Like Father Like Son

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LIKE FATHER LIKE SON

BY

DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

“Like father like son” is not the favorite cliché of sons who “have a conflict with authority.” And they also do not care to hear the expression, “have a conflict with authority,” a painful verbal reminder of their “need for discipline.”

I suppose I was like every other rebel who thought he was being singled out for unjust discipline and who therefore took up Liberty for his or her cause. In my case, since my father obviously loved fine literature, my Liberty was Free Speech. Ever since then I have been hell bent on saying any damned thing, at the spur of the moment, that might please me, and the more shocking the effect, the more pleased I become. I recall how thrilled I was when I overheard someone say, in regard to one of my first business letters, “How dare he say this! I’ve never had anyone talk to me like this before!”

I did not realize in my youth that my father had also been rebellious and romantic from time to time, for that was a carefully guarded secret. There is nothing like being poor in the Great Depression and being a World War II veteran to discipline the savage beast in a man. It was a mystery to me how such a tough man like my dad, who was once a boxing champion in the Army, and went on long marches over bad terrain with a hundred pounds of gear, could shed tears over some silly little poem. I suppose that is one definition of a romantic, a knight-poet.

Indeed, my father loved poetry. He was inspired as a young man to write poetry. However, having experienced the sudden loss of my mother, Charlotte, and thereafter being confronted with several dire exigencies, he laid down his law degree, put aside his dreams of becoming an author, and became an electrician. And he was a proud electrician indeed. He often took me on tours of job sites to show me the excellence of his craft. He sang the praises of the art of pipe-bending, wire-cutting and -pulling and -splicing and hundreds of other things. He was a union man, and ‘Union Made’ and ‘Made in the USA’ were noble emblems of the highest degree of honor. Now that I think of it, he had not really abandoned poetry: he was living it. For him his work was poetry in motion.

In that poetry he had his rhetoric: he had his rhythm and his rhyme and his meter according to the broader scheme of things, a scheme great poets have associated with divinity no matter how mundane the details. All the elements of discipline were there to mold the temper of a soft-hearted, hot-headed Scot. Still, at home in a drawer, he kept his poems handy, and in those wee hours at night that were his alone he would read grand literature to refresh his spirits.

As for me, there was no way I was going to be like my father. Poetry was not for me, nor was electricity or electronics. That all went in one ear and out the other, like wire through the wall. Poetry and transistors were equally obscure to me, all too mechanical as far as I was concerned. I was determined to serve the cause of Liberty, and far be it from me to define exactly what the effect of that cause might be. I got up and left my home town to wander at random at a rather young age.

I left town with my prose, with my free speech. As the years went by, I learned to regulate my prose somewhat. Although it is unsuitable for publication, I take some pride in my progress. A writer very recently gave me permission to be a writer someday. Just imagine that!

The irony of not wanting to be like my father has dawned upon me as of late. It seems that, in my opposition to the very idea, the idea took hold of me and has wrestled me to the ground. My resistance was just a different motion in the same general direction. I did not take up poetry and electricity, but I literally picked up prose. That was once my greatest burden in life: I carried two footlockers of books with me on the train from New York to San Francisco, along with a little bag of clothes. Lugging those lockers around town and up the steps of a flea bag hotel over a strip joint was a real drag. Since then, there have been several occasions when I have not moved away from bad situations for years because I had too many books and could not bear carrying, shipping or leaving them.

Yes, there is nothing I like better than to curl up with a book since I like to read in bed, I sometimes even sleep with a few books. And I just love libraries. Libraries are my churches. Reading is my religion. It is as if I want to make up for all that time my father lost when he was on the job for twelve hours a day bending pipes and pulling wire, when his studies were reserved for those wee hours of the night.

As for writing, it is my yoga. Writing is my prayer. Do I write to get published? Are you kidding? Who do you think I am? Someone fond of rejection slips?

I suppose my literary fate is what some people call either a family curse or its blessing. Here I am, yet another rebel of my family, having lived with my father for only a few years, but very much like him after many more years intervening between then and now. But there are differences in several respects, one difference being that I do not write poetry. After all, a camel does not have to pass through the eye of a needle to get to an oasis. Nor does an inspired author need to be funneled through a sonnet to reach Plato’s heavenly vault.

I do love to read poetry, but I do not read that sort of poetry one must learn to like while acquiring a taste for Scotch whisky. I have lately been reading some of my father’s poetry because I am posting it onto the Internet for him. I must say I am often captivated by it. It seems to be free of formal discipline, yet it is certainly disciplined. He has invested years in a few lines. Absent the common rhetorical devices, the Muse still speaks, but with a great deal of his help. His prose has the same inner coherence and quality, an integrity I do not understand. Maybe it is really all prose with a classical sort of beauty that can be divided into a poem at will. How should I know? I am no poet!

Now I have received a letter from my father. What is this? He is giving me a lesson on the sonnet form. Oh, no! What is to become of me now?

Honolulu 2000

Smoking and Drinking – A True Confession

ALton Leaning Towers 

 

SMOKING AND DRINKING
A TRUE CONFESSION
BY
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

 

Crack open a beer and light up!

Go ahead, crack open a cold beer and light up a smoke. As long as you don’t leer in my face or blow smoke in it, I shall be at least indifferent to your escape from reality; at most, I can appreciate from my own personal experience how much fun a slow suicide can be.

No, I have no intention of preaching to you about my former bad habits. In fact, if I were offered a smoke and a drink before facing the firing squad, I would decline the smoke and ask for a six-pack. Those who say nicotine addiction is as bad as heroin addiction are probably right, but I do not have the slightest inclination to take a drag or two no matter how bad things get. However, ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ is my favorite movie, and, after all these years of abstinence, my favorite reading is happy-hour signs.

I started smoking and drinking to be a Big Man. Both drugs made me sick at first: being a Big Man has its price; a price I would not pay for heroin, incidentally, because I got deathly ill and refused to try it again even though the pusher said the second time sends one to heaven. A feeling of power is what I craved and received from drugs. And alcohol really did the trick for me; it dissolved my inhibitions. Defying authority, I became an almighty authority, so I certainly understand why so many authors love to drink. I was almost omnipotent: I survived automobile accidents and crashed relationships; I was beaten up, kicked down a flight of stairs, left unconscious in a snow drift, and so on. The list of my exploits is too long for this occasion; in brief, I was a living accident.

Yes, Power! That is the ticket to everything. It is no wonder religion has tried to put a handle on drinking lest it get out of hand. Religion is the worship of power, preferably the Highest Power, the Holy Spirit; not to be confused with the Fire Water discovered by the ancient cooks while the warriors were out fighting those outlaws who refused to observe the sacred campfire rituals. Nevertheless, it is amazing what fermentation can do, how it puts one in touch with the spirit world. Hence it is no wonder that the drunken cooks kept their secret well and became the fire priests who were, at first, the only ones allowed to drink the sacred intoxicating beverage. But the secret got out soon enough: when priests saw how wasted everyone was getting around the sacred Fire, they swore off and dried out. And to save face, to this very day many of their descendants swear on stacks of sacred scriptures that the famous soma was not really an intoxicating beverage. Uh-huh.

