Dan Valentine – “The Xmas Stiff,” a one-act play

December 26, 2010

THE XMAS STIFF

by Daniel Valentine

(c) 2010

A FARCE IN ONE ACT

Characters
(4 F, 2 M)
CAROL-LEIGH, owner/bartender
ORSON, regular customer
SHANNON, cocktail waitress
BULLET, exotic dancer
ROCKY, exotic dancer
Unnamed customer/corpse.

SCENE: A hole-in-the-wall “gentlemen’s club” on the second floor of a three-story building just a few blocks from Chinatown in Washington, D.C. A bar with stools is situated by a small elevated stage, with “Merry Xmas” scrawled in white shoe polish on a mirror behind it. A neon sign above the bar reads “lST LADEEZ Show Bar.” Stairs near the bar climb to a dressing room on the third floor. On one wall, there are several windows with floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains pulled closed. Outside the entrance door, which is kept open during business hours, there is an ill-lit landing. Unseen stairs lead to the street below. There are tables and chairs, a booth or two, and a decorated Christmas tree. A sign on a wall reads “Exotic Dancers – No Cover – No Minimum.”

It is a late afternoon on the day before Christmas during one of the worst blizzards of the year.

Before the curtain rises, various voices from a TV, separated by white noise, are heard as someone yet-to-be-seen channel-surfs:

“The clock is ticking for today’s guests. This may be their last Christmas. So, please, stay with us and help us get them into the holiday spirit. Today! Surprise holiday make-overs for death-row inmates” . . .  “Hundreds of years ago, did he predict this season’s Super Bowl winner? Next. The amazing Nostradamus!” . . . “It’s a little crazy out there on this Christmas Eve afternoon” . . . “Everybody’s kind of shivering” . . .  “More than a foot of snow is predicted” . . .  “Today! Some of your favorite movie stars get the surprise of their lives when convicted stalkers reveal their secret celebrity crushes. How will our stars react?” . . .  “Look, Daddy, Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings” . . .  “Omigod! This is so amazing. It’s so cute. Have you ever seen a prison uniform on a convicted mass-murderer that fits like this? So, Franco, what did you do? Tell us about the hair.”

(The curtain rises just as CAROL-LEIGH, remote in hand, clicks off the flat-screen TV behind the bar.)

CAROL-LEIGH: (Disgusted.) There’s nothing on.

(She places the remote beside the register. Standing at the cocktail station, cutting lemons, is SHANNON. ORSON, the lone patron, sits with a Corona before him, his coat hangs from the back of his stool. BULLET, fully-dressed, is dancing halfheartedly on the stage, one eye on the clock.)

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) So, Congressman. How come you’re not back home in your district caroling with constituents?

ORSON: I’d rather look at naked women.

(He swivels on his stool to watch the dancer.)

BULLET: Carol-Leigh, I’m not taking my clothes off for one customer. Congressman or no. I don’t think I should have to.

(The sudden sound of the howling snowstorm outside is heard momentarily as the door to the street opens and closes.)

ORSON: (Turning back to Carol-Leigh.) Who’s dancing besides Bullet?

(A lone man in an unzipped jacket, sporting a Redskins ball cap, holding his stomach appears in the doorway. He is missing one shoe. He looks around, then makes his way to a semi-secluded table by the Christmas tree. Picking up her cocktail tray, Shannon leaves to serve him.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Rocky is here. (Gesturing to the upstairs dressing room.) Cricket or Ursula or Shiloh or whatever Laura is calling herself these days is a no-show. She simply didn’t come in. Candy was supposed to dance but called in sobbing. Her dad died.

ORSON: Poor kid.

CAROL-LEIGH: It’s the fifth holiday he’s died on this year.

(Shannon sets both napkin and coaster down in front of the new customer.)

SHANNON: Can I help you? We have a holiday special on pitchers.

(The customer rocks back and forth on his seat, clutching his stomach.)

CUSTOMER: How much is a beer?

CAROL-LEIGH: So, anyway, Bullet and Rocky are tag-teaming it.

ORSON: That’s it?

CAROL-LEIGH: Hey, it’s Christmas Eve. It’s snowing. It’s cold. A person would have to be crazy … Like me.

(The customer struggles to rise.)

CUSTOMER: Seven bucks! SEVEN BUCKS? For a beer? (Looking around.) Where am I? The Four Seasons? (And he collapses onto the floor.)

CAROL-LEIGH: I called Wendy. She doesn’t feel well. I called Breezy. She has a cold. Stormy didn’t answer her phone. I called Fury. She has a twenty-four-hour virus. I called Moonflower. She has a bug. I called everybody. Bambi, Barbie, Bunny …

SHANNON: (To customer.) Sir? Excuse me. If you’re going to stay, you need to buy a drink. You can’t just flop out. We’re running a business here. Sir? Sir?

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) You want to fill in?

ORSON: Sure. If I can dance on the bar. (He loosens his tie and unbuttons a shirt button.)

(Carol-Leigh takes a dollar from the tip jar and slaps it down on the bar before him.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Please. Business is bad enough.

SHANNON: (Poking the body with her big toe.) Get up, you. Get up, honey. You okay? Are you alive? Damn!

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) Another Corona?

(He checks his watch.)

ORSON: You’re open till seven tonight?

CAROL-LEIGH: Somewhere thereabouts.

SHANNON: (Now at the service bar.) Carol-Leigh, there’s a dead man under the Christmas tree.

ORSON: (Re: beer.) Sure. Why not? One more.

(Carol-Leigh uncaps another Corona.)

SHANNON: I’m not lying. We’ve got a problem.

(Carol-Leigh sets the bottle on the counter.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Did you say there was a dead man?

SHANNON: Take a look for yourself.

(Orson swivels around on his barstool.)

ORSON: Somebody died? You’re kidding. What now, just now?

(Carol-Leigh comes from behind the bar and goes with Shannon across the room, passing the stage.)

BULLET: What’s up?

(Orson follows close behind.)

SHANNON: Look!

(The music on the jukebox stops and Bullet steps down from the stage and hurries to see what’s happening as Carol-Leigh kneels down and feels the man’s wrist for a pulse.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Oh, my God! (She flips the left side of his jacket open and puts an ear to his heart and holds it there.) My God, he is dead. (She gets to her feet.) I thought you were joking.

ORSON: Well, so much for Happy Hour.

BULLET: (Upon seeing the body.) Oh, man! Is he dead?

SHANNON: Oh, yeah.

ORSON: (re: Bullet.) Wish I’d had a camera. You should have seen your face. Your eyes went–

BULLET: Hey, man, some things still surprise me. A dead body is one of ‘em. What happened?

(Orson crouches and flips open the right side of the man’s jacket.)

ORSON: Looks like he’s been stabbed.

SHANNON: Stabbed?!

ORSON: Looks like. Check that out.

BULLET: Merry Christmas.

CAROL-LEIGH: (sighing) I don’t need this.

ORSON: (Still squatting, puzzled.) There’s not much blood.

BULLET: Depends on the weapon. An ice pick doesn’t draw blood.

ORSON: That true?

BULLET: An ice pick’s quite a weapon.

ORSON: Better than a knife?

BULLET: Oh, yeah.

ORSON: (Standing). Really? (To no one in particular.) Every day you learn something new.

CAROL-LEIGH: Whether you want to or not.

BULLET: You can stick a knife cleanly into someone and not kill him. But an ice pick causes internal bleeding.

ORSON: How do you know that? What are you, some sort of expert on ice pick-related homicides?

BULLET: Yeah, man, matter of fact. I know all about it. My ol’ man showed me. You gotta know where the organs are. An inch either way and you’ll hit a rib.

ORSON: Bullet, you’re so full of it.

SHANNON: I believe her. Ever seen her boyfriend? He looks like Ted Bundy should have.

CAROL-LEIGH: I’m just glad he didn’t get his brains blown out on the carpet.

SHANNON: Hey, it just hit me. He’s missing one shoe. Maybe somebody stabbed him for his shoe.

BULLET: That could be. Some mugger doing some last-minute Christmas shopping for a one-legged friend.

ORSON: Who is he? (To Shannon.) Do you recognize him?

SHANNON: It was his first time here.

BULLET: Welcome to 1st Ladeez Show Bar! We obviously made a good impression on him.

CAROL-LEIGH: Does he have any I.D.?

(Orson crouches on his heels again and rolls the body on its side a little to get at the man’s hip pockets. He gets to his feet.)

ORSON: Nothing on him.

CAROL-LEIGH: Beautiful.

BULLET: Another day at the office.

CAROL-LEIGH: If D.C. ever gains statehood, a good state flag would be a black banner with the chalk outline of a corpse in the upper left-hand corner.

ORSON: What are you going to do, Carol-Leigh?

SHANNON: Sshh! She’s thinking.

CAROL-LEIGH: (Beside herself, tapping a finger on her forehead.) No brains suddenly.

BULLET: Take your time, Carol-Leigh. The dude’s not goin’ nowhere.

CAROL-LEIGH: (At last.) We have to get him out of here.

ORSON: You’re not going to report it? Call 9-1-1. I’ll call. (He turns to go get his cell from his coat.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Wait a minute. We don’t want the cops here.

ORSON: (Sarcastically.) Oh, you’re worried about the cops. Well, when you put it that way. (Losing it.) Have you lost your marbles?!

CAROL-LEIGH: Orson, it’s Christmas Eve. By eight I want to be home. I don’t want to stay around here all night answering questions from the police. I have two dogs who depend on me.

BULLET: (Agreeing.) We call the cops, we could be here forever.

SHANNON: And I’m starving! Big-time. I haven’t eaten all day. I skipped breakfast. I had a birth-control pill for lunch.

BULLET: Carol-Leigh’s right. We’re talking about Channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 11 outside and all that stuff.

CAROL-LEIGH: Exactly.

ORSON: Did you say Channel 9? (Reconsidering.) My mother watches Channel 9. (After a pause.) Get rid of the sucker. Like roll him down the stairs and out the door. See ya bye!

BULLET: Now you’re talkin’!

CAROL-LEIGH: Shannon, take him outside. Immediately.

SHANNON: Who, me? You want me to pick up a dead body? I don’t think so. Sorry, no way.

CAROL-LEIGH: I’m very, very serious.

SHANNON: Oh, yeah, sure-sure. Gimme a break. Bill Gates could walk in here and he couldn’t give me a big enough tip.

CAROL-LEIGH: Stubborn one. Pleeeeeeeese?

SHANNON: No, period. I ain’t gonna do it.

ORSON: Guys!

SHANNON: Forget it. Not me!

ORSON: Guys!

SHANNON: It’s not in my job description. If you want him outta here, you do it.

ORSON: Guys! Guys! C’mon! I’ll do it. Let me get my coat. (To himself on his way to the bar.) Channel 9. My mom watches Channel 9.

(Rocky, the only other dancer, appears on the stairs from the dressing room above. She is sporting reindeer antlers and a Santa’s hat.)

ROCKY: (Upon seeing Orson at the bar.) Hi, guy. What’s happening?

ORSON: Oh, not a heck of a lot. A customer just got murdered.

ROCKY: (Laughing.) You’re teasin’. You like my holiday headgear? (She turns around modeling it for him.)

ORSON: (Eyeing her curiously.) I wouldn’t wear it.

ROCKY: On me, dummy! Isn’t it cute? I’m Dancer, one of Santa’s reindeer. (She striking a serious pose.) Because I, too, am a dancer. (Then she laughs at herself.)

ORSON: (The politician.) Yes, very lovely.

CAROL-LEIGH: (Shouting.) Hey, Orson! C’mon!

(Orson shrugs into his coat.)

ORSON: I’m coming. Excuse me, Rocky. I’ve got to take the body outside.

ROCKY: You’re just pulling my chain. (She gaily walks with him, her only concern in life at the moment: the antlers.) They’re not very practical for dancing. In the dressing room, they were off and on. But– (She stops in her tracks. Stocked.) Gosh, business is sure the pits. Where are all the customers? (Then she sees the body. She gives a little gasp and looks away, then looks, then looks away again.) Oooooo! Somebody close his eyes. Put a tablecloth over him! Put something on him!

BULLET: Where’s my body glitter?

ROCKY: Don’t be bad. Where’d he come from?

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) Ready?

(He nods and grasps the dead man’s ankles as Carol-Leigh clears a path of chairs.)

ROCKY: Oh, my gosh! What are you guys doing?

ORSON: (To Carol-Leigh.) Where to?

CAROL-LEIGH: Down the back fire escape.

(He drops the legs–kerplunk.)

ORSON: No way. Impossible. This is a big guy here. He’s not big-big, but he’s big. He’s tall.

(Bullet uses her fingers to tabulate on an imaginary hand-held calculator.)

BULLET: (Aloud to herself.) Just how many does it take to carry a dead body down a fire escape in a snowstorm?

SHANNON: Sssh.

(Carol-Leigh gives the problem some thought.) Out the front. But don’t let anybody see you.

ORSON: Yes, Ma’am.

CAROL-LEIGH: Just make sure.

ROCKY: You’re going to take him out into the street?

(Orson bends down, gripes the dead man’s ankles again, and begins to tug the limp body toward the entrance.)

BULLET: Welcome to Carol-Leigh’s Carryout. Yes, we deliver.

ORSON: (Panting.) Damn. (Puffing.) He’s heavy.

CAROL-LEIGH: Don’t strain your back.

ORSON: I can’t tell you … how much … I looooove doing this … Hell, I don’t even know this guy.

(He stops to catch his breath, letting go of the man’s legs again–plop.)

ROCKY: (Sighing.) Boy, I’ve just about had it with this place. I’d like to find a real job. This is not a fun place anymore.

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Shannon.) Go look out the window. Tell us when it’s clear.

(Shannon hurries to one of the windows, throws open the curtains, and rubs off the steam. Snow is falling, wind howling, and it’s hard to see anything clearly.)

ROCKY: How can you do this, Carol-Leigh? (She fiddles nervously with the crucifix at her throat.) This is bad. (Orson repositions the body and grabs it under the armpits.) This isn’t good. (He walks backwards in a half-crouch towards the door.) This is bad. (The dead man’s head dangles between his knees.) Don’t you feel this is wrong, Carol-Leigh?

CAROL-LEIGH: Not at all. It’s Christmas Eve. I don’t want to stay around answering questions from the police all night. (To Shannon.) Tell me when it’s clear.

ROCKY: (To herself.) I want to leave. I want to go home right now.

BULLET: Take the body with you.

ROCKY: (Glaring at her.) I love you, too. (Chants.) I want to get off work, I want to get off work, I want to go home.

CAROL-LEIGH: Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. If we call the police, we won’t get out of here till late. (She pats Rocky tenderly on the shoulder.) It’s going to be all right, Rocky. Just relax. Get it together. Don’t go off the deep end. (After a pause.) Sit down!

(Rocky sits. Orson, winded, pauses to catch his breath again.)

