand dollars and wish you luck”. An old lady in a severe looking bun hairdo stood up and said, “Ms. Halliday, I love your show. May I have an autograph before you go?”. Rebecca and the other members of the board looked at her with expressions ranging from pain, annoyance, confusion and disbelief. Rebecca looked at her, picked up a legal document from the conference table signed it with an elaborate flourish and then returned it to the table. She looked the old lady in the eyes and then quickly spun around and proceeded out the door, down the hallway in the lobby and towards the doors
THE PURE ESSENCE OF ART, DISTILLED – PART 8
I ran into Rob on Saint Mark’s Place. I was going towards Broadway and he was going towards Cooper Union, both of us on our skateboards. “Hey, Dave. You wanna smoke an LP?”.
Well, of course I did. I was 20 years old and unemployed. That morning, my frustrated mother had left me a $5.00 bill and a note: “This is for David to get a job, not for Funky Dee to go skateboarding”. She was less than thrilled with my unemployment situation, which had been the case for a couple months, and even less happy with my nocturnal activities of getting drunk and high and writing grafitti with my friends. We were basically a bunch of teenage vandals from dysfunctional households in New York’s Lower East Side ghetto. We weren’t in grafitti for art’s sake. We were into the more illegal aspects of it. Rob, with his upbringing, natural intelligence and stability, (both his parents were successful graphic artists, who embraced his form of artistic expression), brought a real sense of what possibilities could be achieved with the form. He was a good, shy kid with a ridiculous talent and a humble, yet confident way about him.
The summer was almost over. We quickly skateboarded to the fountain in the middle of Washington Square Park and took seats on the steps leading to its basin. Rob turned over his skateboard and began breaking up a nickel bag of weed, shovelling it and sifting out the seeds and stems with a matchbook cover.
Looking through the Monument Arch, I watched a yuppy-looking guy pushing a baby carriage past a dirty, grubby bum, reclining at the foot of the arch. The bum seemed to watch the yuppie with a wistful, yet hesitant interest, although the yuppie didn’t seem to acknowledge him at all.
Rob lit up the blunt and inhaled deeply then coughed, his face turning red and his eyes becoming shiny with water.
He passed it to me, and I smoked and passed it back. After a while, we started to make small talk: about our summer jobs (or lack of them), which girls we’d fucked that summer, our plans for the future, and so forth until the blunt was finished.
When the blunt was finished, Rob and I got up. He asked where I was headed. I told him I might get a slice of pizza and a forty and hang out by our old high school. He said, “I’m going to class around the corner”, so we walked up the block to Eighth Street and turned left.
“Well, this is it, Dave”, he said, standing in front of the red clay façade of the Academy of Graphic Art.
I shook his hand, and as he was about to go in, he turned to me: “Hey, Dave. You ever sniff heroin?”
That was the last time I saw him. Two weeks later, I was hugging his mother at his funeral. His most recent paintings, all self-portraits, depicted him as a zombie or a rotting corpse, skin various shades of green, and veins freely showing through his flesh. His mother hugged a picture of him as a child, towheaded and cherubic, smiling beatifically as he pedalled a tricycle. With tears in her eyes, she hugged me, very close. The cold tears going down my cheeks. From that moment on, there were two more permanent fixtures in my crew, Death and Mortality.