The Greeks had their power-drinking problem too, which Alexander the Great allegedly proved when he drank himself to death—some say his mother had him poisoned. The power-center of the Greek world was Apollo’s temple at Delphi in Phocis. Mead was the god’s beverage of choice until the more popular Dionysus moved in with wine. Much has been said about the priestess called the Pythia getting stoned on non-alcoholic substances such as gas, spring water, and bay leaves before hysterically shrieking out an oracular utterance to be rationally interpreted by the male priests. Pythias were nuns of a Cretan religious order. We might wonder just how intoxicated they really became on the substance, especially the water and bay leaves. Recent archeological studies indicate there may very well have been a noxious gas coming from the fissure in the rock over which the pythia allegedly perched on her tripod. Whether hysterical women are intoxicated or not, we have them to blame for our predicaments and distractions, for every person is born of woman; even so, better the gas than the wine, for we know women run wild on wine.

As I mentioned, I gave up the spirits; or rather, they gave me up. Since my life revolved around the anticipation of having a few beers in the evening, my practice of abstinence (practice does make perfect) eventually extended to nearly all activities. Devoid of spirits, I have come to Nothing, to the practice or worship of Nothing by means of virtual suicide. If I had religion I would be an ascetic living in a cave in the Himalayas; a sole disciple would bring me a bowl of rice which I would eat one grain at a time; in exchange, I would say something profound about the difference between a snake and a rope.

Drugs such as alcohol certainly do cloud our minds with delusion concerning the ultimate Power. A passionate Christian I know is drinking an ocean of beer. That is fine with me; seeing him inebriated rids me of my lingering fantasies about power-drinking. The subject of blasphemy came up the other day while he was sober—he never drinks on the job. I had remarked that blasphemy was, technically speaking, the use of God’s power against God; for instance, using the Word against the Cause of the Word. He replied that the worst blasphemy was misusing the things of God, and he pulled out his dog-eared, heavily underlined Bible to prove it. While he was thumbing through it, I remarked, “If that is true, then the body is God’s thing, and to misuse it with drugs is blasphemy.”

I am not a Christian or a godly person, but I had to say something because he has, metaphorically speaking, a heart of gold well worth saving although he is literally smoking and drinking himself to death. I realize many Christians who do not believe in the resurrection of their present body do not live for this world, but for the next, and thus consider the body of small consequence except for its corruption. Many Christians, nevertheless, wanted to save their bodies from the pogroms against Muslims, and did so by affirming, when accosted, “I am a Christian. I smoke, drink and curse.” No doubt Islamist terrorists would say the same thing to avoid detections when questioned at borders.

The one thing my acquaintance does not do is curse. Of course, he proceeded to justify his smoking and drinking with rationalizations supported by scripture. He admitted that anything can be justified by scripture.

With that in mind, as Chance or God would have it, I was walking in Waikiki thereafter, and I stopped in front of the Christian Science building to see what section of the Bible, exhibited in the front window, was marked for reading (I Corinthians, 6:18-20). I transliterated it perversely in the context of my thoughts on power-drinking, as follows:

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside the body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of Budweiser, King of Beers, which is in you, which you have received from the Anheuser Busch company? You are not your own; you were bought for a price. Therefore honor Anheuser Busch.”

Cheers! By the way, no blasphemy was intended above.

XYXNote:

Budweiser is the registered trademark of the Anheuser-Busch Company.

Honolulu 2003

Florence Nightingale’s True Calling

Florence Nightingale
Her forte was administration not nursing

 

 

FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE’S CALLING

BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

She denied she kicked every prick to get things done.

Florence Nightingale would be a saint today if she had been a Catholic, and she might have been a Catholic if she had followed her inclination to be one in 1852. As far back as 1844 she had admired the Catholic sisters of charity; she asked Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe if it would be “unsuitable and unbecoming” to take up charity as the sisters had done. He replied in the affirmative, but said she should “go forward” if called to the vocation. When Protestants in Scutari accused her of being a Catholic, an Irish clergyman remarked that she was a member of the Good Samaritan Sect. Some of the Protestants in turn were accused by other Protestants of adhering to the Socinian heresy. Such were the absurdities impeding good works.

Sainted woman, indeed. Given the formidable obstacles the Angel of Crimea faced, her success was in fact nothing short of miraculous. Whether she be sainted or not, the fame of The Lady With A Lamp is well warranted. Only Our Lady of Sorrows outshines her works. Although she believed not in the existence of germs, the fearless Lady-in-Chief certainly believed in loving kindness, soap and water, good clean air, and the better administration of everything – the death rate of patients at Scutari dropped from 60% to 1% in a few months. Wherefore Florence Nightingale changed the world forever and much for the better – there is not a nurse in the world who does not follow in her footsteps.

I am tempted to recount her deeds and give all due credit to her Band of Angels and to her supporters and admirers, from the Queen on down to the humble citizens who kissed her shadow when she passed them by on the street. Much credit would be due to the Radical paper, The Times, the first newspaper to cover a war with embedded reporters, for exposing the horrid conditions of the great blunder called the Crimean War and for raising funds from the appalled public to supply necessaries to the sick and wounded and dying patriots, who were called “scum” by their arrogant and incompetent officers. But I must refrain from the formidable task of retelling the tale. I do not have enough time on my hands to add another biography based on the many excellent biographies already written even though I would have a chance at fame and fortune: best-selling histories of histories have received the Pulitzer Prize. In any case, what Florence Nightingale did is already well known on the whole, for almost everyone knows a little bit of her story if not all. What I did not know and wondered much about – until I read Cecil Woodham-Smith’s Florence Nightingale – is what induced such a fine Englishwoman to kick against the pricks set up against progress in her field. She denied she had kicked every prick to get things done, but we can understand why people got that impression given her persistence when confronted by Red Tape.

Saul rebelled against his Lord as if he were an ox kicking against the pricks goading him to obey, thus driving them deeper and deeper into his tormented flesh. Florence, on the other hand, responded dutifully to the higher calling once she knew what it was. But almost everywhere she turned for the sake of charity, pricks were set up against her by wicked forces for fear that someone’s oxcart might be overturned and the goods therein spilled out into places more deserving. Do we not have such sayings as, No good deed will be left unpunished? Someone will invariably try to thwart the doing of good deeds if they receive advance notice that an attempt will be made. Flo encountered formidable impediments when she put her right foot on the high road. We are reminded of something Plutarch wrote to the effect that Pompey got along famously until he tried to save his country. Florence like Plutarch had the habit of writing. Besides writing letters for her dying ‘children” into the wee hours of the morning at Scutari, she produced long administrative reports of material transactions incidental to her work as well as accounts of her struggles with human resources. For example, she described her travails in a March 6, 1856 letter to Samuel Smith from Scutari:

Dear Uncle Sam:

I am very anxious to correct a false impression, which seems to exist in your mind, that I have had a steady & consistent support from the War Office – that, such as being the case, I kick against every prick – & am unduly impatient of opposition, inevitable in my or any situation, to my work.

The facts are exactly the reverse. I have never chosen to trouble the W.O. with my difficulties, because it has given me so feeble & treacherous a support that I have always expected to hear it say, ‘Could we not shelve Miss. N.? We dare say she does a great deal of good. But she quarrels with the authorities & we can’t have that.’