ORSON: How did I get myself into this?

CAROL-LEIGH: (Humoring him.) Hey, you said last night. “I sure wish this place would get some new bodies!” Quote unquote.

ROCKY: I heard that.

CAROL-LEIGH: You only get three wishes. That was a dumb one.

(Orson pulls the body out the door onto the landing.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Watch your step.

ORSON: Yes, Ma’am.

CAROL-LEIGH: Just be careful.

ORSON: Yes, Ma’am

(And poof!–he disappears backwards out of sight with the body. There is a quick succession of heavy thumps and Rocky leaps up and flinches to each one as if her own head were being bounced on wooden steps)

ROCKY: Oh, boy! (THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.) Oh, man! (THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.) We’re going to get in trouble! (THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.) Oh, my gosh! (And KABOOM!) FUCK!!!

(And they all turn and stare at her, mouths agape. Prim-and-proper Rocky has never uttered a bad word in her life! All are stunned, so much so that they don’t hear Orson screaming for help at the bottom of the steps.)

ORSON: (Off.) Get him off ‘a me!

ROCKY: Oops! Four-letter word. Did I just say one?

ORSON: (Off.) Get him the hell off ‘a me!!

ROCKY: Sorry.

CAROL-LEIGH: (Returning to Planet Earth.) ORSON!!! (She rushes to the landing, afraid to look but does.) You okay?

ORSON: (Off.) If I can get myself untangled here. (After a pause.) Someone get the door.

BULLET: (Volunteering.) I’ll get it. I got it.

(Carol-Leigh makes a last-minute look-see around the area.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Wait a sec! He’s gotta hat. (She scoops the dead man’s ball cap up from off the floor and hands it to Bullet who rushes off down the steps, twirling it on a finger.)

BULLET: (Half to herself.) What’s he gonna do without his hat?

ORSON: (Off.) Is it clear?

CAROL-LEIGH: (Relaying the question to Shannon.) Is it clear?

(Shannon takes a good look.)

SHANNON: Okay, now!

CAROL-LEIGH: (Relaying her reply.) GO, GO, GO!

(There is the sound of howling wind from outside as the street door opens and shuts.)

SHANNON: (Like a sportscaster.) He’s out the door. He’s slipping and sliding, but he’s still on his feet. So far so good. Bullet is standing look-out on the corner.

CAROL-LEIGH: Smart girl.

SHNNON: Half-nude.

CAROL-LEIGH: Oh, terrific.

SHANNON: She’s stepping from foot to foot. She’s either cold or she’s gotta pee.

CAROL-LEIGH: I love it.

(Rocky stands clutching her crucifix, eyes shut, praying silently but mightily, crossing herself from time to time.)

CAROL-LEIGH: What now? (She hurries to the window.) What now?

SHANNON: He’s dragging the body, leaving a corpse-trail in the snow.

CAROL-LEIGH: For crying out loud! (She stands on her toes attempting to look over Shannon’s shoulder.) What’s going on? What’s going on?

SHANNON: (Whirling around.) What’s going on! What’s going on! Stop asking me what’s going on! (She looks out the window again.) Oh, no! (She taps her nails frantically on the glass. She tries to open the window to no avail. She throws her arms up in despair.) I want a Christmas bonus.

CAROL-LEIGH: What’s going on?

SHANNON: A patrol car’s coming!

CAROL-LEIGH: (With outstretched arms heavenward.) Why me, Lord?

SHANNON: (Shouting, horror-struck.) LOOK OUT! COME BACK!

(There is the sudden wail of a police siren and all three freeze, panic stricken, as the red beam of the siren lights up the room. The patrol car zooms by, the siren growing gradually fainter, as Shannon takes a quick sneak-peek down below. Sighing with relief, liking what she sees, she pulls the drapes shut.)

SHANNON: Let the wake begin!

(Rocky opens one eye.)

ROCKY: Mission accomplished?

SHANNON: Party down!

(Orson and Bullet come up the stairs.)

ORSON: Well, that’s enough of that. Let’s have some fun. I’m through with dead bodies.

(The two join the others now at the bar.)
CAROL-LEIGH: Thank you very, very much.

SHANNON: You guys are great. (To Orson.) Gimme a cheek. (She gives him a peck.)

(Bullet hugs her breasts, shivering all over.)

BULLET: It’s cold out there. My God, it must be two degrees. When I got outside, I thought: This is really stupid. I’m not dressed!

ORSON: You have goosebumps all over you.

BULLET: I’m cold! (Teeth chattering uncontrollably.) Never been so cold.

(Orson takes his coat off.)

ORSON: You’ll catch pneumonia. (He drapes it over her shoulders.) Don’t you drop dead on us. Have a brandy to warm you up.

CAROL-LEIGH: On me. I’d like to buy everybody a round.

ROCKY: (A teetotaler.) Can I have a drink of water, please? (She fumbles in her purse and produces a tiny bottle of pills.) I have a bad headache. (She flips the top off with a thumb) I need Advil. I can’t work here without Advil. (She shakes the bottle. It’s empty! She’s crushed.)

(Orson pats her tenderly on the back.)

ORSON: Hey, it’s going to be all right. Smile. ‘Tis the season. (Then cheerfully to the others.) C’mon, lets get this party started. Let the good times roll.

(Carol-Leigh lines up a row of snifter glasses and fills them. They hold up their drinks and toast, ab libbing “Merry Christmas,” etc. Then throwing their heads back, they all down the contents in one gulp, except for Rocky who takes a hefty-sized organizer from her bag to make an entry.

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson, re: the body.) Where’d you put him?

ORSON: Where else? In the rear of the alley. Beside the Dumpster.

ROCKY: (To herself, half-aloud as she writes.) Advil.

ORSON: On an abandoned La-Z-Boy. Where he’ll be comfy.

ROCKY: (Rethinking her entry.) A crate full of Advil!

(Carol-Leigh collects the glasses and gives the bar a once-over with a bar towel.)

CAROL-LEIGH: (Half to herself.) I can’t believe there was a dead body in here.

BULLET: (Blowing on her hands.) With the crowd today, he fit right in. He didn’t tip me, either.

SHANNON: I’m disappointed there wasn’t more blood. He looked like my ex.

ROCKY: (Shocked.) Shannon!

SHANNON: Just joking.

BULLET: Wishful thinking, you mean.

SHANNON: You’re right. If I had an ice pick, I’d like to put fifty holes in him.

ORSON: (To change the subject.) Did he pay his tab?

SHANNON: Who? Oh, the dead dude?

BULLET: Yeah, did he pay his tab?

SHANNON: He stiffed me!

ROCKY: Ho, ho, ho. I want to take a shower. I feel dirty. Don’t you guys feel dirty? This was bad.

ORSON: I’ll take a shower with you.

ROCKY: Don’t be naughty!

ORSON: C’mon! It’ll be fun! I’ll get a room.

ROCKY: No! (A pause.) But you can tip me if you want to. (She lifts her gartered leg.)

ORSON: Don’t trip on the body going out. (Laughing.) That’s a good tip. That’s a good one, isn’t it? (No one laughs.) Hey, what do I look like, the Federal Reserve? I’m not.

ROCKY: (Pouting.) Aren’t you going to tip me for Christmas? (Orson reluctantly peels off a single from a wad in his pocket and slips it in her garter.) Only one? I have a ten, a five, and three ones. If you give me two dollars, I can get a twenty-dollar bill.

ORSON: (To the others.) Miss Sting here. (To Rocky, rolling his eyes.) Okay, okay, give me the ten and the five and the two ones and I’ll give you a twenty as a Christmas gift.

(The two carry out the transaction, much to the amusement of the others, and Rocky tucks the twenty in her garter.)

ROCKY: What time is it?

(Orson checks his watch.)

ORSON: Not even six.

ROCKY: That’s all it is? (She straightens her antlers.) I don’t feel like dancing another set? (To Orson.) You have five singles for the jukebox? It only takes dollars and I only have a twenty.

(It is then that another sudden gush of wind rushes up the stairwell from outside. There is the sound of footsteps and all eyes turn toward the entrance. A solitary figure, not unlike the dead man, in a Redskin ball cap, appears in the doorway, his shadow stretching across the floor, falling just short of their feet. The figure gives no greeting, just stands and looks about.)

STRANGER: (After a glance.) Dead, huh? (After a long pause.) Catch you later. (He descends the stairs.)

(For a moment, it is very quiet. All are noticeably startled. Bullet breaks the silence.)

BULLET: Man, was that weird, or what? (She turns to the others.) Am I the only person who thinks that was weird?

SHANNON: Weird. That was weird.

CAROL-LEIGH: Bizarre.

SHANNON: Certainly was that.

CAROL-LEIGH: Strange.

SHANNON: That, too.

ORSON: As much as I like here, I’m getting the hell outta here. One more drink and I’m outta here. I don’t want him catching me later.

BULLET: What’d he say? “Dead, huh?” I hope he meant business.

CAROL-LEIGH: Who was it, someone taking a sneak peek?

ROCKY: (Terrified.) I’m not so sure. (Clutching her crucifix once again.) For a moment, I thought it was him.

SHANNON: Me, too.

ROCKY: Maybe the Man upstairs is telling us something.

SHANNON: That’s what I was thinking.

ROCKY: It’s Christmas Eve. Santa knows who’s been naughty and nice.

CAROL-LEIGH: What if … I don’t know. This is exhausting me. What if …

BULLET: Spit it out, Carol-Leigh. What are you trying to say, we should bring him back in?

ROCKY: (All for it.) Yeah!

SHANNON: Maybe we should.

ORSON: I like the idea.

BULLET: He’s upstairs, he’s downstairs. Corpse in, corpse out. I wish y’all would make up your minds.

ROCKY: Hope he’s still out there. I had CDs stolen out of my car a week ago. It was the second time.

SHANNON: (Taking a cell phone from her purse.) Carol-Leigh, what do you want?

CAROL-LEIGH: I want to wake up and say I had the weirdest dream. I want to go home. I want my mom.

SHANNON: No, on your pizza. (And dialing Domino’s

The Curtain Falls)


Dan Valentine – I Miss Kissing You

December 10, 2010

I MISS KISSING YOU
Words by Daniel Valentine
© 2010

“Why did I have to go and fall for a soldier?
Soldiers march off and oh how I long to hold yer
Face and mouth to mine
While arms and legs and tongues entwine.

Other than in my dreams it’s, like, been forever,
So late at night it seems, since we kissed, and never
Have I missed your touch –
Your lips and fingertips — so much . . .”

Such are the thoughts inside my head,
Alone and lonely home in bed.
Thoughts better left for now unsaid.
So this I wrote my love instead:

“Missing you,
I miss kissing you
Under the mistletoe,
Three or four sweet sips
From a cup of hot cocoa on your lips . . .

Missing you,
I miss kissing you
Under the town hall clock –
Friends and fam’ly there –
Colored bits of confetti in our hair.

I miss kissing you,
Curled up in your arms,
In the glow of firelight.
I miss kissing you
And making up
Those few foolish times we fight.
I miss kissing you
Good morning.
I miss kissing you
Goodnight.

Missing you,
I miss kissing you.
When I think the last time
We kissed was goodbye,
The day you left for the war,
I’m sad for a while
But force a brave smile,
Counting the days and living for when
You walk through the jetway to kiss you again,
Baby, and then
Hold you and kiss you some more.”


Dan Valentine – Wedding ring in the pawnshop window

November 20, 2010

I’m back and back is beautiful, to tweak a phrase. Where have I been? Taking care of business with the helping hand of a special-special life-long friend.

For now, I’ll simply say: Life is an adventure, a gift and a grand adventure, and more than just a mite irksome at times.

These many weeks, in what little spare time I’ve had, I’ve also been writing lyrics. Everyone needs a hobby. Mine is writing lyrics.

Thus, the following song regarding our times:

WEDDING RING
IN THE PAWNSHOP WINDOW
By Daniel Valentine
(c) 2010

The wedding ring
In the pawnshop window.
The price tag on a string,
Tied to the wedding ring,
Says it all, says ev’rything.
Life seldom ever goes as planned.

The wedding ring
In the pawnshop window.
To think the joy it must
Have brought once. Now it’s just
Sitting there collecting dust,
Pawned for a fast few bucks in hand.

That said, a future groom and bride,
Their savings on the meager side,
Stop to sneak a peak, beguiled and starry-eyed.

And what they see are tons and tons
Of rare old coins, guitars and guns,
One music box, two cuckoo clocks,
Plus a fly or three dead on the sill.
Then they see the ring and all is still.

The wedding ring
In the pawnshop window.
It glimmers and it gleams.
It’s ev’rything that dreams
Are made of, or so it seems,
And all for less than half a grand.

And so, like tens of times before,
The tiny bell above the door
Jingles as the lovers step inside the store.

And, oh, the sparkle in her eyes
When first she tries it on for size.
It fits just right and in the light,
When she holds her left hand out to show,
Like her heart, the diamond’s all aglow.

The wedding ring
In the pawnshop window.
The register ka-chings.
An angel gets its wings.
And a tweetie birdie sings.
All while a credit card is scanned.

The wedding ring
In the panwshop window.
A mom with bills to pay
In need without delay
Pawned the ring to save the day,
Such are the times in our fair land.


Dan Valentine, Hosteling is a gas

September 11, 2010

By Dan Valentine

I like a hostel. More than once I’ve said I love a hostel. I’m downgrading my heartfelt affection a notch or two.

My stay here, which up to now comes to a little more than four months — twice as long as my second marriage — has been killing me from day one, or so I believe — little by little, slowly but surely, softly with its song.

“Sssssssssss!”

I don’t feel well — and haven’t for weeks. I can hardly lift a finger, take a single step. I walk around like — well, like the living dead.

For many months now — no doubt, way before I ever arrived — there has been a leak in a gas pipe just outside the kitchen door, which is left open during the daylight hours. It’s a miracle of sorts that nothing disastrous has happened despite the fact that guests have been cooking all the while on the gas stove, the leak just a short ways away.

From the online edition of The Hindu, India’s National Newspaper, 2008: “Two died as gas exploded in a hostel kitchen in Bangalore. The explosion damaged window panes of the hostel as well as those of neighboring houses.”

From BBC News: “Last September four Brits were among 13 guests at an alpine hostel in Tyrol, Austria, who were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning from a leak from a faulty heating system after some of the guests complained of dizziness, headaches, and blurred vision.”

Dizziness? I can relate to that of late.

A few weeks ago, I got up one morning, lit a cigarette on the back veranda, took a puff or two, stood up, and had to catch myself, gripping firmly onto the iron grate of a nearby Spanish gate, afraid I was going to faint.

Headaches? I can relate to that, too.

When I was younger, I suffered mightily from severe migraines. After getting the holy crap beat out of me in D.C. a few years ago, the migraines mysteriously went away. I was mugged and beaten so bad that the culprits, afraid they had killed me, ran off without taking my wallet and money. As a result of the beating, my daily migraines vanished. Poof! Some good came from bad. But, in the past few weeks, the headaches have returned.

