THE LOST CHAPTER-FOUND

September 21, 2010

This is the chapter I felt was missing from “Bookseller Blues”. APOCALYPSE NOW was an important movie released during the time frame of the book and more than just a movie, it kind of summed up EVERYTHING that had taken place in America during the late sixties and throughout the seventies.

Chapter (number to be determined later)

Those of us who weren’t caught up in the Star Wars Phenomenon were not eagerly anticipating the sequel to the original blockbuster but were nevertheless waiting for a movie that would sum up our generation in a couple of hours or more of unending violence, psychic and otherwise.

Then there were those others who felt their story had already been told, who thrilled to the simplistic version of the age- old battle between good and evil, as portrayed on the screen by the clearly designated agents of either camp in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.

So before Darth Vader revealed to the gallant but untried hero Luke Skywalker that he was no stranger and had walked a similarly righteous path before he ended up with his shriveled head encased all in black and his voice emanating electronically like the sound of death itself or at the very least potential doom, there was another movie. It was for all the others. For those who had not been as eager to put Vietnam behind them, who just couldn’t because it had invaded their teenage nightmares and hovered around their earliest choices in adolescence, for those who wanted to maintain control of their fantasies and live them out in the present tense, whose future had already been written and guaranteed in the psychedelic karma laden drama of ‘2001’.

And for those, whose heroes were already dead, who had known instinctively as children that there was more than a shade of difference between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Richard Millhouse Nixon and that it was not just cosmetic- ‘Apocalypse Now’ was their movie. Released coincidentally on the tenth anniversary of the murder of actress Sharon Tate by the Manson gang, the film was beset from the beginning by myriad problems, the weather, and the actors and complexities of the story, everything that could go wrong went wrong. Director Frances Ford Coppola seemed over his head in at first in dealing with all the issues but he had dealt with the ambiguities of evil before and with a few of the same actors. Ultimately he proved his mettle and achieved by sheer persistence a truce with the relentless forces of blind nature.

Hutchinson, Graziano and Goldman sat in the first row but only because the place was packed, they were not psychically prepared for the onslaught of catastrophic images and ideas that filled the giant screen. Not to mention the music which came as a surprise, beautiful, aching and totally in sync with the forests burning out of control from the controlled dropping of the gasoline based napalm. This was the shithouse going up in flames, as predicted by the young man who may have been caught up in his own myth, but in his art was pure and direct:

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end

Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes…again

Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need…of some…stranger’s hand
In a…desperate land

Lost in a Roman…wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah

Hutchinson had to smile when he heard the first exotic strains of one of the epic songs of the era filling the theatre specially equipped with the new Dolby sound system and he was grinning broadly when he poked Goldman in the seat next to him who was also smiling, against his own wishes, his eyes spontaneously lit from a renewed fire within.

For, the song Jim Morrison had composed in a simple act of self expression, the song he had turned into a white hot performance piece that got The Doors fired from the Whiskey a’ Go Go and subsequently scored them a record contract with Elecktra, had found its true home and subject matter. Later in the film it would return, its interior jungle rhythms totally synchronistic with the extended killing sequence, the ritualistic slaughter of Colonel Kurtz perfectly contrasted with the sacrifice of a huge water buffalo by his ragtag army of tribesman and renegade Americans.

The booksellers were totally stunned by what they saw and ravished by its intensity, to the point that when a stranger passed a joint their way up the entire aisle of the crowded theatre they poked at it with the survival instincts of men in the desert, bereft of shade and any material or spiritual comfort.

“Thanks, Man, I really needed that” acknowledged Lucien Goldman to the anonymous donor.

Similarly they grasped at all the loose ends of the sixties struggles for identity and purpose as they were gathered up and explained again for those who hadn’t been paying attention, who had followed the flow in the other direction.

There were the literary allusions manifested in the product placement of books like ‘The Golden Bough’ and ‘From Ritual to Romance’ on the desk of the supposedly ‘crazed’ Col. Kurtz. T. S. Eliot, Lucien’s favorite poet, who would later win a Tony Award for the posthumous lyrics he contributed to the musical ‘Cats’ was better served here. His breakthrough poem ‘The Hollow Men’ was read by none other than Marlon Brando, indicating to the crazed photojournalist played by Dennis Hopper, that Col. Kurtz was a true warrior-poet, with an underlying method to his madness. And to both actors and their osmotically attuned audience that the method acting they had studied years before was madness personified.

Of course, for the uninitiated and non-literary millions who were turned off by the film and what it seemed to be saying, the literary foundations were pretentious and egotistical. Even some of those who may have actually read ‘The Heart of Darkness’ were put off by this brazen attempt to translate the tale to the twentieth century, even if the characters’ name was also Kurtz.

And the politics of the film were questionable and to some anti-American depicting the country of their birth as just another example of a Colonial Empire exploiting those countries whose peoples were of a different color. They also didn’t buy into the idea that America had lost the war in Vietnam because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time or because their army might have been comprised of ‘rock and rollers with one foot in the grave’, as their sage Lieutenant had put it. This was not the ‘Peace with Honor’ their President Nixon had promised and delivered upon in April 1974.

The drug use itself was despicable, the casual way in which the soldiers smoked marijuana or dropped acid in the midst of battle, though these naysayers laughed along with Col. Kilgore when he braved the flying barrage of enemy bullets in a macho display of finding the perfect wave. When his assistants try to inform him that the area where he wants to surf is held by the ‘Charlie’ (the Viet Cong), he is dismissive of their concerns, insisting ‘Charlie Don’t Surf’. End of discussion.

“If you want to understand ‘Apocalypse Now’ all you have to do is read ‘Dispatches’. It’s no wonder they brought Michael Herr onboard to provide the narrative,” said Hutchinson.

“I guess that’s the reason for the delay,” said Lucien Goldman, as they sat afterwards in a coffee shop, still minimally stoned, but more likely from being in the terminology of their generation, ‘blown away’ and by a film no less. As bibliophiles first and foremost, booksellers might also be cinemaphiles but it was not their second nature.

Lucien had been less than blown away or even partially entranced by an early seventies adaptation of the book that had remade his life, almost as significantly as ‘On The Road’ had. ‘The Great Gatsby’ had been an earlier signpost and thus his feelings about it were impervious to any foreseeable retrofitting of his sensibilities with regard to its arc and denouement and its ultimate depiction of love as inevitable but impossible to hold onto. Even when he came to be buffeted by the chance winds of change in the years that lay ahead, he would hold onto his belief in the books innate charm and its resistance to any universally acknowledged display of its inner workings. Fitzgerald’s prose was immaculate on the page but did not work as dialogue, especially coming from the mouths of a slew of miscast actors and actresses. The subtleties of its humor and the underlying tension of its dramatic core simply did not translate to the big screen.

Strangely enough, the film version of ‘Gatsby’ had been written by Frances Ford Coppola, prior to ‘Apocalypse Now’ prior to the two Godfather films. He had been unable to do the impossible with ‘Gatsby’ but he had perfectly suited to capture the bravura spirit of the sixties and to articulate why that generation’s revolution had been doomed from the start. In the patchwork quilt of literary and mythological allusions, in the perfunctory nod to the cultural icons of the era, he had framed the dilemma. If acid was the teacher, teaching us to pay attention to everything and to trace every influence back to its source, we were simply overwhelmed by a savage overload of sensory information, and lost our way, on the frightful way home. Hence Captain Willard is only home in the jungle, not with his wife back in the States, to whom he can no longer relate and not in Saigon either which is a little too civilized for comfort.