PURE ESSENCE OF ART, DISTILLED – PART 9
The reviews were unanimously good. Michael Thomas sat in the backstage lounge listening as his agent recited yet another article from the morning’s newspapers. An old man approached with a push broom, waving his hand to one side and looking at him impatiently. Michael nodded at him eagerly and rocked his body forward out of the shiny gray fiberglass chair. He stood by the door as the janitor swept cigarette butts, gum wrappers and a huge tangled clump of hair from under the seats. All the while Michael never stopped speaking into the cell phone he held to his ear. “I’ve been trying to call you since before ten”, said his agent. “Oh, was that you? I’m sorry I didn’t pick up. The display on my phone is broken. I’ve been getting calls from bill collectors”. Michael saw that the janitor was finished sweeping and returned to the row of chairs. “Well, okay”, he heard her say. “But this bullshit is gonna be over soon, honey. I’m trying to get you a part on a summer tv show…” The janitor paused in the doorway, looking at him as he regarded a crumpled piece of paper at Michael’s feet. The janitor pursed his lips angrily and snatched up the paper. In doing so, he noticed the cardboard, duct tape and staples in the soles of his shoes, holding them together. He also noticed the crudely repaired broken seams in the man’s jacket. The janitor shook his head and turned to walk away, turning the piece of paper over in his hands as he walked. It was a flyer, for tonight. “MICHAEL THOMAS LIVE IN PERSON” here, at the Lyceum Theater. The face of the man in the ripped up jacket and repaired shoes looked back at him. The janitor stopped and turned to look back. Michael Thomas looked back at him nervously as he kept on talking. Folding the flyer and depositing in back in his pocket, the janitor raised a hand meekly and turned away.
PURE ESSENCE OF ART, DISTILLED – PART 10
Frankie peered cautiously into the tenement doorway, he looked into the hall, his eyes scanning for signs of movement, life.. Satisfied that there was nothing to be worried about, he quickly took a screwdriver from his pocket and jimmied the springloaded lock. Walking quickly on the slippery tiled floor, he proceeded past the graffiti on the walls, towards an enclosed stairwell leading down to the basement. He’d discovered the abandoned apartment purely by accident. He’d been chased one night by a dealer who was trying to rip him off and ran into the building out of desperation, luckily finding the door unlocked. Walking down the pissy-smelling stairs, he arrived at the bottom and then he matched a candle, gently shielding and shading the light, and roused the sleeping figure on the canvas dropcloth before him by nudging it with his foot. “Hey, Suzie. Wake up. I got us a bundle of Lethal Weapon”. Suzie moaned and sat up. “Really?”, She grinned like a three year old on Christmas morning and rubbed her hands together. “And I got us this, too!”, Frankie said, pulling out a cellophane envelope of waxy yellowish chunks. Suzie smiled widely, her brown teeth and wrinkled face belied the facts that she was 26 years old and had been most recently employed as a fashion model a year prior. Frankie pulled a glass stem from his jeans pocket and quickly fingered open one of the pouches containing the yellowish residue. He pinched some out and loaded it gingerly into the stem and handed it to Suzie. He looked on benevolently as she held a disposable lighter to the stem and smoked the crack cocaine. She quickly handed him back the empty stem and then it was Frankie’s turn. He reloaded it and smoked, and when he was finished, he lit a couple of Newports and handed one to Suzie. “Which spot did you get the dope at, baby?”, Suzie asked. “Chino on 6th Street”. She rubbed her hands together gleefully and said, “I never see him around anymore! He always has the best shit!”. “You think that shit’s good? You shoulda seen when I was in Thailand with the Ghost Tigers. We were on tour with Twisted Ransom, we had the chief of police drive up to the gig and sell us pharmaceutical heroin, baby! That shit was crazy!”. He grinned long at the memory, the crinkles growing in the corners of his eyes. Suddenly the silence of the tenement building was interrupted by the sound of the front door opening and clomping footsteps on the stairs. “Sssshhh”, Frankie held his index finger to his lips and looked Suzie in the eye. Meanwhile, upstairs, 14 year old Javier Garcia climbed the stairs to his family’s apartment on the third floor. He put his key in the door, and rubbed the face of the happily salivating mutt who came to greet him. He walked back to his room and shrugged off his knapsack, throwing it on the floor. He looked at his guitar on the stand. It was an imitation of his idol’s. He looked at the pictures and posters of Frankie Rock and The Ghost Tigers on his walls and shook his head and whispered “Someday”. He fantasized about where his idol might he RIGHT NOW. “Probably in some awesome mansion in the South of France, with some hot babes catering to his every wish”, Javier surmised. And then he shrugged and picked up his guitar, his eyes never leaving his favorite poster of Frankie Rock. And downstairs Frankie Rock carefully laid out his works, the candle, the spoon and the syringe. He squinted and looked up at the ceiling in the darkness, he swore he heard one of his guitar licks playing softly somewhere..