I have therefore fought my own battle – not only as I can truly say, unsupported by any official out here, with the exception of Gen’l Storks, so that I was amazed the other day at getting the loan of the little Gov’t tug for carrying good s – but exposed to every petty persecution, opposition & trickery that you can mention.

I have never had time to keep any records whatever except in the way of accounts. But I should have liked to have left some record of the way in which officials can torment & hinder a work. And, as they now see, torment, not only unmolested but rewarded, as every man who has been in any way instrumental in our great calamity, has received promotion or honors.

I will give you the slightest, pettiest instance of the hindrance which the pettiest official can make out here, if so minded.

When I came out, an order to furnish me with money was, of course, forwarded from the W.O. to the Purveyors here. I have never availed myself of this to the amount of one farthing. On the contrary, they have been frequently in my debt to the amount of lbs 1,500. But the Senior Purveyor at Balaclava refuses to cash my Cheques, for no other reason discoverable than the love of petty arrogance & the hope of injuring my credit, in the minds of ignorant servants.

As I think it is a pity that he should have then pleasure of doing this, I now send up CASH to the Crimea or take it.

Otherwise I could, of course, if I chose to complain, get an order to compel him not to refuse my Cheque.

This is the little Fitzgerald, who, after a course of successful villainy, has like id genus omne, been promoted to be Dep’y Purveyor in Chief, with back pay & all his little soul desires. This is Dr. Hall’s doing. But his is only one specimen of the promotions.

I do not like to use hard words. But I have no time to give the facts which would support them. But even to Sir J. MacNeill’s Report I could add a few facts which, if they were told (I being now one of the oldest inhabitants in Scutari & the Crimea) would make us feel that the times of the Scribes & Pharisees were nothing to these.

This little Fitzgerald has starved every Hospital when his store was full – & not, as it appears, from ignorance, like some of the honorable men who have been our murderers, but from malice prepense.

I know that you think the Credit of a wild imagination belongs to me. But I cannot but fancy that the W.O. is afraid of the Irish Brigade – and know that Card. Wiseman, who is supposed, right or wrong, to have some influence over Hawes, has been busy in this matter.

A ‘sot’ in the hands of ‘habiles mechans’ can do as much, as I know to my cost. And perhaps you do not know that Card. Wiseman has publicly, in his Insults, noticed with praise Mrs. Bridgeman’s Insurrection. Now Mrs. Bridgeman & Fitzgerald are one.

Fitzgerald topped up, with his ‘Confidential’ Report against me – for which he is rewarded, while a poor little Ass’t Surgeon, for a true & public letter in the ‘Times’, is dismissed the service.

I assure you that our utter disgust at these latter promotions would tempt us, (the few honest men as I hope,) to preach a Crusade against the Horse Gds & War Dep’t, feeling as we do now that not one step has been gained by our two years’ fiery trial & that more Aireys, Cardigans, Halls & Fitzgeralds will be propagated for the next war.

Believe me faithfully yours,

Florence Nightingale

[“Cardigans” appertains to Lord Cardigan, James Thomas Brudenel (1797-1868), notorious for his hot temper and for leading the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade].

Miss Nightingale’s letter merely describes a small portion of the hindrances; yet she persisted until the war was over; and even then she would not leave her nursing post until the soldiers had gone home. A battleship would have returned her to the mother country for a hero’s welcome, but she would have nothing to do with glory: she found her own, discreet way back to England. And then she continued to work overtime for reform; no doubt she would have reformed the entire British bureaucracy if she had obtained leave to do so from the men in power – only men could have such power at the time. Miss Nightingale, by the way, was not a ruthless cutter of the monstrous Red Tape; to get her way, she saw to it that men followed their own rules right away.

Whatever possessed Florence Nightingale, a woman born into high station, to do so much for her people when so many people were dead set against it? Today we expect wealthy and noble women to occupy themselves with charitable work; for God’s sake, what else have they to do? A Victorian woman was expected to marry and attend to her family; if she was charitably inclined, she certainly would not take up nursing, which at the time was more or less the occupation of vulgar drunken women and whores who slept with their patients. Florence Nightingale landed in her vocation because, much to her dismay in the form of guilt feelings, she was possessed or called by her god to do something good for society; she did not quite know what.

Flo’s father inherited considerable property from his uncle. Her mother’s father was rich man; a member of Commons for 46 years – he tended to fight for lost causes. Florence, so named for the city made famous during the Renaissance, wanted for nothing material as a child. For Flo her parents wanted a liberal education appropriate to her high station and a marriage to a suitable husband. She was her father’s daughter more than her mother’s, wherefore she was self-righteous, and her elder sister Parthe resented her and was perpetually cross.

Flo sorely craved companionship in her teens, She later wished she had not wasted so much time on corresponding with others; the writing habit she developed certainly came in handy during her administrative career, and we would not know her and her work so well today without it. We cannot blame her family for Flo’s loneliness. She like all children brought her own peculiar disposition to the dinner table. She was situated better than most children of the realm, yet she was an unhappy girl. In fact she imagined she was a monster. Fearing that strangers would discover that she was an alien, she starred as the heroine of her dreams. Perchance she dreamed too much for her own good. She suffered collapses and was bid-ridden from time to time. Likewise in her adulthood did she spurn celebrity and wind up sick in bed, where she still did the administrative work of ten men. Her psychological state in her youth would require expensive therapy in our drug-ridden age – the nosology of her malease (obsolete English word) would be too complex for our consideration here. Her mind was clear and quick, and she perceived matters realistically, yet she was abnormally sensitive and given to emotional exaggeration. Suffice it to say that the neurosis common to her own age was Romanticism of the French sort, the somewhat hysterical and perverse symptoms which would not do for Englishwomen despite Byron’s despairing contribution to ennui and malaise; hence symptoms had to be confined to fainting over the failure of someone to write a letter, rather than over the failure of a lover to show up for an adulterous tryst. Lady Lovelace, Byron’s daughter, by the way, loved Flo and wrote verses about her.

Despite her inner struggles with her god and the fact that parties made her feel guilty, Florence developed into a gracious, charming and witty young lady, a debutante seen at the best balls. At age seventeen (1837) she came out in France, where she share Joan of Arc’s experience with a divine but objective voice: “God spoke to me and called me to His service.” And on to Florence, Italy, where Florence was absolutely mad about the opera and the Italian freedom movement. And on to Geneva, where she became the disciple of the great Sismondi. Back in Paris to escape an impending war, she met and became good friends with Mary Clark, the influential salon hostess who, unlike her sponsor Madame Racamier, was not beautiful or well off but who managed to revive the salon life so important for the progress of modern European civilization. Back in London in 1839, her conscience bothered her about greatly for not answering God’s call, preferring, instead, parties and balls. She wanted to overcome “the desire to shine in society.” Her parents knew nothing of her quiet desperation, the agony and despair under the smiling face. There was some disagreement over her desire to take up mathematics: her mom was against it because math, she thought, was of no use to a married lady of high station; her father also disapproved, favoring history and philosophy. Flo wound up with a compromise – eight math lessons. As we know from her later life, she remained fond of mathematics and often resorted to the budding science of statistics to support her professional calling.