When he leaves the jungle, after finally completing his mission, no closer to a clear understanding of where the line is drawn between good and evil, an unearthly quiet descends. Willard, the scarred warrior with no discernible poetic sensibility leads the innocent, former surfer Lance Johnson down an unknown path.

“Charlie don’t surf,” said Anthony Graziano, repeating for the third or fourth time, during their post-movie discussion, what would become the film’s most repeated line.

“I love that line,” he said again.

“You’ll be seeing it on T-shirts soon,” cracked Hutchinson.

August 12, 2010

I added to this chapter after a discussion with Julie Glazier, a dear friend about an old favorite movie of our mutual liking, which apparently was released seventy one years ago today.

Chapter Twenty-Six

“A Work in Progress

by Sidney Sandleman

Chapter Twenty-Six

Slug Washinski had given up on himself and he had given up on bookselling as a way to make ends make. No one could blame him. You had to think too much to keep up with all the other geniuses. They all thought they knew more than you did. Often they were right. Here in the gym you didn’t have to think at all. You just had to be able to take a punch. And give one back at the right time. Or maybe a combination.

A few months earlier, it looked as if Slug was set for life, at least for the next few weeks. He had money in his pocket and his choice of women. Manny Schwartz was lining up bouts for him. Promoters were coming around the gym to watch him train. Obviously they smelled the stink of easy money. Local gangsters were also leaning on him but in Hell’s Kitchen they went with the territory.

The gritty streets were filled with overflowing garbage cans and stray cats. Everything was old and decrepit. Even the few children you would see looked old before their time. Babies in strollers with the faces of old defeated men or women. Their mothers looked dead already with kerchiefs knotted around their heads like shrouds. The ring was an escape from all that. All around Slug were the sounds of life. The animal ferocity of competition awakened the beast in his heart.

Then Manny brought around that punk Gil Forth. Forth was a loser who spent hours looking at himself in the mirror. He also lived in the Kitchen but his Hell was inside himself. He tried to give himself pep talks but when he looked in the mirror he saw Robert DeNiro instead. Not the DeNiro who could take a beating from Sugar Ray Robinson and stay on his feet. Not that DeNiro, though sometimes he was that DeNiro too, a fighter with a lot of heart. No, he saw the other DeNiro, the nut who drove a cab and wanted to drop a bomb on Times Square to wash away all the filth, including the prostitutes that Slug frequented. But not the night before fights. That rule was still sacred in boxing. No sex before a fight.

Slug had taken lessons from DeNiro himself, the DeNiro of Raging Bull. When Manny brought around Gil Forth to be his sparring partner, it was DeNiro vs. DeNiro. And the crazy DeNiro won, though both were a little crazy. Gil must have had something to prove because when he should have been taking punches to help Slug train he was just waiting for an opening.

Slug of course was not thinking. So he provoked Gil unnecessarily. Gil threw a lucky punch and decked him. The motley crew surrounding the ring were momentarily silent. Manny Schwartz’s mouth fell open and his cigar fell out. The local Irish gangster Johnny Hennessey nicknamed Elvis because he combed his hair like the rock and roll star picked up the half smoked cigar and popped it back in Manny’s surprised mouth.

“Looks like you got a winner” Johnny said.

“No, Johnny you got it all wrong. Slug’s the contender. Gil was just helping him out. It was a lucky punch,” said Manny, who didn’t want to offend the heat- packing hood.

“Sure Manny. He helped him out of boxing for good. When he wakes up from his coma, remind Slug that he’s not a contender anymore.”

Johnny laughed like a hyena as he walked away from the debacle. Manny couldn’t walk away from it. His fighter was stretched out on the canvas taking an unplanned siesta. Gil Forth who had double- crossed him before had done it again.

“Sorry, Mr. Schwartz. I don’t know what happened,” said Gil, with a sorry attempt to keep himself from grinning in triumph. Gil removed his right glove and looked at his hand to chastise it. But part of was applauding his equipment. He still had the heart of a lion. Tonight in his apartment he would tell himself that. He was a Raging Bull again and this time he wouldn’t blow it. Not that he had ever been in this position before. But now he would hold on to what he had never had for dear life. Life was suddenly precious to him again.

Meanwhile, Slug Waschinski was being helped to his feet by Manny’s guys. Gil would have helped too but he was afraid Slug would want revenge and would swing at him if he saw his face.

Shirley Sunday, a tough talking broad who had carved out a name for herself as a sports reporter was talking to the gangster Johnny Hennessey. They were both laughing. Gil thought he overheard Johnny playfully calling her ‘Skunk’. It made sense since there was a streak of white hair running down the length of her long lioness’s mane. They seemed to be pals. Then she was in the ring commiserating with Slug. She had a silver flask under her trench coat and she was offering it to the fighter. He drank greedily. Dope that he was he thought it was water. But it was scotch.”

It was time to go to work. Sid donned his work clothes threw a few punches at the full-length mirror which was one of the few pieces of furniture he owned and went to work at the GAI building. He felt that his days on the maintenance crew were coming to a close now that his novel was going so well. But perhaps he was thinking of holding onto his job for a little bit longer since he was getting such fresh inspiration from the guys and gals in the bookstore.

Before heading downtown to work, Sid crossed the street to stare in at his arch- enemy Pug. Pug didn’t look up. Pug had a new girlfriend, a young punk chick with dyed streaked hair manifesting almost all the colors of the rainbow. Next thing you know, she’ll have a ring in her nose, Sid thought to himself and sure enough when he looked in through the plate glass window, she was smiling at him and he clearly saw the thing in her nose, the ring.

“Your wash isn’t ready yet, Mr. Sandleman,” she said cheerfully. Another fifteen minutes or so, if you want to wait.”

Sid had no time to wait, being late for work already, but he couldn’t take his eyes off this pretty girl, as quirky as she seemed to be. Much too young for me, he thought, and besides she’s with him. Amazing. He’s old enough to be her father. What does he have, a good job? Is that the only important thing with these dames? Greta Kowalski had definitely been interested in him but when she immediately found out he was a maintenance man, she seemed to lose interest. This damn uniform, he thought. Maybe I’ll come around in a suit sometime. That’ll impress her. Slick my hair back or let it grow longer. I’m too old for a Mohawk and besides its against company policy. I really have no idea what would break the ice with her. Except money. You’re never too young or too old for that matter to appreciate the hard cash. Too bad I have none to speak of.

“Susie, stop flirting with the customers!” Pug yelled at her from behind one of his washing machines, the one he occasionally used for his desk or to lean on to read the New York Post.

“Is Pug your dad,” asked Sid, incredulously.

“No shit, Sherlock,” she said, but not in a mean way.

Sid realized as he was walking the ten or so blocks to his job that tickets to a concert might be the deal breaker here. The girl had definitely been flirting with him, even Pug had noticed it and reprimanded her accordingly. But maybe he was just making fun of him, as always. Sid wished he had a mirror to look in to reassure himself that everything was going to be all right. The shop windows were an inadequate substitute and rarely provided an accurate assessment of his up to the minute image.

They were having another party in the basement of the bookstore but what else was new? It was Friday, it was a TGIF party and they were all there. Hennessey, Waschinski, Greta Kowalski, even Leander Schwartz, Hennessey’s friend who had just had an interview with the firm’s head honcho, Peter Ignatowski.

They were all still talking about the publication party they had attended the week before.

“I really though there was going to be punches thrown or maybe a wrestling match on the floor,” said Tim Waschinski. Tim pretended to throw a punch at Sid who at first prepared to defend himself, and then held back.

Tim gripped Sid by the shoulder and laughed.