PURE ESSENCE OF ART, DISTILLED, PART 11
The first time I saw Cecil Buford in the neighborhood, he was standing by the office of the Red Apple on Liberty Avenue, emptying his pockets and letting the manager look into the lining of his jacket. “Where you steal this steak from, old man?”, the manager asked, pulling a packaged piece of meat on a styrofoam tray, wrapped in cellophane from his jacket pocket. “Motherfucker! Don’t touch my shit! That’s mine!”, the old man yelled, indignant as hell. “I don’t buy my meat in this fuckin’ store because your meat look like it belong in a damn Frankenstein movie, muthafucka! Shit be all blue and green and purple and gray and shit!”. Indeed, it was protruding from a plastic bag marked ‘KEY FOOD’, which was a couple of blocks up. The manager, softening now that he saw several customers observing the scene with interest, sheepishly handed
back the slab of meat, muttered an apology and quickly disappeared into his office, slamming the door. I watched the old man leave the supermarket, muttering angrily to himself. I realized I recognized him from Mike’s Tavern on Liberty. He’d always be sitting off in a dark corner drinking draft beers. Sometimes he’d get cranky and
start muttering to himself and the bartender would politely but firmly cut him off and ask him to leave. That”s what happened the next time I saw him. Johnny Boots was throwing him out of Mike’s. I took my regular seat by the window and watched the old man shamble down Liberty Avenue. “Fuckin’ bum-ass motherfucker!”, Johnny said to no one in particular as he cleaned beer glasses. “Do you know who that was, Johnny?”, asked Pat, a retired bus mechanic who came in and played the horses every day and left when the night bartender would show up. “That fuckin’ old bum? A pain in my ass, that’s who!” Johnny stated without even looking up from cleaning glasses in the bar sink. “That was Cecil Buford, he played with all the greats. I once read an interview with Miles Davis where he said ‘I feel like a caveman who just finished smearing pictures of antelopes in his feces on a cave wall come out of his cave and see DaVinci painting the Sistine Chapel’ talking about him. He got into heroin and that was the end of that. He wound up in Ozone Park, across the street from Cyndi Lauper’s parents”. Johnny Boots looked at Pat blankly. “Who the fuck are Miles Davis and Cyndi Lauper?”, he asked.
The Pure Essence of Art, Distilled (Part12)
Frankie Rock had been lying in his bed alternately farting and giggling to himself for about an half hour. He idly watched a puppet show on the small tv set atop a milk crate beside the mattress on the floor he lay upon. Searching the floor beside the bed, he picked up a sock, sniffed it, and pulled it over his right hand. Looking intently at the sock on his hand, he said “Gorilla. You must hide. The centurions will be looking for you before the morning”. Frankie stretched out on the bed, farted again, and stretched his leg to the small tv and pushed the button with his black sock clad foot to switch it off, knocking it off the milk crate in the process. The television exploded with a pop of acrid smoke, sparks and broken glass as soon as it hit the floor. He picked up the old fashioned tan desk phone beside his bed and dialed his heroin dealer’s number, “Hello, Pilgrim. This is John Wayne. Is the stagecoach rolling into town?”. He lay back on the bed loosely holding the phone receiver in his middle and pointer fingers and nodding his assent to the information he was being given by the drug dealer on the other end of the line. As Frankie talked, he nodded and winked to the sock on his hand. He crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue and said “OK, OK” and hung up the phone. Looking intently at the smelly white athletic tube sock on his hand, Frankie said “Gorilla, we must leave these hills before the morning because the Romans will be looking to crucify us”.