So at age 22 Florence was a young society lady, a vivacious intellectual figure who cut quite a figure on the dance floor. “All I do is done to win admiration.” And she was a girl who was enslaved by the habit of dreaming, and she was ashamed of herself for not responding to her god’s calls – many years later, in 1874, she wrote of four calls to a definite but unclear course. Mystical union with her god would not suffice: she must do his works.

As for marriage, there was indeed a suitor in the form of a poet and philanthropist: Richard Monkcton Milnes. She saw him often and was most interested in his philanthropic work. During the 40s she had scenes with her family over her fancy for nursing, which they considered a contemptible calling indeed, one that would put to waste all the Latin, Greek, poetry, and music lessons afforded their daughter. She proceeded to occupy herself with the study of hospital reports and Blue Books on public health. She enjoyed housekeeping; putting the house in order, making lists, and so on. Otherwise she was miserable: she collapsed; bed rest was prescribed as usual. Recreation was called for. Onwards, to Rome in 1847, and dancing. Back to London in 1849 for more misery, dreaming, self-hating suicidal thoughts. Flo fantasized of marrying her suitor and doing heroic deeds with him; but she eventually rejected his proposal and decided that her intellectual, moral and active nature, together with her dreaming and fainting spells, disqualified her for worldly marriage. To Egypt in 1849. More dreaming spells. Her diary is filled with references to God’s calls. Berlin in 1850.

In 1851 Flo writes from England, “My present life is suicide…. I have no desire but to die…. In my thirty-first years I see nothing desirable but death.” She went to work at Kaiserwerth that year – hospital, orphanage, prison, school – and worked with children and patients; she said she learned nothing of nursing there since there was none practiced. She visited her parents in Cologne; they treated her like a criminal. In 1852 she wants to go to work in a Catholic infirmary; her big sister Parthe accuses Flo of wanting to kill her and has delusions and a nervous breakdown. In 1853 Flo takes an unpaid administrative position for the reorganization and relocation of the Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Circumstances. She did a lot of practical nursing there, but she soon realized nursing was useless without proper administration. She learned to do many useful things: procuring a stove, furnishings, call bells and so on; managing coal deliveries, keeping accounts, supplying the kitchen, administering drugs so patients were not poisoned.

Miss Nightingale was finally happy. No more parties and balls. She was in her natural element, i.e. her Calling. In 1854 her apprenticeship was over and war was had with Russia. The Times broke the story about the outrageous conditions in Crimea: the pathetic state of sick and wounded soldiers who were dying more from neglect than from war. Her friend Sidney Herbert, Secretary of War, knew whom to call to service. He did not have to make the call, for she was already on her way.

Searching for the Real South Beach

image002

Clay Hotel

SEARCHING FOR THE REAL SOUTH BEACH

December 7, 2011

By David Arthur Walters

MIAMI BEACH—I landed in Ft. Lauderdale in 2004 and was intent on finding an apartment there when my plans were rudely interrupted by Hurricane Jeanne. The hotel I had booked cancelled my reservation because it had overbooked. I found myself huddling in a hot and dark room of a seedy motel on West Broward Boulevard while Jeanne blew over.

The motel was interesting to say the least.  The property been purchased by Russians, who conveniently neglected to take the motel franchise signage down. The Russian “exchange students,” were exceedingly cute in their maid outfits, were the main attraction. I first saw them swimming nude in the scum-laden pool one night as the storm moved in. They were virtual prisoners at the motel, not allowed to go to the beach or anywhere else for that matter.

The motel was packed with refugees from the storm. Everyone had gotten illegally gouged at different rates, the maximum that could be haggled from each of them, despite the Florida law against gouging in emergencies.

Panhandlers were going from door to door asking for money and food. One woman from the hood, “Big Mama,” would barge into rooms unannounced and ask for a cigarette while casing the rooms for stuff.

I had nothing worth stealing: one suitcase of shabby clothes. I did have one donut left, and some water in the bathtub. Stores were closed due to the hurricane, and the promised free breakfast was not there.

My old friend Hanley ‘Doc’ Harding managed to get through the motel phone system to me; he insisted he was coming to bail me out of the dump whether I liked it or not. Doc, a former Navy SEAL and a perfect pal to have, always did what he said he was going to do. He had lost a leg in a motorcycle accident after coming home from a covert operation, He also had the cancer that would do him in, but he made the most of it, teaching at police department’s traffic school, transporting prisoners, selling chemical and nuclear warfare protective tents, and designing a new kind of anti-terrorism training facility.

I stayed overnight at his condo in Sunny Isles, where he lived with his mother. She had also lost a leg, and would soon lose the other and her life after her cat bit it and the wound got infected. Doc said she had been in the beauty business, and had been married to one of Meyer Lansky’s sons for awhile. And then took me down the hall and introduced me to a lady who had inherited some of Houdini’s stuff.

The next morning, Doc’s girlfriend came over. She told me I would be a fool to stay in Ft. Lauderdale, that Miami would be a better place for me to find work, the only drawback being that I did not speak Spanish. I had lived on the southern end of Miami Beach before it was branded South Beach. It was really run down but relaxing back then. I asked Doc to take me on down so I could find temporary quarters and see what was going on. I wound up at the Clay Hotel on Espanola Way and Washington Avenue, where I stayed nearly a month.

I shall always have fond memories of the Clay Hotel, which offers private rooms, rooms with shared baths, and hostel lodging. That hotel on Espanola and Washington was once Al Capone’s favorite hideout on the beach. The experience was quite exotic for me, what with all the world travelers around. My first little room was right on Washington Avenue, where there was a virtual rush hour when the clubs closed in the morning. I would hate that racket now, but I loved it when it was new to me.

When I am asked what it is like to live on South Beach in the thick of things, I am wont to say, “It’s great until you find out where you’re at, but that’s true of everywhere, and you may never find out if you’re not interested in the truth.”

Many of the employees at the shops around the hotel told me they would never live on South Beach, and it is frightening to work on Washington Avenue, but it was all right for me at the time, mainly because I love to be near a beach. Besides, people from out of town say they would give their right arm to live in South Beach.

No one bothered me at Clay Hotel except the stranger who kept calling: “Hello, honey, do you want to talk?”  The desk clerk could do nothing about it, so I got another room, this one in the back building. The mosquitoes in the room were a hassle when I opened the only window; it was right over the garbage bins of a restaurant. I learned what “no abra la ventana” meant from the maid I when complained about the mosquitoes. She said she wanted to move back to Cuba now that her son was grown and out of college, because, she said, her back hurt like hell and American was only about money.

The walls were paper thin, so the screams from orgasms next door and heads banging on the wall woke me up for about a week. No problem, really, the whole affair was rather intriguing when fresh.

$50 a night was dirt cheap for a tourist, but not for me. I managed to rent a room for $550 month from David Muhlrad at the Plaza South Hotel. Muhlrad controls many apartment buildings on South Beach; most of them are occupied by Hispanic immigrants. He was not interested in knowing who I was when I signed the “Contract for Accommodations” on October 22, 2004, under the heading “The Plaza South, A Fully Licensed Adult Living Facility.” The contract would be returned to me signed by someone whose signature I could not make out. He gave me a calling card that read, “Ari Schuster, Managing Director, The Plaza South, The Only Deco A.L.F.”