“I wasn’t going to hit you! I’m just so mad at Gerry because now I’m not sure if Susan is going to be willing to do a signing upstairs. And I’m still dying to talk to her!”

Sid thought about Susan Sontag whom he had never met and imagined her there in the basement with them as she had been with Tim Waschinski, Gerry Hennessey, and Leander Schwartz at the fancy publication party. He was suddenly reminded of a scene from that kid’s movie The Wizard of Oz, the one where Judy Garland returns from her trip to the wondrous Land of Oz and studies the faces of Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger and the other guy who played the Tin Man.

It’s as though she recognizes them for the first time from her dream that she isn’t really sure was a dream. Though the three of them listen to Judy as if astonished by the breadth of her imagination, you can’t be certain that they’re not really hiding something or that they do exist in another dimension and they are perfectly aware of it.

Sid got a distinct kick out of his predicament. He studied the faces in front of him and remembered the way he had transformed them in his writing. He suddenly felt like a real writer, no matter what anyone else might think. He was doing it; they were just talking about doing it. He was learning all the tricks and applying them. Feeling confident in himself he imagined taking that punk girl who was too young for him to a Clash concert. Why the hell not?

BOOKSELLER BLUES CHAPTER TWENTY

August 4, 2010

Another new chapter, that asks the musical question:’What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?”

Chapter Twenty

When he saw the Palladium security guards begin to beat his ‘disabled’ friend Gerry Hennessey over the head with their flashlights, Lucian Goldman knew that the ‘60′s were finally over; that everything he and his ineffectual generation had strived to gain had been irretrievably lost. And he understood what Elvis Costello had meant when he began his concert with ‘What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding’.

He had just finished going tete a tete with the tee-shirted, seemingly innocuous jokers who normally stood around smoking dope with the crowd and sorting out the occasional ticket snafus. They had been trying peaceably to persuade the LSD intoxicated Hennessey to vacate the premises, since the concert had been over for about twenty minutes.

Lucian had sensed a problem blooming as he emerged slowly from his own comatose fog of images, sights sounds and hallucinatory incantations that had been pounding his brain for the better part of two hours.

“That was something” he said to Gerry and Gerry did not pick up on what could have been a preliminary discussion of the merits of the show, to be amplified later when they had recovered sufficiently from their bouts with the drug that had been a hundred times more powerful than what they had both expected.

“I do it all the time at work,” Tim had told them, so they needn’t worry about anything and they hadn’t until they got to their seats where almost immediately the transformation had begun in earnest. They lost sight of each other completely, though sitting next to each other and there for the same reason to witness in person the latest thing, the newest noise from England who at once took rock and roll back to its explosive beginnings and without pausing for breathe or historical continuity vamped and vaulted into what the future of music might conceivably contain.

And after all that, Gerry was now contesting that the show was over, since from his perspective

“I didn’t see any show. I’m waiting to see the show.”

“No, daddio, the show is over,” said Lucian, realizing at once where his friend was coming from, what was what and where Gerry’s head was at. He thought briefly of another deranged acid trip with Caroline and Jonathan Singer, six years earlier. They had scored the acid only at the intermission of a Grateful Dead concert when a fake Spanish speaking merchant had appeared out of nowhere in the crowd, loudly peddling his wares.

That time the concert had also ended abruptly but only because the entire group of boys and girls had begun their trip so late in the show and were just not prepared for the next hurdle in what turned out to be an Olympic marathon. It felt like they were sloshing through muddy water up to their waists, muddy water charged with electrical ions that doubly impeded and hurried their departure from the venue on Long Island. Once outside, a miracle in itself they were confronted with a sea of automobiles, only one of which belonged to their group.

They waited patiently and expectantly on the edges of the perimeter as car after car was claimed and driven away in a haze of gasoline fumes, smoke and after trails of stars and constellations. When one car remained they swarmed on it as if it was a raft which would carry them safely across the vast oceans of time and space that lay ahead of them in the next part of their voyage. The Dead had been the perfect companions initially but now they were on their own and their survival depended on their own intuitive decisions, on whatever resources they had been harvesting within themselves or had intertwined in the preliminary stages of what would prove to be a temporary mind meld; only a failed social experiment not a breakthrough per se.

But hadn’t it all been like that from the beginning? Hadn’t they understood that they were guinea pigs all along, lab rats testing theories, and hypotheses? What made them so special?

They had indulged themselves beyond salvation, taken pride in being dubbed the ‘peace and love’ generation and failed to realize that they were now just a punch line, a late night joke for comedians out of touch with their tired material. The world had not changed, the only thing that had been shared was a soft drink. Singing in perfect harmony had been a fluke and flower power was as silly a rallying cry as had ever been heard among rational individuals.

“We have to leave, brother. The concert’s over” said Lucian one more time, his patience beginning to wear thin, his own trip aborted prematurely by the vibes of violence all around them.

He had tried to reason with the guards, as best he could, scrambling to make sense out of the situation, falling back on clichés he had used a million times with arguable success  in the hippie days.

“He’s not ‘feeling well’ my friend is. Let me talk to him for a minute’ he said to the stone faces. They were not being friendly at all, he was not preaching to the choir but to a new generation of angry young men who knew they were not entitled and were seriously disgruntled about their lack of status. They did have their trusty tools, big silver phallic symbols, which they were waving about in a positively macho display of what might retroactively be assessed as flashlight power.

Costello, the former Declan McManus, was angry also. His songs spewed venom and distaste for a wide range of current ills, veering wildly from politics to the media to the more personal issues of lovers who spurned him or set themselves up on their own false pedestals. His long set disarmed them all with brisk sarcasm and a bracing cacophony of drums, guitars and horror show electric keyboards played by the ironically named ‘Attractions’ his tight, keyed up backing band.

‘Radio Radio’ a vicious lambasting of both the establishment media and those wankers ensnared in its grip, blasted the roof off the Palladium and planted indelible images on the exposed skull of the severely drugged and savagely hallucinating booksellers.

But for some reason, perhaps to throw off the critics and the fans or to ameliorate some of the anger that he knew was forth coming, Costello had sounded a different theme, in his opening number:

‘As I walk through
this wicked world
Searchin for light in the darkness of insanity.

I ask myself
is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?’

When they struck, although it should have been painfully clear to all concerned that this was the plan, Lucian was surprised by their sudden fury. He was blinded by their hatred and miserably unprepared for what he had to do next. Still he forced himself to spring into action, to drag his friend from the violent uprising, to retrieve Gerry’s glasses which had been knocked off his face and to pull him to safety. This was only achieved once they had reached the street and were free of the building and the totally insane security guards who continued to pummel them both with the flashlights and with their fists.

Though they were not fighting back, Gerry and Lucian had clearly crossed the line of proper decorum and illegally entered a combat zone where the rules of warfare were strictly applied.

Even now battered and beleaguered by the last vestiges of the pill once proffered by the League of Spiritual Discovery as a cure all for the world’s ills, Gerry was unrepentant and unbowed. They had lost the battle but they could still win the war.

“I’ve got my jacket,” he kept on saying, insisting that since this was unmistakably true, then everything was all right. Gerry seemed by now to have gotten over his displeasure at having been ripped off, at not having seen the show and wasn’t demanding his money back. He had his jacket. That was the important thing.

He didn’t want to take a bus or subway train back to the Upper West Side. He was content to sleep in the street, with his jacket as a pillow. Lucian instinctively saw that after what Gerry had been through, this was the only chance he had for any degree of peace, love and understanding that night.