February 27, 2011
Cut my heart out, cause I don’t need it no more. And carve my guts out – like a codfish on a cannery floor. Hold me close and look into my cold, empty eyes. I promise not to ever look back, I promise that I’ll die quietly. Like a three legged dog I’ll try to keep on dreaming for a reason to live.. Even when my life shows me I have absolutely nothing to give.. Just hold me close, I promise that I’ll love you sweetly. Put the knife in my back, I promise that I’ll bleed discreetly. Hold me close and never ever let me go, because I need somebody more than you can possibly know..
Every thought repeated. Taken for granted. Every breath exhaled. Every sigh and whisper. Every shadow that the sun brought to cross the room – still lingers. Every tear shed alone in this cell in the dark of night. Every hope and every aspiration that grows dim.. still lingers in the empty mansion of the heart… The finest things, all put away.. for later, maybe someday. Echoes of laughter, love and memories still reverberate.. is it too late?…..to steal back inside.. For one last kiss?
Apollonius looked at Pantera as they stood that day upon the hill of Golgotha. He had anger, murder in his eyes. The prisoner was a simple Jew. An insane man. We’d detained him at sunrise. He’d angered the Pharisees and upset the rest of the Jews with insane, blasphemous talk about being the Messiah, the Son of God. He was obviously crazy. They say he rode into town on a donkey. We will see if some of the caesar’s men can help to relieve him of his insanity. I look at the sweat and blood on his forehead. Some of the other centurions have made a crown of thorns for him, this wretch who calls himself the king of the Jews, they fashioned it out of briar, and shoved it roughly on his head. He staggers now and then under the weight of the massive cross made of roughly hewn timbers. I see a look in his eyes of desperate resignation. Clearly, this lost soul knows that he will die today. If he were truly the Son of God, surely he would not be in this predicament, but instead having grapes and dates and figs fed to him from the slender hands of nubile young maidens. Drinking wine with them and fondling their breasts. Surely this man is a fool, and not the Son of God as he says. I look at the Jew and shake my head. He will pay for his blasphemy in the temple, and he will die unremembered. What a shame.
Whorls of dust traced loops and curlicues in the rays of sun in the silence. The light that filtered into the chamber was very faint, diffused by the large circular stone that blocked the entrance to the sepulchre. The silence went undisturbed in the early morning hour. Outside, four Roman soldiers stood guard, watching for the charlatan’s followers, his ‘disciples’, whom the Pharisees had warned would endeavor to steal the body of the insane Jew, in order to make it appear that he had ‘risen from the dead’. They’d paid the guards well to ensure that this wouldn’t happen. In the rocky chamber, the dead man’s burial shroud lay half on and half off the stony ledge carved into the living rock, but the tomb was otherwise empty and the stone that blocked the entrance door was still in place. In a flowering tree outside the crypt, a lone sparrow sat and chirped brightly, and then in the blink of an eye, was gone.
We lay in the clover beside the river that afternoon. As I looked into Maya’s golden green eyes, I felt the fullness in my belly, and the warmth of the wine spreading through to the rest of my body. She looked away briefly, and opened her mouth as if to speak, but it was obvious that the moment had passed. She rested her gaze upon the dappled, sunlit sparkling water of the river, the reflections dancing on her cheeks like butterflies, and fell silent, gazing wistfully at the reflection. Something moved between us in that very moment, and she grabbed me tightly and hugged her head close to my heart, a subtle desperation in her eyes. She pressed her face deeply into my body, and when I looked I saw that her eyes were red and rimmed with tears. I cradled her head and held her, but inside I knew that things would never be the same. We slowly gathered our things and got up and walked away from the river’s edge, both of us feeling as if we’d aged a thousand years
“THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD”
I made my way through fields of grain and wildflowers, through mountains and valleys and forests. I crossed a thousand streams and brooks and rivers, in burning heat and blinding snow, taking shelter where I could. I passed a fallen temple on a mountain high, and made my way past the broken columns all around the destroyed altar. I said a prayer for my love, her eyes a faded memory like wispy smoke from a dying fire. As I knelt at that ancient altar, I heard strange music from far away, from a lonely tomb just outside the temple’s ruin. I followed the funereal dirge to its source beside the deserted crypt. And there I read my love’s name on the ancient eroded slab. A tear rolled from my eye as I beheld the carved likeness of her beauteous face beside the inscription, the features weathered and worn. In shock, I tried to touch it, but my hand passed through the stone…
I lay dreaming for hours in a field of poppies bright. Star-kissed breezes ruffle fields of perfume blossoms. Clouds of dreamy fragrance pervade the air. A narcotic haze hangs low and sweet, clouding memories of days gone by. Long-lost lovers’ eyes hang in the skies and remind me of past lives. My senses overflow, my darkest rose, I surrender to the blisses of opium kisses. Gravity chains unshackled, sensory organs tackled, I drift gently into sweet oblivion. Tonight, I’ll be in the arms of my sweet love, never to return..
