Total Pageviews

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Red Light District - Day 4

Day Four
I’m in the Oude Kerk, in the belfry and the bell is ringing, a tremendous sound, so loud it hurts—a dream. Rudely awakened I sit up in bed. The sound and shaking’s very real and loud enough to shake the fillings from your teeth. I get dressed hurriedly, pull on my socks and pants, lace up my shoes  and then step over to the window I left open last night. It’s been warm . . . mid August.  I look out and down into the dawn’s last purple shadows lingering in the narrow alleyway below.
            Three hooker’s windows are adjacent to my second story room and all three window’s lights (naked fluorescent tubes) are lit. I wonder if the they work all night? From where I am I only see (in full), one window. It’s a blue light window—a gay window. The male prostitute has stepped out from his door with a little white dog that has needed to urinate.

My frame of reference shifts. This prostitute has been transformed into a human being. He is one of us, with thoughts and dreams and feelings. When at work and posing in his window he seems not quite real . . . a manikin (pun unintended).
            He has had some customers. I guess enough to pay the rent. He isn’t posing in this window for amusement. Sometimes, late at night when all the bars are closed, I hear a drunk or three harassing . . . jeering at him. Cowards with an easy target. The harassers are not Amsterdamers, and intolerant of things that don’t in any way concern them. They want others to be like themselves. A scary thought!
            Enough of this. I take a sneaky photo of him in this early morning light. No flash. He’ll never know.

            With camera back inside my backpack, I pull on a T-shirt and I’m out of here. Tremendous sonic bangs and shaking of this building have not stopped, still rhythmic at about five-second intervals. I stumble down a steep and narrow stairway to the bar. The bartender looks bored, and less than happy. As an employee his is unable to escape this stunning sound. The two of us trade glances filled with understanding. I can feel his pain as I pass by on my way to the landing outside the front door.
            Oh, wow! Amazing. There is an enormous yellow  pile driver perched  on a removable roadbed of  huge steel and concrete slabs that straddle  the canal.

Each of the driven steel beams that will soon (I hope) create a coffer dam they’re building. The pilings  are some twelve yards long, about a yard wide, and weigh eighty tons. They will divide this waterway in half. Then one side will be drained, and the canal wall on the dry side be replaced.
It’s been five hundred years since this canal was dug. This area is built on sand that was once ocean floor and architecture in the Red Light District rests on wooden pilings that have also been in place five hundred years, some many more. They have begun to shift a bit and decompose.
          More than a few of the wonderful old buildings along this canal are listing fore and aft. The sides are holding vertical as buildings rest against each other without any space between. Eventually I learn that most are built on sixteen pilings (minimum) as a foundation. Sagging, sinking pilings are replaceable, but at about $10,000 each. Some buildings lean a bit. At first I thought I was hallucinating, and I swear have not inhaled—yet!

        Hope I haven’t bored you with this techie stuff, but it’s a part of the big picture, cleaning up the Red Light District. It will take two years they say. I hope their estimates are better than the ones we get here in Seattle. Never mind. I’ll take you back to sex and drugs. There’s also rock and roll here.