Lucian felt at peace himself, listening to his friend’s plea for serenity. At first it had been a little laughable, even funny, the bit with the jacket. Now he realized that it would not be funny at all if the muggers who frequented Fourteenth Street after dark were to encounter Gerry Hennessey sleeping off the sixties in the quiet, wet streets; where all the merchants had suspended their money grubbing hours ago. The steel, graffiti laced gates were down for the night and nothing of value was going to be lost, not even sleep.

BOOKSELLER BLUES CHAPTER SIXTEEN

July 30, 2010

Wrote another chapter today. Almost half way through, I think I finally know where this is going.

Chapter Sixteen

Anthony Graziano had been raised privileged much loved and content with the world around him in an exclusive section of Connecticut. He brought this sense of exclusivity and raised expectations to his present job as a bookseller. He also wrote and published slight but accomplished poems in several issues of a magazine that emigrated with him from the town in California where he had lived with his wife Katie in the first years of their marriage.

Katie was taking singing lessons and Anthony without the slightest effort or in any way raising a sweat that would be undignified turned out his little poems and pulled his slender weight at the magazine.

In their non-productive hours they frolicked on the beach, making love and pretending not to plan for a future which in their minds was already assured, practically owed to them. Naturally part of the plan, which was not a plan but a loose agenda of things they would gravitate towards and places they would settle comfortably into, was to eventually head slowly up to New York City where they definitively belonged. It was for the same reason that Beatle John Lennon, now a solo artist and married to his second wife, a conceptual artist had decided to make his home in New York.

The Big Apple was the capital of the world as Paris had once been and London too but now it was New York especially for those who considered themselves artists, whether in poetry or song or having their clothes snipped off while they played the violin.

Once in New York they were found by a cute little apartment perfect for their needs and decorated it with their few possessions and some new acquisitions including a cappuccino maker. A steady paycheck came in handy, they discovered but laughed off the idea that it was entirely necessary. They had always got by and they always would because they were an attractive and personable couple.

Worries were for other people like that crazy couple who were below their window fighting like cats and dogs, a young man and woman slugging it out like they were part of the boxing card at the local fight arena.

Without looking down and recognizing the raised voice of Lucian Goldman whom he had invited to dinner along with his girlfriend Caroline Hand, Anthony shook his head and grimaced at the spectacle. He was more concerned for Katie who was appalled at what was happening in front of their apartment, their sanctuary.

“They’re already two hours late!” she practically screamed at her usually imperturbable husband.

“And it seems they’re only in the early rounds. From the sound of it, it’s a championship bout and that means fifteen rounds unless someone scores a knockout” Anthony said, in the hope of calming his easily flappable wife with his charmingly deadpan humor. This time it wasn’t working. Katie didn’t even bother responding and instead stormed into the bedroom where she remained until she decided to come out a few minutes later, pour herself a cappuccino and then abruptly pull the plug on the goddamn machine.

Then she repeated the storming of the bedroom and this time stayed for good, singing as loud as she could to drown out the catcalls from downstairs.

Anthony decided not to let any of it bother him. Rather than think about the ramifications which certainly lay ahead for his marriage and his budding friendship with a fellow writer and bookseller, he prepared to turn his life instantly into art. He grabbed his notebook from his writing table and turned to a clean page, quickly writing the following lines:

“This is the other kind of love

that proudly speaks its name

shouts and bellows its pain

to the unfeeling windows above”

“Not bad, not bad” Anthony said to himself, putting the notebook down temporarily, picking up an art book he had borrowed from the store and luxuriating in the texture and topography of its colorful pages. If Maura Winner spoke fondly and appreciably of books and what they meant to her and to aficionados like herself, Anthony exhibited this behavior on a daily basis.

He loved the feel of books almost as much as he loved the feel of his lover’s body, maybe more. Books never talked back nor denied him his pleasure. They were wonderful. He was afraid sometimes that people would catch him fondling a book with the lascivious look in his eyes normally reserved for a desirable woman of his choice. Shit, he thought. They wouldn’t understand and it was no use pointing out that the books were always the aggressor, the seducer, they were incredibly sexual and predators the likes of which the previously inanimate world had never known or acknowledged.

Meanwhile the distasteful battling Bogarts below were taking wild swings at each other. What had precipitated the disagreement had been lost in the translation from a misunderstanding to a missile launch, with each propelling furious rights and lefts and counterpunches in the general direction of the other. Jaded or otherwise sophisticated Manhattan strollers near Lexington Avenue and Fifty Fourth Street laughed or averted their eyes as they passed Lucian and Caroline.

From their clothes and the evidence that could be vividly seen by anyone and heard several blocks away by others minding their own business in the traditional New York fashion they had truly lost it and rated no more than a chuckle or a sigh; they were more Brooklyn than Bloomingdale’s and the dirty disheveled subway steps awaited them like a fed up parent. No further chastisement was necessary or deserved.

Lucian had no self-awareness in this instance nor empathy for the girl he had once loved and now felt sorry for because she was making a fool of herself. He didn’t feel the same about himself; he had only been trying to bring her along into his new life, which he was desperate to grab onto with both hands. It was a juggling act at best, holding onto the few personal gains he had made while trying with the other hand to hold onto Caroline who he felt would sink without him.

His new friendships with Hutchinson, Hennessey and Graziano were terribly important to him, to the plan forming within him that as yet was vague and no more than a tenuous outline deep in his consciousness. And whereas he had once counted Caroline as a valuable asset, a testament to his own ability to love and hold onto love and a counterpoint to the scattered relationships he saw around him at the bookstore, the failed marriages and adulteress machinations, now he was almost ashamed of her.

This hurt worst of all. This made him feel guilty and ashamed of himself, not for having loved her because that had been so natural and had made him so acutely aware of his rapacious essence but because he was thinking of abandoning her.

But not tonight. He had not left his heart in San Francisco in 1976 but had followed it straight home to Brooklyn and he was not going to throw it away in Manhattan among strangers who didn’t care about them and thought them odd and out of place. Most of these fuckers had fewer claims to the island than either Lucian or Caroline, had come from other states and had only assimilated in a perfunctory fashion. To those from California, Washington, Texas or Connecticut, from Iowa or Michigan or Bumfuck, Pennsylvania, Ellis Island was just a tourist attraction and not one they would ever visit or understand.

Lucian and Caroline’s grandparents had passed through the portals of that immigration landmark in the early part of the twentieth century and struggled mightily to reach the Paerdegats in Brooklyn, to have their own home, their own car and their assured destiny could change tomorrow.

Now they were out of gas, their arms winded and their spirits strangely elevated and had they been home in Canarsie, in either her basement bedroom or his on the second floor two doors down they would have fucked like there was no tomorrow and today had never taken place. Caroline made the peace sign and gave Lucian her hand to take her up the stairs. She was willing now to meet their collective future, people he had convinced her were no match for her wit and joie de vivre (on of their joking expressions used to mock the pretentious) and she practically strutted up the steps to the small foyer.

“It’s us” they said when a voice inside the apartment finally acknowledged their knocking after the second or third try.

“We’re here, finally.”

Anthony Graziano opened the door a crack. “Hey guys” he grinned. We’re glad you made it but we’ve already gone to sleep. Maybe another time, perhaps?”

Anthony hated being so curt to a friend and Lucian and Caroline took notice of his reticence. Still he was the one telling them that whatever shreds of the hippie philosophy remained extant in Brooklyn more than a decade after the summer of love, did not cut it in Manhattan, an island unto itself.  It was over, get a life, wake up from your dreams and ease up on the pipe. You couldn’t expect to show up at any hour of the night and be welcomed as if you had shown up on time and properly attuned to the vicissitudes of propriety and status.