“In The Garden of Pervading
(Part 1). It was in the Garden of
Pervading Fragrance, beside the gently gurgling brook, that Wing Cheung fell asleep amidst the orange blossoms. He dreamed a shimmering dream, of silvery
winds and iridescent nymphs with sparkling eyes and gossamer lips. They revealed to him many things, they soothed him and caressed him gently and they let him
engage them in games of a sensual nature. And as these dreams progressed, the nymphs’ beautiful eyes gradually became redder and angrier and more hostile. The tender lips sneered and parted to reveal fangs. And as he dreamed beneath the orchard’s trees, the ghostly story of an ancient demon was revealed to him in a vision. The demon’s mere presence caused Wing Cheung great physical discomfort, as if knuckles were being dragged up and down his spine. In the dream, the wind became wild with ghosts, and the beautiful idyll was quickly transformed into a
burning red hell of great fear and angry souls. He stirred anxiously in his sleep, eager to break the grip of unconsciousness and wake from his dreaming at once. As he slept uneasily in the garden, two young maidens of the prefecture,
Ying Lien and Wai Ling, came upon him asleep in his growing state of unease. “Look at this fool, he has drunk too much plum wine!”, mocked Ying Lien, “and
now he dreams uneasily”. “Would that we wake him?”, asked Wai Ling, concerned, “for I do not believe him to be drunk. I see his lips are dry and tender, not stained by wine or covered in drool and spittle, like my father’s when he is drunk”. “Wai Ling, my beautiful one, with the eyes of a phoenix and the tender feet of a lotus flower. This is Wing Cheung, of the house of the prefect. He is
a man from a family of power. I do not think it wise to disturb his slumber, whether drunk or sober, whether dreaming calmly or in an agitated state”. “But Ying Lien, my heart, although most men of power are ugly and coarse, and I would surely turn and run away in fear if they were to impose their will or lust upon me, surely this one, Wing Cheung, any maiden would be happy to receive sensual
pleasure from a comely man such as he!”. And so emboldened by curiosity and longing, encouraged by idle lust and desire, the two maidens knelt before the
sleeping lord, and gently rubbed his chest beneath his robe to waken him. The wind blew through the orange blossoms gently, caressed the hair of Ying Lien and Wai Ling enticingly, and gently, Wing Cheung began to stir from his uneasy dream.