Blurred vision? That, too I can relate to, but it’s not a recent development. In my youth, I worked for Sen. Orrin Hatch. That’s what brought me Washington, the nation’s murder capital at the time.

From “Messageboards – Bolivia: “Our first night we had carbon monoxide poisoning from the hostel we stayed in. People were passing out, being sick and we all had massive headaches.”

Being sick? That I have been. Very, very sick. Massive headaches? Not massive but, as I mentioned, headaches have become a part of my daily life once again.

I haven’t passed out, but I can barely stand at times. One morning Rodreigo, daytime receptionist/nighttime musician, happened to come out the back door to the veranda, where I was bracing myself again, one hand grasping a nearby rail. I had just had my first morning puff of a cigarette. I handed him my newly-bought pack. “Take ‘em!” I said. “They’re killing me!” I went for a long walk along the beach down the road.

From Wikipedia: “Oxygen works as an antidote as it increases the removal of carbon monoxide.”

Soon after talking in the fresh sea air I felt much better — for a short time.

From Wikipedia again: Symptoms of mild acute poisoning include headaches (check), vertigo (check), and flu-like effects.”

A few weeks back a visitor from Finland stayed here for a time. We became fast friends. He was moving to Canada for the warm weather. (That’s how cold Finland is!) He did not enjoy his time here. He was sick with the flu almost his entire stay, as I was long after he left. He thought he had caught it from two visiting Germans who had the flu. They, too, without knowing it, may well have been suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.

From Wikipedia once again: “Chronic exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can lead to depression.

I was sitting one day on the veranda. Two guests were sitting talking at the picnic bench — one from the mainland of Mexico, one from Switzerland. Both where jovial and happy — on vacation from worry and woe. The Mexican smiled and asked me, “Enjoying life?”

“Nope!” I replied and I was deadly serious.

Shortly after, the two rose from their seats and returned inside. I could read their thoughts: “What’s his problem? He’s no fun!”

I’m almost always “up”. I rarely, if ever, get depressed. And when I am, I try my best to hide the fact. But when you feel like you’re dying . . .

From the website “Silent shadow : silent killer”:

“Carbon monoxide, also known as CO, is a potentially deadly gas that can have devastating effects upon your life — assuming, of course, that it doesn’t kill you.”

I’ve been inhaling the fumes for months now. One day, some weeks back, I felt so sick that I strolled slowly up the street to the nearest hospital, which wasn’t that close, to the emergency entrance. Gathered outside were countless poor. Standing and sitting in the waiting room were countless more. The receptionist didn’t speak English. We tried to communicate with each other best we could. She asked one of those waiting to show me her card. It was in Spanish, but I got the gist. It was a Mexican social security card. The receptionist wanted to know if I had one. I shook my head no and went on my way.

From some internet source (I’ve misplaced my notes; I’m not thinking straight): “Exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to confusion.”

To say the least! A month or so ago, I lost my debit card. The cash machines here are in Spanish. Of course! I pressed the wrong button and it ate my card. I had to take the bus to the border an hour and half away, to the closest Chase Bank to get cash. Gabrielle/Gabby, the hostel manager, lent me money for the fare.

The bad news: Chase won’t mail me a new card until I have a U.S. address to mail it to.

The good news: When I withdrew much-needed cash, I found several hundred dollars that I didn’t know was there. My bestest best friend in the world had deposited it into my account. Who does that but a saint? She has little money to spare. She was up for tenure this year as full professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake but was let go — only to be rehired directly afterward as an adjunct professor, teaching the same classes she’s been teaching the past five years at the same university at half or so the salary. And she’s not the only one! Class-action law-suit stuff!

In the movies. Not in real life.

Once again, from “Silent shadow : silent killer”: “The effects of carbon monoxide poisoning can and does kill thousands of people each year. Some people simply slip away into unconsciousness or a deep sleep from which they will never reawaken.”

Thank heaven for the frequent all-night drinking parties on the back veranda. Few guests if any — carbon monoxide or no — are likely to slip away into a deep sleep here.

From some source on the internet (I forget which one): “Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause memory loss.”

Memory loss. Memory loss. Hmmm. What’s that? Oh, yes, memory loss! (Check.)

Just kidding. I can well remember the night a gas leak was first suspected. Three or so weeks back, I was out on the back veranda again, chatting with a young London couple and a young backpacker from Australia.

One of them asked, “Can you smell that?”

I said, “No, what?” My nose has been broken so man times I can’t smell a thing.

“Smells like rotten eggs.”

“It’s gas,” said another. “Leaking gas.”

“Holy shit!” said a third.

From “Silent shadow : silent killer”: “Carbon monoxide has no taste, color or odor, and can be breathed in over a short or long time without you ever knowing that it is present.”

Suppliers add a rotten egg scent to signal that harmful gas vapors are loose in the air. Until that night, no one had complained about it. Except for the Danes, and they had pointed their fingers at me! Those damn Danes!

I immediately informed Gabby, who wrinkled her brow and said she had been having headaches for months.

A few days later, the owner — of the business, not the building — who lives in Switzerland, paid a short visit with his wife, whom he had met here at the hostel. He’s Mexican-born and very dashing. She’s Parisian and very lovely. They both look like movie stars. I like movie stars. But, at that present time, for this particular precarious predicament, what the place needed was a GLS — a Gas-Leak Specialist.

Hostels are wonderfully inexpensive because they’re run on the cheap. A buck saved here, a buck saved there. Some bad comes with good. Life is a two-sided coin.

Shortly after his arrival, the owner of the hostel business (not the building) smeared soap suds from a cloth on the gas pipes in and around the boiler, watching for bubbles to arise, exposing the leak. Unable to detect one, the dashing pair dashed on their way — they were on vacation — the scent of leaking gas still in the air.

The task and glory of finding the leak fell upon the shoulders of Rodreigo, the daytime receptionist/nighttime musician. Several days went by without success. Then one morning on bended knee, he leaned an ear down to listen.

“Sssssssssss!”

The sssss-hissing sound was coming from a puncture in a very thin pipe on the ground by the kitchen door. He smeared soap on it and the bubbling suds billowed up as if it were a boiling mud pot in Yellowstone National Park. You had to see it to believe it! Caught on film, it surely would have been a huge hit on YouTube. Rodreigo covered the leak with a wet towel. Ole!

A professional Gas-Leak Specialist was contracted to replace the punctured pipe. While doing so, he told Gabby a story about another leak he had recently fixed. After leaving the premises upon completion of his task, according to the specialist, the gentleman residing there had lit himself a cigar and — boom! — one of the walls exploded outward in flames, leaving a major peep-hole in his bedroom. Fumes from the gas leak had seeped into the paint on the wall.

But, anyway, back to the hostel here . . .

So all’s well, right? Perhaps, perhaps not. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t write. I can’t walk but for a few short steps at a time. When I’m not resting in my bunk, I’m resting on the one “comfortable” chair on the back veranda.

Gabby has told me more than once: Everyone else is okay! — though, she herself experienced headaches many days after the leak was fixed. (But, then again, perhaps the headaches were caused by me! That could very well be!)

I, in rebuttal, have replied: Most everyone else stays for a couple of days or so. I’ve been here for four straight months. Most everyone else takes in the sights, so they’re out and about. I’ve been staying inside, day in and day out, writing and typing away at the computer here. I rarely leave the place.

A couple of nights ago I came out from resting in my room for a bite to eat in the kitchen. “Are you okay?” she asked. She, too, now is concerned about my health.

I lied and said I was.

First thing the next morning, gazing at me with deep concern, she asked, “You want me to take you to the Red Cross?”

I told her there was a VA medical center in La Jolla and that I was going to take the bus there in the next couple of days.

“I have business to do in Tijuana,” she said. “I will drive you to the border.”

From Googling again: “In many cases, the symptoms may wear off within a short period.”

Good to hear, comforting to know!

“However, in some cases the effects are permanent, particularly in the case of brain damage.”

This, I must admit, is worrisome. When you’re down and out, you get through each day thinking to yourself that you’ll get out of the mess you’ve got yourself into — somehow, someway. There are still opportunities out there, you tell yourself, if you can just hang in there and brave it out.

But with brain damage, well, you have no options but one: being bused to Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin rallies.


Dan Valentine – My Sister/My Brother, part 1

August 11, 2010

By Dan Valentine

MY SISTER / MY BROTHER – Part 1

One magical, fairy-tale of an evening, back in 1998, my baby sister Valerie—she is eight-years younger than myself—was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

And I was there!

She is one of the few ballerinas and/or Americans ever to be so honored.

Funny, just a few short years before in Manhattan, after my sister had performed onstage with the great Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev—yes, that one!—my mom had doused out a cigarette in the Queen’s half-empty cocktail.  At a reception for members of the Dutch community in town (Walter Cronkite was there), my mom, looking around for an ashtray and not finding one nearby, spotted a half-filled drink and plopped her cig in it.  A moment later, the Queen came back, after a brief newspaper interview, to finish her toddy, only to find a, well, you-know-what in it.

But back to little sister’s knighthood.

Earlier that morning, I had attended a ballet class with my sister.  Ballerinas and their male counterparts take class every day of the week to brush up on their technique and such.  They stretch, move to the Barre, and do sequences in the center of the floor for an hour or so.  This is followed by grueling hours of rehearsals for upcoming and/or present performances.  So, anyway, I was standing by the wayside watching a Russian ballerina from the Bolshoi twirl around and around and around.  We made eye contact and she fainted, dead away.  In my dreams, I caught her in my arms.  In reality, she slumped to the floor.  I like to think it was caused by my George Clooney good looks, but it was probably caused by exhaustion.

That day, for a short time, I was the talk of the company.

Her lifemate, Roeland Kerbosch, an award-winning Dutch film director, had informed me a short time beforehand what was to take place that evening.  I remember smoking—of course! as they say in the Netherlands—by the stage door of the Muziektheater in Amsterdam when my sister showed to suit up.  She told me that she was worried about that night’s performance.  Can’t remember why.  All I was thinking was:  Val, this is going to be one of, if not thee greatest night of your life.

Utah-born ballerina Valerie Valentine, Dutch National Ballet

Valerie Valentine, Dutch National Ballet

Later that evening, Valerie—I call her Val, sometimes Vali—was dancing onstage when suddenly everyone but herself stopped in their tracks.  The conductor put down his baton.  The music stopped.  The performance came to a halt.  My sister, in the middle of a pas de deux or whatever, looked around perplexed.  What the heck is going on?

After a moment, the Mayor of Amsterdam walked on stage and bestowed upon her the Order of the Dutch Lion—the highest honor a non-military person can receive in the Netherlands—in recognition for her 25 years of “significant contribution to the art of dance.”

He read from a scroll:  “Admired for her energy and dedication to her work, Valerie Valentine’s beautiful sense of line, strong technique and expressive, magical stage presence have inspired not only choreographers, but photographers and filmmakers as well . . .”

Needless to say, there was a party afterward.  Cocktails, hors d’œuvres, a band, dancing, etc.  I was very happy for my sister, ecstatically so.  But I left the celebration shortly after it began.

I can’t remember feeling sadder.

Sitting at an outside cafe, just a few a blocks away, was my artist brother Jimmy, uninvited (and rightly so; he was literally crazy as hell), doing his best to drink himself to death, an endeavor he would shortly accomplish.

He died four years later, age 48, in Torremolinos, Malaga, Spain . . . on Valentine’s Day.

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Dan Valentine – Mexican balada

August 5, 2010

So I’m sitting on the back veranda of the hostel here having my first cup of coffee and my first cough from a cigarette—it’s what I do best—when a guest here for relaxation and rest joins me. Best, guest, rest. Perfect internal rhymes and, so far, a perfect morning.

I tell her what I’ve been writing about for the past week or two or so and she says, off the top of her head: “The gays of our lives.”

Now, if that’s not the greatest title for a book on such a topic, I don’t know what is.

In the beginning, I was merely going to write about my gay-bashing. But night after night, culling through my mind subconsciously, I sit straight up in bed and say to myself, “Oh, yeah! The two gay guys the manager at Trevi Towers in Salt Lake found nude in the sauna!” Or: “The time I was called a poof by a Glasgow taxi driver when I didn’t tip him enough!” Or . . . well, the list gets longer every night.

I think I have a book whatever it’s called. But I’m going to think on it for awhile, a day or three.

So, last night, instead of writing another pink-cigarette-lighter piece, I put the finishing touches on a Mexican balada.

In English, of course. I took two years of Spanish in high school, but my mom did my homework. She had spent half of World War II in Chile, Peru, and Boliva. Her first husband was a mining engineer, and back then she spoke fluent Spanish. She wanted to prove to herself that she still had the skill. So, not only did she help me with my homework, she did my homework! As a result, she got an A, I got a D—which averaged out to a C. And I didn’t learn a goddamn thing.

I told my sister this once and she said our mom had done her homework, too. As a result, my mom got another A and my sis, she got a—I didn’t have to ask.

Neither of us can speak Spanish, though she can speak fluent Dutch after living in Amsterdam for some-forty years.

My brother couldn’t speak a word of Spanish, either, though he died in Malaga, Spain, the birthplace of Picasso.

But back to my Mexican balado—a sad, Spanish ballad, sometimes called a tearjerker. In the background, picture mariachis. More than anything else, I guess, it’s a concert/nightclub/theater piece.

*   *   *   *   *

ISN’T THAT THE DUMBEST THING?
By Daniel Valentine (c) 2010

I’ve total recall
Of the summer we met.
That fall and that Christmas
I’ll never forget.

And now, close to Easter,
With thoughts of that year—
Spring break all but here—
Reminiscing, as ev’ryone does,
I remember the spring
That never was.

I imagine a flight and a window seat,
Waves dancing below in the shimmering heat,
Cancun just beyond the wing.
ISN’T THAT THE DUMBEST THING?

Sometimes late at night,
Quarter past one or two,
I’ll smile on those seasons
So sweet, oh-too few.

But round about three-ish
Or four-ish, I find,
What creeps into mind,
Uninvited, when slighted hearts stir,
Are the four days, three nights
That never were.

I imagine a towel for two in the sun,
Our bodies so snug passersby swear we’re one
Whenever we closely cling.
ISN’T THAT THE DUMBEST THING?

Mescal to consume!
Spring break in full swing!
While friends toured the tomb
Of some Mayan king,
I sat alone in my room
By a phone that didn’t ring.

My folks are concerned,
As our others, because:
What good is obsessing
On what never what?

But spring’s here and lovers,
They stroll hand-in-hand,
Barefoot on white sand,
And I can’t help but think of back when.
I remember the spring
That might have been.

I imagine a kiss on a moonlit beach,
Each star in the sky within fingertip reach.
Nearby mariachis sing.
ISN’T THAT THE DUMBEST THING?
The god-damnedest dumbest thing?