              I have breakfast, poke around a bit and get to Hunter’s late, 11:30, but the dealer isn’t here yet. I invest ten Euros in computer time to read and answer e-mails—almost fifteen bucks. I pay another two for coffee and six more for my first smoothie of the day.  I have become addicted to the smoothies here. I’m out of PC time in time to see the dealer enter. Almost 12:00 now. His name’s Terry. Terry waves hello and goes behind his counter to prepare for this day’s business, and I wait until he’s free, then ask him, “How’d you get this job?”
            “It wasn’t hard,” he says. “I was a chef in England. There was so much stress, that job. I did some chefing here when I first came over, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I got to know my way around, you know? Met people, found this place. Same money and no pressure. It’s a lot less stress, just selling marijuana and hashish. This is a great job here, you know?”
            He’s got a heavy English accent.
            “People from all over the world . . . bringin’ in their stories,” he continues. “When I was younger, in England, I was very into hash. I always had a little on me, but you have to pay for it, you know? And wages always a bare minimum. Here everybody’s always got a little extra. I’ll be back.”
            He turns away to serve a couple guys who look like college students. They discuss what they might buy. I go back to my stool again, and drink some coffee until they decide—two grams of L.A. Confidential. Terry weighs it out. The student’s walk up front to where the tables are with their new purchase and begun to roll some joints. The drug bar’s empty once again and I walk over to it.
            “Want to try some?” Terry asks me.
            “Umm. It’s been a long time. 1960 something . . . San Francisco, but pot never had that much affect on me. “There’s no way I could roll a joint.”
            “Try one of these.” He pulls a pre-rolled New York City Doobie from his counter.
            I decide to try it in the name of science and research. I go back to take my stool and light it up.  Five minutes pass, then ten, but I feel nothing. Then I notice I cannot recall what year this is. I look around the place. It’s all so cool, almost reserved. The lighting’s softer than it was before and there’s a reddish glow that seems to brighten, then go soft again. A kind of purple haze in places. Music plays constantly.
            I put out the half-smoked NYC Doobie . . . maybe later. Almost 2 PM now. Business is increasing as I drink another smoothie. Dope bar’s hidden by a wall of bodies. Would-be customers  are sniffing plastic sample baggies. A delivery guy comes in with a large tray of Sushi and distributes it to several new arrivals who are at a table.
            Terry’s back.
            I ask him, “Is it legal for you Amsterdamers to grow weed at home?”
            “A single household only gets to grow five plants. So where is all this comin’ from?” He gestures toward his drug bar as the tattooed waitress brings a cup of coffee for him. Terry lights a joint, inhales, then passes it to me. I take a toke that I don’t need. His accent seems more Irish now.
            “It’s used to be kind of a cottage industry,” he says. “But there’s been a big change in attitude. They’re really cracking down and it’s not only the police now, it’s these private security firms, the FEOS. They drive around in little vehicles with 360 degree cameras on the roof. They can take a photograph of a street and see which houses are hotter than others.
            “The police just bought remote control helicopters to look for grow houses with their electronic sensors, and they’ve got machines that can smell—devices they stick into people’s letter boxes. If they find something they kick your doors down. It’s all changed in Holland. There used to be two kinds of growers, somebody growin’ sixteen hundred plants, and little people, growin’ maybe forty plants. Making three or four thousand Euros every few months. The little guys used to be left alone. Police were only interested in the big growers. Now they’re interested in little growers.”
            Six new customers arrive. “Is there a bathroom here?” I ask him as he heads back to the drug bar. Terry points down a short hallway. There’s a poster on the wall.

I’m hungry for some Chinese food. Hope I can find my way. I’m feeling fairly stable. Wonder how the window girls are doing? Almost early evening now. The tourists will be lining up outside Theater Casa Rosso.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Amsterdaming - Day 5

Fate of the Red Light District
Day 5

Old Love. New love. Any Love But True Love.

Days are long this time of year in Amsterdam. It’s still quite light. An old guy (my age) is still drinking beer at the front window of the bar at my hotel.  The bartendress calls him an alcofrolic—always here during the day, goes home around 6 p.m. As usual he’s watching the window girls across the canal.
            “Give him another, one for me as well.” I place my order, lay ten Euros and my backpack on the bar and take a stool. One of the window girls has found some action, or the action has found her. Will he go in? We watch. They talk. He lingers. This is weird. He’s brought a long stemmed flower for her, wrapped in cellophane.
Bazaar!  They spend some time in conversation after which the guy writes something down, or is he texting? Then he walks away. Girl in the window’s left alone to ply her trade. Was he a suitor? Customer? Delivery boy? We’ll never know. The alcofrolic’s also clueless, and he spends most of his life here at the barroom window, watching. Hotel bartenders keep an eye on him, bringing another round whenever they see he has drained his glass—takes maybe twenty minutes. Must have a hell of a bar bill, but never seems drunk . . . as coherent as any of us—speaks English, German and Dutch without difficulty.
            “The girls are fun to watch,” I tell him. “Even if we can’t touch.”
            “Ya,” he grins. “Don’t kick a gift horse in the mouth.”
            It’s funny what the Dutch do with American expressions.
*       *       *
            When darkness falls I make my way to Hunter’s once again to ask more questions of the dealer, but our conversation’s interrupted as new customers arrive. I notice he requires I.D.s from younger looking would-be buyers, and turned two away so far tonight. It’s almost 9 p.m.
            When he comes back he tells me, “Hopefully this government will get voted out and things will swing around. They’ve been in power eight years now. People come and go with their own personal opinions . . . forcing them on others. We’re individuals—all of us. We know what’s good or bad. We don’t need governments to tell us. As an individual it should be up to you to do what you want to do: go out and drink a bottle of whisky . . . shove some cocaine up your nose. Everyone’s different. Some people go to church every week, you know? Whatever. Live and let live, man.”
            Someone comes in with a large briefcase and has gone behind the drug bar where he opens it and starts refilling all the little plastic boxes behind the counter with new stuff. The dealer goes to help him. There’s some paperwork involved. I take a break to let them go about their business—walk across the street into a head shop. Sign says, BABA. There’s a lot of BABA’s here, at least three different ones. 