“Yes, perhaps another time” said Caroline gaily bowing and taking Anthony’s proffered hand through the tiny opening, all of them noticing the strain on the chain at eye level, keeping them apart with the best of these futile wishes. She had never met Anthony Graziano before and they were not destined to meet again; nor was Anthony likely to finish the poem he had started at her inspiration but that had nothing at all to do with destiny.

BOOKSELLER BLUES CHAPTER FIFTEEN

July 28, 2010

Another chapter of my novel.

Chapter Fifteen

“Gil Forth walked across his room to the mirror that hung on the naked wall, he looked at himself for a long minute, staring into his own eyes and for the first time noticing how shallow his face was

CRY…WHY DON’T YOU CRY?

LOOK AT YOURSELF, LOOK AT THIS ROOM, HIS VOICE BEGINNING TO GET LOUDER NOW..LOOK AGAIN GIL FORTH. ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO LIVE LIKE THIS? YOU HAVEN’T EATEN A GOOD MEAL IN MONTHS, YOUR CLOTHES SMELL BECAUSE THEY HAVEN’T BEEN WASHED, YOU CAN’T SHAVE BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO RAZOR. TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT YOURSELF GIL FORTH AND CRY..CRY YOU BASTARD CRY.”

Sid Sandleman walked across his room to the mirror that hung on his own naked wall and looked at himself for a while, trying to see if he had captured his own frustration successfully. Certainly he was no longer thin of face and thirty years after the time he was writing about in his first novel, he shaved daily and replaced his razor blades on a timely basis.  His clothes were washed weekly in a friendly Laundromat run by a pugnacious fellow oddly enough known by the nickname of “Pug”. Pug didn’t recognize Sid but once upon a time they had actually fought in a Golden Gloves bout at St. Nicholas Arena or Madison Square Garden, who remembers anymore.

Sid remembered who had won and he believed that this was the reason he didn’t acknowledge Pug the taciturn laundryman and Pug didn’t give him a second look either. In Pug’s case it was just another example of the lack of respect that accrued to Sid due to his stature in life, the maintenance uniform he wore as proudly as he had worn his uniform in Korea. There were many actors living in the Hells Kitchen Area in the late seventies and many of them attended mass at the same church that Sid occasionally glanced into on his walks around the neighborhood when he wasn’t working and he wasn’t able to write either. One Christmas Eve, Sid, lonely and depressed by his loneliness had run into Lucian and his girlfriend whose name remained unknown because Lucian hadn’t thought to introduce him, at this same church.

The actors got a lot more respect from Pug than Sid ever did and he tried not to let it bother him though it did. A job’s a job, a man’s a man and besides you out pointed me, you didn’t knock me down or knock me out, no way, you weren’t that good either.

This was what he would have said had Pug once acknowledged him or looked up at him when he dropped off his laundry to be washed. But Pug always reached up and snagged it and tossed it without looking at anything other than his racing form into the bin behind him.

He could see Pug’s Laundromat from his window which looked out upon one of the gritty streets of the neighborhood, one of the toughest in the city. ‘Maybe I’ll write the bastard into the story’ he thought. ‘That would be poetic justice, wouldn’t it. Payback for everything’ He sat down and continued his story. He felt suddenly inspired.

“Gil Forth went to see his old manager Manny Schwartz at the gym which had once been a Church. Maybe God was dead and that’s why the Church had to sell the property. Declining membership. The war had taken its toll on the faithful. Now the faithless filled the seats at the boxing arena and many young men like Gil Forth had been when he was young and upcoming were pounding the heavy bags to get into shape hoping they would be called up to the ring of life to become champions. Gil was still young looking. A shave and a haircut and he would feel new again, at least on his face.

Manny’s Gym was crowded as usual. Gil scoped the crowd looking for people he knew that he didn’t owe money to and to avoid being seen by those he did owe money to. Money always money. He rubbed his unshaven face with his clean hand and smelled his dirty clothes that now seemed a part of his body. Then he realized that in this atmosphere among the blood sweat and dripping perspiration of the hungry for blood fighters he was safe.

“Gil, you runt, you heartbreaker, get your tiny Jewish ass over here” he heard someone say in a loud voice with a warm Jewish accent. Gil felt he was at home again and forgot temporarily about his closet sized room and his terrible luck and all the bad and worse things that had happened to him since he was discharged from the service. Before the war he had such hope, such pride in his abilities, such faith in the American way and the American dream. Now he was lost and he had nothing. Less than nothing.

Gil Forth walked toward the welcoming voice and the years melted away. He remembered how Manny Schwartz had befriended him and trained him for his fights. He was far from the worst fighter Manny had in his stable but far from the best too. He was like the runt of the litter and Manny protected him often at his own expense. Gil Forth would never be able to repay Manny Schwartz for all he had done for him and now he was hitting him up again and this time he was in this bad way that he was in.

The two men embraced in a rough fashion, slapping each other’s backs heartily though Gil had to overcompensate for his lack of physical strength from the fact that he had not eaten a decent meal in weeks. Money again. But he didn’t want Manny to know how hard up he was though he knew it was obvious from the way Gil must have looked to Manny. He wanted to deal from power but he knew he had none. It was a difficult situation by any means.

“Whadya need kid, a fin, a sawbuck?” Manny asked him right away reaching into his pocket as he blustered and fussed in his characteristic style.

“Nah, nothing like that, Manny. I want to fight again. I’ve been getting in shape again. I got the fire in my belly again” said Gil Forth with as much sincerity as he was able to muster.

Manny looked at him with incredible puzzlement and then his big Jewish face with its big Jewish nose broke into a big smile and then a bigger laugh.

“Kid, you look like you been through the mill already. Where you been training, on the Bowery fighting other bums for the change the tourists throw at them to get them to stop washing their windows with dirty rags? You look terrible! You need a meal and a shower and some clean clothes or I’m a bigger schmuck than I look!”

“You’re not a schmuck, Manny. You’re a decent guy. You were the best manager I ever had.”

“The ONLY manager you ever had, you little putz, you. A schmuck like I say but I can’t refuse you Gil. You were like a son to me.”

“And you like a father to me, Manny” said Gil Forth as he took the ten dollar bill reluctantly from his benefactor and stuck it in his dirty torn pants pocket from which it promptly fell out and lay forlornly on the wet floor of the gym.

Gil Forth picked up the soggy bill from the floor of the gym and felt terrible. He felt exposed and vulnerable. He was afraid that he was crying so he tried not to look at Manny Schwartz as he told him what he was prepared to do.

“At least let me work for this, Manny. I could be a sparring partner for one of your other fighters. Then at least I would feel like I earned it like it wasn’t the handout that it is though I certainly appreciate it I can’t deny that.”

Manny pondered Gil Forth’s heartfelt words. He was almost crying himself as he looked around the gym trying to find someone the little run could spar with without Manny and that fighter he hadn’t yet chosen being charged with manslaughter.

Then he saw Slug Washinski a fighter with no future, a mean miserable son of a bitch who rarely talked but was full of himself anyway. Slug was a joke, even his name had been hung on him by some other joker who was having fun with him. Slug formerly known as Pete had been clerking in a bookshop and dreaming of being a writer when he decided he badly needed some adventures to write about even if it meant getting his head bashed in….”

Sid got up from his chair in an excited state, racing back to the window to see if he could see the object of his revenge, perhaps standing outside wondering who had suddenly put a curse on him. Sid laughed and pounded his desk and ran back to the mirror to see himself laughing and to record his own happiness for later when he knew he would be less happy and more miserable as every hour ran out on him and the clock of life ticked on.

BOOKSELLER BLUES CHAPTER 14 COMPLETE

July 27, 2010

Finally finished Chapter Fourteen today. First draft finished that is.