(spoken:)
Cancun is a spring break paradise, attracting some
200,000 college students. The 16-mile long island is
located on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, between
the Caribbean Sea and the lovely Nichupte Lagoon and
boasts all a spring breaker could ever hope to die
for: beach volleyball, beautiful people, spectacular
sunsets, and lots of other fun stuff, too, like
tequila shots and celebrity sightings. And, though,
I have never been there, I hate the place like I
never hated any place on the face of the Earth
before.

(sung:)
Mescal to consume!
Spring break in full swing!
While friends toured the tomb
Of some Mayan king,
I sat alone in my room
By a phone that didn’t ring.

My folks are concerned,
As are others, because:
What good is obsessing
On what never was?

But spring’s here and lovers,
They stroll hand-in-hand,
Barefoot on white sand,
And I can’t help but think of back when.
I remember the spring
That might have been.

I imagine a flight and a window seat,
Waves dancing below in the shimmering heat,
Cancun just beyond the wing.
ISN’T THAT THE DUMBEST THING?
The god-damnedest dumbest thing?

Send a balada to your friends:

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Dan Valentine – Pink cigarette lighter, part 6

July 30, 2010

By Dan Valentine

THE PINK CIGARETTE LIGHTER – Part 6

When my bestest friend and I first moved into our new one-story home in Friendswood, TX, the fellow next door, who owned a nice three-story house, came over and said how happy he was to have a nice couple such as ourselves now living next door as neighbors.

The couple before us, he said, were “f**king faggots!” and used to host poolside orgies in their backyard. It disgusted him. That, he informed us, was the reason for the extra-high security fence separating his back property from ours.

I met him again while getting the mail shortly after Hurricane Ike. He asked me if I had gotten my $500 check from the government. They were handing out checks to those in need with property damage.

Hurricane Ike had missed us. There WAS no property damage. But his kind, they know how! His grandfather had developed the neighborhood and, as a result, the fellow next door was living the good life. He spent the majority of his time at his beach house on the Gulf.

Shortly afterward I read a story in the Houston Chronicle telling of how the poor were finding it almost impossible to collect that much-needed check.

A few months later, I met him for a third time walking out to get the mail. He told me: “That sure is a purty little gal you got there.”

Only a fat f**k (and I’m speaking of his head, though, his body was a monument to the god of saturated-fats) could make such a remark sound perverted as all-get-out. It made my skin crawl just to type the phrase and hear his voice again inside my brain.

Extra-tall security fence or not, he obviously had been peeping out of his third-floor window when she was sunbathing by the pool–oftentimes topless, thinking she had the privacy to do so, unaware a pervert was watching, gleefully. He may very well have been doing something else, gleefully, while watching. I picture him snacking on pork rinds.

She never felt comfortable poolside again.

We sold the home a couple of years later to a NASA project manager for a future manned-flight to Mars.

I had left a couple of things behind in the confusion and commotion of moving and one afternoon I returned to retrieve them. I knocked on the door and the new owner answered.

His male companion stood close beside him, wearing tight-fitting speedos! Not that there is anything wrong with tight-fitting speedos, as they would say on Will and Grace, but he might as well have been wearing assless chaps. They were obviously lovers.

I went off to Austin, then Provo, then Nashville, and many parts in between, and when my bested friend bought a home close by to NASA, I flew back to Texas, and I’m walking down the street one day, stop at a “Don’t Walk” sign, and a fat fellow behind the wheel of a somewhat familiar-looking SUV, waiting to make a right turn, waves me over through the darkened windshield.

I thought I must still have that look of homelessness and the fellow wanted to give me a quarter or so to help himself get into heaven when the time came to fill out the application. (List any or all good deeds: “Gave 37 cents to a homeless person once.”)

It turned out to be our former fat-f**k of a next-door neighbor in Friendswood. He rolled down his window and said, “Y’know, I think that couple you sold your home to are goddamn queers.”

It made my day. “Oh, yeaaaaah!”

And pickled pink, I went on my way, picturing him in my mind peeking out of his third-story window, cursing under his breath, while two fellas playfully in the pool next door below splashed water at each other–him, the fat-f**K, crunching on a pork rind and thinking to himself, “I sure do miss that purty little gal.”


Dan Valentine – Pink cigarette lighter, part 5

July 23, 2010

By Dan Valentine

THE PINK CIGARETTE LIGHTER — Part 5

Shortly after my little episode with Melody – y’know, the brigadier general’s daughter, so on and so forth, the one with the butcher knife, etc., etc., with the crazy ex-boyfriend – I soon found myself a studio flat of my own in downtown D.C.

The Westpark Apartments, 2130 “P” Street, just west of Dupont Circle and the Metro stop that took me straight to work at the Russell Senate Office Building. The Ritz-Carlton was just around the corner. My good friend Paul Smith, Orrin Hatch’s former press secretary, and I saw Peggy Lee perform there one evening. She had fallen shortly before the engagement and sang on crutches.

The residents at the Westpark were mostly students and professionals. There was a grocery store next door and some of Washington’s better restaurants nearby. Georgetown was a ten-minute walk.

Great location but noisy on weekends. Across the street, I soon learned, was a stretch of very popular gay bars: a gay dance club, a gay sports bar, a gay piano bar, a gay you-name-it. “The cutting edge of Gay nightclubs,” I later read in a local rag.

I lived there for some two years without incident.

Flash-forward half a decade. I had moved my folks from Salt Lake to Arlington, Va. A three-bedroom penthouse apartment, above the Balston Commons Arcade, with a view of the Nation’s Capital. It was to die for! Fourth of July, it was the best seat in the house. Fireworks galore sprouting above the Washington Monument.  During Bush I’s term, when the troops returned home victorious from fighting in Kuwait and Iraq and the whole town celebrated, it was the best seat in the house. Fireworks galore.

One evening, shortly after returning for the second time to the District, I joined my bestest friend for a cocktail or two. We may have even had dinner.

You could smoke in bars and restaurants back then and, like many times before in the past, by the end of the evening, her cigarette lighter ended up in my blue sports coat pocket. She doesn’t smoke cigarettes; though, she’ll light herself a cigar every once in a great while. She prefers to smoke, well, let’s just say she likes to laugh. As I do. Laughter is a sound foundation for any relationship. (My ex-mother-in-law once asked my ex-wife, in front of me, “Why did you marry him?” “He made me laugh,” she said. Her mother sniffed and replied, “I’ve never thought he was funny.” I had to laugh.)

Anyway, the lighter ended up in my pocket when I used my last match and she lent me hers. It was pink.

Many a time I have sat at a table with friends and, by the end of the night, everyone’s lighter or matches or both have wound up in my possession. I’m infamous for it. And many a time, a friend during the evening has slapped his pockets or searched her purse only to find that his or her light is missing. “Where’s my lighter?! Where are my matches?!” Friends always turn to me. “Valentine! Not again!” I get caught up in the conversation at hand and, without thinking, I slip them in my pocket after lighting up.

We had met at a restaurant nearby Dupont Circle, close to my former residence. After bidding goodnight, call-you-later, I thought I’d save a buck or two – I was raised by Depression Kids – and catch a cab to Georgetown for one last drink before going home to Arlington.

In D.C., at the time, there were taxi zones. When I lived on “P” Street, I soon discovered if one wanted to save some cash one had only to stroll a few paces and cross the street at the end of the block to hail a taxi. Back then, every zone your cab entered cost you an extra-added fare.

So, I’m on “P” Street–familiar and friendly territory, or so I thought at the time–a few steps from saving a dollar or so, when I stop to light up. I pulled out my friend’s pink one. I lit my cigarette, pocketed the rest. It was then that someone head-butted me in the back like an NFL guard, plunging me face-first to the pavement. Another man, from out of the shadows, joined in the fun, kicking me in the head and ribs, both of them shouting, “Faggot!” and other slurs I suppose.

I can only suppose that the pink lighter offended them.

I was knocked unconscious. When I came to, I opened my eyes to see two Pink Angels gazing down on me, one with a flashlight beaming on my face.

Every Friday and Saturday, near the stroke of midnight, a group of volunteers, dressed in black berets and jackets, pair off and walk unarmed up and down the gay sections of D.C., making sure gays get home in one-piece. They’re known as Pink Angels. Such groups exist from San Francisco to Greenwich Village.

The two helped me to my feet and guided me to the gay piano bar on the corner. Upon seeing me, the bartender immediately began dialing an ambulance. He didn’t have to pick up the phone book and thumb through its pages to look for the number. I told him to dial me a cab instead. Save a buck here, save buck there. I was raised by Depression Kids.

No doubt, the bartender poured me a drink on the house. And, no doubt, I lit myself a cigarette. Can’t have a drink without a cigarette, swollen-bleeding lips or no. And, without any doubt, I pocketed a book of matches with the bar’s logo on them. Can’t have a cigarette without a light.

The pink lighter was missing, glimmering in a moonlit gutter somewhere.

I was in the Men’s, cleaning up best I could, when the cab arrived. The driver took me to the Georgetown University Hospital emergency room for my wounds. Broken nose (again, for the umpteenth time), multiple bruises, battered ribs, fractured jaw. I may have even had a minor concussion. Can’t remember. That wasn’t meant as a joke. It’s just been that long ago.

Later on that week, I saw a specialist, etc. In all, visits, procedures, more visits, more procedures, it cost me some several thousand dollars. I was unaware at the time–no one volunteered the info–that there is some sort of city fund for such incidents.

The time was the late ’80s, but little has changed.

Just recently I came across a news story on the internet The head read: Wearing Pink Gets Straight Man Gay Bashed. The date: October 2009. The story: A straight man who wore pink to aid breast cancer charities was bashed by men at a Kansas City Chiefs game. The victim, a father of three, had volunteered to wear pink clothing to draw attention to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. He raised a few hundred dollars, vending pink ribbons and shirts and hats, among other things. Third quarter, he decides to call it a day. He’s heading out of the stadium when two men, drunk, began harassing him because of his pink clothing. One of them punched him in the face. The second threw him to the ground. Both began kicking him in the ribs and head. I can relate. Managing somehow to get to his feet, he scurried for his life, the men chasing after him. Dodging them in between parked cars in the stadium’s lot, he finally escaped.

Sometimes, looking back, I think it may not have been the pink lighter at all. Maybe they were simply hard-core anti-smoking activists. They could very well have been paid assassins hired by my ex-mother-in-law. They may have been Danes! One thing’s for sure: The two wanted to hurt somebody, badly–gay, straight, or Martian–and they did. Me. Wrong place at the wrong time. A lot of life is timing. You win a few, you lose a few.

For some time afterward, I smoked very little, if at all. Wired-fractured jaw. When I was well enough, I visited my bestest friend.

THAT didn’t make me feel better! She was seeing a cop. Upon hearing that, no doubt, I lit-up a cigarette. I left shortly afterward.

A few weeks later, I visited her again. Just happen to be in the area. Yeah, right! I asked how she and the cop were doing. She said she had broken up with the fellow. She had discovered he was gay.

This was at the height of the AIDS scare. AIDS was somewhere in everyone’s mind, in flats on “U” Street, where she was living at the time, and in dark, shadowed doorways on “P” Street.

“He told you that?” I asked.

“No. Not exactly.”

“So, how do you know?”

He, too, it seems, had visited one day, and after he’d left, she had found a book of matches from a gay bar.

“I know you’re not gay. So–.” She showed me the matches. They were mine. From the gay piano bar on “P” Street.

You win a few, you lose a few. One day you’re lying in a puddle of blood, your own; the next day, you’re soaring, eagle-like, high above the clouds, a big-big smile on your face, fractured-jaw and all.

TO BE CONTINUED


Dan Valentine – The pink cigarette lighter, part 4

July 22, 2010

By Dan Valentine

The pink cigarette lighter, part 4

When I was four or five, early ’50s, my dad quit The Salt Lake Tribune and we moved to San Francisco.

Actor Peter Lorre, who was known for his bulging eyes and for co-starring alongside Humphrey Bogart in films such as “Casablanca,” was in Salt Lake to perform in a stage reading from George Bernard Shaw’s play “Don Juan in Hell,” with Charles Laughton and two others. I think one was Agnes Moorehead. Charles Boyer may have been the fourth.

Peter Lorre

Peter Lorre, in "Secret Agent," 1936

My dad wrote: “The man with the ping-pong eyes is in town.” He was quite proud of that lead.

He woke up the next morning, picked the paper up off the front porch, and flipped to his column. It read: “The man with the table-tennis eyes is in town.”

Didn’t have same ring to it. Though, it had his by-line.

Someone on the rewrite desk had changed the lead. My dad blew a gasket and was told that “Ping Pong” was a brand name and the paper didn’t give free advertising. Back then, “Coca-Cola” wasn’t allowed in a story. Instead, carbonated beverage was substituted.

My dad quit shortly there after. One straw too many (in the carbonated beverage.) They had cut his column time after time.

Many years later, when I took over his column, one of the first bits of advice he gave me was: “Don’t read your column in the paper the next morning. It will give you high blood pressure.” I ignored this little nugget and I’ve high-blood pressure ever since.

One evening that very week, the phone rang at home. (We were living on Grove Avenue. The house is still there. I walked by it just a few short years ago.) My dad answered it and the voice on the other line said, “This is Charles Laughton. Join me for a drink.” Get outta here! My dad hung up on the voice. The phone rang again. “Seriously. I’m Charles Laughton. Let’s have a drink together.” Yeah, riiight! My dad slammed the phone down a second time. This little incident haunted my dad for many a year. Was it, indeed, Charles Laughton? I like to think, now that the two are both long parted, that my dad finally joined him for a toddy.

My dad got a job as a reporter, working for the San Francisco Examiner. He was given the Suicide Watch on Golden Gate Bridge, among other things. Yes, there was such a beat back then. Perhaps, still is, with the present economic woes. My dad’s job was to stroll up and down the bridge at night, waiting for distraught people to leap to their death, then write the story.

Noticing that there were many people with a sexual preference other than the so-called norm in the City by the Bay, and with time on his hands during the day, he asked a copy boy or girl to bring him all the files the Examiner had on homosexuals. He thought it would make an interesting human-interest story. The copy person brought him cart after cart, filled with file upon file, and my dad came to the conclusion that the story had been done before, many times, even back then.

My dad returned to Salt Lake a year and a half or so later when Art Deck, The Tribune’s senior editor, who liked my dad and liked the popularity of his column even more, asked him to return.

My first introduction to gays was, no doubt, TV and film. Liberace, Truman Capote, Charles Nelson Reilly, and rumors, just rumors at the time, that Rock Hudson was a member of the select two/three/four/ten/lord knows percent club.

Paul Lynde, who resided in the center square on Hollywood Squares for a long, long time, also comes to mind. He made many a guest appearance on Donny & Marie, filmed at the Osmond Studios in Orem, Utah.