                Someone is looking at a bong kit. There’s a little metal suitcase, like the ones used by photographers, but this one’s got a blown-glass bong inside, bong cleaner, and attachments I don’t recognize.

                “How much does this thing cost?” I ask a guy behind the counter.
            “Hundred-fifty Euros for the case,” he says. “Four hundred for the bong.”
            “That’s a cheap one. Let me show you.” He comes out from behind the counter to the other side, unlocking a display door. “This one costs eight hundred Euros.”
            Wow! More than a thousand dollars for a bong. I guess you’d want a special case.
            “Hand blown,” he says. “The color’s in the glass, not a decal.”
            Who buys these things, I wonder?

            I walk back to Hunter’s where the dealers are still busy loading new supplies and selling to another  group of customers. I go back to the bar where I am close enough to hear their conversations. Someone buys and ounce of weed they call Amnesia—God, I love these names. Another goes for half a gram of Sour Diesel. Curiosity has got the best of me.
            “What is it that you like about Sour Diesel?” I ask as it finds its way into a plastic bag.
            “The smell,” the happy buyer grins. “It smells and tastes like Diesel fuel.”
“We’re individuals—all of us.”
            I drink three smoothies, finish off what’s left of my NYC Doobie and take a leisurely stroll  back to the hotel. Tomorrow’s my last day an Amsterdam.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ganga Sadhu - Nepal

When men see Cold Mountain
They all say he’s crazy
And not much to look at
Dressed in rags
And hides.

They don’t get what I say
I don’t talk their language.
All I can say
To those I meet
Try and Make it to Cold Mountain.
            Han Shan
            9th century Buddhist Hermit Monk

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Friday Night

A short walk to the Arab’s
Little corner grocery store
September, 1967 - San Francisco
Counting out my change he says,
“I’m going to a disco . . . pick up a few women.”

I go home to drink the sake purchased
Watch some bad T.V.
It is enough
I’ve already had a few women.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Unusual Case

Short Story  - Detective [Noir]

            I left San Francisco after getting busted — a long story from another time, another place, another world, and better off forgotten. I drove north far as I could and landed here in Kissmiass, Alaska.  Colder than a bitch’s tit and urine freezes ‘fore it hits the snow. Inhabitants  get cabin fever . . . worse.   I lubricate my sanity with gin, which seems to work but is expensive. My small office is one flight above the Falling Moose Saloon. The rent’s not much. It’s just four walls and a cracked window that looks out onto an air shaft. There's a dying fichus plant . . . a desk, two wooden chairs. I’m slightly drunk but see her shadow silhouetted on the frosted glass that states my name and occupation on the office door:
Ace Brannon
Private Eye.