The hotel (now the Gale-Regent Hotel) was in a sort of limbo, with only the ground floor currently devoted to assisted living. I was later informed by a member of the staff, who said she was the only one with practical nurse training and hence was resented by the Haitian caretakers in charge, whom she said were robbing their charges blind, that Mr. Schuster never came to the property, that the license on the wall was just borrowed. At no time during my tenancy ending December 2005 did I see anyone except Muhlrad in the little A.L.F. office.

As for the claim of stolen valuables, I would notice that the underpaid staff wore fine clothes and jewelry, and owned homes here and in Haiti. Yet appearances can be deceiving. I did not know if the practical nurse was credible inasmuch as she seemed disturbed, always paranoid about a tenant on the second floor, a cab driver whom everyone called “Sling Chain” because he had a long key chain that jangled when he walked: she said he was a crack addict, was stalking her, and was in the habit of picking up women and assaulted them in his cab. He was decrepit for his age, perhaps from crack abuse, which he admitted, and had a bizarre sense of humor.

I offered Mr. Muhlrad my references when I met him to rent a room, but he said to never mind, he knew people, and I “looked good.” He refused to take my check, stating that he only took “cash money, for obvious reasons.” Indeed, the low-income hotel aspect of the property was conducted on a cash basis only, no questions as to identity asked. If a regular Plaza South resident did not cough up the currency, their doors were “booted” i.e. they were locked out, in violation of state law, but what did they know of the law?

Mr. Muhlrad seemed nice enough as we chatted. I asked him how he liked the hotel business, mentioning I had managed several big discount tourist hotels in my day. He responded that one had to be crazy to manage the Plaza South. And he did behave crazily at times, screaming like a madman at elderly tenants who had complaints or who had not paid the rent, which I hear approached $2,000 a month including powdered eggs, macaroni, peanut butter or tuna sandwiches, and the like.

Although the elderly tenants were yelled at by Mr. Muhlrad, and perhaps had valuables stolen by the caretakers, I saw no evidence of physical abuse. Eventually the kitchen was shut down, and, some time before the hotel closed the old folks were hauled away, without adequate notice, to the related Hebrew Home, where I heard they were doubled up two to a room. One old man called the police, complaining he was being kidnapped or taken away illegally against his wishes, but he was written off as senile.

I still see one old lady around. I asked her how things were going at the Hebrew Home, and whether she had any regrets. “At my age it is not good to have regrets. I just keep going.”

Poor people cannot be choosy, and I was glad to land a cheap room in paradise, reasoning that a tourist would be glad to pay $100 night for it. Mr. Muhlrad was doing some painting at the time, and it looked like he was making a serious effort to spruce up the interior of the decrepit building. After that initial period, he was seldom around; he arrived in his vintage Cadillac from time to time, went in and picked up envelopes stuffed with cash, issued a few orders to staff, screamed at some little old lady who complained about something or the other, and took off.

So there I was, in room 211, directly under the room where two whores and their pimp plied their trade. And down one hall a Mexican drug dealer resided, as well as the black guy who wore suits and raged against white people i.e. “crackers.” An alcoholic-nosed photographer, who said he worked for the police department, also lived down that hall. He liked to go around and tell people there were warrants out for them. Down another hall was the formerly homeless, foul-breathed packrat with the goiter; his room was always filled with flies. Oh, there was a beautiful, charming woman who had a successful acting career until she got hooked on crack by her boyfriend, and turned to prostitution, with him as her pimp, serving only black guys—I liked her a lot but had learned my lesson after falling in love with a heroin addict out west.

And I must not forget the mentally ill guy who set fires in his room and in the stairwell by my room. The outside door to that stairwell was unsecured, by the way, so vagrants used the stairwell for a toilet, and sometimes vagrants got into the halls and slept.

Independent male and female prostitutes who could not afford rent were working inside the side entrances of the building, between the Plaza South and the adjacent hotel, or simply having sex in the unlocked path between the buildings. Muhlrad was asked to secure the area, which was also used for drug trafficking, but whatever locks he had placed were broken the same day. Two elderly tenants said they enjoyed watching the sexual encounters through their windows at night.

There were a few rather decent tenants: some young workers, and some people driven out of other buildings, conveniently condemned by the city and taken over by developers. These tenants did not know what was really going on with the property until everyone gathered in the lobby for a hurricane and exchanged notes; they were appalled, especially when a crack addict came into the lobby and said he was going to kill some “crackers” that night. Several of them moved out the next month.

Eventually we would all be kicked out of Plaza South with inadequate notice when it was sold to the Morgan Hotel Group in late 2005; off-duty cops kicked down the doors of the holdouts. The guy with the goiter threatened to set fire to the building. The carpenter who lived on the third floor and liked to talk tough all the time called the cops on the cops after his door was kicked in and his cat got loose.

As for me, I was a damn fool for moving out early: I ran into Sling Chain months later and he told me cash money was paid to some tenants to get lost. I could have pretended I was still in the room and collected the cash. One of the Haitian managers sold me the television in my room when I paid the balance of my rent, and delivered it to me with her car. She offered to sell me other furniture, but I had no way of moving it.

Mr. Muhlrad was merely managing the Plaza South for Russell Galbut, his relative by marriage, who owned the property until he sold it to the Morgan Hotel Group. Since then Plaza South was left vacant, a blight on the development around it, a terrible eyesore despite the fact that Morgan Hotel Group is spending large sums on renovating the Delano Hotel just across Collins Avenue. (It is now the upscale Gale-Regent Hotel managed by Menin Hospitality, in which Mr. Galbut has relatives and a major interest).

Mr. Galbut is powerful real estate developer with considerable influence on city officials to this day although he received some rotten press back in the good old days over his relationship with Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud, who was imprisoned for corruption in 1993. The Galbut law firm reportedly handled some of the dirty money. Daoud has alleged some of the dirty details in Sins of South Beach, a book wildly popular in Miami Beach.

The Galbut interests reportedly own a vast amount of real estate in Miami Beach via a web of companies, including considerable property in the now forgotten “CANDO” art district promoted by former Miami Beach mayor David Dermer, purportedly to curb gentrification. The promotion was actually intended to accelerate gentrification and cure the blighted nature of the area hence hundreds of “vulgar” people were evicted from their humble abodes to make way for the noble “gentry.”

Mr. Galbut has in the past refused to disclose just how much property his syndicate holds in the area. In April of 2005, his nephew, Keith Menin, at the grand opening of the Sanctuary, a former nursing home converted into a posh condotel a half-block from the Plaza South, bragged that an entire neighborhood would eventually go on the block.

I met Mr. Galbut once, at the Plaza South. The prostitutes working two beds in the room above me created a problem I could not ignore. I had gotten used to the sounds: the frequent slams of the door, the floor-creaking walks to the beds, the beds banging against the wall, and the groans. But the water from their bathroom was destroying the ceiling and walls in my bathroom, so I went upstairs and complained to the pimp, who was in the room with two of his girls. He did not care, he said, because his girls needed to wash themselves after doing their tricks, so he would not turn off the water, even though he knew a defective pipe was flooding everything below. The water eventually reached the first floor, soaking the ceiling and a wall of the old folk’s dining room. I was worried the ceiling would collapse on the aged people while they were eating their scrambled eggs or tuna sandwiches.