In 1978, in Utah for a guest appearance, he had one too many drinks at the Sun Tavern, a gay bar on the west side of Salt Lake. The police were called. Finding him intoxicated and more than a little belligerent, one of the cops called to the scene reached for his cuffs. Lynde was told to take off his Rolex. Struggling to free it from his wrist, Lynde broke the clasp.

“Now, look what you’ve made me do!” he said, no doubt with that over-the-top way of saying things, sneer, snarl and all, only more so with a few drinks in him. And he slammed the Rolex to the sidewalk and stomped on it with both feet.

It’s in the police report. My dad brought a copy home from The Tribune. Also, in the report, was this: “In case of emergency contact Olive Osmond (Donny and Marie’s mom).” Soon after, he was dropped as a guest star.

The Sun Tavern.

There was a time, at the peak of my dad’s popularity (and, indeed, WAS he ever popular. He was a house-hold name in Utah and parts of Nevada and Idaho. In a well-respected survey conducted by those who did such surveys at the time, his readership in the Intermountain West was shown to be higher than that of the nationally-syndicated columnist Ann Landers)–where was I? Oh, yes, at my dad’s peak, celebrities in town for whatever reason (Myrna Loy, in town to film “Airport;” Martina Martin (Dean Martni’s daughter), in town with Holiday on Ice or Ice Capades (can’t remember which); Gale Storm, TV’s My Little Margie; in town in a play; Ricardo Monteblan, in town for a play; the list goes on and on), they all would pay a call on my dad for publicity for whatever project they were involved in at the moment.

One who walked into The Tribune city room to pay his respects (in exchange for a well-read column item) was Charles Pierce. (Wikipedia: “One of the 20th Century’s foremost female impersonators.”) He was particularly known for his impersonation of Bette Davis. He also did Mae West, Tallulah Bankhead, Gloria Swanson, Katherine Hepburn, Carol Channing, and Joan Crawford, among many others.

My dad interviewed Joan Crawford once. She was in Salt Lake representing Pepsi, her second career. Her fourth husband was president of the carbonated beverage company. After his death in 1959, she was appointed to its Board of Directors. At a Pepsi reception at the Salt Palace, she took a liking to him. So, someone at The Trib told me later. Of course! He made her laugh.

When Charles Pierce invited my dad and mom to come see the show at the Sun Tavern, a gay bar, my mom didn’t say, “What will people think?” She looooved Bette Davis. No matter that it wasn’t really her, it was her spirit that mattered. Bette was her role-model. A piece or two ago, I wrote that my dad looooved Elko, Nevada. Picture my mom saying, “What a dump!” and you’ve got my mom.

My dad looked important, as did my mom. On a flight once a passenger sitting next to him, turned to inquire, “Are you somebody?” My dad replied, “I’ve always thought so.”

When I caught up with my first ship in the Navy, it was docked in Guam. I was buffing a passageway or whatever, as a member of deck force, when a boatswain’s mate, extremely excited, hurried below to tell everyone that Jackie Gleason and Carol Channing were on the pier. You must be kidding! Guam!? We all were allowed to go topside to take a gander and, lo and behold, there they were. My dad and mom.

In my mom’s middle-years, when dressed to the gills, she could pass as Carol Channing’s twin. Both were blondes. (My dad looooved blondes. He used to say, “I don’t know if blondes have more fun, but the people with ‘em do.”)

And my dad, he was often told he looked like Jackie Gleason. Same bulging eyes (ping-pong like, not tennis-table like), same weight near-bouts, both funny as can be. The territorial governor of Guam at the time was from Utah–local angle–and he had flown there, along with my mom, to interview him. Yeah, sure!

I mention this because I can picture my mom dressed to the nines, standing in line to use the Sun Tavern’s only restroom–no need for two!–in between acts and the fellow in front or back complimenting her on her impersonation of Carol Channing. My mom, bless her soul, she was a trouper! But that’s how much she loooooved Bette Davis.

My first recollection of what could be called a gay experience happened in Bountiful, Utah, at a theater-in-the-round musical production of Peter Pan, starring Victor Buono (reputed by some to be gay) as Captain Hook and Ruta Lee (reputed, without question, to be straight) as Peter. I was thirteen or so.

Onstage–scene/act/whatever/I’ve forgot–Tinkerbell was dying, poisoned by Captain Hook, the deadly brew meant for Peter. Kneeling beside her and beside himself, as they say, Peter asked her what he could do to help. She told him that she thought she could get all-better if children just believe in Fairies.

So, in desperation, to save her life, Peter (Ruta Lee) ran to the footlights and asked the audience, “Do you believe in Fairies?”

Children, one and all, me included, shouted, “YES!” (Si, indeed! Hey, Fairies depend on the belief of kids, of all ages.) A very poignant moment … ruined just a tiny bit by a few grown-ups – not many but enough to be heard by me and others – snickering in their seats, aloud, to themselves. (Oh, yeah! I believe in fairies. One styles my wife’s hair.) Very sad and truly scary when you stop to think about it.

A few weeks or months later, another play came to town. It was called “Pajama Bottoms.” The gist of the play: A gay man – though, the word “gay” was never uttered – doesn’t want to be a gay man. So, he decides he is not going to be a gay man. He starts pursuing women. Finally, by the end of the first act, he meets up with one who makes his wish come true. The first act curtain falls as he walks out of the bedroom, a smile on is face. He’s a straight!

The second act consists of him dating woman after woman, sleeping with each of them, because now he’s a man. Still, something’s missing. Love. By the time the final curtain falls, he has found true love.

Very politically incorrect! But, oh, how I loved that play! And I’ll tell you why. The male lead was a friend of Victor Buono’s. I can’t remember his first name, but his last name was McMurtry. And he was told to look up my dad. He got us front row seats and after the show, my dad, mom, and I joined him and the cast (and the cast, other than himself, were all beautiful actresses, six in all) for drinks at the Manhattan Club in Salt Lake. I was, like, fourteen or so then, way underage. But Tony Hatsis, the owner, sat us at a table in the back, and, oh, what a night! When you’re fourteen, you’re not a threat. So, all the young actresses loved me. Oh, what a night! They signed my program and I kept that treasure until just a few months ago. It is now in a Houston dump. But, oh, what a night!

I didn’t give gays much of a thought, good, bad, or indifferent, until I moved to San Francisco in the late ’70s for some-two years.

I was there the night Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in the state, was assassinated. It happened just a few blocks from where I was living at the time. Parked cars were set on fire. Police sirens screamed all night long. I’m a very curious fellow, but I stayed put in my room that evening.

Once, while having a drink in a bar, an older gentleman sitting next to me, after conversing some, inquired politely if I wanted to go home with him for the night. I politely declined. I took no offense and went on my way.

In San Francisco, I met a nightclub entertainer at a piano bar on Powell Street. Lucina! German-born. Sang Marlene Dietrich songs. Still is German. Still sings Marlene standards. Still lives in the Bay Area. She used to call me Dahling.

Late night once, she took me to one of the many after-hour gay dance clubs in town, where those dancing up a storm on the floor would inhale Poppers, amyl nitrate, that came in small ampoules. “Pop! Release the fumes! Snort!” Back in the ’70s, in Baghdad by the Bay, young, old, straight, and gay, were “enhancing their lives” with ‘em. I can’t remember my charming, street-wise chantreus taking a trial sniff. But, fool that I am, I did. Just a whiff or two. Research for a future whatever. Yeah, riiiight!

Flip the calendar pages.

After two years in San Francisco, I was given the opportunity to write my dad’s column. He was written out, as they say, and ill. First, it was complications from diabetes. Then, he got shingles. Then, anorexia. And, then, he fell and, well, I’ll write about that some other time …

So, anyway, one day I was flipping through some out-of-town newspapers, looking for a germ of an idea or two for a column, when I came across an item that read: Virtually all the early patients diagnosed with AIDS have used Poppers at least once. My heart sank. I thought to myself: Man, oh, man, am I in trouble!

Soon after, Poppers were found not to be the cause of AIDS. I wiped the sweat off my brow. Whew!

In 1982, Paul Lynde was found dead in his Hollywood home with a bottle of Poppers. Double whew!! I’d only had a whiff or two.


Dan Valentine – Pink cigarette lighter, part 3

July 19, 2010

By Dan Valentine

THE PINK CIGARETTE LIGHTER – Part Three

From the Urban Dictionary: ‘Midnight Cowboy. A 1969 movie starring Jon Voight [Jolie’s daddy] as Joe Buck, from Texas, who comes to The Big Apple, thinking he can make a living selling his body to women. When that fails, he resorts to seeking gay male customers. Hence, the slang term “midnight cowboy”–a male (straight or gay) who seeks gay men who will pay him for sex.’

In the fall of 2009, while I was at The Music City Hostel in Nashville, a kid from the backwoods of some southern state, I forget which one, checked in. Both his parents had recently died and his elderly grandmother had given him what little cash she had so he could come to Nashville. Why Nashville, of all places, I can’t remember. He had no dream of being a singer or a songwriter or anything else connected with the music business.

Many of the regular guests there took an instance dislike to him. The kid’s backwoods accent offended their ears. A lawyer, who had given up his practice in Wisconsin to follow his dream of becoming a music producer, said one night, “I can’t understand a word he says.” “That’s what he says about you,” I said. One and all laughed.

Ron, the owner of the place, had taken me in when he learned I was homeless–bed and breakfast in exchange for chores. But he told me not to mention the word “homeless” to anyone. He didn’t want to upset his guests. Heaven forbid! “And don’t bum any cigarettes from the guests!” Who me?

Funny, many or most of the visiting guests are European, and those in the European Union are a strange breed, indeed! Whenever they take out a pack of cigarettes, they always–and, I mean, always–offer those present a cigarette first before lighting one up for themselves.

One of the first things the young man from the backwoods told me was: Clerks would not accept his I.D. when he tried to buy a bottle at the liquor store down the block. And he had just turned 21! And he couldn’t understand why. In truth, he couldn’t have been more than 19.

What do to? he asked.

“Enjoy a Coke!”

But the young, they rarely listen to their elders. Instead, he soon discovered that he could quench his thirst by simply opening the fridge outside on the porch, when no one was watching. Guests would buy twelve-pack upon twelve-pack, put ‘em in the fridge to chill, drink most of what they had purchased but not all, and go on their way.

As a result, the kid was drunk most of the time. Did I say, most? He was drunk the entire time he was there. Guests were complaining. His backwoods accent was hard enough to take when he was sober.

One night I’m sitting with him outside. I was the only one who would. I felt sorry for him. He had just lost both his folks. Time after time, he would offer me cigarette after cigarette (European-style), as he lit one for himself and popped open the flip-top of another can of beer. Evenings past, I had always declined. This particular night, after hearing pretty much everything the lad had to say, I asked, “Can I bum a cigarette?” just as Ron came over and said he wanted to talk to him. Timing is everything.

The two went inside. The kid came out a short time later and told me that Ron wanted him to leave the premises immediately, if not sooner.

What to do? He had no money. He asked me to talk to Ron on his behalf. So, together we went inside. It was late. Past midnight. I said something like “you just can’t toss the kid out on the street at this hour. I’ve been homeless, and–”

“Follow me,” he said. And I did. Outside. “I told you never to use the word homeless while you’re here.”

“Hey,” I said, “he’s a kid. Both his folks just died. It’s my duty as a fellow human being. Tomorrow he can go to social services.”

Ron said he’d play the kid’s car fare to The Mission.

I don’t think so. The Mission! Stabbings. You name it. Worst-case scenario. “I was told by one-in-the-know NOT to go to The Mission,” I said. “I wasn’t ready, and HE (the kid) really ain’t!”

Ron said he’d drive the boy to the all-night cafe up the block. Give him money for coffee.

I can live with that, not that it was my call, and not that it had anything to do with me at all.

“But I don’t want to hear you say the word ‘homeless’ ever again.”

“No problem. Got a cigarette I can bum? Just joking.”

Funny, he had told all those who worked there that I had been homeless for a short time (very short, three days) and they, in turn, had informed all the regular seasonal guests. At a hostel, you soon learn most every little thing that’s interesting about a person. Unless, of course, your middle name is Clueless.

A few nights later I’m in the hostel lobby–computers, big-screen TV, washer-dryer, dining table and chairs, etc.–when a guest comes in and informs each and all present that he had seen the kid from the southern backwoods standing on the corner by the gay bars, presumably selling his wares.

I like to think he was lost. But probably not.

TO BE CONTINUED

Patio at the Music City Hostel, Nashville

Patio at the Music City Hostel, Nashville



Dan Valentine – The Pink Cigarette Lighter, Part 2

July 13, 2010

By Dan Valentine

THE PINK CIGARETTE LIGHTER – Part 2

I was out on the veranda–inhaling my first drag from a cig, slurping my first sip from a cup–when the morning receptionist appeared.

Upon seeing her, I took a look at an imaginary watch on my wrist (my true watch is in my carry-on–the band broke months ago) and said, “You’re late!” I was joking. I didn’t have the slightest idea what time it was. I wrote into the wee hours.

“You, too?” she said. “Nobody lets me be me in this world.” She was half-joking, but all humor has a serious side, or it wouldn’t be funny. No identification.

I guess, she WAS a little late and Gabby, the manager, had gotten on her case. I can relate. She’s gotten on my case more than once, and I’m a guest.

The other night I was outside, having a cigarette, thinking, pacing, when two Mexican gentlemen stopped to inquire if I had any food to spare. “We not eat.” They were homeless and penniless. They had just come from L.A. where they had found little or no work and had returned home across the border. I told them to wait a sec.

I poked my head inside and told Gabby, “There are two gents in need of something to eat.”

She’s a teacher. In her spare time, she teaches a small group, of four or five, creative writing here at the hostel, which she was busy doing at that moment. She couldn’t very well say no in front of her students, so she got up and went to the kitchen and filled two plastic bags full of goods. She may have even taken a well-guarded and cherished jar of strawberry jam out of the locked safe and included it. (I shouldn’t be so judgmental. She probably would have done the good deed on her own, without me or her students here or not.)

She gave the two gentlemen the bags–in return, the two sincerely thanked her and went on their way– and Gabby turned to me and said, “Charming? Yes?”

Si, indeed!

Sunday afternoon–the staff’s day off–she’s about to leave with no one here but me. I asked, “Do you want me to stay around?” You know, just in case someone wanted to check in.

She sad, “No. Leave. Leave forever!”

I had to laugh.

But where was I? Oh, yes. “Nobody lets me be me in this world.” I love that phrase. It says a lot.

I told her so, and she, the morning receptionist, sat to have a chat about this-and-that. Sat-chat-that. Perfect rhymes. Imperfect world.

During our conversation, among many other things–now aware that I was writing a piece on gays and lesbians and those in between–she informed me that three transvestite prostitutes had been found murdered recently and left on the side of the road between here and Rosarito, a small town up the Baja coast–killed by some macho Mexican male or more, she supposed.