            She doesn’t bother knocking, just walks in. A tall blond, maybe thirty something with a rack that’s big enough to make a man think twice, and two green eyes the size of bottle caps. A third eye glows a dull red from the center of her forehead . . . bloodshot maybe.
            I try not to stare. It isn't easy.
            "My name's Margo. Margo Mank,” she says. “I’ve got a problem.”
            “Yeah? Tell me about it.” I suppress a grin.  
            “I’m looking for a guy,” she says.
            “A lot of women have that problem.”
            “Not like mine,” she says. “My man was murdered last September. We’d been married for a year. His name’s Shaw Mank . . . or was. The cops don’t seem to care about the case.”
            “What was his bag?” I ask her.
            “Scientist,” she tells me.
            “No, the research kind. Shaw had been working on the sexual reproduction of Norwegian seaweed at a private lab in Munich, Germany. He flew back home to meet me in the States. Shaw told me he’d discovered something that was sure to make us rich, but never got a chance to tell me what it was. He left our place to buy a bottle of Champagne, to celebrate, you know? That was the last I saw until some three weeks later when a wino found his body underneath a pile of smashed-down cardboard boxes in an alley. It was pressed flat, like a rose between the pages of a bible.”
            “You know who the killer was?” I ask.
            “I’ve got a picture of him.”
            Margo pulls a black & white out of a Gucci alligator purse that’s big enough to hide a rabbit in. She lays it on my desk. The dude looks something like a cross between an octopus and wheelchair.
            “He should be an easy guy to find,” I say.
            “He’s faster than he looks.”
            “He got a name?”
            “They call him, Twitchy.”
            “Used to date a broad called, Itchy,” I inform her.
            Margo’s red eye blinks. “Twitchy’s a hit man from Chicago, but I followed him up here, as far as Nome, then lost the trail. There was a snowstorm - big wind from Winnetka - and my dogs ran out of gas.”
            “I see.”
            Her third eye wanders aimlessly around the room, as if in search of something. I wonder what else Margo's got inside that purse.
            “I don’t come cheap,” I tell her. “Fifty bucks a day and all expenses such as burgers, helicopters, rental cars and cigarettes.” I light one, giving her some time to think about it.
            “How much would that be in euros?” Margo asks.
            “Not sure . . . forty maybe. Money changes. Have to read the Wall Street Journal to keep up. You read much?”
            “Hard to focus . . . can’t see very well,” she says. “I’ve got a lot of Euros.” Margo digs into the purse and comes out with a stack of bills. She deals three crisp new fifties off the top and lays them on my desk. “Is this enough to start?”
            “I don’t like foreign money for three reasons. One: I can’t tell if it’s real or bogus. Two: Hard to exchange, even if real. And three: Same as the first.”
            “I’ve heard that song before,” she says.
            “You must be older than you look.”
            “I’ve had some work done.” Margo’s eyebrows raise . . . all three of them. “But these are real.”
            I can’t help glancing at her tits.
            She tells me, “You can take ‘em to the bank . . . the Euros,” she says with a knowing smirk.         
            “I will.” I rake in the notes across my desk and hold one to the lamp without a clue what I should look for.
            “Those are good,” she says. “Shaw brought them back from Germany.”
            “I see.”
            “You’re lucky,” Margo tells me. “So, are we in business?”
            “Sure.” I fold the bills and shove ‘em into my back pocket. “Where would you suggest I start to look for Twitchy?”
            “Here,” she says. “In Kissmiass.”
            “What makes you think he’s here?”
            “I hired a tracker . . . Indian,” she says. “Shot With Two Arrows, was his name."
            “Where is he now?”
            “He’s dead,” she tells me.
            “Let me guess, shot with two arrows?”
            “Yeah. You must have read about it.”
            “I’m intuitive,” I tell her.
             “Twitchy’s got an evil sense of humor. At the morgue they found a sprig of
seaweed flattened into Shaw’s shirt pocket. He’s a sneaky bastard.”
            “Um . . . Well, like I said, he shouldn’t be too hard to find. I’ll ask around. You got a room here?”
            “At the Eagle’s Nest. Room eighty-six.”
            “I know the place,” I tell her. “I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”
            She gets up to leave, and bumps into the fichus plant on her way out, then turns to face me from the open doorway, “Watch your back,” she says.
*     *     *
            I step outside. A fluttering of snowflakes kiss my face. I've got a feeling Twitchy’s close. I sense it in my bones. Like I told Margo, I’m intuitive. Best place to start's a sleazy bar in walking distance from my office, Dirty Dick’s.
            It’s just a little after six and dark as death outside. It’s almost warm as I step into Dick’s. A wood stove burning coal glows dull red from the far end of a dingy room. Someone has strung a strand of Christmas lights behind the bar. A coal oil lantern hanging from a rafter casts a dingy yellow glow around a wino slumped across a table near the stove.