Mr. Muhlrad never responded to emergency calls on the Sabbath, so I went out of my way to find Mr. Galbut’s phone number and called him on a pay phone – I could not afford a cell phone, and there was no one on duty downstairs at night despite the fact that some of the elderly tenants might need help. I warned him that if the water continued to flow, the building would be damaged so badly it would have to be evacuated. He knocked at my door that evening with his boy Friday in tow. I advised him to survey the damage downstairs, and showed him the damage to my room—he was interested in the photos of high rises I had pasted on a wall to serve as self-suggestions to move up to better living conditions. Plumbers and carpenters were brought in the next day and they fixed the pipes and walls.

I did not receive nor did I expect any thanks from a kingpin like Russell Galbut, but since I had considerable experience as right hand man for real estate wheeler dealers and as a major tourist hotel manager, I went over to his building on the mainland with my resume, but he would not see me. That concluded the last dream I had of being brought in from the cold. “To hell with The Establishment,” I said.

I had several encounters with members of the Miami Beach Fire Department while at Plaza South because of the defective fire alarms. They went off frequently; tenants evacuated the building although we suspected we were hearing another false alarm.

Coincidentally, the alarms sometimes sounded on the Sabbath, when Muhlrad would refuse to answer even emergency calls from the Fire Department. I learned that he was once in charge of the city agency that enforces compliance with city codes. I learned that requests had been made but ignored by city officials due to his pull, to place security in the building at night to protect people from fire; that seemed to be a great idea to the old folks, not only for fire safety, but for any emergency—the room phones did not work.

I admired the fire fighters whom I met. For example, one night, during a downpour, anguished cries were coming from the area outside, waking everyone up. The cries resembled what a trapped cat might make. I got someone with a cell phone to call 911. The firemen came over and found a homeless man huddled under the air-conditioning duct, crying desperately in the rain. They spoke with him very kindly, and found shelter for him.

I also had my first encounter with the Miami Beach Police Department, which is getting a lot of bad flack in the press lately. Too many of us including myself tend to remember how bad things were, and ignore how much better things are at present. I recall that the Mexican drug dealer at Plaza South was dealing drugs openly on Collins Avenue in front of the South Plaza, and was also dealing up and down Washington Avenue, hustling his drugs to passersby. He was not the only one doing that, by the way; there were petty drug dealers everywhere. I warned him that everyone knew he was dealing, that he had been seen for months on the street handing off drugs for cash, and, one day the coppers were going to nail him.

“I’m protected. If anyone tells on me, they’re dead. I’ll have them killed or kill them myself.”

Well, I was right. A month later some officers came in ready for combat, taking not only him out but two others as well. He was back on the street a few months later, and then he disappeared, maybe transferred out by the cartel or busted again. Nowadays I am never approached by dealers on Washington Avenue, but I am never around that avenue after ten at night anymore if I can help it, because I know where I am. After all, this is South Beach.

# #

 

 

My Hairy Chest Her Hairy Legs

MY HAIR CHEST

MY HAIRY CHEST HER HAIRY LEGS

EPISODE IN THE HAIR WARS

BY

DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

My concern with hair has receded along with my hairline, yet I have present occasion, namely an episode of The Hair Wars, to raise the subject.

Like father like son: my father was half bald when he graduated from high school. I remember well how the barber clucked over my thinning hair one Saturday morning when I was merely twelve-years old, and told me I would soon need a rug to get along in life. And I recall now without too much discomfort how “baldy” was added to “fatso” in reference to yours truly. My hair loss was not entirely inherited: using Rit Dye to die my hair blue-black to imitate my friend Dino’s Italian mop certainly did not stimulate hair growth. In any event, as my hairline slipped further back, I simply attributed my rising forehead to superior intelligence: my father had clued me in to the derivation of the epithet “low-brow” during a visit to the Neanderthal exhibit at the museum.

There were naturally hidden hormonal advantages to baldness which I was not aware of until the advent of smart young ladies in my life: smart women know what baldness on top of an otherwise hairy ape really means.

I was seduced by a beautiful young Cherokee woman during a train trip from Chicago to New York. She had espied my hairy chest, which I had learned to display by keeping my shirt unbuttoned down to the fourth buttonhole. She moved across the aisle and sat down beside me, whereupon she proceeded to acquaint me with my rising fortunes. Inasmuch as the train had only one passenger car in which the conductor sat at the restroom end, and we had only a half-hour layover in Philadelphia in a very public station, I had to patiently and painfully await our arrival in Manhattan to take my final examination. But alas, as I frantically hailed a cab to take us to my hovel, she disappeared into the crowd! To this very day, I have the disappointing feeling that she had used the inequitable distribution of my hair against me while she teased it.

This all came to mind again recently when I was reading essays on the Internet; I ran across one written by Helga Ross on The Hair Wars>/i>’ wherein was addressed, amongst other hirsute matters, the life-hating statement of crew cuts–an image of Nixon’s team flickered in my mind.

Yes, indeed, I thought, there are all sorts of hair wars, blatant and subtle. I recalled the train ride as well as the Afro hairstyle I was seeing around the Upper West Side in those days along with the ethnic robes and long fighting sticks blacks were proudly sporting. I thought big hair and flowing robes were cool, but the walking sticks seemed menacing when I was paranoid from smoking pencil-thin Columbian joints. Afros were a sign of life for sure; several years later, when meditating on X’s autobiography, that fact really hit me.

Ten years later in Kona, circa 1980, my wife Kuilei came home with a big Afro hairdo. That was cool by me: because of the hair abuse I had received due to my condition, I had resolved to leave the hair business up to women. However, I must admit that her new do was stunning; I suppose her head took the Afro well because she is partly of Portuguese extraction. I certainly felt she was making a bold statement. We seldom discussed race relations, nor did we have much cause to, since there were only four or five blacks on the whole side of the island; but I know Kuilei liked them, and she was in fact sensitive to the plight of black people in general. In retrospect, I believe her Afro was a minor declaration of war, or at least the throwing down of a gauntlet.

But a major declaration was forthcoming. After we divorced, Kuilei stopped shaving her legs! I found it difficult to even imagine what the outcome of that would look like. When I was a young man, I had a shocking glimpse of a French-speaking woman with hairy legs while riding a bus in Chicago, but I figured she was with the circus, and I quickly put the sight out of mind. Of course, I knew women shaved their legs and used depilatories, but I had never seen the reason therefor; I once knew a woman who had a trace of a mustache and some hair on her chest, but I did not have a clue to the fact that a female’s legs could be as hairy as mine. Nor did I see Kuilei in her natural state during her hair war; but she did tell me a very amusing story about it:

Kuilei is a very attractive woman; she is one who looks much younger than she is. She recounted to me how she had been sitting on the beach one day with a blanket covering her hairy legs, when two high-school boys young enough to be her kids made their moves on her. They sat down; she courteously chatted with them awhile.