One may have very well been wearing pink, I just thought to myself. It doesn’t take much–I know from personal experience–to fuel the fervor in some to kill or hurt another fellow human being.

The Aztecs used to execute homosexuals, and you don’t wanna know the details of how they went about it. Transvestites–whatever their sexual preference–were executed also and, again, you don’t wanna know the gruesome details.

Under Spanish rule “maschismo” was introduced to the Western Hemisphere: Men are men and should act accordingly. Make war not love.

In the mid-’90s, a Mexicana airline pilot had security guards at Guadalajara International Airport escort two San Francisco-bound lesbians off the plane for engaging in immoral behavior. They were seen holding hands.

Two dozen homosexuals were murdered in Mexico during the first-half of that decade, most of them transvestites. And now, years later in 2010, three more can be added to the list.

My fellow Americans, north of the border, I sincerely and humbly apologize. We are not alone, not by a long shot, not that I thought for a moment that we were. Hatred for those who are born different is universal.

Pearl Harbor was the home port of my first ship when serving in the Navy. This was many decades before don’t-ask-don’t-tell–1969 or so. The scuttlebutt on board at one time was that several snipes in Engineering–not just two but several–had been swiftly discharged for gay activities. From first-hand experience, I know you can’t believe everything, or anything, you hear aboard a ship.

To get from the Naval Base to Waikiki Beach, you had to catch a bus that let you off on Hotel Street in Honolulu, where you waited to transfer to another bus. On Hotel Street, at night, you’d see countless prostitutes plying their trade, many with a large pink button–pink! that color again!–that informed those who could read: “I AM A BOY”! It was the law back them.

You might as well have painted a pink bull’s eye on their chests or backs or foreheads or all three. On the bus coming back at night, you’d see them again, on the side of the highway, plying their trade. I’m sure there were many a gay-bashing. Probably a killing or three. Macho guys just wanna have fun.

On the other hand–there’s always a flip side–the large pink warning labels may well have saved a life or three. False advertising can very well get one killed, too.

I believe in education. I believe in magnet schools, comprehensive public schools, high-school level, with different specialized curricula. Reading-writing-and-arithmetic is all fine and dandy, but you gotta teach everyone, as many as you can, how to make a living, how to put bread on the table. The United Kingdom has nearly 3,000 of ‘em, each specializing in a specialized trade. My sister attended one. The London Royal Ballet School.

In Manhattan, I lived just up the block from one. The Fiorella H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art & Performing Arts. I spoke there once, representing the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. Ving Rhames, Freddie Prinz, Liza Minneli, Dom Deluise are/were all graduates.

But why just the arts? Whether it be plumbing, carpentry, or automotive mechanics, you gotta teach the young how to make a buck, the earlier the better. A magnet school can give the process some intensity and prestige. Just my own personal opinion, but I’m no expert.

My junior year in high school, I came home after my first day at class, and my dad asked what courses I had signed up for. I told him I had signed up for Creative Writing for one. He told me to check out immediately. Take typing. I did, and it has served me well through the years. In the past, I have always been able to get a job typing. Except in Nashville!

I was stationed in Bremerton, Washington, in the Navy for a couple of months. While there I signed up to take a course in shorthand at the local junior college, taking my dad’s advice again. I had to check out. I was the only male and all the women in the class, the professor said, were so well advanced that she was going to skip the first few chapters of the textbook. The women in the class had all taken shorthand in high school.

My dad also told me when I was VERY young to get a part-time job at a Chinese laundry. This was more than 40 years ago. He said Chinese was the future and I could always get a job as a reporter. My dad was a very smart and savvy man. Stupid me, I got a job delivering the Deseret News instead; it might have been bagging groceries at Albertson’s. I can’t remember. I did both at one time or another.

On one of my first days working for Orrin Hatch, he took me aside and told me what the business at hand was all about. “Economics. Economics. Economics.” He might as well have said the whole world, from beginning of time. Maybe he did.

It’s all about the money, sad or not. And you gotta teach people how to make some. I believe countless magnet high schools throughout the nation would be a good start.

Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, or so it’s said. And I believe it. Those who don’t have a trade often choose the oldest one, whether by choice or by circumstance, for there is always–and always will be–those who will pay for a prostitute’s fast-fix accessibility.

Straight, gay, lesbian, or transgender, many have sexual needs that can’t be met at home by a loved one, if they have a loved one. Some are attracted to transvestites. Some have a desire–it could very well even be sexual–to murder ‘em.

There is a street in Ensenada, I was told by a visitor from San Diego, known by those north of the border and cab drivers here as Tranny Alley. I asked Salsador about it. He’d never head of it. I had to explain to him what the word “tranny” meant. “Tranny” hasn’t entered the Spanish lexicon–as of yet. Where it exactly is, I don’t wanna know. Somewhere in the world–I have no doubt–is a block of ill-repute known as Granny Alley, too. As an aspiring lyricist, I hear a word and automatically match it in my mine with a rhyme. Tranny. Granny. I’d Google it, but I don’t wanna know.

In the Netherlands, and in a few other European countries, prostitution is legal, as it should be. Take it off the side streets and out of the back alleyways–get rid of the pimps!–and supervise the activity. It’s a revenue-maker for city and state. It’s a good idea just disease-, violent-crime-, and you-name-it-wise.

In Amsterdam, it’s even a tourist attraction. Tourists go view a Rembrandt, take in a Van Gogh, taste-test some funny stuff at a Coffee Shop, and visit what is called “The Street of Women” to take a peek at “The Women in the Windows.” Not necessarily in that order. My dad, when he visited, took a stroll down the street and even convinced my mom to tag along. At first, being raised a staunch Presbyterian, she said no-way. “What will people think?” My dad replied, “They’ll simply think a beautiful new girl’s in town.” Ha-ha. My mom thought it over for a moment, pursed her Presbyterian lips, and joined him for a peek. She was a trouper.

I, myself, took my bestest friend for a peek on our first visit there. We walked by a window showcasing a painted woman with a poodle on her lap. “That’s the job I want!” my good friend said. “A job you can take your dog with you to.” She’s very funny. In Houston, she did stand-up comedy for a time–wrote her own material. “How would you come up with the rent?” I asked. “You gotta entertain a customer or two, at the very least. She pondered the proposition for a sec. “Well, that is a problem, isn’t it?”

All the world’s a Catch-22.

My artist brother, Jimmy, who inherited more than a drop of my mom’s Presbyterian blood, was on a first-name basis with a number of prostitutes in Amsterdam. He painted their portraits while they sat in their windows waiting for customer. There was a gallery showing of the paintings called “Women in the Windows.” It received good reviews. Most everything I own is now somewhere in a Houston dump. I kept the few paintings I possessed by my dear departed brother. One or two are of the women in the windows.

My dad often brought copies of police reports home from The Tribune. In his heart of hearts, I think, his dream was to one day write the Great American Novel. One report, I remember, concerned a sex decoy (an undercover cop) and a prospective John. She was standing on the corner of West 2nd South in Salt Lake. It was well-known at one time for prostitutes. Perhaps, still is.

A customer propositioned her. A twelve- or thirteen-year-old boy. He said he wanted to pay for sex with her. She told him, “Kid, go away.” He said, “I’ve been saving up for months.” “Go away,” she said. “You’re going to get yourself in trouble.” He said, “My girl friend won’t have sex with me. The school slut won’t have anything to do with me. And now, you, a prostitute, won’t have sex with me?!” By this time, a patrol car had arrived on the scene. He was taken into custody.

Sad, perhaps, but very human …

Elko, Nevada, last I heard, has legalized prostitution. And, last I heard, there hasn’t been a rape in years. But that I find had to believe.

As a kid, we visited Elko many times. My dad wasn’t too crazy about Las Vegas–he’d spent a short time there homeless after the war–but he loved Elko. We always stayed at the Commercial Hotel downtown. In the lobby was a huge white Polar Bear, stuffed, standing upright on its hind legs, in a glass case. Very sad.

When I was little, kids were allowed in the casino with their folks. I remember standing by my dad as he rolled the dice. When he won, he’d give me a handful of silver dollars. And I remember putting them on my bed in our room upstairs and running my fingers through them time and again. Such joy!

My dad told me to save them. They may be worth something someday. I gave them to a longtime friend of mine, a pawnbroker in Salt Lake, a few years ago to sell. He put them in his safe. When I inquired about my silver dollars some time later, he informed me that they had disappeared. Poof! He didn’t know what happened to them. Hmmmm! I had also given him all the foreign money I had accumulated on my travels to sell. Poof! They had disappeared, too. Hmmmmm!

But back to Elko. On one visit with my folks–I was in my teens at the time–we checked in, unpacked our bags, and went down to the lobby together. After a short while, I told my dad that I was going up to take a short nap. I may have even stretched my arms out to show how tired I was and yawned. Movie-style. He bid me goodnight, and I caught the elevator upward. I stepped out, pushed the Down button, caught the elevator down to the garage. I had a mission: I was going to lose my virginity that evening at a whorehouse across the tracks. I walked down the street, stepped into the nearest house of ill-repute, and looked around. At the end of the bar–waiting for me–was my dad!

Needless to say, by the end of the night, I was still a virgin. But it was one of the most memorable nights in my entire life. At the time, The Tribune’s circulation included much of northern Nevada. The working women there were all readers of his column, and huge fans. That night we visited many, if not all, the houses across the tracks. I didn’t smoke back then, but I pocketed a matchbook from each place we visited–their logos on the covers. They, too, are now in a dump somewhere on the outskirts of Houston.

My dad was ill much of the time in his later years. First, it was shingles. Next, it was anorexia. He was a big man at one time. With anorexia, he lost tens and tens of pounds. He couldn’t get himself to swallow a bite. One time my sister Valerie visited from Amsterdam. She was standing by him at a stop light in front of The Trib, his arms, as always, filled with out-of-town newspapers–a Milwaukee Journal, a Denver Post, etc.–when his pants fell down to his ankles. Very embarrassing. My sister lifted them up and tightened the belt one notch tighter around his thinning-waist.

He couldn’t eat, but he could drink. And at night I would sit with him until the wee hours while he did.

I remember my mom walking into the living room one night and saying, “Dan, you’re drinking too much. I find bottles behind the books on the bookshelves. I find bottles underneath the bed.”

“They were empty, weren’t they?” my dad would inquired.

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s good. I wouldn’t want to waste any good whiskey.”

“Dan, please come to bed.”

“I will, Elaine. Just let me sit here awhile and die a little.” And he’d pour himself another shot of whiskey.

He would sip, and I would listen while he shared plot-idea after plot-idea for movies, novels, short stories, plays, musicals. Titles for songs. I clung on to every word. My goal, up until recently, was to write everyone of ‘em. Song title-wise, I accomplished the task. The hooks of many of the songs I have written through the years were first heard in the wee hours from my dad and jotted down by me to write later.

One idea, for a two-act play, he called “Ballerina Baby!”

LIGHTS UP

Act One – Scene One

Place: London

Father/Husband: No daughter of mine is going to marry a goddamn queer!

Mother/Wife: Sssh! He’ll hear you.

Father/Husband: I don’t care. No daughter of mine is going to marry a goddamn queer!

The plot? Some background: At a very young age, my sister was accepted to learn her chosen craft at the Royal London Ballet School. Foreigners were allowed to take classes and graduate, but they weren’t allowed to continue on and become members of the Royal London Ballet unless they were British citizens. Or married to one.

Hence, the story: The heroine, the daughter, is befriended by a gay fellow dancer who is a British citizen. Maybe he is Indian or even Jamaican. That would make it even more interesting. Upon graduation, he agrees to marry the American so she can join the Royal Ballet as a corps member. Her father is a Texas bigot–there are some–and is firmly against the idea, to say the least. To make a two-act story short, the gay and the bigot become friends, each learning something from the other.

Act Two – Last Scene

The gay lad and the dad are standing together–talking, etc., whatever–when the gay Brit, out of the blue, pinches his the ass of his new father-in-law! Look of dismay on the dad’s face as …

… the curtain falls.

Through the years, every-so-often, I would work on that play. What little I had is now in a Houston dump.

After graduating from the Royal London Ballet, my sister got a job as a member of the Dutch National Ballet. When she first moved to Amsterdam, she had a flat next door to a gay man who made a living working nights as a female impersonator in a drag revue. On the same floor, across from her, was a straight man who took a liking to her and began stalking her.

One night, late, the straight guy tried to force himself on her. The drag queen next door heard her screams for help, came to her aid, and beat the crap out of him.

My mom soon after flew to Amsterdam and moved in with my sister. My dad son after that visited and took the professional drag queen/hero out for a drink or two. After which, the drag queen invited my dad and mom to see a performance. I can see my mom pursing her Presbyterian lips and saying, “But what will people think?” and my dad replaying, “There’ll just think a beautiful new performer is in town.” Ha-ha. I can also see my mom tagging along. She was a trouper.

One last note in closing: I couldn’t help myself. I HAD to Google “Granny Alley”. And, lo and behold, there IS such a block of ill-repute. Of course! It wouldn’t be Planet Earth without one. It’s located in Liverpool.

You learn something every day, whether you want to or not.

We all have a kink or two. I’m just glad mine isn’t trannies or grannies. Perfect rhyme. Imperfect world.


Dan Valentine – The Pink Cigarette Lighter, Part 1

July 9, 2010

By Dan Valentine

THE PINK CIGARETTE LIGHTER – Part One

My bestest friend, she loves the color pink. I’ve known her to order a Pink Lady merely for its soothing and appealing color. One year, for Halloween (or some other special occasion–I forget), she paid hard-earned cash for an expensive carbon-copy of the famous pink strapless gown that Marilyn Monroe wore in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when singing Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.

When we bought a home together in southeast Texas, one of the first things we did was have the interior walls sponge-painted. One hot-pink wall for her, one sea-green wall for me, one hot-pink wall for her, one sunshine-yellow wall for me. Very nice, very stylish, very Mexican. Who’d a thought!

Pink cigarette lighter

Pink cigarette lighter, by Bic

Yes, indeedy, she sure loves the color pink! Which is all very fine and well and good. But one late night, many years ago, her color preference came close to costing me my life.

Upon lighting a cigarette on a street corner in Washington, D.C., with a pink lighter that I had absentmindedly lifted from her earlier in the evening, I was gay-bashed and left for dead. I’m lucky to be alive. But ain’t we all?

A recent conversation or three here at the Ensenada Backpacker Hostel brought that memorable night back.

But, first, let me begin by saying, I love a hostel! Extremely affordable and you meet the most interesting folks from all around the world. If I’d been aware of hostels in my youth and middle-age, I’d still be rich. Money-wise. I’ve spent many a dollar, franc, and pound staying in hotel rooms. Oh, the interesting people I could have met!