            Annie Big Beaver’s tending bar . . . native American. We’ve got a couple dozen displaced Indians in Kissmiass.
            “Hi, Ace . . . how goes it?” Annie pours a shot of gin into a smudgy glass as I climb on a stool.
            “Where’s Dick?” I ask her.
            “On the nod again,” she says.
            “I’m looking for a man,” I tell her.
            “Yeah? Me too,” she says. Big Beaver’s five foot-six . . . must weigh a hundred-eighty pounds stark naked. I don’t like to think about her that way. Annie's close cropped hair and eyes are black as two feet up a chimney.
            “This one’s not your type,” I tell her. “Rides a wheelchair like he’s part of it.” I show the photo Margo left me.
            “He was here,” she says. “He had a couple drinks with Charlie Hardway.” Annie nods toward the wino at the table by the stove, her only customer.
            I take my glass and lay one of the fifties on the bar. “Use this to clear my tab.”
She picks the Euro up inspecting it suspiciously. “You play monopoly?”
            “It’s good . . . I promise. You can take it to the bank,” I tell her sliding off the stool, then walk across the room and take a chair at Hardway’s table where he’s staring down into a teacup full of whisky like expecting he might find some kind of message in it. Charlie’s Irish, used to prospect somewhere not too far from here. They say he found a vein of gold, nobody knows how big it was, or where it is. He doesn’t talk much. Pays his bills with dime-sized nuggets, Annie told me.
            He looks up at me with rheumy, glintless eyes.
            “You know this guy?” I shove the photograph in front of him.
            “Bought me a drink . . . I think. Name’s Bitchy. Got four arms, two of  ‘em silver, or might be aluminum,” he says. “Looks like some kinda Hindu idol. Asked me if I knew some broad named Maggot. Said I never heard of her. He didn’t stay long.”
            “That’s all he said?”
            “I think so, yeah. No, wait . . . he told me somethin’.”
            Hardway’s gone back to looking in his cup again. “I don’t remember
 . . . might have been a joke. A funny lookin’ guy . . . four arms . . . odd sense of humor.”
            I get up, kill my shot, and leave the empty glass on Annie’s bar on my way out. Big Beaver's squinting at the Euro as I leave.
            It isn’t snowing anymore. A sickle moon’s illuminates a pair narrow wheel tracks, furrows in the frost capped snow that lead away from Dirty Dick’s. I follow them, but see nobody on the street except a couple guys unloading produce for the local grocery store. I figure I should ask them—
            ZOOSH! An object whizzes past me, something white and bigger than a bullet glances off my left side, then explodes inside a truck of water melons.  Red pulp splatters everywhere. The lights go out. I’m hit. I shoulda watched my back. My leg  hurts . . . shrapnel? Maybe frozen watermelon rind.
*     *     *
            I can hear voices.
            “. . . and the Euro’s dropped again, gold up fifteen and oil hit eighty-five a barrel. Wall Street insiders say—”
            It’s television.
            I try hard to open up my eyes . . . not easy. Things are blurry . . . bright and whiter than a clansman's sheet.  A woman’s looking down at me. She’s dressed in white. I might be dead. She starts to come in focus. I discern a red dot on her forehead and a nametag – Dr. Maya Sanjay.
            “You’re all right,” she says. “You’re probably going to be okay.”
            An optimist.
            “Do you know where you are?” she asks me.
            “Eagle's Rest Hospital,” she interrupts. “You're having a concussion and a broken leg, but you were lucky.
            “Really? How? I don’t remember.”
            “Medics told us you were maybe walking to your car. A Twiggy’s Ice-Cream truck came
up behind, and you got . . . how do you say it? . . . clipped. It’s wise to look behind you when you’re in the street. We’re going to put you in a wheelchair for a week, and after that you’ll be on crutches for some time. I recommend aluminum, they’re lighter, easier to use . . . just like another pair of arms.”
            “I’m freezing. Can I get another blanket?”
            Maya pulls a cell phone from her lab coat. “Nurse, could we be having one more blanket here? Room eighty-six.”

Published: Sein und Werden (UK) 2011

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Downsized at 50+ Temp Jobs - No. 1 1987

The Time of My Life

Hot summer afternoon
It’s ninety-seven in the shade
And more
Inside my gear
White paper dust mask
Padded rubber on my ears
To stop some of the noise
A pair of safety glasses
Dark blue coveralls on top my clothing
Heavy leather gloves
Thick socks and steel toe boots.

Holding this powerful electric drill
Eight pounds of heavy metal
Spinning wire-brush wheel
A blur of blue and gray
Against the rust that has accumulated
On eight tons of angle iron
My job.

Eight hours inside a cloud of dark red dust
Fire storm of sparks
Bristles fly off
Go though this fabric armor
Into sweating skin
Dust makes it hard to breath
My glasses fogged by body heat

I watch the slow shop clock
Selling the time of my life

Six-fifty an hour.

Published: Blue Collar Review 2011