“Bliss In The Orchard of Heavenly
(Part 2): Wing Cheung stirred from his uneasy dream and beheld the two maidens close to him, their bodies over his, trying to wake him. He saw their robes billowing and their breasts exposed as they leaned forward above him, endeavoring to rouse him from his slumber. He smelled the heady perfume of their womanly bodies. His manhood was aroused almost immediately, and although he’d consumed no intoxicating beverage, he was
drunk as a playful and affectionate monkey with sensual lust. Then, suddenly in his mind, he returned to his uneasy dream from just moments before, where the
beautiful sirens he was engaged with in the game of sensuality became monstrous and bellicose in the passing of an instant. In shock and fear, he pushed himself
back quickly, away from the bodies of the two girls who beckoned him. Expressions of confusion and nervous bewilderment passed across their eyes like shadows beneath the trees. The two maidens glanced at one another briefly. “Wing Cheung, fear us not. We do not wish you harm or unease. You were having a bad
dream”, pronounced Wai Ling reassuringly, gently stroking his face. Nevertheless, he stared at her fearfully for a brief moment, nervous and breathing rapidly albeit taking shallow breaths. As he looked into her eyes, he
became calm again. And as he became calm, the feelings of lust, longing and arousal returned to him. Blood flowed hot and free into his manhood, causing it
to stiffen and grow fat. As Wai Ling’s face drew slightly closer, he pulled her to him and he kissed her. Feeling her warm, wet, willing mouth on his, he lost himself in the abandon of love and lust. He allowed his will to be tossed on the stormy sea of desire, taking him wherever it wished. For many hours, the three of them engaged in acts of love, lust, and sensual intimacy in the Garden. Wing
Cheung’s body was as powerful as that of a young tiger, packed with strength, potency and willfulness. Wai Ling’s and Ying Lien’s bodies were as lithesome,
smooth and tender as those of an antelope or a bird of paradise. The beauty in their lustful eyes intoxicating. The warm wetness inside them like a thousand
heavens. For hours, the three of them brought one another to the gates of Paradise, taking turns carrying one another over to the other side. As much pleasure and gratification as the maidens gave Wing Cheung, he gave it back to
them, transporting them into lands of bliss and ecstasy, over and over again. Hot, hungry mouths licked and sucked hungrily, exploring each others’ bodies casually, but in great depth and detail. The moaning, panting and sighing went on for hours in the Garden that spring afternoon. The three lovers eventually fell asleep, collapsing upon one another and reuniting in the land of dreams.
Together they journeyed across fields and mountains and forests, eventually arriving at a monumental wooden arch in a field of wheat, beneath a sky
illuminated with lightning, and darkened by violently rolling clouds. At the sides of the arch stood two sentries, a Taoist and a Buddhist, who were engaged
in a philosophical discussion. “Evil is necessary to reveal the beauty in the world”, stated the Taoist, “one cannot exist without the other for they are two sides of the same coin”. The Buddhist rubbed and scratched his beard thoughtfully, contemplating the wisdom of the Taoist’s words. He parted his lips and opened his mouth to speak, but instead of words, a clap of thunder issued
from his lips. Cold rain began to fall almost immediately, rousing the three lovers from their slumber in the Garden. Awakening in the rain, they rose and dressed quickly. Ying Lien and Wai Ling looked at Wing Cheung briefly, and he at them. The maidens turned and ran to the west and he to the east as the stormy rain grew more intense. And thus was the Garden left empty that afternoon.
“Return to the Garden”
(Part 3): Thirty years had passed
since the afternoon in the garden. Wing Cheung had grown fat around the middle. He had accumulated great wealth, lost it, and accumulated it once again. His children were adults now. And though his face was young still, and unmarked by the passing of time, Wing Cheung truly felt as an old man feels. His body ached
and protested the burdens placed upon it. His mind sought to remember great, vast oceans of time which seemed to disappear like so many puffs of opium smoke. He had traveled far and wide across the region, but his mind always returned to the afternoon of pleasure he spent in the Garden of Pervading Fragrance with Wai Ling and Ying Lien. He would grow melancholy and maudlin in his nostalgia, and
drink too much. When Wing Cheung was drunk, his children would disrespect, scorn and mock him openly. They viewed him as an embarrassment, and treated him with derision, contempt and laughter, even as they wore the luxurious clothes and ate the sumptuous foods provided for them by his hard work and effort. He had also grown distant from his wife, and made every effort possible to avoid her in the course of his day. His had been an arranged marriage. They had never had much in common, and as time passed, he drifted further and further away, until the
stranger in the bed beside him became as the general of an occupying army. He tried his best to appease her demands, which seemed to grow exponentially as the time passed, but in his heart he felt a great sadness and defeat which lingered and reminded him of what the sensation of drowning must feel like, so great was his discomfort and loneliness. One night in the teahouse that had become like his second home, he fell asleep, drunk on rice wine. As he lay with his head on the table, in his mind’s eye a vision appeared before him in a dream: a blind troubadour singing a sorrowful song very gently.