Chapter Fourteen

Greta Kowalski said she had no interest in the Beatles being a little older than the generation that first embraced them in late 1963 but still she remembered where she was when she first heard ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ streaming out of a coffee shop jukebox in midtown Manhattan. She was certainly there for coffee rather than to commit history to memory or link her own personal history to that of the culture but the fact that she recalled this event whereas she had forgotten many of the basic facts of her own life, was telling.

Lucian Goldman thought so, at least, saving his skepticism for Greta’s related account of her encountering John Lennon years later in a blinding snowstorm, exchanging knowing glances with the preoccupied former Beatle-‘You’re really HIM’ ‘Yes I really am so let’s keep walking on our separate but equal paths’- somewhere downtown, possibly near St Mark’s Place. Lennon might have been walking downtown, miles from his Upper West Side residence because he was said to enjoy the freedom from the last vestiges of Beatlemania afforded him by the mainly jaded New Yorkers; but it seemed unlikely he had been alone since he was a loner who only felt properly alone in the company of someone who loved him, like Yoko Ono, for instance.

So maybe Greta had been so entranced by the sighting of this legendary figure that she focused entirely on him rather than the small woman at his side or perhaps in her dream like state she had simply refused to acknowledge the reality, and refused any images which did not conform with her vision.

Gerry Hennessey believed Greta’s story but then he was writing his Elvis novel, working on the chapter where Elvis and the Beatles meet for the first and only time and play hard to get. He was writing about 1965 in Los Angeles and here he was living in 1978 in New York, right around the corner from where Lennon was ensconced in semi-retirement at the Dakota. Wearing his novelist’s hat and entering a state of mind he could only equate with that of the dream world he had no choice but to believe that such a meeting was possible since he wished fervently it could happen to him and this was definitely an opening.

In the course of his research for his novel, Gerry had taken to interviewing his closest friends and colleagues trying to balance his own less than objective impressions with theirs. Greta was perfect since she was a little older, had been a pre-teen in the early Elvis years, might have purchased and still own vintage LPs. She had even been on the scene in Germany at the same time as Priscilla, and had she not been a blonde rather than a brunette like Ms. Beaulieu (and Elvis’s mother) and had she not come over with her family to America (New Jersey) just prior to Elvis’ army stint, she could have been the chosen one herself.

They sat in the same coffee shop where Greta had first heard the Beatles breakthrough record but she did not mention this to Gerry since he never asked. Greta ordered just coffee, nothing to eat thank you, while Gerry couldn’t help ordering a bagel with a schmear, dying to tell the story of his first dramatic encounter with this savory New York delicacy and desiring a prop to convince both of them of its authenticity.

“You really never heard that term, before?’ Greta asked him when he was finished with this story and had deliberately lifted the top portion of the bagel to determine how the consistency of this present offering compared.

“Never. I guess I had a deprived childhood. It seemed all right at the time but obviously I was missing some integral something in my life. The unsmeared life is akin to the unexamined life, in ways I cannot explain”

Greta laughed heartily after being initially uncertain that Gerry was kidding. But as with many things that issued forth from under his curly locks and with the deadpan look he could maintain behind his spectacles, it was not easy to determine what his true feelings were. Perhaps he had been more open to the moment prior to his marriage and its subsequent unraveling in conjunction with the unspooling of his brief career as a publishing wunderkind; now it was hit or miss and only Gerry knew for certain what might peak his interest.

“At least your had a mother’s love. That was important too, wasn’t it” asked Greta in an almost rhetorical fashion since she had previously gotten the impression that Gerry and his brother Leif had been properly doted upon by a spirited and devoted mother.

“That is true” Gerry said. “But someone had to do it after my father retreated to the attic to tend to his wounds.”

Noting Greta’s sudden horrified look, Gerry quickly clarified his strange remark, to assure her that they had only been superficial psychic wounds and that he hadn’t necessarily been that sympathetic to the elder Hennessey’s absence from the daily struggles and joys of the household.

“Dad had his problems. I think it started after he made a trip to New York actually. He wasn’t as quick to adapt as his son. He couldn’t handle the requisite balance between being sophisticated and being totally jaded.”

This time Gerry laughed first, though a bit painfully and Greta felt safe to follow him and to encourage him by her own enthusiastic chortling to leave the past behind, especially the hurtful parts.

“Then again, I’m not handling it that well myself” Gerry admitted almost immediately. I think sometimes it’s the right move. Up in the attic, I mean.”

He smiled at Greta and took a huge chomp out of his bagel then self- consciously wiped a portion of the smear off his face.

“Too much cream cheese, me thinks. They really overdo everything in the big city, don’t they?”

“Is that why you want to write about Elvis? Do you think it was a more innocent time then? Because I tend to doubt that.”

“No, no” Gerry said, interrupting Greta’s chain of thought.

“Exactly the opposite. Or almost exactly the opposite. You know how they say the more things change the more they stay the same? The first time Elvis came to New York he was frightened by everything. The tall buildings, the atmosphere in the recording studio, the fans, the whole smear. He was the innocent, the rube in the big city, a common story but because he was Elvis who shouldn’t have been intimidated, or you would think he wouldn’t be, he WAS, even though he hid it well for the rest of his life. In the studio he took charge over professional musicians who had been there for twenty or thirty years. That was when that whole taking care of business thing began. You do the thing you most fear doing and you come through the other end unscathed. He was much bigger than everything else that came his way; there was no world he couldn’t conquer. The only thing that brought him down inevitably was the death of his mother. That was his ultimate undoing.”

Greta was quiet while Gerry spoke; her own low-key need to justify her being quelled by his overwhelming passion for his subject.  He had an intensity that moved her though she realized that he was transferring his intensity for living his own life to his writing, sublimating his own pain while he explored the path of another soul through life’s uncertain highways.

Even for those celebrated souls who seemed to gaily cavort while others suffered there was no immunity against the usual suffering and quiet desperation. With other guys like Lucian, Gerry freely riffed on what the loss of Julie had meant to him, he could see a path to moving on, simply by exorcising the demons into the air that he had shared with his temporary beloved on all the streets they had walked arm in arm in the early beauty of their relationship before reality stepped in indiscreetly.

With another woman he was hampered and hedged in by the proximity to the female form and the equilibrium of the female mind that dwarfed the ability of any man to handle the ups and downs of love and its aftermath. He felt too vulnerable to the overwhelming aura of womanhood that permeated the atmosphere in New York and understood too well why James Brown, for all his macho posturing about its being ‘a man’s world’, was dead wrong. No indeed he was seeing what Elvis must have been seeing just before the end: women were much stronger than men. They were very emotional, true, but they were able to handle their emotions and cut them off when they proved to be a liability. Men hid their emotions till it was safe and then when they were terribly exposed and just aching to be sheltered they found it next to impossible to crawl back into themselves and acted foolishly as if they didn’t care when they were dying all over the place.

Elvis had been dead right.

“Did you still want to see my Elvis LP’s?” Greta asked politely. She watched Gerry hesitating and while he struggled to answer, looked about the coffee shop for another glimpse of the ex-husband who was obviously still stalking her.