Finally, when one fellow was coming on strongly, she said, “By the way, there is something I should tell you.”

“What?” the boy asked.

Kuilei whipped the blanket off her shapely legs, exposing the luxuriant growth thereon. “I’m a man,” she declared.

Horrified by this blatant challenge to their sexual identity, the boys fled the obscene scene.

Someone recently told me many European ladies let their legs get hairy. But hairy legs in the United States are terrifying. Helga Ross is right: there is a hair-war on Life here. I wonder, Does revolutionary Life still live in France? I heard rumors the other day about a female writer in France who calls herself by a man’s name, George Sand: that she wears trousers, sports a mustache, smokes cigars, and admits to being a non-violent communist. I was told she cut off her long hair and sent it to her lover because he had admired it so much. Is that true? That sounds like making hair love instead of hair war, as if hair love could overcome the hair war on nature.

Pray tell, Does George Sand have hairy legs? Long Live George Sand!

Honolulu 2003

Rocking Horse Tragedy From the Horrors of Acid

THC Rocking Horse
A ROCKING HORSE TRAGEDY
FROM THE HORRORS OF ACID
BY
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

I seldom think of Billy nowadays lest I grieve for the paradise never quite had in the late Sixties and early Seventies. We certainly had high hopes in those psychedelic days. I was more or less a weekend hippie when I met Billy, but basically a square kid from the Midwest.I met Billy, a distinguished philharmonic musician and music professor, at a popular bar in our neighborhood on the Upper West Side, where he was wont to appear in his tuxedo after concerts. He was much beloved by his many friends. He began to experiment with drugs other than alcohol shortly after I met him, which was no fault of mine although I did introduce him to Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine . Reefer madness led to acid-headedness, and so-called THC soon proved to be his downfall.

It was beside the point what the drug really was in those days as long as it got you high. In fact it was ketamine aka horse tranquilizer, a sedative Timothy Leary associated, along with LSD, with the eighth or mystical circuit of the brain. Ketamine got you out of this world, and the pills were relatively cheap, which was a good thing because you had to drop one every hour or so to stay aloft.

One late night, at a party in his apartment, Billy showed us a rocking horse someone had given him, said it was his Trojan horse, and that “THC” was his “master.” Then he went into the bathroom. We found him washing one hair at a time in the shower. He said he wanted to get himself perfectly clean. Hydrogen was the fundamental element, he explained. And he said he was hearing the undertone of the universe as well, “the sound of the silence,” he called it, saying it was almost B-flat.

THIC Beacon PIC

Six months later, shortly before he leaped to his death from the Beacon Hotel, he told me he was convinced that he was the “messiah from the East,” that I was the “messiah from the West,” and that we were destined to change the world. He said Madame Blavatsky had contacted him from the Other Side and asked him to join her there for a while, so he could return reincarnate and save the world. He was a gentleman when he crossed over, taking his fatal leap from the rear of the building.

#

I would eventually manage to repress the memories of that era of flowers and love and other material and spiritual intoxicants. My friends said I was “copping out” shortly before I painfully withdrew from The Scene to Miami Beach. They said I was making a big mistake, that I was gifted, that I had a special calling to be some sort of spiritual master, that I was abandoning the Revolution, so on and so forth.I met a pot-smoking Jewish American Princess in South Beach, a photographer and porno starlet. I returned to Manhattan for a week’s stay at her Midtown loft above a whore house, and then went on to Waikiki after she gave me a flute and kicked me out of her bed, because, she said, her career was her “paradise island,” more important to her than any man, and she could not “afford to be distracted longer than a fling.” Besides, she complained, I got her hooked on Russian cigarettes.

I took the suggestion to heart, went directly to JFK, settled down in Honolulu, and eventually moved to the Big Island of Hawaii.

I experienced a few flashbacks and relapses into transcendental spheres after my relocation to paradise. I even dropped some blotter on the North Shore of Oahu one night, yet for the most part I clung desperately to a woman and a job. Mind you that I still drank beer for good measure, and took a toke or two of Kona Gold, Puna Butter, and Maui Wowie here and there.

The old adage in Hawaii was “Real Estate is the basis of all wealth.” But the avid pursuit of property was not in my constitution, so I did not pursue a fortune. Indeed, I let a small fortune slip away when I refused to take a sure shot at becoming a millionaire by buying a lot in the Kona Heavens subdivision from the German developer. My denial of things spiritual was relatively successful as well. I suppose I was almost a zombie, going through the usual paces: eat, excrete, work, drink, and fornicate.

#Fifteen years after I had fled from horse tranquilizer madness to Hawaii, an odd couple of spiritual weirdoes provoked me during one of my artistic relapses. I was sitting cross-legged on the lawn of the Kona Inn on Big Island, sketching the bark of a palm tree, meditating on the actualization of an Intelligible in material form. Someone approached me from behind.

“You must join us,” a male voice firmly announced.

Startled, I turned to behold a young man and young woman, dressed in robes flowing from neck to ankle. I was alarmed by the pair’s glimmering, pastel auras. I wanted none of that, so I stowed away my sketch pad and arose.

“No thank you,” I said as I walked away. I added, not to be rude, “I have other plans.”

“You belong with us,” the woman sang after me. “Come, come with us.”

“Yes, come, come with us,” her companion repeated. “We know who you are. Do not deny yourself. The world needs you. Come with us.”

Weirdoes! I thought, not looking back. They wear no malas; they smell sweet instead of sweaty. The color of their robes was not right for Rajneesh. They’re not from Oregon, I concluded: They must be from Findhorn; the Big Islands’ geomagnetic features attract them like iron filings.

I hurried across the street to the bookstore, chatted with its owner about the weirdoes around town, and perused the local newspaper, West Hawaii Today. An advertisement therein announced that The Quintet would soon appear at the Kona Surf Hotel. I lived nearby, at the Surf and Racquet Club.

“Egads! That’s Billy’s quintet!” I exclaimed, the hair standing up on the back of my neck. “They still exist! What are they doing way out here in the middle of nowhere?”

The Scene I had long repressed flooded me with an eerie emotion as I cruised home in what my wife had called my “cream-colored yacht with a brown foreskin,” my Mark IV Lincoln Continental. Then I heard the inner music again, as if the entire orchestra were in my head, reciting Billy’s favorite symphonic tone poem: Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra.

#

I had been awakened by Strauss’ heroic tone poem on a Saturday morning many years prior, in my illegal sublet next door to a temple on Central Park West. I must have been hallucinating, because my stereo was off and yet every instrument was sounding inside my head. I had no idea of what I was going to do that day. I was in some sort of trance; no doubt from the ketamine residue from the previous night’s carousing. I put on my clothes and walked into Central Park, having not the slightest idea of where I was going. All the while, the symphonic poem played out; it was as if I were the music. I was barely conscious of anything besides the music as I strolled along in my daze.
I exited the north end of the park and soon found myself before the Theosophical Society’s bookstore on East 53rd Street. Although I was acquainted with Madame Blavatsky’s occultism, I was not aware of the bookstore’s existence until that day. The music ended as I stood there; and for a moment I heard nothing but the sound of the silence. The plate glass of the front door of the shop had been smashed. I saw some fine clothes neatly folded in front of the door, next to a pair of shoes. Turquoise jewelry was laid out on top of the shirt.