“Run away, run away, back to
your past. The world lies ruined before you, the die has been cast. Despite your every effort made, your sons are thugs now, who live by the blade. And though
you tried to raise them well, your daughters are courtesans under materialism’s spell, each moment of pleasure surely leads to your last, so return to the Garden, return to your past”. Wing Cheung awoke at once in the teahouse and blinked the drunkenness from his rheumy eyes. Standing, he exited the teahouse and proceeded down the dark and lonely road that led out of the village, never once looking back. He would walk until he could walk no more, until his feet carried him back to the Garden.
“The Garden of Eternal Serenity”
(Part 4): Wing Cheung travelled for months to return to the prefecture of his birth. A couple times on his journey he got lost, traveling for days in the wrong direction, only having to double
back when he’d realized how far off course he’d gone. He traveled through wind and rain and hail, determined to return to the Garden. Eventually, he came to a
mountain that seemed very familiar. He spent the day climbing the trail to its summit, and when he got there, he saw in the vista before him the hills and valleys of his youth. Tears of happiness washed from his eyes. In his joy and exhaustion, Wing Cheung collapsed there on the mountaintop at the spot where he
stood, and quickly fell into a deep, deep, restful sleep. His sleep was
undisturbed by dreams, and as soon as he lay his head down, no sooner did he find himself in the misty haze of the early morning light. A thick fog obscured
his view, and eerie tendrils of smoky mist moved and snaked before him in the shadowy morning light. Rising quickly, he made his way down the path on the other side of the mountain from whence he’d come. After a few miles, he passed the village of his youth. By this time, the fog had dissipated. He felt a strong
urge to walk down the main street and reacquaint himself with the past, but there was a much stronger urge tugging at his heart, compelling him to return to
the Garden of Pervading Fragrance. And so Wing Cheung walked on, taking the quiet path through a peaceful glade that would lead him to his journey’s end. As Wing Cheung passed through the glade, he remembered each tree, each shrub. They
were all the same as he recalled them from his youth. He heard water gurgling and noticed that it was the brook that ran through the Garden of Pervading Fragrance. White orange blossom petals covered the ground and fell gently all around him. Wing Cheung realized that he was in the heart of the Garden. The place was filled with a powerful calm. All he heard was the wind rushing through
the trees that towered above him. He closed his eyes and stood in the light wind, inhaling it deeply, savoring the heady scents of nature. After a few moments of calm, he opened his eyes and began to take inventory of his
surroundings. He noticed an oblong stone monument a few paces to his right. Wing Cheung approached it to read the inscription: “Two Stars That Fell From Heaven – Sleep in Eternal Peace Wai Ling and Ying Lien”. He stood and read the stone
again and again. He couldn’t believe what he was reading. He looked closer and saw small lettering: “This monument commemorates the memories of Ying Lien and Wai Ling, who were struck by lightning in a terrible rainstorm here in the Garden of Pervading Fragrance”. Wing Cheung stood and stared. From the edge of the clearing he heard rustling in the underbrush. He was already in a dreamlike state, he was too surprised to be scared. He saw some movement in the bushes, branches shaking, light laughter of a child or a young girl. He turned around to look and saw Wai Ling and Ying Lien emerging from the glade. They seemed
radiant. Shimmering. Overjoyed, he raced forth to embrace them both. He wondered if he was in a dream. Holding them, he smelled them. He knew it wasn’t a dream.
“Come away with us, Wing Cheung”, they beckoned. Taking their hands, he walked back into the glade with them. As they walked into the brush, the forest closed up behind them and grew more still in their wake as they made their way to that blissful place where they would spend eternity.