July 20, 2010

My new book of poetry was published today by KASKABOOKS . It’s called UNSOLVED MYSTERIES OF CHILDHOOD and it features the rather lengthy title poem, excerpts of which have been published here before.  KASKABOOKS is the imprint of one of  the great poets of our time,KATARZYNA BOCZON-DOBBIE and she also edited and designed the cover for this book. The book can be viewed or purchased at http://www.blurb.com, where you will also find Boczon-Dobbie’s own books of poetry as well as those by STEVEN MICHAEL PAPE  who is responsible for the Foreword, for which I owe him a debt of gratitude that I will pay back in time. What I owe Kasia I can never pay back but she is the kind of generous soul whose labors of love are so frequent that you can almost take them for granted. But I am trying not to do that and fairly succeeding…

BOOKSELLER BLUES (Chapter 14)

July 11, 2010

Back on the beam, here’s the beginning of Chapter Fourteen:

Chapter Fourteen

Greta Kowalski said she had no interest in the Beatles being a little older than the generation that first embraced them in late 1963 but still she remembered where she was when she first heard ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ streaming out of a coffee shop jukebox in midtown Manhattan. She was certainly there for coffee rather than to commit history to memory or link her own personal history to that of the culture but the fact that she recalled this event whereas she had forgotten many of the basic facts of her own life, was telling.

Lucian Goldman thought so, at least, saving his skepticism for Greta’s related account of her encountering John Lennon years later in a blinding snowstorm, exchanging knowing glances with the preoccupied former Beatle-‘You’re really HIM’ ‘Yes I really am so let’s keep walking on our separate but equal paths’- somewhere downtown, possibly near St Mark’s Place. Lennon might have been walking downtown, miles from his Upper West Side residence because he was said to enjoy the freedom from the last vestiges of Beatlemania afforded him by the mainly jaded New Yorkers; but it seemed unlikely he had been alone since he was a loner who only felt properly alone in the company of someone who loved him, like Yoko Ono, for instance.

So maybe Greta had been so entranced by the sighting of this legendary figure that she focused entirely on him rather than the small woman at his side or perhaps in her dream like state she had simply refused to acknowledge the reality, and refused any images which did not conform with her vision.

Gerry Hennessey believed Greta’s story but then he was writing his Elvis novel, working on the chapter where Elvis and the Beatles meet for the first and only time and play hard to get. He was writing about 1965 in Los Angeles and here he was living in 1978 in New York, right around the corner from where Lennon was ensconced in semi-retirement at the Dakota. Wearing his novelist’s hat and entering a state of mind he could only equate with that of the dream world he had no choice but to believe that such a meeting was possible since he wished fervently it could happen to him and this was definitely an opening.

In the course of his research for his novel, Gerry had taken to interviewing his closest friends and colleagues trying to balance his own less than objective impressions with theirs. Greta was perfect since she was a little older, had been a pre-teen in the early Elvis years, might have purchased and still own vintage LPs. She had even been on the scene in Germany at the same time as Priscilla, and had she not been a blonde rather than a brunette like Ms. Beaulieu (and Elvis’s mother) and had she not come over with her family to America (New Jersey) just prior to Elvis’ army stint, she could have been the chosen one herself.

They sat in the same coffee shop where Greta had first heard the Beatles breakthrough record but she did not mention this to Gerry since he never asked. Greta ordered just coffee, nothing to eat thank you, while Gerry couldn’t help ordering a bagel with a schmear, dying to tell the story of his first dramatic encounter with this savory New York delicacy and desiring a prop to convince both of them of its authenticity.

“You really never heard that term, before?’ Greta asked him when he was finished with this story and had deliberately lifted the top portion of the bagel to determine how the consistency of this present offering compared.


BOOKSELLER BLUES PART TWO

July 10, 2010

First chapter of Part Two of BOOKSELLER BLUES.

Chapter Thirteen

Elvis loved his Mom more than he loved any other human being even himself. She had sacrificed so much for him and his twin brother, staying with a man she despised just so they could have a somewhat stable home life, when Vernon was not in jail for forging checks or other petty larcenies he could not avoid committing because of his conflicted nature.

Elvis had been born in Tupelo a tiny town in Mississippi but he had come a long way since then. Still he had not forgotten his simple origins or the struggle he had to forge his own identity from the scraps of his childhood poverty and the efforts to keep his brother alive, though Jesse had been stillborn and never actually saw the light of day. Grace, his Mom was always talking about Jesse as if he were right there with them, and perhaps Elvis owed his fame and fortune to his Mother’s illusions because without his extraordinary efforts just to get her to notice him he might not have driven his truck to Sun Records and recorded a special birthday present for her.

The rest was of course history and now Grace and Jesse Garon belonged to history too having swung in on the gold lame coat sleeves of Elvis’ swiveling hips. Priscilla was history too, the 14 year old Southern belle who he  had ironically met in Germany of all places, the only good thing that had come out of that wretched place, except maybe for the wondrous pills that could keep him up for days and gave him an exaggerated sense of his own energies and destiny.

Priscilla, who could properly court only years after Grace had departed the earth, though she had lived in Graceland for many years as part of the family (some say as the family pet) had become involved with some karate instructor named Mike Stone. Elvis had wanted to off Mike Stone but after he blew off some steam and shot up some television sets, his Memphis Mafia had persuaded him to let ‘ the bitch’ go.

So now when he didn’t think the boys were watching him he would wander the rooms of the mansion he had brought and named for his mother, remembering the importance of each room as it had figured in his relationship with Priscilla. The Jungle Room was not one of the rooms he visited during these frequent nocturnal jaunts around the house because it been off-limits to Priscilla during their time together and because it summoned up less romantic images of his twisted sexuality, his romps with cotton  panty  wearing adolescents and older women who were willing to play along with needs the King did not fully understand.

And he recalled each moment in time and he shared his reminiscences with Jesse who had never known life let alone love nor the warmth and support of a mother’s love except for those nine months in the womb lying next to Elvis as they  plotted their twin destinies. Jesse was going to be a singer and Elvis the shy one, would gladly back him up on guitar and whispered harmonies.

But Jesse had not made it out into the world and Elvis had to fulfill his brother’s destiny for him while trying to articulate and separate his own destiny so that it made sense at least to him. It was difficult to say the least. He had begun to read a lot, Eastern Philosophies, books about reincarnation, some guy named Nitsky or Nichy; he could never get it straight. But the guy made a lot of sense and helped him ways he wished he could thank him for it personally. TCB, Freddy, he would have told him, but the meeting never materialized except in his head.

He had been having a lot of meetings lately with important people, if you define lately as within the last decade, but a King measures time differently than you and I, so it was all still there in his mind, along with a running commentary as if he was writing his own autobiography, writing his own history as it happened so those fools such as they all were, those pompous writers and limp dick journalists would not have the last word.

So I met the Beatles or rather they came to me. Nice fellows, funny guys and quite talented but lord it took four of them and there was only me out there in the early days, though Jesse was with me every step of the way. I gave them my blessing but when the time came, when the time was right I took it all back with ease, with just a leather suit, say that Jim Morrison just had his leather pants and he was always scratching himself anyway, I looked more comfortable, more assured, macho is the word I’m looking for.

And they were starting to say and do stuff that wasn’t right, that wasn’t kosher, they were like the little piggies in their song, shoveling in the LSD and the marijuana and telling all their fans to do the same. That’s where I had to draw the line in the sand, take a stand, do it my way, Frank’s way too. Frank had vouched for me when I came out of the Army, welcomed me back to America and I had vouched for them, welcoming them TO America and now they had let me down, it was now or never to stop them and save the country.

So I granted an audience to President Nixon and agreed to his suggestion that I work undercover in the show business milieu that I knew best. To everybody I was just the same good old boy I had always been, a little more cagey, a little less wide-eyed but nonetheless able to gain their trust and work to undermine the negative influence of those little mop tops.

I had help too but not from those you would think would have an interest in my campaign. The old guard were beyond caring, off their gourds, deep in the sauce. Frank ignored my urgent telegrams. Sammy just flashed his impish one-eyed grin and told me “peace and love, baby” as if that were the solution to everything.