At the Austin Hostel, I met a young man who makes a living as a Lab Rat. Austin boasts many a medical research center and drug companies pay big bucks to those willing to act as guinea pigs, having themselves inoculated with some new experimental cure-all. Some are paid as much as $3,000 a swallow. And, odds-wise, it’s not a bad way to pay-off one’s credit-card debt. You’ve got a fifty-fifty chance of receiving a placebo.

On my first or second day in Ensenada, I met a semi-retired South Korean war correspondent. He was in Somalia during the Blackhawk-Down fiasco. He saved a naked woman’s life.

He was atop a building, camera rolling, a South Korean competitor–a female–by his side, both doing their jobs, reporting the events at hand, when a naked woman down below on the street appeared, running for her life, chased by dozens of young boys, throwing stones at her. He quickly hurried down the stairs, but all had disappeared. Shortly after, the woman reappeared. He covered her with his coat and escorted her to the roof, just before the young boys returned, searching high and low for her.

The woman had been seen riding in a Jeep beside a male French soldier, representing the United Nations. In that neck of the woods, a major no-no at the time, may still be. Shortly afterward, his South Korean female competitor was recalled and replaced by a male. The young boys? Some undoubtedly grew up to be pirates, commandeering a yacht or whatnot off the Somalian coast for ransom.

He was in Afghanistan when the U.S. first did whatever we did there after 9/11, and told me what he thought we (the U.S.) always tend to do wrong after succeeding on such occasions. We replace the defunct leaders with those raised and educated in Britain or in the U.S., those English-speaking, who have long ago lost touch with their own people and their needs. Few could argue with that.

He left the hostel to travel north. He was seriously thinking of crossing the border with illegals. Once a reporter, always a reporter.

He and I would never have met but for a hostel. He covered the UN for his country while I was in New York, but we ran in different circles, back then. I just hope he didn’t get shot by some crazy American with a gun in Arizona.

Another hostel guest I met here is a retired Bronx fireman. In the ’90s, he and others were called upon to extinguish fire after fire. Neighborhood gangs were setting apartment buildings ablaze, one after another, day in and day out, so as to quickly empty the premises, so they could burgle and run off with whatever valuables were left in sight before the fire trucks arrived.

He had many a story to tell. One afternoon, he was stopped in midtown Manhattan by a cop for walking his dog unleashed. My Bronx friend said he was a fireman. Cops and firemen, they’re a fraternity. They look after each other. The cop asked for picture-ID. At the time, firemen didn’t carry ID’s with pics. So, to make sure he was, indeed, a fireman, the cop drove the offender to his reputed fire station in the Bronx. They walked in, the fireman with the dog explained to his colleagues the circumstances, and they informed the cop, “We’ve seen him around the neighborhood, but God knows what he does.”

Funny. Every morning he cooked breakfast for them, that’s what he did, among other things, like fighting fires. He told his fellow firefighters that if they wanted fresh coffee in the morning–and that went for all the cops in the Bronx who were known to often drop by–they would vouch for him. They finally did.

Sometime afterward, he severely sliced a tendon on a little finger, opening up a can of ham while fixing breakfast. To this day, he can’t wiggle or move it. He went before a medical board of three and they told him that if he had the little pinkie amputated he could go back to work. Decisions, decisions. Firemen in New York are unionized and the union has clout. He’s been retired ever since.

A young man from the mainland of Mexico–I forget exactly where now–stayed for a couple of weeks here recently. What a nice person! The nicest fellow you’d ever want to meet. Always a smile on his face, when he wasn’t laughing. He was in town substituting for a teacher on summer break at a school down the avenida a ways.

Upon checking in at the desk, he introduced himself with a big jovial smile. An hour or so later, I ran into him coming out of an Oxxo (the south-of-the-border Seven-Eleven) with an even bigger smile on his face and a bottle of wine in hand. I watched him join a woman who was behind the wheel of an SUV. A ladies’ man, I thought. Two hours in town and he was with a beautiful senorita. During his short visit, I saw him with many a pretty woman, never a fella.

Each night he would mix and fill to the brim a stainless steel pot of Margaritas and place it in the freezer to chill. “Help yourself!” And I did.

Many a morning in the kitchen, he would say, “Tonight. Margaritas. Yes?”

Si, deed!

I could have sworn he said he was going to stay the summer, but something must have come up. After just a week or two he said he was returning home.

His last night he invited one and all here to a barbecue on the back veranda. Spicy Habernero chicken wings, grilled steaks, and oh yes! Margaritas.

Shortly after he left, Salsador, who works the afternoon/night reception desk, nonchalantly informed me that the substitute teacher was not only jovial but gay. You’re kidding, I said. “What makes you think he was gay?”

“It was obvious,” he said.

Not to me. But what do I know? “How so?”

“My girlfriends and I, we take him for drinks. He told them how to give a man a good–”

Sorry I asked.

“Next day they meet for coffee-time and more instruction, how to give a man a good–”

Please! I get the gist.

Who’d have thought! But, then again, so, so what? Who cares?

A great many, very scary people do.

Like the father of Melody I wrote about a few weeks ago–the brigadier general who thought I must be gay because I’ve never learned to drive. Heterosexuals drive!

Or, the kids in the car in Houston who saw me walking along the street and swerved over to scream out a rolled-down window, “Faggot!” and screeched down the road, tee-hee-ing to themselves. Heterosexuals drive!

A good number of citizens of the U.S. are scared to death of gays. I say citizens of the U.S., and not Americans, because down here folks south the border consider themselves Americans, too. And rightly so. Though, they are a little more laid-back and not as uptight as many of their north-of-the-border fellow Americans.

Folks in the U.S. are frightened of many things: Illegals (unless they’re blowing leaves off front lawns at a cut-rate price), fellow students (Texas is seriously contemplating passing a law to allow students to bring guns to the classroom to protect themselves from fellow students), Federal troops (many want to start independent militias to protect themselves in case of invasion from ourselves).

But gays are especially frightening to many. Their inclination may rub off.

Pink cigarette lighter, by Zippo

Pink cigarette lighter, by Zippo

When I was a kid in the ’50s, one of my favorite TV shows was the Cisco Kid, the Robin Hood of the West, based on an O. Henry short story about a carefree Mexican desperado. Before it was a TV show, it was a B movie series. One, starring Cesear Romero, was The Gay Caballero (1940.)

From the press book: “The Cisco Kid rides again quicker on the draw, more gay, and gallant than ever.” It ever-so-often runs on the Fox Movie Channel. In 1946, a remake was called The Gay Cavalier.

Warner Baxter won the 1929 Best Actor award for his portrayal of the Cisco Kid in the first talkie shot outdoors, called “In Old Arizona”–though, it filmed in Utah.

I mention this because gay caballero perfectly describes–to my chagrin; I hadn’t a clue–the hostel guest I knew briefly. Mexican, charming, happy-go-lucky, and gay.

No, gay-gay! He’s banned from the place now. That’s why he left earlier than expected. He tried to sneak a male lover into his dorm for the night. Not merely once but twice. I hadn’t a clue. My bestest friend thinks my middle name should be Clueless.

Business is slow here at the hostel of late (many up north think they’ll be mowed down by members of the drug cartel if they visit), so I have a dorm room all to myself with connecting bathroom. He had a dorm room to himself as well next to mine but without a bathroom, So, I would leave my door open at night, just a smidge. I’m a light sleeper. Even though I like to think of myself as a let-live-let-live guy, two male lovers going at it within groaning-and-gasping distance would have been very perturbing, to say the least.

I told the lovely morning/mid-afternoon receptionist here, the above tale.

She looked at me, bewildered. “You couldn’t tell?”

I shook my head. Hadn’t a clue.

First tri-mester, we’re all the same sex. Or, so I read once. At birth, ten percent are born different, as some like to describe it. Some say three or four percent. Others will tell you two. Many think it’s a life-style choice, being gay being so much fun.

I didn’t tell her that I had been gay-bashed in Washington, D.C., a few years back. Though, it’s the first thing that comes to mind whenever the subject arises. Two gay men found me passed-out on the sidewalk, badly bruised and bleeding.

“I think I’ll Google my mind and write a piece about all the gay people I’ve come in contact with throughout my life,” I told her.

She raised her hand. “You can add me to the list.”

I hadn’t a clue. She’s engaged to be married to a guy.

I love a hostel!

If you’re a writer, it’s like you’ve died and gone to heaven.

TO BE CONTINUED


Dan Valentine – Such goes life, part 3

June 21, 2010

By Dan Valentine

SUCH GOES LIFE, PART THREE

In Houston, in the days before I left, I used to pass a homeless black man in his twenties or thirties on the street. I’d go to say, “Hi,” and he would lower his head, wouldn’t make eye contact. You tend to do that when you’re homeless. You feel you’re to blame, that something is wrong with you. He would spend his afternoons at the Clear Lake Library, as I often did. He’d sit at one of the computers for an hour or so and play poker. Soon after, the entire second floor stank to high heaven. But no librarian, not a one, told him to leave. Good for them! It was his only sanctuary in a world of daily/nightly hell on Earth.

The day the Danes departed for parts down the hall, I picked up their empty glasses and coffee mugs–set here, set here, all around the dorm – and put them in the kitchen sink. A sign reads: “Por favor lave sus trastes” (Please wash your dishes after use).

Salzador was standing by the counter. I turned to go and he said, pointing to the sign, “Don’t forget to wash them!”

“They’re not mine,” I told him. “And I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to wash ‘em.” And I walked out.

I believe in helping out. I believe in treating people like you’d like to be treated. As I once wrote before, my bestest friend gave me my present moral compass: If this is all there is (and that could very well be), we have to help one another get through it, best we can.

I told this to a wanna-be singer-songwriter in Nashville one night, and he was aghast. Without fear of punishment from above, humans would rape, plunder, and pillage beyond belief. (As if they don’t already.) Without the incentive of some sort of reward after death, why bother doing what’s right? I guess that says it all. We all see the world through different eyes. We all sniff the scents of the world through different noses.

If the Danes had just said something. I would have gladly taken a shower, right then and there; slept somewhere else; removed my soiled clothes from the room. They were in a plastic bag in the corner by my bunk. Whatever. But they were having a grand ol’ time at a fellow-traveler’s expense, a stranger down-on-his luck somewhat. If they hadn’t been drunk, they may have even read the sign above the toilet and put two-and-two together, but they were too busy turning around, male members in hand, and shouting to their fellow mates, waiting in line, to “Suck on this!” “Eat me!”

But back to Salzador and the “don’t forget-to-wash-them” episode.

To be fair to him, perhaps he is unaccustomed to seeing a guest return the cups and glasses of others back to the kitchen. And, later that night, after he’d left, I did wash the glasses and mugs. Plus a small saucer half-filled with cooked rice, another coffee cup, a soup ladle, a steak knife, a frying pan, and a spatula with dried egg on it. Oh, and two other glasses on the counter. Hell, why not? Least I could do. Nobody else was going to that night. Not the Danes. They were out drinking again with Salzador, buying him rounds, I’d guess. He’d let them use his washer and dryer.

Visitors to hostels very rarely read the signs or carry out what’s said on them. At the hostel in Nashville, guests after a night on the town in Music City would wake up hung-over, make themselves waffles, whatever, and leave a mess. The people who worked there – I was one  – would clean up after them without a word said. It was our job.

Another afternoon here, shortly after, I’m telling a single mom from Knoxville, early twenties, on the verge of homelessness, with a baby, about my Danish experience. She, in turn, told me she had been playing with her little girl out on the veranda, splashing sprinkles of water on her from the hose, the baby giggling happily, when a young male guest said, “At least the ‘baby’ is getting a shower.” It hurt her. “He was probably referring to me,” I said. No, she replied, he was speaking of her. (“I smell a rat in Denmark”–Shakespeare.)

This afternoon, I walked into the hostel after a walk, and Salzador was behind the front desk. He smiled and gave me the two-finger Peace sign. All is forgiven. (Valentine, I told myself, don’t take things so personally.) I stopped to chat. I told him I’m seriously thinking of walking across the United States in the fall. San Diego to Manhattan. He said he’d like to join me. He’s always wanted to see Salt Lake City.

Then he said, “Dani’el, do you want a burrito? I bought three.” And he handed me one, for the second time since I’ve been here.

Such goes life, ever-so-often.

But anyway, my present-fellow dorm mate – a retired firefighter from the Bronx – just walked in, after taking in some of the local sites, and said, “Y’know, there’s a big Turkish bathhouse just down the block.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, you should check it out. It’s just down the block.”

A not-so-subtle hint-hint? Pardon me while I go take another shower.

But wait! I hear cars honking on the street outside. Mexico just defeated France in the World Cup! Two-zip! Priscilla told me earlier: Many had sworn their souls on the Good Book that if Mexico won, they would swim nude on the beach. Yes, you can swim naked on the beach here. Salzador says, “You can do many things naked on the beach here.” So, instead of yet another shower, perhaps I’ll simply stroll down to the beach and skinny-dip with the many beautiful senoritas in their victory celebration.

Vendor on the beach in Ensenada, Mexico

Vendor on the beach in Ensenada, Mexico


Dan Valentine – Such goes life, part 2

June 20, 2010

By Dan Valentine

SUCH GOES LIFE, PART TWO

In the Navy, during boot camp in San Diego, I witnessed–heard is a more accurate verb–a G.I. shower. One night, a gang of self-appointed disciplinarians threw a blanket over the head of a new recruit, sound asleep in his bulk, a few rows down from mine. They carried him, his arms and legs kicking, into the showers, and gave him a good scrubbing down with steel-bristled brushes, manufactured for cleaning pots and pans. His offense? They said he stank.

On a recent night here, I was sound asleep. Five traveling Danes, bunking in the same dorm room, had gone out on the town, which here means visiting strip bars and buying scantily-clad women shots of tequila, with the hope and promise of getting, well, you know. Everyone needs a hobby.

In the wee hours, the five stumbled into the dorm (three bunks, six beds, adjoining bathroom), drunk and laughing, playfully carrying-on, grab-assing each other, literally. One, taking a leak, would turn around and tell another, “Suck on this!” The other would reply, “Blow me!” Y’know, all the silly little shit young drunks tend to say to each other after a night on the town, half-a-world away from their folks, and almost always while taking a leak, with member in hand. Charming.

Before they arrived, I’d had the room all to myself. When I was told others were coming, I packed up my belongings, placed my bags (one carry-on, one laptop) neatly beside my lower bunk on the floor; and tidied-up the place, cleaning up after myself. Gabby complimented me on how nice the room looked.

The Danes arrived with heavy backpacks and carry-ons, two or three or more each. They were on world tour. (Europeans have time on their hands. They’re between world wars.) In short order, their socks and underwear were scattered on the floor, atop their luggage, dangling from the rails of bunks and doorknobs. I had to step gingerly over them to get to the bathroom, as did they.