It slowly dawned on me: I was looking at Billy’s clothes! What a coincidence. What would he be doing here? The lights were out in the store, for it was closed. I looked through the broken plate glass, and there stood Billy, naked, with his arms stretched upwards and palms open. He looked into my eyes and said something. Finally, I could hear, as if I had been underwater and had just surfaced:

“David, people are not going to understand this. Do not stay here. Get out of here. Go to my apartment and get rid of the THC.” (We still were not aware of that it was ketamine, and we could have cared less).

“Oh, my God!” a woman shrieked from a window in the flat across the street. “God bless him, he’s just a baby, a newborn baby!”

“David, leave,” Billy reiterated in a calm and collected tone. “They are not going to understand this.”

I left and walked back to Billy’s apartment on West 72nd. By the time I got there on foot, another one of Billy’s friends was already inside the apartment. The police arrived. No drugs were found. Billy had been taken to Bellevue Hospital, duly ensconced in the mental ward, where we visited him three days later. He seemed quite at home there despite its inhospitable appearance and the odd behavior of his fellow inmates, which gave us the feeling that we might go mad if we stayed for long.

“Billy, you’ve got to tell them you were doing drugs,” said one friend, “or they will hold you here indefinitely. You’ll miss the tour to India.”

“I like it here,” he replied. “Look, look down the hall there….”

“Oh my God, there’s a rat!” I exclaimed.

“Not that,” Billy said. “Just look. What does the hall look like?”

“What?”

“Remember the hall in 2001?” He asked, referring to Stanley Kubrik’s 2001 Space Odyssey. “Don’t you see? I’m going to cross over soon!”

Billy did tell the doctor he had been doing drugs before he jumped through the plate glass window. And he was discharged in time for the India tour. While there he visited the Theosophical Society in Madras, dropped some ketamine, got into his cross-legged Buddha pose and went catatonic. Billy was booted: India was none too pleased with the onslaught of flower children in those days.

Back in New York, one of his arms remained partially paralyzed, so he gave up his musical career and sold his instruments. We were relieved when Roosevelt Hospital accepted him as a mental patient; we hoped he would recover himself and his career. While there, he preoccupied himself with Euclid’s theorems. He did not like the psychiatrist, and curled up in a fetal position when the doctor visited him. He was discharged after a few weeks because, we were told, he was in no immediate danger, that beds were desperately needed for those who were, so he had to go. A few months later he was dead.

The Quintet survived, as his species, so to speak. I visited the quintet when they came to Hawaii. Their hairs had already turned gray. We did not speak of the good old days. I seldom do nowadays. The Sixties Era was a tragedy for many of us. Billy’s ghosts still haunts me from time to time. Maybe there is a higher plane on which he still exits. Enough said.

# #

Introduction to Tripping – From The Horrors of Acid

TRIPPING

From: The Horrors of Acid by David Arthur Walters

Introduction to Tripping

“I have all of his books,” Patrick, my twenty-something friend said proudly as we sat sipping our Starbuck’s coffee on a bench near Lincoln Center. Patrick, a dancer, used a pointed foot to perform a small rond de jamb on the grimy sidewalk beneath us. “His gravestone lies flat on the ground, and it’s only this big,” he indicated with his foot.

“I remember him well.”

“He was so beat! But Ginsberg and the others disagreed with him because he wasn’t into flag burning.”

“I thought he burned a flag or a draft card.”

“No. Once he was handed a flag to abuse, but he just folded it properly because he was proud of his country. Anyway, people like me come from all over the world to crowd around his grave and worship his memory.”

“How did he die?” I couldn’t help but ask my usual question, given my age and interest in writers.

“He drank himself to death. He was depressed. He didn’t think his literature had the impact he had wanted.”

“Alcohol!” I exclaimed all too knowingly, having been dry for almost three serious years. “Just what did he want? What was his objective?”

“Well, he wanted to be great, like Tom Wolfe,” Patrick responded.

“But what was his objective?” I persisted. “I mean, what effect did he want to have?”
Patrick hesitated for a moment, and then emphatically declared, “He wanted to set people free!”

Bingo! Freedom! I remembered “freedom” was Sartre’s answer to “Why Write?” That issue is of prime importance to me as I ponder on what to do with the next and perhaps final stage of my life, now that the passion that got me through the last stage has fled.
I didn’t query Patrick on the particulars of freedom: Freedom from what? I thought I’d best keep the subject general in order to contemplate the vague universal. To hell with the facts: They can take care of themselves!

Later that day, I heard a radio newscaster say that Los Angeles is taxing writers on the $7,000 average annual income they make after giving each an imaginary share of the tons of money the top 5% make.

Why write? I looked for Sartre’s book in my stacks. I considered throwing every volume away except that one, if only I could find it, to free myself from everything I think I should know someday, to focus on an ideal.

I could see an ideal gleam in Patrick’s eye as he spoke of the idolized author. Youth does tend to idolize. That serves to perpetuate the species, yet painful disappointments come with the package. Indeed, I had invited Patrick out for coffee after jazz class because I noticed that he had an anguished expression on his face. Perhaps I could help.

Patrick said the dance master he idolizes, Luigi Facciuto, hurt his feelings by making an unfavorable comparison of his ballet technique with that of a Baryshnikov.
“Patrick, you must not allow your identity to depend on what others say or do,” I advised, emulating the whole pack of hypocrites who deny that a human being is a social product.

I was glad that he didn’t object to my unqualified offering; at least my intentions were good. Besides, specious advice has kept many a freedom fighter on the road.

Patrick revealed another sore spot. He had also idolized his best friend, a beautiful young woman who resembles the statue of Isis, absent the fecund potbelly, found in one of the pyramids. This modern, flat-tummy Isis had recently become available and, much to Patrick’s chagrin, she chose to date an “older” man, a custom I heartily approve of. She apparently considered Patrick and herself to be just friends. Sadly to say, he desired much more. I love her too, with a fatherly interest of course.

“Patrick,” I adopted a fatherly tone reminiscent of the one taken by my own father when he said: There are lots of skirts out there, no need to chase that one. “It’s numbers, that’s all it is. The sooner you make a move on a woman the better, ’cause if she says no, you have plenty of time to ask the next one.”

“But I want to be reasonable, to have the right one for me.”

“Reasonable?” I snorted. “If I had of been reasonable, I would have nothing, no wives, no houses, no cars, no divorces, no life, no nothing. At your age, you should just run through as many women as you can.”

“I want it to last!”

“It will last when one of them clings to you instead of you clinging to them,” I countered, espousing a philosophy just opposite to the conduct of my entire life. “By the way, which is his best book?”

“What?”

“Which is the best book of all his books?”

“On The Road. I tell people that, once they read it, there is no going back. Your life is forever changed. You know, you are a great writer yourself. You should write about your life. Please tell me one of your stories about the horrors of acid.”

“O.K. I’ll tell you about my first acid trip. Not that I recommend dropping LSD. Au contraire! If you do, I warn you, there is no going back. Your life is changed forever.”

-To Be Continued-