Dino was another story. I never got around to speaking to him about the cause I had taken upon myself. At least not directly. Many times I had sat outside the gates of his home in California on my motorcycle trying to communicate with him through the higher powers I had been developing when I wasn’t touring and was hunkered down in my lavatory with my books and the unseen guidance of my mother and brother while Vernon kept trying to coax me back to what he patiently called ‘reality’, though it was obvious on which side of the door, sanity lay.

If he heard me, Dino wasn’t responding and perhaps he wasn’t snubbing me, but it sure felt like it, and it wasn’t fair since I had publicly acknowledged my debt to him and would have thanked him personally but I was too in awe of him still to speak without stuttering, all shook up you might say.

That’s if you were me, if you were the King who wished only to abdicate and get on to my true work in the earthly kingdom of the true King but you felt an obligation to people who weren’t there, and to the fans who were waiting for you out there to hand you their scarves to wipe your sweat with and keep it safe for all their lives. They didn’t care if you were old or fat or dressed like a clown and they certainly didn’t get my message that I wanted out so let me go while we still have fond memories of each other.

Now the end is near and I can’t honestly say I haven’t had my share of losing. Okay I did what I had to do but sometimes I got muddled up in my own situation and lost the momentum, lost my enthusiasm for causes no one else wanted to fight. Besides The Beatles retired and that John Lennon character who was the true rebel in the bunch and the one most hooked on the drugs is going to be deported if he isn’t careful. And if that doesn’t work maybe they’ll have to get the C.I.A. to intervene.

Elvis is moving on. Jesse can stay and play out the farce. You know they got this guy over in England now trying to steal my name though he looks more like Buddy than me with those big old horn rims. Like his reincarnation, like his clone so maybe they finally got the hang of that. I know they’ve been working on it. Or maybe it’s an alien takeover incorporating the whole reincarnation angle and the space time continuum and throw in the history of rock and roll for kicks.

Sometimes I miss all these ghosts in my life and believe me I know the difference between real people in front of your face and these shimmering images that taunt and humble me. And there are times I feel like a ghost myself as I sit here scribbling on my ‘throne’ because it’s the only place I feel safe and can achieve some kind of clarity in my thought processes.

I want to walk all the streets Priscilla and I walked in the little town in Germany with everyone following us like they followed Al Pacino and his Italian girl in the Godfather because they couldn’t be left alone less they consummate their love before they get married. We fooled them and I feel like I fooled myself in the deal.

Hey you know that John guy is not so bad whatever I say. Mother you had me but I never had you. You got that right. Maybe we have more in common than I let on. Too bad we ended up on opposite sides of the fence. We’re like those twin brothers from different mothers or something, like the brothers who had to fight the civil war against each other as if they were strangers.

Half of what I say is meaningless, maybe it all is.

June 29, 2010

Trying to drum up a little business here and compensate for my recent bout of non-productivity, this is the first chapter of the last novel I published back in February. I just read it cover to cover this morning and it’s not bad!

PART ONE: TAKE A SAD SONG

AND MAKE AND MAKE IT BETTER

Chapter One

The morning after, Danny Rothman shows up at my door, just like old times, just like when he used to call for me every morning when we were innocent schoolboys to have me accompany him to the stores to buy Velveeta and Milk. Except it’s a different door, in a different house.

He’s been away at school, Melville University in Long Island, avoiding all the temptations himself, while I’ve been at the other side of the world, in Buffalo trying everything I could get my hands on, diving head first into the sixties before they leave us behind, before the ship sails without me.

My wonderful druggie friend back in Canarsie has been helping out just in case none of my freshman year roommates has been indoctrinated into the club yet.  Harvey Segal who made a special trip on his bicycle to my New Jersey Avenue home in East New York to turn me on at the tail end of 1967, and with whom I have already seen rock and roll concerts in New York, stoned out of my mind but oddly focused, sent me a thick letter in the mail one day.

Inside the letter are six or seven tin foil wrapped squares of hashish, an exotic drug similar to marijuana but with greater psychedelic properties. He writes that I should keep one for myself and sell the rest to the hayseeds who attend college with me, but I get greedy and after finishing my allotted portion, slice off a sliver from each of the other pieces knowing that my naive friends will never know the difference. And they surely don’t.

It’s probably the highlight of my unfortunate year at Buffalo, when I glide through the new underground society I am creating with my own cool steps on the formerly barren landscape, wearing my brother Paul’s discarded army shirt, with a peace button attached to the pocket, like a jacket, like a symbol of my hip new life.

A lot of these kids grew up on Long Island and were quickly snatched up in the twin cultures of beer and cars and never had a chance at feeding their heads, just their thirst and their guts. What they thought was a genuine buzz was nothing compared to the real thing.

And there are better times ahead.

It’s strange indeed that Danny has shown up, on this day of all days, when I’ve just begun to come out of a 48 hour bout with the dreaded LSD, having shed my skin and developed a newer tougher outer covering. Not to mention the inner ravages of my mind and soul, which will take much longer to heal, as long as I am thinking that there is something to be repaired, mended, tended to as if I had incurred a wound when in fact I have grown a new mind, tried on a new soul and walked around in it for a long time, in utter amazement at how comfortable I really felt.

I want to tell him what I have been up to when he asks but he will never believe me because I am not quite sure myself of where “I” ended and the drug began or whether the drug trip has truly ended and I am now solvent in my self and can keep what I have found inside. It’s so confusing even to me, and I gather from our conversation sitting on the steps of my Brooklyn condominium that he hasn’t even smoked marijuana yet.

“No I have too many problems to get into that right now,” he says, and I am dumbfounded. Not because he hasn’t yet taken the leap of faith that anyone living in this era who doesn’t want to miss out on all it has to offer will have to eventually take, but because of his admission that he has problems.

Problems, what problems could Danny Rothman have? He and I have known each other for a solid decade and I have always looked up to him, as if he were a young God and his own way of moving about in the world and conducting the business of himself, would lead one to believe that he has read his own press clippings and is convinced of his superior stature. Or that he has written them himself.

For Danny looks like a young Marlon Brando, but by the time this resemblance is manifested in his quizzical but determined countenance, the real Brando is a has been, temporarily washed up in Hollywood. He is considered a troublemaker on the set, refusing to learn his lines and acting like a Prima Donna, rather than the committed thespian of his youth.

Danny and I had met at his seventh birthday party but didn’t really become great good friends until after we were in the fifth and sixth grades together and took the elevator up to Harvey Segal’s apartment on the eighth floor of our building to commandeer him for a game of touch football in the street on Shore Parkway. Harvey opened the door and the television set at the far end of the living room became magnetized, luring our attention to a black screen with the war headline font alerting us to a BULLETIN.

A declaration of war would have been more palatable since it was what we had been preparing for in school since the second or third grades, practicing hiding under our desks and taking walks around the block under the guise of a phony fire drill. There was no fire, no nuclear war yet but we were training to get far, far away from the epicenter as if our youthful energy and common sense could carry us out of harms way.

This was something else; something we were totally unprepared for, and could never get enough distance from even forty-six years later, for it had exploded in our midst, and we didn’t hear a sound or see the pictures until years later.

It started small with just one word, but it grew in intensity as the voice of Walter Cronkite began to be heard and then as we saw him in shirtsleeves in the newsroom intoning the few facts that had arrived from Dallas. Shots had been fired at the Presidential motorcade, it didn’t seem to warrant any further attention right now so we gathered up Harvey and charged down the stairs like young stallions to meet up with the rest of the touch football players.


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