After more ass-grabbing and some manly belching, of course, one of the five stopped to sniff the air. “What’s that smell?” The others stopped to take a sniff. “Phew!” And all started laughing and holding their noses. “It’s awful!” “How are we going to sleep?” “Smells like shit in here!” Etc.

I was wide awake by this time. I thought they were joking about their socks and under things, strewn every which way.

They were talking about me, laughing their heads off (but far from pleased). Can’t blame ‘em.

I couldn’t smell a thing, which doesn’t mean anything. My nose has been broken so many times, I can’t smell the roses, can’t smell the dog shit. A blessing in disguise, says my bestest friend. There are many unpleasant scents out there. Or so she says. I wouldn’t know.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, they finally hit their sacks, as they say in the Navy.

Next morning, Salzador motioned for me to join him outside. “The Danes,” he said, “would like you to take a shower. They say you stink.”

Quite embarrasskng, to say the least. You can imagine.

But I take a shower every morning, I told myself. Well, maybe not every morning. Often, I rise and shine around six a.m., an hour or so before Priscilla arrives.

Priscilla. How to describe Priscilla? She spent her early youth in Seattle and speaks extremely good English; works her tail off; never complains; not a mean or lazy bone in her body; tall, slim, and very beautiful, extremely-so inside. She spends whatever free-time she has saving stray cats and finding them homes, and other nice stuff. I once asked what her title was. She answered, while standing tippy-toe on a chair, scrubbing the outside boiler, “Handyman.” I told her I had asked Salzador the same question and he had answered, “assistant manager.” She laughed the hardest I had ever heard her laugh, and she laughs a lot. She’s a happy person. “More like party-boy,” she answered, still chuckling aloud to herself. She calls me Mister D.

So, anyway, Priscilla arrives on the scene around eighty-thirty, nine. First thing, she lights the boiler outside. Before she arrives, a shower here can be extremely cold or extremely refreshing, depending on your viewpoint on such matters. So I, myself, usually take a shower midday or at night. Some times I forget to, if I’m writing.

Then I thought, maybe it’s my socks! I’m a walker. I mean, I’m a walker!! When I first started writing these pieces, I paced and paced–before, in-between, and after–up and down in front of the hostel; up and down, block after block, along the city’s avenidas; up and down the shores De Pacifico–thinking and writing in my head–my left big toe struggling mightily to make its way out of the tip of my pacing/walking shoes (Rockfords), struggling its damnedest to breath free. (I recommend them. Very expensive. But they last. I’ve had them for several years now. My bestest friend bought me the pair for my birthday. It’s the homeless who should be doing Rockford commercials; they need the bucks and would know of what I speak.)

But anyway. My dad traipsed through the jungle trails of Guadalcanal and in need of foot powder for the rest of his life. I’ve walked through the jungles of many a great town and country. I don’t drive. But foot powder I could little afford at the moment.

Third, I thought, perhaps it’s my clothes. I had room in my one carry-on for very few; though, I had been very careful to change every other day or so, saving a shirt and a pair of slacks for an emergency. On at least two occasions, Gabby had said, “You look very handsome today, buddy.”

I told Salzador: You’ve no washer, no dryer. No ironing board. No plugs for the bathroom sinks, so as to hand wash things with Wool Wash, as they call Woolite down here. It was one of the first items I purchased.

That, and I confessed: I’m close to broke. Couldn’t afford to take my things to the dry-cleaners down the block. My friend had deposited my social security check in my U.S. account, awaiting a debit card to arrive in the mail, so she could send it to me when I had an address. When I decided to stay at the hostel, she sent it immediately. Overnight. Cost her thirty bucks! Overnight in Mexico is some sixteen days.

Anyway, Salzador had been out drinking with the Danes. They were drinking buddies now. That morning, after my little chat with their new best-friend, they asked him if they could wash their soiled clothes at his place. He has a washer and dryer at home. Sure, he said, no problem. Me, he told to take a shower. You stink!

So, I took a shower and, while doing so, I washed and rinsed and rewashed my socks and underwear with Wool Wash. I stepped out of the stall and I’m drying myself, when it came to me like a light bulb suddenly beaming above the head of Elmer Fudd in a looney-toons’ cartoon.

A sign above the toilet reads: “For Favor No Tire Papel En La Taza” (“Please No Paper Inside the Toilet”).

The plumbing here was installed by the Incas in the beginning of, well, pick a single-digit year. A.D. Or before. Or so it appears. They don’t buy biodegradable tissue. They’re operating on the cheap, as they say. So, the paper used tends to clog the pipes, causing it to overflow. As a result, there is a plastic container nearby, lined with a cellophane bag, and after you “wipe clean” yourself, you drop the tissue into the container. Plop, plop, sniff, sniff!

Salzador empties it whenever it appears to be getting full or close to. (A peso saved on cellophane bags here, a peso saved on jars of strawberry jam there. It adds up.) It’s not the most enjoyable of duties. But someone’s gotta do it. So, you can imagine the stench after six guests, and others from down the hall in dorms without connecting bathrooms, have deposited countless tissues of toilet paper after wiping their, well, you-know-whats, after a night on the town and/or out dining. Plus, the fact that this is Mexico. Don’t drink the water! Plus, the fact that since I’ve been here, a month and half or so now, the toilet has been plugged but once. Guests are fairly diligent about depositing their tissues, with their signature on ‘em.

It’s quite an experience. In the States, we’re used to wiping ourselves and dropping the tissue into the bowl without thinking. I did this a couple of times in the beginning and had to oh-so daintily dip two fingers down to retrieve it. By the sink is a bottle of liquid kiwi-scented soap to wash your hands after such a fast-track learning experience.

Most don’t know how lucky we are in the States. We tend to take everything for granted. A retired South Korean was correspondent I met here told me that similar bathroom facilities can be found all over the world, in parts of Asia, Central and South America, Africa, the Eastern Bloc, the list is endless.

But anyway, the Danes moved to another dorm. Salzador told me that he didn’t want their wee-hour antics to bother me. Yeah, riiiiight!

There was a sort of happy ending, though. One of the Danes left a pair of newly-washed, freshly-pressed, black corduroy jeans behind. I was 160-some pounds a year or two or three ago. I’m 140 now. I tried ‘em on. Perfect fit. Thank you, very much. I think I’ve earned them. But, as fate would have it, one of the Danes just happened to enter the room to use the bathroom. He looked at me, looked at the jeans. They looked familiar. After a momentary hesitation, he turned and strolled into the bathroom. Without a word said. Much of living is a daily trade-off. Humiliation for new jeans. At this point in my life: fair exchange.

That was a week or so ago. They’re long gone. This morning, I go into the bathroom to take a shower. The water’s been turned off for some reason or other. I get dressed, buckling my belt buckle on my new jeans, and I’m on my way out the door, when Gabby says, “Did you shower?”

Not getting the gist, I say, “The water’s off.”

“We can put it back on.”

“That’s all right,” I say. “I’m on my way out.”

She says, “We don’t want to start ‘that’ all over again.”

“That”–meaning? For Christmas f**kin’ sakes. I’m a guest here!! I shower. I use underarm sports odor defense. 100% MORE odor blockers! I’ve washed my socks and shorts.

Such goes life, ever-so-often.


Dan Valentine – Such goes life, part 1

June 20, 2010

By Dan Valentine

SUCH GOES LIFE, PART ONE

The manager of the Ensenada Backpacker Hostel is Gabriella. Everyone calls her Gabby. She lives upstairs. She also teaches school. One of her classes is creative writing.

She once said to me, “You ‘used’ to be a writer.” Used-to-be! “What should I tell my students? What is most important thing about writing?”

“Have something to say.”

“Where to start?”

“Write a million words and toss ‘em! You’re ready to begin.”

Gabby works into the wee hours. Most think teaching is an easy way to make a living. Two or three classes a day, two or three times a week. Summers off. But for every hour spent in class teaching, four or more hours every night, including weekends and holidays, are spent preparing for lectures, grading papers and tests (and creating ‘em), answering e-mails, and so much more. Summers, if not spent teaching summer classes, are spent preparing for the Fall. All for little pay and little or no recognition.

Add to that a full-time job managing a hostel–with me as one of the guests!

Gabby calls me buddy. Good morning, buddy. Good afternoon, buddy. Once, she called me secretary. A trio of guests had arrived, looking to check-in. I told them, “Uno momento. I’ll get the manager.” Afterward, passing each other on the veranda, she said, “Hi, secretary.”

She bid me goodnight one evening, as she walked upstairs to her living space, after locking up and making sure the place was secure, saying, “Goodnight, honey.”

(Funny, she just walked by this very moment, as I’m writing, and said, “Hi, babe!” and went on her way. I like her.)

Buddy. Secretary. Honey. Babe. She’s called me all four. She also calls me: to task. Not once, not twice, but three or four times now. And counting.

As does Salzador, the young gentleman who works the mid-afternoon/night shift. He was born in Spain. Says it all. He’s a nice guy. Young. Handsome. Dark movie-star hair. Visiting women simply adore him. All the male visitors love him, too, because all the women simply adore him.

I think he sees himself as a Latin Lover. If I were him, I would. Beats being a plumber. We all have a an inner view of ourselves. I look upon myself as a writer, not a used-to-be. My bestest friend looks upon herself as a swimmer, not a university professor. Dick Cheney, I’m sure, sees himself as the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being you’ve ever known in your life. (Or was that Raymond Shaw? Google the name.)

Upon checking in, Salzador asked me, “Do you drink?” I said, “I’ve had a sip or two in my life.” He smiled. “We go drinking tonight.” I told him, “Sorry, I drink for my health now. At home, far away from the bars. A beer, one night. A glass of wine, another.” Unless I’m under substantial stress.

When I first arrived, Gabby got on my case for leaving half-filled cups of coffee, haphazardly, all around the hostel grounds–on the floor by the computer, by a chair on the veranda, on a counter top in the kitchen. Guilty as charged! When I’m writing, I drink cup after cup and if I’ve misplaced it while pacing, I pour myself another, without thinking, throughout the day and evening and midnight hours.

I’ve stopped doing that. Here. For now.

Another time, when I first arrived, I was standing outside the hostel, having a smoke (a package of Pall Malls is all of some two dollars and change down her below the border), when Gabby happened to walk out. She saw strewn butts on the ground below and around my feet and said, very politely, “Please pick up your cigarette butts!”

My immediate first thought was: They’re not mine. Look-see. I smoke Pall Malls. White filters. The butts on the ground have light-brown filters. (I lived the last five years with a non-smoker and soon learned to douse my butts and place them in the garbage in the garage.) My second thought was: What the hell! I gathered up the butts and disposed of them.

A few minutes later, I passed her in the hall. She said, “Hi, buddy!” Lesson learned: Don’t take everything personally. Carlos, the owner, is out of town, in Switzerland. Managing a hostel is a huge, demanding responsibility.

But, then, again …

Last night, she waved for me to follow her into the kitchen. She opened the fridge door and pointed to the spilled contents on the bottom shelf from an open Pepsi on the top shelf. “We would appreciate very much if you would wipe clean when you spill.” That’s a fair request. But I said, and it was the truth, “It’s not my Pepsi.” I drink Coke and, when I drink a Coke, I tend to finish it. I’m not in the habit of placing a half-filled can in the fridge, so as to take a later sip of flat soda.

Still, it’s a hostel. It’s inexpensive. You get to meet the many, assorted peoples of the world. She’s a nice person. So, I wiped up the spilled soda. What the hell!

Just the other morning, she said, “Were you the last to use the coffee pot?” In my hand was a coffee cup, but it was filled with Mango juice, with a shot of vodka in it. I’m feeling stressed. “Please,” she said, not waiting for a reply, “turn off the ‘on’ button.” And she demonstrated how. Tip of a finger. Click! She picked up the empty pot and showed me its scorched bottom. It had third-degree burns. But it’s not like the pot is brand-new. It is mucho in years. I think it first belonged to Pancho Villa. And it wasn’t the first time someone had left it percolating, empty, in the morning. And I may have been guilty of it in the past, but not this morning.

Where am I going with this? I’m a guest here, for Christmas sakes!

I think it’s because I’m not out cruising the strip bars or taking in the sites. So there must be something wrong with me. Keep an eye on him! And he’s old. What’s with that?!

One mid-afternoon, I’m in the kitchen, spreading strawberry jam on a slice of bread, when Salzador sees my misdeed and says, “That is for breakfast only!”

“I didn’t have breakfast!” I continued to spread the jam.

It could be because, most of the time, I’m the only one in the hostel. So I must be the guilty party for whatever there is to be guilty of. The brochure advertises jam and bread for breakfast. So, your honor, I plead not guilty. Sort of. I was hungry. I hadn’t had breakfast, hadn’t had lunch.

There’s nobody happier on the face of the earth or any other planet, for that matter, than Salzador when there are many, many guests in the hostel, the majority of ‘em women. He loves to escort the ladies at night. You can see it on his face. He beams! There is nobody sadder on the face of the earth or any other planet in the heavens than Salzador when the hostel has only one guest. And it’s me! You can see it on his face. He is down in the dumps.

The only thing worst for him is having to wash the toilets. “I do not know how to wash toilets.” I have heard him say this many times, mumbling aloud to himself. I can feel for him. I had to scrub toilets and urinals my first year or so in the Navy. And Salzador is not too keen about mopping, either, another evening chore. I can sympathize. I had to sweep, swab, and buff corridors in the Navy, too, for a year or so. Mission accomplished, I would ask the boatswain’s mate, standing supervising (which consisted of taking a sip or two of coffee): “What now?” The boatswain’s mate would reply, “Sweep, swab, and buff it again!”

One night, when I first arrived in Ensenada, Salzador had just mopped the floor to my room. I needed something. Can’t remember what. But I needed it right then and there. He said, “Twenty minutes.”

So, I waited. One minute. Two minutes. Then: “I’m not waiting twenty goddamn minutes.” And I proceeded to tip-toe over his freshly mopped floor to get what I needed. When I returned, he said, “O-h-h-h, look what you have done?”–pointing to my toe-prints.

“Gimme the mop!” I said.

He refused.

“Gimme the mop!!” I repeated.

He refused.

“GIMME THE GODDAMN MOP!!!”

I grabbed it from him, walked to my room, and working backwards mopped the floor. I then handed the mop back, but he refused to take it. He was sulking, as only a Latin Lover can. I’m sure it works with a certain type of woman, with a hankering for Latin lovers. I let the handle drop to the floor and went on my way.

Later that night I apologized. He accepted my apology. A little later, he said, “Dani’el”–he calls me Dani’el–”do you what a burrito? I bought three.” And he gave me one.

Looking back, I don’t know what got into me. Another ugly-American story to be told and repeated and embellished on. And, for the life of me, I can’t remember what I so desperately needed that I couldn’t wait 20 minutes. No doubt, a cigarette or my lighter or both. Shame on you, Dani’el.

Such goes life, ever-so-often.


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